Easter Painting by My 80-Year Old Mother Keiko

3-21-14b-1“Happy Easter!” by Keiko Nishiguchi

Keiko brings the happiness of spring and the joy of Easter to life in this, her latest whimsical piece — oil on canvas.

Mom Easter 201480-year old Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She enjoys experimenting with different colors and concepts, and she spends two hours a day painting with oil on her canvas.  She is a mother to three daughters and a grandmother to two and resides in Honolulu with her husband Harry in a condo building which was once used for a shoot for the hit TV show, LOST.  They enjoy daily walks in Waikiki.

My Daughter Doesn’t Care To Go To College — Is That Okay?

iStock_000011763147Small“Mom, I don’t really want to go to college,” my 13-year old daughter mentioned casually over hamburgers one night.

“What?  Why not?” I gasped in horror, then I turned to my equally horrified husband.  We have always had the expectation that both of our kids would go to a university.  In fact, both David and I never expected anything less of ourselves when we were growing up, and David even went on to earn a medical degree post-college.  We are higher education people!

So, where did we go wrong?

“What I really want to do is hair and makeup.  Can’t I just get a license to do that and go on with my career?  Besides, I’m just going to get married and become a mom someday.”

Oh, the humanity…!

To Meg and Josh, I have always been a stay-at-home mom, so maybe they’ve come to believe that as the norm and, perhaps, ideal.  They don’t know my former life as a computer professional for which I earned a degree in Information and Computer Science from University of California at Irvine.  Yes, I used to wear pantyhose and dryclean-only clothes and actually get a salary.  I did the 9-to-5 grind and spent the weekends working on my music, dreaming of one day becoming a full-time musician.

Even after David and I got married and he eventually became a physician, it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t be “earning my keep.”  He was supportive of my desire to ditch the computer work to pursue music full time, and I was in the midst of really trying to make it work when we started to have kids.  I tried to continue touring and working in the biz for a while, but it just became too hard to juggle family and a musician’s life.  It just made more sense for me to stay home as David’s income was much more stable than mine.  So, I became a stay-at-home mom and a part-time musician.

Maybe I complained one too many times that my computer science degree was a complete waste in light of what I do now.  Maybe we stressed the importance of character over grades a little too much.  Or perhaps we lamented too often about the cost of higher education and the burden of student loans.  In any case, somehow our daughter — our beautifully smart, highly intelligent young lady — got the idea that college would not be a necessary part of her life.

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist, I am grateful for the pioneers who opened the way for me to pursue whatever I wanted, never being held back due to my gender.  I wasn’t limited to becoming a stay-at-home mom, although in the ended I chose to become one.

Then I started to think that maybe Meg has a point.  Part of the freedom now afforded to women is the ability to make choices in life.  And if that choice involves doing something she truly enjoys for a number of years before becoming a wife and mom, maybe it’s not such a bad thing…with or without a college diploma.

I do think that this girl would be wasting her high intellect if she doesn’t go to college.  In fact, the academic world would be missing out on a gem of a student if she chooses a trade school instead of a university.  We tried to persuade her into college for its many benefits — speaking and writing more intelligently, being challenged to think outside the box, learning the smarts to run her own business as a makeup artist or stylist, and generally having the respect from society for getting a college degree — but to no avail.  When we brought up the fun she would have in the dorms with other co-eds, however, she became slightly more interested.

Meg is only in 8th grade, so it’s still quite possible that she would change her mind during the next four years.  Although David and I are starting to feel less inclined to push her towards college if that’s not what she wants to do, this is still a bitter pill for us to swallow.

Anyone else facing a similar situation?

Why I Love Having Teenagers

1503975_10152126149174866_332585485_nI don’t know about you, but when our kids were little, we used to look ahead to the teenage years with much fear and trepidation.

“They are so cute,” strangers would compliment our toddlers.  Inevitably, they would then add,

“Just wait till they’re teenagers.”

If that doesn’t fill you with dread, I don’t know what will.

Well, today I am a parent of 13- and 15-year olds, and I can say with confidence that this is a really fun season around our household.  Here are some top reasons why I love my teenagers:

1.  They keep us up to date on pop culture

Honestly, if it weren’t for my kids, I’d still be listening to the BeeGees, wearing my mommy jeans with my permed hair and saying phrases like “Gag me with a spoon.” I’m grateful that they’ve helped me get a little more current in music and fashion.

2.  They are actually helpful

Remember when they were toddlers and they wanted to help, but it took too much time and effort to enlist their help, so you just did it yourself?  Well, now they are actually tall enough, strong enough, and smart enough to be of help.  Meg does wonderful makeovers on me, and Josh updates the OS on my iPhone.  They’re constantly teaching me something new.

3.  I get to relive my high school years all over again

When I walk onto the high school campus to pick Josh up in the late afternoon, the sounds and smells flood me with memories of my own high school years.  Add to the mix high school dances, student government elections, youth groups, and summer camps, and I find myself feeling like a teenager all over again…without the drama of puberty, of course.

4.  I get to have fun embarrassing my teens

It’s so easy to make my kids blush around their friends — and, better yet, strangers — these days.  Here is one example from when I was riding in the front of a trolley in Hawaii while the kids sat in the back, horrified to hear me humming along to the radio from up front:

1497538_10152147946759866_1538532171_nOr, this interaction with Josh:

1546275_10152179372414866_844975560_nMy kids really keep me laughing.  They, however, don’t find the same level of humor in my mommy antics, but that’s half the fun.

5.  We don’t have to plan, participate, and pay for expensive, themed birthday parties anymore

These days, my kids would rather just have a handful of good friends over for pizza and some games or go out to the mall for their birthday instead of a big bash at Chuckie Cheese’s, inviting the entire neighborhood and overpaying for entertainment. Glad that season is over!

6.  Vacations are much more fun with teenagers

When our kids were babies, David and I basically took turns watching the kids in the room while the other stepped out to “enjoy” the vacation.  It was physically exhausting to care for little kids while traveling, and we came home absolutely spent and needing a vacation afterwards.  Today, we can enjoy excursions together or even separately, letting the kids make their own vacation memories.

7.  Eating is much more varied and fun

For nearly a decade, our family went through a whole lot of mac-n-cheeses, pizzas, spaghetti, juice boxes, chicken nuggets, and Cheerios. Because David and I usually cleaned up the leftovers, we participated in a steady diet of kid foods for far too long.  Our teens now eat a lot more sophisticated foods such as filet mignon, haritcot vert, and pesto pasta.  We have good conversations around the table, and they also no longer throw food on the floor nor smear spaghetti all over their hair.  Eating used to be such a messy event; now, they even help with the cooking and cleanup!

8.  Best of all, we’re seeing the seeds of their own faith grow

All the years of taking them to church, reading the Bible together, and teaching them right from wrong are finally bearing fruit.  We are watching them make smart choices and choosing good friends.  Although they are still youths, we hope and pray that we have set them on the right course to a successful adulthood.

And that’s why we love having teenagers!

Valentine’s Day Painting by My Mother Keiko


This gallery contains 2 photos.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” by Keiko Nishiguchi 80-year old Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She enjoys experimenting with different colors and concepts, and she spends two hours a day painting with oil … Continue reading

So You’re Too Old To Lead Worship — Now, Deal With It.

photo-23I digress from my usual posts about parenting, because I’ve been seeing several internet posts on the subject of worship leaders getting forced out for being “too old.”  I know, I don’t think that’s good, either.  One would think that, of all places, the Church would want to encourage generational diversity in leadership up front, but sadly that’s often not the case.

But you know what?  That’s the way it is, so deal with it.

Complaining bitterly doesn’t do much good, and we shouldn’t plant seeds of resentment and cause division in the Body, so I decided to take some action…after a period of mourning and wallowing in self-pity, that is.  Here are some suggestions and pointers coming from my own journey as a middle-aged worship leader:

1.  Confess your own anger and bitterness.

In Ephesians 4 we read, “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Perhaps the pastor and the board of elders were wrong.  Maybe you resent being replaced by a perkier, fresher face.  I don’t blame you.  However, it does no good to remain stuck in anger.  We are all imperfect people trying our best…even the senior pastor.  Let’s move towards a place of grace and forgiveness.

2.  Start mentoring

You’ve probably learned a lot in your life and what you think is common sense might be completely new to someone younger.  It’s time to pass along that knowledge, whether it be by mentoring formally or informally.  I recently became certified as a voice coach and began teaching — and I love it!  All of us eventually have to get off the stage, so the more gracefully we can do so, the better.  Why not help raise up the next generation of worship leaders?

3.  Update your sound

Be honest — is your music style getting a little stale?  If you’re still stuck in the 1970′s Jesus Movement music, 80′s techno, or 90′s grunge, it’s important to open yourself up to some more contemporary sound. Listen to some current music out there.  You might be surprised to discover songs that express worship in a whole new way.  Take some lessons and learn current playing styles for piano and guitar.  After I became a mom, I decided to take up the guitar to sound more “today” and also took voice lessons to learn the current singing style for pop music — and they paid off. This issue is not unique just to our industry; people in many other lines of work continue to improve, learn, retool, network, and market themselves.  Likewise, we should never let ourselves get complacent and out of touch.

4.  Update your look

Let’s take a good look in the mirror.  Have we let our appearances slide over the years?  Have you not been taking care of that “temple” of yours? I know it sounds shallow, but who really prefers old, haggard folks leading us up front?  We might be able to regain some youth and vigor just by losing some weight, updating our hairdo, improving our wardrobe, and getting in shape.  If you’re still sporting the 90′s permed hair and/or mommy jeans, you are screaming, “I’m over the hill!”  Sure, you want to keep it age-appropriate, but you can certainly look modern and up-to-date with a simple style makeover and maybe buy yourself a little more time.

5.  Find another venue

If after all that effort, you still find yourself getting ushered off the stage, perhaps you can find a different venue to continue using your gifts.  Smaller churches are more likely to use people of all ages and also appreciate a more “seasoned” worship leader.  You can sing for kids, seniors, prison ministry, Sunday School class, etc.  The stadium-sized sanctuary with bright lights might no longer be for you, but there’s no limit to how God can continue to use you!

6.  Remember: what goes around, comes around

Maybe all that church music war between traditional vs. contemporary music we heard about when we were coming of age was the same as the struggle that’s happening to us right now.  We thought the good times would never end…but we were wrong.  And honestly — if we continue to fiercely guard our fiefdom, then we all grow old together until the whole church literally dies off.  We must have a change of guards.

By the way, for you younger folks who just ran us off of our playground, remember this: don’t get too smug and complacent, for you too will someday be getting replaced by kids who are still in diapers today.  Mark my words.

Grace: The Most Precious Gift I Gave and Received this Christmas

iStock_000022043493XSmallDavid and I attended an afternoon gathering at our church a few Sundays ago, a few weeks before Christmas.

After a couple of songs, the host pastor urged us to greet our neighbors.  We turned to a couple sitting a few rows behind us. “I’m Junko,” I said, as I extended my hand to shake the man’s.

“Junko! I’m ‘Corey’,” he said, in a hey-I-know-you sort of a way, and I took a second look at his vaguely familiar, smiling face.  Hmmm…who was he again? His wife was explaining to David that they were just visiting that day from Los Angeles.

After everyone took their seats and the place quieted down, the senior pastor came out and began speaking.  My mind, however, was flipping through my mental Rolodex.  Then I got it.

Oooooh, THAT Corey!

This guy still owes me money from 1994!  If you add interest, we’re talking about over a thousand dollars.  At that time, he was promoting a Christian music festival with some “Christians” he had met in prison while serving time for a white collar crime (that should have been my first red flag), and they signed me up as one of the acts.  I was just releasing my debut album, still naive and trusting of everyone. They promised me a generous appearance fee and I, in turn, hired a band.

The day of the festival arrived, and it turned out to be a complete mess.  It was the hottest, ugliest day in LA that year, and attendance was low.  None of the amenities that they had promised — food, ATM machines, green room — came to be, and the people were upset.  Some of the biggest acts in Christian music in the 90′s backed out at the last minute when they sensed that they would be stiffed.  I dutifully performed, even though I had gotten rear-ended on the freeway on my way there.  Then I discovered that my CD’s were stolen right off of my merch table!  It was a horrible day.

Corey and his friends promised to pay me, but I never heard from them again.

I had long ago erased this unpleasant experience from my mind, but it’s amazing how powerfully memories can come back.  As our pastor spoke, I was trying to keep anger from welling back up and kept searching for the quickest exit.

As soon as the meeting ended, Corey and his wife came dashing over to us.  They must have been doing some strategizing during the sermon.

“Hey, we know a bunch of things happened about 20 years ago, but we just want you to know that we are so, so sorry for what we did to you,” they said to me.  “We were foolish and dumb, and what we did was not fair to you.  Please forgive us.”

I was floored!  They’re trying to make amends!

I was then reminded of the conversation I had just had that morning at church with Howard, an 80-something widower.  He was telling me about the full life he’s lived, even as his hand shook with tremors.  “I have some friends who are now alone and bitter.  I don’t want to be bitter!  I want to keep enjoying life, so I’m not looking back,” he declared with a smile as his coffee dribbled out of the cup in his trembling hand.

“Of course I forgive you,” I exclaimed, as I hugged Corey and his wife.  They looked relieved, as if I had been that last person to cross off the list from their 12-step program.  They thanked me for my graciousness and wished us a Merry Christmas.

* * * *

As they left, I thought of the many foolish things I’ve done over the years and the people I have wronged and hurt.  The couple had more courage than I to make amends.  I should be the one thanking them for this chance meeting, for it was a huge lesson in grace.  Not the grace I extended to them but the grace given to me by God…in spite of myself.

Thank you, Corey, and thank you, Howard, for this most interesting and important gift I received for Christmas this year.

My Child Is A Big Fish In A Little Pond, And I’m OK With That

1489141_10152074329369866_742898553_oI have been engrossed in a gem of a book entitled “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell.  One of the chapters I just read really made me think: would I rather that my child be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? My inner-tiger mom tends towards the big pond.

My son Josh struggled in 8th grade Algebra and ended up needing to repeat the subject his freshman year in high school.  I was devastated.  I was a computer science major, and David was a math major.  We are a family of mathematicians.  Our child should have passed Algebra with flying colors and moved on to Geometry as a freshman!  I thought I totally failed as a mother and as a human being.

Because Geometry was a concurrent requirement for Honors Biology, Josh was also forced into pedestrian-level science track, thereby tarnishing his college applications for sure.  Josh is a scientist, for goodness’ sake!  He had gotten a perfect score in his 8th grade state testing for science. He loves science.

I thought that his 8th grade Algebra teacher was lousy and was more interested in her pending retirement than in teaching.  I was mad at myself for not intervening sooner, but I felt even worse that Josh began to think of himself as being stupid. Yikes!

Alas, when Josh retook Algebra at his high school, something finally clicked.  He began to do really well in his class.  It helped, of course, that he was taking the class for the second time.  It also was a major plus that his teacher was young and enthusiastic and had an innovative way of teaching to make certain that all students understood a concept before moving on.  Josh began acing all the tests, and he became a star student.

He felt good about being the best in this class, a decidedly smaller pond in comparison to the Honors Geometry class which would have been a big pond for him.  If I had insisted that he move up to Geometry, he may very well have struggled and continued to think of himself as a “dumb math student.” Instead, he got A’s in Algebra last year and is now continuing to do well in his sophomore Geometry class.  He thinks of himself now as a good mathematician.  He got his mojo back.

According to writer Malcolm Gladwell, many Ivy league students in the bottom quarter of the class get so discouraged that they drop out of their majors or, worse still, college altogether.  Every single person who gets accepted at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford is most assuredly brilliant, but somebody still has to be at the bottom quarter of the class, right?  Gladwell also sites studies which show that the top students at many of the “mediocre” schools actually accomplish much more than the bottom-half students at the top schools.  It’s good to be a big fish in a smaller pond!

Pushing Josh to take advanced classes just so that it would look better on his college application — or, truth be told, so it would make me look better as a parent — would have done him much disservice in two ways: One, he would have gotten less-than-stellar grades, and two, he would have lost his self-confidence.  We would have set him up for failure.

Perhaps it was in God’s divine wisdom that Josh ended up in Algebra for the second time in 9th grade.  And because his workload has been relatively light as compared to his comrades in honors classes, Josh has been able to enjoy his high school years to the fullest.  He plays the trumpet in the marching band and is making a lot of friends and memories.

I still hope for Josh that he ends up at a decent college and has a great future.  If we have to scale back the Big Pond dreams we had for him, so be it.  Now, after reading this book, this panda mom is thoroughly convinced that it’s better for him to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

More Paintings from the Birthday Girl — My Mom, on Her 80th!


This gallery contains 3 photos.

“Water Lily” “Red Bird in Paradise” “Happy Day” (special whimsical painting for her grandkids) About the artist: Keiko Nishiguchi began painting at age 72 upon meeting a master painter in Honolulu.  She is a mother to three daughters and a … Continue reading

I Met Someone Who Is In A Polyamorous Relationship…And She’s Really Nice



Until last week, I had never heard of the term polyamorous, let alone that such a relationship existed.  That all changed when I met “Rachel” from Canada recently at a conference I attended in Los Angeles.

This particular career enriching workshop drew people from all parts of the world, and my colleagues hailed from England, Australia, Uruguay, Japan, Canada, Philippines, and from all over the US.  I was enjoying lunch on the first day, sitting in the warm California sun at a table getting acquainted with three foreigners, when somehow the topic of online dating sites came up.  Katherine, a young lady from London, was lamenting that the online relationship which she had high hopes for didn’t pan out, when Rachel (who had clearly mentioned to us that she is married) chimed in.

“That’s how I met my boyfriend.”

Naturally, I asked, “Oh, so is that how you met your husband?”

“No, my boyfriend.  And my husband met his girlfriend that way, too!” she added with a laugh.

Although the four of us each spoke English–albeit with varying accents–we all looked puzzled at Rachel as if she were suddenly speaking to us in a foreign language.  That’s when she added, almost nonchalantly:

“The four of us all live together.  We are in a polyamorous relationship.”  She took another bite of her kung pao chicken.

My mind went off in a spin while I tried to comprehend this conversation.  Is this a normal thing in other parts of the world?  In Canada?  Rachel was really fun and nice and, at least until that moment, seemingly normal.  Well, except for her purple hair, but she is a musician, after all.  Earlier, we had talked about our favorite foods, my husband and kids back home and her husband back at the hotel, and the fact that they didn’t have any kids…although she teaches music to a lot of children.

She continued, “After ten years of marriage, we decided to spice things up a bit.  So we searched online.”

“Are there a lot of other people looking for the same thing?” inquired Katherine.

“Oh yes, there are dedicated sites for people like us.”

Eric, a newly engaged young man also from London, asked with a stutter, “So, how does this work, arrangement-wise?”  Katherine and I were glad that he was the one to broach the question.

“Well, we have a two-bedroom flat, and we all live together quite nicely.”

Before we could ask the next question, she clarified: “We have an organized schedule where we go four nights with one, three nights with the other.  Some people are not all that organized and never know what goes on from one night to the next, but we prefer it this way.”  We all took another bite of our lunch and chewed for a few seconds, mulling over what to say next.

She continued with a laugh, “Oh, and we don’t do any of those kinky things with the whole group like some people like to do.  We keep it strictly in pairs.”  I wondered if this was a closed loop where the boyfriend and the girlfriend also get along.  Did they get to interview each other before they got into this thing?

At that moment, Eric got an overseas phone call from his fiancee, and I got up to refill my drink.  Before we knew it, it was time to resume our afternoon session so we all walked back to the venue.

We didn’t bring up the topic again the rest of the conference.  We were all very busy, after all.  I never did get to meet her husband who was mostly site seeing while we were attending the conference, but I imagine he is pretty regular like the rest of us, too.

Knowing human nature, though, I just can’t imagine this whole polyamorous thing working out very well in the end, but who knows.  As for us, after ten years of marriage, David and I decided to “spice things up” ourselves by having kids.  Me, David, Josh, and Meg all happily living together under one roof.

I think that’s amorous enough for me.  How about you?

A Baby’s Head and Jumping to Conclusions

iStock_000000104406XSmallIt was a warm autumn afternoon.  I had dropped Meg off at her dance class, leaving me with about an hour to kill before she was done.  I didn’t quite have long enough time to drive home and come back again, so I decided to go on a walk in the neighborhood around the dance studio to enjoy the warm October sun.

I changed my shoes to the sneakers I had brought along in anticipation for this little jaunt, and I punched up my favorite music on my iPod as I began my walk.

The area around the dance studio, though safe, is not exactly quiet.  Being a mix of businesses, apartment complexes, and detached homes, there are a lot of cars whizzing by constantly.  I decided to walk the few city blocks in a big rectangle on the left side of the road, always facing traffic and, for the most part, on sidewalks.  The big loop usually takes me about 30 minutes to complete.

As I rounded one corner, I noticed some cars coming off of the tollway up ahead and waiting to turn right towards my direction.  I saw a dark blue sedan with a man in the passenger seat.  The car was still about 50 yards away, but I gasped at the sight of something I could clearly see on his lap.

A baby!

It was unmistakable.  A guy was holding a tiny baby on his lap!  I could see a small, delicate, but perfectly shaped back of a baby’s head and its wispy blond hair.  The infant was most certainly not in a car seat!  And in the front seat!

Oh my gosh — what if the air bag goes off?  What if they crash and the baby goes flying out of this guy’s hands and out the window?  This is child abuse!

I thought of calling 911 to report this crime.  My pace quickened as I raced toward the car before it could turn and take off.  I wanted to bang on his window and wag my finger at this terribly irresponsible act.

As I got closer, I could see this passenger laughing and talking with the driver, another male.  They both looked too young to be responsible dads.  In fact, they looked more like college-age surfer dudes.  Babysitting?  Kidnapping?  What could possibly be the situation under which a mother would entrust the life of her newborn to such reckless young men?  I was starting to feel indignant.  The only thought running through my mind was, “I have to rescue this little child!”

I began to run.  Too late — the light turned green, and the car proceeded to turn right. The car began to speed towards my direction.  When it was within a couple of yards, I was starting to flail my arms wildly to try to stop them and was almost ready to lurch onto the path of this car.  That’s when I got a much clearer view of this poor little blond kid. I did a double take.

It turned out not to be a baby at all.

It was the guy’s knee.

A hairy, perfectly round knee propped up against the side window.

As the car sped past me, I kept waving my arms, pretending to be saying hello to a non-existent person a block ahead.  The two guys were having a great time talking and laughing that they never even noticed me.  Good thing.  They wouldn’t understand mama bear instinct.

After my red face turned back to normal, I began to think that there must surely be a life lesson in what had just transpired.  Don’t jump to conclusions?  Wait to get the whole picture before judging someone? Things are often not as they appear? Some Californians still wear shorts in October? I’m not sure.

Meg finished her dance class and met me outside.  On the drive home, I told her about my goofy experience on my walk, and we had a good laugh.  I’m glad she has a sense of humor.

Have you ever jumped to conclusions like this, even with the best of intentions?  Let’s not completely waste a good life lesson, dear reader.  Let me know in the comments below!