Posted in Blogging

Dirt under my nails

What a productive weekend. Our spring planting season starts this month and this year I’m ready on time. It took me a few years to get used to the different planting / sowing times.

I got out in the garden and began rearranging. I decided to make as much room as possible for plants that we can actually eat versus plants that take up resources just to look good.

I cut down and completely dug out that huge clematis. It was really pretty when it flowered but….I need the space for kabocha and green peppers and such.

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Once that was removed I yanked up the old green pepper bushes. The trash was clipped small and stuffed into “regulation” trash bags and then I set to work enlarging one plot and relocating my home made trellis’s.

IMG_2649I widened the plot a bit. Down at the end I made a separate triangular shaped section that I’ll fill with slightly different soil. I have an idea but I’m still working on it.

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I’m going to try and grow kabocha on the arch trellis too- or maybe bitter melon. I made the trellis myself that’s why it’s kind of crooked. The wood trellis is crooked too-seems to be my trademark.

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I’ve got one purple sprouting broccoli that just sort of grew by itself in the corner. It seems to be doing well. I covered it up in a little plastic tent to help protect it from bugs. I sowed a few more seeds. We shall see if they grow. IMG_2643

My little garden is kind of hodgepodge. I save things-wire, wood, pots and other things I deem may come in handy. I don’t buy anything unless I absolutely have to. It may not be as beautiful as some gardens but I love the homespun feel of it.

I also save seeds. I’ve had a lot of success with saving seeds from vegetables that I buy at the farmer’s market. Why buy if I can just save them from the vegetables I buy? I’ve got some pepper seeds drying at the moment. There were still some peppers on the bush that I ripped up.

All the flowers that are coming up are from seeds that I have saved.

I am teaching myself how to do this. Youtube has been invaluable to me. I watch many gardening videos and even take notes! It is such a satisfying feeling-growing your own food. It is a lot of hard work. The videos make it look easy but the reality is that it’s a lot of work. However, I think that it’s a valuable skill to have. I was reading the financial news and it looks really gloomy. Something inside me tells me that learning the skills of gardening and sewing and such will come in very handy in the days to come.

Besides that- being out in my garden is so good for my soul.

 

 

Posted in Blogging

Inch by inch…

Row by row, gonna let this garden grow….

one of my favorite gardening songs. I love the John Denver version.

It was warm enough today to sit in my “office”-a small square table set up by the bay window in the engawa. I love it in there because of all the windows.

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I have a view of my garden and of the mountain across the valley. Glancing at the calendar this morning I realized that we are already at the end of January, time to start planning my spring garden.

I took my gardening scrapbook / journal from the bookshelf and began to leaf through it. I reread my very first entry from the spring of 2013:

“Spring in Japan is so different than what I remember it to be growing up in America. Perhaps the past 35 years in Saipan wiped the sights, sounds and scents from my memory? Whatever the case may be, it turned out to be for my good and a wonderful blessing that I should have been deprived of spring for so long. Now it is as if I am experiencing the spring for the very first time!”

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I read through some of the changes I made-some I’d forgotten about because the garden has changed so much. I pulled out some clippings I had tucked away and remembered the experience of planting tomato seeds and having every single one of them grow! I had so many tomato seedlings! They made great give-aways!

So I sat today next to the bay window, watching it rain and taking notes of the changes I plan to make. I sat looking out at the overgrown passion flower vine and envisioned how the trellis will look after I cut that flower back. Half will be gone to make room for the beans.

In between staring out the window and making mental changes, I listed down the vegetables I’m going to plant.

Last year I tried to concentrate on growing a cottage flower garden. It rained so much that most of the garden was just a soggy mess. We had only about two weeks of real summer.

I’m learning that gardening, like life, is full of the unexpected. You have to learn not to hold onto things too tightly. That first year I started a garden I was fortunate-I had a good year and I was over confidant. The second year I started off feeling invincible until the slugs showed up. They must have called the aphids and caterpillars over to the party. My garden was swarming with pests.

I had the strawberries hanging in baskets and thought-ha…at least they are safe. I have no idea how those tiny little worms got into the soil and destroyed my strawberries from the inside out. Nothing left but mush.

So I learned that there are no guarantees with gardening, you just do the best you can and always be thankful for the good things that happen. Like life, I focus on the positive things I get out of my garden. I give thanks for the wonderful blessings-big and small.

I’m already looking forward to being out there in the sunshine and soil. Bees buzzing around my head and worms wriggling around in upturned soil.

On the list at the moment are:

In containers: potatoes, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce

In the ground: Japanese bell peppers,onions,spinach,broccoli

On a trellis: kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), snap peas

Hey, I figure I’ll shoot for the moon and see if I can at least land on a cloud.

I’ve got to get into the crawl space to haul out the potato bags and take stock of what I’ve got and what I need. I’ve been throwing vegetable scraps and egg shells into the garden over the winter. I left a lot of the leaves to rot in there also. Hopefully the soil will be rich and healthy for my plants.

Do you garden? If you do, when do you start planning your spring garden? Or perhaps you live in a climate where you can garden all year round?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging

Sometimes there is nothing you can do…

There are times when I just have to take a deep breath and flow with whatever I’m experiencing. Flow…. instead of allowing circumstances to get under my skin.

The other day I had a scheduled meeting with someone that I’ve known since moving here. This person knows how hard I try to assimilate. How hard I try to understand the language and communicate.

The meeting time came and we sat down to discuss “business”. A stack of hand-made cards each having one sentence typed in English on one side with the Japanese translation typed on the other side were placed on the table.

I had no idea….

I opened the conversation. I spoke Japanese. Instead of responding to me in Japanese the cards were shuffled, the appropriate response card in English was chosen and held up to me.

The first time it happened I did one of those eyebrow raises that I do and just tried to ignore what just happened.

So the conversation continued….and another card was help up …and another and another. And so the conversation went on until we were done. Me speaking the best Japanese I could and the responses given by holding up a card….with English written on it.

I tried to think of what was really happening here. I stopped my emotions from taking over. I mean, to the westerner this was just absurd. Insulting even.

If I understand anything now about how things are done here it is this- that the best interest of the other person always comes first.

I made myself remember that. I meditated on that. I remembered where I was.

From my friend’s point of view -making sure that their communications with me were completely understood and that there was no error was the most important issue. I was sure this was a correct assumption. The best assumption.

I realized….

They must have put a lot of effort into making all those cards. Effort into thinking of all the possible responses they might have to give me. Translating everything.  It was best that I realized and appreciated the trouble they had gone through for me.

This was the best way for me to view this situation.

It helps me to write this down. I’m not so much “blogging” about it as I am writing it down for myself so that I can see that I am making progress in understanding, accepting and appreciating my adopted culture. I make a lot of mistakes, believe me but, it encourages me when I know that I’ve been able to see beyond myself into the heart of this culture and just accept it for what it is without my western idea of what it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging

Nothing but a memory…

When I said that the “big snow” wouldn’t last I wasn’t kidding. This time yesterday I was watching as huge puffy flakes fell. All that’s left are patches of icy white crystals, puddles and soggy ground topped by a gray cloud covered sky.

But…. I’m satisfied. Now I can say that I’ve experienced all five seasons in Japan. No, not a typo-we have five distinct seasons in Kyushu-spring, summer, autumn, winter and the rainy season-tsuyu– right before the summer sets in.

Most people just talk about the four seasons though.

I hear it often from many people “we have four seasons here in Japan” as if it were the only place on earth with four seasons.

I can say with all honesty that I’ve never experienced the seasons as distinctly as I have here. I’ve blogged about this before-how each season in Japan seems so completely separate from the others. It is so much more than just the air temperature or the seasonal décor and clothing changes. Our home physically  changes according to the seasons. Shoji doors come off or are returned to their positions. Whole rooms are either closed off or opened up. Laundry poles go back to their stands outside. Our lifestyle completely changes every few months to sync with the earth’s rotation and the changing of the natural cycle.

Now I’ve experienced the winter in its totality. The “big snow” however brief- brought the winter season to me in its fullest. Kawara roof-tops went from slate gray to white. Icy breath in unheated rooms, the smell of kerosene and nabe (a popular winter’s meal). Extra vegetables stored in the spare tatami room which becomes almost a room-sized refrigerator because it’s so cold in there! The big warm cozy kotatsu blanket is hauled out of the futon closet and mikan (tangerines) are always present in a bowl on the kotatsu table. The bedroom is permeated with the scent of Japanese laundry soap. We wash at night and hang the fresh washing on poles in the bedroom to dry with the heater on overnight.

These have been “winter” to me these past five years. I can now add to that the memory of snow. It was snow that truly made it feel like winter and made the gray gloomy skies bearable.

Now, it is onward to spring. January is over this week. In February the momo (peach) blossoms will be the first to bring color back to my garden and the first to herald the spring, soon to be followed by the ume and sakura blossoms. As a matter of fact I peeked and I saw that there are already buds on the momo trees in the back garden.

This is the time of year when I begin to watch gardening videos on YouTube and plan my spring garden.

For some inspiration …for all the other gardeners out there….I’ve posted a video from my favorite gardening show-BBC’s Gardener’s World. Carol Klein had a wonderful episode called Life in a Cottage Garden that took you through all four seasons of her cottage garden in Devon but, sadly, it appears to have been removed from YouTube.

At any rate-I hope this video inspires you and gets you excited for the planting season to come! There may be gloomy gray hanging over my rooftop now but I can sense spring beginning to awaken the earth.

Posted in Blogging

Historic Snowfall

Well…our big snow has turned into an historic event around these parts! I’m writing this at 2:00pm Monday afternoon and it is still snowing-having stopped for just a wee bit last night. A really wee bit. Here is what it looks like right now. It is still snowing big huge flakes drifting down silently covering everything in white. There is no wind.

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Early Saturday morning I could see the clouds rolling in over the mountain….

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Mid-morning Saturday it began to rain and by late afternoon it was rain mixed with snow. Early in the evening we were experiencing light snow showers which just kept increasing.

I took that walk that I said I was going to take yesterday. A few kids were having a blast! Our neighborhood doesn’t have many children, mostly elderly. I wanted to call them all outside for a good-ole’ fashioned snowball fight!

Everything looked so wonderful covered in new snow.

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I haven’t seen our landscape looking like this before. Hubby told me not to go far but…before I knew it I was half-way up to the foot of the mountain.

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The wind started blowing making visibility difficult. My phone rang…I’d been gone an hour already so I already knew who it was calling. I told hubby that I was on my way home.

I walked past the by-pass (free way) entrance. Every once and a while a vehicle rolled cautiously by. We don’t have any emergency snow vehicles around these parts (snow plows and such) because frankly-we don’t need them. Most years they would just sit and rust. This was yesterday. Yesterday when a few cars were heard crunching slowly down the lanes….not today. Today everything is at a standstill.

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Today there is no sound outside. At this moment it shows no sign of stopping. I’m sure it will but, right now there is only this continual drifting down of some of the biggest flakes that I have ever seen in years and years. I just ran out and snapped these from the driveway.

It has not snowed like this here for over 40 years according to family. The news said that the island of Amani Oshima, down near Okinawa, has not had this kind of snow in over 112 years! They are getting quite a dump now though!

I am completely content! Hubby is a bit antsy….but I’m ignoring that. I’m not about to let anyone or anything ruin this wonderful experience. It won’t last a week, I’m sure so, I am going to savor every single flake!

Posted in Blogging

Saturday-for lack of a better title

We finished our shopping this morning-getting ready for the “big snow” tomorrow. It’s actually a little comical to me. I was raised in Wisconsin and when I was growing up we had some fierce snowstorms. I remember drifts that pretty much covered one side of the house all the way up to the roof.

People freak out here when we have flurries. Most of the time the snow doesn’t even accumulate-although I hear they expect accumulation tomorrow. Last Tuesday we had flurries and one of the ladies in Tuesday group cancelled because of the snow. I was thinking …what snow? There was zero accumulation despite the heavy flurries we were experiencing. The roads were clear-not even icy.

Anyhow-groceries are purchased, kerosene tanks are full, water containers filled and I made sure I have plenty of hot chocolate although…I sure would love to have some good ole’ Swiss Miss. The hot chocolate we have here is “ok” but nothing beats that creamy flavor of Swiss Miss.

We buy meat, fish and vegetables at Mejia…that carnival like farmer’s market I blogged about a while back. The building is open on both the north and south end. It’s kind of like a super huge warehouse and it is freezing cold. I mean-you can see your breath-kind of cold. I have no idea how the cashiers stand it. My hands would be so cod that I wouldn’t be able to punch the keys on the register. It was cold today. We were in and out of there in a hurry.

I noticed that many of the stores we shop in are terribly cold during the winter. There isn’t any central heating but sheesh….even a couple of kerosene stoves would be welcome!

One of the strangest things though is this thing about keeping babies barefoot in winter. I’m not sure about the cities but here in our countryside it’s normal to see a baby all bundled up except….their feet. It’s quite normal to see a barefoot baby being hauled around on mommy’s hip during the cold winter. NO shoes or socks. Just bare little feet sticking out of the bottom of a fleece jumper.

My niece said that it toughens babies up. I told her in the states you’d get arrested for child neglect. She was shocked. Even in many kindergartens they strip kids down to their underwear, take them outside and vigorously rub them down with a towel to toughen them up. Yeah..I dunno. I might have a problem with that. I’d be the annoying foreigner – mother making a stink.

Last weekend we went to Takasumi Jinja up in Mt. Hiko. It was COLD. Really cold. Our poor little dog was shaking so much that we had to put him in our backpack. Luckily we brought his blanket along and we were able to wrap him up in it.

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You can see that’s not a happy face sticking out of the backpack. It’s a -mom I wanna go home and hide under the kotatsu table-face.

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I’m holed up in my craft room with the heater on full blast at the moment. We have flurries falling off and on outside and the temps are dropping. In a second I’m going to pick up the crochet afghan I’ve been working on. Right after I get myself another cup of hot cocoa.

Bliss….hot cocoa, crochet and watching the snow fall.

Posted in Blogging

Strange days

Well- it seems that I’ve been really good at not blogging. 

I’ve got good reason I suppose, I mean, housewives here do have a lot of chores to do. Never in my life have I ever seen such voracious mold. You have no idea. Japan is extremely humid and no matter what I do I can not keep the horrid stuff away. 

And dust- sheesh- where does it come from? 

But aside from all that boring stuff I’ve been spending free time reading and researching something on Internet. Lots of wacky stuff going on in the universe. 

Wacky stuff going on here too. I made myself grilled mochi for lunch. I just sort of winged it and it tasted so good that I thought I’d make one more. 

  

However…. I’m not sure what happened in the toaster oven this time. 

  
Apparently we have some very cold and snowy weather on the way. We live in a rather temperate area and don’t ever get much snow so this is making big news. We’ve had alerts on the tv telling people that they should prepare emergency supplies. Hubby said he will go out tomorrow and get emergency water containers as the government office is warning that because of cold temps there may not be any running water. Ok. I can deal with that. We’ve had lots of practice for emergencies living thru them all those years on Saipan. 

In the morning I’ll take stock of our supplies and we’ll make sure that we are prepared for whatever comes. 

I’ve been mulling over jump starting my blogging and seeing if I can challenge myself to write a post a day. What do you think? Should I do that? 

I’ve been terribly bad at reading friends blogs too. That’s not nice and I’m sorry. 

Well it’s off to bed for me- we’ve got emergency supplies to gather in the morning- fun stuff. I function well in disaster situations. Must be in my blood. 

Posted in Blogging

The contraption

You know- Japan amazes me. I’ve never seen SO MANY gadgets, gizmos and contraptions in my life. If you have a problem that needs solving why you can just bet there is something in Japan that can help you solve it. 

However… there are no guarantees that your money will be well spent. 

Take for example this thing. 

  
My husband saw it advertised in the Belluna catalog. I remember the night he showed it to me….

“Mama look”! 

” Nani…..hummm….what is that”?

” it’s a for the no more back pain” 

“Hummmm”

I had my doubts but hubby was hopeful. More than hopeful actually, he was sure. Two days later it arrived by takqbin. 

  
I really tried to use it. It would not stay still on the ledge. It kept moving. When I leaned against it the thing would tilt forward to the point that it didn’t provide any support. I think it has some serious design flaws. Even hubby tried to test it out. The knife in his hand has nothing to do with his frustrations regarding the contraption. 

  
In the end we have it to my sister in law. Not sure if it worked for her. 

In the same delivery was my new swim suit for pool walking. 

  
Yes- believe it or not- that’s a swim suit. I’ve said before that we live in a very conservative area. Even the young ladies that bring their babies for ” mommy and me” swim class wear this kind of a bathing suit. I actually really appreciate being in an area that is this conservative. 

Well…I need to stop fiddling around here on my blog- I’m writing an article for a company web site- I’ll share the link once it’s published. 😁

Posted in Japanese Culture, Little things I love about Japan

New Year in Beppu

 

It has become a New Year tradition that we, along with several family members, pack-up and head east to Oita prefecture. We have been spending the New Year’s holidays in Beppu- Japan’s premier hot spring area.The entire area sits on top of hundreds and hundreds of geothermal springs.  I’ve read that only Yellowstone has more hot springs than Beppu. Everywhere you look steam is rising out of vents, pipes, crevices and cracks…..even from the asphalt in the road!

There are alleys you can walk down that are completely shrouded in steam. It’s an awesome place to visit. There are all manner of onsen (hot springs ) to visit and relax in- from the old and traditional to modern hotels that feature a spa for guests.

We stayed at Kaminoi Hotel-a hotel we’ve stayed at before and we enjoyed. The accommodations are great but this time the food was really not so good. We were actually surprised as during New Year restaurants make a special effort to provide tasty meals for their guests. After the second day I had to stop eating the hotel food-I was as bloated as a balloon. The food was terribly salty and I’m fairly sure they used MSG. Additionally, they didn’t have any oshechi (traditional New Year’s foods). Everyone complained about the food-not just me. During the New Year holidays food plays an important role in the celebrations here and it’s already been decided that next year we won’t be staying there.

On New Year’s day everyone kind of had their own idea of what they wanted to do. Some slept or lounged in their rooms, some went to the pachinko parlor…I went with our niece and the “little kids” to Umitamago a seaside aquarium. We also visited Hachiman Asami Shrine, built in 1196-820 years ago.

Umitamago is a fun, interactive seaside aquarium. I really enjoyed myself there.


There are quite a few activities for kids and the gang we had in tow had a blast. There is a new feature at the aquarium-an outdoor play area that has a shallow dolphin pool where you can actually pet and interact with the dolphins. You have to take off your shoes and socks on the “beach” area. I opted out of that activity as it was cold and my feet are already always like blocks of ice.

There is a huge pelican that chased people around.He was pretty harmless just kind of irritable that day.

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There were some penguins that came to visit, a group of sea lions that come out of their pool and scoot across the ground to sun themselves in the sand…and a barrel with two armadillo-like creatures that kids were playing with! The whole thing was really neat and the kids had so much fun. So did I!

The view from the aquarium is amazing. You are viewing Beppu City in these photos which sits between the mountains and the sea. Can you see some of the larger steam vents spouting steam in the background?


We left Umitamago and dropped the car back to the hotel parking lot so that we could walk to the shrine which was about 15 or 20 minutes from our hotel.

Being New Year’s day the shrine was crowded with people trying to get in their New Year prayers, make their wishes and read their fortunes.


The shrine has several interesting features. The trees you see in the photo are very old-around 800 years.  The ropes around the trees indicate that they are sacred. Worshipers can buy good luck amulets and fortune papers from the shrine staff at the counter.

 

On the shine grounds also stands a 1,000 year old camphor tree.

Behind the main shrine building are smaller stations that worshipers stop at to say prayers. I observed people following sort of a mini circuit.

The fire pit is for burning last years talismans as they are only good for one year….pictured below are fortunes and wishes. The white slips of paper that are tied to rope are fortunes that can be purchased for 100 yen at the talisman counter. The cute wood signs hanging from the planks are wishes. You buy a blank wooden “sign” write your wish on the back of it and then hang it on the plank. The priests will burn them later and send your fortune or wish sailing out into the universe…

There is even a cute coffee shop on the grounds but there was a long waiting list so we decided against it.

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A few more shots from the shrine grounds.

We walked back to the hotel through the bustling New Year’s day streets.

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It was a long tiring day but full of memories. The hot bath waiting for me at the hotel felt wonderful.