Monday, June 30, 2008


Small animals have been disappearing from our valley all year. Pooka, the crazy chihuahua, then R's sweet kitty, Pearl. At least they just went missing. With the chickens, it was far more gruesome, but it was earlier in the year and we didn't have to see the nightmarish scene of the crime. There's a flyer posted on the mailboxes at the entrance to our road for someone else's missing cat and last week, our neighbors reported their cat missing as well. There is a hungry something out there!

I'm also missing Horse Girl and her mom who moved further into the valley at the beginning of the year and now Ranger Lady and her guy are moving on as well. It's sad to see our Ranch Family go, but we're looking forward to new Family members, the McC's. I did have to warn them, however, that small things tend to go missing around here, so keep an eye out on your toddler son!

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Season of Eden, Revisited

With temps back to normal and the pressure of the driving test gone, I am finally settling into Ranch Life again.

It will be a while before the newly planted veggies are ready, but we are right in the middle of berry season and the stone fruits are on their way. (All except the cherries, which are basically over: either there wasn't much fruit this year or they got eaten by the birds. It was disappointing for me, because these were fabulous tasting cherries.)

The peaches and nectarines are ripening nicely -- all of the trees look like they are doing better this year -- and the apricots will be ready any day now. Plus, the loquat tree which never gave any fruit is covered in clusters of small orange globes. Biwa, as they are called in Japan, are a short-seasoned delicacy but I don't think I've ever seen any for sale in the States. Maybe they don't travel well. Our loquats have thicker and waxier skin than the biwa of Japan, but also have a bigger flavor.

It's great to be getting into the Season of Eden once again.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Behind The Wheel...

Winds are blowing now from the northwest, bringing all the smoke down from the Monterey County wildfires. The landscape of rolling hills and farmlands is taking on a lovely soft focus -- Central Californian countryside through a Pro Mist filter! But the big news of the day is.......


And why shouldn't I? I picked the most auspicious day in the Japanese almanac (though I wondered if I wasn't screwing it up by ignoring time zones,) I washed the truck, cleaned up the inside, sweet-talked to it ("Be nice to me tomorrow, okay?") found a (lucky?) penny in the truck bed, made sure I had my little temple talisman in my purse... I did all the (probably) useless and (definitely) superstitious things my Edokko grandmother would have done. Aside from washing the truck, I did all of this secretly. Big Dog and his Western logic would have told me I should just practice more. But rituals are important. It was my way of preparing myself mentally. And to stack the odds against, say, a child running out of the bushes into the street and smack into the truck. Or having the brakes lock up. Or the steering wheel come off in my hand like some cartoon moment.

Yes, it also helped that a wonderfully sweet lady was waiting for me at Window 11, and another friendly and down-to-earth local woman tested me. It would have been a different scene in LA, I am sure.

My tester, "Kathy," was curious, though.

"What did you do to have to take a driving test again?"
"I'm from Japan."
"Oh, and you didn't get an international license?"
"No. I never had a license! I never drove a car! We have a giant, efficient network of trains and buses and subways..."
"It must be nice having such an advanced public transportation system with these gas prices!"
Yeah, it would be if the fares weren't so expensive.

We cruised around a bit in traffic-heavy San Luis Obispo and, just like that, I became a legal, registered, licensed California Driver. Heaven help us all.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Relief at Last

Hurray! We're on the other side of the freak heat wave!
Coastal California is normally blessed with a temperate climate year-round, but last week was a record breaking anomaly here on the Central Coast. It must have been terribly exciting for the meteorologists.

"Another record for Santa Maria!"
"All-time high in San Luis Obispo!!"
"116 in Shell Beach!!!"

"This is what it must be like to be in Paso Robles in the summer," Big Dog and I moaned on Friday when our thermometer was hitting 105 in the AM. (In fact, during the heat wave, Paso Robles was COOLER.) You didn't want to open windows -- there was a hellishly hot wind blowing from the east.

Maybe our grapes were happy.
"Oh, yeah! Vineyard temps at last! Get it while you can!"

It was hard to believe that the bats weren't dying up there in the heat. And why didn't the horses stay under the shade all day? Even Big Dog got heat exhaustion and had to stay in for most of the day on Friday and Saturday.

But just like the meteorologists promised, it started to cool down yesterday and this morning, we are back to our normal mild temps. Ahhhhhh. Relief at last.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Full Moon Fever

The leaky water tank is a bigger problem, but the bats inside the eaves are a more disgusting one. And I thought I had the place pretty well sealed!

A bit of screening had either come loose, or the bats were able to take it off (I picture them swarming and turning into a giant hand, like the cartoons) but, either way, they have moved back in again this year and unlike last year, have been here for several months now.

I am getting tired of fighting the bats. I built them that nice house last year, which they've ignored, and now are back in mine to poop and pee and stink the place up. (The current heat wave does wonders, too, for that extra funkiness!) The last couple of days, I've been up on the roof, re-attaching screening in such a way that it's a one-way door, but I don't know if they are getting out. I can still hear a mob up there and there must have been a full moon party going on last night! But their days are numbered. Bat Fighter is ready for some drastic measures.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Highway to Hell

It must have been the scariest ride of Big Dog's life.

A few days ago, we got into a tiff about how he was being so negative about my driving.
"I need positive encouragement! I have no confidence! How am I going to take the stupid test if I don't feel confident about my driving?"

All men (and most women) think they are the World's Best Driver. I don't think I have ever met a man who could say "I'm a pretty crappy driver." Big Dog is no exception. He's constantly criticizing the other drivers on the road, pointing out dumb things they do (the same things he will do!) -- in other words, behaving like a normal driver. It gets amped up when I am behind the wheel of our truck.

No, I am NOT comfortable driving that thing. It feels like I am dragging around a tub. Any vehicle should be like an extension of the body. I know my sleek fast road bike is. But with the truck, I feel like I suddenly grew a giant ass and have to lug it around. It doesn't feel like the truck is taking me somewhere, but that I am taking the truck -- no, dragging the truck -- somewhere. Who's working for who? (whom?) "Once In A Lifetime" by the Talking Heads keeps playing in my head -- "...and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile..." -- it feels so surreal.

Most drivers are scared of other people's driving, but my discomfort and unfamiliarity with driving really wigs Big Dog out and I can understand why he gets so verbally abusive when I am "practicing." But I have to. And he needs to drop the verbal abuse long enough for me to get comfortable.

Well, yesterday was the long trip back to The Ranch from Arcata and after we filled up in Salinas, I took over.

The back of the truck was loaded with tools, household stuff, plants...and the back seat was piled high with bags and boxes. You couldn't see out the rear view mirror. The passenger side, too, had a planter on the floor holding cuttings of antique roses from our property. It was bad enough that Big Dog had to be scrunched up in that seat, but then to have to ride all the way to Morro Bay with a driving Bad Dog! Hoooooo doggie!

"You're listing to the left! Slow down! Are you going to overtake him or not? Better decide now! Stop futzing with the cruise control! Now you're listing to the right! Why are you slowing down? You're trying to overtake him? What?!"

And then on the rural highway between Atascadero and Morro Bay, I got honked.

"You're going too fast."
"It's the speed limit."
"I don't care. It's too fast."
"There're a pile of cars behind me."
"Who cares. Stop worrying about them."


"Asshole!" Big Dog yelled at the unknown driver.

Yep, it was Highway to Hell for everyone, but we miraculously managed to get to back to the ranch in one piece.

"Miracle isn't a strong enough word," Big Dog exhaled, finally.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

At the DMV

I've never driven a car. Never needed to. Might have wanted to at times, but never ever had the time to invest in getting a license. I love the freedom of a bicycle and the only motor vehicle I've driven was a motorcycle -- not as anarchist as a bike, not as spontaneous, not as much fun, but not bad for a fossil fuel powered vehicle.

Since leaving Japan, however, I've been spending more time in the U.S., especially California, where I have the time (sort of) and a very, very real need. And it's not even the piece of paper I need as much as the ability to drive. I keep imagining a situation where we are in the wilderness, Big Dog breaks his legs and I can't drive us out of there or go and get help. I have recurring nightmares where I have to drive down a curvy mountain road in a beat-up stick shift Beetle (for some reason, it's always a stick shift Beetle!)

So, in 2004, I went to the Santa Monica Department of Motor Vehicles to get a Learners' Permit.

There's a desk just in front of the right corner of the rectangular horseshoe of counters. An elderly lady at the desk asks if the Learners' Permit is for me. In a sort of incredulous tone of voice. I try not to sound too sheepish about it.
"Do you have a picture ID?"
I show her my passport.
She examines the visa. It's good only until October. Plus I have no Social Security number. She warns me that this could make the whole process much more time consuming and by then my visa would have run out. "But you're going to get a new visa, right?" Sure.

She hands me an application form and a ticket stub. I wait. And wait. It's a busy day at the DMV. An LED sign at one end of the room tells us Culver City has the shortest wait time but by then I've already invested more than 20 minutes, so I stay put. Finally, my number is called and I go to the number 14 counter.

There is a slightly demented looking older man. He has a Def Jam bowling shirt on that doesn't quite match the grays in his hair. No one at any motor vehicle bureau in Japan wears a bowling shirt! They all look like cops in uniform. Here, no one is in uniform. Plus, this guy looks a bit like Samuel L. Jackson. I wonder if he's going to start quoting Ezekiel any second, but after taking a look at my application he shouts, "What's this address?" pointing at my Japan residence. "What the hell IS this JAPAN shit? Why do you need a license if you don't even live here?" He's babbling on. "And you won't ever get a license if you don't have a social security number."

I tell him that I am only here to get a Learner's Permit.

Mr. Jackson is making all sorts of mean and negative remarks about how they don't want me to get a driver's license. there are already too many drivers in L.A. (I have to agree with that one!) and I'll never pass the background checks, etc. etc. At the same time, he's also joking around with everyone in the room, dancing, acting really weird, singing, waving my application around, hurrumping, and finally saying "You gotta pass the test, first. You get three chances. Don't blow 'em all."

It was pretty much Twilight Zone overall.

Well, that was 4 years ago, with a limited-time permit. I drove around a bit during that summer, and then didn't touch a single steering wheel for the next 3 years.

Last summer, I got a new Learner's Permit, this time at the San Luis Obispo DMV where, much to my disappointment, there was no Samuel L. Jackson. The Permit is 2 weeks from expiring and I've had maybe a total of 3 hours behind the wheel. I need to take the driving test before the permit expires. I am freaking out.


Friday, June 13, 2008


It's Friday the 13th!! And our last weekend this season in Arcata and I'm sorry to be leaving. The weather has been amazingly beautiful for days. It's positively shimmery. Our neighbor's giant cherry tree is loaded with cherries, our luscious mirabelles will be ready in a couple of weeks and those veggies that were so slow to grow in the spring are getting into their groove. The air smells great, we can see the bay from our Victorian, and today, when we were filling holes in the fern-fringed driveway at the country property (back on the chain gang!!) the air was so sweet and lovely I had to look at Big Dog and ask, "you still wanna sell this?!"

In our wrap-up mode, we finally had to evict the birds. The babies had long ago grown up, but when I came back from Japan, the "studio" eaves were beginning to get a little slummy with too many bird families crowding into the limited space. Big Dog blocked the spaces with boards and netting last week and all afternoon, the birds were angrily flying around, unable to get back into their boarded up homes.

"Find another one!" Big Dog shouted. I'm surprised they didn't peck his eyes out.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No Happiness in PVC

Today was plumbing day.
PVC pipes do not make me happy.

But I know that no leaks anywhere at the end of the day makes Big Dog very, very, very happy.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Happiness is a Warm Gun

In my case, happiness is a flowing caulk gun.

Last Tuesday, I left Tokyo at 6pm and by 4:30pm the very same day, I was back on the work crew on the other side of the Pacific. Lucky for me, I love detail work and find caulking to be one of the most satisfying things to do! The concentration, the delicate balance between caulk flow and gun movement, the feeling of complete satisfaction when the line is straight and even and oh-so-perfect!

But now, most of the work is done. It's our final week behind the Redwood Curtain. The weather has been gorgeous and neighbors are starting their own summer home repair projects. Do they need a girl with a (caulk) gun? She's really, really good...

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Restless Hand Syndrome

It runs in our family. Restless Hand Syndrome. All during the time I was growing up, I don't think there was ever a time when my mother's hands weren't moving. Cooking, cleaning, grooming. Knitting, sewing, crocheting. They weren't much good at gardening, but when I think of my mother's hands, they are always a blur of activity.

My grandmother, too, had Restless Hand Syndrome. After a full day of cooking with firewood, laundry with scrub boards, scrounging for food during the war and post-war years, managing her husband's business, heating the nightly bathwater (again with firewood), bathing the little ones and putting everyone to sleep, she'd still sit in the candlelight, mending tattered kimono for the nth time (during the lean years) and making bean-filled juggling balls with old kimono material (during the fat years.)

My own hands are a small cyclone of movement, too. I doodle my pencil to a nub -- little squares and circles -- during phone calls and am happiest when my fingers are flying in a flurry of activity. People talk about smoking being an oral fixation. I think I smoked for so many years just to give my fingers something to do. Spending the last few weeks with my restless handed mother, I've gotten into crochet again, first, making a cute linen skullcap and then using the leftover yarn to crochet a tiny purse during the long flight across the Pacific. It kept me from fidgeting endlessly in my seat and now I have a nice little bag for my loose change, loose bills, rubber bands, memos, etc.

Maybe it's all that activity. We never had soft-looking, delicate, feminine hands. Our hands are all gaunt and bony. I actually like that I have the same working man hands that my mother and grandmother have/had, but when a magazine I used to write for asked me to be their "hand model" for their "hands tell us so much about a person" series, I had to decline. (I got my mother to hold her hands still long enough to get this rare shot!)


Monday, June 02, 2008


Some days are too sad for words.