Weekend Snapshots 43, or: The Ice Queen Cometh


My husband went to Scotland last weekend to give a talk at University of Edinburgh. He got to spend some time with our niece at her new school and he’s been able to check in on his parents in England. He’s also carved out a little time to do some hiking. It seems like he’s been gone for an eternity, a feeling that is only exacerbated when he texts me photos like these:img_7081


…complete with breathless, rapturous captions about the wondrous beauty he is experiencing.

We’re having much smaller-scale adventures at home. For example, on Friday my daughter spotted this in our backyard:

img_1683We think that rather fearsome bird perched on the run-in shed is a Red-tailed Hawk. I had never fully appreciated what the phrase “sitting duck” meant until recently. My daughter did not at all appreciate my observation that this would make Reason #927 for not getting the pet ducks she’s been pining for…

On Saturday I made shakshuka for the first time, which – miracle of miracles – everyone liked:


Oh, shakshuka, where have you been all my life?!

I adapted this New York Times recipe for the dish, substituting in ingredients we happened to have. (Sautée an onion, a bell pepper, and a few cloves of garlic. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. Add a carton of diced plum tomatoes and stir until sauce thickens. Stir in about a cup of crumbled feta or goat cheese. [I used a little of both]. Crack eggs over the mixture and bake in 375 degree oven for about ten minutes). The kids ate it all up with slices of buttery toasted sourdough bread.

On Sunday morning I picked up my daughter from a sleepover and we headed out to the field for her brother’s game. His team won by a large margin, but in the final moments they failed spectacularly at one attempt to get the ball into the net. A player kicked it from only about a foot away, but instead of going in, the ball got a little too much loft and improbably landed on top of the net.

How in the world did they not get that into the net?” my daughter spluttered, clutching her head in disbelief, “Grandma could have gotten it in!”

“Grandma’s Grandma could have gotten the ball in! I mean…”


She plumbed the depths of her wildest imagination to come up with an even more preposterous scenario: “I mean…YOU could have gotten it in.”

end of the middleTears of remorse sprung to her eyes as soon she saw the shocked expression on my face. Of course, they immediately turned into tiny little icicles…

Brrrrrr, that was cold, little Ice Queen, but I still love you anyway.

img_7072I’ll probably forgive Mr. Scotland too one day…

Weekend Snapshots 42


My family and I went to NYC this weekend to see my cousin in one of the final performances of Julia Cho’s Aubergine. It’s a play about the barriers to communication and understanding; it’s about the ways in which we try to commune through food; it’s about how we live and die. Our cousin played the part of Ray, a Korean-American chef who is taking care of his dying father. They have always had a tortured relationship marred by the inability to truly connect with one another. As his father lies comatose, unable to utter more than a groaned word now and then, Ray wrestles with the weight of all that was unexpressed between them during a lifetime. The play was beautiful and moving, funny and desperately sad, and so much of it felt very close to home…


There were a lot of loose ends to tie up before heading to Arlington, where we would spend a night at my parents’ house before driving the rest of the way to New York. For one thing, we had to make sure the pets were set with everything they needed while we were gone. I did an inventory of their food supply, then handed my phone to my son and asked him to run down to the basement to take a picture of the new kitty litter we’ve been using so we’d remember which kind to restock. Feeling rather smug about my prudent foresight, I strode over to the pet supply aisle in the grocery store and pulled up the pictures on my phone to discover this:


The Failure of Communication: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts


The next day my mom cooked my kids’ favorite lunch: tender, salty mackerel with crispy, crackly skin.

In Aubergine, one of the characters talks about how her father would always eat the head and tail of the fish and give her the middle of the fish. One day she serves him the head and tail of the fish and magnanimously announces that she’s giving him his favorite part.

“Rice pot!” (i.e.: Dummy!) he says with exasperation and explains that he had always eaten the head and tail so that she could have the best part of the fish.

As the audience absorbs this revelation, Ray asks, “What part did your mother eat?”

As so often happens these days, my mother was too exhausted by her culinary labor of love to eat any fish herself.

She wasn’t too tired, however, to take care of some other pressing business. Before we left for New York, she handed me a thick envelope. She had prepared an identical one for all of her children. I opened it to see that it was a map and description of the burial plots she and my dad bought for themselves a few weeks ago. She had also included the contact information for two minister friends who already agreed to perform their funeral services.

“We got a 10% discount for buying early!” my mother chirped brightly as she dropped her latest weapon of mass destruction on our heads. “I thought we should be buried right under some pine trees, but your daddy was worried about the roots spreading. So we picked a nearby spot where we’ll have a good view of them. Remember! Put your dad on the left side, and me on the right. We’ll be able to call to each other in the morning and say, ‘Good morning! Have you eaten breakfast yet?‘”

Oh, dear God! Waterboarding? The rack? These don’t hold a candle to the myriad creative and devastating ways this woman devises to torture me.

img_7041We drove up to NYC where we met up with the rest of our family:



Admiring photos of the grandkids who couldn’t be there…


Breakfast of the Champions.img_7022

My brother took my boys to the Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York. Got that? Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York! Now say it quickly ten times!


Meanwhile, the rest of us wandered around the vicinity of our hotel.

We stopped in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral:

img_1659img_1662Had lunch at Rosie O’Grady’s…


Then headed over to the theatre to see the play…img_7028img_7037


That night my four siblings and I spent a few quiet minutes with my parents in their hotel room, just the six of us. We thought we’d just have a casual chit-chat, but then my dad, a man who favors stiff pats over hugs, asked us to all hold hands with each other. He said a prayer for each of one of us and all the spouses and children in our family, asking for blessings for each of us by name.

Damn. Nothing like a good old-fashioned Pan-American No-Gi tag-team loving beatdown from your parents, the reigning champions of the emotional choke-hold. Clearly, this kind of thing should be banned, as there is no possible maneuver by which to escape.


We drove back to C’ville. I decided to give my son some much-needed driving practice, and let him take the wheel for the last fifteen minutes of the drive:

img_7046It went pretty well until he almost drove off the side of the road…

There’s a line in the play I can’t remember exactly, but the gist of it was:

In the midst of life, we are in the midst of death…

I texted this photo of his traumatized little brother to my siblings:


My sister wrote back, “Oooooh. So that’s what faster than a bat out of hell looks like!”img_7050

Despite the plot twists and turns, we made it back home safe and sound.  img_7051

happy birthday


My very first college friend sent me a text today to wish me a happy birthday.

“I remember going to Lou’s Diner with you freshman year,” she wrote.

I hadn’t remembered the name of the diner, but I did remember the birthday dinner. I had been deeply mortified, but unable to quell the tears that kept spilling from my eyes. I was 18 and it was the first birthday I had ever spent away from my family. My parents had dropped me off only a few weeks before, and I was already desperately homesick. My (then) new friend tried to comfort me as I cried through the dinner. It was a shock to realize that this happened almost thirty years ago!

My friend continued her text with a question:  “Did you do anything special?”

Well…this morning my husband and three kids woke me up with a dawn chorus of Happy Birthday and a tray laden with a bracing cup of Scottish Breakfast tea and the most decadent breakfast I believe I’ve ever had in my life – a slice of flourless chocolate cake.


One member of the quartet smoldered through the whole song. The second the serenade was over, the 16-year-old exploded: “WHY did ALL three of you have to come into my room at the crack of dawn to wake me up and then stand over me waiting for me to get out of bed? It was really creepy and annoying!!!”

He stalked off and the rest of us slunk off to go about the business of getting ready for another day…

About fifteen minutes later I heard a knock on my door.

“Mom? I’m really sorry I was such a jerk earlier. Happy birthday.”

Highs and lows. Highs and lows…

I drove to work in the driving rain. I practically had to doggy-paddle from my parking spot to my office. There was no way to avoid stepping into the river of red, muddy water in my leather flats. I squished and sloshed into the building like a drowned rat. A drowned rat in a pair of ruined shoes.

img_6990My feet were cold and wet, but it was lovely to step into a warm office. The colleagues I work with most closely are the best I’ve ever had. They are people I respect, admire and genuinely like. The four of us gathered in the lobby for a few minutes and chatted companionably before we began our day.

I had a dentist appointment scheduled during lunch time. This might not sound like the most fabulous way to spend one’s birthday, but I recently started going to my friends’ dental practice and I was looking forward to seeing them both.

But then:

Happy birthday to me, I got my first adult cavity…

My friend and I discussed the fact that this was my first cavity in decades. “Is this related to old age?” I asked…”Because I remember there was a period when every single time my mom went to the dentist she had a new cavity. Is that what’s going to happen to me?!” He did not spare me:


“Happy birthday!” his wife said to me, “Here’s a present for you!”


We left the office and met up with another friend for a quick birthday lunch:


Back to work.

Got a birthday call from my oldest friend…someone I’ve been friends with since we were 12, I think.

Back home to make dinner.

Put in a couple loads of laundry.

Drove my daughter to her violin lesson.

Home again. The house is quiet. The kids are doing their homework. I’ve been reading Facebook birthday greetings from family and friends around the world.

Did I have a special day? Yes, I believe I did.

First Baby Maternity Shoot


There was an extremely rare cosmic occurrence this weekend…The Harvest Moon penumbral eclipse? Psshhht! That was no big deal. We’ll see another one of those again in 2024! What I’m talking about is the fact that there were NO soccer games for my kids this weekend. Instead of driving around from field to field, I spent Saturday morning doing my first maternity shoot for a couple who is expecting their first baby on Halloween.

But you can never truly escape soccer…The couple I was photographing met through the game. Both were collegiate players, and one is still heavily involved in the game as a coach…We met up bright and early at the Saunders-Monticello trail, and the first order of business was to take some photos with a pair of pink cleats so tiny and adorable they made you tear up when you held them in your hands.

The best part of the morning for me was seeing the couple’s obvious love for one another and the care and consideration they showed for each other.

Our next stop was Carter Mountain Orchard, where we were able to borrow this backdrop:

Our last destination was Trump Winery:

Can’t wait to meet this little Halloween baby!


I’m a Korean mother, and I can’t help it.


When I was growing up, I never experienced a summer of complete freedom. My mother believed in the power of math workbooks as fervently as she believed in the power of the Bible. Every day I would have to labor away doing the prescribed five pages of what she called “Daily Math.” Ugh. I hated it with every fiber of my being. My friends were spending their days at the swimming pool, at summer camp, or just loafing around watching tv. How Korean of my mother, I thought, to ruin my summer by making me do math!

I vowed to myself that if I ever had children of my own, I would let them enjoy their summers unencumbered by scholastic assignments. When I finally did have children, I remembered that vow. I signed those kids up for all kinds of fun summer camps and activities. I’d pull into the parking lot to pick them up basking in the glow of virtue you feel whenever you do a kind turn for someone.

“Oh, thank you, beloved mother,” I could practically hear them say, “Thank you for letting us go to this magical place where we could work on God’s eyes rather than algebra problems!”

“Thank you, sweetest and kindest of mothers, for letting us frolic with our friends getting bronzed in the golden sun, rather than making us hunch over a math workbook at the kitchen table all day growing as pale as grubs…”

But no. Every day, three slump-shouldered, resentful grouches would climb into the car and inform me that they didn’t want to do “Summer Playground” or “World Cup Soccer Camp” or anything really, other than hang out at home. “Don’t sign us up for any more camps!” was the message I heard loud and clear, and I was actually ok with that.

So this summer the kids basically became feral. I would come home from work to see them sprawled in exaggerated poses of relaxation as if they were posing as allegorical statues of Indolence, Sloth, and Torpor. I bore it for as long as I could, but as it turns out, I’m way more Korean than I thought I was. Their sleepy eyes, uncombed hair, and languid movements began to offend me. I literally couldn’t help myself. I started leaving them lists of things to accomplish by the time I got back from work. Nothing too onerous, mind you! The tasks were on the order of: “Load dishwasher,” “Do one load of laundry,” or “Put shoes away in the mudroom.” But every once in a while I’d slip in a small directive that might require slightly more effort:

  • Brainstorm ways to alleviate the refugee crisis.
  • Come up with an action plan to reunify the two Koreas.
  • Find a cure for cancer.

The other day I overheard my son talking to his younger sister.

“Now when Mom asks me what I’ve been doing all day, I can honestly tell her I really have been working on a cure for cancer!”

Apparently the kid has connected his computer to a massive global project out of Stanford University, which harnesses the collective power of volunteers’ computers to crunch numbers. I can’t really understand the science of it all. (Despite my mother’s attempts to stack the deck with “Daily Math,” all those workbooks did nothing but send me reeling straight into the torrid embrace of Russian Literature). But here’s what the website has to say:

“Help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on your computer. The problems we are trying to solve require so many calculations, we ask people to donate their unused computer power to crunch some numbers.”

You can check it out for yourself here:


and here:


As far as I can tell, the boy has discovered a way to plug into an astonishing feat of alchemy by which supreme laziness is transformed into something rather enterprising…It’s genius, really, and it makes this Korean mother so proud!

Related post: Amadeus and my own preternaturally precocious offspring.

Oh deer.


foxIt’s a wild kingdom in my backyard. First, this fox appeared. Since spotting him, I’ve been trying to convince my daughter that this is a pretty clear sign that keeping pet ducks is not a good idea. So far, she’s not buying it. It’s true the fox hasn’t done a thing about the fat, lumbering groundhogs that have taken up residence under the barn and run-in shed. We saw our adopted kitty lurking around one of the huge holes they’ve made, but at half their size, I can’t imagine what she could possibly do to deter them from their destructive burrowing.

And then there are the deer. Recently, a whole herd of deer has been camping out in my backyard. Today I counted ten of them. Just looking at them makes me feel itchy. Almost every one in my family has been treated for Lyme Disease at one time or another, thanks to deer ticks. Once my husband stopped his car to let a deer cross the road. Instead of saying “thank you” and going on his merry way, the deer rammed into the car and put a huge dent in it. Furthermore: I find their eating habits deplorably rude. The yard is lush with weeds. I wouldn’t mind one bit if they ate those, but instead, they go for the plants I’ve bought and lovingly cultivated. They treat my garden like an all you can eat salad bar. Which is all to say: I don’t like deer.


Oh sure! Make yourself at home! Can I pour you a drink?



If only they could do something useful, like graze in straight rows…

I’m trying to live with it. It helped to read up on deer symbolism in Korean culture. Because they are beautiful and gentle (except when they are ramming into the side of a car), they are considered to be holy animals. Deer are often portrayed in Korean art as one of the ten symbols of longevity along with the sun, mountains, water, stones, clouds, pine trees, turtles, cranes, and mushrooms of immortality. They are associated with longevity because their antlers are ground up and used medicinally and because when they’re not greedily helping themselves to my garden, they are supposedly adept at finding those mushrooms of immortality. Finally, deer are associated with friendship because they travel in herds. When they move from one location to another, they turn their heads to make sure they don’t leave anyone behind. I’m not so sure I’m going to make friends with these deer, but as long as they stay in the paddock, I think we can maintain a cool civility.