Summer 2016

Summer 2016
Summer in Tsukahara

Spring in Tsukahara

gkimbal's Spring in Tsukahara album on Photobucket

Friday, February 25, 2011

sink or swim

I wonder how our home in Tsukahara is doing? I know that I shouldn’t worry about it. The house has been there for 12 years and has been empty for 9 of those years. Most of the damage that has been done will not change during the 6 months that we are away. Erika’s relatives open the windows and mow the weeds every now and then. It’s hard having a home so far away and not knowing for sure if it is still standing.  As I rolled down the storm windows and locked the front door before leaving our home in Tsukahara, my eyes welled up with tears knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see “her” again for 6 months. I know this is strange, but I felt like the house was sad to see us go. With the storm windows closed, the house appeared to be abandoned.
 I quickly grew used to working around the house. From the moment we stepped into the house, we were either cleaning or repairing. I expect the same thing will be required when we visit in May. Honestly, I hate the house, but I love the property. The house is rundown, tired, and neglected. “She’s” only 12 years old, but she looks like 40. I know that with a lot of work, time, and money she can be restored to her former beauty. The problem will be finding the time and money. If we end up renting our house in Seattle ( Federal Way), then we would have to start working in Japan as soon as possible. I wouldn’t be able to afford the time or the money to fix the Tsukahara home. Speaking of renting our house, I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories. My coworker rented his house and found that after the house was abandoned, he found marijuana plants being grown in the back rooms and pit bulls being raised in the front rooms. EEK! I’ve only heard terrible stories about being a landlord. The best I can hope for is to find a reliable property manager who can find a great tenant. Imagine living overseas and totally depending on a property manager to take care of your home. My eyes are twitching just thinking about this. I really don’t know what other choices we have. If we were independently wealthy, we could leave the house empty. I have to ask, “If being a landlord is so bad, then why do so many people do it?” There must be a few good tenants out there, right?
Next is the question about taxes. I remember reading about if your home is not your primary residence and you have equity and you try to sell it, capital gains tax will eat you alive. I think this means that if we do not live in the house for 2 out of 5 years, the house is not considered our primary residence. So, we can be a landlord for 3 years, then either we sell or move back into it, or pay capital gains if we continue to be landlords. Let’s see…will the housing market improve by 2014? If not, then we’re stuck with another difficult decision…to sell or not to sell. At least during the 3 year period, we are establishing ourselves in Japan. Hopefully by that time, we will know if we will sink or swim.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Recently, I have been asked by several friends what the verdict is for my life. There has never been a black and white answer. It is the most difficult question for me to answer. When I was young, my goal was to escape from my hometown. Over the years, I had gradually moved further and further from my roots. My life is more complicated now. I’m older and have accumulated assets and responsibilities. My decisions involve others very close to me.
When I got a job offer in Australia, I was caught by surprise. I honestly did not think I would get it. I really didn’t want to leave my job in Tokyo. I never intended to find another job nor did I want to have the job in Australia. One of my coworkers told me to take a day off because I was becoming a workaholic. I was a country girl and I had nowhere to go in Tokyo. At the time, my coworker was reading a newspaper in front of me. He suggested, after reading the newspaper, that I interview for a position to work in Australia. Since this was a last minute decision, I wasn’t prepared.  I just wanted someplace to spend a paid vacation. Well, I passed the interview. I thought it was some kind of scam. My family and friends were skeptical also. I was invited to a second interview and passed that too. Okay, I achieved a short term goal…two days off with pay to travel to Australia. I received phone calls from the Queensland Education Department in Australia. Now, what could I say? I needed to figure out my next move, so I decided I wanted to challenge myself. I decided to leave my country and work overseas. “This was a one-time chance,” I thought. My aunt said, “Do whatever you want to do with your life. Your life is only one time…but you must be responsible for your life. When you fail and come back, are you willingly to work as a janitor? Will you respect a janitor’s life? If so, do it.” I often hear that advice in my head. Yes, I will, but I always have another question, “Can I provide food and medical treatment for my dogs?” “But, what if…” seems to follow every question.

We will, again, put the house on the market, soon. A lot of worries, discussions, debates, and changes in our minds. We know if we wait for 5 more years, George will get a small pension for early retirement, the housing market should be better and we can more easily transfer our life to Japan. A huge disadvantage is that the dogs will be older and they will have tremendous difficulty flying for such a long period. Then, we will probably have to wait at least another 5 years until the dogs pass away. We cannot live our daily lives waiting for their lives to end. If we don't leave by next March, we will have to put the dogs in quarantine again and that process could take another 8 to 9 months. Whatever we choose, we will have to make a difficult choice.
So, if we cannot sell the house on this attempt, let’s lease the house and leave for a new life. I know so many people and almost all of my friends disagree with the decision to lease the house. “The house is completely remodeled and you are going to let a stranger tear it apart? Are you crazy?” I respond by saying, “Money is not as important as time,” but that is because we are economically comfortable right now. We may soon say, “Money is more important than time,” while we are crying and starving. I have a lot of wishes, but right now, I wish I could make a definite decision. I cannot predict my life and I am so scared of making mistakes. All I can say is,” I don’t want to regret for what I don’t do.” I much prefer regretting what I tried. George and I would often question ourselves and ask, “If we could redo our lives, then...?” Every time we would come up with the same response, “If we hadn’t done all of those stupid mistakes in our past, we wouldn’t have had our life together.” If George became a very rich brain surgeon, I would not have been married to him. Our only major regret is that we wished that we could have shared our lives together much sooner. I just hope that we can feel the same way in the future. So, now I will say, yes, we will move to Japan this year.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The winter weather in Seattle has been wet and cold. That’s nothing unusual. Seattle isn’t the best place in the world to use a telescope. I’ve been patiently waiting for a clear night to view the stars since last October. I kept reminding Erika that if the night skies are clear, you won’t see me for the rest of the night…I’ll have a date with my T-scope. It finally happened on January 31st and February 1st. I had forgotten all of the steps required to set up the T-scope and the software programs. After fumbling with the wires and connectors, everything was ready. At first, I just wanted to view the red spot on Jupiter. The skies were clearing, and luckily I was able to do much more. I felt like a kid in a candy store! I had so many things to photograph and so little time.
Without getting too technical or boring…the Crab Nebula is a star that exploded in the 11th century, M81 and M82 are distant galaxies, the Orion Nebula is that fuzzy patch of light just below the three stars in Orion’s belt (stars are born there), and the Horsehead Nebula is on the left side of the three stars in Orion’s belt (the dark gas forms the shape of a black stallions head, pretty cool!) I wanted to take pictures of these beautiful objects ever since I first saw them in a National Geographic magazine as a kid. As I mentioned before, there are so many things I want to see and photograph, but not enough time. I’m learning each time I take a set of images. I still have a long way to go before I can call myself an astrophotographer. The journey is a challenge, but I’m having a blast!

I’ll keep posting photos as I process them and as the weather permits. I hope that one day (after I move to Tsukahara), I’ll be able to share with kids and adults alike, a peek through the eyepiece with the hope of sparking an interest in astronomy. The night skies have an endless supply of wonders and surprises just waiting to be explored. If I could hook just one person into wanting to learn more about the stars, then I think I accomplished something very important. Keep looking up!

Friday, February 11, 2011


I have been a housewife for over three months. This has been the longest time that I have experienced being a housewife. I’ve discovered that this job is more difficult than I had ever imagined. I believe that housewives are overworked and underpaid. Watching Oprah on television, a few days ago, she mentioned that working around the house was rated as one of the unhappiest jobs. It’s no wonder!

To be a good housewife (househusband), you have to take on the roles of president, manager, accountant, cleaner, cook, teacher and so on. This job encompasses far more than acting as a sole proprietor without income. Generally speaking, at a workplace, the department head determines the mission / goal. So, the worker tries to achieve the goal by working hard for 8 hours and receiving pay for the effort. Later, the worker may go out drinking or socializing afterwards to release any stress.

On the other hand, housewives’ (husbands’) roles are not that simple. They have to make a goal and create their own mission statement. The spouse and kids tend to ignore any goals set forth by the housewife. Being the housewife, you cannot give up on your spouse or the kids. You have to strive to make your family as comfortable and happy as you possibly can. In the meantime, you have a million things that must be done in order to accomplish that goal. You can never say, “Let’s forget about everything”. When you go shopping, you have to closely look at the budget. There are so many varieties of frozen food in the supermarket for a reason…so that you can be as lazy as you want by giving frozen food to your children and spouse. Sure, it may be cheaper and faster to prepare food this way, but in the long run, you are slowly destroying their health over the years. Even for only my husband and myself, our favorite foods are so different. After I cook for my husband, I don’t feel like enjoying my food, but to be sociable and healthy, I join him at the table. If I hear any criticizing about my cooking, I feel like throwing the dishes at the wall. If you are working for a company and your boss complains about the job you are doing, you can turn any criticisms into something positive by saying, “Okay, I can do that, as long as I get paid”. What are the rewards for a housewife? I wish all spouses and kids would appreciate the daily struggles of a housewife.

The most difficult challenge about being a housewife, for me, is managing my time. I can easily become lazy. I could go out to lunch with friends and before I realize it, I find that the day has slipped away and I didn’t get anything done. All of my plans were thrown out the window. I have a few friends, who are housewives, and they have gained my utmost respect ever since I stepped into their shoes. They accomplish so much for very little recognition. If they can do this, they should be able to make a damn good worker at any company. I hope their spouses appreciate them.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Japanese Garden

It seems peculiar that after spending so much time and money on trying to acquire the skills to build a Japanese garden, I chose to spend the rest of my life in a place that will require none of those skills. While living in California, I desperately wanted to create a Japanese environment in my backyard. I wanted to build a large koi pond stocked with imported Nishikigoi from Hiroshima, to grow many varieties of Japanese maples, to create a karasansui (dry rock garden), to build a bridge, and to create an impressive entrance into this garden. The garden was to be called, “So Shin En (双心苑)”, translated to mean, “Garden of Two Hearts”. After 2 years of research and intensive work, the garden became a reality.

Much of the work was invisible. Trenches were dug to carry the drains, water pipes, air lines, and electrical wires. All of the excavation was done by hand. The lower pond was dug to 5 feet deep by 10 feet wide by 20 feet long.  The upper pond was 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide by 5 feet long. The hole was so large that a police helicopter kept circling overhead as we dug the hole. I think they thought we were burying a body or something. The neighbors thought we were installing a swimming pool. All of this soil was made into berms for planting beds and to transform a flat backyard into an attractive oasis. Planning was crucial, especially figuring out the correct filter, pumps, tubing diameters, drain layouts, wire gauges, and circuit breakers. Over 2 tons of boulders were hand selected and individually placed. Erika did a lot of the digging and lifting. She was much younger then. Of course, she complained a lot and I heard the word, “Divorce” just about everyday. Each joint between the boulders was filled with expanding foam and salted with sand to give the natural appearance of inter-connecting stones. The pond liner was carefully formed to remove all of the wrinkles. This provided a smooth surface for the water to circulate and to prevent any koi poop from collecting. Air diffusers were installed over the drains and educators on the walls to provide circulation similar to a Jacuzzi. This provided plenty of exercise for the koi and allowed any unwanted debris to be effectively transported to the filtering system.

The entire system was automated. Even the water quality and water levels were electronically monitored. The pond held 6000 gallons and 14 Nishikigoi. We did have 15, but a Great Blue Heron decided she wanted to have sashimi for dinner. I could not believe how large a heron actually is. The bird stood 4 feet tall and was not intimidated by my presence at all. I built the pond with vertical sides to prevent predators from stealing my fish. I later learned that a heron regurgitates its food to attract the fish…almost like using fishing bait. Once the fish gets close enough, the heron catches it. My only choice for protecting the koi was to install netting and use an electronic scarecrow. The solution worked although getting splashed by the scarecrow was a nuisance.

Turning on the pumps for the first time was an unforgettable experience. I wasn’t a 100% sure that everything was going to work. Did I have the right size pumps? Did I use too much tubing? Is the waterfall going to have enough water pressure to form a pleasant looking fall? Did I choose the right size filters? I had a gazillion questions in my head and the main answer was…it worked!! I had a small leak at the filtering tank which was easily fixed. I let the system run for a couple of weeks before I let the koi enjoy the pond. Within a month or so, I had become very close to the koi. They would approach me at feeding time and eat from my hand. I could pet their underside just like a dog. I had learned everything I could about raising koi. The water quality was exceptional. I know if I were a koi I would have loved swimming in that pond! The koi pond was the most satisfying and enjoyable projects I had ever had. We planted hundreds of azaleas, many maples, Sequoias, and fruit trees.  The garden turned out to be everything I expected and more. The soothing sounds of the waterfall permeated the entire property.

It was a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It was an escape. I just wished I could have enjoyed it. Not long after the garden was completed, I was transferred to Seattle. I was devastated at the thought of leaving all that we had worked for. None of that compared to the heartbreaking experience of leaving my Nishikigoi. After 6 years, I still have not recovered. I miss those koi very much and I’m reminded of them whenever I see a Nishikigoi.
Erika’s new set of 100,000 rules mention that our home in Tsukahara cannot have anything grown on the property that is not edible. I guess I can live with that. The property is beautiful enough without cluttering the landscape with a Japanese garden.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011