Saturday, August 31, 2013

Down to Lexington

We were riding on the bus and a big lizard attacked us and the wheels on the bus go round and round and a leprechaun appeared.....this was the story game we played on the bus, led by a large, friendly, energetic black woman named Cherie who was determined to fight bus boredom and take her appreciative compatriots with her.  Before our communal story games, truth or dare, and listening to her humorous beat boxing and rapping (accompanied by the complying rhythmic honks of our equally bored bus driver) Andrew and I spent a stormy afternoon with my friends in Lexington playing Catch Phrase, madlibs, and catching up on life.  A bus ride down and a bus ride back.  Only one day remains.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Peopled roads

Morning on an Illinois farm gave way to tea in a Champaign-Urbana coffee house and merged into dinner with my high school cello teacher.  A road connecting new friends, friends of friends, voices from the past.  Tomorrow a trip down to Lexington, KY.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Farewell Madison

For the time being, it is time to leave Madison.  For the time being, it is not the place to which I belong.  Its people seem well and it has been so wonderful to see them again.  I've enjoyed the beautiful lakes, gardens, views of the Capital, bike rides, fire pits, food, and community.  Sometime again.  I look forward to it.

For now, a stop at an Illinois farm where a good friend from the past has served us peach cobbler under a star-filled skill.  Tomorrow is an early morning.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hello, Goodbye

Reconnecting with other lives.  All around the world lives continue on without me.  Lives that I once knew and think about every day, ones that I've forgotten, that I haven't yet met, that I never will.  I think some of them are my own.  But here in Madison are a few.  People that I once knew everyday.  Familiar laughs and smiles and concerns.  Patterns of thinking, patterns of living, patterns of patterns, patterns of new.  What makes a life different from another?  What happens as it spins away, unmonitored by its past, unknowing of its future?  Does it exist without a point of reference? 

Tonight the stars were clear above our fire on the lake.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day in Madison

And here we are, in Madison.  Community seems to saturate this place.  Clear air everywhere.  In the gardens, over the lake, between us and the lightning storm that brewed across Lake Mendota as we sat out on the terrace and as we walked home around Monona Bay.  There was no thunder, the stars above us were shining, the Capital doubled in the clear, still water.  It feels so good to be back here and to share it with another.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bus ride to Madison

Craddled in a sunset on the way to Madison after a long walk in Chicago.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week ahead

There is just over a week left in America.  We came back from visiting my grandmother last night and will be leaving for Madison tomorrow.  Emails to set up other rendevous, trying to work out time like a Tetris game.  There's a burrito place we'd like to enjoy before leaving, Tae Kwon Do classes, farms to visit, past teachers to meet, a list of movies, a longer list of friends.  Andrew and I went to my friend's wedding shower and I saw people I hadn't seen in a long time and would love to see again but am not sure if the hour will be free for it.  How does one determine the best way to divide the time?  In what place, doing what, with whom?  Just trying to be here while I'm here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Andrew meets Muffy; I play Oklahoma with my father

Playing music with people, playing music for people, listening to people play music.  What a life.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cybele at Seasons 52

Last fall in Japan I received a very surprise CD album in the mail from a girl I had sung with in choir during junior high and high school.  She had self-produced this album of her original songs, and I had had the fortune of being in town, in Cincinnati, long enough one day two years earlier to play on a single track.  She had said she'd send me a copy but somehow I didn't still expect that offerings to follow me across the Pacific Ocean.  Despite our limited contact we started a short pen pal relationship and I learned that she was recently married and expecting a little girl in March.  

Tonight, after a casual Facebook mention that she was playing regularly at a place near my parents' home, I went to hear her sing.  As with the album appearing at my door in Japan, I wonder how much she really expected me to arrive, such acquaintances as we are.  She gave us a coupon for a free appetizer and dedicated her performance of a song to me being home.  She seems like a very generous and sincere person, doing as she says she will do, paying for an unexpected CD package to Japan, taking the time to write a letter to someone she just barely knew in high school, caring for her passion and her family.  I wonder who she was in high school, in junior high.  I don't remember her then. But maybe it's never too late to meet someone again.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cincinnati Skies

We visited Granddad in his new skilled nursing facility this afternoon.  While we were inside there was an incredible thunderstorm which cleared the way for a later dinner overlooking Cincinnati, a god-like sunset, and a game with the Reds.  Granddad is doing well, the dinner was delicious, the Reds won.

Dinner at the Incline overlooking Cincinnati

Reds vs Diamondbacks

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A day in Cincinnati

My brother left for med school this morning, students at my father's school returned after their summer break while he enjoyed his first day of retirement, it is my parents anniversary (they think their 36th) and my grandfather is moving from the hospital to an assisted nursing facility.  The weather was beautiful and my mother, Andrew and I headed downtown to the newly developed river banks.  We swang on a three person swing overlooking the river, visited the Underground Freedom Center, talked about what it is to be free, ate Skyline Chili, walked through Washington Park and the new SCPA and drove through more of Cincinnati.  I lost my cell phone after listening to a message from my high school cello teacher, left on the table at a Cincinnati chili establishment, all my American phone numbers disappearing into the past.  Today came after yesterday and before tomorrow.  My brother and my mother are building a fire in the back for s'mores, the Reds are on the TV.  That's where things are in Cincinnati.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

David's last night in Cincinnati

It's David's last night in Cincinnati before he drives up north to get settled in his new apartment for med school.  He'll be starting a new chapter this week, this month, this year.  Living in a new space, facing new challenges both academically and personally as he moves away from Cincinnati for the first time.  When he gets home from visiting Granddad tonight we may make a fire on the back patio for marshmallows and s'mores.  Tomorrow morning, father-made chocolate chip pancakes, a long established tradition.  And then on the road, headed up north to Rootstown.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New backyard findings (Andrew arrives)

After picking up Andrew from the airport, my brother drove us through downtown Cincinnati and Covington.  We went through streets we'd never seen before and made our way up the hill to Devou Park to see the skyline from the Kentucky side of the river.  We descended the hill and headed to Sawyer Point where we walked through the annual Midwest Black Family Runion.  I'd never been before and wanted to see a part of Cincinnati that I rarely get to experience in Japan.  A dance contest, some free styling, lots of street food.  I miss this voice when I'm on the other side of the Pacific.  We returned home and got some Chinese carry-out to accompany a Ghibli Studio film, Castle in the Sky.  Family and friends.  Another two weeks of American Midwest.   

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Being here briefly

My family has a way of being and I'm only just stopping through.  They have a practice with one another, a sequence that is connected to before and will continue after I leave.  My brother got married, my grandfather will need more care, my friends will have weddings, life goes on, grows and changes without me.  People know one another in a day-to-day sort of way that I can only observe. This is a brief window that I can share with the people of my life, and it feels quite transitory.  I cannot quite cling to the joys and fears that everyone here will continue to have after I go.  I'll be going back to my own transitory existence in Japan and only hearing about it through emails, seeing faces on Skype, being disconnected from the weight and lightness of being that comes with sharing difficult and beautiful life experiences with other people.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bon visits

This is the time of the Bon festival in Japan.  It is during this time that ancestors' spirits return to their families.  There are traditional dances and candles to encourage them to return.  It is a beautiful time in the heat of August;  I saw a bit of it last year, when I arrived in Japan.  But this year, I'm in America visiting my family.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Granddad continues to improve and in the process I am learning a new lesson from my parents through their example.  Watching my father take care of his father, listening to him listen to him, watching him watch him, a subtle timing to the adjustment of a telephone to be within reach in a certain way.  The way both my parents anticipate the needs of their parents and the way they fill the interstices of time so patiently, something beautiful and gently spontaneous in a way that can't possibly be fully within their control.  Where do we learn the way that we care?  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


In America eggs have a yellow center rather than the mellow gold I've learned to boil over the past year.  Such essentials as rice seasoning, miso paste, seaweed, and dashi are not even considered in the grocers' shelves filled with cereal options.  I've had several meals where I've consumed more than one piece of fruit.  There are multiple bread options, bulk foods, and a choice of nut butters.  Nutrition facts are given by the producer's definition of a serving size, not a certain gram amount.  

Amazing how food creates a unique feeling to a place.  What is eaten, the way it is eaten, the ritual of purchase and preparation.  Some things can be recreated here, but the golden eggs and meticulous presentation will have to wait until next month.  I'll be eating fruit in the meantime.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Return from Madison

The air was so clear in Madison this morning, the people to happy, the light on the water so magical.  Is it real?  Surely a place cannot be so perfect.

Back in Cincinnati.  As many hours on the road in the last day as we were at our destination.  Hours of well-loved music, NPR, car-made peanut butter sandwiches, and testing of every chain of truck stop along the way.  It feels right and good to be here, but not sure what is happening next--tomorrow, this week, or year.  A tired mind conjectures.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A quick trip to Madison

A day on the road.  Staring at impossibly endless fields and huge skies.  Madison is still so beautiful.  But now to go home.  To let go of this before it is time.  To be with family, back in Cincinnati.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

To be with another

My dear grandfather is in the hospital.  The fact that he should be fine doesn't lessen my wish for his well-being or the intensity of the care that I feel towards him.  If only we were endowed with the ability to bring comfort to all corners of one another's lives, but it seems there are so many parts that each must walk alone.  It hurts to see it, hurts to feel it, the distance between us and another person.  But there are many things that seem like distance.   A lifetime, a language, an ocean.  Are they the real measure of distance?  Perhaps there is something which spans the arch of their measure, which transcends their space and time.  Somewhere, in some way, we all live together.  Distance ceases to exist and I hold your hand beyond.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Waverly, OH (visit to Muffy)

It feels so good to be taken care of and to take care of another.  I'm in Waverly, OH with my mother visiting my grandparents.  Shortly after we arrived, my mother read down a list of chores with which my severely visually impaired grandmother needed assistance.  Setting up the humidifier, looking through mail, reading a Tylenol bottle, fixing a Furbie.  Throughout the afternoon my grandmother told memories of her life, stories about herself, anecdotes about her intelligence and talent, opinions and ideas that she holds, lots of facts-some accurate, some in need of an internet search-glimpses into her life of feeling lonely and afraid, stressed about the needs of herself and her husband who lives in an assisted living home a few miles away.  The chores were nothing.  A scaffolding of something more that is needed.  

I felt tired and a bit like I was getting a cold, but my grandmother kept talking, even as the humidifier remained unopened in the box 8 hours after our arrival.  She commented how I must be tired and still a bit jet lagged and I mentioned my feeling of weariness to her.  And as we completed another chore of her trying on some clothes that my mother had bought for her, she insisted that I lie on the bed, put up my feet, close my eyes.  And at my curiosity she explained in detail the way that she boils an egg and how she peels it, a quest for perfection that I may never achieve.  Her attention to detail touched me.  Her care for telling me how it should be done felt so loving.  

Somewhere behind the streams of words and distractions, behind the fear of being alone and unloved, is someone so loving and wanting.  The tenacity of her love and care is in the way that she holds a hand upon saying hello, the way that she hugs.  As difficult as it can be to sift through the words, the definitions she has placed upon life to bring sense and security to it, the subtle (or not so subtle) judgement that we family members can feel in her questions and comments, I can feel the depth of her loving in the way she cares.  As I was lying on her bed, resting while she took off her clothes, I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of trust, the sense of a safe place despite the insecurities of life and old age.  I don't remember most of the things she said today, nor do I think that they are really what she was saying.  But I hope I can take that feeling of trust with me and share it on her behalf.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy Retirement!

My father recently retired so we made him a surprise dinner and cake to celebrate. Congratulations, Dad! Love you!

Mom's taking the picture

Congrats Dad!  (I-V-I)

...and many more!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Trip to Rootstown, Ohio

The sound of heavy rain has arrived.  We wondered if it was lightening ahead of us on the horizon as we headed down I-71 towards Cincinnati, a late night return from Rootstown, Ohio where my brother will be attending medical school in less than a month.  On the way up my mother and I shared the confined space of a car and made sense of our existence as two people do who share half their genes and thirty years of familiarity.  Comparing our commonalities, using our individual lives to shed light on ideas of being human in this world.  

When we arrived and met my brothers who had driven up earlier, the apartment was still unready after already a week of delay.  We had come to Rootstown, it seemed, to have an opportunity to stop in Dover, Ohio to see my great-grandfather's self made house (still there) and enjoy the local Cracker Barrel, where we sat in the outdoor rocking chairs reading the local paper, playing checkers, and me eating soba and seaweed brought along as a packed lunch (of course after an appetizer of grits and eggs over easy). (Photo credit to my mother)

Lettin' the time pass.  A good thing to do in Ohio country.  Watching the clouds and the wind pull in the rain and let it go.  The apartment was ready and we moved in boxes and bags in the spotty rain, holding doors and having them held for us by the red-eyed workers slowly bringing the building to fruition.  I got to see the apartment and beautiful school building and feel really excited for my brother and his coming year.

On the way home my mother and I listened to Puccini and Leon Redbone and the Beatles, releasing some of the tiredness of the day even as it kept accruing by the time and the travel.  We watched the mist on the corn and soybean fields, and the lightening over the horizon, pulling us closer to Cincinnati, to the beautiful sound of a heavy rain.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Okonomiyaki Party in America

Tonight I brought okonomiyaki to my parents' home for one of our family get-togethers.  It was a little different with All-Purpose Pillsbury Flour, smaller sizes, do-it-yourself dressings, and an electric stove top, but America enjoyed it. We also had the stand-by cold cuts for those not ready for the plunge, but it turned out they were not necessary.  Everyone was a fan of the okonomiyaki as well as the various mochi and other Japanese treats that we featured this evening.  It's hard to go wrong with Japanese deliciousness.

turkey slices, vegetable plate, dill pickles, and okonomiyaki

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jet Lag

I'm in jet lag denial.  I have not slept since I got up this morning,  not had caffeine.  It's 9:22PM and I will make it 9:30PM on the magical powers of Quaker Oatmeal Squares and peanut butter toast alone, which I'm enjoying quite liberally here.  Bike ride with Ben this morning, checking out a wedding site with David and Eun Jung and the family this afternoon. Spending time with family and more tomorrow.

I will not retype this last sentence.  I will not backspace.  Only going forward from bed.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back in Cincinnati

I'm home in Cincinnati, in my room.  I can hear my parents voices across the hall, lying in bed, discussing plans for the coming weeks that I'm here.  There is a picture of me with Santa on the book shelf and another on the dresser.   Pictures of my brothers, things from me that were never moved, things brought into this space by others.  Amazing the sculpting of time and absence on a space and in the mind.  Returning to Cincinnati after a year away in Japan.  A new casino downtown, a new hotel, and hospital, the credit union is now a pizza restaurant.  My family is still here.  

A return to a familiar comfort, knowing that I belong to all the people around me.  To wave at people on the street,  to say good morning, to smile in an ease I've yet to fully embody in Japan.  This is my home.  People of many races walking together, voices of many tones, some agressive, some melancholy, some sarcastic, incredulous, joyful, exhausted, impatient, grateful.  How many wear accents as they speak my native tongue, trying to find a comfort here just as I try to find it in another place?  So many different voices.  So many different people.

Is it because I am from this place that I feel this ease?  I can ask for something at the pharmacy, I can make a hotel booking, or inquire about a one-day pass at the pool.  I can say hello without the twinge of anticipation that I will have to say more.  

And at the same time, I miss Japan.  As I was leaving it I missed it already, watching a baseball game in the airport, lifting my feet for the gentleman fastidiously vacuuming the airport lounge, eating my homemade food next to others doing the same, deciphering a new word, watching mothers coddle their abnormally adorable children.   It's a funny feeling to both miss the place from which you leave and look forward to the place to which you are going.  Where is satisfaction?  What to choose if there is no better option?  

But family is irreplaceable and it is such a wonderful, wonderful feeling to be enjoying this familiarity for the time, as much as I enjoy the novelty and growth which Japan has come to represent.  I feel that I'm learning more about both of these worlds during my first few hours and day here.  How different the feeling of being able to offer myself, to connect with the world when living in this familiarity.  And to strive to remember this for others, as we all try to find this comfort in this world.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013


A final farewell.  So many people are leaving this year.  Reflecting on each person's unique energy and what they bring to our community, what they bring to whatever world they touch, how they change it.  Living here is not just living in Japan, it's living in a very small community of people.  And learning from this has probably been as much a part of my growth this year as the language and customs of this new country.  Each person carries so much with them and it is impossible to hide from it, to be blind to it.  Life is hard.  Life is beautiful.  We all carry it with us.  It hurts us, we suffer from ourselves and others, and we find ways to laugh and smile within it.  What a strange dance.  We are only here for such a short time.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Final Concert at HPAC

The final day of HPAC.  A concert of Italian cuisine, arias, and a classically absconded J-pop. 40 seconds into sizzling steaks, we started the William Tell Overture; the soprano singing Violetta's arias told the host that she liked pizza and pasta, and of course wine, before delivering her performance;  the fork as a modern eating utensil was thoroughly examined.  

It was a surreal afternoon.  A sudden and strange farewell to the space shared by so many people who have been with us this past year and the years before I existed in Japan.  Amazing that we have arrived at this point in time.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Delicious Daily Gifts

Japan is a steady stream of gift sweets.  Two days ago I went for a bow rehair and left with three small rabbit shaped cakes from a nearby prefecture as a gift from the shop owner.  Yesterday was a lesson with Fukunari-sensei and it goes without saying that there would be a fine sweet, this time of a kinako variety.  Today the librarian walked briskly up to me, arm outstretched offering a frozen cheese cake delight.  All are beautifully and individually wrapped and shrouded in Japanese ritualistic mystery.

I go to America in a few days and would love to acquire some gift response to quickly remove the gifted onus, but there's nothing like it.  A handful of Reese's?  While few would say no, it doesn't quite have the same appeal.  Beef jerky?   I suppose I will just have to bear the burden of daily acquiring more delicious gift karma.  What will it be tomorrow?  From where will it come?