My Daughter Plans a Coming of Age Ceremony

Recently, I noticed Shiori, the Japanese student who has been living with us since September as part of a homestay program for college students, seemed a little sad.  Shiori attends the University of Washington and is in an international studies program.  She is our second student to live with us over the last couple of years and it has been great fun for all of us.

Anyway, I inquired if anything was going on. Shiori told me that day she was missing the Coming of Age ceremony in Japan, which is a national celebration for boys and girls who have just turned 20. This is a big deal, apparently, and it marks these young people as adults in the eyes of the Japanese.

She knew when she was planning her stay in the U.S. that she would miss this ceremony, but the significance of her absence didn’t really hit until it actually happened. All her friends were posting about their coming of age experiences on Facebook, and she was feeling sentimental.

When she heard this, my 11-year old daughter decided promptly, well, we would just have a ceremony right here in Seattle for Shiori! We decided to make this a surprise and right away, my daughter took the lead in planning the logistics:

  • My daughter asked Shiori if she could eat dinner with us on the night of the ceremony (sometimes Shiori goes out with her friends on the weekend, so we wanted to make sure she planned to have dinner at home with us that night). Shiori was encouraged to dress up for a “special dinner”.
  • Since it is a dressy affair- the girls wear kimonos and even the boys often do so too, but many wear suits- we looked for some material for Shiori to wear. I had bought some beautiful Japanese material years ago somewhere in East Africa (I have no idea where- I had bought a whole bunch of batik and tie-dye material back with me thinking I’d get some clothing made some day. The Japanese material somehow found its way into my stash.). We thought Shiori might want to wear it as a sash or draped over her shoulders.

Japanese material

  • We planned a sushi roll meal for dinner, which included making sushi rice, and using the following fillings: mango, cucumber, avocado, crab meat, and omelet strips. Shiori made some miso soup for us as well, which has to be the easiest, fastest, and also an unbelievably delicious soup to make in a flash. We also had wasabi (not as good as the wasabi from the restaurants…) and soy sauce. I had special bamboo mats to roll the seaweed and its fillings and also little dishes for the soy sauce and wasabi.

Japanese Sushi Roll

And last, but not least, we had mochi for dessert!

Japanese Mochi

Green tea is on the left and Chocolate is on the right!

  • My daughter decided to do a speech as part of the ceremony. First she interviewed Shiori about her life. Her questions included: Describe your life in the U.S. What middle and high school did you go to? Describe your experiences there. How old were you when you went to these schools? She used the answers in a speech she wrote as the “mayor” of Seattle. Then she asked each of us (her dad, little brother, and me) what compliments we wanted to include in the speech.
  • My daughter researched the translations for “Congratulations” and Shiori’s name in Japanese. She and my son worked together to make a banner for her that hung over the dinner table.
Japanese banner

Top word says “Congratulations”, bottom word says “Shiori”

  • My daughter bought some small presents for Shiori- assorted chocolates and lip gloss.
Japanese gifts and speech

Chocolates posing over the speech

  • We all got dressed up. It was fun for each of us to pick out a special outfit for the evening.

Shiori was very pleasantly surprised by the whole affair and had a grin on her face the whole evening! In fact, she posted on Facebook: “My host family held the coming-of-age ceremony for me! had a great dinner and amazing speech. They made me very very happy and I can’t say thank you enough!”

I was so proud of my daughter and moved by her compassion, caring, and empathy for this young woman.

Note: All pictures were taken by Shiori!

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Philanthropy for Kids: Nurturing a Giving Family

I’ve been wondering about how to explore the concept of philanthropy with my kids. I realize that such a large concept feels sort of intangible.

Planting the seeds of philanthropy

Planting the seeds of philanthropy

In one of my early blog posts, I explore the definition of philanthropy. But I now realize it goes beyond just giving your time, talent and treasure.

The concept of philanthropy encompasses how you choose to manifest your values to the world. Read more in my latest Parentmap article.

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What Is It Like to be Hungry?

I’ve never gone hungry before.

Sure, I mean, I’ve fasted and skipped a meal here and there and felt pretty hungry during those times, but I have never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from.

I’ve been thinking about this because I am aware that hunger exists all around me. I saw it in Africa and I am face to face with it again in my job. I see it in the faces of the people who go through the line at the food bank to pick up their monthly bag of food with their food stamps.

food bank

And there is not much choice beyond what is offered. The items in the picture above are samples of what might be available in any given week. In summertime, there will be more fresh produce and fruits from the farmer’s markets.

Someone I talked to last week had the opinion that there are food bank customers who have little or no cooking skills and many of them are third generation welfare clients who don’t know anything different. They just go with what is familiar and modeled for them by their caregivers.

As soon as some people get their stamps, they go to the grocery store to get their food and then with whatever is left over, use the rest at the food bank. But all too often, when the month is not quite half over, they find themselves out of food and out of luck.

Apparently, this person felt that many of them are not even interested in cooking classes and won’t participate.

He also felt that clients should go to the food bank first to see what is offered and THEN go to the grocery store. This would provide more choices and also perhaps make the supply last a little longer.

Some of these food bank customers may have had steady jobs and back then it was easy to just simply  look in the refrigerator and see what was appealing. If there was nothing appetizing, it is easy enough to go to the store and pick something up. And when that changes and they find themselves out of money, they have to plan every meal and be diligent about using every ingredient they have.

What I understood from this conversation is that it is stressful, having to manage the resources you have and to make them last until the next cycle. This stuff I am hearing and seeing is only the tip of the iceberg in my learning curve.

I take it all for granted: having food within reach and having it any time I want. I’m usually pretty good about planning our meals for the week and only go to the store at most twice a week if it is a solid meal plan. But this week I went to the store way more often than I usually do.

When I learned about these things, I actually felt ashamed of my behavior. It is all very eye-opening and humbling for me. I will say that I am now more aware of my actions and want to make more effort to be conscientious about how I spend my time and money. It is so easy to just hop in the car and dash to the grocery store for that one ingredient I am missing. And I want to make excuses: well, I was busy working and taking the kids here and there…

And I really don’t know enough about the hunger issue. I just know that I’m more aware of it and am trying to figure out how to sort through the political, social, psychological, economical complexities behind it.

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Just Do It! Be an Artist Now!

Saw this great TED talk by Young-ha Kim, a South Korean writer, about not letting anything stop you from being an artist.

He spoke of parents who played Legos with their kids, even after the kid has lost interest, and the parents kept on building and building. He said, “…the artistic impulses inside us are suppressed, not gone.”

And one time he had his students write “like crazy” and found that by urging them to write in this way, the best writing often emerges.

It was wonderful for me to see this because I often wonder about where I am going with my writing. The “devils”, as he mentions in his talk for me are:

  • Do I really have a talent for this?
  • Am I inspiring other people?
  • Are people even READING my stuff?
  • How can I find the time for this?
  • What’s the point?

And I know that writing is an art, a craft, to be molded and massaged to emerge in the shape and form I desire.

To all the wonderful writers and artists out there: you CAN do it!! Watch this video and be inspired!

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Birthday Dreams for All: Providing Birthday Parties for Children of Struggling Families

Happy New Year!

Here is my first Parentmap post of 2014. I love the idea of volunteers coming together to pull off a party for kids whose families can’t afford this luxury.

birthday dreams

Courtesy Marcia Lovin McGovern

Now that 2014 is off to a good start, I’d love to hear from you, dear reader, about what topics you’d like to see covered! Is there a person or group that has inspired you or propelled you to action? Please let me know!

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Experiencing Another Culture Without Leaving Home


If you have ever thought about hosting someone from another country in your home, this article I wrote might convince you it’s a great idea. It’s not for everyone, but it has been a fun experience for me and my family.

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Finding Joy in the Simple Things

This morning, in the car on the way to school, we were stopped at a light at an intersection just off the highway that is usually frequented by low-income or homeless people selling the newspaper, Real Change. They buy the paper with their own money-.60 cents a paper and then re-sell it for $2.00. Topics in the paper focus on poverty, homelessness, and social justice. It’s a way for folks to make some money and get back on their feet.

real change

Anyway, Willie, a Real Change vendor, is usually at this particular stop.  Willie has won vendor of the week awards. He brings joy, laughter, and smiles to me and my children each time we see him. While Willie is selling his newspapers, he is also feeding seagulls with tortilla chips. He acts like a delighted kid and breaks out into a wide toothless smile and giggles every time a gull swoops down and snatches the chip out of his outstretched hand.

Willie likes to do this fancy thing with his papers. He puts them in a fan-like arrangement and then tosses them in the air and catches them all in place! One time he was doing this and a couple papers dropped and fell over the side of the bridge. And he just laughed about it.

My kids and I talk about his delight and zest for living at this moment. I think they are intrigued by his actions and they are learning about how simple things can make you happy. As for me, I wave to Willie every time we see him and once in a while I’ll get a paper. And when he laughs, I burst out laughing too- it is infectious. And I love laughing, it brings a certain gaiety to the day and actually grounds me.

It also reminds me of the smiles and laughter of the students I taught in Malawi, East Africa during my Peace Corps stint. These impoverished people had so few material things, and yet they had so much: they had each other, a community to look one another even when no one has enough to eat. There’s always something to go around. It’s not like that here. People are often isolated and left to their own devices. There are many great organizations working to help these people, but I still feel something is missing…

I read somewhere once:

Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Latin America come back politically aware.

Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Asia come back spiritually enlightened.

Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Africa come back laughing!

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