The IX Art Park

The IX Art Park in Charlottesville, Virginia just had its grand opening on Sunday. The 17 acre park is a vibrant, dynamic, interactive community space dedicated to the arts.

There’s a “Before I Die…” chalkboard wall where people are encouraged to make public their most cherished dreams and aspirations…

It’s filled with inspiring messages of hope, such as:

“Find true peace in my soul”

“Travel the world”

“Build a flourishing practice that helps people love their lives”

I was busily taking photos elsewhere when my daughter came running up to find me with eyes shining. She brought me over to look at what she had written on the wall.

“Guess which one is mine?” she asked.

Gosh, I’m proud…

Simply bursting with pride, really.

The kids and I participated in the Rainbow Rush 5K, which was part of the grand kickoff for the Art Park. Inspired by the Holi festival, the race was designed to be a “color run.” There were stations set up around the route where people would pelt the runners with different powdered colors.

A few more photos back at home:

We had so much fun, my daughter and I went back on Monday to explore some more.

I’m signing off for the rest of the week. Hope your week is wonderful!

Their Country

Reposted from January 30, 2013

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.

This morning…

On my way home from work yesterday I heard on the radio that there would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a spectacular meteor shower with the potential for hundreds of shooting stars per hour. The peak time to view the spectacle would be between 2 and 4 am.

I’ve always wanted to see a shooting star, so I decided I’d wake up at 3 am to try and see my very first one. I told the kids about “Camelopardalids,” and asked if they wanted to wake up early with me to watch for the meteor shower. It’s always a struggle getting them up for school at 6:30, so I was doubtful that they would want to be woken up at 3 on a Saturday. When they all three said they would wake up with me, I warned them that if they fussed or complained, I wouldn’t keep trying to get them out of bed. To my great surprise, when the alarm went off at 3, all three kids leapt out of bed, ready to go.

Still in our pjs, we drove to the lake in our neighborhood and watched until 4 am. We shivered in the dark, craning our necks to look up at the night sky. We didn’t see hundreds of showers, maybe just three or four…five at the most. Today’s articles are widely reporting that the highly-touted meteor shower was a dud. At 4 o’clock, we drove back home and we all went back to bed.

When I woke up again at a more decent hour, it seemed like it might have all been a dream. But when I met the kids at the breakfast table, they grinned as they remembered seeing the shooting stars.

“It was so awesome!” they said.

I got to see a shooting star, something I’ve always wanted to do. But what I’ll remember most of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion is the weight of my daughter on my lap in the cold dark hours of the morning, the cries of surprise and delight each time we spotted a shooting star, and the feeling that we had shared something miraculous together.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.


Last night in bed

Last night in bed, I felt the earth move.

If you’re having salacious thoughts, shame on you.

Here’s what happened. My husband was downstairs working away at the keynote address he’ll be giving at a conference in some far-flung country for which he’s abandoning us for a couple of weeks. (Very alluring, right)?!

I called him on his cell phone from my cell phone, because that’s how we romantics roll.

“Did you feel that?”


“Didn’t you feel the rumbling? I’m pretty sure we just had an earthquake.”

“Oh,” he replied, “I thought maybe it was just you, walking downstairs.”

Shame. on. him.

Wedding Ducks

These Korean wedding ducks were my anniversary present to my husband this year. Carved mandarin ducks are a traditional part of Korean wedding ceremonies. They are a symbol of fidelity, because they mate for life.

Originally, a groom would present the gift of a pair of live geese or ducks to the bride’s family. Eventually, the tradition evolved into the commissioning of carved wooden ducks. The father of the bride would ask a true and honorable friend  to carve the ducks. It would be considered a great honor to be chosen to perform this task. The friend would have to possess five “fortunes”: wealth, health, a happy marriage, a good wife, and many sons. Because the carver would be imbuing the ducks with his own spirit and good fortune to share with the couple, he could only perform the task once in his lifetime. A pair of wedding ducks would be handed down from mother to daughter.

At the wedding ceremony, the ducks would be wrapped in cloth with only the necks and heads showing. After the ceremony, the groom’s mother would toss the duck into the bride’s apron. If the bride caught the duck, her first child would be a boy; a miss would presage a girl. I know.

After the wedding, the ducks would be displayed in the couple’s home. Ducks placed bill to bill would indicate peaceful and harmonious relationships. Ducks placed tail to tail would be a sign of discord.

The red-billed duck represents the bride and the blue-billed duck represents the groom. In some duck pairs, a string is tied only around the girl duck’s beak. This symbolizes the need to refrain from criticism or harsh words. Both ducks in the pair I got for my husband have strings around their beaks. Tradition is one thing…but it is 2014 after all!




The New York Public Library

A week ago today, my friend and I were getting ready to leave the city. We had just enough time to visit the New York Public Library. I collect children’s books, so the special exhibit – “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” going on through September 7 was right up my alley.

One alcove contained an exhibit of banned books:

You just never know what irreparable harm books like Where the Wild Things Are and Everyone Poops could do to young, impressionable minds!

This is Garth Williams’ book The Rabbits’ Wedding, published in 1958:

It caused an uproar, because it was seen as an endorsement of interracial marriage. Alabama Senator E. O. Biggins said, “This book and many others should be taken off the shelves and burned.”

I like Garth Williams’ delightfully snarky response:

“I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque.”

Alabama State Library Agency director and civil rights activist Emily Wheelock Reed went to battle with Eddins. (Librarians rule)! In the end the book was not banned, but placed on “special reserve shelves.”

We went upstairs to admire the library’s magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture and design.

Behind the library is Bryant Park – a jewel in the heart of midtown.

We had lunch at Wichcraft, conveniently located at one corner of the park, and savored our last few moments in Manhattan:

NYC, Marathon Day 2 continued

Our New York adventure continued after the Met with lunch at Uva, an Italian restaurant at 2nd Avenue between E. 77th and 78th Street. There’s a lovely patio with a retractable roof at the back of the restaurant. And here’s my lovely friend, politely posing for yet another photo when I’m sure she’d secretly like to whack me over the head with the menu!

After lunch, we made our way to Broadway, where we saw the musical Once. 

Before the show begins, the audience can go up on stage and order a drink from the bar, which is also the set. The cast performs songs on stage while the audience finds their seats.

The talented actors/musicians inject as much life as they can into a rather lugubrious story line and score. What’s particularly impressive is that each cast member not only sings, but also plays one or more of their own instruments, precluding the need for a pit orchestra. Not sure they pulled off the Irish and Czech accents though.

We strolled past a fixture of Times Square, “The Naked Cowboy,” :

IMG_8814and had dinner at Má pêche, a David Chang Momofuku restaurant at 15 West 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in the Chambers Hotel. I loved the vegetable rice cakes:

The photo does not do the dish justice. It was made out of sliced tteok cylinders, the kind usually used for tteokboki. Instead of spicy red sauce, it was marinated with a more subtle, umami-vegetable- mushroom-laced sauce. The lobster fried rice, seasoned with duck fat, was pretty incredible too:

To my dismay, I have become one of those people who not only annoys my friends and family by constantly taking pictures of them, but who also takes pictures of my food. Ick.

Tomorrow – one more New York post with no food photos. Promise.

NYC, Day 2

On Sunday we spent the morning at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Costume Institute has just reopened after a two-year renovation with the “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition. James’ ingenious architectural designs are shown next to computer graphics which show how the complex pieces are constructed. He is known for his highly structured ball gowns, capes, and coats cut from luxurious fabrics. Sadly, no photos were allowed…

I was however able to take a million photos of Greek gods and goddesses for my budding classicist:

This one was my favorite…perfect for Mother’s Day:

Little did I know that while I was admiring the art at The Met, this masterpiece was being created at home:

To be continued tomorrow!

NYC, Day 1

My friend and I began our weekend at West 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, otherwise known as “Korea Way” or K-Town.

We had bibimbap at Kang Suh:

We spent an hour at Koryo Books, where my friend scored her teenage daughter some K-pop CDs, and I got an anniversary present for my husband. (More on this in another post).

Even though we swore we would never want to eat again after consuming the gargantuan bowls of bibimbap, we were lured into Tous Les Jours for dessert. Despite its French name, this is actually a Korean bakery chain. We had this:

Patbingsu (Patbingsoo) is a Korean dessert made of shaved ice and a bunch of toppings. The “pat” is for the sweetened adzuki beans that are one of the traditional toppings. The powdery looking stuff is also made out of beans (misutgaru) – blech. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – beans should never be a dessert ingredient. The fresh fruit, rice cake bits, and dollop of green tea flavored ice cream were ok though. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the enormous bowl must have weighed three pounds!

I’ve always wanted to visit Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore that is located right on Bryant Park.

Every time I’ve tried to go to this book store, it’s always been closed. This time, alas, it was open. My mother’s words, “Don’t buy junks!” rang hollowly in my ears as I helplessly wandered around the three floors filled with irresistible things.

As we admired the gorgeous books, the exquisite stationery, and kawaii tchochkes that grown women should be immune to, my friend and I kept murmuring things to each other like, “This is absolutely the worst place in the world. We must never, ever come back here ever again. Terrible things are happening right now…

We walked around that store as if in a trance for hours until we finally stumbled out of that place, blinking our eyes as if awakening from a dream, laden with bags so heavy they cut into our skin.

We met up with my friend’s cousin and fiancée at a spot I’d never been to before: The Bar Downstairs at the Andaz 5th Avenue Hotel. It’s right across from the New York Public Library:

…through these painted doors:

and down a flight of stairs…

We took a stroll back to our hotel through ever-bustling Times Square:

and turned in for the night: