“Junks”* I Don’t Collect

When you think of Anthropologie, you probably think of boho chic clothing and accessories. I’ve recently discovered that it offers so much more…

For example, did you know you could buy a real grasshopper  in a glass globe for a mere $1298?

Or how about an easel? Sure, you could buy a brand-new, good-quality easel at the art store for between $100 and $200, but for a mere $2100 you can buy an easel that’s been pre-paint-splattered for you:

easel

Bet you didn’t know you could buy a $3000 chicken coop from Anthropologie.

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 8.30.08 PMHow about a copper bicycle for $6000?

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For just $500 more you can buy a limited edition paddleboard. There are lots of pretty ones for $6,500, but this one’s my favorite:

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If you have a larger budget, say $12,000, why not invest in an Easter Island shaped Ping Pong Table ?

Happy Shopping!

* My mom is always exhorting me to not buy “junks.” I admit I do buy junks, but not junks like this!

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Their Country

A couple years ago my parents returned to their country, and by “their country” I mean America. My parents were both born and raised in Korea.  Their first experience with Americans was the arrival of soldiers in World War II and during the Korean War. They both remember with deep and abiding gratitude the great sacrifices of American GIs who came to fight for them. They also remember their simple kindnesses. My dad still talks about how a GI handed him a chocolate bar. It was the first time he tasted chocolate. He promptly threw up, but still remembers the gesture with fondness. The idea that he might pursue an American education was first suggested to him by a soldier, who offered to sponsor him to come to the United States to study. For someone who wanted nothing more than to read and learn and who had struggled so hard to get an education, this was a tantalizing and almost impossibly beautiful dream. For both my parents, coming to America was as much about going towards a brighter future as it was about leaving a painful chapter of their lives behind.

My dad first came to America as a student in the early 60s and he brought my mother over shortly afterwards. They chose America as their country when they became naturalized citizens and have been proud to call themselves Americans ever since. They love America, unabashedly and wholeheartedly. This has manifested itself in many ways over the years…My dad only bought American cars, even back in the days when American cars were terrible. My dad’s a scholar, not a fighter, but out of a sense of patriotism to his adopted country, he tried to enlist in the army to fight in Vietnam. To his sorrow, the recruiters told him he was too old. Once he tried unsuccessfully to return his tax refund to express his gratitude to the country that had done so much for him. My parents always extolled the virtues of American democracy, the American educational system, American culture and society. They’ve always been quick to praise their country, loathe to criticize it any way.

At times I’ve felt like this was more their country than my own, even though I was born and raised here. Thanks to my patriotic parents, I’ve attended schools and have hung out with people who have tended to regard patriotism with suspicion – as something corny and anachronistic. I think it was only when I began to travel abroad that I realized how very much I do appreciate this country and how much there is to love about it.

After spending the majority of their lives in America, my parents felt compelled by a sense of filial piety to return to Korea. Every year they would promise to return to the States after “just one more year,” but they always ended up extending their stay in Korea. What was only meant to be a year in Korea ended up being a dozen years.

Finally, a couple years ago they came back home to America for good. They had been living in a high-rise apartment complex in the middle of Seoul and were delighted to have a patch of suburban lawn that they could transform into a garden. By then my mother, who had been the visionary behind their last beautiful American garden, was too sick to do the work required to translate her vision into reality. But my dad, who was always a farm boy at heart, could hardly wait to roll up his sleeves and till the soil. He had barely recovered from jet lag when he sent a check for over $500 to a mail order nursery for dozens of plants. That’s a lot of money for retirees on a fixed income. It’s a lot of money, period. He eagerly, then anxiously waited and waited and waited for his plants to arrive. Finally, he asked me to contact the company.

I called, emailed, called, hectored, emailed, pestered, called, over and over and over again to try to get the nursery to either send the plants or refund the money to my father. Finally, I contacted the Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee. That was two years ago, and I didn’t hear a word until this week when I got a call from the Consumer Affairs Office of Tennessee’s Better Business Bureau.

To be honest, I had thought it was a lost cause. Whenever I would mention it to my parents, they would tell me the money was long gone and to forget about it. It rankled, but I eventually did manage to forget about it until this week’s phone call. It turns out that the nursery is still in business, but is being closely monitored by the state. Every month a portion of the money they make is appropriated by the state of Tennessee to pay back all past claims against the company. They’d been wading through over 300 claims filed from as far back as 2003. They’d gotten to around half of all the claims, and had finally reached the one I had filed on my dad’s behalf.

I felt positively gleeful and giddy with excitement as I called my parents to tell them the news that the state of Tennessee would be issuing them a refund check. I guess I was expecting to get some credit for having gotten their money back. I was looking forward to basking in the glow of their appreciation for my labors. But when I told my mother the news, she said in a triumphant, I told you so kind of voice, “THAT’S America!”

Not “THAT’S America!” where a shady business can steal people’s money for years and years and still be allowed to operate. Not “THAT’S America,” where it takes two years to get your hard-earned money returned to you. But: “THAT’S America,” where nothing is impossible and where there are people hard at work making sure wrongs are eventually righted, and where there is a process to ensure that they are. That’s my parents’ America, and I’m glad to be living in it too.

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How My Mommy Saved Me…

As you may have noticed if you’ve been reading along, I take my camera everywhere I go. So naturally, when I drove my mom to the Korean grocery store, I brought a camera to record some of the sights. If you haven’t already, please do look at yesterday’s post. I risked my life for those pictures!

Everything was going swimmingly until we reached the housewares section. As I started taking pictures of the pretty and colorful dishes, an agitated ajumma* in an H Mart vest came scurrying towards me, chattering away like an angry squirrel. I don’t understand Korean, but I could tell that for some reason my picture-taking was making her nervous. I pretended not to notice and kept shooting away, but visions of a wrestling match in the aisles of H Mart were flitting dangerously in my head. From the corner of my eye, I could see my mother shuffling over in paaaaainfully slooooooow motion to join the fray. I was sure the ajumma was about to leap onto my back and take me down with a choke hold, when my mother finally intercepted her.  Was my mom going to whack her with her cane? Was I going to be in a three-way rumble with this ajumma and my aged and venerable mother right there in the middle of the housewares aisle of H Mart? I kept expecting to hear the resounding “thwack” of my mom’s cane, but instead I heard her fend off the woman with a few words in Korean spoken in a mild tone of voice. Suddenly the murderous gleam in the ajumma‘s eyes died out. Her shoulders relaxed. She gazed upon me benignly, and…was I imagining it? perhaps pityingly?

As we drove home, I asked my mom what she had said to disarm the ajumma.

“Oh, I just told her you were a country bumpkin and that you had come to visit me in the big city and were soooo excited about all the sights, so you had to take lots and lots of pictures of everything.”

Ummm…Thanks, Mommy.

*ajumma: a Korean woman who is middle-aged or older. In order to qualify as a true ajumma, she must also have a bad home perm, known in Korean as a “pama.”

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My boy 2.25

Mending fracture:

New ‘do:

No more sling!

New ‘tude:

And the “.25”? That’s for the quarter inch he grew since last week when he was measured at the doctor’s office and this week when he was measured again. (I know what you’re thinking, but I swear: it’s not the hair)!

Cousins

Once my dad told me, “I used to think you were the richest of my children…”

I was very confused. If anything, I’m probably the poorest of his four children.

He continued:  “…because you had two boys.”

Aha!

“But now your sister has you beat,” he concluded matter-of-factly.

My sister has a brilliant, beautiful, charming, and accomplished daughter. She is a gifted writer, actress, singer, and pianist. Among her many other accolades and awards, last year at the tender age of 13, she won the National STEM Video Game Challenge with a game she designed to teach kids about math inequalities. She’s been doing the press junket ever since. Most recently, this past weekend she was invited to present her game to congressmen and senators as part of the inauguration celebration…

But in case you haven’t figured it out, what my dad was talking about was the fact that my sister hit the MegaMillions Korean Jackpot. Not only did she have triplets, she had triplet BOYS!!!

To put this into perspective, my parents had three girls before they finally had their much-wished for boy. They named him Theodore, which means “gift from God.” They were lucky. There was a family in my father’s Korean congregation who had eight children, because the first seven were girls.

Here’s a picture of my sister’s fabulous foursome from way back when:

And here they are with my kids this past weekend:

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The Torpedo Factory with my Friendy Wendy

Wendy!

Wendy!

Wendy and I have been friends for (gulp!) 30 years. We became friends in high school, but became even closer after we graduated. This is somewhat surprising, because if you were to create a Venn diagram of our friendship, there would be very little that would go into that part in the middle where the two circles overlap.

For example, Wendy loves the outdoors and hiking. I love the indoors and sitting on my couch. Once I ventured one little toe into her side of the Venn diagram when I went for a walk with her in Great Falls Park. Anyone who knows me will understand what a huge stretch that was for me. And how much I’d really have to like someone to go into the woods with them without being blindfolded and having a gun pointed to the back of my head.

It was a boiling hot summer day. Wendy wore what normal people wear to go hiking in the high heat of a Virginia summer. Petrified of ticks, I showed up wearing jeans with socks pulled up over the hems, a long sleeve shirt, my hair pulled back so tightly into a ponytail that I looked like I just had an aggressive facelift, and a baseball hat. It took every ounce of self-control I could muster not to take a baseball bat with which to ward off errant bears and rattlesnakes. It is to her credit and a testament to her good nature that she did not start cackling in my face when she saw me, but merely gently questioned my choice of apparel with a slight grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. It’s also to her credit and a testament to her good nature that since then, she’s never asked me to go hiking again. Instead, over the many years of our friendship we’ve seen a lot of movies together, visited art galleries, and spent hours and hours talking…

Wendy is a kindergarten teacher, which puts her right up on a pedestal with the other two categories of people I revere: nurses and social workers. She teaches in a school with a population predominantly made up of recent immigrants. In my book, that puts her on an extra little shelf right at the top of that pedestal. She does so much for others every single day that I can’t write about, because it would embarrass her. Suffice it to say, I think the world of her.

Over the weekend we took my kids to The Torpedo Factory:

The Torpedo Factory is located right on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. It used to be – (surprisingly enough!) – a torpedo factory from 1918-1923. After that it served as a munitions storage facility. In 1975 it was transformed into an art center with three levels of open studios and galleries. There’s something quite delightful about a factory for producing weapons evolving into a space where art is created instead.

You can wander through the studios and watch artists at work. They’re usually very happy to answer questions or talk about their art. Every inch of the interior is devoted to art. There is a papier mâché pachyderm perched on a ledge, friezes decorating the outside of the curved stairwell, and under the staircase in one of the treads is a lighted ledge which houses an array of miniature sculptures.

If you’re feeling inspired, you can sign up for one of many Art League classes. Finally, you can cap off a lovely art-filled afternoon with a bite to eat at the Bread & Chocolate café.

My kids got a little too jacked up on bread and chocolate and were overly boisterous on the way back to Arlington. Wendy and I were right in the middle of a serious conversation when I finally snapped and pulled the car over to squawk at the kids in a completely undignified manner. If I had witnessed this fit of apoplexy, I’m sure I would have snickered. But remember, Wendy is a kind person. She politely pretended that it was perfectly normal to threaten your kids that they would have to hoof it back to Arlington if you so much as heard another peep from them. As soon as I was done snarling at them and had pulled back onto the road, she picked up the thread of our conversation as if nothing had even happened. That’s my Friendy Wendy.

Fountain of Youth?

In Idiosyncratic Medicine, I wrote about my family’s unconventional medicinal practices. In case you thought I was exaggerating, this is what I found in my parents’ kitchen this past weekend:

Blueberry Vinegar

Blueberry Vinegar

My mom and dad drink a cup of slightly diluted apple cider or blueberry vinegar every day. It’s supposed to be good for lowering bad cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, killing cancer cells, aiding digestion, lowering glucose levels in diabetics, clear skin, weight loss…

And then…I saw this:

My mom brews a bunch of chopped up mulberry tree limbs in a crockpot for 24 hours. The resulting twig juice is supposedly good for lowering high blood pressure, numbness, rheumatism, coughs, overactive bladder, etc.

Sounds pretty crazy to me, and yet every time I see my parents they look ever more youthful and radiant:

Still, I don’t think I’ll be adding vinegar and twig juice to my regimen anytime soon…

When my sister found out that Nicholas had fractured his arm, she sent him these very cute “Get Well Cake Pops”:

Now that’s my kind of medicine!

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Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

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Four years ago, on your first Inauguration Day, we sat in the lobby of a hotel in Orlando with suitcases at our feet and our eyes glued to the T.V. screen. We had just spent the long weekend at Disney World, and were about to head to the airport. We were glad to have the opportunity to listen to your speech before leaving.

Your words were grave. You outlined the many challenges before us as you described the “winter of our hardship.” But you told us:

“We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord…The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirt; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

We tried to explain to our children how important this day was and why people (everyone from other hotel guests to hotel workers who had abandoned their posts to hear your address) were wiping away tears as they listened to your words. There was a lot of love for you in the room that morning, Mr. President.

We didn’t get to see you when I took my children to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, but I had a whole speech planned out just in case we got to meet you. I wanted to tell you that eight-year old Nicholas had campaigned hard for you. He made up campaign posters and tacked them to the trees in the woods behind our house. I’m fairly confident that he had all the squirrels in our neighborhood convinced that you were the man for the job!

My sister did get to meet you not too long ago. Knowing how much it would mean to my parents, she sent the photo to them in Korea. Later our cousins told us that my parents left it lying prominently in the middle of their coffee table, where everyone would have to see it. Whenever anyone would come to visit, they would say very casually, “Oh, that? Oh, yes, mmm hmm…our daughter met the President of the United States.”

IMG_0841Mr. President, it hasn’t been an easy four years, but you’ve acted with wisdom, integrity, and humanity. Your recent proposals to enact gun control are a perfect example of how you are working for “a better history” and a society where everyone can “pursue their full measure of happiness.”

Thank you for all that you have done and for taking on the hard work of the next four years.

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Idiosyncratic Medicine

I’ve been meditating all week long on my inability to navigate the choppy waters of modern medicine.

“Why?” I ask myself, “Why do you have an unerring instinct to make the wrong choice about whether or not to pursue medical care for your child every. blinking. time?”

The only thing I can come up with is the fact that I myself never had to go to the doctor except every now and then to get immunizations to enroll in a new school. I never spent a night in a hospital until my first child was born. I used to take pride in the fact that I never broke a bone or even so much as twisted an ankle, seeing this as evidence of my superior constitution. Now I realize that I never got hurt as a child, because of the extremely low probability of injury when you spend every day lying on a couch reading a book.

The other reason we never had to seek outside medical care was because we had my aunt, whom we (fondly) call “the witch doctor” and my dad.

Korean Shaman

First: my aunt. My aunt studied Western-style pharmacology as well as traditional Chinese medicine. She’s so good at what she does that the whole Redskins team would come to her for acupuncture and other treatments. At the height of their glory back in the 80s, when they actually cancelled school for a day so that kids could go to their Superbowl victory parade, every member of the team signed a football for her two young boys. With someone like that in your family, why would you bother with baby aspirins or visiting a doctor?

Our aunt would treat us with suspicious and exotic ingredients that she would wrap neatly in plain white paper packets. Heartburn? White paper packet. Acne? White paper packet. Too short? White paper packet. Moral shortcoming? White paper packet.

The ingredients would be simmered on the stove for hours until all that was left would be a black sludgy distillation that looked, smelled, and tasted exactly the same, no matter the combination of ingredients or the complaint they were to address. There were two strategies for choking these vile concoctions down. You could hold your nose and gulp down the mugful of medicine as fast as possible. Or, you could hold your nose and take molecular sips while your mother stood over you with a cattle prod and bullwhip urging you to HURRY UP and drink it!!

As for what was actually in the packets, we could only speculate. My aunt would pull each ingredient out of one of those ancient apothecary chests with millions of tiny drawers labelled with Chinese characters. The one constant was that every mixture always included what looked like bits of mulch. As for the rest: ground moose antlers, tiger testicles, rhinoceros belly button lint? Who could tell?

For more acute problems, my dad would take matters into his own untrained hands. His sub-specialty was acupuncture. For a really bad stomach ache, he would wrap our right index finger with a thread until it turned blue. The next step was to sterilize a needle by holding it over a burning match, or sometimes just by running it through his hair. He explained once that he was harnessing the power of static electricity, which would create a spark that would sterilize the needle just as effectively as would the flame from a burning match. (I don’t think he took into consideration the fact that his hair was always slick with a generous dollop of Vitalis). Finally, he would jab the needle into the lower left corner, right where flesh meets nail, until a drop of purple blood oozed out.

To be perfectly honest, the result was instantaneous pain relief. But the cure was so bad that we all became precociously adept at deception and subterfuge. We were like herd animals that hide their illlness so they won’t be left behind until the very moment they keel over dead.

“Oh no, Dad,” I’d gasp with a weak grin shakily pasted on my grey face, “I’m O.K. My stomach doesn’t hurt…I was just bending over to look for something I dropped on the floor.”

I became so frightened of my dad and his trusty, Vitalis-soaked needle that I once hid the fact that I had gotten a splinter in my stomach from a rickety old wooden seesaw. It remained lodged in my stomach for over a year until it worked its way out in a nasty little explosion of pus.

So after a full work up and thorough analysis, my self-diagnosis is that I’m suffering from a fairly severe and probably incurable case of IMC: Impaired Medical Cognition. I simply can’t make reasonable judgments about modern health care, having only had experience with the ancient variety. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m hoping to put this unhappy chapter behind me now. Or at least until the next ER visit anyway…

Hope your weekend is out of all whooping!