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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cue "The Victors"

I think.

Let's see how this goes.

I THINK I've solved all my issues with blogger.  I started off today by re-sizing a photo to post here only to find that I couldn't post ANYTHING unless it was already in the blog or in Picasa or...  well, whining is boring.  I finally deduced that blogger won't work for me in IE, I have to use Firefox today.  So, here goes.  

Got your coffee?  Feet up?  This is going to be a long one.  Catching up.

Looking back at the winter, starting with my trip to Japan over Thanksgiving break.  Crossing fingers and...

YES!


So, I left for my second trip to Japan to see my family on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, arriving on Friday after a 12.5 hour flight on Korean Airline.  (The International Dateline is magic that way; it gives the day back coming home).  Last year my son took a cab to the Hotel Metropolitan in Ikebukuro, then a bus for two hours to Narita to collect me.  He helped me exchange money, ship my largest bag and buy my bus ticket.  I REALLY appreciated it, that being my first international flight.

THIS year, however, I decided to wear my big girl shoes and do it myself, saving him the trip to the airport.  Everything went smoothly each step of the trip, and my son met me at the Hotel for the cab ride to their home.

I can't begin to convey what it was like to see my son, his wife and my gorgeous grandson again after a whole year, so I'm not going to try.  All I'll say is that I spent a lot of private moments in tears.  Sometimes tears of happiness and gratitude to be able to be there.  And sometimes tears that I would have to leave.  I was very successful at pushing the latter aside.  Until later.

So, this first picture I took on the walk home from the grocery one day.  It really captured the feel for me of the neighborhood.  Tall buildings, narrow streets.  Driving on the opposite side of the street.  Above ground utilities.  I didn't realize until I was working with this picture today that I even caught a woman wearing a mask.  My DIL tells me that it's not the well people protecting themselves most of the time; usually it's sick people trying to protect everyone else.



 Four people's shoes at the door for a while.  Aren't my grandson's adorable with all the big shoes?




He was so much fun.  He even made up a game for us to play while he sat in his highchair.  He was trying to learn to snap his fingers, and was really close.  The game was that he would reach is index finger out to me, and I would touch mine to his and then we would both snap our fingers.  All his idea, and he kept it up the whole visit.

I had taken one of my Disneyland sweatshirts to wear around the apartment.  It had Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy across the front.  My GS would touch Mickey and I would say (in my best Mickey imitation) "Hi, I'm Mickey Mouse."  Then he would touch Donald.  I never could do Donald, so I would just say, "Quack, quack, quack."  Pluto was "Woof, woof," and for Goofy I'd say, "Garsh.  I'm Goofy."  Guess what he was saying by the time I left.  Yep. "Kack, kack, kack."

I was proud.


One of our first outings was to one of their neighborhood parks.  We had been there last year and I had loved it, so I was thrilled we were going again.  It was just as beautiful.  However this time the trees had dropped seed pods all over the ground and I had my first lesson in Japanese horticulture protection.  Believe it or not, the when you step on the seed pod from these gorgeous trees, it smells.  Like dog poop.  I did OK at avoiding them, but the baby is just perfecting his walk and wasn't so lucky.  Eeeuw.  (BTW, I'm trying to honor my son's request that we protect his family's privacy by not posting pictures.  Since you can't see faces, I'm hoping this one is OK.  Just want you to see two of the three people I go there for.)

I was hoping my daughter-in-law would feel like she could take advantage of me being there to do some things for herself, and she did.  But I have to say, I was glad that she didn't spend very much time away from the apartment 'cause I really enjoy her company.  After a few days of local fun, we all took a family outing to the town of Kawagoe.

I was in historian's heaven and I loved it all.  Candy Alley, fish for lunch, the Festival Museum.  What I absolutely fell in love with, though, were the shutters on all the Edo-period warehouses (that this area is most famous for.)  I have a nice collection of photos, but will only share one.


I can't get over how easy the baby was to travel with.  Out all day and barely a whimper.  As long as he has stuff to look at, he's happy as can be.

Eventually we decided it was time to head back home.We had taken a bus from the train station to the "tourist" area, but decided since it was only about a mile back, we would walk back to the train station.  We walked up the "shopping street"...


...and experienced one of my favorite things about Japan.  You can be immersed in the noise and commotion of a shopping street and then, just off to your right, see


a beautiful shrine.

Love it.

A few days later my son and I went into Shibuya for the day, and then to Asakusa to the shrine.  We had done something similar last year.  His boss insists they work an open house on a national holiday during the time of my visit.  We took the train to the part of Tokyo where he works, then, while he worked the open house, I walked to the Meiji Shrine.  It was one of the highlights of last year's trip, but I was disappointed to have run out of time without visiting the adjoining park.  So, this year I visited Yoyogi Park.

In the rain.

It was magic.  I had been warned that because it was a national holiday the park would be packed, but the rain was just heavy enough to keep people tucked in at home.

Not me.  Armed with my umbrella and my camera, I walked into an enchanted forest.




As I walked, I found myself frustrated because there were so many visual intrusions.  Bright orange and yellow trash receptacles.  Bright blue plastic tarps covering buildings under construction.  Everywhere I turned, I was having to shift my camera to avoid these human handprints.

Shortly, though, I stopped grumbling.  My whininess was ruining a beautiful experience, and I found myself simply reflecting on my attitude.  I remembered a postcard I had carried in my binder the first three years of college.

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here."

I no longer believe in coincidence, only that the universe is always working for us and that it will give us signs for our direction if we pay attention.  And so I was not surprised, about two years into my "transformation," to learn that this favorite quote from so many years ago is part of a poem called "The Desiderata" by American poet Max Ehrmann (written in 1927), and that the next line is:  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Which is how I try to live my life now.

Anyway, as I walked, I remembered about having a right to be here and had to ask myself, why was I trying so hard to erase the human touches from this beautiful park?  And just as the question formed, just as my brain put the question mark on the end, I turned a corner to see this:

And nearly fell to my knees.

How beautiful those benches, leading from one tree to the next across a sea of leaves.  And I had to wipe away tears because in that moment I realized that I don't ever remember a time - until the last two or three years - that I actually felt that I had a right to be on this planet.  It took me a while, until way past my return home, to really articulate that to myself and it will take me a while to fully understand it, but in that moment, thanks to those benches, I felt a small void fill with gratitude.

Yes, I belong.

I admit, the rest of my walk was filtered through the joy of that moment, but I don't think I'm imagining just how beautiful Yoyogi Park is in the rain.

  






Once I had finished my loop of the park, I headed back to Omotesando, the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo.  My son's school is part of the complex that houses Omotesando Hills.  I had seen pictures of the mall online before my last trip, but didn't make it inside.  I was determined to take a walk through this trip.

When I got inside I realized that, although you could take escalators between floors, it is actually designed in a series of switchbacking ramps.  I started to walk up and took this picture.





Lovely.  Snowflakes, twinkle lights and what I thought was a Chrismtas tree.  Then, as I walked, I saw this on the wall.



Wait just a minute!  I KNOW those hands.  Those are Mickey hands.  After a few minutes I realized that the music I was listening to was a jazzified arrangement of a Disney tune.  And the structure I thought was a Christmas tree was a castle turret.

Full of familiar princesses.

 

Turned out, the entire street was celebrating someone dear to my memories.

 

I decided to ride the escalators up the eight floors, then walk the sidewalks all the way down to the street.   Where this made sense:

 

I had seen people taking pictures in front of this, but hadn't gotten close enough to read what it said.

My son and I had agreed to meet at the garden at the top of the new Tokyu Plaza.

This garden in the sky was just gorgeous.  I tucked myself in at a table under the eaves, as it was threatening to rain again.  There was music playing and when my ear finally focused in, I realized it was a delightful bossa nova version of, again,  a Disney tune.  About that time I looked toward the street (well, to the sky above the street) and ran into a familiar outline.

 

Yep, another site celebrating Walt's birthday.

As I sat there I remembered all the times I sat, tuckered after hauling my extra 120 pounds around Disneyland for about eight hours, at the piano corner at Disneyland.  There was one brilliant piano player that I particularly enjoyed, and I would listen to the music swirl as I enjoyed an evening of people-watching in the twinkling lights.  The hour I spent here reminded me so much of those times.  It was that piano player who gave me some good advice that set me on the path that, in the end, brought me here.  I would never have learned my way to self-confidence (and plain courage) to get myself here, much less would I have gotten myself into physical condition to trek all over the city for hours at a time (or, for that matter, fit into an airplane seat), if it hadn't been for his guidance and support through a difficult time.  I will always be grateful for that kind attention.

When he finished with his school's open house, my son met me here and we continued on our day of sightseeing.  First, to Shibuya Station, one of the most famous train stations in the world.  We left the station and headed for the street among a sea of umbrellas.  I'm sure my eyes were shining bright enough to light the street when I turned to my son and said, "We're there, aren't we, in that famous intersection?"  He just grinned.


Across the street from  "Hachiko Station" is the famous statue of Hachiko, the Akita.  Hachiko met his master for years at this station and then, after his master died, continued to come to the station to meet him until he, Hachiko, died himself.  We learned the story when we had our Akita.  Tremor was my favorite ever pet, and even now, ten years later,  I get teary when I think of him.





We left Shibuya for a trip to the Asakusa shrine.  I'm sad that my pictures didn't turn out better, but here are a few bad ones.

Our first stop was for lunch at a fantastic noodle shop. 

 
 

Then we walked toward the shrine.  At the time when it was built, this would have been pretty much the same with vendors selling food, drink, and artifacts.

 

 As you approach the shrine, you cleanse yourself with incense.












As everywhere, beautiful gardens.

 





On the way home from Asakusa we picked up sushi and tempura for dinner.  For the next couple of days we stuck close to home as I prepared to return home.

Last year my son escorted me to the hotel Metropolitan where we got on the limo bus for Narita airport.  This year, though, I said my goodbyes at the hotel.  The expense of the round trip isn't prohibitive, but I hate to keep him from his family for the close to five hour roundtrip just to keep me from falling apart.  Oh, I could hardly make myself let go of him!  I miss them all so much.  As it turned out, there weren't many people on the bus and I was able to fall apart in peace.  I pretty much had myself together by the time I got to Narita.

One thing to cheer me.


I was very surprised last year when my son pointed out some familiar sights.  Space Mountain on the right, castle on the left.  Yeah, Tokyo Disney.  Hard to believe I've been to Japan TWICE and not made it here.  Ah well, I guess my priorities are straight enough.


I love Narita airport.  I was there plenty early.  No lines this time.  I ended up buying one of my few souvenirs from this trip, a lovely coin purse. (My other souvenir was a laundry drying rack.  Don't laugh.)
 



Everything went smoothly on the way home.  My younger son picked me up at LAX and we enjoyed the trip up the coast back home.

I unpacked and did laundry and then did one of the most out-of-character things I've ever done.  I'm normally pretty cautious, rational, logical, responsible.  The cautious, rational, logical, responsible thing to do following such a long trip home (especially after crossing so many time zones traveling east) would be to A) take a day off to rest and recover or B) return to work.  But I'm trying to learn to be less cautious, rational, logical and responsible so...

I dragged my jet-lagged self to Disneyland.  Dear friends were out from Massachusetts, and I let them and Mickey be my comfort and consolation upon my return.  We went on rides and went to the Jingle Jangle Jamboree to color a Reindeer mask and we watched the parade.  I did manage to head home at a reasonable time and was in pretty good shape for work the next day.  I was sure grateful to have that opportunity to ease back into SoCA in such a happy place.

video

Shortly before my trip to Japan, my car died.  The mechanic traded me my diagnostics bill for the carcass and I mailed in the release of liability to the DMV just a couple of days before I left.  Since I returned, the other two people in this household have been helping me out with car shares or rides when I need them, which is saving me having to buy a car I can't afford. Fortunately, I live only a mile from where I work, and the walk to and from is turning out to be one of my favorite parts of my day.





I had none of my traditional Christmas spirit this year, but enjoyed the holiday in a different way.  I did some Christmas-y things like the wonderful Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles concert.  Money is SO tight right now that I almost didn't buy a season, but in the end just had to have that.  The Christmas concert is at the Alex Theater in Glendale, and I enjoyed walking and window shopping for a little bit before the theater opened.


 

Their arrangement and staging of "O, Holy Night" was my favorite piece of the afternoon.  The lights were simply stunning in person.

 

And the most moving number was this arrangement of "Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth" performed with students from the Creative Planet School of the Arts (LA).  Just days after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the perfomance was dedicated to the victims and their families.

I want to share that one of my favorite memories of this day was my experience with a sidewalk musician on Grand near the Alex Theater.  I got to Glendale early (as usual) and went for a little walk. I passed a musician playing a soprano sax - badly - on my way up the street.  As I made my way back, I put a little money into his case.  He stopped me for a pleasant little chat.  Turned out he had some stuff on youtube and he gave me the direction.  As I walked on, he started to play again, this time beautifully.  Had I not been on my way to a concert, I would have stayed a while.  Two lessons learned.  First, knowing that you are appreciated helps you bring out your best.  Secondly, brightening someone's day takes very little, and makes all the difference.  And that felt more like holiday spirit than trees, Santas and tableware.

Yes, my Christmas holiday was sans tree, Santas, and tableware but full of decorations and music anyway.  First was the annual visit to Disneyland with my Mom.  It seems that each time we visit the resort the day gets shorter and it becomes more difficult to fit in all the fun.

We were thrilled to find TWO of our favorite piano players at Coke Corner this day.  First, Ragtime Jonny May, 

And then a surprise visit from the man who got us all hooked on Disneyland piano in the first place, Johnny Hodges.  What a fun set!


As always, the park was in Christmas decor.


We enjoyed the Billies, then trekked across the Esplanade for the Red Car News Boys, then back for the parade.  We shopped and ate at our favorite places (with our favorite servers).  Even went to see Laughing Stock.  I had taken Mom into the Golden Horseshoe to get her out of the heat one day last summer and she had enjoyed the show, so she decided to see it again.

A couple of weeks later a special friend (I call her my ex-future-daughter-in-law) and I went again.  Two princesses on the loose.  We had our picture taken with Aurora, our favorite princess (but there wasn't a good one to share here) and then went to meet Merida.  I LOVE this character, and the brothers behind her.  I knew they were animated, but I didn't know they understood and responded to the guests.  As part of our conversation, I mentioned that I had Scots ancestors and that my maiden name was also the name of one of the brothers.  She introduced me to him, and he "conversed" in smiles and nods with me.  Such an awesome set.



My friend had never seen the Billies.  I was glad we hit on a day when the fabulous John Eaden was doing lead.  And LOVED the special guests.


I'm a fan of John Marshall, the fantastic bass player.


After our visit to the holiday magic of Disneyland, my break took a bit of a turn.  I spent the next day helping my mom clean house for Christmas and felt like I was having a severe allergy attack.  The next day was Christmas Eve and I continued to sniffle and clear my throat while I did my last-minute baking and wrapping and such.  By Christmas Day I was feeling pretty much wiped out (and coughing more.)  By the day after I was trapped by the worst respiratory virus I've ever had.  I will spare the gory details except to say that I went through THREE boxes of tissues.   This was not how I planned to spend the week after Christmas, but it turned out to be quite nice.  I tucked myself into a recliner under a down comforter.  I had my Christmas present books (Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott).  I alternated reading with playing freecell on my ipod and bringing closure to some writing projects on my netbook.  In the end, it was not terrible.

I recovered enough to enjoy a quiet New Year.  This year my district had the week after New Year off, and I was feeling well enough to do a little housework, a little gardening and a lot of being lazy.  I had hoped to see three movies over the break, but only managed one - Les Miserables.  I love Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried.  Samantha Barks was a happy surprise.  I was not familiar with this musical - didn't even know the story - and so had nothing to compare.  I was NOT disappointed.


Finally, I will end with a little motherly braggage.  My son is playing drums with several groups now.  I went to a local wine shop called Squashed Grapes to hear him with a combo called the Ventura Jazz Collective (GREAT fun) and then returned the next night for one of the most magical performances I've ever seen.  My son had played with the 17-year-old bass player before, and one performance with the guitar player.  But the three had never played together until this night.

It was a treat to see these three fantastic musicians enjoy the magical synergy that comes only very rarely in music performance.  REALLY hoping to get a chance to hear them again.  This combo usually consists of the same bass and drums and a fantastic keyboardist.  Can't wait to see them play together, either.

Great way to end 2012 (which had its challenges) and start 2013, which so far is living up to its promises.


Garrett Miller Trio playing "Chameleon."  This was my favorite of the night because I love when drummers do interesting things with rhythm, but my camera battery died before it was over.


Garrett Miller Trio.  I laughed.  Audience member says, "Play like Miles."  OK.

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