Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Noah's Ark stitchery

Since September is winding down I thought I'd better START the Noah's Ark for September. I have been procrastinating about doing this because I lost the August block sometime in early August. I looked everywhere, in the thread drawer, between pages of patchwork books that I'd been looking through, under the sofa, behind the piano. Ah well, should I just make the August block again or move on to the September block? Move on. You have a few more months to find the August block.

Yesterday I sat down and pulled out my thread box and what do you think dropped out? Yes! The August block, Noah, giraffes, kitty cat and all (I had been so happy to find a kitty amongst Noah's menagerie!) Now I had looked in that thread box a couple of times... why I didn't see it I don't know...

For the rest of the afternoon I stitched the rainbow for September and then finished the last stitches on Noah and the cat and now I'm caught up again with Lynette's stitchery! Just in time for another block that will probably be posted tomorrow or the day after.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I have a couple of days to myself because Tetsu is off in Tokyo. So what am I doing? I decided to make some granola (inspired by the Lammers since we used to do that together 30 years ago) so I went out and bought ingredients and yesterday roasted a batch. I used very dark brown sugar (something from Okinawa) and so it looks like I burned it but it actually tastes pretty good. Probably in the long run it is a lot cheaper to make my own granola but paying out the lump sum of over $50 for almonds, peanuts, raisins and walnuts made me gulp. A lot of this will get used in fall and winter baking so I made a stop at the wholesale market but still, that seems a lot for a few kilos of nuts. Also made a stop at the supermarket for oats. Let's see... I threw in oats, peanuts, almonds, coconut, sesame seeds, soy bean powder, brown sugar, honey and oil. After roasting I added the raisins.

For many years I've made my own yogurt which used to be a hassle but nowadays my original starter (from years ago!) is Caspian yogurt which grows at room temperature. I just put my jar on the counter, add milk (or sometimes soy milk) and let it stand for a day. So much easier that keeping yogurt jars in a pot of hot water or trying to float them in the bathtub.

This is my weekday breakfast. Yogurt and granola with half a banana and a cup of coffee. Tetsu won't join me since he says granola looks like horse feed. Hmmph. Doesn't know a good thing when he sees it!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prayers and Squares again

Gratefully we don't have to do this very often but this morning at church we tied and prayed over a quilt for one of our members who is going through chemotherapy. I guess I am head of the Prayers and Squares chapter at our church and for the past two years I've made about 12 of these quilts (same Around the World pattern) in different colors. Some of the quilts have been prayed over and given away but I still have four flimsies in my drawer for emergencies. Last week we got word about the member and on Thursday and then today at church we tied knots and prayed over the quilt. Which reminds me, I need to make a label for this still.

Most of the fabric for these quilts are pulled from my stash and I try to keep a couple pinkish ones and a couple bluish ones on hand. (My own prejudices.) The bluish ones tend to be called into services more than the pinkish ones... I've written about how the solid fabric just sort of fell into my lap (thank you Lord) and I still have rolls of both green and maroon in my closet. I hope that this quilt and the love and prayers that it contains will bring comfort to the man who will receive it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Autumn bounty

Let's see. I'm trying to figure out what I've been doing lately... Not much sewing that's for sure and not even much time on the computer though I'm not sure why.

The wasp hive that was in the forest has been taken down... by one brave Home Owners Association chairman! He came in the night with his flashlight and two cans of bug spray and unbeknownst to us, managed to subdue the wasps (used up both bug spray cans) enough to bundle the hive into a garbage bag. I heard all this from his wife the next day. She said that she stayed home holding on to the cell phone in case her husband called and needed an ambulance. Tetsu said the Brave Chairman should have let us know he was planning to go hive hunting and then Tetsu could have helped (since we live the closest to the hive) but then again Tetsu's very glad he didn't have to prove how courageous he is (or isn't). Brave Chairman is planning to hang the wasp hive in his entryway since it is supposed to bring good luck. Let's hope the wasps have all gone to wasp heaven.

This is not a very flattering picture but usually I cheat and only chose the better pictures of me. I'm holding the camera at arm length and took a quick pic and then got out of there! I wanted to show how big this hive got before Brave Chairman took it out of the forest for us. Actually that is fear in my face because you never know what might have come buzzing out of the thing even though it had been saturated in bug spray!

What else is new? The combines are hard at work in the rice fields and the farmers and their families make it sort of a picnic day working in the fields and resting on the embankments. Combines in Japan are not really very large and it looks like a farmers co-op must loan the same machine out to different farmers because the rice fields get sheared down one after another. Makes for beautiful scenery around here with some of the fields half harvested. In some places they are burning the extra stalks and the air has a smokey haze to it and a wonderful burning smell.

This is also the season for pears and I just bought some delicious Japanese nashi from my pear farming friends. Such a sweet treat!

Oh, and chestnut sums are up to 7 bags now! I have my work cut out for me!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Last of Morioka pictures

Ok, I'm winding down my trip to Morioka and will show you the last hodge-podge of pictures.

I took the Shinkansen (Bullet train) up and back and it was an easy 3 hour trip which would normally take at least 6 hours by car. 30 years ago when I first came to Japan there was no Shinkansen going up to Morioka and it was consider the Tibet of Japan, a very far off town with very few foreigners (we could count the number and would stop foreigners who were on the street asking excitedly where they were from.) Not any more. Morioka has become a bustling metropolitan and I felt much like the country girl visiting the big city while I was there.

Besides getting together with Nobuko-san and the Lammers I had an opportunity to visit with a few of my old students. Wow! 30 years is really 30 YEARS! A couple of the students remembered me but it wasn't until I was chatting with them for awhile that I could vaguely recall their "younger" faces when they were in my class. This smiling man in the kimono was one of my favorite students and he and I used to discuss loads of topics. He came to visit the Lammers on this day and we had a wonderful time talking about our lives these past 30 years. I just loved that he came to visit in his kimono and when I saw him come up the stairway I yelled out. "My samurai!"

Nobuko-san even thoughtfully offered to take me to our family grave site without me even suggesting it and so I was the dutiful Japanese wife and brought flowers and posed. We wandered around the cemetery with Nobuko-san pointing out dates of people who have passed on that I once knew. It is a Christian cemetery and the Christian population is not very large so it is sort of an extended family grave. I just had to include the picture of the Morioka scenery from our family grave. Lovely sight to look out on isn't it?

And speaking of lovely sights, this is a shot of Morioka City from off one of the bridges. In the distance is Mt. Iwate which is the pride of this area and is considered the Mt. Fuji of northern Japan. So nice to be back in the place where I first started my life in Japan. I wish we could get back more often.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A stay at a Japanese inn

Ok, I wanted to tell you about my perfectly wonderful stay at a Japanese inn.

When I was younger I had the opportunity to travel with my family and stay in different hotels around the world. More recently (the past 30 years) I rarely go anywhere and the few times Tetsu and I have stayed overnight someplace it has been at a business hotel. My view of hotels, no matter how nice, were places to sleep. Or places to touch down after a day of sight-seeing and activities, or at the very most places where some entertainment was provided on the grounds. Not so this one night with my friends.

First of all, Nobuko-san drove us to the onsen (spa) town and after passing many brightly lit and very modern hotels we drove up a narrow road to a gravel driveway and a large wooden gate. Just in front of the gate, the small "pool" was emitting steam from the natural hot spring and there was a faint smell of sulfur in the air.

"Where on earth has Nobuko-san brought us? It looks interesting if not particularly exciting."

A woman dressed in kimono trousers (the top is like a kimono jacket, but it is worn with trousers of the same fabric that are gathered at the ankles) was outside sweeping the gravel driveway when we arrived and she welcomed us and took hold of the largest piece of baggage we had and directed us through the gate and to the low wooden building beyond. Once in the entry we were greeted by another traditionally dressed woman who seated us near a traditional charcoal-like hibachi with water boiling in an iron kettle. Nobuko-san signed us in and then the woman showed us along a very long wooden corridor to our rooms.

The rooms themselves were very simple traditional Japanese rooms without any chairs or beds and as we settled in with the tea that was provided we were brought warm wet towels and little sweet cakes to enjoy.

We had decided to forgo the fancy dinner that the spa offered just because Dick and Martha aren't big eaters and we'd feasted earlier in the day at a pot luck party, so instead we checked out the baths. The inn provided cotton kimonos for guests so we changed into those and meandered along the hallways to the bathing areas, one side for men, one side for women. Actually there was an inside bath and an outside bath and after washing off at the inside bath, Nobuko-san, Martha and I went exploring and followed an outdoor corridor to another bathhouse. Baskets lined the shelves in the changing room area and after shedding our cotton kimonos we went outside in the nude to the hot spring pool that was surrounded by boulders and an artistically arranged garden. We had a fantastic view of the moon resting just out of reach!

The day was winding down and after our baths we let Martha and Dick go to bed while Nobuko-san and I sat out on a deck overlooking the nearby lake and chatted. Our futon had been laid out while we were in the bath but even though they looked inviting Nobuko-san and I did a little more exploring and found a glass pitcher of ice tea and cups sitting in a corner for anyone who was thirsty and even a little platter of rice balls for guests who might get a hankering for something to eat in the middle of the night! We enjoyed a cup of tea but I just took pictures of the rice balls. The handwritten sign says: "Please help yourself if you feel hungry. If the platter is empty and you'd like something, please don't hesitate to ask our staff to make you some more." (I guess they expect someone on the staff to be ready to make rice balls for guests' beck and call.)

Finally Nobuko-san and I called it a night and settled into our comfy futon.

Morning came too soon and I decided to go exploring out and around the grounds. Just opening the curtains to the room was breathtaking! The night before I hadn't realized how beautiful the grounds were and was greeted with a lovely Japanese garden!

On the other side of the corridor the windows opened out on the lake (where Nobuko-san and I had chatted the night before) and this too was a perfectly manicured garden with rocks and foliage placed just so, but still looking perfectly natural. Martha and Dick emerged from their room dressed again in their cotton kimonos and I got them to pose for me in front of the lake. Even though the Lammers are American, they looked very Japanese to me attired in their kimonos and heading out for a morning bath!

Nobuko-san and I opted to go to the foot bath garden and that was another wonderful experience. Later when the Lammers joined us they too were very impressed with this luxury. The hot pond had little benches scattered around and it was artistically arranged with boulders again so that the nearby building was hidden. There, people can just relax their feet in the healing warmth without having to go into the bath. For people whose health isn't up to getting completely into the very hot water (or people who don't like public nudity!) the foot baths are a welcome way to enjoy the hot spring atmosphere.

Breakfast was another wonderful experience but VERY Japanese (so you'd have to be able to appreciate Japanese food or else you might go hungry!) We gathered in the dining room but here again, everyone was down on the floor and eating at low tables. Let's see. There was a candied fish, bites of mushrooms and vegetables, pickles and cold tofu. There was also brown rice and miso soup and fermented soybeans plus hotspring cooked eggs served cold. (They lowered a basket of eggs into the hotspring... not the part we were bathing in.) That candied fish, by the way, was eaten head, tail, bones and everything! Very tender but still it takes a bit of courage to pop the head into your mouth. Delicious!

Nobuko-san and I made one more stop into yet another bath, this time smelling highly of sulfur and hotter than the others and then we packed up our few things plus a small towel and also a pair of Japanese split-toed socks that the inn had provided. The staff came to the entryway to bid us farewell and wish us a happy return if we should ever come their way again and we were each given a pair of wooden chopsticks.

Let me tell you. This is an experience you should have if you ever get to Japan! Nothing planned, just sheer hospitality by the staff to make your time with them as relaxed and enjoyable as possible! I wish we lived closer because I surely would like to make a regular visit there!

Thank you for joining us on our trip to a Japanese inn!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


More on my trip to Morioka and the memories they brought up.

My best friend in Morioka is a "girl" who was working at the Good Neighbor Christian Center when I arrived 31 years ago. Nobuko-san was and is and will continue to be a indispensible person at the Center and she takes care of all the foreigners that work there as well as running the business side of the English office.

Nobuko-san's English is excellent yet she rarely uses English and even when she does, she always mingles the two languages together. She and I were quite a team those three years that I lived in Morioka and the point of much humor with others who heard us talking. Nobuko-san always spoke to me in Japanese ("translating" from difficult Japanese to easy Japanese) and I always answered her in English and we always seemed to understand each other. She speaks in a little girl voice and someone once suggested that she'd be a great voice actress for an animation character. Anyway, I have always loved Nobuko-san and have wonderful memories of taking flower arranging lessons and tea ceremony lessons together with her patiently explaining and "translating" for me.

I pulled up some pictures from 6 years ago when Tetsu and I last visited her, so that I could show you how Nobuko-san and her family lives. She and her husband bought an old farm house in the mountains (near where her parents lived) and after refurbishing the roof, they live there in simple surroundings. Tetsu and I were awed to see the beauty of their home, inside and out but Nobuko-san couldn't understand what I was getting so excited about. To her it is drafty (no glass windows!) and she doesn't see the attraction of living in an out-of-the-way place with few modern luxury items. The floor is packed dirt and stones except for the wooden entry platform and raised tatami mat area, the heating is by hibachi and kotatsu (low heated tables). Nobuko-san's way of life is not too far removed from the way people lived 100 years ago and I think they have a small vegetable garden out back that she gives back to the weeds every year.

Nobuko-san drives daily into Morioka to teach and run the English office while her husband creates beautiful pottery and tends his kilns occasionally exhibiting and selling his work in Tokyo galleries. They have given me a few of his works that I treasure especially because her husband exclusively uses only the clay that is found in the area near him. These house pictures were taken in the autumn of 2002 when the climate was mild and the scenery beautiful but this part of Japan is considered to be the coldest area in Japan outside of the northern island and the winters are severe. And not only do they have to deal with icy temperatures. I remember Nobuko-san telling us that in health and safety classes at school the children were instructed in what to do if they were confronted with bears! I guess what with the bears and the cold I'll just visit her when it is convenient for me!

I love Nobuko-san and her sweet ways and was so happy to share the weekend with her again. More tomorrow about the wonderful stay she arranged for us at a Japanese inn on Saturday night!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Lammers

I'm back and I had a wonderful two days away from home. I saw many old friends and students and I had a chance to spend time with two people who probably influenced me more than anyone else in my life.

When I was twenty-two I came to Japan to teach English at a Christian Center which was supported by missionaries from America. Dick and Martha Lammers were living at the Center and they took me under their wings and taught me how to teach, how to love the Japanese people, how to accept new customs and ideas. Dick and Martha had come to Japan in 1948 and had headed the Morioka Good Neighbors Christian Center from 1969. I showed up in 1977 and for two years was able to watch them go about their lives and learn from them about life in general.

This weekend the Lammers were back in Morioka and at the ages 82 and 84 they were joking that this is probably going to be their last trip back to Japan "on foot". The Christian Center where we all taught and lived was having various welcome home programs and I was invited to make the trip to Morioka and join them. In the 18 years since the Lammers retired, Tetsu and I have seen them one other time, but since our first meeting already 31 years have elapsed!

For me, this weekend made me feel like I was a twenty-two year old girl again and here were my protectors and mentors still teaching and showing me things just like all those years ago. Dick and Martha really hadn't changed at all. Still the same slow way of talking. Still the everpresent smiles. Still the desire to share and teach and make something around them a little bit better. I spent the better part of these two days either trying to absorb what they were saying or plying them with questions about their recent thoughts on life. A few times as I listened to them I'd think,

"I knew this once. How could I have forgotten it? What have I been doing all these years?"

I don't know how to explain it. The Lammers live deliberately. They are big recyclers. They have a philosophy on life of living simply, ecologically, globally. They don't just do for doing nor just sort of fall into a pattern. They think. They decide. They enjoy doing what they've decided. They do not insist that others do it their way but they look like they are having so much fun that you just want to know why and how and maybe try it out yourself.

I tend to do things just because it is what is expected, what is easiest, "well, it won't matter once" type of philosophy. Take food for instance. I KNOW we should eat more healthily but I cook heavy things, fast things, or just heat up something frozen. The Lammers have always eaten whatever is seasonal, home dried or they pickle what is abundant. They are not hard-lined vegetarians but they rarely eat meat. Why? Because the crops it takes to feed one cow could feed so many more people so it is their silent gift to the hungry to eat simply.

When we all lived in the same Christian Center those many years ago, I admired them for their commitment to walk instead of ride, reuse instead of buy, patronize the local stores instead of saving a few yen at the supermarkets. And I wanted to live that way too, but I've forgotten over the years. It made me sad to think that nearly 30 years have gone by and I've missed nearly 30 years of their wisdom and influence.

I am grateful to God for putting me in the care of these two very impressive people when I was young and impressionable. I hope God will guide my own children to people as inspiring and loving as the Lammers.

What fun I had this weekend! I'm afraid I've got a lot of people pictures I'll be showing you over the next couple of days!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


In the mornings, recently Choco and I have been making a peaceful stop at the cemetery across the street. It is a privately owned cemetery, not affiliated with a temple or church, and it is very well kept. There are little gazebos with stone tables and chairs. There is a water place for filling buckets and washing utensils and here and there around the grounds are these cute little stone animals. The cemetery itself is surrounded by forest and not many sounds of the everyday world come through.

This morning Choco and I made our appearance at a little after 6:30 and we enjoyed the tweeting birds and the patter of a drizzly rain. Not long after we got there a little grandma (obaachan) showed up on her bicycle and she proceeded to attend to her family grave as is the custom. Her bicycle basket was loaded with small colorful chrysanthemums and it looked like she had a couple soft drink cans.

As I watched from a distance the obaachan parked her bicycle and started taking out the metal cups and trays that are built into the stone for the purpose of holding flowers and incense. The obaachan washed her cups and trays and then cut her flowers to the appropriate length and carried them back to the grave along with a cemetery bucket and ladle. Once at the grave again she started splashing water all over the gravestone and then arranged her flowers and the drink cans. Finally with a rag she lovingly polished the crevices and carved places in the gravestone. Choco and I left about then but most likely the obaachan put the bucket and rag back at the washing station, lit some incense and spent a short time in prayer. I wouldn't be surprised if this was at least a weekly routine for her.

To Japanese, the visiting and caring of the grave is very important. Cremation is the norm in Japan so many generations of ancestors' ashes may rest there and it is the duty of the living to care for the ancestors just as it is the duty of the ancestors to watch over and protect the decendents. There are certain days set apart in the year when everyone visits family graves, and there are individual dates relating to memorial services for the deceased that continue for decades. A proper Japanese will visit the gravesite regularly and bring flowers, sweets, drinks and incense.

Tomorrow I will be spending a couple of days in the city where I first lived when I came to Japan and where Tetsu and I were married. It is also the town where we have our own grave (our first daughter's ashes are there) but I doubt that I will have a chance to visit the cemetery. I find my own feelings very interesting. As an American (or maybe my upbringing) whether or not I visit the cemetery isn't very important. My loved one is in my heart, but as a pseudo-Japanese it disturbs me that we haven't been to the grave or even the city, in the past 3 years. And here I will be traveling quite a distance to the city but I won't have access to a car and anyway I'd rather spend the time there laughing and chatting with old friends. So I'm not planning on doing any grave visiting.

Anyway, I'll be away for a couple of days but hope to take lots of picture of beautiful Northern Japan while I'm gone. See you in a couple of days!