Sunday, November 29, 2009

The End

It is hard to believe that I did Happy Monday for four years. It was unbelievable courage that I started this project with very poor English and artistic skills. During the four years and with many readers' help I had improved a lot but not enough. The bar is higher now. I am no longer satisfied because I did it, instead, I want to do better work. I need time to learn and charge myself.

There is an end for everything, now comes the end for Happy Monday. I will stop this blog and the weekly Happy Monday email.

With deep gratitude I thank all the readers for giving me the supports and cares, without you there would be no Happy Monday. I will treasure the friendships I made through Happy Monday with you and wish you all the best.

Let's treasure the moments we enjoyed together:

Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

The Moment

I wrote this article two years ago, it is perfect to remind me to treasure the friendship I made with Happy Monday readers and the moments I enjoyed.

The Moment

When I accepted my current job within the university, I realized that I had a lot to appreciate at my old job. Additionally, I found that I had long list of “to do before leave” items. One of them was to go to the Bing Music Series.

Bing Music Series is a series of free concert sponsored by Helen and Peter Bing on each Wednesday and Friday at 12:30pm in the university hospital atrium. The program is designed to increase the relaxation and improve the mood of staff members, patients and their families. Dr. Raymond Bahr, asserts, “half an hour of music produces the same effect as ten milligrams of valium.” I had planned to go since the first day I learned about the program. It had been a year and I did not make it since I thought there would be always another Wednesday or Friday. My current job is off campus, it would not be as easy as at my old job to attend a concert by just walking down the stairs.

I went the first time on the Friday, the following day after I got the job offer. It was a traditional Hindustani music played by Teed Rockwell. It was new to me, I never heard Hindustani music before. I enjoyed it. I went again the following Friday. It was jazz played by Leon Williams and Dave Prieto Quariet. I had such fun time! My feet were itching and my heart was flying. It was so hard when I had to leave. I went again the next Wednesday, which was the last time I could go before I was transferred to my current job.

In the morning of the following Saturday, on my way to my ikebana class, I stopped by farmer market to pickup some flowers for my friend who invited me over for dinner. I saw dahlias at a stand. Dahlia is one of those flowers, the bloom is very beautiful, but the vase time is only three or four days. I usually buy the long lasting flowers as gift. This time, without any hesitation, I bought a bunch of dahlia. Since it is short-lived, it reminds us to treasure the moment we have.

At the studio, I picked the most perfect dahlia and arranged it with kiwi branches. I named the arrangement “the moment” for my friend. I shared the rest of the flowers with other students.

Wish you enjoy “the moment”. Happy Monday.

In Friendship Through Flowers,


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learn to Appreciate

Post an article I wrote two years ago for this Thanksgiving. wish every one a happy holiday.

Learn to Appreciate

I frequently ran into situations when people asked me for my card (as an ikebana arranger or a potter, not a system administrator), but unfortunately, I do not have one. So I thought to get a name card.

I have a stamp that I use for decorating my ceramics works and I’d like to have it on my card. I thought the design work could be relatively simple – scanning in the stamp, touching it with Photoshop, adding some background colors, and typing in the words. I knew a few basic things in Photoshop, but I would not trust myself to make a perfect card. I remembered one of my girl friend who is a artistic designer. She donated her time to design a logo for my charity and I liked her work. She is a good friend of mine, I felt that I could ask her for a favor that may only take her a couple hours.

She was very nice to invite me to her home. I went with the stamp. She treated me with a cup of top quality green tea that she bought back from Hangzhou, after looking at the stamp, she explained that she would use Adobe Illustrator for the design. Since she did a great job to give me a tutoring of PhotoShop few years ago, I asked her to show me how Illustrator works. She did.

It was a very good learning experience for me. Not only I learned the basics of Illustrator, but I realized that my assumption was completely wrong. It would take far more efforts than I originally estimated to design a good quality name card. What I thought were digital photos before, now I knew that they were actually drawings by Illustrator pixel by pixel, she also told me that almost all magazine cover pages or inserts were done that way.

With this knowledge, I asked her do not design my name card. Actually, if I knew the efforts involved, I would not ask her for such a big favor. In the past, I appreciated her to donate her valuable time to design the logo for my charity, but now my appreciation is in much deeper level.

If I did not get the chance to learn, I would not know and would not appreciate in the level like now. I had many similar experiences in the past. If I didn’t know, even I appreciated, I would never appreciate in the level as I had the knowledge. The more I learn, the more I appreciate.

Thanksgiving holiday is coming. It is the time of the year when we are reminded to be thankful. Learning and increasing appreciation level through learning will help us to be more thankful.

As part of my Thanksgiving tradition, I made table arrangement for you to enjoy. Thank you all for all your caring and support to me.

Happy Monday and Happy Thanksgiving!

In Friendship Through Flowers,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

It was nice to be home

Dear All,

I came home Monday. I had very relaxing time in Beijing. I enjoyed spending the month with family and friends. Now I am happy to be back. There are a lot to catch up in order to back to my daily routine. I did not get chance to write down my thought of the trip yet. Luckily, a four day weekend is coming up and I will use that time to make up.

Happy Monday and enjoy your week.

In friendship of flowers,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vacation Notice

Dear all,

I will take one month vacation in China. There is no access in China right now (being blocked). During my vacation, I will minimize computer use, therefore, I may not send Happy Monday emails to forward Nadia's blog post. Please go to Nadia's blog directly each Monday to read the new posts:

Enjoy Nadia's blog and Happy Mondays! I will see you on Nov. 23rd after I back from my vacation.

In Friendship through Flowers,

Generations - by Dr. Nadia El Borai

Dr. Nadia El Bora just had a grand daughter last Monday. She was very busy to carry the new mother and the baby. Even though, she wrote another one for us. Enjoy:

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jasmine - by Dr. Nadia El Borai

I was worried that Nadia may get stressed but I learned that she is enjoying the experience! I am so glad.

This week Nadia wrote about jasmine:

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Moon Festival!

This coming Saturday is Moon Festival, wish every one a great holiday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Free style with Bittersweet vine by Dr. Nadia El Borai

This week Nadia wrote another one for us - Free style with Bittersweet vine.

Everytime I learn something. Bittersweet vine is one of my favorite materials, although I only had few chances to use it and had no idea that it can destroy the trees.

Here it is:

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cyclamen by Dr. Nadia El Borai

This week Nadia filled in again by sharing with us why she used cyclamen as part of her blog name:

If you want to learn more about cyclamen, here is its wiki page:

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Professor K! - by Dr. Nadia El Borai

This week Nadia filled in again by sharing with us how she started ikebana:

For those who concern about my right hand/wrist - I am happy for the recovering progress. I learned a lot in this process and will share what I learned soon.

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ohara School 2 - by Dr. Nadia El Borai

This week Nadia continued her introduction of Ohara School:

Nadia knows about different schools' histories and the stories of those ikebana head masters. Feel free to post your questions on her blog, she will share with us her insights.

Enjoy Nadia's blog, Happy Monday and Happy Labor Day (for those live in the States)!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ohara School - by Dr. Nadia El Borai

In last week's Happy Monday email, I wrote:

"Lately I went through a very interesting and beneficial learning process. I developed tenosynovitis, the result from incorrect way to use mouse. I am learning ergonomics knowledge to do everything right and I have shared the knowledge with some of my friends who suffer the same.

This reminded me my ikebana. I have tried to apply what I learned from ikebana into my daily life. In ikebana, I always ask myself what is the role of a flower/branch in the arrangement. If it is not contributing to the arrangement, I would remove that flower or branch from the arrangement. I realized that I did not apply the principle when I used computer. I used my fingers to pitch the mouse, my small fingers were in the air a lot, my index figure lifted high in the air as long as my hand was on the mouse. All those actions over excised the muscles for no reason, but caused the injury. I also used my wrist to move the mouse instead of using the whole arm.

In the past few weeks I was very careful for my postures. A week ago, I started to train my left hand to use mouse since I had loaded too much to my right hand in the past (mousing, cutting in ikebana, plus most of the house work). I minimized the computer use, stopped practicing flute (it caused pain), almost stopped ikebana, took many mini breaks at work and took a day off from work each week, I had physical therapy twice a week ... It is improving slowly. Ikebana and writing are so important for me, I have to have a pair of health hands to do them. In the next few weeks, I will stop Happy Monday/Friday to give my hands more rest in order to have a speedy recovery."

I received many caring emails and phone calls from the readers. Many thank for the caring minds and the supports!

One of the emails was from Nadia, my Egyptian mom. I met Dr. Nadia El Borai at the last day of 2005 Ikebana International Convention in Tokyo, Japan, we were in the same forum discussion group. She served as the president of Ikebana International at the time (the very first Africa president). I told her about the Happy Monday story and she has been HM reader since. We exchange emails in weekly basis, I learned a lot from her and she cares me like a mom. In the email she wrote:

"I am very sorry to hear about your hand and fully understand that you want to take a break. Maybe you do not realize how nice it is especially when like today I was very tired and received your always positive email of Happy Monday. If you like I shall write in my blog and send it to you something about ikebana so that you can have some flower pictures for your friends. I will be happy if you would like to share them.
Take care of yourself and I shall send you something every week so that you can use it if you like without having to write anything."

I did not expect such a sweet offer from her for all of us. Nadia is a scientist and an accomplished ikebana artist. She has different background than me, she would bring in fresh air to Happy Monday and we will benefit from her knowledge and spirit. I happily accepted Nadia's offer.

Here is Nadia's bio:

Nadia El Borai B.Sc. hon (London) M.Sc., Ph.D.

Studied ikebana since 1978, received the flower name Hoga upon completion of the teaching certificate. In 2005 received the First degree of the Master course of the Ohara School of Ikebana, the highest certificate of this school, obtained after a written as well as a practical exam. The first time a foreigner obtained this certification in Japan.

Here is the Happy Monday she wrote for us about Ohara school (that is Nadia's school):

Nadia will write Happy Monday for us in the next few weeks. Please post comment for her if you like her writing.

Enjoy Nadia's arrangement and the post, Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ikenobo School

Last week several readers pointed out the easy way to identify Sogetsu school is by the materials used. I agree. This week, we will see few pictures from ikenobo school, which is the oldest ikebana school.

In the following links you can learn about the ikenobo school:

Here are three arrangements by the local Ikenobo artists:

The first two arrangements are in traditional style, especially the first one. The third one is in free style, you would notice that the materials are conventional.

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sogetsu School

I gave a flower talk on Saturday night for the members of American Chinese Cultural Association. They are a group of highly educated and knowledgeable individuals. When the talk ended, they asked if I could critique some of the pictures of ikebana arrangements with them, so they could get a sense of the different school styles, and know what is a good arrangement and what type of mistakes to avoid. Actually, it is not fair to critique the picture instead of the actual arrangement since the arrangement in the picture could be very different from the real thing. One dimension is lost and the viewer can only see the picture from the angle in which the camera sees. When you critique, it is also important to remove the emotion and personal taste, and try to be objective. With that in mind, we studied the pictures together. We had fun together until 11:30pm (the talk started at 7pm).

After we went through some pictures, the audience picked up on the school styles. Often they could give me the school name immediately after I showed a new picture. That gave me an idea for this blog. I plan to give you some typical pictures from one school at a time and later I will give you a quiz to ask you to identify the styles.

In the following links you can learn about the Sogetsu school:

Here are three arrangements by the local Sogetsu school members:

Did you notice anything in common in those arrangements?

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, August 9, 2009

New "Thing"

If you have been on the Happy Monday list for a long time, you have noticed that I have a collection of things that I use over and over when I need something to go with flowers.

Few weeks ago, my coworker Lydia brought me some bamboo from her garden -- there were two thick stalks and some thin fine ones. The next day I brought flowers from home and arranged with the thick bamboo, but Lydia was out on a business trip and missed the arrangement. She had been curious about how I used the thick bamboo, so I emailed her the picture, but it is always nicer to see the real arrangement.

Those thick bamboo sticks had made into my collection of things; I have some gladiolus in my home now. I will bring them to the office tomorrow and arrange with the bamboo to show her.

Here is the picture of the arrangement Lydia missed:

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Above picture is the arrangement I setup in the office Monday morning. I used those bamboo in the similar way, there are other ways to use those bamboo as well, it depends on the vase and flowers.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Demo by Mami Flower Design

The Sunday two weeks ago I went to see the demonstration by Mami Flower Design. The major character of the Mami school is to use natural support. There is no pin frog in its arrangements. I like the idea and thought their designs are very fresh. Following two pictures are from the demonstration:

Unfortunately, my battery died, I do not have pictures for all eight demo arrangements for you. Myself is not bothered. It is more important to enjoy the arrangements there.

Enjoy and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Aging Process

It was a month ago my co-worker Lydia brought me some bird paradise flowers and leaves. I had lots of fun to arrange the birds since I never had this many at same time before. Birds are always challenge to arrange since they are “directional”, to arrange them is to make them talk to each other and communicate with viewers. My first try was not too bad but I was not satisfied.

I thought about it and came out a much better arrangement the next day.

At the time, I thought about to use the leaves but did not have any good idea. They were not interesting enough to me. I kept them in water.

Last Saturday, my ikebana friend Lingling invited me to her house for tea tasting along with another ikebana friend Rita. Lingling is a tea master, Rita and I learned a lot about tea. When Lingling gave us a brief introduction about the tea process, she talked about aging process, that led the topic to sake and wine. It turned out both Lingling and Rita like wine tasting, so they tasted few sake and wines. I am not a drinker, it was very interesting to learn the comments from them after they tasted each one. Both liked an aged wine, especially, they liked the feeling when the wine was in their month and the after taste.

The following Sunday morning I went to San Francisco City College to see Mami School Flower demonstration, I turned off my cell phone and forgot to turn it back on after the demo. A friend tried very hard to reach me and offer me to cut her blooming roses. I was very touched. In Chinese cultural, since I am much younger than her, I should pay my respect to her but not let her do favor to me. I went to cut the roses Monday morning on my way to the office. When thinking about what to go with the roses, I noticed the bird paradise leaves, after the aging process, they became interesting, I arranged them with the roses.

This made me think about the aging process. Most of people who participate ikebana, ceramics, writing, and volunteering are women in the 50 ~ 70 age group. Those are the activities I do, therefore, I had opportunity to know those women in this age group. I am lucky to make friends with them and benefit from their friendship. There are many good common qualities among the women in this age group, especially, I found that they appreciate life, have wisdom and are interesting. They learned from their life experience.

I wish that the human aging process can be separated., slow down the physical aging process to live health and longer, speed up the mental aging process to have the appreciation and wisdom like the elder generation. I am trying my best to learn from them.

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Monday, July 20, 2009

Report 3 from Green Project – The Learning Continued

Last Saturday SOAR Foundation had volunteer and supporter appreciation party. I made ten center pieces. I used crabapple fruits from office yard and added some greens and flowers from my yard. I had been thinking what containers to use, later I remembered that I had saved bubble tea cups whenever I had the tea, those cups were perfect containers for the event. People liked the Chinese character “dream” on the containers and asked me where I bought the containers. They were surprised to learn that the cups were the used bubble tea cup from “Fantasia Coffee & Tea”, my favorite bubble tea place.

The learning experience of the green project was not all successful like this. So far, it has been mixed.

Bottle brush tree is common in San Francisco bay area. Their flowers are pretty. I had been wondered for long time why I never saw an arrangement with it. In all the books and magazines I read, there was only one arrangement used dried bottle brush branches. I asked my teacher once if she could get some bottle brash branches to try. “It’s not an arranger.” She simply answered without farther explain. If I had access to it, I would try it to find out, but I did not have the chance.

Since I took the green challenge, I emailed everyone in the office to ask floral donations. My director gave me permission to use any materials in our yard, she also suggested me to put a bucket in the kitchen to take the donations. A week later, she brought me some blooming bottle brush branches along with a list of the plants in her yard.

I was excited when I saw the bottle brash branches. I arranged them in the lobby an hour later. After few hours, I went back to check the arrangement. To my surprise, the table surface was yellow, covered by pollens. Second morning, I brought my camera in but found the blooms were down.

The following week I picked up some ferns from the office yard and arranged them in the lobby. That night, my neck was itch so badly I scratched hard while in sleep, the skin was red and swollen in the morning. I did not know why until I saw the yellow layer on the lobby table second day, I realized that I had allergy reaction from the spores since the fern touched my neck while I arranged it. I suffered for few days.

Trying is one way to learn. I will keep exploring and report back to you.

Enjoy the pictures and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,

Here are the previous green reports:

Being Green
Report 1 from Green Project: SOAR Fund Raising Dinner Party
Report 2 from Green Project: The Father


Monday, July 13, 2009

A Fun Day Two Years Ago

This past Saturday afternoon I went to the 17th Annual Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival, which was presented by the Association of Clay and Glass Artists of California. It is one of the largest in west coast. Many collectors come to the festival each year. I went with two friends and we all had great time.

That reminded me two years ago, I was invited to demonstrate ikebana at the 15th festival. The purpose to have the ikebana demonstration at the show is to give audience some idea to use the containers in order to promote the sale and entertain the audience as well. This type of demonstration is fun and challenge at the same time for the demonstrator. The fun part is that the demonstrator can choose almost any container to use on the day. The challenge is that the demonstrator prepares materials without knowing the container. There is no requirement to give the arrangement to the container owner, however, most of demonstrators avoided to use pin frogs in order to give the arrangements to the container owners. That makes the clay/glass artists happy to lend their containers.

I made seven flower arrangements at my demonstration in less than an hour.

The first container I used was from Bruno Kirk. Bruno lived in Japan for 10 years to learn ceramics. He also took some ikebana classes. His containers are well known among ikebana artists. I love his works. When I went to his booth, I thought to pick up a large tall vase, then I noticed that he had pin frogs. I changed mind and chose a big plate instead and borrowed his pin frogs. I had few large anthuriums and bamboo from the previous week, they fit in Bruno’s plate very well.

In the second arrangement, I used a vase from Linda Mau. I remembered her name years ago when I saw her ceramics kimono. She makes ikebana vases as well, all her vases can be used without pin frogs easily. I chose a black basic one and used bamboo to give support. I inserted some golden astries in one corner, a sunflower in the other corner. The black vase and the yellow flowers made nice color contrast.

In this arrangement, I used the bamboo from my friend Yanping’s yard. Those bamboos were not flexible at all. When I tried to bend them, they broke on me. After I finished the arrangement, I had about 5 broken bamboo sticks. Not to waste them, I decided to use them as the support for the third arrangement. I inserted some baby breath as the filler. The baby breath hideed the bamboo sticks and set the background color for 5 stems of Mickey mouse anthuriums. The vase was made by Hsie who is the teacher at Sunnyvale Community center where I learn ceramics. I own a rice bowl and a cup made by him.

When I received the demonstration invitation, I was especially excited for the opportunity to use some of the very fine glass containers since I do not own any high quality glass containers myself. I found one booth with two vases I love. I had difficult time to only choose one since I wanted to give other artists opportunity. However, when I introduced myself to the owner of the next booth and asked her permission to use one of her glass works, she said no immediately and told me to not take advantage of her. I did not want to leave her with bad feeling, I explained to her that I wanted to help her for the sale. She turned around to give me her back. There was no time to find another glass container, I went back Josh, the first glass artist, and borrowed the other one I liked. Later, when I returned the vases with the flower arrangements to Josh, the woman who turned me down came to me, she told me that she regret and offered the vase. Unfortunately, it was too late. “Maybe next time.” I comforted her.

The first glass container was a large dark blue plate with baby blue center and a gold edge. I used dry wisteria vines from my teacher’s yard to get some lines and placed a sunflower in the middle. I hoped that would catch people’s attention to sale the vase. After all, my purpose to be at the show was to help the artists to sale their works. This arrangement was my own favorite if I chose one among all the seven I did.

The second glass vase was my color. The mouth was dark blue, clear in the middle, and baby blue in the bottom. I inserted few agapanthus flowers into the vase first. Their color matched the baby blue in the bottom and provided support for two dark pink dendrobium orchids, which made perfect color contrast with the blues. They also brought movement to the arrangement.

One week before the show, I received an email from an artist named Dick. In his email, Dick introduced himself and one container. He asked me to make a traditional ikebana arrangement in it. Study the picture, I explained to him that a traditional ikebana flower arrangement would be too much for this vase. The arrangement should be very simple in order to show the vase. When I saw the vase in person, my first thought was to use a pink lily to match the egg white blue glaze and gave some cool summer feeling. Later, I found out that it was perfect size for a piece of agave mericana leaf from my teacher. While I made the arrangement, I told audience about Dick. He used to be a professor in philosophy. He loves ceramics art too much and became a full time potter.

The last arrangement was a big one. A friend brought me some kangaroo paws from her garden the previous Saturday. They were more than 2 meters tall. She had to be creative to fit those into her passage car. I needed tall materials for the show, so I talked to those kangaroo paws. I promised them that I would make them shine at the show if they stayed fresh for the demo. I stored them in my teacher’s studio since it was cooler than my home. When I arrived the demo site in the morning, I found three stems kangaroo paw waiting for me there. Later I found out that were from Irene, my ikebana classmate and my mentor in ceramics.

I could tell the vase was built by slab. The artist, Joe Battiato, explained to me that the vase was glazed with ohata and soda fired to create the special effects. Many of my works were built by slab, I knew it was not easy to build tall slab piece. I pointed it out to the audience.

During the demonstration, I had interactions with my audience. I shared what I know about the artists and how I appreciate their works myself. I also showed the arranging techniques and the tips for taking care of the cut flowers. I found that this was a great group of audience with artistic eyes. For the last arrangement, after I inserted kangaroo paws, I decided to let my audiences lead me to finish the arrangement. They pointed out that I need something to soft the kangaroo paws. So I followed the suggestion to insert some grass. Then I started to insert lilies. For the last lily, I asked audiences where they wanted me to insert, I was not surprised that they had read my mind.

A successful demo is always a good teamwork. My teacher gave me few tips, my friends Chaoying and Sally are not ikebana arrangers and never saw an ikebana demo before, they amazingly assisted me finished seven arrangements in less than an hour. Their husbands were the photographers. My friends gave me materials. Some friends came to the demo and helped whenever they could. Without all the supports, I could not finish the demo. I appreciated all the help and support.

It was a fun day to remember.

Hope you enjoy the pictures and Happy Monday.

In Friendship Through Flowers,


Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Price of Pain

One Saturday noon, I was on my way to the restaurant to join my friends for a group lunch when I received a phone call from my teacher Sumi sensei.

“Kathy, I got some very special materials, could you come to study with me?”

I could tell the excitement in her voice, without any hesitation, I called my friends of changing plan and rushed to my teacher’s studio.

The special materials were few wild blackberry vines. Sumi sensei and Shao sensei had been working on them for a while before I joined them. The vines tangled, we had to separate them before we could arrange them. I never knew there were lots of thorns not only on the vines but also on leaves. Our hands were hurt so bad, when we finally made the vines ready for use, our hands were swollen.

Since wild blackberry vines were not everyday materials, Sumi sensei arranged them and Shao sensei and I offered few suggestions and cheers. Sumi sensei made three arrangements. We enjoyed them from different view angles.

“It’s worth the efforts and the pain.” Sumi sensei said while looked at her swollen hands then the arrangements. The arrangements were beautiful.

When I went in my car and ready to head home, I felt so hungry, I just realized that our study lasted more than two hours and I did not eat my lunch yet.

Wish you enjoy the arrangements and have a very Happy Monday!

In friendship through flowers,


Monday, June 29, 2009

How To Make A Flower Arrangement Interesting?

There are many ways to do that.

Do you expect to see a dry bamboo structure in a flower arrangement? That is a non-ordinary material and it made the arrangement interesting.

If we only have access to the ordinary materials, use the material in a non-ordinary way, which also makes the flower arrangement interesting.

The zebra grass is seldom used in the western style flower arrangement, however, it is a common material in ikebana arrangements since it is easy to get in Japan. It is typically used tall and combines with other oriental materials like chrysanthemums to create a typical autumn scenery. In the shared picture, zebra grasses were used low and combined with tropical flowers instead, that made the arrangement interesting.

After all, we need think out of the ordinary box to make things interesting.

Enjoy and Happy Monday.

In Friendship Through Flowers,


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Report 2 From Green Project - The Father

Since I started to learn flower arrangement, I haven't had any satisfied Father's Day arrangement. The week after Mother's Day, I made an arrangement using palm leaves and rhododendron from office yard (this is the very first time I used rhododendron), looked at the finished arrangement, I thought that I finally got the one I am happy about. I named it "The Father".

Everyone has his or her own father image. When you look at this flower arrangement, does it match the father image in your mind?

Enjoy and Happy Monday.

In Friendship through Flowers,

Being Green:
Report 1 from Green Project:


Sunday, June 14, 2009

You have to make it work

Every spring we get chance(s) to arrange scotch broom (cytisus scoparius).

Scotch broom is a tough plant. Its seeds have hard coats that enable them to survive in the environment for up to 80 years. With this in mind, you would not surprise if I tell you that scotch broom had made itself into the “bad” plant list, actually, it is classified as weed. If you want to learn more, here is the URL:

Most of the scotch broom stems are straight. To our ikebana arrangers, straight means boring, we have to make it work in our way, we bend the stem with the curves to make it more interesting. Bending is not an easy job. To bend it, one has to get the hands wet with water, use left hand holds the stem, put right hand next to the left hand, hold the stem, bends and twists at the same time. Work from the bottom of the stem, move up to the tip while shaping the stem. The tip is soft, easy to bend, but the bottom is pretty hard. If not enough force, it will not change; if too much force, it breaks. It takes a lot of practice to bend it with right amount of force. Once bended, it looks very elegant.

This arrangement picture is from last spring. In the arrangement, there are scotch brooms with clivia, and a bird paradise. In real life, there are situations that we have to make it work, no matter it takes, that is why I remembered this arrangement picture tonight.

Enjoy the arrangement and Happy Monday.

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, June 7, 2009

What Did You Notice?

I just moved into my new home yesterday. I noticed a few small things broken the first night. It disturbed me a little bit.

Today I noticed one thing very interesting. Birds came and made a nest inside the wreath hung on my front door. I stood inside by the dining room window to watch them this afternoon. They may be a couple. They were busy for a while, in and out, I did not see them carrying food or something, I am not sure what they were busy for, maybe that was their exercise time or play time. They talked, but in the language I could not understand. Their bodies are about two and half inches long, gray plumage, with red on their head. My bird expert friends had identified them, they are house finches. Their nest seems so small in size comparing with the size of their body, but I sensed they were happy.

What a welcome gift! I called and emailed few friends to share. My girl friend and her parents came to visit this afternoon, I asked them to enter through the garage to avoid disturb the birds. They were eager to see, unfortunately, they only got to see the empty net.

Tonight, when I am sitting in the front of my MacBook and thinking what to post for Happy Monday, I remembered the poem, Gratitude by Mary Oliver. that I shared with Happy Monday readers last spring, here is the excerpt from it:

What did you notice?

The dew snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

Slow down to notice the pleasant side of the life and enjoy, it helps me to positively take life in all aspects. After all, to live a life is an experience, one should take all opportunities to explore and learn.

When I shared this poem last spring, I shared a spring flower arrangement picture with it. I like the arrangement, it fits my mood. Wish you enjoy it as well.

Happy Monday!

In friendship through flowers,


Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Dialogue

It was the Saturday after 2008 New Year’s Day, I made this flower arrangement at my ikebana class, when I finished, my teacher looked at it and said “What a nice companionship among the flowers!” She didn’t make any change to the arrangement.

Since the New Year’s Day, I had been listening to a set of CDs titled “Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high” while I drove and I read the book. It was recommended by my girl friend who went to the training class using this book. I learned a lot and wanted to practice what I learned.

According to the book, the “one thing” to master crucial conversations is the dialogue:

Dialogue: noun. The free flow of meaning between two or more people.

I found that it is also true if replace “between two or more people” with “among flowers”.

In this arrangement, every single material compliments others. The pussy willow branches made nice lines and defined the height of the arrangement; authuriums brightened the arrangement, its tongue shape flowers added fun to the arrangement; the pine covered the feet; narcissuses not only gave the green color needed to the arrangement, it also announced the season since all other three materials are year around materials. The combination of the materials (red, pine and narcissuses) tells us that it is a New Year arrangement. The dialogue flows among the flowers. The arrangement communicates to the viewers by their internal communication.

Enjoy The Dialogue and Happy Monday!

In friendship through flowers,


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Report 1 From Green Project - At Fund Raising Dinner

Being green was one of my new year resolutions this year. So far, it progressed very well. I tried my best to motivate the people around me to bring me floral materials from their yard. Two weeks ago my director brought me some bottle brash branches from her yard. I did not use bottle brash before and I never see an arrangement used it. I had been wandering about why no ikebana arranger used it. I had fun to arrange it, later I found out that bottle brash does not last long and gets lots of pollens. This was very good study for me.

This past Sunday we had fund raising dinner party for SOAR Education Foundation. In the past years, we always had flower donations from a flower shop owner, she gave us two carnations per table with a little bit greens in a small glass vase. This year, the volunteer who knew the donor was on vacation, so I filled in. I did not want to buy a bunch of vases and leave them in the garage after the event, and I am trying my best to be a green arranger, I came up a center piece design without using vase and pin frog.

My friend planted a lot of calla lilies. I picked up some flowers and leaves from her yard every week lately. When I used the flowers in short, I felt bad that I had to waste the stems. In this design, I cut the stems to pieces, bundled them, and used the bundle to hold the greens and the flowers. All materials were from my friends' yard, SOAR did not spent a penny.

Each design was unique, I borrowed the white plate from the restaurant to hold the bundle, the white and the green were matched very well.

To match the center pieces, I arranged calla lilies for the reception desk, I used tall stems of the calla lilies.

Guests liked my design. MC announced that I was the designer, some guests came to me to tell me that they knew how to use the flowers and greens in their yard now. When the party finished, they took the arrangements home to enjoy, that made me very happy.

Enjoy the flower arrangements and Happy Monday.

In friendship through Flowers,


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Balance

One Friday last spring, since I attended the writing workshop on Saturday, I could not take my regular Saturday morning ikebana class, I went Friday noon instead. My teacher had prepared palm leaves and taught weaving.

I like weaving, but it takes much longer time to finish. Since I had to go back work by 1pm, I rushed myself. I finished my weaving, put it inside the vase, then I realized the problem – it was TOO balanced.

I should try to insert the palm leaf before starting the weaving to get the feel about the angle and use the weaving to made adjustment. It was too late to start over. So I figured out a way to bring it some dynamic. I arranged the flowers on one site only. With the hanging flowers, that boring look changed.

This is the same idea like in other visual arts. We use the frame of the work, the color, the shape of the floral materials and so on to create balance in an ikebana artwork. Without balance feeling, it would not look good. On the other hand, if it’s too balanced, the artwork would look boring.

Do you agree with me? Do you think that I did good job to make the arrangement interesting?

Enjoy it and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. This day always reminds me mother’s love. At this time, I especially think about two groups of mothers, the mothers who could not afford to have their kid education and the mothers who lost their children in Sichua earthquake last May. That reminded me two flower arrangements I made last year in May.

I have been volunteering at SOAR Education Foundation for 9 years. The Foundation is dedicated to provide scholarships to those impoverished children in rural areas across China who performed well academically in their schools and wanted to continue their education. The SOAR scholarships enable them to have the opportunities to acquire a basic education. There are many bright poor kids in rural China, their mother could not afford to send them to school. Those mothers love their kids just like my mother loves me, I wanted to help to honor my own mother. That was how I got involved. Each year SOAR holds its annual fund raising dinner in May and I always make a flower arrangement for the event. Last year, I thought about to not only use the flower arrangement as decoration, but also auction it to raise fund. At my ikebana class the day before the event, I played with the palm boots and setup a structure by stacking three palm boots. My teacher and peer students all liked it very much. My teacher found me a dry king protea flower, I arranged few passion flower vines. This way, if any one wanted to buy the arrangement, they could enjoy the arrangement for a long time and only need to replace the greens.

The fund raising dinner was a very successful one. Though no one bought my arrangement, but together, we raised more than $30,000 and that was not including the dinner ticket sale. I was very happy for the success.

I brought back the flower arrangement home and set it up at my living room. The structure reminded me the field after quake in Sichuan, China. However, the feeling from that dry flower did not match what was in my mind.

Tuesday morning, I remembered that I had few palm boots stored in my office cube. Therefore, I brought with me the left over passion flower vines and two stems lily to the office. I set the flower arrangement at lobby. Over the lunch break, I stepped back and looked at the arrangement, I had tears in my eyes. That was the very first time I was moved to tear by my own work. I went back my desk and printed a sign “Life After Quake”. I placed it by the arrangement.

The earthquake made me think again about the meaning of life and treasure life more. I realized my own responsibility to maximize the value of my own life, not only for myself, but also for those who died in this natural disaster. There were many who lost their own lives to save others. I deeply respect them. They are my heroes and I dedicated the arrangement to them.

Half an hour later, a coworker emailed me. In her email, she said: “I was deeply moved by your flower arrangement ‘Life after quake.’ Thank you so much for sharing your art with us.” I was very satisfied that my arrangement communicated for me.

Time runs fast. We will have fund raising event again this year next Sunday and, in a few days, it is the one year anniversary of Sichuan earthquake.

Mother’s love is selfness love. The best way to appreciate own mother is to appreciate all mothers. If we can do anything to help mothers, to make them happy, especially those unfortunate mothers, let’s try our best.

Happy Mother’s Day, Happy early Monday.

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ikebana and Cooking

There are a lot of similarities between ikebana and cooking.

Both use fresh materials. The materials should match and accomplish each other. For example, eggplant and basil are the perfect combination. If pumpkin and basil cooked together, it may taste strange. When arranging flowers, some are helping each other while others are fighting. The first two things to notice for a dish are its presentation and color, This is the same for a flower arrangement. Using the every day materials, a good chef could cook distinguish dishes; a good flower arranger can make eye catching arrangements using common floral materials. Vase is important for an arrangement, the china makes difference for a dish. Flowers will be arranged according to where to be placed and for whom, the dish will be cooked according to eater’s taste. A Shanghainese may not appreciate a spicy Sichuan dish, even that is cooked by a first class chef. Do you see the similarities here?

Few months ago, after I arranged flowers in a shallow vase, I rearranged the same materials in a tall vase. That is similar like “crab two ways” in cooking, except that is flower instead of crab.

In almost every Chinese family kitchen, there are some dry materials like dry mushrooms, dry bamboo shuts and so on. Many Chinese dishes uses dry mushrooms. Every Ikebana arranger keeps some dry materials as well. I always have few dry kiwi branches by hand. When there are left over dishes, we reheat them or add some new materials to make a new dish. I do the same with my ikebana. Few months ago, after I used dry itsumata branches, I kept them. When I had left over flowers from my arrangement, I added some passion flower vines and made a new arrangement.

I donate flower arrangements to the dancing studio where I learn dancing and my office lobby regularly, I recycle materials by re-matching and rearranging.

Kawako Takahashi sensei was a very talented ikebana artist from Sogetsu school. She past away peacefully in sleep a year ago at age of 92. She was the author of three books. The first one is a Japanese cooking book, the second one is a travel sketchbook, and the third one is about dinner table setting. Although none of the books is ikebana book, she combined ikebana in her table setting along with sand painting. I regret that I did not ask her insight about ikebana and cooking, I am sure that she would have a lot to say.

The most important common thing between arranging flowers and cooking is the mind. Both arts are the forms of meditation, one meditates to get his or her love and care into the flower arrangement and the dish while arranging or cooking.

After I shared my thoughts about this topic with my readers last summer, I received many responses. One of them is especially interesting:

“I enjoyed this particular article, and appreciated the cooking analogy. After the re-use comes the recycle. All my kitchen scraps go into compost bin. It will be very appropriate for all the flower arrangements when done. Perhaps you'd consider that?! ”

I think it concludes the discussion.

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship Through Flowers,


Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Reflection of Daily Life

My teacher had left over jasmine and orchid from her arrangement for Fay’s life celebration. With a new pair of metal vases, which I bought through her some time ago, I made a double arrangement using those materials.

When I finished, I asked her to criticize. “Very nice, Especially the one in lower vase. Just by itself, it’s a nice arrangement.” My teacher said and then removed the tall vase from the double. I took a picture of the arrangement in the lower vase.

“Now, if you do not mind, I will rearrange the double.”

“Please go ahead, that’s how I can learn.”

Few minutes later, the new double arrangement was ready. I saw the big difference between my teacher’s and mine. In her arrangement, I could clearly point out “heaven, man and earth” which are the 3 basic elements for almost any ikebana arrangement. Compared with it, mine was busy and less focused.

I realized that I forgot the basic when the arrangement got little bit complicated (double, in this case.) Further more, I realized that I made similar mistakes in my daily life. The basic principle should be applied to any situation, no matter simple or complicated. I was happy for what I learned, not only the flower arrangement, but what I would apply to my daily life.

I separated the double.

I gave the arrangement in the tall vase to Shirley. She had just been elected as president of SOAR Education Foundation, which I have volunteered for years. Everyone in SOAR appreciates her acceptance by overcoming some of her own personal difficulties. She did great job in her first term as president. Shirley is also my mentor at SOAR Foundation, she taught me a lot. Shirley was happy to see the arrangement, she brought it to SOAR office for the volunteers to enjoy.

I brought the arrangement in lower vase to office and gave it to my friend W to enjoy. Orchid is W’s favorite flower. I have to give W credit, she took very good care of the flowers I gave her. She NEVER failed to water the flowers. Even though, I just could not help myself to go to W’s desk to check how the flowers doing when I worked in the office doing system maintenance on the following Saturday. I worried that my flowers might not get enough water over the weekend.

I took the vase and the flowers to the sink. While I stood there and was busy to change the water and cut the flower stems, I suddenly realized that I could understand why some mothers “intervene” their children’s life even when the children became adults and married. That’s exactly what I was doing – I could not leave my flowers even after I gave them away and they were taking cared very well.

I cannot say how much I have learned from flowers and by arranging ikebana since I practiced ikebana. They have been my mirrors. I use them to reflect my daily life, they helped me to realize my own shortcomings; to understand others; and to improve myself in many ways.

Enjoy the flower arrangements and Happy Monday!

In Friendship through Flowers,


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Being Green

Last year, my friend gave me a book, her Chinese translation of the English book, it is titled “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L. Hoff and Camille Kingsolver).

The author recorded one year of life, in which she and her family lived only on the animals and vegetables produced either by themselves or by the locals. The book is informative and humorous; it is fun to read. After I finished the Chinese translation, I read the original English book. I learned a great deal. One example is the asparagus, I never knew that asparagus grows into a four-foot tree; the shoots grow so fast that one can tell when it is growing; there was a 2500 years old recipe for it. There are many other things I learned from this book, the most important things I learned are food itself and food carbon emissions.

Before I read this book, I knew that United States (our cars, factories, people and cows) contributes 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, but I did not know that our food choices count 30 percent of our carbon emissions. A big portion of the money we paid for food is actually paid for shipping. I feel that I am responsible for my own carbon footprint. When I finished the book, I decide to buy more local food from farmer market.

I also thought about to be a green arranger by using more local flowers. Since I regularly donate flower arrangements to the office lobby at my work and there is a large yard with trees and plants, I talked to my director about being green and got permission to use the floral materials in the yard. She suggested that I could put a bucket in the kitchen to accept floral donations from coworkers’ yard. I followed her suggestion. So far, I did not receive any donation yet, but I am sure that I will get some later.

In early March, I helped with taking down at Ikebana International Flower Show, I picked up a few quince branches that were dumped by people. I arranged them in the office lobby to form a frame. Used the frame, I first inserted a few calalilies given by a friend, then some azaleas, later replaced with branches from sweet pea bush (polygala myrtifolia). I have challenged myself to provide flower arrangements at work all year long and only use the floral materials from people’s yard and dumpsters. I will report how that goes on next year’s earth day.

Enjoy the flower arrangements, Happy Monday and Happy Earth Day!

In Friendship through Flowers,

The pig in the picture: few readers asked me about the pig in the picture. I had no idea who placed it there. I relocated it, few hours later, I found the pig was back in the same spot. I relocated it again and it was back once again. I gave up. The flower arrangement and the pig have shared the same table since and they are in harmony now.