Fourth of July is another Monday in Japan—xoxo, An American Living Abroad

Abroad? Expat? Interloper? For how long can you stay and live in another country and still be considered to be living abroad?

Well, perhaps it depends on your home country. America allows its citizens to live abroad indefinitely, maybe forever, and still have the right to return at any time. In other words, I can retain my Americanness, in citizenship, and still reap the opportunities that living away affords me. I never have to choose; I will always be a citizen.

As it is, I miss my culture and country a bit extra today. It is the Fourth of July and I sit knowing there will be no fireworks tonight in Japan. I didn’t think to order any celebratory red, white, and blue goods early-on to be shipped–no tiny flags, no confetti with stars. Besides, my husband and kids are at work and school. It is a normal day here in Tokyo. While all of my American friends and the bulk of my Instagram thread shows lobster rolls and barefoot kids in cutoff shorts enjoying picnics and sparklers on parade-sidelines, I think about my Americanism and the dualities, the good and bad of living abroad.

People are complex beings. In eighth or ninth grade, I wrote my own mythological story to illustrate the origin of some emotion. I wrote about a rainbow after a storm and two Greek sisters experiencing something both devastating and profoundly beautiful. It was a whole dramatic story leading up to the origin of “bittersweet”. We can have warring emotions, two realities coexisting.


To be of a certain culture living away from one’s home is often complex. One may love their newer home but greatly miss those they left behind. One may adore the transportation system and their new view, a high-paying or more satisfying job, but feel torn at times. It can all be a bit bittersweet, no matter how great the call or reason to come to this new land.

It is the 4th of July and it is more than nostalgia I feel. I identify as an American. I celebrate the country’s ideals. As a foreigner, I have spent almost eight years here in Japan adjusting and missing my family, adjusting and comparing cultures, walking in between language and customs.

Even if I spend the rest of my days here or anywhere away from the US, if I retire, become a grandmother here, continue to adjust and even become adept at language here, I will always, to some extent, be living abroad. The American in me may not ever cease being American. That is fine, that is A-okay. I’ll be complex. That is, after all, only human. We don’t get “wiped clean” to receive something new. We can gain and trade languages, add stamps and experiences to our passports, even become residents in a new country and still always be American, or Swedish, or Mexican. We don’t ever have to give up identity. This stays with us even while other variables shift. People are layered with gorgeous details and complexities. My sun-splattered freckles may stay with me forever, though I am far from the beaches and summer days of my youth.

We never really stop being that original person–the little boy or girl with memories of writing their name with sparklers on the beach, the kid who was afraid to try a new food, the shy preteen who realized they felt alive waterskiing at summer camp. The humor, even that we grow up with, watching movies and hearing our uncle, mom, or grandpa tell jokes. All of it is important. All of it speaks to identity.


The way I grew up, all of the memories, the holidays like Fourth of July, vacations, and conversations–see, they make up our foundation. The way, the culture in which I grew up, that which I saw and experienced will always be my foundation. Part of that, a major part of this, is location, right? Country of origin. Opportunities, moments, the gifts and sadly, the tragedies that affect us. How we see others deal with pain. How we as a family, as a people, as an individual celebrate. These attributes can be tied to country. How we even view “diversity” and “challenge”. It’s all in there.

I am an American with a certain lens. Yes, it’s been widened a certain extent by living abroad. I will hopefully continue to grow and change, but I may never really ever stop being or at least at times, feeling “foreign”. I will continue to lay down roots. My children, though, for as much as they are Japanese, will always also be American. We can be complex people. People rooted to a space but also thinking of what we miss. This is some of the magic of America, in its collective self. Americans are not one type, not one general physique, not one accent, or one non-accent. We’re from all over and may live all over. All of us living abroad become part of the body, joining in a new cultural identity, landscape, an workforce, but we also retain our roots, enjoy new opportunities while celebrating our origin.


My kids don’t know that if in the US today, they’d be home from school, gobbling blueberries, making eating someone’s wiggly Jell-O dessert, hugging their aunts and cousins. We’d probably be at the beach or in Philly with Grandma, looking at The Liberty Bell. They’d certainly know the words to our national anthem (Reminder, self. Teach this). They may not be privy to the nuances of each American holiday, but I do and I miss these things.

Yes, I get the double goodness of new holidays to celebrate in Japan, but I don’t have it all. There are costs to widening one’s vision. We don’t get to see our family, those close friends we left up close. We get tinges of nostalgia and the joy and pain of comparison.


We get other kinds of popsicles and treats made out of sweet beans, but there is no ice cream man coming down our block in his ice cream truck with the song. There are no shops with the red, white, and blue flag hung outside. There is no Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving in Tokyo. There is no float with veterans waving whom we may salute.

A holiday of one’s birth country or childhood may prompt some sadness or at least a moment of wistful thinking if we aren’t stateside or with others to commemorate the day. Celebrations may be internal and with a bit of pain. We see a whole big view and there is more cost than the international flight. There are new friends, though, a more complex understanding of war and international relations. There, like in my typed-up myth, is a whole rainbow to discover, yes. There is a greater appreciation for those here who bridge my world with their kindness and acceptance. There are trips to plan–both domestic and international. New memories to shape.

There are Fourths of July that are bittersweet. I am, after all, an American living abroad.



Catching Up with Spring

I am pleased to report that I have been so taken up with all of our recent blossoms that I have not kept up with this blog. Sakura season in Tokyo is mythic and a simple day or weekend of rain and wind can dash all of those little blossoms and the picnics we anticipate and plan the whole year long. They bloom and I just have to be outside. It is imperative.

I have been caught up with opening buds, with every sign of spring.


And living. And running towards the playground with my kids, their legs longer than I remembered. My son won’t wear pants. He wants every inch of skin out, even in rain or wind. My daughter is now throwing her own tea parties, setting the table and moving every grain and clump of sugar where it belongs, in the dainty pot for her to move with a dainty spoon.

We are observing and planting and seeing each bud open.



There is a sadness, too. Cherry blossoms are fleeting. In fact, this is part of their beauty long admired here in the land of the Rising Sun. This is the poetry. Even the young kamikaze were compared to the sakura. For a moment they live and then, the season is gone.

Last year our Grandfather passed from life to death. He made his circle, a beautiful, beautiful life. And that morning, the morning after I sang to him on Skype, just 15 minutes or so before his death, there was a moment just for me. A clasp, a kind of delicate closure. I rode my kids to school and as I stopped our bike to admire the sakura, one perfect flower dropped from its limb and helicoptered down, perfectly into my hand. Not bruised, not missing any petal or stamen. It spun on the wings of the wind and landed in my hand, a hand that wasn’t even prepared to take it.

Here we are, a year later, new flowers. I’m pregnant with another daughter and just this past weekend, on a cloudy Shabbat, we met under the trees and chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish song when grieving a loved one. It is all there, like a sakura. Life full of promise, a life so revered you cup that person in the heart of your heart, where your hand cannot unclench. The uniqueness of this chant is that through our sadness, in the midst of our grief, we praise the Author of Creation. We acknowledge His Holiness and the continuation of His Glorious Kingdom now and forever. Somehow praise rises up.


I cried and still sang. Tears can fall just as the heart balloons with a new air, a clean hope. Spring is this, isn’t it? The old still falling away while the new marches on, taking with it every nutrient, every bit of oxygen and peace it can.

The next day we were back. All day Sunday for falling petals that rained on our tarps and stuck to our April skin. Soft white, almost pink. Petals in my daughter’s hair, petals on the seats of our bikes. Petals that streamed past our faces and felt glorious. Even though they passed. Petals even lining gutters. Even though it means less puffs, less beauty on the trees, those moments of pink wind and soft petally rain, I herald and take in this spring.

Every day looking up, expecting beauty and yet, shocked by its power, simple and diaphanous. Every day looking through seashell pink petals and the wind that moves. And the next and the next and on and on until pale pink clumps of dried stamens, petals, all crunchy, lay on the street.Flexibility and the trust to keep growing, to keep pedaling through that wind.

This must be spring’s song.



Running Fast on Multicultural Children’s Book Day

I’ve been matched with a children’s book for this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day! It’s like they know me! Okay, maybe I would have adored any book sent, but I am so pleased. It’s not just me—my daughter, especially, lit up with The Quickest Kid in Clarksville! 


It’s not a princess book catering to cuteness. It’s not a boring, knock-your-head-on-the-table-non-fiction which should only be pulled out for the dullest of school reports. It does not talk down to kids. It does not use trite cliches to say we are all a gorgeous melting pot or rainbow pot of fondue. (We may be, sometimes, but that kind of very kumbaya “rainbow washing”  can diminish the struggles and needs many people and people groups came out of and/or still face). Like I said, I’m so happy to have received a book with depth. (Teachers: scroll down to receive your free book, as well!)

The Quickest Kid… is the polar opposite of every negative trait I listed above. It is truthful, real, and engaging.

This is a book with verve and voice which tells, through a more modern character, just some of what makes track legend, Wilma Rudolph, so deserving to be the focus and inspiration of a book.



How we viewed our book from Chronicle Books & the MCCBD Team. (Reviewers living stateside received hard-copies.) Hey, the international life bring slots of digital copies.


Set in Clarksville, Tennessee, the hometown of the revered Wilma, this story is told in the voice of young and spunky Alta. Like Wilma, her absolute idol, she runs. She knows she’s quick. She does not have the means to buy shiny new shoes, no matter how deserving she is. Alma knows and remembers, through a rival and a new friendship, that shoes do not matter. Fast is fast.

The author, Pat Zietlow Miller, and dynamic illustrator, Frank Morrison, must have deeply channeled Rudolph’s energy and lifeblood when they created Alma, her enemy Charmaine, every bit of the need and love for running cleverly depicted.

“I bite my lip. It’s OK. Wilma wore a leg brace and flour-sack dresses before she got big. “Shoes don’t make you fast,” I say. Charmaine’s face tightens.”

See how they insert a little statement like that? A quick dig on the internet, almanac, or this encyclopedia link, reveals countless blow-your-mind-facts about the three-time gold medal Olympian.


  • Wilma was number twenty of twenty-two children! When Alma talks about her broken-down, never been white lace shoes before, how much must Wilma have known the inevitability of hand-me-downs!
  • That metal leg brace was due to young Wilma’s infantile paralysis, twisted leg, and a bleak bout with Polio at four-years-old. Doctors told Wilma that she would never walk. Her left leg remained paralyzed for years.

“My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”—Wilma Rudolph

  • At the 1960s Olympics in Rome, where she snagged three gold medals(!), media and television coverage made it so that Wilma and other athletes, such as Cassius Clay, later called Muhammed Ali, became hugely celebrated and famous, worldwide. The Olympics brought people together—nations, creed, and sex, but still, in Rudolph’s town, segregation was in full effect.
  • It wasn’t until the Olympiad’s victorious homecoming, that the town gathered for its first integrated (blacks and whites) event, at Rudolph’s insistence.

When the characters gather to cheer on their idol, we catch a glimpse of some of that power. To be the first female, black, record-setter of all time in 1960? Well, that parade must have coursed with electricity. Wilma didn’t just run. She heralded new things and broke through barriers for people of color, for women, and certainly, for women runners.

She toppled all negative beliefs that she (as a poor, diseased, disabled, perhaps sometimes ignored as a child of twenty-two, segregated, female) couldn’t do much. She blew down the hurdles for girls like Alma for decades and decades to come. No, she didn’t just walk; she ran. And when she ran, she was an elegant gazelle, bounding for the high places, setting records every few paces.

Heroism like Wilma’s is timeless. Passion is infectious and all girls, all children, parents, all adults should know of Wilma Rudolph’s life through the power and spirit of Alma in The Quickest Kid in Clarksville!

View footage from the small but glorious Wilma archive!

More later about my daughter’s responses and questions over dinner. Wilma’s life brings up so much inspiration. Learning her history and surrounding circumstances also helps us to question the challenges she faced so that we might see her strength even more and grow, personally. That is the power of a well-crafted, beautifully created children’s book, inspired by non-fiction.

A valuable Follow-up activity through Colorful Trading Cards! This PDF activity is from Chronicle Books and can inspire and support the kind of research which gets kids connecting the dots and looking for more diversity in leaders within sports or any field.

The athlete penned her own autobiography, Wilma, which I’d certainly love to read.


I’m so thankful for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day for getting this book into our hands. They do good work, not merely looking at a bottom line, but rather to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.”


More on MCCBD, this very giving organization:

Our Mission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day #ReadYourWorld.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

2. Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

  1. Our CoHosts-Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.
  1. Classroom Reading Challenge: Help spread the word on our Classroom Reading Challenge . This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.

What we could really use some help with is spreading the word to your teacher/librarian/classroom connections so we can get them involved in this program. There is no cost to teachers and classrooms and we’ve made the whole process as simple as possible. You can help by tweeting the below info:

Teachers! Earn a FREE #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom! #teachers, #books #teacherlife

The Classroom Reading Challenge has begun! Teachers can earn a free diversity book! #teachers, #books

They Call it a Fast, a Post Yom Kippur Post

I submitted this to one of my fave Jewish sites & realized that everyone is just done & over with this Day. We’ve switched gears for Sukkot, & then on to the winter holidays! I’m posting here for my own posterity. 🙂

It is just me, arriving, sitting, breathing. I am vulnerable. There is no mask, no primer, no coverup, no sugary drink in my bag. I’m raw. I’m here. Today we go without what we think we need.


So began my fast and reflection. Hours after Yom Kippur has concluded, I am reflecting, sitting over laptop in the dark.

I didn’t select meals, cook, heat, or wash dishes. I didn’t hunt for the perfect snack in the cabinet, or along the lazy Susan. Fasting on Yom Kippur was a reprieve, a whole day to let my body process something else—the regrettable nature that lays the groundwork for mistake-making, refusal to forgive, the desire to get even, or feel jealous.

There is something worth fasting for. Pushing through caffeine-withdrawal headaches, fatigue, and the habit of needing food by a certain hour has its benefits. Not only did I make it to the other side with bagels, coffee, and a regal spread, but I was able to appreciate, even delight in certain aspects along the way.


Ya keep away from the usual things & realize your dependence. Shocking.

Sure, I’d love to have eaten a scone or kick back a latte, but I was so aware of a really fantastic shift. My body didn’t need to expend an extraordinary amount of energy to break down food and convert it to energy. Instead of too many tummy growls, I felt a “wheeee!” for the new-found energy to search my soul for the old things, the soot, the soap-buildup, the overall “gunk”.

Yom Kippur challenges us bring up the hard stuff, the hidden moments, the calling our neighbor, other moms, our spouses and partners, to apologize. It is disarming, somewhat humiliating, and good.


What we bought for after the fast. This is what I try not to think about. All those toasted orbs of goodness.

I see an exchange between sisters, sitting there in synagogue, while turning pages. Two gorgeous girls dresses in white frocks shuffle to their row . One sneakily kicks the other. ”Aha”, I thought, “this is sin”. It can be dressed-up, but at the end of the day, it sneaks in and wants to kick our shins. Oh, man. Isn’t that the sneaky nature of sin? We kick our sisters and hide it with a smile and a good hair day.

There is a tradition I embrace. When reciting the Al Chet, the major litany of offenses and sins, I knock on my heart, waking it up to feel hurt. With my raised eyebrows, inherited and inherent sarcasm, I hurt people left and right, deftly, and without knowledge. I am snide. I am insecure. I am human. I want to be praised even if it means I’m part of gossip.

I become accustomed to violence and lies, if even on that Netflix show. I speak with thorns instead of honey. I hit my heart as custom for every sin, every offense named. “For the sin of”…and on Yom Kippur, it is apparent, we as families, we as impatient bodies, we as busy, hurt, complex people, we sin.

There are patterns which would love to drag us down and make us believe we cannot forgive or be forgiven. The belief that we are quite separate than another, and more important. It is how I might judge another woman based on her appearance or vocabulary. How I’ll walk a bit stooped after comparing, maybe. Sin belittles and captures. It is the nemesis of Freedom.

The world and its marketing departments would love us to rely on our flesh and our heels and our calendars and our gorgeous handbags and dream haircuts and just-right kids and enviable homes and our inner disgusts and that carafe of wine and another espresso more than our need for true examination and a Holy G-d, but what happens when I really sit down to examine my heart instead of comparing? What happens when I fast? What is my response when I turn-off the signals and all of that rackety background?

I tap my heart to awaken. I’m not alone. Each terrible, common offense swirls around on our tongues. I rise with others to say a prayer in mourning, as we miss wives, sons, or grandparents. I hear tired but gorgeous voices reviving.

Most days I apply some kind of makeup, at least chapstick or slick gloss, but definitely mascara. Not adorning myself with earrings, not clipping on some eye-catching strand of beads, or just right gold chain, freed me up. I could have sat in potato bag sackcloth. I could arrive in a splotch of mud, matted and caked bedhead. That would conjure or more rightly reflect the need for healing.

Forget the need to impress. No one is any better in this state of assessing the heart. We are, instead, frail, weak in our no-coffee, ocular headaches, pounding behind our eyes. Each of us is terrific at miming happiness and being put-together, but keep someone from caffeine, breakfast, lunch, and a bevy of snacks? Look out. This is humanity trying to function differently. We are grateful for the basics of family and heritage, back in step, back where we started from, as a people in need.

We kiss the torah. We say the Amidah. We ground ourselves not in fashion, not in picture-worthy meals, but in each moment flickering in our eyes. This is beauty. This is getting right again. This is what it is to arise.

Who Was Afraid…Passover for Kids

Very happy to be part of Multicultural Kid Blogs’ Passover for Kids—mothers from many parts of this world have teamed-up to bring you eleven different posts. Nothing will be the same–it is all for learning and sharing, whether you are Jewish or not. Pretty neat. They do this kind of thing for many kinds of celebrations, beit Dewali, the Chinese New year, or here, Passover. 

button for pesach

The wisdom and gift of historical fiction is that it brings real people to the surface, pinpointing real feelings, dialogues, and relationships. Real blood, real people. Real tears and real laughter. Other wise, we’d only have timelines, history books, and maps that lay flat. Kids drooling on their bored, floppy hands, if they are anything like I was in 9th grade history class (truly sorry for everything, Ms. Wooster).

Judaism is much about passing-on the prayers, the stories, a recounting of God’s provision. Passover, or Pesach, is like the ultimate culminating time for storytelling. It involves a man named Moses, generations of brutal enslavement, and the desire, God’s desire to take slaves out of that life and bring them into freedom. It would be dramatic.


These ideas build every year, as we retell the story, but you need refreshment. A family needs a new recipe to serve at that seder (Passover dinner). Light stretching at a new angle for a new understanding and a wider glimpse at history. Aren’t children’s books the thing to call in?

Enter Nachshon. נַחְשׁוֹן  Apparently, he was a boy living in the time of Moses, Pharaoh. His parents and grandparents, and great-great…grandparents had done the work of building the pyramids and getting whipped. They were oppressed and probably pretty used to it; they were slaves for 430 years.

How do you take courage and tackle fears when you are merely property, and for so so so so long?

Well, author, Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen, knew the premise and promise of this young man, Nachshon. There isn’t so much about him at all in the Torah, but the Midrash, the ancient commentary on scriptures, provides enough for us to know the following:

*He was leader of the tribe of Judah, and son of Aminadab.

*He was Aaron’s brother-on-law, brother to Elishevah/Elizabeth. (This introduction is mentioned in the Torah when Aaron marries and we meet Elishevash’s brother).

*He was reported to be the very first to jump into the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds, which was said to be swirling, its currents, powerfully strong. When everyone else was more than hesitant, he jumped in.

*The sea did not famously part, creating safe passage for some 600,000 men; adding to that, at least the same number of women and children, making it at least 2 million people, until Nachshon first put his toes in and not until the water was the bridge of his nose!



She fleshed-out a character and made a celebrated story, one

Kirkus Reviews calls, “A stirring tale of courage and faith.”

So what if this man, the one to lead his people into the waters of freedom, was actually terrified of water? What story would that be? (I can’t wait to learn more about Rabbi. Cohen’s process)!

And this boy was not an avid, no-problem, broad-shouldered-butterfly-stroke swimmer, shaving his legs and working on slicing off milliseconds on his freestyle kinda guy. The author reveals a shy, nervous boy around the water. In every other area of his life he was brave. Not around water. She is a crisp, clear storyteller. It works.




So the point is not for children to know more facts, necessarily. Let it be that their heart is stirred by an example of someone who had very real fears, but who acted to break them down, shake them off of him. Let it be that we see our kids’ fears, our own fears and we initiate change by enacting faith, but doing our part to take the first steps and make the first splashes. Everyone else will jump in.

I see this book as one to compliment our understanding of history, our take on the Exodus and Passover.

Use this book to delve into the main character, whom many rabbis call an absolute hero. Use it to discuss little and big fears. Use it to discuss the next levels of freedom you’d like your family to experience and cultivate.

Freedom takes habit. You can’t go from a borrowed, beat-down, abused mentality, to full-blown poster-child for courage. You can’t just put on a cape. It takes many laps around the pool, much encouragement, many seders talking about our freedom today. It takes showing your daughters brave women and then, showing-up big. It takes a dad exercising kindness day-in and day-out–kindness that can be tough and tender, valient, and cozy like a sweater. Sweet, motivating, huggy words–we need them daily.

In fact, I just learned from the author that her daughter was actually a big part of the writing process. Debbie’s daughter, who was three or four at the time, was dealing with her fear of swimming. Toddler-aged or adult, this desire to bring our fears to light so that we may crush them with courage is so primary to our human experience. I love how Debbie captured that time in her daughter’s life as she tied it to something much older and bigger. She spoke a little bit more about the process.

“I had always felt drawn to the Nachshon story and started putting my daughter’s experience and Nachshon’s story together”.

Nachshon has come to mean, “initiator”. Use his story to initiate something in you.

This is a book that can be part of your big family picture. It can be an intermission in the children’s seder, a break from a big person’s hagaddah, or Passover prayer book. However you use it, it will be good (unless it’s, say, an accidental coaster). Books like this one bring art and truth to the surface, faith as real as the flaky matzah layered on your table.

PS I forgot to mention something massive. These pictures are from the masterful, Jago. His art is bright, detailed, and transcendent. Visit his instagram or even Etsy. What a beautiful pairing is this author and illustrator. I just want to collect all of his work!

PPS Want to purchase this book? Instead of using the big book carriers, how about this smaller, wonderful e-bookstrore? Kar-Ben is a neat choice, right?

Or, if you find yourself in the fabulous neighborhood of Mt Airy, Philadelphia, get yourself to The Big Blue Marble, where I first found & bought this book!

So Happy Pesach, dears! Happy learning and happy freedom. May it be so for all of the families of the earth.

Melissa/Melibelle in Tokyo

And Now, a Message for the Birds

We planted seeds tonight in coffee filters

watered in clear-sealed bags to take-in sunlight

because we ate fruit

the kind that grow on trees

and tonight,

we began celebrating the Jewish festival called Tu B’Shevat,

a Matsuri for Trees, my daughter caroled in.


Thank you, God, for the gift of trees

abundant tree leaves

solid branches hefty trunks

seeds and juicy juicy fruit!


Of course we rattled off a solid list of animals

who depend on trees,

(come on, that’s basic).


Our boy smuggled-in kinkan

like pirate coins

raided the banana basket like loot

and it was

Japanese-grown, gorgeous delicious,

tips-of-the-bunch-shrunk in plastic

like a glove

he loves fruit.


After depleting the fruit bank


A couple month shy of two. He painted this before deciding to crash-down in a tantrum again. The wonderful thing is that he gets back up and is learning from it. Hopefully, me, too.

And our girl,

marvelous spotter of tonight’s full moon

cuz it’s Tu B’Shevat,

sang, “It’s as bright and sparkly as the sun!”

And it was!

Swinging higher until now, hours later,

I’d have to step outside and walk a bit down the driveway to see its

orange orb petals of reflected rays.


She loves the sun, moon, and fruit.

And we painted,

swirled watercolors and acrylic

on canvas squares,

hers showing us

mustard and wakame leaves.


Also a border of crunchy red ones;

she knows seasons.


And because we are just that cultured, ahem,

we three painted to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

and guessed when spring gave way to summer.


I chose to paint rain and clouds and everything I don’t always love,

but need.

Trees, too, and especially.

Everything needs water, not just coffee, black,

and sometimes water comes dark, ribald like the night,

earthy, not delicate, nope.


But then it rains and those drops fly out,

the barks, the peels of light

and then


and then seeds


seeds coming alive

life coming alive again

in time for everything it needs to grow

and know



We painted and planted and sang in Hebrew.

We ate truckloads of fruit for Tu B’Shevat.

Now they sleep and all of our seeds,

the best ones,

they are the ones that shall grow.


And isn’t it trees and seeds and the longing and picking of fruit that is continuance?

It is choosing a spot and letting the anchor drop on a place called Hope.

This is for me, Tu B’Shevat.

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?


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.


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.


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.




(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,


*”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.