Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

The world is still a few hours away from knowing what Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress looks like, but let’s focus on the important information we now know: the music which has been selected. After all, if you have the Westminster Abbey organ, the London Chamber Orchestra, two choirs, a fanfare team, and trumpeters galore at your disposal, well, let’s hope you make good use of them.

So the royal bridal couple, apparently in consultation with Prince Charles and other important folks, by and large has selected some nice favorites; safe, some would say, but nice: Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” and William Walton’s “Crown Imperial.” Her Majesty, the Queen recesses to a piece I particularly like, the Widor “Toccata” (better be nice to your organist if you are requesting that piece any time soon). A commissioned piece was hoped for, and John Rutter got the nod to compose an anthem for this occasion. Let’s see what it sounds like. If our ward music committee really likes it, fans of Rutter that we are, perhaps we’ll push some budget and maybe some contributions together to order it, undoubtedly expensive though it will be.

I’m glad the bride will process in to Charles Parry’s “Jerusalem” and not the well-worn snippet from Wagner’s “Lohengrin.” Although I don’t consider myself an organist by any means, I’ve been honored to play the organ for two weddings, one of which was for my girlfriend Linda in Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel. I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance to play for another wedding, but if I were to, I’d make the case for the Parry or the Clarke/Purcell “Prince of Denmark’s March” instead of “Here Comes the Bride” for the processional.

It’s a fine art and a puzzle, I think, to select music for church services. They’re not concerts, so the music should enhance and never detract from the spirit of the services. Whether stirring and exhilarating or contemplative and reverent, the music should be at all times inspirational and uplifting. And yet, IMHO, the selections should be interesting, different just enough to keep everything from being entirely predictable and trite. I have a particular fondness for the majestic Anglican sound – Easter at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and vespers at King’s College Chapel in the University of Cambridge are among my favorite life experiences.

No doubt the Kate wedding dress will set the fashion trend for bridal gowns for the foreseeable future, just as Princess Diana’s set the look for those of us married in the 1980s. The music in this royal order of service may not be breaking any real new ground, but this combination of pieces now will have its identity with this royal wedding. Let the church bells peal!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If Princess-to-be Kate finds herself short a bridesmaid’s bouquet or two, I’d be happy to provide roses from my garden. The pink ones are even British; they’re from my David Austen “Heritage” bush. My small gesture in furtherance of good relations across the Pond. Just offerin’.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Auntie Toshie is celebrating her 90th birthday today. She’s one of my Hawaii-style “aunties,” a friend who is as much part of the family as any blood relative.

The connection goes back to an after-dinner conversation between my dad and Toshie’s brother-in-law, Mits, at our Downey house in 1961. Uncle Mits, the husband of Toshie’s younger sister Amy, and my dad were both engineers at North American Aviation in the Downey Space Division plant. Uncle Mits, an MIT grad, and my Caltech dad traded good-natured barbs about school rivalry, and even at my very young age I knew that they got along well.

According to my mother, Uncle Mits mentioned that on a drive out in “the country” of unincorporated Orange County, he and Auntie Amy came up an area they really liked. He was hoping to buy a lot and build a home there, but the lot owner would only sell a minimum of two acres. Since Uncle Mits only wanted one acre, would my dad be interested in going in with him to split the lot? When my dad heard that it was in Peralta Hills in the Santa Ana Canyon, he shocked my mother by saying “yes” on the spot, the property sight unseen.

My father, as it turned out, knew the area well, as his family farmed in Peralta Hills before the war. At that time, the property was an orange grove, and the road out there was just a one-lane dusty road, long before the twelve lanes of the Riverside Freeway ever existed. Twice a year, we’d drive out to what seemed like the end of the world to get to “the lot” when my dad met with the Sunkist representative to negotiate selling his oranges for juicing. We played in the canyon wilderness, eating my mom’s teriyaki chicken and potato salad picnic. It was all very adventurous.

Uncle Mits and Auntie Amy built their home there in 1964. They never had children, and Auntie Toshie, a young widow with a young son, moved in with them. My parents started building their home up the hill in November 1967 and we moved out there in June 1968. In the meantime, the City of Anaheim annexed Peralta Hills and North American created a new division, Autonetics, five minutes away from our new home. Somehow my dad and Uncle Mits had been way ahead of that curve.

So for fifty years, our families have been connected by this land. Food and gifts have gone back and forth between our homes constantly. Almost daily my mother dispatched one of my brothers or me to their house with something home cooked or my dad’s vegetables, saying, “Here, take this to tonari.” Although we have other neighbors, only one house was “the” neighbor tonari. Auntie Toshie always asked me how school was, and always added that she knew what a good student I was. Their mother, Mrs. Kawasaki, taught me the finer points of sewing during the summers she visited here from Hawaii. She and Auntie Amy made me the Japanese-style comforter I took to college and law school.

After Auntie Amy died of cancer when I was in college, Auntie Toshie moved out. Uncle Mits remarried, to the widow of my dad’s golfing buddy. Things changed at “tonari’s,” but my mother especially stayed close to Auntie Toshie. My dad and Uncle Mits remained pals and good neighbors, and a year ago at the scattering of my dad’s ashes, he emotionally told me how much he missed my dad. It’s hard to see Uncle Mits bent with Parkinson’s, also over ninety years old now, and I’ve missed Auntie Amy and missed having Auntie Toshie down the street. I guess that’s why in some part I appreciate how great Auntie Toshie still looks and am so glad that she is doing so well. She always writes me such nice letters at Christmas time and says how proud she is of “Akemi-chan.”

My mother and Uncle Mits will be the special guests at her birthday party, given by her son and his family. I don’t suppose that the orchids I sent her yesterday came from Hawaii, but she was happy to receive them, nonetheless. Happy birthday, Auntie Toshie!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Elle Woods said it best in “Legally Blonde”: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”

I became recommitted to exercise and endorphins about 15 years ago. Between diabetes on my father’s side and osteoporosis on my mother’s, the genetic handwriting on the wall was that I knew I needed cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise in my life, and I realized that the sooner I made this commitment, the better off I would be. I talked myself into joining the Stuart Ketchum Downtown YMCA in the building next to my ULI office. Korean matrons swimming in the pool, executives reading the Wall Street Journal on the treadmills, and knowing Stu Ketchum made for an experience more palatable than one in a gym with loud music and guys with tattoos. Over time with friendly advice from YMCA trainers, I overcame my gym intimidation and got into a comfortable early-morning routine.

I had forgotten the benefit of exercise-induced endorphins that I got from long runs and bike rides in college and law school. With my YMCA workouts, I found slept better and had more energy. Then one morning, the exercise habit became my saving grace. I left Bing’s intensive care room at the City of Hope and arrived at my ULI office, facing decisions that did not seem humanly possible to face. I could not stop trembling, and I knew I had to get a grip. I ferociously pedaled the elliptical trainer until exhaustion set in, and then sobbed in the steam sauna until a new numbness set in. I emerged from the gym strangely purified of life’s harsh realities with resolve to deal with that which had to be dealt with in the days that followed. Endorphins could not have possibly made me happy at that moment, but I will always remember the peculiarly powerful strength that came to me when I thought I had none.

Over the past few days on the WM International Foundation e-mail talk-list, some “talkers” circulated articles on the benefit of exercise helping to mitigate the side effects of cancer treatment, decrease the recurrence risk, and improve overall survival rate. One USA Today article they circulated tells of Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shannon Miller, recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and undergoing chemo this spring. She’s not trying to keep up some Olympian level of training, but rather is dealing with days when she can barely get out of bed. She advocates some exercise to help clear the “chemo fog” in the brain, regain a sense of control over some part of life, and keep flexibility and mobility up until you can tackle more rigorous exercise. Some physicians and researchers are pointing out that especially for patients of lymphatic cancers, it’s important to keep moving to keep the lymph circulating – undoubtedly good advice for all of us.

So I made it a priority to be back at the gym tonight, a week after a treatment. I’m maintaining this “can-do” state of mind as I tackle the accumulated work and incoming projects back at the office. Whether from endorphins, blessings from prayers, especially others’, and lots of good wishes, I’m feeling good about feeling good again. With Elle Woods confidence, I’m starting to plan my June trip to Vancouver for a conference and my July trip to Chicago for a board meeting. In case you are not up on “Legally Blonde,” it all works out in the end.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Once a week during the summer, my mother drove the four of us in her little Ford Falcon to the City of Downey library. All the way there, she admonished us to keep in mind our five-book check-out limit and carefully select which books would come home to live with us that week. All the way home, she reminded us not to spend the rest of that afternoon and evening reading them all, because she didn’t want to hear the next day that “we had nothing to read.” Of course, each week that’s exactly what we did, and the next day that’s exactly what we said. For my mother and for us, the rest of the week passed slooowly as we re-read that which we sped-read, looking forward to our return to the book wonderland.

Coming through six months of chemo, friends ask me for my book recommendations, figuring that surely I’ve read something new. You would have thought I would have plowed through a lot of best sellers, but once the achiness, headaches, and general brain fog kick in, I can’t absorb, retain, and enjoy anything new. Instead I find myself reaching for the familiar friends on my bookshelves, just to dip in and reconnect.

So if I were Prospero shipwrecked on an island as in The Tempest, here’s what I hope would be in the crate of books washed ashore with me, in no particular order:

1. The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words by Ronald C. White, Jr.: a wonderful analysis of the development of Lincoln’s rhetoric.

2. A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski: my urban planning hero, who created New York’s Central Park and one of our country’s first regional plans.

3. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Alexander, Ishikawa, et al.: changed the way I look at the built, and unbuilt, environment.

4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: because the Count covers everything.

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: just because, and until we figure out Mr. Darcy.

6. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston: more appealing to me that Thoreau’s Walden, it captures why I love the beach and brings back powerfully happy memories of reading this during our Cape Cod vacation.

7. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin: my favorite childhood book.

8. The Year I Ate My Yard by Tony Kienitz: written by a fellow Pasadenean who gives laugh-out-loud inspiration for growing what you eat.

9. Speaking of eating, the culinary writing of M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child. . .

10. The poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings.

And last but not least, the Gospel of Matthew, Luke Chapter 24, and Alma Chapter 32.

For yesterday’s five-hour infusion, I packed along a variety of things to read while hooked up to the IV. But I know better now to think that I’m going to get very far before the pre-meds – heavy-duty Tylenol, Claritin, and the steroids – bring on drowsiness. I switched out de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life for this month’s Ensign pretty quickly. Today I’m back in the now-familiar routine of tackling projects around the house as I feel the systems slowing down. Time for more Tylenol, another chapter of de Certeau, and a nap.