Witness

As much as I believe in the power of gratitude to bring happiness and well-being, it’s sometimes hard to find things to be grateful for as the pandemic drags its weary heels into yet another month of stagnation and isolation. But once in a while there is a shining beacon of light that brings me joy.

Case in point: In yesterday’s mail there was a plain, white envelope addressed to our Ohana (family). The return address was a PO box. I was intrigued but figured it was just another doctor bill in disguise.

I opened the envelope to discover a letter, hand written on pretty Hawaiian paper, with an invitation to join a Jehovah’s Witness Easter Zoom event ‘that will be attended by millions of people earthwide.’

I won’t go into how offensive I find that given the current state of the earth’s health, on so many levels and in so many ways.

But instead of focusing on resentment and self-righteousness, I broke into paroxysms of giggles, realizing that the sweetly smiling ladies dressed in their Sunday best can not knock on my door to bring me ‘good news’ because of Covid. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

21 in 21

I’m not superstitious about numbers or their significance. I believe that the only significance of 666 is that it comes after 665. But I am a fan of symmetry, so when my friend Alison came up with the idea of 21 in 21, I liked it. (She later discovered that someone else had already come up with the idea but you can’t copyright numbers so they can just bug off.)

With Alison’s kind permission, I sent out enquiries about what people might want from 2021. World peace and an end to Covid are givens and I’m pleased to report that nobody suggested either. I’m equally glad that nobody asked for magic beans, although if you happen to have any, I’ll send you my address.

Mostly what people wanted was to find the best in ourselves and the world around us. The past four years seemed an endless infestation of termites gnawing at the foundations of society, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty nestled in asbestos-lined jackets, sharing a hemlock cocktail and nibbling on lead paint.

Yesterday the clouds parted. Today, the birds sing a little louder and the flowers bloom a little brighter. The earth’s gravity seems just a little weaker and the stars just a little closer. I think a lot of people are feeling the same thing. So here is a collection of 21 thoughts for 2021, published on the 21st. Food for thought, a snack or a feast. It’s up to you.

1) Spend some time outdoors every day, no matter what the weather. If you’re somewhere really cold, a couple of seconds are enough.

2) Enjoy art. Any kind, any way: draw a picture, write a poem, dance in your underwear at a museum…online.

3) Learn how to fix the drip in your shower or fold an origami crane or make a cheese soufflé. The University of Youtube is open 24/7.

4) Move toward sustainable clothing: natural fibers, organic/fair trade items. Find ways to use fewer plastics. Consider the difference between wanting something and needing it.

5) Do a mindfulness activity or add meditation to your routine. Count to ten. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

6) Check in with a friend/family to say hello at least once a week. Reconnect with old friends. Write a letter on paper; use a stamp.

7) Think of something, or three things, or a hundred things you are grateful for each day. Write them down.

8) Keep a journal. Use multi-colored pens and stickers.

9) Do something fun every day. Give yourself some goof off time every week. Set boundaries so you have time for yourself. Laugh out loud. Find your happy place.

10) Work on that ‘hard thing’ for an hour, every week. Or 15 minutes; use a timer.

11) Drink more water. Eat more vegetables. Taste something you’ve never tasted.

12) Follow through on good intentions; the best opportunities may only come once. Brownie points are worth more than you realize.

13) Look in the mirror and say, “Today is going to be a good day.” Look for the silver lining.

14) Read a book you’ve always wanted to read. Suggestions offered included War and Peace, Animal Farm, Les Miserables, Chronicles of Narnia, A Tale of Two Cities, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Three Musketeers, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick.
   *If anybody succeeds, let me know!

15) Volunteer. Pick up trash. Help someone who can’t help themselves. Offer to wash the dishes. Your time is yours to give.

16) Be kind. Smile at people. Give compliments. Try to mean them.

17) Ten minutes tidy: spend 10 minutes a day doing something to connect yourself with your home and with yourself. Refold your socks. Clean out a drawer. Dust around the door frames. Make your bed. Put away the laundry.

18) Go someplace you’ve never been, even if it’s in your imagination. Be curious.

19) Practice compassionate listening, but not just listening to others. Listen to your own heart. Acknowledge when you do right or wrong. Look for the best in yourself. Forgive yourself for the worst.

20) Give in to the joy of spontaneity.

21) Let yourself be you.

Got anything to add? Let me know. I’d be happy to add updates although the management reserves the right to edit, delete or ignore with no explanation given. It’s my blog. I make the rules. XXXOOO

Giblets in Heaven

On Thanksgiving, the year my grandpa died, I was in the kitchen with my Ma, making dinner. We were nearly done. The bird was roasted, the potatoes mashed. She was making the gravy. Hers was always silky smooth and full of rich turkey drippings. As she had always done, she started chopping up the giblets, which if you are lucky enough not to know, are the guts that come in a little paper bag tucked inside the raw bird. Given a cute name to mask their nastiness, the liver, heart and gizzard are intended for the nearest cat or dog and never meant for human consumption.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said.

“What?”

“Giblets. Nobody likes giblet gravy but Grandpa. He’s not coming.”

It was one of those family epiphany moments. Grandpa was indeed not coming. We loved him and missed him but now that he was gone, we no longer had to torture ourselves with giblet gravy, something we had all silently endured for decades. Perhaps our reward for grief was freedom from giblets?

I am grateful for the absence of giblets in my gravy, ever after, amen.

Helen Reddy left us at the end of September. I hadn’t thought of her in years; now the lyrics of I Am Woman are running through my head nonstop.

Yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything

The song came out in 1972 and quickly became an anthem for the women’s movement. I was nine, just becoming aware of myself as a woman, so what I heard was ‘I Am Almost Woman‘. By the time I hit puberty, most of the bra-burning had passed–even though the ERA never did. It mystifies me that so many people managed to sleep through the revolutions of the 60’s and 70’s. From my perspective, the glorious repercussion of the protests and sacrifices of so many women is that I have never had any doubt of my right to equality in society or my ability to do just as well as any man.

I am grateful for that.

At the end of October, Sean Connery died. I’m not a huge Bond James Bond fan, but he certainly had the physical presence and self assurance the role demanded. And he had the enviable distinction of being one of the few men who got more and more handsome as he got older. Not to mention that he looked wicked good in a kilt. It is icing on the cake that the SNL celebrity Jeopardy sketches featuring a foul-mouthed and sarcastic Connery look-alike are beyond brilliant and keep me nearly wetting my liberated pants.

I’m grateful for that, too.

Which brings us to Alex Trebek. Trivia brings me joy. My head is so crammed with it that I can’t remember practical things like my Netflix password or where I left the car keys. I am a certifiable HOT, Hoarder of Trivia. Jeopardy brings me an almost sensual thrill; the lights, the cameras, the nerds and, above all, the answers and questions, the answers left unquestioned. I’ve always admired Alex’s dedication. After hosting Jeopardy for a whopping 37 seasons, he left the stage for good earlier this month. I have always wanted to believe that he was as smart as he seemed and not just reading off cue cards.

Thanks, Alex. You did good.

While I was trying to absorb those significant losses, I got an email from Duke Fightmaster saying that his lovely wife Lesley, one of my all time favorite yoga teachers, had passed away suddenly. She was barely 50, had celebrated her birthday just a few months ago.

Lesley’s final class was Yoga for Gratitude, published posthumously the day after she died. It is 45 minutes of Hatha intended to cultivate our sense of thankfulness for all the good in our lives and our world. This morning I lit a candle and left the world to its worries as Lesley’s gentle voice brought my mind and body together with each movement, each stretch, each deep, slow breath. At the end of the class, I sat up, touched prayer hands to my head, heart and lips…and melted into tears.

Lesley constantly reminds us that it’s not about the pose, not about how it looks. It’s about how it feels. And her voice is pure chocolate syrup, encouraging without pushing, always ready to laugh at herself when she messes up left and right, in the world rather than on it. She is a beacon of peace, an island of calm, warmth and gentleness in a world spiraling toward chaos, seemingly intent on its own destruction.

I’m sending gratitude to you, Helen, Sean, Alex, Lesley. I hope there are no giblets in heaven, except for you Grandpa. May your giblets plentiful.

Sobgiggle

It’s almost impossible to write when my emotions are turned inside out. While the world is percolating with disease and bitterness, there is no sweeter air than the air I am breathing this moment. The setting sun casts a pink glow on the pineapple fronds I see in my very own garden while birds chant their contentment.

This morning, I lay on my yoga mat with my eyes closed feeling calm and composed. When I opened them, my breath was sucked out of my lungs and up into a sky so clear and blue that I let out a sound I had never made before. At that moment, I realized I had invented a new emotion, a joy so pure that it nearly lifted me off my mat. But it was a joy blended with a sorrow so profound that it could have sucked me down through my mat into the depths of the ancient volcano that pulses and breathes beneath us.

I had created a sobgiggle.

Learning to live with joy is just as hard as learning to live with grief but it is a learning process that gives form and meaning to life. I am grateful for it.

365 Days

Today, August 4, 2019, marks the one year anniversary of our move to the Big Island of Hawaii. I look back on the past year with wonder and awe: the things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the new sights and sounds and tastes and genuine sense of aloha all come together to assure me, again and again, that we made the right choice.

Man Against Palm Frond

Just the other day, we were walking through a parking lot and a rogue palm frond launched itself toward Rochi’s head. It missed, fortunately, and before you could say Kamehameha, a man had jumped out of his car and two other people came running from shops in the strip mall, all intent on capturing the offending frond and making sure Rochi hadn’t been decapitated. I was relieved, of course, and also deeply moved.

The Chicken Coop at Tim and Dottie’s

Later that same afternoon, we stopped by a friend’s place because we’re chicken-sitting while they’re back on the mainland. One chicken was roosting when I entered the coop and she gave me a fierce scolding fortified with a flurry of flapping wings and angry clucking. I could only smile and make my apologies. Two of the eggs I collected from the nests were still warm. I felt their warmth radiate from my palm directly to my heart. There’s an experience I never had in Japan, or anyplace else for that matter.

There have been so many new experiences that it’s hard to list them all and impossible to rank them in order of wonderment.
– I bought a car, learned to drive it and got a Hawaii driver’s license, in that order.

Lil Six


– We both took on, and conquered, the taiko drum…until it conquered us. But we were not too proud to admit defeat and took some valuable friendships with us when we left.
– I worked on costumes for the Kamehameha School’s production of Hairspray and then the U of Hawaii production of Rent, making more friends along the way and being grateful that my life experience came together in a way that made those experiences possible.
– I started to establish a credit rating even though I’m not sure I need one and took on the American medical establishment, which I wish I didn’t need, but not every day is rainbows and unicorns.
– I took a class in basic maintenance at the community college and learned a lot, earning along the way a renewed sense of empowerment, a very nice wooden tool box and more lovely friends.

Melissa the Welder and Teacher Extraordinaire

We’ve been to mountains and beaches and farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Food adventures are myriad, from the 85 year old Dutch Chinese man who brings us avocados and soursops to the barefoot hippies who harvest organic honey destined to sweeten my tea to Sunday breakfast and Friday night fish fry at the VFW to tomatoes and peppers and beans and pineapples and lemons and lemongrass all growing in our garden before my eyes as my fingers type these words. Just thinking about this bounty makes me smile, maybe even gloat a little.

It’s been a momentous year, challenging and exuberant and hard and thrilling in turn but all bringing out the best in us and helping us see the best in others.

I am practically drowning in gratitude.

Homemade Frozen Treats chez Leah and Mick

Day 3: Tulle

In the costume shop at the University of Hawaii, I spent a couple of hours helping my friend Lee sew a gazillion yards of frou-frou onto a ballgown to be worn by a drag queen in a runway show in Honolulu.

I did this for several reasons. 1) I like Lee. 2) I like outrageous sewing projects. 3) Never in a month of blue moon Sundays would it have occurred to me that I would one day type that sentence, but I am overcome with delight and gratitude that I did.

Part of the process of packing up and leaving Tokyo was taking the time to see friends and say goodbye. We had an open house for work friends, a karaoke afternoon. I made dates for lunches and coffees and walks.

One of the nicest get-togethers was dinner with my twin sister Jay (we have the same birthday). Jay is a fascinating person, a lawyer who has trekked many of the world’s miles and soaked in many of its onsen, done volunteer work in Fukushima, taken pictures that could fill the walls of a museum and its corridors with fascinated visitors.

We chose a quiet restaurant and an early reservation, hoping for some peace, but as it turned out, waves of other diners came and went. The staff had to ask us to leave when the restaurant was closing. Jay has a way of asking questions and listening to responses that makes you feel like you are the most interesting person in the universe and every word that finds its way out of your mouth is important and worth remembering. We sat there for five hours and there was never a lag in the conversation. I felt a heavy pang of sadness when it had to end.

I miss my Tokyo people, the relationships built over months and years, but we’re making new friends here: the costumer, the yoga teacher, the earth mother, the Canadian, the cowboy poet, the Keepers of the Hens and Scrabble experts. They’re pretty great people, all unique and interesting in their own ways.

A really dumb rhyme I learned in Girl Scouts keeps running through my head.

Make new friends but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold

Maybe it’s not so dumb.

Moving On…Or Not

We’ve just completed the seventh month of our residence here in paradise. I still don’t know what we’re doing. I had set myself a goal of six months to settle in, get my ducks (or nenes) in a row, figure out where we’re going from here. Instead, I find myself completely clueless. I admit to being overwhelmed, unable to process the array of new places and people and experiences flooding my life. To illustrate, in the past week, I….

…ate blue eggs…

…made some new friends…

Shining Star

…performed taiko drumming onstage at the University of Hawaii…

…sat in on an improvisational singalong…

…ran into some beautiful faces at Foodland…

Emily, Joli, Rochi, Raenette, John Ray, Mahina and Paul

…saw orchids bloom in my garden…

…had a mammogram in English…
…attended a drumming workshop…
…took part in a gratitude circle…
…had a girls’ night out in Pahoa…
…started a new exercise regimen…
…and played a hang drum.

That’s a lot.

The thing is, living in Tokyo, sometimes months went by and nothing interesting happened. Now something wonderful happens almost every day.

The key to this magic, I have discovered, is opening myself up to what could be instead of sitting on memories and waiting for magic to walk through the door. It almost never does.

I am overwhelmed, delighted, grateful and very, very aware of how lucky I am.




Shades of Taiko

Our first performance with Puna Taiko was at the Baptist Ministries Luau at the University of Hawaii in January. Our drummers are mostly varying shades of brown so it really struck me when I looked out at the audience and saw a lot of cream cheese faces. I know there are black and Asian Baptists, but they didn’t turn up for the luau. Those who did, though, were warm and welcoming. It was a good experience.

Today, we had our second performance, this time for the New Year’s party at Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Keaau, which is also our home base. I looked out over the faces and realized there were very few white ones. Those that did appear were definitely not cream cheese; the congregation is nearly all second or more generation Japanese and mostly elderly. I am certainly used to being the only white face in a sea of Asian ones, but it felt very odd that only Reverend Tomioka and Rochi and I can speak Japanese. Still, the audience seemed to enjoy the performance and the food was genuine Japanese and very good. Plus I won one of the centerpieces in the raffle, an elegant Ikebana arrangement of exotic flowers in a Naval Academy mug. Perfect.

We still make an awful lot of mistakes, but given time I know we will improve. To that end, our relationships with our fellow drummers are developing nicely. Like the Baptists, they are warm and welcoming and some of the sweetest kids I’ve ever know. We’d like to adopt the whole bunch, at least in theory. Finding ourselves so far from family and friends intensifies the warmth we see in their eyes and gives it a depth of meaning that is hard to describe.

Drumming is challenging but fun and I’m learning how to accompany on the fue flute. In fact, we will be attending a fue and shakuhachi seminar in Hilo next week before our third performance, which will be at the International Students Days at the U of Hawaii. After us, there’s a lineup of performers from Palau, Kiribati, India and Fiji, among others. I am looking forward to it.

Looking back through this post, I see a LOT of words I never thought I’d type. I am honored, humbled and grateful to be able to type them.

I am living my bucket list. Who could ask for more than that?

Kissed by a Unicorn

Honey

I woke up this morning, the day after Christmas, with an urge to watch bears eating honey. It has been my experience that it’s best to scratch such itches before they fester, so I consulted my pal Youtube, who kindly obliged with a video of two large black bears laying siege to a wooden beehive.

The narration was a smooth baritone in the gentle, insinuating style employed by public broadcasters worldwide. I don’t know what the dude was saying because it was in German, but I did catch the words “Fort Knox” as the bears continued to assault the box. They worked themselves into a honey-scented frenzy despite the stinging objections of the bees. The battle turned when they used brute strength to tear the roof off the hutch. They yanked out the trays of honeycomb and scraped through the soft wax with their powerful claws; their pointed snouts and pink tongues became coated with golden, sticky nectar. The final narration said “fur dei beenen, (something-something) enden, fur die bearen, (something-something) fest mas laden”, which I think means “bees: zero, bears: one”, as the sugar-charged bears trotted back into the woods, their beady eyes rolling in absolute pleasure.

Paul Photo-bombs Rochi

We spent Christmas eve with new friends, especially Paul, our taiko drumming teacher, and members of his extended family. Or not. There were two kids there so all the adults were called Uncle or Auntie but in Hawaii that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s related. At any rate, it felt like family, people who knew each other well and were very comfortable together and willing to welcome strangers to their fold.

We stuffed ourselves with Hawaiian bounty and then Auntie Susie said we had to stay for The Ball Game.

The Ball Game turned out to be a ball of Saran wrap and a pair of dice. You play the game by trying to peel off the layers of plastic wrap while the person to your left rolls the dice. As soon as they get doubles, you pass the ball to them and they pass the dice to their left. As sheets of plastic dropped away, a surprising assortment of treats were revealed, and whoever managed to free them got to keep them. It started with candies and soon escalated to packets of instant ramen, dollar bills, shopping bags, baseball caps, dryer balls, bottles of hot sauce, gift cards. It was a cornucopia, such a simple idea but so much fun, way better than any dumb old pinata.

The winner was the one who made it to the center of the ball to discover a Tupperware full of pretzels and $20. Technically, Paul’s daughter Emily won, but I think I did better, scoring both a Lord of the Rings baseball cap and a Dairy Queen gift card.

If you’ve ever watched in helpless horror as the plastic slips off the edge of the box and attaches itself to the roll, you know how strongly Saran wrap likes to cling to itself. So the game took a while, everyone shouting and laughing as we tore at the plastic, our attack less violent than the Siege of the Beehive, but our pleasure just as real.

Christmas day we stayed home, opened presents (I received a jar of Wililaiki Christmasberry honey and didn’t have to fight off a single bee), ate a lot (not turkey; there’s no way we could top November’s Thanksmas celebration), tried to stay awake to watch the Grinch on TV, and were generally rather smug about how lucky we are.

And that was our first Christmas on American soil in the past three decades. So far our new life is off to a great start. And we’re going to do our darndest to keep it up with relentless curiosity, goodwill, humor, open hearts and open minds…and honey, sweet golden liquid, Hawaiian sunshine in a jar, the scent of heaven and the taste of love.

China

I have started a collection of mismatched china plates. The first member of this soon-to-be budding coterie was discovered at the Goodwill store in Hilo lying under a thin layer of dust behind a broken toaster and a one-eyed Raggedy Ann.

china plate

Isn’t she lovely? Her refined elegance is marred by a small chip on her back but her spirit still shines through and she has not once spilled my baked beans onto the floor.

In the beauty of a chipped china plate, I see the beauty of life. I have learned that we are the reflection of what we have done with our lives. Most of us are tarnished, chipped, maybe a bit blurry. Along the road to arriving here, we have earned our wrinkles, gray hair, scars, aches and confusions. Rather than seeing these things as the ravages of time, I like to think of them as proof that I have lived, proof that I have not sat in a tower behind a locked door, watching the soldiers march past. I have more than once taken that frightening first step into the unknown and experienced again and again the joy of discovery, the universality of the human heart, and the magnificent release of laughter.

I love the feel of a nice china plate, but hate the idea of having a full set of matching china. If one plate gets broken, the set is diminished. On the other hand, if none of the plates match and one gets broken, nobody but the broken plate will be any the wiser and none will be diminished by the loss. The mismatched horde remains strong, not trying to be anything more than what it is, and every member is valued for its intrinsic uniqueness.

To celebrate what is either the ultimate in wisdom or a foolish naivety–honestly I don’t care which it is–I am gratefully accepting donations to the collection. With luck, I will have enough mismatched plates to host a dinner party by the time our hedge has grown enough to give us some privacy.

So if you want to be rid of your mismatched bits, please feel free to send them on. And if you could be so kind as to send them by UPS, I would be eternally grateful.

hibiscus