Colonial Williamsburg, Pt. 2

Miss Janice was our wonderful tour guide in Colonial Williamsburg. She was one tough cookie. Kids who idly scuffled pebbles while she spoke immediately froze in their tracks when she would shoot them a warning look. She asked a child a question and when he said, “What?” she looked at him incredulously and corrected him with a: “PARDON me?!” When a child mentioned the word “slaves” she said, “All people are born free, but they can become enslaved by unjust institutions and laws that permit that kind of thing to happen, so we call them enslaved people rather than slaves.” She talked about these enslaved people coming to the colonies “empty-handed,” but not “empty-headed.” At the conclusion of our tour, she lined us up and led us in a call and response work song, in her rich, beautiful voice. I would have taken pictures, but I was afraid she might rap me across the knuckles. Here are some other pictures from the day.


Adolescence has come galloping into our household like the wrathful four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

“Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,”
Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887

If you look closely, you can actually see both my husband and me in the painting above. I’m the one with the horror-stricken saucer-eyes underneath the guy who’s gnawing on my arm. We’re both about to get trampled by the black horse. My husband’s the cowering bearded figure to the right, futilely shielding himself from the white horse, which is about to stomp him into oblivion.

So now that we’ve oriented ourselves, I can continue…Last night my husband and I were standing in the kitchen. Our son sat in the adjoining breakfast room at the kitchen table doing (or rather not doing) his homework. He was raging, raging, raging at every word that came out of our mouths. It was like gently lofting balls into the air and then getting them smashed back at our heads at 100 miles per hour. I was facing my husband with my back turned to our son and mouthed the words, “I don’t think I can take this.”

At this juncture, I have to interrupt my narrative again to tell you a little about my husband. He is a very intelligent man. He wins awards for his brilliant ideas. He earns a living by thinking deep thoughts. And yet sometimes he comes up with ideas so stupid they take my breath away.

Trying to comfort me, he grabbed my shoulders and said reassuringly, “Think of this as a contraction.”

At this, I whisper screamed the only rational thing a mother writhing in pain could say:

“Well then get me an epidural. Where’s my @*$% – ing epidural?!”

Counting every day

I heard the terrible news as I was driving a carload of mothers home after we had spent the day chaperoning our children’s 5th grade field trip to Williamsburg. One of the mothers saw a report of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on her phone and began reading the information to us. The minivan that had just moments before been buzzing with tired, but happy chatter became silent. I drove on, half-blinded by the tears that fell as I thought of the parents who had sent their children off to school that morning, never considering the possibility that it would be for the last time. I thought of the little children, who died in fear and unthinkable violence. I thought of the heroic principal and teachers who lost their lives trying to protect their charges. I think all of us mothers were finding it impossible not to picture ourselves and our own beloved children in that horrific situation. The second we arrived at our kids’ school, I leaped out of the car and ran into the school building to find my son, who had arrived minutes earlier on the bus with the other children. I felt an enormous rush of relief to see him sitting on a bench waiting for me just inside the lobby, safe and sound. I snatched him up and hurried home to get back to the rest of my family. I hugged all of my children extra tightly that night and went to bed early with tears that wouldn’t stop rolling down my face.

The next morning I woke up still crying and had to drag myself out of bed. At times like these I careen between two extremes: I either want to escape the pain of sentience with the sweet opiate of sleep or I become possessed with a manic need to clean and scrub and purge and organize until I drop in exhaustion. I decided it would be the latter, more productive option. Pity my poor family, because they all get conscripted to help me when I metamorphose into a cleaning machine and start barking orders like a crazed martinet. My “ballistic intentions” for the day, as psychologist Eugene Galanter would put it, were to clean the house to a sparkle and to finish all of the Christmas decorating. We finished hanging every single ornament on the tree and hung the stockings on the mantel. I trimmed the boxwoods in front of our house and sent my daughter around the yard to gather sprigs of pine, magnolia leaves and clusters of Nandina berries so that we could finish the advent wreath I had thought we would just not bother with this year. I dug up the advent calendars my mother-in-law made for the kids and hung them up after all. We unearthed the Noah’s ark calendar and hung 15 animals. We got up to date on our “Jesse tree” that only had 4 rather than the 15 stickers it should have by the 15th of December.

The day before, I had convinced myself that it was pointless to bother with these things, especially the ones that mark the passage of time. Now that we’d already missed half of advent, I had thought it was silly to go to the trouble for just the two remaining weeks. But today it seemed important and necessary to observe all of our holiday traditions. It seemed especially important to bother with the rituals that mark the passage of every single day we’ve been given on this earth.

As for my second “ballistic intention,” after all of that decorating, well…the whole cleaning-the-house-to-a-sparkle-thing didn’t seem quite so important after all.

How do we continue to live our lives after tragedies like this? How do we not become frightened, broken homebound recluses? We cry, we stumble, but we get out of bed. We get dressed. We do the best we can to be the best people we can be, even though we know we are flawed in so many ways. We fiercely love and care for each other, especially the “least among us.” We try to treat everyone as if they were our sister, our brother, our mother, our friend, our child. (Everyone except the Westboro Baptist Church hate-mongers, who exclude themselves from the human family with their evil ways. It’s simply impossible for me to feel anything but visceral revulsion for them). We allow our children to go outside to play, to go to school, or to a friend’s house, even when we’d rather just keep them locked up safe at home. We try to give them the experience of love, warmth and safety, knowing full well that this is not always what the world will have in store for them. We don’t give up correcting them when they are not their best selves, even when it seems hopeless and we’re tired of the battle. When we see other parents struggling with their children, maybe we look on with compassion, rather than judgment. Maybe we even let our house stay messier than it should be, so we’re not as crabby as we could be…

We just got back from our church’s candlelight Lessons and Carols service led by children in the congregation. My daughter was not feeling well, but it felt like we needed to be there together.

IMG_1798When we sang the line “Bless all the dear children, in Thy tender care. And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there,” it seemed like a special benediction for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and really – for all of us.

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Crusty Old Farts, Cavemen, and Colonists

For some reason we’re finding it really hard to get motivated to put up the Christmas decorations this year. Just yesterday I remembered the beautiful quilted advent calendars my mother-in-law lovingly sewed for each of my children. Every year we hang the three calendars from the kitchen counter and I scramble to find something to fill three different pockets for the 24 days before Christmas. (72 things)! It’s already December 14th and I’m only now remembering the existence of those calendars. The Noah’s Ark advent calendar has also not yet been unearthed from the bowels of our basement. Neither has the Fisher Price creche set. Every year at church we make an advent wreath with five candles. At dinner time we would always light a candle for every week leading up to Christmas. The last candle is lit on Christmas day. We missed the actual wreath-making event this year, but got the supplies to do it at home ourselves. They’re still sitting, untouched, on our kitchen counter. IMG_0579Even our Christmas tree is only partly decorated.

As I drove my kids to school this morning, I tried to rouse them into action, (because Lord knows I’m a lost cause).

“Hey, guys! Why don’t you finish putting up the decorations on the tree when you get home from school today?”

My son answers, “Hanging decorations is not my thing. I don’t think it’s fun at all. I consider it to be a chore.”

Even though I heartily agree with him, I say, “Hey! Quit acting like an old man. You’re only ten years old, for Pete’s sake…Well, T, I guess you’re going to have to work a little harder to make up for us old fogeys.”

Caveman farting, by Teddy

Caveman farting

“What’s a fogey?” my son asks suspiciously.

“An old fogey is a crusty old fart,” I reply.

“Wait a minute. Did you just call me a fart?!”

“Ummm, no, actually. I called you a crusty. old. fart.”

This exchange sparks another intellectual line of inquiry.

“Do you think cavemen farted?” he asks.


“Do you think the colonists farted?”

“Most definitely.”

“Well, do you think it was considered rude for colonists to fart?”

Colonist farting, by Nicholas

Colonist tooting

We will seek out the answers to these eternal questions tomorrow (today) as we embark upon the birthright of every child growing up in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Yes, my friends: another month, another Colonial-themed field trip. This time I’ll be chaperoning my son’s 5th grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I’ll report back our findings next week. Until then, hope your weekend is wonderful.

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Once in a lifetime

When I got to work this morning, my colleagues and I decided that we would get together to somehow celebrate the remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime occasion of it being 12/12/12 at exactly 12:12.

The next thing I knew it was some really mundane time like 1:34. We’d missed the opportunity to notice, really notice this unrepeatable moment in time!

I was disappointed and mad at myself for forgetting to take note of the time, but when I thought about it, 12:12, 12/12/12 is really no more or less remarkable than this moment:


Or this moment:


Our lives are made up of unrepeatable moments in time, which is why I’m so obsessed with recording them in pictures. Sometimes you capture moments like these:

Or like these:

And this is why I feel compelled to torture my children with endless photo sessions:

IMG_5721 IMG_5722 IMG_5723 IMG_5724 IMG_5725

Please don’t call social services on me. I’m capturing once-in-a-lifetime moments!

It’s finally happened…

Shortly before our wedding, Colin went with me to the mall to buy shoes to wear with my dress. At 6’4″ he’s a good foot taller than me, so we were on a mission to find shoes with the highest heels possible to reduce the likelihood that our wedding would look like some kind of illicit child bride sort of situation.

We found a pair of high heels and were feeling pretty good about it as we stood side by side in the mirror, judging the effect. Another shopper casually glanced over at us and chuckled as she walked by. She shook her head and said, “Honey, you’re gonna need stilts!


Three years later we had Nicholas:

Baby Nicholas

Recently 12 year old Nicholas has started eating absolutely shocking amounts of food. He can’t shovel it in fast enough and is constantly hungry. I swear I can see him grow if I stare at him long enough. I keep telling him to cut it out, or at least to slow down his inconsiderately rapid growth, because for one thing: it’s impossible to keep the boy in pants. He outgrew all the size 14 pants I bought him for school this fall. Today he’s wearing size 16 pants. Who knows what he’ll be wearing tomorrow?

Last month Nicholas and I began measuring ourselves back to back. Every time we checked, I still had just a few millimeters on him…

Look what happened today:


It’s official: I’m no longer the second tallest person in my family!

Squirrels Eat Acorns. So Does My Family.

There are certain foods that my kids simply won’t eat. I don’t force them to eat everything I put before them, but I do insist that they have at least one bite before they reject it. Occasionally this backfires on me. Once when my daughter was three, I made her try “just one little bite of butternut squash.” She grudgingly acquiesced and then promptly threw up. Still streaming vomit, she whipped her head around to glare at me accusingly, and with an unmistakable note of triumph in her voice, she said, “SEE?!”IMG_7880

When unfortunate events such as this happen, the food is entered into the special Foods-That-Make-the-Kids-Gag category. My rule for these foods is that while I remove them from regular rotation, I make the kids try at least one teensy, tiny, miniscule bite of them once a year. This strategy has yielded some amazing breakthroughs! One of the foods they used to loathe was potatoes. We tried them in 2006. We tried them in 2007, and then: BINGO! In 2008 potatoes became one of their favorite foods. After years and years of trying, we still haven’t rounded the corner on tomatoes, but they’re on the schedule for summer 2013.

It’s hard for me to feel any great sympathy for my kids when they complain about the food I give them. Butternut squash? Potatoes? Tomatoes? PUH-LEEZE! I’m dealing far more charitably with my kids than my own parents ever did with me when it came to food. If we complained about what was put before us, my normally taciturn dad would bark, “If Mom puts a rock on your plate, YOU EAT IT!” And we did. Every single last bite of tripe, raw liver, or whatever else was being served up that day. We choked down some pretty challenging foods for kids growing up in America.

Between the ages of 5 and 8 I lived deep in the darkest heart of the American sticks, in a sleepy backwater town in Pennsylvania. To put things in perspective, Scranton – now practically a byword for shabby, benighted little townlet – was the glittering big city to our town. Reeking of kimchi and fermented soybeans, we might as well have been Martians when our family of six rolled into this microscopic, blindingly white village with a population of around 5,000 something.

The moment I first appeared on the playground of my new elementary school, the noisy chatter and laughter of children at play abruptly ceased, as if someone had pushed a magic mute button. Feverish whispering closely followed the eerie hush that had suddenly descended upon the playground. Little blond heads leaned in close together as the children conferred with each other in obvious bewilderment and consternation at the appearance of this alien in their midst. Innocently, they tried to work out how my face got so very flat, whether my eyes hurt all the time, or whether one would eventually get used to the pain of having eyes like mine…

I have no word of reproach for those children. During our four years in this town, we worked tirelessly, albeit unwittingly to reinforce our reputation as freakish interlopers. Our idiosyncratic approach to food did much to shape this profile. While our neighbors cultivated neat flower beds with nothing more exotic than the odd rose bush, our front yard burst forth with abundant harvests of bok choy and wild sesame. Our school projects were held together not with Elmer’s Glue, but with homemade glue made of water and rice. We kept a giant red Rubbermaid cooler filled with enough rice to put Elmer’s Glue out of business and end world hunger. Even when my parents embraced some culinary aspect of the culture we were living in, they would tweak it somehow so that it was still nonstandard. We would have salad, but it would be tossed with soy sauce, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes. We’d have Neopolitan ice cream, but instead of scooping it out, my mom would put the carton on a chopping board, cut away the carton, and then slice up the block of ice cream with her largest butcher knife.

You could probably smell the contents of our refrigerator long before our house came into view. If you were to open the refrigerator, you might find vats of soup with rubbery strands of seaweed floating in murky liquid, pungent dishes of marinated bracken fern shoots, or jars crammed with tiny little salted baby shrimp staring out at you with millions of black unseeing eyes. For years we ate sea cucumbers thinking they were vegetables until my sister watched a movie in biology class and saw the dinner we’d had the night before propelling itself in grotesque slow motion like a gigantic, warty slug across the screen. From that day forward, if one of us asked what a certain dish was and the answer was: “Just eat it,” four forks would instantaneously and simultaneously fall onto the table with a loud clatter.

We began to make a weekly escape from our little town when my dad became the pastor of a Korean congregation, which met in a church on the corner of 76th Street and Broadway in New York City. When people from our town found out that we were voluntarily going to the Son of Sam’s lair they shook their heads in disbelief and real concern. But for us it was a blessed relief to hang around with other dark-haired people who understood that roasted seaweed and dried squid were delicious snack foods.

The heavy price we paid for our furlough was the two and a half hour drive to New York. Every Sunday morning at the crack of dawn we would pile into our light blue Chevy Malibu station wagon and head off to the big city. My two older sisters would occupy the bench seat, while my younger brother and I would roll around like a sack of potatoes in the cargo area. The car was not without amenities. There was a gigantic hole in the rusted out bottom of the car and if you lifted the floor mat, you could watch the highway rushing by. If it got too hot, you could always roll down the windows. It was even equipped with a dual-purpose coffee can that made an admirable puke bucket, and could serve as a toilet in a pinch.

On the way back from church we would break up the journey by stopping off at a grocery store to buy lunch. We would buy a loaf of bread, some salami, yogurt, and pickles. Usually we would sit in the parking lot of the Grand Union dining on this Grand Repast in our chariot of fire. When the weather was good, we would drive a little further to a rest area that had picnic tables. One day we sat at a picnic table somewhere on the interstate in our Sunday best, feasting on pickles and salami like kings and queens. My parents were gazing at the tall oak trees that surrounded us when they had a sudden brainstorm. Before we could lick the pickle juice off our fingers we were hustled over to gather acorns that had fallen from the trees. Travelers did double takes, squirrels glared resentfully as we stooped over to collect acorns, their acorns. Because, as everyone knows, squirrels eat acorns. So do Korean people. These acorns would later be peeled, puverized, and transformed into a tasteless, glistening, gelatinous substance. It’s a lot of effort, really, for not very much at all, and hardly worth it when you factor in the enormous psychological cost of having to steal food from squirrels in plain view of everyone traveling on I-80.

We eventually moved when my parents decided it was time to seek the company of like-minded fellow acorn-eaters in the far more populous and diverse suburbs of Washington, DC. I remember staring out the back window of the old rusted-out Malibu as we drove away, taking a final look at the place that had become our home, despite the intense sense of dislocation and alienation we had felt there for so much of the time. I may even have shed a few tears.

When I tell my kids, who have grown up on such innocuous foods as pasta, chicken nuggets, and pizza about my years in Pennsylvania, I tell them about real hardships and how they humbled, but also strengthened us. If we could make it there, we could make it anywhere, blah, blah, blah-buhty, blah…And let’s get real, kids: Do I make you eat raw organs? Am I dishing up sea slugs? Have I ever once made you eat squirrel jello?! So if Mom puts a tomato on your plate, YOU EAT IT!”


It was a musical weekend.

On Saturday we went to hear a Christmas concert performed by Zephyrus, Colin’s early music ensemble:

Another day, another church, another performance. This time it was for the boys’ piano recital:

I messed around with my new Pono MT ukulele, strung with a low G. I’ve never played with a low G before, and at first I didn’t like the sound. I realized, though, that it works really well for darker songs like this one. (Click through twice to hear, this link will bring you to a second page & a second link to):

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah