Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Release Your Barriers

Sometimes words of wisdom come out of the mouth of babes...

There are many, many things I love about being a mom. One of the things I probably love the most is that my kids keep me on my toes and offer me daily surprises.

Whether intended or not, Wrenn amused me about a year ago while we were "challenge clothes shopping" - which is a good thing because as you will see, there is nothing amusing about shopping with her. Here's the short-list of what her clothes cannot have: pink/purple/any pastel colors, hearts (that includes all Roxy, because even though Roxy has "cool hip clothes" they have a heart in their logo), butterflys, flowers, any type of embellishment. No scoop necks, no v-necks, no cap sleeves, no boat necks. No gathering/smocking/pleating. No stripes. No polka dots. It should go without saying that skirts/skorts/dresses are out of the question.

So while trying to find anything that would fit into these parameters - standing in Target, surrounded by clothes - I said "Really Wrenn? There's absolutely nothing here that you would consider wearing?" To which she replied "Well, perhaps I should release my barriers." I still get a laugh out that when I think of it. At least she recognizes that she has barriers. At 11.

While living here in Japan I have tried hard to follow my daughter's words of wisdom and to release my barriers and try new and different things. And so, this week I went to Kinokuniya a sort of Sutton Place/Whole Foods Market type of store in Kamakura. They had a girl standing offering samples, and what caught my eye was the colorful combination on the trays. I stood back, trying to figure out what she was serving and she turned and held out a toothpick wrapped with the green vegetable. With Wrenn's voice in my head, "release your barriers" I accepted the sample and tried it. It was quite good. She proceeded to offer me a sample of each of the vegetables and I was sold. Having no idea what I just ate (she did speak a little English and assured me they were all vegetables) I picked up the package and headed to the checkout.

Today, be inspired, try something new. Release your barriers.

Monday, March 29, 2010


The cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan. The blooming of the cherry blossoms signifies the arrival of spring and the beginning of the new academic school year as well as the new fiscal year for businesses. Cherry blossoms are also a symbol of a bright future.

Jeff and I had a date on Saturday to go to Sankein Gardens in Yokohama to participate in hanai (flower viewing). It has been cold and rainy here for the last couple of weeks and most of the trees had still not reached their full bloom, but for the few that were open they were beautiful. Nature at it’s best … signifying a bright future. Inspiring.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


“Her joyful attitude toward life is one we could all espouse and one that I aspire to myself. She is a universal goddess who bids us all know what is amusing in life and in other people. She is a fount of generosity, of sharing her own abundance.”

Excerpt from Otafuku, Joy of Japan by Amy Katoh

Otafuku - I love her, she makes me smile and fills my heart with joy. I found this version of Otafuku laid out with a myriad of items at a recent shrine sale. She seemed to be laughing up at me and saying “take me if you dare.” I pulled out my Yen and after a swift negotiation, she was mine.

In Japanese, “fuku” means good fortune. I’ve had the good fortune to live in this country for just over 8 months now and nearly every day I find something here that lifts my heart and inspires me. I will hang her in our home and with her joyful face encouraging me, I will continue to seek out and discover Japan. Inspiring.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ueki no Te Ire

Ueki no Te Ire (the care of shurbs or ornamental landscape trees)

Ornamental trees, like the one at left, are found everywhere here in Japan. I saw this one in front of a house on a recent walk in Kamakura. With an interest in gardening and a background in art, I find these trees fascinating. Landscape art. With the click of a mouse I have discovered that there are formal classifications for the different styles of pruning, Matus Zukuri, Kuruma Shitate are two examples. The different styles remind the viewer of mountains off in the distance, or a large windswept tree clinging to an ocean-side cliff.

I think they're beautiful. The time and patience it must take to shape nature and wait for the image in the artists head to emerge is truly inspiring.

For more information you can go to http://www.giantbonsai.com/.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Expect the unexpected

The Japanese are spoiling me. I can already foresee having "issues" when I return to the states. The high standards that are a daily part of life here, will become expectations unmet back home. Now don't get me wrong - I am still an American through and through - I have not gone "native." But I do think there is a lot, a whole lot, that U.S. citizens could learn from the Japanese. They are polite, oh so polite. Their service is impeccable. And they seem to delight and take pride in offering up some type of "ooooooohh!" factor. Like the tea that was served to me and my companions this week. In a tiny little restaurant outside of Kamakura, we stopped for lunch and were offered tea. Not like in the states, where most likely you will get the tea already in a cup and the milk in individual servings in a small plastic tub, each of us received our tea in our own pot, milk in our own pitcher and the tea was poured into a tea cup whose heart shape wasn't revealed until the tea was poured. wow. An inspired and delightful wow factor served up hot.

Annapolis Japanese style

Once a week I have the good fortune to go to Kamakura to teach English Conversation. This is a small town that has a boatload of character. At it's height of importance in Japan, it was the center of government in 1192 and has many shrines and temples, Hachimangu being one of the most popular tourist spots. It is also a coastal town, facing out to Sagami Bay. I could start a blog just devoted to Kamakura - there are so many neat things to see. It reminds me a lot of Annapolis, old with lots of character, great walking town, on a bay (although you don't see the boats here like Ego Alley), charming shops, great little restaurants.

It is definitely a walking town, if you were to drive through here you would just miss too much. I always bring my camera, my students laugh when they see me lugging it into class, but for me each time I come to this town I see something inspiring. Like this colorful collection of house slippers. The shop owner was just opening up her shop, sweeping the front stoop after putting out the display of slippers. There's something unique to Japan, the care they take in the artful display of their wares and I am thriving on the eye-candy. Inspiring.

Don't leave home without it

On Sunday we headed to an ice skating rink, about a 45 minute train ride from here. One of the things I've quickly learned since arriving in Japan is never, ever leave home without your camera. If you don't have it with you, you will surely see something you want to take a picture of.

Space here is a premium, the Japanese seem to manage to carve out green space where ever they can. The road we were walking on towards the ice skating rink was right next to the train tracks. In a space no wider than 3 feet, for nearly then entire length of the road, residents have managed to create small gardens along the way.

The guy to the right caught my eye and while I stopped to take a picture of it an Oba-san (Japanese Grandmother) walked by and started to chuckle. I guess she thought it funny that I would take a picture of this character ... is it a Japanese scarecrow? A spirit to bring forth a garden of wealth? Maybe it's the god of inspiration - I'm not sure, but I came away with an appreciation for these gardeners who have made the most of an otherwise small ugly space that they have transformed into beauty. Now that's inspiring.


"All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us." Gandalf, Lord of the Rings

I'm quickly realizing that intentions and desire sometimes takes great discipline to achieve. I have good intentions of a daily post on inspiration ... and yet I let life get in the way. I have the desire to share what inspires me, to open a small crack in the window on what gives me inspiration me on a daily basis, but sometimes the call for sleep outweighs my desire to share.

This week was a busy one for me, but perhaps no busier than most. Next week looks to be just as crazy as I try to take advantage of seeing all I can while we live here in Japan. So I need to step back and take a moment to regroup. Thinking that I would make an entry each night on what inspired me that day was, in hindsight, probably not the best idea. For those that know me well, night time is my least productive time, I start to check out somewhere around 7 and am pretty much ready to call it a day by 9. I am an early bird. A real early bird. I love getting up before the rest of my family and cherish the quiet time all to myself. So perhaps one of the first steps towards achieving a daily post is to "know thyself."

Sometimes, what inspires us, what spurs us on is the chance to regroup. To find that personal rhythm that will help us achieve our desires, follow through on our intentions. So while I play catch up on the posts from this past week that I have swimming in my head but never got around to posting on my blog, I will take a step back and search for my new rhythm. Find the inspiration to be disciplined, to make my daily post and to paraphrase one of our favorite family quotes from Lord of the Rings, "to make the most of the time that has been given to me."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention

This past week one of the spouse’s clubs here on base hosted a luncheon. There was a speaker who came and talked to us about the Japanese folding cloth called a furoshiki. She also guided us on how to wrap a book, an apple and a plate. I had practiced a bit since I was supposed to be helping in a very basic way – I had no experience, just enthusiasm for learning something new.

Fast forward to last night. It was a long day … leaving to meet the track meet bus at 5:45, off to the shrine sale, home to finish decorating a birthday cake and then making cup cakes too (because apparently in our kids mind the birthday cake is a “family cake” to be hoarded and shared only if necessary, or forced, with family members). It was late before I finally pulled out the gifts that needed to be wrapped for today’s birthday celebration. My wrapping paper supplies appeared to be in a sorry state – no tissue paper to be found for the gift bags, not enough wrapping paper for the large gifts. And the very last thing I wanted to do was head out to the store at 8:30 p.m. to purchase something that would be ripped off and thrown away. And then I had a brainstorm – an inspired moment.

I had remembered seeing at the shrine sale that morning large bundles that were wrapped furoshiki style. I also knew that somewhere I had brought two simple plain table cloths – one black, one white – how very yin and yang! So I pulled out my book, tried as best I could to follow the directions and wrapped a helmut like we’d practiced wrapping the apple. I wrapped the skates as we’d practiced wrapping the plate. Brilliant. It worked. I’m totally sold on this concept of wrapping items in fabric. And for our “green birthday girl” (she is very earth conscious and will not hesitate to call you out on something if she thinks it’s not environmentally friendly) it was the perfect way to wrap her gifts. Perhaps I can practice my shibori techniques on fabric and turn them into furoshikis for our family gifts. In any case, I’m inspired.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cause and Effect

It was an early morning, running out the door to get my daughter to a 5:45 departure time for a track meet, I nearly ran into someone who'd pulled into our parking lot and ran my next door neighbors house. As I'm driving I'm thinking to myself - I hope Marcie (my neighbor) hasn't gone into preterm labor. When I arrive back at my house Marcie is walking to the car and I ask her if she's o.k. - you don't usually see your neighbors getting in a car before 6 a.m. on a Saturday. She laughs and says they're headed to a shrine sale and would I like to come ...

Quickly, I dashed inside, grabbed my bag and I was out the door. I love shrine sales. It's that quest for a treasure and the curiosity of looking at items that are so different from anything you would ever find  back in the states - wondering "what exactly is that?" - that I find so much fun.

This is my third trip to this particular shrine sale but I still find something new each time I go. This time I found a gentleman who was selling little bags of balls that were made out of scraps of kimono fabric. I had thought I would make these myself but when I saw him I quickly snatched a bag. What exactly do you do with these?

Lotus Pods
I purchased some lotus pods back in the fall, I was intrigued by their shape and the unusual holes that are left by the seeds. Since then I have seen the pods on display in various shops with colorful little balls of fabric tucked into the holes left vacant when the seeds drop out There's something about them that makes me happy. Maybe it's all the different colors of the fabric - a rainbow of colors that transforms something natural and organic into something whimsical and fun.

You see the lotus flower all over Japan. There's a beautiful pond in Kamakura at one of the shrines that has lotus flowers that bloom in the summer that even with the sweltering heat I cannot wait to back and see. The lotus flower has the unique characteristic that when it blooms it also sheds it's seeds. Within the beliefs of Buddhism, the theory of karma states that our lives are made up of cause and effect - like the lotus flower that blooms and shed's it's seeds.  Every cause - be it thought, word or deed - will have an effect that can be seen now or in the future. What appears to be past it's prime - the pod - finds new life with the addition of scraps of fabric into a visual treat and becomes something inspiring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Feeling Blue

I had this question come up in one of my English Conversation classes - What is feeling blue? When I looked up in the dictionary what I thought would be words that would be considered similes they were all too drastic: despondent, despair, hopeless. ooooh, ick. o.k. - just a bit over the top.

Yesterday, for no reason I could pinpoint I had "the blues." It was a pretty day, I had a social event to attend that I was looking forward to, I was getting out of our box, I mean house. So I had to wonder why. Why does the mood shift? Sometimes that's very easy to pinpoint, something directly happens to make you happy or sad. But not yesterday, yesterday I was hit with a bad case of apathy. Even though I thrive on setting goals, I couldn't bring myself to sit down at the computer and write an entry on this blog. It wasn't for lack of inspiration, I have more ideas bouncing around in my head than I have time to jot them all down. I just didn't care.

I suppose we can all allow ourselves a day of feeling "off." But who wants to spend an entire day like that? If I can't seem to snap out of it then I look to others for help or inspiration.

This is where Matt Harding comes in - he has a YouTube video - it has been out since 2008 (he has a couple of earlier versions but this one is the best) - called Where the Hell is Matt? If you have not had a chance to see this please take a moment to check it out. I promise you, you will have a smile on your face at the end of the video. So when I'm feeling blue, or just want to laugh, I go to the above link for 4:29 minutes of joy watching a goofy guy, do the same goofy dance in 42 countries. I particularly love the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and Gurgaon, India. I also find the music inspiring. The song is Prann by Garry Schyman and the lyrics are adapted from Stream of Life from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. I have the song (which you can buy from iTunes) on my iPod and I think it's on most of my workout mixes - I find it a great song to start off my workout. The lyrics are beautiful and inspiring...

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time ...
Georgia O'Keeffe

Each Monday I take the train to Kamakura where I teach (and I use this term very loosely) two English Conversation classes. I have enjoyed having the opportunity to travel to this lovely town and each week on my way to my classes I pass through the grounds of the Dayigo-ji Temple. The temples and shrines of Japan are full of beautiful gardens. Lucky for me I get to start each week off with a visual treat, never really sure what I will see from one week to the next - and this week this beautiful camilla caught my eye on the grounds of the Dayigo-ji. A reminder to take the time each day to stop and see, and be inspired.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


"Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought to be" - this verse is from a Shaker Hymn by Elder Joseph Brackett and it is one of my all time favorite songs. I love this song so much that I've told my family I wanted it played at my memorial service (not to be morbid but it's good to get those things out there ... I can just picture Jeff "now what song did she say she liked ..." and the kids all staring blankly back, although I bet Wrenn would remember). The lyrics speak to me and the melody is uplifting. When the kids were really little I used to scoop them up in my arms and twirl around the room with them with the song blasting.

I like things uncomplicated. Maybe that's one reason so much about Japan holds my attention. Artistically they know how to take things down to the essence. Like the weaving spools and the fisherman's net balls. I found these at a bazaar sale this weekend and just couldn't let them go - two simple unrelated items, brought together to form a visual treat. Simple and inspiring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

God is in the details.

So I sit here folding a crane, first thinking "I've got this down" feeling oh so sure of myself. So confident that my mind wanders, wondering if today my daughter will tell me that she's changed her mind and does want a birthday party afterall - her birthday's only a week away. And for those of you well versed in the land of birthday parties, it usually takes more than a week to pull one together, if nothing else to get it on the busy invitees social calendar. But I digress, I'm folding, and making yet another fold and realize, damn I forgot to flip the paper over and now my crane will be inside out (white paper on the outside, color paper on the inside).

Take two
I grab another piece of paper, start again and you would think that the results of the first attempt would have made me realize that I need to pay attention. But no, I get a bit further this time but forget to make a couple of critical folds and realize I've screwed up another crane. The brain keeps drifting. Or let me rephrase, the brain chatter is interfering with this seemingly simple act of folding a crane.

Third time is the charm - well sort of.
I grab a third piece of paper (glad my 1000 crane kit has extras for mistakes - but I wonder just how many extras?) and try again. This time I stay focused long enough to work my way through all the steps but I'm still not pleased with the results. Thinking the crane looks more like a duck than an elegant crane, I decide it's time to call in the professionals and sign up for the origami class at the community center. Clearly, there must be some nuances to this folding technique that I'm just not grasping.

So the process reminded me again that you have to pay attention to the details and stay focus on the task at hand. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe a German born American architect is quoted to have said "God is in the details" - this quote seemed to be part of the curriculum while I was at RISD, each of my professors I believe used it many times to drive home the point of doing a job vs. a job well done. It's a good reminder, even for something that would appear to be as simple as folding a square piece of paper.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Today is one of my most favorite days of the month. It is my monthly Ikebana class. This very old and traditional art of arranging “flowers” (and I put this is quotes because it’s not always flowers that the Japanese artfully transform into beautiful arrangements) gives me great joy. I love the fact that you look at the stem or branch and basically let is speak to you – and today I listened. I had one stem that naturally swooped to one side, contrast that with the freesia which stood straight upright. I’ve learned that the space/air around the pieces is as important as the groupings. When you have two elements two one side – the front one should be lower and longer, the back one shorter and higher (as the sweet peas in the photo). There are guidelines but it is much more free form to me than the western style of flower arranging (which I totally bite at). And asymmetrical is a good thing - yes!

Today the flowers inspired me to try something different in my class and I listened to them and let them guide me, not quite sure at the beginning I was on the right path but pleased at the end with the look achieved. I guess sometimes it's the simple gifts of nature that can nudge you to move in new directions.


Winners never quit and quitters never win ...

It has been my mommy mantra - when a Cleary child starts to whine (and that in and of itself could be an entire blog on it's own - I detest whining and will practically eat my own if they dare to start up) - "it's too hard" "I don't want to do this anymore" "I'm tired" they can probably see the look in my eyes and the set jaw as I start in again and recite "Winners never quit ..."

And so as I've sat down to master these paper cranes I've had to remind myself of just those words. Granted this is far from the most difficult task I've ever had to do (I have twin 14 year old boys afterall - who just for the record are good kids, but they are twins). I've watched the online YouTube tutorials, I've printed out directions from the internet, and yet still I feel like my fingers are totally uncoordinated as I try to delicately fold a small piece of paper into a crane. I've folded it backwards (so the white paper is on the outside and the color paper is on the inside). I've somehow folded it in the wrong direction and not been able to make the inverse fold for the head and tail. And yet I press on. I was determined to figure this seemingly simple origami crane out. The photo above shows only a few of the failed attempts - I threw away at least that many more before I thought hey - maybe I should keep these. Because we do learn from our failures. If it all came easy there would be no sense of accomplishment.

So my cranes might not be perfect ... yet (surely by 999 they will have to be close?). But it's been a good lesson for me, a good reminder, that with so many things in life you just have to hunker down, and persevere in order to get to your goal. j.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Today one of my first thoughts was “what the hell was I thinking?” 1000 days? 1000 cranes? 1000 different things that inspire me? Really?

So I started pondering motivation. How could the excitement of a commitment yesterday turn into panic the next? What makes one person motivated and the other not? Of course for each of us this is something different. So as I sat down to fold my crane I cranked up the music and selected one of my favorite motivation songs by the group Nickleback, If Today was Your Last Day. The lyrics speak to me, perhaps today more than most days

“My best friend gave me the best advice
He said each day’s a gift and not a given right
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by
That first step you take is the longest stride …”

So as I take this first step on my journey, I am reminded that all you have to do is find the switch, the switch that will flip an ordinary ho-hum day into a great one. What’s your switch? J.

Monday, March 8, 2010

One Thousand Cranes

One thousand cranes is a journey, an exploration into what inspires me and motivates me to create. It’s also a goal, a way to keep me on track and focused. I am not sure I’ve ever consciously done anything optional for 1000 consecutive days – except maybe brush my teeth. Surely there’s more to life than that? Yes, I pick up my shibori – but not every day. And yes, I keep a journal – but I am sporadic at best, and even though I love being creative other things seem to get in the way, clothes to be washed and folded, emails to be answered, family needs, in other words … life gets in the way.

I’ve been reading a couple of books that have made me stop and think about creativity, life, happiness. Maybe this is what you do when the countdown to the big 50 starts looming it’s ugly head. Reevaluating and reordering your life becomes more of a priority. A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp are making those atrophied wheels turn in my head again. Authentic Happiness by Martin E.P. Seligman and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl are the other two books that are spurring me on – making me stop and ponder at the end of the day, to paraphrase Apolo Ohno “did I give it my best today, did I give it my all?” What gives me joy, inner peace – and I keep coming back to creating, creating something, creating anything.

Since arriving in Japan I read about the story of the young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki. Diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima a friend came to visit her in the hospital, making her a paper crane and telling her the Japanese legend of the paper cranes - that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish. Determined to fold 1000 cranes with the hope of recovering from her illness and world peace, she fell short of her goal, having folded 644 before her death. Her friends completed the 1000 paper cranes and buried them all with her. Her story is filled with hope, perseverance and inspiration.

Inspiration is all around us, even the simple daily meditative action of folding a paper crane could lead to a creative journey not yet taken.

And so I begin this journey – to fold one paper crane for the next 1000 days and along the way share the inspiration that comes from this simple meditative act. j.