Sunday, June 23, 2013

California beach family tradition...

While I usually blog about my experiences with Japanese culture, I am visiting my family in Southern California for a couple of weeks and, as we do when we all get together, we embark on family traditions. So, I thought I would share some of my family culture when it comes to traditions. When it comes to summer traditions, the hamlet of Corona del Mar, located inside Newport Beach, is where we go for a few of them.

I am a third-generation Californian... my youngest son, Xan, is a fourth generation Californian, as are my niece and nephew. And with these generations, starting with my maternal grandmother's family, there is a tradition of visiting a specific beach, Corona del Mar State Beach, known to our family, and some long-time current and former residents, as "Big Corona." Yes, there is a "Little Corona," but I am not exactly sure where it is. However, a quick question posed to my mother about its whereabouts gets her using landmarks unfamiliar to me ...  "It's all the way down Poppy and then you go down that long walkway. You can't park down there." OK... I'll ask Siri once I get to Poppy. Thanks, Mom.

Yes, I can find Poppy. That is a street that runs perpendicular to the coast. In southwest Corona del Mar, a group of streets clustered together have flower names, in alphabetical order from north to south, stretching a few blocks on either side of Highway 1 (which runs parallel to the coast). They ran out of streets when they reached the letter P... Poppy. However, there are two A names, Avocado and Acacia, two M names, Marguerite and Marigold, and two P names, Poinsettia and Poppy. There aren't any E or K names. Clearly a man planned this community, because if a woman had planned it, she would have known E and K names of flowers, but I digress (in a sexist fashion)... And allow me to digress again: As I ask my mother the details of these streets, she asks, "Do you want all the street names?"
I ask, "Do you know them all?"
"Mmm, no, that's OK." I do this to save you, the reader, from having to skip over the what is sure to be a FASCINATING list for you. You're welcome.
A few minutes later she calls from the kitchen, "Do you want to know the names of the streets that run parallel to the coast?"
"Jeez, Mom, really? No, that's OK, but thanks." I think these are numbered streets. An even more fascinating list, I'm sure.
"OK, sorry."
Then I feel guilty. I should have let her spew off her vast amount of useless knowledge when it comes to Corona del Mar geography. I doubt it will ever be a Jeopardy! category and she could have had her moment to shine here on this blog. My bad.

And now I'm back to the real reason I am writing... if you can actually call it a reason: tradition. And (what I think are) pretty pictures of the area. But first, some background: My grandmother's parents moved inland from Ontario and Upland, Calif., in the early 60's. They lived on Iris, west of Highway 1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway or PCH. My grandfather, my mother's father, died when my mother was less than two years old, and my grandmother was a single parent working in the insurance industry. She followed her parents to Corona del Mar when my mom was in the 5th grade, buying a house on the east side of Highway 1, on Narcissus. Starting in junior high, each summer, my mom would grab her bag with a towel, radio and other necessary items for a day in the sun, and walk to Big Corona in the morning to spend the day at the beach. She would walk back home in the late afternoon to meet my grandmother at home for dinner. My mom would walk over to Iris to see her grandparents frequently, drop by the "snack shop" on the corner of Narcissus and PCH for a meal, and occasionally have a craving for See's Candy, which still has a store at that same intersection.

I was born at Hoag Hospital, which is also in Newport Beach, but further north. Although we moved to Illinois and Texas when I was a young child, we were back in California by the time I was in the third grade. If my family went to the beach, we went to grandma's house to change and park the car and then walked to Big Corona. Unfortunately, my great-grandparents had passed away by then and the house on Iris had been sold. The snack shop became Coco's (and has changed named about five time since then) and we did eat there sometimes. And we stopped in to See's Candy plenty of times.

Another tradition was Gina's Pizza, which has several Orange County locations, but the one in Corona del Mar is one of the older locations and one my parents frequented early in their marriage when they lived there. Picking up a hot Gina's pizza and eating it on the beach with friends or family was a summertime treat. It still is.

While my grandmother, who is now 92, sold her home in Corona del Mar over a decade ago and moved inland a few miles to my parents' neighborhood, it is still a place she and my Mom love to frequent. To celebrate Father's Day and my parents' 40th anniversary June 16, we ordered Gina's Pizza, ate it on "the point" on Ocean Boulevard above Big Corona beach for a birds-eye view of the area.
The gang at "the point," celebrating.
The kids and my sister-in-law enjoying the view.
The views from "the point."

Newport Harbor
"The Wedge"
As they did when I was a child, planes still fly by with messages for beach-goers to see. This one was advertising a Big & Rich country music concert.

Some of my favorite houses near "the point" (yes, these are single-family dwellings with ocean views):

My mother also requested that she and my grandmother get their annual Christmas card photos taken since the great-grandchildren were all together and the family photographer (that would be me) was in the country. So we went down to Big Corona and got the family pictures we wanted. Just a warning: Parking has increased to $15 per car. They do take credit and debit cards, though. They would have to at that price!

Here are the views from the beach:

And some of my favorite photos of family:

My parents and their grandchildren
My grandmother and her great-grandchildren
My grandma and my children
Four generations of native California women. 
My parents on their 40th anniversary
My grandma enjoying the beach
Me and my kid brother
My mother in her element - surrounded by her grandkids
Because of the history and tradition of this place for our family, it only made sense to get family photos  taken there this year... and probably for years to come.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My attempt at ikebana-inspired flower arranging...

I went on yet another wonderful cultural trip hosted by MCAS Iwakuni's Cultural Adaptation office, our fearless leader Akie again leading us in to another adventure. This time we "ventured out" and, instead of taking a tour bus to our location, we took public transportation... the city bus to downtown Iwakuni. It's about a 10 minute walk from base to the bus stop, a 10 minute bus ride, and then about a 15 minute walk to our cultural destination, a floral shop called Flower Atelier Loto.

The two-room shop was much smaller than those you might be used to in the states, but beautiful and charming. The owner is Shigehito Hiramitsu, who trained in floral arranging for more than a decade before opening his shop. He and his wife hosted nine of us Americans as we embarked on a ikebana flower arranging project Thursday. Actually, as he was quick to point out, the project we did is not specifically ikebana in style, but is inspired by it. To keep it simple, ikebana style includes a "dot" and then a "long line" in its design. Where Western arrangements tend to be full, with many blooms and a focus on the flowers, ikebana is more minimalist with the emphasis more on leaves and stems, the overall simplicity, and form.

We respectfully called Shigehito Hiramitsu a kyosho, or "master" or "teacher," sensei. After all, he was definitely teaching usunflower paintings), a kiku, or chrysanthemum (often used to decorate Buddha statues), a silon stalk (which reminds me of mother-in-law tongue plants), a vine called decuso, which is actually a type of grass, not an actual clinging vine, and gerax leaves as cover for the oasis sponge. In Buddhism, which is where ikebana flower arranging got its, ahem, roots, it is bad form to show that the flowers have been cut, so the leave cover the base of the plants where the oasis sponge rests inside the pot.
something he is an expert in. He designed the project we created, with what he called a Goho sunflower (apparently named after the artist Van Gogh, who is famous for his s

First we had to submerge the sponge in the water to get it wet. There was not pushing, just floating the sponge on top of the water until it naturally soaked up all the water it possibly could. And then it was pretty heavy. We pulled the sponges out of the water and then literally plunked them in to our pots.

When then followed along with Shigehito Hiramitsu as he recreated his arrangement. I did learn something useful when it comes to cut flowers: They will last longer if you trim the ends  with a misugiri, or water cut. While the stem is submerged in water, trim the end off at an angle. This keeps air from touching the new trimmed end and the flower can draw up water faster and longer, making the arrangement last longer. Good to know next time my husband brings me flowers... which may be decades from now, I am note sure. But, still, good to know.

We then took the newly trimmed floral items and placed them strategically in the foam in our best copies of the kyosho's design. When we were through, he very kindly commented on everyone's design, whether they were kawaii (cute) or, as he said about mine, very reminiscent of the ikebana style. OK, maybe I have a knack for flower arranging. Or maybe he is just a very nice man. Either way, I had a great time in the class and would love to learn more about flower arranging, but I hear his classes are hard to get in to because they are popular. I can see why. He is talented and has great enthusiasm for his work. And his good sense of humor doesn't hurt either (neither does his wife's! She was pretty quiet during our visit, but when she did speak, she had some funny things to say!).

Here are some of my favorite photos I took of the shop, and of our class:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iwakuni Iris Festival

In Iwakuni, the Kintai Bridge and Kikko Park area is full of traditional Japanese culture. This weekend was the Iris Festival, and the Kikko Park area had them by the hundreds. I actually went down to see the flowers on Friday, a day before the actual festival, so I could take some time in the morning to shoot photographs of some of my favorite flowers. It was just me and a couple dozen Japanese senior citizens with umbrellas and big hat. I had neither an umbrella or a big hat, but I did have sunglasses and sunscreen. Unlike most Japanese, I like a bit of a tan.

I also took my camera with me. There were a number of hobbyists with DSLRs slung around their necks, and all but one of them were men. I noted how many of them "subtly" checked out my neck strap to see what camera I was carrying. Maybe that is a version of a pissing contest I was not aware of, or perhaps simple curiosity. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to ask. The few Japanese who spoke to me in English were not carrying cameras. But that's OK, I got some photos I think turned out well. A few of them are below. I have even more on my photography website.

The flux capacitor. It's what makes time travel possible.
(Excuse the nerdy reference to Back to the Future. I couldn't resist.)
Then on Saturday, the whole family, plus Jamall, our neighbor we're watching while his mom is in the States for work, headed to Kikko park to enjoy the festival itself.

Most of the activities associated with the festival were in Japanese, so, with three kids in tow I decided not to try and figure that out when all the kids wanted to do was get wet and splash around in the park water fountains. We had another activity planned for the afternoon, so wading - and the resulting clean up of small children - was not on the agenda for the day. So, instead, we checked out the handful of local vendors, buying some tasty honey, rice cakes and cookies.

We watched kids and young women race around the park in what appeared to be some kind of scavenger hunt.

There were also people dotted all over the park, sketching and painting the irises for an art contest.

Although it was the Iris Festival, the rose garden in the park was beautiful - and very fragrant. I made the four males I was with stop and, ahem, smell the roses, which lasted without complaint for about 12 minutes. I'm hoping to shoot some more roses later in the week if everything pans out.