Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. ~Meryl Streep

Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease. ~Lisa Alther

Now, as always, the most automated appliance in a household is the mother. ~Beverly Jones

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chuseok - September 12, 2011

Chuseok is by far the biggest and most important holiday in Korea. It is a time when family members from near and far come together to share food and stories and to give thanks to their ancestors for the abundant harvest.

This year, this representative Korean holiday falls on September 12th (of the solar calendar), but holiday celebrations run for three days, from September 11th to the 13th. For internationals located in the major cities, Chuseok is the prime opportunity to go sightseeing, since many native Koreans return to their hometowns in the countryside, leaving the city attractions relatively crowd-free.

Let’s take a closer look at what Chuseok means and what it represents to Koreans everywhere.

Chuseok (Hangawi)
Chuseok is one of Korea’s three major holidays, along with Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Dano (the 5th day of the 5th month of the year according to the lunar calendar) and is also referred to as Hangawi, which means the ides of August (August 15th according to the lunar calendar).

Hangawi/Chuseok was the day on which Koreans, an agrarian people throughout most of history, thanked their ancestors for the year’s harvest and shared their abundance with family and friends. Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, the tradition can be traced back to ancient religious practices that centered around the significance of the moon. The sun’s presence was considered routine, but the full moon that came once a month, brightening the dark night, was considered a special and meaningful event. Therefore, festivities took place on the day of the largest full moon, August 15th of the lunar calendar, which became one of the most important days of celebration throughout Korea to this day.

Chuseok Customs
On the morning of Chuseok Day, Songpyeon (a type of Korean rice cake) and food prepared with the year’s fresh harvest are set out to give thanks to ancestors through Charye (ancestor memorial service). After Charye, families visit their ancestors’ graves and engage in Beolcho, the ritual clearing of the weeds that may have grown up over the burial mound. After dusk, families and friends take walks and gaze at the beauty of the full harvest moon or play folk games such as Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance).

Charye (ancestor memorial services)
On Chuseok morning, family members gather at their homes to hold memorial services (called Charye) in honor of their ancestors. Formal Charye services are held twice a year during Seollal (New Year’s Day) and Chuseok. The difference between the two services is that during Seollal the major representative food is white Tteokguk, a rice cake soup, while during Chuseok the major representative food is freshly harvested rice. After the service, the family members sit down together at the table to enjoy delicious food that symbolizes their blessings.

Beolcho (clearing the weeds around the grave) and Seongmyo (visiting ancestral graves)
Visiting ancestral graves during Chuseok is known as Seongmyo and during this visit, family members remove the weeds that have grown around the graves in the summer season. Taking care of the ancestral graves and clearing the weeds is called Beolcho. This custom is considered a duty and expression of devotion and respect for one’s family. On the weekends, about one month prior to the Chuseok holidays, Korea’s highways become extremely congested with families visiting their ancestral graves to fulfill their familial duties. The graves are then visited again during Chuseok.

Ssireum (Korean wrestling)
Traditionally, during the Chuseok holidays the strongest people in each village would gather together to hold wrestling competitions. During the match, two competitors would face each other in a circular sandpit and were surrounded on all sides by spectators. The last wrestler standing after the series of competitions was considered the winner and was acknowledged as the villager’s strongest man, taking home cotton, rice, or a calf as his prize. Today, Ssireum (Korean wrestling) competitions are held around the time of Chuseok to determine the strongest man in Korea, but are not as big a part of the celebrations as they once were.

Ganggangsullae (Korean circle dance)
Back in the olden days, women dressed in Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) would join hands in a circle and sing together. The dance dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) during the Japanese invasion when the Korean army dressed the young women of the village in military uniforms and had them circle the mountains to make the Japanese think the Korean military was greater in number than it actually was. The Koreans were eventually able to defeat the Japanese, thanks in part to this scare tactic.

Chuseokbim (Chuseok dress)
Traditionally, as part of Chuseok, the head of the household would buy new clothes for everyone in the house, including the servants. This custom is known as Chuseokbim and is still practiced today, but has been modernized with most families purchasing clothes from department stores and boutiques instead of exchanging Hanbok.

Chuseok Food
Chuseok celebrates the rich harvest season when fruit and grain are abundant. With the newly harvested grains, people make steamed rice, rice cake, and liquor.

Songpyeon is one of the representative foods of Chuseok. This rice cake is prepared with rice or non-glutinous rice powder that is kneaded into the perfect size (a little smaller than a golf ball) then filled with sesame seeds, beans, red beans, chestnuts, and a host of other nutritious ingredients. When steaming the songpyeon, the rice cakes are layered with pine needles, adding the delightful fragrance of pine. On the eve of Chuseok, the entire family gathers together to make songpyeon under the bright moon. There is an old Korean saying that says that the person who makes the most beautiful songpyeon will meet a good-looking spouse so, all the single of the single members of the family try their best to make the finest looking songpyeon!

Another major element of Chuseok is traditional liquor, called Baekju (white wine). The holidays are a time of thankfulness and generosity and drinking is a way in which many Koreans show their generosity and bond with their fellow countrymen.

For more information about Korean holidays, visit the Official Korea Tourism Organization Website.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September - Arrival Days!

Prayer for a Birth Mother, from an Adoptive Mother
Loving God, how can I thank you for the generous woman who gave us her child? Our years of sorrow and emptiness ended with a phone call and a new child in our home. We rejoiced in the utter happiness that this birth mother - and her child - gave us then. We have received so much joy over the years.

We think of this special mother, Lord, this generous woman who bore our child. The one who went through the discomfort of pregnancy and the pains of birth - only to hand her child over to someone else to love and care for.

Please, God, bless the life of this incredibly noble woman. She gave me the great gift of motherhood, and I can imagine the cost to her: an empty spot in her own heart where this child we somehow share, will always abide.

Bless her life, dear Lord. Give her an abundance of happiness and love and family. Please let her feel the prayers we have for him and her on their special days. I think of her with reverence and love and
inexpressible gratitude.

September is a very special month for our family. BB and BG will both celebrate Airplane Day (Arrival Day, Family Day, Together Day...families call it lots of different things) in September. It is a special holiday day known only to those families created through adoption. It is the day we tell the story of their arrivals over and over again. We re-live the first poopy diaper on the airplane and the mini-hurricane that delayed our flight back home. It is a day we celebrate how we came to be a family, and to remember the birth mothers and fathers who made our family a reality.

Monday, September 5, 2011

(Another) New Beginning

Even more than January 1st, September has always felt like a "new beginning" for me. I guess that is because I have always been on a school calendar! For me, some things need to change.

For those who know me, they know I can be a bit "high strung" (OK....a euphemism for "anxious"). I find that I feel much more prone to anxiety, and general discontent, when I live my life in a way that is incongruous to my beliefs. That is where I am right now.

I believe in a healthy eating, exercise, limited TV, nurturing the spirit, and learning. Unfortunately, due to being busy, I have let most of those beliefs fall to the wayside. I have given in to convenience eating, letting my kids watch too much TV, and a sedentary lifestyle (for myself...I always make sure the kids get daily exercise and outside playtime). These "choices" have left me feeling depleted of energy and motivation. That is not how I want to live.

A while back I had success with Weight Watchers. I lost almost 20 pounds, but I am sad to report that most of it has come back. I got frustrated because I couldn't quite get to that 20 pound weight loss mark - I "plateaud" (is that a word?) just below the 20 pound milestone. It was too bad I did that, but now it time to start over and remember how good it felt to do something good for my body.

As for exercise, I miss it a lot. When I am active, all things in life are better. My plan is to start utilizing the YMCA for more than just a place to take the kids. I think with BB's new preschool schedule, BG and I can frequent the Y more regularly.

Although I am sometimes missing work, I do have a number of projects and groups I have joined. I am fortunate enough to be connected to church and to some groups that focus on adoption/Korean culture. I also have a stockpile of educational and parenting books that I am ready to dive into. These efforts will be a good way to channel my desire to keep learning and to connect with others.

I also need to expand my cooking skills. I asked for assistance from my Facebook friends and got some excellent tips on meal planning. Cooking and planning is a major weakness of mine. I don't know how it happens, but the day gets so busy and all the sudden it is 5:30PM and the kids are starving. I need to shop and plan healthier meal choices. DH and I have made a plan so we can all eat together, which we both feel is important. We have had good success in modifying BB's diet to help him with sleeping and behavior. It is time we all got on board!

So....let the self-improvement begin! I must be gentle with myself and understand these changes in lifestyle won't happen overnight. I must keep in mind the goal is to try to live according to what I believe in.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


At her two year well visit, BG's pediatrician noticed her poking at her right eye. DH and I thought it was just a habit. She gave us a referral to get her eyes checked.

I did not think that her eye appointment was anything more than just "following though." We had noticed that she likes to stand close to the TV and sometimes she pulled books close to her, but we did not think that either of those things were significant.

It turns out that she needs glasses! I still cannot believe it, but am so thankful we found this out. The opthamologist explained that her vision needed to be corrected, so the "vision" part of her brain can develop correctly. If we do not correct it now, even with future correction her vision would never be 20/20.

We are very thankful we have the pediatrician we do. She specializes in international adoption and is very thorough. Of course the opthamologist, and most other doctors, ask about family history. Do her birth parents wear glasses? BG's social history does indicate that her birth mother "wears eyeglasses," but beyond that we do not have a lot of information. Even though Korea provides significantly more birth family information than most other countries, the medical questions are still very difficult to answer. This piece of things is always going to be tricky, but I am thankful to have a pediatrician who understands.

Back to School

OK...notebooks, pencils, new clothes....

Wait! I am not going back to school this year. It feels really, really weird. BB and BG arrived in September, but with both of them I started the school year. I never missed an opening day.

Although I am excited to be home with my children, I am missing my professional life a little bit. I love the feeling of excitement of the first week. I like getting back into a routine and seeing my colleagues. I like the energy of the children and teachers.

BB will be starting a new preschool this year. Transitions, and school in general, has not been very easy for him. His first daycare/preschool experience did not go well. His classroom was not a good fit. Aside from one excellent and loving teacher, his primary teachers did not give him the affection or guidance he needed at that point in life. He was two years, 10 months old in a classroom with 3 and 4 year olds. It is my belief they failed to take into account developmental levels and realize that he was a just a baby in a big kids' classroom.

Since that time, we have learned much more about his sensory, fine motor, and behavioral needs. Over the summer we continued with occupational therapy, which has made a world of difference for him. As parents we know better how to get him the daily sensory input he needs. BB went from being resistant to trying fine motor tasks, to being excited about writing, drawing, and coloring. We have also realized the he must continue to take naps, because fatigue is a huge factor in his behavior. We have changed his diet (removed the milk and egg, limited the soy, limited the sugar, and avoid food dyes). Next year he will continue to get daily classroom support from his occupational therapist and special education teacher.

He is doing really well, but it does not stop me from getting a stomach ache when I think of sending him into a new classroom. Will his teachers be able to support him? Will he make friends? Will he have fun? Will he be able to sit and follow directions? I know I am no different than other parents on the first day of school. I imagine that everyone has these thoughts. Unfortunately, his first school experience haunts me. He is such a special, loving, and beautiful little boy. As parents, we want the world to enjoy him as much as we do.