Saturday, July 19, 2014

From Left to Write: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 50th Anniversary

As someone who majored in British history in college, I have some bones to pick with Roald Dahl. When I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child, I took everything at face value. But now, I read it and think, that's just impossible--there can't be a person screwing on caps at the toothpaste factory, a ninety-six year old who has been bed-ridden for twenty years (Grandpa Joe) can't suddenly get up and start walk (his leg muscles would have withered away due to non-use), and, here's the history part, a family of seven in 1964 England in such desperate financial straits would have received enough welfare assistance from the government that they wouldn't have had to eat cabbage all day long.

The absolute positive knowing that goes all the way to my bones of that fact is a small part of the Golden Ticket of my life--my college education. Yes it may be trite and overdone, but for me, going to college was and is the ticket to opening doors for me that would otherwise have been shut. Since we moved to the U.S. at five years old, my sisters and I worked with my parents in their business. My entire childhood, my parents operated stands in Chicago's largest flea market as well as opening up their store in Chicago's South Side and in Logan Square. I remember getting up before dawn and standing outside in the freezing Chicago winter and thanking God when my legs would thaw with the sunrise. I remember my father coming home after being punched in the face and held up at gunpoint. I remember reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and thinking how I wanted so much to win a Golden Ticket to get my own family out of our miserable financial condition. My parents labored seven days a week for the singular goal of getting me to the best college I could achieve. And from the day I was accepted at Yale, I knew that on some level, I had made their years of hard work worth it because my future would be better than our past and present.

In many ways, college was my Golden Ticket. Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I had health insurance. I went to UHS once a week mostly because I could finally get everything checked out. Of course the education itself was the best in its league, but I fully appreciated the other opportunities I had never had in my childhood and made sure I made the most of the experience: joining the crew team, touring with the Yale Gospel Choir, going to Oxford for junior year abroad, and working as head manager of the varsity football team.  It made me the person I am today and continues to enrich my life. I met my husband at Yale when I was a freshman, so you could say that I stare in the face of my Golden Ticket every day!

For both Charlie and myself, however, the Golden Ticket itself didn't guarantee anything. Charlie had to pass the tests to earn the right to be Wonka's heir. Likewise, my college degree has opened doors, but it was my hard work and my job performance that kept those doors open. Any Golden Ticket by itself is meaningless. You have to use the ticket and follow through to the end to make something great happen. I'm so glad I was able to read the book again with my son H. Here are some of H's thoughts on the book:

I thank God for giving the blessing of my Golden Ticket. Boola boola!

This post was inspired by the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

Head over to From Left to Write to learn how you and your child can have a chance to win the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes where the grand prize is a magical trip to New York City plus much more! For every entry submitted, Penguin Young Readers Group will make a donation to First Book. Then, join From Left to Write on July 24 as we discuss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a book club member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Great Disney Adventure First Days

It was finally here! The trip we've been talking about for the past seven months. The ultimate carrot that was brought out over and over again to elicit good behavior. H had followed through with his end of the bargain and gotten rid of the Ns in the citizenship section of his report card. We were on the redeye but the boys were so excited we left the house before 7 PM. R was very excited to go on the airplane and was the only one of the five of us to sleep the entire 5 hours. So the next day, while the others slept, he was the only one awake enough to with me on the boat ride from the Swan to Emcot. Sorry, that's what R calls Epcot. The minute we got to Epcot, they shut down the boats due to a thunderstorm so we had to walk back in the rain. It is a short walk from Epcot to the Boardwalk to the Swan, and much faster than taking the boat.

Everyone got a great night's rest and we were off to the Magic Kingdom in time for the rope drop and the walk to the Mine Train. When we got there it was a 90 minute wait, but luckily I had read some blog reviews that said the line moved along pretty well. We got in line and it ended up being just over an hour. While we were waiting, H and I got on the Tea Cups with NO wait. Awesome! We were able to get on Tea Cups, Mine Train, Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain by 2 PM. The one ride we didn't get to ride was Splash Mountain due to some "mechanical issue" (I think someone threw up in the water), but that meant we were given a free fast pass to any ride in the park! The new Fast Pass Plus system works pretty well. We used our initial three, then we got another one for Pirates, and then another one for Under the Sea.

I've been sensitive to roller coasters for the past 20 years. Every time I rode one I felt like throwing up afterwards, even a few years ago at Disneyland. But something magical happened at the Magic Kingdom, I felt fine!!!!! Maybe it was myself drinking the kool-aid too much, but it truly was the happiest and most fun place on Earth. (Apart from Middle Earth, of course.) The one thing I missed was getting my Dole Whip. I was too sugared out at the time we passed by the snack shack that was selling it. It just means I have go to Disneyland at Christmas, just to get it!!!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

From Left to Write: Bittersweet

This past weekend was a whirlwind of family events. My Stewart (actually his middle name) is named after his older cousin Stewart. Stewart and his wife C are in the mid 40s. I don't actually know how old they are because my Stewart had told me that his cousin Stewart was 45 when we first met, which was when Stewart was actually 30-something. Stewart and C are about to have their first baby and family flew in from Oregon, where Stewart grew up. My in-laws extended family is one aspect of Stewart's family that I LOVE. Like the protagonist in this month's From Left To Write's book selection Bittersweet, I have given my heart to this sprawling family that has accepted me with love in return. My own family is limited to my sisters and parents since all our other relatives are in Korea.

Stewart's family is very tight with each other for life events. When we had our wedding in Chicago many years ago, everyone flew and drove in from every corner of the U.S. and Korea. It was the last time we would dance into the wee hours with Uncle Mel, who shortly thereafter had a stroke. Then his wife, Stewart's Aunt Soo, fell ill with brain cancer and passed away after a short but brave fight. Most recently we got together for Aunt Chunghee's 80th birthday bash in Oregon and Stewart's sister's wedding in Los Angeles. During these happy and tragically sad times, the family came together and supported one another and always let each other know they were there to be leaned upon and even held onto for dear life. Even this past weekend, when we were all gathered together to celebrate the imminent arrival of a new addition to this wonderful family, the members of the Oregon contingent made the time to go visit Uncle Mel, who is in a nursing facility forty minutes away.

I am very blessed and proud to be part of this family. I was at Trader Joe's with Stewart's cousin M when I ran into a friend. I don't think M knew how happy I was to be able to say, "this is my cousin M" as I introduced her to my friend. I drove M around town and lent my hands wherever they were needed to help with the event. Stewart wasn't around because he was getting ready for Bay to Breakers and had taken BART to the city to pick up his number. Every moment was special and nice and yet bittersweet. Because I knew that on one level I was soaking it all in to fill up my love tank so that I could survive today. Today is the one year anniversary of my young cousin Dong-gi's car accident in Korea. His life had just been about to take off. He had served his obligatory time in the Korean military, paid his dues at the entry-level posts of his career and was on a project that was going to take him to success. He could start thinking about getting married and moving to the next stage of life. All of it cut short by some bad decisions in the middle of the night. I can not stop the tears as they flow while I write this part of my post. My youngest sister J got on a plane from Chicago to Korea so she could be there for the memorial. I told her she was the representative of the U.S. side of the family and carried all our grief, love, comfort and support for my uncle, aunt and cousin.

Family is important. Cherish it, work at it, don't let stupid arguments come in the middle of it. Dong-gi, 사랑해, 내 마음에 아직도있다.

This post was inspired by Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, a novel that exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider’s hunger to belong. Join From Left to Write on May 20 we discuss Bittersweet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Break LA Days 2-3: Car Troubles, Hard Rock Cafe and Happy Birthday R!

We had planned to spend Friday going to the California Science Center. A generous friend had given us tickets to the IMAX theater and a parking pass, which would have made the entire visit free since the CSC doesn't charge for admission. (If you're ever visiting LA with kids, this is a great place to spend a day.) We had visited the CSC when we lived in LA but it was during the time when the boys had no memory, and of course Princess E had never been there. The IMAX movie coupled with the fact that the Space Shuttle Endeavour was parked there had us eagerly anticipating the visit.

Then...the Honda Service Minder lit up indicating we needed a B1-3 service. Not just a simple oil change but something more complicated. I didn't want to risk getting stranded on the side of I-5 on the way back to the Bay Area so we gave up the museum that morning and hoped to make it for the afternoon. Two hours later, service was completed. We stopped for lunch with the boys getting burgers at Five Guys and Stewart and I getting some Mediterranean sandwiches at a place I won't mention because it was so terrible. We come back to the car and nothing. The car won't start. Ok, fine, we'll call Honda cares, we'll get a jump and then go to the museum. Not so fast. There is something wrong with the battery connection, namely it's broken. Ok, coincidence that it happened right after we get a service at the dealership? So we go back to the dealership, they fiddle with it, and somehow fix it so that the connecting part is securely attached.

After all this, it's already 3 PM and we decide to throw in the towel and just go to Stewart's sister's house. After all the passes to the museum don't expire till February 31, 2015. The cousins had a great reunion and great dinner at Pitfire on Westwood. Stewart was amazed to see how much E could eat. She really enjoyed the spaghetti and pizza there. The restaurant gave the kids modeling clay to occupy them before the food arrived, which they really enjoyed. The kids also enjoyed the delicious, fresh lemonade and the organic soft serve ice cream. I really liked the kale salad and the burrata pie. The restaurant was within walking distance of my sister in law's house, which was nice since the last thing we wanted to do after all that car trouble was to get back into a car!

Saturday morning we got up early to go to a Blogger Brunch at Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood at Universal Studios. I don't know why, but I always thought Universal was far out there like Disneyland. I vaguely knew it was in Burbank but for some reason I thought Burbank was near Fullerton. Now that I think about it, it may have been because I went to Burbank Elementary in Chicago, which was near Fullerton Ave. The strange connections we make in our minds.
The kids had a blast with the characters and the clown who performed tricks with bubbles and all the other things kids enjoy (parachutes, face painting, etc). Stewart and I filled up on the hearty breakfast buffet. There were enough hot and cold items offered to satiate anyone looking for a good start to a full day at Universal Studios. It's also the time of day that the Hard Rock is probably least crowded so you won't have to wait as long as you would have to at the end of the day!

Saturday afternoon was filled with an ice cream celebration for R's 6th birthday at Manhattan Creamery. H wanted a triple decker of chocolate and it turns out to be a better deal just to buy a pint. Everyone enjoyed their ice cream creations and had some fun on the beach. It was a really windy day and of course the inevitable happened. Princess E fell into the water and needed a complete wardrobe change back at the minivan. We then celebrated with Baby J for her dohl jahnchi, the customary first birthday Korean celebration. Delicious Korean food and fabulous company and friends. All in all a great day!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did enjoy a complimentary brunch at the Hard Rock Cafe for review purposes. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Spring Break LA Day 1: La Brea Tar Pits and GENWA

We lived in Los Angeles for almost two years. Funny how you don't get to do touristy things when you actually live in a place unless you have relatives coming to visit from out of town. While we lived there we had never been to the Griffith Observatory, Universal Studios, La Brea Tar Pits, and quite a few other iconic LA destinations. Stewart's sister lives in LA. We hadn't been able to make it down to see her December-born baby so decided to make a whirlwind trip of it for Spring Break.

We thought it would be easier to leave at night so the kids could sleep. This worked in the past. But suddenly our boys have torsos and legs that are too long to fit comfortably even in the captains chairs of our swagger wagon. Imagine a wild animal moaning during its death throes--three hours of this before we finally got to our hotel pit stop for the night in Valencia. The next day we got up, enjoyed a free breakfast, and then made our way to the La Brea Tar Pits. We had driven by it several times while we lived in LA, but had never stopped for an official visit. The kids breezed through the museum in less than an hour. They enjoyed the exhibits and the short films. I enjoyed watching the archaeologists on display in the Fishbowl (they work behind glass so museum guests can see what they are doing). Then HRE spent half an hour outside rolling down the big hill that makes up the sides of the museum. I think they may have looked into the actual tar pit for 15 seconds.

I was glad we stopped by because now we know what it's all about. One of the funniest moments happened at the display of G. Allan Hancock's office. (Captain Hancock had donated the land for the museum.) A group of kids was there for a field trip and their teacher pointed to an object and said, "Kids, that is called a typewriter." I thought it was so funny that these kids had probably never seen an actual typewriter before. I also noticed that the teacher didn't explain what a typewriter did, so I wonder if those kids actually understood that it was used to produce letters in the medieval ages when computers didn't exist.

After our short visit, I asked Siri to give me some options for nearby Korean restaurants. She came up with several, but GENWA Korean BBQ was the highest-rated and I remembered passing it on our way to the museum. It was really hard to make the decision, they had me at "25 banchan (side dishes)." The restaurant is very close to the La Brea Tar Pits and has the benefit of free parking. We ordered udon for picky eater H, soft tofu soup for R and E, naeng myun (cold buckwheat noodles in broth) and a combo chicken kalbi ssam bap and dwenjang jjigae for me. They were very good to the kids, bringing them kids cups and plates and the standard coloring sets.

Everything was delicious and fresh. Stewart commented that it was the freshest Korean food he had ever eaten. All the vegetables and banchan tasted like they came straight from the farmers market. It was the most joyous Korean food experience in recent memory. I wish I had taken a photo of the banchan when it came but I was too excited to start eating and forgot! I couldn't even eat the dwenjang jjigae there because there was too much eating to be done with just the banchan. They even brought us the egg casserole as a "service." I was so happy. After I ate to the brink of explosion, they brought us shikhae and lollipops for dessert. The lunch prices are entirely reasonable and I would recommend it to anyone making a trip into LA. I'm extremely sensitive to MSG so I did have a bit of a reaction to the food afterwards, but that would not stop me from going there again. There was so much leftover I had the dwenjang jjigae for lunch the next day! A fruitful first day in LA. More to come!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chess Anyone?

A couple years ago I posted about the time vortex that is the phenomenon of Little League. But that was before Chess Team. A Little League baseball game last two hours tops. Earlier this month I experienced a chess tournament which involved leaving the house at 8:40 am and returning at 6:30 pm. If it were an event for myself that would be one thing, but this was for R, age 5, member of the national elementary school champion team. Of course the team won the national championship last year when R wasn't even at school, but he did have to try out and make the team. He has been diligently attending practice every Monday and Friday after school this year. Sadly, I haven't been as on top of his progress as I should have been because of work, but the recent break in my schedule freed up that particular Saturday for R to make his chess tournament debut.

Since it was his first tournament, R was in the unranked K-8 division. Five rounds, with each successive round determined by winning or losing the present one. This tournament didn't have a kinder only division so in one of the rounds he played against a 12 year old. Yes, R lost. He is no Waverly Jong. In fact, he lost every single match. But I was proud. He played through every round with a great attitude. Not once did he say he wanted to quit. Not once did he complain or cry about losing. He was there to play chess and he did.

During a walk to the Bay at break time
About half an hour after his last match, he got a nosebleed. It was the first sign of how tough it must have been for him mentally, emotionally, and physically (later at night he cried out many times because of pain all over his body). I knew we needed to leave before the awards ceremony so I asked the organizers if he could have his medal and leave. I also pointed to the line on the registration form that said every kinder would get a trophy. They tried to argue that it was a mistake and he shouldn't get a trophy for losing every match. Hello, chess administrator, you're talking to an attorney. The registration form was an offer, not mere puff. I paid the fee and you registered him so there was an acceptance. He is getting that trophy! Yes, I fought for and got R a trophy for losing. I used to say that getting a trophy just for showing up was ridiculous. I used to say I would never want that for my child. Ahh, the lessons we learn about ourselves through parenting. 

Here is my reasoning. There are many things in life where you get kudos just for showing up and completing. That day Stewart was somewhere in the middle of California completing the Tough Mudder 12 mile obstacle course. Stewart was out there for almost five hours. When he entered the last electro-shock obstacle, was knocked down by the shock and got through by crawling to the finish, he deserved a medal for completion. When I ran the NYC Marathon, I got a medal for finishing, albeit 2 1/2 hours behind the winners. When a five year old plays chess for eight hours, yes that's a marathon and he can claim a trophy without an ounce of embarrassment. Hopefully it will be the encouragement that he needs to get to the next tournament. I promised him that he wouldn't have to play against 12 year olds, though.

R received his United States Chess Federation membership card last week. He has officially entered cyberspace. If you go to the website you can find his name on the list of players. CHECKMATE!

Monday, March 31, 2014

From Left to Write: The Idea of Him

I love New York.
I absolutely love New York.
New York is the best.
How did I get here from there?

As I was pumping gas at Costco this morning, these thoughts ran through my head as I was trying to think of something to post for our From Left to Write book club selection, The Idea of Him. Then it hit me. I was drawn to the book because it is set in New York City, the dream city of my childhood. There was also a Him that was part of my New York life, but that's a story best left untouched. Living in New York was the idea of glamour, intrigue, and success that was my singular goal growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. For a time I achieved it. Then I let it go because I felt myself getting hard like the Sunscreen Song predicted. But I loved my life there. So this is my post on why I love New York. Because there are too many reasons for just one blog post, I'm going to limit myself to five. The first five that fill my head--go.

1. People. Everyone from everywhere. You can be rich, poor, college graduate, high school dropout, old, young, white, black, yellow, brown, Jews for Jesus, Lost Tribe of Israel, anyone and everyone is there. Sometimes when I look around here in the Bay Area it strikes me how different the diversity here looks. Yes, there are people of every background here but it seems like there are pockets of this or that ethnic group or socio-economic echelon rather than the glorious patchwork of God's creation that you get in one subway car down Broadway. I miss that. It saddens me that Princess E stares at certain people in Trader Joe's because she rarely sees them around town. It saddens me that my children don't get why Martin Luther King Jr. was so important. It saddens me that everyone, including R's preschool teacher, first speaks Chinese to me because they assume I'd rather speak that than English. (I'm Korean, BTW.)

2. Food. Anything you want to eat any time of day or night. Oxtail soup on 32nd Street to stave off a hangover at 4 AM. Seitan burritos and all the homemade chips and salsa you can eat at Burrito Box. Bread from Amy's. The impeccable service at Union Square Cafe. Overindulgence at Daniel, Bouley, Le Bernardin. Steaks at a restaurant where a member of La Cosa Nostra was gunned down outside. Macarons from Fauchon. Breakfast at Tea & Sympathy. Part of me can't believe how much money I spent on food in Manhattan, but another part of me doesn't regret a single cent. It's not as if I could have those delectable morsels now even if I had internet startup IPO millions. I will say that the one area where the Bay Area does beat Manhattan is in boba tea. Gong Cha, you almost make up for not being able to get a Kati Roll. Yes, I even miss the Indian food in Manhattan. There are no food carts where I live, so the tastes can't be replicated, sadly.

3. Easily accessible culture. There is a show of every kind going on at all times of the year in New York. Ballet, opera, Broadway, art exhibitions, foreign film festivals, S&M exhibits, whatever tickles your fancy. Here you have to plan and drive. I used to go get the nosebleed tickets at Lincoln Center because I knew I could go by myself and catch one act or the first half of something before I had to go back to work. I used to go to the Guggenheim solo because I hate being rushed. Sometimes I just want to go stare at Kandinsky for an hour. And not have it be a big deal or a super trek. So in this post NYC life, I end up doing next to nothing.

View from Rockefeller Center (my former office-this photo from Wikipedia)
4. Youth. As I look back on my life in New York, I know that I'm wearing rose-colored glasses. As much as I miss anything else, what I'm really missing is my youth. My 20s and early 30s. My life after college. My first fitting at a designer dress shop. My first robin egg blue gift box. Going to the exact same bars as featured on SATC and ordering cosmos. Everything is exhilarating the first time around. It loses its appeal subsequent times down the line. The City keeps you feeling young because of its frenetic energy, the constant influx of new blood, and its belief that it is the center of the Universe. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

5. Proximity to my college and Stewart's alma mater. I loved my college. The actual campus and the football stadium. I loved being able to get on the Metro-North and go back whenever I wanted for games or even just to walk around. I have photos of H as a toddler sitting on the canons at West Point. As much as I am proud of my sister, it isn't the same feeling when I walk with her through Cardinal territory. It's probably stemming from the same place as number four, but on this coast I have nothing to connect me to my youth, no sense of continuity with my past and the loss is palpable at times.

Having gone through this litany of memories, I realize that what I'm missing is not the Idea of New York. It's really the Idea of Me. Who I was for such a long time and how I felt connected to the world and my environment. How I defined myself. And the message is clear. Like Allie in The Idea of Him, I need to move on. I can't keep looking to the past to limit my present. I can't long for a past that can't be replicated or relived or regained even I moved to New York this minute. I need to stay focused on the future and invent a new narrative. I know I can do it. After all, not only is the steaming, angry concrete animal a part of me, I'm a woman. And I'm a blogger. Hear me roar!

This post was inspired by the novel The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson. Allie thought she had the perfect husband, until she finds him and another woman in a compromising position in their own apartment. Join From Left to Write on April we discuss The Idea of Him. Join us for a live chat with Holly on April 3.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.