I Can’t Draw

But I can write.

The materials I used for this piece were acrylic paint, a nail, and a white Malm headboard from the scrap pile at Ikea. I painted the white board black, let it dry, then scratched words onto it with a nail. The scratchings leave a nice texture. You can feel the words.

Published in: on December 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (6)  


Earlier this month when I was visiting my artist friend, Sima Schloss, I came across this book on her shelf:

VISUAL CHRONICLES by Linda Woods & Karen Dinino

Something about reading this book and being surrounded by Sima’s stacks of her own daily visual journals made me want to create my own. Today, I started my scrapbook. I used an old children’s hard book and covered the first pages with cutouts of old photos, cards, and some original artwork from my daughter.

I look forward to filling these pages with photos, receipts, ticket stubs, handwritten notes, report cards, brochures, drawings, scraps of fabric, clippings from magazines… anything and everything to chronicle our days together.

The cover. My eyes got cut off, so Ellie drew them in.

Something I say to my kids when they whine of boredom.

Since Christmas is right around the corner…

Published in: on December 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm  Comments (2)  

Baked by Patti

I baked 220 cookies today.
Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal.
They are divine.
I can’t wait to give them away.
Want one?

Patti’s Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

6 cups rolled oats
1 14 oz bag flaked coconuts
2 sticks butter
1 cup shortening
2 1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tsp baking soda
6 eggs
3 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2 12 oz bags semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350. Beat butter and shortening in electric mixer. Add sugars and soda. Beat until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in oats, coconut and flour. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop 1 tsp of cookie dough on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Makes 220 cookies.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 9:12 pm  Comments (2)  

How I Lost My Faith in Santa

I was a firm believer up until Christmas morning of 1982. I was in the sixth grade and 12 years old. That’s pretty old to still believe in Santa. While my friends and sister faltered in their faith, I held on. I held strong. Santa and I had something real. He’d been faithful to me for 9 years, ever since we moved to America. I wasn’t going to let him down now. We had a history.

Santa’s first gift to me was a teddy bear and a Hallmark Christmas card signed Santa in blue ballpoint ink. It flapped open like a Jacob’s ladder and the last words in sparkly letters were, “Charge it, you’ve got all year to pay!” I had no idea what that meant, but the letters sparkled, and the teddy bear sat on my desk on Christmas morning. This was indisputable evidence Santa was alive, well and on my side.

One Christmas, we found only a single gift under our tree with no card. It was a white vinyl-covered jewelry box with gold trim and red velvet lining and a dancing ballerina that sprung up and spun every time you opened the lid. Who was it meant for? My sister or me? Why didn’t Santa address it? Maybe he wanted to teach us a lesson in sharing. Maybe we should cut it in half? Let’s draw a line down the middle. Your half, my half. When my sister and I, disappointed and confused, resigned to share the box and take turns opening the lid to visit the spinning dancer, I saw another gift. It was standing on the floor next to my bed, same size, same shape, same wrapping paper . This one was mine! Santa hadn’t forgotten me! Our mother explained that Santa must’ve been pleased to see me and my sister sharing, so he magically slipped us another gift. I wholeheartedly embraced her load of crock. The second jewelry box, mine, had all the same features except it was pink. PINK. My favorite color. Santa was real.

My faith was finally shattered, when one Christmas I went on a hunt around the house searching for gifts Santa may have slipped on us at the last minute, something for my parents. Why didn’t he ever leave presents for my parents? I opened the doors of my father’s night stand, and there they were, the two Twinkies meant for Santa, crouching in the dark like a pair of teenagers caught making out. Shocked and disappointed, I braced myself as my world view shifted under my feet. This called for a revision of every single Christmas memory.

The notion that my parents played Santa was ridiculous. Flying reindeer, elves, and the North Pole were far more believable than my parents playing Santa. They would’ve yelled at the old man for not taking off his boots before coming into our home or leaving the fireplace door open and letting all the heat out. My faith in Santa had everything to do with how well I thought I knew my mother and father. They weren’t the kind of people to play along, let alone play. They worked, watched TV, worked, slept, worked, yelled at us to study, worked, and fought. In fact, they had a big argument in a Woolco parking lot on that Christmas eve because we couldn’t find jewelry boxes. Loud, embarrassing Korean words resounding in the parking lot. Car doors slamming. Engine revving. Was their fight staged? Were they capable of play-acting? Were they capable of conspiring for the sake of fun? Was it possible my mother and father had an imagination? Who were these people?

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mondays With Mom #11

Today’s lunch:

Thin slices of beef battered with egg.

Cabbage, seaweed, and roots.

Jap chae with mushrooms and carrots.

Marinated beef.



When I told my parents the news this morning that Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on Saturday, their eyes lit up. My dad said, “Oh, that’s great news!” Jumping for joy over someone’s death, anyone’s death, doesn’t rest well with me, but I can’t deny the relief and the introduction of hope I feel.

The North Koreans appeared to feel differently. They wept hysterically. They moaned and groaned publicly. The crying was over the top. I asked my parents about this display of uninhibited grief. They said it’s the culturally and politically correct thing for them to do, regardless of what they may feel inside.

Then I remembered my grandmother. I must’ve been three-years-old. I was in her house, sitting on the stairs and watching her through the railings. She stood in front of a table that displayed my grandfather’s portrait, platters of food, and a bottle of alcohol. This was the annual observance of my grandfather’s death. When neighbors arrived, my grandmother moaned and groaned very loudly. Aigo. Aigo. Aigo. She beat her chest. She behaved as if inconsolable. However, her eyes remained dry. There were no tears.

The display of grief was theatrical. She behaved accordingly, meeting the expectations of family and neighbors and dodging any shame and gossip, never mind what she really felt inside.

To the people of North Korea, I hope you are minding what you really feel inside. I hope that in the dead of night when you are all alone, you toss and turn, sleepless from this strange moment of clarity. What is this relief I feel? What is this hope I sense? Could it be possible that our dear leader was nothing but an asshole?

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm  Comments (12)  

Fiction Friday #3: Untitled

The buffet line moved along. The wedding party was seated and eating. My brother looked at ease. Janey chewed like she didn’t want to mess up her lipstick. She seemed pleased enough, leaning into Duk and whispering into his ear. She must’ve gotten over the shame of having her wedding reception at the church gymnasium. Her family tables bustled with grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Our one table had my father, brothers, aunt, uncle, two cousins, and an empty chair for me, but I didn’t want to take my seat and listen to my aunt yap-yap-yap about Mina winning some international harp competition and Jina getting so skinny because of med school. I walked along the edge of the room, making my way to the kitchen.

This place made me miss my mom. I leaned against the sink. I thought I saw her frying dumplings at the stove, but it was Mrs. Ghim. They looked alike from behind. Short, thin, slightly hunched, straight black hair cut into a bob, a style none of the older women wore at our church. Everyone else had some version of short layers with a perm. My mom used to say she would never change her style because it made her look like a student. That was funny because she was never much of a student, didn’t like to read or write, never finished high school. If she wasn’t cooking, cleaning, or doing church, she was watching Korean soaps. What a wanna-be. This kitchen was where I’d find her before and after services cooking curry or slicing watermelons or washing rice grains, regularly swapping gossip disguised as prayer requests with the other eleven members of the Hospitality Committee. They were a dozen women, some were deacons’ wives, some deacons themselves, three had been very close to my mother. All twelve women loved to cook, eat, and feed people. They called themselves DOC for Disciples of Christ, and for a laugh, they annually voted for the member who behaved most like Judas. I wanted to put on an apron and join them, but Mrs. Hong came to me with a plate of food and pushed me out of the kitchen, telling me they had everything under control. Go sit down, eat, mingle, smile, laugh, have a good time, don’t look so sad, how are you going to find a husband looking so sad, no sensible man wants to marry a sad woman.

As I walked toward my family’s table, I saw Peter standing in the buffet line behind his wife. He nodded at me. I nodded back. He looked handsome, upstanding, faithful, a real family man. His kids must’ve been with his parents tonight. He held his plate, while his wife quickly filled it with slices of pig ears. She wore a green dress, a silk scarf with a botanical print, ivory stockings, a black patent leather handbag with the matching pumps, and sparkling earrings. It all looked perfect with that cloud of unknowing hovering over her head. I would much rather be sad than be played the fool. I walked to my table, took my seat, turned to my aunt and asked how Mina and Jina were doing.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm  Comments (2)  

According To Sima Schloss…

Distortions are beautiful. Life and people, rarely symmetrical. We’re warped, wacky, and bent into shapes we’d rather disguise with symmetry. Her art removes that mask. Her work is populated with people who are all hands, groping for affection; or all eyes, pleading you to see what he sees; or all head, over thinking the matter; or all feet, always on the run; or all heart, broken from loss. Tragic, funny, full of attitude, her subjects are often strangers she encounters on the New York subway. If you’re ever in the city, watch out for the blond with the pencil and the sketchbook. She’s seeing through you.

Making books in Portugal. Visit her at http://www.simaschloss.com

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Rhythms of West Africa and Korea

I let my kids stay up late last night. I took them to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland to experience a concert that fused the traditional rhythms of Africa and Korea. The performance started with the Youngnam Nongak, a staple piece in the Samulnori repertory. Then, Fe Fila and N’Goron were preformed on the African drums. Then the two ensembles came together. The experience was fun, strong, loud, hypnotic, beautiful and very moving. We were encouraged to grunt and shout during the performances. During one of my grunts, I got all choked up. I thought of drumming on pots and pans as a kid in Korea, my mom not being able to continue her dance and drum lessons as a girl, and the 1992 LA riots. What if, instead of weapons, we picked up drums, and together we beat out our woes, our pain, our fears, our joy, our hopes, grunts and all? Surely, we would find a rhythm all could breathe, move and dance to.

On the drive home, I was happy to hear Sophie say that she liked the African drumming better. My mission as a parent felt accomplished, even though we got home way past their bedtime. As I put them to sleep, I hoped the vibrations of different cultures fusing resounded in their dreams.

The UMD African Drum Ensemble and the UMD Korean Percussion ensemble at the Dekelboum Concert Hall.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Kim.
Find him at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jeremy-Kim-Photography/300738016604051

Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mondays With Mom #10

When we were kids, my sister and I used to mix foods. Hot dogs with seaweed, bulgogi with cheese, fried rice with ketchup, and spaghetti with kimchi. We practiced fusion before fusion became cool. We must have picked it up from my mom. She had no problems serving a pot of spaghetti next to a pot of kimchi jjighe.

I remember an incident when our family was at a Korean market, waiting in line at the register. An American couple was in front of us, buying a small jar of kimchi. The man asked the cashier what he could eat the kimchi with if he didn’t like rice. The cashier seemed at a loss for suggestions. My mom volunteered and said, “Mashed potatoes! It’s so good with mashed potatoes.”

The spread.

Broccoli rabe and red pepper salad with a crushed cashew vinegarette.

Miso soup with mushrooms and tofu.

Eggplants with miso sauce.

Rice and beans.

Kimchi jjighe. This is the ultimate in Korean cuisine.

Spaghetti. She used to make this same sauce at her carry-out every Tuesday. She had customers who came every Tuesday just for her spaghetti.

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm  Comments (7)  

Fiction Friday #2: Untitled

How my mother died:

It was a busy summer. I had just graduated from high school and was babysitting my little brothers who were then eight, five, and two. I was also helping out at my parents’ carry-out in Southeast DC, trying to butter them up to let me drive cross-country, rather than fly, to Stanford University. They wanted me in the fall. In the fall, I would be on the other side of the country. My mother shamed me when I looked too happy. You feel that good about leaving? I learned to hide it, disguising my glee with worry. Don’t wrinkle eyes like that. You look like old hag. Why you worry so much? Don’t worry. That’s what Bible says. Don’t worry. God take care of everything. Our church was campaigning that summer for donations to build a school, library, gymnasium, and a larger parking lot. My mother was on her way to an evening fundraising service. She was running late because she and my father had fought. It was dark by then. She parked on the street because the church lot was full. My father would’ve normally been with her, but they fought during dinner over how much money to donate to the church. He said $1000. She said $5000. He said she cared too much about what the pastor and deacons thought of her. She said she cared about what God thought of her. He said God thought $1000 was plenty. She called him a greedy miser. He told her to shut up and listen to God telling her to mind her husband. He called her crazy and stupid. She told him to mind his own business because the money was hers. She’d saved it and earned it cooking at the carry-out. If not for her cooking, there would be no money, no house, no cars, no shirt on his back, no food on the table, no college tuition. He threw his bowl of rice on the floor. She left for church.

How many times had she drilled it into me when I was a kid? Look both ways before crossing a street.

Found in my mother’s purse was a bundle of cash in an envelope labeled FKSBC. First Korean Southern Baptist Church. $5000. Her death brought in a lot of money. Some deacons babbled nonsense about how God works in mysterious ways, God’s ways aren’t our ways, and God’s plans have a divine purpose. God, what assholes. If they were right and God took my mother’s life as a marketing ploy to raise money for a gymnasium and a parking lot, I wanted out. I had to decide they were wrong. She simply forgot to look both ways before crossing the street. If she hadn’t popped out of nowhere, as the driver put it, she would still be here in her shoes and I in mine. Without her, the whole thing was bound to collapse. Because my mother died that summer, I never made it to college, ended up working at the carry-out and raising my brothers who were then eight, five, and two, and my father left, from there on out, all money matters to me.

Published in: on December 9, 2011 at 10:59 am  Comments (2)  
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