The second and third days of Obon

Note: One of the more difficult things to do is to pin down exactly when this festival actually is.  Some parts of the country list it as “August 15.”  Others list it as “July 15.”  The difference comes from whether or not you follow the old Lunar calendar.

Now, I started these entries with the idea that one of the festival dates was August 15 in the Tokyo area, which logically should mean the last day of Obon would be on the 17th.  But Japan Talk lists it as ending on August 15!

So here I am, a little late to the party, but there are other years and perhaps one day I’ll get to celebrate the festival in Japan itself.

On the second day of Obon, the party really gets started.  There is dancing and drumming and good food and games.  It’s a colorful, summery event.

Per this article from the Huffington Post:

“The second day of Obon is spent celebrating the spirits’ homecoming. Towns build stages in the center, where dancers perform the Bon Odori, or traditional Obon dance. Although this dance varies regionally, it’s usually accompanied by traditional Japanese drums. Along the stage, booths of Japanese treats, games, and shops provide a festival-like atmosphere. Since Obon occurs in summer, many attendees wear traditional yukatas (light-weight kimonos).”

Sounds like fun to me!

For another perspective, and lots of great pictures, here’s an article from Japan Talk:

https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/obon

Also, here’s a wonderful blog called Just One Cookbook, and the dedicated page for summer festival foods!  The instructions are great, so maybe you’ll want to try one soon.

https://www.justonecookbook.com/japanese-summer-festival-foods/

The last day of Obon

This is the day when the famous floating of the lanterns happens.  In many parts of Japan this now happens in ponds with no outlet, rather than on the rivers.  This is done for environmental reasons, but in the places where lanterns are floated down the rivers, it’s a truly beautiful sight.  See the two articles above for more details.

As the lanterns float away, spirits of beloved family members are bid a fond farewell, until the next year.

The first day of Obon

Obon, the Japanese festival of Souls, is one that I try to do a better job of observing every year.  It contains a lot of meaning that resonates with me and that only increases as more of my loved ones pass from the mortal realm.  This is a solemn but joyous festival that marks a time when beloved spirits are able to reunite with their families.

Three friends of mine have moved on this year, one I enjoyed talking to and worked with, one I was inspired by, and one who I loved as my own daughter.  So in my own way of honoring the Obon tradition, I will be posting links to good articles about it and making my own suggestions of ways to celebrate it.

Other names for Obon are the Ghost Festival and the Lantern Festival.

I have a couple of links with more information and will continue to post more.  I hope you enjoy them!

My first article comes from the Huffington Post contributor section and gives a good overview of what is done on each day.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/celebrating-obon_b_5991ab53e4b0ed1f464c0c88

In the days before Obon, the house is cleaned, flowers are arranged for beloved dead, lanterns are bought or made, and figurines are made out of eggplants, cucumbers, and disposable chopsticks.  Four disposable chopsticks are stuck into a cucumber to make a horse to symbolize the spirits coming quickly to the home, and the same is done with an eggplant to make a cow to symbolize the spirits leaving slowly.  I find this tradition very cute and a little funny.

From Haikugirl's blog.PNG
Borrowed from Haikugirl’s blog, click to go there

Here’s a short article about the horses and cows:

Obon – horses and cows?

From the Huffington Post article:

The first day of Obon is spent welcoming ancestral spirits home. Families place offerings of fruit, rice, green tea, sake and lotus-shaped sweets at the graves or family altars. Paper lanterns are hung round the house to help guide the spirits home. Some families carry lanterns from the graves back to their homes.

 

Some ideas about how to celebrate the first day of Obon:

Check out Youtube videos and articles about the festival

Visit a grave of someone you care about, and bring flowers

Light candles or lanterns and put them in the window

Hang paper lanterns

Tell happy stories about people who are gone

Display photos of people who have passed away, so you can see them and smile

As we near Obon, her presence remains

Katzenworld recently featured a tribute to Nezumi, Honored Eternal Webmistress of this blog, and Queen of my heart.   When in flesh, she was a delightful calico girl who was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Her ashes lie in a smooth, polished black box with he name on it, with her pawprint and a picture near.

And yet, her spirit isn’t gone.  Her spiritual father, Orion, of whom I have also written, still walks on the bed even though he left his flesh behind nearly ten years ago.

As for Nezumi, our other cat Shinji will sometimes stare at the empty air – or at the shelf where her ashes are kept.

Every once in a while I’ll feel her fur against my ankles or see an orange, black and white shadow flit by.

Neither has left me, and they both have my eternal loyalty, as I (apparently do) and it makes me feel peaceful.

I used to wonder if ghosts existed – I began to doubt it seriously – and then it was proven to me by my own cat-friends.  They made their presence impossible to ignore and they show themselves to both my spouse and I.  They are neither harmful nor destructive, and they come and go as they please.  Our bond is far from broken!  I personally think cats make great ghosts – mine did as they pleased when they were alive, so why not do the same once freed of their flesh?

I told Nezumi as that she could go or stay as she pleased, and that I would love her unceasingly.  It was the last thing she heard me say.

I still miss her – but I’m so glad she, and Orion, still choose to visit me.

So that’s why she’s Eternal Webmistress, the same way that Tama, the Japanese train stationmistress who just happened to be a calico, became Eternal Stationmistress upon her death.

In Japan, some celebrate Obon, (the festival of the dead) in mid-July, and some in mid-August, but in either case it’s a joyous chance to reunite with beloved family members who have passed from mortal life.  It’s not a somber occasion but a time to celebrate and have fun.  So I think often of my two well-loved cats as that festival nears.

When it comes time, I’ll light two lanterns for them and watch them floating in the pool and meditate on the fact that we are more than our bodies, we are luminous beings, not just crude matter.

 

floating lanterns.jpg

The passing of Nezumi

Our longtime site mascot, Nezumi, has passed from the mortal realm.

In other stories about her, I’ve told how she found us as a tiny injured kitten who was driven away by her mother.  I’ve told how she grew into a fine figure of a queen cat, nurtured by the loyal Orion.  I’ve also told of how we lost Orion and how she carried on with us.  She even wrote a few blog entries on this site.  She was a wonderful girl, a staunch family member, often hilarious, and always lovable.  Lately, her health has been failing and we’ve finally lost our final battle.

It started a few months ago when she started becoming even pickier than usual and we thought there was a problem with her mouth.  She started drooling and rubbing her mouth on things, so it made sense.  We also wondered if she had a hairball that wouldn’t come up.

The vet found a mass near her intestines, but since it wasn’t blocking anything we thought she might be okay.  Perhaps the mass would be benign, perhaps we could encourage her to eat, perhaps we could control the swelling with steroids and find out it was just IBD.  We did blood work, got good news on her organ function.

We got a bit of a reprieve – for a time she seemed to be getting better.  Then she took a turn for the worse.  Back to the vet.  The news was bad.  So we changed our strategy and just focused on keeping her comfortable.  A couple weeks passed.  Her normal meow changed to a little squawk, she lost her coordination, but she still loved attention and would ask to be picked up so she could be near us.  I still saw a soul behind her eyes.  Normally so gentle, she covered my arms with inadvertent scratches and I find now that I want to rub ink into them so I can wear them forever.  Her sweet face and personality created instant love from the first moment I saw her as a tiny waiflike kitten.

That was why it was so hard to have to schedule her end – however, we both agreed that she should go when she still had some dignity left, instead of us selfishly trying to eke the last drops of life out until she passed away in pain and terror.  I also scheduled an appointment with a crematorium for shortly after her last vet visit.

I had to take a Benadryl last night so I could sleep, and still sat up petting her.  My tears were a river that has still not run dry.  In the morning I gave her some brushing, which she loves, and offered her broth for breakfast – which she wouldn’t touch.  She kept patting me and looking into my eyes.   When it was time we took her to our vet.  The assistant laid her on a blue and white Southwestern blanket to make her comfortable.  The vet gave her one more exam to make sure nothing had improved, and then we said goodbye.  Shortly after, Nezumi was gone.  I felt a cool wind blow through me, around that time, though for the life of me I can’t remember exactly when.

The people at Tucson Pet Cemetery were very kind.  The office lady was quiet yet compassionate, neither adding nor detracting from our grief.  The office cat, a fat, bob-tailed Cymric cat, offered cuddles, headbonks, and purring.  She went over the options with us, not trying to upsell but just responding to our questions.   We placed Nezumi on a sort of table under a window, in a shaded room with comfortable chairs so we could say our final farewells.

I find that as sad as this all was, I couldn’t ask for a better end myself.  I hope that when the time for my end comes, I can meet it in peace, with my family around me.  We’ll make a place in the yard for her ashes and set up a cat statue in her memory.  I know that she’s beyond all pain now, and I hope she’s met up with Orion so he can show her the ropes of being a spirit being.

For now, we’ll comfort Shinji as he’s an only cat, yet again.  He’s seen a lot of people die and so we want to be gentle with him.

 

when I feel you’re gone,

my heart pours out misogi

waterfall of tears.

 

doorway-crop-1000

 

The Haunted Mission

The picture above is not from my camera.   Read on, and you’ll find out why.

But first, a little background.

San Xavier is a very old and famous Spanish Catholic mission, the oldest European structure in America.  Though the original mission was established in 1692, the current church dates back to the 1780s and was built by the local Tohono O’odham tribe.  The Wikipedia article (link) gives a good accounting of its history.

Last year, my mother and I went there to see the place.  She has an interest in architecture and was raised Catholic, so it was a meaningful trip for her.  I was curious if I might sense something but wasn’t expecting anything in particular.

When we got there, I realized that I’d forgotten my camera in the car.  It’s a low-end Nikon, not a camera attached to a phone.  I think she uses a Canon but hers is a bit simpler than mine.  I went back to get it.  Now, my camera was working fine until this point and had fresh batteries, the kind that let you test them.  I decided to take a picture of the cross on top of a low hill near the Mission, the same hill where some of the stone for building was taken from.

As I focused on the hill, the camera retracted the lens and shut off.  I turned it on again and again the same thing happened.  I could never get the camera to focus on the hill or anything else in the area.  The only time the lens retracts like that is when the light is bad, or when the batteries are dying, and neither of those things were the case.  It also didn’t give me its usual low battery warning.  My Mom’s camera didn’t have a problem, though she didn’t try to use it in that parking lot.

I gave up on the camera and went inside.

Inside the mission itself, I found the sanctuary a rather interesting place.  Paintings of saints and such were everywhere and the old wooden seats were intact.  I’m not sure if they were original but they were definitely old!  I felt a heavy feeling as I walked around in there, looking at the art.  After a time I was a bit light headed and also felt somewhat uncomfortable.  I spoke quietly to any spirits who might be hanging around, letting them know I was here with peaceful intent.  Around this time I began to be aware of an emotional weight as well, and I also felt something like a vibration throughout my body.  Tears started to well up also even though I hadn’t been feeling particularly sad.  My mind was a bit foggy as well.  The general impression I get when thinking about those few minutes is dimness, and heaviness.

In case it wasn’t just psychic background count, or stored emotion in this old place, I spoke again to the spirits, letting them know that if they were afraid to move on, they need not be, that they were free.  My mother seemed to feel something as well but it was difficult to put into words.

The moment I left the sanctuary and went out into clear air, the heaviness went away, my head cleared, the vibrations stopped, and the emotional sensations also left me.

I’ve done a bit of research and have found two legends about San Xavier.  One describes an old padre who wanders the church at sunrise and sunset, and the other tells of a nun and five children who died in a fire as the nun was leading them to safety.  One person on a hauntings website tells of a heavy feeling, and another says the place is very haunted but isn’t specific about how.  I don’t think I sensed the padre or the nun and children.  My impression was that either I was sensing the strong emotion of all the people who prayed in that sanctuary, each leaving their own imprint like finger-marks on a long-unwashed doorway, or perhaps it was a collection of spirits who hadn’t moved on.  I personally have a thought that sometimes people might pass from this life but not be able to move on because they fear condemnation or eternal suffering, and so they might get stuck.  So when I feel anything like a spirit who might be stuck like that it’s my practice to tell them that they are cared about and that they are free to go where they will, in case no one told them before.

I still don’t entirely know what I felt, but I did undeniably feel something.  My imagination just isn’t that good!

Aloof Cats

“Cats are aloof.”

“Cats are anti-social.”

“Your cat doesn’t really love you, they just want food.”

“Cats are spiteful.”

“Cats are merciless.”

——-

Balogna.

Utter, sheer, unmitigated, balogna.

Hogwash.

Poppycock.

Rubbish.

Nonsense!

 

As I write this, the primary cat who owns me, keeps patting my arm to remind me she’s there.  She likes to just hang out near by when I’m doing things, rather than going off and sleeping by herself.  She’s not a lap cat, but rather a sit near you cat.  She’s very loving and the feeling has always been mutual for us.

Do cats love?  They do  – very deeply at times – and if you learn to look and listen and observe, you’ll see that.  For example – when a cat is gazing at you and giving you that slow blink, that means “I trust you.”  And sometimes “I love you.”  You can see their love with body language and facial expression, and by how much time they want to spend hear you.  They also grieve very deeply and they remember their lost friends quite well at times.

Some are going to say “cats are just animals, they don’t have feelings.”  Lately, though, it’s been discovered that though smaller than a human’s brain, a cat’s brain matches about 90 percent of the structures we have, especially in the emotional centers.  What’s more, a cat’s face has many muscles that exist for the purpose of making expressions.  So when your cat seems to be smiling at you, they really are, and when they look sad, they probably are.  It’s not anthropomorphism to say this, those behaviors have been observed and confirmed.

Cats get a bad reputation though because they aren’t groveling sycophants.  They are deemed untrainable because you have to motivate them properly for them to decide to do what you are asking.  I’ve gotten my cat to sit, even lie down on command, but it’s plain that she’s deciding to agree to my request, not giving me a rote response.

They can be incredibly intelligent – I knew a cat who would use bottle caps as containers to carry things in, and would eat his dry food only after picking it up with his paw.  I knew another who ran away from her mother, crossing two yards with big dogs in them, so she could be with the only house who would offer her help – that is, us.  How did she know that?  We’d never met her before.  And yet, she knew just where to go at a bare few months of age.  I have played long games of “boop the nose” with Nezumi, where we’ll take turns booping each other’s noses.  She can tell time to some extend.  I’ll say “not yet, in an hour Nezumi,” and sure enough she’ll come back for whatever she wanted… in an hour.  I and many others could go on and on.

A cat will choose if they want to be part of a relationship and they’re pretty hard to bribe.  However, once a cat has decided your’e pretty okay as people go, it can be a beautiful experience.  They will be loyal with you and the experience will be incredibly special.

 

Nezumi and Shinji 4-19.JPG

To all the Mothers – and Kitty Mothers – out there

Today’s your day!

It takes a tremendous amount of grit to be any kind of a parent.  To those who have stuck by their kids, through thick and thin, protecting them from harm, putting up with illnesses and whining, and trying to teach them the good things in life, I salute you.  Similarly, to those cat parents who support their furry kids through smooth times and rough, I salute you too.  It also takes determination, love, and often some heartache.

It means that like a wildflower’s roots, you must sometimes search for scarce resources and nevertheless make something bloom.

It means deciding that that tiny child – or kitten – is more important than your own comfort.  That your child’s happiness is your happiness.

It can be a huge struggle, especially with a human child, but every mother I know has told me it’s worth it.

To everyone who takes on that challenge, Happy Mother’s Day!

Here’s a picture of our sweet calico when she was tiny, shortly after she rescued herself and came to us, and a bouquet of wildflowers for all the Moms out there.  And yes… that includes my own!

Pix030

wildflowers 1200

Farewell, Dear Knight

I remember when I first saw him, a tall, lanky figure with flowing white hair flowing beard, wearing a leather duster, striding across the parking lot at work.  Somehow he wore it like a medieval surcoat and I could easily imagine him as a knight of old, or at least as a noble gunslinger of the American West.

As it turns out, he was both.

We spoke occasionally until I was put on the same team of experts with him, answering agent questions and solving problems.  I learned more about this person, who became my friend.  He had indeed used a sword, having been a heavy fighter in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  He had been a weight lifter, had practiced Kenpo, and he liked to go out to the range with his friends on the weekends.  At one point he’d also ridden Harleys, so I guess you could say he’d had a mighty steed, too.  As is common with people skilled in the use of force, he had impeccable manners and treated everyone with respect.

He also had a sharp and active mind with a deep knowledge of history, the type of guy who could tell you the difference between lorica segmentata and lorica squamata and which one he liked best.  He knew why “Decimation” means only to remove ten percent, and the content of the rations the rest of the decime would eat during the rest of their punishment.  (Barley, by the way.)  He liked anime and got all my references to old movies.  Along with his courtly ways he had a very dry wit.  I lived for conversations with him.

One day he didn’t show up to work, he was missing for weeks.  He came back with a leg missing and an account of how he’d been laid up in the hospital with a terrible case of sepsis, which he had only survived through the loss of his leg.  It had turned out that the cause was a small cut on his foot.  His slightly curmudgeonly attitude had changed for the better, his blue eyes now sparkled with the joy of life and he smiled more.  He got a tricked out wheelchair and was upbeat about his loss of a leg, calling himself “gimpy” and “pogo,” but refusing to let anyone feel sorry for him.  He never surrendered to self pity.  He took pleasure in the smallest things, like having an apple.

Time passed and my friend got an injury on his head.  This didn’t get better, even though he took care of it, and eventually it became clear that it was a nasty MRSA infection.  Back he went into the hospital, this time for four months, in total isolation, on a constant antibiotic IV drip.  I caught every scrap of news and was sure he wasn’t going to make it.  Yet, one day I saw him wheeling back in.  I yelped for joy, charged him and gave him a great big hug.   I was so happy to see that my knight had returned.  I happily had many more great conversations and when I left that job I tried my best to get him to come with me.  But no, he was used to where he was, and he didn’t want to leave.  So he stayed.

I found out today that he died sometime yesterday, of congestive heart failure that was likely brought on by damage from those systemic infections.  He was only 52.  I can do nothing but think of his life, his great smile, the fact that he never let his various ailments get him down.  In fact, even when wheelchair bound, he and his friends still went out shooting at the local gravel pit, having a good time together.  He still insisted on doing everything for himself and he never gave up.  I’m sure he fought to the end.

In his memory I am going to do two things.  Every time I have an apple I’m going to take an extra bit of time to notice its crispness, its sweetness, and enjoy it that extra bit.  And I’m going to make sure and remind anyone who has an injury that isn’t healing to get it looked at, because it really can turn into something nasty, even if you are taking care of it and are otherwise living a healthy lifestyle.  So clean that cut when you get one!  You don’t want the bugglies getting inside.

My friend was a wonderful, courtly person with vast knowledge about a lot of things.  He also treated everyone with respect and didn’t believe in running other people’s lives, or having them run his. n my head I always thought of him as “my knight” because that’s the way he was, and I told him so, too.  He got all embarrassed.  But at least he know how I saw him.  My only regret is that I won’t get a chance to spend more time with him.

I’ll miss you, my gentle knight.  The world is a darker place without you.

Spring Revamp

Update!

I’m making some changes to encourage myself to put up more content and make more art.  So I’m combining my old personal art site, rohvannynshaw.com, and this one – and opening an ArtStation account to house my portfolio.  It saves time and money.  That time component is especially important, now that I’m a member of leadership at my company, and don’t have quite so much of it as I once did.

I really like ArtStation as a place to see store professional level work and it does everything I used to have with my old personal site, except it gets traffic.  It also has a clean, simple interface that makes my art look great.  It’s also filled with really amazing artists who do this sort of thing for a living, so I’m constantly inspired.  Therefore, I’m busily uploading my old work, linked here for your viewing enjoyment.  Just click on the image to see my brand spanking new profile.

art station main page.PNG

In future weeks and months, this means you can expect more content, and if there’s something in particular you’d like to see, feel free to leave a comment!

Accepting the Torch

My spirit has been riding in this body for forty years now – I was born forty years ago next June but I would have had brain cells and such by this time, forty years ago, even though I hadn’t yet tried the outside air.

It hit me hard today.   As I was reading an article about craft traditions that are now practiced by a bare few, I realized that it’s my turn to bring the things that I value into the future.  I want a college student twenty years from now to fall in love with Sumi-e, or to feel the touch of washi paper, or see a real indigo dyed piece of cloth, or paint with oils, or know how nice it is to write a letter with a real pen.

It’s not a burden to bear alone, thank goodness, but I can do a great service to the future by adding my interest and support to the traditions I want to see continue.  So can you, if you want to.  Every one of us who loves something and shows it, helps it stay in the world and not be forgotten.  Maybe for you it’s your grandmother’s sticky bread that nobody else knows how to make just right, or a breed of dog that’s rare and misunderstood.  Maybe it’s something else.

So I’ll keep baking my own sourdough that never knew the touch of a stand mixer.  I’ll practice my ink painting.  I’ll keep shifting my own gears and cooking on a gas flame.  I’ll keep learning about oil painting.  Sometime, I’ll save up and buy an iron tea kettle made lovingly by hand.  When I can, I’ll buy real washi paper from Japan, not an imitation, and make sure to get it from one of the places that still uses the old methods.   The money used to buy those things will help crafters and tradesmen keep the lights on just a bit longer.

It doesn’t take a huge effort, it doesn’t have to become some kind of holy cause.  I accept this burden, which isn’t so heavy after all, this torch, to keep and guard and carry so that someone can take it from me in the future.

The painting here is my first full size oil painting.  I see a lot of issues with it, as with any first effort, however there were also some of the fabled happy accidents and I learned from it.  The sumi-e up in the header is another thing I’ve picked up again, my first painting in that medium in quite some time.  I promise I’ll get better!

 

summer forest.JPG