25 May 2006

Cha No Yu

You are wondering what happened to our cathedral, aren't you? I have not forgotten about it, we've just been interrupted by Japan. :) I promise you a lovely update on our backyard
cathedral soon. But first... Cha No Yu. Japanese Tea Ceremony.
We've been studying about the culture of Japan and wanted to round out our time with a tea ceremony. I hoped to compare Eastern tea-taking with the Western-style tea we hosted a month or so ago. (See my entry titled, "May I Refresh Your Cup?")
In honor of the occasion we stripped the dining room to it's bare walls (no ostentatious decor allowed- it distracts from the "spiritual" mood of the tea ceremony), studied and practiced the highly prescribed routine for serving green tea, and invited our Aunt Trinh and Uncle Jason to join us. They came dressed in their bathrobe-kimonos and stooped through the low door to take some green tea with us.

Anna and Ellie in their kimonos and ready to recline. Konichiwa!

Rebekah serves koicha (thick tea) in her homemade kimono. This portion of the tea ceremony is made by whisking powdered green tea with a bamboo whisk. All guests drink from one bowl, laying the bottom flat against their left hand, turning it a half turn to the right and bracing it with their right hand.

One element of a Japanese tea ceremony is a simple, pure environment. There should be nothing in the room save a carefully chosen scroll of calligraphy which reflects the mood or purpose of the tea ceremony. Rebekah made this scroll, which reads, "Honor your father and mother."

The guests, not the host, choose the "principle guest" before they enter the tea room. We chose Uncle Jason. Here he inspects the craftsmanship of the koicha bowl, compliments the hostess on the quality of the tea and her specially-chosen calligraphy scroll.

After koicha, we all exit through the low door so the hostess can prepare for usucha.

Welcome back. Ellie will serve usucha (thin tea). Now there is a small tea bowl for each guest. She warms each cup with hot water while she passes around a plate of sweet treats. When her guests finish the sweet, she dumps out the warming water and brews thin green tea.

The hostess chooses a special flower arrangement to place in the niche of the tea room. Ikebana is Japanese flower arranging. Ellie made this one from a sprig of Morning Glory.

Ellie listens as her guests say, "O temae o chodai ita shimasu." Which means, "I will take tea with you." (Yes, those are chopsticks in her hair. She is very PoMo in her approach to Japanese fashion.)

Aunt Trinh, Rebekah and Uncle Jason enjoy a quiet smile with their usucha. I think their souls are being enlightened.

Aunt Trinh demonstrates the low doorway to the tea room. All guests, from the Emperor of Japan to the lowliest farm hand, must crouch to enter the tea room, signifying that all men are equal while inside the tea room.

When our Cha No Yu was over, we broke tradition and barbecued ribs for dinner. Yeeehaw! I mean, sayonara.

23 May 2006

I'm Disguising Myself with Greatness

Ellie said this to me today while she pedaled her bike beside me on my walk to the mailbox.

I have no idea why she said it. It wasn't in the context of anything at all. She just spouted it out like a one-liner and continued on her merry way.

So there's your free quote for the day. Use it wisely.

19 May 2006

Watering the Leaves

When I was about 8 years old, my Dad gave me the task of watering the outdoor shrubs around the patio of our California home. Budding green thumb that I was, I threw myself into the task with determination. Spraying the garden hose at the green, leafy tops, I congratulated myself at the shrubs' glorious sparkle and dewey complexion. My, how the leaves shone in the sunlight! Never had these plants had the care and attention I was giving them this day! Whoever the slob was that had tended them previously (my mother, probably) couldn't hold a garden hoe compared to me!
As I blithely and purposely drenched each and every leaf, good ol' Dad stuck his head out the back door. "Honey, you need to point the hose at the GROUND. Plants drink water through their roots, not through their leaves."


My fantasy career as a horticulturalist came to an abrupt end.

I smiled this week as I watered the roots of my own bushes around our patio in Maryland.
That memory makes me laugh. I appreciate my exuberance and ignorance as an 8 year old. No one ever informed me about roots before that day. I appreciate that my Dad cared enough to correct me.

It also brings to mind the ignorant yet exuberant way I often approach life, even today.

Imagine I am both the shrub and the careful 8 year old. In need of insight and wisdom, in need of answers to some particular issue with my children or my husband, I dutifully begin to water my leaves. Purposefully, I check out library books on the topic. I post questions on Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms. I poll my family and friends, "What do you think I should do about... ?" I journal, make pro/con lists, read a testimonial from someone who was in the almost-but-not-quite same situation. I *wink* blog about it. I am a diligent and energetic gardener. But I am an ignorant gardener. I water the leaves.

I'm never going to grow with a mere misting on my tendrils. My life needs its roots watered. In the desperate times of drought- when there are no obvious answers, when that one particular kid of mine (they rotate) has got me at my wits' end, when hubby and I are at an impasse- I don't need spritzing. I need a good, long gush of agua aimed right at the foundation of my life.
Why is it that the last place and Person I usually go for the help is the one that is guaranteed to water my roots?

"He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought " Jer. 17:8

You would think that my first response would be cracking open the Word of God when I'm met with a challenge in life. You'd think that I might race to put my roots in the stream of Living Water.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 7:37-38

Sometimes, though, I still catch myself standing there diligently sprinkling water on my leaves.

16 May 2006


You've heard it in a hundred films, "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!" It's probably happened to you before as well. You're munching away on your 9 Layer Nachos and suddenly encounter... gasp!... gross me out the door... the dreaded hair in your food. Eek! Gag me with a spoon. I'm gonna barf right here and now. Etcetera, etcetera.

Before you delete this blog and resolve to never read Erin's posts again, let me assure you this entry is not a sordid tale of last night's restaurant experience. It's about something much different, and yet strangely very similar.

Imagine, if you will, the world's geeks gathered around in their number-crunching, keyboard-tapping, Bunson-burner loving huddles. Passionately they formulate, evaluate, double-check and postulate. The chalkdust is billowing and voices are rising as they reach a fever pitch of debate about what all this information and evidence could mean. And then, from the center of the throng, the Nerd of all Nerds pipes up, "Waiter, there's art in my science!" Gasp!

Next door, les artistes are gathered in their black turtlenecks and AllHeart clogs. Sitting on giant pillows they listen to a harpist strum while her counterpart spouts a stream-of-consciousness poetic tribute to African toads. Soft candlelight flickers. The room is filled with the scent of oil paints and metallurgy. Inspiration is all around. The group moves and sways to their own rhythmic beat within, when suddenly, the entire experience comes to a screeching halt. The startled poet arises from his perch and dramatically swoons, "Waiter, there's science in my art!"

Isn't it curious how we want to divide our human experience into catergories? We want life to be 100% one thing and nothing else. Pure science or pure art. Never the two shall meet.
I put it to you that the two meet constantly. And in fact, that one cannot EXIST without the presence of the other. Whichever way the pendulum swings for you- art or science- I'm betting you'd be able to identify a small dose of the "fly in your soup." And in this case, the fly in your soup is a blessed, blessed thing!

Ask my sister, Sarah, a self-professed non-creative, who just finished taking a floral design class. As a requirement of the class she had to memorize the genus and species name for each plant and flower, learn their soil and climate preferences, and how to "process" each flower for longevity before putting it into an arrangement. Only after she tackled these sciences, was she able to begin the art of flower arranging. She used her intuitive sense to decide which flower colors complimented each other and which textures and shapes lent themselves to a certain mood. Often times she'd come home with an arrangement she'd made according to the class instructions (science) and reassemble it to suit her own tastes (art).

I went to a homeschool bookfair this weekend and overheard several pieces of conversation between parents. "What are you using to teach little Bobby to read?" "How has this math curriculum worked for Erica?" "I just haven't found something that makes spelling click for my child." As parents and teachers browsed the bookshelves, they were consumed with not only the science of teaching, but with the art of teaching their individual children.
Not everyone learns the same concept in the same way. Some people absolutely have to see things demonstrated, written out, sketched in three dimensions. They're scientifically labeled as visual learners. Other folks can't concentrate with their eyes open. They have to shut out the distractions and listen to the lilt of a voice, the cadence of the spoken words, the harmonies of the music. Scientifically, they're known as audial learners. There's kinesthetic, or action-learners. There's right-brained, left-brained, and then there's me, hair-brained. And God, in His great artistry, has made us each in glorious variety.

Rhonda just completed a work of art for Art Unleashed in Winston-Salem, NC. Ask her how much science went into this huge creative undertaking. She tested a myriad of tubes of paint to match the color and viscosity she was aiming for. She tested brushes for flexibility and play. Then she logged it all in a format that was easy to refer back to when she stood in front of her masterpiece with artist's block. Which brand of paint was it that went on very thin and watery? All she had to do was look in her scientific painter's log for the pertinent information, and then the art could continue to flow freely.

Ask Greta how much art and science is involved when you're a newlywed at the age of 35. She can read marriage handbooks out the wazoo, which is a great thing to do, but when it comes right down to it, Greta and hubby are going to have to take an artistic approach to living together with each other in love and harmony. You can't science a marriage between two individuals. Nor can you "art" it 100% either.

My sis- in- law, Jen, is pregnant with baby #4 and lives in a 3 bedroom apartment above a barn. It is a beautiful life they live on the farm, but if we interviewed her about how she manages 3 kids under the age of 6, while trying to keep her breakfast down, while trying to kill that pesky mouse that worked it's way up from the barn, while potty training a toddler... she's going to tell us that parenting is a blend of science (naps are a must between 12 and 3 o'clock or the evidence shows that no one in this house is happy), and art (the creative approaches she's taken to expand their small living space and keep the house quiet during naptimes are impressive!)

Jen's husband, Dustin, (who is also my brother), is a cabinetmaker and woodworker. He's had a lot of training in how to use the tools of the trade, what woods lend themselves to which stains and varnishes, how to build a structure according to the county building codes, and what NOT to do with your fingers near the saw blade. There's a painful scientific experiment! But now that he has a dose of the science of woodworking under his belt, he is free to jump off into the creative arena and pair burled walnut with maple to achieve a beautiful contrast between the two grains. He has new eyes to appreciate the skill of cabinetmakers from previous eras. He built a chuppa for his own wedding, which was intended to then become the four posts of their marriage bed. (I think the rapid-fire children might have preempted that one though.) Art.

Lance is a pastor of a medium sized church. 4+ years of seminary taught him how to peel back the layers of God's Word, how to systematically theologize, how to understand church mechanics and management, how to develop leadership skills and the like. When the rubber meets the road though, Lance is taking the science of pastoring and using an artistic approach to fleshing it out. When the youth pastor quits, or that single mom loses her job, or the church receives a large monetary gift, Lance will tell you he has to branch out of the clinical church mode and adopt a little more creative thought process in order to minister to God's people in all their varieties.

Lance's wife, Jeni, is- you guessed it- a pastor's wife. If EVER there was someone who needs to learn the art of flexibility, it's a pastor's wife. Saying hello to your husband at 3pm and goodbye again at 7:15 as he heads out for a committee meeting... well, you just can't "science" when the guy's going to be around. But what Jeni is very good at, in regards to the science of being a pastor's wife, is keeping herself sharp as a counselor, a confidant, a supportive wife, and a comunicator. My friend is constantly reading to improve her serve, feeding on the Word of God, pouring her soul out to Him, making sure she surrounds herself with running mates that can lift her up when the life of a pastor's wife becomes overwhelming.

The DeMuth family has had to learn a new language recently. After all the le/la, un/une, de/des, past participles, and future verb tenses are said and done, they'll tell us that they scientifically understand how to communicate in French. But I bet they'd also tell us that living in France demands an artistic approach. If they want the concierge to collect their mail for them while they're away, should they say "Please collect our mail" or "Please keep our mail" or "Please guard our mail"? (I attempted this once when I lived in France, and sure enough, I got my verb wrong. And was kindly given a French lesson on the spot. Lo and behold, how I learned to say "keep" applies to certain things, but not others. Some things need to be "kept", other things need to be "guarded".) The DeMuth's just can't science living and speaking in France. They've got to be open to adapting creatively.

There's a scene in the movie, Babette's Feast, in which a trained opera singer is walking down the village street and hears a young woman singing through her window. He rushes to her door and begs her father to allow him to give her singing lessons. But wait, wasn't she a beautiful singer already? Well, yes, but without understanding her tools and how to use them- the science of singing, her artistic talent would never meet it's full potential. How many wildly creative people have suffered because they don't know how to effectively harness their talent?

Two more examples and then I'll let you contribute.

My kids take karate at the local sportsplex. As a newcomer to martial arts, I have been very impressed with the wonderful blend of art and science. The class has to know the proper order of the forms. The kicks, jabs, punches and blocks. But there is a huge element of art to the delivery of that set course.
One night the girls took a belt test to graduate to the next level. One boy was testing for a much higher level. His test included fighting with nunchuks, sticks, and all sorts of other weaponry unfamiliar to my entry-level white belts. The boy was struggling to make his forms polished and clean. The master was kindly but strongly encouraging him to tighten his motions, make cleaner lines, kick with more force, etc. Towards the end, the master offered a comment pregnant with meaning, "You know what to do, but you don't know how to do it."
The boy had the science, but not the art. (He finally did pass his belt test that night, much to the palpable relief of all present.)

I took the kids out for ice cream last week. Ellie, my messy eater, was applying the artistic approach to eating a melting ice cream cone.
- Use your tongue to create a small cave in the center.
- Pretend a family of polar bears lives in the cave and give them each a voice as they discuss how warm this spring has gotten.
- Drip, drip, drip.

Ever the artist, Ellie disregarded the science of eating a melting cone.
- One half-turn to the right.
- Lick.
- One half-turn to the right.
- Lick.

Science and art together is what's going to keep her ice cream in her cone. Not sure she cares too much about that though. ;)

So, as you find the fly of science doing the backstroke in your happy bowl of artistic soup, be thankful! Without that fly, you would be awfully onesided in your perspective. Science and art are two sides to the same coin of our existence.

06 May 2006

Bike Tour of Japan

We didn't have $$ in the school budget for a trip to Japan to study the culture, so the kids decided to draw it themselves. Hop on your bike and take in the sights!
Mt. Fuji
The "Now Entering Japan" sign, a Japanese flag, and a bonsai tree
A Zen meditation garden beside the pagoda
Anna hits the road on her Harley-Davidson trainer tricycle.

Beautiful native girl dressed in her homemade kimono. Konichiwa!

Be sure to stop and pick up some souvenirs! Clogs, kimono fabric, chopsticks, fish, and my favorite, paper lanterns.

Ellie, after a day of travel, enjoys a Japanese hot dog lunch in the Zen garden. (FYI, beyond the fence is China.)

Bicycle tours of our Japan are available on a daily basis... until the next time it rains. Sayonara!