Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 7 – Bittersweet

How should the soul not take wings
when from the Glory of God

It hears a sweet, kindly call:
"Why are you here, soul? Arise!"

How should a fish not leap fast
into the sea from dry land

When from the ocean so cool
the sound of the waves reaches its

How should the falcon not fly
back to his king from the hunt

When from the falconer's drum
it hears to call: "Oh, come back"?

Why should not every Sufi
begin to dance atom-like

Around the Sun of duration
that saves from impermanence?

What graciousness and what beauty?
What life-bestowing! What grace!

If anyone does without that, woe-
what err, what suffering!

Oh fly , of fly, O my soul-bird,
fly to your primordial home!

You have escaped from the cage now-
your wings are spread in the air.

Oh travel from brackish water
now to the fountain of life!

Return from the place of the sandals
now to the high seat of souls!

Go on! Go on! we are going,
and we are coming, O soul,

From this world of separation
to union, a world beyond worlds!

How long shall we here in the dust-world
like children fill our skirts

With earth and with stones without value,
with broken shards without worth?

Let's take our hand from the dust grove,
let's fly to the heavens' high,

Let's fly from our childish behaviour
and join the banquet of men!

Call out, O soul, to proclaim now
that you are rules and king!

You have the grace of the answer,
you know the question as well!

Yesterday, July 16 2011, was a bittersweet day… a day when we made the hardest decision of our lives and said goodbye. The balm in my heart was the peace she finally received.
The start of this project was in anticipation of this day. It’s been an amalgam of thoughts with snippets left for this particular blog. Now that it is here, I found those words just a little difficult to put down. In fact, I gave my brain a little rest yesterday and didn’t write to just be in the day and to reflect.

It is the first anniversary that is almost as hard as the process. When I spoke with my brother, he said exactly how I was feeling, “It’s still not real.” Upon hearing the voice of my mum’s friend on the phone checking up on us, the sound of a Japanese accent brought back so much of what I missed that was my mum. It was so nice that the spirit of my mum lives in so wide of a spectrum. Her friend had called to let us know her church prayed for her and her family today.
But just like each day since one year ago, we wake up and have our coffee, go into our garden, cook our things and live life. We go through our moments and travel through our day in the hecticness of modern day life. Yet in looking back, I see a little different color to each day. I see the shade of red that was one of mum’s favorite colors adding a hue throughout the day. I see the traditions I carry each day in honor of her.

One such tradition is lighting incense for her…usually at night when I go to bed. It’s my tradition that I brush, put the dog in his crate, and stop to light incense for her and say goodnight. Or say thank you. Or say help. Or say anything else that comes into my mind. It is a moment of reflection that has come into my life as a direct memory of watching mum do the same with her deceased. From the Japanese incense she used to use, to the stones in the dish that was like what she used, my little spot of tradition is my daily dose of Japanese. It is also in this spot that she had her first bowl of rice in this house. Tradition dictates that the first bowl of rice in a new pot goes to honor those that aren’t with us.

Through conversation and reflection, I know her passing from this realm is just a journey of her spirit and she lives through and in each of us. She lives on through the stories, through the traditions and through the ways our lives would not have been if it wasn’t for her presence. For that I am so thankful.

Just like her jovial spirit, yesterday had some awesome moments that brought great smiles. Perhaps it was a response to some prior blogs I had written.
We had helped Pops clean and organize his garage…a daunting task. We made it through the piles and sorted. We approached the end of the garage where boxes were piled up. The only way to do a task is with the spirit of Mary Poppins so with one box grabbed we began the journey of this task. The boxes held a lot of mum’s clothes so we sorted into donations, things we would like to keep, etc. One box in particular had shoes and bags. After a couple of pairs of shoes sorted, there were the acupressure shoes I had written about. I immediately put them on and in painful glory relished wearing these shoes. My feet had been hurting and it was a glorious pain that I walked back and forth in these shoes. I brought them home with me and I look forward to the owies as I walk in them.

A little further in the box, was a packet of Japanese health things. Upon looking inside, it was the batch of acupuncture needles…With The Chart!!! Woohoo! I get to experiment… perhaps to the lament of those around me.

So…Mum..thank you for these little gifts. Thank you for the wonderful traditions and memories. Thank you for being you and for giving each of us the amazing spark that was you.
Thank you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 6 – 24 hours isn’t enough

Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart. ~Rumi

It is with sore feet and a full day that I am finally having my moment with mum and writing. She amazed me with her ability to accomplish a large list of tasks in one day. I’m sitting here with half of my insanely long list of things I wanted to get done actually finished…there wasn’t enough day to do it all. Mum, on the other hand, would have her house meticulously clean (she really did spring cleaning about weekly), cook the food she wanted to cook, make the things she wanted to make and still have time left over in the day. That’s what it seemed to me anyways.
I always talk to mum when I wipe the floor – her philosophy was a floor should be wiped with a rag on hands and knees. That is the only way to make sure all crevices are clean and I agree. I use the convenience of a mop when I am short on time but I do so with guilt that mum is watching and letting me know I missed the corners.

As I made dinner, I reflected on how what I was cooking was reflective of my life as a whole. I made black beans to go with rice, eggplant from my pops’ garden and I watched over the batch of pickles that were cooking. The eggplant was cooked the only way I know how, the way mum did it. A little oil and stir fried and topped with soy sauce – that is yummy goodness. Rice was made the only way also – in a rice cooker. As we sat down for dinner, I had a plate full of mum’s goodness as I also broke out the seaweed topping that we grew up on, had my happy eggplant and my Japanese rice. This is a happy meal full of many memories of lunch with mum.

The pickles are something I learned a year ago. Canning always intrigued and scared me. My partner’s heritage insists that when the summer cucumbers start coming off the vines, the smell of pickles cooking isn’t far behind. It’s pretty cool to go into our stash and get a jar of something we had chopped, stirred and canned. The sweet pickles we make taste like heaven ,too. What rocks is that we get a lot of cucumbers from Pop’s garden so it’s a great merging of families – all in a little jar. My mum would pickles watermelon rind which I’ve seen in country stores in Virginia but I know they are far different from the ones she made. I don’t think soy sauce is an ingredient of American watermelon pickles. I lament I never got the recipe of her watermelon pickles; they tasted like summer in small little bites.

With exhaustion I went to bed to finish this blog in the morning. As I watched the weather, I realized the heat was starting early so I went out to the garden first thing and did the yard before the sun would be too brutal. I remember mum would go out in the yard before the sun came up to make sure her skin wouldn’t get dark. Since it was wicked early, she edged the yard with scissors as to not wake the neighbors. Pops got her a handheld edger but she preferred her way. Even before most people would get out of bed she would have her flower bed and garden looking crisp and ready to greet the day. I now get it…get things out of the way before the wicked sun zaps all energy.

Mum’s energy was almost unending and I am amazed at all she did. When we were young, she did everything and took care of 3 wee ones. Most of my memory was once we came to the United States and she went to work but I remember even then she would take on so much. I would help her tear down the uniforms for her to repair. Even though I goofed a lot, she would be thankful for the help of taking off buttons and patches as she sewed into the night. Her spirit carried into her work and she had a loyal following of Marines. At her funeral there was a retired Marine that came to pay his respects, he never forgot mum and had some wonderful things to say about her. She left that job a while back but her memory still lingers.

My hope and thanks carry through the traditions I use every day. Mum set an example and like Mary Poppins she had her way of doing things. As I go through my tasks, invoking her way of doing things makes the job go a little faster. And even though she may be watching to make sure I get the corners done, it is with a smile that I scrub a little harder…just for her.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 5 – Ancient Asian Secret

Visit the sick, and you will heal yourself.
The ill person may be a Sufi master,
And your kindness will be repaid in wisdom.
Even if the sick person is your enemy,
You will still benefit,
For kindness has the power to transform
Sworn enemies into firm friends.
And if there is no healing of bad feeling,
There certainly will be less ill will,
Because kindness is the greatest of all balms.

Natural health was always taught to me by mum. She had the strangest cures and the greatest knowledge. She was never afraid to try something new if it was a natural remedy.
Growing up, there was the big bottle of Japanese medicine…otherwise known as the rabbit poo medicine. We called it that because it looked like little rabbit pellets and smelled like ick. Thankfully it did not contain rabbit feces, that I know of. It was used to cure any ills from stomach aches to fever to anything else that was wrong. I can still picture where it was located on the shelf of my parent’s closet and the feeling of dread when I had to get the bottle. Recently, I found out that my dear friend in college whose mother is Korean also had the rabbit poo medicine growing up and his grandfather who is a medicine man still makes it.

I recall an episode where mum was staying on top of health by taking a spoonful everyday of a concoction she had made. She minced up garlic and mixed it with honey and kept it in a cream Tupperware container. As a hungry kid, I would venture into the fridge looking for nosh and would forget about what was in that Tupperware until I opened it and got hit in the face with a horrid smell. She didn’t take this concoction for a long time but it sure seemed like it lasted forever in the fridge.

Green tea was a staple in our house and still is in my own home today. It still is the best cure for stomachaches and overeating. It also helps with homework as there is nothing better than having a hot cup sitting by as you are studying.

Mum also dabbled in acupuncture. Japan has acupuncture needles attached to Band-Aid like patches although the needles aren’t as long as one’s in an acupuncturist’s office. I was having pains and I can’t remember where exactly but the origin was in my hand. I remember the actual pain site was far from it but the meridian pointed towards a spot on the back of my hand. She had a chart that would dictate where to put the needle. She followed the location on my hand and went to put the Band-Aid needle on my skin. Unfortunately she hit a nerve instead and it hurt! She quickly found the right spot and it did help. I still have a few of the needles (which are maybe a centimeter long) but without the chart I’m at a loss as to where to stick the needle. It seems crazy that you can purchase acupuncture at the drugstore but that’s the American in me. I wish I had studied acupuncture but unfortunately there aren’t schools located nearby.

Health is such an aspect of Japanese culture that many products are geared for improving vitality. Mom had outdoor sandals that had nubs where the foot rests. They stimulated acupressure points along the feet but if you weren’t prepared for it they were pretty sore shoes to wear. If they were the only shoes available to step outside I had to deal with the discomfort but it never lasted long. Sometimes I would purposely pick those shoes to wear.

Mum also loved vinegar for its many health advantages. Along with food preparation, she used vinegar to prevent foot issues, bug bites and heat rashes. My poor son was the recipient of vinegar therapy and many other natural therapies as I inherited mum’s love of natural healing. His favorite tale is my adventure with spirulina. I purchased a bottle of this dark green powder and read that it can be mixed with juice. We had a burgundy colored fruit juice so for dinner I mixed a spoonful of spirulina. Being algae, it didn’t mix well and coagulated alongside the edge of the glass mimicking a swamp pond. Since this bottle wasn’t cheap I didn’t want to waste any of it so I went out and got capsules since the juice wasn’t working so well. I elected my son to help me fill these capsules which wasn’t an easy task. (I recently did the same with bee pollen but this time I found a device that is made to fill the capsules…who knew they made such things!) He also went through a natural remedy for attention deficit disorder that he was diagnosed with. There is still quite a look of disgust on his face when he thinks about taking the spoonful of the horrid orange mixture that was called Kidalin….herbal Ritalin. I suppose the rabbit poo medicine experience lives on to the next generation!

Recently I watched a show on eating disorders and a cure was to approach food as medicine and to take the appropriate dose for what is needed. I realized that mum’s approach to natural health was the same and I adore that ingrained within me is this approach to illness. Western medicine has its place but is challenging at best and I like the Eastern medical philosophy that mum instilled in us. It may not be as pleasant but it sure makes me feel better knowing what is going into my body.

So many thanks, Mum, for a lifelong gift.

Day 4 – Foodstuffs and Nature’s Bounty

Refuse the First Plate

There is a deliverance that comes, when you move from eating greasy scraps to more beautiful, noble food.
One kind of food gives you flatulence and diarrhea, a heaviness in the stomach.
The other keeps you light as you ride the ocean.
Fast, and watch what arrives.
A materially full person is not alert for dishes that descend.
Don’t always eat what’s offered.
Be lordly, refuse the first plate.
Wait, and the host will send out better food.
Lift your head like the tallest mountain in the dark that the dawn turns red, then gold.

As previously mentioned, my gardening experiences have been challenging at best but this year I am loving the bounty of a successful garden. We have just started reaping the benefits of spinach, tomatoes (2 eaten so far!) and basil (2 batches of pesto, one supplemented by my Pops’ crop) and we’re waiting for eggplant, zucchini, onion, string beans, butter beans and squash. We received a slew of kale (learned how to cook kale southern style but I still don’t like it) and green beans. My first attempt at cooking green beans wasn’t so successful to I spent yesterday trying out 2 other recipes. The first wasn’t so good but the second was yumm-o! I have learned that anything fried is yummy and fried green beans is a treat that must be tried.
As I was experimenting, I was thinking about Mum’s ability to make anything out of nothing including food. She had a dish she used with green beans and spinach called gomae (pronounced go-may-eh). It is simply heaven on earth and she would make it often for me. In researching the recipe, I swore she had miso paste in it. I look forward to another venture to an Asian market for sesame to try it. Like other experiments trying to copy mom’s recipe, I am expecting to be a little disappointed. There is nothing like mom’s cooking and I think the secret ingredient is her brain.
I loved watching her and my son dissect foods when we were out to eat. They both have the uncanny ability to taste a dish and come up with the separate ingredients.

One dish I have been successful in emulating and have turned onto others is a cucumber dish. The sauce is made of mayo, rice wine vinegar and a dash of soy. The mayo is best if it is Japanese mayo, there is a distinct taste in Japanese mayo – an extra creaminess. It is so yummy that we would eat cabbage just dressed in this mayo – tasty! I loved it as a kid because there is a picture of the Kewpie doll on the mayo. Lately, I’ve struggled finding it in Asian markets; I wonder if it is a hard import due to the earthquakes. The cucumbers also have to be prepped specifically. First, they have to be sliced as thinly as possible. Mom was a magician with the knife and had a Japanese cleaver she would use. In a blur, a piece of food became shreds under her hand. I still can’t work her magic with a knife and usually when I try I end up cutting myself. Once the cucumbers are sliced, they are placed in a colander with salt and under running water, they are squeezed like the Dickens. This softens them even more and the salt acts like an abrasive to aid the process. The water washes the salt away so there isn’t a salty mass when it’s done. Once softness is obtained, the cukes are squeezed in handfuls to express the water and into a bowl they go. Once the sauce is to taste, it is mixed with the cukes and into the fridge for a good chilling. Mum always touted the benefits of vinegar and you are left with a dose of healthy when you eat this dish.

One tragedy in trying to mimic her cooking was chicken adobo. She had many secret ingredients in this because any recipe I use doesn’t even come close. When she would make this dish, the chicken would literally fall off the bone and there were hardly any leftovers…ever. In fact, once she made a huge pot to bring to my brother’s house on a visit. He absolutely loved this dish and couldn’t stop eating…we had to make an emergency trip to the store for Pepto Bismol.

Another quintessential family supper was sukiyaki [I had to ask my brother the name and we agreed she called it sukiyaki although traditional sukiyaki is soup based]{I've been corrected by is yakiniku}. Mum would get thinly sliced beef from the Asian market and make a sauce that contained ginger, onions and other magical things. We would have bowls of meat placed around the table and a flat griddle in the middle. We would have our individual plates of rice in front of us waiting. With chopsticks, we would take a slice or two of meat, place it on the griddle for a quick cook and devour the food. There is no other yummy goodness than that. This is another dish where leftovers were scarce and we all had full bellies. I think a few fights were started trying to score the last pieces of meat. It was lovely to share a meal and it was different than sitting down with plates already made. There was a great camaraderie cooking together like this. As my brother stated, mum would “artistically place the meat on the dish and it was ridiculously good to the palate”.

Mum would always have dinner at 5:00. While I hated the punctuality of this growing up, I lament the lack of sit down dinners now. This world is so fast-paced and when I was working 3 jobs I often had all my meals driving in the car. There is a great ritual in sitting down and having a meal, even richer when it is a yummy meal dressed with love. I'm slowly bringing this back as I have a great reason with the lovely food coming out of our garden.
There are more experiments to be made as I try my best to live up to the great example mum led.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 3 – Fun Times and Competitive Games

That which God said to the rose,
and caused it to laugh in full-blown beauty,
He said to my heart,
and made it a hundred times more beautiful.

Mum always loved laughter and our house was a haven for games. I’m in the process of making a game board because the joy of playing Aggravation has captured others. This board game seems simplistic but is very deceiving…especially if playing with my brother. The board I have now is one of the newer boards but looking at pictures of the old style board brings back every single laughter and gasp as my brother would bypass his own home space to get yours.

One of my most favorite games growing up (and much forgiveness to all who I’ve forced to play with me) doesn’t have a name that I’m aware of. We coined it the Category game for lack of anything better. The premise is you have 2-3 decks of cards placed in the middle of a table. Everyone gathers around and a category is chosen (for illustration I’ll pick animals). Each person in their mind picks an example from this category (such as Tiger). Once everyone has their item picked, everyone states their item round robin style only saying it once. No repeats are allowed. The first person starts and flips a card quickly from the deck and places it in front of them (the trick is to flip quickly – no cheating). Each person flips their card and if there is a match of number you have to call the other person’s item before yours is called (the suit is irrelevant). Whoever calls correctly gives the loser their pile of cards. The person with the least amount wins.

Just like all things in life, the best part of anything is the company you are with. My mum was the best person to play this game. We would always end up with sore tummies from so much laughter. We didn’t really play fair because we would always choose the most difficult items knowing she wouldn’t be able to get it. If we chose countries as a category, she would generally pick Japan which was easy to remember for everyone else. I would choose something like Kazakhstan which was horribly mean. It’s so hard to remember everyone’s item so when my mum had a match there was no telling what would come out of her mouth – hence the insane laughter. There were many times where both people would forget the other’s item and between guttural speak and crazy hand gestures our tummies would have serious stitches The coup de grace of the game was once the winner is found, the rest of the players pile up their hands one on top of the other with the most cards on the bottom. This is the part we feared when my brother won. He would flourish with drama the winner’s advantage. Once the hands are piled up, the winner has to smack the hands at the winner’s timeframe. The losers don’t know when it will happen but they have to be prepared to move their hands away quickly or be smacked. If you ever have a chance to play with my brother, I will keep his dramatic flair as a surprise. Just be warned.

We would also have summer long competitions. Mum would draw up a board with our names and keep our score tallied and at the end of summer the overall winner would get a prize, usually $100. Pops would work diligently typing codes into a cassette to program games (this was pre- Nintendo and super gaming computers). We loved playing Pac-man or Crazy Climber.

Mum’s jovial spirit was infused in almost every gathering. When my brother brought his 4 boys to visit, mum would devise all types of crazy things to do and I would be recruited to help her execute it. We blew up balloons stuffed with different denominations, hung them on a string and mum attached a needle to the end of a pole. We would blindfold the player and they would have 3 attempts to pop a balloon and receive anywhere from $1-$10.

Speaking of different denominations, our biggest family tradition was during Christmas. We would be joyously opening presents when Pops, who distributed the presents, would suddenly ask one of us to get something such as shaving cream. That was family speak for under the shaving cream top was hidden money. My brother, again being wicked competitive, would take forever coming back because he would be searching around everywhere for other monies. This tradition has evolved to a few Christmases ago when my parents had us go in the bedroom with the door closed. They would hide money in the living room and kitchen. Once they were ready, we were put in place around the rooms and on their say we would have to find any money we could. That was also the year that their couch cushions ended up everywhere thanks to my brother and my son. They would come up with the craziest places to hide money. This past Christmas we continued the tradition but Pops put his spin on it by adding a slew of $2 bills. We actually found a bill that was still hidden a few months ago. This is the game that keeps giving!!
Anytime I had a gathering and I needed ideas for activities, my mum would come up with the greatest ideas. For my son’s birthday, she drew a face on a board. Separately, she had the eyes, nose and mouth which we put in a bag. The party guest was blindfolded and had to put the eyes, nose and mouth on the board and see how their creation turned out. Drake’s friends laughed at each other’s creations and laughed hardest at their own.

I feel extremely lucky to carry on the traditions I had growing up. A road trip is never boring because I’ll always remember the many ways Mum had of playing games in the car. Lately I’ve become obsessed with the show Minute to Win It and use many examples of their games in gatherings for my nephews, niece and my partner’s family.
It’s so great to gather items from around the home to create amazing competition,
and I see my mum looking down and laughing her head off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 2 – Influences

Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.
A white flower grows in the quietness.
Let your tongue become that flower.


I just came in from the garden to write and eat a little breakfast. As I fixed breakfast, I was struck on how widespread and deep the influences people have in our lives. I was looking forward to breakfast because I had a bowl of nectarines that have been syruping. They weren’t too sweet so I had them in a bowl with a little sugar overnight. (Confession: I’m still learning the idiosyncrasies of country living down to the ability of cutting fresh fruit from the pit so I was not the one who cut the bowl of nectarines) Mum could make any food into a work of art…me – it takes a lot more concentration.

I put the fruit in a bowl with a muffin I had baked and knew the only proper thing to put on top was condensed milk – magic in a can. My mum passed on the love of condensed milk. She would pour it over fruit and it became the most delicious treat in the world. Usually we would do this after we took a nap. She always had to have something sweet after a nap and that is so ingrained in me…both the love of a good afternoon nap and the necessity of something sweet upon waking. Mum would also use condensed milk in iced coffee. She hated waste and would save any left over coffee from the morning’s pot in the fridge for afternoon iced coffee. I happened to have canned ice coffee that I am eating with my fruit and magic milk so I feel like this is a complete, mom-approved breakfast.

Returning to the concept of gardening, I think mum wrote the book on gardening. She had the ability to grow the biggest, brightest flower from a pile of nothing. The first time I tried my hand at gardening, we had both bought a tomato plant. She added hers to her garden and I planted mine as the only part of my garden. Weeks went by and I started going to her house to get tomatoes because mine was still a scrawny thing while hers was reaching to the sky. After enjoying countless tomato sandwiches thanks to her garden, I had one wee tomato on mine. I watched every day to see it getting bigger and letting her know of the progress. It started to turn red and was a few days shy of being picked when I went out and saw the neighborhood geese had come into our yard and eaten my lonely tomato. Luckily mum was still producing lots of tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers so I had a bounty regardless of my failed tomato plant.
I was known for killing plants of any kind but mom would still give me the excess plants that she had grown from cuttings. My son called the collection of dead and dying plants my cemetery. Mom took African violet cuttings and started so many new plants that she exhausted giving them away and still had a million in her home. The yard was so colorful with the many flowers her and pops would plant. He took so many pictures of award winning irises and florist quality gladiolas. I was a happy recipient of cut flowers and loved having so many in my home. I hope after all these years that some of her traits have finally brushed off on me. We had our sunflowers bloom this past weekend and ate the first tomato out of our garden – the first real garden I’ve had and my first attempt after the tomato tragedy so many years ago. We’ve made pesto from the basil and had a lovely spinach salad so I think mum is guiding my gardening. Now if only she can help my Gerber daisies as they are big leafy stalks while the ones that live on at her house have gorgeous blooms.

Pops showed me the plant that lives on his porch that I call Mom’s plant. It’s a climbing flowering plant of some kind and last year it wasn’t doing so good. Pops spent a lot of time taking mom to doctors and hospitals and spent a while in Baltimore with her at John Hopkins. After her funeral, the plant started blooming and had many beautiful blossoms on it. It is her little smiles that live on through the flowers.
Mum is my gardenia. She loved that plant and the smell of the flowers was heaven itself. For a while it was so hard to find any candles that carried the gardenia scent so whenever I came across some I would practically buy them out so she would have a stockpile. I burn my gardenia candle whenever I need a little presence of mom.

It’s so lovely to see the influences of special people in your own lives. Even when someone is no longer on this plane with us, they live through the stories and through the daily way we do things. I can go through a day and see many ways I approach something, just like mum did. Being conscious of these things makes each day a little brighter because I am reminded and not forgetting that there is someone so beautiful that helps make each day of mine more special.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Beginning...

From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it

Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for


One year and two houses ago, I lost my mom. Specifically, on July 16, 2010 she passed but on July 4, 2010 I had my last conversation with her. Since then, it has been a year of many changes. Many days I still speak to her and some other days she visits me in my dreams. But now I want to start a different journey, one where each day we have a conscious conversation.

Today is the first conversation.
The trippy thing about death and talking about someone who is no longer on the same plane is the slip of verb tense usage. Some days it’s, “My mom chopped her veggies so fast that I would cut my finger trying to emulate her.” Other days it’s, “Mom can make anything out of cloth and thread.” I stopped correcting myself when I use the present tense.
This is one of the many odd thoughts that go through my head. I often wonder if others have the same thoughts. I never really dealt with death before my mom’s passing and I was 35 at the time. It is a strange, strange thing that no one can ever prepare you for.
I suppose the best thing to do at the beginning is to talk a little about my mum. Her personality was so vibrant that it will take this whole project to paint the whole picture of who she was. Like many projects in the beginning, there is no way to predict how it will end. Here goes:

The specifics…Ritsuko Minami Fensom was born in May 3, 1943 in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. She was married to my Pops and had us 3 kids. She left Japan to travel with her Navy husband and moved to the United States permanently in 1980. She had a slew of brothers and sisters in Japan and one sister that lived in Hawaii. She was so much fun…as these tales will illustrate. I am so thankful to have obtained so many of her traits…well the ones I loved anyways. There is one trait that I am glad I don’t have but still lament sometimes that I don’t carry – her ability to organize. She could straighten up Lombardy Street if someone asked her to. I recall growing up that I highly disliked this trait. We would come home from school and if we did not have our dressers organized, the contents of said dresser would be in the middle of our room - even the drawers that were neat. I think of that each time I do laundry and put away clothes…if I was organized I would have everything in their place. Alas, the laundry usually ends up on the spare room bed waiting until we are so tired of digging for clothes on the bed. (Or company is staying the night and we have to clean that room…this is more often the case).
My mum was one of the smartest people I know. She always said to me that it was 3 times harder for her to communicate in English. She first had to hear what was said, translate it to Japanese in her mind, come up with a response, translate it into English and speak the response. All of this had to take place so fast as to keep up a normal conversation speed. She did this while maintaining a wicked sense of humor. I did mock the language barrier as a child but it wasn’t until we talked about the triple conversation in her mind that it made me realize the difficulties of learning a new language fluently. I’ve always loved languages but never learned enough Spanish, French or Russian to be of any use. I couldn’t imagine living in another country with the ability to speak fluently while letting my personality come through.
Whenever us kids spoke about mom and her language barrier, we fondly recall the dinner of constipation.

At the time, my mum worked as a tailor for the Marine Corps. She would come home and tell us the new word she had learned. One night, she was excited to tell us her new word and as usual, she forgot the word. She grasped the meaning of the word and said, “You know…when you are working hard…and focusing…Oh Yeah!!! Constipate!!!.” She was really trying to say concentrate and the whole family erupted in stomach-aching laughter. I’m sure some Kool-Aid came out of our noses too.

My mum’s humor crossed cultural barriers as well. When we came to the United States, we first went to Kansas City, Missouri to visit with my grandmother. We spent a lot of time in front of the television watching Welcome Back, Kotter. I didn’t realize how much time we spent until after we had moved to Virginia Beach and mum took us to the commissary. We started shopping in the produce section and as my mum picked up a head of lettuce, she held it up proudly and in a loud voice said, “Looking Good!” I was a mortified 7 year old.
There’s so much of my mum waiting to come out but here is an introduction to the vibrant lady. I am looking forward to many more conversations with her and sharing the perspectives on life as we used to do sitting on the back patio.

Until tomorrow…