Saturday, September 28, 2013

An Extraordinary Fall Day - and a Pumpkin

I spent the morning walking with a good friend, talking about our lives and our "grown" children (just about the same thing) and solving some of the world's major problems.  In between all of this important conversation and therapy we provided to each other, we exclaimed with genuine awe at least a dozen times over the course of a couple hours and four and a half miles,

"It's such a beautiful day!"

It has been, indeed, a beautiful day.  The sky was Carolina blue, a few white clouds dotted the sky, a light breeze blew off the ocean, and the sun warmed our skin like a hug as we walked in our t-shirts and shorts. We ended our walk with a visit to the Trolley Stop for a hot dog and a Diet Pepsi.  I think heaven must be something like this.

In the afternoon, I planted some tender lettuce seedlings in my raised bed garden and watered them, naively believing that I'll enjoy fresh lettuce all winter long from this brief one hour of gardening.

It has truly been a beautiful day and I am thankful...for friendship, for honesty, for autumn, for cool breezes, for fresh dirt under my fingernails.  I'm thankful for my friend's love of decorating for the fall season and my being okay with myself for not enjoying or being skilled at that, and the fact that my house pretty much looks the same year-round. I will go to her house one of these days soon and enjoy her fine touches, the variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds that she has carefully selected and arranged, and I will wish I had the same eye for decorating that she does.  I will walk through her front door and it will smell like pumpkin or apple or falling leaves or ginger, and I will be transported by her thoughtful decor to a calm, comforting happy place where I will dwell for an hour or two and it will be marvelous.

Then I'll head home, stopping on my way at the grocery store to pick up an ordinary round orange pumpkin on sale to place on our front stoop.  And I will call it good.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


From the feel of things, I'm thinking it's probably time to put away my summer clothes and get the winter ones out of the attic.  But I'm not going to get to it today.  It's a chore I don't enjoy very much anyway, probably because it reminds me of my excesses.  I have a nice sized closet...It should be big enough to hold all my clothes for two seasons.

When I was growing up, I had just one week's worth of clothes.  I had one nice outfit, something I wore to church and to other dressier occasions like a piano recital which were few and far between.  I also had a couple pair of pants and a couple of shirts and a sweater or two.  That was it.  It was enough.  That's what everyone else had, and I never, ever, for one moment considered that I didn't have enough.  It's because I did have enough.

If I could find the energy today, I would go up into the attic and awkwardly maneuver the big plastic box with the lid that snaps shut that contains my sweaters, and I would lug it down the stairs.  I would pay the price for having too much.  But I'm not going to get to it today.  I am numb.

Yesterday afternoon, in the middle of my peaceful Saturday afternoon, as I sat on my screened porch reading one of many books I own, after a satisfying lunch and as smells of our taco dinner were just beginning to fill the house, I heard up close seven gun shots, one which took the life of an 18 year-old boy.

There wasn't enough of something, and it wasn't fall clothes.  The shooter and the victim, caught up in their world of gangs and drugs, were missing something.  What did they not have enough of?  Was it a loving home to grow up in?  Was it a safe neighborhood to live in where they could walk out their door and not be accosted by gang members?  Were they missing a quality education?  Was it a lack of parents and community members who believed in them and their potential?  Was it access to counselors who could help them process their anger at the unfair world?  Were they missing the flicker of hope in the possibility of a different life, one that included a job to support themselves? What did they not have enough of?

I don't know the answer to those questions.  But I do know one thing for certain.  There were enough guns. There was definitely enough of that.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Camping in Tokyo

I feel sorry for kids who are not playing outside today.  I sit on our back porch getting the best of both worlds - writing and being outside all at the same time.  It is so beautiful.

The neighbors rented some sort of blow up jumpy castle contraption for what I guess was a birthday party yesterday afternoon.  Though I can't see it, I can hear it. Children have been screaming three backyards over for over 26 hours with only a short break to go inside for the sleeping part of the sleep-over.  I think it must have been a 48 hour rental, because although sounds have died down a bit, there are certain indications that children are still jumping.

Our yard in Tokyo would never have accommodated the kind of jumping toy our neighbors have rented.  I do remember sleep-over camping in our small yard in Tokyo, though.  We had more yard than many of our friends, even though our tent took up half the grassy space.  In fact, most of my friends had no yard at all. Dad helped set up the tent in the afternoon, and one or two friends and I climbed in through the zippered entrance at dusk with flashlights to ward off the monsters until morning.  I was never really afraid of the Japanese monsters.  They never looked real to me, with their two little horns sticking out of the top of their heads and blue and red skin like someone had colored them with a crayon.

Before we got in the tent, our friends marveled at the weenie roast and precious marshmallows Mom had to go all the way to downtown Tokyo's Kinokuniya to purchase and carry home on the train.  Behind our cinder block wall in Mitaka, Tokyo, in our tiny little yard, we spent an exciting night with nature, even though the only wildlife we encountered up close were mosquitoes and the screaming sounds of cicadas.

 Coleman Tents Camping Gear

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bunny Apples

I just visited the Raleigh Farmer's Market.   It's the perfect time of year to do that because you can still see all the colorful summer produce, and the fall produce is starting to come in, too.  The rainbow palette of eggplant to peaches to tomatos were showcased right next to the multiple varieties of apples, corn and yellow pumpkins.   It's still too early for the orange Halloween kind of pumpkins but not too early for the creamy yellow squash pumpkins.

I bought a peck of Honey Crisp Apples.  A peck.  What a neat word that you get to almost spit out of your mouth like a watermelon seed.  Peck.  It kinda makes me want to live on a farm.  Kinda.

So, I've brought my PECK of apples back to the hotel, and I'll eat one as I watch cable TV that we don't have at home.  I usually eat an apple by biting in to it whole, letting the juice drip down my chin as I bite deeper into the fruit, making my whole face sticky.  The best way to eat an apple, though, is when someone you love cores it and cuts it up into thin slices and puts them onto a pretty little serving dish for you.  They are crisper, sweeter, and more flavorful that way.  And, if someone REALLY loves you, they will cut the apples up in to little bunny shapes.

My Mom used to do this for me.  She learned from other Japanese mothers who packed their children's lunches how to make a lunch with tender care and attention.  She didn't ever cut slices of carrots to look like sakura blossoms, but she did make bunny apples for me.  They looked like this.

When I opened my obento box up by lifting the metal lid and saw bunny apples, I knew my Mommy loved me.  And they're not even in the shape of a heart.

Monday, September 9, 2013

2020 in Tokyo!

The 2020 Olympics will be in Tokyo!  I watched the announcement on television this weekend, smiling as Japanese officials celebrated, literally sobbing with joy.  I like the colorful wreath logo made from the sakura (cherry) blossoms on their poster.

When I was in elementary school, I swam in the swimming pool built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  The pool building was an enormous modern building unlike any structure I had ever seen, with a roof that swooped down and rose up again in the arc of a ramen noodle bowl.   The two Olympic buildings built side by side in the Olympic Park stood out from among the other Japanese buildings that were made from the straightest of lines, squares and rectangles.

In 1967, the arena still had the Olympics sparkle in it, the roar of the crowds faintly echoing from the walls. At six years old, I didn't even know what the Olympics were, but I still could feel a power and energy surround me by just being in the building. The pool was like the ocean - enormous.  I don't think at that time I was even able to swim from one side of it to the other, (even the short one) but my friends and I knew we were having a special day as we hung off the side of the pool and chatted.  After we swam, we had an ice cream cone before we rode the train home together.

I think I will start saving now to go.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Donguri - Why Acorns Make Me Happy

When I went for a walk this week, I noticed that a couple of acorns had fallen onto the sidewalk.  I picked one up and ran my forefinger and thumb along its little round shell, amazed that nature can create something so fabulous. There were just a couple of acorns this week, but this is only the beginning.  Before long, acorns will rain down onto our sidewalks from the majestic oaks that shade them, and in some places they will literally cover the cement walk like a blanket.

I purposefully walk on acorns to feel them under my feet and to hear them crunch.  If I land on them just right with the middle part of my heel, even if I'm wearing my cushioned walking shoes, they make a very satisfying popping sound.  This type of walking makes my gait very irregular.  My walking buddies look at me like I'm out of my mind as I take small steps and then large ones, all measured to gain the most volume from stepping on and popping as many of them as I can.  It leaves a bit of a mess behind, I must admit, but it is a simple pleasure I allow myself to indulge in.

Acorns make me happy.  When I was five or six years old, I used to carry one of Mom's large kitchen bowls into the woods to collect them.  I picked them out from under the leaves where they were hiding and gathered the beautiful smooth brown nuggets by the hundreds.  The first ones plinked into my bowl, and as I found more and more, they made less sound as they were added to the collection.  When a gratifying number had been amassed, I squatted in the woods along the path where I had collected them, and ran my hand through the acorns to feel their smooth hulls.  I scooped them up in my hands from the bowl by the dozens, letting them fall between my fingers back in to the bowl, clanging against the side.  I pretended to cook with them, measuring, stirring, rolling them between my hands.   They were magnificent.  Often, I lugged my collection of nuts home where they lost some of their magic when I had to relinquish the bowl which allowed them to make such beautiful music.

We sang about acorns (donguri) in preschool.  Doguri Koro Koro is a song about an acorn who falls out of a tree and ends up in a puddle. He (it is a little boy acorn wearing a hat) is all alone there in the puddle and troubled, until a little guppy comes along and plays with him.

Donguri koro koro Donguri ko
Oike ni tamatte, saa, taihen!
Dojoo ga dete kite, "Konnichiwa,"
Botchan issho ni asobimashoo!

In a way, I still play with acorns on my walks, and I think they have little friendly personalities.  I seek them out and a smile crosses my lips when I encounter them. I just don't bring them home anymore.

Artwork by Rob Kimmel Design