In Memory of Sang Gil Suk 8/7/39 – 9/7/14

Farewell to My Daddy: A Rock Star! A Writer. A Role Model.

Daddy Suk's younger days
Daddy Suk’s younger days

The Rock Star

In College I told a friend about my dad’s “Rock Show.”

My friend replied, “What? You’re dad’s in a band? He’s so cool!”

“No, not a rock show with rock music, but a show with stones, viewing stones.” Apparently, that was still cool; so we went and enjoyed a more mellow kind of show, one with peace and God’s beauty at the center.

These stones (or Soo Suk) filled our home, lined our walls, stairs and bathroom. Even our last name “Suk” means “stone” in Korean. God gave my dad a fitting name. And in turn, my dad gave my eldest son, his middle name – Ian “Stone” Wang. Even my email is stonemama@gmail.

And like a rock, my dad was strong, carved by God and one of a kind. His passion was to discover stones that told a story… of war and peace, a story of strength and vulnerability, and sometimes a simple story of a dancer…which brings me to his love for words.

The Writer

My daddy, the writer, the poet, not only admired beauty in nature, but he deeply appreciated the simplicity and profound nature of words.

He has probably penned over a hundred poems. And though they seem simplistic at first, they are pregnant with meaning. That’s really hard to do! The collection of poems could easily be made into a book, but he didn’t care about the result as much as the process of creating.

And that creative literary spirit was passed down to me. Nature and words spoke to his soul. It was his way of connecting with God, like it is for me. I now realize that the things he valued, I learned to value from him.

One of dad's hundred+ stones
One of dad’s hundred+ stones

The Role Model

My daddy was my role model:

He loved fun. He loved God’s creation. He loved animals. He loved people. He loved life. He loved Jesus.

He loved well.

Sometimes he took fun to an extreme. Once he was playing a game called “Bloody Knuckles” where one person punches his fist against another’s fist until someone gives up. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) My dad played this silly game with a co-worker half his age and ended up breaking his hand, literally fracturing it. Okay, this is not good role model behavior, but what I did get from it (besides, don’t play “bloody knuckles” with someone bigger and stronger”) was that even when you’re 50 (or 70 or 90), you can still enjoy playing silly games! (Only remember, safety first!)

He had no desire to accumulate wealth or power, but rather, he valued experience and beauty far more. He spent his money on trips and on people, instead of on stuff. (He’s been to Death Valley nearly 30 times and took people on tours at least half the time.)

But even more than the rocks I painfully stubbed my toes against, or more than the poems that are sadly lost in translation because my Korean is lacking, or more than the silly guy who would joke with perfect strangers, I remember my daddy as the one who taught me to enjoy life, to not take things too seriously, and to be giving. He would say, “you learn by doing, so let’s go…” camping, hiking or into some new adventure.

As a grandfather, my dad found a way to slip money and gifts into every meeting with my kids. And we saw him a couple times every week! At one point, my youngest exclaimed, “Harabugee is RICH!”

Yes, indeed, he was rich. We didn’t live in a grand home, but we were rich!

Socrates said, “He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” My daddy’s genuine appreciation for the simple and small things in life made him wealthier than kings.

When I think of my dad, I think of the classic children’s book, “The Giving Tree” By Shel Silverstein. This tree gave it’s leaves, apples, branches even it’s whole trunk to the one she loved. And in the end, though my dad didn’t say much, he kept giving, just like this tree. Let me read the ending to this story…

“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy,

“just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”

“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could,

“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”

And the boy did. And the tree was happy…

And my dad was happy.

My daddy was my tree, my rock… a steady support. When he looked at me, his eyes sparkled with pride. I knew he was proud of me and that has made me stronger, too. His support has made me who I am today.

Thank you, daddy, for teaching me how to live well. I miss you. But I am excited you are in the best place ever – with all the people you haven’t seen in so long, a place of immense beauty and an eternal story to tell.

You are gone from here, but your legacy lives on in me, in your grandchildren and in all the people who were fortunate enough to meet you.

I love you. Though it hurts to not have you here anymore, I know I will see you again!

Daddy and me
Daddy and me

Olympic Freeway Murals Come Alive Again

Originally published in Fall 2014 Quarterly Magazine

John Wehrle's "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo" - 101 Freeway at Spring St.
John Wehrle’s “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo” – 101 Freeway at Spring St.

Larger-than-life faces, a child frozen in a handstand, flying mythical columns, and colorful cartoon cars stream by on concrete walls as commuters and visitors from around the world speed or crawl by restored murals.

This is Los Angeles, “mural capital of the world,” and home to the 10 Olympic Freeway Murals from 1984.

Angelinos are fortunate to live and work in a metropolis surrounded by public art created by esteemed muralists. But it is easy to take the beauty of the artwork for granted as drivers sit behind the wheel.

Yet these murals beckon and bend to the rushing nature of traffic. They were created to be experienced in motion – an inspiring backdrop during a hectic day.

According to Isabel Rojas-Williams, Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA), “Although we were all excited to host the Olympics in Los Angeles thirty years ago, in my memory the excitement occurred as I opened the Olympic Arts Festival calendar and saw the opportunities to enjoy world-class art along with world-class sports!”

Unfortunately, mural art is more susceptible to not only highway expansion and the elements, but also taggers who illegally vie for the public’s attention with their own message, placed directly on top of the commissioned works. Because of this, Caltrans painted over the walls. And supporters of the original art have called for restoration.

On August 24 of this year, MCLA held a 30th anniversary celebration fundraiser to help the effort.

The original 10 muralists were honored at the historic Pico House: Glenna Avila, Judith F. Baca, Alonzo Davis, Willie Herrón III, Frank Romero, Terry Schoonhoven, Roderick Sykes, Kent Twitchell, John Wehrle, and Richard Wyatt.

According to Wehrle, “It was wonderful to see people … who went through the same fairly harrowing experience” of making art on the shoulders of some of the busiest freeways in the world (the 101 and 110.)

It was also an honor, Wehrle said, to be counted among the reputable muralists chosen “to represent a vision of LA and the chance to work with other visionary artists of the highest caliber.”

Wehrle’s 24’ x 207’, Keim silicate paint Olympic mural, Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo is an homage to the ancient Greek games and man’s reach into space as a Babel-like tower becomes the rings of Jupiter.

Rojas-Williams said, “As an art historian and scholar of murals, I’m inspired by the history conveyed by the murals in our city. The 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals were painted by some of LA’s most iconic muralists.”

The painstaking restoration is well worth the effort. Avila’s L.A. Freeway Kids took six months for preliminary drawings and another six months to prepare and paint acrylic onto the wall. The mural stands 20 feet high and 225 feet long, and some eight additional artists were hired to help complete the painting.

The mural depicted real children in Avila’s life, playing and running while wearing t-shirts of iconic, kid-friendly places around town: the Los Angeles Zoo, the former Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, Disneyland, and UCLA.

At the forefront of the restorations is Herrón III, artist of the Olympic mural Struggles of the World. Lauded by both Avila and Wehrle, Avila stated of him, “He’s my hero.” And though Herrón III has helped to restore multiple Olympic Freeway Murals, he has yet to work on his own.

Of the 10 original murals, five murals have been restored, one is in the process, two are candidates to be restored in the future, and two have been destroyed in a freeway expansion project.

Rojas-Williams adds, “Murals are important because they convey the voice of the masses, the disenfranchised, the voiceless. Murals serve as an education tool; they empower. They are like open-air books, which educate communities about their history … The 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals brought tremendous pride to Los Angeles.”

The 10 Olympic Freeway Murals:

Glenna Avila’s “L.A. Freeway Kids,” — 101 Freeway near Los Angeles St.

Judith Baca’s “Hitting the Wall” — 110 Freeway at 4th St.

Frank Romero’s “Going to the Olympics” — 101 Freeway between Alameda and San Pedro
 St.

Kent Twitchell’s “ Lita Albuquerque Monument” — 101 Freeway, Temple St. underpass
 and “Jim Morphesis Monument” — 101 Freeway, Temple St. underpass

John Wehrle’s “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo” — 101 Freeway at Spring St.

Alonzo Davis’ “Eye on ‘84” — 110 Freeway, 3rd St. onramp (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Willie Herrón III’s “Struggles of the World” — 101 Freeway at Alameda St. (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Terry Schoonhoven’s “Cityscape” — 110 Freeway, 6th St. off-ramp (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Roderick Sykes’ “Unity” — 110 Freeway, Figueroa St. exit (destroyed)

Richard Wyatt’s, “James and Spectators” –110 Freeway at Adams Blvd. and Flower St. (destroyed)

To find local murals and learn more about MCLA, go to muralconservancy.org

The Edible Pumpkin Patch

Kabocha pumpkin photo courtesy of wholedelicious.com
Kabocha pumpkin photo courtesy of wholedelicious.com

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review newspaper, October 2014.

Fall is by far my favorite season. There’s a chill in the air (however faint this year), leaves turn a brilliant yellow and orange, and whiffs of pumpkin waft all around. Pumpkins! I adore this autumn gourd.

Consider these pumpkin nutrition facts: it’s low in calories (one cooked cup is 49 calories); it’s an antioxidant, rich in vitamins A, C and E; it’s rich in minerals like calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium; the seeds have an excellent amount of dietary fiber and are good for the heart; there are more than 45 varieties (it gets complicated when you include types of squash); and as my second grader taught me, the more lines outside, the more seeds inside. (I checked the facts and he’s basically right!)

Though the pure inside flesh of the pumpkin is healthy for our bodies, many pumpkin products may not be as much. (Make sure to check nutrition facts on the package.) But they are tasty!

This year I’ve been visiting a kind of pumpkin patch weekly! Trader Joe’s. And my habit has been stretching my wallet and my belly.

I consistently walk out with at least three to five pumpkin items each time: Pumpkin Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Rolls with pumpkin icing, Pumpkin O’s cereal, Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies, Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels … )

This last week, I purchased three actual pumpkins to grace our front porch and welcome people into our pumpkin-stuffed home (pantry, fridge and people alike.)

As you enter my pumpkin candle-scented house, you will find me smothered in Pumpkin Body Butter, munching on a Harvest Salad with pumpkin vinaigrette, sipping Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and making Pumpkin Bread Pudding.

There are more than 60 pumpkin items in all at this one particular store. So really, I am just skimming the surface.

Though I may seem a little crazy I am actually holding back when I buy just a few items. Oh, how I yearn to try so much more and I probably will (like Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream, Pecan Pumpkin Oatmeal, and Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix!)

Trust me when I say, I don’t work for any particular grocer or pumpkin association in any way. And I assure you; I am not alone in my pumpkin headedness. On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fallon even jokes, on more than one occasion, about America’s insatiable appetite for pumpkin lattes, another weakness of mine. (Does that even surprise you by now?)

Amidst pumpkins galore and as delicious as all the pumpkin products are, one of my family’s all-time favorite fall treats is my mom’s simple Asian Pumpkin Porridge with only three ingredients (pumpkin, rice and salt or sugar). I’m drawn back to the basic pumpkin itself. (See recipe below.)

So as you enjoy the plethora of pumpkin in our lives, don’t forget to enjoy pure pumpkin and celebrate our access to and love for it.

Final pumpkin fact: The word “pumpkin” was shamelessly used 40 times in the writing of this piece.

Mama Suk’s Asian Pumpkin Porridge

(Mom says that kings used to eat this in Korea.)

Rinse one cup of rice. Soak in water for one to two hours. Take a greenish Kabocha Squash/Japanese Pumpkin (about five pounds) and wash well, scrub even. (You can use any cooking pumpkin, but Kabocha is our favorite.) Cut in half. Take out seeds. (You can bake those separately.) Steam for roughly 20 minutes, until soft (You can also microwave about one minute per pound.)

Scoop out flesh and combine with soaked rice. Food process or mash the mixture. Stir mixture often in a pot over medium heat, reducing heat to low after boiling. Stir into a thicker consistency. Watch for clumping by stirring regularly for about 15 minutes. (Optional: mix in ½ cup milk for a smoother texture.)

Add about ½ teaspoon salt (to taste) if you want a savory porridge. Or add about one to two teaspoons of sugar (to taste) for a sweet, dessert-like porridge. Enjoy and make sure to let me know how it turns out!