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!

Wedding

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:

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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!”

Hallelujah!

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

Jubilate Agno

I was first introduced to Jubilate Agno in college, when my choir sang Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb,” based on the poem. I’ve been revisiting the very long and weird poem that English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) wrote between 1759 and 1763, while he was in an insane asylum. The poet was afflicted with a religious mania that would compel him to fall to his knees and pray in public places. In Jubilate, Smart refers to the incident which may have resulted in his being sent to the asylum:

For I blessed God in St. James’s Park till I routed all the company.
For the officers of the peace are at variance with me, and the watchman smites me with his staff.

There is some speculation that Smart’s father-in-law committed him to the asylum, not because he was insane, but because they had been bitterly arguing over huge debts Smart had accrued with his extravagant alcohol-soaked carousing and spendthrift ways. If you read Smart’s poetry, though, it’s hard not to conclude that he was, in fact, mad. You can find the full text of Smart’s poem here.

Jubilate Agno wasn’t published until 1939, and only became more widely known with Britten’s musical adaptation in 1943. American poet Edward Hirsch has written a more recent response to Jubilate Agno with a poem of his own, called Wild Gratitude, which you can read on the poets. org website. What I like about Hirsch’s poem and Smart’s is the appreciation for the wide spectrum of experiences that make up our days. Smart writes about the cosmic:

For THUNDER is the voice of God direct in verse and music.
For LIGHTNING is a glance of the glory of God.

But he also writes about everything from the humble Beetle “whose life is precious in the sight of God, tho his appearance is against him” to “NEW BREAD,” which “is the most wholesome-God be gracious to Baker.” Everything is worthy of praise and blessing from the “Postmaster general and all conveyancers of letters under his care especially Allen and Shelvock” to the “ostriches of Salisbury Plain, the beavers of the Medway and silver fish of the Thames.”

The best known lines of the poem are the ones Smart wrote about his cat Jeoffry, his only companion in what amounted to solitary confinement at the asylum. I’ll quote Britten’s text for “Rejoice in the Lamb,” which abbreviates and slightly reorders Smart’s much longer text:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry,
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For he knows that God is his saviour.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God.

I was thinking about this poem as I drove to work today and thought about the gamut of experiences that add up to a day. Sometimes it’s witnessing a spectacular sunset while waiting for your kid’s soccer practice to end:

Sometimes the experiences are less obviously remarkable, though perhaps no less worthy of notice and praise. I decided to catalogue and record some of these things just for this one, (extra)/ordinary Thursday.

1. I saw a mother and daughter (from China, I think) waiting on the sidewalk for the girl’s school bus. I realized this morning how much I look forward to seeing these two at the start of my day. Sometimes they face each other, unselfconsciously flapping their arms and doing some kind of calisthenics. Sometimes they are back to back, their arms linked, and the mother is lifting her daughter off the ground and onto her back. The little girl is always laughing with unbridled joy and a huge grin on her face. I wish I could take a picture of them, but I’m sure that would totally creep them out and I might end up in an asylum myself.

2. When I got to work, Henry the vacuum cleaner was hard at work cleaning the carpets:

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I know it’s ridiculous, but I have very warm, fuzzy feelings for this vacuum cleaner.

“For I rejoice in Henry that ministers to the carpets with a cheerful countenance.”

3. Then I saw the front page story of the student paper:

It made me giggle to think that the worst injustice the students are protesting so very earnestly, (at least for today), is the banning of Christmas decorations for safety reasons.

4. I drove back home after work past fields with cows and hay bales and a collage of blue mountains in the background and felt richly blessed.

5. After a quick dinner we all piled into the car to head to my 5th grade son’s “Colonial Day” concert at school:

He kept cracking up as he looked out at us. Check out his colonial footwear. I’m pretty sure the real colonists weren’t strumming “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier” on ukuleles, but that’s o.k.!

6. And now, as I type late into the night, I am contemplating my two cute but rotten dogs:

IMG_1451“There is nothing sweeter than [their] peace when at rest,” (i.e. not peeing on my couch, eating poop, throwing up, trying to steal chocolate, drinking water from the Christmas tree stand…). Colin says I should have just gotten myself a couple of stuffed animals. I hate to admit it, but I think he may be right.

7. And lastly, look what arrived for me today all the way from Hawaii:

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Jubilate Ukulele!
Hope your weekend is wonderful in small and big ways.
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On Being Human

IMG_1773I’m having a hard time understanding why I wasn’t invited to participate in this lecture series. If ANYONE knows ANYTHING about being human it would have to be me. If there’s one thing in the world that I can claim expertise in, it would be this. In fact, I may be THE world expert on being human. Whatever. Here’s a poem I wrote on the subject a few years ago:

Human Metallurgy

We are forged in a blazing refinery
Spewing black ash and sparks.
The backwash of ancient alchemy
Erupting forth in flaming arcs.

We are works in progress
Liberated from rubble,
Fire granting us egress
In a glowing crucible.

Tongues of flame unravel our bonds
We are relieved of our dross and left purified
Naked, we lie in shimmering ponds
To await the next process by which we are tried.

We are alloyed, coerced into transformation:
We are strengthened, or made more malleable.
Our baser selves bettered by the amalgamation:
By virtue of borrowed traits more valuable.

We are extruded, rolled, tempered, annealed,
Poured into die casts, pressed into molds.
Struck by hammer blows, our song unsealed,
Then flattened into sheets, or crimped into folds.

We are worked over by many hands
Wrought with inspired artistry
Or artifacts of belabored plans
Endproducts of earnest industry.

And after the art or the manufacturing,
Are we in unpathed waters, on an undreamed shore?
Jewelry, carburetor, or some leftover thing
To be melted again and reused once more?

Lost

IMG_1300A spectacularly bad sense of direction has plagued me for years. You can’t even imagine how much time I lose on a regular basis because of my inability to navigate, not to mention the psychic toll I’ve paid over the course of many years of being lost (and completely losing it) on beltways, highways, byways, and windy back country roads…

When we first moved to Charlottesville, before the GPS existed, I would call Colin from the road in a panic. A typical call would go something like this:

“Hell-”

“I have no idea where I am! I’ve been driving for an hour and a half and I can’t find my way back home!”

“Where are you now?”

“What do you mean?! I just told you I have NO IDEA where I am! That’s why I’m calling you!”

“But can you see any road signs? Do you recognize anything?”

“Ummmm…OK, wait…There’s a fire hydrant on the right. Uh…I’m passing a big oak tree on the left. There’s…a field with black and white cows in it.”

It wasn’t as if I could go somewhere once, twice, or even three times and then be able to figure out how to get there again. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been a fairly serious handicap in my life, one which could easily have turned me into a homebound recluse. I was extremely reluctant to go anywhere I hadn’t been before, and stopped going anywhere alone at night.

In those early days there was one particular class I really wanted to go to, but after repeatedly getting lost en route there and back, I was going to give up on it. That’s when Colin came to the rescue with an ingenious plan. He made a recording of directions for me, with a sensitive understanding of the kind of directions that would be meaningful to me.

“Go down a steep hill, and then up a hill. Pass the house on the left with a giant pumpkin,” I’d hear on the tape. (Do any C’villians remember the house on Rio Road that used to always have a huge papier mâché pumpkin in the front yard around Halloween)? “Now turn off the tape until you see the traffic light at the T-junction.” On the flip side he recorded directions to get me back home, because: yes, I needed them.

It worked! I got to my class and back without any problems! I continued to rely on my tape for the next week or so. One day I was on my way to class when I felt around for the tape so that I could pop it into the cassette deck. Suddenly, I remembered with horror that I had taken it out when I had cleaned the car and had forgotten to put it back in. My heart started thumping and I considered just pulling over, but as I continued to drive I realized I could hear Colin’s voice in my head, narrating the directions. I had the whole thing memorized!

“Pass the house on the left with a giant pumpkin.” YES, by George! There it was! It was like a miracle. How did he know it would be there?!  I never needed to use the tape again.

Colin bought me my first GPS in preparation for the sabbatical year we spent in Carrboro, NC four years ago. It was a revelation. I never felt so liberated in all my life. I spent the whole year driving confidently around the the Triangle with my new best friend, the GPS lady.

One day as I was about to pull out of the driveway, Colin appeared at my window. I rolled it down and he leaned in to give me directions. I raised my hand and interrupted him to say airily, “I don’t need you anymore. I have my GPS.” Honestly, he looked like he might cry.

Sure, I ended up in a corn field once when I was trying to get to the mall. Sure, I didn’t particularly appreciate GPS Lady’s tone of voice whenever I missed a turn she had pointed out to me. Her “recalculating”s always sounded slightly pissy to me. I was just waiting for the day when instead of “recalculating” I’d hear her say in her cool, modulated tone, “You Dumbass. I said, turn right onto Hillsboro Avenue.” But apart from a few hiccups here and there, the GPS was a rousing success.

And then came…the iphone! At first I tried to ditch GPS Lady, but the lack of voice directions meant that the iphone navigation wasn’t useful to me. Then with the latest upgrade, which included voice directions, Siri became my new co-pilot. I thought this was going to be another dramatic, life-changing breakthrough for me. I thought we were going to be BFFs.

But while GPS Lady and I had a tense, but cordial relationship, Siri and I have far stormier, conflictual interactions. Basically, we want to pimp slap each other on a regular basis.

This Sunday I was trying to get my kids to a roller skating birthday party at the Greenwood Community Center in Crozet. Here’s a transcript of the fight we had:

“Directions to Greenwood Community Center”

“I didn’t find  any places matching Greenwood Community Center”

“Find Greenwood Road”

“Here’s Broad Ave., Charlottesville. I’m not certain this is where you meant. Though.”

(Now I know she’s just messing with me).

“GREENWOOD ROAD in CROZET”

“I don’t know what you mean by Kroes A”

“I said, ‘CROZET!’ C-R-O-Z-E-T!!!”  I shriek, “Where is Greenwood Community Center in CROZET?!”

My three children are very, very quiet in the back seat.

“Sorry, I don’t know where that is.”

“What good are you to me?!”

“Checking my sources. Would you like me to search the web for ‘What good are you to me?'”

“I thought we were friends. You’re DEAD to me, Siri. Do you hear? DEAD to me!”

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P.S., or: Other Stuff that Happened This Weekend…

But first, the drawing:

Jeanette, you’re the winner! Can you please send your address to me at owonderfulwonderful@gmail.com? I’ll send you this:

Now for the rest of the weekend update:

1) I declared shorts a contraband item. I was tired of arguing every single morning with the boys about wearing clothes appropriate to the weather (“Go back upstairs and come back down wearing LONG SLEEVES! LONG PANTS!). I was fed up with seeing them shivering and blue-lipped in the 40 degree weather. I demanded that they take every single pair of shorts out of their drawers and hand them over. And then I hid them. Of course, it’s going to be 70 degrees today.

2)During Saturday’s round of a zillion and one errands, I got alarm clocks for the kids. They were so excited,  they set them all by themselves the minute we got home.

3)On Sunday morning, Chloe/Cute-But-Rotten-Dog #1 escaped. By the time I found her, she was busily chowing down on something that smelled distinctly fecal.

4)Later that afternoon two of my children went to a roller skating party. I got lost on the way there. It was the first time they had ever been on roller skates. My daughter had a wonder/terror/joy-filled grin on her face the whole time. She clutched me as if she were drowning, but still managed to fall more than a few times. As we staggered back to the car at the end of the party she declared, “Roller skating is not my thing.” THANK GOD! because my back is killing from trying to keep her upright. I wish I could have taken a picture, but as I said, I spent the whole time trying to keep my girl from cracking her skull open.

5)I got lost on the way back from the skating party.

6)An hour later I got lost on my way to pick up the boys from their piano lesson. This is with my GPS and Siri to boot. (More on this sad state of affairs tomorrow).

7)As he was toiling away on his term paper, my oldest son suddenly piped up at around 10 pm Sunday night to say, “Hey! I have to bring in my edible cell project tomorrow! We have to bake a cake and make it look like a cell.” I sent Colin to the 24 hour Harris Teeter to buy a cake, which was transformed into this:

IMG_04748)I went to bed a little after 2 am. Shortly thereafter the alarms on the kids’ new clocks started going off. Every two hours.

9)And finally, just as I knew she would, Chloe threw up in her crate overnight. I wasn’t expecting the added bonus of dog poop, however.

Now there’s a fine way to start your Monday morning.