Today’s Giveaway was more books, but this time twenty or so children’s books that I selected for a very specific purpose. I have been helping organize educational programming at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden in Pasadena, a magical place that is focusing its mission around nature, culture and wellness. The garden is open the last Sunday of every month to the public, and programs on these Open Days range from lectures, to healthy cooking workshops to musical performances. It occurred to me that on those days while adults might be engaged in listening to music or a lecture, children who have had their fill exploring the garden might enjoy sitting in a corner of the garden or the main house leafing through – or even reading! – books relating to the garden.
So, I gathered together – nay, curated! – a selection of 20 or so children’s books relating to art, Japanese and Chinese culture, nature and the environment and placed them in a basket that can be placed enticingly in the kids’ corner. These are all books I had collected over the years to read with Theo and his friends, either individually or in small classes I was teaching, but although we have looked through most of them, they don’t get a whole lot of use in a house with one child living in it. Although I have always been very particular about keeping our books in good condition – and very rarely will write in my own – it has recently struck me that there is such a thing as a book that’s too clean. Far better, it seems, that these books to be available to children visiting this magical garden so that they become grubby and dog-eared from use by little ones whose curiosity is sparked about nature, art and the many wonders of our world’s different cultures.
The book basket will be available for kids to enjoy on the Garden’s next Open Day, Sunday April 26. On that day, there will be a Japanese Rice-Ball Making Workshop with Japanese home-cooking instructor Sonoko Sakai for kids and parents. Learn how to make healthy, cute, and delicious onigiri for snacking and lunches. For more information, please check the website: http://www.japanesegardenpasadena.com.
This morning, I had the honor of performing a wedding ceremony for a lovely couple, Ed and Keiko, who I came to know recently because of my connection with the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden in Pasadena. They were planning their wedding in the garden and I had mentioned to the staff at the garden that I am ordained with the Universal Life Church and like to officiate at weddings, so they introduced us. Ed is an architectural surveyor and an artist who loves working with stone. Keiko is a chemist, who studied at CalTech and now runs a chemistry lab at Occidental College. I have been in touch with them both via email, over the phone and in person a few times over the last few weeks, and even though we have only just got to know each other, I felt very close to them this morning as they gathered with their family and friends to exchange their vows. Drafting a wedding ceremony is an extremely intimate experience, since during this process, a couple have to share their feelings for each other and their hopes for their life together with someone they hardly know, and trust that this person will not only choose the right words to express their feelings, show up on time for the ceremony (ours didn’t!) and perform elegantly on the day. I always feel deeply honored to be trusted with such an important task.
Ed, who apparently told his mother he would never get married, was a charming groom, dapper in a light gray suit, filling the garden with his humor and warmth, while Keiko was stunningly beautiful in her traditional white Japanese wedding kimono, which can’t have been comfortable but she wore it with grace. The step down into the garden from the tea house where they had been having their photographs taken was precarious for Keiko in her elaborate kimono and Japanese zori sandals, but Ed was there to steady her, and Keiko trusted him to guide her feet. This struck me as a strong start to their life together. After the ceremony was over, it was time for me to leave. I wanted to give them something of mine that would symbolize the ceremony in a garden. I had a small river rock with the Chinese character for Peace carved into it. It seemed to fit the occasion – the garden setting, Ed’s love of rocks and Keiko’s Japanese background. The rock was undoubtedly carved in California, where they are starting their married life, which I hope is brings them the warmest, most enjoyable kind of peace together
I had an unopened tin of Chinese green tea in my kitchen cabinet. Rather than let it sit there un-drunk for any more days, I gave it to new friend Connie, one of the most delightful people I have met in a long time. Connie is what I hope to be like when I am in my eighties – elegant, sharp and full of enthusiasm for life and culture and people. She and her husband Jim own and manage a traditional Japanese garden in Pasadena, the Storrier Stearns Garden (www.japanesegardenpasadena.com), one of the finest Japanese gardens in the United States. Originally built in the 1930s as part of a large estate and purchased by Jim’s mother in 1949, the garden was left to languish in the 1970s and 1980s because of plans for a freeway extension that would run right through it. However, since the 1990s, when the specter of the freeway began to retreat, Connie and Jim have spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money restoring the garden and its teahouse to their former glory. Now, as well as hosting weddings and other private events in the beautiful space, they are in the process of transforming it into a venue for cultural and educational events.
It is fascinating to me what people choose to do with the later years of their lives. Some people retire and take up new hobbies like golf or watercolor painting; others choose to travel, read more books or spend more time with grandchildren. Of course, there are those who don’t retire at all, preferring to continue the work they love and in some cases even taking on new, more demanding projects, as is the case with Connie and Jim. When I met Connie, I was so taken by her and inspired by their Japanese Garden project that I instantly wanted to help nurture the future of this very special garden and carry some of her burden. Over the past few months, we have shared many thoughts and ideas and concerns about the possible evolution of the garden, about how it can become a space that promotes culture, nature, and health – health of not just our bodies but of our minds and of our environment. Today, as we sipped the green tea together and talked, I knew it wasn’t just the caffeine in the drink that was lifting my spirits.