Monday, January 30, 2017

Maybe I Will Then...

As you probably know, this past weekend was Lunar New Year (also known as Chinese New Year).  But while I've lived in places where at least a contingent of the local population celebrated the event, I don't think I've ever given it as much thought as I did -- well, kind of had to -- this past week.

It started last Monday, when I went to Costco with a friend.  Not only was the fairly impressive parking structure full, the overflow parking was full as well.  People were parked -- legally? Illegally? -- along the street.  Now, honestly, if it had been only me, I'd have high-tailed it out of there, declaring we really didn't "need" anything from Costco just then.  But my friend is gutsier than me and has lived here much longer, so when she said, "Just park like them along the street," I did.

"But is it legal?" I asked, shuffling through my already-dusty memory of the Korean driving laws I studied upon first arrival.

She shrugged.  "Meh. It's not like we're the only ones doing it!!  I'll split the ticket if you get one."  Well.  That wasn't exactly the vote of confidence I was hoping for, and I'd normally say something like, "Yes, but if everyone's jumping off a bridge, should we do it??!!"  But instead, I parked anyway, due to my friend's strange, hypnotic powers over me, and at her instruction, turned my emergency flashers.

And then, you guys... I went in and shopped in Costco!!  Just like that!!  I gave one last fearful, tearful glance at my beloved minivan -- the Mystery Machine, we call her -- as I turned the corner to go into the building.  But I'm happy to report that ol' MM was still there, flashers blinking away sans ticket, when I came back out.  Filing this story under "Things I Never Did Before".

Meanwhile, Costco was a madhouse.  I don't think I've ever seen one wth more people.  And that was the tone for the whole week, it seemed: more.  More people.  More cars on the road.  More garbage piled high in the garbage room.  

Fortunately, it was a short school and work week; even Matt had Friday off.  Due to the increased traffic, we were warned not to travel anywhere, though another trip to Seoul would have been fun!  On Saturday, we were invited to celebrate the New Year with some of the Republic of Korea's army personnel who were unable to go home for the holiday.  The event began at 8 am, which meant leaving our place at 7.  The invitation had said, "Formal... but casual okay," which led to a flurry of consultation texts with friends.  Did they honestly mean "formal?"  At 8 am?!  Should I go with the casual?? 

No one knew for sure, but Matt told me that when he'd gone to these kinds of events before (and I hadn't attended due to... sigh... sick kids), the spouses dressed in traditional hanboks.  I have no formal wear of my own, but I wore a jersey maxi dress I'd typically wear only in warmer seasons with a pretty sweater over it... and heels.  And over it all, my longest, thickest jacket.  

It ended up not really mattering because all you could see was the skirt of the maxi dress, the high heels I stumbled around in, and my jacket which I wore the whole time because FREEZING.  

Still, the event highlighted to me just how amazingly warm and kind the Koreans are.  We watched as they performed traditional ceremonies of respecting the ancestors.  All the soldiers participated.  The majority, of Buddhist or Confucian tradition, prostrated themselves on the ground before a table laid with ceremonial foods.  Those of Christian tradition bowed.  

Afterward we went into the mess hall to eat with the soldiers.  
 
Well, I didn't eat much because I figured I'd share my tray with Annalee who, after a few bites of rice and kimchi -- yes, spicy kimchi! -- spilled milk over it.  Following that, we went back to the original building and played traditional Korean games with the soldiers.  It was so interesting and fun.  One of the games involved something that looked like hacky-sack (do kids still play that in high school?  Am I dating myself??  Does anyone else remember this???) except it was a disk that looked kind of like a plastic votive candle with a metallic pompom attached.  

The other game involved a board with pieces that moved around, but instead of rolling a dice, there were these large stick-like objects with X's on one curved side and blank on the other flat side, and the combination of X sides to blank determined how many you were allowed to move. 
  My kids had a great time playing (and my friend Tamara got these wonderful pictures of Wyatt).  
  
 

At the end, they gave money to all the kids present, as is tradition.  I felt guilty, having brought my five and not knowing about this.  But I couldn't help but laugh when the interpreter explained that the mothers usually hold the money for the kids, saying they will "save it for them" but spend it themselves.  BRILLIANT!  
 

For the record, I let all my kids, even Annalee, keep their won.  

Anyway, it was an interesting and fun way to spend a Saturday morning.  The soldiers were so kind and forgiving of our gaffes, some of which we probably still don't realize we made. 

And driving there, we got to watch the sunrise...
 
And while I technically get up early enough to watch it every day, I don't usually have time to just sit and stare at it.  But also, driving through the quiet streets, seeing the city without all the lights or crowded sidewalks... made me think about being more of a morning person... which would mean being less of an evening person... and therefore not getting much alone time probably... so maybe I won't.  

But maybe I will?  

And somehow, while I was thinking about crazy ideas, I thought about the manuscript I wrote six years ago that I then mostly discarded (even after rewriting about 30,000 words I lost).  I started thinking about the books -- yes, plural -- I want to write, and how maybe I will do that this year...  I've sort of mentioned it here before   But admitting this is about as scary as I can get, especially since it feels like I could hardly be further from that becoming a reality.  And, a crazy idea is kind of nothing until you say it out loud and then people probably roll their eyes at least or at worst, laugh and make you the butt of their jokes.  

So maybe I will write it just for me now.  But... I think I'm going to do it.  If I can wake up early! ;-)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Little Seoul Time

 A couple weeks ago, my family FINALLY made it to Seoul! Honestly -- and I don't mean for this to sound bad -- it wasn't my first choice for a getaway.  I had figured we could go any time we all had a long weekend or something, and at first I was disappointed because I'd set my sights further.  I'd asked Matt, "Couldn't we at least go to Japan?!" Then again, we'd lived here five months almost to the day and hadn't yet made the trip.

Then I got to thinking: one of the perks of being somewhere so utterly different from what I'd "planned" last year meant that 365 days ago, I would not have imagined a trip to Seoul -- for any amount of time -- as being possible.  When I looked at it that way, and also realized that what we needed most right now was just something a little different, but not too stressful, Seoul looked like the perfect destination.

And, it was!  We drove, which meant a six-hour roadtrip Korean style!  Roadtrips are a treat we didn't really get when we lived in Hawaii, and you probably know by now we love them!!  We stayed at Dragon Hill Lodge  which I know isn't particularly helpful information if you're not affiliated with the military.  But if you are, and you're reading this while pondering a trip to Seoul, we were very happy with it. 

I'm not going to lie and try to claim that this post is "the best family-friendly guide to Seoul" ever.  We definitely didn't even try to see everything the city has to offer because I believe more than ever that it won't be our only trip there, and also, a huge part of going for us was to get away and have "chill time".  Happy-memory-making time.  Eating-out time. Sleeping-in time.  

After traveling with kids for seventeen years, I'd definitely say we've learned a few things.  So here's what we did, and I think we did well:

-- Go to Gyeonbokgung Palace.  
  
Wow.  So beautiful.  I loved all the patterns and vivid colors... 
 
And patterns....
  Did I already say that? 

 It was admittedly a little hard to look at the surrounding gardens without thinking, This will be so pretty in the summer! (Though the Lilly pictured here is beautiful no matter the time of year, ;-) )
 
 But it also wasn't completely overrun with tourists.
 

  And perhaps all the brown, leafless trees made us pay more attention to all the vibrant details of the palace.  We watched the changing of the guard which Wyatt, to my surprise, enjoyed the most.  It was our first official destination in Seoul, and I think it's safe to say that if you see nothing else, you should see the palace.


-- Ride the subway everywhere.  
 
We left our car on base.  The Seoul subway system is easy to understand and get around on, even with a crowd of seven.  I honestly can't imagine why anyone would choose to drive.  It did mean that we walked miles and miles, and I think the highest temperature while we were there was just above freezing.  But we wore warm clothes and good walking shoes, and it was great.

On a side note: by total accident, I ended up there with only the shoes I was wearing when I got in the car.  They were these Merrill Captiva boots -- you can see me wearing them in literally all the pictures of me.  If you are going to be somewhere that requires a lot of walking in the dead of cold, cold winter with only one pair of shoes, these are the ones I would recommend.  

-- Split up.  This might sound weird, but I do believe it made the trip more enjoyable.  Matt took our three middles to Lotte World one day, while Jayna, Annalee and I went to Bukchon, 
 
a beautifullly quaint area near the palace with traditional-style architecture, and Insadong Market.  Matt's group loves amusement parks, and Jayna and I could take them or leave them.  I'm not exactly sure he would do it again, at least not when Koreans are out of school, because he said it was insanely crowded.  They waited an hour to get into a line for a ride that was two hours' wait from there!  So most of the day was spent waiting (which is why I'm so ambivalent toward such activities).  

Meanwhile, I had a lovely (though frigid) day with the other two.  We didn't buy anything in Insadong, though I know exactly what I will get next time I go back, but we had a nice day of sight-seeing, window-shopping, 
 

and people-watching.  And eating Indian food. 
 
  And finding a lovely tea cafe. 
 
 I would prefer if everyone stuck together and loved the same things, but I also think it's okay to have a day where you split up and do your own thing.  There's less deep, exasperated sighing and eye-rolling, and it's easier for everyone to do what they wanted.

-- Gave ourselves breathing room.  I think one of the keys to maintaining sanity when you're traveling with kids, especially the five-and-under set, is to not overschedule.  Just like in my home life, this has been a tough lesson for me to learn.  I grew up traveling with my dad who did not like to leave a single stone unturned when we traveled  no trail unexplored, no hill unclimbed.  I sure complained about his exuberance as a kid, but when I was an adult, and I knew how much effort and money it took to get to a place, it was very difficult to not create a frantic pace and check off all the boxes in the visitors' guide.  

But... kids.  Also, Matt and I simply don't have the energy level of my dad.  (For the record, few people do!) We realized early-on that it was just better to go a little slower.  Planning one big destination per day, we've found, is usually enough.  Dragging our kids around half the planet Having our kids with us on our travels has made us schedule plenty of time to play in the parks and playgrounds, and get ice-cream or pastries and hot chocolates in cafes.  And in turn, I think, that's helped us to absorb our surroundings and destinations more, and interact with the locals.  On this particular trip, it snowed on our last full day there.  Since it was our first time in four years seeing snow, we stopped.  We played.  And honestly, I think our kids enjoyed the trip more because of it. 
 

   

 I know Matt and I did.  

One funny story: In the afternoon that last day, we went to Namdaemun Market.  The man at the tour desk had told us this was the best place to go to "buy anything" (which is why I didn't buy the artwork I wanted at Insadong... which is why I need to go back at least once because Namdaemun is NOT, in fact, the best place to buy art).  Matt was Mr. Popularity with our kids; both Wyatt and Annalee didn't want to be any more than a couple inches from him.  Both wore sufficiently warm clothing, but neither wanted to put the hood on his/ her jacket up.  Wyatt even (*gasp!*) left the zipper on his jacket down a couple inches because he is always worried about getting pinched on the chin by the zipper.

Well.  That would simply NOT do with the older Korean women we encountered.  Poor Matt, holding Annalee, kept getting a tongue-lashing -- which, fortunately, we couldn't understand but, unfortunately, definitely got the gist of -- and a stout slap on the arm because of the kids' lack of mittens (I've bought them, but my kids never wear them!), and lack of covered heads.  And to his utter perturbation, they kept zipping Wyatt's zipper up to his chin.  Every few feet, we encountered one of these women, monumentally determined to save our children from their lackluster parents.  

It didn't take long for us to stop and buy hats and mittens for both.  
 
The hats were soon tossed aside in disgust  and the string broke on both sets of mittens so that by the time we were back at the hotel, at least one was lost.  And Matt kept getting beat on because no sooner would one of these women zip up Wyatt's jacket and huff away, then Wyatt, whose scowls had no effect on his assailants, would promptly unzip it to a safe distance from his chin.

Oh well, Matt's tough, right?  

We headed back to Busan the next day after a leisurely breakfast at the buffet, MUCH-enjoyed by my son who made sure to get our money's worth. 

 He was pretty pumped by the almost-endless stack of pancakes and eggs.  
  
Everyone headed to school a few days later, and I've been so grateful for those happy, low-key days away, even if we didn't see or do everything yet.  We went to Seoul.  Seoul!!! We saw beautiful things, and played in the snow.  We went swimming in the hotel pool and rested and ate well.  We walked.  A LOT!!!  
 
I guess you could say, it was good for the heart... and Seoul.

(Sorry. I couldn't help it.)


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Learning to Meander

 
"The sun did not shine,
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
On that cold, cold wet day."

Dr. Seuss may have written those words sixty-something years ago, but they were so true that day just as this month was beginning.  The kids were cranky.  I was cranky.  And worst of all, I knew the Cat in the Hat wasn't going to show up.

"Let's DO something," Jayna groaned.  "Anything.  I don't care what we do, I just want to get out and do it."

"Yeah, but it's raining," I said.

"I don't care!  I'm just sick of sitting around."

I knew exactly what she meant.  With a deep sigh, I hauled myself up out of my cozy spot and put on my boots and tried to find the kids' rain and cold-weather attire.  That alone induced enough bickering and complexity to just about make me give up and return to my place on the couch.  By all appearances, this had bad idea written all over it.  But I pushed us (minus Skyler, who had other plans for the day) out the door and to the subway station.  We ended up in a neighborhood we've explored a little before, but somehow took a wrong turn and found ourselves wandering through a maze of giant apartment buildings.

"Never mind, this was a bad idea," Jayna said -- a few times.  But I found I was actually enjoying the cold, rainy breeze and the walk.  So we stuck it out.  Then, just as even I was about to give up and head home, I recognized where we were.  And as we explored a little more, we found breathtaking views and cafes.  
 
 
We walked through a quiet forest that felt so far from civilization -- even though it was actually taking us a few hundred meters off the road to the "best spot to take photos".
  
 
And then we tucked into a cozy booth in a cafe, with hot chocolate and milk tea to revive us for the walk home.  
 
 

Once home, tired and soaked to the bone, we found we had the biggest smiles.  It felt like we'd had a most extraordinary day -- exactly what I needed.  You see, as 2017 began, I was feeling daunted by the fact that I don't have a plan for this year.  On social media, it seemed that everyone was posting inspiring quotes about how success happens with a good plan or showing pictures of their planners with everything apparently neatly scheduled for the year.  And I... I didn't really know what to say besides, "How the heck do you do that?!"   

did a lot of changing plans  last year, and while there was definitely value in that, there was also this feeling I had by December that maybe I just shouldn't even bother planning anything.  I mean, where I was on December 31, 2016 was so far beyond what I'd imagined on January 1.  I've wrestled with moments of bitterness at "what I gave up", even though most of those things were just ideas, just "plans." 

On the first of this year, I confided to Matt my fear and frustration -- that I couldn't plan anything for my life. Not this year, not ever.  He looked at me square in the eye and said, "If that's how you feel, then don't plan anything."  Like... duh.  I was actually speechless; could it be that simple?  But I couldn't let go of  this fear that if I didn't plan anything, well... nothing would happen.  I would accomplish nothing.  I would succeed at nothing.  You might as well stamp my forehead with the words "Cautionary Tale" right now.

But that rainy day a few days later reminded me that there is a value in learning to meander.  So much so that we headed out the next day without any plan except to go the opposite direction on the subway.  

  And it was another lovely day -- quite different, but still great (and sweetened with a cafe stop at the end.  What can I say?  Koreans do cafes very well.)
 

Maybe it's crazy and uninspiring to say this, but I think there are times in life when we have to let go of 1-year or 5-year plans, the blueprints, the maps.... and just kind of see where the road takes us.  Then on the way, stop and look around.  It might be just the view you were hoping for.
 




Sunday, January 1, 2017

Merry and Happy and So On!


Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, 1) it's been way too long since I posted, and 2) once again, we were really sick.  I wasn't as sick this time, thank the Lord, but three of my kids were very ill, to the point that I thought hospital stays were a likelihood.  For almost two full weeks, there was coughing all night, sometimes to the point of throwing up, high fevers, and several trips to the doctor.


And though all that has been past us for a couple weeks now, I guess I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed -- trying to stay positive while figuring things out and paying for doctor's visits because our health insurance was being... challenging.  Plus all the other unique aspects of living immersed in another culture.  

BUT!  There have been some really happy times for me this month was celebrating Christmas with the orphanage our command has sponsored for over sixty years.  It was so inspiring to see the beautiful smiles, and genuine warmth and kindness of the kids, even in the tough circumstances they are growing up with. 

Another happy point: I managed to drive there without the GPS!  Before moving to Busan, I wouldn't have understood what a big deal that is, but let me tell you.  It's a BIG deal, especially since I can count on one hand the number of times I've been out there.  

We snapped this family picture, and while I wanted a photograph that didn't have weird shadows created by fluorescent lights, this is what we've got. 

It still makes me happy, though!  

We were, thankfully, still healthy for Christmas! We went with some new friends to a Christmas Eve service, and these friends have four kids.  So there were thirteen of us riding the subway then the bus.  On the way there, we had a bus driver who apparently missed his calling as an Indy 500 race car driver.  Most of us, kids included, were standing.  We tried to snap a picture for laughs, and I think it pretty accurately captures the adventure.
 
 

It was very memorable and fun.  Christmas Day was wonderful, even though several of the gifts we'd ordered hadn't yet arrived.  It was sunny sweater weather, which made for fun playground-hopping in the afternoon, followed by an Indian food feast and walking around the Christmas lights on our way home.

New Year's Eve was quiet, just our family, and yesterday started with -- well, less sleep than we'd hoped for because Annalee is suddenly getting all her teeth and keeps waking up every couple hours screaming, running around the house like a zombie, and then crashing.  It was a quiet and contemplative morning, and last night Matt took me to see La La Land -- which I LOVED.  Would you believe that it was our first time seeing a movie in the theater in over a year?!  So crazy.    

As we walked to the theater last night, Matt and I were reminiscing back to a year ago, when we had absolutely NO idea we would be celebrating in Korea this year.  I don't think that even my craziest imaginings could have given me the story of this past year, and while it was definitely different, I can honestly say it was good, especially because of the picture above that has all seven of us in it.  

I'm planning more posts very soon, because there is so much I want to write about, but for now I just wanted to pop in with a quick update.  I hope you've had a wonderful holiday season.  Since Christmas is what we celebrate, and is my reason for hope and peace and joy even in the mess of the world these days, I'll close with these words I love so much from one of my favorite carols sum it up for me.  
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
'God is not dead nor doth He sleep!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men!'
H.W. Longfellow