Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Flowerbeds and Family Politics

One of the few sad results of our recent home improvement was that we lost a lot of the garden in front. Last year we dug it back about three meters to make room for the expansion. This year we dug it back a little more and also cleared out a wide swath of trees, rocks, and potted plants to create more space for the workers. It made perfect sense while the work was in progress. After it was done, however, we were left with a sadly barren, lonely-looking, clay-filled gap between the house and the remaining garden.

That got my creative wheels turning.

I asked my in-laws if they minded if I did a bit of landscaping on my own. My MIL thought it sounded like a great idea. My FIL, who is strangely reluctant to let me do any kind of work myself (even while he gripes that I never do enough around the homestead), told me it would probably be too much trouble and recommended I just let it be for the time being. It only took a little bit of pressing for him to change his mind and give me his blessing. The timing was just right. A combination of substitute holidays for Ye Olde Academy's sports festival and Golden Week gave me several days in a row to play with and nothing in particular to do (not to mention the in-laws and our children being gone for a couple of days), so I decided to use that time and beautify the ground in front of the house.

The first thing I did was lay down a sort of brick patio next to the porch. It wasn't particularly big, so I didn't bother going to too much effort. No gravel bed or matting underneath, just a good, strong loam made of mud, sand, and ash to glue the bricks in place. It took a bit to get the ground flat but not perfectly level (to allow drainage). Unfortunately, the grade of the land meant one corner was up against a dirt bank, and I discovered water tended to pool up there, washing mud back onto the patio before draining off. I solved that problem by digging a shallow trench around the patio, filling it with decorative gravel, and also extending a small drainpipe from the corner bank.

Next I set a brick step into the bank and laid down a small path of decorative gravel between the garden and the house. I used some old ceramic roof tiles to shore up the dug-out bank of the garden. I also hauled some leftover stones from where they'd been dumped and arranged them so that they secured the bank over the patio, protected the drainpipe, walled one side of the path, and formed a circular flowerbed. I knew it would probably be a good idea to wall off the other side of the path with bricks or something, but I decided to wait. After all, I had already put in a good many hours of work (and a fair amount of money) on the thing, and I was tired.

My in-laws, with our children in tow, came back the evening after I finished, and they were surprised and impressed at my bit of landscaping. They both said I'd done an excellent job and told me to keep it up. Then my FIL asked me if I planned to plant something in the circular flowerbed. I said yes, but I was still thinking about it. Then my MIL informed me that my uncle-in-law (the carpenter who built our house) had given us some lily seeds from Hokkaido. I said that would be great, but I recommended they wait until my work in that area was finished.

The next day we were hit by heavy rains that lasted all day. I was worried my work would be washed away, but apparently my makeshift drainage system worked. Not only did the patio, step, path, and flowerbed remain intact, but the patio stayed remarkably clear of water even during heavy downpours. I was relieved, and I patted myself on my back for having done a good job.

Then I came home from work the next day and just about puked. You see, my work had survived the weather okay, but it had been less fortunate against FIL's cavalier attitude. You see, he had decided to go ahead and plant the lilies in my flowerbed immediately instead of doing as I'd asked and waiting for me to finish my work. The soil in the flowerbed had still been hard-packed clay, so he'd gone at it with a hoe with his usual, recklessly cavalier "whatever works for me" attitude...flinging dirt and rocks in all directions. The patio (and our house's front porch) was covered with mud. There were also little heaps of dirt and clods all over the decorative gravel path. Several of the large stones had been knocked all over the place by the hoe and/or FIL's careless tromping about, damaging the bank, screwing up the shape of the flowerbed, and burying the drainpipe.

I confronted FIL with the issue (albeit politely, since I just wasn't in the mood for a spat and might have killed him if one happened), and he was totally unapologetic. He'd been totally unaware of my design plans for the area (even though MIL understood perfectly and got on his case about it), and he frankly didn't give a damn. The only thing that mattered to him was that he'd gotten the lilies planted.

"Those are Hokkaido lilies," he said in his Great Educator tone, offering up one of those pure, unadulterated bullshit meaningless, self-glorifying (self-deifying?) lectures that make me want to wring the mother fucker's scrawny neck that he's so famous for whenever he can't explain his actions logically. "You have to understand that the soil we have here is special soil. It's unusual. There's nothing like it anywhere else in this neighborhood or even on this property. It's just perfect for Hokkaido lilies. Nothing else will work for them, especially store-bought soil. They have to be planted now, and they have to be planted there. Nothing else matters right now."

"Alright," I said more than a little menacingly, "the lilies are fine. However, I will fix the damage you caused, and I'd appreciate it if you'd be a bit more careful next time you suddenly decide to go in there while I'm out."

As I left, MIL started scolding him, but he just shook his head and said, "Whatever."

It was already dark, but I took the opportunity of uncovering the drainpipe and replacing the stones as best I could. This morning before I left for work I swept off the porch and patio, but couldn't get them clean. I'm hoping to straighten the rest up and do a bit more landscaping later in the week, but I'm almost afraid to go home today. I'm almost worried he either dug up the flowerbed worse, making an even bigger mess, or decided the flowerbed wasn't big enough and wiped everything out. No, I wouldn't put it beyond him...especially since he seems to have a problem with the idea of me doing anything without his "involvement". And now we no longer have the luxury of my uncle-in-law to keep him from shoving his nose in and screwing everything up. politics...

UPDATE: Well, I came home from work today after all (obviously), and what I found surprised me. The patio was dirty again, as expected, though not as bad this time. It turns out that FIL apparently decided that the "special soil" wasn't special enough, because he had filled my flowerbed with a nice, thick layer of fresh topsoil (clearly from somewhere else...on top of the 20 lily seeds he'd planted?)...and then apparently run through it with his wheelbarrow so he could start weeding the rear part of the garden! (What was he saying about not planning to do anything in that garden because it was too much trouble and he had too many other things to do? Oh, well!) He'd cleared some of the stones to allow the wheelbarrow passage, but nothing that couldn't be easily fixed. He'd also put in a new wall of cement blocks between my flowerbed and the area next to the fish pond, which was a good idea. And he left the drainpipe alone. It looks like he cleaned up some of the dirt he'd dumped on the gravel path, too, so I guess I'd better chill.

Hopefully I'll get more pleasant than unpleasant surprises with this thing...


  • Family politics happen most of the time especially in Asian family :D

    By Blogger Selba, at 5:07 PM  

  • Regardless of the setbacks, I congratulate you on your ability to drain water from where it pools and your work in general. Landscaping is hard work. Maybe you can carefully collect of his flung dirt clods and place them on your FIL's front step as a friendly reminder to stay clean in your garden. (it is probably smart to omit the animal manure in a burning paper sack when you do this.)

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:25 PM  

  • Ha! He sounds like a MIL, and way to go for your actual MIL sticking up for you (wonder if that's ever been said before in the history of in-laws...)

    Sounds like a good job, you must share a pic with us once all is settled and done.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:20 AM  

  • I may sound a bit nikurashii, but after reading your post, I feel glad that I am not living with my in-laws... here at our garden, my missus and I have have our own assigned plots and we have an agreement not to do anything to the other plot without prior permission... otherwise, there will be fireworks...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 3:00 PM  

  • Oh I jsut love your father-in-law who wants to have it all his way! Lilies of the Field? Bless his heart.
    Okay, stop simmering, yeah, in-laws are not always fun.
    I never met my father-in-law because he died in the 40s quite young, but his photo does look fearsome. My mother-in-law was a real sweetie and if the grandchildren were naughty all she did was make up a funny name for them.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 6:29 PM  

  • I could tell you how to make a lovely bamboo "whip trap" for your garden. Sure to surprise your FIL. :D

    (i'm joking of course)

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:53 PM  

  • Selba
    Oh, yeah, I'm sure they do. After all, this is the land where a typical boss will refuse any request you make and then turn around and suggest the same thing to you as if it were his idea. (Funny...I once had an American manager here in Japan who did the same thing...because he was so determined to do everything "the [stereotypically] Japanese way".)

    Well, it was probably all in vain. He buried the drainpipe again, told me I couldn't put a drainpipe there (because it might actually drain water[duh!] a part of the yard no one uses!? Can't have that!), insisted I put a drainpipe in a different place (where it would somehow flow the main path everyone uses!? It has always been that way![?]), and when I attempted to get him to see a little basic physics if not reason he suggested that he dig up my entire patio and redo it himself. I think you can guess my reaction to that.
    Dirt clods on his doorstep? He probably wouldn't even notice. When it comes to his home lifestyle, the man is a slob.

    I don't know if I'll ever have a pic worth showing. FIL did even more damage today. I repaired it as best I could, but he has suddenly somehow found time to launch into a whole new project in the same area (i.e. digging his way around cavalierly with no concern for my work whatsoever), and it looks pretty sad. The man has all the aesthetic sense of a baboon, and he openly declares such concerns irrelevant (which makes me wonder why he even bothers with a garden, but anyway...). Now he's trying to order me to drop the project and work on something else (taking care of his garbage) so that he can continue hijacking it. Fat chance. At any rate, it may be a long time if ever before I'll be able to take a pic that isn't horribly embarrassing. Right now it's a mess.

    Oh, how I envy you...!

    I was simmering, but now I'm on the verge of a high-pressure boil. It's bad enough that my FIL is so meddlesome and arrogant that he can't abide my doing anything without interfering if not taking over, but the fact that the man is so hopelessly thick as a brick...face it, the man is laughably out of touch with reality...often making a total mess of things and then trying to blame me for it... Not always fun? What an understatement!

    I'm all ears.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:19 PM  

  • Hey, if you think I'm going a bit overboard, it's a lot better for me to vent out my frustrations here and feel calmer tomorrow than it would be to explode and do something that would wreck our family permanently.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:54 AM  

  • this is partly what blogs are for - to help us keep an even keel, to vent in the absence of friends right there in the moment.

    "aesthetic sense of a baboon" Hahaha :D

    By Blogger Olivia, at 3:37 AM  

  • your in laws sound like a handful :)..i cant even stand my parents sometimes with their meddling...problem is its "rude" to talk back or say they did something wrong..hence i just repeat under my breath "grass is green and sun is yellow"..calms me down :p

    By Blogger memo, at 8:53 AM  

  • You shouldn't berate your FIL on the internet like that. He might read your blog and that would break his heart.

    On the other hand, what in the world is he obcessed with ruining all your hard work for?


    By Blogger Pa've, at 12:47 PM  

  • Olivia
    Yeah, let's hear it for the internet, the ultimate in psychotherapy! (Or was that "the ultimate cause of mental disturbance? I'm not sure...)

    Yes, it's unthinkably rude to talk back here, too, but I have been with increasing frequency. I don't want to fight with the in-laws because it hurts my wife and makes it harder for the kids, but my patience has limits, and FIL can't seem to understand that. Having been a (notoriously hard-assed and notoriously sneaky) high school principal, he's too accustomed to everyone just dealing with whatever BS he shovels out and jumping whenever he snaps his fingers. I won't, and I don't. That's the problem.

    Grass is green, sun is yellow. Good! Grass is green, sun is yellow. The bricks he plopped mud all over are sand-colored. The decorative gravel he tossed around and/or buried is five-colored. The grass he dug up (while complaining my work was damaging the grass) is green, the...&%$#*!!!!

    1. He has trouble turning his computer on, let alone surfing the internet.
    2. He doesn't have an internet connection yet, and I doubt he ever will.
    3. His English ability isn't anywhere near enough to understand that, so I doubt it'll break his heart. (Besides, I admit that in the past I have said similar things to his Japanese...when he pushed me too far.)

    Why is he obsessed with ruining my hard work? To be honest, one of the reasons I waited till they left on a trip during Golden Week to start my project was because I just knew he would interfere otherwise. He can't seem to handle my doing anything without his personal involvement (and ability to claim credit...or pass blame). If he sees me doing anything, no matter how trivial, how mundane, how obvious, or how totally beyond his scope of knowledge, he WILL intervene, often in a very patronizing and insulting manner.

    He is the guy who, when I once asked him if I could borrow a battery for a TV remote control, actually grabbed the remote control out of my hands and said, "Don't worry. This doesn't need to be fixed. I realize America probably hasn't developed these yet, but here in Japan most things use these." He pointed at the open battery chamber. "These are called 'batteries'. Okay? 'Batteries'. 'Bat-te-ries'. Do you understand? 'Batteries'. Remember that. Also, you have to change them from time to time, or things don't work!"

    (I said, "Very good. Now why the hell do you think I was asking you if I could BORROW A BATTERY just now, huh? Hmm...maybe because I wanted to CHANGE IT??" His response was the usual sigh and shaking of head, i.e. I'm such an ill-mannered, ungrateful child...)

    There have been many incidents like this.

    Of course, if he screws up whatever it is I'm doing, he tells everyone it's all my fault, and if I manage to do something successfully without his interference, he still claims credit for it. Yes, that's the sort of person he is. He was famous for that when he was a principal, and he's famous for that here at home. The man is both a glory hog and an ass-kisser, not to mention a type-A control type.

    Yes, I'm still stressed out about this. At least it's raining now, so I might not come home and find out something else has been wrecked...though I'm almost starting not to care anymore for the sheer sake of self-preservation.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:47 PM  

  • Man... just man...

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 11:22 PM  

  • OK, I take back, feel free to ventilate.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:01 AM  

  • in-laws.... gotta love them? hmmm... not sure about that, but i'm glad he helped out and did some work, even tho he made somewhat of a mess during.

    the place sounds great. do you guys have that wonderful japanese grass? it's quite expensive here but you can get it. we're thinking of putting some down, but not sure if the gardener can maintain it and such. it's a hard one to grow in this weather. it's soooo soft though!

    By Blogger Tania, at 6:40 AM  

  • MM, strange, such antics are normally committed by the MILs, not the FILs. I guess yours is just extraordinary. Take it easy though. All things will pass.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 7:22 PM  

  • UPDATE: I might be one of the only people to read your update because my RSS sniffer was alerted. Nonetheless, I hope your work is preserved and enjoyed for a while to come.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:31 AM  

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