Sometimes Everything is Rad & Red

Sometimes your kids subtly snarl their lips and the boy throws something, displeased.

Sometimes your girl calls you the baddest mommy ‘cuz you’ve given her,

expected her to eat something very very green.

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This, coming a day after you made the worst meal ever,

I mean how is it even possible to make ramen into a disgusting mush?

You probably felt defeated, muttered an apology that was inwardly mean, the old self-depricating

words they’re not supposed to see.

Maybe she saw the door open to be quite bold…

 

Things you lost, things you still haven’t found

Makes for some sensitivity,

especially when you go to lay down.

(You know how thoughts have room to breathe

on the way to sleep).

 

But then,

sometimes

Your girl leans over, with a kiss and a flourish,

says, “Thank you for taking me here”.

Says, “This is the best egg and you are a great mommy”,

Says, “I love you so much” just because, maybe.

 

And sometimes my husband wants seconds on his meal,

the one I cooked after the last time when everything got burnt.

Sometimes the broccoli is not overdone;

the greens are not over-salted

and your son hands over a piece of banana-smoosh

instead of throwing.

 

Sometimes you remember to buy coffee

in time before running out completely

and sometimes

the students in my big Japanese middle school

follow after me like breathless puppy-girls

spotting Brittany Spears. (Or maybe I’m the puppy).

Sometimes I hear 40 seconds of “She is so so cute!”

Sometimes they even congregate outside the office

willing their tongue to practice the introductory English-speech

that will enable our conversation.

Whisps of “Where…where…why are you going”?

 

Sometimes things are just dope, wonderful, and rad.

Sometimes you choose to only make room

squirrel the moments of glad.

 

Mostly, though, it is all love here.

Mostly, love rules the day and centers the night

all of us lovers of kindness,

all of us who remember a day by its laughs,

our waving with infinitesimal snuggles and kisses

from toddlers with the most delicious soft tummies

and gleams in their light-filled eyes

and a husband who is everything good, every cliche but sincerely.

Truly.

 

Mostly, if I am honest,

there is more joy than the day before,

more to rave than roar.

 

This is, above all, a family of singers, ticklers, and silly-voice readers.

We all notice peace, all crave the real sweetness, the lasting goodness.

The Valentine-thinking, the red hearts beating with love-soaked thinking

and smiles that are always noticed,

if only inside.

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Sometimes everything is alright enough

and then some

when I am learning, moment-by-moment

to dwell on the what-you-can-control

which

sometimes

incidentally

means maybe not even dinner.

The little things are enough.

The discipline is the joy is the discipline

and we are all little love-monks making the humblest of cards

which is our life and the little tasks that make up a life,

like dinner.

 

At least let them know my love

by the way I set the table.

The Chatters and the Chills

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Tokyo winters with the beginnings of sick
Mean you are hunkered-down, hiding under the pile of blankets
Layered over socks and old lady clothes
Shivering because two minutes ago,
When you had to leave your fox den
Clear away leaves, peel out
To go pee,
You had to cut through a hallway
Not under heat, more like a runway
of ice and back
into your bed,
You had to start all over
acquiring warmth.

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Tokyo, not centralized heat, Tokyo,
Is all about getting warm:
Businesses selling sophisticated cavemen woolen sheets
Hot vending machines every corner and underground, allover,
Because you need,
Absolutely could LIVE for a hot can to shake and get hotter,
Oh, hot cocoa, latte, or coffee, black.

Hot pouches of beans that schoolkids and business men push
Into their socks
Or hold like a sacred muffin,
Just back and forth in their hands.

Uniqlo, polar – tec, give us everything we need to live on the streets
Or in a house that won’t heat up in the hallways or stairs, bathrooms, or entry-ways.

And then, just when I could strike down these few months from the calendar, envy the Bevy of Hawaiian holidays my friends take,
I spot an older woman trudging with gentile grace,
Kimono clad, rabbit stole, updo, and this is also winter, I know.
Mikan succulent citrus like kinkans at the market,
Blue skies when not abhorrent rain spouting down like knives while I’m pedalling                                         Our kids Home on the bike,

Sun making me forget shivers

And yet,

Tokyo is hanging up wet laundry on the line
When you go out to check and don’t
Know if it’s cold or still wet.

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Tokyo is elusive, fleeting warmth and dishes cooked over a stove

Right at the table.
Tokyo is kids
in layers-
No stockings, no pants
Just schoolgirl pleats and legs of skin
All of us together, cashing in on those hot green tea cans
We shake so hard, they could spark fire.

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Tokyo drives me chattering in the search for heat,
In search of coins,
In search of the hearts’ treasure, combustible, or fully flammable.
I’m looking for heat.

Why is the Bunny Everywhere?

For seven years now, I’ve been puzzled over the way folks here in Japan wear Playboy likeitaintnothang. They, the elderly, middle aged, and school kids (anywhere from age 4 to 17) wear The Bunny like it’s The Gap or L.L. Bean.

I gawk when I pass them on my bike, my little wondering commentary trailing like leaky fuel. I gawk at the checkout counter when I’m buying milk. I daily gawk at my kids’ preschool–a classmate’s mom sports a giant black duffel-purse with PLAYBOY in all white caps, set-off like gun smoke. I just want to ask her…do you know what it is? Are you okay with supporting the brand when you have two young daughters?

Some things don’t mean the same things here. This culture has their own demons, their own love-affair with visuals. I’m just not convinced that Playboy carries the same weight here. Perhaps it is just another cute bunny, another fashion-brand. The tuxed bunny does look fetching on those knee-high socks, but it also makes a young girl look…odd. It is kind of misplaced-smut.

I had a friend in high school who smoked alongside his mom. They earned so many Marlboro points, that company probably bought their couch, if even, their roof. If they had such niceties as cloth napkins, that little Marlboro Man would have been embroidered in each linen corner. They just accrued so many points! His favorite, everyday hoodie was a red…Marlboro sweatshirt. Everywhere he went, there was the cowboy, like a loan-shark uncle lookin’ out for his godson. A little creepy and mysterious.

Maybe that’s my problem with The Bunny on kids clothes here. Did the dad win it for upkeep of his twenty-year magazine subscription? Do they know, really know what it conveys, at least to the foreigner?

At one point, I was snapping my camera at each inappropriate Playboy sighting. It got old and I can’t locate the shots on my camera. Suffice it to say, The Bunny is a fixture here in Japan.

Jezebel says in this brief article, that Playboy has depended on Japan as a launch-pad for their new vintage-cool-flashback-apparel. It’s supposed to be class meets the iconic retro bunny ears. It’s soft cotton, good design, ranging from ten bucks to a thousand, per item. Think American Apparel and vintage-sex appeal. Think Jason Priestly, in the thick of 90210, with his cigarette box cuffed in his white v-neck sleeve. Or Ponyboy.

Look– your friendly neighbor walking his Chihuahua or Akita inu may be wearing this.

Your student may wear this backpack.

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It’s all cool. Not weird, at all. Just a bunny. Repeat this phrase like a mantra when you see the 73-year old lady wearing her Hefner-jumpsuit while watering her plant or shaking out her futon. It.is.just.a.bunny. You will smile at that mom dashing in at pickup time with her hot pink sweatshirt, those same letters asking you into your prude heart. It’s clothing. It’s just some bunny-love.

I know, Hugh. I’m a long way from home.

Dogs Get Their Fortunes Read

Yesterday was our dogs’ birthdays. They are brothers from the same litter of their young doxie mother’s only litter. My husband bought the pups by trading Hebrew lessons, preparing our friend’s kids for their bar mitzvahs. A grand mitzvah, all around.

Now years past those landmarks, our dogs sit with us not in Pompano Beach, where they squirmed and wriggled as mini hot dogs, but here, in Japan. They are family when I like them or not (so many posts I could address their peeing, abhorrent habits of getting into dirty diapers, or their incessant barking). As a nice reprieve, yesterday was their shared birthday. It is interesting/strange/sad to note that I haven’t payed any homage to my husband on his birthday. January is cute in our home, as the dogs’ day is just two days after my dear hub’s. (More on human bdays later).

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“What should we do?”, my kids and I last-minute brainstormed. “Party hats! Oh, we’ll want to snuggle so dear, G-d, they need a bath! Okay, we’ll scrub”, we said, growing louder! And then squeals—“We can dress them up”, my daughter shouted. “Yes, and we should give them something tasty!” Here’s where she got culinary like some sensational vet at Le Cordon Bleu. She dreamed of how we might construct a real cake, but for doggies, round and chock full of carrots, veggies, dripping with a kind of succulent beef glaze. I reined her in a bit. This was, afterall, last minute, the night before their big 10 year party.

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There would be party hats, the cute stored supplies I hide in cubes in the dining room, from J’s 1st party. Paper festive napkins, my favorite from Oh Joy’s first Target line.

The dogs got special treatment following their de-stinkathon and deep conditioning. By special treatment, and mean crackers and me not wanting to kill them when they peed in my floor buckets as if they had never ever been outside. As if I’d let them drink a keg of shower water. They really are getting older. Less control & poor Sammy is dealing with a bout of kidney stones. Whooooosh and peeeeeee.

I didn’t even yell. A birthday is a birthday.

They wagged with our leftovers, new slices of vivid orange pepper, and even… their own tangerine-flavored fortune cookies. Sammy, the black one, got a particularly fitting fortune. Something about fun and weekends which prompted us to plan a trip to the park. (Maybe I should plant a fortune about jewels sparkling).

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It was a good time and a nice push to be more loving, more forgiving, and take a break from screaming.

A dog is a dog and they, the birthday boys, are sure family.

How Do You Know You’re a Foodie?

I am not so picky when it comes to food, but I will talk for ten minutes about the last great burger I had and how it was on brioche with aged gruyere. Spending time with my grandparents and mom, I’ve just realized that we are a bunch of foodies. Everything is becoming clear! Of course!

But then, maybe everyone is? I mean, everyone on the planet, maybe even more so since the world of food writing opened up, and cooking on prime time became so hugely inspiring. People love to transform perhaps/otherwise mundane into a special, truly tasty thing. So we’re normal, I think…

Or is it natural that we collectively pour over Grandma’s new and ancient cook book collection? Beard, Bittman, Child, 1920s art deco delish and Moroccan tagine text. Breads and crusts, lots from Food and Wine. They are flipbooks of my grandmother’s coding, “V.G.” (very good), “next time use cilantro”, or “Ehh, not so great”. Turning pages, one finds loose dittos of Nigella’s pots de crème au chocolat or a lamb recipe, scrawled by a Greek local. We all come together and suddenly conversations about my aunt’s killer mushroom quiche recipe can fill a half-hour. I recognize each of our handwriting on these papers stuffed in books. The shelf is a portrait of cooking for a marriage, growing children, and hosting parties. This is usable art, science, and health. A foodie’s screenplay.

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Is it natural to utterly pine for the juniper berries and star anise fish salting of a meal a year ago? To still dream of owning my own culinary torch, finishing Friday nights with the creamy custard and caramalized, candied lustre of crème brûlée? How about iron cookware, butcher blocks that make you hunger for lean cut of swirled beef? Or, ugh, to make my own vodka and infused oils. The list goes on…

Both my Grandma’s and my favorite places (NYC and Tokyo), it seems, are huge, high-end food affairs, namely Eataly and the Japanese depachika. (Here’s my article on the exotic place, a grand Japanese affair). When given a whole town of shopping, my mom and I spent our time smelling Tunisian cinnamon and Parisian blend spice blends.

Today Grandpa sharpened his good German knives. As he brought them over to his work space, he turned and said, “You’ve got to have good tools”. I think this is his motto for everything. Good tools, good ingredients, good hands. Good food.

Major arguments and quibbles are over the matters of coffee (roasting, grinding, spooning, and dripping), optimum ways to prep and cook the fish, and what may or may not be washed by hand. Tender conversations, the kind I’ll treasure and repeat to my children include tidbits about my Great-Grandfather, a bread baker, my Grandpa and how we began making bread as he couldn’t get his hands on any decent bread (must have been like Holsum and Wonder Bread, all those white, fluffy varieties forever banned from my home growing up).

boy trap

Vintage Image from The Society Papers’, Sociological Images,

Yes, I’d say the family has always enjoyed a certain degree of culture, no offense Ms. Boy Trap.

Ella wafts into the kitchen from the turntable in the living room while cousins laugh and chatter. “So if you go for oysters and I go for ersters”. Grandpa overseas with his particulars regarding the spinning, dressing, and tossing of greens. He’s always been proud to show us quality–the right way, which is naturally refined.

Grandma asks who else might want a cappuccino. It is all food, drink, and before you know it, happy hour. (We really, truly do happy hour here, daily). It is so fulfilling. Relaxing. Maybe being a foodie is being uptight sometimes for the anticipation of relaxing with a bowl of art in your hands. We all have our ticks and quirks, but in the end, dinner is great. Sometimes, superb.

One day I’ll get some yeast going for bread-making. I’ll make Grandma’s famous (one of us better copyright this thing soon) recipe. I’ll maybe (probably no way likely, really) be able to actualize Ms. Julia Child’s omelette flipping technique or her aspic. Some parts of cooking are a bit more realistic. Can you believe these family members of mine used to make calve’s brain? There is sophistication and there is “You probably should just go to med school. Now”. While I’ll probably never encase sausage, or kill and pluck my own chickens, I’m eager to dive-into cooking again, maybe use some of the same recipes with the “V.G.s” written in margins. And I don’t have to wait twenty years to start taking on their roles. I have my own kitchen, my own mouths to feed. My own desire to taste and try, hosting parties, and doling out soups for the sick and tired.

If this is the life–the code of foodies: to try and try and experiment and enjoy when I eat, then I’m in. This is the cozy environment, the generations of foodies, in which I belong.

Cheers & L’Chaim!

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The vintage payoff called cute!

 

 

The Thing With Freedom

Okay–serious piece here.

Serious alert (typed good-naturedly even after eating caramelized apple cake so don’t worry too much).

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Also here’s a little pic of my boy– scroll back up anytime for a look at this cutie pie.

Now I get all “Letters of Independence” on you meets “evening news”. Yeah, I know.

~~~

Freedom is a distinguishing factor of any place’s geography, right? Living abroad in Japan, I happen to be the most patriotic I have ever been in my life. I feel like America often takes hits. We are the ones often hated–the overweight, the cowboys marching in and trying to fix countries and cultures, trying to right wrongs. We are the ones I hear are both uptight and uneducated–silly, even.

But we have freedom, I say! We have the right to make movies about dictators, write to the editor, be the editor, stand on a corner with a jumbo sign. We are taught to raise our voice, to use our life even when it is uncomfortable for others—to stand-up for freedom and buck any system that presses its thumb on a people. There are countries where you cannot study if you are a woman, cannot go to a soccer game if you are a woman, cannot vote, cannot raise your voice in song, cannot be seen with hair down. Freedom, freedom, is America’s song. 

I so value the way America values the individual making the whole strong. We talk about things. Get to voice concern. Get to voice love and hate and stand-up to big wig corporations & the way things stay the same.

I am visiting home, visiting America now. I can breathe. Everything is bigger even if you’re not standing in a wide open space field shooting a country song. It’s good. It’s a wonderful feeling steering your monster cart all over a monstrous grocery store where two major aisles ask you what you want for breakfast cereal. It’s all wonderful, but below I write about a little five minutes where possibilities of violence—the friction of difference can rub together and maybe start a fire. 

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The thing with freedom is

it is public, handing out a flyer, singing from a loudspeaker

It lights a menorah of PVC from a crane,

alright, a cherry picker.

 

It incites

It calls out, requests

openness to hear

a time to witness

“Freedom is joy, no”?

 

Figure shouldering past

all black Afghan burqa

eyes on women I cannot see

black to the floor

crossing the road

when my mom doesn’t have that great peripheral vision.

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I’ll be honest; freedom these days can scare me.

It is so alive, running alongside major news networks

even when power is down.

 

Freedom is you don’t have to look back

when you speak your mind

or plan your dress, right?

 

The orthodox boy two rows up

nothing yet to shave

great hat box picked-up in the Bronx.

He is visible to hate.

 

He is visible, is the thing, for anything

like even a pat

on the shoulder,

even a “Zei gazunt!” or an, “O, hey!”

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Freedom places the expectation

livewire mics

livewire actions

In everyone’s hands

Al Sharpton

Mayor De Blasio

Boys crying black white latino rage unfair not freedom blast that

and everyone on their Twitter feed.

 

Freedom is that–

you can walk through or around

a gathering or spectacle

and you can maybe speak back

publicly

or in private

conversation

as you look

down

and wonder

 

what

is

your hat?

Here, Away, & Words For It

So, you know, I am off in America, spending time with my Grandparents in PA. My Grandfather is doing a remarkable job as he ages with cancer. My husband back at our home in Tokyo, is parenting on his own. I am here, representing my whole Japan clan. It is a good trip, filled with every kind of salad & ice cream. I’m thinking that all the green will cancel-out the heavy cream…

Here, in Allentown, everything has a name, described in particulars, in depth, and with smart words. We do not just chase cat tails and obtuse words like “stuff”. Here, we ask questions. Here, you are allowed, prompted, no—expected, to think.

Welcome to my Grandparents’ home. Sit down, here, have some wine. There is going to be talking. Here, grab some Gouda. We have time before dinner at 6:30.

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How it worked growing up is that if you didn’t know a word, you’d look it up in a fat college dictionary. You could surely be corrected, but it’s good for toughening-up. If you don’t know something, you ask questions. Move forward. You converse. It’s nice. It’s called human. It’s called knowing where to put a spoon and where to place the fork.

Every article of interest, worthwhile, is read aloud in a solid voice or shared in summation without hesitation. Thinking creatures must breathe. We don’t have to flit. I think of my Grandfather directing plays, rooted on stage, name ironed-on back of chair.

Here, words are used well. We all stand upright, not stifling thought. “Speak your mind, young lady, and stop apologizing”! I’m still learning this, my education with paperbacks, tall spines, supple mouth. I learn to undo the constant sorrying. “Tell me, my dear darling, tell me what you are reading, where you’ve been, how things are, conditions, numbers, how it feels to not be in your normal bed. Tell me, do you like the stars?”

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I keep asking questions. Tell me of 60 Minutes, of real estate in Israel. Tell me of recipes, Borscht she could not replicate, dinner parties of yore. Tell me, dear Grandparents, of yellowed letters, spouses also cousins; tell me of colleagues, theatre departments, libraries, and the recycling cans.

Tell me over black coffee that you love having me here, even though I continue, in traces, to want to sponge the remainders of soups and cappuccino when I should simply fill and fill the dishwasher, and that’s it. “Stop with the washing”!

Read me, sing me your voice during youngest/only kid, NYC culture during wartime bonds, stock market swings, pressing records, traipsing around Europe, in love, picnic sweaters.

Tell me of concern, of love, when your best friend died or when your daughter ran off. Tell me over the perfect pie crust, how hard your father worked, how fine a runner, all the ambition balled up, and stretched in a girlish Great-Grandmother. Teach me of history. Of geography, recollection.

When you eloquently speak, teach me again, infinitum, about meeting your wife, of your commute–Long Island to PA, while I sit, post-Pilates, spine to tummy lounging on your Mid-Century couch reupholstered four times. I will hold onto my wine stem and not break the beat with an ill-timed sip. I will wash it later, by hand, while you dry.

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I feel encompassed by care, flocked by rhododendron, aloes and jade, cactuses rioting in blooms, and that gargantuan amaryllis, a bit ostentatious if you are not accustomed to flowers or beauty or red in sunlight-stream. We talk over making the lamb–relationships take more than words, but motions in line with those words. Action is the crux, it seems.

It will be a whole lifetime of actions blooming even now, even here, in me, with me.

The continuance we need: long sips and shawls, cookies and cheese, crackers, cold chicken, & trips to the gym; seeing his misty blue eyes and wanting him to see we see him. Oh, emptying dishwashers we fill up again. A movie on pause. Plans to rest and discover tomorrow-errands and that which we could not fit into today. My, how you adore snowflakes made by my girl. Tomorrow we can do anything like feel stronger. We can catch a parade.

It will take many strong Herculean tries and a triple-dozen or so hugs. It will take a great many words to say just who you are beyond me.