A Frugal Christmas…

We celebrate Christmas. Although history and Biblical scholars say that Christ was not born on December 25th – it is the day that the Christian world celebrates our Lord’s birth. You may or may not agree. That’s OKAY. For us, having moved to Japan which is around 1% Christian it gives us an opportunity to share Christ with others.

We do give gifts to our grandchildren and our children….of which we have MANY. The last I counted we had 28 grandchildren with one more on the way. We try to give everyone a little something. This year is a bit more difficult than other years so I decided that the gift theme is “It’s a Daiso and homemade Christmas” !

Daiso is the Japanese version of the dollar store but WAY better. You can actually find some cool, fun and interesting things at Daiso.

I’m also crafting things. Each item has grandma’s heart woven into it. I found some inexpensive blanket material that I put a crochet edging around. I’m going to make little flowers to sew to the four corners.

I used a roll of Caron Cakes and made a crochet bag. When I was in the states my grandson and his wife sent me a surprise package of several rolls of the “latest” yarn fad..Caron Cakes..love it!

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Ive got a scarf in the works from another roll of Caron Cakes and I’m making tea wallets…that’s just a start. Every bit of spare time and then some will be spent in gramma’s Christmas workshop.

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Even though it takes a lot of time and hard work I love making gifts for my family. My daughter told me a story about one of my granddaughters. I had made her a crochet bag several years ago and she hauled that bag everywhere telling everyone that her gramma made it for her and that there was no other bag like it. She valued it because I made it. That really touched my heart. It made me think of the old days…when handmade items were treasured.

I have several items that are hand crafted by my mother and my aunt. Every time I hold these items I recall memories of them. My aunt is no longer living but her memory lives on in my heart and through the items she lovingly made for us.

Christmas decor has caught on here. We were at the farmer’s market last weekend and they had this big display at the entrance.

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The mall has a huge tree set up with lots of decorations through out the halls and stores.

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We like hanging out at the mall during this time of the year..gives us a feeling of “normalcy”. My husband loves Christmas. It was through celebrating Christmas throughout the years that he learned about Christ and after years of thinking, watching and praying privately (I had no idea what was going on in his mind) he decided to give his life to Christ.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of advent so we are looking forward to celebrating it with our church family at Christ Church.

Life has changed so much from when we first moved here. So many blessings have been given. I am truly thankful.

 

The Autumn Fog

We have officially entered the doldrums here. Kyushu autumn and winters are one long dreary affair. Of course one can do things to brighten the days , which I usually do. But if you relied solely on the weather you’d be out of luck.

These days are wonderful though for conjuring up all sorts of stories. There is this certain mystery in the air. I especially love it when a thick fog hangs over everything. It sets the imagination rolling. Makes photography a lot of fun.

Yesterday morning was such a morning when the entire area was shrouded in a misty haze.

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It hung so thick that you could barely see past the garden wall. I never noticed the cobwebs until now when little drops of moisture clung to the fine strands of web making them visible against the foggy background.

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I could even make out all the webs that clung to the neighbor’s house. I never knew there were so many. Amazing, when other things are hidden the hidden things come to light.

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I’ve made my peace with spiders since moving here. I used to be terrified of them like many. I’ve learned to view them differently. In Japan spiders are our friends -eating harmful insects for dinner and keeping them out of our dinners. These pictured here are harmless garden spiders. We have resident house spiders-huntsman spiders. Everyone has them just about. I give ours names and they become less frightening to me. Right now we have Sharley and her children living with us. My husband named her. She is quite large-about as big as my hand but skinnier. I know-I can hear some of you gasping. I assure you that’s just how I felt at first. You’d be surprised at what you can overcome and learn to accept when you don’t have a choice. Japanese never kill house spiders. That would be bad luck.

While I was out photographing the garden I heard shuffling coming up the road. Then I heard someone singing a marching song so I hid behind the bushes (really). I figured there was an interesting photo op coming up.

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I was not disappointed. It was our neighbor. His wife is almost completely blind and she also still walks the road. It frightens me- I always worry about her. This is her husband. I don’t know them personally as they live a ways down the road but my other neighbors tell me that they are probably the nicest people in the neighborhood. I’m thinking about bringing them a fruit basket or something for Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christmas but that’s okay.

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He was singing his marching song as he shuffled slowly up the road. I heard him continue to sing it as he disappeared into the mist….

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Planting Winter Vegetables

I took time out from my catch-up. I think also I needed to get out and see the beauty and peace our creator has for us in this world. It’s been a while since I’ve explored the rice fields and cottage gardens where I love to wander.

There is a little service road that runs across the tops of the rice-fields from the farmers market. On one side there is a bamboo thicket and on the other the rice fields. It makes for a lovely little walk.

Today I saw the ancient gardener planting her winter crop. It gave me such joy to watch her work that I almost went down and asked if she needed help. I watched her and thought, work is good for us. Especially working outside. When you have a big garden to care for you have no time to complain about things that don’t go your way.

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I watched as she slowly hoed the ground. Little by little she loosened the soil until it was loose enough for planting her seedlings.

Not seeming to care about anything except her garden chores. I was lost in the moment with her.

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Working the soil with her hands not caring about anything except getting the seedlings in the ground.

There is so much on my heart right now. So much I want to say to thousands of people but it would be useless. Instead I’ll just say this. An honest day’s work is worth it’s weight in gold. Complaining gets you no where. We don’t always get what we want but if we are wise we know how to live and prosper under any conditions.

As I watched her work I felt such a deep appreciation for the simple things in my life. I too work in the dirt. Many times my hands look like hers and I love that. I love it because it means that I’m not wasting my time-I’m working the land and doing something useful.

Imagine what would happen if everyone would do something useful? Something to help someone else-something practical in love.

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Honey, I’m home!

Hello dear friends!

I have really missed you! Thank you for being patient with me while I left on an unplanned trip to America to visit my mother who had suffered an accident in her home and then developed pneumonia. I’m back home in Japan now. Mom was doing “OK” when I left. I’m thankful that she has so many wonderful people around her. I have no regrets throwing everything aside and hopping on a very long flight to see her. The way things are going it very well may be the last time….I pray not but I have to be realistic.

It was a very fruitful trip in so many ways. I was even blessed with the opportunity to see three of my very good friends from school. I had not seen them for 37 years! I think the best part about it was that we seemed to start-up right where we left off.

Wisconsin was absolutely beautiful this time of year. I didn’t have a lot of time to drive around sight-seeing as I was busy helping my mom but I did take my iPad with me in the car when my sister and I ran to the grocery store and such.

We did take a quick trip down memory lane….and passed by the home where we lived from late grade-school thru high school graduation.

The photos aren’t the best as they were quick “thru the car windows” shots.

This was our old road.

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The driveway of the house we lived in. When we moved in it was just a house on an empty lot. My parents planted over 300 trees on the property. Dad got the forest he imagined.

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Even the horse barn that he built so long ago is still standing.

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The farm where I worked during summer vacations and at other times.

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Our church.

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Other places around town.

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It was like a time warp because it seemed like nothing much had changed.  I did get a brief chance to visit a friend of mine. The view from her home on the lake brought back lots of memories.

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There were times when I had to swallow tears because this was my first trip back since dad has passed away. Everywhere I looked there were memories of him. I knew that sooner than later mom will follow him and when I saw her that reality really hit me hard. I could see that the four and a half years since dad had gone really took a toll on her. She told me a few days before I left that she was ready to leave too. I understood. Completely.

I had no chance to prep for NaNoWrimo. Couldn’t even think about it. I tried to catch up when I got home but….impossible. Too stressful. I was exhausted physically and emotionally. It’s the “emotionally” part that was the hardest.

That’s ok- I’ve no regrets. It was an extremely healing trip for me, my mom and my sister. I’m thankful and very blessed.

The Old Lady With the Crooked Back

On the other side of the bridge that spans the river where the great white Japanese herons build their nests is a rusty old building. Actually, it’s the dirtiest, ugliest old building along the road. Made of what seems like centuries old wood and tin it leans slightly to the left as if it is just tired of standing straight all these years.

Not only is the building old and ugly but at first glance the grounds give it the appearance of being long abandoned. In the front there are rows of old, cracked plastic flower pots whose colors have faded to slate gray. Among the pots are dirt stained and worn Styrofoam containers that probably once held seafood judging by bits and pieces of label still stuck to them. They are now filled with dirt and weeds. The ground is strewn with rocks and what looks to be old car rims also filled with dirt.

The building is divided by what was probably a garage that has a set of stairs running up one side. Looking up at the grimy windows, dingy curtains hide whatever lays within.

The only tell-tale sign of life is the short clothes line that hangs in the garage. On most days there are several blouses, a few pair of socks, perhaps a skirt and some ladies trousers drying in the dusty breeze kicked up from the passing cars.

I needed to walk past that old building today and as I came up over the bridge I saw her. A tiny frail little thing hunched over the ground pulling up weeds. I was so startled to see her there. I had a hunch that the building wasn’t really abandoned but I guess I imaged the occupant to be totally different.

I slowed down as I approached the building. For the first time I began to see things that were probably always there but, I just hadn’t taken the time to notice.

Tucked right behind the old pots were six tiny rows of soil that had been carefully hoed with little ditches between them. Each row must have only been about two feet long and two rows were filled with autumn vegetables. So neat and tiny were these rows that I could tell a lot of effort and care had been put into them.

The old cracked pots including the Styrofoam containers had been cleaned of weeds and were now filled with flowering plants.  They were still lopsided, cracked and faded but no longer so forlorn looking. As a matter of fact, I could see that each container had been rearranged and supported by rocks or bricks.

She was working slowly and quietly on the side of the building. I watched as she meticulously plucked weeds up out of the rocky ground. There were patches of white flowers growing up out of that rocky dirt. I don’t know what they are called but the the leaves are long, like thick blades of grass and up out of the clumps of leaves grow little white flowers that look like five pointed stars. It was amazing to see those beautiful little clumps of grassy-leaved flowers growing up out of that dusty ground. There she stood, hunched over to the ground with her little crooked back and lovingly tended them.

Then I realized-she lives here. She lives in this creaky old building that looks for all the world like it should be condemned and torn down. She’s the owner of the worn clothing that hangs on the line. The one that lives behind the dingy glass windows. The one that lovingly tends the six tiny rows of vegetables.

I stood there and my heart wrenched. I will never see that building the same ever again.

This is not the end of this story. I’m sure there will be more in the future.

 

Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

I’m sure that most have heard about the culture of gift-giving in Japan. There are some things that you may not have known…..I just wrote an article about this topic on Taiken Japan……here is an excerpt:

 

“From the biggest shopping mall to the smallest tourist stall one can find all manner of items intended for gift-giving. Some are so exquisitely wrapped that you don’t even want to open them! There are whole companies dedicated to producing prepackaged gift items. In many department stores you can find a display section with an assortment of boxed gift items. The varied assortment of items surprises many foreign visitors. Most of the items aren’t exactly what most non-Japanese would consider “gifts”. Gift items can include boxes of laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner sets, instant coffee, assorted juice sets, hand towels and nori (dried seaweed)!”

To read the rest of the article click here:

Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

 

Where is Mrs. N?

My sincere apologies! Life has been very busy.

I have been working on several articles for various travel sites.

My mother is ill so I will be taking an unexpected trip to the “states” very shortly

AND

I have been madly preparing for this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge in November. Due to my unexpected travel  I’ve had to work furiously on “NaNo” prep.

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The autumn here – if you can call it that- is taking its good ole’ time arriving. Last week we had temperatures up near 100 degrees. It was terrible. A few days ago a super typhoon roared past us and suddenly veered at the last moment slamming into Korea with devastating fury. We were quite fortunate. Had it hit us I would probably not be writing this blog post as my computer would be strewn from here to “who knows where” along with all my other worldly possessions. The damage from the storm was catastrophic.

The rice harvest is in full swing here.

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Some fields have been harvested before others. I noticed that our town seems to be ahead of other towns about 30 minutes away. It just seems odd with the warm temperatures. Actually-from what I read-things seem od all over the planet.

I have an announcement:

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I “may” do an update here and there but I’m guessing all my writing concentration will be focused on NaNoWriMo. Sorry. I’m not sure if I can do updates when I travel.

I apologize for the hurried post.

I hope everyone is doing well!

 

Higan-the Autumn Equinox

The day of the autumn equinox is a holiday here and I’ve always loved that because Autumn is my favorite season.

There is a saying in Japan:

“The summer heat or winter cold doesn’t last after Higan.”

Higan is said to be a turning point in the season and it is- as far as I have observed.

Higan or Ohigan is actually a Buddhist tradition observed on both the spring and autumn equinox. It is similar to Obon. It’s a time when families visit cemeteries to pay their respects to ancestors.

I’ve noticed that it is also a time when merchants turn the tide from summer to autumn wares.

I love it simply because it is the official start of Autumn.

The equinox, when summer officially hands over the keys and bids a final farewell. The last threads of summer were washed silently away in the mist. Not even a leaf stirred. There was no sound except for the ever present caw of the giant crows-karasu.

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Even the scarecrows stood reticent guard over the elementary school rice field as  giant black karasu sat perched above on the electric lines…. eyeing up the persimmon trees that were now dotted with orange fruit.

As I walk about town I see that several of the persimmon trees have already been ravaged by the birds. During this time of the year it’s best to avoid walking under a persimmon tree. There are several that grow up over the walls above the sidewalk. Smashed fruit and bird-droppings smear the old concrete walks beneath them.

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It seems that Higanbana have sprung up everywhere over the past few days. A sure sign that autumn has truly arrived. In ditches, lining the edges of rice fields and poking up in clumps in hedgerows and road-sides. Their spindly red blossoms add bright autumn color to our landscape.

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This is also the time when moon viewing is at its best.

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There is actually a moon-viewing festival here. Everywhere actually. It is a Japanese traditional festival called Otsukimi that usually takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the traditional Japanese calendar which is different from our modern calendar.

Otsukimi dates back to around the year 710 and was mainly celebrated by aristocrats who held moon viewing parties and read poetry, drank sake and generally had a great time out in the cool autumn evening.

Observing Otsukimi is wonderful. Traditionally round white mochi (rice dumplings) are eaten during this time and it is common to see decorations of the full moon hanging in the night sky while rabbits below pound rice into mochi. Americans talk about the “man in the moon” but Japanese say there are rabbits on the moon. I had no idea until some friends in ladies group explained the meaning of the rabbit/moon motifs.

first day of Autumn
my heart is pounding wild
Ah! The full moon

Matsuo Basho

The big cemetery across the valley reminds me that Higan is here. A week before the spring and autumn equinox the huge Kanji character “dai” is illuminated on the mountainside.

I can see it clearly from my back garden.

The “dai” blazes across the valley as the harvest moon illuminates the tops of now fading azalea leaves. A slight cool breeze gently stirs the faded bamboo sunshade as crickets chirrup from one side of the garden to the other. Sitting quietly in the dark I smell the earth and the tangy aroma of autumn fruit.

It is good to be alive but it is good to be reminded that everything changes.

Cooking Gobo

Gobo- burdock root in English- is one of my favorite root “vegetables”.

I remember the first time that I saw it. A long thin, brown root wrapped in cello lying on my mother-in-law’s kitchen floor under the ledge at the bottom of the sink counter.

Puzzled, I picked it up, smelled it, tried to figure out what on earth it was. Mother in law came into the kitchen. While opening the cabinet to take out the tea cups- she glanced at me.

“Gobo”

“Gobo”?

She placed the tea cups on a tray.

“Hai, gobo”.

Later that evening she showed me how to prepare gobo for cooking and together we made a traditional “every-day” burdock-root dish for dinner. This dish has become one of my favorites.

Gobo comes packed in cello bags in the supermarket .

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It’s a member of the thistle family as you can see by the top most photo. When it flowers it blooms purple thistles.

It’s interesting how they harvest gobo. In order to make sure that the roots are not broken during harvesting they dig a deep trench and take the roots out from the side. These photos were taken from a Japan farmer’s co-op website.

Mother in law taught me not to peel gobo instead, it’s scrubbed clean with a small bamboo scrubber.

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Then you slice the gobo root sideways almost like you are sharpening a pencil the old-fashioned way.

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When you are done with the root, thinly slice some carrots and throw everything into a frying pan that has been heated with a little oil in it.

In the photo below I added some precooked potato noodles but you don’t need to add them. Some people throw in a little dried pepper, occasionally I add some.

I also sprinkled some sesame seeds into the pan. img_5185

I saute the mixture for about 5 minutes or so to make sure the gobo is cooked and then I add my seasonings.

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My main cooking base is kombu-dashi which is a stock made from seaweed. Kombu is seaweed. The bottle in the middle is a type of kombu dashi we order from a supplier. It’s low salt and all natural. It is a little on the expensive side but we buy it by the case. I use it daily for many dishes so I want a good quality product. I almost never use salt when I cook -or sugar for that matter.

I added about a tablespoon of kombu-dashi to the pan.  I drizzled a little sesame oil into it also. That was all the seasoning that I added.

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After cooking, the dish was garnished with a few more sesame seeds. Simple. Delicious. It has kind of a nutty flavor and retains its crunchiness after cooking.

Burdock is super nutritious and it has been used as a medicinal plant for a long time. You can check out the nutrition facts here.