Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The Pinwheel and Patches quilt came back to me after being HAND QUILTED!

Oh, such a beautiful job!

I wanted to make a baby quilt for a friend at church. So without consulting anyone I made the flimsy. And then thought maybe two other church friends might like to get in on the present (I didn't ask... just assumed) and after showing them the flimsy, suggested they might want to join me on hand quilting it. Talk about railroading people!!!

My first friend, Yuko-san took the quilt home and stitched-in-the-ditch around ALL the pinwheels. She passed the quilt onto Kaoru-san and Kaoru-san spent the next week quilting the border. SHE FINISHED IT!

I didn't really expect the quilt to get finished. My two friends are very busy ladies and though they have done some quilting off and on, it is not a great love of theirs. I chose that border pattern and though I knew it was going to be a headache (all those corners) I was planning to put my hand quilting to the test. But Kaoru-san got it all done in a week and she has the sore fingers to prove it!!! I almost cried thinking how much work my friends did!

I am putting on binding now and will give it back to Kaoru-san for the last stitching down and the quilt will be given to the baby at its blessing ceremony on Sunday.

Quilting makes the quilt!

Monday, May 30, 2011


Yesterday I wrote a letter of complaint to my bank in California. I am really quite upset with them! Usually I let things slide over me but I've called (long distance) three times now requesting help with money transfers to my children. I've used this bank for 5 years! There have been times when I've had to call them in the past too but usually the result is successful wire transfers. BUT NOT THIS TIME!

I keep trying to send money to Leiya. I've been trying since April. For some reason the bank changed their computer system so the money no longer gets sent with a click of my computer button. I'm all for security but this is ridiculous!

Four times. No transfer. Okay... Try Takumi. Can I send money to him? And it turns out no. He can't get money either. Now granted, I am not very computer literate. I don't think Leiya is either. But if Takumi can't figure out the bank's system then it is the dumb bank that has the problem!

So Leiya keeps getting more and more desperate. Tetsu keeps getting more and more upset with me.

"Why can't you do something? Why doesn't the California bank follow through? This would be unacceptable in Japan. Are you sure you have explained the situation to them fully? Tanya, maybe you aren't handling this right."

And finally I have written a nasty e-mail to the bank.

"I am extremely upset with your bank! Your online banking service is of no help whatsoever if your customers can't figure out how to use it! I will be closing my account as soon as I get to the States this summer. I wish I could do it sooner!"

And I have once again turned to my mother for financial help. Grandma seems to be my private banking service whenever the bank screws up. (Once they went bankrupt and I couldn't transfer money for tuition!) I don't think Grandma minds but it means my sister-in-law has a lot of extra work to do. (Grandma just signs the check.)

Marcy called this morning to let me know she was putting the Grandma banking service in motion but that it was a three day, bank holiday, weekend. I was at crosswalk duty when Marcy called so she got to talk to Tetsu which means there wasn't a whole lot of communication.

Later Marcy says to me,

"I really need to learn Japanese so that I can talk to Tetsu. I feel so bad when he says things to me in Japanese and I don't understand."

Excuse me... I think it is Tetsu that needs to learn English. That has been on the agenda for the past 35 years and that is why I am the one who is dealing with the dumb California bank.

Can you tell that feathers are flying in the Watanabe house?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rainy season

I think I heard that our part of Japan has entered into the rainy season. It is always amazing to me that the weather news can say exactly "today we have entered rainy season" or "today rainy season is over". It doesn't really matter whether we are having a lot of rain or not. The combination of meteorological measurements is the criteria for knowing whether we've entered the rainy season or not.

But we HAVE been having a lot of rain... Which makes the countryside beautiful.

I didn't get a great picture but the hills and mountains that surround the farmlands often disappear into the clouds. I call it cloud birth. Tetsu says it is fog. But the clouds/fog drift up from the green hillsides and turn into fluffy puff balls so to me they are newborn clouds...

Yesterday's morning drive through greenery and clouds led us to breakfast at a restaurant in the next town over. Tetsu spent a little time making a rough draft of a congratulation letter to send to Takumi. (Now I have to make sure that he writes it again and sends it!)

I love rainy days and breakfast out!

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Tetsu and I spent much of this morning talking with our son, Takumi.


I had sort of thought about, hoped, considered, attending his graduation if it was going to be in the summer, but Takumi was never sure exactly when it was going to be and then on Monday (yes folks, May 23rd) he lets me know that his graduation is on Friday. So much for attending his graduation... But my sister-in-law and niece and nephew attended in my stead so at least Takumi had some family for the big day.

Graduation from college? A lot of kids graduate from college. But there were times when I wondered if Takumi would finish high school even... He was less than a sterling student. I have a letter somewhere that I wrote to him (and never gave him) that I wrote on the day he graduated from jr. high school and most of the time I was writing it I was in tears. I was angry at him for flaunting his nose at education and authority. I was angry at the school for the very little direction he was given. I was feeling a failure as a mother.

Takumi grudgingly went to and finished high school but even then I remember counting the days until high school graduation just hoping that he'd make it.

And then he went to California.

It has taken quite awhile.... two years of English language studies (his conversation and comprehension abilities were good from the start... Taking notes and writing essays has been a struggle). Two more years of jr. college for an associate degree. A transfer to a four year university as a math major. And three years of study there plus extra computer courses in order to enter a master's program later this year...

I can't believe Takumi has spent so much time and effort on getting an education. I can't believe it when he tells me he likes studying. I can't believe he has future plans for more education, and work, and a life in the States.

I am proud of you Takumi, for taking control of your life and having dreams and a plan for attaining them. I'm proud of you for being a serious student and overcoming the language handicaps that have slowed your progress at times. I am proud of you for not giving up; for being independent; for being considerate of us, your parents, while we've minimally supported you. Thank you very much for giving us a fascinating view of your life and your thoughts. Thank you for growing up into a wonderful young man. Stay safe... Stay healthy... Stay focused. Enjoy yourself too. Tetsu and I laugh gleefully when we hear you worrying about us in our ever-nearing old age.

Forgive me for getting mushy about my oldest.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Yesterday Y-kun came bearing gifts again. (I could write this sentence every single Thursday. He rarely comes empty handed.

Yesterday's gifts were some wilted lettuce and a can of corn stalks.

I don't know what Y-kun's thinking or his family's thinking is about the gifts. I know that his grandfather is a farmer and that some of his produce gets sold at the local vegetable market. Usually the vegetables that Y-kun brings are wrapped in cellophane and are wilting or turning brown so I have a feeling that these may be some of his grandfather's unsold items. And they are brought in abundance! 5 bundles of browning green onions! Two bags full of lettuce!

Sometimes Y-kun's grandmother sends him (I suppose) with a container of simmered vegetables, but more often than not the container has leaked and all Y-kun's books and papers are soggy and smell tantalizing. Sometimes vegetables are brought with dirt still on them so maybe Y-kun has pulled them directly from his grandfather's field and stuffed them into his English bag. Still, the grandparents bring Y-kun by car every week so they must know he is pilfering produce from them...

And last night's can of corn stalks!

"Whatever do you have there?" I say with alarm as dirt and mud go plopping on my living room floor.

"Corn! You can grow corn!" says Y-kun as he drops the lettuce bags in the middle of everything.

Off he went to the kitchen to wash the can (and get dirt into whatever was in the sink... I raced him to the kitchen to make sure the lids were on my cooking pots.)

"Wow! Corn. Where do you think I should plant it?" (not that I have too many choices in my small yard.)

"No! Leave it in the room and then each week we can see how tall the corn has grown!"

I pointed out that corn needed more light than in my living room and besides, I was pretty sure the cats would eat it. I have very little luck with plants in my house. The cats nibble away everything until there is only dirt left.

"Y-kun, even if the cats don't eat it, corn grows pretty tall..."

Y-kun ignored me as he planted a few green pepper seeds from my dinner fixings in the corn can...

"...just to see if they will grow."

This morning unfortunately, the cats have already started nibbling. I don't think the corn has much chance of lasting until next Thursday. Y-kun will be so disappointed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I don't know if I really want to write this post... It is a little gruesome... If you've recently lost a loved one I REALLY think you should skip this post. Please.

The other night Tetsu came home very tired.

"What a day! I've never had an experience like that in my life. I'm exhausted."

Because Tetsu works for a convalescent home he gets involved with a lot of funerals and a lot of the situations that concern the deceased. And the convalescent home is prefecture affiliated which means there are a lot of people there who have limited means or have no family at all. Last week one of the ojiisans (older man) passed away with no family to take care of funeral arrangements etc. So Tetsu was in charge.

Universally throughout Japan cremation is the norm. I would say 99 percent funeral procedures include cremation. And as with funeral services and ceremonies there is also a cremation ceremony. Thankfully I haven't had to attend cremation ceremonies for a long time. Tetsu doubts that I'd be able to bear it. He worries that I will have a mental breakdown if he goes before me just because of cremation ceremonies.

Basically the body is cremated. But while in English we say there are ashes, in Japan these are called bones and the reason why is because THEY ARE BONES! I learned this the first year I lived in Japan when my foreign friend boycotted her Japanese father-in-law's funeral because she found out that she had to pick up his bones with chopsticks. YES! With chopsticks!!!

Anyway, Tetsu said that after the cremation the ojiisan's remains came back in a perfect skeleton!

"Tanya, it was right out of a science lab! The crematory staff was very proud of the fact that it was such a beautiful skeleton. He said they don't see many come out so perfectly."

And before the bone pick-up the staff member explained in detail what each bone was.

Why? For what purpose would there be in knowing which bone was which? But I have had friends tell me that this is regular custom. Staff explains in solemn tones and family peers over the remains nodding their heads and looking interested.

"What if you don't want to know? What if you ask the staff to skip this part?"

"I don't think they'd do that. I think it is all part of the ceremony and besides the staff member gets to show off his superior knowledge and be the star of the show. He plays it up well."

So up until then, the cremation ceremony Tetsu attended was normal. But then he said the staff handed him a small club and asked him to crush the bones so that they would fit in the urn. Usually someone else (staff!) crushes bones before they are returned to the family in the waiting room.

"Because you are assistant manager of a convalescent home, I was instructed to explain things to you in detail and allow you to experience the inner workings of a crematory... For your edification."

"Blankety-blank to edification! This is not something I want to know!!!"

But in a state of stupor Tetsu did as instructed. He said the girl who had cared for the ojiisan at the convalescent home was standing behind him round eyed in horror. And then the two of them were instructed to place bones in the urn.

"With our bare hands?" whispered the girl. She may not last long at the convalescent home...

I don't know what happened to the normally used chopsticks.

Tetsu is seriously considering donating his body to science so that someday I don't have to go through his cremation ceremonies. Bleh.

I'll try to think of something cheerful to post about tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Animal friends

I have a lot of animal friends. Dogs and cats in our neighborhood. I often know the animals' names when I forget the owners' names. I talk to my animal friends through the fence. I snap pictures of them if I have my camera. If a dog is loose I usually know who it belongs to and whether I can catch it without being bitten.

But neighbor pets are not my responsibility and while I certainly don't want to be accountable for them sometimes I question the pet owner's wisdom. I don't know how many times I've learned that one of my animal "friends" has passed on or is being a nuisance because of a small (or large) mistake in the owner's judgement.

... the dog that I brought back to the owner because it had escaped, only to be told they were letting it run free in the evenings... a week later it was hit by a car.

... the cat that has not been spayed and now has kittens...

And today I learned that the Japanese sweet shop's cat (where I stand on crosswalk duty) had been hit by a car too. It was a sweet cat that used to sit by the window on the sweet shop counter. But it wanted out and the owners decided to let it run free... and that was that.

I have enough animals to worry about without concerning myself with the neighborhood pets. Still it hurts to know another friend is gone.

Not a great picture of me but here I am surrounded by my some of my "friends" (three of them!) with coffee in hand before the day begins.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Second String Quilt

I finished a string quilt to give to Mrs. Furui's volunteer group. This didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped but I guess I learned something making it.

I don't do well yet on overall quilt designs so I thought quilting inside the dark strips would be a good idea. Well, I learned the hard way that there is too much thickness at the crossing seams. All that extra fabric plus the foundation fabric just was too hard for my machine needle to go through. There was a lot of slipping around which resulted in irregular stitches.

And I also quilted this in halves which means that when I joined the two pieces I found that my directional quilting was going to wrong way. No one is going to ever look that closely at this but I know it isn't the greatest job...

The Law of Murphy was well at play on this quilt but I almost can say that about all my quilts. I made strips for the binding, right? I connected the strips, right? I like mitered corners on my binding so want the long strip to go all the way around, right? I randomly started somewhere in the middle of the quilt and started attaching the binding. Wouldn't you know that strip connection falls just where I don't want it... at the corner. Harder to miter with a lot of extra thickness. This happens regularly to me. It seems no matter where I start attaching the binding, the connection ends up at the corner! And on this quilt it happened twice! Two out of four corners! Arrgh!

This is done. I will wash it this week and give it to Mrs. Furui. She will probably wash it again. She STILL finds cat hairs on my quilts even after I wash them!

Monday, May 23, 2011


This weekend I went shopping and took my camera along. I wonder if I'm really allowed to take pictures in the department store. Well, no one stopped me.

Japan has some fantastic bloopers on their clothing. There used to be more but finally someone is getting around to checking the phrases that get silkscreened on a shirt. Occasionally I find some real whoppers walking down the street... I'd love to take a picture of those, but it is hard to stop people and ask if you can take a picture of their chest and besides, this is a clean blog. I don't want it censored.

Here are a few items I photographed at the local store.

I have "Good quality mood" when I have a day of sewing. Is that what they mean?

Now this sounds a little naughty... Maybe it is the filmy pink...

It disturbs me that someone hasn't checked a dictionary...

I wonder what they do with shoplifters...

And I wonder if this could be considered desecration of the British flag? Well, it is a desecration of the British language!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


When Choco first joined our household 5 some years ago she was hyper. We honestly thought that we might have to give her up (she was a stray that I had picked up) because she hated children and cats, barked constantly, wouldn't walk besides us, went crazy when she saw white pick up trucks and tried to bite people. Neighbors have complained about Choco, and I don't know how many times I've gone apologizing for something my dog has done. We've tried a dog trainer too but she hasn't really made too much progress in the obedience department.

Our first dog was an indoor dog that had become friends with our cat but that would never be with Choco! Because she hated cats so much Choco by default became an OUTSIDE dog. Nowadays we let her in at night (she barks in the mornings) and on rainy days, and she stays in a kennel by the front door. The cats stay clear of her but you can see then tension in her face when a cat walks by. Tetsu and I have always watched Choco closely when we let her in the house. (The cats cleverly congregate on top of the piano and watch her from heights.)

Over the years Choco's behavior hasn't changed much. She still doesn't like children, still can't be trusted around strangers. She still won't walk besides us, she still is hyper. BUT!

Last night I fed the cats and brought Choco into the house for the night. I put her in the kennel and fed her. And then I went off to the pool and out to dinner with Tetsu. When we came home four cats (two were locked up) greeted me as usual at the front door. AND CHOCO!

"Hi Mom! Welcome home! We had a good time while you were gone."

I must not have latched the kennel properly. Cats and Choco were milling around the entryway very happily together. No harm done. I counted up my cats to make sure all were in one piece. No one seemed very concerned about the large, rather boisterous canine in their midst. Choco probably spent the evening on the comfortable sofa. I guess she HAS made some progress and cats and dog can actually live together. Not good for my sofa though. Choco is a VERY dirty dog!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Paper Piecing

I have always liked puzzles. Not the ones that use too much brain power, but the ones where if you put in enough time and effort they eventually get done. My computer game of choice is Picross because if I just follow the logic I can get an end result.

That must be why I enjoy paper piecing. It is a challenge to me and if I just do it right (don't sew the wrong side of the fabric to the right side, Tanya) then usually the result is a block. Paper piecing uses up tiny scraps but then again, for that same purpose I end up saving tiny scraps for the next "someday" paper piecing project. That's why I've got a basket of crumbs that are multiplying. Paper piecing is a one day puzzle fix for me. I've had my fix thanks to Paper Panache.

What do you think this is going to be?

Hint one: This is for Nancy, Near Philadelphia.

Hint two:

And here is the finished block.

This goes in the mail to Nancy on Monday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Patchwork Thursday projects

Yesterday was patchwork day and 7 of us gathered to do some sewing. First of all we passed around our block game boxes. Yours truly has FINISHED all her homework in ALL the boxes so I don't have anything more to do in this game... unless I take pity on someone and offer to do their work.

Mrs. Okutomi's block request was for Hawaiian quilt blocks and she is getting close to the 9 block goal. This picture is for Lorraine who is making a block to send back to Mrs. Okutomi from Australia. Lorraine still has to choose a color that will fit in... What do you think? A pretty red? A green? Some of these blocks laid out on the table have yet to be appliqued or are in various degrees of being finished. But they sure look pretty all together!

Of course the main reason we gather together at all is to work on the kindergarten bazaar quilt, but we sometimes forget that that is our purpose! We bring in show-and-tell things and share hints and new discoveries in the quilting world. (Mrs. Furui has purchased a wonderful needle threader! I bought a needle threader last year but her new one is so cute! We ALL want a new needle threader so Mrs. Furui was taking orders! Maybe I can show that after next month's patchwork gathering.)

Okay... We really must stop sharing and chatting and eating, and get down to sewing! Finally the bazaar quilt came out.

Basically the center tree is finished though it seems a little lopsided still so a few more leaves may go on. All the surrounding stars are finished and were ready to add. This is a little small for a bed covering... Leave as is? Add a border?

"Mrs. Furui? Remember that odd green fabric you and I bought years ago? The one that made your eyes smart?' (the design is fuzzy and you don't know if your eyes are blurring or the fabric is off..)

Mrs. Ochiai laughed because Mrs. Furui knew right away what fabric I was talking about.

"Hey, that actually looks nice!"

Mrs. Okutomi made the comment that an inner piping of the same fabric around on the other side of the stars would be nice so we added that trim too. Mrs. Furui cut, someone ironed, someone pinned and I sewed.

We didn't get to a complete flimsy stage (no fuzzy borders on this yet... ) but our blocks are beginning to look like a quilt!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Today's post was originally written for an e-mail to Julie who is also a pre-school teacher. I got started writing and couldn't stop!!!

For 23 I've been teaching weekly at a kindergarten and from 5 years ago I also teach at a nursery school every other week. Today's post is mostly about the kindergarten...I'm not sure principal would be too happy about my post though...

When my children entered kindergarten (at age three!) we all had a very good experience. Japanese children traditionally start kindergarten at least from age four, and 20 some years ago starting at age three was the norm. The Japanese thinking is that a child needs to learn to get along with his peers and learn how to cooperate and live together in a group society so kindergarten starts early. Many mothers' fears were that if a child entered kindergarten later than all his classmates, then he would not fit into the group.

The kindergarten my children attended and where I teach English now, was associated with the church we attended and I was already friends with the kindergarten principal. The three other kindergarten teachers were just pretty young things barely out of jr. college, not yet married, and they had energy to climb jungle gyms and catch frogs and ride unicycles. The kindergarten itself was a run down place with chickens wandering around the grounds and all children going barefoot indoors and out. NOTHING was "taught" There were no desks, few tables, everybody sat on the wooden floor and sang songs or did finger plays or made "art" from paper trash... toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes. A lot of emphasis was given to collecting bugs and flowers and climbing poles or skipping rope. Every morning we mothers sent our little ones to kindergarten with a lunch box made with pretty little decorations to make it most appealing (I remember cutting up wieners to look like baby octopi... or cookie cutting cheese slices into flower shapes.)

My children LOVED kindergarten!!!

My kids graduated from kindergarten but I never did. After 23 years I am still there teaching English.

Over the years things have changed. For one, the old kindergarten was rebuilt to look snazzy but it lost some of its outside play area space. Chickens were banned during the avian flue months. Though English was one of the first extra curriculum subjects, other part time teachers were brought in and now there is a schedule that includes Rhythmics, Arts and Crafts, Calligraphy and Swimming. The kindergarten was offered a large chunk of land in another city and they have planted blueberry bushes and made an obstacle course and can do all sorts of nature things out in the "off campus" but takes the kids 45 minutes to get there. There are countless other activities going on throughout the year that keep everybody hopping. Overnight stay during the summer, Sports Day and Bazaar during the autumn, Christmas pageant presentation during the winter, graduation ceremonies in the spring and all this takes A LOT of preparation from teachers and children during the weeks ahead of each event.

The kindergarten now has about 120 students attending it daily. 30-33 children in each class... Three year old class, four year old class, five year old class. And in the past couple of years there is a "Pre-three year old class" which means that the children who became three after the school year started can come to kindergarten the month of their third birthday. There are about 15 children in that class. Some of them (most of them?) aren't even out of diapers! This is a new trend I think... The mothers vie to get their children into kindergarten as early as possible and the day of registration some of the parents camp out from the morning of the day before in order to get one of the 33 prized seats in whichever class.

Kindergarten opens up about 8:00 in the morning with some teachers boarding one of two buses that make the rounds to pick up children. A few of the children in the neighborhood walk to the kindergarten and are welcomed by the remaining teachers. Each class (remember... 4 classes) has two teachers, one who is considered the head teacher, the other is the assistant. And in the past few years the kindergarten has incorporated a program of accepting handicapped children; emotionally, physically, mentally handicapped and for each student accepted a part time teacher is assigned to care completely for that child. This means that in a class of 33, there are usually 3 handicapped children, three assigned part time teachers and the two regular teachers all gathered in the little room and sitting on the floor or in little wooden chairs. IT IS CHAOS! I feel for the young teachers trying to teach and control while older part time teachers (usually older former teachers making a comeback after marrying and raising their own children) sit and care for their charges. I sure wouldn't want to be observed all the time if a were a young teacher starting out!

The young teachers (between 20 and 25) are frazzled. They try to keep control of the classroom despite outburst from autistic children or even children protesting being away from their mommies so soon in life. Japanese children in general are not spanked (you can see how old fashioned I am.... but I'm meaning even in the home) nor taught about time outs or anything else to encourage them to behave. If a child wants to have a tantrum right there then he will. If he wants to go out and play he might have some part time teacher chasing him and holding on to him as he screams to be let loose, but he is not disciplined. (By five most of the children have learned to sit.) And by the way... kindergarten hours go unofficially until 2:00 but then the teachers board the buses to take all the kids home. Nowadays a good portion of the students stay until 6:00 on extended care time. (They are not "taught" anything in particular... just cared for until parents pick them up.) Teachers are normally at the kindergarten until at least 7:00 though when preparing for events they often stay until 8:00 or 9:00.

As of last year I finally told the principal that I could not handle 33 three year olds at one time even with 4 or 5 adults in the room trying to get everybody seated (think of constantly moving puppies in a box... 33 of them!) I asked that the class be divided into two groups. That worked so-so.

This year when the three year old class became the four year old class, I asked to still teach them in two groups... 15 or so kids are enough of a challenge. And when talking about dividing the new three year old class into two groups I suggested that we divide the oldest class that way too. They were older... they would be able to imitate and play games and I might even get them to try simple conversations with me IF ONLY THERE WEREN'T SO MANY OF THEM! They were already missing out on a lot of English time last year because they had to run off to swimming lessons or ride the bus to the nature campus or go practice tea ceremony or whatever... Everybody is so busy...

So this year I teach two classes each of 3 classes (the pre-three year old class won't start till summer). I'm afraid we don't really learn anything anyway. I would LIKE to have English reviewed during the week... you know, have the teacher sing one of the songs I've taught before lunch or something. But the poor teachers look so exhausted that I don't feel like I can ask them to add something else to their daily schedule.

Yesterday was a nice day when I went to the kindergarten so most of the children were playing outdoors. They seemed to have made a mud yard (half of the yard!) and everyone was having a great time getting dirty. Ah... I remember those days of scrubbing my children's clothes clean! That teacher got down in the mud too didn't she?!

In another class there was a quick five minute rhythmic exercise with the teacher just playing music on the piano and the children knowing what movement to go into without any explanation...

In the older class, the teacher was giving a lesson on braiding. See the teacher's foot sticking out there? She is instructing the children on how to hold on to the the knotted fabric with your toes and then braid towards you.

Just looking at these pictures makes me tired. I'm feeling my age.