A Life Long-Lived

My grandpa would have turned 100 this coming April.


An excerpt from his obituary:

Donald W. Schenck, World War II veteran, died on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2016 of natural causes.  He was 99.  He leaves behind two very proud and grateful sons and a plethora of family and friends whose lives were richly influenced by this loving, humorous, and sometimes gruff but ultimately gentle giant. He was looked upon lovingly as “Dad” by many besides his own sons.

Don was born April 25, 1917 in Great Falls, MT to Carl and Emma Schenck of Neihart, MT, the 6th of 11 children.  He lived in Neihart until he was nine years old. The family moved to Great Falls in 1926 and Donald completed his education there, graduating from Great Falls High School in 1935. He lived in Shelby, MT from 1935 to 1972, where he began his career, met his wife Ethel, and raised a family.  In 1972 he and Ethel moved to Helena, where he continued a full and rich life until his death.

He met Shelby girl Ethel D. Gunderson in 1937 and they were married on June 23, 1941 in Great Falls by Pastor Lunde of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, who had also married Don’s parents in 1909 and Ethel’s parents in 1915. They had two sons, Melvin in 1946 and Clayton in 1949.

Don enlisted in the U. S. Navy SeaBees as a Yeoman on July 24, 1942 and was stationed in the Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D. C. and the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Arlington, Virginia from late 1942 until April of 1945, He was then ordered to temporary duty north of the Arctic Circle near Bettles, Alaska in support of a Navy Seabees survey crew providing engineering work for the construction of an airstrip.   This airstrip was vital to air travel over the Brookes Range between Fairbanks and Point Barrow in Alaska.  He received his honorable discharge on January 4, 1946 as a Yeoman First Class and returned to his wife and home in Shelby. Three of Don’s brothers served in the war in the European front, and his brother Melvin died in a German prisoner of war camp at the end of the war.


Growing up, my sister and I would spend every other summer and every winter up in Montana with Grandma and Grandpa. I remember one summer, he told me that “children we meant to be seen, not heard”. I spent most of my time with Grandma anyways, watching her make pies and helping her cook Christmas dinner. Grandma and Grandpa were the ones to introduce my sister and I to casseroles and cheese whiz.  They also called their couch a “davenport” and wallets “billfolds”. Grandpa aways carried a white cloth handkerchief around in his back pocket for when his nose needed honking. He often used to try and steal my nose too, a trick that would always confuse me but would bring out a giggle anyway.


Grandpa and I didn’t really have much in common, and if we did it was kept secret. As a tween, when everything was about peace signs for me, Grandpa went on a rant because he believed the peace sign was a symbol of the broken arms of a cross. In winter of 1988, after the Dukakis/Bush election, I asked Grandma and Grandpa who they voted for. That did not go over well, because apparently politics were never to be discussed at the dinner table. I think Grandma was actually pretty liberal, which was at odds with conservative Grandpa. I wonder if they even ever discussed politics with each other.


Grandpa was very devoted to his faith, a subject that I actively avoided discussing with him. He adamantly believed the bible was the direct word of god, and that it should be taken literally, whereas one of my favorite books is “the God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Needless to say, I never bothered to talk about science, politics, or religion with him as I knew it would only lead to huge blowups during the holidays. Instead, we stuck to conversations about the weather, the dinner, and the holiday decorations. In the later years, more often than not, Grandpa would just sit at the table sneaking scraps to the dog while the rest of us carried on in our conversations.


Grandpa was also very dedicated to public service and giving back to his community. He once tried to explain to me what the Freemasons were, and what he did with the Lions Club. I asked why Grandma wasn’t also a Freemason, and I don’t remember ever getting an answer. The only thing I understood at the time was that with the Lion’s Club helped raise money to provide glasses to children who needed them, and I thought that was cool. I was 8 years old and my only exposure to clubs and associations were the Chinese Family Associations my mom belonged to. I remember thinking that these were the same, but for white people.


I hadn’t been back to Montana to see Grandpa since December 2009. I wish I had asked Grandpa to teach me how to fish. I regret never asking him to tell me stories about growing up in what is now a ghost town in Montana. I think my sister was better at that stuff, and most of the time I preferred to be an observer rather than a participator. That’s my sister above, dancing with Grandpa at her wedding.



Mustard Mondays

I have new clothes to talk about!  Finally – I’ve been somewhat uninspired by the shops lately, so I haven’t been shopping much (for clothing anyway, I’ve been too spendy with the skincare and makeup).  This weekend though, the sales sucked me in.  I picked up these grey jeans (with a high waist that helps balance out my long torso/short legs combo) at Urban Outfitters to $15!!  I love a great deal.  The boots I got at H&M at the start of fall, and they’re really awesome.  Whether or not they will last past one winter, we’ll see.  The sweater is an oldie from my time in Brooklyn (last seen here and here).MustardMonday MustardMonday2 MustardMonday3 MustardMonday4

glasess: warby parker – infinity scarf: american apparel – sweater and jeans: urban outfitters – belt: jcrew – boots: h&m

As far as the whole having-a-life thing is going, we got a week off for Thanksgiving.  I flew out to DC to spend time with my family and I got to hang with my little niece in between naps and fits.  My mom and sister are speaking to her only in Mandarin, so I also got to brush up on my Chinese!  Practically no one in Denver speaks Chinese, so it’s gotten rusty from disuse.  My niece is just starting to talk, so she taught me that her favorite toy (which is a mother fox from IKEA) is called hu-li mama.  My mom speaks 4 different Chinese dialects, so at dinner times, my niece will say “good eats” in 3 of them – Cantonese, Mandarin and Fujian.  hou sic, hao chi, haw jia.


Of course, we also had to take a pre TG dinner family portrait (minus my brother in law).


Weekends as a Xiao Yi

Xiao Yi means “little aunt” in Mandarin, and that’s what I am when I’m down in DC.  I try to make the trek down there at least once a month to see my little niece Jojo.  One day she will start calling me xiao yi and I want to be there  so she can put a face to a name.  She only 7 months old right now though, so I guess I’ve got some time.

I hopped on the bus for the 4 hour trip down to DC friday night and met up with this guy.  My old Viking friend Aurora also lives in DC so I took the opportunity to meet up with her and her little man Macaroni for a drink.

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Saturday, My sister Kris and I hopped aboard her friend’s boat in Annapolis for a sail around the Chesapeake Bay.  I spent my high school years on the San Francisco Bay sailing with the Sea Scouts, and it feels fantastic to be out on the water.  I’ll take any and all invitations for sailing.  I spent a lot of the day on the boat thinking about how different my life would have been if I had joined the Coasties out of high school or if I had gone to Cal Maritime Academy instead of pursuing biology and teaching.

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Sunday was brunch day and auntie time with Jojo.  My sister picked the place and her friend Sean joined us.  We rounded out the afternoon with oyster shooters before dropping me off to hop on the bus for the ride back to Brooklyn.
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Sean helped me snap a photo of my new Zara sweater dress.  This dress is a bit out of my comfort zone with it’s clinginess, but it’s a weekend and it’s comfortable but edgy-ish all at the same time.   I’m digging Zara lately with the simple lines and colors in their fall line up.   Not too jazzed about the glitter in the fabric, but I guess you can’t win ’em all.

sunnies: knockaround – dress: zara – bag: freitag – shoes: madewell, borrowed from kris

The first half of summer…the best bits

I woke up this morning (as in… noon.  It’s SUMMER and I can sleep in like a sloth if I want) to a string of notifications from WordPress about new followers – 5 new readers!  It’s summer (as if we all need a reminder) so I’ve been seriously lazying it up these past couple of weeks.  My lack of productivity is getting to the point of embarrassment, so I figured I needed to kick myself in the butt to start getting some things done.  Only fun stuff though, I haven’t hit boredom rock bottom quite yet.  First up, a revisit to the world of blogging:  to get my brain somewhat moving again and to spew my life out onto the interwebs.  Next up, a short backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, a road trip to Savannah with fellow teacher Grace and learning a bit of code with help from CodeAcadamy/Treehouse/Codeschool and B.  By the time that’s all done, it will be time to put my sloth-ish tendencies on the back burner and gear up for the new school year (and back to teacher outfits).

As proof that teachers do indeed have lives outside of the classroom (and for some internal validation that I haven’t completely disappeared into the couch with the Game of Thrones books), here are a few highlights of the summer thus far.

1) A pair of Aussie visitors, aka B’s mom (also a teacher!) and Peter!  They came all the way out to Brooklyn just to hang with us for a week.  They were fresh off a vintage Bentley car rally through the west coast and Montana (for real) and flew over to the east coast on their way back home to Perth.  We took them on a modified tour of NYC (they’ve seen it all before) and spent a lot of time just chatting it up.  I loved them and it was especially cool to hear B’s mom talk about teaching in Perth.  B had the job of deflecting all comments/hints about marriage or grandchildren.

highline park

peter vs turkey

9:11 memorial

Jenny and Peter

2) The real vacation, aka Costa Rica – B and I shelled out the big bucks for a trip to Costa Rica.  11 days, three towns and a lot of advice from Lonley Planet took us hiking, white water rafting, surfing, ziplining and left us with sunburns.  Totally worth it, even with the sting of the high prices.

CR hiking

CR hanging bridge

CR class 3-4 rafting

road side ceviche

im on a boat

beach front seats

Ticos surf school

crabby fights

cloudy forrest

3) auntie time in Washington DC

jojo and arms

4) getting crafty to fill my empty hours

ikea pot hacked

JoJo Rei love

I took a quick jaunt down to DC this weekend to meet my new niece Josephine (JoJo) Rei.  She is just 3 weeks old right now and pretty much a feeding – pooping – sleeping machine, albeit a cute one in a bear outfit.  I was chomping at the bit to see her and cuddle her, so the 4 hour bus ride was worth it.  Also, it’s been 6 months since I’ve seen my mom, and she had salted pork jook (congee) waiting for me.  Bonus!

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xin nian kuai le!

Happy Lunar New Year!  I have fond memories of celebrating Chinese new year as a kid, great food, firecracker papers turning the streets of Chinatown red and lion dances everywhere (along with heaps of money that I never was allowed to keep!).  This new year  is extra special for me though, because I have a new baby!  Not really me, but close enough (actually, as close as it’s ever going to get).  My sister pushed one out yesterday, her first, my niece Josephine Rei.  You know how they say that even if you don’t like kids, you’ll love your own?  I hate kids, but I already love this one, and I haven’t even met her in person yet.  When I heard that my sister was in labor I was like a proud parent, telling everyone who would listen.  I even went out and bought my crew Dunkin Doughnuts for an impromptu celebration (I never advocate for teens eating horribly unhealthy sugar and fat ladden treats, but this time it’s special).  Josephine (JoJo) made it right in time to be a Dragon baby.  One thing is for damn sure, she already has a dragon grip on me.  I got to meet her right away over face-time (I love technology).  Normally I think all babies look a bit like aliens. but
Jojo is perfect.  




Gong Hay Fat Choi!  Happy year of the snake!

Cold Weather Frolicking

New York is finally cooling down to weather I know and am comfortable with:  mid 50s and drizzly.  San Francisco weather!!!!!  It’s an insane switch – within 24 hours, it cooled down by about 20 degrees.  I never talked this much about the weather in SF –there was nothing to say.  Now I can’t help it but turn into a small talk machine and discuss the weather with everyone.

thermal and jeans: f21 – raincoat: anthropologie (seen here) – boots: boutique 9 (the cooper boot, also seen on this blog, a new favorite/SF girl blog!)- bag: freitag – mom’s coat: h&m – kris’s coat: urban outfitters (seen here)

My mom and sister Kris are in town for the long weekend, so I dressed them in my winter coats, dug out from storage underneath the bed.  My mom braided my hair like the old days of being a kid and we toured the rich nice parts of Manhattan.  We walked up 5th Ave, ogled the ridiculously reasonably expensive clothes at Barneys and admired the incredibly creative and mechanical visual displays.  After a stroll through Central Park, we played with Kris’s new iPhone 5 panorama feature and tricked it into including us 3 times within the same photo.  There was a lot of running in circles around the photog and curious stares from other tourists.  By the way, that’s my future niece in that uterus.  I’m going to be “cool auntie Erika”.  Yup.

Swimming shoes!!

LA in photos

1. My grandmother (Popo)’s name plaque.

2. & 3. The prayer table with gold and silver for her afterlife.

4. My little cousin Sam.

5. Cousins.

6. Big Aunt and her blonde grandson.

7. Mommy and Second Aunt.

8. Cousin and his family.

9. Life is good when you wake up to a box full of pho being put together for your breakfast.

10. More cousin hang outs.

11. The best boba milk tea I have ever had.

12. & 13.  Uncle’s corgi.  He’s a special little piggy.

I’m heading back to NYC tonight on the red eye.  My family is growing — 3 of my 7 cousins have 2 kids each now, all within the past 3 years.  It was great seeing everybody in one place, but sad considering the reason why.

In memory

My maternal grandmother…my popo, passed away a few days ago.  She was 93 years young and she was a fighter up until the end.  Born in Shantou, Guangdong China, she fled to Vietnam during the Japanese invasion of China during WWII.  She married my GongGong in an arranged marriage sometime in 1939 or 1940 (my mom doesn’t know) and over the years raised 7 children.  My mom was the fifth child and the third girl.  A few days before the fall of Saigon, she and my grandfather left Vietnam, money sewed into their clothes, leaving everything they had to join most of the family already in California.  By then my own parents had married and were living in Rhode Island.

My Popo was resilient, full of grit and gusto.  She was the matriarch of the family and there was no questioning it.  She passed a lot of that strength down to my mom…they shared the same stubborn streak, which in chinese we describe as being hard necked.

My best memory of Popo was when she “fattened me up”.  When I was 9, I spent the summer in Los Angeles with Popo (GongGong had passed by then).  She lived on the hill above Chinatown, so everyday I would walk down to the markets with Popo, buy the day’s groceries and walk back up the hill. I would always be carrying the lightest of the bags but without fail, I would complain the whole way up about how the plastic was cutting into my hands.  I also remember being embarrassed by the umbrella she carried around to shield us from the sun.  She worried for my skin even before I knew to worry.  Anyways, when I was young, I had a thing for this preserved shredded pork stuff (still do actually) that was sold in plastic tubs which we called yok si.  So, like the typical chinese grandmother, she would poke my bones, comment on my chicken legs and visible ribs, and feed me heaping bowls of rice with yok si in between meals.  I loved it and gobbled it all up, playing the good little grand daughter by bringing her and her friends water and tea while they played mahjong.  I gained about 10 pounds that summer and went back to San Francisco a bit rounder than before.  I remember my mom and aunt greeting me with, “Wah!  You’re so fat now!”