Saturday, 31 January 2009

A looong day.

Oh it's been a long day.

Constant toing and froing between the two houses. We are all tired.

We moved the clothes rail so she wouldn't use it to support her body weight, we tried to get her to stand by pushing up on the chair.

Okaasan slept a bit. Moaned a lot in pain. Didn't eat.
Late afternoon he sent me out to buy diapers. Three trips to the local drugstore later I finally bought the things he wanted..and then Okaasan refused to put them on. This was just after she'd failed to get to the toilet room again and had to use newspapers and tissues in the middle of the living room...

He got angry with her. She moaned and cried. He ended up throwing the diapers at her and shouting. Meanwhile I was on my knees in the bathroom unplugging the blocked drain.

We are so quickly reduced to tragic farce.

Anyway we all apologised. He started talking to her about dinner. She managed finally to sit upright and look at a delivery menu. They ordered a bowl of udon noodles for her.
She managed to walk to the bathroom. Standing up is very very hard for her.

Finally he came home here and we ate cheese fondue and drank a bottle of wine. Had an exhausted dinner together and talked quietly about outside help and future. Tomorrow I am going to see (maybe him too if he can get away for an hour) another house...I saw it from outside today. It's in Sumikawa. Nice neighborhood. Huge garden. Smallish rooms. Maybe old bathroom.

We just went in to check on Okaasan. She was curled up again on the carpet by the heater asleep. So we tiptoed out again.

He might sleep in her room tonight in case she tries to get to the bathroom tonight.

A long, long day.

Determination or Obstinacy?

She spent the night curled up on the carpet by the heater, under the heated table cover.

Unfortunately she called us at midnight 7 times - but his mobile phone was switched off. Our stupid mistake. She had tried to get to the toilet and couldn't.

We have spent our morning with her now. She refuses to go to hospital.

It took her about an hour to crawl on her knees to the toilet door, finally push herself up onto the chair and then get to the toilet. Constantly refusing help. But Yujiro did help pull her hips up at one point.

She changed her clothes and managed to walk very slowly back to the living room. When I last looked she was kneeling down like a Moslem praying to Mecca, trying to get the energy to swing her hips round and sit down.

She doesn't want to eat because she believes that the body heals itself if you don't eat. Only drink water.

Her knee is swollen. But no bruising. And she can walk. But it's very painful.

What to do? We feel hospital or some kind of medical advice would be best. But she is strongly refusing. We can hardly carry her out of the house and into the car! I'm not sure she can get from the house TO the car...

So. Luckily today was a quiet day at work. I went into my classroom early and cancelled the 11 am students (sorry Sachiko and Toshihiko!), and came home again.

I admire Okaasan's determination. But at what point does that really become stupid obstinacy?

Friday, 30 January 2009

Okaasan injured.

I came home tonight, by taxi to make sure I got home quick enough for the 6.45 pm family dinner time.
But Okaasan was not here.
She said she'd fallen over today on the ice and had hurt her knee a little, and so didn't want to eat anything. (This is her cure all for everything: don't eat!).

We quickly ate our dinner and then I went in to check on her.
She was sitting in her pyjamas watching Tv with a cold compress on a badly swollen right knee. She said she slipped on the ice and fell, but after that she continued walking downtown (about 1 km) and all round the shops. Then she felt it was painful, so she came home by street car!

This is one tough old lady.

Anyway. We'll see. her son did terrible ligament damage to the right knee and continued ski instructing for a few hours, so we will have to see what its like tomorrow.

I hate to say it. But this could be the small injury we hoped for which will get her into a hospital...and from THAT we might get her some medical attention for her memory etc...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Asking for help.

My senior ladies class today got on my case.

They are a great bunch. About 8 women, mainly aged in their 60s and 70s. We have a lot of laughs, beer parties, nice Japanese-style year end dinners.
They have been very interested in this Okaasan situation, but I don't think any of them are readers of the Blog.
Today as the class got going they all ganged up on me and went on and ON about how Yujiro and I should be getting outside help. Going to the city welfare section and seeing what is available in the way of day care, meals, medical help etc.
We thought about this before. But what with his leg injury and the holidays, and the general stress of a new life - it got pushed away by the business of every day life.

The ladies were also adamant: don't move INTO the same house with Okaasan. Even two floors! Interesting that this age group think that. That two women (Okaasan and me) will have lots of stress with one kitchen etc, and all the privacy issues.

I came home and talked to Yujiro about it. He agreed I think. He is tired. He is also worried about his health and work future. And we both know that once he starts work this delicate balance we have at the moment will break. (I came home for 90 minutes between classes today and rushed out to do the shopping, because yesterday I skied and went to a friend's Birthday the shopping didn't get done).

We'll try to go and see the city welfare section next week. But we both think Okaasan is probably too physically fit to qualify for much help. And even more - she probably won't want to accept any help!

My Dad in England is the step-mum had real fights with him to get him to accept a homecare worker coming in to help her 3 days last week. Now she is feeling better and apparently is up and walking/eating again. But last week she sounded bad.

So. We'll try.

On a lighter note: I went to a local coffee shop the other night with some homestay guests from Hong Kong. One of them stayed at my English School. The coffee shop owner described homemade cheesecake to us: "it's got apples and orange on top, and the filling is made from lilly bulbs (luri-ne)!"

Oh no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Revenge of the Lilly bulbs!!!!!!!!!!! They'll be back!
Actually it was quite nice as a cheesecake filling.
I'll know next time. If Okaasan ever buys them again.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

He died?!!!!

Sorry for a silence. Been too busy living the life to blog about it.

**I worked. And shopped. And took out the trash. And checked Okaasan's hot carpets.

**He stayed home and made shopping lists. Cooked. Injected the cat. Home searched online.

**Okaasan threaded elastic bands into the waist of her hula skirt. Walked. Shopped. Ate.

Yesterday morning Okaasan suddenly came rushing into our hall waving her cell phone. She was confused because someone had called her on it and she doesn't know how to answer the phone. In fact nobody knows the phone number apart from us, we only gave it to her for the GPS function.
The house phone is her actual telephone.

"Ahh, I thought it was Toru-san calling about Satoshi. Maybe he's died"...
"Okaasan, Satoshi HAS died! We told you 3 days ago"
"Satoshi's died? Really? When?"
"3 days ago. We told you"

Isn't that strange? She remembers that her brother was sick in hospital, but not the greater news: he'd then died. This short term memory loss is so strange. Anyway, she wasn't so shocked (yet again), they were a big family and she was older sister...younger brothers were troubles to take care of, not people you cared about...maybe!

I am learning more and more about Okaasan's life from her many stories.
Her mother was born in Sapporo, somewhere near a bridge on a road between Sapporo and Otaru. When she married she moved to Kawagoe in Saitama.
Okaasan's father may have been born in Fukui and moved to Tokyo. But after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 he was evacuated to Kawagoe.

When I first met Yujiro and he came to live in Sapporo with me he was amazed to hear local people saying "azumashkunai!" for "messy/untidy" because it was a word his Mum had used to him and his brother when they were kids. He suddenly realised it was a Hokkaido phrase.

Maybe these Hokkaido roots are why Okaasan is pretty good at walking on snow and ice.

Anyway: other things.
We did say "no" to the house in Minami Hiragishi. And the owners said "no" to reducing the price. We'll wait and see. We still talk about it as "our house". It's the best we've seen so far. But we've looked online at others. Every day there are new properties to see with Street View.

and today?
Okaasan will debut in her hula skirt.
He will watch TV.
I will go skiing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Finally - we think/hope Okaasan willbe able to find her own way to the sports center and the hula dance class. I will get a day off.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Dinner out and houses.

Last night I took my family out for dinner. Helped the old lady over all the ice sheets outside the front door and into the car, then helped the man-on-crutches over the ice and into the car!
Sapporo's crazy weather gave us spring and flooded roads on Friday. Then Saturday it was Minus 3 and ice sheets.
We only went to our local yakitori restaurant, 5 minutes from the house. But it was essential to use the car.
I needed to have a dinner out of the house. I really wanted to eat meat and mochi-bacon...and other unhealthy things. I wanted to give Yujiro a break from cooking. I wanted to give Okaasan a change of scene.
It was a delicious dinner. Okaasan drank Nihonshu liqour and got a little tipsy(!!!), Yujiro drank 4 or 5 beers...I drank soft drinks as the driver - but we all enjoyed it. After an hour or so we went home again, but it was good to get out of the house.

Apparently Okaasan's younger brother has died. Yujiro called his older brother in Osaka to see if he will go to the funeral on her behalf. Okaasan doesn't seem too bothered. Not very close I guess. I'm an only child and maybe I have a too-rosy picture of family relations: I am always surprised when siblings are not so close.

House hunting. He and I talked a lot more. I kind of agree that maybe we can find better than the house we saw last week. He went online and actually found two more places much closer - one is only two blocks away from our present home!
I think we are going to tell the Minami-Hiragishi house owners that we are interested, but that the price is a bit too much for only a home - and see if they will reduce it. Meanwhile keep looking.
Looking at estate agent websites you really FEEL Japan's population is in sharp decline. So many empty homes. I think we can find somewhere. Patience!

By the way - dear readers - Friday I met Tokiko (she suggested this Blog in the first place), and she is super-busy translating it all into Japanese! One day we'll try and find a way of putting both English and Japanese on this Blog. I know many of my students are reading this (Hi artist Takako! Hi Tamiko! Hi manga-drawing Youko!) and having Japanese might help.

Friday, 23 January 2009

To do...or not to do...that is the question.

We are still debating about the house.
It's more expensive than we were looking for. If I moved my English School there it would be fine, but as a home only - it's a little more than we planned.
Today I went and looked again, afternoon and evening. I walked the area, testing whether it really was 5 minutes to the subway station and supermarket etc. All seemed well. But it's a quiet residential area and I can't imagine moving my English school there...other people might come there for English lessons - because people always find a foreigner/teacher in a Japanese neighborhood...but it's not good as my main business place.
Meanwhile at home he's been looking at other places on the Internet and printing out info about them. We may go and see some more places tomorrow.

The weather was awful here today. Okaasan stayed home not surprisingly. She sewed the elastic bands into the waist of her Hula dance skirt and watched TV. These Hokkaido days when the weather is bad and she can't go out are hard for her.
The news from my family in England is so-so. They are getting a home help to come in and see if she can help. Dad doesn't sound keen because he wants to do it all himself, and if someone else is there helping his wife he has to recognise that she maybe isn't so well. But I am sure SHE will enjoy having someone to help her with bath/toilet/dressing etc.

And so we head into another weekend. I feel a little sad, because I think the chance of that house is slipping away...Yujiro is losing the enthusiasm he had when we were there on Wednesday.

Maybe I have to accept that something else, equally good or better will come along soon...because this is the season for moving home and new properties are coming on the estate agent books every day.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Home sweet home???????

We found a house!

Here we are today looking at it. Yujiro and the estate agent (who so kindly helped Yujiro climb over the snow drifts to get to the front door!).


We were both amazed. Big, pretty good location. It has a new bath, sink and toilet unit. It has a garden. It has parking. It has upstairs for us. It has a tatami room for Okaasan. It has a big kitchen/dining room.
It's 5 minutes walk from Minami-Hiragishi subway station.

We have to think about this. We are both amazed. We have to think about the school...the location...and whether the owners would wait until April for Yujiro's leg to be strong enough to DO moving home. Because if he isn't walking...moving two homes (and school) would be a killer for me!

We have to think. But for now we have to have dinner.

Oh wow. I never thought we would find somewhere like this. It is very good. It feels scary. Like becoming real adults all of a sudden with a real house. A family home.


But. Our life is never that simple.

Also yesterday: at lunchtime one of Okaasan's brothers called to say that a younger brother is seriously ill in a Saitama hospital and last night my father called to say that my step-mother's leg is very bad. She is staying in bed and they are thinking about getting a nurse carer to come every day. Dad sounded so, so tired. He is 85 and he is doing the shopping, cooking, laundry and looking after the dog.

Yes we can...

Awake in the middle of the night again. Stress.................

But I was able to see the US take its giant step forward into President Obama's time. I sat in my dressing gown, sipping tea and injecting the cat and felt so happy that finally America moves beyond 8 years of Bushshit. Americans are basically such good people, why they elected such a terrible group of people AGAIN was unbelievable. Well, fear makes people crazy.
There was something
so just about Cheney being in a wheelchair. Wheel out the old and in with the new!

Anyway. Here to more mundane things.

I just had 2 days of wall-to-wall work. Busy. Busy. 7 classes Monday and 3 big ones today. Lost it a bit yesterday, when I forgot to take a whole bunch of material for the afternoon class! I left it sitting on the desk at home. I had to wing it with material the wonderful office staff found for me. Stressy, but surprisingly it worked. Sometimes I surprise myself with my inventiveness in classes. Wish I could do the same on the domestic side of life.

I met another teacher I know on the subway. She was talking about how she'd lived for a time with her husband and Okaasan. How her husband had been reluctant to step into the "mother" shoes in the situation, by trying to control what his diabetic mother ate. I am so lucky that Yujiro is willing and able in the kitchen and with laundry/shopping lists. Recently too, I feel so connected and understanding of people caring for parents/in-laws. So many people with a public face...and then a whole other life at home.

In my life Monday morning I cleaned the cat toilet box, took out the trash, shoveled some snow, grabbed some breakfast and put on the Teacher Face.

Yujiro went to the hospital (by taxi...I delegated THAT job!). The doctors say the knee ligament appears to be doing ok. But at least 3 more weeks of keep it straight/walk on crutches. Three more weeks of staying home and cooking for mother. Poor guy! We really thought we'd got all of that behind us last year - the ski accident, the operation, the hospital, the rehabilitation. Now we face weeks..months of more.

Yesterday I came home at 6 pm with some fish and vegetables, Yujiro had made the soup and rice and I put it together. But I was so tired - the miso soup boiled over while I was trying to get the foil off the fish head and tails. I actually said "Shit!" in Okaasan's presence. I wonder if she knows that word! Yujiro of course - cos he is a sweet guy - said HE was more than happy to have cooked all the dinner...but for me cooking was the easier option to sitting at the table and trying to talk to Okaasan - after being bright and friendly in my working day, I come home with no more energy to be bright and friendly to anyone.

We ate dinner quietly and I escorted Okaasan home and checked the carpets. Sapporo has had a huge dump of snow which amazes her. I showed her how it folds all over the parked car and she was touching it with wonder, like a child. I apologised to her for not being so lively, it's hard to find any more energy.

On the home front: he has found a few possible places. I was a bit too tired to show enthusiasm. But maybe today we'll take a look at them. One house in Minami-Hiragishi looks very possible...there is an Internet mapping system called Street View, which allows us to actually "walk" down a street and "look" left and right at buildings! It's amazing and so useful for home hunting as you can check out an area.

I had thought I might ski today. My day off. But I have a million things that need doing. And there is Hula dancing. So I need a day at home.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Home hunting

We went home hunting on Saturday afternoon.

It was also a date/couple time for us, and an escape out of the house for him. It's so hard for someone on crutches to go anywhere in a city with icy streets.
After I finished work I picked him up. We had lunch in a small noodle place, and then armed with estate agents stuff and maps we drove around neighborhoods we think might be good, or places that have empty apartments/houses.
Didn't really find anything. Most of the houses were squashed between too many other buildings with no natural light, or too old, too far from transport, no garden...the apartments were better...but no garden.
But we got a better idea of neighborhoods and what area would work. One area we'd thought would be good proved to be all hilly and icy. A nightmare for Okaasan.

Anyway. We came home with a better idea of the topic and availability. No huge rush. Where we are is doable. We are coping...and into spring will be better. I kind of wonder whether pooling our monies together and buying a house might not be better...a home for her and us now, and a home for us into OUR old age...he's 50 now and I'll be...oh God..48 soon!

Okaasan came in for dinner. She'd been shopping at the department store that is closing down. Bought a huge bag of oranges. She walks into town from here! It must take her 45 minutes or more. Not bad for 78. With all the ice. She has got into life here very well really, many people would just sit around at home and watch TV. She gets out most days and walks and shops.

Sunday I helped a friend move furniture in the morning and picked up the double matress we bought off him: well "picked up" doesn't adequately describe it of course. It's a DOUBLE mattress, he lived on the SIXTH floor, with a SMALL elevator...another friend, his wife and I ..we all did a LOT of grunting and groaning to move the thing.

After that I escaped skiing with a friend, into the sunshine and snow. It rejuvenated me for the working week ahead, which is going to be busy. I also called England to get updates on that situation: which is slightly better (maybe) because they are now home again.

After skiing I dumped my friend on her doorstep and drove away to grab some takeout sushi and drive home at speed to try and get it on the table by 7 pm. Yujiro cooked the soup and we had family dinner. Okaasan forgets which sushi she has eaten of course...we have to constantly remind her and encourage her to eat what we know she likes.

This memory thing is so strange. It is funny, and makes funny stories. But it IS so strange and sad. Life must feel confusing when what you did a few minutes ago is blurry. We kind of wish she'd have a small accident or illness so that she was in hospital, and then doctors could take her in hand and tackle the problem somehow.

Anyway. Monday morning here. Another week to start. I have 7 classes today. And I have to take him to the hospital before it all starts. Lots of life...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Home and...abroad...dramas.

Thursday I didn't even see Okaasan. I was out at 10 am and back home at 8 pm to eat heated up pizza. All I did was bring in the supermarket bag of food for him to cook. Our roles are SO reversed these days!

Friday too I had a busy day out. He was home cooking and trying to persuade the cat that a kidney-flushing fluid shot was a good idea.

I came home at 5.30 pm to find Yujiro a bit fraught. Okaasan had cried in frustration at lunchtime over her short term memory loss. Poor lady. She's bad, but not so bad that she doesn't know she has a problem. Sometimes.

Apparently it all blew up over the topic of makeup. She wanted money to buy some foundation. He gave it to her, but gently (he says!) reminded her that this was the third time since October she'd bought something that usually lasts a year. No. 1 she'd broken, No.2 she'd lost...and now she was buying it again.
Okaasan was upset and cried a bit, saying how disappointed she was in herself to be like this etc. Then she disappeared shopping and he stayed home fretting about whether she would try to go back to Saitama.

I breezed in at the end of a busy, but good, working day. I can identify now with men who come home to domestic crisis as wives want to dump all the day's woes. I calmed HIM down, and then scooped up the cat to take HIM off to the vets for the much needed shots.

Okaasan didn't come home until 7.30 pm again. We sat waiting for her and looking at real estate agents info about apartments. I don't know: there are some great, spacious apartments. But I really love having a bit of garden to escape into. As we look for a new home we start to appreciate what we already have.

Finally at nearly 8 pm we sat down to dinner. Okaasan seemed perky. The makeup topic returned, he gently told her that many people have short term memory problems and that these days doctors can ease it with medicine etc...but as expected she was adamant: "I'm not THAT bad, I don't need medicine, I'm healthy etc etc".

Meanwhile....abroad. In England.

MY parents are having their own little crisis. They went on holiday to Madeira last week. But my step-mum fell on an escalator and badly cut her arms and legs. Ambulance to hospital. Early flight home and now recuperating at her sister's home because she needs helping getting up out of chairs and bed.

There is nothing I can do. Just phone calls. But...but...I wonder how long my dad and step-mum can continue living independently as they do out in the middle of the countryside. Her sister is really a 2 hour drive away and is already juggling many family commitments of children and grandchildren and dogs.

Haa. Today I have some classes. But he and I are going to have some couple time this afternoon, maybe lunch out and a bit of home hunting. While I come and go into this drama - he stays home day in, day out. I'm amazed how patient he is about it. Stuck home with the leg, cooking for his mother.

Anyway. I got to go off to work now. Ironically - my working life is rosy at the moment. I have a small English school business and I am picking up extra students left and right. Strange how life throws positive and negative all at the same time.

The other night we watched a Nicolas Cage movie called Family Man, about a Wall Street trader who wakes up on Xmas morning to find he's married with kids and living in New Jersey. Oh yes! I SO identified with that! I was an ex-pat English teacher in Japan with a cool Japanese boyfriend....I woke up as an Oyomesan!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The gentle tyranny of eating requirements.

Yesterday was my day off.

We got up kind of late. Had breakfast about 8.30 am - coffee, cereal...fruit..

About 10.30 I started cooking Okaasan's meal: fish, rice, soup, salad. She came in about 11 am to eat it, we sat at the table with her chatting.

Okaasan said: "this is troublesome, you don't need to cook specially for me, I can wait until lunchtime and eat with you."

We told her that it wasn't so much trouble. That today I am home etc. That now is a strange time in our lives because HE is home all the time with the ligaments etc. When we are both working she will have to fend for herself at lunchtimes with convenience stores, food deliveries or going out.

But it IS troublsome of course. Different eating timetables and different eating styles.

Yesterday around 1 pm He and I ate a combination of stuff in the fridge: potato, eggs, cheese, a can of tuna...some salad. It's fine for us, but we absolutely know Okaasan would NOT want to eat that! She often says: I can eat anything. BUT then she picks through something asking what it is etc.

In addition, eating seperatly from her gives us the freedom to eat what we want sometimes. Okaasan doesn't like bacon. We love it. We bought some the other day and it sat around for ages because there was no actual meal time when we could eat it!

I don't know the solution to all of this.
But I do know preferred different eating times and styles is troublesome.

On a happier front: yesterday I got Okaasan out of the house in time to walk to Hula dance class. There was a bit of a panic when I went to take her, because she had 3 pm as a time fixed in her head...and she wasn't ready at all at 2 pm...and then she lost the sports center strip of tickets...and then she couldn't remember which black boots in the center shoes area were hers...and so it goes...endless little confusions!

But she enjoyed Hula dance. A class member will sew up the material into a skirt. I enjoyed a quick work out and shower at the gym during the dance class time. We walked home together chatting about his leg.

He cooked chicken stew for dinner. Okaasan picked out the potato skins. She wondered about adding more salt.

Late at night we sat at the computer again looking at real estate agent sites for small houses. We Can Change!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Calm restored.

Well, I am back to being allowed in to check that the hot carpets are switched on ok!

We are making eye contact again and having conversations.

Yesterday was a public holiday in Japan. We had a lazy day at home, watching Tv and I prepared classes.

I cooked a simple pasta, soup and salad lunch. Okaasan was so busy putting loads of salt on the pasta she didn't notice (or didn't say?!) that the pumpkin soup contained the dreaded lilly bulbs all blended up into a pulp.

In the evening he made one of his good curries, although this time we bought better quality chicken than we would usually use. Our eating style has changed for sure!

Meals and what we will make seems to take up a LOT of our time. We wake up and talk about it. I go to work and we talk about it in the entrance planning and preparation. It's quite a major shift for us to cook for Okaasan and think what she will eat.

Today my wonderful students were full of bright ideas for helping: how to cook lilly bulbs...where to buy Hula dance stuff. I know some of you are reading this BLOG! Thankyou folks! I feel such a lot of support.

Tomorrow is Hula Dance day again. Apparently someone in the class told Okaasan that they would make up her skirt using the material she bought...and I hope the weather is good enough for us to walk to the class together. I want her to go there alone in future - so I can have my Wednesdays to myself and go skiing further afield to Niseko or Rusutsu.

Anyway. Tired tonight after a new class start today. Time for a quiet video and bed.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

An uneasy truce.

We are all back to being polite again. Maybe.

In the morning I delivered a basket of laundry to her door and did basic Goodmorning/weather chat, without much real communication and without asking to go in and check the carpets. We were both happy to get that over and done with.

Last night's dinner was pretty stressful. But we managed. And today lunch was a little better. But I'm still not welcomed into her place to check the carpets.

Last night I cooked flat fish, rice, soup and spinach. Basic and easy.

We waited until it was almost ready before inviting her in. I served it up and sat quietly while mother and son chatted.

When I'm angry with someone I find it almost impossible to look them in the eye. So I kept my eyes down and made my voice sound neutral. He thought I was a bit quiet. But we got through dinner ok. A kind of low-key dinner.

Okaasan only stayed 40 minutes. I didn't offer to check the hot carpets.

Later he and I watched Brokeback Mountain on DVD. In the scene where Jack shouts at his bossy father-in-law: "I'm the man of this house you old */\`@%" - I know EXACTLY how he felt! I identified with the emotion so much...

Lunch today was better. Okaasan told us the same story 15 times of how her boss wartime spoke English because he'd studied in the US...and when US airman parachuted into the neighborhood people came to get him to interpret.

Maybe we are back to sweetness and light again.

Oh? and the lilly bulbs? I put them in the food blender, threw in pumpkin and garlic and milk and made a soup out of them. He and I will eat it sometime. I'm hoping never to get into lilly bulbs with Okaasan ever again!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

First family fight. War of the Lilly Bulbs.

We had our first family fight today...all about those Lilly bulbs!

The evening didn't start well.
I finished work at 6 pm and came home with KFC. Usually we have their Spicy Chicken. This time I ordered a box of the Tender Chicken, which is breast, because I thought Okaasan would prefer that. I remembered she wasn't too happy with the last time I served fried chicken pieces and I thought nice pieces of breast would be more suitable.

Anyway. I got home with the chicken and the ingredients to make the Lilly bulb salad. Tomatoes and cucumber and a Japanese supermarket dressing (thought if I made a dressing it might be too unusual). An afternoon student had said that making this kind of salad with lilly bulbs was one way to use them, so I felt fairly confident.

But. Okaasan was still out shopping somewhere.

I made the salad. We waited a bit. By 6.45 pm we decided to eat. This woman has all afternoon to walk round shops. If she can't be home for usual dinner time: tough.
The lilly bulb salad was kind of boring really. Lilly bulbs really have no taste. Just pasty. It was nice to have a dinner just the two of us, but we talked about Okaasan and both felt tired.

At 7.30 pm she answered the phone and came in for dinner.

I was washing up our plates. So I put together HER dinner and served it. He sat chatting to her at the table, I was standing in the kitchen cooking some discounted spinach and pumpkin that I'd bought which needed cooking before they got any older.
Okaasan apologised for coming late for dinner. We asked her to phone us, or try to be home by 6 pm in future.

Then our fight developed.
Okaasan ate the lilly bulb salad.
"Hmm, lilly bulbs. They are full of vitamins you know. But this is kind of hard. It's better to steam them. Steaming them is better than this. It makes them delicious..." etc etc
You can imagine my feelings. After all the agonising over how to cook these blasted things! I determinedly continued cooking the spinach and pumpkin. He remonstrated with her gently that she shouldn't be buying 4 lilly bulbs when she doesn't have cooking facilities....she chattered on...and on about how delicious they are if you steam them etc
I came and sat at the table. Tensions rose. I was answering back: "Well, I'm sorry. I'm not Japanese, I don't know how to cook these things. I've asked a lot of friends and students, I've looked on the Internet...etc etc"...defensive....tensions....tensions...

I went back to the kitchen counter to get my anger under control by concentrating on the spinach cooking. I got myself under control. I came back to the table to ask her about how to steam lilly bulbs in future. I thought I was doing well: being so mature and anger-controlling. After a minute or two I returned to the kitchen counter and the spinach.

"Oh, Amanda-san, you shouldn't do that with with the spinach water...." came the voice from behind me.


I turned round and spoke sharply: "Enough already. I'm trying really hard here, I'm working, I'm cooking, I'm house cleaning...don't tell me how to cook spinach too!".

After that it all gets hazy. Quite a few angry words were spoken. The upshot was that she finished dinner quickly and for some strange reason took the uneaten lilly bulb salad back to her place in a plastic container. But as she exited our home she closed the door firmly and stopped me following her out as usual to check on the hot carpets etc

He and I sat down in exhaustion.

First family fight. It shows that after a month of being polite we are getting into a real level of communication. Mind you I am still "Amanda-san" Japan, that "san" is a distancing thing...only family or close friends are "chan or kun".

I know now that the sensible thing to do would have been to ask HER how to cook the lilly bulbs. But...that would inevitably mean her coming into our home and doing it in the kitchen, and I didn't want to give over my time for that. If I wasn't working we could do these nice storybook girly kitchen times...I could learn Japanese cooking from her..but...
But also - it was incredibly insensitive of her to criticise my cooking while eating it, and then to move on to criticising my spinach cooking too - all on the same evening as coming late for dinner.

I once saw a TV program about an American woman married into a Japanese family in the countryside somewhere. The Japanese mother-in-law was SO critical of her, openly to the TV was really painful to watch. I was angry at the M-in-L, I was angry too at the American woman for letting her life become that. Politeness to an older person is one thing. Being a doormat is another.

So. How does this all bode for our future? God knows! Would it be better if we are sharing a kitchen, so it is easier to supervise her cooking safely? He is adamant that she shouldn't be allowed to cook unwatched, because of all the burned pans in the Tokyo house. And Okaasan hasn't really cooked for about 2 years now. She says it is troublesome.
But she was a good cook. She enjoyed cooking. She obviously still enjoys going and buying stuff. I feel we shouldn't remove the ability to cook completely from her life. Somehow we have to find a non-stressy way of letting her cook sometimes. I would LIKE to learn Japanese cooking from her, but I don't need critical comments at the end of a working day.


And now: what on earth do I do with the rest of the blasted lilly bulb salad that none of us think is very delicious?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's sitting there in the fridge still.

Friday, 9 January 2009


Thursday mornings I usually have a class. But it is still winter holidays for that company, so I stayed home. Just as well really.

6.30 am Wake up, make coffee, drink coffee, feed cat, watch TV.
7-8 am Check e mail. Eat bowl of cerial.
8 am Shower, dress.
8.15 am Collect trash bags from our locker, get trash from Okaasan. Take it all out.
8.30 am Get caught up watching some TV program he'd recorded.
9.15 am Vacumn our living room etc . Do our laundry.
10 am Shovel some snow on the side of the house.
10.30 am He starts cooking Okaasan's meal.
11 a.m. Okaasan comes into our house to eat with him - I exit into her house.
11.01-11.45 I vacumn, hunt the fridge/kitchen counter for any food she has bought that needs cooking (rescue 3 more lilly bulbs), put more insultation plastic on the windows, change the bedding, put away some of the endlessly drying laundry she scatters around, throw away orange peels, take away all the wet laundry sitting in her bathroom sink.
12.00 Back to my house. Put Okaasan's laundry in the machine.
12.15 Get work materials and clothes ready. Hang up Okaasan's laundry.
12.30 Wash and cook the lilly bulbs and put them in the fridge for tomorrow.
1 pm Cook and eat my own lunch.
1.45 pm Put on work clothes...and go to work. To relax!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Skiing and Hula dancing.

Today I skied. Okaasan hula danced. He cooked. The cat slept.

Quite a good day really. Got 3 days of work into the holiday weekend, so I got out to enjoy the snow very early in the morning 90 minutes away at Kiroro, near Otaru. Recently I am awake so early, always by 6 am...usually by 4 am...or earlier. Brain is too busy and it is peaceful time alone.

I managed to get back in time to take Okasan to the sports center. I'd planned to walk her there, so she could begin to remember where it is from the house. But she was in a big panic about losing a comb and not being able to brush her hair etc - so we left late and went by car. The class had actually just started - I waved her Goodbye and rushed off to do some quick shopping and have a cup of coffee at home.

I got back to pick her up and could see her big smiling, happy face across the meeting room. All her classmates gave me a big welcome - the foreign daughter-in-law. She'd had a great time, despite having no Hula skirt. He says we should tell her to go and buy a skirt, I thought maybe I should try and borrow a sewing machine because she has bought the material...I have to agree his option is easier.

When we got home I started clearing the snowy path by the front of the building - and Okaasan, instead of going inside decided to help me because she said it was "too nice" to go inside yet. So we moved and stamped flat snow together for 20 minutes. She's getting into the swing of real Hokkaido life because up here it's usually the women in families who do the snow clearing!

While driving and skiing today I decided that maybe it IS best that we move to a house where we and she can live AND somewhere that my English school can be under the same roof too. It would make financial sense and it would be easier schedule-wise too - I could cook and teach all at the same time without a 15-20 minute journey as I have now.

We talked about it more tonight and decided to try and look for somewhere. There are many, many houses now empty. I feel a little sad, because although this house is so small - I like it, and I like the location. I like the pocket garden with the cherry tree and our BBQ space. But I guess I am like a father-to-be relucantly giving up the sports car for the family isn't just the car, but the feeling that a lifestyle is passing. I know I will be getting (and needing) a bigger kitchen and a dining room...but I worry about losing the spontaneous BBQs a deux we used to have when our schedules coincided.

I also have worries about sharing kitchen space, being behind the same front door...etc etc. And of course moving home is one of life's stressful events, which of course JUST what we all need right now! Anyway, I told him that he must get the leg better before we move - I am NOT going to move two homes and a business on my own.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A good day for all.

A good day in our family.

The sports center telephoned and said okaasan CAN join the Hula dance class on Wednesday afternoons afterall - starting tomorrow.

That put her in a panic about what to wear, and how she can't get her Hula skirt made in time. We kept telling her that for the first class it won't matter, and that by next week we'll find a way to get the skirt made.

It's good news though. She was very happy to hear it. Only bad point is that my plans to go out to a far ski resort have to be curtailed - I'll have to be home by 2 pm to take her to the sports center. We only went there once together and I don't think she could make it alone. And he can't walk more than a few steps in ice and snow on crutches.

So. With good news cheering us all up we set out for our day trip to the local onsen village. Okaasan was understandably excited to be getting OUT of the city and going for a day out. We stopped on the way for kaiten sushi and ate loads (this kind of dining experience of course gave okaasan plenty of opportunity to ask a million times "What's that?" when the same plate of fish came round...), and then early afternoon arrived in Jozankei, a small hot spring village 30 km south of the city.

He hung around the hotel coffee shop and read magazines while I took okaasan off to the hot springs. It was sunny and the views were snowy and pretty. Okaasan needed help understanding the taps with their shower/tap options, but apart from that she was fine. Of course - she's Japanese, she's had more hot springs than I'll ever have! It's like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. Teaching your okaasan to have a hot spring.

I wasn't sure again how much I should sit around with her, and how much she wanted time alone. So we sat companionably a bit in the hot water and talked about the view etc - we even tried on some funny straw hats the hotel provided for bathers to shield out the sun or rain. Wish I had a picture of the 2 of us wearing those!

But I also let her alone a bit, and sat round the corner keeping an eye on her in the mirror to make sure she didn't slip or get confused. She was fine.

After an hour or two we got dressed and joined up with him again to sit in the hotel lounge and chat. Then we drove home. Okaasan looked tired at dinner tonight, it was an eventful day - but I know she enjoyed it. And...we did too.

It was a celebration of our first month together. Yippeee!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Moving to a family house?

Last night after we'd gone to bed, we lay there talking about moving to a bigger house and all living behind the same front door.

Funny how it's easier to talk in the dark....

He has looked at some estate agent websites...I went into a local agents office the other day...we are both thinking about it.

Now in Japan there are more and more empty houses, because as the population ages people are moving into care homes/hospitals/smaller apartments and the larger multi-room houses are standing empty. Last year I walked round a posh part of our city on a hike and was amazed to see about 15 empty houses with the weeds growing and the windows boarded up.

So we talked. How to live behind the same front door and still keep our privacy. How the kitchen cooker would need to be electricity to be safer for okaasan...whether to try and include my English school in the same building. And of course: where.

For me I think I want: bigger kitchen, dining area and clearly defined seperate living spaces. And then: garden.
For okaasan: easy access to local shops and downtown shops via subway, bus or streetcar. No stairs, easy-use bathroom and warm.
For him: privacy, price.

We also talked about his work. CAN he continue as a ski instructor? What summer work would allow him to be home in the evenings?

Many things to think about.

The old student I had lunch with yesterday used to work in hospitals and after hearing my okaasan tales she urged me to get okaasan along to a hospital for CT scans to determine the extent of her memory problems. She says there are drugs now that can control or even limit the memory loss. But...doing all of that is a whole other job for us...basically for him..and just the day to day life is pretty time/energy consuming at the moment.

Onwards, onwards.

Okaasan seemed a bit down last night when she came in for dinner. Not her usual laughing self. We chatted along and got her a bit brighter, but she seemed sad. I've suggested that tomorrow or the next day we go to a hot spring place for a day trip, lunch and hot baths. Now the holiday rush is over they will be quieter.
Time to get naked with okaasan!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Mamma Mia - Kitchen Queen!

It's Official: I am a Kitchen Queen Oyomesan.

Yesterday I made kimpira for the first time (it's burdock and carrot with sesame seeds, and a very common food). It was a big success! I also made ozoni (a soup of raddish, carrot and melted rice cake) - AGAIN - a big success!

He looked amazed. I looked smug. Okaasan looked happy and had more soup and finished up the kimpira.

I got out my two Japanese cooking books that long ago someone gave me as a present, but I've never used. And I cut vegetables very carefully. All that was missing was the cute, flowery apron.

Now I have to get on the Internet and find some recipes for yuri - I think it's the corn of a lotus. We've discovered that okaasan has bought 3 of them. All we know about using them is in savory custard, but I don't think I can cook that in our kitchen because we don't have the right little pots and a big enough pot to steam for 3 people at the same time.I don't think I can do the stressful thing of having okaasan in my kitchen cooking would take hours.

We had a quiet, winter holiday kind of a day. Okaasan came in for lunch and dinner, and we ate both meals with her. He supervised a bathtime. He and I watched two horror movies on DVD. At dinner Okaasan was very chatty and happy - telling us about how she'd been twice to Israel etc, and watched an aquaintance run the Honolulu Marathon. She has travelled so much - when we get deep into life with her we tend to forget that this woman has led a full and rich life with many experiences. It makes the memory confusions now so much sadder.

My mind is also playing games with me. Last night I dreamt of cooking Japanese food - I made soup and put soy beans in it, and they got bigger and bigger and almost burst out of the bowl!

Anyway. Today I am out to lunch with an old student. Tomorrow - he has to go back to hospital for his leg check. I have to go to work and the dentist. This winter holiday life of lots of relaxed time is coming to an end. How will we cope in regular routine life?

Friday, 2 January 2009

Getting into a routine yet?

Well. We've all been doing this new life now for 1 month.
Are we getting into a routine? Is it getting easier...for all of us?

In some ways, yes.

The apartment basically is ok for okaasan. She covers it all with clothes and bags of stuff, but she seems happy in it. She can use the bath, with one of us in the living room in case she has problems, and she can prepare simple foods for herself with the microwave and the hot water pot. She can go out to the shops, and get home again safely. But we haven't got her into any kind of life here where she can meet other people - Hula dance classes for example. We have to try more on that front.

Daily routine is kind of getting set. Although now is an unusual time because it is winter holidays and he is home with a torn ligaments. And I am home on holiday. (The cat is SO happy to have us here by the way!).

Every morning I go into okaasan to say Goodmorning, give her a weather report and check that the heating is ok. About 11 am or a bit later she comes into us for a mid-day meal. We try to have a small breakfast, so we can eat our lunch with her. Otherwise the center of the day is full of food preparation.
Food is all New Year things at the moment - today I got praise all round for my ozoni - soup with vegetables and rice cakes. But the rest is easy: the pot of vegetables and chicken that okaasan made, and various seaweed/fish paste/bean things that she has bought. In duplicate.

After midday meal she goes home and we have some kind of afternoon.

About 6.30 - 7 p.m. we telephone her to get her ready for coming here for dinner.
We set the table. We get out the extra chair.
She comes and we eat. He chats away with lots of funny stories. I do oyomesan stuff.
I can now time the green tea making and know how to boil the water, how much tea to put in the strainer - how to pour it into the soup or rice bowl so it can be drunk and clean out the bowl.

Okaasan usually stays until about 8 or 8.30 p.m.. Then I walk back home with her and check the heating one more time.

Then I come home and we spend the rest of the evening together, drinking more alcohol and watching movies or TV.
(and yes, if you're wondering...we do have a love life too...the first week or so he was keener than I have energy and interest again!)

But there are stresses. "My" time is so precious. In the psychology of this situation I know I am escaping a lot. Coming upstairs here to play computer games. Lots of evasive actions: the other night I found myself, rather bizarrely, repairing the hall curtains just before New Year's Eve dinner...looking back, I know it was because it was something
I needed/wanted to do. Without THEM.

I guess the situation is made a bit stranger because HE is home and sitting on the sofa all day in front of TV. So I can't find my own time away from okaasan even in my own living room. I come upstairs to the computer room a lot. He did so much New Year cooking and I worry that he has been standing on his leg too much.

It all makes me think about how, if we move house, we can make it easier. The other day I was in a friend's big apartment as he packed up to move back to the US. Vaguely I was looking at the large apartment and wondering how it would be for us to live there. In fact we really need a garden and a parking space...but it was interesting to run the ideas through the brain.

The apartment had a big room off the hallway and near the bathroom - and then a separate door into the living/kitchen/bedroom area. I imagined us living there. But - then I knew - I would REALLY need more than just an internal door between me and okaasan!
I want to be able to walk around my home naked.... if I want. I want to stretch out drunk on the living room carpet. Dance with the cat in my pyjamas. I want to chase my man around in his underpants.

I DON'T want his mum in my living room unexpectedly!!!
So. Whatever we do. That would have to be a consideration. We need more space. But I need MY space.

Many families in Japan live behind the same front door, but in separate rooms with their own TVs. But I can't do that. I need to be able to close the door and know that my home in mine.

Anyway. Tonight I am escaping to dinner with a friend. Now I so understand the feelings of mothers and housewives: the desperate need to get OUT and be oneself. To return to regular, adult, singleperson life. I think maybe in the past I wasn't a very understanding friend to many people who were trying to find some balance between themselves and their family-life: wanting to go OUT, but also pulled by responsibilities at home.

Now I get it.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year - cooking and eating.

Happy New Year!
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

Yesterday - we cooked. Very very slowly. And we ate noodles. And we watched "Kohaku", the cheesy singing variety show which is the centerpiece of Japanese TV New Year celebrations.

In the morning Okaasan came to our kitchen and discovered just how poorly equiped modern couples are for traditional cooking. Poor lady. It's enough to make a good cook cry.

She made Umani - which is vegetables and chicken simmered in a fish stock. It's made before New Year and then eaten all over the holiday, supposedly to save the housewife shopping and cooking. But actually now in Japan all the supermarkets are open on January 1 anyway, so really there is no need for this. But...tradition!

For Umani all the vegetables have to be peeled and cooked separately. As we have only two pans and two gas rings. This took ages. And add in the okaasan short term memory factor - it REALLY took ages.

Actually it was a revelation to me as to just how bad her memory is for the here and now, and a few minutes ago. Endlessly checking the food, wondering what she'd added, where things were on the counter in front of her...absolutely endless. I hovered behind/beside her, he sat on the sofa with his bad leg directing our efforts - it was a constant chorus of: "Yes, the sugar is here", "Yes, you've added stock", "Yes, you've added sugar", "Yes, the sugar is here"...and so it went for about 3 hours. I REALLY understood why he doesn't want her cooking alone, and why he found so many burned pans in her home near Tokyo.

Also of course it was a lot of fun to watch and assist a Japanese woman cooking. How she peeled the veggies, how she tested their readiness, how she planned the next stage. Very meticulous!

Later I went to have lunch and play Scrabble with a friend while he and okaasan finished off the cooking and ate ordered in pizza. Outside 2008 ended with a blizzard.

At 7 pm he made noodles topped with deep fried shrimps I'd bought from the supermarket (although I'd made a mistake about WHICH deep fried thing goes onto the noodles), and so like families all over the country we sat down in front of the TV and watched crooners and pop stars, drag queens and has-beens sing in 2009. Yujiro and Okaasan gossiped about the various singers, I escaped upstairs occasionally to play wordgames on the computer, we drank plum wine, we ate oranges...and by 9...10 pm we were all heading for bed.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd end 2008 as an oyomesan.
Yujiro never thought he'd miss an entire ski instructor season with a bad leg.
Okaasan never thought she'd be living in a cold, snowy place with a couple who only possess 2 cooking pans!

Happy New Year everyone.