Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Japanese New Year cooking.

I'm gonna get a lesson in Osechi-ryori (New Year food) tomorrow.

THIS is one of the big benefits of having an

We've noticed that she's been stockpiling all sorts of NY foods over the past week (rather worriedly he has also
realized she has somehow burned through Y60,000 in 2 weeks) - anyway we knew that it would be good for all concerned if SHE did some traditional cooking for the festival.

So today, he cooked her midday meal and I fitted up a shelf, a shoe box, more clothes
storages in okaasan's apartment. Sometimes we seem to reverse the male/female roles - he was there cooking and chatting and I was busy next door with the screwdriver and wondering how many little cute towels okaasan has in life. Maybe every time she goes shopping she buys a cute little flowery towel...there were scores of them.

In the afternoon I had to go and close up my English classroom for the year and prepare it with bedding for some Taiwanese guests who are going to stay there for 2 nights. (I'm part of a wonderful network called Couch Surfing http://www.couchsurfing.com/ which is an international system of complete strangers staying with
each other, check it out!).

Late afternoon I got home and took
okaasan in the car to the local supermarket, which was bursting with NY shoppers.

It was fascinating shopping with a Japanese woman of her generation. How she picked up foods and examined them for quality and origin, compared prices. Why this radish was better than that, why this bag of fish stock flakes was a good buy.

Mind you, being
okaasan, it was also a constant battle to keep her on track of what she actually needed/had already bought today/had already bought last week! We seemed to circle back to the giant radishes a lot...I managed to come away with only one...I think!

This really short term memory loss is so hard, because she really doesn't remember what she has bought. Or what is already in the shopping basket. She was constantly checking. We are trying to limit her to making only simmered vegetables and chicken, because we know she's bought all sorts of other beans/seaweed/rice cake snacks.

Anyway. Very interesting to see how she shopped. And tomorrow morning she'll be in our kitchen strutting her stuff!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Privacy lines

How much to do you cross privacy lines into some one's life?

I can't decide. And I can't do it!

Yesterday I cheerfully told okaasan that I'd put her piles of wet, handwashed underwear into the gentle spin cycle of our washing machine. She leaves it in a pile in her bathroom sink, or in piles on the carpet in front of the living room heater to dry.

So I whisked it all away and threw it into the machine. Hung it in our living room to dry - we constantly have laundry drying it seems.

Later in the afternoon I unpegged the laundry and as I folded them all up I realized. They were ALL pants! Knickers! 20 pairs of pants....

Since I had washed some only the other day I was amazed. Is she washing them needlessly just because she finds them on her carpet and forgets she's already washed them? Does she have incontinentcy problems?

I discussed it with him. I feel I can't get into this topic with her. Partly my Japanese isn't good enough to do shades of formality/casualness...and partly I just feel she and I don't have that kind of personal relationship. Yet. I guess it's new territory for him too: discussing underwear with your mother!

I really wonder though how much to step into her life. She isn't ga-ga. Forgetful and confused about stuff. Illogical. But not crazy or incapable.

Every morning and evening I march into her home and reset the hot carpets and take out the trash. While she's in the bath I throw away stuff in the kitchen sink and supermarket flyers. I steal her post from utility companies/banks etc so her son can manage her finances. (we noticed with concern the other day that she had info about convenience store cash points...) and I march into her bathroom to set the bath water heating switch.

But I don't know how nag her into her doing stuff.

Yujiro tackled her on the 20 underpants after dinner last night. She said she has some incontinentcy problems. He told her it's ok, we can get some medicine for that etc. I wonder if she'll take it though, she doesn't like medicines and hospitals. One of those: I am healthy and don't need that stuff types. A few pickles and green tea is enough.

Anyway. This morning I popped into to do the hot carpets and collect the trash. There were 20 pairs of clean pants laid out on the carpet drying in front of the heater in the living room.....

"Ahh...okaasan, I washed and dried those yesterday. They were dry when I gave them to you. You don't need to dry them any more. You can put them away!".....

AGHHHHHH!!!!!! It's hard to make a difference! Of course it doesn't matter if she sits with piles of clothes on the carpet around her. But I feel it makes her living space more confusing her. I am guessing old people like the reassurance of stuff all around them they can see, rather than put it away somewhere?

Anyway. Today I am going skiing. Because I need to. He has just hobbled into her place on his crutches to monitorbathtime...and maybe tackle her on the Putting Away Dried Clothes issue. We discussed whether she needs more clothes boxes and different hanging space for coats.

Yesterday was ok. I had to deal with the cat and his health problems in the morning. I came home lunchtime. The 3 of us ordered a pizza and ate it with salad. In the afternoon I did very belated Xmas/New Year letters for friends. Then I went shopping. Then he put together stuff for a nabe, a kind of table top one-pot dish, which is easy to do. Okaasan was very animated at dinner and chatted away about wartime memories and New Year festivities when she was a child...I'm learning all sorts of stuff about Japan Circa. 1940-50...living with us is giving her a great outlet for all these stories. Although by the third or fourth retelling he and I are getting a bit glazed over and our responses are getting muted!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Join me?

Hey...another day.

I popped in to check on okaasan this morning. She actually remembered to have the heating on at 15 degrees this time. She comes from a part of Japan where it's unusual to use room heating much...

Good dinner last night. Sashimi and rice/soup/vegetables. Okaasan stayed on after dinner to watch some of the ice skating with us. About 9 pm she looked sleepy, so at his suggestion I took her back to her place - checked that the hot carpets were switched on, checked the heater etc...

I know that various friends and students are reading this Blog because you send me e mails telling me so - I've just added a new gadget thing at the side, I think it is below the picture/profile - I think it means you can get alerts when there is a new posting. If you'd like to use it - please do!

Hi to Martha in Canada...and I think Wilma is there too at the moment...and Diane is in the US...and Tokiko, Izumi, Kumiko here in Japan...and Loretta in Australia...and over there in England? I know someone in England sent me a "good luck" e mail...

It's very good to know many people are thinking of me as I try to be oyomesan. I feel your power!

Anyway. This morning the cat has bad constipation and keeps laying down in his litter box from exhaustion. I'm taking him to the vets before they close for the holidays.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

So. Snow and stress.

It started snowing Xmas night...and next morning there was 50 cm outside to be shoveled.

We went to the hospital to get the results of his MRI scan. Bad news. Not the worst news: he will ski again etc. But for the next 3 weeks - don't bend the knee. Keep the leg brace on. Uses crutches.

It was a shock. I cried a bit in the hospital car park.

We stopped off at Macdonalds to get some hamburgers for lunch and the staff were being a bit dense about my order, I lost it a bit and started crying in Macdonalds. We came home in grim silence and once home I let all the anger/stress out and shouted a lot. It needed to come out. There is nothing he can do to make it all better and it isn't his fault the leg is damaged again, ski accidents will happen. But it doesn't make the next 3 weeks any easier for me.

In the afternoon I went off to work. My final classes this year. Tired.
There is so much snow in town. I cleared snow at home, then cleared snow at work.

Came home about 6.30 om and we ate chicken soup from the xmas chicken. We moved the furniture so he could sit with the leg easier. Also easier for okaasan to sit. Dinner was ok. He chatted away and got her down memory lane, so that was ok.

But it was a stressful day.

I feel as if I'm in the center of a vortex: around me is Work/Home/Sick Cat/Boyfriend/Byfrnd leg/Byfrnd mother...and far away is the Family in England...and "me" is lost somewhere among all these pulling forces.

Today I monitored bathtime for okaasan. I brought in her laundry for washing. I stole her important post for him to check. I threw away trash from her kitchen. Then I had to take some borrowed bedding to my classroom. Then loaded him and okaasan and the crutches into the car. We went to a shopping mall for lunch, then he sat while I walked okaasan round the shops for an hour.

We came home and I had another cry.

He says: don't try so hard, you are doing so much better than I thought or expected. But don't try so hard, because you'll get stress and then you won't be able to continue.

I know. I don't come from a regular family. So maybe I try too hard to "make" a family. My parents both worked, they were older, professional people. We didn't do family outings as such. I always slightly envied schoolfriends who had a stay-at-home mum and a working dad. So I try too hard because it's what I do.

Anyway. Now we are home for a few hours. I'm having a beer. Doing e mails.

Good news is that my family in England seem better than Xmas day. I called last night. But I couldn't tell them about Yujiro's latest injury. They already think I did/do too much...if they hear he's injured again they will just have negative feelings about him. It really isn't his fault. But I can only deal with MY negative feelings at the moment!

And so it goes. Okaasan seems to be buying all sorts of snacky things for New Year, maybe I can escape cooking altogether when Japanese New Year comes around.

I'm off to get another beer.

Too busy to blog.

Just dropping in here.

We went to the hospital with his leg and the doctors said he has damaged ligaments in his knee.

"Keep your leg straight for 3 weeks, don't walk/stand/bend".

O gawd. As if we needed one more thing.
Lots of stress. I got angry. We had a fight. Then we said sorry for the fight.

And now it's the next day and I'm about to monitor okaasan's bath. Then we'll go out in the car and have lunch somewhere.

I might get back to the computer later today.
This is all a mess. This is not my idea of life. Can I say "shit" in a blog? yes. It's my blog.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas Day

So this is Christmas.
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

Thankyou John Lennon. One of my favorite Christmas songs...but kind of depressing lyrics actually.

Oyomesan did Christmas. And she's feeling pretty pleased with herself. (I think the wine is helping!)

I was doing it for me of course. Even the most non-traditional ex-pats get all misty-eyed about tradition when it's Christmas. Something that you wouldn't dream of doing usually (probably wearing or eating) suddenly takes on great sentimental significance because it reminds you of Christmases past.

He and I did Christmas morning at home. Late breakfast, present opening, silly holiday TV, party planning and last-minute vegetable shopping. We also bought chemical ice packs for his knee and I cooked okaasan fish/rice/soup at 11 am.

And here's an interesting thing: in Japan fish are always served with the head facing left! Isn't that amazing. There is actually a rule about that! Okaasan told me. Because of course I served the fish facing right. She said it looked strange for Japanese. But she was laughing and joking about it, she is pretty good about accepting that the gaijin-oyomesan will sometimes do strange things.

A few years ago I served HIM New Year's rice cake...on December 30 or 31. Usually it's kept and displayed on the house shrine, and then eaten after January 11th! Even he was pretty stunned to see it BEFORE New Year, and he isn't at all bothered by traditions.

Anyway. I did a pretty good job of doing the traditional Christmas Day here.

I cleared/cleaned the party room, ironed the table cloth, set the table, decorated the room, found the napkins, peeled the potatoes, cut the veggies, made the stuffing, picked up the 2 roasted chickens from downtown, lit the candles....threw on a party dress...CHRISTMAS!

It was a strange, warm Christmas Day. We didn't even need coats or gloves when we went out. The other ski teachers dropped by at 6 pm with his ski stuff and we stood outside chatting with them. Amazing for Hokkaido at the end of December.

At 6.30 pm one of our friends came to dinner, okaasan arrived in slightly smarter than usual clothes and the 4 of us opened the cheap champagne and sat down for...Christmas dinner.

Looks pretty good doesn't it? Thankyou to Paul's Cafe, near Sapporo Station! Two delicious rotesserie chickens. Everything was great, although maybe I should have done a gravy/sauce.

But basically good. The xmas CDs played, the candles flickered and the potatoes were passed. Okaasan seemed to enjoy it, tucking into the chicken I'd cut for her and drinking the cheap champagne. We even had a small Christmas pudding - a gift from one of my students - and a small cake!
Just look at it! All dark fruit and nuts. Very English, not like these cream and strawberry imposters that Japanese cake shops sell!

Finally at 9 pm our friend went to get a taxi home - in a snow storm that had arrived while we were eating. He took okaasan back to her apartment, and I ate the rest of the Christmas pudding and finished the wine.

It was a nice Christmas. I enjoyed it. I think we all enjoyed it. Okaasan is always talking about how she used to cook traditional New Year food for all the office staff that her husband would invite over to the family house - so I'm sure she appreciates the work that goes into getting it all together and on the table. But it was mainly for me. I need to see a traditional Christmas dinner to make this Thursday feel like Christmas. And then I remember Christmases in England. Way back when!

A moment of peace.

Actually under the table his leg was playing up. He'd taken off his leg brace to put on jeans, and after 2 hours his leg was a bit painful again. He could feel more blood inside. He has an appointment today at the hospital to get the results of the MRI scan to tell us if it's more serious cartilage damage.

And I just telephoned my Dad and Step-mum in England. She fell again on their Christmas morning and has spent all day in bed. He has a cold. They both sound bad. And I'm all the way here in Japan playing at cooking Christmas dinners. I feel a long way away from my English family.

And there's a snow storm outside. Back to reality.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Escape to me!

I escaped it all today. I went skiing. It was great. Now I am drinking wine. That is also great! :-)))

Early this morning I had to go in and do morning greetings with okaasan...because his newly injured leg is obviously painful and we don't want her to notice. We spent all this year hiding the fact that he had had a big ski accident and was in hospital...so a little more deception is easy.
It reminds me of a few years ago when my mum was sick in one hospital with cancer, and grandad was sick in another hospital...and the decision was made NOT to tell him why she was in hospital - because "it would only worry him". My step father and I shuttled between 2 hospitals each day and had some very bizzare conversations with grandad about how mum's "influenza" was making her feel so poorly.

So - today okaasan doesn't know the latest twist in our life. That he's reinjured a badly broken leg.

After morning stuff at home I dropped him off at the hospital. And I drove away in the sunshine to the mountains and skied. It was soooooo good. Skiing with a big grin on my face under the ski mask. I felt like me again.
I met one of my old students in the restaurant and chatted to him...I enjoyed the sunshine and views. It was wonderful.

Then I drove back to Sapporo. Cleared the ice from the path outside the house, picked him up from the insurance section at the government office and came home to switch on the heating in okaasan's place and ...now..I am about to get dinner ready. Luckily I made stew yesterday, so it's easy.

Christmas Eve. I'll probably drink the rest of the bottle of wine tonight.

Christmas has snuck up on me this year and apart from my parents I haven't done any presents or cards. I guess most of my friends understand why.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


So. The first day of my winter holiday. Yippeee!

I'm happy because I can really concentrate on doing a good oyome-san job, and relax at home with errands, the TV and word games on the computer.

First thing was collect okaasan's trash to put out. Then get her primed for taking a bath. Then I sat in her living room watching TV while she had a bath. I wasn't sure how much help she needed - he'd mentioned washing her hair for her - but apart from asking me to switch on more hot water and find a towel..she did it alone.
While she was in the bath I went through the stuff on her table and threw out a lot of the shopping flyers from the newspaper and other bits of paper she doesn't need. I took into my home a pile of wet hand towels that were in the kitchen sink (what DID she do with those?) and I rolled up and put away some of the socks she has strewn around...I changed the toilet roll.

It's easy to see how bad people can con their way into old people's lives and homes...and trust. Offer to help around the home, and while they are away in another room you could do anything with their money or jewels. Unluckily for me I only found supermarket flyers and rice cracker crumbs.

It's hard to me know how much is acceptable or necessary to invade her private space. Until the past fortnight we'd only met at a few dinners etc and had polite chats. Now I am marching into her bathroom while she is in the bath. How relationships change!

After bathtime I came back into my home and had my own breakfast and took a shower. Fed the cat. Then started preparing okaasan's breakfast...fish/rice/soup/omelette. All much better than last night's dinner. Things were feeling under control.

There was a voice at the door.

HE was standing there....looking very very apologetic. On crutches!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

During the first day of ski instructor work yesterday, he'd fallen awkwardly with a child student who was playing around...and felt something go...hopefully only a ligament or a bruised bone. Back to the hospital where he spent 3 months earlier this year. Same doctor etc. And then back home today....leaving the other ski instructors one short.

I tell you. This year. Our lives. Amazing. I think I'm beyond surprise now.!!!!

So I finished cooking okaasan's meal, took it in to her. Came back and washed up. Chatted to him. One hour later cooked lunch for us.

Welcome to my winter holidays!
Yo ho ho.

Combining work and okaasan...

A hard day.

Monday is busy day for me, and as this was almost the last teaching day of the year I had various class parties with students and end-of-year quizes to organise etc.

I went in to check on okaasan at 8.15 am and got some of the trash from her kitchen to put out with ours. Standing next to her while she fumbled with the trash box and plastic bags was a bit frustrating, but I managed to curb my desire to help so that she could fiddle around and work out how to do it.

Her room is beginning to overflow with stuff. We must get her one more box or small cabinet to put papers in, and I must try to get her to put away some clothes, everything is draped over surfaces now. She's only been there 2 weeks and the surfaces are disappearing!

Then I went off to my day of teaching: two classes in the morning, another in the afternoon, a 90 minute drive, back late afternoon to inject the cat and prepare dinner. There was left over chicken from one of the class parties, so I planned rice/soup/vegetables and chicken.
Okaasan said she'd been up the road to a local curry restaurant at lunchtime, and when I suggested dinner at 5.30 before my evening classes she looked unhappy and chose 8.45 pm instead.
So I prepared as much as I could, set the table and flew out at 6 pm to the evening classes.

Got home at 8.50 pm and brought okaasan into our living rom while I threw dinner together. It wasn't so great, but ok I guess.
I asked her if she would show me how to cook one traditional Japanese New Year dish - and that got us into lots of memories about New Year celebrations in the past - endlessly the same stories. Sometimes her conversation is really bad - literally the same phrases repeated on about a 3 or 4 minute cycle! Good for my Japanese practice, not good for her brain.
There was a program on TV about an injured elephant, so we watched that together and had the strange cycle conversations about zoos and wars and animals. But it was relaxing social time for her ...I hope!
I was knackered. Finally at 11 pm I took her back to her room and made sure the hot carpets were on and the windows were closed.
Tomorrow I must try to get some of her stuff AWAY. And maybe we'll try bathtime. And I'll cook a better lunch for her. I bought the fish and I'm ready to get it right this time!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Family service

There's a phrase in Japanese which means "To do family service", and men use it when they say they have to spend time with the family away from the more important things like work or drinking with colleagues.
I always thought it was a strange way of looking at one's family life - as something that "had" to be done.
Now I kind of understand it.

Yesterday we spent a couple of hours at a suburban shopping mall with okaasan, walking around shops, eating lunch and buying a few things along with a few thousand other local families.
As I've said before, shopping malls aren't our usual scene at all, so it's a strange feeling to be ambling around looking at stuff while the musak plays and toddlers stagger around attached to shopping carts. But we had a dinner plans with friends Sunday night and he is about to go away for 4 days ski teaching and we thought we should do some family time.

Okaasan loved it. She slowly looks at all sorts of stuff. Things she would never buy like sparkly nail ornaments or T-shirts with rock stars on them. Just enjoying the looking. Now I can understsnd how she spent 7 hours plus downtown the other day:she drifts around looking at stuff and people!
He managed to stop her buying noodles to cook by reminding her that she doesn't have cooking facilities and hasn't cooked for about 2 years, but she bought a few chocolate things and seaweed soup.
At lunchtime we looked at different restaurants and were a bit put out when she chose the buffet. As we were gearing up for a big pre-Xmas dinner with friends we didn't want to eat buffet of course, but okaasan was impressed with the choice so in we went and managed to do our best...SOMEONE had to make a dent in the chocolate fountain, so I tried hard.
Okaasan tucked into all sorts of food happily. She certainly has a healthy appetite. She ate rice and grated yam and various Chinese foods. Then salad.
"Hmm, they don't have rice here do they?"
"Err...you just ate a bowl of rice"
"Did I? Really? Is there rice?" She ate another bowl.

I'd like to try the same memory loss excuse with chocolate. "Did I eat 10 chocolates already? Really?"

Anyway. A successful family outing. We came home early afternoon and retired to our seperate Tvs. In the evening we ordered sushi to take to the party, and gave okaasan a smaller box of sushi for her dinner.

Now it's Monday morning. He's just left for 4 days ski teaching work.
Okaasan and me. We are Home Alone with eachother from now on.....

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Missing in action?

Oh my. We thought we'd LOST okaasan last night! We called in the police etc etc - but luckily she came home safely. What an evening....

All started so well yesterday. We went into her place around 9 am and checked that she was ok. We took in the "old lady food" from my student and made sure she was set for the day. Her cough seemed a little better.
He went out. I went out. He came home at 3.30 pm and okaasan was out. I came home at 7 pm - okaasan was STILL out. We debated what to do - could she still be at a department store? Should we call the police? Her handbag, shoes, hat were gone. Gloves were still in the entrance hall. And the cell phone with its GPS system ...was still in her living room in its recharger case. She doesn't really understand why she should have it.
7.30 pm came and went. We asked neighbors. We asked the local pancake restaurant that she likes..we waited.
So we called the police to report a missing okaasan. Three officers came and started interviewing us and going through okaasan's papers on her table etc. We found a recent photograph of her...
Yes - she had some money in her purse. Yes - she is often confused and forgets things. No - she knows her own name, but maybe not the new address. Yes - she seems to accept living here, not Saitama. No - we don't think she could get to the airport alone. No- we don't think she knows anyone here in the city. No - we didn't have a fight with her today. All those kind of questions.....

AGHHHHHHH!!!!!! Our worst imaginings coming true?

At 8.30 pm there was a little voice at the apartment door: okaasan returned home. Clutching a shopping bag. All smiley and surprised to see three police officers and us in her room...she said she went into town by streetcar or taxi...did some shopping...ate lunch out...shopping...


"But I've been to New York 4 times! I didn't get lost there, did you really think I was lost? Do you really think I'm that confused?"

We didn't know what to think. Thank goodness it was a false alarm.

We apologised a lot to the police. We got her changed into pyjamas, we started making dinner again. Finally sometime after 9 pm we ate dinner. Sometime after 10 pm I gave the cat his kidney flushing injections, washed up, put away all the plates and bowls...sank into bed.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

No meeting today.

Okaasan and I didn't actually meet today.
I was off and out to work before 10 am, and home again at 7.30 pm.
He planned to go out for walking and lunch with okaasan - but she went out under her own steam to a local supermarket to buy things...and then in the evening felt a cough oncoming so she decided not to wait around in our place for dinner...so she'd gone by the time I came home.
He and I ate the nabe and drank beer and watched football.

This is really sweet - one of my students cooked and gave me pickled vegetables and fish...and another gave me pickled radishes ! very much old-Japanese-lady kind of food, and exactly the kind of stuff I don't know how to cook. It was a great present and will make a good lunch or dinner for okaasan tomorrow. I hope she feels up to eating it.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Lunch and housework

Here it is - another attempt at the kind of lunch I think okaasan probably likes!

Grilled fish (soy sauce marinated), miso soup, rice, salad, natto, cut and peeled apples....

Doesn't look so bad I guess. But it was thrown together at the last minute, I had to go out and buy the fish/natto/salad because we didn't have enough stuff at home.

That's my next goal: to try and shop methodically so that we have the stuff for an okaasan meal ready to hand. Then it'll be easier. I usually eat whatever is around and today for myself at 1 pm I stir-fried eggs/veggies and had a piece of bread. These days off with meals at 8 am/11 am/1 pm and then evening are strange. But as I am here I feel I should cook for her. But I don't want to eat rice and fish at 11 am...

This afternoon I popped into her place with the vacumn cleaner and changed the bedding covers etc. It feels strange to go into someone's home and do this, I am not sure WHERE are the personal boundaries in this situation! Okaasan helped change the bedding covers and picked stuff up so I could vacumn. She really needs another table or side stand so she can put stuff away. There's piles of stuff....maybe old ladies like it that way.
I'm home all day today because I have stuff I need to do on the computer and at home, should be I be sitting in with okaasan chatting or something? I don't know. It was warm weather today, she could have gone out but she apparently didn't.
Tonight I have another Year End party to go to. They are a kind of escape. Next week HE goes away for 4 days ski instructor work. That's when okaasan and I will see how we get on without him as a buffer in the equation. haaa....

Yesterday as one class finished for the year one student said to me:" Don't try too hard Amanda! It's ok!"....I'm trying to remember that.

Settling down?

Are we getting into a routine finally and beginning to relax? It feels so a little.

I worked all day and only came home for dinner. He was off all day, so son and mother went downtown for lunch and shopping. We have taken her on the streetcar twice now, so we hope she begins to understand that it's easy to go from the house to the center of town.
He also continued arranging things like travel cards, newspaper delivery and so on. There are so many aspects of life to change when someone moves home and when you are doing it for another person's life you first have to identify WHAT aspects of life they have and want changed/discontinued.
We live in Sapporo. It's a big, modern city in Japan. With all sorts of community services. As working adults we only use a certain level of services, for elderly people there are other services and whole shopping experiences we know nothing about: where DO old ladies go to buy their favorite green tea?!

I had a dentist visit late afternoon (bad news unsurprisingly after a year of stressful events and bad bady care), and I countered it with some retail therapy. Then went home to dinner.
We ate the lamb curry I'd made at the weekend. He'd said it would be ok for okaasan, but she didn't look so happy with it - she doesn't like meat so much and kind of pushed it around the plate a bit. I must give her fish/rice/soup tomorrow! Poor lady!
I'd also got more information about Hula Dance classes, so I gave her that and we chatted about the possibilities. I left the info with her and hope she will call to find out more. She should be able to do that - her Japanese language skills are better than mine!

After dinner she drank green tea with us. And then about 8 pm he took her back to her apartment and we settled down with some beers to watch a DVD. Felt almost relaxed. Are we starting to get on top of our new life and its challenges? Maybe.











Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Okaasan power! (J)

Yesterday morning on his early a.m. visit next door he didn't come back for ages. When he finally reappeared he said okaasan was demanding to have all her pension money back. Ahh...here we go. I kind of thought it was interesting, and a little strange, that she seemed to be passively accepting him organising so much of her life.
Finally she steps up to claim back some of the power. Good...in a way! Of course he is worried about giving her all the money - because all the evidence is that she gets on the Tv shopping, leaves it around the house, forgets what she spent it on etc etc. But...it IS her money.
She had a long running battle with a post office in Saitama - accusing the staff of stealing from her. We worry that she'll transfer that battle to him now, I wonder if he should give her receipts so he can show her exactly when and how much money is spent and received?

Anyway. I went off to work. He went off to hospital for rehabilitation for the leg...and while we were away - okaasan ignored his cautions and went out for a walk round the neighborhood on the ice! Ha ha! Okaasan power!
Actually it was no problem. She found her way home again and didn't slip on the ice. It's good that she feels ready to start connecting with and exploring her new environment.

I came home at 4 pm and went into her apartment for a cup of green tea, he came home and joined us. It was actually a fairly natural family moment. This is what we should aim for. Give her a role in our lives - welcming us back from work etc, making tea...who knows: making dinner? THAT would be good too.
I had to work in the evening, but my lunchtime End of Year party had sent me home with extra food from the restaurant, so he and okaasan ate Chinese restaurant leftovers for dinner.

And so another day ends.










Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday at home. (J)

Well, we ate our cheese fondue and drank the rest of the bottle of cheap wine. A quiet lunch but nice. It's always been good that sometimes we just let eachother be quiet. We talked a bit about okaasan and what life was like for her in Saitama - fighting with the Post Office because she thought they'd stolen money from her...buying so much foodstuff because she forgot what she'd already bought.
Life may be a bit boring here for her - not able to go out in the icy streets. But we hope it's easier. Sadly though the Hula Dance called to say they are full up this time - we'll have to find her another place to go.

After our lunch he disappeared into her apartment for an hour to make sure she was ok while she took a bath, and I caught up on business stuff - accounts and class preparation for next week.
Then I did some cooking for next week and made dinner: fish/soup/rice/spinach...with the surprise element of sweet rice wine (mirin)...which I'd added to the fish and the spinach...both mother and son thought that was strange. Tough! The gaijin cooks odd tasting Japanese food...Yujiro isn't too bothered actually, he accepts most of what I cook, but okaasan thought the fish and spinach were too sweet. Shoganai...it can't be helped.

Tomorrow another week of work starts. I feel tired, but ok...off to have a bath now and read a Japanese cooking book....








Trying to get a system going. (J)

Sunday lunchtime.

He was feeling "romantic" this morning. It's the last thing on my mind...I saw a TV program once that said men's bodies react to stress/anger by arousal...hmmm.....My body goes kind of blank.

We got out after breakfast in the sunshine and walked into town to get in some exercise, and came back via the supermarket. It was good to walk together and have quiet time. He didn't talk much. A lot of thinking.
We did talk about how we might try to get okaasan basically doing her own breakfast/lunch from now on. She eats at 11 am and in the evening only. She doesn't cook, but we've put a microwave and a hot water pot in her apartment. We of course eat at 7/8 am, lunchtime and in the evening. And we work. So trying to get these two life patterns together is hard.
As we walked we talked about maybe putting cooked rice in boxes in the fridge, giving her packs of miso soup to make and then keeping her supplied with fish/tofu/something from the supermarket. If she would get it together herself for the 11 am meal it would free us up in the middle of the day.

We came home. But as we haven't got okaasan primed for action quite yet he cooked rice/soup/fish for her. She came in and ate it in our living room. I hung Xmas decorations...okaasan looked like she wanted to go walking in the sunshine, but it's so icy at the moment here we'd have to take her in the car to a shopping mall or something. I feel we are keeping an old lady under house arrest a bit, but we need our time with email/TV/work planning too. Hard to merge lives.

In the supermarket we bought things for us to have cheese fondue for lunch. It's our kind of lunch on a winter weekend. Have to make some highlight for ourselves today. Is she having a good day too? I don't know. Watching TV, eating snacks.










Saturday, 13 December 2008

Girls outing...(J)

So. I finished work at midday...after a long, long week. And instead of going home and doing nothing special I picked up okaasan and took her into town on the streetcar for lunch in a department store and then a wander round the shops.
Not my kind of Saturday at all really. I hate shopping. I hate walking aimlessly round shops. But there we are. It was a warm, easy-to-walk couple of hours out for her. It's hard for me to judge though how much she can/wants to do - I hope she enjoyed it!

Later this evening he cooked oden and okaasan came in to us f0r dinner. She stayed an hour or more, and then when we started watching the ice skating on Tv she made moves to go back home.
And so our life unfolds after week one. Stressful...some funny moments, but basically ok because okaasan is happy. But renting 2 small houses seems a waste of rent for the living conditions, and he's already put out feelers to a real estate agent to start the search for somewhere else: a house or larger apartment where the 3 of us can be under one roof and we don't have to balance dinner plates on a tiny kitchen counter. Maybe nearer his winter work as a ski instructor too so he can get home in the evenings more.

I was just going to mention here some comments that I've had from a few students this week: because they seem strange to me. "Why don't you get married? After all, you are the girlfriend and you are looking after his mother?"....to me that's a odd comment because it suggests that I'd act differently if I was married to him...when I choose to help with his mum because I love him and we are a team in life. Having a piece of paper from the city office and party in a hotel doesn't seem to make much difference. I guess ultimately I do have the power to walk away from this situation completly - I could just pack my suitacase and walk out, but people who are married walk out too - so the difference seems small. If he died suddenly, would I continue looking after okaasan as the girlfriend? Hmm...not sure. I hope the other son would step up to do more at the very least, but if I'd already been looking after her for a few years and knew her ways then it would be easier to continue maybe.

Let's hope he doesn't die though! I don't want to face THAT situation!







今週何人かの生徒から言われた意見についてここで触れるわね。ワタシにはヘンに思えることだから。“結婚したらどう? だって、あなた、ガールフレンドで、あなたが彼のお母さんの面倒を見てるんでしょう?”っていう意外な意見なの。それって、彼と結婚してたらワタシが違う行動をとっただろうっていうみたい・・・彼のお母さんをたすける選択をしたときにね。それはワタシが彼を愛していて、ワタシたちは人生におけるチームだからなのに。市役所から紙をもらってきてホテルでパーティをしたからって大して変わるとは思えないわ。最終的にワタシは完全にこの状況から歩み去る力を持っていると思うの。ワタシはスーツケースを荷造りして去ることができたわ。でも結婚している人たちだって立ち去ることができるのよ。それならその違いは小さいって思うの。もし、彼が突然亡くなったら、ワタシはガールフレンドとしてお義母さんの面倒を見続けるかって?うーん、わからないわ。もう一人の息子がせめてもう少ししてくれたらいいと思うわ。でも、それまで何年間かお義母さんの面倒を見てお義母さんのやり方がわかっていたら、たぶん続けるのは簡単かもしれない。


Catch up time (J)

Nothing much to report - because I hardly SAW okaasan! Two days of morning to evening work, so I saw her briefly Thursday am and then at dinner, and yesterday I only saw her for a moment when I checked in with her on a flying visit home during my lunch hour. Our old cat is not at all great now, and I came home to give him a kidney-flushing injection.
I think the time is rapidly approaching when the poor old cat will have to go to the sofa in the sky...the timing is kind of fitting. As I have to give out energy in a new direction one focus of my love and energy until now is fading away. I love him lots, but winter is not a good time to have kidney problems because he gets dehydrated stretching out by the living room heater.

This is Year End Party season in Japan. I had a lunch with students on Thursday, and then dinner last night with another class. Actually I am stopping that class - sadly a little after 5 or 6 years years teaching that group. It's downtown at 7 pm on Fridays...as I have classes until 6 pm in my suburban classroom until 6 pm, I think going on into downtown on Friday nights is not going to be good in our new life schedule - because he works as a ski instructor...and Friday/Saturdays/Sundays he is often away. I need to be able to come home and make dinner.

Anyway. We have made it through week one. I said that to him yesterday...he grinned and replied: "Yes, but there are 52 weeks in a year!" So desu neh. This new life will go on and on and on....
An animal charity in the UK used to have a Xmas ad campaign with the slogan: A Puppy is Not Just for Christmas.
An Okaasan is Not Just for Christmas!





とにかく、ワタシたちは一週間通してやり遂げたわ。ワタシは彼にそう言ったの。彼、にやりとして返事をしたわ。"うだね。でも、一年は52週あるんだよ“ ソーデスネー。




Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Hula Dancing.(J)

Well, I grabbed 2 hours to myself...watched some Tv and ate a hamburger.

Then at 2 pm Okaasan and I went to the local sports center to observe the Hula dance class. We even joined in! Very embarrassing...but fun. Okaasan was actually pretty good, she has been doing it on and off for a few years and knows all the moves. It was a good bonding time for us. Of course the other class members loved it that there was an international flavor to the prospective new member.

After class I helped her sign in at the desk for the January classes and we walked home in the dusk across the park. She invited me in for green tea and then I rushed out to get stuff for dinner. Oden tonight. It's easy.

Had a bit of a scene with him though after dinner. He found that she'd hung some laundry far too close to the living room heater - he shouted at her about how dangerous it was. Of course he is right, but his way was over-the-top. I told him off and we had words. I told him I refused to see anyone bullied however frustrated he felt. Sometimes he can be overly dictatorial. Probably no Japanese woman would ever tell a Japanese man to get off his macho-pedestal- but us gaijin gals have no such qualms. If a man is wrong we tell him so. I will not stand by and see him shout at his mother.








Lunch...very Japan-esy (J)

I just made okaasan's breakfast.
..lunch....brunch. Should have some kind
of fish in it really. Some pickles maybe.

But not bad. For a gaijin.





・・・ランチ・・・ブランチ  本当はお魚かなんかをつけなきゃね。たぶん、漬物も。


Mission Accomplished. (J)

3 am - can't sleep. May as well blog.

Last night I managed to cook dinner successfuly. I tell you, I consider myself an intelligent, can-do kind of a person - but managing to do this fish/soup/rice/vegetable thing feels like an achievement at the moment!

I came home from work around 4 pm and this time got it all organised. We ate a little later than planned cos I thought Y said 7.30 pm for a dinner...when he meant/said 6.30 pm - but this time we put water in the fish cooker (it helps to read the manual) and the miso soup and the rice were ok. I bought a large flat fish and it was fine for 3 people. Success!

Okaasan came to us for dinner and she was lively and happy. Seeing that makes it all seem worthwhile. She and Y spent their day unpacking some of the stuff she's brought from Saitama and they walked to a soba restaurant for lunch.

Her memory though really isn't great. He said she slept in her kotatsu and complained of being cold. "But you have the futon quilt right here" he'd reminded her...."Eh? Oh do I? I forgot I had a quilt..." she replied.

Today it's my turn to be on Okaasan-watch. He has to go to hospital for rehabilitation for the leg he broke in the spring. It's my day off. I am going to do lunch and dinner....and hopefully take okaasan to the local sports center to observe the Hula Dance class we hope she might join in the New Year.

I have quite a lot of selfish feelings: this is MY day off and I want to do something for ME. I'll try and walk or work out at the gym in the morning. Otherwise the whole day will disappear in oyome-san stuff and it won't be good for my mental health and ultimately this situation.

Ho hum. It's Xmas soon. Next week I have last-classes -of -the -year with various groups. I've done nothing about Xmas presents/cards for friends or family. I guess the Internet will come in useful.

And a Japanese friend who lives in England is coming to visit her family for the winter holidays. I am so looking forward to seeing her and drinking a LOT of alcohol!



午前3時・・・・眠れない   ブログしたほうがいいかも。









Monday, 8 December 2008

Another day.(J)

Today I had it easy: I went to work from 9 am until 8 pm.

I took Yujiro and Okaasan to the ward office just before 9 am. When I looked back as I drove away I saw him taking her by the hand as they walked towards the office. It was like that movie that came out in Japan recently about a son and mother - at the time I thought it was hopelessly sentimental (like so many Japanese movies)...but I saw it today and felt for them both in this new life situation.

I had a long day of work. I enjoyed it, but felt tired after the weekend. Lots of women students tried to give me advice about how to cook simple, Japanese-style dinners. I usually have a one hour between classes at the end of the day - sometimes I manage to get home for a cup of tea...sometimes not. Today I didn't feel like coming home at all. But luckily I did because Y and O were still out in town and the cat's condition was worsening. He has kidney failure and we have to give him kidney-flushing fluid shots every 48-72 hours. In all the rush of the weekend I'd left it too late. I felt bad. This poor animal shouldn't suffer because we are bad at coping with new responsibilities.

Anyway. I got home again at 8 pm. He'd fed Okaasan and sent her to bed. He and I have just eaten a nice, quiet dinner together and talked about his day. He is so tired. They did the ward office, the stockbroker...the cell phone company etc...
Poor guy. He says this is the stressiest time in his life so far. I'll do dinner tomorrow night. He is going to help her unpack the boxes she had sent from her Saitama home.

And so we go. Another day done.









Sunday, 7 December 2008

Shopping and Dinner (J)

We went shopping this morning: shoes/hat/gloves for okaasan...and a fish cooker for me. He and I just aren't the kind of people who usually spend our Sundays in a department store, so it was very strange. Shopping and having lunch. But we all did ok.

This evening I tried to put together the fish/rice/miso soup/vegetable dinner...our kitchen is so small, it's hard just finding the correct number of bowls for everything and finding the counter space to put everything out. Japanese cooking demands all these bits and pieces.

I felt like a new-bride. The rice was hard, the fish was a bit burned (had to open the windows to let out the smoke) and the dried seaweed I'd thrown into the soup seemed long and stringy, I had to do a quick rescue by pouring the soup BACK in the pan and cutting the seaweed bits with some scissors. Thank goodness I am 47 and have some confidence in myself as a person, if I was 22 this experience would be devastating.

As it was. I lost it a bit after dinner. Okaasan had gone back to her home and I cried on the sofa with Yujiro trying to reassue me that this will somehow all get easier. Our kitchen seems so small to be trying to make multiple foods for 3 people, then sitting round the table is cramped. He is doing so much, I feel it's selfish of me to whinge. But I'm finding things hard.

Aghhh!!!! I am an only child, and I've never been good with groups of people. Trying to do this takes a lot of effort. Trailing round a department store, cooking and putting on the bright face.
She's a nice lady. He's a nice guy. I can't get all defeatist. But it's hard.
I hope this gets easier somehow. Soon.

This afternoon after the shopping I took myself to the gym and worked out for a while to have time for myself. I know that is important. Many of my students are middle aged women who are caring for relatives, and now I understand it when they say: coming to English lessons is MY time, MY space.

Tomorrow I start my working week again. I am looking forward to it. And I have at least one Year End party with students - so I can escape the family dinner scene at least once.










Second day. (J)

I couldn't get to the computer yesterday. He was on it for ages looking for house cleaning companies for the Saitama house.

Anyway. I went to work and came home at 2 pm. He and
okaasan had spent the morning shopping and arranging stuff in her apartment. Best news was that she is able to use the bath! That had been one of our main concerns: how she would get in and out of the bath. But she has great flexibility in her hips and the bath was no problem.

I had a quick lunch in my home, and then took my cup of soup and sat with her in her home watching TV for a bit. Later we cooked salmon
nabe and she came to us for dinner...fairly successful, although she thought it was strange I'd left the potato skins on the potatoes.

She stayed with us for an hour or so, and then went back to her apartment because she wanted to drink green tea and we don't have any. He then disappeared on the computer and I collapsed on the sofa and watched TV.

So, a fairly ok...no stressy day. She really likes the apartment and seems happy there. Her short term memory is terrible. She really does tell the same story with the same words 5 or 6 times in about 5 minutes. We must get her to a doctor sometime soon. There is maybe a medical reason for this, not just age.

Today we are going shopping for winter clothes.









Saturday, 6 December 2008

The first night. (J)

Well, I have a head cold. So I'm feeling terrible.

In the end we had supermarket sushi, miso soup, tofu, fruit and nuts. We took it all in next door on trays and spent an hour or so having dinner and chatting. Then we helped okaasan arrange her bedding etc and said "Oyasumi" about 8.30 pm.

She really likes the apartment and is very smiley and happy. But she DOES say the same thing over and over again! She also seems to have shrunk since I last saw her...how small can she get?

A bit stressful. Usually you come home to relax. This time I feel I came home to a whole other challenge. I can see me spending MORE time at work!
A very kind student gave me a big tray of supermarket sushi which was a great present. But it also meant I had to rethink dinner。I couldn't do sushi AND the planned salmon nabe. So there was some slightly panicky replanning in the kitchen - and I wasn't sure it was enough.
"What about tofu, with some sesame and negi?" I suggested to him.
"Sesame? no...no Japanese do that! She'll think it's strange" he said, and then he fixed tofu with negi and ginger.
This is one of my worries: that as a foreigner I do slightly strange things with Japanese food. I've always felt that Japanese have clearly fixed ideas of HOW certain foods are served. In the past I've put sausage in miso soup...and tomato. He was amazed. I am worried about this whole cooking thing for okaasan. The big joke among my students is that if I make my cooking not so great she'll feel pushed to start cooking again and WE won't have to cook at all!

Anyway. We did first night dinner. It was ok I guess. I feel so coldy I am past caring actually. Son and mother chatted away to eachother with a few inputs from me, I felt like the visitor. I also feel sorry for the cat, usually he sits with us while we have dinner. Last night we disappeared next door and he sat all alone and slightly puzzled in our living room.

Today I have classes until lunchtime. And it's snowing. I think he is going to do shopping with okaasan.

If I can get this cold better than I'll feel stronger.