Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snow again

Rats. It's snowing again. 6 teachers were out shoveling snow at the crosswalk this morning.

Lovely to look at but hard on snow shovelers and drivers. I have to be one of the drivers today.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Speck? Plank?

As I mentioned yesterday, I've not been out blog visiting for a couple of weeks now. Sunday when I spent a few hours visiting I noticed NEW verification settings.

"Please type the TWO words in order to verify that you are a human."

I wanted to point out that those weren't WORDS at all, according to my book.

I had already been getting frustrated by the longer and longer verification words that needed to be typed in, but TWO? And hard to read at that! I joined in on the complaining about Blogger's verification set-up. Grumble, grumble, irritation, irritation.

But you know what? I didn't realize I had verification set-up for my own comments. I always go into my blog from bookmarks and I guess if I'm already logged in I didn't have to see the comments page. And come to think of it I also never make comments on my OWN blog so I had no idea I was putting people through verification deciphering until Mrs. Goodneedle mentioned it to me.

I THINK that I've turned that off now. Someone please let me know if you find it still on.

"How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"
Matthew 7:4

Monday, February 27, 2012


I spent a few hours reading blogs yesterday. I get so annoyed with myself for falling behind on so many things. Answering comments, Bible reading, doing exercise, keeping the house clean, reading blogs and of course sewing. THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY!

Of course once I get on the computer I am tempted by other new links and new information. The computer is the time eater! Yesterday someone had a link to Picnik, a free photo application (free for a couple months only) and I played around with that too.

This is a picture of my Alabama Beauty blocks. Just blocks, not a flimsy nor a quilt yet. Lorraine innocently asked me how the Alabama Beauty blocks were doing and I had to admit that they hadn't been out of their box for nearly 6 months. Now, WHAT WAS I PLANNING TO DO WITH THESE? Lorraine and I spread them out and I vaguely remembered that I had decided to set the blocks on point. And while looking at them I decided that I wanted a gradation effect (which is hard to have when that may not have been the original plan!)

I took pictures of my Alabama Beauty blocks laid out and then yesterday played around on Picnik. Oh, how pretty. I hope the quilt comes out as nicely....

Now... I've GOT to get off this computer and cross some things off my To-Do list. Be careful on that Picnik website. You'll lose a couple of hours!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekend with Lorraine

Lorraine and I had a lovely weekend. She is the perfect guest! I didn't have to worry about having the house clean, she coped with cats on her lap every time she sat down, she ate anything and everything, she showed interest in neighborhood walks, tourist trips, hot spas and convalescent homes. Her camera was out constantly, she bought things that interested her with abandon.

Thursday night, Lorraine sewed while I taught English children (and used her as a Guinea pig for the kids to ask her English questions they'd learned. "What's your favorite color? What's your favorite Japanese food?)

Friday, I was supposed to teach English but my student couldn't come so instead we made a visit to Tetsu's convalescent home.

"I don't know why he thinks you might be interested in seeing it but if you'd like to... "

And Lorraine did so we spent the morning taking a tour of the home and talking to residents. I suppose it was interesting in its way.

"Okay, what do you want to do for the rest of the day?"

"I'd really like to go back to Oya and see what that area was really like."

"OYA! You want to go back to OYA?!"

That's the rock quarry we were in when the earthquake struck.

"Well, not INSIDE of Oya, but I'd like to see the area again and get a feel of where we were. We left so fast last year."

Okay. Oya it is.

We stopped at the road to the quarry we had been visiting. It is blocked off now with chains and no trespassing signs.

"Due to March's earthquake the quarry is closed. Though there was little damage to the quarry itself, Japanese geologists predict stronger earthquakes in future years and so the quarry will be closed until further notice."

I wouldn't be surprised if Lorraine and I will be the last tourists ever to enter (and leave!) that quarry.

The rest of the day we wandered through gift shops and recycle shops. In the evening Tetsu invited us to go to a hot spa and then have revolving sushi. It is a good thing that Lorraine is comfortable with public bathing and raw fish!

The plan for Saturday morning was to go to the pottery town on the other side of the prefecture.. I pulled open the curtains to snow!

"AHHGH! It's snowing! Were we supposed to have snow? I can't drive in snow!!!"

I apologized to Lorraine and we settled in for a morning of sewing and chatting.

But after a couple hours the snow stopped and we made the trip to the pottery town after. I'm afraid I had to hurry Lorraine through the shops because we only had a few hours until she had to catch her train. I so enjoyed watching Lorraine browse and finger and appreciate all the different types of pottery.

I don't know if Lorraine is ever going to get back to Nikko or even Japan but she has been a wonderful guest and friend while she has been here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lorraine's visiting!

Yesterday was a patchwork day, and not just ANY patchwork day....!

Lorraine is visiting!!!

Lorraine is my Australian friend who has been coming to Japan about once a year and makes a trip (rather long) to visit our patchwork group in Utsunomiya. And Lorraine and I weathered last year's earthquake after escaping from a rock quarry and then camping out together for the next few days while Japan pulled itself together. We spent many cold hours sewing, chatting, glued to the TV, and reassuring each other.

And now Lorraine is back visiting Japan! She didn't let any ol' earthquake scare her!

I picked Lorraine up at the Utsunomiya station. (She is braver than I am about using the trains by herself) and there she was standing in front of the station clutching a quilt (to donate to the Ronald McDonald House). Back we went to Mrs. Furui's house where she was met by many hugs and a lot of laughter.

I don't know that any of us got a lot done yesterday but it felt good to have most of our group members, including an important one from Down Under, together again for a day of sewing and chatting.

Lorraine is spending a couple of days at my house this weekend and we will do many of the things we did last year. Hopefully minus any earthquakes!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cats' Day!

In Japan it is February 22 already. 2/22. The Japanese vocabulary for numbers are ichi (one), ni (two), san (three) etc. That makes today's date: ni-ni-ni, three twos in a row. And adjusting that even further that makes it nyan-nyan-nyan. And that's what a Japanese cat says! Not "meow", but "nyan".

February 22nd is Cats' Day in Japan!

In honor of Cats' Day, Mi wants to say hello.

"Nyan, Nyan, Nyan!"

Mi, you have milk on your bottom lip.

Happy Cats' Day!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Picture frame(s)

Yesterday my wonky carpenter was working hard.

Every year since Takumi was born, our family has made picture a New Year's card and displayed all of them by the stairway. We have 27 New Year's cards in 27 frames!

But last year during the earthquake, most of the frames fell off the wall and the glass in the frames broke. For a long time, while we still had aftershocks, the New Year's cards sat piled by the piano. I was afraid to put them back up on the wall! But come on! 9 months of broken frames by the piano?

I started putting some of the frames back up but the crash to the floor had made some lopsided, and most of them were off-centered. It is a small thing, but to have to go by the wall everyday and adjust 27 crooked picture frames was driving me bananas!!! I finally bought some big frames and asked Tetsu to put them on the wall.

Tetsu didn't trust the picture frames nor Japan being prone to earthquakes. Those frames are surely just going to get shaken to the floor again (in maybe lesser earthquakes) unless he devised something sturdy...

And so now our 26 New Year's cards are again up on the wall in an original Tetsu design.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Free motion machine applique

I finally gathered my courage to free-motion applique Mrs. Furui's center block. I had so much fun! I don't know why I dread starting these things when basically they turn out pretty well.

First off I tried a couple practice pieces using zig-zag stitches. I find that my sewing machine will not allow a change in zig-zag width though I could change the length between stitches... so I had big ol' stitches in the applique pieces. So much for that idea. I went back to my free motion plan.

Another glitch was trying to do some "stitch dancing" off of the applique piece and onto the background. Because this doesn't have batting and backing yet, that didn't work either. The flimsy background fabric just puckered.... Okay... straight applique in all the pieces.

I starched the whole block liberally and started in. I had pink, blue and yellow variegated Sulky thread and some variegated brown and rainbow thread. I played around and changed threads, and jumped here and there all over the block. I didn't worry much about thread ends and clipped them close on the front (but left them hanging on the back). There was so much over-sewing that I'm pretty sure the threads won't come undone.

I was able to play around a bit on the flower basket and on the petals and pretty soon was humming away. In a few hours the whole thing was finished.

"That was easy!"

Of course I haven't shown Mrs. Furui yet so I don't have her approval on this block yet, but I'm pleased with the results!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mrs. Matsumoto's essay

Thank you for all your kind comments yesterday. I also asked Mrs. Matsumoto to write about kimono for me (English homework!) and she wrote and even brought pictures! I hope you will be interested to see how kimono has played a part in her life.


My name is Yukie Matsumoto. I am a student of Mrs. Watanabe’s English class. Last week she asked me to write about kimono and me. I thought back to when I first wore kimono, and I pulled out some of my old pictures.

The first picture of me in kimono was taken when I was two years old. It wasn’t a special day. My parents just dressed me in kimono for fun.

This was taken at my kindergarten entrance ceremony. It shows how many mothers wore kimono on that day, including my mother.

In the third picture, I was dancing a Japanese dance called “Daughter of Wisteria”. I am on the left side of the stage. This was for a festival at the kindergarten. My grandmother loved to do Japanese dancing too and so she was happy to see me perform that day.

The fourth picture was taken when I was seven years old. When girls become three years old and seven years old in Japan, in autumn there is the custom of celebrating their childhood. Most parents dress their little girls in kimono on this day.

The fifth picture is of my husband in high school. He belonged to a Japanese archery club and he wore kimono trousers called hakama when he competed in archery.

The sixth picture was taken when I was 20 years old for Coming of Age Day in Japan. I wore a special kimono called furisode, which has long sleeves. Furisode is the most formal kimono that only unmarried women may wear.

The last picture was taken when I graduated from college. I wore kimono and kimono trousers (hakama) on graduation day.

Looking back over my life of 40 years, I see that I have worn kimono many times even though I didn’t have any special attachment to kimono.

A few years ago, I needed to wear a kimono for a special event at my daughter’s kindergarten. I asked my mother to send me one of her old kimonos if she wasn’t going to use it any more. Instead, she sent me a lot of kimonos!

Yukie Matsumoto

Thank you Mrs. Matsumoto!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tieing an obi

Last year when I showed pictures of obis (kimono belts) on my blog, many people wondered how in the world Japanese women get that l~o~n~g~ belt on them. I asked my student, Mrs. Matsumoto, to explain about kimono and show me how she ties the obi. Yesterday she came for English wearing a kimono and let me take pictures.

Here is Mrs. Matsumoto wearing a kimono that she says she bought at a recycle shop for about $40. It is very old and smaller than kimono worn nowadays. 50 some years ago the average height of a Japanese person was quite a bit shorter, thus the kimono were shorter too. Mrs. Matsumoto is definitely on the petite side.

A kimono is not only beautiful for the painted, woven or embroidered designs on the kimono, it is also set off by gorgeous obis that can be tied in different decorative ways. Mrs. Matsumoto's obi is also a recycle shop find and has been tied and dyed billions of little times all over the silk (call shibori zome).

Mrs. Matsumoto wants you all to know that SHE IS NOT A KIMONO DRESSING TEACHER! She was quite worried about what Japanese blog friends are going to think with what she calls her unskilled kimono and obi tying skills. Mrs. Matsumoto is a housewife and part-time kindergarten teacher.

Here is a close up of the back of the kimono. It is held together by cords and it is tied in a traditional married women's style. A young girl would tie her obi more so that it looks like a bow or a butterfly or something but that would not be appropriate for someone of Mrs. Matsumoto's age.

At this point, I did the unthinkable and asked Mrs. Matsumoto to TAKE OFF her obi and let me show the steps. Here she removed the blue cord and the obi ends fell down her back.

In the front there was a silk sash tied just above the obi which is decorative but also hiding other cords that keep the obi in place.

With the decorative sash removed, the rough cotton sash can be pulled out from under the obi.

Once THAT cord is untied, the obi comes completely loose in back.

That decorative sash and the rough cord actually is a small pillow that sits up on the back and gives the obi its height as well as holding everything together!

See, the sash is hiding a pillow inside.

Now the obi can be unwrapped. It is wound around Mrs. Matsumoto's waist twice, the second unwind reveals a stiff fabric board that keeps the obi from wrinkling when bending over.

And once the board is removed, the obi falls completely to the floor.

You can see how long it is. And that beautiful ceiling to floor length thing is probably the most important part of a kimono. The kimono itself is still being held in place by a wide elastic belt... and under the kimono are plain under kimonos that are held by other sashes...

Oops. I'd better end with a picture of the Mrs. Matsumoto, obi clad.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bicycle Safety class

Yesterday I had to go to a city elementary school to help conduct a Bicycle Safety class with 6th graders. I helped last week at the local school (where I'm crosswalk guard) with no problems. The paper I received in the mail told me to be at the school 30 minutes ahead of time to help set up props.

Bicycle class time... 2:05. Okay. Get to the school by 1:30.

I didn't know where the school was but cleverly checked Google Maps. I arrived at the school on schedule and drove up to the main gate where someone waved me in.

"I'm here today for Traffic Safety."

"Yes, you're at the right place. Please park your car."

As I parked the person cell phoned someone, somewhere...

"The Traffic Safety person has arrived."

(Hmm. I'm not late... It's not like I need to be announced.)

Someone met me at the stairway and directed me upstairs to the principal's office.

"The others are already there and waiting."

Wow, everyone is sure punctual...

When I went into the office I recognized one lady but the head officer of the Traffic Safety Division (who scares me...) wasn't there.

"Oh... You're here for the Bicycle Class... Before that there is a ceremony. You won't mind waiting will you? Now where are the other two crosswalk guards that are supposed to be here."

Someone finally cell phoned them and discovered that they were out on the playground... with the head of the Traffic Safety Division.

"Well, we're ready to begin. Watanabe-san, (me) you stay here and someone will come for you when the ceremony is finished."

(Please no, I don't think that's a good idea. I already have no idea what I'm doing here.)

The lady I recognized took pity on me and suggested that I stay with the group and stand around in the background. (Thank you!) Off we went and were directed through a door. WHERE THE WHOLE STUDENT BODY WAS STANDING AND APPLAUDING AS WE ENTERED!!! This was an appreciation ceremony for the school's crosswalk guards! NOT ME!!!

I quickly made a left turn and veered off to the back of the gymnasium where I watched the ceremony (the other two crosswalk guards had come in the back door) and wondered where my bicycle class group was... And they were probably wondering where I was too!!!

There was no way I could get out of the gymnasium without going past the whole student body so I edged over to the window. There was my group of Traffic Safety people outside on the playground tapping their feet and looking at their watches! I could practically see the head officer frown and say

"Where is that Watanabe-san? Crosswalk guards must be punctual. She is more trouble than she is worth!"

I discreetly tried to catch the eye of someone in my group and felt much like I was in a comedy movie... Finally someone looked up at the window and I waved wildly and mouthed,

"I'm here! I'm in here! I'm trapped!"

The ceremony finished on time and the bicycle class proceeded smoothly. A couple tense seconds when someone handed me a microphone and asked me to say a few words about bicycle safety.

"Um... Use your bicycle bells wisely...."

What a dumb thing to say.

I don't think my elementary school has Crosswalk Guard Appreciation Day. I am SO glad.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Machine applique anyone?

Last week I passed my Crazy Goose Chase quilt on to Mrs. Furui to hand quilt.

This week she handed over her flower basket medallion block for me to machine applique.

A few weeks ago I had breezily suggested that the block would be easier to machine quilt and that I could do it for her in exchange for some hand quilting.

BUT... I realize now that I don't really know how to machine applique!

That's not completely true. I've machine appliqued before with fair results. (I can't think of anything off the top of my head though... I HAVE done this before haven't I? Or has that just been in my dreams?)

I DON'T want to do zig-zag stitch on the machine. I'm thinking of free-motion stitching around (on) all of the little bitty pieces. I went back on-line to see if I could find some videos that would inspire me but most machine applique videos were promoting zig-zag. I remember Sharon Schamber used to have videos of her machine appliqueing but I think one can only see those now if you are a member...

I've looked through a lot of the magazines that Julia sent me... and there are some gorgeous artistic quilts with free motion machine applique. Yes, I think I can do this!

But I'm a bit fearful of placing Mrs. Furui's lovely block under the needle.... Gulp.

Any advice?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Katsudon recipe

Poor Tetsu.

Last night he came home in a bad mood. Office meetings resulted in disgruntled people many of them angry at Tetsu. While he is pretty laid back at home I hear that he is strict and grumpy and unsmiling at work. I don't think I'd like to work under him! (So how come I can live with him?)

"Nobody gave me Valentine's chocolate today. I'm sure not very well liked at work."

Ah, but he is loved at home.

Last night I made Tetsu's favorite dinner. Katsudon. He loves Katsudon so much that whenever we go out his eyes zero in on Katsudon on the menu.

"Don't you get tired of that? I don't think eating so much Katsudon is good for you."

But it was Valentine's Day so I made him Katsudon.

  1. Two deep fried breaded pork cutlets (Of course these could be home made but I cheat and buy ready made in the store.)
  2. 1 sliced onion
  3. 3 eggs lightly scrambled
  4. 1 Tablespoon sweet mirin (sweet white wine will work... or skip it entirely)
  5. 3 Tablespoons sugar
  6. 1 Tablespoon osake or white wine
  7. 2 Tablespoons soy sauce.
  8. 100 ml fish soup stock (called dashi) or water... about half a cup.
Stir fry the sliced onions in a wok or fry pan. Add the mirin, sugar, osake, soy sauce and dashi. Bring to a boil. Add the sliced pork cutlets. Do not stir. Pour the eggs over the cutlets and place lid on pan at very low heat until the egg sets slightly. Serve over rice.

I also made Tetsu some peanut butter cookies with chocolate hearts pressed on top.

This morning Tetsu said,

"Thank you for last night's great dinner. You're the only one who loves me."

"Well, I wouldn't like it if someone else did too."