Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wrapping things up...here....

24 hours till I switch lives again: Japan to England.
One more day of classes and then the evening-before-rush of last minute stuff before the dawn wake up and airports.

Dominated sadly by stuff from England - via emails - about tensions over who-gets-what in the Dad and Jane's house. Can't blog about it really - what one fellow blogger calls "unbloggables" - but it IS sad that less than a month after a funeral people are getting into How Much That Is Worth and If He Is Getting This, I Should Be Getting This.
I've already agreed (but not actually signed the paperwork yet) to take a backseat in executer duties on Jane's will. With me living in Japan it would just slow things up tremendously to have all documents copied to me and signed by me - so my step-aunt and her daughter will take on the main executer powers.
But still - I know that the next 2 weeks will be stressful with decisions and differences of opinion about stuff that practically and legally will be beyond my control.
Never mind scattering ashes, packing up a life and saying goodbye to the house.

Life here in Japan? Ok....jogging along.
Sunday I spent a quiet day at home prepping for England. I fed Okaasan, but lied to her that I was having lunch out with a friend later - so she ate alone at the kitchen table with a bit of chat from me about the weather and flowers while I acted busy around with housework. Then later when she was asleep by the TV I grabbed some food from the kitchen and ate alone upstairs. Sitting with Okaasan for lunch isn't my idea of a relaxing Sunday.
Bad Oyomesan. !!!!

Sunday evening Yujiro and I went out to dinner to just have some couple time. I bought a good box of sushi for Okaasan, but when we set it out on the table before we left home she said she had her old swollen gums problem and didn't feel like eating.
So...this meant that after a huge pork cutlet dinner - Yujiro had to wake up Monday morning and eat sushi for breakfast! But he didn't seem to get food poisoning...cast iron stomach.

Monday we worked and Okaasan finally went to hula dance class. She was absent for several weeks - the wedding in Tokyo, the weather, a public holiday etc - and she stressed about "I don't have a souvenir for classmembers"...with Yujiro constantly reminding her that she DID have a souvenir because he'd bought it for her in Tokyo.
Anyway. She went to hula dance. She came home about 6.30 pm and we ate dinner together.
Yujiro chatted and chatted to her about food and supermarkets and prices. He really is ideal for her mental stimulation, he chats and chats about meaningless stuff - she gets carried along in it all and can make the same comments over and over again.

In November he will be away on holiday for a week visiting old friends in Tokyo and Saitama. It's a autumn trip he makes most years when the summer work ends and before the ski season work starts - and usually it's a welcome Me Time for me...but this year...oh no...this year I will be Looking After Okaasan for 8 days.....I will have to dredge up enough stimulating conversation to keep Okaasan entertained night after night.

So that's next month's worry. In the meantime England.
I don't get much internet access in the UK, computers in friends' homes and the local library.
So, postings will be occasional from now on.

agh.........England. Family feuding over possessions and packing up a life. At least the country has some of those foods/snacks that can't be bought in Japan: Cadbury's Toffee Chocolate Eggs, Pork Pies and Carrot Cake. I reckon I'm gonna need them.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sunday morning...........

When all around is confusing - it's nice  to just "be" on the sofa, Sunday morning, cats, coffee, newspaper.........
Thankyou to everyone who argued in favor of TWO kittens!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Cutting comments

Are you paying attention?
No talking and note passing.
No sleeping.
This is Japanese Cooking Essential Tip, No. 5,489.

This is a gobo - burdock.
It can be cut and fried in sesame oil with carrots. With some added chilli pepper and the usual soy sauce, rice wine mix - a very traditional Japanese dish called Kinpira.

But! You just can't cut it any old length!!! What on earth are you thinking about?
THIS is Japanese cooking where form and appearence and correctness is EVERYTHING.

In the picture: 
the top gobo stick is INCORRECT. Too long.
the bottom gobo stick is CORRECT. Just right for picking up with chopsticks and fitting into a Japanese mouth politely, being chewed and then digested in the extra long gut that Japanese people have.

I am so lucky that I have an Okaasan who will pass on these pearls of wisdom to me, so I may learn and improve myself.
I know I am lucky. So I smiled and thanked her when she told me.
I am a good, good, GOOD little Oyomesan.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Up at dawn to cook potatoes and add them to the blasted soup.
Well, not actually just for that...of course.
But up with the cats at 5.30 am, coffee, breakfast...cook potatoes and correct the soup.
Ready to stay a new day.

A good day. NIce normal stuff. SO good!!
We ripped down our tomato vines, picked a kilogram of green tomatoes and then, inspired by fellow Hokkaido blogger Vicky (Hyotenka http://hyotenka.blogspot.com/2010/10/chutney-chunterings.html  ) I set to to make chutney.

1 kg of green tomatoes...plus a few peppers.

Tomatoes, apple, onion, cucumber, sugar, apple vinegar, chilli pepper..

Simmering down after 2 hours.

5 little jam jars of chutney!

Oyomesan's Chutney. (oops...no potato!)

It was so relaxing. Sitting in the kitchen, chopping vegetables with a cat on my lap. Not bothering about all the million of things in my mind at the moment. Oh - and the delicious smell in the house as it all cooked! Thankyou Vicky for the inspiration to do this! Even if it all goes bad and I have to throw the chutney away in a few weeks time, I don't care because just having this time doing this relaxing activity was so gooooooood!
AND...Okaasan stayed safely put, under her kotatsu watching Chilean miners emerging on TV. So I didn't have to share the kitchen space with her.

After that, nice ordinary day off. Yujiro and I went to a skiwear shop to look at ski clothes, we did stuff in the garden, we bought in the cat cage to make a winter nest for them in the office, we did housework, watched TV....read newspapers...watched Chilean miners HUG their families and the Prime Minister. If this mining story was in Japan they would emerge and bow and do that strange chopping hand gesture, and apologise to everyone  for causing so much trouble.....

And I cooked lunch and dinner. And the pork soup WITH MORE potatoes got eaten, and was appreciated...and all was well in the world.

Next Wednesday I am off to England. Step-aunt and I are lining up the schedule of the week - the stuff like lawyer, investment advisor, antique appraisers, furniture auctioneer, shipping company...and the poignant: collecting Jane's ashes from the funeral company and scattering them under the tree in the garden with Dad. 
Some of my students are surprised that a Christian lady would choose to be scattered in the garden and not the church, and even more that as the house is rented the garden itself will not be in my family's ownership anymore so the "grave" of Dad and Jane will effectively be out-of-reach to me and family members within a month or so when the house is returned to its owners. But, Dad and Jane knew that and they wrote in their wills that they wanted to be scattered under this tree at their home. And that is fine by me. I will go and visit the house and garden again in years to come I am sure, if they new owners let me, but I don't need a grave to visit.

** And....a personal little milestone: I peeled off the final bits of tape from my operation cut and now I can completly see the scar across my lower tummy....have to say it: Dr. Zero Bedside Manner actually did a good job.:-))

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Too many cooks spoil the pork soup

Okaasan cooked!

Regular blog readers will know that this is such a momentous event.
She usually sits in her room watching TV or shuffles out just as food is being finished when we cook, and for herself she is about able to heat a saucepan of pre-cooked food, or zap something in the microwave.

But yesterday? Oh MY! And then...

It was a hard day physically for me. Two classes and the drive between them. SO happy the third class has vanished off the schedule until April. I couldn't do 3 now.
Before the classes I was on the computer fixing a shipping company in the UK to bring stuff back to Japan (only as far as Tokyo? what on earth will happen after that?) and arranging for a car hire at Heathrow Airport. Then the post office. Then two classes. Then the police station for an International Driving License (to drive in my country of birth...don't ask!).
A busy day.

At 3.30 I drove home thinking of the sofa and then dinner.
"Wish Okaasan would cook a bit, just help a bit. Could she make pork soup with vegetables (butta ziro)??? Nah...too hard ...all that vegetable chopping, sequences and timing. I'd have to stand in the kitchen and supervise her. "

Get home. Stay on the sofa for an hour. Recover a bit.
Go downstairs to make the soup.This is a standard of Japanese cooking - simmer chopped vegetables, add miso and bits of pork.

I start making it. 3 bowls of water, cut the potatoes.
Okaasan shuffles out of her room: "What are you making? Pork soup? Shall I help you?"
She set to: washing and cutting the vegetables I'd got on the counter. I thanked her profusely, took advice about which end of the daikon is better etc, hovered in and out of the kitchen to make sure she stayed on the job...and 20 minutes later: vegetables were simmering in the pot!

Kind of a lot of water. She must have added more when my back was turned. But in this recipe you add the miso later, so that's easy to accomodate for.

The thing cooked. I added miso and pork later. Left it to sit for a bit. Yujiro came home. We watched a TV program and shared the amazement at Okaasan cooking something.

7 pm I made the rest of dinner and we ate. All started well. Soup good, tofu good....I thought in all my foreigner innocence.

and then...

Okaasan spoke: "Is there potato in this soup?"
Yujiro: "Yes, there is potato, maybe it's broken up into the soup."
A few minutes silent eating.
Okaasan:" Is there potato here? There isn't enough potato..."
Yujiro: "Well, yes...more potato is better of course..."

WHY do Japanese people DO this??? WHY?

It is so so rude. Someone has cooked for you and served you. And at the table you complain about the food?? WHY?
My family in England - who are all dead now of course - would never do this. Or, if they did, it would be very jokingly and lighthearted. Not this direct, bland comments.

I absolutely don't get it.
And sadly I let rip. Told Yujiro and Okaasan in no uncertain terms that this is RUDE. And anyway - this isn't MY fault!! I started making soup with 3 bowls of water and 4 potatoes. Then Okaasan added much more water...so of course...the potatoes disappeared into the liquid.
As she has dementia she didn't think about this and ask about adding more potatoes, and I didn't notice the increased water level and think either....and...and ...and...

And I left the table and went upstairs in a huff.
Which is bad, I know.
Yujiro and I talked it out later, and he bribed me into calmness with TimTams. But...
It's a cultural thing, this handing out of advice. Okaasan does it to Yujiro. He does it to me. Okaasan doesn't DO anything apart from watch Tv so we can't do it to her.... but I SO wish we could: "Hey! Okaasan. Your room is a messy and smells. You should clean up and throw away that week-old banana skin!"....I wish I could say that. I can't.
Yujiro says it isn't done as criticism or complaint, but as advising, guiding, helping.....I say that it could be done later after dinner, or done with a lighter jokey voice....but the doing and the way it is done is just so in-your-face-direct.....it leaves me cold.


It all started so well. All such a positive experience for Okaasan. And real cooking help for me.
And it all ended so badly.
Okaasan will probably only remember all jumbled up negative thoughts about me-cooking-helping-her food...which won't be good for her mental state...and I just get another load of stress to help me start growing another tumour.


I want to go to England. Right now and start scattering Jane's ashes, clearing the house and scrapping with my step-aunt over who is doing a better, more responsible job as executer of the will etc.

It must be better than being here in a Japanese family with this yawning great culture gap across the dinner table.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Watershed weekend.

I'm baaaack!
And twice as feisty.
Gone is the sad little woman with a stitched stomach.
Gone is the sad little woman who was mourning a house and its contents, rather than people.
Gone is the middle aged frump with a bad knee.

In their place: SUPER ME!

I think I'll calm down now before I damage something.

But I do feel tonnes better.
The weekend in Tokyo has made me feel refreshed and positive.

Maybe it was Adam Power! Good concert - not great actually because he was having technical problems and his voice sounded strained rather scarily early in his world tour - but good. Yujiro talked me and him into seats up on the first floor balcony of the theater-like venue and we could really see the stage and all the backstage too...and he sang and he strutted his stuff. (Adam not Yujiro).
He sang a lot of the slower songs I like, but mixed it up with the sexy, campy glam-rock stuff too and it was amazing to think that after all this time of seeing him on TV and You Tube videos ...there he was about 20 meters away on stage.

It was SO good to get away from home, Okaasan, the cats, the hospital, work, worries about England - just go to the airport with a friend and Yujiro and get on a plane and fly away.
Met up with another friend at the JCB Hall near Tokyo Dome and joined 3,000 young women and a few oldies with taste for the concert. Then afterwards a late dinner in a baseball theme restaurant, and then two nights stay and chat with my old roommate and her husband. Yujiro kept in phone contact with Okaasan and made sure she was remembering to go out and eat somethingat local restaurants with the money he'd given her, and two friends sent reassuring emails that they'd actually seen the cats when they went into feed them.

All relaxing fun.
The day of the concert was tiring, because I had to walk and stand on trains. But the next day I walked by the Sumida River, went to see the Sky Tree Tower being built and hung out in my friend's home....and actually my body felt ok. The knee a little swollen, and still in need of a good sleep...but getting better. :=)
I can actually imagine working in the coming week and 10 days from now doing an international flight and then all the stuff that awaits in England for me.

Yes I can. Do all of that.

Now home for a long holiday weekend. I went to see one of the programs at the Short Film Festival downtown...and enjoyed a few normal hours alone, just doing stuff downtown gently....Okaasan had bought some food and washed the kitchen cloth for us, the cats caught a mole tonight and brought it squeaking into the apartment... and I'm negotiating a bit of "stuff" with my step-aunt over the house clearing in England...while I book a shipping crate to bring things back to Japan later this month.

I think I can do it.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Family Service Day

So - here we are. The Happy Family.
Medal Winners all.
Yesterday we did Family Service Day and took Okaasan out for a drive, a view and lunch to Okurayama Ski Jump overlooking the city.
She's been inside for days, we are feeling guilty about escaping to Tokyo for a concert...and the weather was gorgeous.

It was a success. She loved the ride up in the competitors' chairlift, the view over the city, the melon icecream, the cheesy photo op, the sunshine, the flowers....
She looked a bit tired after it all and as the Winter Sports Museum restaurant served only meat, which isn't her thing, we had to drive 20 minutes away to another restaurant..and then had to wait a while for our orders to arrive at the table....but all in all it was a good day out.

The chairlift staff slowed the lift down for the old lady - but we told them that the 80 year old was fine...it was the 49 year old in the NEXT chair who needed help because she is nursing stomach stitches and a knee....
But actually I was ok. I sat down a lot. Lay down if I could. But basically I could do a few hours out and about.

And Okaasan enjoyed it all. She slept a lot afterwards back home, and didn't of course want dinner. But she had fun in the sun.
And my body didn't let me down either, so I felt relieved.

Good training for tonight!!!!
We are going to Tokyo!
We are going to the Adam Lambert concert!
Finally. After supporting him from the sofa all through last year's American Idol program...buying the CD, hunting around the Internet for fan news of concerts and appearences.....tonight we will actually hear him live.
Yujiro and I will stay one night with a friend, then Yujiro will come back and I will stay one more night to see my old Saitama friends (although in fact we met 4 weeks ago at Flemming's funeral)...anyway.....
We are going to tell Okaasan the truth about where we are, and leave her with enough money to eat out for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow...she should be ok. Friends are popping in to feed the cats and Okaasan should be fine for 24 hours. We hope. She and the cats will just sleep I expect.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

This and That...and sofa.

* Dr. Zero Bedside Manner had a good poke around inside me today and says all looks well - come back in January please. I came home and celebrated with coffee and chocolate cake. And lay down on the sofa.

* Went off to teach 2 classes in the afternoon, but the second class didn't get enough sign-ups, so it was just an easy one class. Yujiro drove me out there and then he enjoyed himself with the COSTCO member's card.

* Came home to find: OH HORROR!!!! On the carpet upstairs...a wing, a foot...some feathers!!!!! OH HORROR! We are sure it is Popo, because he spends every waking moment in Bug Hunting Mode. Well, he is grading up....I hoped he might not notice birds till next spring. I was wrong.

* Dinner with Okaasan. Easy COSTCO pizza...but oh wow...the conversation...it just went round and round and round...pretty bad and all mixed up: pizza/Macdonalds first opened in Japan/ The Ginza/Nihonbashi/pizza/she married/pizza/ first Macdonalds in Japan/husband gave her money for food and she bought pizza/Nihonbashi/pizza/Mexico/ate pizza....AGHHH!!!!! Yujiro and I chewed are way through dinner, making vague sounds in Okaasan's direction...it was MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING....I can't tell you.....
After two slices she said she didn't want anymore - maybe I ate something when I went for a walk? - so we ate some more, then started clearing the table and wrapping up the left over pizza.
"Is there any more pizza? I'd like some more...."

I don't know how anyone living alone with a dementia sufferer keeps going, I really don't. At least with two of us listening to all of this we can just smile and make meaningless chat...and then finally escape upstairs....

Okaasan's spent 3 days inside because of the rain. Today she was more active: doing laundry and went for a walk. But her brain seems to have conjealed.

Maybe Popo should take her out bird hunting...it might give her some much needed activity.

The working world...

Oh I think not.
No thankyou.
I'll just pop back on the sofa with a good book.

But I did.
Drove the 40 minutes, sat upright for two 90-minute classes, then sat upright for another hour, drove home again.
Lay on the sofa for 2 hours to recover.

It is AMAZING how even sitting upright takes stomach muscles to do it. I could feel my muscles by lunchtime...like I'd overdone stomach crunches in one of those burst of get-in-shape-madnesses.

So. I am glad it was only two group classes and a private on a nice, big comfy sofa (my dear student, who I've known for years, even suggested I lay out on her sofa!! But I think that is going a little too far to charge someone for a lesson when the teacher is flat out on the sofa....).

AND. Another dear student (I think I have a cluster here) gave me ikura (salmon eggs) that she'd prepared, so family dinner was easy - just rice and soup and a little salad. Instant dinner.;-))

Okaasan has been stuck inside for 2 days because of the rain...her conversations are very repetitive at the moment, and she has some ongoing worry that she didn't buy a souvenir in Tokyo when she went for the wedding...and that everyone in hula dance class will know she went to Tokyo...and she doesn't have a souvenir...and everyone in the hula  class knows she went to Tokyo...and she didn't buy a souvenir...but everyone in the hula dance class will expect a souvenir, but when she went to Tokyo she didn't buy a souvenir for the hula dance class, and they all know she went to Tokyo.....(repeat for 15 minutes).

WE are going to Tokyo on Thursday - ****for the ADAM LAMBERT concert*** - I will get there in any shape, even if Yujiro has to fireman lift me into the hall...maybe we should buy some box of seaweed/sweet bean cakes at the airport and give them to Okaasan to give to her hula class.

I worry about the Tokyo trip, because it will be tiring. But it was arranged  ages ago and I am determined to go. And can you believe this?...Yujiro called the JCB Hall yesterday to say I had just had an operation and wouldn't be able to stand for a 2 hour concert, could I have a seat please. They said - just come and ask at the door! No handicapped reserved seating system, even if you are in a wheelchair! What kind of customer service is that? Just turn up and hope?
Adam had better take me right on his leather-clad knee and sing to me personally. He's a nice boy, I think he probably would.

And today. Off to the hospital so Dr. No Bedside Manner can peer up inside me and see if it is all ok. And then two classes.

And then: sofa.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Rejoining life.

Monday morning.
Time to get back on the hamster wheel.
Back to work today.

I feel ok. I guess. We'll see.

My body is getting stronger and I can bend and stretch more. But the huge waves of exhaustion come over me still.

Saturday I had one private lesson at my classroom, a new student who is is tranferring over to me from the community center classes. It is great to finally have a real conversation with her after years of being in a big group class. So I wanted to meet her.
The classtime was fine.
But after...I went downtown by subway to meet a Uni Spagetti for Ladies Foot Care and a coffee. The salon in the department store was busy, so we had to walk two blocks to another salon. Sit down for the wonderful footcare treatment, and then two blocks back. Buy some food for family dinner, and then a block to a coffee shop. Uni Spagetti carried my bag for me because she is a caring, wonderful person.
I was knackered.
Just doing that.
I came home and went striaght to bed. Left Yujiro to cook dinner.
Felt exhausted.

Sunday I just stayed home and  did a few things. My accounts. hunting for shipping companies on the Internet. Gave Okaasan her lunch (but didn't eat with her, I slipped down to KFC in the car and bought a box lunch for myself! BAD Oyomesan!!)...TV, book, sofa, entertaining cats.

And today. Back to work.
I have to drive 40 minutes to the suburbs. Teach two 90 minute classes, but small groups so I can sit down most of the class. After that I have a private lesson at a student's home - but I've told her that if the community center classes exhaust me I'll call her at lunchtime and cancel. She is understanding. Monday night students are taking a break till November too.
I can be back on the sofa by about 3.30 pm. Or by 2 pm if my condition isn't good.

It's wonderful that I'm being supported by community center managers and students in a gentle return to work. But, it can't be TOO gentle because I actually NEED to earn money!!!I am only paid if I stand in a classroom, I don't get a salary or sick pay. So after 3 weeks now of no work, I need to work.

Hoping it'll go ok.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A shadow of myself.

"She's a shadow of herself" is a phrase in English - usually means someone is thinner, weaker, less able than before.

I feel all of that.

I am making baby steps towards reentering my working life: I went into my classroom yesterday and called students about starting classes. I vacumned the room. I actually had one class today. I confirmed with the community centers that I am basically back in work next week.
I have even started thinking ahead to England: researching shipping companies on the Internet and thinking how to get the sunflowers painting back to Japan.

But it's all a big effort.
Thinking about timetables, substitute teachers, classes and textbooks.

I'd rather climb back on the sofa and read the book a student gave me in hospital: fittingly Eat, Pray, Love - the book that new Julia Roberts movie is based on, about a New York woman finding happiness.
So. That's what I am doing.
Not much.

* Okaasan meanwhile, bless her many little cotton socks, ......I came back at 11.30 am from my one class, ready to make her lunch. She'd done it herself! Well, actually just taken the pickled fish and rice she'd bought yesterday out of the fridge and eaten it. But for her quite a feat - she had actually REMEMBERED buying the stuff, and come mid-morning had opened the fridge and decided to eat it.
So I could leave her alone and retreat upstairs with bread and cheese.
To continue doing not much.

I'm tired.