Friday, March 30, 2012

Keep in touch!

I spent much of yesterday morning saying goodbye to my friend Mrs. Kaneko who has moved away. How do you say goodbye to a friend who has been an anchor for more than 20 years?

We reminisced yesterday about our first meeting. Leiya was only a few months old. Mrs. Kaneko's daughter was a few months older... We were both letting our four year old sons play in the empty kindergarten yard. Mrs. Kaneko had moved into our neighborhood, she was enrolling her son in Takumi's class, she too was Christian. Our first conversation brought out those common denominators...

(Well, there I am holding Leiya, and there is Mrs. Kaneko holding her daughter. Takumi is next to me... and Mrs. Okutomi's twins... Mrs. Kaneko's son was probably running around catching bugs... We used to call him "Bug Professor".)

Together we have led Bible studies and took care of each other's children. We have dressed out daughters in kimono together (and ourselves!) and have agonized through our sons' confounding jr. high school years. I've given advice on puppy care and she has supported me through pet loss. In recent years we have commiserated over problems with aging mother-in-laws. Mrs. Kaneko often made the drive to visit me... and not many friends do that! I'm too far out in the country, and we have picnicked and hot spa-ed and chatted and chatted and chatted over coffee!

I think Mrs. Kaneko and I have had full blown out arguments twice... but I don't remember what the arguments were about... just that we had a difference of opinion, feelings were hurt... AND WE MADE IT THROUGH THE DIFFERENCES TO A STRONGER FRIENDSHIP. That is so important and maybe rare. So many times friends go separate ways if they can't agree...

Yesterday I picked up boxed lunches for Mrs. Kaneko and her husband and myself and we did last minute errands and then ate lunch in the park. Her house, which 20 plus years ago she had delightedly shown me construction plans, had been packed up and taken away. We sat on the floor and wandered through empty, dark rooms. Even Mrs. Kaneko's dog was feeling lonely!

Well, we have the telephone and e-mail and chat and other sources for staying in touch. I can pretend that she is in the next city over when I talk to her now... It's not hard to imagine...

Still, I'm wondering when we will be chatting over coffee again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I put all my stars together for the Star Within a Star quilt. I don't know how many times I counted the stars for this, always being one short; making a new one, counting again, being one short... etc. etc. I know someday I'm going to find a couple of finished mini-stars under the sofa or in a box or somewhere. I'm POSITIVE I'd already made enough stars way back when but I couldn't find them and had to make more...

This is a lap-sized quilt. Not big enough for a bed, not really small enough for the wall. I don't know what I should do with it from here. It will need to be marked for quilting, probably hand quilting, and I'm considering a star pattern in the empty spaces...

But first of all. Does this need a border? I tend to think of quilts that just run into the binding as unfinished and usually try to put a border on. If I'm industrious I'll try a fancy pieced border but right now I'm kind of tired of this quilt. I feel like I'm just working on it to catch up with my friends who are done with theirs... Do I want to just mark it and quilt it and bind it and be done in a couple months... or do I want to work on a fancy border which will take a couple months of thinking before a couple months (or years as the case may be) of quilting?

I have other projects waiting for me... A bed quilt I'm hand quilting... That Alabama Beauty that is nearly at this same stage and will want the same attention.

"Are you giving me a border or not?!"

And I've been preparing some blocks for embroidery in the optimistic possibility that I might find some free time to play with embroidery floss...

I'd like to make a baby-quilt...

I mean...My poor Star Within A Star... What's the point of putting in months of work on making a quilt and then at the end peter-out and do a half-hearted job on a border or non-border?

On the other hand, what's the point of putting in months of work on making a quilt that has no real destination... It might go on the back of the sofa... I'm not giving it away because many of the pretty stars in it were made by my friends.

I feel like I'm Hamlet in the Shakespearean play.

"To put on a border or not to put on a border... that is the question."~~~

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New shoes

Yesterday I got the insole for my shoe to help my bunions... bunion... whatever is wrong with my foot... Innocuous looking thing that cost a bundle (but supposedly insurance will reimburse some percentage at some point.) Two weeks ago I had bought a new pair of shoes on advice from my doctor, brought them to his office, let the orthotics technician take measurements and molds of my foot and new shoes and last night I went for a fitting. The doctor put the insole in the shoe, told me to try them on, zip up the sides (zip on shoes are easier to get into) and...


The dumb zipper broke!!! My new (two week old) shoes! ...for which I had been fitted.

"You'd better go and complain to the store about that." was the doctor's advice, so I did.

I expected some hassles at the shoe store because I had no proof I'd bought the shoes at this particular store, and I had worked myself into a huff by the time I drove into the parking lot.

"I'm going to ask for the manager, I'm going to complain, and if he won't do anything then I'm going to ask for information so that I can write a letter and rant at the brand manufacturer!"

I went into my long rigmarole story of WHY I had bought these shoes at this store, WHY I needed these exact shoes and WHY I didn't have the receipt. (Not to mention WHY the shoes were so dirty though I'd only had them two weeks (walking everyday with Choco in the rice fields and forest.)

The store people were extremely nice in the face of my agitated explanation. They checked their computer system and together we pinpointed down what day and what time I had bought these shoes at their store. (I didn't know they could do that!) They gave me a new pair of shoes and I was able to walk out of the store with the new insole in place. All that unnecessary elevated blood pressure!

Now to see how effective the insole and new shoes are!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last English class

Yesterday's graduating class had a good time I think. Lots of grimaces at the mechanics of cooking.

"I can't chop these onions! They make my eyes hurt!"

"Your mom's eye's hurt when she chops onions for you and she still cooks dinner. Get chopping!"

"I don't like carrots. (...and onions and garlic and tomatoes...) And I don't like these olives. They look like eyeballs. It's the first time I've ever hated something in such a short time."

"Too bad. That's what we are using today. You guys talk too much about what you don't like and what you can't do. You're going to have to learn to be more positive if you ever want to visit another country."

"I don't ever want to visit another country."

"Then why have you been studying English for so long?!"

We made our potato soup and Cherokee casserole and Rice Crispy cookies. And the girls gobbled it all up, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, OLIVES and all. And they declared everything delicious and went back for seconds and thirds!

They also got to do the honors of washing up with much laughter and joviality.

I directed them in the treasure hunt and that was fun... and no one wanted to go home so they called their mothers and asked to be picked up at 8:00 (they came at 4:00!) so we played Monopoly.

I think the girls were sorrier to be saying good-bye to Choco and the cats than to me. Choco actually LIKED these girls though it took 5 years. And Mi has always been the class "mascot" participating in most of our evening classes.

I suggested that someday if these girls ever want to learn to make a quilt, that they should come to me!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Police box

It is still cold around here and the flowers aren't ready to bud... Choco and I went for a walk through the fields but everything is still brown. The farmers are starting to put their fields in order for flooding later next month.

So... what can I show you? Hmmm... In the distance there are two buildings. A police box and a motel. Police boxes abound in Japan and one time they were very highly regarded. For years, Japan's low crime rate was attributed to the many neighborhood police boxes and the devoted police officers. Unfortunately the crime rate is rising in Japan despite police boxes and hard-working policemen...

The neighborhood police officer is a very nice young man and he and his wife live in the quarters behind the police box front room. He has a little black and white car that looks much like a wind up toy car and he patrols the district daily. Every morning he often drives along the roads while the children are walking to school and he nods and salutes me at my crosswalk corner. I guess I don't need big, mean and brawny, but the cute little car that he drives doesn't give him an air of authority. I don't think he carries a gun either but I'm not sure about that...

So, when do people go to the police box? I've reported a stolen bicycle, broken water pipes at weekend homes, stray dogs, found wallets, and dangerous debris in the tunnel. Last year Tetsu and I brought an obaachan whom I had noticed wandering the streets to the local police box. The police officer makes an appearance at the elementary school entrance and graduation ceremonies and he teaches a class on safety at the school each year (and there are three elementary schools in the district so he must be kept busy.) If the police officer isn't there, then his wife will file the report and relay the message to him when he gets back or of course if the problem is major, call the police station.

Unfortunately our little town has had its share of real crime... and the police have been somewhat effectual but not exactly speedy about solving mysteries... An arsonist set fire to 5 homes in our neighborhood a few years ago but it took months to catch the criminal red-handed. (The poor neighborhood policeman patrolled in the middle of the night too.) A few years ago a child was kidnapped and killed not far from where I live... That has never been solved and the police still pass out flyers asking for information.... The job of a policeman is never-ending and they are never allowed their own time while criminals are at large... and criminals will always be at large.

Sometimes the news reports incidents where a policeman has used his gun which resulted in injury or the death of someone (so I guess he DOES have one) and the policeman is severely criticized and accused of being gun happy. We often hear of hoodlums who flaunt their noses at the police who have their hands tied and can't really do anything except caution and threaten. Again, I'm not advocating abuse and violence but it does seem to me that the Japanese police are turning into "nice guys" who can't really do anything and don't have a lot of power behind them. That was fine when Japan was a fairly peaceful country but maybe we need a little bit more "meat" on police power nowadays.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Notebook covers

School is over. (Crosswalk duty is over!) English is over... at least for two weeks. In one of my English classes I have three 6th grade girls who will "graduate". I have found it easier all around to not teach Jr. high school students. Once students hit Jr. High they have almost mandatory club activities, sports, band etc. and they rarely get home from school before 7;00. Another reason is that these eager elementary school students for some reason become Jr. high students with an attitude and I'm not very long tempered...

So these three girls whom I've loved teaching are going to graduate from English class tomorrow. For weeks we have been planning cooking dinner together. The girls will come at 4:00 and we'll make a casserole (Japanese families have never eaten a casserole!), soup and probably cookies of some type. Afterwards I'm planning a treasure hunt in the house (give them some English reading practice..."Go look in the shoe cupboard.") and the treasure is going to be some notebooks.

I've been working on these notebooks for a couple of weeks too now... Elaine sent me a pattern and June sent me some kitty fabrics and together I made 4 notebook covers (I made an extra cover for one girl's older sister who used to come to English too.) Cute cute!

I quilted the fabric first... and then did conveyor belt sewing until I had my four "treasures". I hope the girls will be as pleased with them as I am!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two game quilts finished

Thursday I went to patchwork to work a bit on the kindergarten bazaar quilt. It is turning out to be much more complicated than we'd originally planned and we are no where finished... No pictures to show of that because we don't even have enough blocks made! And we all seemed to be doing different things and having different opinions so not much progress was made... Some years we are already at the quilting stage in April but not this year for sure.

But Mrs. Ochiai brought her beautiful Birthday Quilt that she made for her husband last week and we got to see it in person. I really felt that I had to show you the beautiful quilting that she did on this quilt! Isn't that gorgeous?! AND ALL BY HAND! This is really proof that the quilting makes the quilt! Such an heirloom!

And Mrs. Okutomi brought her Hawaiian quilt. While Mrs. Ochiai had asked us all to make a few small stars each for her game quilt, Mrs. Okutomi had asked each of us to make one large Hawaiian applique block. Such different quilts from the same game! Mrs. Okutomi did a wonderful job of machine quilting her quilt (we suggested she add a little more quilting to the insides of the patterns) and she has made a stunning masterpiece too.

And my blocks for the game? Um... Here they sit, wrinkled and piled up on the arm rest of my chair. I REALLY need to get back to work on this! My friends are leaving me behind!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I have bunions. My mother has bunions. I look at my mother's feet and see myself 30 years from now.

I don't remember when my own bunions first made their appearance but there they are. The good thing has been that no matter how ugly my feet look, the bunions haven't been painful. Until recently.

Recently I've been limping around... But not because of my bunions... I thought. Other places on my foot hurt but the doctor said that that is the RESULT of bunions. And maybe the result of last year's knee surgery. Sigh...

The first doctor I went to gave me plasters. I have always thought of plasters as placebos that the Japanese doctors give their patients to keep them quiet. I went to another doctor. And he recommended insoles... This does not seem like a long lasting treatment but when I asked about bunion surgery he thought I was a little off.

"Who WANTS surgery? Learn to live with your bunions!"

I find these stupid bunions harder on my psyche than on my feet.

Am I going to end up like my mother? (Probably.) Am I going to have to give up walking? (I'm already decreasing my walking time with Choco.) With even less exercise I'm going to end up fat and dumpy. (I guess I'll try to swim more...)

This is not a big problem... I'm going to take my doctor's advice and learn to live with my bunions... But I feel old and ugly, and the dumb bunions have put me in a sort of funk this week...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


This week I had to take Choco to the vet for a shot. Choco loves going for a drive though she sheds so much that I don't take her out often. And she bats at me unless I tie her in the back, so it is dangerous to have her in the car. (Choco always has been and probably always will be a hyperactive dog.)

Here she is behind me with her ears flapping out the window. (Yes, we drive on the opposite side in Japan, and yes, I was at a stop sign when I took this picture.)

Of course, Choco isn't too fond of the vet but that visit went quickly. On the way home I stopped at the bakery and bought a sandwich and a loaf of blueberry yogurt bread for the next day's breakfast.

A little further along I stopped at the pool and hid my sandwich and loaf of bread under the car seat, told Choco we would go for a long walk when I got back and then went for an hour's swim.

After swimming I took my sandwich and Choco and we went exploring the park where the pool is located. A lovely benched in area with stained glass windows...

"Choco, stay while I take your picture... Good dog!"

Not many people out that day...

Choco and I wandered around with her on a heel next to me. The few people that we met would smile and point.

"Look at that well-behaved dog."

"See the doggie? Isn't she a good doggie?"

Choco and I proudly walked around with her doing her best to imitate a show dog.

"Such a good dog today, Choco. I think you deserve some chicken nuggets. Wait here while I buy you some."

Choco ate her chicken nuggets while I had my sandwich. After lunch we took a walk along the wooded trails. Perfectly behaved dog.

"You were such a good dog today, Choco. We'll have to do this again."

When we got home I pawed around under the seat for my loaf of blueberry yogurt bread. Blueberry yogurt bread? Where is my blueberry yogurt bread? There is a wrapper with blueberries stuck on it...


So much for 'well-behaved dog'.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Graduation ceremonies

Spring is in the air! Maybe... It is still cold and there are snow patches here and there... But the pussy willows are doing their best to urge other flowers into the season. Today is Vernal Equinox Day in Japan and a holiday for school children and many offices (not Tetsu's... he's working today.)

Yesterday I attended the elementary school's graduation ceremonies. All the parents dressed in black suits or in kimono, all the 6th graders dressed in their jr. high school uniforms. The whole student body gathered in the gymnasium that was decorated with pots and planters and arrangements of flowers. A lot of "important" guests attending... Yours truly included... As a uniformed crosswalk guard, I'm considered an important guest (along with representatives from City Hall, numerous community center managers, PTA presidents from district schools, neighborhood chairmen leaders, police officers etc. etc.) Such a difference from my American nephew's 6th grade graduation ceremonies in California two years ago.... That "ceremony" was held in the classroom and the teacher, wearing shorts and Birkenstocks, handed out homemade diplomas. Only two or three room mothers attended and then everybody walked to a nearby park for hot dogs...

I also attended the kindergarten's graduation ceremonies last week... The children all garbed in gowns and collars and mortarboard caps... Very cute! So many tears from the mothers at this ceremony. Kindergarten graduation is a big event in Japan! So much formal bowing and exchanging of documents and pledges of future hard work and support from everybody. Many speeches and professional photographers.

All these ceremonies seem a little grandiose to American eyes, but I suppose it teaches the children the difference between play and solemn occasions, it focuses on the significance of accomplishments, it gives the children the opportunity to shine in everyone's eyes and to know how proud their parents are.

With Tetsu working today I'm going to use the day to get some sewing done!

Monday, March 19, 2012


I was trying on some jeans yesterday and had a great laugh while I was in the dressing room. Did you know that when you go into a dressing room in Japan that you are supposed to take off your shoes?

Yep. That's what you are SUPPOSED to do. You'd never know it from this sign though would you?

I had to explain to Tetsu why I was chuckling. The person who made the sign obviously used a Japanese/English dictionary and mistook the words "step up" in Japanese to mean "nervous." It is SUPPOSED to read,

"Please take off your footwear and step up and into the dressing room."

Who knew that a trip to the dressing room would result in a belly laugh!

Of course the store staff might be warning me to beware of shoe thieves while I'm trying on jeans...

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Friday evening, a few friends and I had a farewell dinner for Mrs. Kaneko who will be moving at the end of this month. 20 years ago, a group of kindergarten mothers gathered weekly for a Bible study and from there many of us became life-long friends. I can honestly say that the five of us who met on Friday are the ladies whom I trust the most and feel the most comfortable with.

Mrs. Tashiro, Mrs. Kaneko, Mrs. Kamiyama and Mrs. Furui.

For over 20 years Mrs. Kaneko and I have gone through the joys and trials of raising children together. When our children were young we traded off weekends and I would take Takumi and her son while she would take her daughter and Leiya (or vice-versa). We have stories to tell of how Takumi pulled the wool over my eyes by claiming "...the Kaneko's are letting Masami (Mrs. Kaneko's son) do it." while Masami was telling his parents "Takumi's parents said he could."

I have called Mrs. Kaneko for prayers when something has shaken me to despair. I have cleaned her house when she was in grief over the loss of her father. I reaped the benefits of helping Mrs. Kaneko close down her mother-in-law's house (remember all those kimono and obi I had last year?)

And now she's going off to other parts of Japan to start a new life.

Friday night's dinner was a wonderfully elegant way to celebrate 5 ladies' friendships. I'm afraid most of these pictures are food and porcelain but the way we all oohed and ahhed each time a new dish was brought out I thought deserved to be digitally recorded.

(I am the laughing stock of my friends with my camera ever-ready.)

"This is all going on Tanya's blog tomorrow! Go ahead and take your pictures so that we can eat!"

First of all, the lovely kimono-clad serving lady brought in a vegetable field on a lacquer platter. Yes it reminded me of a field. She explained what each vegetable was (all in season of course) and we were offered to choose something of our choice which would be prepared a special way.

We chose the light green leafy things to be eaten raw with a miso sauce, and tree sprouts (somewhere on there) to be tempuraed.

Actually, I don't know what all we ate but it was all good.

This is called yuba which is a delicacy made of the skimmed film made from simmered soy milk.

This interesting bottle held warmed cream soup.

A few morsels of sashimi. (Notice that cherry blossom petal made of a sliver of carrot.)

Warmed tofu so strikingly served in the large red lacquered bowl.

Whoops... I guess I'll do the serving.

The little porcelain pot on the left is really a container made of three parts. Inside were cold noodles on the bottom, green onions and wasabi (Japanese horseradish) in the middle and cold noodle soup on the top.

A bit of grilled fish.

Some simmered seaweed and bamboo shoots.

Rice with beans, soup and pickles.

And finally a cool dessert.

But all those food pictures, the food wasn't really the important part of the evening at all. The friendship was the important part.

Mrs. Kaneko brought gifts for all of us. I chose the pretty pink cup.

And we presented Mrs. Kaneko with her remade quilt (which all of us had participated in 20 years ago).

We have promised to stay in touch by chat and Skype and e-mails. Maybe we can work in an overnight girls' trip once a year?

Friends growing older together...