Thursday, November 29, 2012

Full to the brim

I'm full to the brim here, folks. I just tried to post pictures from my and Husband's recent (and incredible!) trip to Thailand.  Blogger informed me I am at maximum capacity though, one full gigabyte of words and pictures, so much of my story of the past four and a half years.  

I could pay monthly for additional storage space.  My most immediate thought was to just begin a new blog -whammo!- one more gigabyte to fill as I wish.  In that moment though I simultaneously realized I am ready to be done.  

This blog has been a great space for me to reflect and share.  It has been wonderful for my heart to process and create here.  I have learned so much about myself, my God, and HTML!  I am filled with gratitude for the record of thoughts here that would not otherwise exist.  Thank you for visiting me here; you have been a wonderful encouragement to me.

Ending this personal blog will help me focus more on the professional one I'm still working to develop.  It is a process that ebbs and flows, but one that really makes my heart beam.  Come over any time to Joy Before You, the place at which I'll be writing and sharing exclusively now.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Holiday talk; yes, already

This is my most favorite photo of my dog ever.  It encompasses all of his spunk, energy, and full-hearted devotion.  This picture also reminds me dearly of some of what I love most about Christmas:  the wonder of fresh snow, the joy in the lungs playing outside after being cozy together inside, the way God blesses us with beauty so lavishly, and the wonderful togetherness of days with family when all other obligations are set aside in the name of Christmas.

Christmas is in eleven weeks.  If the speed of September tells us anything (how was that possible really for September to happen so fast this year?), the holidays will be here oh-so-quickly.  

The weeks seem even quicker than usual to me for three reasons:

:: I am planning this Thanksgiving Feast, which -while a great thing- is also such a time suck.

:: We will pretty much be in our own little world for the entire month of November.  The first few days we'll be getting all the loose ends tied up to skip town for two weeks.  We arrive back home from Thailand on Thanksgiving Day, and the few days after that we'll be catching up on sleep and knitting life back to normal from skipping town for two weeks.  Then -wham- December!

:: Due to being overseas and going on vacation, I'm trying to get our Christmas presents for family bought, wrapped, and mailed by Halloween!  I do not want to stand in line with the other 9,999 people on this base in December, and hope my parcels make it in time for their parties.

Regarding Christmas -and gifts in particular- I was starting to feel like Scrooge when I came upon some encouraging advice at my favorite (check the "holiday" section of the table of contents - the comments are awesome also):

:: Just because Christmas is special doesn't mean it has to be serious.

:: If you don't want to emphasize Santa, but find it unnecessary to ignore him altogether, try allowing Santa to do the stockings, while the gifts are from family.  This allows children to enjoy the legend of St. Nick as a gift-giver without idolizing Santa as someone who's going to make all their hopes and dreams come true.

:: Make the traditions you want, not the ones you think you need to have.

Husband and I had been discussing Christmas gifts and Santa again because we hadn't totally decided even after our talks about it last year.  We wanted to figure out our approach, and put it into practice this year.  

I get stuck on the topic of gifts because I see how each of us has so much and we really don't need anything, and I have to make myself remember gifts aren't necessarily to fill a need.  Gifts are a way to show love and that you're thinking of someone.

I get stuck on the topic of Santa because the icon represents so much commercialism, which is far from my Christmas priorities.  I have to remind myself that Santa is St. Nick, a friendly SAINT of a man who gave gifts to and helped children because of an overflowing of good will and generosity.  People can enjoy the fun of Santa without putting him on a pedestal.  (The jury is still out regarding the Easter Bunny though!)

Rachel at Small Notebook makes Keep/Drop lists, and once again she has inspired me to make my own list; this time for Christmas:

Keep:  Advent wreath on the kitchen table (the gorgeously simple one I mentioned last year with the bunt pan, cranberries, and tea lights).
Drop:  Advent calendar of good will Christmas-y activities every night at the dinner table.  I don't want the pressure, the sense of failure when we miss a day, or to feel like we can't leave the dinner table until we've talked about this.  These things will be in our hearts and minds anyway, and when they come up then we'll make them happen.  Embrace the spontaneity!

Keep:  Fake Christmas tree.
Drop:  Cutting down our own real tree together each year.  

Keep:  Tree, wreath on the door, nativity, and maybe a string of white lights on the railing outside.
Drop:  Other decorations.

Keep:  For when we have kids who are old enough for this, putting a wreath or very small fake tree in their rooms, and allow them to pick out one ornament to buy for it each year.  These become their ornaments to keep for always.
Drop:  Making ornaments each year or buying them myself.

Keep:  Donating money to the poor as our family birthday gift to Jesus.  
Drop:  "In your honor" type gifts for charities.  These are great gifts, and a beautiful way to get people to remember and provide for the poor at Christmas.  There will probably be plenty of years we go this route with the "keep" part of this, and I encourage others to do this, too.  

As personal presents though, I think they kind of make the receiver feel crappy about not giving gifts like this, too.  Or they make the giver look like a saint or sometimes even seem "holier-than-thou".  We did this last year, but I didn't feel great about it.  It was kind of awkward, and in hindsight I wish we would have given those gifts privately.  Don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, right? 

Then there's this, a goat is not actually a great gift for my sister.  It may be a great gift for another family.  That's wonderful for them, but if I want to give a gift -something that is really a gift- to my sister, I'm going to get her some fun socks, a coin purse with a quirky owl on it, or some art supplies because those things are gifts to her.  (By the way, I'm talking about both of my sisters here:).)

Keep:  Believing Christmas is a season of joy and wonder of Jesus' birth, the beauty of snowflakes on trees, family togetherness, love, anticipation, hope, and generosity.
Drop:  Being serious about Christmas is only, only about celebrating Jesus' birth.  Christmas isn't about less than Jesus' birth.  It's about more than Jesus' birth!  It's about the beautiful spirit of love, generosity, and family that his life symbolizes.

Amen?  Amen:)

Monday, October 01, 2012

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insa-dong, Seoul Tower & DMZ

From America to Korea: A series detailing the adventure of traveling around Korea with Husband and my mother- and father-in-law!  Click here for part two.

When I said I was going to compose eight more posts about my in-laws' trip to Korea, I was speaking crazy.  While I very well could share that kind of detail about the trip with you, I doubt you really have time for 800 pictures of palaces, coastal rocks and fish markets.  Instead, I am attempting to pick some favorite photos and give you the highlights.

Gyeogbokgung Palace is one of several palaces on the north side of Seoul.  The juxtaposition of old and new is awesome:  restored home of dynasties past inside, ultra modern super city outside.

Impressive kimchi pot room.  There were several rooms like this.  I think these pots may be just display.  Usually we see kimchi pots all clustered together.  When this room was in use, I bet there were one hundred pots per room.

 I love the elaborate and colorful paintings that adorn the palaces and temples.


The palace area was a complex of large and small buildings within a walled city patrolled by the guards pictured above.  Some buildings we walked by were hanok (traditional homes); others served as kitchens, dining areas, worship areas, and more.  We didn't always know what we were looking at, but the colors and textures were intriguing and fascinating.

After the palace, we took the subway a few stops south to Insa-dong.  This is a historic district of Seoul.  It reminded me of Old Town Fort Collins with its variety of shops, restaurants, bars and plenty of people enjoying strolling on a Saturday afternoon.

We took a time out from the crowds and street vendors for cold beer and some kind of cereal snack freebie at a second story bar.

Late in the afternoon, we made our way over and up to Seoul Tower on Namsan mountain.  There are locks attached all over the fence where you look out over the city.  They are meant to symbolize couples locked in love forever.  The night view from the tower is incredible.  

On a separate day we went to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) which spans the border between North and South Korea.  I wish everyone could see this, but at the same time, it's hard to believe so much tourism exists in the midst of a cease fire.  Pictured here is the Joint Security Area.  The gray building in the back belongs to the North.  The blue buildings in the front are centered over the DMZ (marked by a raised strip of concrete in the middle), and are where meetings between the North and the UN take place.  It is an area of intense hostility and many uprisings throughout the past 60 years.  It must be patrolled diligently at all times.  

The situation between North and South Korea is a complicated one, very complicated.  It is impossible for me to explain thoroughly here.  The gist of it is there is one Korea, temporarily divided by miles of razor wire fences and a communist regime known as North Korea.  The leaders of the North are relentless -I don't even know what else to say- just relentless in every way.  The leaders and people of the South know the beauty of the modern age, democracy, free enterprise, freedom; and their hearts ache for their friends, family, and countrymen of the North to see this great light.

South Korea has not given up hope that the North will one day change, and that the two Koreas will unite back into one.  The South, for example, has an extensive and incredible rail system, which they have built up to their very northernmost border at Dorsan Station.  It is a deep symbol for the whole country of their hope to connect to the rest of Asia and Europe by railway.  North Korea is literally the missing link in making this dream reality.

It is helpful to know most South Koreans really appreciate U.S. military presence here, as well as that of the other nations' militaries that help to patrol the DMZ.  Having seen the DMZ for myself, listened to the stories of the shameful character of the leaders in the North, all the surprise incidents and attacks of the past 60 years since the cease fire, the magnitude of the brainwashing, and the absolutely relentless struggle for the appearance of the upper hand, I too am glad for our presence here.  No nation should have to fight a monster like this alone.

And, to end on a lighter note, this picture of Mike and Cindy -Husband's favorite picture of his parents ever!  We laughed hard about the get-me-outta-here, where-can't-I-look-again, wait-are-we-allowed-to-take-pictures-here-? looks on their faces and how much they look photo shopped into this picture.  

Next up:  Our Trip to Busan!

Monday, September 24, 2012

From America to Korea: Downtown Songtan

From America to Korea: A series detailing the adventure of traveling around Korea with Husband and my mother- and father-in-law!  Click here for part one.

A trip to Korea is incomplete without Bulgogi and banchan.  On Mike and Cindy's first full day in Korea, we dined at the local Bulgogi joint in downtown.  This restaurant is more on the modern, quick meal side of the spectrum, but you can also enjoy lovely traditional bulgogi meals, especially in the countryside.  Bulgogi, which means "fire meat," is grilled marinated meat prepared over a charcoal cooker at your table.  

We chose a beef sampler platter and smoked duck!  The banchan, or side dishes, were cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, chapchae (glass noodles), red pepper paste lettuce "salad", bean sprouts, odeng (fish cake), and more!  The meal is also served with red pepper paste, garlic, lettuce leaves, and rice.  You put a small amount of a variety of the foods in a lettuce leaf to eat.

After lunch -maybe this was a mistake- we decided to visit the fish market.  It is, shall I say, aromatic?

I posted some similar pictures several months ago when I was seeing these things for the first time.  I am absolutely amazed at how it feels so close to normal now (I will revoke this statement when I show you our pictures of the raw fish market in Busan).  There is so much dried fish all over this country!  I have honestly not tried it yet -I don't think- but I'm sure I will soon.

I considered cropping this picture, but I think part what is so interesting about Korea is the way very different things coexist.  This person is selling some sort of vegetable on the ground right outside a women's clothing boutique, which also happens to be next door to an open air fish market...and this is completely normal.

Ready made side dishes and kimchis for sale!

I have never seen someone using one of the many random phone booths, but they are kind of fun to spot.

If the real JCPenney had any idea they had such a following in little ol' Songtan...

This is the legendary triangle of death.  It doesn't look like much right now.  Just wait until there is more traffic!  This three way intersection has two way traffic on each of its three sides.  There is just one measly stop sign (you can see it by the bus), and that is new since we've been here.  Buses use it to make u-turns.  Scooters and taxis and anybody who wants to passes you in it.  It is a total free for all.  Want to drive here at night?

Cindy was excited to see there are even Dollar Stores in Korea:)  Do you notice the sign next door on the right?  This is the home of the "Original Handmade Burger, Since 1982"!  Wow, I had no idea the hamburger was invented in Korea in 1982...

On our list of to-do's and to-buy's downtown was a stop at Mr. Lim's.  He is the tailor who makes a lot of the squadron gear for the pilots, and he is also really involved in community service with the base.  He is an Honorary Squadron Commander.  

Mike's birthday was in August, so we took him to have a shirt made by Mr. Lim for his gift.  I think he really enjoyed the experience!  Mr. Lim is a smooth talker, and had Mike set up with a fabric and custom fit in no time.  The shirt was ready in just one week!

Next up:  Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Sunday, September 23, 2012

From America to Korea: Our neighborhood

From America to Korea: A series detailing the adventure of traveling around Korea with Husband and my mother- and father-in-law! 

At the very tail end of August Husband's parents came to visit us.  We were thrilled they came to tour Korea and just hang out with us.  It's always nice to see some familiar faces on this side of the world, and their visit really helped to break up our tour in Korea.  Half way there; nine months to go!

We experienced so much while they were here!  I was jotting some notes about what to share about their visit.  I have eight more posts after this one!!  We took so many fantastic pictures!  Mike and Cindy had a thorough tour of the country so the pictures in these posts will give you a real impression of the vastness of Korea.

Their trip didn't start out great.  We had our first significant chance of a typhoon three days before they were scheduled to arrive in Seoul, and the second one the day they flew in!  We have had one or two typhoons since then though, all of which have been unimpressive.  We've had some wind and serious rain, but thankfully no damage.

(Left: No more Wonder Bread the day after the "typhoon"...Husband was devastated.  Right:  Charlie may not know why there are sleeping bags and pillows out -temporary beds for Husband and I-, but he's determined wherever they go he will follow!)

On day one of Mike and Cindy's Korea visit, we had a walking tour of our neighborhood (photo opportunities abound!).

Newly built home.  It took three times as long to resurface our road as it did to demolish the previous home and build this one.

Garlic, garlic everywhere.  

These are all on my normal walking route with the dog.  Each way you look offers a completely different view.  The top right picture is typical of the nicest homes I've seen in Korea (aside from fancy high-rise apartments).  I think this is a multi-family home.

The rice!  I was ecstatic the day I noticed the rice beginning to bud on the ends of the grasses.  While Mike and Cindy were here, we saw some of it start to yellow; nearing harvest.  Today Husband informed me he saw the harvest beginning!

Charlie, me, and Cindy walking the rice paddies.

Way out in a rice paddy, along this terraced hillside, the gently sloping mounds -Korean burial sites- are  a typical view.

Not a great picture...I must've been in a hurry.  This type of white guard dog is extremely common here.  This one is our neighbor, and she had the sweetest puppies (there were five or six -I'm not sure- they move too fast)!

Mike especially enjoyed the overhead view!  Our apartment is very close to base, and we have A-10 and F-16 "fly-overs" all day long.

Next up:  Downtown Songtan

Monday, September 17, 2012

Most people stay 29, but I'm skipping it

I was all set to take the picture with the candles in the cake, but forgot...that's life!

Hello there!  I'm back!  

On Sunday I celebrated 29 years of living.  I am grateful to have had this time to live, love, and learn.  What a 29 years it has been!  Husband, of course, has been reminding me that -because we are living in Korea- I am technically 30 years old.  And next year -when we are living in America again- I will turn 30 years old again.  I will have two 30th birthdays, skipping 29 entirely.  

Koreans calculate birthdays differently than Americans.  In Korea, you turn one the day you are born.  This essentially means Koreans who have been on earth for the same amount of time as you consider themselves to be one year older.  If you are 35, a Korean born on the same day and year is 36.  As Beth pointed out, they are counting the year they are living rather than the one they have completed.  I kind of like this. 

In other news, I have so much to share about our wonderful visit with Husband's parents.  We were so grateful to have time with them here, and had a blast showing them around Korea!  I spent last week recovering and getting caught up.  This week I will post the pictures, but I'm going to need the next few days to finish the captions.

Also, September has been gorgeous, truly breathtaking right from day one.  September has always been my favorite month, but not just because of my birthday.  I absolutely adore the transition from summer to fall.  This morning I sat staring out my open window until my coffee cup ran dry.  I breathed in the cool, crisp air, and let it cover me.  I sat still, cozy, and reflective with a silent mouth, but a heart rich in thought.  I let God whisper wisdom and encouragement deep into my heart.  It was simultaneously soothing and invigorating.  

September is slipping quickly though; already just 12 more days to savor.  Our November trip to Thailand is officially booked.  We have all of our gear, too, and the only thing left to purchase is travel insurance.  There are just a mere eight weeks remaining between now and then.  I need to make them really count, yet with an open hand grip on the sand, you know?

Step 1:  We have a lot of hiking, biking and kayaking on this trip, so I need to get back in shape!  Sign me up for running and TRX four times per week, and -um- for real this time, okay?

Step 2:  Keep working on finishing my two-year-old pre-school lesson plans, and post the original ideas to Joy Before You.  September plans are finished; now complete the remaining eight months over the next eight weeks.

Step 3:  Korean vocabulary and simple phrases are going great.  Now I need to learn to carry on a conversation!  While in Busan I was super proud of myself for ordering coffee in Korean.  {Sam Americano hago ooyoo jooseyo.}  But then the barista asked me a question and I was clueless.  (Lucily her English was impeccable.  She was just wanting to make sure I had time to wait for her to brew a new pot of coffee.)

Step 4:  It's time for the next phases of two ongoing projects:  teaching pre-school religious education at church (please pray for me and this sure-to-be-rambunctious group of 3 and 4 year olds starting the last Sunday in September!) and planning the Thunderbolt Feast.  Bring on the positive self talk!  

Four steps; I can do this.  How about you?  Do you have a plan for your fall?

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