happy birthday

My very first college friend sent me a text today to wish me a happy birthday.

“I remember going to Lou’s Diner with you freshman year,” she wrote.

I hadn’t remembered the name of the diner, but I did remember the birthday dinner. I had been deeply mortified, but unable to quell the tears that kept spilling from my eyes. I was 18 and it was the first birthday I had ever spent away from my family. My parents had dropped me off only a few weeks before, and I was already desperately homesick. My (then) new friend tried to comfort me as I cried through the dinner. It was a shock to realize that this happened almost thirty years ago!

My friend continued her text with a question:  “Did you do anything special?”

Well…this morning my husband and three kids woke me up with a dawn chorus of Happy Birthday and a tray laden with a bracing cup of Scottish Breakfast tea and the most decadent breakfast I believe I’ve ever had in my life – a slice of flourless chocolate cake.


One member of the quartet smoldered through the whole song. The second the serenade was over, the 16-year-old exploded: “WHY did ALL three of you have to come into my room at the crack of dawn to wake me up and then stand over me waiting for me to get out of bed? It was really creepy and annoying!!!”

He stalked off and the rest of us slunk off to go about the business of getting ready for another day…

About fifteen minutes later I heard a knock on my door.

“Mom? I’m really sorry I was such a jerk earlier. Happy birthday.”

Highs and lows. Highs and lows…

I drove to work in the driving rain. I practically had to doggy-paddle from my parking spot to my office. There was no way to avoid stepping into the river of red, muddy water in my leather flats. I squished and sloshed into the building like a drowned rat. A drowned rat in a pair of ruined shoes.

img_6990My feet were cold and wet, but it was lovely to step into a warm office. The colleagues I work with most closely are the best I’ve ever had. They are people I respect, admire and genuinely like. The four of us gathered in the lobby for a few minutes and chatted companionably before we began our day.

I had a dentist appointment scheduled during lunch time. This might not sound like the most fabulous way to spend one’s birthday, but I recently started going to my friends’ dental practice and I was looking forward to seeing them both.

But then:

Happy birthday to me, I got my first adult cavity…

My friend and I discussed the fact that this was my first cavity in decades. “Is this related to old age?” I asked…”Because I remember there was a period when every single time my mom went to the dentist she had a new cavity. Is that what’s going to happen to me?!” He did not spare me:


“Happy birthday!” his wife said to me, “Here’s a present for you!”


We left the office and met up with another friend for a quick birthday lunch:


Back to work.

Got a birthday call from my oldest friend…someone I’ve been friends with since we were 12, I think.

Back home to make dinner.

Put in a couple loads of laundry.

Drove my daughter to her violin lesson.

Home again. The house is quiet. The kids are doing their homework. I’ve been reading Facebook birthday greetings from family and friends around the world.

Did I have a special day? Yes, I believe I did.

First Baby Maternity Shoot

There was an extremely rare cosmic occurrence this weekend…The Harvest Moon penumbral eclipse? Psshhht! That was no big deal. We’ll see another one of those again in 2024! What I’m talking about is the fact that there were NO soccer games for my kids this weekend. Instead of driving around from field to field, I spent Saturday morning doing my first maternity shoot for a couple who is expecting their first baby on Halloween.

But you can never truly escape soccer…The couple I was photographing met through the game. Both were collegiate players, and one is still heavily involved in the game as a coach…We met up bright and early at the Saunders-Monticello trail, and the first order of business was to take some photos with a pair of pink cleats so tiny and adorable they made you tear up when you held them in your hands.

The best part of the morning for me was seeing the couple’s obvious love for one another and the care and consideration they showed for each other.

Our next stop was Carter Mountain Orchard, where we were able to borrow this backdrop:

Our last destination was Trump Winery:

Can’t wait to meet this little Halloween baby!


I’m a Korean mother, and I can’t help it.

When I was growing up, I never experienced a summer of complete freedom. My mother believed in the power of math workbooks as fervently as she believed in the power of the Bible. Every day I would have to labor away doing the prescribed five pages of what she called “Daily Math.” Ugh. I hated it with every fiber of my being. My friends were spending their days at the swimming pool, at summer camp, or just loafing around watching tv. How Korean of my mother, I thought, to ruin my summer by making me do math!

I vowed to myself that if I ever had children of my own, I would let them enjoy their summers unencumbered by scholastic assignments. When I finally did have children, I remembered that vow. I signed those kids up for all kinds of fun summer camps and activities. I’d pull into the parking lot to pick them up, basking in the glow of virtue you feel whenever you do a kind turn for someone.

“Oh, thank you, beloved mother,” I could practically hear them say, “Thank you for letting us go to this magical place where we could work on God’s eyes rather than algebra problems!”

“Thank you, sweetest and kindest of mothers, for letting us frolic with our friends getting bronzed in the golden sun, rather than making us hunch over a math workbook at the kitchen table all day growing as pale as grubs…”

But no. Every day, three slump-shouldered, resentful grouches would climb into the car and inform me that they didn’t want to do “Summer Playground” or “World Cup Soccer Camp” or anything really, other than hang out at home. “Don’t sign us up for any more camps!” was the message I heard loud and clear, and I was actually ok with that.

So this summer the kids basically became feral. I would come home from work to see them sprawled in exaggerated poses of relaxation as if they were posing as allegorical statues of Indolence, Sloth, and Torpor. I bore it for as long as I could, but as it turns out, I’m way more Korean than I thought I was. Their sleepy eyes, uncombed hair, and languid movements began to offend me. I literally couldn’t help myself. I started leaving them lists of things to accomplish by the time I got back from work. Nothing too onerous, mind you! The tasks were on the order of: “Load dishwasher,” “Do one load of laundry,” or “Put shoes away in the mudroom.” But every once in a while I’d slip in a small directive that might require slightly more effort:

  • Brainstorm ways to alleviate the refugee crisis.
  • Come up with an action plan to reunify the two Koreas.
  • Find a cure for cancer.

The other day I overheard my son talking to his younger sister.

“Now when Mom asks me what I’ve been doing all day, I can honestly tell her I really have been working on a cure for cancer!”

Apparently the kid has connected his computer to a massive global project out of Stanford University, which harnesses the collective power of volunteers’ computers to crunch numbers. I can’t really understand the science of it all. (Despite my mother’s attempts to stack the deck with “Daily Math,” all those workbooks did nothing but send me reeling straight into the torrid embrace of Russian Literature). But here’s what the website has to say:

“Help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on your computer. The problems we are trying to solve require so many calculations, we ask people to donate their unused computer power to crunch some numbers.”

You can check it out for yourself here:


and here:


As far as I can tell, the boy has discovered a way to plug into an astonishing feat of alchemy by which supreme laziness is transformed into something rather enterprising…It’s genius, really, and it makes this Korean mother so proud!

Related post: Amadeus and my own preternaturally precocious offspring.

Oh deer.

foxIt’s a wild kingdom in my backyard. First, this fox appeared. Since spotting him, I’ve been trying to convince my daughter that this is a pretty clear sign that keeping pet ducks is not a good idea. So far, she’s not buying it. It’s true the fox hasn’t done a thing about the fat, lumbering groundhogs that have taken up residence under the barn and run-in shed. We saw our adopted kitty lurking around one of the huge holes they’ve made, but at half their size, I can’t imagine what she could possibly do to deter them from their destructive burrowing.

And then there are the deer. Recently, a whole herd of deer has been camping out in my backyard. Today I counted ten of them. Just looking at them makes me feel itchy. Almost every one in my family has been treated for Lyme Disease at one time or another, thanks to deer ticks. Once my husband stopped his car to let a deer cross the road. Instead of saying “thank you” and going on his merry way, the deer rammed into the car and put a huge dent in it. Furthermore: I find their eating habits deplorably rude. The yard is lush with weeds. I wouldn’t mind one bit if they ate those, but instead, they go for the plants I’ve bought and lovingly cultivated. They treat my garden like an all you can eat salad bar. Which is all to say: I don’t like deer.


Oh sure! Make yourself at home! Can I pour you a drink?



If only they could do something useful, like graze in straight rows…

I’m trying to live with it. It helped to read up on deer symbolism in Korean culture. Because they are beautiful and gentle (except when they are ramming into the side of a car), they are considered to be holy animals. Deer are often portrayed in Korean art as one of the ten symbols of longevity along with the sun, mountains, water, stones, clouds, pine trees, turtles, cranes, and mushrooms of immortality. They are associated with longevity because their antlers are ground up and used medicinally and because when they’re not greedily helping themselves to my garden, they are supposedly adept at finding those mushrooms of immortality. Finally, deer are associated with friendship because they travel in herds. When they move from one location to another, they turn their heads to make sure they don’t leave anyone behind. I’m not so sure I’m going to make friends with these deer, but as long as they stay in the paddock, I think we can maintain a cool civility.



The End of the Middle

I was complaining to my 16 year old son about a litany of problems – my inability to read small print, creaky joints, grey hairs sprouting with cruel, mechanical rapidity…

“I’m SO OLD!” I wailed in despair.

“Oh, Mom. You’re not old, he replied, “You’re just at the end of the middle.”

Perhaps I should be grateful that he didn’t situate me at the beginning of the end…?

A few weeks later I asked him, “Do you think I should try to figure out how to do Snapchat?”

Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “No. Don’t bother. Snapchat’s not for people like you.”

Hear that, fellow geriatrics?! Snapchat? Not for the likes of us! Thus spake the 16 year old, so it must be true.

Maybe as a result of being “at the end of the middle,” I’ve been experiencing some really weird symptoms lately. For example, my legs feel unbearably hot, especially at night. Once I emailed my two sisters to ask them if they too felt like their legs were as hot as the barrels of curling irons. One of my sisters thought this was crazy talk. The other one said: YES, she too experienced that very same phenomenon! She is the researcher extraordinaire of our family, especially when it comes to medical conditions. She told me for years she was dying to google “hot thighs,” but was scared it would unleash a Pandora’s box of internet porn into her computer. When she finally broke down and did the search, she discovered that we are both suffering from a form of neuropathy for which there is no cure or treatment. Diagnosis: decrepitude.

Speaking of ancient things, my husband and I had been sleeping on the same mattress for eighteen years. I actually started campaigning for a new mattress eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Every time I moved in bed, I felt like I was being stabbed by a gang of vicious mattress coils. Because it always takes us forever and a year to do anything, eleven years later I was still waking up sore every morning on that very same, stabby mattress. Finally, I decided that as someone who was at the end of the middle, I deserved, nay: needed a new mattress to help me ease into my twilight years.

AND it should be a king size bed, because you’re so tall, I announced to my husband, “and it should be a memory foam mattress with cooling gel, because I’m so. freaking. hot!

My husband raised an eyebrow, but wisely remained silent.

We got a Loom and Leaf mattress, which is sort of like the poor man’s TempurPedic Breeze, and I love it, by the way. What in the world were we waiting for?! I love having a king size bed…It’s so big I feel like I need a passport to visit my husband’s side of the bed. I got linen sheets in keeping with my “cool” theme. They’re heavenly. We slept without any blankets or bedcovers for a couple weeks. I would have been fine with this arrangement, but I finally had to take pity on my husband, who begged me through blue lips and chattering teeth for a quilt.

This being at the end of the middle business has necessitated a whole slew of changes…We moved our queen size bed to our son’s room. We moved the full size bed that had been in our garage apartment to our daughter’s room. And we moved the twin beds from my son’s and daughter’s rooms into the apartment. The new king size bed made the placement of my dresser and our nightstands problematic. For weeks I’ve been moving heavy furniture around, trying to solve the puzzle.

I had given up on ever making our existing furniture work, and had resigned myself to buying a new dresser and new nightstands when inspiration suddenly struck. After removing the mirror from my dresser, it fit perfectly into the bedroom alcove:

IMG_1051 (1).jpg

I think I need a longish vertical something for that space to the left of the window…

With the dresser out of the way, we could fit our original nightstands where they were in the first place.


And now this elderly, Snap-Chat-unworthy senior citizen needs to go take a looooooooooong nap to recuperate from her labors.

Weekend Snapshots 41


We set our alarms for 5 am. My oldest and youngest were playing in a soccer tournament this weekend in Lynchburg, which is about an hour and twenty minute drive from where we live. Getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to Lynchburg brought back a lot of memories. I used to teach Russian language and literature at what is now Randolph College, but back then was Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. I think I owe my life to audio-books, which kept me awake during the interminable drives back and forth. During the years I worked there, I had a constant eye twitch from fatigue that only went away when I stopped commuting. When I was pregnant with my first child, I would get so tired on the way back home, I would have to pull over at the Nelson County Wayside to have a fifteen minute cat nap before driving the rest of the way home…

My son’s first game was at 8 am, and he was supposed to be on the field by 7 am for warm up. Fortunately for their personal chauffeur and cheerleader, my children were playing at fields that were only a five minute drive away from each other.

We spotted this car on our way to dinner at the Depot Grille:


Another early start:

My daughter gave me a makeover while we were waiting for her brother’s game to start:

Both kids’ teams were knocked out, so they only played one game on Sunday. We went to lunch at the Liberty Korean Market and Restaurant, which is run by the parents of an alumna of the university where I now work:

My daughter declared their bulgogi the best she’d ever had!

After our huge Korean lunch, I found myself slipping into food coma on the way back home. Fortunately, the good old Nelson County Wayside was still there:

I closed my eyes for a few minutes to rest, with my son sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I thought about the last time I was here with him. Now he’s a strapping 6 foot 2 inch sixteen year old, but back then, he was just a little dream floating around inside me…