Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Birthday Cade!

Happy Birthday Son!!!   I had such a great day with you today!  You woke me up early this morning and we just hung out and played around the apartment waiting until it was time to go to see The Lego Movie.  What a great movie for the two of us to see together.  I need to remember to encourage you to use your God given creativity.  

You have grown up so much this year.  I can hardly believe that you are the same kid in all the videos we watched this morning of when we first came to Korea.  You have begun school and already you can read full books on your own.  Your teachers and classmates adore you.  In your own quiet and humble way you continue to exceed everyone’s expectations.

Last week you started your very first organized sport…soccer.  I love to watch you play!  You run around and hustle all the time!  You have such a positive attitude.  You listened to the coach and give your best the whole time.  Words can’t explain how much I am excited that you have showed an interest in sports.  We will always have something to talk about.

Even though you are growing up and getting bigger, I love that you still call me in every night to cuddle before you fall asleep.  I love that we can just hang out and be guys together… playing games, building Legos, or just watching videos.  This year will bring many new changes as well as challenges.  I can hardly wait to have you join the rest of us at YISS next year.  

 Happy Birthday Cade!  I Love You!


Friday, February 21, 2014

Amnam Park

Oh my. This has been one of those weeks. Nothing really went wrong, but nothing really went right, either. Let's just say that I'm glad it's over. Yesterday was a ridiculously long day of conferences, again. I was completely slammed between the hours of 7 am and 4 pm, when I blocked myself out for the last hour, so that I could go home and get the kids and bring them back for Kennedy's conference. I was exhausted. That's a whole lot more hours than I'm used to working (and talking) in one day.

Kennedy did a great job hosting her conference. The elementary school does student-led conferences in the spring, so the kids get an opportunity to teach their parents about their school routine. She was a great little teacher, and I was so impressed with how much she's learned this year. She's in the last reading level, is a very enthusiastic reader, and her comprehension is really high, as well. She's also been working hard on her addition and subtraction facts.

Today, after my soccer practice, we took Cade to his first organized soccer practice. One of our Korean friends helped a group of us get involved in a soccer program for preschool age kids. We picked up his shin guards last weekend, and he has been wearing them every day after school since. He was beyond excited to go today. He was only shy for about 5 seconds after we walked up to the indoor gym and found the soccer balls. He had a blast! All four of us went, because Eric and I were also really excited to see this. It was probably the fastest 45 minutes I've experienced in a long time!

I was really going to get started on this post shortly after I finished the last one. It is, after all, the same day. Then life happened, of course. I don't think this week was particularly busy--not any more busy than future weeks. Maybe I was just lacking motivation. My students turned in essays this week, too, so I have a stack of work to do, but I haven't even started them. I must rectify that today. After blogging, of course.

So, after our disappointing lunch at Lotteria, we decided to go for a walk. We still hadn't seen anything except the outside of the fish market and a glimpse into BIFF Square. There was something that Eric had seen on the map that he wanted to check out, so we headed out.

To be honest, I don't even remember where it was that he wanted to go, I just remember that he was in the lead on this little jaunt. For those of you who have never traveled with a Butler, it's important to note that we like to be in control. We pride ourselves on our sense of direction (although my brother thinks mine is virtually non-existent, and most of the time I'm pretty confident that Eric doesn't have the sense at all), and we find it imperative to orient ourselves repeatedly and know exactly where we are planning on going. It's a real joy for those around us, I'm sure.

This time, I stayed completely out of the loop. When Eric has a plan, I try to just let him take care of it, then he can't blame me if anything goes wrong (or when we get lost). All I remember is that we walked a really long time.

Cade got tired. Kennedy was bored. I kept myself busy with my camera, but we all got cold.

We eventually reached a destination. I don't think it was exactly what anyone was expecting, but we made it and that was the important thing.

There was some nice light and water, and these strange tetrapods that none of us had ever seen. Not much to do, though.

So, we were off on our next adventure. The boys had also found a park on the map that they wanted to check out, but after all of the walking we'd done, we were ready to taxi, and thankfully were able to find one pretty easily. (It was pretty surprising actually, because there wasn't much around where we were.)

We made it to Amnam Park without much trouble, and the drive from where we were was pretty and scenic. It would have been a very long walk, so I was glad we'd agreed to taxi.

As soon as we arrived at the park, the boys began walking up a steep hill. Cade actually ran up, and the boys just followed. Kennedy turned around and said, "Mom, I don't want to go hiking. We've already done so much walking."

Now, I'm not saying that I was thinking the same thing, but I certainly wasn't going to force her to go up that hill just because her brother had already run up.

So, we turned around and went to check out the little restaurant that was there in the park. I was ready for a warm place to sit (that wasn't moving), and maybe something warm to drink, too.

While we sat, I did some research. See, it's one thing being in the middle of the city, finding a taxi, and having him drop you off at a park outside of town. But, from the moment we stepped out of that taxi, I'd been trying to figure out how we were going to get back. I'd gotten the feeling we were not on a normal "empty" taxi route. Remember that time we took our young kids hitchhiking because there were no buses or taxis to be seen? I had been imagining this scenario.

In my research, I found out that there was a bus app for Busan, and there was a stop just outside the park. I figured that was a step in the right direction, at least. I also found this article: City Awesome--2 days in Busan to help with our planning. We had already done much of the suggested itinerary for day one in Busan, so we figured we should follow his guidance for dinner, too. (I wish that I'd read it before we left, as I realized in Busan Station that I couldn't load my T-Money card in the machines, and I had to buy a card specifically for the Busan subway station. It turns out you can use the same card as you do in Seoul, but you can't load it in the stations there. Grrr.)

By the time we'd received our drinks, the boys had arrived and had to order their own. After warming up for a bit, we all agreed that we would follow the blog author's advice and head to the Kyungsung University neighborhood for dinner. So, we were off to the bus stop. There was only one bus that seemed to stop there, and I'd figured out which direction would get us back into town, so the only question was "where were we going to get off?" The only thing I knew was that we needed to get to a subway stop, so I figured we would just watch for a bus stop near a subway stop, and that's what we did. It was quite a long ride, but it was cheap.

We made it to the university district and had no guidance from there. Typically in Korea, you look through alleys for restaurants, so we exited the station and headed down the first alley we found. I was determined to get galbi, though there were many other options. We ran into this place (pictured above) and decided to go for it. I think it was the best galbi restaurant I have ever been to. Seriously amazing. The meat was good, the banchan was excellent, and the service was amazing.

It was pretty late by the time we got back to BIFF (by kid standards, anyway), but the kids had gotten naps on the bus ride back to town, so we followed through on an earlier promise to get them ice cream. Eric took them to McDonalds while Travis and I went to find the longest lines for street food to find out what all the excitement was about. It turns out that hotteok (a little pancake with sugar, cinnamon, and nuts inside) is worth waiting in line for. We both got in different lines, each ending up with two of the same thing. If you're going to wait in line, you might as well get two!

My blogging pace will, no doubt, be a bit slowed during the next several weeks with soccer eating into my spare time, so bear with me. I'll get to it when I can!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jagalchi Market in Busan

Week one of soccer is in the books. Nine weeks left...not that I'm counting, or anything! It actually went better than I expected. I managed to get to the mall (with my wallet this time) to pick up some pants one day. Eric took the kids to Costco one night (with the school, so we didn't have to deal with it over the weekend). I even came home to a clean house and flowers for Valentine's day on Friday night. I'm keeping up with school work (barely), and we're somewhat healthy.

Cade had a big week this week. He got to celebrate his birthday at school, which consisted of us paying $100 (with about 2 days warning) and him coming home with loads of presents. Apparently, we have to pay for the pizza, chicken, and cake that school provides. With five kids celebrating their birthdays this month, they must have ordered a whole lot of pizza!

There is a significant lack of communication with his preschool, and I can only assume that it's typical of Korean schools. This month, they increased tuition by 20% (we got a 3 weeks notice this time), and they only communicate days off a month at a time. We literally do not have a school year calendar. I knew there was a good chance they may have a few days off this month because it is the change in school year for the Korean school system. I asked his teacher (we communicate through a written journal) about the days in January, so that I could plan, and she said she didn't know! How can you not know what days you have off the next month?! Thankfully, I received the calendar at the beginning of the month and the days off are at the end, but every month I'm worried that he'll have days off in the first week of the month, and I'll have no notice!

It was also a big week for him because we picked up his Kindergarten application for next year. It won't be long before he's going in for the interview, catching up on immunizations, and going to open house. It's hard to believe that we'll all be on the same campus next year!

These pictures are from the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan. After our three hour bullet train ride, we'd arrived in yet another Korean city. Busan's population is 3.5 million, so this isn't like visiting a small coastal town. We'd arrived smack dab in the middle of the city (by the time we switched from the KoRail system to the subway system, anyway).

We did very little in the way of planning before we took this trip. We booked train tickets and then a hotel in an area that I thought was central(ish) to what we might want to see. In the train station we were able to pick up a map in English and I got the directions to our hotel on the train ride. Eric likes to find his home base wherever we go, so after picking up a bagel to split four ways in the train station, we headed toward the hotel.

We were able to find the hotel without much trouble, and we were even able to check in an hour early, which was nice. We'd only brought small backpacks, but Kennedy had one, too, and we didn't really need to carry our clothes all over the city. As it turned out, there was a reason we were able to check in early. The Phoenix Hotel is not one that I would recommend.

It was fine. It served the purpose. Had beds and bathrooms, a table and chairs. Glasses were provided, though they weren't clean. No one showered, even though we stayed two nights, because as Kennedy described it, the bathroom "was disappointing in every way." Yes, that's verbatim. I wrote it down because I laughed so hard when she said. It kind of became our mantra for the trip; that and "Well-made for our work and life balance with Indian." We have no idea what that means, but one of the stores here advertises it, and it was hilarious to us.

Phoenix Hotel is conveniently located near BIFF Square (Busan International Film Festival) and Jagalchi Market. So, after dropping our things and taking our hotel keys, which by the way are still actual keys and attached to ridiculously large keychains so that you don't lose them, we headed out to try to find some lunch.

We found every kind of seafood known to man, prepared in many different Korean forms (or still alive, in most cases). Travis enjoyed showing the ajummas pictures of him with King crab that he caught himself that were much larger than the ones they have in these cases. They tried really hard to get us to eat in their little "restaurants". You basically pick out your live seafood and then come back in twenty minutes after they've cleaned and prepared it and have your lunch.

Eric and the kids weren't having it, though. We ended up eating the worst fast food I've ever had at a Lotteria (Korea's version of McDonald's) while Trav had street food. Then, we were off on our next adventure.

This only brings us to lunch, folks, which means I'm going to be killing my average for getting through his trip. But, this post is already picture heavy, and I'm blogging when I should be scrubbing my bathroom floors and walls, grading and entering papers, responding to student emails that I've avoiding, and a million other things. I'm too tired for all that, though. Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where We Went

Today was one of those days. One of those days where you think to yourself "I wouldn't have this problem if I didn't live in Korea." "This would be so much easier if I were in the States." Eric's cough has come back again this week--the pneumonia that never really went away because he decided not to finish his antibiotics. So, we both laid awake much of the night. Even after he moved out to the couch because his coughing makes the bed move so much that I get motion sickness, I could still hear everything through our thin walls (and yes, I had earplugs in). All I could think was that it would be so much different in our house.

Today, I managed to do something more ridiculous and air-headed than anything I've done in a long time. First of all, I chose to go to the mall after school--something I never do--but soccer starts on Wednesday, and I don't have any athletic pants to wear. How ridiculous is that? After Cade and I wandered around for an hour or so trying to find something that cost less than $50 and might actually be long enough for me, I realized that I had neglected to grab my wallet out of my school bag--which was at home! We immediately raced back to the car and counted the change in the ashtray, praying that parking wouldn't cost more than $5.00. It was $4.00.

But, the reality is that these things happen anywhere. Eric can get pneumonia in the States. I would probably still hear him coughing, even if he went downstairs to sleep on the couch. (Though I don't think our bed moves quite as much there; this bed is so flimsy!) I could easily go to the store in the States without my wallet. (In fact, I think I have.) And no doubt, I would have had a cart full of stuff, rather than a pair of soccer socks and shin guards that I'd just picked up a moment ago, when I realized it. (Those are for Cade, not me!)

None of this was very dramatic.We've dealt with plenty of sickness here. My biggest panic when I realized I didn't have my wallet was wondering if I could pay for parking (I counted out change for the lady. She was not impressed.) Cade handled it pretty well, too. I know that I've covered these struggles on the blog before (some in much more dramatic ways based on tougher situations), but it doesn't go away. It's always this thought in the back of my head. My question is: are expats alone in this? Does it ever go away? I feel that we're now in a pattern of never being totally content wherever we live. Is this just new to me because I'd never lived outside of Washington state? Do people who move from one state to another feel the same way?

These few pictures are of our trip to Busan on the bullet train. It was one of the things that my brother really wanted to do while he was here. How often do you get the chance to travel 300 km/hour? Even the train itself was a bit of a cultural learning experience. We bought the last few tickets both directions, so we couldn't book tickets all together. Those seat assignments? They mean something here. And they mean something on every.single.stop. So, even when you've explained (and by "explained," I mean point and gesture) to a couple of people already, you're bound to still have more stops and more gesturing to do. Aside from that, the train itself was pretty standard and eventually you forget to be enthralled by the speed at which you are traveling. It was nice to make the trip down the entire peninsula in such a short time, though!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gyeongbukgong Palace...again

This is our last week of normalcy for awhile. While all the rest of you Seattle-ites are suffering from "Seahawk fever"--taking the day off to attend parades and such--we're still in our normal routine, for a few more days. Next week, I start soccer again--high school, varsity soccer. More time than I'm prepared to invest right now--my heart races at just the thought of trying to keep up with everything! I have a feeling I'm going to get way more "I told you so" than I've ever heard (or deserved) in the next ten weeks.

I realized last night, after having made homemade naan and tikka masala, red beans and rice (from scratch), Greek pasta salad, and beef stroganoff this week, that I might be cooking out of guilt in preparation for the next couple of months. With practice ending at 6:00 every night (except game nights when it's even later), I'm not going to be doing much cooking for the next ten weeks. Eric is going to have to start stretching his cooking skills again. I'm not sure why, but he has still not started cooking here, even though he did the majority of the cooking while we were in the States. Okay, maybe it's because he had to do the majority of the cooking, and he doesn't have to now.

You may have noticed--especially based on these posts from when Travis was here--that I don't normally cook often enough. And when I do manage to cook five out of seven nights, at least a couple of those are things like tacos or pasta with sauce from a jar, so for me to cook that many legitimate meals from scratch in one week is pretty impressive. (I probably shouldn't admit that!) But, I will say that we have such a wide range of options for takeout here (and some of them are even healthy), that I don't even feel guilty about it anymore--until someone comes to visit.

Travis' trip was 26 days, I believe--he counted, not me--and I am 6 posts in, covering about 7 days, I think. It's time to pick up the pace! It's made easy by the fact that I didn't take pictures for two days. The boys took the kids to Bukhansan to go hiking one day, and I stayed home to grade essays. I'm sure they took some good pictures, but I don't have them.

We spent the next day doing a few random things. We went swimming for a few hours in the morning at the school pool. When I say "we," I mean "they." I sat near the pool grading essays while they swam and played with a few other staff families. Then, we went home had lunch and soon after the boys headed back to the War Memorial (trip #3, I think?). Cade desperately wanted to go sledding there, so Eric took him sledding while Travis finished up the museum. Kennedy and I stayed home and worked on our puzzle, of course. We had gyros for dinner (see? we have healthy options!), and then the boys went out for a guys' night with some of Eric's friends from school. None of it picture worthy.

The next day it was back to the tourist thing--I had a list, we had things to check off, and we were wasting time! (I say tongue-in-cheek, but really I mean it...) We headed back to Gyeongbukgong, confident it was not going to start snowing this time. The only thing we weren't confident in was our route for getting there.

Eric was pretty sure that he'd seen the palace on the bus route they'd taken returning from the mountain a couple of days previous, so he chose our bus and where to get off. It was true, he had seen a palace, but it wasn't the one I was planning to go to. Again, if the weather had been warm, it would have been fine, but we really needed to go the one that also has a museum, so that we could go inside and warm up. We didn't have any luck orienting ourselves on iPhone maps, nor did I see a bus that I knew went to the other palace, so we hopped in a cab and arrived there shortly after (all of the palaces are conveniently within close proximity--the benefits of replicas).

There's something about this particular palace, though--maybe it is the fact that there is a museum there--or just because it's so big, but we always end up splitting--with someone going back early. This time it was Eric and the kids. We went through the children's museum while Trav did (1/3 of) the regular museum. By the time we were done with our paper cranes (great light in there!), they were done and Travis hadn't even seen the palace yet.

So they headed home while we finished up. Travis was fully intending to go back and finish the museum (it's so nice that they're free!), but it never happened. We'd skipped lunch, so he stopped and got a chicken skewer from a street vendor, missing out on an ideal opportunity to try some silkworm larvae; I couldn't believe it! (We still haven't tried it, either. Apparently, if you can get past the smell, they're not so bad, but the smell is awful!)

That evening, we had a "family play date" with Kennedy's friend--the one whose family we had an impromptu lunch with the week before. They have quite a large house, as he works for one of the most prominent businesses in Korea, so they invited us over to play and have dinner. It was another long meal, but we had good food and good conversation, and the kids had a blast! We had to be up early the next morning, though, so we had to end the fun before it got too late.

I had better get some more of these pictures edited, if you're ever going to see them! The week after soccer starts, I have essays due in class, so my posts will probably be less wordy in the near future. (And just know that we're dying over here--one of the biggest events in Seattle sports history--and we're in South Korea. Sheesh.)
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