Remembering March 11

There are many amazing links out there with photographs and writings about that fateful day two years ago in Tohoko.  I urge you to spend a few minutes checking them out today {or tomorrow if you’re in America}.

Being here, and hearing my girlfriends’ stories ~ I can tell you who was in their car on the Rainbow Bridge, who was at the American School and who was inside Toys R Us when the earth began to move.  I feel their fear all over.  I ache for them.  I knew their tension when we recently had a snow day and the buses took five hours to get our children home and I watched them relive waiting on buses to get the children home from school for hours upon hours the day of the earthquake.

It was about 22 months ago that we first started talking about moving to Tokyo.  Many of our friends and family were understandably scared for us.  The week we told The Cuties, their school was still fundraising to help with the relief efforts.  We were wary, but excited to try. And so we came.

I know I’m jumbled here.  And I’m honestly not sure I really want to edit and rewrite over and over today.  It’s a hard day and it should be hard to write.

But this I know.

Japan is amazing.

The Japanese people are incredible.

And ranking after marrying my husband and having The Cuties, I can without a doubt say that moving here and having this opportunity is one of the single best things I’ve ever done in my life and I’m so very glad to be here and experience it all.

Ganbare Nippon!

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Fun Art Anyone Can Make!

The Cuties needed a little piece of art for their bathroom in the new apartment and I had seen this idea on Pinterest I wanted to try.

It was even an elephant which was exactly what I had in mind since we’d been talking about our incredible experience with elephants in Phuket last year on Spring Break.

I chose a shape in the Silhouette online shop and printed it about eight inches across on a piece of card stock.  I then used blue painter’s tape to secure it to a piece of heavyweight watercolor paper {you definitely want a true watercolor paper for this project as the texture really adds to the finished project in my opinion!}.

supplies

I began adding different shades of blues and mixing them within my stencil while still wet.  See the salt shaker?  Let me explain.  My freshman roommate at Vanderbilt was an incredible artist.  Seriously amazing.  She’d finishing studying and whip out her paints and magic would happen there between our Laura Ashley bedecked beds {I just dated myself again, didn’t I?}.  Anyway, she showed my how adding a little salt to wet watercolors did the coolest speckling to the paint.  Most important, twenty years later, it rocked The Cuties’ world.

blueelephant

I should share that I added a few small pieces of rolled up blue tape underneath some of the more complex cuts to my stencil like the legs for stability.  Even so, you may want to hold down your stencil while you paint those areas to avoid bleeding.

'phant

Then, I just peeled up the stencil and voila!

paintedelephant

And here’s a close up of the texture from the salt.  Perfect for elephant “hide,” don’t you think {presuming you’ve ever seen a violet and blue ombre elephant, of course!}

elephantstippling

The Cuties are searching through the Silhouette site to select templates they want to make next.  We may cover the wall in a full menagerie before the end of the school year!

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Spread the Word to End the Word

Today is the annual day of awareness of the use of the R-word.

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has a pledge you can sign stating you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. Won’t you join me in such a simple but powerful message?

As an English literature major I believe in the power of words.  I believe our words are important and meaningful, and have the ability to do so much in the world.

When our children are young we start by telling them to use their words.

Let’s all use our words for the better.

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Lucky Little Headband

My most popular headband I ever sold in my Etsy shop was this Shamrock one.

I’ve tried this “style” of headband at other holidays, but it never works as well as the Shamrock shape and so it remains my one and only non-flower I ever sold!

To make one of your own, you need three different, but close shades of green felt {I used lime green, apple green and Kelly green}.  I like to either do lightest to darkest or darkest to lightest, but there are no rules, so pick whatever looks best to you!  You’ll also need a large rhinestone for your center and a headband as your base.  I prefer a wider headband for this particular project to give the shamrock a little ‘body.’

In the above photo, you’ll see my pattern set.  If you’re just going to make one headband, you could probably freehand these, but since I make these a lot and I struggle with shamrock shapes in general, I made a proper pattern set.  I like to make my patterns on graph paper as it helps me check my proportions and balance.  For something like this project you can then use a photocopier to either shrink or enlarge your pattern at an interval two times to get your other two templates.

I have laminated my patterns, and so they can easily withstand pinning them to the felt and cutting around it.  When you first cut the felt, it will not look very pretty.  Don’t fret!

See?  A little rough, right?  Not to worry.  Take your top layer and stack it on top of the middle layer and “clean it up” and then repeat with the bottom layer.  Now it should look much prettier!

Hot glue your layers together and add a rhinestone center and then attach it to your headband!  Now give to some lucky little lass!

If you live somewhere chilly, this would look adorable with a pin on the back, attached to hat or lapel of your jacket.

Stay out of trouble this St. Patrick’s Day and be lucky!

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The Funniest & Muddiest Day of My Life

Let me just go ahead and say there’s no way I’m going to completely do justice to the day I had Monday, but I will give it the ole’ college try, nonetheless.

It all started several weeks ago when my friend Katherine sent me an email asking me if I wanted to attend the Warabi Naked Matsuri.  Honestly, I really didn’t need to click the link she sent ~ I mean, it’s some adventure in Japan and it had the word naked in it ~ how could I say no?!!!

Warabi Naked Matsuri is a Shinto Festival that has taken place in this town for more than 700 years.  It’s very official, with security and registration!

registration

It begins up on a hill at the Shinto shrine with the “hardy men” dressed in loincloths and bright pink head cloths.  They each carry the babies born in the town in the past year, and the Shinto priests give them a blessing and a few stalks are placed in the head cloths of the men.

waitingforblessing

The men then walk the babies down the hill to a sacred muddy rice paddy and put a pinch of mud on the infants’ faces to protect the babies from harm.

babyricepaddy

They return up to the shrine and back to the mud paddy a total of three times.

babymud

After the babies are returned to their mothers, the Festival really gets started!

The men all ran down the hill, chanting prayers for a good harvest in the coming year.

mudprayer

And this is where I should pause to talk about the temperature.

It was really darn cold, folks.  Not cold-‘cuz-you’re-in-a-loincloth-kinda-cold, but rather cold like you’re standing around in freezing mud, tossing inch-thick sheets of ice out of the way cold.  That, my friends, is the very definition of a “hardy man!”

ice

And then came the mud wrestling!  The men participate in wrestling battles, known as kibasen where teams of three men hold a fourth on their shoulders and they try to knock over the other teams.  And then it pretty much turns into a free for all!

kibasen

kibasen2

The men then climb out of the rice paddy, run back up to the shrine, warm themselves by the bonfire, drink sake and apparently eat what seemed to be Big Macs.  I kid you not.

bigmacs

And repeat.  Over and over again.

After watching the rice paddy action twice, four of us decided to check out what was happening back up at the shrine at the top of the hill.

Best.decision.ever!

For starters, you should understand we were the only non-Japanese at this Festival.  We were greeted warmly and clearly a bit of a novelty as this wasn’t a particularly large festival as they tend to go, and we were a good hour outside of Tokyo.

 So every time the men ran back and forth, we got swipes of mud on our face {which we later learned was for good luck!}.  We found this absolutely hilarious.

muddygaijin

And the more we laughed and the more sake the men had, the muddier and funnier it became.  We cheered them on each time they passed, and they started cheering each time they saw us.

moremud

At this point, I had mud being rubbed in my hair.  Clearly, I have been blessed with much luck for the coming year!

And the Japanese photographers couldn’t get enough of watching and shooting our interaction.  We joked that this was our “paparazzi moment” as we literally watched hundreds of people taking our pictures, just inches from our faces.  I’m not exaggerating.

paparazzi

It went on like this for an hour or more.  Us laughing so hard we forgot how cold we were, we didn’t care how dirty we were, and we completely forgot that no one had seen a bathroom for hours.

It’s good to be a grown up and still be completely silly for a day.

And I’m pretty sure my new standard for awesome is two festivals in one week!

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Gallery of the River!

It’s good to be an open book.

I’m not coy or secretive or shy.  As a result, my friends know my stuff.

Sometimes that really  works to my advantage.

Like when my friend Aimee finds out about a fairly obscure festival called Some No Komidi and invites Big Cutie and me to join her and her daughter for the day!

You know the story of my life in Japan: If there’s a crafting workshop, we will find it!

And so the four of us headed to the Nakai Ochiai neighborhood, which is known as the “City of the Dyed.”  Since the early Showa Period, Nakai has boasted more than 300 small dyeing factories and numerous artisans, specially skilled in the art of hand-painting kimono and noren.  The highlight of the weekend is the “Gallery of the River” where silk panels in the six design styles are stretched across the river like beautiful flags.

See if you can find all six designs in the photos:

Kata-zome: dyeing with hand-cut paper stencils

*Edo-komon: dyed with finely detailed paper stencil

*Bingata: Stencil dyeing, colored by hand {from Okinawa, originally)

*Yuzen: Painted free hand and dyed many colors

*Shibori: Tie-dyed style

*Kusaki: Dyeing with natural colors made from various plants

galleryofriver

stencils

gallery

gallery3

gallery4

gallery6

I’ve painted on silk before and it’s incredible difficult.  The stencil work in particular was amazing, from the minuscule to the bold.  I can’t decide which impressed me more ~ the crispness of print or the boldness of dye!

sakuraprint

The noren were on display as a “Gallery of the Road” throughout the area.  Many were simply the artist’s vision, but a few were clearly designed with the venue in mind.

This one, for example, is in front of the local dry cleaning shop!

drycleaning

And these Lucky Cats were in front of a sweets shop.

kittynoren

Our last stop was the special “trial” of shibori cloth held at the local elementary school.  Big Cutie and I each chose to make ours in the most beautiful shade of indigo.  We plan to sew them to some white muslin and make throw pillows this summer.  Now that the dye has dried and set, the color is even more gorgeous and you can really see all the nuances to the “rings.”  Such a fun souvenir!

shiborigirls

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Covered Bulletin Board

When I shared my little desk area in our new kitchen you may have spied my green zebra bulletin board over the desk.

It had very humble beginnings, but was a super easy project that requires absolutely no crafting ability, whatsoever!

I started with a basic bulletin board, some cotton batting and decorator-weight cotton {you’ll want something significant like this to hold up to the small holes that will be created by your thumbtacks}.  A staple gun would be best, but I didn’t have one on hand and there are no Home Depots in Tokyo for an easily bought cheap one, so my regular desk top one worked in a pinch.

bulletinboardsupplies

I first ironed my fabric and placed it face down, and then put the batting on top of it and added the bulletin board on top of that.  When you cut down your batting and fabric, be sure to leave a generous amount of excess on all four sides.

stackedbulletinboard

I start with opposite sides at one time.  Pull the two layers of batting and fabric together and staple to the backside of the bulletin board.  It’s best to start with a quick staple in the center and each side and then turn your board around and do the same thing with the opposite side.  This will keep your fabric pulled evenly, which is especially important if you’re working with a graphic pattern that has any kind of direction so you do not end up with crooked fabric.

stapling

Corners are the trickiest part.  I folded them in like wrapping the ends of a present, but ultimately what you really care about is that it looks as flat and neat as possible on the outside edge.

cornerWhen you finish all your stapling, go back with sharp scissors and trim away the excess fabric from the back to reduce bulk {you won’t want to work with this project with the fabric this short at the beginning as it’s too hard to pull taut}.

trimmededge

At this point, your bulletin board looks like this.

wrappedfabric

It’s totally up to you if you wish to hang it like this or add some sort of embellishment.  There are many options that range from the more complex like a French bulletin board treatment or a Greek key trim to the simple like I ended up doing.

I bought coordinating twill trim and with my hot glue gun, attached it to the edge as a border {I felt alongside as I glued for the wooden edge to the bulletin board as my guide to keep a straight line}.  I folded the corners in on themselves and added a drop of glue to each layer.  I discovered it was easiest to start and end on one of the straightaways and not on the corners as that added too much bulk.

trim

And here’s the finished product!

fabricbulletinboard

{Do you spy my holiday card from the First Family?  We’re super tight and all.  I bet the First Lady is constantly sitting at dinner telling the President all about that blog she reads of the family over in Tokyo doing crafty DIY projects! ;-) }

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