Weekend Snapshots 35


Pippin Hill Vineyard. It was a beautiful evening for my beautiful friend’s “Celebration of Life.” We arrived just as the sun was setting…


My friend is gone, but her spirit remains. After listening to moving remembrances of an extraordinary woman and a life well-lived, we stepped out into the night under a big gorgeous canopy of a million twinkling stars. As we looked up at the heavens to admire the spectacular sight, my husband said, “That’s Carla.”


We spotted the first crocus of spring…At our old house, I knew exactly what to look for, because I had planted everything. I dug up some of my favorite plants to move to our new house, but there are so many other beloved plants I left behind. I’m going to miss my blue and purple crocus lawn, the Virginia bluebells, and my grand old tree peony, but I’m looking forward to seeing what pops up this spring at our new house.

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I miss those gypsy parents of mine. They moved back to Korea a little less than a week ago. I’ve been scanning old family photos and came across a couple that capture my mother at the liminal moment of another, earlier migration – between earth and sky, between two continents, between single and married life.

I believe it is February 1963. My mother is twenty-six. She is getting ready to board the plane that will take her to meet my father in San Francisco, where he is studying. In her suitcase already loaded in the cargo hold is a carefully-folded, white silk hanbok. She will wear it as her wedding dress when she gets married, just days after her long journey to America. I’m guessing it’s her father who is taking photos of his eldest child as she leaves home for the first time – to go so far away, and for who knows how long?

She looks jaunty in her black coat and kitten heels. Her departure was delayed when an x-ray scan revealed traces of the tuberculosis she once had. She was required to wait out a year-long quarantine before being cleared to fly. A year is a long time to wait for the next part of your life to begin. She smiles boldly now as she waves goodbye to her parents.

She has always been a pioneer: the first-born, a big sister and second mother to her siblings:





She is a drama queen:

My mother...on the left!

My mother…on the left!

She has always been known for being brash…


the leader of her pack:



I imagine she is trying to reassure her parents with that cheerful smile and wave she gives as she walks towards the plane. I imagine she must be filled with anxiety. She has never been on a plane before. She has never been so far away from her parents before. She is flying to a new country where the language is foreign to her, to be married to a man she hasn’t seen in over a year.

At the door of the plane she turns back for one last look. Her father takes one last photo of his daughter before he loses sight of her. She thinks she’s far enough away so that her parents won’t see that she’s crying.


By the end of the year she will be a mother. In no time at all, there will be four of us – too many children for a graduate student to support. My mother will take us all to go to Korea to live for a couple years while my father finishes up his degree. My father must be miserable to see his family depart, especially his beloved, long-awaited son – finally born after three girls:

He sends postcards like this one in which he enjoins his infant son to be the man of the house and to take good care of his mother and sisters:

And though my parents try to bridge the great distance with letters and by mailing audio tapes back and forth, our father will become a stranger to us during those years.

In this photo we’re getting ready to board a plane to reunite with him at long last. He has found his first teaching job in Florida. We will meet him there.



As I write this, my parents are on a plane heading back to Seoul. They are moving back to the high rise apartment they left – (we had thought for good) – about six years ago. I wonder how my dad will get on without the garden he was so happy to come home to in Arlington. Will he dream about the row of pine tree saplings he planted when they first arrived…the ones which my mother would scornfully refer to as his “sticks,” when she’d see him from the window tenderly fussing over them? Will he regret not seeing the peonies, peach and cherry trees bloom in his own yard this spring?

For many years, my dad tried to put his farm boy roots behind him. He ferociously, voraciously pursued degree after degree. Even today, at the age of 80, after acquiring a couple masters degrees, a doctorate, and a J.D., he still seriously weighs the possibility of going back to school again. But no matter how many degrees he accumulates, no matter how many scholarly tomes he writes, he will always be a man of the earth. The proof is in the combination arboretum, botanical garden, and vegetable plot he manages to cram into every tiny suburban yard he’s ever had at his disposal. The proof is in the quail eggs and incubator he ordered from an ad he found in a Field and Stream magazine. (If they had hatched – Lord knows where we would have kept them)! The proof is in his book shelves, in which Goats and Goatkeeping can be found among volumes on philosophy, theology, and law.


Goats and GoatkeepingSometimes genes express themselves in the weirdest ways…

I’ve always been an animal lover, but my husband is an animal-barely-tolerator. Every now and then I indulge myself in a little harmless entertainment…I freak him out by suggesting that I’m going to bring home another puppy, or by getting all misty-eyed as I rhapsodize about a long-cherished fantasy. I describe to him my dream of having an animal farmette, populated only with cute animals: a sheep or two, some goats, a few fluffy little bunnies, some ducks, a bunch of dogs, and maybe a miniature pony. He listens to me in silence, with growing waves of alarm clouding his face as I wax on about my little menagerie.

“What is it with you and animal husbandry?” he will finally ask in utter bewilderment.

One day I was looking out of my office window, which overlooks the Amphitheater at the University of Virginia. Pens were being set up with miniature llamas, sheep, cows, goats, bunnies, horses, and chickens. It turns out that the University Programs Council periodically brings in a petting zoo for the students’ pleasure. I was at once elated, and filled with burning, insane jealousy of whoever stole my dream:

We’ve moved to a new house with a two stall barn, a paddock, run-in shed, and chicken coop. They all stand empty.


So far, I’ve parried and dodged the many earnest entreaties for livestock that my children have thrown my way. (Of course, they know better than to importune their father). I’m trying to stay strong, but every now and then I sense myself weakening…

Every day on our way home, we pass two different herds of goats. I can hear my daughter coo and sigh with delight in the backseat whenever she catches sight of them.

“I wish we could have a baby goat,” she says in a voice filled with yearning.

I usually pretend I can’t hear her, but one day a couple weeks ago, I allowed myself to actually consider the idea.

“Do some research,” I told her, shocking myself as I heard the words came out of my own mouth, “If it’s really easy to keep a goat, maybe we could think about it.”

When we pulled into our driveway, she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She ran into the house and hit the interwebs. She was at it until it was time for her to go to bed.

She came to find me in the living room to report her findings…

“The only complicated thing is that they have to have some kind of mineral supplement that we, well you would have to buy…And you have to have a really good fence to keep them in, and to keep predators out. And even though they’re supposed to eat anything, it turns out that some plants like azaleas and cherry trees are actually poisonous to goats…”

“Hmmm,” I said, “I’m going to do a little research of my own and we can discuss it in the morning.”

I poked around on the internet myself and discovered a bunch of things my daughter hadn’t mentioned…The fact that they would require specialized veterinary care: the semi-annual filing down of hoofs, vaccinations, and deworming; the fact that they must have companionship; and the fact that they are master escape artists. It was all rather overwhelming.

The next morning I gave my unsuspecting husband a pat and said without any further explanation, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

This time.



In the book of Genesis
There are lists of begats,
But no poetry until
Eve is knit from Adam’s rib.

In ancient Egypt, Ra whispered
The secret names of our ancestors,-
Divine afflatus made flesh by
Incantation, sweat, and tears.

Or perhaps it was Prometheus
Who fashioned our forebears out of clay,
And the sacred breath of Athena that
Is preserved in our lungs to this day.

Some say in a kingdom oceans away
The crowing of a white rooster led a king
To the baby in a golden box perched high in a tree –
Whose adoption marks the origin of my lineage.

Doesn’t everyone’s story begin with a miracle?
With efforts of will or imagination?
In living we participate in the act of creation,
And our roots spread wherever we plant them.


Weekend Snapshots 34


I love my book group. We read a book every month and then meet to have rarefied, high-brow discussions about what we’ve read. We NEVER for a second let the conversation drift to things like our children or what’s going on at work.

IMG_8031In keeping with the lofty nature of our gatherings, we make an effort to dress up for the occasion. In fact, we have a rather strict dress code:



The day started out so well.

IMG_8029We were all lazing about, soaking up the sun streaming through the windows…IMG_8038Taking kids to their indoor soccer games…


Taking photos of this, that, and nothing at all:


Suddenly I realized it was time to take my daughter to her soccer game. As soon as we got back, it would be time to go serve dinner to the group of homeless men who are being hosted by our church for the next couple of weeks. I was supposed to have prepared a Chicken Enchilada dish in advance so that it could just be reheated in the ovens in the church kitchen, but I had lost track of the time. My husband was taking my oldest son to his soccer game, and then almost immediately to his piano recital. They would be meeting us at the church as soon as the recital was over.

I only had time to chop up the chicken breasts and open a can of enchilada sauce. It was up to my thirteen year old son to save the day. I handed him the recipe as I ran out the door, begging him to follow the instructions and to finish making the dish while I  took my daughter to her game.


I was sweating bullets as I drove back to pick up my son and hopefully the Chicken Enchilada dish. Proving once again that he is the adult in our household, he was in the kitchen when I ran through the door, waiting to take the finished dish out of the oven.


My hero!





Brunch at Bodo’s Bagels

We made a pit stop at MarieBette Café and Bakery to pick up a few things like a baguette:

And a crazy looking thing called a brioche almandine studded with mysterious pink chunks my daughter described as looking like wads of chewed up bubble gum:IMG_8074IMG_8080

And then, because we clearly did not have enough dessert, we whipped up a batch of our new favorite cookies from the Princess Pinky Girl website. The recipe’s main ingredient is strawberry cake mix. We substitute coconut oil for vegetable oil. IMG_8059

To be honest, the only reason I made the cookies the first time was because they looked so pretty in the photo. Mine always end up being aesthetically disappointing, but they never fail to be delicious!

Silliness while waiting for the cookies to bake:

It’s snowing now as I finish up this post. We’ve already gotten the call from the county to announce that there will be no school tomorrow. My husband recorded and emailed to his students a video of the lecture he was going to give tomorrow. Here’s hoping I get to stay home with them too!

House Hunter


Grey Dove Lane

Our old house just got put back on the market again. We are crossing our fingers that it will be sold in the spring market.

“I’d be shocked if it hasn’t sold by the end of October,” our realtor said with reassuring confidence last August.

“I’m shocked that it hasn’t sold,” she told us at the end of October.

I too was shocked that our house wasn’t immediately snatched up by a nice family, who could see how obviously pretty it was…who could sense the happiness and serenity it held for us and would surely hold for them. I feel like a parent whose child tries out for a play only to get rejected. What?! Can’t you see how gorgeous she is? Can’t you see how talented she is?! Can’t you see how perfect she would be for the lead?!  My sadness is mixed with a heaping portion of guilt, because it was me who insisted that she try out in the first place.

Late last summer we finally found the house for which we (or mostly I) had been looking for years. In anticipation of our move, I had packed up dozens of boxes, which remained stacked against a wall in our basement for years as we fruitlessly searched. There was nothing wrong with our old house. We spent ten very happy years there. For that matter, there was nothing wrong with the house we lived in for seven years before we moved to that second house. People talk of the seven year itch in the context of marriage. Our first two houses were casualties of a seven year itch of a different sort.

I’m going to blame my itchy feet on my gypsy parents, who treated moving like an everyday nuisance – like having a cold, or a hangnail. We changed houses like people change clothes. Sometimes we would stay in a place for months rather than years.

“Tell your teachers this is your last week of school,” my parents would announce with infuriating nonchalance, “We’re moving to Florida next week.” (Or Texas, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or Korea).

They thought it prudent to hide from us the fact that we would be moving until the very last minute. I believe this was to forestall the inevitable annoyance of having to listen to the bitter complaints and protests that would spew forth like a raging river as soon as my sisters and brother and I got wind of yet another move in our very near future. My parents explain their unwillingness to share such momentous news with us as a way of insuring that the knowledge of an impending move would not lead us to slack off in our studies. At the age of eighty and seventy-eight, they are still tormenting us with their unsettled ways. In a couple of weeks, we will see them off as they move back to Korea, after they swore that they were finally settling down forever in Arlington. One minute they say they’ll be back for good in July. The next minute they say they’ll go back to Korea for the fall semester after spending a summer in Arlington. Who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned to count on after all these years, it is not to count on anything they say about where they intend to live and for how long.

By the time I left for college, I’d lived in at least seven houses. Once I got to college and graduate school, I never stayed in one place for very long. I moved from dorms to apartments every year or two. When my husband and I made the move to Charlottesville and bought our first home together, I imagined that my peregrinations were at last at an end. We would spend the rest of our lives in a classic brick colonial with a spacious yard. We renovated the house. I planted a garden. I planted trees.


Our first house

But then my husband got tenure, and it was definite. We WOULD spend the rest of our lives there. The immediate and wonderful sense of relief I felt once we first knew our future was secure was tainted with a creeping, inexplicable feeling of panic. I suddenly felt an unreasonable, overwhelming need for some sort of change of location. We’d already lived in the house for longer than I had ever lived anywhere. If we were going to live in Charlottesville for the rest of our lives, I needed to move.

My husband was born in Scotland and moved to England when he was twelve. Before he left to continue his graduate studies in the U.S., he’d lived in just two houses for his entire life. He still considers the move from Scotland to have been a painful rupture with the golden age of his childhood.


House in Scotland

He abhors change of any kind. He could not fathom why I felt the need to move. But long-suffering good egg that he is, he helped me find our next house, and we lived there for ten years. (He still, by the way, speaks longingly of that first house we lived in).

There were many reasons to love our last house. It’s in a lovely neighborhood carved out of an old apple orchard. The land was never subjected to the drastic clearcutting that so often strip bare subdivisions to make way for houses. There are trails that wind through many acres of common land: woods, craggy hills, and a pretty little lake. It’s a neighborhood where people walk in the evenings, nodding to each other as they pass, stopping to give dogs pats on the head, or to chat. Friends my daughter has known for almost her entire life lived just up the hill or down the road from us.

There were compelling reasons to move however. We tended to get snowed in, which is particularly dangerous for my daughter, who needs ready access to an ER even for minor illnesses that could be weathered at home by the rest of us. We needed more space. I wanted to be closer in to town. After four out of five members of our family were diagnosed at one time or another with Lyme Disease, I wanted to move out of the woods. And after all, well…we’d been there so long.

I’ve lost track of the number of houses we looked at in a search that lasted for years. There were a couple I plunged into hopeless infatuation with along the way. Sometimes the timing wasn’t right. Some houses my husband dismissed as unsuitable for one reason or other. We finally found a house we both loved. It’s quirky, creaky, impractical, and perfect. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave this place…At least for another ten years.



Old Photos

A few months ago, I offered to put all of my mother’s old photos together in an album for her. I was finally able to hand her the finished album the last time I went to visit my parents in Arlington.

There were photos I hadn’t seen in years, including this baby picture of me:

Scan 4 (1)

In almost all of my baby pictures, my hair is soaking wet, because in its natural state it looked like this:


My mom told me she burst out laughing when the doctor handed me to her for the first time. Who could blame her?

And then there’s the one my sisters refer to as my refugee photo:

Scan 3

When I was eight months old we moved to Korea from America for a year or two. The pile of shoes at the door in this photo is the telltale sign of a Korean household. I especially love the two pairs of classic Korean pointy toe rubber shoes to the left.

Scan 1My sisters explained to me that in this photo, they are both wearing school badges. The sister sitting next to me on the right is wearing a special badge, because she was class president.

As my oldest sister put it, “Even then she was an overachiever.”

This photo was the biggest surprise:

Scan (1) I puzzled over it for a while, trying to seek out a familiar face. I was expecting to find my mother or one of her siblings in the photo. All of the oldest family photos I’ve ever seen are from my mother’s side of the family. For all these years, I thought the earliest photos of my father were taken when he served in the army:


My father grew up in the country. His family, like all Koreans of his generation, struggled  through the privations of war and occupation. When he was eleven, typhoid fever struck down almost everyone in his household. His father did not survive. His mother was left with young children and a farm to run. Time and money were scarce, and there was certainly none to spare for picture-taking.

I showed the photo to my mother, thinking that she would be able to help me figure out who was pictured there. She glanced at the photo and shook her head. She handed it back to me and suggested that I show it to my father, who might know something about the picture.

When I showed it to him, I was dumbfounded when he said, “That’s my elementary school graduation photo.”

He pointed himself out to me. He’s in the third row from the top facing left.

“Do you know why I’m standing like that? I knew I couldn’t ask my mother for money to continue my education. I understood that we couldn’t pay the school fees. I was so downcast and ashamed I couldn’t even look at the camera.”

At the age of thirteen, my father ended up striking out on his own. He put himself through another year or two of schooling by working in a watch factory. As a young man, he made his way to the U.S., where he earned a Bachelors Degree, multiple Masters, a Doctorate, and a J.D. Eventually, he became a professor.

This photo, the only existing one of my father as a child, captures a moment of despair in his life when that future was unimaginable.