sheet cake

In October, as we drive
through the country, golden rice fields
on either side of the highway
appear to be
yellow sheet cakes
resting on cooling racks.

A glaze of misty rain,
sweet and slick,
falls evenly on
cars and roads and mountains.
I watch through the bouncing raindrops on the passenger side
window
at fields of
cake,
lemony and full,
glowing through the fog.

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What February is Like: a trip to the downtown library on a Thursday

February is like pushing a double stroller full of big kids to the subway station.

It’s like the halmoni* who steps onto the train with an elegant walking stick made of real wood. Her white hair swoops away from her face. She wears a bright purple coat and purple floral pants. Her smile is kind and generous. She guesses the kids’ ages and holds True’s hand. But when she stops to think, when she looks out the dark windows, she sits quietly with sad eyes.

February is like the woman sitting next to the halmoni on the train. She clutches her pink prayer beads knotted on a green string and whispers something over and over, prayers filling the train car just past noon.

It’s like the tough guy in a teddy bear sweatshirt or the policeman drinking banana milk in the underground.

(Even the oversized “America” t-shirt for sale, hideous and white, feels like a metaphor.)

February is like the blaring music pouring out of trinket shops with dozens of socks and key chains. It’s boxy like McDonald’s and Uniqlo.

It’s like the puppies and kittens in tiny cages, jammed in the front windows of tiny pet shops.

February is like 2pm, when tiny family-owned restaurants house lingering customers and the smells of deonjang and ddeokbokki leak into the back alleys, tempting our full bellies as we walk by.

It’s like the moment I repeat the library rules so the kids remember to keep their shoes on their feet and off the furniture.

February is like the sad new books tucked away and shoved underneath the double stroller, waiting to be opened as soon as we get home.

————
*Halmoni (할머니) means ‘grandmother’ in Korean, but it is also used to politely address elderly women in general.

————
Writing has been drudgery this month. I keep trying to wrestle paragraphs, but I can’t seem to fit them together. It got me thinking about February in general and how it’s rare to find someone who claims it as a favorite. These notes from last Thursday describe what it feels like to slog through the blahs of my February words. I’m not sure if it will make sense to anyone else, but at least it’s a glimpse into our current every-day.

Construction Dance

Construction Dance

Even the tower cranes outside
dance during ballet.
We watch the construction site from the fourth floor of the cultural center
as giant yellow machines, towers of metal lace, pivot in deliberation.
They rise and swing their limbs high above the expanding edge of the city, where golden rice once grew.

Perhaps the way we see imposing structures says something about us.
Are they a nuisance impeding the skyline?
A bothersome strain to the eye,
pulling us nearsighted instead of up ahead to the mountains?

Or do they force us to see things not yet visible?

My two year old son sits captivated in the stroller, eyes moving left and right, up and down, as if he is connected to the heavy machinery.

Behind us, in the dance room, his sister balances on tippy toes,
holding tightly to the barre.
She giggles on one foot as she stands like a distracted flamingo,
floppy like the ripe rice bent over on its stalk, wobbling as it dangles heavy and helpless right before the harvest.

Can we dance to the rhythms of a pounding construction site,
the vibrating ping of metal on metal?

Or do we mourn the way the wind once swept through the rice field, swaying the stalks in unison like the eager legs of tiny ballerinas.

morning narration

Tiny bubbles collect at the edge of my coffee mug. This morning I’m drinking from the white one with black polka dots, the one I brought back from America. A little piece of Target in my Korean kitchen.

True and Ev are sitting up against the sunny morning windows, their silhouettes rise and fall as they stand up and sit back down at their little table. Ev is reading a book, narrating the vehicles with great dramatic voices, “Then the hell-copter broke the law!”

Shortly after I sit down with my coffee, the baby squawks from his crib. I open the bedroom door to see his head bobbing outside his green winter blanket. He’s sitting on my lap now, reaching for my phone, smiling at his dad across the table.

True has convinced Evan to play “chores” now, which means she’s bossing him into cleaning her room. “Put the rings over there!” She commands.

Ev is singing “Korean” words which transitions into a song about zippers.

All night the boys alternated waking up. Fuss. Stop. Fuss. Stop. Fuss. Stop.
As predictable as hunger or the sun, my body lies down and gets up.

They always call for their mother.

There was a play kitchen fight just moments ago. An argument about refrigerator rights or yarn ramen noodles turned ugly fast. The heart-apron fastened around True’s neck hangs in irony. There is not a lot of love in their kitchen. Too many cooks, I guess.

They walk away from a mess of plastic food. Bananas, chicken, a clump of blueberries, wooden broccoli, felt black beans, plastic onions and cheese. One lonely, felt leak bursts out of a plastic stock pot. Plates are overturned with bowls and spoons strewn about.

Jase swims through the mess, the piles, the heaps of toys left to rot near the kitchen.

He is content to stir the pot with his feet, laying comfortably on a green plate.

Meanwhile True and Evan have moved to the real kitchen table. They are eating ground beef and rice at 10am. This is our solution to bad attitudes: it must be your blood sugar. Eat.

So much of our daily life resets in the kitchen. We sit and chat, we scoot across the floor.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for family life. The kitchen is our collective brain? Our stomach? Our soul?

If we’re not careful we launch into philosophical ponderings and worries about mere behavior. We step on something sharp and plastic, not nourishing at all.

Sometimes it’s more beneficial to gather around a cup of cold coffee or a bowl of tangerines. I’ll peel one for you, one for me.
We’ll sit here till we eat them all.

My New Notebook

Hi Friends!

My kind older brother helped me set up this new site (I transferred my old posts and tried to make some kind of header by myself. You can blame me for the sloppy job and all the photos that didn’t transfer. I need some tech skills). I’m excited about it for a lot of reasons. It’s a long time coming. I hope you’ll feel cozy (that quilt up top is one that my great-grandma made!) and welcome here. This is where I work through the heavy and the mundane. I have a lot to learn from your stories, too. I hope you’ll share.


I’m forcing myself to write more this year.

I bought a cheap, humongous, spiral-bound notebook at a popular stationary store a few weeks ago. The minute I left it on the counter and looked away, True labeled it “MOM” in her shakiest handwriting, so now it’s mine forever. This chunk of a notebook is becoming a scrapbook. Hopefully less infuriating than the one I made in middle school with decorative scissors and an inexplainable love for cropping family photos in geometric shapes (sorry dad).

The things I write in my notebook are awkward. Soul-baring (I hope!). Ordinary. I’m still working on what it means to be vulnerable in my writing. To step aside from all the maddening cliches and just write. Openly, honestly, humbly.

I want to step beyond free writing, but it’s going to take time. There is a certain vulnerability and determination and just plain work that goes into editing pieces I don’t ever want to read again (writers, can you relate?)

So far, with these things in mind, I have gotten absolutely lost in some of the chicken scratch in my notebook. In the piece about the teenagers in my neighborhood growing up, or the one about light and the ramen made of yarn that jumped out of the play kitchen the other day, or the particular texture of the apricots I pulled cold from the fridge.

You guys, it’s a blast to write it all down, to have a place to share what I’m drawn to, what I’m thinking about, what is changing me. I hope you’ll let me copy some of it here.

I guess if it helps to have a word or an explanation for all of this, we can call it a continuing experiment in grace and faithfulness.

In being and accepting and thanking God for who I am and in doing the hard work of changing into someone a little more like Jesus.

Writing it all down is a lot like walking and talking and breathing.

But ultimately, for me, it’s prayer.