Thursday, September 30, 2010

Convalescent care

I spent some time yesterday chatting with friends I have known for 20 or so years. Our kids were all in kindergarten together. As the years go by and our kids grew up to go to different elementary, jr high, high school and colleges, our conversations have changed but we still offer advice, still sympathize with the headaches of child raising. We've gone through bullying, rebellion, entrance exams, failures, successes, boyfriend-girlfriend relationships etc.

Times are changing. Our conversations now flitter towards how to stay young, husbands' health problems, and most recently, parents and in-laws.

All of our parents and in-laws are in their late 70s or 80s. There have been a few funerals in the past couple years. That has been hard. Maybe harder though is the period of increasing dementia that so many of our parents are facing. My mother participates less and less with family activities. She forgets most things but seems content. A few years ago she went through a stage of fighting for her rights (right to drive a car, right to manage her own finances) but she is past that now and lets everyone else take care of her. "Time to take a bath, Mom." "Okay… if you say so…"

But some of my friends are at that difficult stage now. Parents calling or knocking at the door at all hours. Complaints, accusations, losing things, odors. Some of my friends are angry. Why should they have their feelings and life tossed around by this older person who has no regard to how sharp words, hysterics and threats hurt. And then there is the guilt. "I really should visit more." (This is my own guilt towards Tetsu's mother.) "I really should quit my job or take an extended vacation to care for my ailing parent (or parent-in-law)." I think these feelings of guilt are more prevalent in Japan because traditionally the eldest son and his wife cared for the parents till death. Until the past 20 or so years, there WERE no convalescent homes. That was the lot of the wife of the elder son; to produce sons herself and to care for her in-laws (from the first day of marriage!) You can see why a lot of women said that there was no way that they would consider marrying the eldest son of a family!

The elder son's hospitality is longer the only option for the older generation of Japanese. Other siblings are likely to get involved with care. There are convalescent homes springing up everywhere in Japan nowadays (Japan has the highest percentage of population over 70 years old in the world). They offer baths and ball throwing games, childish finger plays, kindergarten instruments and activities. There are programs for temporary day care, for overnight stay. There are programs for meals-on-wheels and low cost taxi service. There are helpers who come into the homes to clean or cook or cut toe nails. There are care managers who arrange transportation, schedule doctor visits, and evaluate the elder person's situation monthly.

But for many of this generation of elderly (Tetsu's mother, my friends' parents) all these programs are shunned as proof of ungrateful, adult children. I have heard a couple of times that at the mention of using such facilities the old grandma or grandpa will say (scream) that they would rather be killed right then and there! And then there are my friends who have already placed their parents in convalescent care yet feel a sad guilt that they couldn't or wouldn't do more…I can see no answer to the dilemma. If you put grandpa into a home you feel like you are a lousy daughter. If you bring him into your home you are likely to go crazy and do something unforgivable.

I think it will take a while before the Japanese society gets used to the idea of care for parents outside the home… And maybe a while before those in care get treated as more than aging children. MY generation, right?! Am I going to be ready? Will I go quietly? You could make me very happy right now if there was a lot of fabric and a needle and thread but when I'm 80? Am I even going to be able to SEE? I only hope I will be a cheerful old lady and go smiling to wherever I'm bound.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Wednesday morning (today) I am always racing and need to be out of the house by 8:45. (It is 8:17 now!) No time to write.

Do you know what this vegetable is? It is popular in the southern islands of Japan, Okinawa, but I think only in the past 10 years has made it to my part of Japan. This is called goya and I can't even find it in my Japanese-English dictionary. It is also known as a bitter gourd and bitter it is!!! It is NOT Tetsu's favorite food but if it is cooked a bit it loses some of its bitterness and tastes very nice mixed with bland tofu and bland scrambled eggs. Sorry didn't make that for dinner last night so no picture of that dish.

Isn't it pretty hanging there? It is eaten while still green so the red ones have already gone to pot... Hmmm. Maybe I'll make goya tonight for dinner. Tetsu can pretend he is in Okinawa.

Okay, I have GOT TO GO! It is 8:27!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teaching quilting

Yesterday I helped my friend Rumi-san put the binding on her coffee cup wall hanging. And a few days before I had helped another friend, Mrs. Nakazawa, put the binding on her tapestry too. It is interesting to work with new quilters and I wonder how strict I should be with them.

"The seams need to be more exact..."

"Don't let the backing pucker..."

"Let's do that part again..."

I don't want to squelch enthusiasm with little details like which direction to put in pins or doing a full backstitch when using the sewing machine but how else does one teach excellence? I don't remember how I was first taught quilting. My first attempts were from books and magazines, many of them in Japanese and I couldn't read them at all. Oh yes, there were some trials I went through!


In college I won a quilt raffle and came home with a wonderful bed size quilt that I still have and love. That sparked my interest in quilting and I think one summer I took a community class where the teacher was trying to teach us to applique teardrops in a quilt square. I didn't see the connection between that and my beautiful quilt and I don't think I ever finished that square.

After marriage and with time on my hands and my beautiful college quilt I tried to teach myself quilting from Japanese books (which I couldn't read!) Oh my! I don't know if you could say disasters but I hope people will think I've come a long way, Baby!

This is a "quilt" I made for my former college roommate's baby. Those popcorn puffs are stuffed so hard one could bounce on it! I'm surprised the baby didn't suffocate! (Or maybe my roommate used it as a mattress... That would make more sense.)

I made this baby quilt for a missionary friend. What are the colors in there?! Was I mad or what? I have a feeling some of those fabrics weren't even cotton!

I made another quilt when Takumi was born with the same book and at least figured out one should try to coordinate the fabrics a bit... I hadn't learned about batting yet though and so I bought cotton for cushions and pulled it apart and laid it as flat as I could...

Finally after Takumi was a few months old I took a quilting class at the local church and learned to hide knots, use 100% cotton, and make templates. From there on in my disasters haven't been all that obvious (only to my own eyes).

I don't recall that the one patchwork teacher I had for 6 months was particularly strict. I do remember her being upset about one student who had a very liberal style and was not exact with seams and puckers. The teacher wasn't too happy to have her name passed around as the "quilting teacher" what with the very haphazard way her student was going about making quilts. It made me think that my own work could reflect on my teacher and I think I've tried to be more exact in making seams and eliminating wrinkles since then... This is a sampler quilt I made under the instruction of the quilting teacher...

Is it more important to teach new quilters the joy of piecing and choosing colors, quilting and accomplishing finishes or is it more important to get them used to a few rules which can help them improve and expand their future horizons?

"Your seams need to match..."

"Try to learn how to use a quilting hoop. It will make your stitches more even."

I suppose if they are really future quilters then they will want to pay attention to details anyway...

I think I am a better quilter than quilt teacher... I'll be showing my two students' quilts later this week...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pot luck

Yesterday we had a pot luck at our church. (Our church building was built 7 years ago and many of us stayed after the service to celebrate.) Do you want to see what sort of things are brought to a Japanese pot luck?

Here's the main table spread out.

In the foreground you can see sticky rice balls covered in sweet bean paste. These are called Ohagi.

And behind those are a mixed rice dish, white rice, and rice with red beans. And another type of ohagi with the bean paste spread on the rice. (Tetsu's favorite.)

Down the way a bit were some grilled chicken wings and a salad of seaweed, okra and slimy potatoes.

I brought scalloped potatoes (no recipe... added chicken, broccoli and mushrooms.) and someone brought a wonderful corn soup that we ate out of paper cups. I seemed to have missed capturing a tomato chicken dish...

There were sandwiches (jam and potato salad) and huge grapes that need to be peeled to eat.

Someone brought Oden which are various fish cakes and vegetables simmered for a long time in fish broth. A few hard boiled eggs in there too I see.

Some meat and potato croquettes we ordered from the supermarket.

For dessert there was a sponge cake someone had baked and a fruit yogurt dish. Sorry I didn't get pictures of those but last but not least rice dumplings in a sweet bean soup.

Hmm. We seemed to have a lot of sweet beans and potatoes at our pot luck. No casseroles as most people don't use an oven. Could have been planned better (I was on the planning committee. "Please bring something.")

I came home very full and didn't need dinner!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A walk with Choco

I haven't had many animal posts recently. One reason is because I got enough comments telling me I should really let the cats survive on their own (I wrote how they tore up the carpet and the window blinds) that I don't want you to think I am loonier than I am. The cats are still at their antics ("can't get through that blind anymore. Let's make a hole in the next one over...") and they are beginning to think of humans as "warm furniture".

How about Choco? This morning I went out with Choco on a long walk and took the camera along. I must say, Choco's season is really autumn. It must be the hunting dog blood in her. She really fits the autumn scenery.

First off, the Higanbana have bloomed. The fields have borders of Higanbana all around them and I made Choco sit and pose.

(It is to Choco's credit that I can get her to stay long enough for me to walk away and take a picture of her. She will stay for about 30 seconds before forgetting she's on a stay...)

A few fields are still unharvested. Look at that shadow of Choco. She likes to walk with the dumb leash right between her hind legs. It looks like a most uncomfortable position!

And here she is welcoming the morning sun.

No. I didn't lie on the ground to take this picture. Choco is up on the bank of a field and I'm walking below her...

Almost home and Choco needs a drink from the stream that feeds the rice fields. Don't pull me in too!

Oh, and I do like this picture. The pampas grass is taking over the fields and the morning dew makes them glitter with a cloud of gold. After nearly an hour's walk, Choco is puffing and making her own cloud of warm breath! A crisp autumn morning and Choco and I were both happy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pizza lunch

The other day Tetsu and I went out to lunch for pizza. Tetsu doesn't especially want to eat pizza. He likes it fine but he considers pizza to be a snack, not a meal. There is no way he is going to eat pizza for dinner but he even sighed when I mentioned having it for lunch. Well, when does he want pizza then? Breakfast?

Pizza doesn't taste the same as pizza we get in the States (I suppose Italians would say the same about American pizza). Shakeys has made it to Japan and also Pizza Hut but they don't taste the same as I remember. And usually when ordering pizza somewhere it seems to be a doughy crust with a lot of melted cheese on it... And tiny!!! Pizzas in normal restaurants are made for one person... It fits on a bread plate!

Anyway, back to our pizza. Our friend recommended this pizza and it was good! Different and certainly not what you are going to find at Pizzaria but Tetsu and I were both satisfied. Let's see... It had tomato sauce, CURRY SAUCE, onions, CORN, CHILI PEPPERS, POTATO WEDGES and cheese. A little sloppy but definitely filling. I don't think it will make a hit in Italy but you never know...

Along with our pizza, which Tetsu thought wasn't going to be enough, we split an order of spaghetti. This is pretty normal spaghetti in Japan and Leiya and I have always loved it! It is made from salty codfish roe. I even took Leiya some instant codfish roe spaghetti sauce when I went back to the States this summer! Yum! Billions of little codfish eggs popping in your mouth. Doesn't that make your mouth water? Or are you gagging right now? A couple green peppers in there and a topping of cut seaweed.

Lunch certainly wasn't Italian but it was delicious!

Friday, September 24, 2010


I finished the applique block I was making for Mrs. Yamaguchi. I must say, I had a lot of fun making this and almost think this might be worth making for myself (but I know I have other things I'm making for myself and before I start this something else will come along to tempt me.)

I like the colors, I like the symmetry of the design. I like the lollipop flowers.

Someone asked about pre-shrinking the freezer paper. I really know nothing about it but when I bought the applique kit at the Long Beach Quilt Show, the person doing it explained that freezer paper shrinks when heated so unless it is preshrunk you aren't going to get the exact size you need. Another reason was that she recommended (insisted) that one needs to use a double sheet of freezer paper to make a sturdy template and unless the papers are preshrunk, they will produce bubbles between them. It makes sense and yes, I think the double paper makes for a very sturdy template that doesn't lose its shape when ironing edges around them (plus the dampness of the ironing starch.)

Another comment from the gadget post was that someone sure wished that there were needle threaders on sewing machines. There are! The Calico Quilter wrote that she has one on her Juki sewing machine and I have one on my Brother sewing machine too! My Brother machine isn't even top line and I must say it is a life saver~! (It also has a thread cutter that is very nice but doesn't get a workout when I'm trying to make Leader/Enders).

Today I'm making a border for my Tessellating Cats. This is an experiment so I'll let you know my results when I get closer to finishing...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shampoo and conditioner

I broke out two new bottles of shampoo and conditioner. To anyone living in Japan, I happen to really like this brand of shampoo. It is called Tsubaki and seems to come in three "colors". I like it for all the normal reasons one likes hair products. "Makes your hair soft, shiny, thick..." blah, blah, blah. I spent an outrageous amount in California this summer buying two bottles at the Japanese supermarket for my niece but she seemed to like it too. But I'm not advertising shampoo on my blog today. I thought I'd mention that the Japanese have a clever little addition to the bottles that makes shampooing easier. I don't think this is available on American brands (but I may be wrong.)

Now look at those two bottles. The one on the left is the conditioner. The one on the right is the shampoo. There is a slight difference in the color of the bottle but don't you think they are easy to confuse? And of course one says Conditioner and one says Shampoo (this brand nicely tells me even in English) but even so, when you are in the middle of a shower it is easy to get confused. This is true of all brands of shampoo and conditioner.

BUT! Japanese shampoo bottles (all brands) have little ridges along the side of bottles! I think this is a very nice attention to detail which you often find in Japan. If you have taken off your glasses to shower and have soap in your eyes you can't really tell which dang bottle is which... But if you run your fingers along the sides of the bottle...

"Ah hah! This is the one I want!" (Or don't want.)

A simple little service but I appreciate the extra thought.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


So what am I up to sewing wise?

You know... I used to say I didn't like applique. I've made a few large applique blocks but I've never felt good about my finished efforts. My most recent applique attempt were the cushions that I made earlier this year from Mrs. Furui's book. You may remember how I complained of my sore fingers and returned the book to her saying I probably wouldn't be doing applique again for a long time.

This summer at the Long Beach Quilt Festival I watched someone do applique for a few minutes and was so amazed at the ease and perfection of her pieces. And Takumi jumped right in and bought her applique kit for me. Also at the LBQF I purchased an applique sheet and Takumi bought me a circle cutter. And just before leaving the States I went to JoAnn's and bought a craft iron for 40% off. With all these tools I should be ready to do applique again! (I'd BETTER do applique again with the money put into it!)

This week I came home from Thursday patchwork with directions to APPLIQUE leaves and circles on Mrs. Yamaguchi block for our block exchange. ( I had her in mind when I saw the circle cutter.)

Okay. Get out ALL the tools and see what you can do, Tanya.

Freezer paper? Ready. Make sure to shrink the paper first. A-OK. Iron two pieces together. DONE! Cut out paper templates. First step completed.

Cut out leaves. Good. Iron on template. Yes. Clip curves and dab IRONING STARCH around the edges. This is a new one to me but okay. Using the craft iron, iron edges around template using the stiletto to guide the edges. BE CAREFUL! THAT IRON IS AS HOT AS A SOLDERING IRON! Ah, a perfect leaf!

Cut out circles with the circle cutter. Hey, that's not so hard! Sew in a gathering thread and starch as above. Wow! A perfect circle!

Glue baste to background. Applique using straw needles (and the needle threading gadget and the thread heaven conditioner.)

Oh my gosh! This is fun! And it looks good too!

You have to have the right tools...

I think I can honestly say I like applique.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A gadget

Do you know what this is? It is a needle threading gadget.

I've seen this gadget in the fabric stores for years now. It is not very attractive looking. It LOOKS like a gadget. Every time I bought fabric, one of the salesgirls would say,

"Have you ever used this? It is just great! You won't be able to live without it!"

Yeah, yeah. A good sales person... But I WANT to be able to live without your gadget. I don't want to admit that this might be a good gadget to have. I do fine (sometimes) without your gadget. So, no thank you.

And this past month I've noticed this gadget sitting in the craft store wrapped in colorful cellophane with a ribbon and a sign on the basket saying,

"The perfect gift to give the grandma in your family for Respect the Elderly Day."

Don't look at me~! I am not a candidate for your gadget!

But... On Thursday, while at patchwork, Mrs. Ochiai watched me struggle to thread my applique needle (you know those have smaller eyes than normal... or so I've heard).

"Tanya, try this gadget. It is just great."

We all nodded and were secretly pleased that someone in our group had broken ranks and purchased the gadget so that we could evaluate our own need for one.

My needle threading went very smoothly that day thanks to Mrs. Ochiai's gadget.

This weekend I bought my own gadget. Today is Respect the Elderly Day. It is a present to myself. Sigh...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Check up

On Friday I went for a general checkup. I haven't had one in years because at the last one, offered for a minimal fee at the community center, I felt like part of a cattle drive! That was surely an experience the unsuspecting should avoid.


On the day of the community checkup, anyone with an appointment gathered in the old rundown community center and sat on benches waiting to be directed to different rooms... Men and women together. I was directed to the "kitchen" (remember this was at a community center) and was told to change into a gown, put my clothes in a plastic bag, go "do" a urine sample and then return to the main room... In my gown that was too short... Carrying my urine sample through the crowds... Bowing politely to the neighbors and farmers who were there also (some clothed, some in gowns) and waiting to have various doctors check me behind curtains.

My most vivid memory is trailing out to the parking lot in my too short gown with 10 or 15 other people and watching the cars go by (and the people in the cars watching us in our gowns) while we waited for our turn in the gastric-something or other-mobile. You know that procedure where you have to drink a chalky milkshake and then get strapped to a machine that picks you up, turns you upside down and round and around while they x-ray your stomach. The milkshake was bearable. The acrobatics were bearable. What I didn't like was being watched by the other gown clad people from the window...

There are more tales from that day that I could relate but you get the idea why I haven't had a medical checkup for the last 7 years... Bad girl.

I told Tetsu it was worth the fee for me to go to a private clinic and get a checkup so he made an appointment for me on Friday. The hospital was new and well-organized. The nurses efficient and friendly. The rooms were small and divided by curtains and there were still about 10 of us being shuffled from curtained area to curtained area. The nurses politely refrained from booming out my present weight to the world but I still had to sit on the other side of a curtain while a young lady had a gynecology exam... And I still had to make a dash in my too short gown for the mammogram mobile in the parking lot.

You ladies may appreciate the picture of the squashed squid crackers that are a delicacy of Japan. Mash that squid down! I should have stopped at the fish store before going for the mammogram...

Okay. That's done for a year I hope! Better than at the community center... Could be better still.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sports festival

This morning (Saturday) we were awakened by fireworks!

This is pretty normal in Japan, especially at this time of year. Today the local elementary school is having their sports festival and to let the community know that the day will go as planned, at 6:00 in the morning 4 or 5 explosions of fireworks resounded over the fields and hills. They are all noise and no beauty. If it had been a rainy day there would have been no fireworks and everyone would know that box lunch making could be put on hold and that the household could go back to bed.

Sports Festival is a highlight of Japanese schools and kindergartens (and any other organization you can think of). The schools have been practicing relays and folk dances and making preparations for various games for the last two weeks. Older children have been writing and memorizing speeches, all children have been vying for the positions of flag bearer or cheer leading squad. Teachers have been mapping out game lines and getting equipment out of storage. Letters of invitation have been sent to important people in the community (this year I became an important person because of my role as crosswalk guard.)

And because of this morning's fireworks, mothers were set in motion cooking up fantastic box lunches for their families and relatives. Everyone comes for the Sports festival! Grandparents arrive from distant places, older jr high kids show up in cliques and even a few vendors set up shop on the outskirts and sell snow cones or candy apples. It really is a big day!!!

I was at the school this morning at 7:15 as the first groups of upper grade children arrived to get themselves organized. A half an hour later the younger children started arriving. But even earlier parents (mostly fathers) from the communities feeding into the school had come bearing large tents and tables and chairs to be set up around the school grounds. Pretty soon mothers and grandparents started arriving with their arms filled with picnic baskets, folding tables and chairs and sun umbrellas. And finally at 8:30 the festivities began!

The sports festival will last all day and began with speeches from the principal, PTA president, district politicians etc. A telegram of congratulations even from the mayor of Nikko! Last year's trophies and victory flags were passed back to the principal so that they can be awarded to the teams again this year. Our school is a small one so only a red team and a white team. Think mini-Olympics!

There are just too many events to name. Bamboo pole pulling, ball rolling, obstacle courses. Of course the children are the main participants, but the communities battle each other in the tug-a-wars and grandparents take part in a small race to win prizes of Saran Wrap, toilet paper and detergent. (I won a box of tissues.)

I had to come home early but after being plied with cold tea and crackers (some PTA mothers are given the specific job of keeping the "important people" supplied) I was also handed a box of sushi as a thank you gift for attending.

I wonder if the red team or the white team won...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Useless but cute

Yesterday was patchwork day at Mrs. Furui's. I found her busily making these darling little cats! She had found them at a tea shop somewhere and thinking that many of her patchwork friends (there are seven of us) would like them, she pondered buying enough for all of us. At $2.50 a piece though she decided to buy one... take it apart... make her own pattern... and then make them herself. This is the result of her work.

When I arrived she was in the process of putting beads into them and gathering up the bottoms. She wanted me to wait until she had all of them made before I took my picture "since they are so cute all together."

Other people began arriving for patchwork.

"What are you making Mrs. Furui? Are these for the kindergarten bazaar? Are you going to sell them? These would be great for our church bazaar in a few weeks. We can always sell useless things that are cute."

WELL! It's a good thing that Mrs. Furui doesn't take offense easily! In fact she laughed so hard that she had to write down that phrase for crafting posterity.

"Useless things that are cute"

To make matters worse, two of our non-cat lovers declined the gift of a useless but cute cat! Poor Mrs. Furui! BUT yours truly and another cat lover squealed in delight and took home two each, while everyone else was pleased to receive their one useless but cute cat.

Actually I brought home two other useless but cute objects for my house. I stopped at the bread shop on the way home and found these cute hedgehogs on the shelf. I asked if I could take a picture and they gave me two of them for my OWN shelf! Adorable!

Unfortunately my cats think the useless but cute hedgehogs should be used... as cat toys... so I've already had to rescue the hedgehogs from under the dining room table.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two pairs of sandals

Rice harvesting has started in my area and the other day Choco and I stopped and visited with one of the farmers and his wife and they seemed pleased to tell me about their rice fields.

This nifty machine is the farmer's pride and joy. He has quite a few fields and he will go from one to another for the next couple weeks. The machine picks up the fallen rice stalks, cuts them at ground level, turns and inserts them into the thresher, collects the rice, chops up the stalks and spreads the chopped stalks back on the fields all in one sweep around the field.

Later when the rice bin is full the machine sends the rice up the pole and it is dropped into a small truck to be carried back to the farm. The farmer proudly told me that his machine cost him about the price of a luxury car and he bemoaned the fact that he only uses it for two weeks during the harvest season! But he said that if he takes care of it he will be able to use it for more than 10 years.

After the rice fills the family truck, the wife drives it home and puts the rice kernels into their husking machine and it will take about an hour to husk the rice to brown rice stage and bag it. In the meantime the husband works in the fields and by the end of the day they will have half the field done...

While waiting for the next load the wife wanders around the field picking up missed rice stalks but she says the new machines make life much easier for her and really her husband could do the whole job himself... He just likes her company.

The farmer's wife was telling me that though her husband is a farmer, he also works at another job during the year. The company is very understanding about his being a farm owner though and they allow him to take off time in the spring for rice planting and in the fall for the harvesting. This is called "ni soku no waraji". Having your feet in two pairs of straw sandals...

And both of them were resigned to the fact that their eldest son was probably not going to take over the farm for them. The younger generation rarely want to be full-time farmers and it probably isn't even economically possible for most of them. Most companies are not going to give "farming time off" as the father has and so gradually the fields are becoming untended... What will happen to the Japanese rice industry in the next 20 years?