Thoughts: I Am Fine

A thoughtful piece from writer Tom Atkins, authentic and from the heart. (and for the record I am fine too . Missing my birding buddy but doing fine with a quiet nest.)

Quarry House

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My most read post on this blog, by far, is a piece of prose talking about depression. Months after I wrote it, it still pops up some days as the most read thing here. And my poems about depression tend to have higher readership and more comments than my other topics. Clearly there are a lot of other people who wrestle with it.

Some people share their own stories. Some just say thank you. Others add things they have learned in their own battles. But the most amazing thing, the thing that boggles my mind, is how many people, friends, and perfect strangers, write me private notes asking if I am OK.

I am OK.

Many of the things I write about depression, no matter how raw they seem, are memory poems. There was indeed a time that I was not OK. Not OK at all. There were years…

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Late Summer Haiku

So fellow travelers,  today was our school district’s opening day (we hit BTS later than most areas, largely I think because the New York State Fair runs through Labor Day and there are a LOT of local teens who work at the fair).

It was hot. Forget dog days of summer hot,  more like angry fire breathing dragon days of summer hot. It would have been a lot easier to go back to work this morning if it had felt even a smidge like autumn.  The high school auditorium is under going major renovations, so the opening ceremony was held at the sports stadium….outside….in temps which were pushing hard to hit ninety and humidity so thick it looked like a wildfire was on the way.

The Marching Band put on an impressive show, inspite of having to be there extra early to stage the performance and then waiting around in that heat dressed in their full show uniforms.  I know they were psyched to be able to run the whole performance on a full field (they usually do a severely truncated version on the stage indoors) for the entire staff. I know the majority of the district staff have never seen our National Class Band perform even one of their shows. They gave the kids a standing ovation. Even without a kid of my own on the field, I was tears-in-my-eyes proud of the performance; they nailed it and the season is just getting started.

I’m about two thirds of the way done with editing the photos from Japan. Turns out between cell phone and dslr shots I gathered over seven hundred images. Those are crucial elements of the blog posts waiting in the wings. Patience readers, the wait will be worth it because the more I work with this album, the more layers I find within the amazing experience I had. I know getting back to work will put me into a more focused routine.

One morning coming out of our hotel I found a cicada on a rock.  It took a while to realize it was actually dead. Whether it had died perched right there or fallen from the tree and landed that way, it made for a good portrait. I remembered the photo this morning while listening to the almost desperately high pitched songs of the insects.  This haiku emerged from the sounds and memories.


Crickets chirp turns shrill

oven heat cicadas scream

pleading for autumn


Walk gently on the path my friends (watch for cicadas) and may adventure find you ready.



Japan : Soul Food Haiku

So fellow travelers, is there anything more fulfilling than eating a meal created by someone whose love for the food they create is present in every detail?


Kitchen masters craft

fresh gifts from the sea and earth

feeding heart and soul


More on feeding my soul in Toyko to come

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Japan: Finding Dr. Usui

So fellow travelers, the honorable Dr. Usui, source of our quest:


Sometime last year, my daughter started going to yoga and meditation classes. She also began to study Reiki, a form of healing and energy work that originated in Japan. Founder Dr. Usui is said to have discovered the use of Reiki energy on a 21 day pilgrimmage on Mt. Kurama, a sacred Buddhist site. He founded a school to pass on this knowledge, which still exists today, although the organization had to go underground during the post World War II occupation of Japan when the American government banned all Eastern forms of healing and medical treatment.

Dr. Usui’s methods were tested and well documented during the great Kanto earthquake of September 1923 during which large areas of Tokyo were destroyed by widespread fires. He and his students traveled all over Tokyo to bring healing and relief to many injured people. Reiki came to the United States in 1937 and over the years, many people have studied and been initiated into the practice, myself and my youngest daughter included.

Not everyone easily accepts the concept of energy work, I understand and acknowledge the skepticism. I can only speak from personal experience of how the study and practice of Reiki has advanced my spiritual growth. It is not a religion, it is a way life, one which can be followed within most core belief systems. For me there was no going back once I crossed the threshold of making the commitment to live from a spiritual perspective of compassion and kindness. I’m no saint; I struggle frequently with anger and frustration raised by humanity’s inhumanity, I am given to bouts of fear and anxiety which routinely derail my spiritual sensibilities. Still, Reiki and meditation have made it possible for me to reclaim peace with greater ease and simpler effort.

I hope it gives my daughter a similar foundation. She came to this practice of her own choice. I have not pushed her to follow any beliefs or practices nor tried to deter her choices, even during her preteen years in a fundamentalist Christian youth program.  It has not always been easy to trust this process, but I have faith God speaks to my daughters and they will hear when the time is right and find their own Truth. My younger daughter’s early desire to explore spiritual truths are one reason I honestly believe she will find her way.


making a voluntary offering to Kwan Yin, the Goddess of compassion

The last few days of our time together were filled with little waves of emotion as, much like an incoming tide, the Moment of Parting drew closer. The night before we were due to leave we went out to dinner together. There were tearful hugs at the train station as our daughter headed back to her dorm. Unsure if our plans to meet for breakfast would work out since there was a lot of packing to be done, we had said our goodbyes just in case.

Back at the hotel, I felt my resolve kick in. We did not have to leave for the airport until early afternoon and my daughter did not have classes until later in the day.  There would be an entire morning to share. I was not going to waste it packing, even if it meant staying up past midnight to get things done.

Even with the late hour of the night before, I woke early on that last day, did some research on train routes, contacted my daughter (who was also up uncharacteristically early) and we made plans to set out on a quest to find the family grave site and memorial stone of Dr. Usui. My husband meanwhile would use the available time to fit in a pilgrimage of his own to the site of a Frank Lloyd Wright building he had not yet been able to visit.

I had come across the information about Dr. Usui’s memorial stone five years ago just before we visited our older daughter who was spending a semester abroad at the TUJ campus in Tokyo.  My younger daughter had just turned thirteen and she was thoroughly taken by the complex urban yet traditional vibe of Tokyo. I am certain the seeds of her current adventure were planted on that trip. I did not have an opportunity to visit the memorial; I focused on making sure we hit all the locations my family (including my future son-in-law who came to Japan with us) most wanted to visit.


Favorite oldest daughter and future son-in-law outside Yoyogi Park  April 2010


the kids prepare to visit Meiji Shrine April 2010


Beloved Husband and me at Lake Kawaguchi with Mt Fuji in the background April 2010

It was after all their first time in Japan and we had a lot to fit in just ten days. I did get to see the current location of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai  and was more than content with that discovery

Now I had greater reason to fulfill this quest. Armed with copies of written directions, along with a gallery of photos loaded on my daughter’s new Japanese cell phone, we set out in typical misty Tokyo rain to find the Master’s Memorial.

The directions provided by a Reiki Master who visited in 2005 came with this introduction:

A visit to Reiki Founder Mikao Usui’s Memorial and family gravesite involved visiting the wrong temple and gravesite first, but no visit to Japan (or anywhere) would be complete without finding yourself lost on more than one occasion 🙂 Once found, careful notes of the directions were written down. However as informative as any of us have tried to be…I suspect you will also find yourself lost the first time around, enjoy!…it’s all part of the journey! ” All Rights Reserved ©Northwest Reiki.

While getting lost in Tokyo is practically a tradition even for native residents, we did not have a lot of time for exploration.  I was a little concerned whether all the landmarks would still be present, as the original guide had been posted ten years ago! Fortunately my fears were (as they usually are) unfounded.  Each clue discovered was a small victory, as we worked together to follow the complex trail.

As you go upstairs and come out of the station Exit 1, go to your right and look for the flower shop on your right. It is right next to a very nice produce store and a “7-11” store. “All Rights Reserved ©Northwest Reiki.

There they all were in a row!  the 7-11, produce market and flower shop.

….walk just a few steps to the right, there is a small peaceful and residential lane on your left just to the right of a styling salon called Milly Molly Mandy’s. The window of the salon tells the story of how Milly Molly Mandy’s came to be. All Rights Reserved ©Northwest Reiki.

My daughter spotted the corner salon, which indeed has a cute story printed on the window about the little girl who grew up to have her own salon.

MillyMollyMandyAll Rights Reserved ©Northwest Reiki.

We scurried down the narrow street, found the cemetery, which was a maze of narrow paths and crowded plots. Without the specific directions of how to find the site within the cemetery we could easily have missed the memorial stone inspite of it’s massive size.


But find it we did and made our offering of flowers, taking time to stand quietly in reverence absorbing the peace and serenity of this sacred place.


My daughter and I stood, arms around each other in the rain, both moved to tears. This really became the Moment when we said Goodbye, not with words, but silently in our hearts, letting the rain wash away the sorrow and allowing peace to fill the emptiness we had feared.

“I am so glad we came here together,” my daughter said quietly.

” I am too,” I replied smiling through the tears, “because now we will have this moment with us forever.”

It was time to go, we both felt it. We bowed respectfully. There was less sadness, as we rode the subway to the train station where we would go our separate ways. Although there were still some tears when we hugged and parted on the platform, she was smiling when I turned back to wave at her.

Every little thing will be ok.  Let the adventure begin.


Reflection in a sacred water stone at the Usui Memorial

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Japan: Last Things First

So fellow travelers, Japanese books are printed in the reverse format of western books meaning the front cover and first page are what we consider the back end of our books.


Not so great shot of my favorite origami book, just to illustrate this reverse printing.

I have never found a clear explanation of how this reverse format came about, although I gather it did have something to do with the tradition of writing characters in columns rather than rows. The format is so prevalent, even books in English are printed “back to front” I suppose because the printing presses are set up to create books this way regardless of the content language.

Whatever the reason, this back to front printing process symbolizes how I feel when I am in Japan; it’s as if I am doing everything in a mirror image.  Anyone who has tried to do anything while looking in a mirror knows the odd feeling of being here and while moving over there at the same time.  So it seems fitting to begin this series about Japan by starting with what I did on my last day there.

Throughout my time in Japan, I posted a daily photo journal in my Instagram feed (sagemtn57 if anyone wishes to follow my photo journals) and I continued to write entries but none of the pieces came fully into completion after my first heat induced Tokyo post, because one element of the trip loomed large in the background of every experience.

The moment of parting from my daughter.


Favorite Youngest Daughter, checking new video cam at the airport before we all headed to Tokyo.

It was not something either of us dwelled on. There was too much to do, getting her settled into her dorm, visiting the neighborhood shops, learning to navigate the efficient but complex Tokyo Transit system even as she dove head first into exploring the cultural experience of Being in Japan .

By the time my husband and I boarded a train for five days in Osaka and Kyoto, my global adventurer and her new friends had started deciphering the megalopolis that is  東京  even figuring out what to do when they were lost. In fact the campus staff reassured everyone at the parent orientation that getting lost is a frequent occurrence, indeed almost a tradition even for the most seasoned of local residents. With Tokyo’s well founded reputation as the safest city in the world and a well organized campus emergency contact system in place (we know it works, our daughter of course tested it first hand within a few days, with perfect results) our kids were reasonably safe.

Within a few days she had located Daiso the Tokyo equivalent of our Dollar Store chain


and acquired some basic supplies for her dorm room.  The day we went shopping together to complete her list, I was impressed with her practical outlook of working within a budget. Her college move had none of the usual loading an SUV to the roof with boxes. You pack differently when all the belongings you are bringing to college have to fit in several suitcases with a strict fifty pound weight limit. Two of our three carry on pieces for the flight over were her guitar and violin.

When we returned to Tokyo from a whirlwind expedition of ancient temples, historic sites and unique dining adventures (don’t worry those blog posts are pending)  we were greeted by a confident young woman looking quite fashionable (they had discovered the amazing bargains of Tokyo’s ¥500 ((that’s just over $4 )) thrift stores) carrying a signature umbrella (because every Tokyo resident knows it can and will rain without warning) who didn’t hesitate to travel across the city to meet us.


Favorite Youngest Daughter, capturing Sensoji Temple in the rain for her video blog.


There were still a few details to settle, like navigating the maze of bureaucracy to set her up with a cell phone she could use in Japan. (There are unusual restrictions on cell phone features in Japan and special exemptions are required since anyone under 20 is not yet an adult in Japan and contracts usually require a signature of a Japanese resident.)  But while we were away she had, with minimal assistance acquired her ward residency card, registered for National Health Insurance (required for anyone not on a tourist visa) and purchased her student commuter pass which gives her a discounted rate on some of the transit system. She had even done some grocery shopping and cooked a few meals in her tiny kitchen.

I sensed she was growing comfortable with taking in these adult tasks. So every time The Moment edged into my view, I would acknowledge it’s presence, blink back a few tears and refocus on experiencing the moments at hand.


Finding a favorite bedtime storybook in Japanese. 


There was another shift I perceived more subtly. As often as my daughter had plans to do things with her new friends, she was just as eager to go places with us. Every day of our last extended weekend before her classes began she wanted to meet for at least part of the time and do something new. Saturday, she had several festivals picked out for us to visit. Although the two hour marathon of processing paperwork at the cell phone store cut into our time, we did make it to one of the evening festivals being held in Hibiya park. It was a park I had visited years before in my teens, but I had never seen it like this, all aglow in lantern lights and packed with people of all ages who had gathered for the Japanese equivalent of line dancing to traditional folk songs and taiko drums. She and I joined the crowd for a couple of songs.



The day before we were due to fly home, she showed me an envelope she had brought with her.  I was perplexed since it had her name written on the front in my handwriting. When I looked inside I found a collection of cards and notes I had written to her. Some were encouraging, some were “sorry I snapped” or simple love you notes, some were funny, one was from our dog apologizing for chewing up one of her stuffed animals and offering a replacement purchased with from a savings of dog treats. Of course we both cried as I looked through them and she thanked me for being a good mom. It was a moment that brought every tough passage of her teen years into perfect balance.  She told me she was not scared of being on her own, because I had helped her be ready, but she said she was realizing how big an adjustment this was now.

You know those times when there is something meaningful you want to tell someone you love, and you have to you wait until the right moment presents itself?  Over the past months as I prepared myself for this time of letting go, I realized why the heartache was so intense, even as I also knew this letting go was always the inevitable goal of raising my daughters. I took a deep breath and gave her my insight,

“This is hard because from this time forward, we will spend more time apart than we will together. ”  She nodded quietly and tears flowed for both of us.

The next morning we had tentative plans to meet for breakfast. She did not have classes until later in the day and our flight was schedule to depart in the late afternoon. I woke far earlier than I expected, having been up well past midnight carefully packing the many treasures we were bring back to share with family and friends. There was one thing on my list of places to experience which we had not yet fit in. A few minutes of research on google maps, a quick series of messages between us (turns out my daughter was also up early) and we had a plan in place.

It was time to make a pilgrimage to a sacred site.


to be continued

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.