The Fragrance of Ink

Many years ago I saw a traveling exhibit of literati paintings of the Choson Dynasty from the Korea University Museum. I was enchanted by the name of the exhibit – “The Fragrance of Ink.” Inspired by that evocative phrase, I wrote this haiku. (Is it cheating that I didn’t make up 1/3 of the poem)?

The fragrance of ink
Is subtle, but insistent
Lingers, and is gone.

This literati painting is my favorite work of art that I own. It was done for my father by his friend, a well-known calligrapher. The words are a description of my father’s character:  “Deep thoughts, Great spirit”:


I love how the vigorous characters boldly wriggle, leap, pirouette and undulate as if they were going to dance right off the paper.

May your weekend be filled with beauty.

A love poem


The Kiss, Auguste Rodin's sculpture in marble ...

The Kiss, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture in marble (Musée Rodin) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I could take a leisurely trip,
I would voyage inside you.
I’d navigate the pulsing red rivers,
Stop to visit islands on the way,
And finally arrange my limbs
Within yours,
Peer out of your eyes,
And send my breath through your lips.

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True Love

IMG_7076Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate romantic love. Couples will exchange kisses. They’ll gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes over candle-lit dinners. Many will get engaged. Bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolates will be given.

Today I celebrate a higher order of love. This love is not expressed with cards or chocolate, but with bitter tears. This type of love is messy, sad, and complicated. It’s what remains when falling in love happened a million years ago, and maybe it’s even what remains after we’ve fallen out of love. It sears us with pain. We should all be so lucky to experience it.

My dear friend’s husband died yesterday. When she first met him, there was a lightness in her step, a twinkle in her eye, and a quiet joy that I’d never seen in her before. On their wedding day the look of adoration in her husband’s eyes brought tears to my own. He looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck to be standing next to this amazing woman. The words he spoke during their vows reassured me that he knew her worth. He understood who she was and truly, deeply appreciated the person who was joining her life to his.

That was then, and it was beautiful. In these past few months, my friend’s husband became so ill that he slept most of the time. My friend’s days revolved around his pain management. They made plans not for the future, but for the end. They met with hospice workers. They discussed funeral arrangements. The twinkle in my friend’s eye was long gone, and had been replaced by sad resignation. Pill bottles, delirium, mental and physical exhaustion are not beautiful, and yet this formed the backdrop of a scene of pure and exquisite love that surpassed any romantic love they shared in the salad days of their relationship. So today, the day before Valentine’s Day, I celebrate this love and the fact that my friend’s husband was blessed to experience it as he left this world, and that my friend had the strength, courage, and love to give him this gift above all gifts.

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Oh, to be more like…the Hellebores


  • glamorous – in a dark, edgy sort of way
  • a little moody – the flowers incline their heads like thugs lighting up in a dark alley…you have to get up close to appreciate them and then KAPOW! They’re a knockout!
  • a little dangerous to know – many are poisonous…the name says it all: HELL-ebores
  • iconoclastic – they bloom in February, even through blankets of snow
  • entirely self-sufficient – they thrive and even seed themselves in poor soil
  • tenacious – they come back bigger and badder than ever every single year, with blooms that last for months
  • invincible – deer? Please! Those suckers take one look and keep on moving.

Wishing you a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Junks I Collect No. 5: Bonsai Trees

My husband and I got married at the Meridian House, in Washington, D.C. This Neoclassical house was designed in 1920 by John Russell Pope, the architect also known for designing the Jefferson Memorial, the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the National Archives. It was built as a personal residence for Ambassador Irwin Boyle Laughlin and remained in his family until 1961 when it was sold to the American Council on Education and then to the Meridian House Foundation, which became Meridian International Center in 1992. It is now used to house the Center’s office as well as for event rentals.

I love the fact that my British husband and I got married at the home base of an “organization dedicated to promoting international understanding.” I love the Latin inscription over the front entrance to the house:  “Quo habitat felicitas nil intret mali” (Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter).

But what I loved most about the property was the rear garden with its pebbled courtyard and allée of pleached linden trees that form a sort of natural outdoor cathedral.

In keeping with the tree theme, our wedding cake featured a tree on top of it (and underneath the tree – my dog, whom I’ve written about here).

We used little potted bonsai trees as combination seat markers and favors.

The day before the wedding I picked up dozens of  little Serissa trees from Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. This is my favorite gardening center, and really – my favorite store period. I sat on the floor of my parents’ back porch for hours repotting the little bonsai starters into tiny little terra cotta pots tied with ribbon. My sister poked her head in, took one look at me and my dirt-smeared face and dirt-encrusted fingernails, and stated the perfectly obvious: “You’re insane.”

Since our wedding, I’ve had a sentimental fondness for Serissa trees and have tried and failed to grow them ever since. Wikipedia says they are “fussy”: “It responds adversely…if over-watered, under-watered, if it’s too cold, too hot, or even just moved to a different location.” Oh, how I can relate to this plant! I have come to terms with the fact that I’m incapable of keeping my Serissa trees alive, so whenever I get the chance, I replenish my stock at Merrifield Garden Center, the only place I’ve ever found them as starter bonsai plants. I know they’ll die, as all my others have, but I think of them as cheaper and slightly longer-lasting than cut flowers, which I never buy. (The words “false economy” are ringing in my ears as I type).

These Serissas were about $10 each. You can usually find even smaller ones for about $3. I pot them up in bonsai pots (also from Merrifield Garden Center) and cover the soil with moss. The garden center also sells tiny little sculptures that you can add to your plants. I usually just add a little seashell or something of that sort.

I placed an ammonite fossil at the base of this one:

Believe me, I’m not blind to the sad irony that this symbol of our love is constantly dying due to my mismanagement. But I console myself with the thought that persistence (even in the face of repeated failures) counts for something. In fact, the ability to acknowledge and accept our failings, as well as a healthy dose of (often black) humor, has helped us to hold it together for almost sixteen years now. Just this morning my husband started referring to himself as “my better half.” He caught himself and said, “Actually, I’m more like your ‘tolerable eighth,’ maybe even sometimes your ‘intolerable sixteenth’.” Finally, he hastened to very generously reassure me that I was his “magnificent 7/8ths”!

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