Monday, October 31, 2011

Not my stuff

Do you remember going to a friend's house when you were a youngster and helping her wash the dishes? I do. I remember helping her do her chores and coming home and telling my mother how much fun I had at Candy's house washing dishes. And my mother would respond,

"Why is it you can have fun doing dishes at someone else's house but you complain and mope and do a sloppy job when I ask you to wash the dishes at home?"

"I don't know, but it is fun to clean someone else's house, not my own."

Today Tetsu has the day off. This morning he started in cleaning my kitchen. Cupboards, drawers... Now, I know that I will be happy when I come home and find a new to me kitchen. But I really would like to point out the piles of his books by the futon, the Japanese room closet that holds plastic bags of the stuff he emptied from his car, his clothes stuffed in a cubby that seem to be multiplying.

I can hear Tetsu whistling as he cleans my kitchen. He is having fun. Do you suppose I should just change my attitude and clean up his stuff and pretend this is not my house?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kindergarten bazaar

Well, the kindergarten bazaar went off with a bang! It was a beautiful fall day and everyone had a good time. Many, many former students and their parents and it took some doing on my part to pull names out of the back of my head. (Well, I've been at this kindergarten for 20 years!) When I absolutely couldn't, it was a good chance to ask,

"What's your name? How old are you now?" and put the kids on the spot!

Our Tree Quilt was the grand prize in the raffle again this year but I must admit that the kindergarten mother's group had a beautiful quilt to raffle too. There were years when our patchwork group (for the bazaar quilt we label our quilts "Crazy Lady Quilters") completely controlled the raffle. When that became too much work for us, we offered to make the quilt if the kindergarten mothers would run the raffle. And then a mothers' group started doing patchwork too and making scads and scads of things to raffle off as well as a wall hanging size quilt. I hope I'm not being too snooty in claiming that those first couple years we could condecendingly comment that the mothers had made a great try... But the last couple of years I've wondered if our quilt would get demoted to second prize. The mothers' patchwork group's quilt quality is soaring!

I loved all the colors the mothers' group used this year! Mrs. Furui and I made the observation that we need to use more color in next year's quilt!

Lots of food being sold at the bazaar. Sticky rice, pounded rice balls, Chinese steamed buns, curry rice, fried noodles, oden (simmered vegetables and fish cakes) pop corn, cotton candy etc.

A free market of sorts where I bought ANOTHER kimono that no one was interested in. They are SOO beautiful and it seems such a shame to throw the old kimonos out. I bought fresh vegetables, hand made baskets, and raffle tickets.

When I finished browsing stalls I ended up in the make-it-yourself section of the bazaar where children were making things with shrinking plastic and felt.

Knowing that I am handy with a needle I was given the job of sewing felt balls that the children were making onto cords or elastic for necklaces and hair ties. I had a great time in this corner having a chance to chat with mothers while I sewed felt balls.

The bazaar is over and now the kindergarten will concentrate on Christmas. Mrs. Furui and I are putting our heads together to decide next year's quilt pattern. I didn't win the bazaar quilt this year again but it went to a very happy little girl in the oldest kindergarten class.

(Yesterday's pictures from Mrs. Ochiai.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Best seat in the house

It is getting cold around here. I've bought fluffy slippers and wear tights under my jeans. In the morning the air is frosty when Tetsu and Choco and I go for a walk.

Someone commented that cats learn by consistency and that they just pretend that they don't understand the house rules. But as it gets colder my will in weakening. Right now I have Toi and Patora outside in the cat house. They have been out there since July when Tetsu decided that that is where they should live. Patora has never been happy about this new rule. She "Meows" constantly. You would think by now that she would give up and accept that she is a cat-house cat.

During the summer I really worried that our next door neighbor would complain. They have complained about Choco's barking, and the cat house is even closer to their house! In the summer with everyone's windows open all night I certainly could hear Patora making a racket! As the seasons turned to fall and everyone closed their windows at night, I relaxed a bit about Patora disturbing the neighbors...

But now it is getting cold. Can I really leave those cats in the cat house all winter? They have a Styrofoam box that supposedly keeps in body heat and they can cuddle together. I can make them a heating pad during the day or night if they need it, but Patora really wants to be with the humans (or maybe she just wants house warmth... She is not a friendly kitty). Toi could care less about where he is as long as he gets fed.

Anyway, even after 4 months, Patora is not giving in on the complaining department. I am ready to give in... Her constant noise and banging at the window is driving me loony. I often just turn off lights and close the door to that part of the house and go do things upstairs just so I don't have to listen to her. Should I feel sorry for her or angry with her for her stubbornness?

Although none of the other cats but Toi like Patora, they probably would agree that it is getting cold and everyone needs to seek out warmth. Yesterday I found Mi in the bathroom.

And pretty soon Chip joined her. Mi looks like she is saying,

"Hey, this is MY spot!"

Someone left the toilet seat cover up and Mi discovered that the toilet seat is heated.

Now if I could just train the cats to use the toilet since they are already sitting there...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday's activities

Yesterday I was at patchwork again but didn't have such a successful day. I had promised to make some Pineapple blocks for Mrs. Harada but the first one I made was too small. I made the second and third one by hand. And then someone suggested I do the blocks paper piecing so I spent quite a lot of time measuring (not my forte) and making a paper piecing pattern. I perforated the paper with the sewing machine unthreaded and yesterday at Mrs. Furui's house I tried sewing. The sewing is so much easier! The block looks beautiful! BUT IT WAS TOO BIG!!!! I give up! I handed all the blocks, small and large, to Mrs. Harada and told her she could use what she liked and thow away the rest. I AM NOT MAKING ANY MORE PINEAPPLE BLOCKS! (I see that I was so disgusted that I didn't even take any pictures.)

On the other hand, Mrs. Harada made me four more star blocks (and hers were all the right size!) and now I need to decide what to do with all my blocks. Mrs. Furui did some measuring and I sat on the floor trying to arrange paper squares into a pleasing pattern. I can see how having the Electric quilt might be helpful. I will be playing with my squares for the next few days.

As a group, all my friends and I sat around trying to decide on a quilt pattern for NEXT YEAR'S bazaar. This year's bazaar will be held tomorrow and our tree quilt be raffled off. I'll try to take pictures of that event tomorrow. The quilt raffle is always the highlight of the bazaar and hopefully people will be surprised and pleased at this year's contribution. But next year's quilt? We poured over Mrs. Furui's books and made suggestions. A Christmas quilt? A house quilt? How about a simple Nine-patch? Grandmother's Fan quilt? We never did make any decisions which is surprising and a shame. Usually we have a line up of quilts we want to make but this year we seem to be running out of ideas. I'll spend some time on the computer looking for patterns too.

And in the evening I had my group of boys come for Halloween crafts. ARGGHH! These boys don't get along well even normally (Y-kun causes a lot of annoyance and bickering) but last night they were at their peak arguing about who was copying whose idea, who should go first, who had taken whose scissors etc. By the end of the hour I was wide eyed and panting! But I guess they all went home happy with their Halloween cats so maybe that is all that matters. A night like that though makes me want to stop being an English teacher!!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kindergarten activites

I was at the kindergarten yesterday. Lots of activities going on there.

The oldest group of children "make" a bunch of grapes every year. I must have a grape cluster or two in one of my cupboards from when my children made them at this same kindergarten. Why grapes? It is a Christian kindergarten,

"I am the Vine, you are the branches."

The grapes are made of purple pieces of origami paper that the children crumple and then wrap in squares of mom's old stockings and secure with rubber bands! Yeah! A little sewing and they have grape clusters.

Some of the children were outside practicing stilt walking. The kindergarten has numerous bamboo stilts and the kids get quite good at walking around a chalk drawn path using stilts (albeit not too high stilts). Here the kindergarten teacher was helping a little girl get the hang of it. The teacher is barefoot, the child is wearing zori.

And finally I passed out cookies dressed as a witch. "Trick-or-Treat!" "Here you are." "Thank you." Everyone posed for a picture with the witch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween black cats

Yesterday I did my first round of making Halloween decorations with two of my English students.

Every year I try to think up some craft project for Halloween and for Christmas. I'm doing a repeat of the Halloween decoration. I must have done this with children at least 5 or 6 years ago. I'm hoping none of my current students have done this with me.

Take black felt and draw an odd shape "body". I made a cardboard pattern for the kids to trace.

Trace around a dish or plate twice, one circle for the head, one circle for the tail.

With felt scraps make two ears. I gave the children orange felt scraps too to make an inner ear.

Provide two oval shaped sequins for eyes. (I've cut ovals out of reflector paper and that works as well).

Use a pompom or a scrap of felt for a nose.

Draw a face and legs with a White Out pen.

Cut one circle in a spiral for a tail.

With a gather stitch make a ribbon from a square of fabric.

Add yarn to hang.

With hot bond, put all the pieces together. Voila! Black cats!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Miscellaneous post

Oh dear.... Not much going on today. Another miscellaneous post. Sorry about that.

Leiya finally got SOME money this weekend. The money I sent directly from Japan arrived in her bank account. The money I've been trying to transfer from my California bank to her Ohio bank has yet to be successful. Think I should change banks? (I would if I could from this distance. I've been trying to send money to Leiya since April!)

My knitting is going slowly. Is this even called knitting? It is an afgan stitch and though it does look nice, it is much slower going than my usual knitting goes. I sure hope I finish this by Christmas. I had plans to knit something for the kids this year too but I probably won't find the time now. Sorry Takumi and Leiya. Tetsu comes first!

The other day when at the kindergarten, the principal very proudly showed me a piano cover that was at her son's house. The mother-in-law had made it for their piano but the principal was so taken by the handwork that she "borrowed" it for a few weeks just so that she could show people like me. Isn't this beautiful embroidery/crochet? There were 6 of these embroidered maidens along the front of the cover and all the edges were hand button hole stitched. So many talented people in the world!

A couple people asked me about the Tessellating Cats quilt and where I found the pattern. I've mentioned before that it was once published in the McCalls Quilting magazine October 2009, but the pattern can no longer be bought. The designer has put out a book though with other SIMILAR cat patterns called "Copy Cat Quilts" by Dawn E. Navarro, but this quilt can't be found in the book (is what I hear... I didn't buy the book.)

I was also asked about the Bargello quilt which so many of you have complimented me on, but personally I'm not that thrilled with it. I started out trying to follow a picture of a Bargello quilt and roughly guessed at the measurements needed. Then I just added Bargello strips and dividing strips in the same colors. No real plan. I really should have kept the dividing strips a bit narrower. And to my eye, this Bargello "goes" nowhere. I have used Marge Edie's book "Bargello Quilts" before and I may go back and try another of her designs. The big question now is HOW DO I QUILT THIS? Until I decide, the quilt is pinned to the wall.

Tetsu carved two more pumpkins for me. Our yard is festive!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two cultures

When your young child is naughty, what do you do? In my house I would take Takumi or Leiya aside, scold, and then send them to their room.

But in Japan, when a child is naughty, the parent will scold (maybe... Japanese parents are rather lenient with their youngest children) and put the child outside the house. And lock the door!

When I first observed a screaming child in the neighborhood pounding on the front door begging to be let in, I had visions of child abuse and neglect. When I realized that this punishment was the norm, my next thought was "How can a mother let her child scream like that OUTSIDE for all the neighbors to hear and wonder about?"

In Japan, the ultimate punishment at ANY age, is to be set apart from the social group. Junior high and high school students will be ostracized as a passive type of bullying which scars the child for decades. Even businessmen will be routed to a far corner of an office and ignored by the rest of the office workers all because of expressing an unpopular opinion. Women fear not being accepted by their neighbors or PTA groups. There is a saying in Japanese, Mura hachi-bu which is an example of this way of thinking.

Mura means village and hachi-bu means eight parts. In the long ago eras of Japan the way to punish someone in the village was to exclude them from eight of the village's social events, weddings, Coming of Age Day etc... To this day, the possibility of being excluded is the ultimate punishment for not trying to fit in, not living cooperatively in the very close social structure of Japanese society.

To be honest, Tetsu and I had the real concern that our children would not be accepted by their school mates or that I would not be able to fit into our rural neighborhood all because of being a slightly different (greatly different!) mixed-culture family. Happily, we never seemed to have too many problems fitting in though my children may have hid their school battles from me.

Naughty children in Western cultures will be sent to their rooms to ponder why they were scolded, to think about what rule they may have broken. Their FREEDOM is taken away from them for a short period and Westerners really value their freedom and independence! Maybe being set apart isn't as strong a punishment for the Western child but being confined makes him think twice!

Living in two cultures can be puzzling and frustrating at times. I would rather think that my family that having two cultures has enhanced our lives and made them more interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Yesterday I felt like I'd been paid the highest compliment when 6 of my former students gathered in my home for a few hours. 6 beautiful young ladies, all grown up and starting families of their own!

15 years ago I held an English class for 7 junior high school girls. None of them were particularly good in English and they were more interested in laughing and being silly. I had to scold sometimes, took away their pocket bells (before cell phones!!), I sent one girl home even. We made cookies together at times and played games. One girl didn't like cats and I remember comforting her while she sobbed after a cat jumped on her lap. Towards the end I was quite glad when the girls stopped coming for English. They were developing attitude problems and I decided around that time that I would no longer teach junior high students.

For 15 years I barely had contact with any of the girls except for the one who lives across the street from me. I heard that so-and-so had gotten married, so-and-so had a baby, but I didn't think much about them and they never thought about me.

Not too long ago, out of the blue, one girl called me asking if she could visit. One thing led to another and yesterday 6 of the girls showed up, two leading youngsters! We called the last girl who is married and lives in another prefecture and included her in the festivities too. The girls brought cakes and crackers. I served peanut butter cookies and was tickled to hear them exclaiming about how good the cookies were, how they remember filling my tiny kitchen to make cookies. The cookies went away quickly!

It was fun for everyone. The 6 girls have never gotten together like yesterday and they exchanged a lot of stories. 6 girls are married (the one single girl got a lot of advice on choosing a husband!). Actually one girl has been married and divorced twice! 5 of the girls have babies and little children! Two girls are very annoyed at their husbands right now who do so little child care... Oh dear... I hope the complaints are not serious... One girl has only been married 6 months and can hardly bear to be away from her hubby.

I was asked for advice on how to keep a loving husband and wife relationship after SOOOO many years (Tetsu and I must look ancient!) A couple girls wistfully talked about how they could be better students if they studied English now. A couple of girls focused on the patchwork (which was on my walls even 15 years ago. "Teacher, why do you have blankets on your walls?") and wondered if they'd have the patience to make something like it for their children someday.

After three hours everyone trooped out the front door not unlike 15 years ago (I noticed that they've all learned to leave their shoes neatly in the entry... now boots and high heels! When they were junior high students every week their shoes were thrown about every which way!)

Promises to get together again... maybe for the single girl's wedding hopefully someday soon?

How pleased I am to know that the girls have fond memories of English time and haven't forgotten me after all!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October handwork

Miscellaneous news today. Not even news... Daily life.

I think I have finished making the Bargello flimsy. Actually my friends asked if I could make a quilt to fit a certain size wall but as usual I can't remember the sizes they gave me. 140 centimeter? 250 centimeters? I think this is done and I don't want to make it bigger (if they wanted a larger size) by adding more borders. If it is not the right size I guess I'll just make another someday. Now to quilt this. (I should have sewn directly onto batting eliminating quilting altogether. I forgot that little step...)

I volunteered to make up two or more Pineapple blocks for Mrs. Harada's quilt. But I volunteered because I'd seen Mrs. Okutomi's contributions that were machine pieced (the rest of us did the blocks by hand). Making a Pineapple block by hand was driving me crazy but if machine piecing was acceptable then I was willing to do another. And I made a block.

AND IT WAS DING-DANG-IT TOO SMALL! So I took out a few pieces and added larger corners hoping that I could cheat and make the same size block. Nope. Still too small!!! What a waste of time! I went back to hand piecing the dang thing. One more blue block done. One red block in the making. A loose block (too small) to add to the orphan box that I've got somewhere... Sigh.

And Mrs. Furui asked me to sew up two yellow stars for a quilt she is making for the hospital. I'm not really sure what these are going to be added to.

Which reminds me... I never showed Mrs. Furui's HAND QUILTED bed cover that she made for the local Ronald McDonald House.

I only have to look at the BACK of Mrs. Furui's quilts to know she has made another heirloom.

Today is a rainy day and I'm making peanut butter cookies (delicious!) and bean soup (pretty good) and roasted pumpkin seeds (those didn't turn out so well... Bleh.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Halloween class

We are getting ready for Halloween around here. Tessellating Cats quilt up on the wall (black cats up), decorations on the porch. I have mixed feelings about Halloween... I remember my father face painting me when I was a child and dressing up as a fairy and such. In my days the churches weren't promoting Harvest Festival in exchange for Halloween so I was surprised when some Christian friends refused to participate in Halloween activities a few years ago.

Since then I have mentioned to the Christian kindergarten that maybe this isn't a "Christian" activity but the principal considers it all American play and so every year I get dressed up as a witch and hand out cookies. But already I've got little children (granted only one in each class) that are crying about upcoming Halloween activities... We are practicing Halloween vocabulary.

"Look! There's a bat! Look! There's a wizard!"

Most of the kids love it but there are always a couple...

The children who come to my house look forward to Halloween too. Y-kun has been talking about Halloween since the beginning of September and this year he provided me with pumpkins to make Jack-O'Lanterns. He lugged in the first pumpkin in September and the other two came earlier this month.

"Let's make a Jack-O'Lantern!"

"Not this week. It won't last until Halloween if we make it so early."

I have been telling him this since the first pumpkin.

I discussed the situation with Tetsu. Y-kun REALLY wants to make a Jack-O'Lantern. And he carved one himself a couple of months ago (and gave it to me) so I know he can do it. But the idea of knives and Y-kun makes me very nervous and other boys fighting to get involved too? I don't think so.

Tetsu discouraged handing Y-kun a knife (though Y-kun does help me cook, right?). But the pumpkins ARE Y-kun's... Tetsu came home early last night and watched the boys wildly interacting and then took Y-kun aside and together (sort of) carved a pumpkin. Joy! for Y-kun. A lovely huge pumpkin! (By Japanese standards) And everybody got to view the lantern lighting and sit in the dark room for awhile. Yeah! Five happy boys and my front yard is now ready for Halloween.

(I still have two more pumpkins. Do you think Tetsu will carve them for me if I jump up and down with joy?)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teaching hand quilting

The other day I was trying to teach hand quilting. Actually two of my friends had made their quilt flimsies and I'd sent them home with instructions to do the quilting. Obviously that wasn't enough instruction. I'm pretty sure I demonstrated before giving the homework but one student had a lot of trouble (for various reasons... the backing puckered. We re-basted).

I have never had problems hand quilting. My first few quilts might not have been great but I have a feeling I developed my stitch fairly easily after buying a thimble. (Before that I was only getting back-stabbed right hand fingers! OUCH!) I felt like I was a real quilter with a thimble on my finger!

Then someone handed me a quilting hoop and I had to learn the technique all over, but by the next quilt I was doing pretty well again.

A few months later someone demonstrated using a thimble on the left hand index finger as well as on the right hand and I was impressed with their small stitches. I spent another quilt learning the double thimble technique but I got pretty good at that too!

And this last year, Erika recommended an Aunt Becky, and Liz sent me one! I've now developed my hand quilting technique using the Aunt Becky and I am very happy with it. I really enjoy the relaxation of hand quilting.

So, maybe hand quilting comes easily to me. I realize that some people really don't like using the hoops and thimbles but I always say,

"Keep trying. It really does make the quilting look nice and remember, you are aiming for small stitches (aiming!)"

Even so, many people give up using that bottom thimble. Oh, well, there are many ways to do it!

I had sent my two students home with homework. But one student came back with a "punctured" quilt stitch. Not a running quilt stitch. Poke the needle down. Pull thread to the back. Poke the needle back up blindly, hoping for a spot near the down-poke. Pull the thread up. This did not make for a line of stitches and on the back side the stitches were basically back stitches.

"Oh dear. This is going to take you forever and probably won't look so good! You really must master a running stitch!"

Poor woman! We took out many of her stitches and I tried teaching a running stitch (with hoop, with thimbles). AARGH!!! It certainly didn't come easily for her! My student was dropping thimbles, bending needles to breaking point, pulling up gobs of fabric and only getting one stitch done at a time (well, that's twice as fast as the punctured stitch technique). And on top of all that, she is left handed so my demonstrating was very difficult for her to follow!

My feeble teaching admonition was

"Strive for two stitches at a time. Don't expect to be able to put 6 stitches on a needle at first. Consider it a success if you can do two stitches. The more you do the better you'll get." (I sure hope!!!)

The other student was having fun with two rather long stitches on her needle.

"Now try to get three stitches on the needle. Try to make the stitches smaller."

But what it boils down to is I know HOW to quilt but I don't know how to TEACH quilting. Any advice besides,

"Keep practicing!"

So far my students are NOT finding hand quilting "Relaxing".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Church outing

Another quicky post. I've STILL got bank problems!!! I hate the banks!!!! (Or rather I hate on-line banking!!!!!) I'm off to the bank today.

On Sunday our church went off to a neighboring campground and had our service outside with a lunch of vegetable soup afterward. I made the soup though in this picture it looks like Tetsu made it. I don't know how I ended up with the job. You would think I am the least capable person to make Japanese vegetable soup. Remember, I hate cooking.

Well, not too difficult. Throw in pork, squishy potatoes, carrots, burdock root, icicle radish, konyaku (a glutinous potato), deep fried tofu skins, tofu, Chinese cabbage, two types of mushrooms, green onions and miso. Simmer for an hour. Serve with rice balls (each family brought their own.)

It was a lovely day. On the way home we found a family of monkeys crossing the road!

Sorry, the pictures are not too great. The monkeys would not cooperate by standing still. And monkeys have been known to enter a car and steal food if you roll down your windows so these pictures were shot through the windshield!