Stranger Things

Halloween weekend, 2016.  Some friends of ours had hired a driver and a group of us costume-less forty-somethings were enjoying a kid-free evening visiting local craft breweries and distilleries.  That night, the only thing better than the free-flowing drinks was the excellent people watching.  While Halloween for us parents usually involves super heroes and witches of the not-so-naughty variety, grown-up Halloween costumes were a whole different animal.  Wait, let’s amend that to hipster grown-up Halloween costumes.  Twenty-somethings all vying for the best pop culture reference with just the right amount of cleverness, wit, irony, and an air of “oh, this old thing?”  Pass the popcorn, please.

Amidst the Bob Rosses, the Richard Simmons, and the Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, there was one repetitive costume that I just could not place:  blond wig, pink ruffled dress, athletic knee socks, dark jacket.  No one in our crowd could identify who these girls were supposed to be and finally, I asked a group of all similarly dressed women, “Who are y’all dressed up as?”  After an epic round of eye rolls, giggles, and guffaws, one girl finally answered, “Um, we’re Eleven…like, from Stranger Things?  It’s a show? On Netflix?  Um, do you, like, know what Netflix is?”  In response, I promptly took my walker and beat her over the head with it and shuffled the hell out of there with my posse.  No, not really, but how I wish I could have.  I’m old, but yes, I do know what Netflix is…bitch (no question mark).

Fast forward to Fall 2017.  I still hadn’t watched Stranger Things but signs were everywhere that this is a thing.  Not to be left behind (FOMO is real, people), Chris and I started watching and were quickly hooked.  What’s not to love? The 80s! The sound track!  The fashion!  Those bikes with the banana seats!?!  It hit our nostalgia spots in all the right places.

Amidst our own preoccupation with the show came Sarah’s own interest in watching the series.  At twelve, she had been hearing from friends about this must see TV show and was begging us to let her watch it.  Chris and I definitely had reservations.  The swearing!  The medical experiments!  The blood-seeking monster!  Nancy losing her virginity!  Those are some uncomfortable seas for me and Chris to navigate…well, maybe just the virginity part.  But despite these concerns, we told her yes with the caveat that one of us watches it with her.  She quickly agreed, and for the past two months, we have been sneaking in episodes, or “Chapters,” when the house is Katie-free.

Chris has taken on watching most of these with her and I’ve only had the chance to  watch one with Sarah: “Holly Jolly” from Season 1.  And boy, is it a doozy!  Barb has disappeared! Nancy spends the night with Steve! Joyce goes nuts with the Christmas lights!  Hopper begins to suspect that something strange is afoot at the Circle K!  Will’s body is pulled out of the quarry!  OMG.  Action.  Packed.

Yes, this is the episode where Nancy sneaks back into the house after having sex with Steve and her mom begs her to tell her what is going on.  It’s what you might call a “teachable moment” for us parents.  When the credits rolled, I turned to Sarah and asked her what she thought of the episode….did she have any questions about what had happened?  When she replied in the negative, I pushed a little more and asked if she understood that Nancy and Steve had sex and that’s why she was sneaking in?  Crickets.  Finally, one last stab- did she want to talk about it? And after a lengthy pause, she says, “Yes.”

Cue the flop sweat.  What will she ask about? Premarital sex?  High school sex?  Premarital, high school sex?  Premarital, high school sex in the 80s?  I girded my loins to answer any and all manner of questions regarding sex, relationships, love, rebellion, friendships, mother/daughter relationships…this could get D-E-E-P.

Sarah: You know when Hopper goes to the library?

Me: (slightly confused) Um, yes.

Sarah: What was he doing with that thing?

Me: What thing?

Sarah : You know, that thing.  That machine….where he read that article?

Me: You mean the MICROFICHE MACHINE?!?!

Yes, my daughter wanted to know what in the sam hill the microfiche machine was.  This I could do.  I began explaining that before Google, before Yahoo, and even before a thing called AOL, was microfiche.  They would take pictures of articles in newspapers or journals and put them on small cards of film (“Film? What’s that, Mom?”) called microfiche.  Librarians would catalog the microfiche by title, keyword/subject, and author.  Then you’d look it up, request the microfiche, and that machine would blow it up so that you could read it.

As I explained, her brown eyes got bigger and bigger.  It seemed almost unbelievable to her.  And when I told her that I myself used microfiche to research papers, her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.  With a sad shake of her head and a pity-filled glance my way, she proclaimed, “I knew you were old, but not that old.”

So, there you go.  Of all the stranger things in Stranger Things (The telekinesis!  The Upside Down! The government-sanctioned experiments on kidnapped children!), this is Sarah’s Strangest Thing:

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Winter Is Coming

2017 marks a milestone of sorts for me.  Twenty years ago this August, under the blaze of the hot Texas sun, I packed up my little Dodge Neon and along with my brother, drove 987 miles north on I-35 for my two-year stint to what might as well have been the hinterlands: Minnesota.  Like a modern-day Laura Ingalls Wilder (except in a car…and Asian), Victor and I trudged our way north armed with a Rand McNally Atlas and enough Dr Pepper and beef jerky to get us through a zombie apocalypse.  Know what we didn’t have?  Technology.  No iPhone! No Google Maps! No TripAdvisor!  No OpenTable!  And did I mention my Neon was a stick shift?  Seriously, Stone Age.

Well, my Neon, Victor, and I navigated our multi-state journey with just a few blunders and somehow found the apartment I had rented, sight unseen, near the University of Minnesota campus.  It’s remembering times like these that reinforces just how integral the internet has become to us today.  Yes, I had use of the internet back then but only after a slow and laborious dial-up process which featured, ironically, an animated  man running on my screen.  He really should have been crawling…towards a glacier…while being outpaced by a three-legged turtle.  Anyhoo, I rented the apartment based on some grainy photos I saw on an online newspaper with no reviews or recommendations.  And rookie mistake: no shots of the interior itself.  If there had been such things as reviews back then, I would have at least been forewarned that the halls of my apartment building smelled like kung pao chicken and that this is where shag carpeting went to die.

But I digress.  Despite the dire state of my apartment and the fact that I was about to start two years of coursework towards my Master’s in an unfamiliar city among people I didn’t know, the most daunting aspect of this detour to the Northland was what everyone thinks of when they hear “Minnesota.”  That’s right: our godforsaken winters.

It’s hard for me to adequately describe how cold it can get here without using a lot of “very’s,” multiple curse words, tears, and some well-placed emojis.  That very first winter, as I was crossing the Mississippi River on the pedestrian bridge to get to class wearing my super cute ivory coat with fur trim hood insulated with whatever type of cotton they use for q-tips, I noticed the hair in my nose freezing whenever I breathed in.   Then, I noticed my eyelashes freezing together from the moisture of watering eyes.  And then(!), I noticed my coat might as well have been a string bikini for all the warmth it provided.  By the end of my twenty-minute walk to class, I had pitch black mascara running down the side of my face, a pint of mucous pouring out of my nose, and I’m fairly certain, although never medically diagnosed, a mild case of frostbite.  Of the many lessons learned that day: always use waterproof mascara, invest every penny I have in North Face, and get the hell out of Minnesota the minute my Master’s program was over.


Smiling despite the 10(!) degree temp…this is not normal

Well, nineteen winters later, here I still am.  Not only am I still here, I am raising two mini-Minnesotans who embrace our 6 months of winter with love and passion.  The first snowfall, to them, is magical.  For me, it’s a harbinger of the misery to come: wishing I had a team of sled dogs to pull my grocery laden Target cart across the frozen expanse of the parking lot, bundling up as if embarking on an arctic expedition just to check the mail, and waking up morning after morning to pitch black, only to face a day with a measly 8 hours of sunlight.  The girls see none of this.  Instead, they beg to go sledding, ice skating, skiing, tubing, and all manner of activities that require head to toe insulation.  And although I indulge them once in a while, sometimes, you simply must stay inside.  And believe me, Minnesotans have this inside business down to an art.  We have a whole amusement park crammed into the middle of the mother of all malls.  We have miles of skyways linking downtown buildings so that no human has to come in contact with the outdoors during our arctic blasts.  And finally, we have indoor water parks-  an anathema to this Texan.  Water slides? Indoors?  What kind of Twilight Zone am I living in?

And just when you start fantasizing about pitching all of your snow shovels into a massive kerosene-fueled bonfire and wondering how many pesos it would take to start a taco truck in Playa, the world thaws.  We reach that critcal 32-degree mark and trade in our layers of polar fleece for flip-flops and shorts.  We start to actually see the faces of people around us, rather than watery sad eyes peeking out of a tightly wrapped woolen scarf.  Tiny fissures on the surface of our 10,000 Lakes crack wide open, revealing the crystal clear water underneath.  Small, colorful buds courageously poke out of the ground and while the first snow of the season might be magical to my kids, the first crocus blooms carry that same magic for me.  For not only has this Texan survived another winter, I’ve lived to see another spring.  The earth is re-born and not unlike childbirth, I forget the pain of the previous winter and revel in the joy to come.  Yes, Winter #20 looms before me, but not before a fantastic Summer #19.  Happy Spring everyone!


A unicorn of a picture- all four of us, decently coordinated, hair fixed, eyes open <fist pump!>



Good Will To All

Yes, I know it’s been almost four years.  And yes, I know I said I would continue to write.  And yes, I said I would continue to blog.  But, (spoiler alert) I didn’t.  Requisite excuses and mea culpas to come in a future post.

Fast forward to November of 2016 and writing is the last thing on my mind.  But over lunch one day, my dear husband turns to me and says, “I know what I want for Christmas… I want you to write a blog.”

Err, excuse me?  While I was fully prepared to Amazon his gift of choice with just a few taps of my nimble fingers, I was not prepared for this.  What do I write about?  How do I even start?  When do I have the time?!?!  It was the start of the Christmas season and don’t laugh, you legitimately employed readers, my busiest time of the year!  There are cookies to be baked, gifts to be bought, presents to be mailed, cards to be addressed, donations to be given, kids activities to volunteer for, parties to attend, friends to host…and don’t get me started on that damn elf!  Yes, I know…I can barely write this with a straight face.  I never said I was trying to send a man to the moon.  I’m a housewife, people.  This is what I do.

Then, as if the gods could hear my frantic inner monologue, what appears in my mailbox but a jury summons?  For the two weeks in December leading up to Christmas, I would be forced to sit in a room full of strangers who had also “won” a civic lottery of sorts with absolutely nothing to do.  No running last-minute errands, no post office trips at the eleventh hour, and no cursing like a drunk sailor while wrapping Christmas gifts when the girls are in school.  Instead, I’d have to compress all of my tasks and finish by the 9th. The 9th!!!  I needed smelling salts just thinking about it.

While I bemoaned my fate, I received tons of advice on how to escape jury duty.  My favorite was from my well-meaning aunt in Dallas given over pre-Thanksgiving drinks:  pretend I don’t speak English.  I won’t lie; I did entertain the idea for half a second.  But when I realized the only things I could spout in Korean were restaurant menu items (Kimchi!  Galbi!  Bibimbop!), I put on my Star Spangled Banner big girl panties and reported to dungeon-like basement of the Hennepin County Government Center on December 12th to fulfill my civic duty.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of sitting on my butt, minute after excruciating minute, waiting to see if I would be needed to serve.  Because if I did, it would look something like this:

9:23AM- Threw away old receipts from my wallet and spent 20 seconds in silent shame reflecting on my horrid fast food addiction

9:26AM- Tried not to judge the man sitting next to me who was precariously close to invading my personal space because he was falling asleep

9:27AM- Ate a KIND bar

You get the picture.  My only real source of entertainment was sending my dear husband texts throughout the day informing him of various chores that he needed to do for me.  He was not amused, but me?  I felt drunk with power!  I finally knew what it was like to have my very own housewife!

By the end of the first day, I was almost delirious with boredom.  Just when I thought the hallucinations would start, I heard my name called.  They needed a group of 24 to be interviewed for a criminal case.  Our group was whisked away to one of the many courtrooms in the government center.  Please note: when I say “whisked”, I mean with all the rapidity of any government agency.  This involved a glacial TSA-like security check, a slow crawl up a rickety freight elevator to the 7th floor, and yet another mind-numbing 32 minute wait in the hallway of the courtroom.  The wheels of justice are anything but swift.

In the courtroom, our group was interviewed by the judge and attorneys on everything from our employment history to criminal records.  The interview lasted into the following day and well, I didn’t make the cut.  Despite not having a criminal history and not having served in law enforcement myself (apparently, being sheriff of my house doesn’t count), I was let go.  And while I could write a whole ‘nother blog about my feelings of rejection and unworthiness (ha ha), I’ll leave you with this.  The group interview process was an unexpected gift.  It was a reminder to me that 1) I am a lucky woman and 2) to be kind and respectful to your fellow human beings with an open and understanding heart.

With no electronics to distract me and no way to multitask, I heard the stories of 23 other people who like me, were randomly selected for jury duty.  Within this microcosm of our population, I listened as women admitted to being sexually assaulted or abused and others confessed to having been homeless.  Many talked of their own struggle with drug addiction and some admitted to having served jail time.  One shared that family members had been shot and killed while another told of how her father was currently serving life for murder.  They also talked about their children, relatives, and other loved ones and while we might have been from varying backrgrounds, we all had the capacity to love, forgive, and endure.  In the age of soundbites and Twitter, you forget that there is a whole life history behind each person that can’t be summarized in 140 characters or less.  Sitting in that courtroom, all I could do was listen, feel, be thankful, and promise myself to do more to help my fellow men and women.  What more can you ask for from Christmas?

As I said, I wasn’t selected for this particular case and spent another day in the “pit” waiting to see if I would be needed for another.  I started this post that day out of a combination of boredom and inspiration.  And at the end of the third day, the county released all jurors and I found myself with a second gift: a calendar that was now completely clear for the one and half weeks leading up to Christmas. So thank you, Hennepin County, for the gift of time and the gift of heart.  Merry Christmas, everyone and Merry Christmas, honey!  Thanks for making me do this.

Saying Goodbye

My mom went in for a bone marrow biopsy on January 14th. She passed away at 1:05AM on April 15th at 59 years old. During those three short months, she stayed so strong even though I know how hard it was on her to fight her lymphoma. My dad, my brother, Chris, me, countless family and friends and even strangers offered up prayers hoping that she would be spared. We sought the best medical help she could get, the best drugs, the best clinical trials. In the end though, the cancer was just too strong and too quick. We could never get ahead of it.

During those three months, a lot of things in my life have been neglected, including this blog. Although it was difficult to go down to Dallas to help my mom, dad, and brother, I also feel like it was such a blessing to get those dedicated days with my mom, where without any distractions of my day-to-day life, I could just focus on her. Those days, although unbearably painful at times, will remain precious to me. During my absences, we’ve had an army of friends and family help at every turn. I will never forget all the friends who offered up an ear to listen, shoulders to cry on, carpools, child care, meals, simple notes of encouragement, and prayers.

It’s only been a week since she passed but it feels like a million years. Her funeral was last Friday and I had the honor of giving her eulogy. This is what I wrote:

My mom started golfing about 12 years ago. She would go out by herself to a little 9 hole course and without lessons, just figure it out by herself and play. Out in nature, she not only found a new hobby but a new love that she cultivated for the rest of her life. Sometimes she’d play with my dad but more often then not, she’d join into a group of strangers and play along. She didn’t need a fancy course, just somewhere pretty and comfortable. Eventually, she joined a golf group with her friends and I knew I couldn’t call her on her Tuesday golf days lest I catch her mid-swing. As her skill increased, friends and strangers alike were amazed that this little Korean lady could hit the ball, not far, but straight and true. While others watched their shots shoot this way and that and get lost in the rough, my mom would patiently, calmly, and methodically make it onto the green and with precision, sink the ball with her putting.

When I was thinking about what to say about my mom today, it occurred to me that her golf game was almost a metaphor for her life. She was born in a small town in Korea on a farm, the oldest daughter of 7 children. At heart, she was a country girl and took joy in the simple things in life whether it was drinking a beer with my dad while watching the sun set or seeing the flowers bloom in her garden. Even her last text to me was a picture of some camellias in our yard she had been waiting to open. She didn’t need fancy things- just whatever was simple and comfortable.

She was patient and calm as mother. Now that I have kids of my own, I can fully appreciate how extraordinary she was. She never yelled at us- a gift I have NOT inherited to the dismay of my children. Instead, she always had a gentle smile and easy going way with us.

As a wife, she and my dad shared so many common interests beyond golf. Not only a love of nature which translated into many camping trips and cross country road trips to national parks, but an adventurous spirit. The same spirit that led her to hit the links by herself to try something new led her here to build a life in America with my dad. She was always up for new experiences and trips, eager to add to her memories.

As a grandmother, she had such a fun loving spirit with her two granddaughters, Sarah and Katie, and was up for anything they were – be it swinging at the park, playing play-doh for hours on end, or jumping into the pool on a hot summers day. She was so devoted to them- even coming to visit us in Minnesota in the dead of winter- truly a sign of love. They adored her in return and as they said of her- we love Halmoni because she never says no.

The only thing that rivaled her skills on the golf course were her skills in the kitchen. She was such a good cook- making everything from scratch and from memory. I think my dad, brother and I will spend the rest of our lives trying to replicate her kimchi.

Like her shots that were straight and true, so was she. She knew what her priorities were and didn’t get distracted by life’s dramas. Even when things in her life got rough, she kept her head down and worked hard and steadily to get to where she wanted to be. She focused on being a good person, a good mother, a good grandmother, and a good wife. Nothing was more important than her family and she showed that everyday through her actions and words. I will miss her so much. She was not only my mother but my role model and friend. Her life was too short but straight and true till the very end.

I don’t know when my life will return to “normal,” but when it does, I will continue to write. I will write because it brings me joy, and if we need anything else in this world, it is joy. God bless…


Happy Birthday to Servant Mommy

1st-Birthday-Cake2Well, believe it or not, a full YEAR has passed since my first blog entry.  I just wanted to say a quick “thank you” to everyone who’s been reading.  I’ve enjoyed writing enormously and much of it is due to the fact that I get to connect with so many of you regarding your own experiences as a parent.  So thank you.

As much as I’d love to sit here and bask in the wonder of actually doing something for an entire year (because for an Asian, my work ethic is crap),  I actually have THREE real birthdays to plan for this month: Katie’s on the 12th, Chris’s on the 14th, and Sarah’s on the 21st.  Better get on it before I lose my job…I’m still gunning for a pay raise this year!

Good Help is Hard to Find

Author’s Note: I originally worked on this blog over December but between the shopping, the baking, the gift wrapping, the cooking, the shipping, the decorating, the filling of Advent calendars, the hiding of gifts, and the ever present whining from my children of “WHEN WILL IT BE CHRISTMAS MOM? IS IT TODAY?! HUH? HUH? IS IT TODAY!??!,” I never got it finished. So just amuse me, pretend you are reading this deep in the trenches of the holiday season.  Happy 2013 everyone!

With the holidays upon us, it can only mean one thing for us parents: babysitter wars.  Maybe “wars” is a bit of a hyperbole.  Battles?  Skirmishes? Scrambles?  Kerfuffles?  Whatever the exact word, what I am trying to convey to you is that it is a difficult time to find a sitter.  In our childless days, accepting an invitation to a party, a dinner, a cocktail hour, or an ugly sweater party was as simple as checking the calendar to make sure that no conflicts existed.  Today, we are at the mercy of a handful of young women who hold our social life by the balls.  Without them, we’d have to spend EVERY WAKING HOUR with our children with no breaks, no grown-up time, no fun excuses to wear an outfit without the stains of a million spaghetti dinners while holding a festive cocktail and looking like you belong in an ad for a Vegas nightclub and not a commercial for Mom jeans.

Now after seven years of this parenting gig, I have developed a network of wonderful women who look after our children with care and kindness.  This network is an ever fluid thing that requires constant nurturing, pruning, and attention.  Just when you’ve gotten a lovely girl groomed and ready to step in at a moment’s notice, they are snatched away from you by life’s other opportunities.  We’ve had babysitters leave for graduate school, international internships, new jobs, relocations, and even marriage and their own children.  We have one high school sitter whom we adore and my girls and I are already sadly counting down the days till she will leave us for college even though it is more than two years away.  Is it wrong to hope she goes the community college route instead of spreading her wings out of state?  If it is, then book us and throw away the key.

While a part of me wishes that our sitters weren’t so darned ambitious and smart and they’d just be satisfied living at home with their parents and watching my girls in perpetuity, I know that it’s all for the greater good that they move on with their lives.  But it leaves me always scouting, always recruiting, always looking for new sitters- like some creepy cult leader trolling for converts to support my lifestyle.  Right now, we have a pretty solid stable of  go-to sitters (knock on wood) but during my ever constant search for “good help,” I’ve observed a few things about the world of babysitting and sitter etiquette.

#1-  One of the most closely guarded secrets in parenting circles may be the contact information of their babysitters.  Ask most parents about advice regarding sleeping, feeding, product choices, school enrollment, and they will bare their souls.  Parents can talk about their kids and subjects related to their kids almost ad nauseum…believe me, I’m one of them.  But ask them about their babysitters: you get clamped lips, furtive looks passed between the husband and the wife, some mumblings about the lateness of the hour, and a cloud of dust where they were sitting just mere moments before. Sure you might get some names during the summer when students are back home from college but really, those are just a temporary supplement to the troops you’ve already built up.  I have only had a handful of friends volunteer their regular sitter’s names and numbers but it’s usually with the understanding that…

#2- You will never poach or actively recruit someone else’s sitter without the expressed permission from the originator of said sitter.  We all get in a pinch sometimes and need an emergency fill-in.  Finding a last minute substitute can often mean calling in all your favors and signing an oath in blood that the booking is one-time only and you will never, ever, ever call that person again.  Sometimes though….

#3- A sitter will offer their services to you, unbidden.  I’ve had a couple of sitters approach me with their  phone numbers when they are actively looking for extra work.  But even then, I feel a little dirty and slightly paranoid…like I’m embarking on an affair with a married man.  What if their original employers find out? Will they think that I was the one who asked first?  What if I’m labeled as a “babysitter stealer” and get black listed from mommy happy hours and playdates?  But honestly, who can blame these industrious young women?  Gone are the days when I was a babysitter myself and counted myself lucky to get  two dollars an hour.  During the 2012 elections, when politicians asked if voters felt they were better off today than they were four years ago, I think all of our sitters could answer…

#4- “Yes we are!”  They name their own price, make their own pay adjustments as needed, call their own hours, turn me down if they have a better offer, and I just come back for more.  Because unless they do something absolutely egregious like actually lose my child or host a kegger at our house, I will take whatever measures necessary to keep them under our employment.  Luckily, our sitters are wonderful and I don’t feel a moment’s remorse compensating them but let me be clear, they definitely have the upper hand in this scenario despite the fact that I’m the one writing the checks.  At least it’s a familiar situation I find myself in since most days, my 6-year old and 2-year old wield more power than I do in this household.

Hopefully, you too have someone dependable, fun, and loving to watch your kids while you escape what can be a daily zoo.  Because we all need a break – whether it’s by ourselves or with friends or with our spouse (remember him?).  And all I can say this holiday season is, “God bless our babysitters, every one!”

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Happy Christmas Eve!  Which, to parents around the world, is also known as The-Last-Day-You-Can-Invoke-The-Name-of-Santa-To-Get-Your-Kids-To-Do-Whatever-The-Heck-You-Want.  So far today, I’ve averted three near fights, gotten the girls to clean the basement, and had time to put on my make-up in peace.  Now if they could just whip me up a cocktail and give me a foot massage while reading me excerpts from People Magazine, they just might be the daughters of my dreams.   Merry Christmas everyone!!