Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A tea cup is a tea cup and a saucer is a saucer. And that is... OK

Today was amazing. A good friend and I had the opportunity to sit and chat with a Buddhist Priest at his temple. Kimberly met him the week before during a session of Zazen Meditation for foreigners in Japan, which he helps facilitate at another nearby temple. He told Kimberly that he would love to chat with her any time to answer questions about Zazen or Buddhism. When she asked if I wanted to tag along my heart skipped a beat with excitement. 

(If you are interested in learning more about Zazen, Kimberly wrote a great post about her experience! Read it!)

Let me start by saying, I was a little intimidated by this meeting. I was nervous I would ask a silly question or seem foolish. That the image I had of Buddhism from the movies and the books I have read was all wrong. But I was immediately put at ease the moment I met this kind man. An inviting smile and an easy exchange of greetings and I knew we were in for a treat. 

I am still mulling over everything we talked about. Kimberly and I asked a ton of questions, all of which he answered thoughtfully (in perfect English!). But one topic and one of his responses is still resonating with me...

A topic that has always weighed heavy on me when it comes to religion is the tendency for one person or group to insist that they are right, and that others need to believe the way that they do. And while, for many, this desire to see the world believe the same as they do comes from a pure and loving place, I often feel like it comes from a place of judgment and anger. I am right and you are wrong. You must believe like I believe. I feel like these assertions come from a place of almost hatred and intolerance; not acceptance and love. 

We asked the priest about this in regards to Buddhism. And the question seemed to confuse him for a moment, but he quickly said that in Buddhism they accept everyone. A group of Muslims had come to his temple and were welcome to pray the way they pray in the Buddha room. Sometimes people are different. And it is OK. 

'This tea cup is a tea cup. And this saucer is a saucer. This... this is OK.'

The belief that we are all one, that we are all connected. It is a beautiful thing. To unquestionably love and accept your neighbor, regardless of their beliefs. Without wanting to change them. How beautiful. 

I often find myself in awe of those who are authentically kind. I strive to have unwavering kindness and tolerance; from dealing with a preschooler in the thralls of a tantrum to existing with those who do hurtful things or have beliefs that I do not agree with. Needless to say... I have a lot of work to do!

I am so thankful to have friends like the gal pictured above. And I am so thankful to have the opportunity to learn more about such a loving and accepting religion. We have been invited back any time, and I certainly plan on taking him up on this offer; I still have so many questions! Our next trip will include a session of Zazen and I am so excited.

Now... off to read some Sutras:-)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

'Do you own an itch?' Or, How to get a hair cut in Japan.

The thing I most mourned when I found out we were moving to Japan was the loss of my hairstylist. I can FaceTime and Skype with family and friends, but a hairstylist? Irreplaceable. Well... and Target. I miss Target. 

I went months in Misawa without getting a haircut; waiting for the next trip home to look a little less like a homeless chick. When we moved to Yokosuka I knew that we would be closer to salons that were, ahem, up to my standards (read: I am a haircut snob) and I was thrilled. But nervous. Because my Japanese repertoire is lacking... which is putting in mildly. 

So if you ever find yourself living in a foreign land please heed this one tidbit of advice: When you see someone with cute hair, immediately befriend them and ask them where they get it cut. 

Because getting your hair cut on a US Military base (when you are a self proclaimed haircut snob, like myself) is not acceptable. 

I am so thrilled to have a regular stylist. Who speaks a little English. And works in a salon a short train ride away from our home. 

And what a treat it is. 

I was greeted at the door with smiles and bows. There is chatter, all in Japanese, and a lot of gesturing and nodding. The first time I went I was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I came armed with my iPhone loaded with pictures of Anne Hathaway and Gwyneth Paltrow circa 'Sliding Doors' (which, by the way, is a movie that I am pretty sure was seen only by me). After scrolling through pictures, again with lots of smiles and nods, I was ushered over to the hair washing station. 

And this is where it gets real. Haircuts in Japan are like a day at the spa. The chair to the hair washing station is fully automated and reclines you almost completely flat. The adorable and hip hair washing guy places a plush throw on my lap and something that looks like a maxi pad across my eyes. Do not be frightened. Embrace the eye maxi. When I get my hair washed in a States, my inner dialogue sounds something like this:

'Dum dee dee, getting my hair washed. Oh. Oh man. I can see straight up his/her nose. Oh boy. I don't want to see that. Wait. If I can see up their nose, then THEY can see up MY nose. *sniff* OK, I think I am clear. OK, I will just stare at that ceiling tile. Crap. Water splashed into my eye. I will just close them. Wait. Now it looks like I enjoying this shampooing a little too much. OK, deal with the water in the eyes and the booger sightings, KEEP EYES OPEN.`

You get the idea.

But with the eye maxi pad, you avoid all that awkwardness. The adorable shampoo guy (who is wearing skinny jeans and platform shoes. I love Japan) leans down and asks 'Do you own an itch?' I am not sure what this means, so I say 'I am fine, thank you!' I am immediately even more grateful for the eye maxi pad that is now hiding my confused face. 

And now the cut. The gal who was recommended to me is awesome. I observed the other stylists, who were all doing an amazing job as well. Extreme precision and attention to detail. Friendly smiles and attempts at small talk. Despite the language barrier I end up with the exact hair cut I wanted. 

This is where, if in the States, they would style your hair and send you on your way. But in Japan you get a second shampooing, complete with eye maxi, and... the most incredible head/neck/shoulder massage. That's right. The adorable shampoo guy rubs you up good after conditioning your freshly cut locks. The only problem, from what I can tell, is that without the eye maxi on (you are escorted back to the chair for the massage) you run into the same question of 'Do I close my eyes or leave them open?' I chose to look down and my feet in the mirror. And I tried not to moan like Monica getting a massage from Phoebe on 'Friends'.

A quick blow dry and I was done. Off to pay. And, what is even better than the massage, the maxi, the perfect cut... NO TIPPING IN JAPAN! So no awkward moment, wondering if it is enough/too much. No tiny envelope to stuff all your spare ones into because the salon in the States won't let you add a tip to your credit card (what IS THAT, people?!). More Japanese is chattered, bowing, smiling, and opening the door and off I went.  

It is a wonderfully different experience. I encourage anyone who lives in Japan to step outside their comfort zone and indulge in this little treat. 

And then take an awkward selfie, showcasing your style. And then, maybe blog about it. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Cookies

The biggest lesson in life that I hope to impart upon my children is that happiness is a choice. 

It seems simple and obvious, but being happy feels good. Anger, sadness, restlessness... these emotions just don't feel good. Some days it takes extreme effort to choose happiness and not to give in to your anger and frustration... but it is worth it in the end. 

Whenever emotions are running high and tantrums seem like they are around every corner I call a snuggle circle. The kids sit on my lap and we list the things that make us happy. I explain to Noah that, even though he is mad/sad/angry about x, y or z... that there is always something to be happy about. No matter how small. It is ok to feel mad/sad/angry... but happiness is in there as well. Because there will always be chocolate chip cookies. And spiderman toys. And trips to the park. And these things make you happy, even if taking a bath at night when you would rather be playing makes you mad. 

And the lesson is starting to stick. 

I will hear Noah tell Amelia to think of something happy when she is screaming and screeching (the way only 21 month year olds know how to do). When I get frustrated with the kids and my words are curt and stern Noah will say 'Mommy... be happy.' 

It's perspective. 

And you know what has happened? Noah is one delightful little guy. He loves to do things to make his friends happy; bringing treats to the park to share, or giving them his favorite toy to play with, or lending out his prized spiderman costume to a friend. And he literally jumps for joy with a continuous smile on his face when he is engaging in one of his favorite activities. 

Like making cookies.

Again, this seems simple and obvious, but cookies make this little family very happy. Noah loves the whole process. Gathering the ingredients, following the steps... 'careful, careful, stir, stir, stir!'. He loves setting the timer, watching them bake and laughing when the buzzer startles him. 

In an effort to keep things healthy around here I decided to play around with a simple three ingredient banana oatmeal cookie recipe that I found online. This is what I came up with and, if I do say so myself, they are amazing.

Noah's Happy Cookies

- 4 ripe bananas
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1 egg, slightly beaten 
- 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal 
- 1/4 cup milled flax seed
- 1tsp baking powder 
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips 

Preheat your oven to 350. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with the back of a fork. Add the PB and the egg and stir until combined. Add the oatmeal, flax and baking powder, mix well. Finish by adding the chocolate chips. 

Spoon about 2 tbs of the mixture onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Slightly flatten with the back of your spoon. Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly brown and firm. Cool for 2 minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. 

And there you have it! I really love the fact that we have 'treats' in our house that don't leave me feeling guilty. And I love that this simple task brings so much happiness to my little guy. 

Sometimes... all you need to be happy is a chocolate chip cookie. 

And, of course, eating them naked doesn't hurt your happiness cause, it can only help :-)