December 31, 2006

Not an ordinary offer

The one request made by our visiting friend, Ms. P was to see the redwoods while she was here. Like a fool, the morning we were going to go, I sampled the early morning swim team practice.

Not only was I tired on the hike, but due to an excessive amount of pool water in my stomach (how DO you do backstroke without swallowing water?), I was also carsick most of the drive there. The problem is the lack of a direct, straight, smooth road into Big Basin Redwoods Park. When we took the In-laws down there, Mom K was praying and moaning the whole way down as she glimpsed her impending doom at each oncoming curve. This time, I was just whining and moaning. I kept asking Jrex to drive like an old man.

This grove of redwoods is 45 minutes south of where we live. When we were with the in-laws, we only saw the tourist loop. This time we did a nice four-mile loop to a waterfall and back.

Along the way there were times when the trail became hard to see. As we glanced around and speculated about getting lost, Ms. P made one of the kindest, most generous offers ever made by a friend,

“If we get lost, you can eat me first.”

December 27, 2006

You might be wondering why I asked him that...

Having a friend for a visit means we get to explain the eccentricities we take for granted.

The first time I visited my in-laws I was surprised to find out that the dishwasher was never used. Not even after a big dinner when it would have been filled to capacity. I found out since that hardly any Korean women use the dishwasher. The common belief is that it just doesn’t get the dishes clean enough.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not a particularly clean person. Organized, sure, but as my Dad always said, “We don’t believe in the germ theory anyway.” Dishwasher clean is fine for me. However, when it's just the two of us, it's easier and faster to just hand wash and dry the dishes Asian style. On the other hand, when we make a big meal with lots of prep dishes, it's easier to fill up the dishwasher and run it.

A common question in our house is, “Honey, is the dishwasher white or Asian today?”

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas to us!

One of my best friends is coming tonight to stay with us for a week, so we did our personal Christmas celebration yesterday. Three things made me cry while overall the day was wonderful.
  • I read this article over breakfast. It’s about a building in Chicago that’s impacting one of the worst neighborhoods in the city.
  • We watched this show on PBS about an intergenerational housing solution for seniors and foster kids.
  • For our movie selection we saw The Pursuit of Happyness. Powerful, thought provoking and very well done.
For dinner, let me just say that I like to learn a new skill by jumping off the deep end. I’ve never roasted a turkey, or even a chicken, but I decided to make Cornish hens coated with a balsamic glaze and stuffed with porcini & shitake mushrooms, veggies and wild rice. Jrex walked to the wine store around the corner and picked a smooth, slightly earthy Pinot Noir for our wine.

I almost forgot to take a picture of dessert. I managed to make a delicious crème brulee.

Thanks to this cook book, the hens were tender and juicy while the crème brulee was crusty and smooth!

Jrex wrote me a great poem about home and us. All in all, the perfect Christmas. We hope each of you enjoy as wonderful a day tomorrow and for the rest of the Christmas season.

December 21, 2006


Photo Credit.

The reason was simple. One year when my brother was little, he tore open all his Christmas gifts within two minutes, asked, “Is that it?!” and burst into tears. My Mom vowed to find a better way to celebrate Christmas. Like a magpie she borrowed shiny traditions from all over the world and assembled them into a cozy set of events for her family.

Here’s the Body Part Family Christmas Manifesto.

  • Christmas began the first Sunday of Advent.

  • St. Nicholas Day is December 6th.

  • OTRsis has a birthday on Dec. 10th. Birthday kid picks the restaurant for dinner.

  • Every day of Advent we pinned up a handmade felt decoration to the Advent calendar Mom made.

  • To decorate the Christmas tree, each kid selected from their box of St. Nicolas decorations. My favorite year was when each of us received a character from the Wizard of Oz; I loved my Dorothy decoration.

  • We set out two Nativity sets. One was a traditional Germanic one of ivory colored ceramic. Mom added various kitschy characters: Winnie the Pooh, Humpty Dumpty, a knight on his steed. The other Nativity set was made of little wooden people handpainted by OTRmama, my Mom’s friend. We had a black Mary and a white Joseph. Joseph held the baby, of course.

  • On Christmas Eve we opened one gift after the evening church service.

  • Christmas Day we unpacked our stockings and opened one other gift. Then we went to church and had nothing to say while the other kids boasted of their loot. “Um…I got an orange. Like Laura Ingalls on the prarie?”

  • For the next 12 days we opened a numbered white envelope to discover the day's family activity. The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo. Go downtown and visit the model trains at CG&E. Tour other neighborhoods' Christmas Lights. Visit someone at the nursing home. Go to a movie. Open a gift.

  • January 6th was Epiphany, or King’s Day. The tradition is that the Wise Men didn’t get to Jesus the night he was born. Christmas Day is the day for the shepherds and angels, while the Wise Men and their gifts arrived later. So, technically, gift giving should come after Christmas, not on the same day. This was the day we opened our big gift/s (which also allowed Mom and Dad to buy at excellent post-Christmas sales). That evening Mom threw a big open house and invited everyone we knew. She made 3 kings’ cakes. In each one was embedded a quarter. Whichever kid (or adult) found the coin in their slice was king for the day (or year, depending on one’s interpretation). Most of the kids gathered around while she cut open the cake, “That one! I got dibs!!” they would cry if they spotted a tiny gleam of silver. We crowned them with paper and sent them forth to lord it over the other guests.

Sometimes the tradition broke down, especially as we left for college. But we always got a St. Nicolas Day package, and Mom always had the King’s Day open house.

All this is wonderful while the tradition lover is alive and well. Since she died, we haven’t done much as a family to maintain it. Poor Mom, she always said she was the only thoughtful one in the family. The only one who made things happen. She was right. Every year I think I’ll do an Epiphany party, but for 7 years after she died, I was too depressed to deal with it. Instead of one day of feeling depressed about missing my Mom, I had a whole month.

I think that’s why our skipping Christmas feels like a relief. I don’t have to feel guilty for not living up to the tradition. I know though, if we ever have kids, I’d want to do it the way my Mom did. I loved having a Christmas filled with meaning and memories and I would want to pass that along. What are you trying to pass along this year? Did you family do anything quirky, or memorable? Or something that just makes you smile when you remember it?

December 18, 2006

How's the weather?

The question that comes up most frequently about life here is ‘what’s the weather like?’ As one commenter asked in reference to the last entry, ‘is it weird celebrating Christmas where it’s warm?’

To answer the first question, here’s a picture I took last week from the sofa:

(I wrote a long time ago about our sofa-buying adventure, here’s the final product):

Part of why it's so easy to skip Christmas this year is the weather. In a cold, gray climate, I need the lights, the evergreen tree and cozy traditions to cheer me up. Out here, there are trees in bloom and green all around me. Decorating for Christmas seems like unnecessary work.

Basically, at some point during the day the temperature warms up to the 60’s while at night it dips into the 30's or 40's. I get hostile about turning the heat on. One: it will warm up at some point. Two: all the windows are single panes. The insufficient insulation drives me crazy. As a result, most of the time inside our apartment, my hands are numb. For some odd reason, Muttola seems to really like basking in the sun once it peeks over the edge of the balcony. Obviously, there’s no correlation.

December 15, 2006

Failing the Friday Five

For this mid-December Friday Five, let's explore some Yuletide favorites.

1) It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?

We grew up without a television, so the first time I saw it was in college? I mean, it’s not something anyone would ever volunteer to rent, right? I loved it when I saw it, but haven’t needed to watch it again. I can imagine getting sick of it with repetition. Poor Jimmy Stewart. I love him as an actor, but most kids only know him in that role.

2) Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new?
Hmmm….see above—except I’ve never seen this one. "I’m depraved on account I’m deprived" (I grew up going down the street to see live musicals performed at the School for Creative and Performing Arts—I can act out or sing almost any musical, but I can’t handle normal TV based culture.)

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?
I must have seen this at a friends house when I was young—I love Scrooge McDuck.

4) Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.
I think I’ve seen Rudolph in bits and pieces but I don’t know if I’ve ever watched it from start to finish. My theory: it was the 50’s, they had to come up with some kind of alternate lifestyle that wasn’t TOO far out.

5) Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?

* The Bumble
* The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Muppet Version
* That Mean Magician Who Tries to Melt Frosty
* Your Nomination

Wow. I’m bombing out. Never seen the Bumble—no idea who that is. Vague memories of the Mean Magician. So I’d have to go with the Ghost of Christmas.

We had wonderful Christmas traditions, but none of them included watching TV. My Mom made her own Advent calendar with felt and other materials. She made symbols from church history that all related to the character of Jesus or to the Christmas story. We had an Alpha and Omega symbol, a lamb with a cross, a chalice, for Christmas Eve—a manger, then for Christmas Day a baby to put in the manger. Each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the Advent Sundays, we lit a candle in the advent wreath and took turns reading the prayer for the day. Most of our Christmas celebration actually happened after Christmas, but I'll write about that later.

December 13, 2006

Bah Humbug

I suspect this might be our most relaxing Christmas ever. We have no visitors scheduled and we are going no where. I looked at Jrex the other day and said, "Let's just skip Christmas this year. On Christmas Day you can give me a card and I'll make you a nice dinner." He nodded with a cute grin on his face.

Over the years we've had to work to figure out our 'love language'. I knew that mine was verbal affirmation, but Jrex resists all categorization with all that's in him. So it took us a while to figure out that his is acts of service. We both share a need for quality time, but for him, it's in the form of long, intense conversations. I like those, but also like a frequent dose of quality activities: 'Let's talk while we surf' kind of stuff.

In any case, we're both very happy to have a day where we give each other something that makes the other feel loved without much fuss or bother. Now if only we could figure out a way to not have to give anyone else a gift either. My Dad is coming to visit in January, and hopefully my sister and her family will come in February. I'd prefer fun things with them when they're here rather than books or clothes that none of us need on the 25th. Plus, now that we're squeezed into an apartment, we don't have room for any gifts!

Even if I can persuade my family of the merits of this idea (and I don't think it would be that hard), I still have to figure out what to get for the in-laws, which has always been much harder than things for my immediate family. Why can't we all just stop the insanity of the gift buying and just do kind things for each other. Wouldn't that be closer to the original meaning of the holiday anyway?

December 12, 2006

I'm calling to ask you to wire money to my son, my account number is...

Apparently the cool, easy to remember phone number we received used to be the local number for Wells Fargo. I've never confused this many old people in my life.

December 7, 2006

Midnight Spirals

I haven’t written about the James and Kati Kim ordeal even though it’s been on my mind every day. Honestly, I think I was holding my breath until it was over one way or another. In the past few days, I’ve received emails from at least 5 people with a subject line that was some variation of “scary”.

We took the same trip. San Francisco to Seattle and back. The same weekend. The same Korean man/Caucasian woman demographic. We avoided the snow storm that trapped them. The only difference for us was we drove further into Oregon on Sunday. Thus when the storm came through early Monday, we had different driving options. Honestly, it was only due to Jrex’s diligence and research that we figured out the clearest road to take into California. I often get impatient with what I perceive to be his paranoia—taking 45 minutes to lock up the house before we leave for vacation. Always double-checking that the automatic car lock worked. Adding 2,000 extra bungie chords when we attach the bikes to the bike rack on the car. It makes me start repeating, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it!” It’s what I was doing on Monday morning when he insisted we buy tire chains. “We won’t hit snow, don’t worry about it.” But late at night, I start running ‘what if’ scenarios.

What if it had been me suggesting we try a short-cut? What if it had been him insisting on one? What if I kept saying, "It's fine!" and then we got stuck? What if I’d read the map wrong? What would the conversation have been like in the car? How would we have left things? Would my family, or his, have thought of hiring our own helicopters? If he’d gone for help, would he have made it? What if he were dead now? I think I often move through life with a subconscious notion that I have an immunity clause. Life keeps punching at it, but I don’t know if I truly believe it’s not there. But this whole deal reminded me that it’s a narrow veil between what seems like ordinary life and unimaginable tragedy.

I’m so glad I still have the heavy warmth of our relationship to pull around me, and so sad for Kati and her girls that hers has been ripped away.

Reason 47 to love Anne Lamott

I’m a visual thinker and her writing is muscular and visionary. I find the imagery and concept in the following paragraph extremely powerful…

If marriage was a comforting garment you could wrap around you, a fight could rip it loose and leave you standing bare and alone in a high wind, the high wind of the messes of your marriage, all that was frayed and grubby. Too many harsh words spoken, and too much unsaid, too many compromises snatched at the garment, leaving it grubby and frayed. It was so hard, though, after a fight, because one hardly had the strength or desire even to bend down and pick up the garment at your feet. But then when you did, it would feel warm and heavy and have the smell of your beloved, which is so incredible and familiar and also a little rank, with the mammalian essence of life and the sweat of battle.

December 6, 2006

And so it begins!

Every year my Mom was alive, Christmas began Dec. 6th, St. Nicholas Day. Mom loved traditions and rituals about Christmas and collected them wherever she found them. I always remember the Santa Claus story being one of many stories, never believed in as a mythical present bringer, but rather a derivative legend from that of St. Nicholas. The story is that the good saint would go around the village during the winter and leave candy and treats for good girls and boys, and a coal and a switch for bad ones. On December the 5th we’d carefully select our biggest shoe and leave it ‘outside’ in the hallway. (We lived in a vertical duplex/rowhouse with a shared hallway running up the side of the house.) In the morning, the shoe would be stuffed with a little bag of homemade cookies, maybe some quarters, and a decoration for the tree.

Unfortunately, we always had to wait until Christmas Eve to put the decoration on the tree. We usually waited for last minute tree sales or giveaways (which also meant we only ever had the scratchy kind of tree). We’d all go pick it out together, with Dad-McScrooge muttering all the way about hassles and pine needles. When we got the tree home we’d set it up (more muttering), decorate it, and leave for the Christmas Eve service. When it was over, Dad ran home while we followed more slowly. He’d put on Christmas music and light a bunch of candles (maybe it was his way to make up for the Scrooge routine?). When we got home, Mom would serve us hot cider as we carefully selected one gift to open that night.

Since Mom died, each December 6th I’ve received a St. Nicholas greeting from her best friend. This morning she sent an e-card. I’d forgotten all about what day it was. What with sunshine all the time, doing swim-team in an outdoor pool, and walking the dog in just a fleece jacket at night, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas here.

Despite all that, OTRmama’s e-greeting gave me a warm, Christmasy feeling. So, Happy St. Nicholas Day to all of you!

December 4, 2006

Swimming on the White Side of Life

This past weekend was eventful and fun:
  • I had tea with an older Dutch woman and heard about her experience of WWII as a 10-15 year old.
  • We experienced (yet another round of redwoods) Big Basin with the in-laws.
  • We took them to visit the Monterey Aquarium. After seeing a documentary about the aquarium's kelp forest, I was excited to see it. As with much in life, the reality was a bit underwhelming. If you click on the link, they feature a great white shark. In real life, it's only 3 feet long. All four of us agreed that the Baltimore Aquarium was better organized and had more variety--and that was before they installed an Australian exhibit.
  • We left Muttola for the day with J and O, our friends who hosted us when we first arrived in CA. O has a dog fantasy and was grateful to have a dog for the day. That's the best kind of sitter to have, one who is thankful for the opportunity!
Mostly I wanted to post as a way to vent after coming from swim team. I think I mentioned I was considering joining the Menlo Masters at the neighborhood pool. Last week I swam two practices. I paid my membership fee yesterday and returned to swim today. In my usual contrary fashion, once it's paid for, it feels like an obligation I don't want to do. I feel great after swimming though so I'm trying to push through that. The thing that's weird is that the swim team members are a reflection of the neighborhood, and I'm feeling prejudiced.

I've mentioned growing up in an inner-city 'hood in Cincinnati. We also had a neighborhood pool down the street. In elementary school I was on that team. We had kids from 5-18. Colors from darkest sable to ghostly white. And lots of fun: Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows during rest breaks; lots of kidding around and joking; snack breaks courtesy of your tax dollars.

Now I'm in the wealthiest neighborhood I've ever lived in. Sure I'm in the affordable rent district, but if that is surrounded by walled communities, the people at the pool are more likely to be from behind the walls. They sit around the locker room complaining about the cost of private school education for their kids. Here they are with probably amazing public schools, but God forbid! Also, I'm in far worse shape than I thought and keep having to demote myself to slower and slower lanes. Sure I'm pushing myself, but I'm competitive enough to want to move UP not down. Bottom line--I'm feeling grubby, poor, and insecure. Being around rich white folks makes me more uncomfortable than any other social situation.

One other small thing: the guy who checks us in looks like he has native blood, and the lifeguard is African-American. When I'm friendly and chatty with them, they react like I'm trying to go slumming. They see me in the rich white swim club and make an assumption. Ditto the four homeless guys in town. Obviously there's isn't a non-obnoxious way to wave a "I'm not like them" flag, so I just feel caught in a suit that doesn't fit.

I'm sure once I start to get to know people, I'll love them for who they are. That's why it's called a 'pre judge ice': it's the assumptions I make before I know the individuals in the pack. I guess it's hard to imagine the conversational bridges--though the threat of skin cancer seems like a universal topic for all us palefaces.