Monday, November 30, 2009

Investment Opportunity

[read the text above the company name]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Garden Reclamation

Winter is growing season here so we start our planting now. I waited until returning from the U.S. to get things underway, so I got a good start on it this week. My planters sit all summer, mostly going dry and dead. I don't like the idea of just throwing seeds and water into them without giving them food, so I tried something a little different this year.

I went into the forest and gathered up about 5 of these bags worth of rotting leaf litter.

Then I layered it about two inches thick on the bottom of the planters (the leaves working as mulch and also a barrier to keep the dirt from escaping with the water), then layered dirt, more leaves, and another layer of dirt. It's my garden lasagne.

[I was quite surprised to find this big centipede with her ball of babies in the dry dirt of one of my planters]

Today I planted lettuce (4x), tomatoes (2x), basil/cilantro, green peppers, and carrots. I still have 2.5 planters empty and today I got enough dirt to fill two more. My garden better rock this year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The To-Do List, post-America trip

The former To-Do List:

*work in Japan long enough to pay off my student loans

*return to America, hike the Continental Divide Trail

*look into working with a wilderness therapy program and/or seasonal work

*save money

*buy property somewhere (NE Oregon tops the list)

*build a sustainable (ish) structure to store my life, make a cool garden

The new To-Do List:

*keep working in Japan

*save money

*plot how I can keep my life going outside America

My recent trip to America made me less sure that residing there is a long-term goal of mine. When I was in Peace Corps it was always a temporary position - returning to the U.S. afterwards was part of the plan. Maybe I felt more connected to home because I was getting paid by the U.S. government, or because it was my first time abroad? I'm not sure, but I don't ever remember seriously entertaining staying in Palau longer or moving directly on to another country.

I do remember my flight home from Palau, though, because I said "I've got to get abroad again."

It took me longer (three years) than I anticipated, but I made it back out and lucked into a good life. When I signed up for JET, I thought I might do it for a year or two - long enough to pay off my student loans. But I didn't expect to get a good placement. I don't have any big career or higher education goals (aren't you proud, mom?), so my time here is indefinite. Actually, I don't have many future plans at all, so nothing is pressing me to move my life in a different direction.

With that said, I do think about what could be next. My default plan was to move back to the U.S. and do any number of seasonal jobs I am qualified for while saving my money for a piece of land somewhere. But my last trip to the U.S. turned me off to that idea for at least the immediate future. I have no political aspirations, either, so I can say this: The U.S. didn't do anything for me. Of the few things left that I thought I missed, I was mostly wrong. (I was right about a dog, though. I really wish I could have a good hunting dog along for the ride.)

My desire to eat American food was less than in years past, though I was still looking forward to a few dishes. But I was mostly let down with the food quality and the massive portion sizes (don't get me wrong, I dislike leaving a restaurant hungry, but for some reason I feel more content after a smaller meal in Japan than I did with huge plates of food in the U.S.). (Oh, and mom, your mud pie was great!) I was also looking forward to watching a baseball and football game on TV. I got to see both and was disappointed. The advertising is overwhelming and the color commentators are just filling the space with empty words.

Those were the little things. The big things (politics, sprawl, environmental disregard) hit me pretty hard, too.

It's good for me to get over my American desires because I don't think it's healthy to be living a vicarious American life from another country. I feel really free for having so little in common with America anymore. Sure, I would still take some cheese, chocolate chips, and cheap butter off base, but I also have a box of Captain Crunch (a gift) that's been sitting on my shelf for months. In Peace Corps I would've enjoyed that cereal slowly. Now I only have a desire to get rid of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


If videos went viral within the three islands I teach on, my footage of Abby the dog would be getting me interviews on morning talk shows. The kids here LOVE Abby. When I asked the kids in early October what they wanted to see video of from the U.S, all three islands responded resoundingly with "Abby!" I couldn't believe they even remembered her name (from last year's videos).

This demand actually played a role in securing Abby's spot on the trip, which was in question until I appealed. Fortunately, she delivered. Over half the videos I'm showing during my 45-minute "American slideshow" classes are of Abby - and it wouldn't be enough if she filled the entire period. We have dogs here, but they don't fetch nor do they have this kind of personality.

Here's a couple of the favorites:

Friday, November 20, 2009

American Food Prices

I was hoping to bring back an American newspaper with grocery store ads, but the recycling truck beat me to it. So I swiped a Seattle Times from a first-class seatback on the airplane and made due.

The kids were pretty fascinated with their first American newspaper. The most glaring difference is that the pages turn left, not right. The dimensions are also noticeably skinnier and there is much more white space. Also, it's in English.

I did find this Fred Meyer food ad within the pages:

The prices are unusually low, but I still converted them for comparison and blew the kids away. I'm sure they won't remember the numbers, only that food in America is far cheaper than Japan, which was the point I was after.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Returning Home

One of the big dilemmas upon returning to Japan is deciding what to bring along from America. Last year I was selfish and brought mostly hard-to-get food and clothing items for myself. But I've adjusted my habits enough that this year my only food items were two bulk bags of yeast, two bulk bottles of cinnamon, a large bottle of vanilla extract, a big bag of gummy bears, and some energy bars. I had a couple pieces of clothing and a couple pairs of shoes, but most of the remaining room was allotted for other people.

Patagonia is popular in Japan, but it's quite expensive here (usually about 40% more than U.S. prices). I'm a good online shopper so I advertised my services to the local kayak shop and pretty quickly had a long list of things to buy.

I returned with 23 pieces of clothing, all of it at least 75% off of Japanese prices:

I also have to buy omiyage, or gifts, for the people I know well. So something for each of the three teachers' rooms, the Board of Education, the eisa group, and many individuals. I also filled half of one of my bags with elk and pheasant meat to give away to close friends.

I'm going to address a question from the comments here: how do I get meat back across international lines? The short answer is just not to say anything when going through customs. But the longer answer is that I checked with a customs agent a few months back and he said deer meat is okay to bring it. The problem, if I were checked, would be proving that this meat is from a wild ungulate. The packaging from the butcher says "elk", but that's hardly a guarantee for the likes of people responsible for intercepting bovine illnesses. So I would have to have my meat USDA certified as deer to be guaranteed entry. But this is not possible since the meat wasn't raised on a farm. So the alternative to USDA certification is just to check the box the says "I am not bringing in any illegal meat products." I can't prove it (and as such, you can take it away), but I promise you they're not illegal under Japanese law.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Montana Pheasant Hunting

The Colorado elk hunt ended early because I couldn't find any elk, so we moved on to Montana for some pheasant hunting. I had great luck on the first day, filling my limit of three birds within my first four shots. Then I went on to miss the next twenty birds on the ensuing two days.

This storm started coming in out of the west on the second morning. The winds were really strong, so we had to hunt into the wind so the birds would struggle to get up and fly away.

[fortunately all of the precipitation went around us]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Colorado Hunting Pictures

[where there's elk and barbwire fences, there's evidence]

[elk are known to eat the bark off standing aspens during deep winter snows or fallen aspens anytime]

[I found this blood trail with man prints following it out]

[An hour later I found the blood trail again, minus the man prints. I followed it for two more hours, but it was over 24 hours old and going in the wrong direction so I gave up]

[an old mining sluice box I found many miles from the nearest road]

[chips at 9200']

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Colorado Hunting Pictures

The Colorado portion of the hunting trip didn't go so well. I saw just one cow elk on opening day, then no more. The two feet of snow we got on the Wed/Thurs before season opened likely contributed to the huntable elk migrating to lower elevations (private property) where we couldn't hunt. We ended up leaving two days early from Colorado to move on to the Montana pheasant hunting leg of the trip.


[-12C, +12F]

[the outhouse, and Abby the dog]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Anatomy of Our Hunting Camp

For a few years now, we've been able to pull together my dad, his three brothers, and me for elk hunting. I'm the youngest by a lot, so my role is to try and bring back an elk for the camp. The old guys do their best, too, and my dad has killed an elk each of the last two years. But their real joy is the camp. They love setting everything up, cutting the firewood, and constantly plotting about improvements for next year. They've got a system which is so regimented that I'd prefer to be out scouting while they set up, but it's best to stick around and contribute.

[the last bit of packing up in NM before leaving for CO]

[arriving in Colorado]

We have a 14' x 16' canvas wall tent with a homemade, enclosed veranda off the front. Inside there are four cots (and five people - guess where I sleep..), a stove, and two tables for cooking and food preparation. The bottom is lined with a tarp and there are hooks hanging from all the tent frame bars to hang clothes and boots on (I hang my boots from the peak of the tent so they dry out each night).

My uncle Barrie is a former logger and all the old Clumpner guys love wood cutting about as much as they love elk hunting. Without fail, we always cut about twice as much wood as we need (don't worry, we only take dead trees). And every year, I start complaining when we're halfway through our wood cutting and already have a month's supply.

[about one-third of our supply for a week's stay]

[this is hazy because my cold lens fogged up when I came inside the warm tent]