Saturday, June 16, 2007

Return to Lake Towada

The Towada Fleet
During an early morning guided walking tour my father asked the guide how all these big cruise boats were brought to this small mountain lake. Obviously there are no lakeside shipyards. She had no idea.

Although my parents' thirtieth wedding anniversary was a couple of years ago, Yuko and I were pretty busy getting married ourselves and didn't really do much in the way of celebrating it. So this year we took them on an overnight trip to Lake Towada. Technically my parents' anniversary is 27 December, but we found that late May was altogether a more pleasant and convenient time to do something about it.

Grace in the Foothills of the Hakkoda Mountains Enjoying the Squeaky Red Ball Grandpa Elliot Bought for Her

The Hakkoda Gondola Station Viewed from the Road through a Powerful Camera Lens
(The Hakkoda Snow Monsters are Seen Here in the "Naked Green" Phase of Their Annual Cycle)

Some Pretty Waterfall in the Oirasse Gorge

Some Other Pretty Waterfall in the Oirasse Gorge

The Oirasse Gorge is One of Those Places that Makes Me Glad I Live in Aomori

Our House Upon a Hill

Our House is on the Left

We live in a well ordered house on a well ordered hill, across the street from the junior high school. It is one of two teacher's residences owned by the board of education. If only they had been built sensibly, they would have both had living room windows overlooking the Tsugaru Strait with a beautiful view of Hokkaido and the sunrise. They were not built sensibly, though, so their are no windows with a view. We have one neighbour, but only on week days. He is the new principal. He spends his evenings making endless circuits around the driveway and weed infested parking lot with a weed-whacker, so it almost feels like we have a lawn. On the east side we are bordered by gardens and electrified monkey fences. On the west side is a ceder grove and an NTT cellular base station.

Our house is usually orderly on the inside as well, but we tend to have trouble keeping our shelf space apace with our book collection. Recently we purchased our eighth bookshelf and reorganized. For the moment, we're ahead of the game.

For the past few months Grace has been into "helping." When Yuko is shaking out the laundry and hanging it up to dry, Grace pulls an article out of the basket and flaps it up and down, too. When I am vacuuming, Grace follows me around, grabs the hose, and occasionally wraps the cord around herself. When we reorganized the shelves she policed the book-pile and flipped through pages looking for secret stashes of legal tender.

Taking Up Both Sides of the Bed

Friday, June 15, 2007

Confessions of a Disgraced Gardener

My Compost Interim Storage Facility
(in other words, where I dumped my compost in the middle of the winter when my composter named Stinky needed a fresh start)

Last year I embarked on a new career as a gardener, full of good intentions. However, with Grace being born in the middle of the growing season, my first year ended in shame. By the time August rolled around, the junior high school's cleaning lady was doing most of my weeding for me. So this year, when she and the special ed teacher asked me how many rows I wanted set aside for my personal use, I said I would take the year off. They laughed.

I still had a gardening game plan, though. My idea was that a man can only truly be happy gardening if he is working his own land. Setting aside the question of the validity of my hypothesis, I thought I had a solution worked out. I would collect as many apple boxes as I could and fill them with the dirt I bought last year and the compost I accumulated over the winter. Then all the earth in the apple boxes would be my land. Granted, I would still have to put my land on top of the board of education's land that surrounds our house, technically making me (or my land, I'm not sure which) a squatter.

Anyway, I didn't have enough dirt and compost to fill all four apple boxes, so I tried to supplement the bottom tiers with freshly mowed grass from the space between our house and the principle's house. I guess I didn't put enough in, because, after settling, the boxes are only two-thirds full now.

The Scorched Earth where my Compost Interim Storage Facility used to Be

Anyway, to make a long story short, I never got around to planting anything in my apple boxes. I'm too busy. But I hate to give up . . . especially since I'm always telling people that I want to have a self-sustaining homestead someday. My current situation gives people very little incentive to believe me.

Norimaki 101

Mr. Nioka is great. He has featured in previous posts as "the man with the knife" in The Night of the Tuna and as Yuko's fishing and deep-frying instructor in Aji (鰺). He is a sushi chef by day, but to me he is first and foremost my right-honourable mah jong instructor. Sometimes he comes over to our house to teach Yuko some of the secrets of his trade.

Grace and I have not signed up for cooking class, though, so while mom learns how to make professional quality seaweed rolls in the kitchen, Grace reads in the living room . . . and I play with blocks.

Seaweed Rolls

Golden Week: A Six Week Retrospection (a.k.a. A Report on Now Ancient History)

Great Grandma Nakamura

Golden Week is the cluster of (Japanese) national holidays at the beginning of May, and we always spend it in Hokkaido with Yuko's folks. In the past Yuko and I would fit quite a bit of Sapporo city life into our visits but now, with three kids running around (including our niece and nephew), we spend most of our time hanging out in and around Yuko's parents' ki-no-shiro ("castle of wood") house. The last few years it has also become traditional for Yuko's brother and me to help my father-in-law plant oats in the back garden since Yuko's parents live in another town where her father works and they can't tend to their gardening properly.

Cousin Yua with Great Grandpa Nakamura
(who used to be a steam locomotive engineer with the old Japan National Railroad before he secretly switched to a desk job so that he could pursue his hobby of playing the violin)

Grace with Great Grandpa Nakamura

Grace Demonstrating that She is Not Interested in Petting Zoos (or Sheep in General)

Story Time with Grandma Takahashi
(I don't think Grace would even be sitting there if it weren't for the good example set by her older cousin, Souki)