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.  

Kidding.

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.

Best:
-- 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.  

Worst:
-- 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? }

Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding a House, Making a Home



I don't consider myself a very superstitious person, so I really didn't think much about moving into an apartment on the 13th floor on the 13th of the month, except that my kids pointed it out.  "Well," I told them glibly, "It's not like Friday the 13th!"  But after the events of that week, I might re-think my position on superstitions.

As I mentioned in my last post, my first week in Korea was crazy intense, and on the fourth day, we began apartment hunting.

When I say this I mean, my husband called me from work and said, "Hey, can you go meet the realtor tonight at 6?"  

Remember when you were in school, and you'd ask the teacher, "Can I go to the bathroom?"  The teacher, thinking he/ she was oh-so-hilarious would say, "I don't know... Can you?"  So even though it was the kids' first day of school and they'd brought home hefty school supply lists and high emotions, and I was jet-lagged, tired and had a splitting headache, and I wasn't sure what I'd feed everyone or when -- yes, I technically could meet the realtor.

At 6, I went to the designated meeting point.  I had no idea what this man looked like except that he had glasses.  There was a man standing around looking as if he were waiting for someone, and!  He had glasses!  So I walked up and asked if he were the realtor, and he said yes he was, so I got into his car.

You're probably reading this and screaming, "YOU GOT IN A CAR WITH A GUY YOU'D NEVER MET JUST 'CAUSE HE SAID HE WAS THAT MAN?!  YOU DIDN'T GOOGLE HIM FIRST?!  YOU DIDN'T ASK FOR TWO FORMS OF IDENTIFICATION?!" Trust me, so was I, in my head anyway.  It is so deeply ingrained in me that women don't just walk up to some random man and ask if he's So-and-so and then when he says yes, get into his car unless they want to die.

Obviously, though, I didn't die.  It was simply one of those things that was so far beyond what I would call normal.  We looked at three apartments that night, and I got home and cried.  They never show that in House Hunters, but I did.  I was exhausted and my head hurt so bad and I felt so far out of my element.

But a few days later, when Matt and the older girls were with me (my parents were watching the littles), we looked at a few more.  One of them was lovely, and we tried to get it, but it fell through -- so we found out a week-and-a-half later.  Then the realtor showed us the apartment we ended up with, and it seems really, truly wonderful.

Except maybe that whole number 13 thing.  

On the 12th, I was trying to repack our hotel-apartment, which is easier said than done when you have a toddler.
 It had not gone well, but I got some Indian food take-out, and we were sitting and eating it when suddenly I noticed the table was shaking.  So were the walls, and the light fixture above the table was swaying as if a strong breeze were blowing it.  I looked at Matt just as Skyler asked, "Is this an earthquake?"  Matt nodded and calmly took another bite of palak paneer.  I froze, ready to throw myself over my children to protect them.  But just like that it was over.  Wyatt, who had eaten more snacks than dinner, was busy jumping on the couch in his undies, and I don't think he even noticed.  We all laughed (a little nervously), but there was lots to do.  

My friend was coming over with her minivan to pick up a load of the suitcases and boxes we were moving because the plan was that Matt would be over at the new place first thing in the morning when the movers delivered our household goods while I finished up at the hotel and checked out.  I called to see if my friend was still up to making the drive, and she said no problem, so I went downstairs with Skyler to meet her and load her car with our belongings.

We'd just gotten to the meeting point when another longer, stronger earthquake hit.  Skyler and I were looking around, trying to figure out where to go for cover in case things started falling.  We were in a sort of open area kind of like a huge lanai with a high ceiling -- as in the ceiling was where the third floor would be -- covered with tiles.  The only other option was to go out into the street, and I was sure that wasn't a good plan.  We just kept asking each other, "Where do we go?  What are we supposed to do right now?"  I've been through plenty of earthquakes before, but not in a situation quite like that.

Luckily, my friend showed up a couple minutes later, and we hurried so she could get home.  But by then, the younger of my kids were a little more disturbed -- I mean, two earthquakes in one night was kind of a lot for them to deal with, and the second one was pretty scary.  It took forever to get everyone calmed and even longer to get them to sleep.  Repacking?  I had to forget it for then.

The next day started Matt left early, and I took the kids to breakfast.  I was planning to head back up to the room after dropping the kids off, but my phone started going crazy with texts.

"You need to get down here to the apartment."

"The movers are here."

"Come on!"  

Okay, change of plans!  No problem!  I could do that!  I've had a lot practice changing plans lately!  I stuffed the rest of breakfast in my mouth, kissed the kids goodbye as they headed to the bus, and caught a taxi.  I arrived and found many boxes already in the apartment!  No wonder Matt was so stressed!  The rest of the day was a blur.  Another friend came and oh-so-graciously took Annalee out while Matt and I managed the movers and the did all the administrative things that needed doing.  That evening, after the kids were home, Matt and I headed back to the hotel to finish packing up.  We were still not quite done when Jayna started texting us about Wyatt being fussy and crying, and then she said, "I think he's running a fever."

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.  

He'd had a cold for forever again and been rubbing his ear and saying it hurt, and I knew it was an ear infection.  I hurried home with just a few things left in the hotel.  I figured we could come back in the morning and get breakfast since we were paying for the night anyway, check out, and then I'd take him to the doctor in the morning.

This should have been... Well, not too hard.  There is a pediatrician close by that all my friends use when their kids get sick. I was told to get there early because you can't make an appointment, but the next day after the first part of the plan was executed, it was well past opening time when I walked up to the clinic.  I'd given Wyatt Tylenol early that morning, but it was wearing off already.  He felt feverish and was crying, saying he just wanted to go home.

And that's when I saw the sign (cue Ace of Base).  Closed for the holiday.  Thursday was the Korean Thanksgiving Day, so the clinic was closed for the rest of the week.

I tried not to freak out, even though that's what I'm best at, and walked down to the taxi stand while texting another friend about where to go.  She recommended a hospital that was close by and even sent me the address in Hangul so I could show the taxi driver (the third one took me.  They tend to be picky about who they will take.).  

At the hospital, no one really spoke much English, except the guy at the front desk who told me it would cost me $300-400.  Again, I tried not to freak out, but we aren't rich enough to be quite okay with spending that for an ear infection.  I texted Matt frantically, and he said to go on, but he'd call our insurance.  

Wyatt had his temperature taken, and we were taken back to the peds' ward.  A nurse came up to me with a bowl of water and some gauze.  I looked blankly at her as she motioned something about dipping the gauze in the water.  Then she said, "Fever control."

Okay!  Fever control!  Except... When I go to an ER, I'm kind of done with sponge baths and band aids.  It's time for the serious medications and heavy equipment -- the things I can't do at home.  My heart was pounding, but I sat there with Wyatt on my lap, crying as I sponged his burning forehead.  I tried to think, It's like a Jane Austen novel! and appreciate the quaintness, but then my phone rang.  It was the insurance company -- who, by the way, is located in Singapore, an English-speaking country.  They informed me I was at the wrong hospital, and the right one was 30 minutes away.

"So I have to leave?" I asked incredulously.

"You don't have to leave," the man said in a charmingly gracious and cheerful tone, "but we won't pay for that one."  

This is when my blood pressure went into the red, I think.  I stood abruptly and asked if anyone spoke English, and I think-hope I communicated the situation.  Fortunately, other than the sponge bath I was administering, he hadn't been treated yet.  They nodded and said I could leave, and... Well, knock on wood, I haven't heard anything yet.

So I left and got into another taxi with Wyatt.  There was the whole exchange about where I wanted to go that took several minutes and the help of my phone and sketchy old Google Translate.  By now any trace of Tylenol was gone.  He was crying, and I was texting my husband and another couple friends, and the driving was, well, the exciting driving that it is.  I started to feel nauseous from carsickness and all too soon, I could hardly keep breakfast down as it roiled in my stomach.  We got to the hospital, and I staggered out of the taxi, pulling Wyatt with me.  

Lucky for me, the administrative staff there spoke better English, and within ten minutes, we were seen by a doctor.  Granted, only about ten words were spoken, but the job was done! Wyatt was diagnosed with a double ear infection and bronchitis.  A shot was administered to his derrière. He was not happy about it, and every soul in that ER knew just unhappy he was.  But a fifteen-minute doctor's appointment in an ER? Thank you very much, I'll take it!

I'm really glad that he had that shot, as sad as it made me for him to cry, because getting the medicine down him was another story.  The directions were all in Hangul, but thankfully I've met a wonderfully kind Korean woman who translated everything for me and explained how I was supposed to mix them.  It was still stressful, not because it's so hard to pour 30 ml's of water into a powder and shake it myself, but because... That's not how we do it in America.  I'm trying to learn not to judge things just by how they are done here versus there, but sometimes, honestly, it's a tough process.

Anyway, his fever was going down by the time we got home.  He swaggered into the living room and proudly announced to his sisters, "I got a shot on my butt.  It didn't hurt though." 

The rest of the week was an unpacking blur.  Matt left for a work trip, and a typhoon past fairly close.  Wyatt broke out in a rash that scared me so bad because it looked like a rash Jayna had when taking Omnicef many years ago, but I think it was just a heat rash.  Now his meds are finished, and he seems to be on the mend, though his cough still sounds pretty bad.  And then a week ago, we had another earthquake, followed by one that we didn't feel so much on Wednesday.

In a way, I'd like to just erase last week from my memory because it was so stressful.  But I'm not writing off everything as doomed yet because I can't help thinking of what I read once in a collection of short stories by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: "Home is where we move fluently in the dark."  It's a line that kind of skewered me -- it left my eyes smarting the first time I read it and has stuck with me for the many years since I read it.  All my life, I've been trying to figure out where I was "from", or where I called "home".  I still stumble for an answer.  But these words are so true, in so many ways.  

Right now, my family and I are in the stage of "home" where we're still smacking our shins on the coffee table as we stumble through the dark.   Every night, at least once, Wyatt cries and says, "I want to go home.  When will we go home?"  I ask him, "What do you mean, buddy?  We are home." And he answers, "No!  I want to go back to the big green house."  My other kids miss their friends, Jayna misses her sailing classes and races, and if I am going to be completely honest, every time I take a deep breath, I feel just a shuddery hint of a sob, even though I feel perfectly happy.  
 
But I've been amazed at how we learn, as we make maps in our minds and hearts of pitfalls and hazards, our mistakes or mishaps guide us.  We learn what sharp corners to avoid and where to move slowly.  As crazy as that week may have been, I know I learned a lot.  This is such a beautiful country full of so many lovely people, and I want to know more.  So I trust that one of these days, I'll find myself moving a little more easily through this new place, and hopefully one day, we can comfortably call it home.




Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hit the Ground Running

We've been in South Korea three weeks now!  In some ways, it feels like three years. So much learning and adapting to big changes has happened.  And in other ways, I find myself thinking, Three weeks already?  

I think the only way to semi-cohesively talk about our time here so far is in a bullet point post.  I don't love doing it this way, but hopefully I will give you a rough idea of our early days here, so I can talk more in detail in the upcoming posts.  So here goes!

-- Getting here.  Not gonna lie: It was painful.  I ended up putting a grand total of over 6,000 miles on my rental car!  I'd driven through thunderstorms, in steep mountain ranges, through deserts, along the coast, in crazy L.A. traffic... And two hours before I dropped it off, a rock hit the windshield!  Can you believe it?!  I was so stressed out.  I wanted to cry.  Actually, no, I did cry.  I think it ended up not being an issue, but by the time I got the car turned in and was at our hotel, my whole body was shaking from a nasty mix of adrenaline and fatigue.  Annalee had gotten just enough of a late nap that she didn't want to go to sleep until about 11:20, and then she and I didn't sleep soundly at all.  

So we were on a 11.5 hour trans-Pacific flight with a cranky, overtired baby.

It did not go well.  

She slept maybe three hours. I still don't understand the superhuman power that enabled this feat.  Most of the passengers around us were nice about it.  One guy in front of me kept turning around to mad dog us every time she cried (which was often), and Matt said that he could hear a couple in their young twenties talking about us saying, "Like, why would anyone bring a baby on an international flight?"

(By the way, please read that in a Valley Girl accent. It seems most appropriate.)

One of my friends here suggested that we tell them, "Because she isn't a very good swimmer. DUH."  That made me laugh.  I guess stupid people are just going to show how stupid they really are sooner or later.  It was definitely an exercise for me to not be so much of a people-pleaser.  I did my best, and all I can say is, if you're on a flight with an angry baby, please show kindness to the poor parents. 

We got to Tokyo and had an over-five-hour layover.  When we landed, it was 10 pm California time.  It was sort of like (I imagine) running a marathon and then having to do a half-marathon right after.  Would you believe Annalee was awake the entire time?!  I walked through the airport like a zombie while Matt and the rest of the kids took catnaps.
 

She would not sleep, and she would not have anyone else.  If you knew what a sweet, generally good-natured baby she usually is, you would understand how I just so badly wanted to lie down in the middle of the floor and cry.

But Lilly and Jayna joined me for some of it, and we found pretty cool things to see, including amazing origami displays.  I can't even make a crane, so I was blown away.

We finally boarded the flight to Busan,
and as we were boarding, Annalee fell asleep.!!!!! Since it was only 1.5 hours with dinner served, I thought I'd stay awake. I was kind of just wired and a little nutty by that point -- more so than normal, anyway.  But instead, I fell asleep hard, like someone had hit me over the head.  I probably looked just like Lilly and Wyatt,
but thankfully there is no photograph, because I was probably snoring and/ or drooling on myself.

-- When we were going through the immigration passport check, I had to laugh.  The man directing us to where we needed to go saw us and said, "Too many!"  We looked at each other a little panicked.  I mean, yes, I was afraid someone would say this at some point, but at the passport desk?!  Too soon!!  But because we were coming in on military orders, we all had to be with Matt, so we ignored him.  It was fine, but the man at the desk was definitely surprised as he counted us up.

Also, they took a picture of me and Jayna at that point.  I guess it's an ID picture.  It would be safe to say that is probably one of the worst pictures of me ever. 

-- It was so, SO nice to be picked up at the airport by the man my husband replaced. He had brought a 9-seater van AND a little truck for us and all our suitcases.  We got to our hotel and found that it was a nice comfortably-sized apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a WASHING MACHINE.  The kitchen had been stocked.  I mean, at the end of 24 hours of travel, that's the kind of thing that just makes you happy cry.

Plus,it has a beautiful view.

-- The weather when we arrived was incredibly hot and humid.  I'm talking heat advisory weather.  Poor Wyatt just could not deal.  Every time we walked more than ten steps out of the hotel, he'd start crying.  Spoiled by Hawaii.  It stayed that way until a week ago when a storm came through, and I'm not kidding, overnight, the temperatures dropped by at least 20 degrees.  It was nice, but kind of scary too because we don't have our household goods yet that contain the Rubbermaid boxes of sweaters and coats we last used when we lived in Washington state.  It's warmed up some again, but not as hot as it was.  Last week it was so windy, I'm not even exaggerating a little when I say that as I left my friend's apartment building, my sunglasses were blown off my face and the peplum t-shirt I was wearing blew up like Marilyn Monroe's skirt around my armpits.  It was so embarrassing, and now I can give you one more reason for wearing a pretty bra.  This week has been (thankfully) calm winds and warm, if not sticky, weather.  I'm hoping it just stays nice like it is right now for a while.

-- We hit the ground running.  Honestly, I think that phrase was made up just to describe our first week here.  I'm so thankful that Matt was able to change our tickets to come here 48 hours sooner because he had a day to "recover".  Initially, he was going to have to go straight to work the day after we arrived. That day ended up being a mostly fruitless hunt for an ATM that would take our card, plus a jetlag nap.  If you've ever had jetlag, you know how awful that is -- that feeling like you're in a coma and trying to get out of it. 

Which I say without ever having been in coma, and hoping never to be in one.  It's just... Jetlag naps are awful.

That first week, Matt went to work, and it was Korean Independence Day, so there was no school.  We were shown some ropes(like grocery shopping) by one of the friends I'd made on Facebook prior to arriving here.  Tuesday we took the kids to school to get registered, and Wednesday they started classes.
Wednesday night, I viewed the first apartments we were considering.  Thursday was the Hail & Farewell for our command, where Matt and I were welcomed and the outgoing commanding officer was celebrated.  (He definitely left some big shoes to fill!). Friday was Matt's Change-of-Command ceremony,
which for me, followed a lovely coffee where I met some of the wonderful military spouses who are also stationed here.  

-- Funny story (now that it's over).  I mailed two boxes from Hawaii the day before we left.  They contained, among other important things, the dress I planned to wear for Change of Command and the shoes.  We got here, and they were nowhere to be found.  I knew they'd arrived, but... Where were they?  No one had any idea.  I went looking for a replacement dress -- couldn't find anything.  Fortunately, several of the women here volunteered to loan me dresses, so if I had to I could do that, but no one else, it seemed, had size 7.5 feet like me to loan me a pair of heels.  And literally, the only shoes I had were a pair of flip-flops, some really scuffed ballet flats , my running shoes, and a pair of Chacos (these -- so, cuter than regular Chacos, but still). 

So I went shopping... Turns out 7.5 is just this side of Officially Ginormous in South Korea.  I could not find a single pair that fit.  Everywhere I went, the salesperson said, "Order.  We order."  But there was no time to order!  The ceremony was the next day!  Annalee was over it and letting everyone know, and I was picturing myself in my nicest outfit hat I had with me, which was not that nice, and imagining with growing horror (as we women tend to do) everyone thinking, That poor man, married to such a slob.

BUT, just in the nick of time... my boxes were found in a warehouse and delivered to me Thursday night.  WHEW!!!

-- I'm pretty sure I couldn't have survived that first week without my parents.  When I told them our schedule, they asked, "Do you want us there?"  Um, YES!!!  As it turned out, my mom and dad were traveling in Asia, and my mom had just enough downtime to be here when we arrived and Dad joined in the middle of the week.  They were able to watch Annalee during the CoC, and (HUGE answer to prayer!!) she even took a 3-hour nap!!  She NEVER takes 3-hour naps!!!

-- So... It was such a whirlwind, I can't even tell you.
I have been so exhausted, I've fallen asleep by 9 pm most evenings, and I've taken a lot of Tylenol and Motrin for headaches.  The weekends have been rainy, which has been good for having an excuse to catch up on much-needed sleep.

But through it all, I have found myself grateful for answered prayers and for wonderful people who have stepped in just when I thought I was going to lose my mind.  I think if these past few weeks have taught me anything, it's the value of People Who Are Just Plain Nice.  No superhero capes needed -- just kindness.  
 
Like the guy at the rental car place who checked my car in, and as I rather tearfully told him the story of The Rock and My Windshield, expressed sympathy... With a lot of potty words, but still.  Sympathy.  (The potty words just showed that he really got it.) ('Cause I was sure thinking them, if not saying them too.)
 
And the brand new friend who took me grocery and school supply shopping.  
 
And the other brand new friends who offered dresses for the Change of Command, and gave me chocolates and a selfie stick (!!) for my birthday, which was barely a week after our arrival, and loaned me a stroller because mine is still in my household goods.  
 
And the kids' vice principal who hasn't acted at all weirded out about their homeschooling, but in fact, has been incredibly supportive and helpful.  
 
And so many of you!  Thanks to everyone who has been praying or commenting on Facebook and Instagram and sending notes of encouragement.  It truly means more than I can possibly say.  

I'll be back soon with more of the story. ;-)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Ebenezer

I had originally planned to make my next blog post about our two weeks so far in South Korea.  There's so much to tell!  But first I need to take a minute to write about something that's been on my heart for quite a while, and especially lately, I need to write this as a reminder to myself, even if everyone else ignores it.

The past couple weeks -- in fact, as I've mentioned, this whole summer -- has been nothing short of amazing.  So many good things have happened, so many interesting things... And it's easy to talk about those things.

But.

This has been an incredibly challenging time, too.  We left what was our home for over three years.  We left friends.  We said so many goodbyes.  We stepped into something that is unknown and feels, at times anyway, very strange and overwhelming.  We've wondered if and how things are going to work out.  We've felt lost. 

In my moments of grieving for family and friends far away, or feeling panicked about a problem I'm facing, when I'm scared to move forward, I find myself looking back.  These days especially, my thoughts go to a little plumeria tree outside our house in Hawaii. 

I've mentioned this before, but our first year in Hawaii was so hard.  I experienced an extreme loneliness, almost feeling abandoned.  My kids were sad.  We were all so tired of moving.  Then we had a health scare, and someone even tried to extort money from us and keep our kids in a terrible situation.  (I keep wondering if that's the right word for what happened.  I can't go into the details, but if there is a better word for someone using lies and deceitful business practices to get money from you, please let me know.) 

And then there was our house.  Finding affordable housing in Hawaii is no joke.  Homelessness there is a problem no one seems to talk about, but it's real and prevalent.  Of course, we weren't on the street, but we had such a hard time finding a place to live.  I would wake up every day searching Craigslist and rental sites, and even if I called at 7 a.m., often times the house was already rented.  If one was available, there was almost always a good reason.

We finally found a house that would work.  It had four bedrooms (they were all tiny, but there were four).  It had a pool (the deck was cracked and dangerous, but there was a safety fence, which most houses did not have and I felt it was crucial since Wyatt was a toddler).  It even had an extra room (the floor sloped so much that if you spilled some water at one end of the room, it turned into a flowing river).  AND, it was within our housing allowance, AND it was across the street from a nice park, plus Matt had an easy commute to work, so it was a GO!

Sure, there were more problems... The ceiling had no insulation; it was just the other side of the unshaded roof, making the house feel like the inside of a solar oven.  In the summer, temperatures were regularly in the 90s.  The tile floor in the living room was buckling when we moved in, and the management company fixed it, but it started buckling again.  We had what our neighbor called "the ugliest front door in Kailua" -- a security door that was bright orange with rust and had giant holes where the metal had coroded.  The kitchen counters were warped and falling apart, and sometimes when I was cooking, I got an electric shock from the stove.  The wooden window and door frames were completely rotted out, so that all sorts of critters could come in and out easily -- and they did so quite happily.  It wasn't uncommon to reach into my utensil drawer and have something move under my fingers.

And... Well, there's no good way to say this, but... critters poop. That's all I have to say about that.

While these problems were absolutely no fun, one thing just would not stop bothering me.  There was no plumeria tree on the property.

I know what that sounds like -- spoiled, petty, ridiculous.  I scolded myself constantly for being so bothered by such a silly matter.

But I LOVE plumeria trees.  Much of my childhood in Bangladesh was spent in plumeria trees; my happiest memories were there.  Here I was living in Hawaii, land of the plumeria, without one single plumeria tree! 

But actually, there had been one.  It was in the pictures posted on the property manager's website, but our crochety old neighbor insisted on having it cut down before we moved in because the leaves and flowers were falling into her pool.  Sometimes I looked at the stump where it had been, and as silly as it sounds, it just made me feel more lonely, more lost, more forgotten.

After ten months, we asked to terminate our lease, and to our surprise, the property management agreed in a flash!   (Turns out, they could ask for an increased rent every time someone moved out.)  Finally there was a house on base, and when we got the call telling us so, we said yes to it without even seeing where it was.  I remember driving onto the property with the kids, and then being so incredibly excited when I realized where our new house was -- facing a huge open area, steps from the (fenced) pool and community center.  There were two playgrounds right in front of my house.  It was spacious, clean, comfortable, safe, and beautiful.

And right outside the fence of our little backyard was a plumeria tree.  It wasn't huge, but it was there.  Just a small, beautiful message to me, like God was saying, "I didn't forget you."

If you've been reading my blog, you know the rest of the story (or you can read the short version here).  We made amazing, wonderful friends.  Our family grew.  The two years that followed kept getting better, and that's why saying goodbye was so hard.

One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  I think I love every line in it, but "Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come" has always stood out to me.  An Ebenezer is "a stone of help", a commemoration of a victory.  1 Samuel 7:12 says, "Then Samuel took a stone and he set it between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer saying, 'Thus far, the Lord has helped us.'" 

I've read about how some families have made "ebenezers" -- shelves or special cases that contain items that remind them of something God helped them through, and I want to have something like that too someday.  I know I have those sorts of things to out in it -- hospital bracelets, all my pregnancy tests (not as gross as it sounds! I promise!), stones picked up from the ground in special places -- but right now they are kept in a very ordinary shoebox labeled "Very Important Memorabilia".

And I have something to add to it.  While I couldn't take the plumeria tree outside our house with me, I did have Skyler snap my picture in it one day.  It's a little blurry, and taken at the end of a long, tiring day.  But as I look at that picture, I can feel the rough bark under my hands again and smell the scent of the plumeria perfuming the breeze.  

I may not know how the problems I face will turn out, but I know this, and draw peace from it: "Thus far, the Lord has helped us." 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Plan Q

One of my dad's famous sayings is, "Plans were made to be changed!"

Good thing, too, because you could kind of say that's the story of my life, and you could definitely say it's been the story of my summer!

As we were finishing our amazing roadtrip, the kids and I had some decisions to make. Matt was heading off to training, and I wasn't exactly sure what we would do. My big sister lives in Washington state, and I desperately wanted to see her because I hadn't since January 2014!!! She'd never met Annalee!! She lived in Germany and then had gone to live in Washington, so when we took our trip to California last fall, we weren't able to see her. 

BUUUUT... Driving to her would take at least two long days. I hoped maybe she'd be coming to California, but she was working and couldn't get time off. And then came the bombshell: within two weeks of each other, both she and her husband were very unexpectedly laid off. While she had the time now, I couldn't expect her to travel to see me, and she was in a flurry of applying for new positions.

Meanwhile, Jayna had an offer to go with her friend from Anacortes (where we lived in Washington prior to moving to Hawaii) to a youth mission trip in inner city  Portland.  At first she told me no; she didn't want to do it because she'd be on it for her birthday.

But when I returned to our hotel room after dropping Matt off at LAX at 5:30 that Saturday morning, she was awake.

"I think we should do it, Mom" she said as I was just crawling back into bed, hoping to sleep a few more hours.  "I think we should drive up to Washington, and I need to get there by Monday at noon so that the youth group can meet me on their way to Portland."

And she was right; it actually... kind of... made perfect sense.

So in a few hours, we were repacked and driving north on I-5. We stopped in Stockton for the night to stay at my father-in-law's, then hit the road as early as possible (which, honestly, was about 9), and drove like crazy.  Jayna finally let us stop for the night in Salem at about 9:30 pm. First thing the next morning, we were on the road again! 

It was lunchtime when we got to where my sister lives. Jayna had arranged to have the youth group pick her up there that afternoon on their way to Portland, and we were meeting Jenny and her family at an Indian food place for lunch.

Oh my goodness, seeing my sister again... It brings tears to my eyes to remember.
 We were just standing in the parking lot hugging and crying. Every minute of the drive was worth it.
After lunch, I got Jayna sent off, and then had the greatest week at Jenny's house.
We did things like going to the Point Defiance Zoo
and shopping, but the best part was just being with her

and her sweet kids (minus her eldest who was at camp). We hiked,

visited parks and playgrounds,
 
and went blueberry-picking
-- and picked 21 pounds of blueberries!!  And by the end of the week, there was wonderful news: both Jenny and my brother-in-law had great job offers!
That Saturday, I drove up to Anacortes to get Jayna and see friends.  We had such a nice, restful three days.  Our friends we were staying with live kind of in the country,
so the kids had so much fun hiking on the trail on their property, jumping on the trampoline, feeding their chickens... And just being with them because they are some of The World's Nicest People.

I visited other friends (like my friend Amber, mentioned in this post, a worthwhile read even if it's not Small Business Saturday today!) and hiked at Washington Park,

one of my favorite places.
Then we headed back to my sister's for one more night.  We left her house and stopped for the night in Salem, where I had dinner with my old boarding school roommate and dear friend, Heather.
Then we stayed with "Aunt" Linda and "Uncle" Terry -- much-loved staff at the same school.

We finally made it back to California, visited more family, and spent several days at my in-laws' house, with a little side trip here and there, like to the train museum in Sacramento.
The hardest part of this summer was that my kids weren't very healthy. Annalee kicked off the summer with back-to-back Hand Foot &Mouth and roseola. Right before we left Hawaii, I discovered that Lilly had a raging middle ear infection. Then we all had, to varying degrees, a chest cold. Wyatt and Annalee had it worst, so I ended up taking them to urgent care. Then Wyatt caught a tummy thing and spent a night throwing up or crying about his stomach hurting when we were in Monterey and I'd planned to see some friends, including an older friend who is battling cancer. I couldn't have him around her or risk it if I were coming down with the bug, so we walked around Monterey instead.
 

Yes, "Plans were made to be changed."

We rejoined Matt in Southern California
and learned that his training was ending sooner than expected. So we changed our travel to South Korea by 48 hours to have a day of rest before he started work here. And so plans changed again. We spent our last week with some of our closest friends, people we'd been wanting to see all month, but they had the flu. It was such a wonderful time, filled with the kind of laughter that makes your sides and cheeks hurt. The only downside was that leaving felt heart-crushing.
I have no idea what edition of my summer plan this would be, but I'm guessing Plan Q. Just a ballpark estimate.

But with Jayna starting her senior year of high school, I've been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to know by the time they leave my house.  And one of them is this: having a plan is good.  But being willing to change a plan without it completely derailing your life is invaluable.  I've seen adults who couldn't handle one small adjustment to their schedule without being in a snit. 

We had to be very flexible this summer, and I'm not going to lie: it wasn't always easy, just as I'm sure it wasn't easy for our friends and family who put us up.  There were times when I almost lost my mind, and the kids probably thought I had.  Friends who heard what we were up to thought we we're crazy too.  

But I know this: it was a great summer.  

In exchange for their flexibility, my kids had so many amazing experiences.  They saw old favorite places and found new ones.  They saw old friends and made new ones.  And they connected with family in a way that we needed so badly before embarking on our Korean adventure.
When we were in Anacortes, Paul, the patriarch of the family we were staying with, said something I'm always saying (but it's better when it comes from someone else right?): "Kids can never have too many people who love them."
We were filled to the brim with love with summer, so that instead of feeling depleted as we left California a week ago, we were energized and encouraged for what we are undertaking. Honestly, my only regret is not seeing more of our loved ones.

I hope my kids have learned that they will find joy in the places their many ever-changing plans take them -- even if next time, they are on Plan Z by the time the journey is over!