Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"The Story of My Life"

Over the last month I've sworn up and down that I was going to cancel my Facebook account only to decide that I've got too much invested - too many photographs, too many random status updates, too many this or that - to actually follow through. 

Arrival to the United States in November 1976
Truth be told, there are also too many Korean adoptees. I've been a part of a group of Korean American Adoptees for some time but hadn't really become more participatory until the last couple of months. Why? I don't know. Just is what it is. But what I've found in that forum is a collective group of individuals that understand my struggles and in turn many times my darkest fears and deepest dreams. Despite the fact that we are spread across the globe - some younger, some older - we all share a common thread that binds us together.

I have only just recently started to understand the shapes and forms my identity problems have taken. To most who do not know me I present as a confident, self-assured, intelligent and outgoing individual. Outwardly I am able to say that am good at what I do professionally - the work that I've done has contributed to three years of national awards and I have worked hard to earn the respect and confidence of the leaders who depend on me and my skill set. 

Those who are closest to me however know that I battle low self-esteem.  I overachieve so I do not disappoint. I very carefully calculate my risk so as to not fail. I have difficulty feeling worthy or deserving. There is rarely a week that I am not fearful of losing my job. I am terrified of being left alone, especially in a large crowd where I do not know anyone. For the longest time I viewed my eyes - their unique almond shape and dark brown, almost black color - and my ethnicity as a liability. 

This became especially true in junior high school as friends began experimenting with makeup. The teen magazines don't tell you what to do if you do not have an epicanthal fold and trying to figure it out on my own meant that more times than not I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein rather than the fashionable teen pop star. Of course I was also lacking the blonde hair and blue eyes that society told me was what beauty looked like.

I have done my best to keep my insecurities in check around my daughters, especially The Oldest as she has grown from a toddler to a child who is blossoming into a girl. The last thing I want for them is to project my insecurities into the universe where they can be at best perceived by them, and at worst become a part of who they are. I never want them to look in the mirror and doubt who they are.

I still haven't figured it all out - but with the help of an excellent therapist and some good medication I'm starting to understand how, at the very least, the pieces of the puzzle might fit together. Small dashes of confidence are starting to add up and with that my view of the world has become a little more cheery and bright. As a very wise person once said to me, "It's amazing what happens once you start to like yourself."

Despite the fact that everyone - at least right now - in the Korean American Adoptee group are largely unknown to me personally, I take comfort in knowing that they exist in the vast expanse of cyberspace. In the absence of a biological connection to the place of my birth, aside from The Oldest and The Munchkin they are the closest thing to blood relation that I might ever have. I'm learning more about the food, the culture, the customs and yes - even about how to properly put on eye make up. And I relate to - no, I feel their hurt and their sadness because it has been mine as well.

My file photo, sent to my parents.
I was at the gym tonight putting in some dreaded 'mill miles because it was far too raw and cold outside to go for a run with The Munchkin (despite her asking if we could from the moment I picked her up from daycare). 3 miles done, I slowed my pace to a walk to allow my legs and muscles to cool down and as I did I was scrolling through my email messages and then Facebook on my phone. As I checked out the Korean American Adoptee page I was greeted by a collage, compiled of photos of us (well, not me because I missed this one). There are photos of arrival to the United States, as infants, or the first images sent from orphanages and adoption agencies to waiting families. I always smile when when I see the collage because it makes me feel less alone seeing so many pairs of eyes that are like mine, cheeks and cheekbones like mine, shiny black bowl-cut hair that frames a round face like mine staring back at me. So it seemed fitting that as I was looking at all the adoptees in the photo, Bon Jovi's "Story of My Life" came on to my iPod. 

I used to have that song on my run playlist when I was battling demons that were waging war inside my head. I sometimes would listen to it over and over again to remind myself that I could make it through 24 hours and at midnight I could say I had survived yet another day. Lately, it's been a reminder of where I've been and where I am now. But this afternoon as I listened to the lyrics it took on a new meaning. 

I know it isn't black and white
And it's anything but grey
I know that no I'm not alright, but I feel ok cos
Anything can, everything can happen
That's the story of my life

Many of those photos may look black and white or gray but if you look closer, they're hardly that. They are rich hues of the threads that make up the tapestry of our individual stories. They're the stories of our lives.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Officially Unofficial

I have officially, unofficially completed half-marathon #7 - The 3rd Annual Carmel Half Marathon as part of the Carmel Marathon Weekend. This makes me a "Certified Streaker" because I've completed this event, starting in 2011 with the  8k and then 2012 with the half, the last 3 years. Knowing that my hope is someday to publish all of these blog entries into a published journal for The Kiddos I will only state that prior to this the closest I ever came to streaking was on a summer night on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont and that wasn't nearly as physically demanding as covering a distance of 13.1 miles purely under my own power. This, however, has been infinitely more rewarding. 

So why officially unofficial? Because after I entered the starting corral, and only a few minutes before the start of the race, I had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I realized that I had forgotten to attach my timing chip to my sneaks and knew exactly where it was resting on the kitchen table at home. In all honesty, I'm the kind of person who can put my phone and keys down when I walk in the door and 5 minutes later not be able to find them so the fact that I haven't done this sooner is kind of remarkable to me. 

This race was never about time - it was about participating in an event that I love with members of my running family and pounding out frustration and heartache in the ground - so the fact that I don't have an official race time doesn't phase me in the least. I am worried that not having an official finish will negate any further streaking I might be a part of - I've been really proud to have participated in the inaugural event in 2011 and hope that in 10 years no matter where I may be that I'll be here for this event. So I'm hoping that the race organizers will be able to accept photos from The Other Half, Garmin and/or Runmeter data, and if needed a friend that can attest to the fact that I passed her going in the opposite direction (the course loops back on itself) and somehow make a note in their records that I did indeed run. It was what it was, though, and knowing there was nothing I could do but try and contact the race organizers after I stood at the start and said a few silent prayers, took comfort in the red and white "B" adorning a hat that I've had for more than 10 years and waited.

It was cold this morning and after being teased with temperatures that felt like late spring, walking out into 32 degrees was a bit of a rude shock. Temperatures, by the way, which were colder than the Monumental Half Marathon I ran the first weekend in November last year. Adding to the chill was a stiff breeze. No, wind is probably more accurate. If the wind was to your back it wasn't much of a problem but as soon as you turned into it or if you were in the shade it felt like it cut to the bone. Despite this it was a beautiful morning to run. As the start was signaled and we made our way up hill to the start line (yes, you read that correctly - you run uphill to the start) the sun was cresting over the trees and the sky was illuminated a rich hue of gold. I pressed play on my shuffle, let my Garmin add to the chorus of GPS beeps and chirps, and began my journey toward the finish. 

I updated my playlist last night. As I ran I wanted to remember Boston and all of the HAPPY memories I have. As much as The Boston Marathon is included in those, the best ones have been at Fenway Park - home to the Boston Red Sox. Most people, Red Sox fan or not, are now familiar with Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" (which is sung in the middle of the 8th inning) but there's also "Tessie" by The Dropkick Murphy's and "Dirty Water" by The Standells. It seemed only fitting, despite the fact that I've got my own feelings (barf) about the song, "Sweet Caroline" was up first. 

"Where it began, I can't begin to knowin..." is how the song starts out. I reflected back to the first time I had seen the Boston Marathon and then, fast forwarding, to the first time I really felt like I had become a true runner and not just a wanna-be-imposter. 

"And when I hurt, hurtin' runs off my shoulders. How can I hurt when I'm with you?" My legs started to protest as they warmed up andI ran through my usual internal monologue of cuss-words and f-bombs as they did but the hurt in my heart was greater. I thought how fitting it was that those words came at a time I wanted to release my hurt and leave it behind. 

I cycled through those three songs, with "Your Going Down" from Sick Puppies added in for good measure and as I settled into a comfortable pace my heart started to feel at ease and I was able to remember why it is I so very much love to run. I missed The Munchkin but there were points in time, when the sun was shining directly behind me, I was fortunate enough to run with my shadow again. She led the way reminding me to dig down when my legs started to fatigue and gave me a pep-talk when cold chilled my fingers numb. Along the route people who recognized the "B" on my hat would say, "Way to go, Boston!" or "You're almost there, Boston! Keep it up!" THAT, warmed my heart and made me smile. The miles passed by one after another - some more more challenging than others - but all remarkable and a testament to the collective determination and strength of those of us who run or walk. 

As I crested the hill to the final yards toward the finish, with perfect timing "Dirty Water" began to play. 

I'm gonna tell you a story
I'm gonna tell you about my town
I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby
Aww, it's all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles 

That's where you'll find me

Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home.

The Other Half was at the finish to greet me - I saw him taking photos and tried to smile (but I think I look pretty geeky). I crossed the finish, collected my finishers medal and then my Streaker medal (bling x 2?!?! BONUS!!!) and then made my way through the chute. Here's to Certified Streaking, my 7th Officially Unofficial half marathon, uniting with the running community, and honoring - in my own way - the city that I love. Oh, Boston... You're MY home.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Time Transformation

This morning it was just The Oldest and me at home. The Other Half had left to bring The Munchkin down to Kiddo Care about 30 minutes earlier and we were sitting quietly at the table - her eating cheese toast and sipping on orange juice and me crunching away on my cereal drenched in coconut milk. 

The Oldest loves to read. She's got book upon book upon book and is starting to collect a number of digital books on her Nook too. I looked up from my phone where I had been engrossed in the morning news stories on NPR and looked her way.

And there she was. 3 years old, legs just barely dangling over the edge of the chair as she peered into her cereal bowl with a spoon trying to be a Big Girl. I blinked and that little girl was gone. I had to catch my breath and choke back tears. 

The Oldest glanced over at me and looked concerned. "What's wrong, Mommy?" she asked as she put her hand on mine. I scooted over to be closer, wrapped my arms around her and kissed her forehead. 

"Nothing at all, Peanut." I replied. "Just thinking about how much I love you." 

"Okay," she chirped before smiling and going back to her reading.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love That Dirty Water

In the state of Massachusetts and Maine, the 3rd Monday of every April is a holiday. Patriots Day. It commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the first shots of the Revolutionary War that started the colonies on their path to freedom.  As President Obama so appropriately said, Patriots Day is “...a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation.”

I spent half my school years growing up outside of Boston in a suburb called Reading. Our street dead-ended at a place where, if you climbed through the brush you'd come to a fence on a rocky ledge that overlooked Route 128 and it wasn't unusual to hear the roar of jets flying overhead as they made their way to and from Logan International. In the spring there were trips into the city to spend time at Boston Common and ride the Swan Boats (especially on Mother's Day). The summer brought games at the famous Fenway Park where the wooden slat grandstand seats from yesteryear are so small that even a normal person living in 2013 feels like they're going to eat their kneecaps and in the fall you could find me sitting, legs dangling over the side of a bridge with my dad as we ate Legal Seafood chowdah while we watched the crew teams competing in the Head of the Charles glide beneath us (or occasionally hit a bridge abutment). Winter would bring trips to the Science Museum where we'd watch in fascination as the worlds largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator created an awesome indoor lightning storm or visits to the aquarium where everyone knew how to walk like a penguin thanks to the Boston Aquarium commercials. 

But Patriots Day - Patriots Day was a day all on its own and for many of us who grew up in Massachusetts it holds very special memories. 

There were journeys to Lexington to see the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington where, at 5am on a cool April morning, when dew and a spotty fog covered the grass our history and our present collided - spring jackets, sneakers and cameras beside tri-corner hats, petticoats and muskets. A rider on horseback appeared, words exchanged and the sleepy green awakened with Minutemen coming out of the tavern and houses surrounding the green and "arriving" from nearby areas. All were prepared to fight the British - the Red Coats or "lobsterbacks". The reenactment itself takes only moments and is done before it ever really feels like it gets started but it's a unique piece of history - history that lives on every year on Patriots Day.

There's a Sox game - a rare early week, midday game that one year could be filled with sunshine and game goers wearing shorts and t-shirts and the next people dressed in their winter's finest parkas, hats and gloves trying to keep the chill away by holding a steaming cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee or eating a Fenway Frank that I think Steven King once said look like its been cooked in water that came right out of the Charles River.

And then... Then there's The Marathon. 

Just as I'll never forget my first Sox game or the first time I saw the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington, I'll also never forget the first time I saw the Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful April day - the kind that makes you forget that just a few weeks before you were wearing snow boots and drinking hot chocolate. It was just my dad and me and a few thousand of our closest friends as we found a place to stand along the route just before the course takes a turn and the runners head for Heartbreak Hill. We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Just as I started to get bored we could hear the siren blips and blurps of a police motorcycle drawing closer and before long it and a strange looking truck carrying a television camera passed us with the elites cruising not too far behind. I remember my dad leaning down and asking me if I could believe that a human being could run that fast. I couldn't then and I still can't now. They made it look so easy, so effortless and so graceful.

What I remember most about that day though is how a slow trickle of runners continuing on their 26.2 mile journey became a steady stream and then came in wave upon wave upon wave. Heads bobbing, hooting and hollering, smiling, laughing - some dressed up in costume, others in their running best - while those of us on the sides cheered. I was lucky enough to get a high five or two and be a part of one of the state's proudest and finest days. 

So the fact that someone has taken a day - a day that for me and many others like me is associated with so many happy memories and turned it, at least for now, into a day of unfathomable tragedy and sadness is beyond my comprehension. My heart aches for Boston. I feel sick to my stomach for so many reasons - only one of which is the fact that this was a violent, senseless act - yet I am also grateful that those that I knew who were in the area are safe and accounted for.

It's only been within the last few years that I developed a love for running. I tried, unsuccessfully in high school to be a 100m high hurdler and loathed running anything that had the world "mile" in it. I would joke that the only time I would run was if chased and even then it had better be downhill with a stiff tailwind. It at first seemed impossible and I was limited to running short intervals of 15 to 20 seconds with double the amount of walking to recover but with time and persistence I started putting enough distance together to cover a 5k and eventually a half marathon. Somewhere along the way running became less of  a struggle and more of an escape, especially when it included time with The Munchkin. As I grew and developed into a runner I began to have a new appreciation for what it must mean to actually qualify for and RUN the Boston Marathon and with that came the dream of actually running it myself. I know what it's like as a spectator - I grew up loving The Marathon because of it. I want to know what it's like to be on the other side. 

Which is why what happened on Patriots Day - April 15, 2013 - is all the more difficult for me to understand. For the love of "my" city but also for the running community because - whether we know each other or not - we're all one big family. We share a common thread of knowing that no matter how long we've been gone or need to be away, the road or the trail will be waiting for us. We've shared our triumphs and our successes. Like your oldest, most trusted friend it listens to our sorrows and sadness - allowing our tears to fall and our screams to be heard. Because running is unlike anything else - for most of us we've experienced a time when even the shortest of distances has required pure grit and determination to propel our bodies along using only the strength of our legs and the will of our mind - I feel like there's an unspoken understanding. We all chafe. We all do nasty things to our toenails and talk about poop and trots and snot in such candid ways most non-runners think we're crazy. And maybe we are because who, after all, would want to push their bodies to the point of physical exhaustion or rise before dawn because it's better to get the long run done on an 80 degree summer morning than when it hits 90 in the middle of the day. 

Though the title of this Blog is 3M: Motherhood, Munchkin and a Marathon I had put my marathon plans on hold. After injuring my leg the way I did last fall I rethought my plan and had decided to focus on running the half-marathon distance (still no small feat) and on trying to become a half-iron distance triathlete. Yesterday changed that. I don't know when, but I WILL run the Marathon distance and some day I WILL run Boston. Because as the song goes... I love that dirty water... Boston, you're my home. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Connecting With My Inner Korean Cook

One evening, when The Oldest was in a Montessori preschool with an international focus, The Other Half came home and told me that he had spoken with one of the teachers about their upcoming Thanksgiving Feast. She had asked if I would be willing to make a dish to share. Knowing how much I love to cook and bake, he said that he'd double check with me but didn't think it would be a problem. 

Remarkably, he remembered to tell me. He relayed that it was supposed to be something special - something that we had as a family at Thanksgiving that was part of our tradition. Immediately I started thinking about making chocolate pecan pies or looking up my late grandmother's apple pie recipe because those were, after all, our tradition.

When I dropped off The Oldest at preschool the following day I was met with a very happy teacher who was smiling from ear to ear. "We're so excited," she gushed. "Thank you for making something for our Thanksgiving feast! We've never had Korean food before!"

Panic on the inside. Calm and cool on the outside. 

Uh. Hmmm. Well. Yeah. About that...

I smiled. Nodded. Said I was happy to and that I looked forward to it.

As soon as I got to my car I called my husband in a panic.


In his defense, he probably didn't know. He sounded so dumbfounded there's no way he could have known. He tried to tell me to calm down, that it would be okay but all I could think about was how I, the Americanized Korean Adoptee who knows exactly three words of Korean and sadly doesn't even like kimchi, was going to be able to pull off making a Korean dish, let alone enough of a Korean dish to share. Ask me to make chicken tetrazzini? No problem. Strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream? I'm a master. Korean food?

When I got home, in a frenzied panic I pulled out a cookbook that my father had given me for Christmas and began leafing through the pages. I wanted to make an authentic dish but the first requirement was it had to be something that I thought people would be willing to try with a very close second requirement that I had to be able to find the ingredients and third that it wouldn't take eons for me to make. Strike one. Strike two. Strike three. I was out. 

Out of desperation I turned to the internet and began searching out websites and finally found one that I thought might work. It looked fairly simple, could be made for a large group easily and didn't look so strange that people wouldn't wonder whether or not they dared try it. To this day I have no idea as to the authenticity, but they ended up being a huge hit and the school finally had their Korean food. 

Pa Jun (Korean Scallion Pancake)

Prep Time - 10 minutes | Cook Time - 10 minutes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 1 bunch scallions, halved and cut into 2 to 3 inch lenghs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • oil for cooking
  1. Mix all ingredients together and let sit for 10 minutes. Check consistency before cooking - the batter should be a little bit runnier than American pancake batter so the Pa Jun cooks quickly and evenly. 
  2. Heat a saute pan over medium heat and coat with a thin layer of oil
  3. Pour enough batter into pan to create a thin layer (about 1/3 of the batter)
  4. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until set and golden brown on the bottom
  5. Turn over with a spatula or plate and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add more oil if needed.
  6. Serve with soy sauce or other Asian inspired dipping sauces. Serves 4 as an appetizer or as a side dish.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oven Roasted Smashed Potatoes

Garlic Parm Oven Roasted Smashed 'Taters
The great thing about these 'taters is their versatility. Serve them with a breakfast of quiche or scrambled eggs, or as a side to a dinner of grilled chicken or roasted fish. Dress them up with some chopped rosemary, garlic salt and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese or season simply with some fresh grated pepper and sea salt. They take a little longer to make because you have to steam the potatoes first and then roast them, but they are a favorite in my household and I promise are worth the extra time. 

You will need
  1. 1 bag of small potatoes. I think Trader Joe's calls these Teeny or Tiny Potatoes. The ones that I use are usually well under 1 inch in diameter. If you can't find Teeny Potatoes you can cut up larger ones into smaller pieces
  2. seasonings: rosemary, garlic salt, seasoned salt, sea salt, cracked pepper, or curry are all great starts but be creative!
  3. olive oil
  4. a small glass dish (Pyrex custard cups work great)
  5. a non-stick baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray

First, preheat your oven to 425. 

Place a steaming basket inside a pot filled with just enough water (I usually bring the water up to just under where the steaming basket is). Add the potatoes and place on a burner over high heat to bring the water to a boil. Steam the potatoes for 5 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork.

Transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl. Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and then add any seasonings before tossing the potatoes to coat. 

Empty potatoes onto the baking sheet and spread them out evenly. Using the bottom of your small glass dish, gently press down on a potato and "smash" it flat. You may find it helpful to use any remaining oil in the bottom of the mixing bowl to coat the bottom of your small dish in between smashings to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. 


 Add any extra seasoning or grated cheese before placing on a middle rack in the oven

Cook potatoes 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. You can turn over the potatoes half way through their cooking time if you'd like but it's not necessary. 


Dear Munchkin

Dear Munchkin -

 You weren't so sure you wanted to run this morning. When I started to get you dressed you flopped backward onto the floor and started flailing your legs around making it all but next to impossible for me to get your jeans on. Not that I could blame you as the sky was (and still is as I write this) a cloudy gray and when the wind would gust I could hear it whipping by the screen in your window. Eventually, with the promise of fruit snacks you kept your legs still long enough for me to get you dressed and as I tied your shoes you smiled at me and said, "We run?"

Yes, Munchkin, we ran. You are too little to understand right now, but hopefully someday you will have an appreciation for just how much we have. Since the summer of 2011 we have logged more than 400 miles together and I'm certain that by the time the end of this summer we will have surpassed 500. Over the last couple of years my running has changed. YOU have changed.

Your dad will someday tell you that I hadn't been across the finish line of an 8k more than 10 minutes when I asked him what had happened to the jogging stroller that he had bought me when your older sister was born. He smiled at me, laughed, gave me a look of resignation and told me after he saw a guy pushing a jogging stroller cross the finish line he knew that it wasn't a matter of if I'd ask about the jogger, but when. We got home that afternoon, fished it out from where it had been sitting in the garage for more than 4 year and dusted it off. Your old ride was okay but it pulled hard to one side and made running more of a challenge than it should be. Despite this, we started logging regular miles and before long we were lucky enough to upgrade to the wheels you have now. 

Our miles that summer were sometimes a bit of a challenge. You always enjoyed the first few miles and they would pass with giggles and laughter. Sometimes you'd become quiet and listen to the birds or babble to yourself but no matter what the distance, about halfway through our run you'd start to scream. It would be so loud that I used to joke with others in the training program if they needed to find me to just listen for you. I'd do my best to get you settled down but most of the time I just had to hope that you'd eventually fall asleep. Thankfully, fall asleep you usually did. As you've gotten older there have been times when if it weren't for your asking me if we could run, I never would have gotten myself out the door. And the expression on your face when I pick you up from daycare after a long day at work and you see me and say, "I run?" makes me smile every time.

I have spent some of my best moments with you when we've been running. We've talked about trees and birds. You've waved to dogs and people or pointed out bunnies and squirrels as they scurry across the trail. On long runs your small hand will often reach up through the jogger canopy to hand me a grape or a cracker or the occasional empty fruit snack package that you no longer want to hold. We've laughed and sang and otherwise just been silly - and when you've slept I've glanced down at you and wondered how in the world I will ever be able to tell you how much our runs mean to me. 

This year you've started running with me. I usually stop about a half mile away from where we started, you hop out of the jogger and will start trucking up the trail under the power of your own two feet. Last Sunday, as you began running you turned around, smiled at me and squealed, "You can't catch me!!!" For now, I'm grateful that I can but I'm fairly certain that my days of being faster than you are numbered. As I watch you there are times that I start to wonder if maybe you will become a runner on your own. But until then I'm happy to take your hand when you reach for mine and run with you.

I love you, Munchkin. Thanks for being MY running buddy. Thanks for being my inspiration.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

400 Miles

By the time The Munchkin and I had completed our walk - run/walk - run on Sunday our total miles logged together since 2011 ticked up to just over 400. That's like us running from here in Midwest Exile to Erie, Pennsylvania. Wow.

I took this photo of her at about 4.5 miles into our run, just after a potty break and before our turn-around point.

Thanks, Munchkin - for the laughs and smiles, but most of all for some of the best hours of my life that I've ever spent.