Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Snippy Dragon, a Semi-Braided Wreath, and a Melancholy Mother

We finished our kimekomi dragons yesterday. Fearless offered her house and I offered to help with the food. She was making her yummy curry soup and thought a Pampered Chef braid in the shape of a wreath or candy cane would make a nice entree. "Consider it done!" said I, failing to mention that I had never before attempted to braid refrigerated dinner rolls.

The finished product looked about as professional as the Blonde Wonder's hair the time she asked me to fashion it into a French braid. Few things are as simple as they look in books.

Peevish earns an A for effort and a D for execution

Matsuzaki-san emitted a little groan of pleasure as she swallowed her first bite and most of us went back for seconds. I'll give this recipe another try when I am feeling very patient.

We spent eight hours completing our dragons. I skipped off to the beauty parlor for two hours in mid-afternoon, hoping the teacher would present me with a finished dragon upon my return. That didn't happen but at least I got to use my little scissors to snip fabric this time around. That's why I'm calling my dragon Snippy. You probably thought it was for an entirely different reason.

My Japanese book club ladies are coming tomorrow to chat about a book set in World War II. Then the Ancient Mariner and I are going to fill three suitcases with Christmas and wedding presents and a fourth suitcase with clothes and toiletries. We are heading to Dallas bright and early Thursday morning to find a Mother of the Groom dress before we witness the union of James and Emily on Sunday evening.

This is an exciting, bittersweet time. The little desk I am sitting at as I write this is covered with initials carved by English school children fifty or so years ago. I bought this desk for James when he was ten years old. Down near my left knee, there's a more recent inscription: James wuz here.

Yes, he wuz. But not for nearly long enough.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Inspirations from Sweden and Italy

Today I am supposed to finish that kimekomi dragon, get my hair in wedding mode, and try to remember the names of all my relatives so I can label their gifts before I see them next weekend, but I just can't concentrate until I wrap up the Yamate holiday home tour.

The Ehrismann house (he was Austrian) is decorated in the style of Sweden this year. The dining room is heaped with boxes numbered from 1 to 24. I almost wish I'd been born in Sweden. I wonder what the average size of a Swedish family is. I wonder how many gifts my parents would have had to buy to let each of their six children open a box every day in December.  I have a hard time multiplying 24 by six in my head so I get on with admiring the decorations.

The sunporch is festooned with pennants. Last week I volunteered to sew something like this for the JAW Superbowl party at the end of January so I snap dozens of pictures.

The living room couch and chair are decorated to look like holiday gifts.

Some of those numbered gifts are the dining room centerpiece

The primitive dining room table appeals to me. There are glass-covered insets scattered around the table; some are filled with candy and others with cookies. Highly impractical, I know. Seriously. I know from experience how many crumbs of crackers and how many ounces of spilled milk can collect in those cracks.

"A marshmallow wreath?"

"The coordinator of this house must be related to the coordinator of the French house."

"I'm getting hungry.  Let's hit the duplex and then head to Chinatown for lunch."

Thanks to a couple of Pinocchios and a table scattered with bits of Murano glass, we quickly label the duplex "Italy."

Two of us survey the duplex in record time. There really isn't all that much to see here other than dozens of cross-stitched Santas and such on the walls. These remind Peevish of her mother. She lingers. Wallowing in nostalgia is one of her favorite things to do during the holiday season.

A calendar on an easel near the front window on the second floor catches her eye, or maybe what catches her eye is the maple outside the window.

The calendar, upon closer inspection, seems to be a lace sampler of sorts. Peevish takes a picture for her fellow KnitWit, Hannele, a young Navy spouse from Finland who is becoming quite the expert lacemaker.

Will I miss the Yamate holiday tour next year? You bet. But I'll try to incorporate some of these incredible ideas into my own holiday decor.

All I need is a bag of marshmallows.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It Turns Out Estonia and Guatemala Have Much in Common

Berrick Hall was once a school, I believe. That would explain its somewhat utilitarian facade. I can't think of any explanation for the palm tree.

"Good Lord! That decoration suspended from the dining room chandelier must be at least six feet high. Do you think it's made out of popsicle sticks?

"A remark like that does not deserve a response. What country do you think we're in now?"

"My money's on Guatemala.  Come take a closer look at these colorful little disks hanging from the wooden geometric thing."

"Guatemala? Not Honduras or Mexico?"

"Okay, I'll go with a vague 'South America'. What I do I know about Guatemala anyway?"

"Apparently nothing since that docent lady just told me this house has been decorated to represent Estonia."

"Estonia? Where's that?"

"Not in South America, Peevish."

"I bet if we look up Estonia on Wikipedia we'll find that wool is one of their chief exports."

"You might be on to something.  There are a lot of yarn-wrapped wreaths in this house."

"I have been wondering what to do with all my leftover yarn!"

"It seems you'd feel right at home in Estonia. Guatemala, too, for that matter."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho: I See London, I See . . .


"How did you guess so quickly?"

"Pink and frilly! Remember, this is not necessarily how a French home would be decorated at Christmastime. It's how a Japanese person imagines Maurice Chevalier's home would look."

"That table's rather 'busy'."

"And really pink. But I love those window treatments!"

"I like the marshmallow tree in this little white room overlooking the garden."

"I like what they did to this long side porch. It seems to have a bird theme of sorts. They used a twiggy wreath on the horizontal and scattered eggshells around it so even Peevish would be able to figure out it's a bird's nest."

"I like how they spaced eight or nine of these simple twig and yarn trees at regular intervals along the window ledge."

"We could make those! They look pretty easy."

"Speak for yourself."

Friday, December 9, 2011

'Tis the Season: Yokohama Holiday Home Tour

One of the most fabulous experiences on offer at this time of the year in this part of Japan is the self-directed holiday tour of the Western houses situated on the Yamate bluff overlooking Yokohama. The houses are decorated differently every year and part of the fun is trying to figure out what country each house is meant to represent.

Click here for more information and directions. Peevish suggests you wear shoes that slip on and off easily since you will have to doff your footwear when you enter each house. After about the third or fourth house we just strolled around in stocking feet rather than squeezing our tootsies into those slippers and no one batted an eye. Well, perhaps they did behind our backs . . .

For those of you who aren't able to partake of this year's tour, I took loads of pictures when I visited Yamate with two highly opinionated but extremely camera-shy friends today.  It's going to take me a few posts to capture some of the highlights.

"I'm thinking Ireland is the theme of this house."

"Was the shamrock your first clue?"

"The stockings are hung by the chimney with care!"

"I spy another shamrock!"

Then Peevish rounded the corner into what seems to be a Victorian drawing room.

"Hey! Come check out this centerpiece! Now I am absolutely, positively certain that Ireland is the theme. There are three glasses and three of us.  Hmmm."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas in Kamakura

Have you ever wondered how a Japanese family decorates their home during the Christmas season? I have so I leaped at the chance to visit Matsuzaki-san's house in Kamakura a few days after Thanksgiving. We hadn't even pulled our decorations out of the closet yet but her house was decked out with wreaths, stockings, and all sorts of cute ceramic snowmen and angels.

Most of her decorations were things you'd find scattered around a typical American home during the holidays. I would guess she picked up lots of these doodads over the course of twenty plus years of Shonan Club gift exchanges.

The quantity of decorations astounded me more than anything else. "Where do you store everything?" She said that's a bit of a problem. Japanese houses are quite small by American standards but her walls are lined with pretty storage cabinets that soar to the ceiling.  Not an inch of space is wasted.

A few of the decorations have such a Matsuzaki flair that I'm fairly certain she didn't pick them up at a gift exchange with American military spouses.

The linen table runners, for instance, feature holly embroidered on linen dyed her signature purple.

And purple was the primary ornament color on the tree in her new sun porch.

I was in such a holiday mood by the time I left her house that I decided to tackle that quilted Christmas tree skirt I've been thinking about for the past decade.  I wonder if I have any purple fabric in my stash?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gifts from Around the World: The Embassy Holiday Fair

Ikebana International sponsors a flower exhibition and bazaar at the Tokyo Prince Hotel in Shiba Park every year during the first week in December. Last year was the first time I made the trek to Tokyo for this event. This year I went back with Artistic and Shinagawa-san. We hooked up with several past and current members of the Japanese and American Wives Club, including the adorable Junko who initiated my now gargantuan Anpanman collection shortly after our first meeting several years ago.

The draw for me is not the flowers -- I tend to skip right through the first ballroom where the flower arrangements sit -- but the tables in the second ballroom heaped with products and baked goods offered by most of the nations that have embassies in Tokyo. The good old USA was noticeably absent again this year but the Arab countries and Africa were there in force. I picked up some interesting items from Cuba, Spain, and Norway this year but cannot divulge the details without ruining someone's Christmas. You'll just have to use your imagination.

Happy Japanese shoppers flank tall, elegant blonde

As I was skipping through the first ballroom this year, one of the flower arrangements stopped me dead in my tracks. It stopped a few other shoppers as well.

What the heck? Tomatoes ringed with red chili peppers on "stems" constructed of tall, skinny fern-draped cucumbers.

Every now and then when I see a flower arrangement I think "I could do that." This was one of those times. But I'm not promising anything.

You might find this hard to believe, but we stopped for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, the Food Therapy Cafe. My companions all ordered the "Herbal Medicine Curry" but I opted for vegetable lasagna.  Half of it was edible.

Please note Shinagawa-san's lovely manicure in the photo above.  Those nails snap on and off (she demonstrated).  Artistic and I are hoping to get some flashy ones for ourselves in the New Year.

Today the Ancient Mariner and I celebrated twenty years of marital bliss. He celebrated in DC and I celebrated in Tokyo which might help explain how our marriage has survived two decades. My Japanese friends presented "us" with a pair of beautiful anniversary teacups during lunch. I'll show you a picture when my computer stops acting up.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

JAW Holiday Home Tour

Touring admiral housing during the holiday season is a time-honored Navy spouse tradition. While there are more flag houses to be viewed in Norfolk, today was the first time I've been invited to peek into the bedrooms. Which I forgot to do because I was so busy grazing the buffets at the three houses hosting the Japanese and American Wives Club tour this. The Ancient Mariner is in DC this week so I have to pick up calories wherever I can. Is there anything more boring than cooking for one? (This is not to say I spend much time and energy on cooking for two, or even three for that matter.)

The turnout was excellent, especially on the Japanese side.  The size of American rooms is always cause for exclamation in this hemisphere.

I took this picture so I wouldn't have to be in it

We'll visit the fourth house next Sunday night when the Ancient Mariner's boss hosts the annual holiday soiree for senior military types, dogsitters, and Japanese dignitaries. I'll do my best to get a picture of the dogsitters for you.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Delightful Japanese Garden

Matsuzaki-san is refreshingly eccentric. Although she has tossed her purple eye makeup since becoming a grandmother, there's still a purple sheen in her hair and fun artwork dangling from her earlobes.

It should not, therefore, have come as such a surprise that her garden and home are filled with whimsy. But it did. About ten seconds after we stepped out of Yuka's car in front of Matsuzaki-san's house, Fearless and I were fumbling through our purses for our cameras. When Matsuzaki-san was beckoning us into her foyer, we just ignored her and continued to snap pictures of the patio garden that runs along the side of her house.

This is not one of those raked-gravel-solemn-stone gardens we've grown accustomed to admiring when we visit Zen temples.  There's not a koi pond in sight.

But there are turtles and lots of them. Her father collected turtles. She tells us she turned up her nose at his collection when she was growing up. Then he passed away and she grew fond of turtles because they remind her of him. Fearless and I know exactly what she means because we, too, have lost our fathers and treasure our memories of them.  I think I'll scatter pennies in my garden when I get back to Norfolk or wherever it is we eventually call home.
I've spotted a few of these teacups filled with birdseed in American gardens but I've never noticed one perched on an inverted vase. There are a few crystal vases gathering dust in storage. I've never been good at remembering to fill them with flowers so maybe it's time to glue them to a few of Grandma's teacups.

Hey! I think I've just come up with 2012 Christmas gift ideas for my siblings. Please remind me of this when my stuff comes out of storage next summer.

This is the second time I've spotted these happy half-bricks in Kamakura. Matsuzaki-san is going to try to remember where she bought them so I can pick up a few for myself. She tells me the solar lights cost only 350 yen and change color like the Jackson Cascades. You can bet I'll be picking up at least a dozen of those pronto.

I know you want to see the inside of her house, especially since she has her Christmas decorations up, but you'll have to wait a day or so while I make an appearance at another JAW party and try to finish my reading assignment for book club.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gearing Up for the Year of the Dragon: Peevish Takes Another Stab at Kimekomi

Fearless and I were treated to a swell time by Matsuzaki last week. She asked her friend, who teaches kimekomi in Tokyo, to show us how to make dragons for our upcoming special birthday year. The Year of the Dragon will be even more special for me than for Fearless because she'll be a mere forty-eight while I will celebrate the beginning of what the Japanese refer to as my "second life" when I turn sixty next July. Fearless is already tired of hearing me refer to myself as extra-special so she'll probably be ready to strangle me by the time the Year of the Dragon actually arrives.

I love the fact that turning sixty is cause for celebration here. If questioned about my age back home, I'd be mumbling behind my hand. Just my luck to get old a decade or so after America knocked Wisdom off its pedestal.

At any rate, we gathered at Matsuzaki's house in Kamakura. That in itself is worth a couple more posts but today I'll stick to kimekomi which, as most of you know by now, involves tucking small pieces of fabric into crevices carved into a small object filled with sawdust.

This is what our dragons are supposed to look like upon completion:

This is what I found inside the box of supplies the teacher distributed:

This is the teacher. She's using a sharp little spatula to smooth the crevices before filling them with glue. She doesn't speak a lick of English but Matsuzaki-san is an excellent translator.

Yuka-san and Matsuzaki-san
You might recall that Matsuzaki-san operated a shop until last June where she sold all sorts of items -- tote bags, skirts, table runners, jackets, book covers, etc. -- she fashioned from scraps of old obis and kimono. She has, in short, nimbler fingers than most. The teacher gave each of us a pair of tiny scissors for cutting the excess fabric after the crevices were stuffed, but Matsuzaki-san was the only one of us permitted to touch the scissors. I picked mine up at one point but the teacher told me in no uncertain terms to drop them. Remember how I said she doesn't speak a lick of English? Yet I knew exactly what she was telling me. It was all in the tone of voice, hauntingly reminiscent of Nicholas Cage declaiming, "Put The Bunny Down!"

Teacher snipping excess fabric
Jamming fabric into crevice after excess fabric is snipped

We covered the dragons' bodies today and will meet again soon to finish this project. Everyone else placed their fabric in the direction that was shown in the example but I glued mine in place upside down to look more like real dragon scales. Not that there is such a thing as a real dragon, of course.

This is what my dragon looked like at the end of the lesson:
So far, so good.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Festival of Trees, 2011

Before we learned the hula yesterday, the Japanese and American Wives visited the Festival of Trees in the auditorium on Command Hill.

This was the fifth Festival of Trees for me and most of the decorations are familiar by now so I didn't take many pictures.

The Soroptomists always cover their tree with thousands of tiny paper cranes but this year they added photographs (above) to remind us of the special bonds forged during our disaster relief efforts after the earthquake and tsunami this past March.

The American Red Cross tree was more festive than in years past but I am not suggesting they bought new ornaments with funds intended for disaster relief. Fa-la-la-la-la!

This command -- and please don't ask me what DLA means or does -- went all out. I especially liked the helicopter suspended from the upper branches.

One of my favorite entries this year was decorated by the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers, a female rollerskate team formed a year ago. Some of my Knit Wit pals are members and have the bruises to prove it.

The JAW tree was lovely this year. Alas, I was so enamored with this Year of the Dragon ornament that I failed to step back six paces and snap a picture that would show you the full impact. Ouizer foiled my attempt to steal that ornament but promised to show me how to make one for my own tree. "It's easy!" Sure. I've heard that before.

The highlight of the Festival of Trees for me was seeing Yuuko-san. I miss seeing her at our bi-weekly conversation group events this year but I'm glad she still has time to attend at-large programs.


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