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!