Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Longevity, Strength and Grace

Bamboo has been on my gardener's most hated list since I declared war against it's invasion into one of our previous lawns. To say that it is aggressive is an understatement. It's a daily battle, one night you'd go to bed and your lawn would be free and clear of the stuff, the next morning you'd have a 2 foot tall bamboo shoot coming up out of the middle of your lawn. A good 15 yards from the closest source. 

Today, after months of trying to coordinate two very busy schedules, a friend who lives in Kamakura (sooooo jealous) took me to the Hokokuji Temple which is known for it's beautiful bamboo garden. The bamboo here is larger than anything I've ever seen and suddenly this garden nemesis of mine transformed itself into a beauty – the light playing off of the bamboo ridges, shadows cast by the stands of bamboo and the wind rustling through the tops with the leaves gently falling down around us like light rain. It was peaceful, serene, lovely.

In Japanese culture bamboo is a symbol of longevity, because it always has green shoots (you know, the ones I was always pulling up out of my lawn in Maryland) and strength and grace – because no matter the storm, bamboo will bend but it will not break. The straight stem represents the path to enlightenment and the segments of the stem the steps along the way. Today, I had a minor epiphany – that it's important to look beyond the immediacy of what's giving you fits and to realize it may be part of the process, just one step along the way in the journey you've taken. I'm still not sure where this journey I've started will take me, some days it's challenging to sit down and make a blog entry - no time, kids with homework take priority on the computer and bump me - other days the entries come easily, but today I realized that each entry is like a segment in the stem of the bamboo, just one single step on this path I have taken and for me that's ... inspiring.  

Sophy's Rose

For months now I have passed by hundred's of rose bushes in Verny Park on the way to the Yokosuka JR train station. Every Monday, as I raced by trying to make the train, I would glance at the rose beds, one week they would be pruned back – hard. The next week, more mulch topped off around the roots. Always, no matter what the weather, someone was out there working on the rose beds. It could be a solitary gardener or a whole group of them - all with their wide brimmed hats on and long sleeve shirts.

Last week on my way back from Kamakura I noticed that some of the roses had finally started to bloom. The patient efforts of the gardeners had started to pay off ... but I was kicking myself, I had not brought my camera with me that day. This week I came prepared, I had my camera, made sure the battery was charged and I'd even done a minor bit of reading in one of my new photography books on macrophotography.

This is my favorite shot from today - the roses are all labeled in Japanese and in English and this beauty is called "Sophy's Rose." I thought it was lovely. Only once have I attempted to grow roses, in our first home in Norfolk. Roses intimidate me, they seem to require a lot of attention and to this point in my gardening I have been more about low-maintenance plants, but here I will take notes, will watch and learn from the patient Japanese gardeners – because the results of all their care and attention are beautiful and ... inspiring.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The promise of hope

When I made my entry about living in our box and my utter lack of motivation to plant anything, I mentioned that Wrenn had decided to take matters into her own hands (literally) and plant a garden. She picked out the plants and has nurtured them. She's diligent, as any good gardener needs to be - she weeds and waters on a daily basis and the fruits of her labor (sorry, I know it's a cliche but I couldn't resist) are shown at right. When we bought the Ume (plum) Tree it was full of blossoms and they smelled divine. When they all fell off I really didn't give it much thought - figuring it was an ornamental plum, not a fruit bearing plum tree. Much to our delight, Wrenn discovered that there are two precious baby plums on the tree. The odds are against her ever having a chance to bite into these and experience the sweet juices running down her chin. Birds, insects, weather - they're all out there ready to play their part in survival of the fittest. But for the moment, it's nice to have hope, that care and diligence may just win out and Wrenn – not an insect, not a bird – will get to have the first bite. Inspiring.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seeking Professional Help

At least once a week I am over at the community center here on base - they have display cases showing samples from the different classes they offer. Hung from the tops of the cases are elegant origami cranes, taunting me ... giving me a visual reference that seem to say "yes, you can fold a piece of paper into a beautiful crane." Not a duck.

This Saturday was that rare day where I did not have anything going on - and I signed myself and Wrenn up for a one hour origami class. A professional, I will not be, but I did manage to pick up a few pointers that will now allow me to turn my ugly ducklings into beautiful cranes. Sometimes, you just have to seek professional help, even for something as simple as a folded paper crane - it is apparently the details that count. Inspiring.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Favorite Day

Today was my monthly Ikebana class - a day I look forward to from the moment the last class ends ... I can't wait for the next one to begin. Six American Navy spouses, all thrown together in this crazy Navy world, come together once a month to learn about Ikebana - the ancient Japanese flower arranging art form. We share laughs, great food, learn about the nuances of Ikebana and Japanese culture from our two sensei's, Chikako and Fusako, and offer each other a lot of support for this life we've been thrown into.

This month I chose a vase that I had picked up in the 1000 Yen pile at the Yamato Shrine sale a couple of months ago (see previous entry in clearykazuko.blogspot.com about being a trash picker). Jeff brought me miniature carnations and babys breath for Mother's Day and I attempted to artfully arrange them using this vase. It was a disaster. I should have taken a picture of it so I could compare. Knowing that I was somehow missing something I decided to remove the flowers this morning and shove them into a more traditional vase - where they looked much more at home - and asked my sensei about how to use this vase. Her guiding words to me were "free form." Alrighty then ... I love having no rules!

The main flowers this month were orange blossom and iris. The small accent flower's name now escapes me (note to self - write this stuff down next month because if you can't remember it several hours later you sure as hell won't remember it in 18 months when you go back to the states). I was thrilled with the outcome of my arrangement - it is so different from anything I ever would have come up with before coming to Japan. Perhaps that's why I love this class so much, I get to experience and learn about an art form that before arriving here 9 months ago I didn't even know existed and now I am an avid fan. I can't wait for the next class ... and inspiration.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Higanbana - Red Spider Lily

I spied these cool little flowers, known in Japan as Higanbana (lycoris radiata), at the Tokyo Craft Show last week. I had seen this particular vendor at the Yokohama Quilt Show in the Fall and was intrigued with their many different fabric crafts. This time around, not only did they have a cool display, they also had a make and take workshop. Yoriko, a friend of one of the ladies in our group, was kind enough to ask if I could sit and take the mini-workshop on how to make the Higanbana. We sat down and had a quick 10 minute instruction and Yoriko told me that these flowers bloom in the Fall. It was fun – immediate gratification – and I shelled out my precious Yen to buy supplies to make seven more of these little beauties (7 being a lucky number in Japan). Fun, quick, and pretty ... now that's my kind of craft and it's ... inspiring. 

Kusajishi Festival at Kamakura-gu

May 5th was a beautiful day, having read about the Kusajishi Festival at the Kamakura-gu Shrine I threw my camera in my backpack and headed out the door. The Kamajura-gu Shrine is about a 20-minute walk from the Kamakura train station and the tourist information booth recommended that I get there early. The festival begins with the reciting/retelling of the story of when Yoritomo Minamoto’s hunting party was held near Mt. Fuji eight centuries ago. There was a very nice Japanese woman standing next to me who spoke English and she helped translate a bit of the story … that the hunting party was initially not successful and that Minamoto hired an archer from the south to instruct his hunters in the sport of archery, they mastered the skills necessary and became successful hunters. The headgear and garb that the archers wear are similar to that worn in the ancient times and their target is made to look like a deer.

The traditional garb was beautiful and the archery demonstration was fascinating. Not just fascinating … Inspiring.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Children's Day - Kodomo no hi

On May 5th Japan celebrates Children’s Day, you can see the carp-shaped koinobori flags hanging from the houses. Legend has it that carp that swim upstream becomes a dragon and the way the flags blow in the wind is reminiscent of the carp swimming. The black carp (Magoi) at the top represents the father, the red card (Higoi) represents the mother, each additional carp represents a child.

A national day set aside to celebrate children … the Japanese seem to love to celebrate holidays for many things – but this one I’m planning to adopt. A day to celebrate your children, to fly koinobori outside your home and remind yourself about what really matters in life … now that’s inspiring. 


“Most people don’t like having their picture taken. It’s a stressful, self-confrontational moment.” Annie Leibovitz, At Work

The picture is of Wrenn as I attempted to try yet again to freeze a moment in time and capture the beauty of my daughter – as you can see she is not a willing subject. Like a movie star trying to block the paparazzi her quick reflexes blocked my opportunity.

I get it – mostly because I do not enjoy having my photo taken either. It makes me incredibly self-conscious and once I see it I’ll pick it apart with a toothpick until there’s no hope for the photo except the “delete” button.

I’ve realized as the kids have gotten older as soon as I pull out the camera they magically vanish or they glare into the camera – looking more like I’m torturing them than catching the essence of their personalities. Portrait photography may not be a talent I possess but I am not willing to give up just yet. So I’ve checked out books from the library here on base, have ordered photography books from Amazon, and have searched the web for inspiration from the masters ... Leibovitz, Lange, Newman.

Wrenn’s reaction has not deterred me … much to her dismay I would guess, it has in fact inspired me. Inspired me to learn more about photography, about how to capture that moment in time and to be persistent – I read that it can take more than 50 photos of a subject before you get “the one.” Well Wrenn, that’s one down and 49 to go. Inspiring.

Friday, May 7, 2010


"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered – the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls – bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory" – Marcel Proust, The Remembrance of Things Past.

When I was little, I used to love to play in my grandparents backyard. They had these huge azaleas that ran down the property line of one side of their yard. My sister and I would run behind them and hide, peering out from behind the azalea jungle ... imagining I suppose all sorts of wild and wonderful places. The azaleas that I've planted as an adult have not had a scent - they have been small, tight compact azaleas like Gumpo's, all I've had the space for in my yards - but the azaleas that my grandparents had gave off a lovely light scent from their vibrant purple flowers.

Here on base, for the past couple of weeks everywhere I walk I am transported back in time. The scent of my grandparents yard has traveled across a country and the Pacific Ocean and surrounds me like a light summer cotton purple blanket - whatever this particular type of azalea is (and I'm not entirely sure it is ... it seems like I recall from my master gardening days it may be from the rhododendron family) everywhere I turn here on base I smell my childhood. The memories have made me smile as I remember my sister and I having fun together in much more simple times and they have also taken my breath away as I realize just how much I still miss my grandmother even though she's been gone for 11 years.

Your sense of smell is the sense that is most closely attached to memories - I can certainly vouch for that. With each whiff, my memory has gone into recall mode, there have been times in these past two weeks that I've stood still, closed my eyes and have clung to the aroma of childhood for only a brief moment and been carried back to a more simple time. Inspiring.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bojo Bo Lynn

Continuing on my journey through the book Authentic Happiness an entry under the techniques that promote savoring grabbed my attention. “Memory Building – make a mental picture of the event or take a souvenir and reminisce about it later.” We had recently returned from our trip to Saipan and I didn’t purchase much on this trip. My family is not a family of shoppers – in fact, if I haven’t already stated this I’m pretty darn sure Jeff somehow managed to make a pact with the kids while still in-utero that they would not agree to any kind of shopping whatsoever until promised item (what a car at 18?) was delivered. It is a total drag to shop with them – and I’m not even that into shopping but when we travel I do love to try and find a little something to remember the trip by – most of the times I am just searching for a small item that could become a Christmas Tree ornament. In Thailand I found a small carved flying pig – to mark the occasion of Obama’s first Christmas in the White House (since during the election I had heard someone on tv say that Obama would become President “when pig’s fly”). In Saipan it was our last day, and still nothing had jumped out at me … so while waiting for the boys to finish getting their fix on WWII at a small roadside park I wandered over to a vendor who had her wares set up for the tourists, there Bojo Bo caught my eye.

She’s funky looking - I liked that about her and she came with a card that read “My name is BoJo Bo Lynn. I was born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. My mission is to guide you, to help you fulfill your dreams. If you need some of my strength – fold my arms, for love – cross my legs or money cross my hands behind my back. Then all you need to do is hang me up where you can see me and have faith. Whatever your dream, I will lead you there.”

For the moment, perhaps until Christmas rolls around, I have her hung up on the knob of the old cabinet where our computer sits. It’s a daily reminder for me to have faith and dream big. Inspiring.