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!
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