31 May 2008


It's a well know scientific fact that squirrels scamper. Always. Except when they are sitting up on their haunches eating. Or scurrying along the ground with their nose to it, looking for seeds and such. It's just a well known scientific, documented fact. In any country around the world, in any language, squirrels scamper.
Except the one I saw in the hospital parking lot last evening.
My 84.75-year-old mom had an "episode" of the variety "I don't know, I'm just all of a sudden weak". So, we spent 8 hours in the ER waiting for them to decide they could find nothing wrong, only to put her in the hospital for "observation". So then we had to wait for a room. That's neither here nor there, but just an explanation as to why I was at the hospital parking lot in the evening.
I had the last space on the farthest side of the parking lot, so I got to walk the whole thing. Lucky me! That's when I saw the anomaly. A squirrel. In the parking lot. With a crooked tail no less. Rather than S shaped, it was Z shaped. Or, upside down L shaped rather. It was suspicious looking.
The thing that got me most was the way it was . . . stomping. It looked like a sumo wrestler on 4 legs. Or a Bowery Boy. Or a Lollipop Guild Munchkin. It definitely was NOT scampering as squirrels by all rights ought.
It scared me.
Not as much as cockroaches scare some people I know, and certainly not as much as centipedes and spiders scare some OTHER people I know, but it - shall we say - disconcerted me. Put me off. A squirrel stomping. A punk squirrel, stomping around in a parking lot of all places. Tarmac. Not the seed yielding ground. No trees in reachable sight.
I had an urge to sound the alarm of a possible rabid squirrel in the area, but there was no foam, and I was tired and halfway to my car by then. I was stomping by then.
I think my tail was a little crooked as well.
So I went home and wrote about it instead. Imagine my surprise if I see a headline about a crazed punk squirrel opening up with an M-16 in the hospital last night.
Will my face be red!

28 May 2008

Learning Chiri-men and Other crafts

I decided to try and figure out how to do the chiri-men flowers and artwork that I like so much. This is my first attempt. It is harder than it looks, and the example is extremely elementary and full of mistakes, but that's how we learn, ne?
These are supposed to be tulips, but are on a fantasy vine with fantasy leaves. I don't think I will be doing the vine and stem thing again. Unless I can think of some way that is not EXTREMELY painstaking to do it well.

This is done from a kit I purchased at UEKI, a paper shop in Shimonoseki. Wow, what a shop! They had kits, washi, chiyogami, origami, everything. Calligraphy stuff, and then, in back, an art gallery with the owner's mother's water colors and photographs on display. That was another WOW. She does flora/avian studies. They were inspired and beautiful.

This was the first I did from the kit that had 3 different projects. Of course, I did not follow it to the letter. Especially since every letter was in hiragana or kanji! I had to rely on drawings and trying to match the Japanese characters on the diagram with the characters on the different patterns and to the picture to make sure I was cutting the correct color. I still made mistakes, but was able to recover them nicely, I thought. Don't know what I'll do with it. But it's done.

This is another project in that kit. A 3-D postcard. Don't know how the postcard is expected to make it through the mail system, but maybe they are more gentle in Japan than in the US?

Here are all 3 together. My bouquet.

25 May 2008


I made okonomiyaki for the first time today. It actually turned out rather well, but not perfect. I found the sauce for it in an Asian market here in town, and some Korean Ottogi mix. Ottogi is evidently very close to okonomi so it works. I just didn't use enough mix AND I used Napa cabbage (doesn't work so well) and used shredded zucchini (which really doesn't work as it is too wet). I will continue to put minced ginger and minced garlic in it, though. I thinly slice some eye of round for meat. And put cheese on it. It was good.

I also made Annin Dofu yesterday. It is as easy as making Jello. Much yummier and less sugar. Hero hubby sussed out some Roasted Coconut Juice at the Asian Market, and that goes well with the Annin Dofu. MMMMM good.

And all the comforts of HOME. Doesn't get much better than that, my friends.

21 May 2008

Quite Possibly the Best Food on Earth

I realize that a picture of a house doesn't do much for the digestive system, but bear with me, please.

This is in the city of Moji-ko. Right next to Kokura.
Albert Einstein stayed in this house. That is all I know about that.

What I do know about the white building on the corner (right) is that up above it has a little antique store that has great old scraps of kimono fabric - antiques. And I spent a lot of dough there. What fun!

There is a mall in Moji-ko (of course) that

has a soba restaurant in it. They make a really good dish called "kawara-soba" which literally is: rooftile noodles.

They heat the (clean, don't get your knickers in a twist) ceramic rooftile until it is oven hot. They top it with soba noodles, scrambled egg, fried pork strips, sliced green onions, and a decoration of seaweed and lemon and hot pepper sauce on top.
One puts the hot pepper sauce in one's bowl, then tops that with the lemon, then pours the sauce in the little hot pot over it and mixes it around.

If one is very good with chopsticks, it goes fast. Even if one is NOT very good with hashi, it goes quickly.

All I had to say about that was YUM. Was it good. The noodles next to the tile get crackly and the sauce is great, without being too spicy.

I included a shot of my empty bowl. I polished off my half of the dish, I'm sure.

12 May 2008

Gifts and More Deliberate Acts of Kindness

While at the tea party described in People are People, Higa-san gave me a beautiful lacquer box. It's evidently a modern commemorative box with the Imperial crest on it (the Kiku which means chrysanthemum). No one could read the fancy script on the box, but Higa-san's husband's employer gave him the box to commemorate some event and they really don't want it. So I get it. (Ruthie and I think it may be commemorating the fact that the Imperial family had a boy, but that's just us.) It really is beautiful - black and gold.

Then, when Ruthie and I went to her school to visit, Nakano-sensei's husband (who is in administration there) came to greet us and asked us to wait for him, just a moment. He came back with a bag that had an obi in it. A beautiful blue/pink and white piece, it belonged to Nakano-sensei's mother, and she gave it to me to "make something". How sweet.

A few days later, Takenaka-san brought over some fabric from her family hoard of kimono scraps, and some of the fabric was new - made by someone she knows in her birth town, whose family makes fabric. They are beautiful pieces and will be fun to work with.

Just before I left Japan to wing my way home, Makata-san called and asked if she could bring some fabric over! She had a red kimono that she gave me. She also had a child's kimono with an underkimono that belonged to her neighbor's daughter and was soiled, so they couldn't sell it to someone else to wear. As if that wasn't enough, another friend of hers buys antique kimono and makes new, contemporary clothing out of them to sell, and she donated a bunch of nice scraps to the pile.

All in all, I made out like a bandit! In addition to all that, I bought some antique shibori and chiri-men at an antique store AND more antique shibori at a kimono store in Shimonoseki called, oddly enough, Kimono. I love shibori!

I can hear the conversations these gals were having among themselves as well as with their friends and neighbors. "Can you believe it, that poor woman bought that old, soiled stuff for way too much. We have to show her that not all old kimono fabric is that rotten! I have some nice fabric that I will never use, I'll give it to her, and maybe she can make something with that, too."

And I think I will. ^_^

10 May 2008

People are People

I have been neglecting my memoirs of Japan lately and I will correct that now. The ladies in my daughter's English [Bible] study wanted to meet me (but, of course) so the ones who had no prior commitments came over to her "flat" with food to share and commandeered her kitchen and they got to know me. I can't say I got to know them very well, since I was definitely the flavor of the day. I would have loved to get to know each one deeply. I will try to describe the "party" and the guests without offending anyone. Try being the operative word here.

Takenaka-san was the first lady to arrive. She is the newest member of the study group and my daughter knew her the least. She brought some sesame fried chicken the way only the Japanese can prepare it. Dee-lish. She stressed that it was made without oil. Steamed, then baked. It's great cold too. One observation: very little Rubbermaid, Tupperware or Gladware. Most of the ladies brought their items in small white boxes, much like the size and shape of various sized chocolate boxes. Just a little difference I noticed. It's a nice difference. The sesame chicken was in just such a box. We had a few minutes to chat, just us three. Although the language barrier made anything but deliberate conversation difficult. I was able to discern that she is a very sweet woman, a little shy, and trying to feel where she fits in the group as the "newby". "Také" means bamboo, so I am told, and "naka" means inside. Whether together the words of her last name is connotative of someone who is as strong as bamboo inside, uses bamboo, reams out bamboo, or what, is anyone's guess. More on Takenaka-san later.

Amy and Stephanie - two other English teachers, came next. Amy is a first year teacher with my daughter, and Stephanie teaches at the University. I liked them very much. Amy is very quiet, and likes to observe. Stephanie likes to talk and ask questions. They brought (together) some fried chicken ala Japanese which was very well done, and TUNA CASSEROLE. Stephanie was apologizing all over the place for it not being baked (ovens are scarce in Japanese apartments). It has been ages since I had good old-fashioned, made on the stove top tuna casserole and I loved it. They left the leftovers and I scarfed that as well. They brought their food items in Japanese versions of Rubbermaid. BTW.

Makata-san was (I think) next, although the rest of the ladies kind of arrived at the same-ish time. It's all a blur. She is short, even by Japanese standards and reminds me a lot of a friend of mine in Carroll. People are people all over the world, dontcha know. She brought a Costella, which is a pound cake of sorts. Makata-san is the lady who drove us to Tsunoshima and the onsen after that. See "Tsunoshima and Nude Bathing". More about Makata-san later as well.

Nakano-sensei is an English teacher at the school where my daughter teaches. She had gone to Chicago and then Buffalo and NYC last summer. Her English was quite good. She brought strawberries. Lots of strawberries. They were quite yummy on the costello. One of the strawberries is very reminiscent of a "fugu". More about Nakano-sensei later as well.

Higa-san is last (but came the same time as Nakano-sensei and Makata-san). She is a Japanese ME. Mini-me. Although she is quite tall. She was wearing a knitted silk vest that she knitted herself and it looked cool.

For food Higa-san brought Annin Tofu (it's pronounced more like "Dofu" in this case, but I can't find anywhere where it's spelled that way) (!). It is ambrosia. What we would eat in Heaven when we have bodies that need it. It's almond "jelly", which is what they call Jell-o. Has no tofu in it. It's a jelled almond confection - not too sweet. When it is time to serve, it's cut into cubes, then mixed with chopped fresh tropical fruits. Then a simple syrup is poured on top. YUM. Ruthie was jumping up and down and squealing, so I knew it would be good. Higa-san was so embarrassed because it didn't gel properly this time, but that didn't stop any of us from wolfing! And, because she was embarrassed and the costello cake was kind of overlooked amongst the furor of the Annin Tofu, I made a trifle with my costello and the annin tofu. That was, like, Nirvana (if there were such a thing). The ladies were quite amazed at the mixture, but I sense that someone will be coming up with a uniquely Japanese trifle one of these days that becomes "traditional Japanese fare". Other than me, that is. I have already been devising ways of blending the two for American taste. MY American taste, anyway.

We ladies talked about life in our two cultures, and concluded that we are all too busy. With fairly inconsequential things. People are just as stressed out in Japan as in the States. Probably more so, because they seem to care a little more. Hero-hubby and I would fit in the Japanese work life very well, because we have both cared about how our employer looks, and giving our 100% to them - while at work, anyway. Hectic lives and fast meals at all hours seem to be epidemic. And being tired, tired, tired.

Everyone was interested in seeing what I had bought so far in Japan. I dragged out my antique fabric that I bought in Moji-ko. They were amazed that I would spend money on old, torn and soiled fabric in such small pieces. Then, I had to bring out my snowman quilts I had brought as gifts, and the "cry of the loon" quilt I had brought too, and then they could see what I do with the fabric. Higa-san, I think, quilts, but she uses all new, cotton fabric as most normal people do. They told me how shibori is made. I love shibori. And chiri-men.

They were still mystified as to why I would want even the tiniest scraps. There were some in the bento that were just 1-inch wide by maybe 6-inches long. I held up the red one and said, "Somewhere, a snowman needs a scarf." Very serio-comically. They all said "Ah, so-ka!" With the indrawn breath that only the Japanese can do. Later, Amy and Stephanie were laughing about how serious I was and how the ladies, sitting on the floor in a horseshoe around me, were so serious. Like I had spoken from God or something. I personally think they were just being polite by not laughing out loud at me.

Or maybe I just scared them.

07 May 2008

Somewhere Between Aardvarks and Zealots

I can't believe that I wrote 17 posts in April and only 1 for the whole (short) month of May! That's what happens when hero hubby gets pulled for jury duty (and selected) and you get left juggling the biz. That's why it's called business. It keeps you busy. And frenetic. And posting silly pics of our great friend Scott taking a bite out of a very big sandwich. And I have more where that came from. $10,000, small unmarked bills, delivered tomorrow or else.

Blogging is weird. To say the least. It's like a journal or a diary. I get that. And it's like a newsletter published in cyberspace. I get that, too. But am I supposed to expect people to read it? Does anyone read it? Am I writing to myself? Is it okay if I write it and it stays to myself? Will Clarice marry Jose and live happily everafter?

And then, my son Aaron and I went to Court this afternoon. He pled not guilty to a traffic ticket that he did not earn. It's a good thing the police officer did not show up, because I shot my mouth off and the judge didn't like it (not a big shooting, just a very tiny one really, the judge didn't have to take it the way he did. It wasn't meant for him, anyway. There is a purposeful echo in that room so everything carries.) So, if the officer had shown up, the judge would probably have bent over backwards to get Aaron convicted. As it is, he got off scott free so all is well.

This week, I realized a couple of faux pas I have made. (I realize I have made quite a few faux pas, in fact, thousands upon thousands of faux pas [see above judge angering] but I was reminded of a couple just the other day. It's hard to blog clearly, or anything else for that matter, when one has a snoring dachshund draped across one's arm.) I neglected to get addresses for all the people in Japan who did something nice for Ruthie and/or me while I was there. The 2nd is like it: I neglected to send thank you notes. One of the emails I was given doesn't work and I'm afraid to ask one of the others for it, because they would go to all kinds of trouble, and if they can't find it, they would feel as if they had failed me. Kind of like how I feel in the trucking industry. People ask me to find a truck for their freight to go from point A to point D and I move heaven and hell to find a truck for them, and I can't. And then I feel like a failure.
I wonder when my hero's trial will be over so he can be home? And will Clarice marry Jose or run away with Francois after all?

06 May 2008

Spring In The Tundra

Spring has finally come to Iowa. I hope to have more spring pics to publish after Mother's Day.
Our neighbor's Bradford Pear is beautiful. All the pear trees are blooming right now, and there are quite a few in the neighborhood.

Our bleeding heart finally plumped out. Funny flowers: they come out like butterflies from the chrysalis, all wrinkly and small. Then, they slowly inflate.I was pulling this thing out the 1st 2 years we were here, thinking it was a weed. Silly girl. It finally dawned on me last year that the leaves looked a lot like bleeding heart leaves and to leave it alone for a season.

A pair of American Robins redecorated the old nest in the serviceberry tree. The only reason I could take this pic is that serviceberries won't bloom probably until next week. When they do, the tree will be covered. Great camo for this momma robin and the eggs she is hatching.