Revisions & Tiny Places

So we remodeled my in-laws’ house, rather their bedroom,

which is as grand a place as a whole home.

It is the first sight upon opening eyes

& the last before sleeping.

 

It is so grand

(& even though I am FORBID to post any pictures before the big reveal

via IKEA & their publications)

you can trust.

 

And we were so pooped

that

my girl

conched-out

on our bike ride home.

 

I pulled-up, parked, & looked behind.

Her mouth open,

not kidding like sometimes when she

wants to be carried-in,

cutely with a small amount of deception.

She was OUT.

 

 

Redoing takes work,

even if you are just

hanging around, jumping on beds.

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Upon coming to, she said,

“I want my room looking more pretty, too”.

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Not jealous, just highly inspired,

“Let’s make it more pretty, yes?”

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So I am looking for the hammer,

still, taking inventory

of every frame,

hanging plates on walls,

& getting ready to switch curtains,

hang out futons,

weed out the too small things

the hanging-up of clothes,

the spaghetti/netflix binging,

the polishing of silver,

“what the heck will i cook for dinner” & when will i return that year-old library book?

 

i’m home

in the thick of it–

doing the little things

the heavy things

with nails.

 

It feels like throwing flames

& scrubbing dishes

with five-day-old nails,

thinking only last night

did we sip some bubbly.

 

come in, glamour, come in clean,

come in swaths of curtains blowing in open-window breeze

come in recipes with potatoes

cream, dill, and shallots

come in brilliance,

inspiration, & the energy to set sparks to flint,

soup to table,

hearth to city,

 

beauty beauty

come in.

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Into Your Space, a Gift and a Challenge

Today, this week, last week, and for a little while–

it as if we’ve been visited by the kindest of elves.

the most daring of professionals

who really know how to give.

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What if a professional crawled into your space,

& deeming it worthwhile,

deeming you worthy & likable,

and not a disaster,

they wanted to help

& then they did?

 

what if they represented a larger entity

of design & culture

& they said, “Send us your measurements; we’ll get our team started,”

 

& then they did?

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what if you sat around a round table

(or rectangle)

& over paper-cup lattes,

you met with renowned designers & honey-hearted photographers

all equally excited to get to work,

give you a window, a solid ladder into your dreams,

not even rickety?

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and then you shopped together,

these acclaimed, kind-hearted spirits,

& every item placed in the cart

was an, “I just cannot even believe this”

and you didn’t even have to wait in line

or stay with them until 10:30 pm and then the trains…

but they sent you off to look at the sky

& all that glimmers

& your mom-in-law says, “I can’t believe this is my life”.

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and then the day came

when everything was assembled

 

and one sweet wall behind the pillows

was painted,

and all that was lousy, shoved-in, the best we can do for now,

for twenty years,

 

was resorted and made beautiful in new drawers

that match and mesh and fit like a glove.

 

and in come the photographers

in with everyone, love

in with soul

in with reputation that flies him round the world to shoot

chocolates and burgers and perfume and luxury

 

but he is with your family,

shooting you,

terrible hair, big arms, maybe bra showing

and love keeps showing up,

though your son is restless

and keeps needing tissues

and everyone is

growing up

in this place

 

where everyone has converged

saying, “Oh, it is so good”.

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and they chat with your babies,

eat your ordered-pizza,

iron little pants,

and go round and round with incredibly funny jokes and

infectious smiles

and champagne, too,

and when you say, “Cheers”,

everyone is saying it with you,

also with tears and a joy-overwhelm.

 

and it is good to be like family

with people who could pull-out your right socks on the first go,

those who know

where to find you again.

 

this is what the remarkable team at IKEA Live did for me

in my parents-in-law’s room.

they deserve startling applause and recognition of the heart.

 

The hardest thing is now—

We must not dare post anything online

before March,

before IKEA Live goes live & shakes the house

with more applause, renewed applause

the sound of wood snapping

under the weight of so much featherlight snow

that will by that time, have accumulated.

 

It is all just so exciting.

Writing with a Magniscope

I never told you about Hakone. I never told you about the wind up there in a gondola or how our dear friends came careening in from Florida, touching their salty, tropical toes and rolling suitcases into our neck of the world, into a nether continent. How they adjusted their sleep cycle well in advance, or how they bought out all the candy in the world for us, enough to stuff two piñatas. They threw up a sheet and came in like hang gliders, just trusting currents and the season of reacquaintance, trusting in G-d, trusting in love.

I am still not delving into their visit. I’m not even fully unpacked from the season of Visitors in our little Tokyo Campus of a narrow three story. I will tell you that I used a new metaphor in writing. It is called applying the magnifying glass, holding up a thick, important lens to see little important things.

In front of seven brilliant Japanese young ladies, in my school, in my round English Lounge of a class, I stood on tiptoes. On tippy tippy toes, fourteen bold, inquisitive eyes peering at me, I held up a picture. It was so far from them, breaking the rule of “Hold art up at eye-level”, that they had to squint. I asked them questions. “What do you see? Who is it? What are the shapes? What is happening?” They squinted. They tried to see. “Two girls. Sisters? Friends? Short hair.”

“What color are their eyes? Can you tell if one is angry? Where are they?”

I brought it down and sauntered over, magazine picture in hand. What is this? We looked close, making wrinkles in our noses, wrinkles in our brows. We pretended to even look through a magnifying glass picture I had prepared. We went over what it does, this magnifying glass–mushi megane in Japanese. It is a lens used to study bugs, to count fuzzy legs on everyday creatures, making the “not so interesting” more mysterious. (Have you ever seen butterfly wings up close, under a microscope? Truly, G-d is in the little things like cells and scales, iris, and retina). There is beauty in looking together.

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So. We looked closer. They wrote and wrote the details that warm the writer. Not just a dress–velvet with belts of ruffles! Not just red, but wine red, merlot red, deep red! Plum! These second-language learners, these wise translators and inheritors of the freedom of English, recorded the Beauty of Detail! Not just short hair, but golden ringlets! The younger sister, hmm, maybe age four, is cutting a paper chain of children! They are under the dining room table, and look at all that Berber! (It happened to be that these are the girls of Brooke Shields, the setting, their sprawling, gilded home).

We got it. Beauty in Details. We then looked to their last assignment–writing about where they went during their summer vacation. It was mostly painted with broad-strokes, mostly pictures like postcards found in swiveling airport book stands. No magnifying glasses, no record of rich detail.

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They chose the place they’d lay down that magnifying lens. So you went to Okinawa! What was in the water? What shade of blue? Tell us about the dappled light streaming into the Kyoto bamboo grove! Apply that lens to make us FEEL how nice the people were in Chang Mai! Because if you have beauty, people want to know!

What if I said we went to a petting zoo, but I failed to tell you just how odd it was to see a pelican cohabiting with sheep and goats, iguanas stretched-out near the feet of alpaca? Details just beg you to speak!

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Here is the first Hakone shot. It is like the canopy over a rainforest. How much light is let-in? What animals are there to swing? How about down, down down to the damp earth floor–what snakes do slither there? Tell me, before I swim–are there sharks, whales? Minnows? Plankton? Give me the fine with the broad. I can take it.

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And my girls, these burgeoning writers can take it. They want to relive; they want to recall, and then find the adequate words in English. Words which call to the soul. There is beauty in recalling details. It is not enough that he proposed! How did he do it? With what manner of words? On one knee? Was their grass and was it wet?

I can look closer, gaze deeper and find individual trees, berries and leaves. I can find inhabitants. My husband and children, giggles, and a song.

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Even if their many extra details become changed or even deleted later, there is power in the art of looking-in. Within the craft of writing, the very exercise of magnification and focus is so so so so good. Sometimes, when counting the legs of some whatever-bug, or wondering what exact flower was it that dotted the hedged landscape, we find our calling to be a rememberer, an artist, scientist, and lookout.

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That afternoon, with some crappy clip art printout of a magnifying glass, a torn-out magazine picture (thank you, Brooke Shields), and a starting paragraph, we had all that was needed to discover a richer beauty, the velvet in a dress, azaleas and piñon trees. We had a big of magic, magnified.

To the Ballet with a Shark

Did I ever tell you about the time I took my Miss sweet K to the ballet?

I was the first to reply in a Facebook forum–“Who wants tickets to the ballet?”

Well, I do!!! My girl who who has been singing Waltz of the Flowers since she could first stand up,

legs springing out in grande battement since age two, she will be my date! Yes, I really need those tickets!

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It was as it I’d won the lottery, the golden ballet ticket.

It took nearly a full day to go purchase my win from the woman advertising dancers from Ukraine, what with carting Jude, nursing on the way, all the energy needed to rocket myself across and through Tokyo’s winding streets and different address system and then back through the ticket gates, back, back, back to pickup Kariin.

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Well, I’d seen enough of the St. Petersburg ballet, Kiev, Ballet Russe, and all the ballet documentaries on making it into the

fierce, cold, utterly austere ballet schools. As she spoke, taking me into the living room, I knew they’d be young–but coming from Ukraine, I supposed they’d be little phenoms. I remembered the time I’d seen The Kiev Ballet dancing Swan Lake. The impossibly long legs and pointy feet that seems like arrow tips pointing, stretching so long.

Yes, great, done. I tucked those tickets, with whatever bit of unsurety I had, next to my remaining bills and smiled big. Wait til I tell her! To the ballet we go!

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Every morning we planned the days leading up to this, her first real ballet.

What would the dancers wear? What would they dance to—

That sweet flute from Prokiev? Would it be Paquita? Scenes from Sleeping Beauty? Perhaps a nod to Cinderella?

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It would be great. The next morning, I set off to collect,  err, pay for my winnings. I jumped on multiple trains with my baby boy. We trollied down ramps, scampered down steps, me quickly shoving his stroller out trains before the doors shut.

We schlepped through Tokyo neighborhoods we’d not known before.

I was invited in.

“Here are the tickets!” (They looked photocopied on the lightest paper).

Oh, dear. Politey, in my head, I have a creeping slight suspission… I wonder if this is… a scam.

Granted, the tickets were only 3,000 yen a pop, the receipt made me wary. It could have easily been printed from a home printer, even in the early 2,000s. Just a bit of pink and a clip-art cartoon ballet girl.

(My total for the ballet would be 9,000 yen, about 90 bucks, plus my two days of train fare to procure and use the coveted passes I’d beaten a slew of Tokyo mums for).

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No ballet company, but they are a casual school she told me.

My daughter would be enchanted, she said. Surely, I’d been had, I surmised, feet back into shoes for our evening journey home. Watch. There is no ballet. Just a sham.

To her I said, “Thank you! This will be lovely.”

Roll out the carpet; we go back to that neighborhood the next day, but now for the show. Same exit, same exhaustion, but now a left turn for the theatre.

It is ballet girls’ day, my sis, K, & me. KT has on her best silk taffeta finery. She is pink, ready to be plucked, should an audience member be asked to fill Sugar Plumb Fairy’s point shoes in case something goes wrong. She is good natured, relaxed, though she wonders,

“Where? Mom, where

are all the tutus? These are just, just leotards“.

Curtains spread to show us young dancers at the bar. They are pantomiming class. Feels very much like a regular recital.

An expensive recital. An awkward recital. My daughter, ever the ballet enthusiast, witnessed some turns she liked. The eldest dancers whirled in pique turns. By one dancer’s fifth turn, followed by a rapid serious of chaînés tournes, Kariin began slapping. First softly, then with some steam and vigor–it was all involuntary. This is just who she is in dance. Well, it was awkward because she was the only one clapping, but she was right to clap then. It’s like how the whole bouncing and snapping jazz club erupts with claps and hollers at that precise moment when there is the collective, “Aaaaah, now THIS is JAZZ”. Still the only one. Her claps muffled, slowed, and altogether stopped. But. A few got the hint. The dancer spun on. Kariin began clapping again and then the whole place, finally awake to the feast of beauty, a brief beauty, streaming before their eyes, clapped. My girl started The Clap, like in an 80s movie! It was hilarious and I am still so proud.

Intermission. There is a snack table. There is never a communal snack table at Miami or New York City Ballet. Peter Martins never would allow patrons the joy or horror of noshing on greasy, lardy potato chips or neonic Cheese Doodles. Would he? Nope. There would be no little ballerinas wiping salty osembei paws on leotards. Help.

I realized, o how it sank in while watching the sweet little types-cast four-year old working so hard to turn, while holding the barre. Girls in mismatched leotards and convertible tights kept coming around to their parents, asking for money for the vending machines. I finally realized that we were paying patrons at her daughter’s dance recital. We were the only people, I believe, without a kid on stage. Let me say that a fledgling performance of any fine art is solely diminished without the emotional foundation of knowing a kid. I don’t know how crappy their turnout used to be; I only see slight pigeon. And yet…it was fun to be part of the cheering section of sleepy dads and overworked moms, just proud of their kid. We championed two tween male dancers, both predictably awkward in pirate sleeves. We twiddled about while the dj finally got the right song out for the lilac fairy. We sat through the school director’s two lectures, three intermissions, and numerous trips to that snack table.

And then, near the end of this sojourn into dance-mom purgatory, the funny, savvy mom in front of us, asked, “So. Which one is your kid?”

And I fought the urge to say, “NONE OF THEM. We were conned by that woman right there!”

I don’t remember how I answered, but we got out of there, cheese doodles, mini choco croissants wrapped in crappy diner napkins in my bag.

I still don’t know the name of the dance school or who we actually saw, but let me just say,

I will not charge you if you even come to see my child’s first time on stage. Or I’ll apologize profusely for the fee and throw in a free pair of tights for your own knobby-knee dancer. You can hold me to it.

A Real Sweet Tooth

You know how in the moment, in some magic epiphany, you say, “Yes. I shall remember this; I shall remember this moment”, the distinct words coming right towards your soul? Those are the very words I’ve forgotten these past weeks, this past month, or four. I’ve been slow to post from my girl’s birthday party and some wonderful insights surrounding the event seem to have floated away.

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In forgetting, I was reminded that it is the writer who knows, absolutely KNOWS that magic is performed rollerball pen in hand, cap unsheathed, paper spread out and ready for black marks. If I had stopped what I was doing mid-oatmeal spoon to my gap-toothed, three-bowl-a-meal son,…if I had roused myself after dreams. If I had stopped everything for a few small lines, I’d see from where I came. Because in the life of a family, no, in the life of people, we change. Or maybe change wraps around us, one or two hair strands at a time until we are changed and in the subtle or catastrophic fight, we become different. I want to record all this static, chemical, physical change. I want to always remember where we were, where we went, and how we became. Fitting that all this surrounds FROZEN, or what happens when you compress molecules, when you change the most basic of elements.

These are glimmers of my girl’s party. She rocked the house down. All the way to the ground. Singing, dancing, hugging, tearing it up, basically. She turned four and sent three out the door, didn’t even let three pack up. K became a big, gorgeous, hilarious, sassy girl.

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imageHer brother was there, on hand, to help with entertainment. He also hammed it up and has been singing, I kid you not, FROZEN. He has been singing every syllable, recognizable even by his daycare. He could be on the Late Late Show doing his thing.

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See? Proof of not much sleeping. I crafted Olaf from lanterns and made enough snowflakes to deck Antarctica.

No joke. An event comes around and suddenly I’m having to pull crazy late-nighters like I’m cramming for a final exam. I really am laid-back and have no need to try and be perfect or create “the MOST amazing party”. All those little details like pinata making and goody bag filling and princess dress ordering from goofy Japanese translated sites takes time!

And as far as any need to keep up with the Jones’/er Yamaguchis’, that point is fairly moot. Okay, I’d like these same hoikuen/preschool moms who see me flailing about managing kids, shoes, my bike, sheets, school/parent communication logs/general life skills, to see me doing pretty okay in my “home environment”. I would like them to say, “Oh, even though she is a nerd in our culture, she can sing the Frozen song in English pretty okay. She sure loves her kids and look, she even wore stockings.”

So maybe that was part of my motivation. But just for five minutes.

I was mostly just in awe of my girl and our family.

shaka

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Sister & partner-in-crime, Kenzerina. She is the one who makes Pinterest boards & ices the cake.

K with her first ever friend, Miss Miya. Miya’s mum, Anna, took this and many of the best shots in this post. Thank you, lady!!

Below, my gift of a Mom-in-law, Fumie, is helping Jude & his sweet bud, Sara. What lovies, right?!

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It is easy to enjoy such a sweet party, even as the hostess. We also happen to have some wonderful family friends, much to do with K’s down-to-earth neighborhood hoikuen, or preschool.

It is not so “pressurey” throwing a kid’s birthday party in Japan because…Japanese people don’t. Turns out, making a big hullabaloo with kids’ friends and their parents and big sheet cakes and/or cupcakes, games, ponies, bounce houses, Pinterest-planned and obsessed theme parties are American. And European or whatever else. The point is they are not Japanese. Every year, I am the only one doing this. You can surmise that we don’t get a lot of birthday invitations. Try none. They aren’t clogging up the bulletin board at the door or anything. The good news is that it’s not personal (gosh I sure hope not); the kids are just partying it up with the grandparents at home or in a restaurant, just the family.

Wait til they get our Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations! Ha.

Incidentally, I learned (or remembered that) my husband and I are mic hogs. What are they gonna do? Throw us out? It’s our party! Who’s the keeper of goodie bags, huh? You’ll wait, thank you very much! 😉

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There will be one more picture. My girl received a bouquet of flowers from her friend who wore a BOW TIE. Isaac made them re-enact it for the shot.

It’s coming, along with more words. More looks back to how one simple party seems like a line in the sand for our jazzy songbird daughter.

K back to back

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xoxo, Me

and that Open Dooooooooor, yeah love is an open doooooooor.

Dwelling in Joy, Sukkot

Turns out Joy really is a choice and it’s sometimes hard to dwell there. During the Jewish feast of Sukkot, it is an actual commandment to rejoice, which seems easy enough. Just show up, right? Well, yes, yes and no.  Can you dwell in that for a week? How about one satisfied, fully-contented couple hours?

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During Sukkot, G-d calls His people to build booths, or tabernacles, and simply rejoice for seven days, feasting and singing in the wooden, open-roof structure. Here’s a great kids’ song. You can play it as you read. It’s is English and Yiddish.

So all was good with me for maybe twenty minutes at my in-laws and congregation, when sudden fatigue opened the door to a slew of painful emotions. I didn’t like this; I was utterly dissatisfied with that. I burned with annoyance at the way someone talked to my kid. My eyes lit into this close friend. I saw hurtful looks everywhere. All the fairy dust seemed like ordinary dust without my heart in it. My shoulders sagged. I lost my hold on joy, all around. I messed up on the song I was leading. My brows furrowed and I simply turned off for a bit, thinking no one really needed me. I was one big bundle of lonely upset.

All this at the start of a festival based on JOY(!!!), a seven-day harvest fest.

I wanted to leave the regular walls of the same-old room. I wanted to finally step into the sukkah and just look at all I had. I climbed the stairs to step onto the roof of my parents-in-laws’ building. There it was, branches of rosemary perched precariously with palm and citrus branches over twine to make a roof. We’re not talking deluxe. It is little more than a pergola. The ssukkah isn’t so fancy, though many families will even hang wallpaper or decorate like they are competing in a design war. The truth is that the structure is impermanent. It is not even, perhaps, up to building-code. There are three walls, not four, and a ceiling that could let in a deluge of rain. It can look a bit rickety.

The joy is in what permanent thing we fix our eyes on. The celing slats let in the moon. It is a ceiling adorned with palm fronds. There are bowls and boughs of hanging fruit and the choicest produce. We celebrate G-d’s permanence, G-d’s provision in the fall and year’s harvest. Now, I know we’re not farmers, but I certainly appreciate veggies and fruit, rice and all my carby-grains. We are the wonder inside the sukkah, celebrating together. It is simple.

We simply build this thing and hang. We chill and rejoice, shaking a bundle of greens called a lulav. In the lulav are willow, myrtle, a lushly green date palm frond before it has opened. They are a sweeping symbol of Sukkot. Also part of the team, rather, star of the show, is the etrog. It is like a big, bumpy lemon–warty, even. A really gigantic, warty, fragrant lemon. The smell could knock you off of your feet, in a delightful way.

The sukkah is dedicated as we bless G-d and make it gorgeous with decorations as personal as decorating one’s Christmas tree or making a personal pizza. It is about delighting in what we have been given. For this brief time on earth, there is joy. We have family, song, a voice, dancing, gladness, wine, challah, meals under the stars. Not by accident, Sukkot takes place after Yom Kippur, after we’ve looked some behaviors or attitudes in the eye. We’ve cleared out our soul to make room for joy–smiles that can last because there is no shame or regret from hurting those we love. We’ve all hopefully gone to those we may have hurt. Do you know the power, even, in forgiving yourself? We are a forgiven, free people. We’ve enjoyed the clean slate of Rosh Hashanah, the new year in the Jewish calendar, studded by blasts from the ram’s horn. Our soul is at attention. Our body is so ready to look back, say “thank you”, and let go a bit.

I’m all in when it comes to crafts, gardening, and any kind of party. It’s called being a teacher, with a focus on elementary ed. I know my way around craft glue, let’s just say. So, in Sukkot preparation, I planted pots of hanging greens–cranberry, ivy, even trails of purple succulents like rivulets.

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I sliced and baked enough apples and mikan to merit the purchase of a dehydrator. My oven has been working overtime and I could start a potpourri business on the side.

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I slid each fragrant slice onto thread for garlands. I sprayed enough laquer to make me remember how important ventilation is. Surely, my neighbors agree, as they will probably bill me for gas masks.

Eighteen gazillion fruit batches later, I picked up the kids, practically pushed them onto our bike, and pedaled hard. It was past dusk. I wanted to see that great big orb, lit like fire. (Amazing how the moon merely reflects the sun, isn’t it?)

Last night, the Blood Red Moon eclipsed the start of Sukkot. We built our gorgeous structure on the fifth floor roof of my in-laws and our congregational building. A monorail flickered by. People walked down below, a little like how people resemble ants from way up high. The needle of Tokyo’s incredibly high Skytree flashed its night time lights.  We were happy. Our perspective changed, thinking of lasting things.

Here’s an animated, laid-back video set to the words of wise King Solomon about what kind of happiness we chase after.

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(I suppose I’ve got the right idea for a “selfie”, but not a “coupley”. Oops).

For seven days, we get to step into this dwelling and let the world go by just a bit. It is like a seven-day shabbat. Nothing has to stir my heart or vex my mind if I don’t want it to. I get to very consciously decide what I let in, what gets to hang out in my head. And that is hard. Sometimes I want to pity or compare or stay in that mirror of disappointment, pick apart whatever was said like a bird trying to floss.  Seven days is both a lot and a little. If I can choose joy these seven days, as commanded, then I truly have everything I need. Let’s just not forget the wine.

PS It’s not just about our happiness. Sukkot is not a feast of narcissism. In fact, it goes hand-in-hand with tsedakah, giving charitably and generously. Families invite guests and always, throughout biblical and current harvest time, a large portion of a field is reserved for those who don’t have. The harvest is about abundantly receiving and inviting new friends to take their fill of new wine, of doughy egg bread hot from the oven, of the full mercies from heaven. It is a building without a “proper ceiling”, a room without that fourth wall. It is a party that can flow freely, all eyes on the moon, hearts reflecting the sun.

Chag Sameach,

Melissa

*”God” is often written as “G-d” to place deep respect in writing the name of the Holy One, the Creator, especially as paper may be scrapped. Files may be deleted. Any person’s name could be chucked without any intended disrespect, but it distinguishes between us and G-d. I like this practice in Judaism and have been writing it as such for a long time.

When Sports Day is Art

K’s teachers at the hoikuen, or public Japanese preschool ask me, “What is “Undoukai” in English?” They want the word, but they also mean, “What is your equivalent called?” And then, I really have nothing.

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Sure, American elementary schools have Field Day, but Field Day is not practiced-for in class like Undoukai. It does not stretch from preschool to high school, where students perform Olympic-style events, serious gymnastics, or choreographed dances. Mine didn’t, anyway! Survey most Americans, and you’ll find they remember kickball, foursquare, definitely a rough tug-of-war, and definitely definitely, a popsicle or ice cream post-sweaty games. Parents did not come. We certainly did not practice much ahead of time.

Undoukai in Japan is the heartbeat of the culture. Yesterday, when I looked on at the red and white teams, at my daughter’s teacher, Nishi-Sensei, playing the keyboard for an elaborate dance (for 4 year olds), I felt such pride.

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The eldest kids, Tsuki Gumi, or Moon Class, performed a number that could make the iciest, most crotchety man grin and beam ear to ear. Their movements, combined with the happy music, made “It’s a Small World” beyond outdated. They made magic, taking individual jump ropes and turning them into a veritable Maypole. They giggled freely while snapping their jump ropes around. They spun with their friends. They showed us childhood in its simplest, most breathtaking form.

My heart swelled and if the routine had gone on any longer, I may have welled up.

While I thought that the grandparents cheering on their little ruffians performed these events themselves as little ones, I was wrong. Sports Day has only been a national past time for 49 years. Actually, Sports & Fitness Day is a national day here in Japan, started in 1965, nearly two years after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Researching and stumbling upon vintage ads and Japanese text is so exciting, really.

Here is an awesome book by the incredible Shogo Oketani, titled J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965. This is a rich, fun-to-read book for anyone wanting to know Japanese life in 1965, through the eyes of a very sweet, carefully-layered character. Tokyo is rapidly changing; the Beatles are booming, hamburgers are introduced as Tokyo fare, & the main character feels the effects of WW2. I reflect on this book & the vintage photos inside when I look out at the Undoukai blacktop.

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Get on this books’ Facebook page, learn more about the author, and order the book. Every angle of Japanese culture is more than beautiful when seen through the eyes of a poet or young boy.

Much of the poetry of Japan is found in routine. Art forms unfold like drops of rain, and Sports Day is no different. Every Undoukai commences with a kind of stretching routine. Taiso, morning exercise, is pumped through radio waves for the nation every morning and has been part of the culture for much longer, beginning in the 1920s. Much of the country joins in, doing the same routine. This is a fit country. I think of the Chinese with morning Tai Chi in the park. How gorgeous. No, really–everyone does it. I routinely see train workers all lined up on a nearby train overpass, participating. Here is a sample of perhaps the most popular program, Radio Taiso.

From http://www.tofugu.com/'s excellent blog

From http://www.tofugu.com’s excellent site

Or perhaps you remember the show, Heroes, when Tokyoite, Hiromoto, was up on the roof of the building where he works, doing daily Taiso with the rest of the salarymen?

Isaac, my husband, recently discovered a group of seniors doing Taiso in the park. On the children’s playground. Many were on the absolute top of the two, or maybe three-story castle, moving to the “ich, ni, san”… What fun, right?

Here are some more pictures from the day. Oh, Jude’s class was not asked to take-part this year, which is a shame. K’s first Undoukai entailed a tamago, or egg sushi costume. Hysterical and great for photographing. Oh well. There is his next year and the year after that and until graduation. I can hold-out.

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We learned, or remembered, that our girl is not the fastest runner in the world. She came in last of four, behind the most laid-back boy the world has known. Our girl, the sweet, but not-so-Miss Marion Jones, jogged in behind him, all smiles. Through her race, it was like she was at a cocktail party–pleased with her company and looking back and forth at them to make sure they, too, we’re enjoying themselves.

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When I congratulated her on the race, she scoffed. What was I, insane? “A race?? It was just running“. Clearly.

The parent-child relay was perfect. This is the paper that was hanging in class the week before to guide parents. There were more involved charts and lists, too. These preschool teachers could coach college football with all their plays.

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These is the beanbag toss, jump ropes, the teacher dance. Alumna were even brought back for a race. The grandparents were even given chairs this year. Many turned them down, with all the Taiso they do. Many of these babas and jijis were too busy running after their kinder, some of whom were crying. There were consolations, omedetous/congratulations and lots of cheering.

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All in all, another blast.

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image So what do you think? What kind of field day did you have, growing up?  Continue reading