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.


Earth Day

Earth Day is on April 22 every year.

Earth Day was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson. The idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. For several years, Senator Nelson had been troubled that the state of the environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to him that was, he thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political "limelight" once and for all. Since then, he had continued to persuade politicians and to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences all across the country. The evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.

In summer 1969, at the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called "teach-ins," had spread to college campuses all across the nation. While Senator Nelson was on a conservation speaking tour out West when suddenly the Earth Day idea occurred to him - why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to the environment?

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, he announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance.

On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. There were 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities participated. It worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level.

Senator Nelson was passed away on July 3, 2005. He will be always remembered as the founder of Earth Day.

In ikebana world, traditionally, an arrangement was limited to use natural materials only. It was Sofu Teshigahara (1900 - 1979), Iemoto (headmaster) and founder of the Sogetsu school (草月流), who broke the tradition and tried new modern ways. He stated that ikebana can be exercised by everyone, to each time at each place, with any material and container. That idea had been adopted or partially adopted by many other Ikebana schools and also helped with free style arranging.

For the 50th Ikebana International World Convention at Tokyo October, 2006, I prepared an arrangement using a piece of packing paper which I picked up at HP office’s hall way. When I picked up this piece of packing paper, I was inspired by the shades, especially when under the light. The idea behind this arrangement was that to make a non-traditional arrangement using non-traditional material in a non-traditional way. The flower was hided inside the tall vase instead of outside and showing. I wanted people to look for the flower inside the tall vase when they saw the arrangement. I thought that should work out very well in Tokyo, since I did not know what floral materials available there, I thought that I should be able to buy a single rose or orchid in the matching color tune I need.

Unfortunately, I had to give out my chance to display although I brought the vases all the way to Tokyo – the display space was limited and my teacher did demonstration to present our school.

Although I had no chance to display mine, I was very encouraged to see some arrangements using recycled materials (news papers, paper boxes and shopping bags) there. At following March’s Ikebana International Flower Show in San Francisco, some arrangements used recycled materials as well. My favorite one was the arrangement by Tuan, a talented Ikebana teacher from our Aratame school. Tuan discovered a scrap store in San Francisco, he used recycled materials bought from that store for his arrangement and also for the Aratame school arrangement. In his own arrangement, he used paper dividers created beautiful lines as the frame of the arrangement.

It seems to me that there is no limit of what one can do with the recycled materials as long as there is no limit set for arranger’s imagination and creativity.

Enjoy the flower arrangement pictures, Happy Monday and Happy Earth Day!

In Friendship with Flowers,

(I found Earth Day information from Earth Day website.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Flowers Can Do to Us?

Few year ago, I browsed a book title at a local bookstore, “Flowers A to Z” by Cecelia Heffernan. After I went through the contents list, at the following page, it was subtitled “Knowing Flowers”, the first two paragraphs touched me and I bought the book:

“Flowers are an integral part of our life. We celebrate, mourn, and love with them. They talk to us, teach us, comfort us.

Flowers have the power to evoke emotions and memories. They captivate us with their endless diversity of color, shape, size and fragrance. Yet for many of us, they remain designated for special occasions.”

We heard more and more bad news lately. The economy, the killing, the flood, … At those times, I turned to flowers, I thought about above words of flowers, and I think about the special way flowers do to comfort people.

At every of my flower talk, I asked my audience why we are touched by flowers. I got different answers every time and I contributed different answers of my own, depended on what’s in my mind at that moment. I did not get a satisfied answer. Tonight, I asked myself the same question again, and thought I have a better answer. It is flower’s sacrifice.

Yes, flowers sacrifice their life to bring us cheerfulness and high energy. No matter small or large flowers, bright or dark flowers, ... they all give people positive feeling,

This Monday I share two arrangement pictures of sunflowers and wild scotch brooms. I like the feeling sunflower brings to people. It always reminds us the sun, the bright side of the life. Wild scotch brooms is actually considered “weed”, but its powerful bright yellow delivered hope to people.

We can all learn from flowers to pass on the spirit, being positive and cheerful, give comfort to those surround us, together, we will pass this difficult time.

Enjoy the Flowers and Happy Monday!

In Friendship with Flowers,


Dancing and Flower Arrangement

Readers gave me feedback that it was interesting to compare a dancing posture with flower arrangement. That reminds me another topic related with dancing. In my view, there are lots of similarities between ballet and western style flower arrangement or between Chinese dancing and oriental flower arrangement, there are also differences between the two groups.

In CCTV’s 2007 Chinese New Year party show (the most popular TV program in China, literally say, every Chinese watches it), there was a dancing program called “Pine, bamboo and Plum (岁寒三友 - 松竹梅)”. It was very abstract, poem like, and beautifully done. It consisted three pieces of dancing.

The first piece, pine, was danced by famous ballet dancer Yuanyuan Tan (谭元元) who is the leading dancer at San Francisco Ballet. Her job was using ballet to annotation pine. In nature, pine’s characters are most commonly described as tall and straight (挺拔). In ballet dancing, dancer’s straight back, extended arms and figures and the lifted toes give viewer exactly this feeling. In Chinese cultural, pine is always companied with crane. Yuanyuan Tan was just like a graceful crane dancing among the pines. Which spelled out “pine and crane for longevity (松鹤延年)”, a Chinese idiom.

Plum was the second piece of dancing by Yan Liu (刘岩). Her dynamic Chinese dancing expressed the characters of Chinese plum tree, to bloom in the cold winter to signal that the spring is coming.

The third piece is bamboo by Liping Yang (杨丽萍) who is a very famous dancer from Bai nation (白族). Especially I liked the beginning, her body was swaying from side to side and lifted up, that movement gave the feeling of young bamboo came out of the ground, it was full of life. I almost heard the sound of bamboo growing.

If you haven’t watched the dancing program, you have to watch it. Here is the URL:

In the classical western style flower arrangement, the flowers are arranged in the way to straightly extended. That gives similar feeling like the ballet postures.

On the other hand, in oriental style flower arrangements, it is seldom to use straight lines, even arranging pine, the pine branch would be bind to get nice curve before inserted. All branches and flowers are talking and communicating to each other.

Enjoy the flower arrangement picture and Happy Monday!

In Friendship with Flowers,


Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Paradise

Last Friday when I talked to my teacher, Sumi sensei, on the phone to arrange the class time, I sensed great excitement from her voice, “I have some very special materials.” She told me.

Saturday after I left pottery studio, I rushed to ikebana studio. I ran into sensei in front of the door when she was on her way to lunch with her friends.

“Take a look at my arrangement, then take it down and arrange on your own. I will check yours when I get back from the lunch.” She instructed me.

When I saw her arrangement (picture above), I was stunned. It was very dramatic with the giant bird paradise plant! It was too nice to be taken down. I could not do it. I looked around and found similar smaller materials. I thought something more feminine and soft (see below) when I made my own arrangement.
Just when I finished, sensei was back from her lunch. “I like yours, it’s very calm and feminine.” She said after she saw my arrangement.

“Sensei, I had idyllic type of image in my mind, I thought that dahlia flowers were too strong to serve the purpose, if I use the pompom (mini chrysanthemum) instead, the outcome might be better. May I use them?” I pointed to the pompom in the bucket. “Sure, why not? Let’s study together.”

In the next few hours, we arranged the materials in different ways. When we finished one, I took a picture, then we took them down, arranged another one, took another picture, …

We had five versions. Among them, both sensei and I loved the last one. We decided that’s it and took some rest. I brought my laptop in and showed the class arrangement pictures from past to sensei. We reviewed them and chose few nice ones among them to give our headmaster in Japan. The reviewing process was very good study for both of us, especially for me to listen to sensei’s critique. When we finally finished the picture review, both of us said at the exactly same time, “Let’s redo the arrangement tomorrow.” We laughed after we said that together.

The night I went to see the Chinese dancing performance directed by Yao Yong. I was deeply touched, especially by a dance named “paradise”.

On Sunday, after sensei and I studied another two hours, we came to the agreement. The arrangement, we both liked, emphasized the new shoot on the left. That new shoot brought in the future perspective to the arrangement.

When I wake up Monday morning, the first word came to my mind was “paradise”. Yes, “paradise”, that would be the name for the series of the arrangements sensei and I made over the weekend, I told myself. I wanted to know the definition for word “paradise” in the dictionary. I jumped off my bed, turned on my laptop, and checked few online dictionaries. Unfortunately, none of them matches what was in my mind. The closest one from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is:

“2: a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight”

I was little bit disappointed without finding the definition I was looking for. I could not take my mind away from thinking about it. While waiting for the cal train to work, I watched the people moving around on the platform, suddenly I realized that there is no single definition which fits all. A paradise is in one’s heart. When those three dancers were dancing, they were in the paradise of dancing; when Sumi sensei and I studied ikebana, we were in the paradise of ikebana. Though the forms of the paradise are different from one to another, there is one thing in common - in order to reach the paradise state, one has to forget oneself with hundred percent dedication. That is why those three dancers moved audiences deeply.

Monday evening, I went to Yao Yong’s dancing studio and set up a small version of the “paradise” on the stand. I left message to pass to the “paradise” performers to thank them for their wonderful and touching performance.

Enjoy the arrangements and Happy Monday in your own paradise!

In Friendship through Flowers,