Well, UltraMom fans, good news. We are going to get back to our Japan posts, and, hopefully, finish the darn things. Actually, just finished reviewing pictures preparatory to writing this and brought back many good memories and warm fuzzy feelings. Also fuzzy are many of the details, which I guess will happen when you write 4 months after the fact 4 months ,is that possible? Seems like only yesterday that Heather and I were ..
This was the day we had long been anticipating with curiosity and apprehension. Today we were going to see Motoji’s garden. Many of Bob’s Motoji-to-us translations concerning the garden had indicated we would be expected to weed a field and dig potatoes. Knowing Motoji’s sense of humor, and UltraBob’s quirky and whimsical translations, we weren’t really sure what to expect.
We all (UltraBob and Girl, Heather and Myself) arrived in Yokuska at the Suzuki house around lunch time, and were treated to Motoji’s famous noodles. He had made these noodles for us when visiting in Idaho several years ago, and they were just as tasty as I had remembered them to be. Not so much to our liking was the rubbery squid. I ate mine, but Heather had to make a big fuss about hers. She claims I was given a little, tiny piece, while hers was gigantic, but we all know that, being UltraBob’s sister, how prone to embellishment she is.
Yuri was looking very smart in a red sweater decorated with trailing leaves. It seemed she and Tomoko were headed out for a meeting of some sort. I know I asked, but now cannot remember what it was for; something municipal, I think. UltraBob headed upstairs to figure out what was wrong with his ‘server’, and that left Motoji free to commandeer a little slave labor for his gardening tasks. We would not have a translator present this time, and we would have to communicate through Motoji’s broken English, our practically non-existent Japanese and the time-honored art of gesturing. Motoji handed us gloves and beckoned us to follow.
Yuri and Motoji
It was a little bit of a walk, winding mostly uphill through some a very scenic neighborhood. After a bit, Motoji pointed out some tennis courts. Just next to them, as it turned out, was a large garden area, sectioned off in plots. One of them was Motoji’s.
The gardens were all masterpieces of space utilization and completely weed-free. So apparently, the ‘field-weeding’ had been Motoji’s little joke! But we were going to be required to do some digging, we soon saw, as Motoji opened his little garden shed and found some trowels. He handed me one and bowed slightly. “A present,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Uh, thank you,” I replied, wondering if he was indeed making me a gift of his garden implement. Then, following his lead, I carefully began digging out small tubers, resembling Jerusalem Artichokes. After a bit, Heather asked me if she could dig for a while, and I gladly handed her the spade, stood up, and stretched legs cramped from the unaccustomed squatting position. As Heather and Motoji continued to harvest potatoes, onions and greens, I wandered around with my camera, recording this wondrous garden for posterity. At one point, Motoji exchanged greetings with a friend gardening in an adjacent plot, and was given a large daikon (Japanese radish) from the other man’s garden. These have a milder flavor than the small reddish ones we grow here. I always assumed vegetables were more or less universal, but this clearly is not the case.
After the harvest, I was relieved when Motoji reclaimed ‘the present’ and neatly stowed all implements back in the garden shed. We hadn’t been able to make much small talk, but hadn’t done too badly in the communication department. We walked back to the house, harvest in tow.
Harvesting the crop
Now it was time to clean and prepare the vegetables, and I helpfully offered to wash the dishes stacked in the sink. Motoji showed me the proper technique. Earlier, Yuri had shown, and then given me, some dishcloths crocheted by her or perhaps by her sister. The claim was that these would clean your dishes well without the need for dishwashing soap. Motoji took one of these magic cloths in hand, scoured an oily bowl and handed it to me for inspection. It seemed clean and grease free. My turn. I picked up a small plate and scoured. It still felt greasy. Tried again, same thing. Finally, glancing surreptitiously at Motoji who seemed occupied with the potatoes, I squirted a little dish soap on. Ah, that was better. I washed a few more before Motoji strode over and took the dishcloth from me. “No soap,” he said. “Scrub hard,” and he demonstrated once more. I guess I wasn’t being as covert as I had imagined! I tried again with the same results. Finally I had to give up. “I can’t do it,” I announced, abdicating my spot at the sink. “Still feels greasy.”
UltraMom “helps” with the dishes
The potatoes when prepared were served in a bowl with soy sauce for dipping. The golf-ball sized potatoes had a thick peel that was easy to slide off. They were really tasty, especially when dipped in the sauce. Not that I ever had to actually peel one myself; Motoji kept me supplied with potatoes ready for dipping until I couldn’t eat anymore.
UltraBob, by this time, had his server up and running again, and offered to drive Heather and me into the city for a little more souvenir shopping. We ended up at a huge mall/department store and had a great time picking up a few more things. I needed to look at teapots, as a friend “back home” who collects them had asked me to bring her one back. While I was at it, I got a charming, simple little white teapot for Panther (wedding/Christmas gift) and one for myself. I really love mine and find that I use it almost every day.
The ‘boar’ was a common theme in the shops as 2007 is the Year of the Boar, and I purchased a couple of ‘boar-bells’ and boar-decorated cards and dishtowels as gifts. It is said to be lucky to have something in your home featuring ‘animal of the year’. I was particularly drawn to one poster of several happy boars, obviously in a Christmas frame of mind. “Make a reckless rush dashing,” proclaimed the poster in bold type.
The shopping, and especially the driving/busy traffic negotiating took quite some time, and we arrived back at the house to find everyone ready to go out to dinner. Mitsuhiro was going to treat us to a meal at the Ramen house. Now you may remember that Johnny spent several months in Japan, and preparatory to my trip I had asked him for must-see or must-do’s. The two things he most highly recommended were Ramen and Karaoke. Today we would do both.
Now, when I say “Ramen” you are probably imagining those little cellophane noodles with flavoring packets with such catchy names as “Texas Beef Ramen”, “Cajun Chicken Ramen”, or “Spicy Shrimp Ramen.” You can pick them up in any US grocery store for @ 15 cents each. At a quarter apiece, they are one of the biggest sellers in my prison store. The Ramen we had this evening was a totally different animal; that is to say, noodle. I can’t even really describe it, except to say it was totally delicious. I ordered, um, sort of a “combo-ramen” that came with a lot of meats and vegetables and, of course, noodles. It was an enormous bowl, but I did as much justice to it as was humanly possible.
UltraGirl with a bowl full of Ramen
Now it was time for the evening’s entertainment. UltraBob was taking us to his favorite Karaoke Bar, “Karaoke Look.” He had become well acquainted with the owner/operator of this Hawaiian-themed establishment, and UBob once gotten a ‘perfect score’ on a karaoke rendition of a song, though UltraGirl claims the machine was broken. It was just Heather and me and the UltraKids to start with. Motoji, Yuri and Yukiko (UltraGirl’s cousin) were ready to call it a night. UltraGirl’s brother Mitsuhiro, would be joining us a bit later.
As I mentioned in my karaoke/Tokyo post, these type of establishments are very popular in Japan, with good reason. Johnny was right; this evening was definitely a highlight of our trip. We were shown into a fairly large, private room that could have easily accommodated 3-4 more people. We ordered in drinks, and Ubob showed us how to peruse the catalogs and make our karaoke selection on the small electronic machines. UltraBob started us off. I don’t remember what the song was called, but I was blown away. That kid of mine has some pipes! (I still want that CD of you singing, UB; maybe for my birthday?) The catalog had a large, varied selection of English songs, so Heather and I were mostly able to find ones we liked and thought we, perhaps, might be able to sing. Sometimes we were wrong. We totally butchered “Big Yellow Taxi” (you know the one, “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot”?) It always seems so easy to sing along with that one on the radio! UltraGirl did her standard, one of my very favorites, “Top of the World”, originally by the Carpenters. She has a beautiful voice, and I especially love hearing her sing that one. When Mitsuhiro showed up, the party really got going. He immediately grabbed the tambourine and kept rhythm to something Ubob was singing. There was also a maraca, which I used sometimes. Mitsu also has a very nice voice. His selections were mainly popular Japanese songs; I was particularly interested in one that had seemingly random English words thrown in here and there, like “Baby.” We were well into our evening when suddenly the lights went out, the door opened, and the owner came in carrying a mug filled with poky sticks and lit sparklers. “Welcome to Japan,” he said setting the mug on the table. It was SO cool! We got him to take a photo of us grouped around this centerpiece.
I happily made my song selections, as Ubob had shown me, picking a few Carpenters tunes, Bette Middler’s, “The Rose” and a few other things. It seemed like my turn came around fairly quickly. Afterwards, UltraBob complained that many of his selections never showed up. He accused me of canceling his, since I had so many, and that just may have been true, since I wasn’t all that familiar with the ‘song-selection machine”. But not on purpose, of courseJ I am trying to remember what song UltraBob and I were singing when we got totally out of control. As we were going off, Heather suddenly grabbed my mike and finished the song, saving us, as it turns out, from ourselves. Thanks, Heather.
Mitsu had been planning to stay for only a short time, but ended up leaving when we did. I think we karaoked for 2 hours, and I could have done 2 hours more. We ended the evening with an UltraBob-UltraMom duet of “One Tin Soldier”, a song I used to sing to the kids when they were small. Back at the reception desk, we asked the owner if we could take his picture. He disappeared into the back room, and reappeared wearing a Santa hat and sporting a couple of hand puppets. He had designed some Christmas postcards featuring original art and the logo of his establishment, Karaoke Look, and let us select several to take with us. These personal touches really made our evening more special.
Four silly kids
We arrived back at the Suzuki house, riding, as we had been doing all week, in Mitsu’s car. As the car came to a stop, Mitsu said to us, in very clear English, “Get out of my car.” Heather and I looked at each other, startled, then laughed. The words were clear, and we hastened to obey! Of course, soon we were right back in his car (loaned to the UltraKids for the week we were visiting because it was much roomier than their own car) headed back to Zushi.
I will post pictures later, but wanted to get this out today.
Next time, HAKONE/SWIMMING/BLACK EGGS. You don’t want to miss this one, so stay tuned!
I had a rather interesting morning yesterday, at least interesting to me. Lately I have been taking ” the boys” for some monster walks. Murphy and Rowdy have become so used to our morning walks that if it starts getting a little late and they are afraid I may have forgotten, they come and get me, stare fixedly at their leashes and then try to pull them down. On this particular day, we were walking by Carlin Pond, a very small body of water on the edge of town. The area around the pond is also called “The Chinese Gardens” because of the Chinese immigrants who used to live there and grew extensive vegetable gardens. Now it is also a nature walk/study area. Anyway, as we approached the pond, I could see a boy fishing, and it looked he had just caught a nice trout about a foot long. The little pond is occasionally stocked with trout from that elusive fish hatchery UltraDad and I couldn’t find (see Mud, Maps and Mystery). The boy looked up and I cleverly commented “Looks like you caught a fish.”
“Yeah,” he said, “But I can’t get the hook out of his mouth.” On closer inspection, it was evident that Mr. Fish had swallowed the hook. As far down as I could reach I couldn’t feel any part of the hook; just a mess of worms. “I guess you’ll just have to pull it out,” I offered. “But I want to throw him back. Guess I’ll just have to cut the line and let him go.” That generated a conversation on whether or not the fish would survive with a hook in his gullet. Finally Jeremiah (I later asked his name) asked “Do you want him?” “Uh, sure!” I said with sudden decison. “If you have a sack I can carry him home in.” Jeremiah emptied his plastic Walmart sack and gave me the fish. I was a tiny bit nervous as I had not yet purchased my fishing license, so the boys and I hightailed it home, cleaned the fish and put him in the fridge.
UltraDad’s reaction, when he got home from work that evening, was not what I expected. “Why did you take the fish?” “Well,” I answered uncertainly, “I thought it would die with that hook , and I thought we could eat it.” “I’M not going to eat it,” he declared. “And he would have been fine with the hook.” Well how was I supposed to know that? Seems to me that swimming around with a fishhook in your belly would make living a bit uncertain. And now I have to eat it just to prove a point…I’m not really sure what point, but that doesn’t matter. Anyway, kind of fun and different.
Easter (today) was quite different at my house without any actual kids around. I didn’t even get any Easter cards or packages sent out this year, which is something I usually try to do, at least to my children. I thought perhaps they really didn’t even care, but when I mentioned this to Jimbo today, he said, “I know” or “I noticed” or something that made me think he did care and wished I had. Instead I bought a couple of Easter toys for my new boys, Murphy and Rowdy. I got them a package of sparkly, glittery, jingly, cat toys and they have had great fun dismantling them. I even caught Polly, the actual cat, playing with one of the little catnip mice. But no chocolate candy and no colored hard boiled eggs. Sigh. I did go to church this morning and sang in the choir, and we sang all the old lovely standard Easter songs: Christ the Lord is Risen Today, He Lives, In the Garden and Lord I Lift Your Name on High. And I brought home a spare Easter Lily which is livening and ‘spring-timing’ up my house This afternoon the boys and I walked over to Pat’s house, and then invited her to give us a ride home and stay for lunch.
You may remember in the post about Jim’s visit when I mentioned our visit to the Mike P. Jordan Memorial Tree Grove. I said I would tell you more about it at a later date. This seems a good time for that, since this is turning into a relatively short post. I have an inmate working in my store now who used to work in this tree grove. Yes, he was still a prisoner at the time, but at this minimum security ‘conservation camp’, as it is called, prison work crews go out every day and perform a variety of tasks, including city clean up and firefighting, and just about anything else you might think of.
‘Brain” is a 50ish year old black man who has been in prison for much of his life. He once told me he was given the nickname “Brain” from a young inmate who told Brain that his bald head reminded him of Brain from the cartoon “Pinky and the Brain,” and it stuck. One of the officers told me it was because he was smart and always thinking, which is also true. I hired him to work in the prison store after firing Travis, whom I was pretty sure was stealing from me. Brain and Ricky, the other guy who has been with me for nearly a year now, are great in the store, and the frequent shortages have become a thing of the past. Brain likes to write and sometimes brings in stuff for me to read. This particular piece was written a couple of years ago when he was, for a time, the caretaker of the tree grove. I found it interesting and hope you do also.
Die or Fly
In this Great Basin, there is a not so well known botanical masterpiece. Nestled between the Youth Training Center Campus and the Nevada Division of Forestry, and a field of tumble weeks and grazing cattle is the Mike P. Jordan Memorial Tree Grove.
But before I go any further, you should know a little background. on March 3rd 1977, Mike Jordan, an employee of the Nevada Division of Forestry, developed a plan for what was to be a plant materials testing facility. And with an agreement between the Nevada Youth Training Center and the Nevada Division of Forestry, combined with the assistance of Botanists from the University of Nevada, trees and shrubs were planted between 1980-1983.
Today, in the midst of this desert, lies a gated (to keep out livestock and rodents) a 2 and 1/3rd acre oasis. Within this oasis flourishing are Ponderosa Pine, Norway Spruce, White Fur, Lombardy Poplar, Japanese Rose, Mountain Mahogany, and a total of 45 different species of trees and shrubs. It’s a summertime must see for anyone who has the opportunity.
The tree grove became an unsuspecting habitat for bats, turkey vultures, hawks, doves and owls and her lies the real story.
I’m ‘Brain’, a guy who has lived 50 plus years without making one positive contribution to my family, my community or this nation. For over a decade I have been serving time in the Nevada Department of Corrections for one of my many negative contributions. Now I am allowed to work for N.D.F on an inmate work crew. My responsibilities include the instillation and maintenance of the tree grove’s irrigation system, and the pruning and thinning of trees and shrubs. I’m also preparing a walkway and more interpretive species signs for public viewing. What it boils down to is: I’m the caretaker.
I’m not sure of when or how Mike Jordan died, but I do know that I’m honored to nourish his dream and legacy.
Though this opportunity has been rewarding, my life has been such a waste that reflecting upon it is very painful. So much so that I’ve felt at times that dying would be less painful than thinking about or remembering the wasteland I have called a life.
Once during the early fall, while planting new seedlings, I wanted to just lie down in the autumn leaves and not wake up. Yes, I wanted to die. I sat down on a dirt mound thinking, “####, I’m tired of being locked up. But I have 3 more years to go. When I do get out, what the hell am I going to do? If I die right here in this tree grove, how would my mother take it?” And then, out of nowhere, this owl flies up, lands 10 feet away and just looks at me. The owl was so close I felt I could read his expression. He knew how I felt, and he felt sorry for me. I laughed so hard my side hurt, but the owl didn’t fly away. The crew boss called for me and I had to return to the prison.
The next day, while spreading pea gravel in a walkway, the owl returned. This time, he landed on a fence post. I started to talk to him and tell him about my life. No, he didn’t talk back, but I swear he was listening. Rarely does a day go by that the owl doesn’t visit me. Sometimes he just circles, but he lets his presence be known.
Now that I am at a place in my life where I desperately want to live, I’ve realized that the owl was actually the spirit of Mike P. Jordan watching over his tree grove. And in turn, he was also watching over me. And just like that fateful owl, I too “want to be like Mike!”
To live and make a positive contribution.
Current events again today, guys. Though soon I promise to go back and finish up my last couple of days of Japan blogging. But today I’m going to live a bit on the edge…on the edge of friendship that is. We’ll see how it goes.
I got a phone call from sis-in-law Pat this morning. Now she and I usually manage to go to Elko and Walmart at least once a weekend, esp when UltraDad is working, and I always have a good time with her. But today was extra special. Her sister, Kathy (also UltraDad’s sister, and my sister-in-law) was going to be in Elko. We could go hang out with her while she did her shopping.
Kathy is a lot of fun and I have known her a long time. In fact, I knew her before I knew UltraDad. We met in college and ended up being dorm-mates for a year or so before I bailed, got married, and became a farmwife. But that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that I went, despite the fact that I am catching the cold UltraDad is now getting over. Pat and I met up with her in Walmart. We parked next to her pickup, containing, as usual, several dogs. Kathy lives on a cattle ranch and raises MinPins or Miniature Pinschers, and also has Border Collies and other cattle working dogs.
We found Kathy, as expected, in the pet section, loading up her cart with dog treats. I showed her and Pat the dog puppet I had recently got for my “boys,” and they each got one. Just to make sure they knew how they worked, I opened and closed the jaws for awhile while the puppet barked out “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “B I N G O” and “It’s a Small World After All.” Funny. After a few rounds of that, their expressions resembled that of UltraDad the day we bought our puppet and I performed my demonstration for him a few times. I think they were impressed.
After our various shoppings, it was time for lunch, so we went to Dos Amigos, one of my favorite Mexican Restaurants. As we were finishing our meal and calculating the tab, Pat mentioned that she needed to put gas in her car. Now I don’t know about your part of the country, but around here, gas prices are on the rise again; the highest I’ve ever seen them. Pat remembered that she had a coupon in her purse from her last shopping trip to Smith’s Food; it would entitle her to 10 cents off a gallon at Smith’s adjoining gas station. Kathy and I were amazed and impressed as Pat pulled out receipt after receipt. Finally, we were laughing and teasing her unmercifully. To tell the truth, it reminded me somewhat of my receipt retaining methods, but she had me topped. When all the receipts were sitting on the table, it reminded me of some sort of magic trick. How had they ever all fit inside her purse? But she did finally find the one she sought, and I offered to accompany her on her gas-filling journey.
We pulled into the service station, and she opened her purse to whip out that money-saving receipt, and guess what? It was missing again! As she searched , I laughed, thinking all the while that it could just as easily be me. In fact, not so long ago, it WAS me, looking for a receipt from JC Penneys so I could return some shirts. I could find every other receipt in the world but the one I needed, and the worst part was that one of the shirts still had that anti-theft thing attached to it, so I kind of looked like I had stolen it. But, luckily I have that honest UltraMom face, so was able to get a store credit for my purchases. As soon as I got home from that shopping trip and was putting away my purchases, I found that receipt sitting in the middle of my dining room table. But enough about me; this is about PAT. After 5 minutes or so, she did find the receipt again, and after filling up the car, went to the pay window to redeem her discount. I was helpfully washing her windows (hoping to make up for laughing at her) when she returned. “So, how much money did you save?” I asked.
“I didn’t,” she muttered. “It seems that I did not have my Smith’s fresh value card last time I shopped there. They used the store number to give me my store discount, but when they do that, the gas coupon doesn’t work.” This was too much. “This sounds like a story for my blog,” I offered generously. But instead of gratitude for offering her fame and readership, I got threats of ending our friendship. Of course I didn’t believe her, and thought it would be fun to just test it out a little bit.
Yes, you are right. UltraMom is one of those people who make themselves feel better by concentrating on the foibles of those around her.
So, thanks Pat. And we are still friends, right? I said right? Pat?
UltraMom, friend of the people