Sunday, September 02, 2018

Summer 2018

It has been a long time since the last post.
It is better for my brain to write long sentences for a blog than posting on Facebook or Twitter, but FB and Twitter are too convenient, which is one of the ways of killing humans brains. We are leading ourselves to extinction by making ourselves weaker and weaker to wild nature. The mental and physical separation between us and nature has been growing further and further.

Anyway, I think I would chronologically record here the main events happened from January 2018 up to today.

In January.
I took a short winter hiking class called "Winter Wondering." The class had about 15 people and I was the only old woman except for the instructor. All others were traditional students. It was another life-changing experience for me - actually the encounter with two biology professors last year is my treasure. This class was offered by one of the professors. I took this class because I wanted to spend time with her as long as I can. I seriously thought I would be majoring in biology if I have met them in the first year of my university. But unfortunately, it happened in my last year which prolongs my time of graduation if I changed the major, and I was exhausted from studying to achieve high GPA to receive scholarships.

We hiked 3-4 days a week in the month. In January 2018, we had an unusually low temperature, though, hikings were done. I was very happy to know my ability of 13 miles hike at my age.

Beginning of January.
My friend from Japan made a trip to Florida, so I met her there. We rented a car and drove around the Universal studio, cocoa beach, Dali museum, ... etc. We stayed in Florida for 5 days. It was a lot of fun. I am always happy to talk in Japanese. I spoke like a machine gun.
Also, walking around exposing my heels made a unique memory. I got a big blister on my each heel from hiking in the first-second day, I had to dry them constantly to make it heal as quick as possible so that I could continue hiking. I had a pair of sneaker type shoes that do not have a heel, so folded the heel part of socks into the sole, exposed my blisters to the air, walked everywhere I went in Florida including the airports. When I got home, I got nice hiking shoes that do not hit my hot spot, so I was able to continue hiking.

On February 1, R and I married. I had never experienced the process of marriage in the US, I thought it was complicated. We were waiting for my graduation to marry since I was receiving grants and scholarships, we did not want to mess up my status. I finished all of the requirements for my B.S. degree in December 2017. So, the time finally came. It has been 7 months of being married, nothing has been changed. Yesterday, R got our favorite cream puff to celebrate our 7 months anniversary.

Because my university conducts commencement only once a year, I had an extra semester. In the extra spring semester, one of the philosophy professors let me sit in his class, I enjoyed joining a class without worrying about grades. The class, Philosophy of Religion, was fun. I am interested in religion not as a practitioner, but as the aspect of human's way of understanding the world. I think it is ridiculous to try to prove God's existence scientifically, but the arguments read in the class gave me some insightful thoughts because they could easily be applied to life even though they were arguing about God.

On May 20, I finally graduated. I got a B.S. degree in Psychology, and Environmental Science (minor). R says nobody cares about your minor, but I found my love is for biology and environmental science more than psychology, so I like to add my minor when I talk about my degree. Psychology was interesting to study but it cannot be practical to me. At least, it gave me some ideas of people who I should avoid though. It is more interesting in talking about brains and hormone as chemicals produced determine our behaviors than observing just behaviors.

Finally, Summer! The season of gardening.
My garden is getting interesting more and more as a place of learning and producing food. I feel I am using a lot of knowledge through my education that I received in order to enjoy my garden in many ways as R call our garden "your laboratory"; they all are coming together. I am very happy about this.

This year, I tried to have diversity in my garden. I planted different kinds of plants randomly so that it can create habitats for many kinds of organisms. My garden was visited by many birds and butterflies that I did not see last year. Also, I was able to manage pests better than last year.

My milkweeds have many Monarch's babies now from tiny ones to big ones.

R and I enrolled the Master Gardening program from Virginia Cooperative Extention this fall. After the program, I can have a "title" of me as a master gardener other than a quilter. I was always confused about what I should say about me when I was asked: "What do you do?"

Only 4 months left until 2019 comes. Time really passes so quickly.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Quilts in December 2017

My winter break began on December 15, and I made three quilts by now, also, quilted for a big quilt and a small quilt for a customer after a looooong time. I felt it is getting harder for me to do because of presbyopia, though, I appreciate there are still people who ask me to quilt from my old address.

R and I were planning to visit friends in our previous place after Christmas, but we could not hold the place to stay this time. Instead, I can join a meeting of my new quilting group for making charity quilts activity. I think I will have fun.

So, about my work in the last 7 days!

Sometime in November, my friend asked me if I can make something special as a Christmas gift for her daughter who loves Japan and cats, so I promised to start working on it after the fall semester is over.



The backing is a fabric that I dyed this past summer. I thought it is convenient to have a stock of this kind of fabric - so I would do a lot of indigo dye this coming summer, maybe a few times if I can.

For a baby girl born in a Syrian Priest family we got to know each other because R was teaching him English, and we are invited to their periodical events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For a baby girl born in a boxer family who come to a the same gym that we go.

"Wa" table runners for etsy.

Ready for quilting - Hand-dyed big one for etsy. The top was made probably in summer.

Ready for quilting, 2 small ones with hand-dyed fabrics for etsy, approx. 50 x 50 inches. Finally, I am using fabrics I dyed in the last 2 summers.





Once I started to make quilts, it's difficult to stop! There are plenty of fabrics, and plenty of ideas of what I want to make. I am often overwhelmed by just thinking of my future projects.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thoughts after my last semester is over.

My last semester was finally over. I will walk in May 2018 for graduation with a degree in B.S. psychology (major) and environmental science (minor). But, I do not have a feeling yet that I am done with school. I am still working on my thesis, the due was postponed to the middle of January, because I could not get it much done in fall due to the process went inefficiently. Also, I am taking a short term class in January. I do not need credits for my degree anymore, but since my university issue a degree only in May, I can still take a class until May. Especially, the short term class is free for students who were full-time in fall. It is with one of my favorite professor. I am looking forward to it. When all are over, it will be the time for me to leave, and I will desperately miss my professors.

What college education brought me is a chaos. It introduced me a lot of perspectives and interpretations of wild nature, as that is the only way for humans to understand the world, which we call “knowledge” - and this is my conclusion at this point about what human knowledge is about. Because human’s sensors are insensitive to feel the reality, all we can do is to guess - “what is really out there?” Unlike animals who do not have a large brain, human need a brain to guess and think to “understand” the world, so human need a concept for everything to make senses only to humans. Animals without a large brain “know” the world because of sensitive sensors to feel the reality thus they do not need the brain to guess. In fact, all of human knowledge are based on and began with observations, guessing based on individual interpretations, and imaginations.

I think I am still looking for which or what belief system I want to belong that was established by others, or my own way to make sense out of the world. I think that is the only way to become full aware of my life. Psychologists and philosophers call this “actualizing self” that is the happiness for humans, and I agree with it.

There are too much of I do not know about, and I do not even know what I do not know about, so I will be a part time student at community college until I find my way of understanding the world, as R does. We never know what takes me to the “A-Ha!” moments and more A-ha! is better to obtain happiness - like my case.

It is interesting to look back my history about how I got to environmental study, and I see this discipline as part of my life now. It started with my advisor’s word “Why don’t you change your degree from B.A. to B.S.?” to adjust my transferred credits hours and required classes to take, etc. He also said “Human physiology is good to take for B.S. in PSY.” So I had to take Chemistry before physiology. Also, because I was interested in how culture works to maintain human society, so from psychological or sociological perspective, I took a class called “Food, Culture, and Social justice” which took me to start my organic garden. “Environmental Science” class that I took with the Food- class made me add environmental science for my minor.

In order to satisfy the requirement of my minor, I had to take “Environment and Politics” which made me think a lot about social injustice including how industrialized countries have been taking advantage of “developing” and “poor” countries, which the terms were given to them by Western culture, and I learned a lot about western perspective of the world from “Environmental Ethics.” Most importantly, “Ecology” made me think about my organic garden as a “Backyard Science” and get involved in it seriously.

As I am from Japan that has a very different culture (way of thinking), I think I identified myself with environmental study and sustainable life that encourages a simple life appreciating what nature give us. I had never thought of finding something that I can go with my culture in this country. The classes I took initiated by my advisor’s word led me to realize what is happiness for me, and I strongly believe that it is true that education will make people happy only when they are curious about how the world is operated at multiple layers from bacterial worlds to human thoughts, which are concrete to abstract; otherwise, people will fail and confused, and end up to merely follow what they are told to do and to study only for grades, then would conclude education is useless; furthermore, fall into a victim of capitalism.

I am very lucky person who was able to have R who always encourage me to take classes. He is still the best mentor of me. I now, also, have our girl Que. She gets attentions from us all the time. Our life revolve around her. This end of January will make a year with her. We think she likes her life with us, especially with our backyard.

Que’s reserved seat when I am playing with my compost.

At almost the end of 2017, I am looking forward to see what my life in 2018 will be like.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fighting with BUGS.

The other day, R said to me “You are becoming a real farmer.”

I hope to become a farmer – I know I can work in our garden only summer tho.

To become a professional farmer, the person required to have knowledge of chemistry, bugs, relationships of all kinds of bugs and plants, weather, etc, etc! I do not understand why farmers tend to be looked down upon as a occupation. Their knowledge is practical and useful as well unlike people who deal with non-practical ideas and get high salary. It does not make sense.

R and I discussed briefly having a chicken in the garden as a patroller of pests and I would love to, but it is not our reality now, maybe next year or a few years later. Right now, we have Que to find rodents. She seldom attacks them, just watch, though, I really do not want her to have a contact with rodents since they carry diseases, but it is good to have a cat to discourage them to live in our garden. It is amazing she seems to scan her environment very quickly and detects small movement on the ground that humans are not aware of.

We found a vole thanks to Que. I have not seen any voles after that, and have not had any damages. Just in case, I ordered peppermint oil to repel voles or mice.

Since I am popular among mosquitoes, I minimize to expose my skin as much as I can. Only my hands and face are exposed in my “farming” style. I wear long pants, long socks, T-shirt + arm covers, a towel on my head + hat. It is really hot, but as long as taking water often, no problems. I found it is very nice to feel breeze in soaked T-shirt by sweat. It takes me to a refrigerator from sauna within a second, and I can look forward to the next breeze. Exciting, isn’t it.

Arm cover (below).

And, cotton snood around my neck.

I found this is very useful to wipe sweat. Unlike a towel, it stays around my neck while working and just rotate it when the part attached to the neck get wet. I thought this is an excellent idea, so made some for sale and listed on etsy :) They are made with Japanese tenugui, cotton face towel. Cute, isn’t it?

My morning begins with a morning coffee served by R, Que, and R. Que often stays around the backyard and watches me working.

She often stays inside of the sun room as well. I cannot blame her since it’s so hot outside.

A few days ago, we had R’s birthday which is the day of harvesting the pumpkins being ready to cut.

The sizes of pumpkins are smaller than the one we had last year. I think it is because the one last year naturally began to grow from compost at where the pumpkin determined as the good place and the good time, but this year’s ones were planted where and when I liked. In other words, the last year’s one chose where and when to grow, but I chose the environment for this year’s ones.

I have some tomatoes this year that came out naturally and they are growing much better than the ones I planted. Even in the same bed, naturally growing ones and planted by me ones are growing differently. So, I expect to have a good crop from butternut squash and melon that came out from compost as well as the tomatoes this year. It can be said the same for flowers as well. It may be interesting to have a garden next year that is totally unknown what will be growing, but only the compost knows :)

So, about fighting with bugs as the title says.

I have an acquaintance who has a PhD with stink bugs. When I heard about her some years ago, people including me wondered “why stink bugs”? I see stink bugs in a house every winter but I did not mind it since they are harmless. They sometimes surprise me by flying loud or walking on my desk, but that’s it. This year, I realized stink bugs are pests for gardens.

Vegetables come from gardens and there is no garden without bugs. Bugs are everywhere, and millions of kinds of bugs are playing their roles in the ecosystem. We cannot live without bugs even pests since beneficial bugs feed on pests (adults or larva). Many people just do not realize how bugs are important for our life. But at the same time, we need to protect our food from pests. Using pesticide is not an option at all from the beginning of my garden life since it screws up the balance of the ecosystem by killing beneficial bugs and bacteria together, which makes the soil dead. It is just like a lie – one lie generates another lie to cover the first lie -, once the ecosystem balanced off, it keeps falling apart and the system itself collapses.

I do not control the population of the pests in my garden until I see the warning sign of my crop is destroyed. See first if beneficial bugs can take care of the pest and if not, I have to do something. I noticed that there are not many wasps around our garden this year. Wasps are necessary in a garden as they are predators that feed on many kinds of pests.

Tomato Hornworm that was able to grow large without a presence of wasps. This guy was really big as it reminded me of a pig. It intimidated me when realized to be attacked by swinging its body and the dance was strong enough to shake the tomato plants itself. It also sounded teeth to threatening me.

Harlequin stink bugs can destroy entire crops if not treated, in the turnip green and mustard green bed.

I was initially picking them by chopsticks and drop them into soapy water. But it appeared to me the population is large and I need to do something else. I did some research and learned the best trap for stink bugs introduced by Virginia Tech university research group as the best trap.

According to the research group, stink bugs are attracted to the light and dive into the soapy water in the pan directly. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. Since I realized stink bugs do not bite or sting, I started to catch them directly by my hands. Also, every time I pick the vegetable to eat, I often found a group of eggs on the back of leaf, so I was able to eliminate 50-100 future harlequin bugs every day. I now think their population is under control.

I did not know I actually took a good strategy without knowing about the harlequin bugs. Many farms seem to plant turnip greens and mustard greens for the bugs to protect the main crops such as kale, tomatoes, and squashes. Apparently, they eat most of plants, so giving them a home to stay and burn the bed when the population becomes large.

Another bug – Squash Vine Borer.

They live inside of vine of squash family such as pumpkin and zucchini. I did surgeries three times to take the larva out from pumpkin vines.

One of the plants survived, one is still alive, and one was dead but still left a pumpkin.

This is my second year of managing the vegetable garden, and is bringing me a lot of new experience. I hate to see my plants die due to these bugs, but this is merely a process of wild nature. There is a reason for plants to leave a lot of seeds for the next generation, that is because most cannot make it. I admire a plant that was able to grow big after so many possibilities of being abused by the environment.

I would be able to do better next year with my new experience from this summer, and I look forward to the next year already.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"You are in my prayers"

R's relative's mother has passed away yesterday.
The email from her included the phrase "Keep us in your prayers" which is very common in the U.S. Her email was very short and I have met her only once, but when I saw the phrase I felt what I did not feel before due to lack of my understanding of American culture.

6 years of college education (actually 7 years including an ESL year before being able to take credit classes. I took my first PSY class (101) in 2012 January) taught me a lot about the U.S. A lot of negative things, but people are the same everywhere. Culture, including religions accordingly, gives us a different mind set that derived from ways of survival based on what and how much resources we have. It's not something to fight about pursuing righteousness, we are just humans that can adapt environment.

I shrunk a lot by realizing how much I don't know and R knows much, much more than whole of my life, but my quality of life increased very much. He is my man, and we plan to marry after my graduation. He can put up with everything of me and gives me whatever I want, and we appreciate each other. I do not know what he is getting from me, but he says he won't leave me, so that's ok.

I did not know how "community" works in this country since it's a lot different from Japan. I think I made a huge mistake in Fairfax community, where I used live before moving here, when I left there. I did not make an official announcement to the group about I was leaving. I thought I would come back and nothing would be changed, but things do not go that way. Also, I misunderstood what individualism is as people do whatever they want when they want to do without restrictions or social obligations. I had some distance between them and me with confusions. My culture does not suggest to discuss private matters in public, but I felt people know everything about me from the events (which only people who know my history in Northern Virginia understand what I mean). I now realize that I was fully accepted there, but I, without knowing, rejected them. I kept myself quiet, but I think I should have opened my mouth more to explain who I am, but I did not know what to say since I thought I can't please them and I do not want to bother people.

I am hoping I can relate myself to people around me better with the new understanding of American culture in future. It would be difficult because I need to make myself comfortable as well by establishing me as an individual.

This summer, I am mentally too tired to go out to see people. I am so far skipping all of university's events and social gatherings that I was not supposed to miss, although I wanted to see a few people I like. My garden is my whole world right now hoping myself to charge energy for the next semester.

Every morning, I look forward to seeing the growth of R's birthday gift for this year.

I have almost a month. Hope they survive until then.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gardening Days

A month has passed since my summer break began. I have been enjoying working in my garden every day, which can be actually physical exercise by digging or tilling the ground to make new beds, transferring compost to the beds, and carrying bricks to frame the beds, etc. I got tanned this year as well as last year.

I am trying to do organic garden which rely on the ecosystem in my backyard to grow vegetables. I see there are many earthworms under the soil this year. Once a nice ecosystem is established, I do not have to worry about taking care of pests, sickness of plants, and fertilize the soil because all would be taken care of by the nature. I still need to protect leafs from butterflies trying to ray their eggs on by covering them with nets or something, though, I do not need pesticides and fertilizer also no tilling after the first year, which is the whole point of an organic garden.

I am realizing that I am taking more time to make compost than working with soil and taking care of the plants in my garden. Once the plants are planted, they grow without much of my hands. Also, I have not had a serious pest problem for far.

For example, I was wondering why ladybugs were staying on parsnip flowers even before many aphids appeared. They were even mating so often, and I understood they knew their food will appear soon.

Now the flowers are occupied by aphids,

and I started to see many ladybug's babies walking around the flowers that average 10 on the parsnip plant,

and I found they turned to be pupas today.

The parsnip flowers would be an excellent environment for the ladybugs with plenty of food. I hope they populate more and eat all the aphids up!

My garden speaks a lot to me every day. Since I wanted to record more details of my garden, I started a new twitter account only about my garden.

I can do the same on Facebook though, I do not want to overwhelm my Facebook friends by pictures of my garden every hour. Twitter is a convenient tool as it works the best on my iPad mini, but Facebook app works so slow, and crashes and freeze so often, which makes me use it less. Also, I do not have time to sit with my computer to make a new post on this blog every day either.

About Que.

She is officially an outdoor cat now. She has managed her first adventure beyond our backyard, and safely came back to home. She now knows where her home is. This is my first time to have an outdoor cat, so I am learning a lot about the part of cats that I did not know about.

I thought she was successfully became a friend with Vella (a female cat that belongs to the people who live in a house across the street),

but she rather stay around home or in our backyard very often lately.
I think she may be feeling that outside of her territory (home and the backyard) is a dangerous world. She has run into home immediately after she saw 4 dogs coming toward her in the next door's backyard, and she has been chased by a big orange cat on the street. I am happy she did not get panicked and eventually lost. So I enjoy her staying around me while I am working in my garden.

Sometimes, she looks so hot outside, but she does not go inside unless I go in. She may be a 50% dog and 50% cat.

We are soon in July. I cannot wait my plants grow faster.