Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One of Us Had a Semi-Productive Day

It was a coin's toss whether the USS Blue Ridge would make it back to Yokosuka today, but the Ancient Mariner finally stumbled through the door shortly before 10:00 pm. Pip can't remember the last time Dad's stayed up past his bedtime. This would be Dad's bedtime, not Pip's.

While waiting for my ship to come in, I made some progress on those pesky quilt blocks.

Batting and backing were attached to the Woven Ribbons block, and some actual quilting attempted.  I cut the backing extra large in hopes of using the excess to bind the block to avoid a trip into town for bias tape.

Mount Fuji has been appliqued over the moon which I see is not centered properly.  I still have to add batting and backing and figure out how to bind this block but first I have to find my seam ripper thingy to eradicate that awful checked border.  What was I thinking?

Monday, May 30, 2011

If You Build It, They Don't Come

Betty, one of my favorite young Knitwits, has a bartending job now and can no longer attend our Thursday evening Knitwits' gathering so we've instituted a Monday night session. After a month, it's still just Betty and Peevish holding down the front table at Starbucks on Monday nights but we're not complaining.

Her running commentary on her love life was the perfect counterpoint to the tedium of hand-appliqueing that moon to my quilt square tonight. She even threaded my needle for me. Life doesn't get much better than this.

While I track down red thread so I can add the mountain to the square, you can look at a couple of Betty's current knitting projects.

A pink mesh shopping bag.  Pink is Betty's signature color.

A garter that's as wispy as a spider's web

As for Typhoon Songda, the good news is a stiff wind from China sent it packing for the Pacific before it reached us. The bad news is the Seventh Fleet might not get home tomorrow. Apparently they had to go so far east and south to avoid the typhoon, they are now more than a day away from us. The Ancient Mariner is not a happy camper tonight.

Wait until he sees all I have accomplished in his absence!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quilting in the Rain

Intermittent torrential downpours were the only signs of Typhoon Songda today. It was a perfect day for skimming the manual that came with my sewing machine and rooting through the closet for all the supplies needed to whip together a quilt square for the tsunami relief exhibit.

An internet search for "easy 12-inch quilt blocks" netted ten possibilities. The one that looked easiest by far is called "Moon Over the Mountain" and reminds me of Mount Fuji. Using my new compass, I drew a careful circle. Using my best scissors, I managed to cut out the circle. My cutting skills have not improved one iota since my kindergarten years.

Since I hadn't taken the time to read through the instructions before tackling this project, the circle was pinned to the square before I realized I was supposed to attach it by hand, by the old-fashioned needle-and-thread method. This sent me scurrying back to the internet for detailed instructions.  The technique looked tedious so I set "Moon Over Mount Fuji" aside and moved on to the next pattern.

"Moon Over Mount Fuji": Day One

"Squares within Squares" was fairly simple. I used a sailor-patterned fabric for the center square and, regrettably, batting a lady in DC was giving away free a few years ago. The batting was lumpy and my semi-finished product looks more like a flat pillow than a quilt square. Yet it will do in a pinch. I've decided to postpone perfectionism until I have a few more squares under my belt.

"Sailors within Squares": will quilt further as time permits, probably not

"Woven Ribbons" was next on the docket. I managed to piece it together before the light gave out. Tomorrow or the next day I'll add batting and backing.  Or maybe the day after that. 

"Woven Ribbons" incorporating Shonan bandana
In the meantime, maybe I'll take a few minutes to peruse "The Magic of Quiltmaking: A Beginner's Guide" which I just now remembered buying at one of the quilt shows last fall. Too bad I didn't remember this sooner.  Or maybe I'll start researching those expensive high-intensity craft lights on the internet. If I'm going to stick with this new hobby, I need proper tools, right?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Taking Care of Assets

"Where's Dad?"

"He went over to the ship to find out whether or not they'll be leaving today."

"I thought they were going to send a message by 7:00 am."

"Yes. Well. You know how that goes."

"If the ship goes, why does Dad have to be on it? The Seventh Fleet staff just uses the ship like an office building. Are they expecting Dad to man an oar or something?"

"One never knows, sweetie."

Pip tries to work up some enthusiam when asked to show you his new cell phone charm

The ship left Yokosuka in the middle of the afternoon. An hour or so later, the base commander asked all residents to remove or secure all outdoor items prior to the arrival of high winds.

"Pip! Can you help me move all the lawn furniture and potted plants?"

"Can we wait until we actually feel a breeze?"

"I like the way you think, kid."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Any Port But This One In a Storm

The Ancient Mariner sauntered through the door last night after five days at sea and another long day of meetings. We spent the evening making plans for the holiday weekend, primarily a trip to Tokyo to visit the War Museum and Nikon repair shop.

Tonight those plans are on hold thanks to Typhoon Songda. If the typhoon continues to head in our direction, most of the U.S. ships currently docked here will head out to sea to avoid the risk of being banged against the piers by high winds. At least he won't have to pack his sea bag since he hasn't gotten around to unpacking it yet.

The decision will be made and communicated by 7:00 am, at least that's what they are saying tonight, so there's still a chance we'll be on the 8:34 train to Tokyo. But I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ofuna: Better Late Than Never

The USS Blue Ridge returned to port today after several days of "exercising" off Japan's coast but, since the Seventh Fleet does not embrace the concept of compensatory time, Pip and I had no hope of glimpsing the Ancient Mariner until evening.  Some women wail and wring their hands at a time like this.  Me?  I turned cartwheels and pirouettes around the fabulous roses in Verny Park enroute to another incredible adventure with Ishii-san.  Pouting is impossible when it's springtime on the Miura Peninsula.

Except.  But.  However.  When I pulled out my camera to capture the total sensory overload of acres of roses at their peakiest peak, the camera would not turn on.  The battery seemed to be loose.  The miniscule pin which holds the battery in place refused to snap into position.

So you are just going to have to use your imagination today as you travel with Ishii-san and I to Ofuna, just two stops past the Kamakura station and technically part of Kamakura City. Ofuna is a train junction where you can catch a ride north to Tokyo and beyond or head west toward Hakone and the Izu Peninsula.  I've changed trains there before but never exited the station until today.

The enormous Kannon bust overlooking the station from a nearby hilltop is worth a closer look but today our destination was Flower World Ofuna Botanical Garden, a 15-minute walk from the station.  There were a number of signposts to guide our steps but Ishii-san took pains to bring a detailed map as well.  We did not want to spent eight hours hiking in circles around Ofuna.  Although I can think of worse ways to spend a day.        
Kurihama poppies because I can't bear to post this without a flower picture
We pay 350 yen to enter the garden.  There are hundreds of tempting potted plants for sale just inside the gate and next time I'll take a sturdy bag to carry a few home.  There is a shady path lined by maples that order me to come back in the fall to admire them in their glory.  We wander into two small buildings and see an exhibition of azalea bonsai in one and hydrangea bonsai in the other.  I thought I knew a lot about hydrangea thanks to my friend Jill, but here are at least a dozen varieties she's never mentioned.  How long will this exhibition last?  How can I lure the Ancient Mariner into coming here with his fancypants camera to capture these hydrangea for Jill?

Outside again we wind back and forth across an acre of peony beds.  There are as many peony varieties as hydrangea it seems.  The magenta with white flecks are especially captivating.  I decide I want to plant a lot of peonies when we return to the States.  Where do they grow best?

Canals filled with irises wind around and through the garden.  It will be another couple of weeks before the irises hit their stride, yet another reason to return to Ofuna.

We enter a tropical greenhouse.  Many of the plants in there are slightly frightening.  There are four or five rooms in the greenhouse and the air gets warmer as we move from one into the next so I think there is a theme but I can't tell you what it is.  The last chamber is cooler, perhaps because we are walking between pools filled with specimen water lilies in breathtaking colors.  I thought all water liles were white but I see blue, lavender, pink, magenta, yellow, and green.  Hmmm.  Is there a climate somewhere on earth where both peonies and water lilies thrive?  Or maybe the Ancient Mariner will want to spend his retirement constructing a greenhouse for me.  Probably not.

At last we enter the rose garden.  A lot of people are sitting on benches in the gazebo at the center of the garden, feasting their eyes on the roses, but we are on the move.  We spend time admiring each variety, sticking our noses into the ones that seem especially fragrant.  I remember my Grandma Sykes and her roses and the brandy snifter in which the most perfect roses floated.

Just outside the rose garden we see hundreds and hundreds of lilies on the verge of blooming.  I pat myself on the back for recognizing them as lilies.  I think about the first lily I ever planted, a "Kiss Me Kate" that bloomed the spring my Kate graduated from high school.  This planting hundreds together rather than scattering a few in a perennial bed seems like a good idea.  Note to self:  be sure retirement home sits on at least two acres of land.

Near the garden exit a bed of delphiniums and foxgloves makes us pause.  The delphiniums come up to my chest and some of the foxgloves are my height, which was 5'8" before I commenced the shrinking process.

Yet again, I am grateful to my friend and "student" Ishii-san for sharing another special corner of her amazing country with me. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Rain Schedule is as Dependable as the Train Schedule

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, the last four events of the Japanese and American Wives Club year were cancelled.  Now that most of the American evacuees have returned, the Japanese ladies have decided to squeeze in a Sayonara Party at Tadodai House before we break for the summer.

Shinagawa-san proposed meeting in Kurihama yesterday to review the party plans and schedule, and to see the poppies at Flower World.  Weather Explorer and I are always game for an outing, especially ones that involve gardens or fabric, but when we woke up yesterday morning and saw the rain pelting our windows we figured Kurihama was not going to happen.  But Shinagawa-san was undeterred.  She said the rain might stop by ten and would certainly stop by noon so we should proceed to the Kurihama station as previously directed.  We would conduct our business at a coffee shop adjacent to the train station and then head for Flower World when the rain stopped.

So that's what we did.  The sun appeared on schedule and the poppy field looked different than it did when Ishii-san and I were there last week.  The orange and yellow poppies had disappeared.  In their place were taller red and pink poppies.   

This is what I mean by "tall" poppies
When I opined that we were experiencing the beginning of Japan's annual rainy season, Shinagawa-san disagreed.  She reminded me that the rainy season runs from the beginning of June through the first or second week of July.  In a country where the rain arrives and departs on schedule, concessions to global warming will not be made lightly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Day at the Mall with Pip

Pip's girlfriend wanted to share some Japanese products, notebooks and such, with her friends when she headed back to college last weekend. Pip offered to handle the shopping while she spent quality time with her family. He gets his altruism from his father.

He gets his shopping focus, make that "lack thereof," from his mother which is probably one reason why he invited me to accompany him to the Daiei mall just outside the back entrance to the Navy base.  The other reason being he inherited my Never Shop Alone gene.

Neither Pip nor I has spent much time at the Daiei Mall.  We pooled our combined knowledge which in my case meant leaping quickly from the concrete verge outside the base gate to the nearest mall staircase.  "Why are we cutting through the parking lot?"  "Because I think the wooden boardwalk leading around the mall to the main entrance is going to collapse sometime in the next few weeks and I don't want to go crashing into Truman Bay when that happens."  (Pip and I think the American name for that bay is in incredibly poor taste.  Remind me to ask Ishii-san what the Japanese call it.)

Pip's contribution to our knowledge base was a cartoon entitled "The Tragedy of Soft Ice Cream".  The cartoon was playing on a small television in a corner of the shop where we went to buy notebooks.  (Expect to hear more about that cartoon in the days ahead.)  We spent twenty minutes giggling at the cartoon and another fifteen minutes pondering Smurf products before we got around to choosing notebooks.  Then we spent another ten minutes admiring a Luffy-san steering wheel cover and considering its Father's Day potential.  "Didn't we already get him an electric teakettle and one of those Ice Gel sleeping pads?  And it's not like he ever drives the car."  "You're right.  See if you can find an Anpanman steering wheel cover before my birthday."

A live insect-like thing as big as my hand
Japanese malls confuse me. I can't really tell where one store ends and the next begins so I invariably wander from one cash register to another when it's time to fork over my yen. This isn't all bad because it gives me the chance to interact with two or three times as many excruciatingly polite cashiers than would a more situationally aware shopper. They never roll their eyes, sneer, or holler at me. Would stealing a customer service training manual before I leave Japan be considered industrial theft? I might be willing to risk it.

"There's a 100 Yen Store here somewhere.  It's on the third or fourth floor.  Weather Explorer just took me there yesterday."  We went up and down that escalator at least four times before we found it tucked behind a department store.  It's not like there are walls between the stores.  And that unicycle display was pretty darn distracting.  I wonder if I'm too old to learn how to ride a unicycle.  Hmmm.  Another potential Father's Day gift?

We decide to cap off our adventure with lunch.  We carefully check out the plethora of dining options.  About six or seven restaurants appeal to me but Pip nixes each one for vague reasons until he succeeds in ushering me into . . . Big Boy.  The menu had about as much in common with an American Big Boy menu as a bowl of rice has with an onion ring.  The only items I recognized were the desserts and french fries. 

And that's not a bad thing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Curious George and the Samurai Helmet

Back in the late 1980s, the most treasured book in our house was Curious George Rides a Bike. The book's main appeal, as I recall, was the detailed instructions for transforming a newspaper into a boat. We folded lots of newspapers in those years and marched around the house with boats on our heads. It's a happy memory for me, and I think the same holds true for my children.

I remembered those boat hats when I stumbled across several fabric samurai helmets at the quilt show the other day.  Pip wasn't around during the Boat Hat Era so I think maybe we should spend our time during the Ancient Mariner's summer deployment folding all the fabric in my closet into samurai helmets.  I certainly have enough fabric to cover the heads of 24-and-still-counting great-nieces and -nephews.  Plus mine and Pip's, of course.

Shinagawa-san is on a quest to find the instructions.  My fingers are crossed.   

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quilt Blocks to Cheer the Tsunami Victims

Weather Explorer and I set out for an Ikebana board meeting the other day but wound up at a quilt exhibit in the lobby of the Mercure Hotel instead.

It's not like we didn't try our best to find the board meeting. When they told us we would be meeting at the Yokosuka Support Center, we thought they meant the community center right outside the main gate of the Navy base. We rode the elevator to the seventh floor and then worked our way down and through the building, poking our noses into every classroom and stairwell to no avail. When we reached the ground floor, we even asked the lady seated behind the lobby information desk but she didn't have a reservation for Ikebana.

All dressed up with no board meeting in sight, we decided to check out the quilt exhibit at the hotel across the street. Shinagawa-san has asked us to prepare quilt blocks like these for display next month and subsequent donation to benefit the tsunami victims. I am hoping "donation" translates to "buy your own quilt block" since I cannot imagine anything I could throw together would bring happiness to a tsunami victim.

Although I pieced together six quilt blocks as part of a Tidewater Oakleaf Club project several years ago, I have never attached batting or come anywhere close to finishing a block. I could use a shot of confidence and a flash of inspiration along about now.

"I'm ruling out circles," I decided.

"Rectangles and squares are good," agreed Weather (the brat had already whipped up a practice block by the time we visited the exhibit).

"I'm also ruling out Japanese characters lest I mistakenly communicate something that would offend someone."

"Not offending anyone is a good idea," agreed Weather, "although it is somewhat out of character for you."

We later learned that the Yokosuka Support Center is located on the ground floor of the building adjacent to the Mercure Hotel, so we were right next door to the board meeting the entire time we were viewing the quilt exhibit.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Roses at the Iris Garden

Yesterday the Shonan Ladies gathered for the first time since the earthquake of March 11. Some of the American members have not yet returned to Japan -- many are waiting until the end of the school year so their children's education will not be disrupted even more than it already has been -- but there were enough of us present to make for a joyous reunion.

We visited the Yokosuka Iris Garden. The parking lot attendants tried to wave us off; the irises are not blooming yet and they did not want us to be disappointed. When we persisted, the attendants passed out lollipops to sweeten our day.

Those lollipops weren't the only treat in store for us. Near the top of a hill, behind a wisteria arbor, we found roses and peonies in bloom. Some of the roses were delightful colors I had never before seen, and that's something because I hail from a place that bills itself as "Rose City."


We will come back in June to see the irises in their full glory. Right now it's hard for me to imagine how the irises can possibly top the roses.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scratch Your Head While I Scratch Mine

My computer developed a mind of its own while the Ancient Mariner and I were exploring Osaka. Before we left Yokosuka I expended a lot of time and a bit of mental effort in catching up on posts that were supposed to appear as if by magic while we were away. Alas, that did not happen and some of those thoughts are now floating around in the ether, perhaps for eternity. So much for my resolve to post daily in May.

While I try to figure out what went wrong and try to get caught up on what's been going on in the past week, you can look at some of the more arresting sights of Osaka.
The Statue of Liberty sans flame outside a Namba pachinko parlor greeted us whenever we left our hotel. What does the absence of the flame signify I wondered.

Although you can't see the dozens of customers lined up patiently outside the Krispy Kreme shop, the picture above will give you an idea of the sheer volume of people out shopping on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

This made me think I really need to update my wardrobe

Apple products are as popular here as they are back home

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hanging with the Paparazzi at Osaka Castle

We couldn't have asked for better weather during our trip to Osaka. Indeed, the weather was so darn fine that the Ancient Mariner agreed to stroll from Namba to Osaka Castle rather than ride the subway. We popped into the first bakery we passed to fortify ourselves for the five-kilometer hike.

The Tokugawa clan torched the original castle back in the 1600s to eliminate their competition but the city erected a replica watch tower on the vast castle grounds in the 1930s.  There's no charge to enter the grounds but we forked over 200 yen each to access a walled garden area.  This being the fallow period between azaleas and irises, the garden was a bit disappointing until we turned a corner and found ourselves surrounded by dozens of photographers.

The Ancient Mariner enters the ranks of the Japanese paparazzi

"What's on the other side of those hedges?" I asked.

"An old wooden building."

"Oooh. Maybe the Prime Minister is meeting secretly with the Chinese ambassador. Or, better yet, maybe Ken Watanabe is filming a new movie. Try to get closer to the building."

"Careful! You almost knocked over that baby in the hammock."

"That might be a hammock but it's not a baby. It's the biggest camera lens I've ever seen. It's at least five times bigger than my biggest lens."

"Don't even think about it. I've already picked out your Father's Day present."

After chuckling at our antics for a few minutes, a kind gentleman approached us, turned on his camera, and showed us a picture of what the paparazzi were tracking: a colorful Australian bird. Sheesh.

We never did catch a glimpse of that bird but the Ancient Mariner befriended several of its tiny cousins by tossing a few bread crumbs their way.

I seriously doubt we'll be taking up birdwatching in retirement. Stalking Ken Watanabe, however, is still on the list of potential hobbies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Deja Vu Times Two in Osaka

The Ancient Mariner and I are leaning against a bike rack on a busy Osaka street corner, digesting okonomiyaki and seared scallops respectively, when the first wave of nostalgia hits.

"What is it about Osaka that makes me miss my children so much? My head is filled with images of Kate and James rolling down an incline in Jackson while my mother looks on happily from a nearby bench.  She's holding Pip and teaching him rhythm by tapping her feet and swaying in time to a Sousa tune."

"No idea," he belches.

"Now I'm envisioning twice as many children rolling down the incline, the music sounds tinny, and my father has replaced my mother on the bench. I think I smell popcorn."

He turns his head from left to right, inhaling lavish amounts of the night air. "I don't smell popcorn but there's a faint trace of melted butter coming from the east. How about a crepe?"

A crepe is tempting but my feet have grown roots. "No thanks.  I'm happy right here.  It might be caramel corn I'm smelling."

He twiddles his thumbs for a few minutes, counts the bikes in the rack to amuse himself, then tries again. "How about a parfait? Or maybe a cream puff?"

He's broken the spell. She pulls her gaze from the building across the street and turns her feet toward Namba.

The next day they are entering the grounds of Osaka Castle when she informs him, "I don't know why I was feeling so homesick last night but I am over it now." Just then a group of Japanese schoolchildren cross their path. "Forget what I just said. Now I'm entertaining fond memories of knee-length navy blue jumpers."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Osaka is All About Food ...

...and Chibo in Namba is the place to go for okonomiyaki, a cross between an omelet and a pancake. Depending on the regional variation, sometimes you'll find noodles inside and/or a salad on top.

For starters, I'd recommend seared scallops with an icy mug of beer.

We capped off our meal with an order of yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) that the chef dumped on the counter in front of us.

It's not all soy sauce in Osaka. The desserts are pretty tasty too. Next time I plan to save room for this:

Soft serve garnished with mushroom-shaped cookies

The Ancient Mariner ordered a cream parfait in a little coffee shop between our hotel and Namba station. We also sipped Viennese coffee there. We have become quite the fans of Viennese coffee so expect us to look like chubby retirees when we waddle off the plane a year from now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Liberty Buddies in Osaka

In nearly twenty years as a Navy spouse, I never met the Ancient Mariner's ship in a foreign port until this past weekend when the USS Blue Ridge visited Osaka. (Actually I only managed to meet his ship in a domestic port once, and that's because my mom and dad were in town to herd me and the kids to the pier in Norfolk on time to watch the USS George Washington return from a six-month deployment.)

There is something about Osaka that makes me feel homesick.  But don't get me wrong:  I am not complaining.  Nostalgia and sentimentality are two of my favorite emotions.

We listened to Buddy Holly and the Temptations in my hometown coffee ship.

Look what I found at a thrift shop!

At first glance, I thought this sign was advertising "Amy Burgers". It turned out the joint was called Any Burger but by then I was missing my goddaughter and decided to share this sign with you in her honor.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

No Need to Add Water or Fertilizer

Public art in Japan, at least the works that grab my attention, tend toward the whimsical. But then I've long favored that old-fashioned typewriter eraser in the Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, even after my niece Mary made me feel extremely old by asking me what it was.

At any rate, here are a few of my favorite finds to keep you entertained until I get back from Osaka.

Even the bakers are infused with the Public Art spirit here
The caps are separate from the stems and wave gently with every passing breeze


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