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I am contemplating Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima as we shift into Memorial Day weekend, a time when Americans remember our fallen warriors. I have no issue with the president’s visit – we must always remember and never forget.

Obama said: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

“We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

It seems so long ago. Some 60 million people died over the years that World War II raged, including the final acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet my own family to this day represents the past and present.

My father sailed into Yokohama Bay as part of the conquering force, having expected to fight his way into Japan but for Harry S Truman’s decision to deploy the first and only atomic weapon. “Everybody knew we were going to Japan,” Dad told me. Then Truman made the fateful decision. In the awful aftermath, the U.S. Navy sailed on to Japan. Dad’s convoy ported at Yokohama, the Imperial Japanese naval base south of Tokyo. Over the next few months, he helped transport the tortured and emaciated American soldiers who had been liberated from Japan’s notorious POW camps to U.S. medical ships for treatment.

Fast forward 70 years. Our nephew Kyle, a Marine, visited last weekend. He was recently posted in Japan, and expects to return. His memories of Tokyo are far different from my father’s, and I am struck by that. Kyle’s stay in Japan took him to Tokyo and Okinawa and Mount Fuji and beyond. He talked of the blinding lights of Shibuya, the Japanese equivalent of Times Square, part of the long resurrection of Japan’s economy after the war years. He’s also stood sentinel at the DMZ in Korea, an ongoing symbol of the uneasy East-West relations.

Yes, Kyle is today’s face of our long military relationship with Japan. As was my father long long ago. Separated by seven decades, yet the mission eerily similar: Keeping the peace.

May we never forget.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

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As I ambled around our gardens yesterday, glorying in the first real sunshine in two weeks, I marveled at the beauty of the roses. Big blooms, heady with perfume.

Then it struck me: Our roses utterly adore the British-like cool rainy weather that has marked the first weeks of May.

That triggered memories of a May trip to London. Mourning the loss of a job I loved, I skipped town – to London, to seek solace with Chris and Jeff.

Chris knew just what I needed: a week-long tour of gorgeous British gardens. From Regent’s Park to Kew Gardens to St. James’ Gardens and Chelsea’s physics garden, we admired and sniffed our way through glorious May flowers. The roses were incredible – bowers drooping with the thickly petaled roses of England, their scent drifting across the manicured lawns and parks.

Sissinghurst was the crown jewel of the week: more than 400 acres of flowers, just a short train ride away in Kent. Chris and I spent the day wandering from one beautiful corner to another of these storied gardens. Imposing crown imperials (George Washington’s favorite flower), tulips and dozens of varieties of daffodils. Clematis, wisteria, azaleas, honeysuckle. Penstemon, foxglove, allium.

And the roses, oh those roses. They were other-worldly in their abundance and beauty. On trellises, climbing up brick walls, adorning stone arches. The entire day was a sensory cacophony.

That trip was a balm to my soul. My mother had urged me for years to stop and smell the roses, a cliché that I disdained until, finally, it made perfect sense.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

Sorry I have been AWOL. Blame the job. I will try to do better this year.

Mother’s Day seems like a great time to renew this blog, since my mother has been such an inspiration to me. She’s 84 and she’s still gardening.

OK, it’s gardening “lite” – last year she had one cucumber plant and one tomato plant. But she still glories in the small joys of gardening: choosing just the right plant, procuring the right soil (JJJJ, this is your department) and nurturing the plants to harvest. I think she’s a “vegetable whisperer.”

It may be a micro version of the enormous garden she once had, but on the other hand she no longer has to feed six hungry mouths. She only has to enjoy the gifts that God gives us, with her expert care and vigilance against varmints.

Mom: CRR is trying to grow some gooseberries from seed. I remember them from Grandma Benner’s garden, small seedy juicy berries that we ate straight from the plant. They’re called husk cherries in other parts of the country, which I discovered in St. Louis last summer when a James Beard nominee chef joyfully incorporated them into his dishes.

Mom: I don’t “can” tomatoes like you did, but I diligently cook tomato sauce and freeze it, a frugal streak I got from you. Though I have to say, this time-consuming kitchen work is tried when I see that I can buy two 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes for $1. Really, all that work for 50 cents?! I guess it’s the “love” component.

tulipMom: My flower gardens are a direct tribute to your love of gardening. All year long, as I baby the flowers and admire their beauty, I think of you. The lilacs just finished. Roses are blooming. Soon we’ll have iris and peonies and hydrangea. Everything in its time.

These things, so tangible yet so intangible, I owe to you. We owe to you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

xoxo, your favorite daughter (sorry, sibs, you knew that was coming)

Sandy K. Johnson is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and mother of two sons. 

Source: Deep Into Tomato Season

  1. Stop and smell the roses. When I was trying to “have it all,” crazy busy with work and family, Mom constantly counseled me to “stop and smell the roses.” I didn’t, of course. Then all the busy-ness faded away, and I realized what Mom was talking about. I have a ‘life’ now. I smell the roses all the time. Thanks for your persistence, Mom. I finally understand.
  2. Values. Every Sunday my mother shuttled us all to church. The teenage years must have been the worst, when we grumbled and complained and napped through sermons. But over the years of catechism and church, important values seeped into my heart that make me a better human being. Thanks for raising us under God’s watchful eye, Mom.
  3. The satisfaction of growing things. As Father John describes it, “Your mother’s green thumb.” I grew up on a farm, surrounded by growing things, but it was my Mom who instilled a love of gardening. I think of Mom always when I am nurturing my flowers; I still have nothing that comes close to her beautiful iris garden, which was so pretty we took our wedding photos there. And she is the inspiration for the spirited veggie gardening competition among her children. (Just ate the first garden radish, sibs!)
  4. Try something new. Mom is the champion of trying new things. Her natural curiosity leads her to strike up conversations with perfect strangers. She went back to college in her 50s and earned a master’s degree. She loves to try ethic foods, new “taste sensations,” as she calls them. One piece of advice: Never stand between my Mom and any sweet made with coconut.
  5. Savory memories. By the time I could reach the stove (8? 9?), I learned how to cook from Mom. This is pretty funny in retrospect, because she didn’t learn how to cook until she was married. But Mom patiently taught me how to make the perfect flaky pie crust (her secret was lard!) and meatloaf and other staples. When I left for college, she gave me a Betty Crocker illustrated cookbook that I still use for classics. She bakes tastier French bread than the French.
  6. Savor memories. Every summer, my raucous gang of siblings chews over family lore from decades ago. No memory is left unturned, as we tell and re-tell stories about growing up. At the center of this gathering is Mom, chuckling even when the stories grow a tad risque for her 83-year-old ears. It is a testament to Mom that her far-flung children still like each other, indeed, love each other.

204584_189765237736368_7208097_o So here’s to you, Mavis Benner Johnson – your children may be far away but we carry you in our hearts.

ISO Dumplings.

It took three trips to the Gothic quarter of Barcelona before I found La Boqueria. Granted, the first two were evening dinner forays where I simply explored the old city and enjoyed tapas and gelato and cava with a wandering eye that did not land on the market.

I knew I had to make a dedicated trip to find the ancient market because my friends were insistent that it was a must-see on my trip to Barcelona. So glad I made that third foray!photo (44)

La Boqueria is simply astounding, a covered market with hundreds of vendors. It dates to the year 1217 when farmers sold their produce on the outskirts of the old gated city. The current structure was built in1840.

Today’s vendors artfully arrange their goods, a feast for the eyes to tempt the belly. Each vendor has its specialty. Spices sold by the kilogram. Eggs sized from tiny quail eggs to softball-sized emu. Iberian ham stalls where the butchers patiently explained the origins of the much-coveted pork while carving paper-thin slices. Pate stands. Beautifully packaged salt flavored with provencal herbs or chilis or lemon. And of course more veg and fruit stands than you could count.

These vendors know their tourist audience. They package many items for people on-the-go: papayas halved and wrapped with plastic with a tiny spoon, paper cones filled with jamon ham slices or cheese wedges, plastic cups of colorful fresh-squeezed juices chilled on ice, skewers of all combinations, and empanadas to eat out of hand.

At 10 am, people were bellied up to a handful of tapas bars within the market, sitting at counters to watch the creation of their small plates.

And what I really loved was the little old Spanish ladies doing their daily marketing, nimbly navigating the narrow passages and towing a small cart to stow their purchases. La Boqueria is a ‘supermarket’ for the ages.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening