Hello from across the ocean…

IMG_0575Dearest Louise,

I just wanted to send you this picture of the primula you brought me when you came to visit us years ago. It’s blooming again in the garden of our third house in Charlottesville, after making the trans-Atlantic voyage wrapped in a tissue in your handbag decades ago, after being transplanted from your garden in Scotland to your garden in Altrincham many, many more years before that. Every year when those faithful little flowers bloom so steadfastly and so generously, it makes me happy to think of you, and all the friends with whom I’ve shared it over the years. I’m sure those little divisions are blooming in gardens all across America right now. I imagine it’s still blooming in the first beautiful garden you planted in Dollar. I picture Colin as a baby in that great big pram, parked like a little prince amidst those flowers. I think of the small miracle that the American daughter of Korean immigrants could fall in love with and marry a boy from a third continent. In these days of “social distancing” and closing borders, the flowers remind me that enduring friendship and love are constants in our lives, even when things seem so unstable, and the world so dark…even when we are so far apart. I think of you both often with love and deepest affection.

XO,
Adrienne

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Being Well

The other day I had my final phone session with my “Be Well” health coach. This is a well-intentioned employer-sponsored program, which encourages you to scamper on a hamster wheel for a tiny handful of (taxable) hamster pellets. You are supposed to set two goals for the year – a health goal such as: “I will exercise for 30 minutes three times a week,” and a more holistic “fun” goal such as: “I will read three books a month.” My coach and I had been in touch throughout the year. He always seemed to call when I was in the midst of a catastrophic crisis. I suppose this isn’t so surprising, considering the fact that there seemed to be a fresh disaster every other day this year…In any case, he was well aware that I was far from meeting any of the goals we had made together.

“So, obviously I didn’t meet any of the goals I set back when I thought ‘working on music’ was something I was going to have the luxury to do this year. But I helped my sister weather a serious health crisis; I lost my beloved dog; I got diagnosed with cancer; I had two major surgeries; my kids got in a scary car accident on their second day of school, which totaled the car; and my dad is now facing his own serious health issues.”

There was a triumphant quaver in my voice as I concluded my speech: “But I still managed to be productive at work, to take care of my family, and I didn’t fall apart. Given the circumstances, I think that’s far more impressive than expanding my musical repertoire.”

I still didn’t get my handful of hamster pellets.

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After a month in the ICU, my sister was finally able to move to rehab. It happened to be on the same weekend I had been planning to be in NYC with my daughter, her quartet buddies, and their moms.

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It was a happy reunion with my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen in a month. My son spent the weekend with us too, and helped us navigate the city and transportation.

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Evening stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge

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At Dear Evan Hansen

By March I was back home…

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In like a lion, out like a lamb.

Our sweet dog Tallis had been sick for quite some time. We finally had to say goodbye.

IMG_6985.jpegOver spring break, we took a sleeper train to Chicago with our son. IMG_7765.jpeg

 

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Cloud Gate, “The Bean”

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In my parents’ garden

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Pre-Easter Hunt Warm-up

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Easter Egg Hunt

IMG_8053.jpegIMG_8060.jpegIn May I was diagnosed with breast cancer.IMG_8122.jpegIMG_8289.jpeg

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Upping her game with Pre-Formal warm-up in high heels.

 

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Middle School graduate

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My dear old Dad

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Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet, Virginia

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The cat was rechristened Paloma, although she is still mostly called “The Cat.” She still rules the roost with a velvet fist.

In July I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

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My parents came to visit after my first surgery.

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Look, Ma, no braces!

 

 

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1st day of school

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2nd day of school. The car hydroplaned off the road on the way home from school.

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We took a pic a day to document her recovery.

 

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Thank goodness for young skin!

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My boys

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My #1 Goalie

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Back to work after a couple months off to recuperate after surgery.

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Chloe

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I made it to half a century!

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Checking in on my New Yorker…

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We take Halloween very seriously at work.

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Apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard

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Beautiful fall sunrise from my bedroom window

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Working on the FAFSA…

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After trying and failing to convince my husband to get me a puppy, I finally had to take matters into my own hands.

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My husband’s annual Christmas concert with his early music ensemble.

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The wolf shall lie down with the lamb…one day?!  To date, Chloe continues to ignore Gingersnap’s bouncy puppy overtures with icy disdain.

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They say people and their pups often resemble each other…

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Christmas with all the cousins in Princeton, NJ

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This may have been the best ten minutes of 2019 for me…

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On our way home from NJ, we stopped in Philly to check out Drexel.

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Happy New Year, Everyone! Be well!

Weekend Snapshots 62

Friday

We had to clear out of our parking spots at UVA for graduation by 12, so I got to spend the afternoon playing in my garden. In the pouring rain.

This young man had his very last full day of high school.

His younger siblings celebrated the end of the week with a game of basketball.
In the pouring rain.

Hanging out with my beloved book group was a fitting end to a near perfect day.

Saturday

We took the kids to the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse to see a movie.

“Anything but the Avengers!” my husband insisted. “I don’t ever want to see another superhero movie again.”

In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want…”

We did end up seeing a superhero movie after all.

RBG – the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg gives you hope for the world by showing that there is at least one actual superhero living among us here on earth.

Sunday

That darn tree is still leaning precariously. Hoping to get it and the tree it’s using as a crutch taken down and away by the end of the week. I’m sad about the trees, but hopefully more sun will bring more flowers.

Weekend Snapshots 61: we’re still standing

Saturday

img_4056My husband took my daughter to her soccer game in Blacksburg this Saturday. I played hooky and spent the day pottering around in my garden, getting a few more patches of poison ivy rashes on my legs. Meanwhile, my son took himself to his own soccer game, but had to come home early, having badly sprained his ankle. He’ll have to be on crutches for a week or so.

While he convalesced indoors, I kept being drawn outside to admire the flowers. I’ve been especially enamored with the irises I planted a couple years ago. They’ve finally come into their own this year…

I was annoyed, however, to see that a bright orange interloper had popped up in the flower bed.

 

My daughter noticed it immediately and asked “What’s that orange flower?!”

“That’s an iris. They must have sent it by accident with my order.”

I was just about to tell her that I was going to yank it out and replant it in some obscure patch in the backyard when she gushed, “I LOVE it! It’s SO cute!” So, I guess it’s staying…

What’s NOT staying is the huge oak tree, pictured upright just beyond the orange iris in the previous picture. Today it looks like this:

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Yesterday, I drove home from work through a powerful storm. It was late and I was so thoroughly exhausted that I somehow managed to pull into the driveway without even noticing that the tree had fallen into another huge oak tree, whose top sheared off and took down the fence with it, and fell into the road, blocking traffic coming from the other direction. When I came through the door, the kids came running up from the basement, where they had been cowering in fear.

“Thank goodness you’re home!!! Did you see the tree?!” my daughter asked breathlessly.

“Tree? What tree?”

YOU DIDN’T NOTICE THE TREE?!

She had to drag me to the window to point out the obvious.

Sunday

We sang in the choir all together for the last time. During the service there was a big, mushy send-off for the graduating seniors, including my son, who is heading to college in New York this fall. I was reduced to a quivering mass of exposed nerves, tears, and snot right up front and center in the choir loft. I’m sure I stuck out like a gaudy orange flower, and not in a cute way either.

But…we’re still standing.

Bodnant Garden

Bodnant Garden is an impossibly beautiful 80 acre garden in Wales. It is probably most famous for its Laburnum Arch. We missed its peak, and could only imagine its splendor in May and June:

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We didn’t have to imagine the splendor of the rest of the gardens…IMG_4289IMG_4294IMG_4297

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“Stop!!! You’re not allowed to pick the flowers!”

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The hydrangeas, especially, were glorious:IMG_4314IMG_4315IMG_4319IMG_4326

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The agapanthus heads were literally the size of soccer balls.

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I can’t exactly articulate why, but this fine tree reminded me of my husband.

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Peekaboo

IMG_4370IMG_4369We ended our visit to Bodnant with an epic game of tag on the perfect lawn:

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My husband and his brother…

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Past, Present, & Future Tense

Past

A couple years ago when my dad was turning 80, my sister offered to take him anywhere in the world to celebrate the milestone. She thought he might want to visit a country he had never been to such as Italy or England. He said he wanted to go back to Korea. My sister and I accompanied my parents back to their native land for one last visit.

Our home base was Seoul, but early on in the trip we drove two and a half hours south to Yesan-gun in Chungcheong province to visit my father’s last living sibling. As we drove deeper and deeper into the countryside, I asked my dad to tell me about his hometown. Of the place where he spent his childhood he had this to say: There is absolutely no reason why you would have ever heard of it.

We drove past endless rice paddies and greenhouses until we finally pulled into a narrow alley. My father’s brother who inherited the family farm built a more modern house in the place where the old hanok used to be…IMG_3904

His widow (second from the left) came out to greet us. My dad’s older brother and his wife (in the middle) were also waiting for us at the house.

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I didn’t notice it at the time, but at some point during that visit, my aunt gave my mother a bunch of gingko nuts from the huge sack of them she had harvested from her own trees. I imagine they were from trees that were part of the landscape of my dad’s childhood. My parents brought a handful of them back to their home in Arlington, Virginia.

Fast forward a year…Last autumn I was telling my parents about the “Pratt Gingko” planted in 1860 near the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. When it’s in its full glory, it is a magical experience to stand under the leaves as they rustle in the wind and float down to the ground, which becomes draped in a shimmering coverlet of its golden leaves.

“Did you know your dad planted some gingko trees in the backyard?” my mother asked when I had finished rhapsodizing about the tree.  He had planted the seeds from that handful of gingkos they brought back from his family’s farm.

Present

My sister brought my parents down to Charlottesville this weekend for a visit. My sister and I were going to the Virginia Festival of the Book and thought for sure my dad, who loves books more than anyone else I know, would want to join us.

“I’m not going to go to the book festival,” he announced, “I brought the gingko trees to plant for you. Show me where you want me to put them.”

“How about in a row all along the back fence of the paddock?” I suggested, imagining the vision of golden radiance I would one day see from my kitchen window.

“Well, that would be ok,” he replied gently, “But…no one will be able to see them there.”

I had given the Wrong Answer: “Let’s put them wherever you think would be best, Dad!”

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I watched my dad struggling to break through the tough soil in the part of the (FRONT) yard where he chose to plant the trees. I hovered around uselessly, then went to join my mother on the front porch where we sat and watched.

When she saw that he was having trouble standing up, she nudged me and said, “Go! Help your dad! He can’t get up!”

I ran over to him and reached out my hand.

“Can I help you up, Dad?” I asked hesitantly, afraid to embarrass him.

He wouldn’t take my proffered hand and told me he just needed a moment to rest.

Reluctantly, I left to make it on time to the workshop my sister and I were attending at the Festival. I only had time to urge my daughter to get her grandfather a glass of ice water before I had to drive away.

Future

Later, my mother and I walked around the area where my dad had planted the seven baby gingko trees he had grown from seeds. My mama, the drama queen, always ready to devastate her audience with a toss of her head or a tragic line sighed and said, “As I watched him planting the trees, I realized these really are the last days of his life.” In the end, she told me that she and my son had to help him back to his feet and that my son took over digging the holes…

“One day, when the trees are grown,” she said as we inspected the tiny little saplings, “Your children will remember planting them with their grandpa.”

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Command performance for the grandparents…and one supremely unimpressed dog.

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Related posts: 

My Parents’ Journey

Visiting the Gravesite

Lumpy and Stupid

Lumpy and Stupid Visit the Country, Part 1

Lumpy and Stupid Visit the Country, Part 2

In Which Lumpy and Stupid Try Not to Disgrace the Family Name

Last Day in Seoul

Pssst! P.S.: My sister Annabelle Kim recently published her novel Tiger Pelt, a Kirkus Best Books of 2015, partly inspired by stories my dad told us about his childhood. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Indiebound!