Old Spice

Trying too hard?

Not trying hard enough?

I’m not quite sure why anybody would voluntarily choose to douse themselves in Eau de Your Grandmother’s Ancient Spice Rack, but both my dad and husband like Old Spice. At least when my dad used it, it came in an understated, milky white glass bottle adorned only with a classy clipper ship. Now the packaging is just plain embarrassing.

It’s possible that you may be thinking that it’s unkind of me to reveal my husband’s old geezer product preferences…I’m just getting him back for the time we were in the grocery store cereal aisle and he practically shouted, “Oh, here’s the All Bran. That will clear your problem right up!” Or more recently when I finally made my way to the beach after discreetly excusing myself to the rest of my family by saying that I wasn’t feeling well and he greeted me by bellowing across the sandy shore, “Oh, great! The Imodium worked!”

Happy, happy weekend!

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There’s a meadow near my house that has been throbbing with extravagant beauty lately:

Hundreds of butterflies have been dancing there for the past couple of weeks. These Eastern Tiger Swallowtails live only a month and I fear that the meadow will be mown any day now. I’m compelled to stop my car on the way home from work every day to stand knee-deep in the itchy grass, holding my breath in silent witness to their ecstatic, ephemeral ballet:

The butterfly counts not months, but moments, and has time enough. – Rabindranath Tagore

Visit to the Hermit Chui

Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies
Pale jade mountains fill your rustic windows.
I envy you, drunk with flowers
Butterflies swirling in your dreams.

Qian Qi

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I’m a dork.

One week ago today I reached two important milestones.

The first one had to do with what I like to refer to as my chariot of fire:

Many years ago I was chatting with my much younger, much hipper cousin and I was happy to discover that we had something in common in that we both drove Hondas.

“So what do you drive?” he asked in his smooth, understated sort of way.

When I replied that I drove an Odyssey, he claimed that he’d never heard of it. I was flabbergasted, but very earnestly explained to him that it was a minivan. As soon as he heard the word minivan, I could see relief dawning all over his face. I think he may have even actually said something like, “Phew. That explains it! I’m so glad I didn’t know what that was!” Oh yeah? Oh yeah?

And then on the same day…THIS:

About five years ago I wrote one of those 25 Random Things About Me lists. Here’s what I wrote for Numbers 10 through 13:

10. I used to think I’d be a writer, and wrote all the time before I went to grad school and it squelched all the creative juices right out of me.

11. Don’t get me wrong, getting a Ph.D. in Russian literature from Columbia is probably the accomplishment of which I am most proud.

12. In fact, after 11 grueling, soul-crushing years and a stomach-churning dissertation defense that left me shaking, it really bothers me that I don’t get an alumni magazine addressed to Dr. Adrienne X, like Dr. Colin X does. Shoot, I’d be thrilled to get a fund-raising appeal every now and then. I might even give them a buck or two. The fact that I don’t get junk mail from Columbia deeply disturbs me, and makes me wonder whether I dreamt it all.

13. When I confessed this to Colin he got a gleam in his eye and I had to tell him that if he made a call to the alumni office, the ensuing junk mail from Columbia would be meaningless to me. Meaningless!

Well, friends, I’m going to have to revise my list! It wasn’t a dream after all. It took them nine whole years, but Columbia finally tracked me down. Now I know I got a Ph.D for real, because I have the junk mail to prove it! After Colin swore that he hadn’t contacted the alumni office on my behalf, I broke out into a happy dance.*

*By the way…#21 on my Random Things list: I am a spectacularly bad dancer. (Some things never change).

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Fenwick Island

I went to Fenwick Island on a mission. A few years ago we went to the Outer Banks with my dear friend Rosita and her family. One day Rosita took this picture of us:

Cliché thought it may be, I loved the white/khaki look. I loved that late afternoon light. I was determined to recreate the photo at Fenwick Island. I made sure to pack white and khaki outfits for everyone. The day before we were going to leave at the end of our vacation, I announced that it was time for our photo session. I made everyone get into their designated photo togs, some of them newly-bought just for the occasion. We wasted precious daylight as Teddy searched unsuccessfully for his khaki shorts.  (The following week my sister emailed me to say that they had mistakenly gotten mixed in with her boys’ shorts). I admit it: I was insufferable. I stormed around looking for the shorts and making my son look for the shorts and even seriously considered making him wear a pair of women’s khaki shorts until my sister ripped them out of my hands and said, “NO.”  I finally, huffily conceded that navy shorts would have to do. We went out onto the beach and my daughter immediately got a piece of sand in her eye. Through tears she insisted that she couldn’t open her eyes.  And because I am a horrible, horrible human being, I heard myself saying absolutely outrageous things like, “Try not to cry for just one second! Just open your eyes and pretend not to cry on the count of three!” Truly, I had become unhinged…and I totally got what I deserved:

I did manage to get some better ones throughout the week. Here are some of my favorites:

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The “Golden” Finale!

Here’s the last half of the slideshow my sister and I put together for my parents’ Golden Anniversary party:

Each of carries within us a piece from past generations: an aptitude, a special talent, a twinkle in the eye, a smile.

Fortitude. Courage. Conviction. Cheekbones!

Intelligence. Creativity, Vision.

And as the next generation grows up, we are thankful for the many gifts and lessons passed down from our parents.

I discovered this in my second grader’s desk at Back to School Night this past year. I was so very proud.

Ummm…we’re still working on that one.

I’m quite convinced that my mother could whip up a teleportation device, if given a handful of paper clips, some tinfoil, and maybe a few coat hangers…

Snappy dressing? Let’s just say it’s a family tradition

“What’s that, Mom? You want me to pick up the money, do you? Hah! Here’s what I think of your money. I’m picking the pen, so you better start saving up…I’m planning on grad school!”

We sometimes disagree. Correction. We frequently disagree. Correction. We always disagree.

But we sometimes, frequently, and always kiss and make up.

And yes:

It must be genetic.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving us 50 memorable years filled with love and joy. We love you.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful weekend. 

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Golden, Pt. 4

My sister and I put together a slideshow for my parents’ Golden Anniversary party.

IMG_4786Here are some of the pictures we used…


In February 1963 my mother flew to San Francisco to marry my father. After proposing to her, he left for America to pursue his lifelong dream of higher education. She was to follow him, but her departure was delayed by a year when an x-ray revealed that she had had tuberculosis as a child. Now after a long separation, they would finally be together.

As you might imagine, moving from Korea to America was a radical shift. But it wasn’t as if my mother was unprepared. Having watched plenty of American movies, she knew exactly what to expect:

Imagine her surprise when she stepped off the plane to discover this:

As shown in this next photograph, some very important additions were made to our family in San Francisco…

namely: our dad’s book collection.

Next stop: Texas, where our dad earned his Doctorate of Theology:

But something even more momentous happened in Dallas…

Our mother gave birth to Don King.

OK, that’s really me, but you have to admit: the resemblance is striking.

Dad’s book collection likewise waxed fruitful and multiplied with scholarly tomes such as:

Every theology book, in and out of print:


The Bible in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, English, and Korean:


Books on natural science and political science:

Oh, and let’s not forget this one:

Goats and Goatkeeping

One time, our sister was perusing Dad’s bookshelf, filled with books she would never be able to read…She asked Mom, “Is Dad sad that he has stupid children?” Mom replied, “Teddy’s not stupid!”

In Texas we went to rodeos, we spoke with Southern accents. We totally assimilated into American culture, so much so that my sisters:

…actually became Native Americans.

But no sooner had we put the finishing touches on our teepee, when we immigrated back to Korea. We returned to a country that was rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. We are all very proud that our family’s legacy was part of the rebirth of Korea. Our grandfather, the Johnny Appleseed of Korea, led the reforestation of 1235 acres of mountainous terrain which had been denuded by the war.

But back then we were just kids. We didn’t know anything about the “Miracle on the Han.” All we knew was that we left the wonders of white bread…

Wonder bread

For the agony of fish head.

We lost mac n’ cheese…


and gained sea cucumber:

And what about this delicacy?

Silkwork larvae?! You call that food?!

One glorious day, our sister, aged six, spied a bottle of Coca Cola in an old fashioned glass bottle on a window sill in Grandma’s kitchen. Her little heart leaped to her throat. For a fleeting moment the fact that it had a cork struck her as odd. But so homesick was she for America that although she knew it was wrong, she couldn’t resist. Surreptitiously, she grabbed the bottle, uncorked it, and took a massive swig.

It was soy sauce.

In Korea, another blessed addition was made to our family. Hallelujah! A boy at last!

If it’s not immediately obvious to you what my brother is saying in the photograph, let me interpret it for you…..

“Not three sisters!!!”

Teddy quickly grew up into a smart little boy. Here he is pointing at me and yelling, “Hey! Get back here! You’re not in the photograph, Dummy!” My mom was right. Teddy’s not stupid.

(Actually, I was trying to take over the camera, even back then).

From Korea we moved to Florida:


From Florida to Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania to DC, where we settled at last:

We were growing up, but some things never change. See that look on Teddy’s face?


It has nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s wearing a bright white bow tie the size of Montana. Nope. He’s still thinking, “Not three sisters!”

Tomorrow: The conclusion. I swear on a stack of Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English and Korean Bibles!

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Golden, Pt. 3

My brother Teddy gave me permission to publish the speech he gave at my parents’ 50th anniversary party:

Teddy's speech

One day when I was about ten years old my father came home with a big metal hoop and a pile of twine. I thought it was strange. What could anyone want with this junk? But when I woke up the next morning he had woven a perfect net out of twine and strung it onto the hoop to make a fishing net, better than anything you could buy at a store.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a pile of junk on the living room floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something beautiful and valuable. I bet you didn’t know your daddy could do that, my mother exclaimed. Despite herself, she was very impressed.

Later that day my father and I went fishing. Not the lame kind of fishing where you stand around with a pole all day and go home with nothing. Dad stood knee deep in the water and every time he dipped the net into the water it came out full to the brim with wriggling fish. I was amazed. I thought, Who is this man? Even the fish obey him!

Within an hour we filled two gigantic lawn bags full to the top with fish. There were at least 200 pounds of fish all told.

We got home late at night and when we dragged the fish in to the kitchen my mother’s jaw dropped. It’s too many! How am I going to clean all these fish before they spoil?

We hadn’t thought of that.

My mother stayed up all night, scaling, cleaning, and gutting fish, and by the next morning, the mountain of fish had been filleted and frozen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a waist-high pile of dead fish on the kitchen floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something valuable.

I don’t know how she did it, but somehow your mommy cleaned all those fish, my father exclaimed. Despite himself, he was very impressed with my mother.

I’ll never forget this incident. Imagine what it does to the world view of a little boy to realize that his parents are complementary parts of a whole, that they complete and reinforce each other; that the reason they can take care of everyone around them is because they work together. This is the secret to becoming a pillar of strength.

My parents can move mountains. They can start with nothing and before you know it they will turn it into something that you couldn’t even imagine. Something you didn’t know you needed until you can’t live without it.

Together my parents built a seminary which has produced countless ministers, who are out teaching the gospel on every corner of the planet. What a monumental undertaking. It can only be understood as my parents’ labor of love. Love of the gospel. Love of God. And love for each other.


It’s true. My parents can move mountains. But the most amazing thing they ever did for me was to build the loving family that has been my pillar of strength. They gave me the gift of three siblings with whom to navigate this crazy, complicated, sometimes painful, sometimes staggeringly beautiful life. As I watched my brother give his speech (through tears – damn him!), I was filled with a sense of deep gratitude for having had the privilege to grow into adulthood with these people. I think what I’ll treasure most about my parents’ anniversary party and the week we spent at the beach right after the party, is the time my brother and sisters and I had to reconnect and strengthen our bonds.

After that car ride to the restaurant, we made a special effort to spend some time with just the four of us again. One night, after all the children had been put to bed, we went to the Fenwick Boardwalk and shared stories that had us laughing so hard we were crying:

Our CrossFit gym-owning, paleo-diet following, clean-living, super-healthy brother even consented to take a token lick of cotton candy in solidarity with his not-so-fit sisters:

Now that’s love…and I couldn’t imagine living without it!

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Golden, Pt. 2

IMG_4682All the grandchildren performed for their grandparents’ 50th anniversary party. My sister explained why…

Many years ago we had a family reunion with all my aunts and uncles and their families in San Francisco. The granchildren gave performances every evening in honor of my grandparents, who had flown all the way from Korea to be with their sons and daughters. My cousins are an accomplished lot, and like most Korean children, they were given music lessons from the moment they became zygotes. In nightly talent shows our cousins would perform for my grandparents. One cousin played alto sax like Charlie Parker. His sister played Chopin études with a sensitivity and understanding that belied her youth. Cousin after cousin displayed their brilliance at the piano. The youngest cousin, a mere toddler at the time, sang a lovely song with admirable poise and considerable charm.

My siblings and I were the only ones who were apparently devoid of any talent. As my sister explained, she and my other sister had in fact received piano instruction when they were little girls. They received exactly one lesson before they were fired by their teacher, who proclaimed it a hopeless cause. That teacher was our mother.

So at the family reunion, night after night my siblings and I sat, politely clapping for our cousins as they gave one virtuoso performance after another. One night, some of the cousins pushed my brother Teddy forward. Finally, our family’s talent was going to be showcased for our venerable grandparents! All week Teddy had been regaling the cousins with Eddie Murphy routines. Now, Teddy gamely stood up and performed a completely inappropriate routine for my grandparents. While I can’t remember the exact details, I’m sure there were penises involved. My grandparents probably didn’t understand a word he was saying, but tears were rolling down their cheeks as they laughed hysterically.

We were so very proud.

My siblings and I may never have had any talent, but our kids did their best to redeem us:

For the finale, the kids performed In My Life, by the Beatles. My son had arranged a version for the three of them to play and he had cracked the whip like a martinet all month long trying to get them to do it right…

We were all glad when that was over and it was time for cake!

Tomorrow: Teddy’s speech and Sibling Love

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Invitation handmade by my sister

Invitation handmade by my sister

I’m not kidding when I say that my siblings and I have been planning my parents’ Golden Anniversary party for years. We’re fortunate in that our sister plans parties professionally. She works with all the best vendors. She has a discerning eye, impeccable taste, and knows exactly what she wants. Over the course of the year, she’s been letting us know what that is with increasing intensity and animation.

The morning of the party, as she was driving my siblings and me to the venue so we could get set up, she cleared her throat and said, “Adrienne has informed me that I owe you all an apology for riding you all like a witch on a flaming broomstick for the past year as we prepared for Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party…So, I’m so sorry.  Thank you for being patient, and bearing with me, and for all your help!”

My sister Annabelle replied, “OK, but you’ll have to apologize to us after the party too, because I’m sure you’ll be really b*$%@-y to us during the party!”

When we arrived at the restaurant, the harried-looking florist was putting the finishing touches on his gorgeous arrangements.

As we were admiring his work, he confessed, “I do $600,000 weddings and I always sleep like a bear. I didn’t sleep a wink last night, because I was so nervous.” Apparently, my sister had been riding his ass too.

The big unanswered question was what my mother would wear. We begged her to wear a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, but she outright refused. She insisted that she was going to wear a pink t-shirt and black stretchy pants. To the many, many alternatives we suggested, she demurred. The evening before the party, we had dinner at Peking Gourmet Inn for some of our out of town guests.

At dinner, my aunt, who traveled all the way from California with her daughter to come to the party, joined our chorus of pleas and urged my mother to get dressed up. Finally, my mother promised to wear something “special,” though she wouldn’t tell us what it was.

When she finally entered the room, she was wearing….

a pink t-shirt, black stretchy pants, and a white blazer! She looked perfect, of course!

More tomorrow…

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