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.

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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!

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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…