Charting life's circuitous path

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Gardening in the City

Review: City Pickers Planter Box

We share our breakfast with a cute little guy.  His twin dark stripes running down his back and little tufty tail mark him clearly as a chipmunk.  We call him Chipper.  Okay, not original, but naming him makes him our little guy.  (Even though it’s impossible to tell if it’s the same chipmunk stuffing its cheeks at the feeder. 😮 )  We’ve yet to name the squirrels, dark red cardinals and sparrows, but Chipper is the reason we keep our feeder well stocked.  Nothing makes me smile more broadly than seeing his fat cheeks.citypick1

I keep a number of container plants on our patio and he loves to dart around and over them as he scopes out his territory.  My mother sighs in exasperation at the squirrels that dig little holes into her dirt, but I think it’s cute.  It’s not like the plants are ever hurt and it reminds me that even the animals have bad memories.

Gardening, though, takes a lot of effort – there’s the planning, buying, potting, pruning and of course, the never ending watering.  Since it’s Spring, I’m  stamping my green thumb all over my small patio with glee, but the real work is only beginning.

My May flowers are definitely filling up the muddy corners and giving everything a touch of (in my case) pink.  Inexplicably, I seemed to have gravitated towards varying shades of pink this year.  Noticing the pink trend in the checkout line, I panicked and thought about swapping out for, say, purple or orange, but I had already envisioned the plants in my pots.   This is the gardening equivalent of trying on an outfit in the fitting room.  Once you picture it in, say, the blue pot on the light blue stand, you might as well put them in the cart and move on.  🙄

citypick2In the past, I used to plant a lot of veggies.  Growing up, vegetables fresh from the garden were an integral part of summer, and I have continued that in our containers. In past apartment balconies, tomatoes grew like weeds and green peppers would be prepped and frozen to keep up with the summer yields.  In our current apartment, I’ve found that I can grow less vegetables due to the limited sunshine.  Our electric bill is lucky to have a tree shading our patio doors, but it isn’t so lucky for the tomatoes.  With only about 4 hours of direct sun, I don’t get the kind of production that an 8 hour day used to provide.  So, I scaled down, both in numbers and in expectations (course, that didn’t stop me from sneaking outside and surreptitiously cutting overhanging limbs like a vandal when no one was around).  😈

However, I’m hoping to change that with my new planter.


It’s called City Pickers and I saw it in my local Home Depot for about $30.  It promised high yields and a solution to my watering problem (by utilizing a self-watering system).  It also piggybacked on the raised bed idea with its square box shape (24.5 in x 20.5 in) – a great shape, btw, for stability and  quantity.  Nothing tips faster than a top-heavy tomato plant in a round planter.   Amazon reviews were pretty positive, so it’s now sitting on my patio.

The best thing about it?  It has wheels (they aren’t attached yet in the picture).  Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll grow twice the produce or keep my plants watered, but the very fact that I can cart it around easily to chase the sun is a major plus.

Filling the planter with dirt is a bit trickier – you need a specific type of dirt (potting mix and not soil – not sure why), fertilizer (granular and not powder or liquid – again, not quite certain why), and dolomite (which I skipped since its use received bad reviews online and I couldn’t find any at my garden center). Reading the directions is a must.  You have to pre-moisten the soil, set up the planter with the appropriate fixtures and layer the “ingredients” precisely.  It didn’t leave me kicking the pot in anger, but I came close when I had filled it halfway and then realized that I had forgotten to insert the drainage cover.  Yeah, definitely read (and follow!) the directions.

Once you fill it, it supposedly holds quite a number of plants (up to eight, if the image is to be believed), but I was a bit reluctant to overfill.  For one, as much as they want to call it a raised bed, it’s only raised in so far as being “above” ground.  It isn’t a raised bed in any traditional sense with more dirt underneath.  Also, plants needs space – especially plants like tomatoes, peppers and other heavy vegetables.  So, I planted one tomato (a Cherokee purple plant), and two yellow banana peppers.  I’m going to see how they do before I plan for next season.


The biggest downside to the planter is the provided cover, which is really just a black “shower cap” for your pot.  Supposedly you plant your seedlings through cut holes, but if you’re planting anything you’ve bought from the garden center, then you’ll have to cut such large holes to make it useless.  I attempted to do this with my small tomato plant and gave up.  I might try to cut it up once the heat of summer arrives, but right now, I put it away and the plants are just going to have to live without.

Pros:  Great size for patios, wheels!, attractive vegetable pot

Cons: A bit misleading in advertisement (not really a raised bed, and they make it seem much easier to put together than it is), complicated soil directions, difficult to use cover, inconsistent pricing online (not really a fault of the product, but definitely something to look our for)

I like the planter, but so far, it’s really just a glorified square pot on wheels.  I’m hoping it’ll live up to at least two of its claims (being self-watering and providing high yields), but I’ll have to update this post when summer is over and the verdict is in.   Still, it’s a nice pot if you have the space and I can see myself using it for many summers to come.



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For the Time Being

I am Japanese American.

There’s no disputing that.  My Japanese mother and white American father places me smack dab into that category even if my second grade teacher couldn’t answer my race question when I asked her as a small student filling out her standardized test form.

But I don’t always feel so identifiable.  Sometimes I feel more American than Japanese, like when I buy my groceries at my local Japanese store and the most I can understand is the welcome and leaving greetings. Other times I don’t even think about it and just feel like, well, me.

For most of my life, though, it hasn’t been something I could ignore.  The relentless taunting in elementary school, and later the odd comments about blood purity percentages and the selective deafness from strangers never left me doubting just where I stood.

ozekiI read a lot of books, but rarely do I read books that strike so close to who I am.  Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, however, struck hard and quick.

It’s a very complicated story, in that I would be doing it a great disservice to try to condense it here.  Trust me when I say that this is truly a tale that crosses boundaries – with time, ethics and age.  It weaves a tale that forces you to question existence, self-identity, and perception.  It questions what it means to be “noticed” and to “not notice” or be forgotten.  It taps into how we view our own agency and what gives our lives value.

I was moved many times during this book and it was the first time when a novel touched something so deep within me that I rarely want to face.

Race has always been up front and center for me.  When your father is American and you’re living in Japan, you get noticed.  When you’re back in America but you’re still the only Asian kid in the school, you don’t forget it. Every time you go to visit someone’s house and realize just how different their home is compared to yours, you don’t invite them over.  It wasn’t shame, exactly.  It was more playacting – trying to separate who I was at home from what I was beyond my front porch.

It was, for the longest time, my way of dealing with being different.

It wasn’t fulfilling.

In fact, it made life even more difficult.  Nao, the teenage girl in the book, lives a double life.  She keeps what’s happening to her at school separate from her home.  The one time it does cross, it brings the reality of her situation into the light and she’s forced to face it.

While I was verbally bullied at school growing up, I was never bullied to the extent that Nao experiences.  However, I can relate to her wanting something that made her special and strong – she developed her “super power” while I did my best to be a “super American”.  I focused heavily on studying and being smarter than everyone else, I never brought up my background in a social setting and pretended that my home life was identical to theirs.  I did whatever I could to make myself be “normal”.

And while it did give me the strength to get through it all, it didn’t help my self-esteem.  I found myself hating what I looked like even more because it wasn’t something I could change.  A new pair of the hottest pants and the latest top might make me fit in, but I couldn’t change my eyes or the shape of my face.

After a few unsuccessful life “resets,” I slowly came to realize that the only way to truly love myself wasn’t to deny who I was or to create a new me, but to be me.  happiness

The girl with the curly blond haired, hazel eyed hubby.

The girl with the house where you automatically take off your shoes at the door and eat mochi at New Year’s.

The girl with the slanted eyes, quirky skirts, and dark brown hair with natural red tints that’s a bit dad and a bit mom.

The girl that’s part Japanese and part American.

I still haven’t fully come to terms with my dichotomy.  Even as I type this, I remember everything and it’s difficult to contain it all.  I want to talk about everything all at once.  There are days when those evil words come and haunt me right back in the mirror.  There are even days when I still encounter people who feel as if they need to remind me of what I am.  I still struggle.

But I have discovered that it’s also okay to be me.  In fact, without the other, I’m not me.

It’s that realization that helps me get through the tough moments.

(Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is a bit graphic and a whole lot of sad, but it’s a wonderful book about learning to build your life on your own set of rules.  I highly recommend it and would love to hear from those that have read it.)

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Review: Kristi Yamaguchi’s Power Workout DVD

Power Workout by Kristi Yamaguchi


(Image from Amazon)

Beginning Observations:  I found this dvd in my rather small library tucked between the many walking for fitness dvds (I really ought to try one of those out – I mean, how do they work exactly?).  I don’t keep up with pop culture or celebrities, so I can’t tell you what she’s been up to since her Olympic days, but she looked bright, happy and fit on the cover.  It helped that the dvd boasted circuit workouts – I love circuit and interval workouts and I try to do a few tough ones weekly.  I needed something fresh, so I picked it up.  Couldn’t hurt to see, right?

Overall Response:  Well, actually, it did hurt.  My arms and legs were quite a bit sore the day after, and that, for me, was a good sign.  I’ve been exercising consistently for a couple of years now and your body does reach a stage where a lot of the routines you used to do don’t seem as effective anymore.  Where once I panted, now I only breathe more deeply.  Trippy feet have leveled out and can execute the moves more smoothly.  All good news, of course, but I like to feel challenged now and then, so I was thrilled that this dvd left me remembering it the next day.

The 3 circuits printed on the dvd are actually more like 3 types of exercises: aerobic, strength and abs.  You rotate through two of the types (aerobic and strength) multiple times and then end on ab and back exercises.  Each rotation is a few minutes long and each one contains different levels of exertion.  Want to do high impact?  Great! Follow along with Kristi. Want something lighter?  Sure!  Follow along with the trainer.  It allows for adjustment that some dvds leave out and which I appreciated (I tend to opt for the high impact, so it’s good that they offer you that option).

There isn’t a lot of extra talking and the trainer (Erin) guides you through each exercise so you can do them correctly.  The lighting is bright, the setting is cozy enough, the music is just this side of peppy, and Kristi smiles all the way through.  Okay, so I know that she can do this routine and probably more without breaking a sweat, but it feels real when she’s struggling along with you as you try to complete the triceps exercises.

My only complaint is that it doesn’t let you customize it beyond selecting a section, but that’s okay.  Generally I want to do it all and if not, it’s easy enough to stop (ain’t that the truth!).

Rating:  5 stars.

This is definitely a good one to keep in your own library.  My copy definitely gets its own rotation throughout the month and I enjoy it each time.

(As with everything on my blog, I’m not paid crumbs for anything I write. Course, if they offered me cake… 😉 )