October 14, 2014

The sound of her love

Feeding my family.

It's more than just filling their empty bellies. I wouldn't need to cook to do that. During the siege of Leningrad in the early 1940s, desperate mothers were boiling their husbands' belts to make a broth for their starving children; ripping off their wallpaper for the scant amount of flour found in its glue. That is filling empty bellies. Feeding my family is less about survival (though we thank G0D for our food at every meal because without it we would starve). Feeding my family is more about...love.

Love comes in many audible forms. For some, love sounds like the buzz of a football game on TV, with a toddler dressed for game day tucked under his arm and a bowl of guacamole on the coffee table. For others, love sounds like the polite hum of a bass-boat motor on a whispering lake, with a wife at home who sent him off that morning with a cold-cut sandwich and a kiss on his cheek. Love can sound like the creak of a saddle or the whirrrr of a circular saw. I know at least one person for whom love sounds like a paint brush knocking about in a cup of water, turning the water gray from color-overload. Love can sound like the croon of a road-trip playlist, the crunch of dried leaves underfoot, a baby making sounds in the back of church, or a child plunking away at his arpeggios, up and down the piano.

For me, the sounds of love come from the kitchen. Of course I remember how my mother's food tasted, and I remember how it looked, and how it felt in my hands and mouth. I remember, too, how it smelled. But most keenly, I think, I remember how it sounded each day when Mom lovingly prepared our food. The springy click of the potato peeler, the falling thud of the blade paring the crisp potato flesh. The hissing of course-chopped onions dashed against hot oil, the snap of a corn cob down the middle, the hollow sound of celery being sliced against the grain. The ding of the timer, the beep-beep of the microwave, the suctioned yawn of the refrigerator opening, closing, opening, closing. The crash of pots and pans when a lid was needed in a hurry, and the rush of running water from the faucet, rinsing the residue away.

And now I am the one making music at the cutting board. I am the one building a soundtrack of love for my family. Like a Bon Jovi song that brings me back to tenth grade - when all I have to do is hear a few notes strung together and suddenly I am there, in living color - so it is when I hear the sound of pudding being whisked over medium heat. Suddenly I am back in 1988 and dinner is at 5 O'clock. Dad comes home from work in his polished shoes and ironed shirt, drops his brief case, and scoops us up in his arms, his breath still smelling like the onions he had in his lunch, and his beard tickling my cheek in the softest, happiest way. The memory is of Dad, but the sound of the oven door thunking closed behind us was all Mom. It was her way of loving us, her way of saying it.

It was the sound of her love.


p.s. Can you tell what book I'm reading, Rach? ;)

cocky little bugger

This was our guest in Chinese class on Monday.

I spotted it crawling between my foot and my book-bag, fat and unfaltering, as if it belonged there. I squealed and recoiled. My teacher giggled. When I kept staring at the cockroach, with my legs pulled to my chest, she acquired a look of concern and asked, "Are you afraid?"

"Not afraid," I said. "Gross." (I speak very simple English with her)

"Oh, I see," she said, and then scurried from the room. A few moments later she returned with a janitors mop, soggy and gray. With the mop she chased the cockroach, giggling at herself, pushing the mop's bulgy top against the bug for a second or two at a time. Every time she released the pressure, however, the roach, unharmed except for its pride, kept walking in the same direction. It wasn't the least bit intimidated by this giggling Chinese woman and her nasty old mop.

"Out the door," I suggested. My teacher nodded, and the next time the mop was in place over the roach, she swooshed it into the hall and closed the door behind it.

Class resumed.

October 09, 2014

The age she was back then

I had a birthday Monday. I am now 34 years old.

The thing is, I clearly remember my mom at this age. I remember her and her friends, Evonne, Staci, Marybeth, all of them permed, frizzed, and frazzled, carting us around in their minivans, chasing us out of their formal living rooms, browning hamburger for dinner and learning to bake chicken breasts (the new thing in the 80s). There was anti-aging cream in the bathroom drawer, thick golden perfume stagnant in dusty bottles on Mom's dresser, and humongous (it seemed to me) size medium ladies underwear drying in our laundry room. What a mom.

And now that's me. Except I don't feel near as old as Mom and her friends seemed to me then, nor as old as they remain in my memories of them. I'm sure Jubilee looks at me now and rolls her eyes, wondering where my sense of style is, and why my teeth are the color of sand instead of the color of milk, and why I breath coffee air down onto her head when I read her stories in the morning.

But someday she will turn 34, and perhaps she will smile, remembering.
Me on my 34th birthday, which was also Chinese National Day, hence the flags adorning all the tables at the Intercontinental Hotel Buffet where Daniel, Alisa, and John took me to celebrate.

October 04, 2014

Beautiful Day

Today was a beautiful day - in every sense of the word. First of all, the weather. Oh my goodness, the weather was beautiful today. I mean West Michigan beautiful, Northwest Arkansas beautiful, Central Kentucky beautiful. The blue sky towered overhead, strewing strips of sparkling gold sunlight, interspersed with long autumn shadows, all across the streets of this otherwise flat, matte city. It was warm enough for shorts but cool enough for goosebumps in the shade. Black and turquoise butterflies flitted, hand-pulled noodles roiled happily in their steaming pots, and even my cold Coca-Cola tasted better than it usually does. My-oh-my what a beautiful day.
Our selfie!
To make matters even more beautiful, I got to spend this day entirely in the company of my beautiful daughter. Daddy and the boys are camping tonight with friends, and so Jubilee and I had the whole day and evening to ourselves to do exactly as we pleased. It was glorious.

We started out with lunch, dining in the open-air, ordering noodles for her and chicken leg with pickled potatoes for me.
She and I are the only members of our family who love Chinese cuisine, and so whenever we go out together, we eat at precious places like this.

After lunch we rode our scooter through town to the Wal-Mart down by my old school, where I bought her a toy of her choosing - a blue teddy to which she gave the name Sky (appropriate name for a day like this).

After that we scooted some more, and soaked up some more sunshine, taking our sweet time. We arrived home contentedly sometime after 5, to heat up bowls of chili (my parents' famous recipe) and then watch Sweet Pea Beauty - a Veggie Tales' princess movie, in which inner beauty is stressed over physical appearance. During the movie we devoured a big bowl of popcorn between us, and I have to say our hearts felt more connected than ever. It was a day of snuggling and talking, eating and cruising, and we thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.

What a beautiful day.


October 03, 2014

Go Team Home School!

Jubilee and Brave weren't old enough to race, but Jubi snuck into the pic:)
Our sweet home-schooled kids (above) before their big cross country race the other week. For a team without an athletic budget, going up against kids from acclaimed international academies, I'd say we did pretty well. Way to go, Team Home School!

September 29, 2014

a little research

My agent and I are still waiting to hear back from the publisher(s) about my freshman novel, and in the meantime, it's on to my sophomore novel. Presently I'm doing a bit of research. One of my research excursions was to a symphony in town, featuring a dramatic piano solo. Have you ever heard a Brahms piano solo? Banged out with utmost gusto by a Chinese woman in a red strapless dress?

Wow. It was just wow.

My company that night were these four women, who are (from left): a tiny Korean lady, with whom I communicated in Chinese, a very tall American watercolor painter who grew up in Papua New Guinea, a Finnish pianist and friend, and a very cute French teacher from France. And me - the one with four kids at home and a wonderfully supportive husband who wants me to be a novelist probably even more than I do. 

I kinda love my life.

September 25, 2014

A choice to make

Growing up, my mom always said to me, "You are only ever as happy as you make up your mind to be."

And so in the midst of trials, I declare that today is a good day.