Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our Home Sweet Home

Reason I Love My Husband #43,268:

As you probably know if you're American and reading this, Friday was Veteran's Day.  Though the kids had school, Matt had the day off.  He still went into work for a little while that morning, so I joined my friends for play group (because they are some of my favorite people here).  As the group started talking about lunch, I texted Matt to see if he was home yet because if he wasn't, I would go out to lunch with them.

He texted back, "Yes home but cleaning the apt. Go eat with your friends."

You guys.  MAJOR heart eyes. Even if he wasn't so dang cute, I'd be madly in love with him because of exactly this.  He spoils me!!

The apartment looked so good when I got back that I took these two pictures of our living/ dining/ music room/ kitchen.  I knew it wouldn't last past the snack time that follows our kids' return home, but I wanted to remember what it looked like for those sweet, however brief, moments.
I just realized I didn't straighten the pillows on the couch after I'd flopped down on it.  I'm definitely no stylist or interior decorator, but you get the idea.

Anyway, these pictures inspired me to write a post about our "home" here.  Honestly, I think the prospect of living in an apartment was one of the most daunting aspects about moving to Korea.  There may have been a very short time, probably in my teen years, when I thought, Yeah, living in an apartment would be cool.  But by and large, I've felt that apartments are teeny little boxes piled on top of each other, and I would run the other way instead of even consider living in one.  In fact, when I talked in this post about how I cried so hard about moving to Korea, the tears started as we were watching the House Hunters International that takes place here.  I just saw all those apartments and felt claustrophobic and terrified.

But for the most part, I'm honestly enjoying our apartment.  It's probably 1,000 square feet smaller than our last house, but I always felt like that was a lot of wasted, unused space.  We have four bedrooms, and they are all a decent size.  Wyatt's room is the smallest, but there is still space for his bed, a dresser, a small desk, shelves, and the IKEA play kitchen.  I think it helps a lot that we have tons of huge windows.  Without them, I'm sure I would feel claustrophobic.  And we have an absolutely amazing view -- one that we couldn't afford if we were living in the States.  

There is, of course... well, lots to get used to.  There's the parking garage.  I am really not a fan of parking garages, and ours is four levels deep.  They are painting the floor of each level right now, so we have to keep our bikes in our apartment, which is really driving me crazy.

There's the obvious problem that I can't tell the kids to just go play in the yard for a few minutes while I cook dinner or something.  Before we knew we were moving here, but we knew we were moving somewhere, we'd told the kids that we would look for a house where we could have a treehouse and swings.  Now, I'm thankful for the playgrounds in our neighborhood, but I do miss having a little yard space.

I do not, however, miss yard work. At all! Silver lining!!

There is the feeling that someone is always close, watching or listening.  As I look up from my writing right now, I can see four towering apartment buildings.  If I moved just a little, I would see more.  It's hard not feel like there are thousands of eyes on us.  Also, I know our family is not the quietest.  I try to be respectful of the downstairs neighbors who probably think there is a herd of adult elephants living above them, but I also feel like kids should be allowed to be kids sometimes.  The people upstairs from us tend to only stomp around late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, so I feel like I can say that at least our noise only really happens at reasonable times.  But it's a little strange when you're in the bathroom and you can hear voices coming through the walls or pipes.

Probably, though, the two things that have been most challenging for me to get used to are 1) the garbage system and 2) the laundry.

We have a large "garbage room" on the ground floor.  The walls are lined with several bins, one each for: paper products, clothing, plastic food containers, plastic bottles, glass, small plastic items (like pill bottles, yogurt cups, etc.), styrofoam (ask me right now how I feel about styrofoam packing peanuts), plastic bags, another glass bin, and metal.  Then there is the stinky wall.  On this side, there are the bins for kitchen waste (compost stuff plus meat), and the general, everything-else dumpster.  The food waste goes into special bins with lids that open and close when you scan this special card, but it smells so bad.  So, so bad.  

You might be reading this and thinking, Wow!  Way to go!  Such green living!!

Yes, I would have thought so too. We throw away so much less than we used to.  But it is so darn tedious separating everything.  Think about my last post, the plastic bags and bottles and what I used them for... I don't blame you if you're shuddering.  Anyway.  If you're a mom, particularly with small children, think about your dustpan when you've swept the floor around your table.  There are probably things like Cheerios and some Goldfish crackers, plus maybe the plastic wrapper that contained the cheese stick your son ate and then accidentally knocked to the floor, plus the little scraps of paper from the art project your daughter is working on for school.  Right?  Now, separate those items.  It doesn't sound so bad every once in a while, but several times a day every day of the week, and you will about lose your ever loving mind!!!! 

I wish I could just say I'm teaching my kids to sort their own trash and just be tidier people because I am... but teaching takes a very long time, and with small children, there are lots of mistakes and accidents.  (For the record, the older two are pretty tidy.)

And then the laundry.  We put certain items into storage in the States, and some of the hardest to part with for two years were my washer and dryer.  About two years ago, we bought a wonderful, large-capacity top-loader.  I miss it so much.  I could throw comforters in it, my king-size bedding plus a couple towels, or more clothes than I could carry in my arms. Here I have a very small front-loader.  I can wash the sheets from my bed, but barely and that's it. I'm scared -- truly scared -- about my kids throwing up in their beds because I literally do not know how I will get all their bedding clean. Most apartment buildings have a laundromat downstairs, and while I love this apartment, one of its biggest drawbacks is that there is no downstairs laundry.

Because then there is the issue of the dryer, too.  I don't have one.  Yup.  Five kids and no dryer.  Supposedly my washing machine can also dry clothes -- if I want to sell an organ to pay for the electricity if I do that all the time.  But I've tried it, and it seems that feature doesn't actually work anyway.  So on the days when I wash the sheets, I spread them all over the couch and make tents with the dining chairs and the laundry rack I purchased, and I turn my fans on them.  It's not ideal -- so very not -- but it sort of works eventually.  

Sometimes, though, I get to missing things like... sheets that are all the way dry when I put three in my bed... or soft towels.  When they dry on the rack or over chairs, they're always stiff and scratchy.  

But what I've been thinking about through all of it are Philippians 4:12-13, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."  I want this to be me.  And frankly, it's not.  I often pray that God will "expand my comfort zone," but when He does, I balk.  I want to dare big and dream big for Him, and then -- even with my million-dollar view -- I grumble about stiff towels.  

What I know for sure is that I need to practice contentment.

Can I take out the garbage without feeling bitter about incredibly tedious it is?  When I take that towel off the drying wrack and it's so stiff and crispy it barely even resembles fabric, can I just be grateful for the fact that it will get me dry next time I take a shower?  (Or that I have hot, running water to take a shower in?) When one of my littles is throwing a tantrum, and I feel like there are eyes and ears everywhere, judging me as a mother, can I just look up and lean hard into God's grace?

This month -- and this week in particular as we lead up to Thanksgiving as I'm thinking more about gratitude -- I'm trying to stare down the things that bring me discontent, and look to God to fight it.  Because deep down, I really truly want to live a life that says, "Wherever, whenever, however, I can do that!" Lao Tzu said it better, of course:
"Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.  
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Just the Little Things

It's tough to know where to start when I'm posting for the first time in three weeks.  So I guess I should begin with my sinuses.

I got yet another cold, and it was a bad one -- the kind that makes you want to lie in bed while someone spoon-feeds you broth and bathes your forehead.  But mamas ain't got time (or volunteers) for that, and a few days later, I was feeling mostly better except for my sinuses.  By the end of that week, my ears started hurting, but I thought it was just because of my sinus pain.  But by Monday, coincidentally Wyatt's fifth birthday, I was in so much pain I needed to see a doctor.

Let me preface this by saying, I kind of have to think I'm at death's door to go to a doctor anyway.  Times I have gone to the doctor for anything that wasn't pregnancy- or birth-related in the past few years are when I was coughing up blood after the flu (although that was kind of pregnancy-related because it was when I was pregnant with Annalee) and when I had a nasty wound that got infected.  Both times I was prescribed antibiotics, and I didn't take them either time because I was also given another medicine or treatment that worked just as well.  The last time I was on antibiotics, I was also hospitalized for three days.

So for me to go to the doctor and beg for antibiotics -- well, that should say a lot.  Of course, it ended up being a much bigger ordeal than I could have imagined, but a sweet friend of mine took me to the hospital that I took Wyatt to before  waited with me the entire time, and then drove me home. By the time I got back, I was in so much horrible pain from my ear, and come to find out, adult ear infections make you insanely nauseous.  I managed not to throw up all over my friend's car, but that night was just terrible and one I don't care to repeat any time soon.  

So that was not fun.  Recovery has been slow-going, and I still can't hear right out of my left ear.  I kind of failed at Halloween-ness this year.  Annalee had a fever, and I still didn't have much energy.  These are my only pictures.  

I didn't dress Annalee up at all.  I know, epic Mom Fail.

Then there was this week.  Matt went back to the States for meetings, and I tried not to be jealous of the food he was eating or the fact that he got to go to Target.  Actually, to clarify, I made him go to Target.  As soon as I found out he was bound for the homeland, I started writing a list.  Is that terrible of me?

Fortunately it was a short trip, but it coincided with parent-teacher conferences at the school. I went to four hours of conferences and still didn't see all the teachers.  The weekend was pretty good -- the weather was lovely, and we walked around a part of Busan that we hadn't yet explored.  On Sunday, though, a certain member of the family (whose name rhymes with "riot") clogged up one toilet with overzealous use of toilet paper.  We only have two toilets here, and even with Matt gone and Annalee in diapers, a one-to-five toilet ratio is not a particularly good one.  The Target/ Walmart-ish store right nearby was closed at the time, so I went to the convenience store downstairs to see if they had any toilet plungers.

I honestly believe they did at one time carry them.  Because I could swear I saw them and went, "You're probably going to need one of those some day."  They did have a bottle of Draino-like stuff, but I wasn't sure I should buy it or if, in fact, it was for toilets since the label was all in Korean.  So despite the fact that they sell all kinds of things at that store -- including but not limited to: pantyhose, sewing kits, socks, underwear, all kinds of personal items (if you know what I mean), quail eggs, soy milk, squid-flavored potato chips, and of course, kimchi -- I walked out sans toilet plunger.  

I did, however, purchase a bottle of my favorite lime-flavored sparkling water.  Because I thought it would be weird if I stared at the bottle of maybe-Draino for ten minutes then walked out empty-handed.  

So then I had to come upstairs and face my Waterloo.  I -- well, it's hard to talk about as I'm still twitching a little. I had to fashion my own plunger.  It involved lots of plastic bags and disposable gloves and three different plastic cups and my arm and wrist hurting.  Thankfully, I do not have a strong gag reflex.  No siree, Bob, not any more.  Motherhood has beaten that out of me.  And all those plastic cups failed, but do you know what worked? (As in, the toilet could be used for liquid issues...) The plastic bottle that my sparkling water had come in!  So my trip to the convenience store was not in vain after all!!!!

Anyway.  Can we please talk a little about this?  Surely I'm not the only one who has had to MacGyver a toilet plunger out of random articles from around the house?!  

Also, don't worry if you're coming over here or seeing me in person any time soon.  Everything was thrown away (well, recycled, that's another story), and I bathed several times in Clorox.  


Kind of.

But yesterday, with Matt still not home, the same little person mentioned above was using our other toilet, when he came running up to me crying, and said, "Mom!  I did something!  We need a stronger toilet!"  

That can't be good, I thought, and went into my bathroom to find most of the new roll of toilet paper in the toilet.  The only reason anyone would need that much would be if they were T.P.-ing a house.  

But can I tell you?  As soon as I saw that, and paired what I saw with what he was saying, I started to laugh so hard.  Yes, son, yes.  You did do something.  But no, I don't think a "strong" enough toilet exists.  Lots of gloves and garbage bags and fishing the toilet paper out of the toilet because I felt like plunging it would just create more problems further down the road... That toilet seems to be working fine.

Knock on wood.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking -- as it does when you're plunging toilets with plastic bottles, and life looks pretty bleak.  First off, I realized I'm not good at talking about the things that are wrong.  I finally put a reference to this on Facebook late that night only because I decided it was funny enough.  But it's hard to talk about things I'm not doing well at, the things I don't know, or everything about my life that's messy and frustrating.  I want to be honest, but I'm scared of being judged.  I end up not writing about hard times in the thick of things because I worry that people will think I'm being too negative.  And I'm starting to realize that there is so much I will do wrong at any given time, or feel scared about, if I wait to share only "what I've learned", I might wait too long.  

So here I am, not just plunging toilets with plastic bottles in bags, but telling you too, that while I really do like Korea, I'm ready for things to get easier.  I'm tired of feeling like we are sick all the time because usually we're a mostly-healthy bunch.  I'm still sad for my kids for having to leave their friends in Hawaii.  I'm wishing I could make best friends for them here.  Wyatt started crying hard tonight sort of out of the blue and said, "Our home was so, so good!  I just want to go back."  My heart hurt so bad for him that I felt kind of like I was caving in, and I fought back my own tears until he was asleep.  Sorry, but that's my real life.

But also... it's all about the little things, right?  One square of toilet paper is a little thing.  But when it piles up with a bunch of those other little squares it stops everything and becomes overwhelming.   Those little things need to be paid attention to before they become a problem.

And the flip side of that is the incredible joy and gratitude that comes from the good little things.  Some of what we sent into storage before moving here was, accidentally, our Halloween and fall decor.  And while we brought American fans over to use with transformers, we really wanted ones that we could plug in.  (I use fans even now to dry our laundry because I don't have a dryer.) But with temperatures dropping, they weren't selling fans any more by the time we moved in.  And also, our usual fifth-birthday present for our kids is a bike.  But we didn't get one for Wyatt this year because we weren't sure he would have enough chances to use it to make a purchase worth the money.

On Halloween, a woman in my building whom I've only met a couple times texted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted some of the things she was getting rid of when she moves in a couple weeks. They were: Halloween decorations, two Korean-plug fans, and a bike.  She called it "a little girl bike" in her text, but then added, "It has Lightning McQueen on it."  I have to say, I'm not sure what makes it a "girl bike" -- I don't think it looks girly at all, and the bottom line is, Wyatt loves it.  

I think about my precious new friend who helped me so much the day I had to go to the doctor for my ear.  She had no reason to do it, and I'm sure it wasn't her idea of fun, but I'm in awe of her kindness.  

And those four hours of parent-teacher conferences the other day.  I was kind of dreading them, but I ended up walking out of the school feeling grateful because I realized how most of the teachers seemed to genuinely care about my kids not just as students but as people.  It turns out my children don't seem to be scarred by homeschooling and are in fact doing pretty well.

So I guess that's what this post is about -- the little things.  The messy, stinky, ugly, little things that we need to acknowledge as being hard before they become huge problems.  And the good, kind, sweet little things, seeing them fully for what they are, and being grateful.  The little things like asking people how they are and then waiting to hear the honest answer, or just making eye contact and giving a genuine smile when you say hi.  Because sometimes I think it's "just the little things" actually have the power to break us and shut everything down, but they also have the power to make us better.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What I Like About You, Korea!

Something that makes me smile: when we first landed in Busan and were all zonked from the long flight, we were trying to wake up Wyatt and Lilly.  We leaned over Wyatt, who was completely sound asleep, and said, "Hey, Wyatt... Guess where we are, buddy!"  Before his eyes even opened all the way, he got a big old grin on his face and said, "KOREA!"  It was so cute.

I wrote this on my two-monthiversary in South Korea.  Two months is not that long, I know -- definitely not long enough to be considered an expert.  But it's longer than most vacations to a foreign country, and long enough to have developed some first impressions as well as strong likes... And, to be honest, a few dislikes.

So without further ado, here is a brief summary of the best things about Korea (so far) (in my humble opinion), and the one thing I just don't enjoy at all.

-- Hands down, by far and away, I love the way Koreans love and value children.  It's so sweet and wonderful -- and a sharp contrast to America.  They like all the kids, but the younger ones are definitely the stars.  I spend a lot of time with just Annalee these days now that the older four are in school, and it's like being with a major celebrity.  People scream, ask to take their pictures with her, run up and rub their cheeks against her head.  I even saw a woman walk into a pole because she was waving at Annalee.  It was pretty funny, though I felt bad for her.  The downside to this is that the older people sometimes think I'm not mothering right.  For instance, on the super windy day I spoke of a couple posts ago (when my shirt blew almost over my head), I was chewed out by a group of elderly ladies because... Well, I'm not exactly sure, but I think it was because I had Annalee in a stroller that didn't cover her face?  I've even heard of older women smacking young mothers (with fans or similar) because they were "doing it wrong".  I know that will take some patience for me the longer I'm here.  But for now, I think it's mostly cute and funny and sweet.  I'll never forget the day, as Matt and I were walking home with Annalee, an older woman was so enraptured with her, she grabbed Annalee's other hand and started walking with us.  I wasn't sure how long it would last and even started to think she might be coming home with us.  Annalee didn't mind a bit, though.

-- Along those lines, I love all the playgrounds here.  I was so worried about moving from Hawaii because of how outdoor-oriented our lifestyle was there.  We went to the beach a lot, and there were several nice playgrounds in my neighborhood.  Our lifestyle has definitely changed significantly, but I'm so very grateful for the plethora of playgrounds to choose from whenever we can go outside.  I can't help but think that if America invested in playgrounds the way the Koreans do, perhaps childhood obesity wouldn't be on the rise like it is, and we'd have much happier kids.
-- The bathrooms here... Well, there's a lot to say here... Just the buttons on my toilet make me blush. (So graphic!!).  
Basically, though, the toilets are very similar to those in Japan.  They are  far more than just a bidet; they are spas.  Also, as someone who is really not fond of public restrooms in general, I've found that they aren't as bad here (in general) (aside from the fact that if it's public, the toilet you're sitting on has been sat on by hundreds of other people that day. Ew.).  If you're American, you know how the doors on bathroom stalls are about an inch too short on either side, so you have a gap where you can see the person sitting there?  
(Image via Imagur)
Not so here!  The doors actually fit the frame!  No embarrassing moments of awkward eye contact!  Can you even imagine?!  Memo to America: make better bathroom doors. You can do this.

(Also, this is funny.)

-- The elevators and escalators here are smartly done.  I could probably do an entire post on the elevators as they are truly a wonder.  I've seen so many people pack into them, it's like those car- and phone-booth-cramming contests in the 50's and 60's.  You'd be amazed.  When we first arrived, and it was so crowded in our hotel, we were riding the elevator one day, trying to get somewhere in a hurry of course, and it was stopping at literally every floor.  There was no air conditioning, and as more and more people squeezed in, I was starting to worry a little.  Finally, at one floor, three people tried to get on and a little kid squashed in the back corner (not one of mine this time!!), started crying, "No! NO! NOOOOO!!!"  The three were guilted off the elevator, which was probably good.  You really can't go anywhere without having to go on at least one, so on the one hand, you will spend a lot of your time in Korea waiting for and riding elevators.  But they have this one feature that is just so great.  If you press the button for the wrong floor, guess what?  You can just press it again and "turn it off"! So brilliant!!!  (especially if you have young children who love to press buttons) (or you're with Buddy the Elf, which is pretty much the same thing)  

 And most of the escalators have motion sensors on them so that they are not using electricity (expensive!) all the time.  

-- The subway is fantastic!!!  I love it.  I didn't ride it until I'd been here over a week, and when I did, I just thought, Why haven't I done this sooner?!  It's so easy to use and has (almost) everything written in English as well as Hangul.  It's clean and efficient, inexpensive, AND there is a glass wall that separates the platform from the rails.  That's right: a WALL!!  What a great idea, right?!  As a mom who rides the subway with kids, I think about all the stories I've seen and heard of people falling on the tracks, and it makes me feel so much better to have those doors there.  The only downside to the subway is that it doesn't go everywhere, and also lately, Annalee has taken to doing her bird-of-prey screech whenever we're on it.


-- The Koreans have a serious and wonderful commitment to coffee.  I'm trying to think of a place where you'd walk more than fifty yards without seeing a coffee shop.  It's fabulous.  It even inspires poetry.  Magical thing!
-- I also love the Korean farmers' markets and fruit-and-vegetable trucks.  There is a street that goes right behind the hotel we stayed in that has a farmers' market along it, and it's amazing just to walk down.  I don't love all of it; there's a large section dedicated to seafood which smells pretty awful.  And there are also various chunks of meat lying around.  But the produce is delicious, and the vendors are generally so friendly, and there's always something interesting to look at.  Annalee and I enjoy just walking along it. 

I could add a lot to this list -- and I probably will soon -- but I'm trying to keep this post a little shorter since my last few have been crazy long.  

-- Sorry, but if I'm going to keep this honest, there are a few things I'm not crazy about here. My hands-down least favorite part of Korea is the motor vehicles -- cars, taxis, buses, scooters, trucks, etc. My car is here, but Matt and I share it.  And honestly, even when I have it, I usually try to use public transportation or walk.  The only set rule I've seen is, "When driving, use the horn generously."  Granted: it could be worse. It is not the level of road anarchy you'd see in the Middle East or Bangladesh.  Or even LAX.  Still, every time I get in a taxi or drive somewhere, I hear Carrie Underwood singing, "Jesus, Take the Wheel".  It would be funny if not for the fact that lives are at stake.  We have found one particular taxi driver we use when we can who is wonderful.  He's just not always available.  

Walking isn't necessarily safer.  When I was in drivers' ed, the first thing we learned was, "Pedestrians always have the right-of-way."  Not so here.  I've been in crosswalks and had a walking sign (so the cars had a red light) and had cars stop just inches -- I not exaggerating -- from me or my kids.  My mamma bear instinct struggles with this!  I keep thinking about how if we were in the same room, these would be the people doting on my kids, but on the road, we are just something in the way.  It doesn't make sense.  Also, scooters drive on the sidewalks and may or may not use their horns to let you know they're coming.  But I still prefer walking to having to drive or take a taxi anywhere.  If you're looking for things to pray about, please pray for our safety.

Overall, though, I think this is an amazing country, full of beauty and many wonderful people.  It is definitely taking some adjusting to live here, but there is lots to love.  It's definitely a country more people should want to visit.

{Have you been to Korea?  If so, what were your favorite (or least favorite) things?  Any tips? }