Five feminists sat down for lunch, each with differing levels of proficiency in English ranging from native (me) to barely able to follow along, and differing levels of proficiency Korean ranging from native (three women) to non-existent (me). Talk shifted quickly but smoothly from “How was your flight?” to ““What do you mean the United States doesn’t provide paid maternity leave?” as we ate from a bounty of salads – octopus, cold noodle, mushroom. I counted six total – seven if I included the pork belly (which wasn’t really a salad); eight if I included the black sesame porridge that served as our opening dish.

KWDI apps

So delicious!

The owner, a man, came by frequently to make sure we were happy. We were, or at least I sure was.

As I emptied my plate, the woman next to me kept replenishing its bare spots that exposed the pale blue design of trees and river. The food, the dinnerware, my companion all so delicate. I think everyone was surprised at my enthusiasm to not only try but enjoy everything over our conversation of infant mortality rates. I ate until I was more than sated.

Then came the banchan – the small dishes that are served with the main course at most Korean meals.

KWDI snacks

OK, of the seven pictured here, from upper left going clockwise, there is some seasoned spinach, kimchi, I think seaweed, radish kimchi, watercress, a shellfish of some sort, and I have no idea.

The main course. What I had thought was the main meal, well, wasn’t. As we discussed self-care for researchers who study emotionally raw subjects (domestic violence, child abuse, and the struggles of single mothers were among the areas of expertise), a bowl of rice and a mild stew were placed in front of me.

KWDI main

I love this pot so much. So sturdy and elegant, how I imagined the women we discussed.

I ate what I could, which wasn’t much. The smaller women around me somehow managed to empty their cast-iron bowls. Then, they poured tea into the remaining rice, those burned portions that stuck to the bottom, to create a wonderful broth that tasted like popcorn. This, they said, was what women traditionally ate after serving their husbands and children. The leftovers. They told stories of women who were beaten if too much remained, of women who dared to leave enough food for themselves after cooking all day.

Black coffee was served downstairs as conversation turned to domestic violence supports and the history of comfort women. Small roasted yams were served along with the coffee, the steam and aromas from both twisting upwards into each other as they filled my nostrils. An unexpected combination blending perfectly. Our meal complete, I wasn’t sure which part of me was more satisfied – my belly or my mind.

comfort girl night

Statue of a comfort woman


Note: I took a break from this blog in order to document my journey across the US where I sang in all 48 lower states. You can read about my MelOdyssey here

I easily could have worked from home, but the call for structure and a desire for a warm, isolated cubicle brought me in. Awaking in the dark, still not having figured out how to work my new alarm clock that will help me pretend it’s not winter with its gradually glowing light. Record colds in Portland are nothing like the ones across most of the country, but they are enough to disrupt our daily lives and kill a man. I put on an extra sweater, my soft cream hat, and my new Christmas scarf and walk to the bus as the sun begins to rise.

The bus turns and we pass the same dead lilac garden on the same route as all the other days, only this time it looks different. Half of it is covered in ice, yet no rain has fallen for days. A sprinkler break, perhaps? It’s as though someone took a fire hose to the small trees in the middle of the night. A woman gets out of her car to take a picture of it, and I long to do the same. I can’t remember the last time I took any photos, even though I keep my camera with me at all times, just in case.

Work was slow so I bundled back up an hour earlier than usual and walked down the hill, ignoring the two buses that passed; it was time to be in the sun. I took the long way down so I could revisit the icy lilacs – had they melted in the day’s light? Though it stayed below freezing, it was bright every time I left my cube to appreciate the big yellow thing in the sky, a rare sighting this time of year. As I rounded the bend and reached the bottom of the hill, I saw the trees still shone. An older man was there, too, appreciating the beauty of the cold.


Hidden in plain view

I asked him if he knew what happened. He hadn’t considered my sprinkler-break theory, and attributed this wonderland to the simple fact that the sun never reached here, In his mind, the lilacs have been weighed down by ice this whole time (several days, if not weeks). That didn’t feel right to me; have I been passing this very spot while on the bus for days unnoticed? I can’t believe that to be the case. The man continues on the path, careful not to slip.


Had this been here the entire time?

A woman comes by, walking her dog. I ask her if the lilacs will be OK. She reassures me that the lilacs will be just fine in the spring and I’m relieved. Too much death lately whether it be from Mother Nature or carelessness or whatever causes death. I take several pictures, walking carefully on the iced grass and dirt, shining in its sleekness. There are no sure steps in this grove, an isolated mystery right in front of me. Is this what happens when something is left in the dark, without warmth? It’s beautiful but cold.

I head out of the park and onto the sidewalk where the sun does shine – at least for today, perhaps even tomorrow. Then the rain comes back. Or maybe snow first, then the ice, until the sky falls as a typical Portland winter – grey, damp, wet – behaving as it should. When that happens, the lilacs will lose their weight and become as I assumed they always were, until I looked out the window of the bus this morning and actually noticed what was going on.


Time out

Tomorrow, I’m off to follow my dream. Tomorrow, I will be getting in my car to start a four-month road trip in which I karaoke in the 48 contiguous states. Tomorrow, I will begin my MelOdyssey.

I’ll be taking time away from this blog for a few months so I can focus on my new one. I hope you will follow me on my journey — and pursue your own as well.


Follow your own path

Last day, First day

Last day in the office. Even though I stroll in a few minutes later than usual, no one is there to notice. It’s completely quiet. My boss is out of town, and others will slowly trickle in as the morning wears on. It rained today for the first time in ages — strange for Oregon this time of year — so my commute didn’t include the clear view of Mt. Hood I’d gotten used to over the past few weeks. Every day for the past 13 months, whether the sun was out or not, I would take a less conventional route to the office in order to express gratitude for the view. Today, clouds and drizzle dominate, so I didn’t see much, but it was still beautiful. I suppose summer doesn’t really start in Oregon until July 5th anyway.


My daily view when it was clear out.


At my desk for the last time; I wake my computer up. There’s one tea bag left on my office shelf, my stash coincidentally budgeted exactly right. While here, tea has been a part of my daily ritual. Today it is sipped out of a paper cup because I brought my mug home earlier this week. Over time I’ve saved some of the quotes attached to the bags; those are already home as well, along with a few pictures and a ball-shaped tie-dye monkey given to me by a friend who also writes. I tore open my teabag and read, “Sing with all your heart.” Perfect – eerily too perfect – for a week from that day I will be launching a road trip where I karaoke in the 48 contiguous states.


The perfect omen: The teabag reads “Sing with all your heart.”

I add it to my collection which consists of other sayings that felt right on the mornings they were given to me:

“Joy is the essence of success”

“A relaxed mind is a creative mind”

“If ‘Plan A’ didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters”

I felt that each of those teabags was needling me to leave my job. Eventually I listened.

Boredom and chaos punctuate this last day, which made it both typical and atypical. I turn in my computer and recording equipment, leaving the box of tissues behind, along with the pen I’m using to write this on scrap paper. The pen is nothing special – a ballpoint from a major hotel chain – but it’s the pen I’ve used since I got here. Somehow I managed to keep the same pen this entire time.

I close my office door one final time to attend a happy hour held partially in my honor of my departure. Another colleague is also leaving. I barely knew her. She’s off on a fellowship and I’m off to chase dreams. I wish us both success.

Making every minute count

I got bumped to first class.

I didn’t ask for it, pay for it, or do anything to deserve it, but it happened anyway.

So I got to board early, and was served orange juice (no ice) before take off while others got on the plane. I stretched my feet out and had some room on both sides of my seat for my arms. I barely needed the rests.

When we were airborne, I was asked by name if I wanted another drink. I ordered club soda (no ice) and they brought it to me on a tray, in a real glass. I sipped it while playing video games on my iPad.

Then the flight attendant offered me a snack; I took a fig bar. She then added, “Is that it?” so I also grabbed the cashews. They’re still in my bag, waiting for a time when I’m actually hungry.

Best 49-minute flight ever.


Out the window from Chengdu to Lijiang. I did not fly first class on this trip.