Spring Break, Sakura and Hanami

This year I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with my college age daughter for her spring break.  Her break fell the last week of March and when she was planning her trip she said “wouldn’t it be great if the cherry blossoms were blooming while we were there!”  Well, we were unaware that it would be the peak week for the blooms in Tokyo and Kyoto.  We were also unaware of what a big deal this time of year is for the Japanese people. 

The cherry blossoms are small delicate pale pink flowers that are known as “sakura”.  The springtime bloom is a lavish spectacle that only lasts one to two weeks after which the blooms fall like snow to the ground and wither.  There are so many cherry trees of various colors and varieties throughout Japan that every city has streets and canals lined with flowering trees.  It really is so beautiful that words and photos don’t do them justice! The tradition of enjoying the blooms with outdoor parties and picnics under the trees is called “hanami”.  It is a tradition as old as the trees and was established as a ritual as early as 710.  Today it is a national pastime with deep cultural and religious roots. Everyone stops and gathers to picnic, drink sake and eat sakura flavored desserts, candies and drinks under the trees. The celebrations go on all day and into the night with paper lanterns lighting the trees.  Women in beautiful kimonos and gowns pose for photos and families gather for family portraits. 

  

The sakura signals the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism.  The blooming coincides the beginning of the Japanese calendar year and brings new hope and dreams.  When the cherry blossoms are in bloom the future is bursting with possibilities. The sakura is also a metaphor for life, the brief brilliant blooming is followed by the inevitable fall.  They are tied to Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness and living in the present. The sakura is a visual reminder of the transience of life and impermanence.  So, if you are in Japan during this time you don’t walk past a blooming tree today without taking in it’s beauty because tomorrow it might be gone. The intensity of this experience was surprising to my daughter and I.  Now that we have been home a few weeks, we are still trying to take it all in! 

As I write this blog, the dogwoods, red bud trees, azaleas and flowers are all exploding into blooms here in Knoxville.  I hope that you will take time with your children to get out and enjoy this special time of year and cherish this time with your family and friends!!  

Watch Out for Spring Fever!

Springtime is here, and with longer warmer days many of us have begun to suffer from what is referred to as “Spring Fever”. We all know what it feels like. We’ve all surely experienced it at one time or another, and many of us have done so on a yearly basis for decades.  Webster’s Dictionary defines Spring fever as “a lazy or restless feeling often associated with the onset of Spring”.  For many of us a “lazy or restless feeling” does not adequately describe the pain and torture of being cooped up inside an office with only windows to look out and see the beauty that Mother Nature has bestowed on us with brightly colored flowers and trees, and birds, and warm sunshine beaming down.  Oh, the pain! I want to be outside.  Nope! Sorry, seven more hours to go. 

Yes, Spring fever is a painful affliction, that is, modern-day Spring fever.  But, it is not a disabling or fatal disease as it was two or three centuries ago.  Spring fever, also known as “Spring Disease” in the 1700’s and 1800’s, was an illness that usually occurred in the Springtime and involved fatigue,  malaise, easy bruising, bone pain, hemorrhaging of the scalp and gums, and poor wound healing.  If left untreated, (which most cases were, until a miraculous cure was discovered) it lead to jaundice, seizures, neuropathy, and death.  Many thousands of people died from old fashioned Spring fever (Spring Disease) prior to the discovery of adequate treatment.  In the mid 1700’s a Scottish physician named Dr. James Lind discovered that the terrible illness formerly known as Spring Disease (but at that time was referred to as scurvy), could be successfully treated by the ingestion of oranges, lemons, and limes.  Ascorbic (citric) acid, or vitamin C, was yet to be discovered, and no one knew why these fruits worked to cure scurvy, only that the treatment was undeniably curative.  The illness “land scurvy” usually occurred in the Spring of the year, and more commonly in urban areas, which were largely void of fruits and vegetables (and especially citrus fruits) during the winter. The more agricultural areas of the world had better access to fruits and vegetables that were stockpiled during warm months to be consumed during the winter. Since transportation of food and food storage were more of a problem for urban dwellers in the 1700’s and 1800’s, these people were at much higher risk for developing land scurvy as their vitamin C levels became depleted during the winter months with no available fruits and vegetable for consumption.  By Springtime, they became ill with the disease.  “Sea scurvy” on the other hand, occurred throughout the year, and was thought to be a different illness than land scurvy.  Sailors made long voyages encompassing months of time at sea during this era.  Their diets on board ship rarely included fruits and vegetables, and thus, after many months at sea with vitamin C deficient diets, they developed sea scurvy.  Many thousands of sailors died from this disease before Dr. Lind’s discovery.  Dr. Lind himself had served in the Royal British Navy and had witnessed the suffering and deaths of countless sailors.  His discovery led to British ships being stocked with limes for ingestion by the sailors to prevent scurvy.  As a result, British sailors were eventually referred to as “Limeys”.  Land scurvy and sea scurvy were ultimately found to be the same disease, although the exact cause of the disease would remain a mystery until 1932 when ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was discovered by scientists in the U. S. and Hungary simultaneously. However, by the time the disease scurvy was adequately described and the exact cause was elucidated, Dr. Lind’s discovery of a cure nearly 200 years prior was a well accepted and practiced medical miracle. 

 

Top 10 Things I Miss Since Becoming a Mother (almost 7 years ago)

  1. Privacy in the bathroom
  2. Sleep
  3. Finishing a thought
  4. Finishing a sentence (finishing anything for that matter)
  5. Being early for ANYTHING
  6. Being on time for ANYTHING
  7. My left arm (typically occupied by my son)
  8. Making dinner with two arms (since my son insists on being in my arms while I make dinner)
  9. Having a clean, uncluttered car (we could live out of our car for a week!)
  10. Having a clean, uncluttered house

I am often reminded by wise mamas that these exhausting early years are “just a season” and “will be over before (I) know it.”  My favorite is “the days are long but the years are short.”  This quote from Gretchen Rubin gives a nod to the daily struggles of motherhood but implores us to savor each and every day with our children as these years are fleeting. I admit it, I often have a hard time reveling in sleepless nights, aching arms, and mommy brain. I wish I could. I know those wise mamas are right but it doesn’t make this season any easier. I found this all-too-true blog post on this very subject and I want to share it with you.  Grab a tissue before reading! Here’s hoping, whatever stage of motherhood we are in, we will remember. Remember the daily struggles as a young mama caring for young children and the bittersweet heartache when we realize our once needy babies don’t need us anymore.

Read blog here…