Learning, In the Name of Love.

Weeks ago, our family began studying the Korean language.  Our studies began methodically, learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet.  Fortunately, King Sejong developed Hangul to be accessible to all, not only the wealthy and learned upper classes.  Indeed, with 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, one can learn Hangul quickly with effort. 

We have been relying heavily on free online videos, including those from talktomeinkorean.com, koreanclass101.com, and sweetandtastytv.com.  [S] has taken to watching free clips from Dino Lingo, which she refers to “the monkeys and dinosaurs” video.  I would be more impressed with that content if she used the Korean word for monkeys, but it’s a start.  Regardless of the amount of quality free content, we’ve found it necessary to supplement our learning with workbooks and a useful phrases dictionary.  We also listen to Yonhap News streaming and try to read as much Korean as possible. 

Practicing reading Korean while shopping on-base. Yes, I can read it!

Our goal, at the beginning of this endeavor, was to be able to speak with our son.  I love you.  Mother, father, sister.  Are you hungry?  What hurts?  Further, we wanted to be able to communicate with our son’s foster mother, the adoption agency workers, and our court interpreter (yes, the irony).  But our quest for knowledge has turned into something else.  It’s become a deep rooted desire to learn a second language.  To be proficient.  To be able to understand and be understood.

Studies have demonstrated that learning a second language strengthens and develops the brain, just as push-ups strengthen and develop our muscles.  I’m not certain that’s the case.  Indeed, each morning, I sit with my cup of coffee and attempt to write the Korean alphabet.  Inevitably, I omit between one to three consonants.  Upon correction, I start again.  My learning method?  It’s simple and modeled after [S]’s.  Repetition.  Repetition.  Repetition.

Hugh M. Cleveland: Rest in Peace (1918 – 2017)

My Grandfather at my wedding in 2011.

February is my least favorite month.  It seems far too long to be the year’s shortest month.  February plays host to both the winter blues and the seasonal blahs, making me ache for the first day of March. 

Perhaps, then, it is fitting that my Grandfather passed away last Friday, February 17th.  He was 99 years old.  Or, as he liked to put it, he was in his 100th year.

I’ve known my Grandfather for nearly 45 years, meeting for the first time upon my arrival to the United States in 1973. 

By all accounts, my Grandfather lived an impressive life.  But he was an even more impressive person.  He lived each day with purpose, determination, and understanding, including those days after he entered hospice earlier this month. 

He was an avid reader, an ardent puzzle solver, and formidable bridge player.  I am unable to recall seeing him at home without a New Yorker or major New York newspaper nearby.  Once a daily crossword puzzle solver, his enthusiasm for the puzzles waned as he found them less challenging and started dabbling in creating them. 

My Grandfather was an intellectual heavyweight.  He was well-read, well-traveled, and well-informed.  His thirst for knowledge was unending.  He asked thoughtful questions, listening intently to the response.  One could tell what he thought by watching his facial expressions.  He was never one to suffer fools or indulge in false flattery.  But he was never rude or disrespectful, only matter-of-fact.  Indeed, not one to waste words or effort, he reserved many of his opinions and thoughts for those closest to him. 

Growing up, I loved visiting my Grandparents; as a young adult, I enjoyed my Grandparents’ company.  They were a pair–a team–when I thought of one, I thought of the other.  I couldn’t imagine enjoying cocktails with only one of them.  I couldn’t think about having a telephone conversation with only one of them.   I couldn’t think of visiting only one of them.  Being close to my Grandmother left to me wonder about the relationship I would have with my Grandfather after she passed away almost nine years ago. 

Looking back, there was no need to wonder.  My Grandfather was still my Grandfather.  My desire to impress him–a desire speaking volumes about me and little of him–was replaced with the desire to love him, to comfort him, to be with him.  After my Grandmother’s death, the sternness I recalled from years past had been replaced by a gentleness of spirit.  He talked about missing his wife.  He spoke of loving me.  He spoke of my parents lovingly.  Of course, he still articulated his thoughts.  The man who traveled to more than 127 countries, wanted our family to travel.  The man who had been a successful businessman, wanted me to continue working as an attorney.  And the man who had been married to his college sweetheart for 66 years and raised two successful children, wanted us to enjoy being a family.

My favorite memory of my Grandfather?  When I lived in Manhattan he would ask me the same question each time I saw him:  “What have you been eating?”  The question was both genuine and reflective.  He had lived there.  He had worked there.  And he had eaten there. 

* * *

Hugh Millan Cleveland

Staff Writer,

Hugh Millan Cleveland, 99, died February 17, 2017. A resident of Willow Valley Communities for 24 years, he formerly lived in Chatham, NJ where he was active in community affairs.

He was born January 27, 1918 in New London, CT, the son of Irvin L. and Florence Cross Cleveland. Growing up, he was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Ceramics Engineering and was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity. An avid golfer, he was a member of The Madison Golf Club, The New Jersey Seniors, and The Summit Old Guard. He had traveled abroad extensively and during retirement was a tour director in China.

Lt. Cleveland served in the U. S. Navy and commanded Sub Chaser SC-1365 in the Pacific theater during WWII. His Sub Chaser served as a Beach Control ship during the battle of Leyte Gulf and survived typhoon Cobra. Remaining in the reserves after the war, LCDR Cleveland USNR retired in 1966.

He was with AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City and Murry Hill, NJ for 38 years and retired in 1983 with four credited U.S. Patents and as Head of the Department for Information Analysis.

In Lancaster, PA, he was a volunteer Appraise Counselor at the Office of Aging, a member of the Leader Lancaster SVS Council, the RSVP Council, the American Red Cross of Susquehanna Valley, and First Presbyterian Church.

Hugh Cleveland was married for sixty-six years to the late Margaret Merchant Cleveland who passed away in July of 2008. He is survived by a son David J. Cleveland and daughter-in-law Charlotte G. Cleveland of Bozeman, MT and a daughter Diane C. Baldwin, her husband John D. Baldwin, Jr. of Columbia, MD, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be private and burial will be in Mount Freedom, NJ.

* * *

The Last Day of the Year.

It’s here once again.  It’s here regardless of whether we’re holding onto the past or loathing the uncertainty of the future.  It’s here despite our best efforts to make time stand still or to hold on to that special moment.  It arrived quietly.  And, despite its certainty and predictability, it arrived quickly.

For our family, 2016 has been a year of great adventure as we continued to explore Okinawan history and culture.  We’ve also deepened our geopolitical understanding of Asia with travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan.  It’s been a year of celebration, for which we are grateful.  We learned of Russell’s selection for promotion, received word that our adoption paperwork has been submitted for review, and had Russell’s mother visit us in Japan.  Of course, this year also has presented challenges and struggles, some routine, some unexpected, and some unique to living abroad.  And, yes, it was a year of great disappointment in our fellow citizens as we learned that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. 

But whatever I think about the year, be it good, bad or indifferent, it is coming to a close whether I want it to or not, indifferent as to whether I’m ready or not.  And that is the beauty of today.  Today, I am able to hold on to those spectacularly intimate moments that filled our lives this year while letting go of everything else.  Like an iPhone software update, tonight at midnight, whether I’m awake or not, my life will be reset.  When I awake tomorrow, I will do so with the hope, optimism, and enthusiasm of one knowing that I have the opportunity to live my best life–my most authentic life–yet once again.  For tomorrow, I will replace what I wish I had done this year, with what I will do in that one. 

Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what I actually will accomplish in 2017.  Will I make the most of another journey around the sun?  Will I stand up for my beliefs?  Will I better this world?  Will I make the tough decisions?  Will I champion the underdog?  I certainly hope so.  But I also know that if I can’t get it right in 2017, there’s always 2018. 


An Act of Love.

fullsizerender336Since [S]’s birth, I have watched both with fascination and gratitude as family and close friends have bestowed on her their time, attention, and affection.  As a result she’s received plenty of playtime, warm hugs, and an abundance of cuddles.  She’s also been the recipient of thoughtful and generous gifts, including classic children’s books (think Dr. Suess’ The Lorax and A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh) and an educational activity table that teaches the alphabet, numbers, directions, music, and animals. 

This week, a friend of ours gifted [S] a kitchen play set, consisting of a sink and an oven.  Unlike many–if not most–of the play kitchen sets, this one wasn’t made of bulky plastic.  And it wasn’t pink.  This kitchen set was made entirely from recycled and/or recyclable materials.  Various-sized cardboard boxes were used as foundation; black plastic bags were used to cover stove burners and dials; Gatorade bottle caps were repurposed as knobs; and, white paper was used as a finish.  The kitchen set was personalized with a “[S]’s Kitchen” embellishment on the oven and came with its own muffin tin (a rusting no-longer used tin, painted a kid-friendly red). 

[S] washing dishes.
The woman who created these gifts did so without my knowledge or input.  Indeed, one day, when everyone was recuperating quietly at home, she texted a photo of the set and asked if it would be okay to stop by.  I was rendered speechless.  Literally.  I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and amazed by her ingenuity and creativity.  “I left it white so [S] can paint it whatever color she wants,” she explained.  “When you leave Okinawa, you can just take it apart and recycle the pieces,” she continued.  “I thought you might want it for her to play with because everyone’s been sick,” she finished. 

[S] has played with the set every day since she received it.  The first day, she bent down and peered at the closed oven door.  “Where’s the light, Momma?,” she asked.  Then, she was baking cookies.  The next day, as I started washing dishes, she moved the kitchen set across from our kitchen.  “Look Momma, I’m washing dishes,” she delighted.  This evening, after a long day of work, I prepared [S] a peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner.  After eating, she went straight to her refrigerator (the cabinet under the sink).  “Here Momma,” she said handing me an imaginary item.  “It’s a sandwich.”

I am equally entertained and intrigued witnessing [S] at play in her new kitchen.  Using a burp cloth as a dish towel, [S] casually threw it over her shoulder when she was finished, imitating me.  “I do that,” I said, laughing aloud.  My inner voice cautioned me, remember this.  As caregivers are aware, my affectations, habits, and mannerisms are being passed down to a new generation, just as are my attitude, outlook, and actions.  

To that end, I am proud that [S] is grateful for–and delighted by–her new environmentally-neutral kitchen set, for I am as well. 

The Goal: 42.195 km

Before meeting my husband, my knowledge of endurance racing was minimal.  I cheered on marathon runners from Second Avenue annually while living in New York and that was the extent of my participation.  Since we’ve been married, I have watched Russell compete in one full IRONMAN triathlon (distance:  140.6 miles), two half IRONMAN triathlons (distance:  70.3 miles), and several shorter distance races (sprint and Olympic triathlons).  All of those races, save one, were registered for prior to our marriage.

Since that time, endurance events have taken a back seat to our relationship, our daughter, and his work.  It has been difficult to keep an endurance athlete from registering for races and with good reason.  They are personally challenging and physically addictive (think of that massive endorphin release).  Races also provide a training goal for athletes.  Need motivation for getting to the gym?  Register for a date-certain race.

So, he did.  On Sunday, February 19, 2017, Russell is registered to run the 25th Annual Okinawa Marathon.  In turn, he has been putting miles on his trainers, hitting the road (and treadmill) to prepare for one hilly race.

Course Map and Traffic Control

Curiously, Russell’s dedicated training schedule has had an unexpected knock-on effect.  His waking at 4:30 a.m. to get to the gym before work has motivated me to get to the gym as often as possible–a pre-[S] long lost habit and one that cannot be accomplished without him.  Yesterday, instead of going to the gym, I decided to make the most out of the cooler temperatures and ran up a long steep hill near the Officer’s Club 12 times, earning the respect of three men.  One man who also was running hills breathlessly commented what a good workout it was; another was walking his dog and commented I was “working the hill over”; and, the last was my husband who noted that it was a better workout than hopping on the elliptical machine.  The workout paid off.  Today, it hurts to walk, sit or stand.

I am proud of my husband for taking on another challenge given his tight schedule and current commitments.  I am also in awe of the fact that he continues to push me to achieve–and do–more.  I can only hope I do the same for him.


The Necessity of Back-Up Child Care

With the U.S. presidential election around the corner, candidates are showcasing how their policies will benefit working parents.  Child care is at the center of most discussions, with proposals for paid parental leave also heavily analyzed.

Today, I received a text from [S]’s child care provider.  I had to read it twice before I could trust myself to process her brief message.  Her brother had been in an accident this morning and had passed away; she would be taking emergency leave for a month, leaving tomorrow.  In the midst of her grief, she needlessly apologized profusely for the short notice, but had spoken with the powers-that-be who informed her that [S] should be able to be cared for by Child Development Centers (CDC) on-base.

Immediately, I responded, writing all of the things that one says during those times when words seem wholly inadequate.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  You and your family are in our prayers.  Let me know if we can do anything for you.  To be certain, I mean–and meant–each word written.  But I understand that my words likely will do little, if anything at all, to lessen today’s grief and tomorrow’s sorrow.

After I considered the fragility of life and the immense amount of work in front of her to leave for the United States in less than 24-hours, I turned to thinking about myself.  She cares for [S] on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.  I have a standing attorney meeting on Tuesdays, which, while useful to attend, is not imperative that I do so.  But what to do about Wednesday?  On Wednesdays, I drop off [S] and head to work for the day.  This Wednesday, in addition to regular work, I have clients–and witnesses–scheduled to execute estate planning documents.  It is not something that can be easily rescheduled given the time, space, and bodies needed.  And it was then I understood the dilemma facing working parents on a regular basis.

What does one do when their child isn’t feeling well or the regular child care provider is ill?  I nearly began to panic.  I work one day a week at the office and to miss that day is, well, undesirable.  I called the CDC.  I called the Child, Youth, Teen Program office.  And then I called again, with little movement.

Of course, dropping off your child at day care is one thing.  Wondering what kind of care he or she will receive is another.  While questions as to whether [S] will adjust, be confused, be well-cared for, etc., are to be expected from a parent, they also are thoughtful and have merit given such an abrupt change of circumstances.

I’m thankful that my current circumstances allow great flexibility with respect to when and where I work.  But I also realize that, unfortunately, such flexibility remains a privilege, out of reach for many.

Dreaming of A Good Night’s Sleep.


Today, I collected my husband from Naha Airport.  To many, if not most, that would be an easy day.  But for me, it was an anxiety-filled 30 minutes of driving on the Okinawa Expressway for the first time.  Why?  I’m not an anxious driver.  Indeed, I am a fine driver.  But I am also severely directionally challenged.  When I was younger, I was in a car accident that I was told I caused.  Allegedly, I failed to stop at a four-way stop intersection.  The passenger side of my (father’s) car, was hit by an oncoming van driven by an employee who had just had the vehicle inspected for a sale.  My day got worse when I was asked by the police officer for my driver’s license.  The cause?  I was on my way to a post-university job interview and got lost; I was focused on finding my way rather than driving.

That accident impaired my ability to feel comfortable driving without knowing where I was going.  Once the vehicle was hit, I didn’t know where I was or what happened.  Given that I have driven north while attempting to reach a location south, my anxiety is reasonable, if not well-founded.  Add to that baseline anxiousness that I live in a country where driver’s drive on the left, most road signs are incomprehensible to me, and Google Maps hasn’t caught up with road construction.  Yes.  Exactly.

Did I make it to the airport?  Of course I did.  Did I make a wrong turn.  Of course I did.  I learned that taking a “slight left” is different than maneuvering a sharp left.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix and I pulled into the airport parking structure relieved.  So relieved, I backed into the parking space on the nearly empty floor.

Since Russell left, I haven’t been able to sleep well.  My nights have been filled with too much reading and excessive tossing and turning.  [S]’s sleep also has been disturbed with routine awakenings.  This morning, I awoke to an early morning text from Russell, “I’ve been up since 4 a.m.”

Now that our family is reunited, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep.


In Honor of Fathers, Near and Far.

FullSizeRender(242) From the time [S] awoke to now, her bedtime, she has been, at various times, tired, fussy, frustrated, and angry.  Indeed, I’ve been listening to a variation of, “Mommy, no!  No!  No!  No, Mommy!” for the past 15 minutes.  For the better part of the day, [S] assaulted our senses with an assortment of high-pitched yelling, deafening crying, and stern scolding.  Her conduct, whether part and parcel of the terrible two’s or growing pains, is challenging.  Do I try to comfort her yet again or do I let her cry it out in a safe space?

Fortunately for me, [S] wanted her Father most of the day.  She wanted his arms to hold her.  She wanted his hands to prepare her meals.  She wanted his lap to sit on.  She wanted his time and attention.  “No, Mommy.  Daddy.  Daddy, help.  Daddy, do it.”  Those words were music to my ears.  Truly.

In response, Russell built forts for [S] to hide under, made her a peanut butter and jam sandwich accompanied by apple sticks and yogurt for dipping, changed her diapers, and allowed her to join our cocktail hour with diluted juice and a [S]-sized plate of crackers.

I was in awe of my Husband today.  His endless patience.  His small, kind gestures.  His understanding of [S]’s wants and needs.  His tolerance of her tantrums.  I should not be surprised by his generosity of spirit, after all, that is why I married him.  But watching him today, I was reminded of my Father interacting with me.  That was a different time with different gender norms, to be certain.  Nevertheless, my Father took the time.  He indulged my imagination, be it speaking on the phone with my imaginary friend or letting me dream of what I would be when I grew up.  He spoke to me about matters of significance.  He listened.  He played.  He taught.  He coached.  He let me know that I was part of him.

dad 123 jAs a result, I knew my worth.  I was secure in his love.  And I searched for a partner who would prove to be a loving, kind and patient father to our children.  Despite several fits and starts, I found him.  Today, each time [S] asked for Russell, he responded, “[S], it’s Father’s Day, what a great gift you’re giving me.”

My Father will not be surprised by the words written on this page.  He will not be in awe of Russell’s deep well of patience and tolerance.  He will not be inspired by how much Russell adores [S].  Rather, I predict my Father will nod, silently acknowledging his son-in-law’s strength and ability to love both deeply and unconditionally.  After all, my Father knows what it takes to love his daughter.

Happy Father’s Day, Russell.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Thank you.