December 30, 2005

Vacation Sign Off

I don't really blog on the weekends (I try to avoid the computer in my time off) and I leave Tuesday (very early.... ugh) to fly to Seattle to visit my sister (and more importantly, my niece!). I will probably do a couple entries while I'm there, but I'm not sure.

Have a wonderful New Year!

December 28, 2005

This one went better than I expected

On the drive home Monday, I asked Jrex what he thought my strengths and weaknesses are. (When I told my sister I did this, she thought I was nuts!) But he’s insightful so I was curious what he sees in me.

One: “You’re gifted at connecting with people. You’re able to care for and stay connected with people all over the country. I have one or two deep friendships at a time and the number of people you know well awes me. Two: Creativity. You always have projects going on, whether yard projects, sculptures, calligraphy, or something else. Three: Inclusiveness. You are able to make people from all walks of life feel valued and important. You create events and reach out to people around you.”

One: “Maintenance. You’re great at starting things, but if they become routine, you tune out or get bored. Two: Sometimes it’s hard for you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

I totally agree with the weaknesses so that wasn’t hurtful to hear (phew!). As we discussed it further it was interesting to realize that I’m a split difference between my Mother’s incredible thoughtfulness and ability to empathize, and my Father’s oblivious factor. I suspect it relates to the maintenance issue: if someone is in crisis, they’re an interesting project and I invest in understanding them and what they’re going through, but if it’s ordinary life I assume they can fend for themselves and get focused on my own perspective. I’m still happy to listen, but I’m not as empathetic or proactive as I might be for the crisis phase.
At one point in the drive I asked Jrex what we should talk about. “I don’t know,” he answered, “What do we want to analyze?”

December 27, 2005

Assorted Christmas memories and thoughts

Sorry about not doing a ‘going on vacation’ entry. My mom’s best friend emailed me to find out where her blog fix has been. Mea Culpa! We went to the in-laws in Staten Island for Christmas.

The strangest thing at my in-laws is Jrex's transformation from thoughtful, caring man to Korean son. As a Korean son he doesn’t do much to help out, he watches television in his bedroom, he waits to be served, and he doesn’t deal with the dog first thing in the morning (truly the cardinal sin!). Most of that is perfectly normal in Korean culture and I’m not upset about it, but I always forget to expect it. I'm instantly the lowest status person in the house and have to remember to be thoughtful and ready to anticipate other's needs.

Big Boss
I love my father-in-law. He’s an amazing man who has survived the Japanese occupation, fighting as a 17 year old against the communists, a PhD in herbal medicine in Oslo, being forced to work for the Korean government, starting over in a foreign country and owning a pharmacy in Brooklyn (the last perhaps being the most traumatic for him). But he’s so rough with our dog! I wrote about our first dog visit, this time was better, but still frustrating. His idea of saying hello to her was to tap her nose. Hard. But then he expected her to choose to be near him. I came up with the idea that “She knows you’re the Big Boss and she’s intimidated. Give her a chance to get used to you and she will like you.” He could accept that he was the Big Boss and even seemed pleased with the nickname. By the end of the weekend, she'd come when he called (ok, just once, but better than nothing) and he'd condescended to take her for a walk.

On the Boardwalk
We went to the Staten Island boardwalk for an afternoon stroll Christmas Eve. The boardwalk freaked out Muttola. She finally figured out a method of walking along the seam in the middle where the boards bounce the least. To give her a break from seam walking, I took her down to the water. As expected she attacked the audacious waves. For her first attempt she danced and barked, second she went mouth first up to her belly. Third time she dove in for a full body blow. Back in the parking lot, Muttola befriended a sweet old couple. The woman bent down to pet her, then threw her hands up in the air and exclaimed, “You’ve been swimming!? Mama Mia!”

Doing our duty
I love going to church Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I like the singing carols, seeing people I love, thanking God for all He’s done. Thinking about the wackiness of Him being a baby. However, if that all happens in Korean… There’s this thing in Korean culture that the one who prays the longest, or talks the longest about God is the most holy. And the church elder is certainly VERY holy. I asked Mom Kim later what the elder prayed. She could tell me the first part but then said that she got tired and stopped listening. I’ve never heard her say a direct negative about someone! She as much as said the guy was a pompas ass!

“No presents this year”
That’s what she told us. Don’t buy anything at all, please. Well that’s something to never believe from a Korean MIL. Jrex wanted to buy his Mom jewelry. We found a lovely gold necklace with a blown glass red heart. Simple and elegant. His parents are retired and his Mom has become consumed with church, so his Dad sits around the house all day. We bought him a bunch of DVDs (March of the Penguins, Winged Migration, Brooklyn Bridge by Ken Burns, and Best Of National Geographic). Jrex actually bought me jewelry for the first since the engagement ring. And he did a great job. He went to a funky local shop and found a really cool necklace and earring set. I’ll post a picture tomorrow. Mom and Dad bought us a 15-piece pot set. No, not THAT kind, the kind made from aluminum with Teflon coating. We love to cook, so that was perfect. She also bought us 400-count sheet set. I’ve splurged on some 300-count sheets that I love, but these are like silk. I’m so glad we didn’t listen to her at all!
Have I mentioned that my MIL has great taste? My sister covets the gifts my MIL gets me. Her in-laws tend toward buying comfy sweat suits. Mine, toward trendy clothes and cool jewelry. Or pots.

Overall it's been a relaxing weekend. We had great conversations on the drive up and the way back (and NO traffic either way. Truly a Christmas miracle!). Went to see Walk the Line last night. I like being married to him. It's definitely good to have a built-in best friend.

December 20, 2005


This is a commercial, but the images of 250,000 bouncy balls in San Fransisco are mesmerizing. It reminds me of The Red Balloon in the way that it pulls you into a seemingly quiet yet surprising and hypnotic story.

Cross Cultural moments

We had brunch with James’ lab at his advisor’s home on Sunday. We were among the last people to leave and his advisor exclaimed, “Wait, we have way too much baked salmon, you must take some!”

“Sure!” I quickly agreed. I could feel Jrex looking at me. “Wait, I have to do the Asian thing,” I added quickly, “I can’t just say yes like that I have to play the game. ‘No. No. No. Sure!”

“I’m sorry,” Jrex sorrowfully shook his head while his advisor laughed, “She has no filter.”
In Korean culture, the men are notorious for not even knowing how to boil water. If the wife doesn’t feed them, they will starve to death in front of a full refrigerator. I’ve only seen this in action a couple times, but it’s shocking each time. A few years ago I had Thanksgiving dinner with two Korean-Korean (vs. Korean-American) women who had to get home to feed their husbands and couldn’t even stay for dessert. It seemed the men couldn’t survive being alone more than 4 hours at a stretch.

Jrex decided as a bachelor that he didn’t want to live on TV dinners and Ramen, so he taught himself to cook. At this point he’s a much better cook than I am. It’s a creative outlet for him and if he gets inspired, I get out of the way. Grilled salmon with a crusted almond/dill glaze and steamed veggies with a hint of balsamic vinaigrette? No really, dear, you shouldn’t have.

I’ve written previously about going to Seattle for a week in January. Last night we were talking and I asked Jrex if he really minded me going. “No, it’s fine,” he quickly reassured me.

“What!?” I joked, “You’re not supposed to be THAT quick with your answer!”

“Well as long as you make and leave me a week’s worth of frozen dinners, I’ll be fine.”

December 16, 2005

Oops. I’m only used to a dog, who can’t repeat what I say.

My coworker changed his clothes to go to a Christmas Party after work. He emerged from the bathroom resplendent in a pink shirt, striped pink tie, black pants, and JCrew black jacket. As he walked out the door I called out, “You’re such a pimp, Ryan!” He grinned, “You know it!”

From behind me I hear a tiny voice, “Cwistie, what’s a pimp?” My boss’ three-year old son stared up at me. I’m all for telling kids the facts, but the thought of a conversation explaining all the OTHER vocabulary words necessary was beyond me. “Um…” I hesitated, “It’s someone who dresses funny.”

December 14, 2005

It’s not flirting when you hit me in the nose. Hard.

I took Muttola to do her temperament test at the doggie day care last night. Basically they want to be sure that she won’t kill any other dogs or vice versa. As you can see in the photo below, there are two sections the dogs play in. They have tunnels, toys, and each other for entertainment, as well as two human workers.

Normally Jada is very excited to meet other dogs and seems to do fine. As soon as we stepped into Charm City Dogs, the other dogs started barking. She started trembling. I’ve never seen her shake in fear before and I got a little nervous. What happens if she can’t do dog day care? Will I be the designated failed dog mother? The owner was very cool and gave her a chance adjust to him and to the place. They closed the other dogs into the big area in back and let Jada explore the hallway. Then we went into the little area in front where they could close the gates and let her explore. One by one they let in the other dogs, starting with the calmest ones. For a long time Jada kept hiding behind my legs and running away any time the dogs tried to sniff her. Eventually she settled down with the two quieter dogs and started to notice there were toys on the ground. Then they let in Kaia, the alpha dog (Kaia’s Dad is the owner). Kaia stood and stared Jada down. Jada did everything in her power to avoid The Look. She went behind the bench, behind me, or pretended she was VERY busy with toys and couldn’t possibly take time to notice the Boxer with the Stare. It took a while but she finally accepted a crotch sniff and the look from She Who Must Be Obeyed. Then they let the dogs out. Woof. Woof. Woof. Slap!

The three remaining dogs were high energy and big. One of them was a puppy mill dog named Homer. Homer is a male, which means he’s aggressive. He’s a puppy mill dog, which means he’s stupid. (‘Puppy mills’ crank out badly bred dogs for sale at pet stores and via the internet. “He’s a puppy mill dog” is said in the same tone as, “He was a fetal alcohol baby”.) He’s a boxer, which means his method for getting to know you is to hit you. Hard. On the nose. Jada did not approve. At first she repeated her running away routine. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So then she snarled and snapped at him, “Get AWAY from me, idiot, or I’ll bite off your family jewels and shove them where the sun don’t shine!” He looked confused and sat down abruptly. I didn’t know she had it in her! Go Jada. Get the big boys.

It’s confirmed. I’m going to be such a bad mother. “Now, dear, you should try talking things out rather than resorting to fighting . . . but did you win?”

December 12, 2005

When you just can't pick one event

Christmas Party Saturday night. Each table was a team on a scavenger hunt based on life experiences. Jrex was surprised to realize he’s been on four continents (Korea, USA, England, Brazil). We proudly admitted not having showered for a week (backpacking), seeing a bear (ditto), and touching one’s nose with one’s tongue (me). With 21 out of 25 we thought our table might win. We were bested by another table where someone had skydived, ballroom danced, and was fluent in four languages. FOUR?!! I barely handle one!
We helped a friend do the most organized move EVER. She used duct tape for content labels, a color label for room placement, and another color for fragile labels where appropriate. The movers were an hour late, and by the time they got there we had everything but the bulky stuff down on the sidewalk waiting to load in the U-Haul. I’m from the ‘let the professionals earn their keep’ school, but Jrex and our friend believe in the ‘do or die’ method. They have little contests at work about who is a worse workaholic. She triumphantly announced at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, “You’ve been here for 30 minutes already? You’re a workaholic!” Fortunately I strained my lower back bringing down the TV (no, really, I did, I swear), so then I could just play Tetris with the truck contents.
In the afternoon between the move and the party I knew I needed to get the dog tired out. Our neighbors across the alley have a long, fenced-in yard and two dogs. The woman who lives there came to our 2nd Annual Halloween-Open-Yard-Party and seemed really cool. I walked over with Muttola and knocked on their door. When she answered I said, “I have a strange proposition … could my dog play with your dogs?” Amy and I ended up chatting and laughing in the backyard as the dogs sniffed each other. Jada definitely watched her back. She kept slapping big boy Bingo in the face when he got fresh with her. Eventually she and Bingo fell in love. Neither of them are equipped to fulfill their raging passion, but they were able to chase cars along the fence together, sniff at squirrels, play tug of war, and pee on the same tree. Ah, young love…
Last night we went to see The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s hard to make talking animals work without feeling cheesy, but they did it. Lucy was perfect. She’s the heart of that story, and goes through a huge range of emotions, and the little actress was believable and made you fall in love with her. Even Aslan was great. I never realized how soothing and beautiful Liam Neeson’s voice is. He could read me bedtime stories anytime!

December 8, 2005

I'm only 34 why do I feel so old?!!

Yesterday I got an email from a church friend. She wants a group of people to serve bag lunches to homeless folk after church in two weeks. She suggested putting postcards with church info into the bags. This was my email in response:

Speaking as the person who seems to be the designated, “Go talk to that homeless person and see what we should do” representative: let’s not put the postcards in the bags. I totally love the idea of getting more of us out there. I love that we have homeless people coming to church. I suspect the word is getting out that we're a warm place for a Sunday nap and we're full of do-gooders who give out money and food. I don’t think we need to advertise any more than we are already! (I may sound cynical, but I suspect that’s the word on the street)

Growing up in an inner-city church I’ve seen scenarios I can’t envision us handling at this point:

-My pastor and an elder having to forcibly escort someone out of a service (not just one incident).
-Having slightly mental folk stand up in the middle of the sermon and announce they have new shoes, shirt, whatever
-The pastor having to figure out non-confrontational (or confrontational) ways of dealing with disruptive people.
-Parents having to keep an eye on their kids so that Arthur isn’t alone with them.
-People having to keep an eye on Arthur so that no parent kills him.

I hate the idea of a homogenous church and I do like the fact that we’re starting to draw in people who live near the church, don’t get me wrong about that. I like Tracy and I would like to get to know some of the other people in the ‘hood, so to speak. We just need wisdom, maturity, and backup as we move ahead. So, yeah, let’s do the lunches, but let’s not do the postcards.

I get pissed off when I know I’m getting scammed. Give me a genuine need, I’ll do whatever I have to do. Scam me and we’ve got an issue. I prayed with the first homeless woman who came into the church, Tracy. I really connected with her and felt the depth of God’s love for her. However, watching her making the rounds the last two weeks after church, I get mad. I’m mad that she’s learned to manipulate. I’m mad it works on all these sweet young things. I’m mad that we aren’t equipped as a group of college kids and young adults to do the long-term stuff required to help her make different life choices. I can’t stand the fact that a debate about compassion vs. enabling becomes such an intrinsic part of inner-city ministry in this country. How did Mother Theresa do it?

December 5, 2005

Random Chatter

• I’ve been kidnapped by aliens. Really. Warner Bros is remaking Invasion of the Body Snatchers here in Baltimore. (Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Northham, and some cute blond kid). We’re printing their posters and signs at my job. The lead designer asked for people to send in snapshots. I have an archive on my computer and sent in a few. The next day we printed posters of The Missing for use as backdrops in the movie. She’d included my co-worker Ryan and me in one of the posters. If you've seen us, call *66, please.
• Aliens have invaded my yard. I had a crunchy granola Mom (“Anyone want to trade their Twinkie for one of my carob chip cookies?”). I went to a crunchy granola college (Hampshire. Vegetarian line in the cafeteria with vegan options). So, like any self-respecting cruncher, I compost my veggie waste into a lovely backyard composter. Last night when I let the dog out, I saw something gray dart from the compost container to the base of the shed. I tried to convince myself that it was a rabid, nocturnal squirrel. But no, it was true. There are rats in the compost bin. Jrex and I are meeting at home tonight to take the composter apart and shovel rotting veggies into industrial garbage bags. Hopefully, Muttola will prove her worth and kill some vermin!
• Yesterday in church a friend pulled me into the hall. Apparently one of our homeless visitors seemed to be really out of it and she wasn’t sure what to do. Being the only person who’s lived in the inner city, I’m treated as the resident homeless expert. The guy (named Kevin) was shaking and his buddy, Charles, said that Kevin had a stroke last night. I thought he might be in Delerium Tremor. (I have no medical training, but a shaking homeless man is most likely going through alcohol withdrawal. Potentially fatal.) As I tried to invite him to sit, he collapsed into the couch and became unresponsive. We called 9-1-1. In the midst of making Kevin comfortable and getting a towel in case he threw up, I asked Charles how well they know each other, “Off and on for years. He bit me once, so I know he doesn’t have AIDS! I’m monitoring his alcohol intake since his stroke, I don’t think 2 oz of vodka before church would do this.”

The weird thing for me is that the whole interaction with Kevin and Charles felt more real to me than the chats after church with random college kids about what they’re studying. That’s what I loved about living in the inner city. No one has time for BS. It’s all about survival and helping each other when you’re down. It’s not a random homeless guy in a door, it’s Joe and you know his Mom kicked him out again and you know the Drop-in-Center will take him. I don’t know the resources or the people here yet. But that’s beginning to change.

December 1, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

(includes spoilers)

I know it marks me as a sap, but I do love Jane Austen and thoroughly enjoyed the new Pride and Prejudice last night. I was amazed that in two hours the movie could encompass so many character shifts. I even liked the mother by the end of the movie. In every other version I’ve ever experienced, including the book, I couldn’t stand her. I liked this Mr. Darcy better than Colin Firth. He seems deeper and bound, rather than just transforming from stiffness to relaxation. As a result his transformation into someone expressive and tender is much more satisfactory.

It got me thinking about romance fantasy in general. Elizabeth Bennet soundly refused Darcy’s first offer of marriage, yet he continued to love her. He went out of his way to redeem his mistakes and to make life better for people she cared about, some of whom he held in disdain. In the end she walks out in the foggy dawn and he comes toward her, his greatcoat billowing in the wind, striding quickly, his face anxious but resolved. He asks again if she’ll take him.

That’s the fantasy: that we can say no, be or look ugly, and the guy will keep loving. No matter what we do, he’ll never leave us or hate us. But it’s not true.

As I reflected on the movie I thought, “There’s no man I can think of who would be rejected as she rejected and continue to love her like that. Most would get defensive and angry, or take no for an answer and walk away. If they don’t take no for an answer, then they’re a stalker.” As I thought further I wondered where that fantasy began.

Then I realized.

It’s Jesus. No matter how much we push him away or walk away, he keeps loving and waiting. But he doesn’t push himself on us, rather he keeps making things better for us and for people around us, and he waits until we finally see him for who he really is. Then he lovingly looks at his beloved and asks again to be allowed to love.