Today was another old friend’s birthday. Sandy and I studied Asian art together in London on the diploma course run by London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Sotheby’s. We then went on to do our Masters at SOAS and worked together teaching on some of the SOAS-Sotheby’s courses. Sandy, like me had a passion for Japanese art, and more specifically Japanese ceramics. When I left the UK for my museum job in the US, she began her PhD in England, and I guess we both imagined we wouldn’t be seeing to much of each other living thousands of miles away, but a job in Japanese art history came up at a Japanese art center in Central California and soon she moved out here too. It was a job I’d have been interested in but I couldn’t face living in such a rural area as a single woman in my mid-thirties. Sandy made it work though. While she was living there, she met a Japanese art dealer and they fell madly in love. She now lives with him and their two lovely children in Basel.
I first got to know Linda about 9 years ago. I was still working at Pacific Asia Museum but was planning to hand in my resignation after 9 years there. I was nervous about leaving and going it alone as a freelance Asian art historian. People with my skills are not on most headhunters’ to-call lists. The phone rang and it was Linda, the Director of Education at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, about an hour south of Los Angeles. She was looking for someone to write a curriculum guide about Chinese art and culture for her museum, as they were expanding their space and were planning on holding many more Chinese exhibitions there. “Actually I do,” I told her in a hushed voice and explained that I would be available in a couple of weeks. The timing couldn’t have been better. I left my job knowing that there was work out there for me.
On January 1, when I had decided I would start this Giveaway project, I was very unsure about whether I could keep up the giving and the writing for a year, and whether I even really wanted to even try. I went to a New Year’s brunch in our neighborhood and had a lovely chat with two lovely fellow mothers at our son Theo’s school. One of them was Staci, to whom I gave something on September 28, and the other was Jennifer. When I mentioned my Giveaway idea, they were both incredibly encouraging, which gave me the reassurance I needed to actually begin the project.
Three years ago this evening, we drove off to San Diego for the weekend for a family reunion with my husband David’s relatives. We had just booked into a hotel and sat down for dinner when we got a call from our neighbors saying our garage was on fire. It was one of those calls that you never want to get. We were three hours away from home and there was nothing we could do to save our home and our cat. Fortunately, another of our neighbors had called 911 and for the next few hours as we made our way home, we got intermittent reports on how well the firefighters were doing putting out the fire. By the time we got home, the firefighters had finished their work and left, and instead we faced vulture-like contractors hovering around our house eager for us to hire them to rebuild it.
I have lived down the street from Steven for about 13 years but have only got to know him in the last year or so when one of our neighbors decided to throw a block party and we started chatting. He’s an artist and graphic designer and so is his girlfriend Mariette, so immediately I was interested in getting to know them. We chatted a little that night and I said I’d like to see his work sometime. During that conversation, he also gave me permission to take some lemons from the tree in his backyard. A few weeks ago, I sent him a message following up about the lemons, and after filling a huge bag full of his excess citrus, I asked him if I could see his artwork.
Today’s Giveaway took an unusual turn. My husband David, son Theo and David’s father Steve had planned to spend two nights with our friends Betsy and Frank on our trip to the Bay Area. I have known Betsy and Frank for so over 30 years so, since Betsy and Frank became friends with my parents in Cambridge. Betsy and my mother were in fact best friends for the next 20 years until my mum died (see also April 28). Frank is a Stanford oncologist who specializes in breast cancer and has patients all around the world who are grateful for the exceptional care he has given them over the decades. They have lived in a Their beautiful Japanese-inspired home in Woodside for over 25 years and I have visited them on a few happy occasions, most memorably when I first moved out here to live in California. So when we packed our suitcases to drive up north, I chose to bring something as a gift that would fit in well with their unique home.
Apparently the word “spork” was coined in the late 19th century in the United States to refer to a spoon that has three or four tines cut into its round section so that it can be used as either a fork or a spoon. This multi-use form of cutlery is commonly used by the military, in prisons, schools and in fast-food restaurants, institutions that attempt to feed many people as efficiently as possible. At my son Theo’s school, the kids who eat the “cafeteria” food, are given plastic sporks to eat with, so in their lives, the spork is as common as a spoon or a fork. These plastic ones are, of course, meant to be disposed of after a single use, but his school’s recycling program – the Green Dragons – makes sure they are cleaned and saved for exciting recycled art projects, like the model of a dragon the principal’s daughter made last year. One of the high points of my week is to go in and help the kids recycle their lunchtime waste. Once a week, I head over to the school at noon and check in at the front office with Carmin and Karina (see April 14), the school administrators who are the interface between the parents and the teaching staff.
Carmin has worked at our school for five years now, exactly the same amount of time that our family has been part of the school’s community, and over the years, we have enjoyed many friendly chats at lunchtime when I’m passing through or whenever I’ve had to fill out a sick-day form for Theo or bring by some homework or jacket he has forgotten in the morning. Carmin makes dealing with the issue much more pleasant. She always looks bright, cheerful and glamorous, no matter what she has been going through – and she has been through a lot in the time that I’ve known her. Most memorably, her close co-worker, who was also young and vivacious became seriously ill and passed away a couple of years ago. It was a shock to the school, but Carmin, with her positive attitude and warm spirit, helped us all deal with her loss.
This afternoon, I stopped by the office – not to help with trash or to ask Carmin to give something to Theo. This time I wanted to give something to her. She’s a hard worker and I know she often works at her desk, so I decided to give her a spork, so she will always have a utensil to eat her lunch with. Not a white plastic spork from school lunch, but a cute little bamboo spork, probably hand crafted somewhere in Asia. When I handed her this tiny little gift, she reacted with delight, saying that it’s perfect as she always forgets her utensils. This may be the case, but such a warm, enthusiastic response is so typical of this lovely woman who we’ve been so lucky to have helping us all at the front line of our son’s school.
A couple of years ago I splashed out and bought a pretty fancy “bento” lunch box for my son Theo at the Japanese American National Museum gift store in LA’s Little Tokyo. He already had a couple of lunch boxes, but for a long time now, I have been having trouble getting Theo to eat what I give him for lunch – cooked food, sandwiches, pita bread and hummus come home half eaten or completely untouched. So, I had the idea that perhaps if the lunch box were cool enough, maybe he’d eat the contents. But it didn’t work that way, and the lunchbox has been sitting in one of the kitchen cupboards looking lovely but very unfulfilled. So, I brought it out in the hope of finding just the right person to give it to.
It’s blue on the outside and purple inside. This may have been why I liked the box so much but it didn’t really appeal to Theo. So, I kept it on the kitchen countertop waiting for the right person to give it to. Today, Theo’s friend Rodrigo came over for a play date. He’s not into purple either, but his grandmother and his older sister Gaby came to the door too. Gaby is a very sweet 12-year old with huge brown eyes and a beautiful broad smile. She’s in middle school is a smart, hard-working student and loves animals. Whenever her family drops Rodrigo off or picks him up, she loves to come in and visit with our cats, and when she’s petting them her eyes and smile get even bigger. She is also a very artistic girl and her mother has been taking her to art classes for particularly gifted kids every Saturday for the past few years. That’s where she usually is when Rodrigo has a play date with Theo. Today, however, she was off to a play date with a friend herself. Because she is so artistic, I thought she might like the lunchbox, so when she was leaving I offered it to her. She smiled her big smile and thanked me, saying she’d use it for sure and disappeared down the front steps with her grandmother, looking particularly cute and fashionable in her skinny pants and pretty cotton blouse, a lovely young girl on the brink of her teen years.
A Poem for Erika and George
Two friends stopped by for a visit today,
Giving me a perfect chance to do my Giveaway.
Erika and George (see January 9)
Wished to renew wedding vows, and needed me to sign.
Forty-one years of happily married life,
Their own son recently took himself a wife.
Now ready to retire and start the next new phase
Of travel, adventure and freely formed days.
Sharing this moment with these delightful folk,
We chatted about life and love and shared some friendly jokes.
I gave them Japanese coffee cups decorated with fish.
Many more good years together, is my deepest wish.