Story Wonders: What You Can Learn from Rummage

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I’ve learned priceless lessons from the transformation of a worship space into a gigantic place for trash that becomes treasures.

  1. Resist the ridiculous.We all have mountains of things like odd plastic mittens and pots that might be warmers but are not. The next time I see full price boot mitts for my Halloween costume, I will picture the teetering pile they will eventually perch upon.
  2. Hold out for the right amount. Full price is a crazy price. Most of what we buy will end up costing between 25 cents and ten dollars.
  3. It’s okay to give in to the sparkle now and then. Even though I have plenty already, a great bargain on a sparkly lamp has the power to tempt me. I reassure myself with the youth missions and women’s shelters my splurge will support.
  4. Hard work makes for time well spent. The monetary gifts from what might otherwise end up in a landfill make every moment with that roll of blue painter’s tape and a black sharpie worthwhile.
  5. Friends and family are better than the best deal. The true treasures I find at rummage sales come in the shape of smiles on the faces of workers who transmogrify chaos into a wonderland of bargains.

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Twice a year Puyallup United Methodist Church runs this sale, and here’s the basic blurb written by my friend and tireless neighbor, Donna McDonnell:

Huge rummage sale. Puyallup United Methodist Church at 1919 W Pioneer
in Puyallup, WA. Furniture, kitchen, bedding, clothing and lots more on Saturday March 26, 2017. 8am to 5pm. Great stuff. Reasonable prices.

Come by! You never know what you might find or learn.

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Story Wonders: Tacoma’s Japantown

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The Japanese Language School Memorial on the University of Washington campus.

“I’m not from Tacoma and didn’t know there was a Japantown here until recently,” said writer and guide Tamiko Nimura. 

I wasn’t surprised. I’ve lived in and around Tacoma for the majority of my 40 plus years. I was born at Tacoma General. I even go to a church connected to Whitney Memorial, the one-time Japanese Methodist Episcopal church in the heart of Japantown.

I didn’t know, either.

About two years ago I stumbled on the history. Ever since I discovered Tacoma once had several blocks filled with businesses owned by Japanese immigrants and citizens, I’ve been trying to imagine the place. I’ve pieced the picture together in my own mind with historical records of the Japanese American Citizens League, the photo documents of the Northwest Room, and historylink.org.

When I was working at the downtown campus, I peered down the streets while driving up the hill off the 705 exit, wondering what used to be where.

About a year ago, I discovered Michael Sullivan with his Tacoma History blog and then somehow tumbled into a heartfelt post by Nimura. 

Then two weeks ago, I read of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the order that incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the U.S. without trial or recourse.

To commemorate this event, the University of Washington and the Broadway Center in Tacoma put together a play called Nihonjin Face and then a guided tour (my mouth dropped wide open when I read this!) of Nihonmachi, or Japantown.

By coincidence, I already had tickets for the play with the youth group from my church.

All I had to do was race from one end of the town to the other to make it to the tour on time.

Of course, I raced. 

When I arrived breathless at the starting point, I noticed many other interested tourists wanting to see where Japantown once rested on the side of Tacoma’s steep hill. I never counted heads but estimate thirty to fifty of us wandered around while both Nimura and Sullivan pointed to where the remaining buildings stood and to a grassy knoll. In that spot, the Japanese Language School taught a whole generation of children born in the United States before the incarceration.

We started at the corner of the university nearest The Swiss. From there, we could stare up at the Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church, now owned by the U.W. and used as an art studio. The congregation never fully recovered after Camps Harmony and Minidoka.

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Frederick Heath designed this church along with many other sites familiar to the area, including Stadium High School down the road.

Next we moved down Fawcett Street and across the hill to the Tacoma Buddhist Temple. Across from this once stood the Japanese Language School. After Pearl Harbor, the teachers faced arrest and the locals came to be sorted for removal.

(I missed on-site photos of this because I held the iPad instead here. Once I blogged about the mural behind the temple, though.)

We spent more time hearing about the buildings lost to the wrecking ball, including the Lorenz Building and the Hiroshima-ya Hotel. Sullivan and Nimura told stories of Chinese Americans wearing “I am Chinese” buttons to explain their right to stay in the area during the war and then went on to tell of one of the greatest community losses from the incarceration.

A massive parking garage now squats on the the corner of C and 13th. This is the former location of The Crystal Palace, designed by the same architect who built Pike’s Place Market in Seattle.

Here vendors from every corner of the area sold wares much like what still happens in Seattle. The freshest produce came from the Japanese American farmers in the Fife Valley, Sullivan told us. Months after the farmers faced life in the Puyallup Fairgrounds, the market closed and became barracks for soldiers.

I’m not sure how to end this post except to say that two years ago, when I started reading about the history in my backyard, I had no idea it would become so painfully relevant in 2017. I’m encouraged that so many of us turned out to learn what I wish we had known all along–what I wish still stood vibrant and alive perched on Tacoma’s hill.

I think now of all the other multicultural treasures we have and dream of keeping them thriving in our neighborhoods. I think we have enough memorials.

 

 

Story Wonder: When that Thing You Hated Becomes Your Love

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I never meant to disappoint Mr. Zorro. Seriously, who could want to disappoint a teacher with a name like that?

He wasn’t as swashbuckling as the guy in black, but I liked Mr. Zorro. I agreed to do the solo contest under his guidance in college like I had done so many others before that–just because it was the thing to do. He chose Scherzo in C Minor by Paul Koepke and edited by H. Voxman.

The cadenza was the absolute worst. Every time I approached that string of notes in the score, my brain would start some sort of arooba noise, like a submarine dive alarm.

(Warning: This video is beyond annoying and way too long. I can’t be held responsible if you listen to the whole thing.)

This internal panic did not, as you might imagine, help my performance.

I think Mr. Zorro said something like: “Well, I thought this piece would bring out your tone but the notes held you back a bit.”

He was being kind. The contest left me numb, and it wasn’t long before I decided my part time job rolling tables, balancing beer bottles on trays, and folding napkins for the hotel banquets took too much of my time to continue with music.

I left the clarinet for a long time. So long, I almost forgot the sting until one day I started noodling on that old piece again with Mr. Zorro’s long ago notes telling me to memorize and use the H key for the trill.

Now, I love that cadenza if you can believe it. I love the roll of it and the way the notes pick up speed going downhill. I love that my fingers now find the notes like they would not when the judges sat trying not to shake their heads before.

For Mr. Zorro. I recorded my efforts last night. I won’t lie and tell you I got it all right. I didn’t. I do much better when I know I’m not recording with a demanding cell phone that insists on turning the screen to record my 1970s ceiling for you instead of the face down black screen I wanted.

It also helps when I’m not fearing the moment the 6-year-old barges in the pseudo-studio to ask a pressing question about whether he can have ice cream or not.

But the cadenza is better, I’m telling Mr. Zorro and you. Much better than it was in college. It’s better, I am sure, because I love it like I never did before.

Which just goes to show me once more.

I never know what joy might come around the corner even in things that used to freeze me in a panic.

Story Wonders: On Finding our Hearts in the Midst of Protest

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I am deep in a new writing project so won’t be writing much of my own today. I just have  few thoughts to share from others.

A lot is happening in the world, as always. Things are happening in my country that anger and sadden me.

Like the practice of standing up for myself and others, I am now looking for ways I can do that when needed but also seeking compassion for those who disagree with me.

Here are a few resources I’ve found over the years. I share them with you now if you, too, are looking to stand up for those in need while keeping yourself centered in compassion toward everyone.

Brave Girls Club

This organization has always brought women together from every part of life. They discuss what matters to them most and, only later, do their politics come up. Melody writes long, but her message in this post rings true:

People Before Politics

Pema Chodron, the Buddhist monk, has much to say about anger and how best to respond to it. Here is a piece of her audiobook from Don’t Bite the Hook of Anger.

I am still calling my representatives. I am still donating where I feel my money will do the most good in the world. I still disagree with much of what’s happening from isolationism in an increasingly smaller world to political appointees who don’t have my children’s best interests at heart.

And I still believe this:

if-you-think-you-are-too-small-to-make-a-difference-try-sleeping-with-a-mosquito-the-dalai-lamaBut the the Melody and Pema are helping me, I hope, to advocate with grace instead of flaming anger that burns me and those nearest to me more than anyone else.

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P.S. I wrote more than I thought I would. So it goes.

Story Wonders: Finding the Courage to March and Write

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I didn’t want to write about this because I am afraid. I am afraid that people I know and care about will think less of me because I went to the Women’s March last Saturday. I’m afraid they’ll be angry or disapprove.

But every time I started to think about what to write this week, the march is the only thing that wanted to be written.

I posted before about how crushed I felt after the election. It is beyond my understanding that a man so clearly abusive to women could defeat the first woman candidate for president.

I know. These are fighting words.

As Brene Brown said: “I don’t know Donald Trump so the most respectful thing I can do is take him at his word. And, when it comes to women, immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, and our Muslim sisters and brothers, his words have been threatening and dehumanizing. I march to say that’s not acceptable or American. That is not the heart of the country I love.”

While this, honestly, got me moving that morning, something about marching against someone doesn’t sit well for me. My friend Diane helped with this.

First, she listened as I tried to tell my six year old why we were marching. I started by saying that we were not happy with the man who had won the election has said and done. My friend reframed it for both my little guy and me.

She said, “I like to think of it more as standing up for what we do want.”

Another woman had this to say:

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I agree with Diane, Mother Theresa, and so many others. My best self did not go to protest Trump. I went to say what matters to me most. That was the spirit I felt in Olympia, Washington, and what I saw in the crowds of pink hats from around the world.

The feeling of being there at my smaller 10,000 person march full of peaceful men, women, and children reminded me of a step back into time. I saw folks I am sure were there in the sixties. I saw young people. I saw people in crazy outfits. I saw angry signs and ones fun of humor.

When I think on what I experienced there and what I saw in the pictures around the world, I couldn’t help but remember the Whos chanting with every once of sound they had to be heard so Sour Kangaroo would not throw them in a boiling vat.

We know the election is finished, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still here and paying attention. It doesn’t mean we don’t need each other more than ever.

Of course, I loved the marching band’s way of putting music to the words. (Didn’t the Whos have a tuba?) I would love to know who they are, so I could play next time!

Of everything I saw that day, I think my favorite was the Diane’s daughter Rena in her Captain America outfit with a a sign that said ‘Be a hero. Stand up for ALL Americans.” She even had a shield. Cars stopped to honk, smile and wave for her several times. (I wish you could see her better in my photo!)

Something about Captain America and what we tried to do with the march expressed that need to say what we meant.

I’m still scared to publish this, by the way, but maybe, Mr. Gaiman has a sliver of good news for me.

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Maybe, I’m stating to get it right because writing this sure feels more like ‘walking down the street naked, exposing too much.’ More exposing than even marching on a clear cold day for something I believe.

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Wednesday Wonders: Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 1

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Do you remember Flat Stanley? The cut out that kids sent to their friends and family around the world?

My son’s kindergarten teacher gave his class a gingerbread man to send instead of Stanley. Quinton’s cut out is making his way around Tokyo with my friend from high school who came to visit us this past summer.

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Summer fun in Sumner, WA

(Quinton loved Marci Kobayashi-Smith so much that he decided to go there as soon as possible. On a boat. I should drop him off and come back for him the next day.)

So today, I present to you the adventures of Mr. G as told by Marci with pictures and text. Enjoy!

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Mr. G leaves the U.S. from my kitchen table. 

For this first night, we are enjoying a quiet night at home watching TV. There is a show about a neighborhood police officer on TV right now. I’m sure you can see him in the background.

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First we took a walk along the bike path next to the river and saw some egrets. Sometimes we can see blue herons there, too but not today.

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The Gingerbread Man discovered that stop signs look different here in Japan. They are triangles!

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Then we came up to a very busy street and he noticed something else–people drive on the left side of the road!

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Now we are back home and having a snack. Even though many things are different, somethings are the same. For example, we are enjoying a big red apple for a snack.

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Actually, he let me eat most of it. 🙂

And that’s all for part one! Stay tuned to see what Mr. G gets up to next week. Meanwhile, you can find more about his tour guide Marci by going to her blog and website.

May you find great adventures of your own this week and maybe even eat an apple-

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Postscript: After I posted this, I remembered today is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. 

A part of me questions the wisdom of whimsy on such a day. 

The best part of me thinks a kindergarten gingerbread man free to travel to Japan somehow fits. I pray for more whimsy and far fewer moments of tragedy in all our lives. 

Wednesday Wonders on a Thursday: Two Books With True Endings

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If you want to find a good read, go to a writing conference. 

Writers, I have learned, are jittery about their own books. As often as not, we struggle to tell you what our books are about or why we fell in love with our own stories enough to spend days, months, and years writing them. But as soon as someone starts talking about books we love written by OTHER people, the conversation around the dinner table wakes up.

I keep a notebook or the Evernote app close by at writing events, so when the book lists start flying, I can write down all the titles and then later find my best reads of the year. Sometimes, these books are old treasures that I missed like Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice.

When these came out in the 1990s, I was busy with other life experiences like my time in Germany, so I missed Karen Cushman’s tales of the Middle Ages. I am grateful my writing friends paid attention back then.

Both of these middle grade works of historical fiction pulled me into the time period. I could tell that Catherine Called Birdy was Cushman’s first tale. The plot wandered a little in the weeds of history while The Midwife’s Apprentice felt tighter with a story line that wove through in a way that CCB sometimes did not. I see why it won the Newbery Medal.

But CCB, the Newbery Honor book, spoke to me this last week. In it, a girl struggled against her limiting circumstances and the arranged marriage awaiting her. I wanted her to be able to run away on a crusade, become a script-writing monk like her older brother, or even to be able to marry Perkins the goat herder.

Maybe as a young teen, I believed these as possible happy endings for a young lady like Catherine.

As a grown up, I recognize those as impossible options for a young woman living in the feudal society of the time.

In any case, I loved how Cushman brought Catherine to a realistic but hopeful resolution at the end. The character found peace and a way to stay true to herself by the end in spite of the oppressive rules of her society.

Many thanks once more to my writing friends for the joy of two good books, one after the other.

May you find your own selves in the midst of whatever lifts you up or holds you in place-

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P.S. The biggest trouble with posting late comes when the next week swings around and you’ve already missed it. Getting behind on a weekly post is like waiting until the next night to do the dishes. It gets so much easier to let the pots and plates slide the night after when you’ve done the washing up before cooking and then face more washing up.

All of that is to say that I’ll get my wonders back on Wednesdays next week. Honest.