Monday, January 31, 2011

The rabbit family

Meet the Rabbit family! Just in time for February, pfew...

I managed to sew 5 new rabbits while trying to ignore the pain in my wrist and arm... It's just too much fun to try out a new design in several new color combinations. And I'm never sure which one will be my favorite until I'm done sewing them. This time I wasn't too sure about the yellow rabbit, but she turned out to be my favorite.

Meet Jacob (made with embossed felt), Ava, Logan, Madison and of course the rabbit that started it all, Ella.

Frozen

You know what tastes good? Frozen grapes! They taste like small pieces of extra fruity ice lollies or huge dippin' dots. You could also use them as extra fancy ice cubes for cocktails, but we usually just drink water at home, so we just eat them straight out of the freezer bag, as a snack.
We've also frozen other fruits. We actually started with tangerines, because Yasu wanted to relive his elementary school days when he used to get frozen mikans (Japanese for tangerine) for dessert at school. Frozen tangerines are also awesome, you just need to wait a bit before you can peel the skin off. Frozen bananas are a bit boring to eat just as they are, but they're great for smoothies. And I'm sure frozen bananas are delicious in a layer of chocolate, which used to be my favorite cinema snack in Belgium.

Ringo the Monkey

Even though I've been a bit busy with my new rabbits this month, I really wanted to make a monkey with some of that new Japanese patterned felt. So I did!

I like cute felt animals in their regular colors, but I love them more in bold colors that would make no sense in nature. His tan skin is patterned with little white apples so I named him Ringo, which means apple in Japanese. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rabbit in progress

I've been sewing non-stop this past week. It's quite relaxing and it allows me to catch up on my favorite TV shows online at the same time. The only thing that sucks is that it makes my wrist and elbow hurt even more. The pain has made it hard for me to do simple things, like falling asleep and pouring water, and my physical therapist would prefer me to take a break from sewing for a while. But I'm working on bunnies now...

This is what the main rabbit looks like so far, I've also been working on more extravagantly colored rabbits. My goal is to be done with all rabbits before February. And I really want to see what they'll look like when they're done. After that I'll take a short break from sewing, perhaps.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Daiso treasures


I'm so happy to have discovered that Japanese 100 yen store (or $1.50 store as they probably call it here). Got some more stuff there to try out with my little sewing machine. Just wondering when I'll have the time to actually do that...

Monday, January 24, 2011

American Football

I’ve seen lots of (partial) football games in American movies and TV shows, but I never understood was the game was about. I have asked American friends to explain it to me in the past on several occasions, but it only confused me more. But I’ve never stopped wanting to understand how that sport works.

So last night at the party when Hannah and Bradley invited us to come watch football at their place the next day, we thought that was an excellent idea! We left the party with them, got in a taxi with a stoned driver (who tried to make me throw my new sneakers out of the window - I was drunk, but not stupid) who drove way too fast to Hannah and Bradley’s place, crashed on their futon again to wake up to an American Football day.

Four teams were playing hoping to qualify for the Super Bowl (very important Football event). Hannah, the only American in the room, did her very best to explain the rules of American Football to us, while we snacked on nacho chips and pizza.
Being able to watch two games in a row and having Hannah available to ask questions to, over and over again, checking with her why things were happening the way they were, was a true learning experience! Now I know all about touchdowns, endzones, yardlines, field goal kicks and why big men rush the quarterback after someone yells “hut”.

I’m still not sure why they call it football though... The ball isn’t shaped like a ball and it spends more time in the players arms than it does near their feet. It makes more sense to call soccer football, like we do in Europe, where football players kick round balls around with their feet. But I don’t care what they call it, at least I finally understand it! Thanks Hannah, for teaching me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yasu's birthday dinner

I know, I know, Yasu turned 27 in the beginning of December, so how come we had his birthday party at the end of January?
Well, his real birthday was right at the end of the fall semester, so most of his friends were busy writing final papers for school. Besides that a lot of people were already (on their way) home to be with their families for the holiday season.
So we planned this party at the beginning of spring semester, with everybody back in town and not busy with schoolwork, yet. And we ended up with an impressive group of 24 people! That sure made Yasu happy.
So far we’re not really impressed with American restaurants (years of eating out at restaurants in Japan have spoiled us) so we usually turn to Japantown when we want to go out for dinner in San Francisco. Osakaya is our favorite restaurant there because it serves the best yakiniku teishoku (grilled beef set meal) and everything is reasonably priced. We wanted to have the party at Osakaya, but the problem was that the restaurant is small and they don’t take reservations.
But our group would fill half of their restaurant so I convinced the hesitant manager to let me reserve half of their restaurant for a Saturday night. They were a bit scared I wasn’t for real, so they required the reservation a week in advance, an extra confirmation a day in advance and the whole group needed to show up exacly on time, otherwise they’d give away the seats to waiting customers.
Especially the being on time thing scared me because people here are fashionably late, as a rule. So I told everybody dinner was an hour earlier than it actually was.... And it worked! The restaurant even allowed us to go in early and wait at our tables for everybody to arrive ‘on time’.
I have no idea what the restaurant staff thought of us... We were probably way too loud and taking way too long to order, to eat and eventually pay our bill (which can be quite a challenge with such a large group). But they were all super friendly, brought our drinks and food quickly, and the food was quite tasty as usual (I recommended the yakiniku to anyone that would listen).
What’s fun about such a big party is that are so many lovely people together in one space, and you kind of wish it could happen everyday. What’s too bad about such a big party is that you don’t get to speak to everybody for as long as you wanted. So again you wish it could happen everyday so that you can spend enough time with everybody there to catch up properly.
Naturally, after dinner was over, not everyone was ready to head home, it was a Saturday night after all. We tried some karaoke places in Japantown and out of Japantown, but they were either too full or too shabby. So we bought some supplies at the supermarket and had our own party at a friend’s house.
Yasu’s friends even secretly bought him a birthday cake and candles, which they surprised him with later while singing him a birthday song. That made him so happy!
The rest of the party included more catching up, lots of laughter, another Circle of Death, lots of drinking (even non-alcoholic Yasu), and lots of dancing! He told me he will always remember his 27th birthday celebration: success!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chair socks

We're so sick of all the scratches our chairs make on our hard wood floors that we thought we ought to do something about it. I knew what I wanted: chair socks. But I couldn't find it in any American shop until I had the bright idea to check one of the Japanese 100 yen stores in San Francisco, and tada!
The 100 yen stores here are actually the real deal. They sell the same things as in Japan, just a smaller selection. And of course we pay in dollars, not in yen. So whenever we want something we used to use in Japan, we know where to find it.

Sewing hurts

Today I had my first appointment with a physical therapist. Apparently, I have a tennis elbow, some kind of tendinitis near my thumb and something wrong with my nerves, because I sew too much! It's basically repetitive strain injury sustained while hand sewing my eleventh monkey creatures... I do it too often, too long and too intensely.

But I love it so much.

Thankfully the therapist realized I wouldn't be able to give it up. Especially, since it makes up so much of my daily life, but I'm going to have to change things. I need to sit up straight when I sew, I need to do several minutes of stretching every 30 minutes, I need to take more rests from sewing, I may need to wear a brace and I need more treatments and appointments with the therapist.

Whatever it takes, as long as I can keep making my little creatures. And it would also be nice if I could pour my own drinks and carry things by myself again. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter sun

Today Yasu and I had lunch in Embarcadero, while sitting under palm trees in the warm sunshine.
Is it really January?

Rabbit felt and buttons

After finishing the templates the fun part starts. I get out my felt and buttons and start choosing materials for my new creature. Because there are so many possible combinations, this always takes a very, very long time...


After making the tough decision of what colors to use, I cut out all templates shapes and piece it together to be able to imagine what it'll all look like when it's done.


I like this combination, it's very sweet. And I'm sure I'll make a few more bunnies in a lot more awkward colors as well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Japanese felt

When we first explored San Francisco's Japantown I was delighted to discover some real 100 yen stores, like Daiso. Sure we can't pay in actual yen but the stuff they sell is the same stuff as in the 100 yen stores back in Japan. The only thing missing was felt. Before I knew where to find craft stores in Osaka I used felt from 100 yen stores, and the quality of that felt was great, much better than the eco-fi they sell here in California.

But we've discovered another Daiso in downtown San Francisco, and I was overjoyed to find that they did have a small sewing section selling real Japanese quality felt and even some cute patterned felt.


When I was still in Japan, I envisioned huge American craft stores with limitless colors of (high-quality) felt, buttons, embroidery floss, ribbon, and much, much more. I loved Osaka's ABC Craft, but I believed things would be more impressive in the States. But so far small and big American craft stores have been messy and dirty, with a limited variety of low quality products. 

Well, at least there's that little Daiso store on Market and I think I'm going to have to start looking for online suppliers. And if I ever move back to Japan, I'm going to add a big supplies section to my Etsy store so that everyone can enjoy Japan's high quality and large variety of crafting products.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rabbit templates

After giving up on sewing a rabbit on the sewing machine, I started drawing a design specifically for hand sewing purposes in the eleventh monkey style. Which is much easier because I'm experienced in that. It took me a while (my eraser came in very handy) because bunnies just seemed too cute and unsuitable to be turned into an awkward looking creature.


Once that is done, I have to figure out what parts will be sewn seperately, what parts will be sewn on, and how many different colors of felt to use. And I carefully start cutting around the edges of the sketch.


I trace around the cut-out parts on thin cardboard, which will be cut out too to create templates which I inted to use over and over to cut felt.


Next: selection of felt and buttons!

Fruit, I've missed you

The good thing about our local supermarket (as opposed to the local supermarket back in Japan) is that everything is in English so that I can easily find out how to cook and prepare the foods they sell. The bad thing about that supermarket is the produce department. All fruits and vegetables are old, bruised and often already rotten covered in white and green fuzz and hairs.

So the only fruit we usually consume is the frozen kind liquified into a smoothie by our blender. That's good, but these past few days I've been craving fruit, especially citrus fruits. So Yasu and I went on a little trip on a BART train and a shuttle bus to the Berkeley Bowl. It takes a while to get there but once in a while it's worth it considering the quality of their produce department.

I went a little fruit crazy loading up our cart but look at what we have now:
Clementine tangerines, white and red seedless grapes, grapefruits, navel oranges, pippin and pink lady apples, orange tomatoes, asian pears, strawberries, and sweet grape tomatoes!!

It's so special to have this much fruit in the house that Yasu also had to take some pictures for his collection of memorable moments.


I think we'll make this fruit-buying-trip a monthly or bi-weekly tradition. Dinner tonight is going to be deliciously fruity.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Looking for a felt supplier

I sew my creatures from felt. I brought a large supply of felt from Japan so I'm good to go for a while but eventually I'm going to have to find a supplier in the States somewhere. I've already been looking around for when that time comes but it's not easy.

I've been googling myself silly trying to find craft and fabric stores in San Francisco and Berkeley that sell felt. I found some (a lot less than I thought a large American city would have) and visited them, but was disappointed by the felt. They all only sell eco-fi felt. Even though the idea of recycled felt sounds good, the quality is just too low, especially compared to my Japanese felt. It's not soft and I can actually see through parts of all felt sheets, because it's thin and uneven. 

I didn't completely ignore eco-fi felt though, because some of it intrigued me. Like the embossed felt, which is much thicker because of the embossing.


And the patterned felt which has an extra layer of paint on it which hides the see-through spots of the thin eco-fi felt. And some hot pink glitter felt, simply because I love pink and glitters.

Just a little warning for when you find yourself buying these kinds of felt in your local craft store: make sure the bar code sticker is on the non-embossed, non-patterned or non-glitter side of your felt because taking the sticker off (no matter how gently) will ruin the felt right under it. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I don't like earthquakes

A couple of days ago I felt the strongest earthquake I ever felt. I mean I lived in Japan for more than 3 years where I was constantly worried about earthquakes, but I only remember a few mild ones, but this where I feel the worst one... so far anyway.

The whole building was swaying and blinds were hitting the windows and my table was moving. I think it lasted only for about 30 seconds and nothing fell down but my heart was racing!

My husband, born and raised in the land of earthquakes, would have known exactly what to do but he wasn't home. I had no clue what to do and found myself looking at the printer wondering whether it would fall down or not. Yes, very useful.

And now we just felt another one, not as strong as the one last week, and it was over before Yasu reached the front door to open it (apparently that's one of the things you're supposed to do in the event of an earthquake). But it doesn't matter if they're short and there's no damage, I don't like earthquakes and I want to move back to a non-earthquake zone.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Complications

I figured out how to use the sewing machine and I've been trying out some things. Simply sewing small pieces of felt onto another piece of felt is not easy! It's quite difficult to control the machine, especially the speed with which it stitches and way too often the stitches go everywhere except where I want them to go. Most of the time I just practiced sewing instead of actually trying to make anything rabbit-like.

I think eventually (with loads more practice) I could maybe make something nice and creative looking, but something is wrong with my brand new sewing machine. The stitches it makes are unbalanced. The top and bottom thread are supposed to lock in the center of the fabric, and look like my top threads do (pictures on the left). 

But my bottom threads give the appearance of straight lines (pictures on the right), indicating that the upper thread is too loose (according to the manual that came with the machine). I'm supposed to turn the thread tension dial to a higher number to increase tension, problem is that it's already at its highest.

Now, I have to wait until Monday for Singer Customer Service to open and give them a call. Bummer.

So for now it's back to stitching by hand, which is so much slower, but also so much better for me. The result looks much nicer because I have a lot more control and it's more fun because it doesn't make me feel like such a klutz.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Rabbit sketches

What's cooking in the eleventh monkey factory? Well, in Japan 2011 is the year of the rabbit, and we've only just started this new year, so I thought I'd try creating a rabbit.
So I googled rabbit and let hundreds of cute bunnies pictures inspire me. I spent a while sketching real-life rabbits and changing them into eleventh monkey style designs with two different sizes of buttons eyes. I haven't decided on a definite design yet but I've figured out a few key features of the rabbit.
The rest of the design process happens when I'm cutting out felt shapes and piecing them together.And for the first time I'm going to use a sewing machine. I have no idea what will happen or what it will look like, and I'm not even sure how to use the machine... So check back soon to see more of that adventure.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Spree

We went shopping for a space heater today. We found one, we're using it right now, it's making us a little warmer. That's good.

It's right next to our feet under the table, so we're no longer freezing, but we're still wearing layers and my nose is still as cold as a dog's. Now, let's hope it's not an energy hog which will end up costing us more than using the expensive central heating.

We also bought some other stuff, like this iPhone case for me.

Apple provided all iPhone 4 users with free cases, which was nice. But I broke mine in the first week, and have been using my iPhone caseless for months... I've dropped it a few times and I'm scared of really breaking it someday soon. A case is necessary for me!

And look at this cute little Singer sewing machine!

I bought this for eleventh monkey, I really hope this will make me more efficient, because sewing everything by hand just takes forever. But first, I'll have to learn how to use it...

My new toy

All my creatures are sewn by hand, and sewing just one takes me between 5 to 7 hours, depending on the size and details. I love stitching by hand, so I really enjoy making them but as you can imagine it's not very efficient.

One of my resolutions for this new year is to become more productive. So today I bought myself this cute little Singer QuickFix in the hopes of becoming a quicker creator.



Now all I need to do is figure out how to use a sewing machine. Maybe YouTube can help me, that's where I learned how to sew by hand after all. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Oliebollen and soba

Today the fake oliebollen cafe was open and we got us some to finish celebrating the new year the Dutch way. They're actually square shaped New Orleans style beignets, but like oliebollen they consist of deep fried dough with way too much powdered sugar, so it's pretty close to an oliebol. 

They're pretty tasty but the excess of powdered sugar makes it hard to eat them without covering yourself with white powder. So they need to be eaten very delicately.

After our sweet snack we headed for Katherine and Kosuke's apartment for some Japanese New Year's soba. Before dinner we spent some time on the roof admiring the sunset and a view that could not get more San Francisco if you tried, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Slightly jealous!

We heard a lot about Kosuke's excellent Japanese cooking, and had even seen some of it on facebook, so we were more than ready to try some! Kosuke cooked up a storm and served us the traditional New Year's soba with fishcake, loads of tempura (shrimp, asparagus, broccoli, carrot and sweet potato) and my favorite was the boiled shrimp with grated ginger and soy sauce, yum. 

It was way too much food, but really delicious! It was also fun to eat while sitting on the floor again. They have a nice and soft carpet making it even cosier to sit on the floor, and an electric blanket and cushions which kept us warm and toasty!


And they also loved the fake oliebollen we brought for dessert! 

I think we've celebrated the start of this new year sufficiently now. Let's see what 2011 has in stock for us now.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Brrrr...

It's cold. Probably not as cold as in the Netherlands or in Japan. Still we're cold. Our heater is way too expensive to use, and it doesn't even work properly. So tonight we're wearing layers of sweaters and blankets, and this plate of waxine lights serves as our campfire. But it's not really working.


This week we're going to buy a spaceheater somewhere to keep us warm and toasty. Can't wait.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Eve

We were planning to have some beignets as a substitute for Dutch New Year's oliebollen, but to our (mostly mine) dissapointment the beignet cafe was closed yesterday. So instead we treated ourselves to some yummy coffee concoctions at Starbucks. And we'll try to get some fake oliebollen tomorrow.

We were also planning on seeing a midnight fireworks show at Embarcadero. It had been rainy all week, but according to the weather report New Year's Eve was going to be dry, but yesterday afternoon the weather report changed on us and was predicting rain. And not much later we found ourselves walking through the rain and considering changing our plans for the night.

Another plan we had was to have dinner at our favorite place in Japantown, Osakaya. We love the yakiniku teishoku they serve for lunch and were happy to find they served a slightly more expensive version for dinner. This didn't surprise us as it's very common for restaurants in Japan to sell the same food for lunch at a lower price, as a method of attracting customers and hoping they'll come back for the pricier at a later time. The waitress at Osakaya told us that the amount of food was as at lunch, so Yasu even ordered some extra rice. 

But when they brought our food the sheer amount of food surprised us, these meals were about twice as large as their lunch versions. And Yasu now had four times the amount of rice he thought would come with the meal. As expected the yakiniku and all its side dishes were delicious, but it was way, way, way too much. But frugal as we are these days, we didn't want to waste such an 'expensive' and special meal. And a doggybag won't come in handy in New Year's Eve fireworks crowd. 

So we ate it all, and we were so full we were afraid it would come out again. Not a good feeling and next time we'll just order one yakiniku meal and share. But we'll definitely return, because it's just too good!

It was still rainy after dinner so we decided to give up on the fireworks and check out a friend's New Year's Eve party instead. The party was fun. We talked to a lot of her friends (it's amazing how many people fit in a small apartment), found out that the wine we brought didn't contain any alcohol (which was good for non-alcoholic Yasu), and started to recover from dinner's assault on our stomachs.

But we were still dissapointed about having to miss the fireworks. Every single New Year's Eve I've experienced revolved around fireworks, without it it's just not really New Year's... So a little after 11 PM, when the rain seemed to have subsided, we chose to try and make our way to the other side of town before midnight to see the fireworks, after all.

On normal evenings, it would have been easy to get to Embarcadero on time. But it was New Year's Eve, buses didn't show up and when a bus finally did show up, it took forever to get to Embarcadero because dozens of people were getting on and off at every busstop. Most people wanted to go see the fireworks just like us, and everybody was anxious to get to Embarcadero before countdown. Some people were frantically yelling for the bus driver to hurry up. I was also worried we wouldn't make it.

With just three minutes left we were almost at Embarcadero when the bus turned left and went in a different direction, and everybody on the bus looked confused and a little upset. Where were we going?? Later we realized the crowd at Embarcadero was too large, so buses couldn't go there.

Suddenly, people started counting down and celebrating the New Year. On the bus. People with different times on their watches started other countdowns and other celebrations. So did we. We started the New Year on a San Francisco bus, yelling Happy New Year to and with strangers. 

A couple of minutes into the New Year the bus arrived at a different part of Embarcadero and we could see the fireworks from the bus. Everybody got off the bus, while shrieking and howling happy sounds and more Happy New Year's to even more strangers. 

And the beautiful fireworks made New Year's Eve complete!


The moment the fireworks concluded it started raining again, and hard. We hid under Yasu's umbrella, but it didn't help much. But it didn't matter, we were happy and we'd just had a very interesting and slightly frantic (on the bus) and traditional (the fireworks) shift into the New Year.


This is our first picture together in 2011, in the rain, in the huge crowd at Embarcadero. We wish everybody a happy and healthy 2011!