Thursday, April 29, 2010

Number 7

Grabbing a months old issue of Real Simple magazine on my way out the door to an appointment (one of the many “rules to live by as a Navy spouse” if you have an appointment and it involves the military in any way shape or form always, always bring something to do) I was happy for once to have an legitimate reason for reading a magazine. I buy them from time to time but never seem to get around to reading them for some reason. This time however I had time to get through the entire issue.

I love Real Simple - the layout and design appeal to my design training at RISD – it’s simple and clean. The articles appeal to my ADD – long enough to give me the information I want, short enough to keep my attention. And the photography is lovely. But today, my eye caught the reason I had originally picked up the magazine months ago (January issue) – “9 secrets to staying motivated this year” was the article that intrigued me (page 124). However, before I could get that far (and stay motivated that long? I know there’s an irony in there somewhere) a snippet on “The Simple List” page (10) made me stop right in my tracks. According to this one paragraph “the maximum number of tasks that should be on a daily to-do list to avoid mental overflow” is seven. This is from Jacqueline Leo’s book “7: The Number for Happiness, Love and Success.”

7? Really? That’s mind opening for me. I live by a to-do list – it’s the only way I’ve found that I can stay on task during the day … and sometimes even that doesn’t work. There have been times, during our moves that I have had 14-day countdown to-do lists, each day taped to every kitchen cabinet door (many times doubled up because only once have I had a kitchen that large). And they’ve had a lot more than 7 items – believe me. With our last move not only did I have a list on every kitchen cabinet door I also had cross-referenced to-do lists taped to every door jam as you entered a room, so I would know what I had to have finished in the room before it was ready for our renters. So perhaps I was a little obsessive-compulsive, but it helped me stay on task and I loved the feeling of accomplishment as I gradually crossed items off the lists. I had A LOT going on – trying to get a family overseas and husband halfway around the world. I was petrified that I would forget something important (like the kids passports or the dogs paperwork or maybe the kids and the dog) and the lists helped me maintain some illusion that I was in control.

But 7? I thought I was doing well, when recently I’d decided that I had to cut my daily to-do down to 10 – and was even more tickled when I snagged some lined post-its that had 10 lines on it (o.k. so it doesn’t take much to make me happy … Jeff is soooooo lucky, he just has no idea). But I thought to myself, Ms. Leo may have a point – rare is the day I can get all things crossed off my list, they just roll over to the next day and sometimes they start to accumulate and it becomes more overwhelming than helpful. Mental Overflow – I like that and I can totally relate. So today, is the first day that the powerful no. 7 has become my friend, and the first thing on my list? Ordering Leo’s book from Amazon. Inspiring.

For more info you can go to the authors website:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Let them eat cake

Years ago ... but not so long ago that the kids can't remember, I attempted to make Jeff a birthday cake. The kids still bring up that fiasco "remember the time you made Dad a 'pancake' cake for his birthday?" - for what ever reason the cake did not rise and the two cake rounds did in fact look like huge pancakes. Followed closely after this was Wrenn's 2nd birthday where I tried to make her a cake for her 2nd birthday party ... Jeff ran out an hour before the party to GW Marketplace in Norfolk and bought a ready made cake, the home made version did not pass muster ... pretty sad when you think about that, what cake can't pass for a bunch of 2 year olds? I think it was shortly after these 2 failed attempts that I suggested to him that perhaps I needed some professional help - Wine and Cake in Norfolk was offering cake decorating classes (and surely I would learn how to make a cake at the same time?). He was all for me signing up for the class. I coerced my good friend Shawn and we were off and running to Cake Decorating 101. I graduated - even have a certificate to prove that I can in fact decorate a cake and even went on to take the second class (tiers - as in wedding cake tiers) and a speciality class in rolled Fondant.

It's been 10 years since that time and I realized today that my stint of being the resident cake decorator is now on the down side. Mitchell and Walker turned 15 today and I will only have 3 more years of making them their requested cakes before they bolt for bigger and better venues. It is a labor of love for me - I would never make any money as a cake decorator because I am painfully slow, but it does give me a lot of joy to create something that looks fun and at the same time is good to eat (maybe just a wee bit too good). I've always made the boys their own cake - I mean on the one day of the year that's supposed to be your special day would you really want to share your cake with someone else, even if that person had been with you in-utero?

This year I had to regroup, as my favorite shop in Norfolk for cake decorating supplies (including awesome already made frosting sold by the 5 lb or 10 lb containers) is half a world away. Cool non-pariels and anything and everything you can think of to put on the cake was no longer only a 15 minute drive from my house. And the boys are older, not like they're going to give me much help ... "this year I want a Harry Potter theme" - I was on my own. So I scoured the commissary looking for ideas and a few did jump out at me - the kids love these Japanese mushroom cookies and the Pocky's (chocolate covered pretzel-like sticks) and I could buy fruit roll ups and surely come up with something to do with them.

I set off for home and the day long extravaganza in my kitchen (can I whine again on how much I miss my convection oven? ... electric ovens just don't cut it once you've experienced convection). Never sure where my creations will lead I just jump in and hope something will come to me. The kids never complain (well one year Wrenn did swipe away half of my carefully laid out lettering because she said it looked weird, I personally thought it looked typographically artistic but graduating from RISD what else would I think? ... I believe I poured myself are REALLY LARGE glass of wine at that point) so I guess I've had more hits than misses.

So this time around, as I finished up I hoped the boys would be pleased ... mushrooms, Pockys, fruit roll ups - who would have thought? Necessity is yet again the mother of invention. Inspiring.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I know that there are some things I’m good at as a mom but showering our kids with baked goods is not one of them. Once, a dear friend of ours showed up at our door with a cake. The reaction in our house was “did someone have a birthday?” – to which Shawn I think was forever amused. Major holidays we have homemade dessert (that job thankfully the boys have taken over), birthdays I make everyone their requested cakes. But aside from that, the only other times our children get baked goods by mom, would be when we have guests for dinner or I’m hosting bookgroup.

Except … 5 times a year I make homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, for the first day of school and for report card days. You would think I’m serving up some sort of decadent dessert the way our kids react. And Lord help me if I forget. With everything online here, the end of the marking period has trumped “report card day.” Mitchell and Walker’s report cards came in the mail, more than a week after the grades were up on GradeSpeed. A bit anti-climatic. This has led to confusion on my part – as I try to keep up with technology, which day is now supposed to be the day I make the cookies? The day the grades are posted? The day the report cards come in the mail? Well after the last marking period and one child’s report card not arriving until several days after the other two, I realized we needed to revamp the rules – the cookies will appear at the end of the marking period. With new guidelines established, the cookies were made (and devoured) quickly last week. With the aroma still lingering in the air but the plates all empty, I heard a sigh with the comment, “I guess we’ll have to wait another 10 weeks until this marking period ends before we can have these again.”

Which made me smile. Sometimes too much of a good thing dilutes the importance. One of the thought provoking ideas put forth in Authentic Happiness is pacing – pace what you love so that you can savor it while it lasts. I realized that without knowing it at the time, when I started this tradition 10 years ago, this is exactly what I’d done – maybe it was my mommy instinct that pulled through and realized less really can be more. Inspiring.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Sitting on my lounge chair, flipping over yet another Hiragana flashcard, wondering what makes my brain so darn lousy at rote memorization – a beautiful flower drops in my lap. It was the Tropical Plumeria Flower, in some cultures it is a symbol of life, and the sign of Spring.

Earlier that morning, Wrenn and I were walking the grounds of the resort and commented on the heady fragrance that kept enticing our noses and like the sphinx moths that are drawn to the smell of the plumeria flower, we kept searching. We finally realized the creamy white flowers hanging above us and the carpet of fallen blossoms at our feet were the source. The fragrance is lovely, something you wish you could just bury yourself in. After enjoying the moment, we both moved on … Wrenn to her selected activity of the moment (rock climbing?, windsurfing?, going down the slide for the 100th time?) and I to my station under the huge umbrella with my Japanese flashcards in hand.

Hours later a gift drops in my lap. A simple gift, free even, but the gesture from my daughter brought me back to the moment. Forget the Hiragana she seemed to be saying, enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Wrenn’s simple act of kindness, by picking up a fallen flower and giving it to me “because I knew you liked the way it smelled” was a moment I’ll treasure from our vacation. And my daughter reminded me that even small acts of kindness can bring huge amounts of joy. Inspiring.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Sabbatical - A break or change from a normal routine (Miriam Webster Online Dictionary)

Rest, repose, leave, vacation, liberty, holiday … when I was working as a full time designer one of my art directors commented she had never seen a designer explore words from the dictionary to generate ideas. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not – but it worked for me. I love words and when I run across a well crafted sentence with perfectly selected words, I am in awe and envious at the same time.

So my old habit resurfaced in writing this entry. It has been just over 2 weeks since my last entry – not exactly staying on that “entry a day” track I’d hoped. And with gentle nudging from my mom (it appears no matter how old you are your mom can still wield some power with only a comment), and a quiet house I’ve sat down once more to continue this blogging journey.

The break from our normal routine was a good thing. We headed to Saipan for part of Spring Break and the time away from our daily grind was good my soul. We enjoyed fabulous weather, way too much good food, beautiful scenery and good times in the water. The down side is that vacation breaks the rhythm of our daily lives and it always seems like it takes me at least a couple of weeks before I can get back in the groove. But I think I’m finally there – I’ve picked up the book I was reading while in Saipan and leafed through my notes. It’s called Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman and I ordered it after was mentioned in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. Just in case my friends and family (the 2 that actually read this blog!) start to worry – no I’m not depressed. Yes, I’m happy here in Japan. But I was curious, curious why some people no matter what seem to always be happy, while others more like me have good days and bad. Many more good thankfully, but I wondered how can you make the bad days good? What’s the secret to happiness?

Authentic Happiness has been thought provoking. According to the author there are four kinds of savoring (that directly relates to your levels of happiness) and I realized while reading the descriptions that perhaps that’s why vacations can be so good for the soul – if you let them, all four areas are touched on during a sabbatical - basking, thanksgiving, marveling and luxuriating. So while I was sitting out on the balcony in the wee morning hours, with my hot cup of coffee, while the rest of my family (and it appeared the resort) slept – I enjoyed my read and realized yet again, that there’s much around us that’s inspiring. Sometimes it’s a book that’s been sitting on your bedside table for months, hoping to get a chance to read, and at the last minute you throw it in your carry on bag – only to realize later that it may have just rocked your world and made you think about things in a whole new light. Now that’s inspiring.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Can See Mt. Fuji From My Window!

The last couple of days have been somewhat emotional for me, as we've been reminded once more that the domino effect of who goes where this year will impact where we go when Jeff rotates in December of 2011. I am not ready to step on this new roller coaster ride so far out. I am not ready to wrap my head around the concept that we will not get to return to our home and our friends as we'd all hoped. Of course I am at this point a fairly seasoned military spouse, I know that a whole lot can happen in the next 18 months. I also know for survival you have to at some point let the roller coaster pass you by and refuse to get on and to instead take to heart the expression we were reacquainted with in Thailand, "Que, Sera, Sera" - Whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours to see ... but it's oh, so, hard.

Yesterday was a nasty day. It rained, the wind blew in off of the bay making the windows in the house shake. It did not help my mood. But today, ahhh - it's beautiful. A glorious Spring day, with crystal clear skies. Some days if you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from certain vantage points on base. But this morning Walker and Wrenn noticed something new ... maybe yesterday's storm blew away any haze, maybe this morning we all needed a reminder of why we're here but as I was downstairs taking care of some early morning household chores I heard from upstairs the call of "I can see Mt. Fuji from my window!" and another "I can see it too!" - we all rushed to catch a glimpse of Fuji-san. And there it was in all it's glory, with snow still on it - it's been there all along, for the last 8 months and yet for whatever reason, none of us had noticed that we could see it from the upstairs windows of our home.

As the house quieted down, once everyone departed for school, I took out my camera and headed back upstairs to capture Mt. Fuji. It made me realize that sometimes all we need is to look out our own windows to see the world in a different way. It reminded me that I need to stay in the moment, take in all that's around me and as for the future, as challenging as it is for me, I will have to let go and know that ... whatever will be, will be. Inspiring.


For the last seven months I have had the privilege of being in a group known as JAW, Japanese American Wives group. Twice a month, roughly 20 American Navy Spouses and 20 Japanese Navy Spouses get together to exchange cultures and conversation - and of course eat. It has been a very rewarding experience for me. I've made some Japanese friends, that thankfully are fluent in English. I've seen some wonderful places, most particularly the beautiful grounds of the Shomyoji Temple, a Pure Land style garden, in the Kanazawa-Bunco area south of Yokohama that our group visited on Tuesday.

We were so lucky - Monday it poured here, it was nasty weather. Today it has rained off and on and the wind has been wicked coming off of Tokyo Bay. But yesterday, we had a glorious day - it was warm, so warm that most of us were shedding the coats and jackets, if not sweaters we had all worn. It was beautiful, with the sun shining welcoming us to this lovely oasis in southern Yokohama. And the weather gave us the opportunity to reach out and enjoy each others company. The Japanese ladies had arranged for us to play several lawn games on the grounds of the temple - we were divided up into teams and competed against each other. It was very fun. And you haven't seen enthusiasm until you've seen Japanese ladies play games - they love to compete, and even more they love to win. On the way out of the grounds to our traditional Japanese style lunch, awaiting us in a local restaurant, we had time to take photos and enjoy the cherry blossoms. The Shomyoji Temple is known in particular for its beautiful Vermillion Bridge - and I couldn't help but think as I took photo after photo that it's a wonderful symbol for my experience with the JAW ladies. I've had a chance to bridge cultures and while I hope I've somehow enriched some of the Japanese ladies lives with my contribution, I think it pales in comparison with what I've received. They've shared their country and their culture and they've inspired me to learn more – like researching and finding out about just exactly what is a Pure Land style garden. For me, that's inspiring.

For more about Shomyoji Temple visit my blog


One of my very favorite days of the month was yesterday, my monthly Ikebana class. There are about 6 American wives and 2 Japanese instructors, Fusako is the Ikebana sensei and Chikako is the translator (but is also very well versed in Ikebana).

I love working with flowers and having the opportunity to learn each time about the style, about symbolism and technical aspects like how to handle a deep vase. Yesterdays lesson resulted in the arrangement to the right - we have to consider space (between the flowers), height differences to make the arrangement more dynamic. There's also awareness of the elements pushing forward and backward. I totally get it, and it brings me so much peace working with the flowers. There's also the symbolism - 3/5/7 are considered lucky numbers in Japan. Fusako, our sensei guided me in adding an additional white flower at the bottom, explaining that the yellow gerber daisy's are the dominant and they are three (goooooood), the palm fronds (I think they are technically something else) are two (2+3=5, very gooooood), with the addition of the second white flower I now have seven. 3 daisies, 5 flowers, 7 elements. All very good. In my beautiful Daisei-Gama vase. Inspiring.
Once a week, on Mondays, I travel to Kamakura to teach an English Conversation class. I love that each week I am forced to leave the base - it is too easy for me to become complacent and stay within the confines of the familiar. I have to create reasons to leave and go outside the gates.

This particular morning however, I was wishing I could take the day off, it was pouring down rain and the thought of snuggling up with a cup of tea and a good book was much more appealing. As I was walking out the door to catch my train 3 of our smoke detectors went off simultaneously, 2 more minutes and I would have been in the car driving off to the train station. As I shooed our faithful canine outside to spare her ears, I called 911 while at the same time thinking "damn, I'm going to miss my train." The guy on the other end certainly didn't seem to be too concerned - I explained that I wasn't cooking, there was no smoke, no apparent fire - and he said I could disconnect them and call maintenance. Looking at my watch and now realizing if I didn't leave IMMEDIATELY, I would miss the last train I could take to get to my class on time. I ditched the call to maintenance, threw the one smoke detector I could not for the life of me get to stop going off under my daughter's bean bag to smother the noise and headed out the door. In a panic. Because I was going to basically have to run to the train station in the pouring down rain. All the while I'm thinking to myself - is it just me? Do other Navy spouses have these misadventures? Is someone upstairs trying to tell me something? And WHY can't I figure out what it is?!

Fast forward and I arrive at the JR station with somehow about 5 minutes to spare. Guess I didn't need to run afterall. But perhaps I did - standing on the platform, waiting for the train and catching my breath and thinking, damn I really need to start amping up the cardio, three young Asian men dressed in Navy uniforms approach me. Now at first I must admit I'm a bit confused. Usually, the Japanese are in their own zone - they're not rude or anything like that but for the most part when I'm on the train or in a station it's like I'm not there. Noone makes eye contact with me, smiles, says hello ... anything. And I'm really good with that. So a) I have someone approaching me and b) I know they're not Japanese, adding to my further state of confusion. When I first arrived here in Japan, I had a Japanese ask me if I thought they (Asians) all look alike. I was somewhat taken aback. I mean in the U.S. even if you thought that you'd never actually say it! I was even more surprised at my immediate response - which was of course not. It would be like saying all white people look alike. I wasn't sure where these young men were from, but I knew they weren't Japanese.

It turns out they were asking me for help in getting to Tokyo.* Which train was the right train. Upon a few more questions, I found out they wanted to go to Shibuya. While I am no expert on the Tokyo train system I know enough that they were going to have to switch trains at some point. Looking at the time left, I had 3 minutes before the ever efficient Japanese train pulled up, I dashed to the station master, asked for a map, asked which station someone would have to switch at to get to Shibuya and dashed back to circle the transfer station and the arrival station on the map - all somehow before the train pulled up. I wished them well and asked where they were from - Thailand.

A long time ago I read a great book called the The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. I've thought of it quite a few times since arriving in Japan, and once I took my seat on the train for my 20 minutes of quiet time (the Japanese trains are really quiet - noone talks, there are no cell phones conversations, it's wonderful) the book came to mind again. I know there's so much more to the book than this - but what I came away with is that we make connections for a reason, and we have to figure out what those connections are. What is it that a spiritual being is trying to tell us?

For all the craziness of the morning, the nasty weather, the wishful thinking of being curled up in a nice warm place I realized that someone had just asked for my help and amazingly enough, I had been able to provide it. I thought back to the first month we were here and how I took the kids to Kamakura on my own to see the Lantern Festival and I was terrified that we would end up on the other side of Tokyo. I didn't know how to read the Kanji, I wasn't really confident about how to add more Yen to our train cards, even less confident I knew how to call Jeff on my cell phone (because it's in Japanese) if we did end up in Tokyo. None of that came to pass. Now I ride the train to Tokyo once a month to take a class, I can close my eyes and catnap on the way to Kamakura and Fujisawa and Tokyo (if I'm lucky enough to get a seat) like all the other Japanese riding the trains. And, it turns out I can actually help others get around in Japan (well luckily for me they were asking something relatively easy). It made me realize I have come a really long way in the last 8 months and maybe the reason I connected with the young Thai Navy men was because I needed to be reminded of just that. To keep getting out there - staying where it's safe, and warm and cozy and being complacent isn't going to get me very far - who knows what the next 8 months will bring, but I can't wait to find out. Inspiring.

* I believe, but of course am not sure, that they approached me over the 50+ Japanese nationals also standing on the platform, because they guessed with the U.S. Navy base here in Yokosuka I spoke English. Their English was quite good and we had no issues communicating. There are many Japanese on the other hand that even though they can read English (and probably speak enough to get by) they will deny knowing the language - I've come to realize this is a cultural thing. In Japan, if you don't do something extremely well (what we'd call perfect in the U.S.) then they won't admit to knowing how to do it at all. I was a safe bet for the Thai servicemen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Easter is upon us. With it passes my favorite season of the church – Lent. Most people find that surprising when the topic comes up (which isn’t often, because it’s not like I go around talking about church and God – spirituality and my faith are very, very personal to me – thank goodness the Episcopal Church isn’t a real big advocate for Evangelicalism, otherwise I’d be outta there.) – but I love Lent, I love how it marks a period of time for personal reflection, for soul searching and for peace. The Easter bunnies in the stores, all the candy, the garish colored baskets – are all a vivid reminder to me that Lent is ending and Easter has arrived.

The church holidays are a bit of a challenge for us here in Japan. The closest Anglican Church (the Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican community) is in Yokohama. About an hours drive and more than $10US in tolls each way. Once you arrive the parking there is very limited (about 5 parking spaces for the English speaking service). Jeff was on call this weekend and I was less than motivated to make this trek by myself. So we bagged church. On Easter. I think it’s the first time since the kids have been born. As a matter of fact I can’t recall ever having missed an Easter service, although I’m sure I have at some point. But as much as I love Lent and am sorry to see it go, I do love the Easter service. I love the music and the message of hope. So with the omission of church from our day, I turned to the holiday dinner and asked Jeff – “do you want me to make an Easter dinner.” “Naaah” he replies – “it’s just too much work for you and I’ll be at work, don’t bother.”

I was pretty much on the fence, but suspecting that the kids might see things just a bit differently I posed the question to them. The answer was an unequivocal yes, of course we want an Easter dinner – if for no other reason than to eat pie. Years ago, when the kids were small I used to wonder if all the effort was worth it. I would be in the kitchen for hours, and then in an instant it would be over – they would be off and running again and Jeff and I would look at each other as the clean up process would begin and sigh and think “next year we’re going to brunch.” As time went on though and the kids got older, each one started to have their own role in our holiday dinners. The boys make the pies (they might just kill me for putting that out there – but let me tell you they both make awesome pies, piecrust from scratch thank you very much – and one day we tell them, they will impress the hell out of their future inlaws when they show up with a homemade pie), Wrenn makes rolls and is in charge of whatever kinds of potatoes we have, they all know how to set a formal table (visual guide provided). So this year, I said o.k. but if we’re having an Easter dinner then you have to help. And help they did. Pretty much I was the “super” (family joke for Superintendant, which was what my grandfather was on construction sites, he could pretty much tell anyone how to do anything – whether he knew much about the process or not – including cooking, for which I believe he only knew how to open a can of Vienna Sausages. But the man could make some wicked drinks … I’ll have to save that for another entry – his Mint Julieps would knock you on your butt.) the kids did the main parts, Jeff helped with the salad. When all was ready we sat down to eat, with some of the family favorites – hash brown cheese potatoes that are so incredibly fattening I shudder to think how many hours and days I’d have to exercise to work off one serving but they are oh, so delicious; pear blue cheese salad; gingerale with cherries and cherry juice; olive and pickle tray; apple pie; and in true southern style lemon chess pie so sweet and tart it'll make your teeth hurt. The candles were lit and as we got ready to say the blessing Jeff pops out “godblessthefoodamen” as he lifts his fork … to which (and this did so much for my Easter spirit of hope, the kids have just no idea) all three of the kids went “daaaaaddd.” They folded their hands and we all started in (including Jeff) …

“Oh Lord in your Holy Spirit, give us an inquiring mind and a discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen”*

Sometimes it’s those that surround us on a daily basis that provide us with the most inspiration. Family traditions that continue, because the whole family played a part. Inspiring.

* this passage is from the BOC (Book of Common Prayer) in the service for Holy Baptism. A favorite priest of ours, Jim Sell, once said that he thought this was one of the most beautiful and inspiring passages from the BOC. We agree. It’s has become our family blessing for all our meals. Thanks Jim.

Mono no Aware

How many, many things
They bring to mind ...
Cherry Blossoms!
– Basho

The ahh-ness of things ... Sakura season is upon us. This is a brief period of time, usually lasting no more than one week, when the Japanese take a break from their fast paced lives to get out and view the blossoms. Mono no Aware is an expression used to describe the cherry blossoms and translates as "a sensitivity of the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing," aware is an expression of measured surprise, like "ah" or "oh." These ephemeral beauties are like snowmen and fireworks lasting only long enough to make us hoping for just a little more time to enjoy them. Already the petals are starting to fall, it hasn't even been a full week since they opened. But these delicate beauties are susceptible to the elements and after a day of gale force winds and another with pounding rain it looks like the cycle will begin again ... the waiting until next years blossoms arrive. I was lucky enough to take advantage of one of the few pretty days here during cherry blossom season, grabbed my camera and headed to Kamakura hoping to take my place among the Japanese and take pictures of the blossoms. When I arrived home and uploaded my photos, I couldn't help but let out a little "ahhh!" when this one came up on my screen. Mono no aware. Inspiring.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bamboo Fences

Months ago, sitting in traffic, I noticed a shop with beautiful bamboo fences. It was early Sunday morning and the shop was closed but I made a mental note to myself that at some point I wanted to come back and see these fences up close.

Fast forward to last weekend. Finally, Jeff was home for the day and he and I could go to the fence shop. We took measurements of where we thought we'd like to have the fences and took off to see what we could find.

I have no idea what the gentleman (center) thought as he looked out his store front and saw us looking at his fences. But once we had made our choice he motioned us into his shop and as we stepped over the threshold we entered into a different world. Thank goodness Jeff was with me because there is absolutely no way I could possibly have made the conversion from inches to metric. And, we were in luck because the owner spoke enough English that with lots of hand gestures and figures written on paper we were finally able to order 3 fence sections for our backyard.

But these are not just any fence sections. They are handmade. As Jeff said when we were looking at them, "I don't think we could go pick these up at the local Lowes." My grandfather was a master wood worker. We have some of the furniture that he made for us, and I know the time and care it takes to create something by hand.

I have also had a love-hate relationship with bamboo. As a gardener, it is a nightmare to control, bamboo is incredibly invasive. It's aggressive and once it takes hold it is difficult to get rid of. It is on my list of "will not buy a house that has ...." - also included in that list is the Sweet Gum Tree, but that's a different story. But since arriving here in Japan I have come to appreciate bamboo, the bamboo groves that I have seen at the different gardens I have been to and the lovely fences that add natural beauty to homes and gardens have given me a new respect for this strong and versatile plant. When you combine the beauty of bamboo with the skill of a master craftsman, the result is art.

We now have the task of trying to figure out how to jury-rig the fences in out backyard. We have some ideas but it will be a process to get them in - while not violating any housing rules. But the end result will be worth all the effort. Sometimes it takes a forced moment of observation, like being stuck in traffic, to trigger a vision ... the illusion of semi-privacy, to put into motion much patience and motivation to see an idea through. Inspiring.

Machida Shrine Sale

Thursday I was invited to ride along to visit the Machida Shrine Sale. If my readers will remember, this is the shrine sale that my husband and I could not find back in November ... and instead found a stone chozubachi. This shrine sale occurs on the first of every month and it's the first opportunity I've had to go check it out since our trip in November. Right off the train line, it has the reputation for being one of the more pricey shrine sales, with the Embassy personnel making their way down from Tokyo. Unlike the "Shrine" sale in Yamata that I've been to several times, this one actually does take place on the grounds of a shrine. So while there were visitors to the shrine that were clearly there for spiritual reasons - lighting incense, ringing the bell - there was this hubbub all around as vendors and shoppers negotiated over the wares.

It's always fun to take a look and see what's for sale. There were a few items that caught my eye but for the most part my Yen was staying in my wallet, until tucked away in a far back corner of the grounds of the shrine I saw these bottles, huge medicine/pharmacy bottles. I walked away from them and decided to take one more look around - making sure I hadn't missed the piece I could not live without. But the bottles had taken hold, and I circled back. My rule of thumb is, if I walk away and decide when I get home that I should have purchased something, then I'd better go back and get it. Not really being too sure what I'd use them for ... to hold buttons? beads? ... the vendor and I did a little negotiation. I decided to purchase three, three being a lucky number here in Japan and headed off to meet my group.

On the way home a light bulb went off and I knew exactly what I'd be using these for. My daughter and I have headed over to a little cove in the Hayama area that is known for having a great selection of sea glass and pottery shards. I could spend hours there. I have always found beaches to be such a cathartic place. Not the beaches like Daytona during Spring Break, but the quiet, solitary beaches - especially in off season. They have a way of clearing the cobwebs from my head. 

Wrenn and I have started our collection, we have sea glass, pottery shards and swirling ocean rocks with holes worn down over time. These jars will be our memory keepers, holding moments of time spent on the beach with my daughter, looking for the treasures washed up from the sea. Inspiring. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010


This past Wednesday, I had another opportunity to head to Mashiko the pottery town north of Tokyo. I have enjoyed each visit, although they’ve each been more rushed than I would have liked. This time I already knew what I wanted – the vase I’d photographed at the Daisei Gama studio on a previous visit. So while my fellow explorer’s did a bit of power shopping I had the chance to wander, look, take in this town where over 400 potters make their home.

On our “drive by” visit over Thanksgiving my husband seemed to be taken with the larger than life size version of the Tanuki in the center of town. Taking pictures of it, chuckling and mentioning something about a Facebook photo – I just rolled my eyes, shook my head and quickly distanced myself, thinking “guys – they just never grow up.” Tanuki’s are known for their exceptionally large male body parts.

This time around, on my own to explore the main street I couldn’t turn around without seeing a Tanuki. I’m sure he was there on my previous visits but I was too focused on buying beautiful pottery to bother taking time to notice what I’d call the Japanese equivalent of tacky lawn décor. But I’ll have to admit the spirit of the creature made me stop and laugh. So I took my photos and decided when I returned home I would try to find out a bit more about this character.

In Japanese folklore, Tanuki are shape shifters with supernatural powers and mischievous tendancies. A characteristic that is hard not to notice is the Tanuki’s gigantic testes. In Japanese slang, these are known as Kinbukuro 金袋, or “money bags.” Called Kin-tama (Golden Jewels) in Japanese, the testes are supposedly symbols of good luck rather than overt sexual symbols (for all their formality the Japanese are much more tolerant of low humor than most Western nations). With a little more research I found this on the web: “The tanuki has eight special traits that bring good fortune possibly created to coincide to the "Hachi" symbol (meaning eight) often found on the sake bottles the statues hold. The eight traits are: a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather; big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions; a sake bottle that represents virtue; a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved; over-sized testicles that symbolize financial luck; a promissory note that represents trust or confidence; a big belly that symbolises bold and calm decisiveness; and a friendly smile.”

I did purchase my vase and I’ll enjoy using it in my Ikebana classes. I enjoyed seeing Otsuka-san and her son Seiichi again at the Daisei-Gama studio and sharing a cup of hot green tea. But I also enjoyed having the chance to learn a bit more about the Japanese legend of the Tanuki. The creature who mischievously caught my eye on this trip and shape shifted my mind to see beyond the childishness and into the joy of experiencing what life puts before you. Inspiring.