Recently in Household Category

Evolution of Christmas Spirit

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This year end has been hectic and stressful with driving school, health issues, a broken fridge, blah, blah, blah. I was not feeling the usual "I hate Christmas' mood this year as much as I was completely indifferent and almost ignorant of the holiday coming up. 


Boxes arrived from family overseas. I stacked them up. Topped with a bottle of wine, there's our tree for the year. Good enough. I was not interested in being creative.


But inspiration finally struck on Christmas day and I designed a tree out of the cardboard from the boxes. I scissored, taped and slotted to create a three dimensional, self-standing tree. Sort of Suessian, it echoed the shape of the two origami balls we received from the 3rd graders at Nagasa Elementary school.


A string of lights completed the look. I'm rather proud of this tree that came from nowhere. It is whimsical and no-waste. 

We completed our holiday festivities with a lovely dinner and opening the presents that family sent. Tod & I agreed to not exchange gifts this year - the first time in 28 years I didn't buy something for him - but he surprised me with a stollen from one of our local bakers. 


Creole duck breast, mashed potatoes, greens, and wild rice. Yum.

On the Roads

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Yesterday at driving school, we went out on the real roads with our new learner's permits. I expected this to be a brief circle around the school, but it was a gorgeous drive along the coast. We did it three times in three hours and each time was better than the last. 

Learning to drive on the narrow roads in town, where there are pedestrians, garbage trucks, bicycles, no sidewalks, and just enough clearance for two cars is quite an interesting challenge. Not at all like driving in the US. I successfully avoided everyone yesterday and plan to continue that success.

Tod pointed out that in our first session yesterday, we each had a department head instructor at our side. In the subsequent hours, it was regular instructors. The newest drivers get the most seasoned instructors. It makes sense. This school really does know what they are doing.

Going to Driving School

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Whooo! Watch out on the roads; we have our learner's permits now.

Three weeks ago, after a year in the countryside with only bicycles and busses for transportation, Tod & I enrolled at Kamogawa Driving School. Our neighbor, who runs the Korean restaurant, heard we were considering it and insisted that we set a date and she would drive us there. 

So we did and she did and there we were on October 29th, forking over 300,000 yen each for a full driving course. It seems like a small fortune for re-learning a skill we haven't used in almost 20 years, but it turns out to be a very good education. On the same day you hand over the cash, it starts off with a bang! It was a bewildering and unexpected few hours as we had a lengthy but rapid explanation of the program, a psychological driving aptitude test, and our first classroom lesson. 

We decided to dedicate ourselves to doing this as quickly and efficiently as possible. Three weeks in and we've completed the first half of the course and passed our exams for the learner's permit yesterday. We began Stage 2 classes today and go out on the real roads on Tuesday. If we keep up this pace, we should be ready to take our final licensing exam by the end of the year. We are feeling pretty proud of ourselves.


About the School

If you are considering driving school for yourself, let me tell you a bit about the program and the school because the Kamogawa Driving School website is only in Japanese.

First, Enrolment

It is a little tricky; you can't rock up any old time to register. Be sure to call 04-7092-0894 to book your registration date and time; intake happens three times a week. Plan to spend at least three hours on the day. They will tell you what you need to bring, including an official copy of your juminhyo from the city office so that is an errand you need to make before you go.


The Program & Schedule

The course of study is divided into two parts: Stage 1 pre-permit and Stage 2 post-permit. Pre-permit is two tracks happening concurrently: 15 hours of driving practice on the school's course and 10 hours of classroom time covering topics from traffic signs to road safety. At the end of the first part you take the internal exams and after you pass, you take the official exams for the learner's permit (kari menkyo).

Stage 2 is again a two-track system with 19 hours of driving on the roads and in simulation, plus 16 hours of classroom time that includes first aid training, car maintenance basics, and lots of information about accidents and insurance.

The whole thing is very Japanese. Bells and chimes announce the start and end of each period and you are not allowed to get up from your desk or out of your car until the bell rings. Each student has a planning book to track progress; in it every class, driving hour, or test is stamped by the teacher. There is also an official record that the school keeps and a booklet of driving tickets. All of these are color coded by course: yellow for MT, pink for AT, green for motorcycles. You choose your schedule a visit or two ahead from a complex calendar of classes, exams, and driving days. Fortunately, you can take the classes in almost any order.

The Teachers & Facilities

I like all of the teachers at the school, a crew of middle-aged men, some of whom have been working at the school for thirty years. One is a graduate of the school and his original teacher recently retired.These guys work really hard and share the burdens of car and classroom teaching plus admin stuff like the shuttle bus schedule and pick-ups. I think I've had them all either in the classroom or in the car by now. Each one brings his own personality - strict, chatty, factual, fanciful, curious, jaded - but they all deliver good instruction. They've even been fixing my bad driving habits.

There are three classrooms at the school, a lounge space, and a couple of special testing rooms, as well as the office. They have a fleet of manual and automatic transmission cars, and exotic stuff like motorcycles and big trucks. One afternoon I shared the course with a huge forklift!

The driving course is a pretty standard layout with a railway crossing, a traffic signal, a hill, tight curve practice, an obstacle with cones around it, and lots of intersections with stop signs, blind spots, and different right-of-way scenarios. I've been around and around it and it hasn't gotten boring yet. 


The Textbooks, Training, & Exams

There are two main books - theory and driving. The theory book is translated into English so I study the theory in English before class, which makes the Japanese lectures & video materials a lot easier to follow. The teachers always point out the details that are likely to be on the test, so understanding the lectures is key to passing the written exams. 

The driving book is only in Japanese, as is the verbal instruction from the instructors when we're in the car. This is a good challenge for me, sometimes, when the teacher gets deep into some intricacy of practical driving. Thanks to having driven in my distant past, the basics are already in my grasp and I am understanding most of the instruction clearly. A lot of the nuance is directed to passing the practical exams. There is a specific way to get into the car, adjust the seat, and turn your head to look in the mirrors, for example, otherwise you get points off. 

The written exams can be taken in Japanese, of course, or in English (and maybe Chinese and Korean as well). Tod is passing the Japanese ones with no problem; I am sticking to my mother tongue for tests. They are not nearly as awkward as I expected. I had heard horror stories about the rotten translations, but with a few exceptions they're perfectly understandable normal English. In fact, I think the Japanese is just as convoluted - these are meant to be trick questions sometimes.

Kamogawa Driving School is registered with the prefectural police and licensing center, so they can administer all of the official exams excepting the final paper test. For that, you go to the Licensing Center in Makuhari, 90 minutes away.

The Other Students

There are three main groups of students: 18 year olds getting their first driving lessons; elderly drivers taking their mandatory over-70 driving classes; and foreigners. Lots of foreigners! Many foreign ladies, as it turns out, and we gravitate into a loose community. We talk to one another, offering encouragement and even hugs. Women support one another across national boundaries and language barriers. It's good.

My Recommendation

I would recommend the school to anyone with the time and money to do the course. The staff want you to pass the exam and want to keep Kamogawa's roads safe. They work hard for you, and if you put in a good effort you will succeed! 

And if you need a ride to registration, I want to pay forward the boon my neighbor did in kicking us out of complacency and into action, so call me!

OMG, Mould

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This September was the rainiest one on record, which was really bad for our house and all the stuff in it. When we returned after visiting family in the US for a month, our home was completely coated in mould.

The kitchen counter was green. The bedframe was sprouting three dimensional orange mould. The futons went to the dump yesterday and floor cushions were trashed. All of our clothes were musty, the shoes mildewed, leather goods dotted with mould.

For the last ten days Tod & I (and friends helping with supply runs) have been combatting the mess. We've washed every wall, floor, and window with vinegar and tea tree oil or bleach. We tore out and replaced the floor of the bedroom closet. Every dish, pot, pan, appliance, and utensil has been scrubbed, along with all the cabinets they live in. We replaced the wooden spoons, cutting boards, oven mitts, laundry baskets, trivets, and chopsticks. We have washed and dried epic quantities of laundry.

We've been sleeping in the upstairs office/studio because it was only lightly affected. I was able to wipe off the white, powdery mildew form the furniture and vacuum the floors and call it "good enough". It's not stinky or damp up there. When we can get the downstairs bedroom back to a reasonable level of must, we will buy a new futon and bedframe. 

Today, the first truly sunny day since we got back, was devoted to airing out the contents of Tod's closet. I broke three laundry poles this morning. Tod has a lot of clothes. There wasn't enough room to air the winter coats; I am hoping for a another sunny day soon. The sun is fading now and I don't think the clothes are fresh yet...

We still have a fair amount of cleaning, repairing and replacing still to do. I am seriously considering another radical decluttering. I never want to have to wash all this stuff ever again. It's depressing and tedious. If you find my mood sour next time you see me, check for mould in my head.

Pel, the cat who likes bread

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I went downstairs to get breakfast this morning and saw the door was open, Pel-style. She'd nested in the closet again and was still snoozing. When I came into the genkan, she didn't bolt the way she usually does. Instead she calmly tried to avoid me while still leaving. Hard to do in the hall, so I stepped into the engawa and she went out the door.

In the kitchen I discovered that she had attacked the baked goods. She savaged the tea towel that was wrapped around the banana bread I baked yesterday and took four evenly spaced bites out of the side. LOL. Also ripped through the wrapping of the baguette and tore it to pieces. So that was my breakfast and dinner plan shot to hell. I can't be angry at her, though.

I cleaned it up and as I walked back down the hall, she started meowing from outside the front door. Loudly meowing before we could see each other. Whoa, new behaviour. We talked for a minute, then I got her a handful of food. I put it in her bowl and she edged closer, but I was still too near. 

I did an experiment. I put a piece of cat food on my hand and reached out. She batted it off my hand with her paw (claws in). So she touched me! I repeated the experiment successfully then went upstairs, leaving the door open and inviting her in, if she wanted.

Which apparently she did want. First she was in the downstairs hall, rattling things around. Then she came upstairs, twice. Only as far as the door, but she saw me in the room. Didn't like it when I noticed her and she skulked back down the green stairs quick-like.

Later she was in the Pel Hotel, a box I set up for her in the sheltered porch. Then she was gone.

So much progress on this wet, windy day. I am sure it all revolves around food but never mind. I am going to imagine that she likes me a little, too.

One Day, Two Renovations

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The kitchen floor: after, in progress, and before

Sometimes it pays to pay for help. I had my friend, Masa, come over in his role as handyman to help me out with fixing the kitchen floor today. We did the work in record time and I feel good for ticking this off my list of projects and for helping a neighbor earn a bit of cash.

I did the project planning, which involved not actually repairing anything but covering the sagging floor with fresh plywood and vinyl. It's an inexpensive, temporary fix. I opted not to nail or glue the new boards to the old floor. I know if we stay here more than a year or two, we will properly re-do the rotting floor. Taking up two subfloors would be a real nightmare, so for today I made a jigsaw of boards resting on the old floor and then sort of held it together with glue and vinyl. It's imperfect and a horror to any professional, but it sure does look pretty and the floor feels much more solid that it did this morning. It took us four hours, half of which was driving into town and shopping for the vinyl. Total cost including materials and Masa's time, under 20,000 yen. Win!

Goodbye, ugly compost bin. You were an eyesore. I hope you have a happy new life with Masa.

As a unexpected bonus, Masa dug up the ugly, creepy compost bin from the middle of the yard. When I mentioned that was on my list of projects to do, he lit up. "Can I have it?" Yes, of course! So with my newly purchased shovel, he dug down 20 centimeters and pulled it out of the ground. The compost inside was a mix of nice dirt, eggshells, and cockroaches (ick). It will be really fine after I dig it into the garden. And now I never have to see that dreadful bright teal plastic bin ever again. I'll make a less obtrusive new compost heap somewhere more useful, like outside the kitchen door.

Next up: amadoi (not amido or amado, which also need attention) - the gutters.

Cat from nowhere

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A few weeks ago, we were hearing a mouse or rat up in the rafters, scurrying and clambering around with great verve around sunset and at dawn. It ate the tops off come cookies I'd baked and left on the counter.

Friends suggested that a cat would keep away the rodents. But we're not ready for cats at the moment. However, whoever hands out cats from the great heavens had another plan. We now have a cat. Actually it has us.

A few days after the rat/cat discussion, I was taking a nap. I opened my eyes and saw...a cat in the hall.  Tod, in the room opposite, confirmed it wasn't a late afternoon dream. A cat was sitting in the hall grooming itself. Tortoiseshell markings, so female. I sat up to say hello and she bolted out the front door. Feral, but wise to houses.

A few nights later, there she was again. She opened the front door herself, walked quietly toward the kitchen. But I heard her, called out, and she stared at me for a bit before bolting. She snuck in another evening while we were out and ate a piece of bread. Poor kitty must be very hungry. Should we feed her? Despite a divided opinion, Tod brought home cat food a few days later. And then she snuck in again and ate half the butter we'd failed to put away.

So now, we close the kitchen door and make sure all the food is away. Good policy in any case.

She continues to visit so I've given her a name, Pel. Two days ago she peeked her head around the corner into the living room where I was working. I'm not sure who was more surprised. She gave me that, "It's it dinnertime?" look so I filled her bowl. She meowed when she finished.

Last night, she turned up at about 1 am in my bedroom. Pel has never been in the same room as me. She did seem a bit unnerved when I rolled over and saw her, but she didn't flee. Maybe she is gentling herself. We looked at each other for a while, then she walked out into the hall to pace a bit. She let herself into the living room, then climbed into the closet and deliberately knocked a small box off the shelf. Such a cat. I stuck my head out the bedroom door and she retreated to the end of the hall. We just sat together for a while, until I was too tired and crawled back into bed.

Pel has a friend, too. I call him Pep. Similar colorings, but Pep is fat and doesn't come inside. He eats the other half of the cat food every night and does the same sitting and staring thing as she does. After eating the other day, he sat at the open front door for a while, then moved himself to a place at the end of the walkway where he could watch me in the living room.

These are strange cats, but I'm kinda happy to have them around. Maybe some day I will get to cuddle them - and take them to the vet.

Reds & Greens for a Merry Holiday

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All of these photos were taken in my rural neighborhood this month. There is a reason we see red and green in our holiday decor at this time of year. So pretty. 

4 Plugs

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When Tod ran us our first bath in the new house, we discovered that the old bath plug was no longer sealing the drain - a slow leak meant that the water was noticeably lower upon getting out after a good soak. 

PLUG 1: Tod measured the plug - 34 mm - and we biked over to the nearest home center, Komeri. We also brought the old bath plug as a backup. Apparently this is a common thing, because the packaging for the new plug was designed to let you fit the old plug into an indentation to test the size. Very clever. Except that our bath drain is actually 36mm - the old plug's rubber had shrunk. 

PLUG 2: So we bought a different plug at the other home center, Cainz, a few days later when we were in town to register our move. Except Tod accidentally grabbed the wrong package and we ended up with another 34 mm plug. We promised ourselves we'd return this one (unopened) next time we went to Cainz. 

PLUG 3: In the meantime, a week or so later, Shreyas and Tod bicycled over to Komeri again and got a plug that was sure to work! It had a sloped design marked suitable for drains from 34mm - 38mm. Except that it didn't work because our drain has a little metal cross in the bottom of it that prevented the fancy plug from going in far enough. 

PLUG 4: Yesterday, we were in town again for "Beach Work Friday" and made a trip to Cainz. We exchanged the too small plug for one that works! We had a hot bath and it was wonderful.

So...if anyone needs a new bath plug, tested but never used, we have a size 34mm and a 34-38mm plug available for cheap. 

Shoji repairs

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shoji collage 1.jpg
The holes and the old paper removal process

This old house is totally wonderful and it is full of projects to do. Today I learned how to replace shoji, the paper on our interior doors. 

First you take the paper off by dampening the old glue and peeling the paper away from the frame. Our shoji haven't been redone in a very long time and the brittle paper ripped rather than peeling. I spent a long time carefully peeling off the bits with a butterknife until the wood was clean and smooth. But I eventually got both sets of interior hall doors un-papered.

The next step is to put the new paper on. I sort of cheated and used iron-on paper. It's backed with a heat-set glue so I didn't have to fuss with a glue pot and drips. But it was still a bit of a challenge to get it smooth and to neatly trim away the excess paper. If you come over to visit, don't look too closely.

I discovered some writing on one of the door frames. A Yasuda grandchild must have practiced his name in pencil. It's invisible when the doors are closed; I wonder if that was on purpose? 

The final product looks pretty good. Fresher and tidier. And with luck it will remain hole-free for a while. 

shoji collage 2.jpg

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