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Croque Madame.

Croque Madame.

When I went to Paris, all I wanted to do was sit in a cafe and smoke elegantly thin cigarettes. However, the whole time I was there, it was raining and the French were horribly mean. I was grumpy, and the romance of everything I had envisioned was completely shot.

After seeing the Moulin Rouge and miserably stuffing my face with baguettes that were damp from the moist air, I passed by a nondescript cafe and backtracked when I smelled the most amazing scent of cheese. That was the first time I ever tried a Croque Madame, and my perspective on grilled cheese had changed forever.

The Croque Madame from Huckleberry in Santa Monica was the first Madame I tried here in the US. The eggs were beautifully cooked, the bread was enough to slice into but still produced a satisfying crunch, and the ham and Gruyère blended together like one soft pillow of heavenly quality. Good start to my 100 New Things! 🙂

Huckleberry
1014 Wilshire Bl, LA 90401

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michael.

eHarmony didn’t find me my husband, but it did find me a friend named Michael.

I had been single for almost two years and decided that I would try this ‘online dating’ fad that seemed to spread like a hormonal rage of a wildfire. I was uncomfortable with exposing myself to the hungry eyes of single men across the online hemisphere, and I didn’t know whether to fear for my life or to bounce around with excitement at the potential of meeting my future partner. Either way, it was a brand new experience that I was willing to try out.

The first thing I noticed about Michael in our messages was the absolute positivity that exuded from his charisma. I remember telling my friends how intimidated I was because he looked like he came straight out of a cover of Bodybuilding Magazine, but at the same time, it was so refreshing to talk with someone who carried himself so well and he knew exactly what he wanted to pursue. He spoke of his dreams and executed them with that wonderful smile on his face, and simply didn’t care what obstacles lay before him.

He was so determined about his dreams to become a Korean pop star. He had a vocal coach, let me listen to his tracks, and went on and on about every minute detail of what would get him to that finish line. The twinkling in those eyes shut up any doubts or uncertainties within me, and I really had no choice but to be in awe of his mindset. I shared about God and he had tons of comments and questions, all without any judgment or bitterness. Seriously, it was one of the most interesting first dates I had ever been on. I’ll never forget that day of easygoing freedom to share wonderful stories with each other.  

We became friends, and I invited him to check out my church. He came in with his sister at his arm, and the love that he expressed to and about her was a quality I rarely saw, and the two of them held such a high level of respect and selfless care for each other that it almost seemed like I was getting an insider’s exclusive look at something very intimate and raw. He would share about the battles that his mother’s body faced everyday with such a steadfast faith that even though I felt shaken by mere words of what she was going through, he had a fierce commitment to making sure she was always in good hands and always knew how much her son loved her.

We had lost touch for a little while, and I started attending a new church. Imagine my surprise when during a holiday presentation, Michael ran into the sanctuary in the middle of a flood of children. They mimicked his moves as they all danced quite messily (but the messier it was, the cuter it seemed), and the pure state of elation on Michael’s face moved me into a sense of pride and a spidey-sense inside of me indicated that Michael had been transformed in some way and I wanted to know what it was. We caught up and he shared about how he was going to go to seminary, his relationship with Christ had been restored, and he had finally found a home church to call his own. I was so happy for him, and we had a great time of reminiscing about that night at Yardhouse when he was solely focused on becoming a superstar in Asia.

It was awesome seeing Michael here and there at our church and seeing his group of solid friends grow. He was serving and loving on people as naturally as he knows how. He had found his niche in showing the world his extraordinary dance skills, and during one of his performances, he had one quick moment to sit right by me and I remember so distinctly a quiet smile that was traded, and it said, “How far we’ve come.”

I invited him to a mixer I had helped to organize, and we exchanged plenty of hilarious dialogue about how stupid online dating really is, and how these mixers could possibly be even stupider. But lo and behold, he had found a girl there that he was attracted to, and he had hit gold with her. If I had an older brother and he had brought home a girlfriend, I would have felt that exact same feeling about Michael and this new gal.

I moved away and didn’t see him for a stretch, but we had recently started talking again because I wanted to help him find homes for his pups whom he adored. Through all of that, I thought I was the one who was looking out for him, but he always managed to sweep in a “How are you doing these days? What can I pray for you about?” This guy who had gone through surgery, was so far from home, and a lot of crap to deal with, cared about anything about meIt blew my mind the depth of his love for people, it really did.

It was an honor for me to have been able to call Michael my friend. I’m going to miss him, and I’m so thankful for these wonderful moments that I got to share with him. He was one of a kind, and such a unique and talented individual who loved passionately and infected people with his childlike zest. It makes me so sad to think upon this loss, but I know that this is not the end.

See you later, Michael. You’re so loved.

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waiting {part three}.

Hi. 🙂 Did you miss out?

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“Have you prayed about it?” my friend asked me, brown eyes pouring into my soul like death by molasses. I began to nod, paused for a millisecond, and then resumed my bobbing.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure this is what I should do,” I answered, not realizing that I was continuing to nod and had not stopped.

“Pretty sure? But what did you feel God telling you?”

My head was starting to hurt from the world floating up and down before my eyes. And all I said was, “Yeah, pretty sure.”

To this day, I feel like someone pricks me at the bottom of my big toe when I hear the words “Pray about it” in response to grand decisions I need to make about my life.  It’s almost as if I get lazy at times to just pray and listen for God’s voice to instruct and lead me, and would rather have Him tell others to intercede and act as my messenger. On the other hand, it can come off as just a cop-out Christianese answer, and there are definitely people who have used this to get out of a situation.

Should I go to law school? Pray about it.

Should I quit my job? Pray about it.

Should I take this job? Pray about it.

Should I dump this guy? Pray about it.

Should I go to grad school? Pray about it.

Should I really consume this fat carne asada burrito at 4AM? Eat it.

I have ‘should’ so much over myself over the years that I often compare myself to a gigantic, walking question mark. Nothing is stable and committed, and friends even would joke that big decisions I made would transform into something different anyway, so for no one to hold their breath. I really did try though, and I really did try to pray about it. But what ended up happening was that I would quip up a few words asking God to reveal and to clarify, and all of a sudden, my prayer would turn into a report of what I was leaning towards and what felt right to me. It gradually became enough to simply tell God what my plans were, rather than sharing with Him all my doubts, fears, questions, and possibilities, then trusting that He knows it all and He has me. Waiting is embedded into the beauty of prayer, as is prayer within waiting. You cannot simply do one without the other.

It was exciting for a while, I have to admit that. Feeling that thrill about an opportunity rise within my throat like vomit, then acting on that on my own will and going off to my new adventure. I have had some really amazing experiences, and I’ve had some really horrible ones. But after so much of my life was invested into spontaneity and abandonment, nothing was rooted in my heart and as a drifter, I felt lonely frequently and felt unfulfilled in a frightening way. I would find myself in the wake of a concluded journey, wondering “What now?” and trying to figure out why I couldn’t even feel at home in the place where I lived.

I reflected the girl who cried wolf, the wolf being the looming NEXT BIG THING. I became guilty to share anything new with my dearest friends with the fear that they may roll their eyes and perhaps react the same way I did at times to my life, which is “Seriously?” And then a massive lie gripped me into submission, which was that nothing was permanent and lasting, and that just like the story of my life, nothing could possibly be forever and joyful.

I felt more alone than ever.

And as if by some cruel schedule, the vomit came up again. But this time it was very different, involving something significant that I later realized had been a longing deep within me for almost ten years.

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waiting {part two}.

Click here if you missed Part One.

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I am a terrible, terrible waiter.

Not that person who takes your order and delivers your food.

But that person who has to wait. For anything.

I needed to get out of Michigan, stat. Although there were very specific things about Michigan that I absolutely grew to love – namely my roommate Kristin, the largest cumulus clouds I ever saw, snow, and the cheese pretzels from our dinky cafeteria – there was a massive arsenal of things I could not stand. I couldn’t wait, so in the same zest one would acquire in jumping out a burning plane, I applied to Biola University (again, another miracle that a four-year institution would take me, but my sob story essays may have been killer) and got in. My poor Prelude had to endure yet another cross-country trip in less than a year.

Once I arrived back in California, I did not return as a changed, shiny girl. Instead, I was deeply bitter about a lot of wounds that I let fester, but that was another chunk of my life that I did not have any time for, and healing needs time more than anything. I became a bulimic of the new, consuming all that I wanted that would take me further and further away from the cowering, real me buried deep inside. We all know that even new things grow old, and that was when the purging would commence where I sacrificed everything that would remind me at all of where I came from and who I really was, leaving me constantly dissatisfied and alone. I even broke up with a kind boyfriend who was really trying to be there for me and genuinely cared for me, without a good reason at all.

My heart had become its own private island airport, where the only traveler whipping through the waiting terminal was me and me alone.

Biola lingered and trudged by like an ancient snail, and it had a strange similarity to its predecessor. I was antsy as a child could be and did the very best that I could to stay sane, which meant jumping from major to major, joining clubs and quitting them, taking an eclectic arrangement of classes, and working ridiculous odd jobs to keep me distracted from the looming possibility of any stability in my life. In reacting to the pure ecstasy of completing the college portion of my life, I hit the ground running and left for Europe for a few months (despite the flighty character of who I am, this was probably the best thing I ever did for myself), fulfilling my desire to disappear and take some time to breathe some newness into my bones again. Upon my return, my post-college, young professional life was no different and to this day, it’s amusing to review my resume because the only thing that all of these jobs had in common was that I never stayed longer than 1-2 years.

The punch line is that I also have not ever lived anywhere for longer than 2 years either. This brought me to a so-called philosophy: Why the hell should I wait for life when life never seemed to show mercy and wait for me?

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waiting {part one}.

I have been learning a LOT about waiting during this Advent season. I have been processing so much, but in doing so, one blog post became a few. So I hope you connect with it, friend, especially if you’re in a season of waiting expectantly too. Thanks for journeying with me.  — C

open-road2Well after my “dishonorable discharge” from high school, I took some time to nurse my wounded, bleeding ego. I was in a fragile, flighty state that forced me to consider some dramatic options about my life. I thought about joining the FBI (but discovered that my F-ridden transcript made me extremely unqualified), joining the Army (but realized that I was traumatized from academia and did not want to take any sort of test, ever), or joining my flame S at his apartment in France. Obviously, the latter seemed the dreamiest and I actually qualified for it, until a very short conversation that took place over the phone.

“I just want to sit on your lap and eat bread,” I sighed into my bulky Nokia cellular device, “Every single day. Doesn’t that sound good?” He laughed briefly, before answering, “Definitely. Then we’ll get married.”

Dead silence. “Carrie?”

I hung up the phone.

I remember sitting hopelessly at a church my mom forced me to attend as part of my “recuperation from sin.” An old Korean woman came up and asked me if I was going to college. I said no, because I was expelled and I don’t even qualify. That seemed to be my identity at that time: Unqualified. She shook her head at me and walked off, muttering something about the Korean heritage being shamed by my irresponsibility. Then an annoyingly chipper girl sat down next to me and advised me that I should attend community college and wait a couple years before transferring to a decent school.

“Even you will get into community college,” she emphasized, trying to be encouraging but instead coming off condescending and incredibly snobby. I acted like I didn’t care, and long after she had left, I suddenly felt angered. I didn’t want to wait two years. I was the most impatient person in the world, in fact. I wanted to leave that church, that city, right at that MOMENT. My soul instantly decided it wanted to depart, and go on an adventure. I obeyed, and ended up getting accepted to a small, private Christian university in the Midwest. In hindsight, that was a pretty good-sized mistake, but at that time as a brand new believer, all I could think was what a GOD-GIVEN MIRACLE it was that I was going to college and most importantly, I had my ticket out of there. Within the next three months, I packed everything that I owned and drove my ’95 Prelude 2,300 miles to Michigan.

Impatience may have been an understatement.

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tenacious.

I used to be obsessed with the Ninja Turtles. More specifically, I used to be obsessed with Donatello. He was the smartest one of the bunch, and was always careful to use reason and logic to do what was right. He wasn’t an immature glutton like Michelangelo, wasn’t bossy and entitled like Leonardo, and wasn’t moody and a ticking time-bomb like Raphael. For four Halloweens straight, I was Donatello (rest assured, this was as a child) and even on non-holiday occasions, I would strap on my turtle shell and purple bandana, hollering and swinging around my makeshift bo-staff.

One day, I suggested to my mother that we get four turtles so that I can have my own real-life heroes in a half-shell (TURTLE POWER!). That was when she started asking her friends where she could find turtles, and all of them kept telling her that they were illegal to purchase and she would not be successful. Even the threat of being fined and facing charges as an exotic animal dealer didn’t stop my mother, and she finally found someone who could help her to acquire the turtles. To her horror, however, her turtle-guy ended up getting her four GIANT turtles. These were not the puny turtles you find in Chinatown, but these were each the size of a full-sized cat. As they slid and clunked around on our tiny kitchen floor, my mother used every muscle in her body to keep calm as I squealed and cried with joy.

This past Thanksgiving, I had suggested to my mother that I wanted to eat delicious crustaceans instead of a boring turkey. She found that one market had run out of crabs, so she went to another. And then another. And finally, she found what she was looking for and came home with four GIANT crabs. I was immediately transported back to my childhood in that tiny apartment in Brooklyn, gazing at my mother with absolute admiration as those ridiculous turtles smeared green poo all over my feet. She can be such a boss sometimes, absolutely tenacious with what she would do for me. That’s probably my favorite quality about my mother, and I respect her tremendously for it.

I honestly don’t think I have half the tenacity my mother has, but it’s such a fine example of a mother’s love that I hope to embody with my own offspring. I mean, for her to be this good to me after the years of crap I put her through is amazing. It’s seriously one of those things that I’ll never understand until I experience it. Like falling in love. Or stuffed olives.

The whole point of this is to say I am thankful for my mother. And after everything we had been through and the immense strain our relationship had to endure, 2012 has proven to be the real beginning of our relationship. Thank you God for second chances, and it’s seriously better late than never.