Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I did it! 52 Books In One Year

It took a couple of years of falling just short of 52 books in one year, but this year I did it.

Yes. I read 52 books in one year. Years before I started keeping track of the books I read, I imagine I read well over that many, perhaps double, in one year. When I started keeping track of how many books I read, it was a way of cataloguing the time I gave myself when I had so little time to myself to give. It's no surprise this keeping track of my books began four years ago, or after Gus was born and after I finished a dissertation.

Even now, I type with a little blonde head poking into the crook of my arm and from that head whispers, "Excuse me, mommy." Her little pizza and ice cream fingers keep inching toward my keyboard because that is what she does whenever I start typing.

It is New Year's Eve night, and the kids are stuffed on pizza and ice cream (Ben and Jerry's "Americone Dream" flavor is damn tasty), "The Sword and the Stone" is playing from the living room, and the Pilot is still at work.

Neither kid napped today, yet they know enough to will themselves awake. Cora refuses to sit and just wanders around in a circle, her own little planet on an exhausted orbit. Gus is a mess of too much sugar and television and too little sleep and, uh, vegetables?

But here it is, the books I read in the past two months or so, the ones that I frantically read to help get me to the elusive 52 books.

I feel empowered by the number and by meeting the goal, as if in meeting it I am little more myself than I have been in a while.

Here's to reading about the same yet writing more in the new year.

October (end of)
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

November
The Love Artist by Jane Alison
My Poets by Maureen N. McLane
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

December (11 books in one month!)
The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Biography: A Very Short Introduction by Hermione Lee
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean
Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean
The World is Round by Gertrude Stein

I would add photos, but the children are demanding bedtime reading and the Pilot is still at work.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

More books, fewer words, and three pictures

Further posting or thoughts of redesign or moving this blog elsewhere (or even shuttering this blog for good) have been postponed until the end of the current teaching semester. I am just too busy being a  nurturer, partner, teacher, and traveler to post much, if anything at all. 


My arms are never long enough to get everyone in the frame without squishing Cora's face, but here she is below. And her face says everything you need to know about her big, bright, boisterous personality.


And this face tells you everything you need to know about this inquisitive, introspective, and sometimes introverted personage.



So, keeping this blog on life support necessitates a word or two, so here it is, more of what I've read in the past couple of months, or since June, the date of my last post.

The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) by Sarah Orne Jewett
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gillman
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Green 
The Art of Entertaining (1952) by Blanche Hall
Decorating Begins with You (1958) by Mary Jean Alexander
Joyland by Stephen King
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Speaking from Among the Bones, A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (a re-read every two years or so)
Charlotte and Emily, A Novel by Jude Morgan
The Tempest by Shakespeare
My Poets by Maureen N. McLane
The Love Artist by Jane Alison

Currently Reading:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
Open Secrets by Alice Monroe

Year Total So Far: 36

Catch you later, dear readers. And I do mean later.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What I have read this year, so far

Here's a picture to make up for the lack of commentary.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffry Eugenides

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine: Voices of Frontier Women, edited by Jo Ella Powell Exley:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Oh Myyy!: There Goes the Internet by George Takei

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain by Leah Price

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Princess and the Goblin by George McDonald

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore

Happy Time Go Fast: Invaluable Lessons from Teaching English Abroad by Wes Weston

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

History of Coryell County (1936) by Frank E. Simmons

The Group by Mary McCarthy

Reading:
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories by Sarah Orne Jewett


Sunday, June 02, 2013

You don't write. You don't call. You don't blog.

Around the time that Cora started climbing the furniture and conducting her own experiments with gravity, I was offered a job teaching at a local university.

Cora eating pork cutlet at E-mart, one of several big box stores (known as hypermarkets here, I guess) in Korea that compete with other chains like HomePlus and Lotte Mart, to name a few, the difference from the US being the large parking garages and the awesome food courts as well as the formally dressed greeters at every department and in the very large parking garages. Holy run-on sentence, Batman!

Of course, I accepted the job, hired a wonderful nanny, and began teaching Korean college students English.

We also adopted a very energetic puppy.



We lost our minds. Obviously, we could not resist.

More on how we came to adopt Charlie later. This was taken on the day that we met him and before we made the fateful decision. He sits at my feet (like a cat) as I type. 

I stopped blogging. I even ceased to write outside of the blog.

Honestly, we're not tipsy, just so very tired, a constant state these days.

On the train to Suwon the other day, my husband reassured me that I would write again one day, that the part of me that writes was just out of shape. My writing muscles had grown soft and flabby.

I told him it was more like a phantom limb, one that the kids climb all over and that the dog has made a chew toy. Both have peed on it more than once, I reckon.

The Pilot agreed.

I'm not promising I'll write more, or that I'll start posting regularly. After all, it has been four months since I have posted.

I figure I have one more year of living in Korea. Perhaps my growing familiarity with the country will inspire me to write about it with a greater depth of understanding. Having a job outside of base teaching Korean college students is worth the break from writing. In the end, it damn well may make me a better writer. I know it will make me a better teacher. I have learned more in the past three months of teaching here than I have in the years of teaching back in the states. Teaching where you do not know the language is a humbling experience, a good and valuable one to be sure.

Of course, there's Gus, too. He's more independent, but that does not mean I have more time to myself.

Gus at the Air Show in Ansan, which was one of the best air shows I have ever attended. It included an entire section of just firefighter-related activities for preschoolers like my Gus. I should not be surprised. Korea puts on fantastic festivals and always with families and young children in mind.

If anything, his unholy grasp of language and argumentation as well as his genetic predisposition to construction projects garner more attention than ever, even if I do have a part-time nanny and a full-time job.

Still, I am not complaining even if this is a place to write and I've had very little time to do it. I am so very lucky to have a job here, and I even had to apply for a special permit to immigration to do so.  It is just that the venue of a long-neglected blog necessitates a complaint by way of apology.

But I can try to change all that, right?

Stay tuned, I hope.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to reality


Winter came early to the pen. Or, it did for me at least. The Pilot traveled to Orlando in early December, during the same week that we received our first snowfall, a very heavy one that made the roads temporarily impassable.

About halfway through December, the Pilot came home announcing that we would be traveling to Thailand in January. After driving his scooter back and forth to work in subzero temperatures, he felt this necessary. I did, too, after being cooped up with two small children who kept trading colds and stomach bugs.

So to Thailand we went. For five glorious days. Normally, when I go on vacation, I enjoy myself well enough, but by the last day, I am ready to return home.

Not this time. We came back to our apartment home on Monday morning, after flying all night, walking in frigid temperatures to our car in long-term parking, and driving bleary-eyed all the way to base. Yesterday the Pilot and I sat on the couch, immovable, getting up for long enough to feed our children and change our daughter's diaper, only saying back and forth to one another, "You go to the commissary" and "No, you go to the commissary."

We wondered if we were both sick, but in the end, we concluded that we were just a little down, in the post-beach vacation doldrums.

I went to the commissary. The spell was broken.

Today, the Pilot works on his master's thesis. I took the kids out for a playdate at a new-to-us play cafe. Both kids sleep (and at the same time!) thanks to some hard playing.

But last week, for five glorious days (again, "glorious"--the only word for it), we were in Phuket, where we stayed at the Katathani Resort on Kata Noi. The beaches are clean and uncrowded and the water is clear as you can see in the above picture behind the two bottles of Chang. We wanted a vacation where we could just sit on the beach, where we did not have to do much work or exploring or thinking, even. Overall, this worked out very nicely, but at times, we both missed actually traveling a place instead of merely consuming it as a tourist.

But honestly, who can complain?

Gus relaxing at the hotel bar.

It was a tough winter and what a strange time to be returning to Korea, to "home," but at least we came back to warmer temperatures. The snow melted while we were gone, and it actually looks and almost feels like the beginning of spring outside.

More pictures and stories to come....

And already we are planning our next travels: Vietnam.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Travels in Korea: Seoul

Seoul is just up the road from us. We've traveled there by car and by bus. The easiest travel is by bus, leaving Songtan Station and arriving at Nambu Station where you can hop on the subway and go just about anywhere. Seoul's subway system is fairly easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Even better, there's an app, "Jihachul," that makes traveling by subway in Seoul even simpler.

Seoul is very fashionable, so Cora dresses up.

The only thing I need is an app that lets me know which stations are stroller friendly. Even when the subway app indicates that there is handicap access, it does not always mean that there's an elevator, or a working elevator, at that. Sometimes it is just a gnarly wheelchair lift that runs alongside the stairs. The escalator can be too narrow even for our fairly small stroller. If I had the time and the money for staff, I would develop an app, Seoul by Stroller. It is not easy traveling. The Pilot has carried our stroller up three or more flights of stairs more times than he cares to count.

Gus outside of the National Museum, ice cream and gift bag in hand and pinned proudly to his shirt a Korea button, a reward for peeing in a public restroom. Keep in mind this was back in September.

I have traveled to Seoul only once by myself with the kids and that was by bus to Yongsan Army Garrison where we took a cab to the National Museum of Korea just around the corner. We walked back to the bus station on post after our trip there. I hope to go there more with the kids throughout the week once the weather clears up and I get Cora's nap schedule worked out.

We enjoyed the National Museum, a very large complex of national treasures with a pretty darn cool children's museum, too. I hope to visit the museum again soon and see the collection beyond the Children's wing.



One thing that never fails to impress me about Korea is the abundance of food offerings wherever you go whether it be a rest stop or a department store or a bus station. The museum had many places to eat, and we stopped at one where an entire room of school children dined. I thought this a good place to eat before exploring the children's wing, and it was until my children were mobbed by about fifty seven- year-old students. It was disconcerting.



I've since had a couple of English-speaking Korean women, usually ones raised in Canada or in the states, come up to me and apologize whenever our children get undue attention. They make sure that we know it is an honor and not meant to be intrusive.

Mostly it doesn't bother me, but this time it did. They swarmed our table and started pushing to get at Cora and she started to panic and cry, so I stood up and waved a teacher over. He dispersed them, but it wasn't long before they started coming back over. Sometimes people will ask to take pictures of our children, which isn't normally a big deal save once when we were eating at a McDonald's in Songtan and a very rude high school boy starting harassing Gus. It was very uncomfortable--one of those times when your parent radar starts going off no matter what the country, and an employee had to intervene. But for the most part, people are nice and usually love to talk to our children. One time the Pilot took Cora to E-mart where Cora was given half a dozen pieces of candy and a pair of socks by other customers.

Once while visiting the food stalls in Seoul at one of the markets (Dongdaemun, I believe), a man gave Cora a 5,000 won note (a little less than $5). This is not unusual. Both she and Gus get free food all of the time, but usually Cora gets more attention than Gus because she is younger and because of her bright blue eyes and blonde hair (that's what we've been told).


Over a weekend in November, the weekend of the infamous crime scene photo (see below), we attended the Seoul Lantern Festival on Cheonggyecheon Stream.


The afternoon preceding the Lantern Festival we spent wandering around Toy Alley buying presents for the nephews and for our own little ones.

Before 2005 Cheonggyecheon Stream was just a neglected stream hidden by an overpass, but it is now a refreshing place to walk in the midst of a very busy city. We entered the stream from the exact opposite end as everyone else, and this had its advantages. Cora slept the entire time, and by the end of the stream, Gus was ready to go to sleep.

And there would be pictures, but I do not have the equipment or the know-how to shoot on a stream, underneath a series of overpasses, with tons of bright and shiny lights at night. I stopped trying to take pictures and just enjoyed the incredibly detailed lanterns and their stories along the stream.

We did get this one though:


(I have a couple on Instagram, but I cannot figure out how to use them. This is why I stopped using Instagram.)

I look forward to attending the Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha's birthday in the spring.

Next up: Itaewon, Christmas, and The Pilot's birthday! Maybe I will get around to Mount Seroksan and all the food we've eaten.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where in the world? Travels in Korea (2012), Part One

This year our family racked up a record number of travel miles.

The Pilot went TDY to the states so many times in the last eight months that it became somewhat of a joke, with varying levels of levity and bitterness depending on my mood, to tell everyone that we moved all the way out here so that the Pilot could spend half his time in the states.

On a positive note, his trips kept me stocked in cookie butter, my favorite coffee, and dry vermouth.

I'm not going to write that the TDYs to the states are over. I never make statements like that. But I'm out of cookie butter, dry vermouth cannot be conveniently purchased, and the Pilot has kept me stocked in my favorite coffee by asking coworkers who visit Tucson a very special favor.


Because it is hard enough to travel with children as the lone adult/parent, I did not venture outside the country with the children save that one harrowing trip to the states in September and back in October. On the one hand, I'm feeling a little like a failure because traveling with two fairly small children sometimes seems more trouble than it's worth, and I thought I was more adventurous than that.  On the other hand, we are saving money and my sanity.

Traveling with children can look a lot like a crime scene:



And that was an easy trip back in November to Seoul where we stayed on post at Dragon Hill Lodge. I returned from the salon downstairs to find this. I took a picture and walked out the door, book in hand, and grabbed a coffee. Our darling daughter does not like to sleep in hotels. This is what happens. In about a week, we leave for Thailand, and we're hoping a relaxing beach vacation will be just the thing.

Do I look like I would ever cause my parents a minute of trouble?

Last year, we set our sights on seeing as much of Korea as possible, and for such a small country, I feel that there is still so much to see. 

I did manage to document trips to Mallipo Beach and Insadong, but I have neglected a squadron weekend in Busan, a nice jaunt out to the east coast and Mount Seorak, and numerous excursions to Seoul, to name a few.

Icheon (not Incheon which is where the airport is), but Icheon where the pottery is made. 
We started out not knowing where to go because that is how we do it. We just set off and find our way. It's a small country, we figure, let's just get on the road. It was rainy that day, and we had little idea where to go once we got there. The main road contained numerous large pottery stores, but we wanted to go to an actual studio. After driving around a bit, we found the ceramics museum, located a map of the village entirely in Hangul (incomprehensible and not to scale), and wandered around some more. 

But we found a studio that looked unpromising, abandoned even, but I insisted. There was something there. I knew it. Then, we saw a group of Westerners and heard some Midwest accents. I practically pointed and yelled, "Look! I think they're from Kansas or something!"

We wandered around and looked appropriately lost until we were asked to join the group, about half a dozen members of a Methodist Church in Kansas visiting another minister and his wife near Seoul. The couple very generously offered to take their friends to the studio of a famous artist, Lim Hang Taek, designated master artist of pottery by the Korean government.



Even more generously, they asked us to join them, kids and all. We walked into a studio where we took off our shoes and were offered watermelon and tea. We watched a documentary about the artist while he decorated a plate.





It was fascinating. And we bought some tea cups and plates of our own. This is what happens when you wander, when you just follow your instinct and let things happen. I'm often a victim of over planning, but I don't ignore my instincts and this time they led me right where we needed to be.

I plan to write a couple of posts devoted entirely to food, but I have to report that the day trip ended with a satisfying palace meal that could accommodate our children. Don't be alarmed by the amount of dishes (though, I admit, I still am)--so much of it is kimchi and vegetables. We love Korean food.



Busan 

We took the KTX to Busan where we spent some time on the beach, ate and drank, visited an aquarium, ate and drank... It was a squadron trip which presents its own challenges when traveling with children. You want to seem "game" to do things but within the limits of having very small children. It helps when your hotel offers a babysitting service.



While on the beach a hornet stung the hell out of Cora. I had her under a very large umbrella and while telling a very well meaning ajumma that I had smothered my baby in sunscreen (She burn! She burn!), I heard a friend yell, "Lee Anne, bee! Up Cora's leg!"

There was nothing I could do. She was screaming before I or anyone could reach her. A very resourceful airman handed me a cup of ice and instructed me to cool my hand down with a handful of ice and then cup her leg. She ran to get the flight doc who happened to be on the beach at that time, and we determined that she did not have the stinger embedded in her leg. We watched for a reaction (there was none), and I fed her three apple crushers. (Or, I plied her with sugar in the form of fruit mush until she stopped crying.)

In general, the brief vacation went very well, but travel from the train station to the hotel was a bit of a challenge as Busan is quite a bit larger and harder to get to the beach front resorts than one would think. On the way back to the bus station, Gus endured a violent, hour-long cab drive in rush hour traffic only to throw up in his hat about two minutes from the train station. Once his hat was filled, my lap sufficed. Awesome. 

Going back home on the KTX.

On that note, I'll post more later about what we ate in Busan. I look forward to going back later, just the Pilot, the kids, and I, and visiting the fish market.

Up next, I hope: Seoul excursions, East to Mount Seorak, Back to Texas, Christmas photos.... There is so much to tell and so little time to tell it.