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,