Homecoming

Hello! And welcome home!

This is what we (Jason and I) were hearing, left and right, one year ago today. A few days before arriving home (Albuquerque) we had left Seoul, S. Korea out of Incheon International. I remember that I had mixed emotions.

If any of you read back to some of my more pessimistic blogs from 2010 and 2011, you’ll see that I wasn’t the most happy living in the foreign country. With cultural differences, as well as nearly constant uncomfortable feelings of being stared at by everyone and their grandmother, I was just so ready to come home.

On the plane that morning, as we lifted off, I did tear up though. There were, of course, things I was going to miss…things that I had actually gotten used to and even enjoyed about being there.

Nearly 15 hours later, we landed in LA and met the very first familiar (to me) faces in nearly two years. My awesome cousin and his awesome wife drove up from San Diego to retrieve us.

I was so glad to be in America, to be back amongst people who could relate easier to my cultural background, and to understand what people were saying all around me–well, this last part has its pros and cons.

My cousins put us up in a beautiful apartment for the night. Pamela shared her amazing cheeses with us and the next day we were on our way east.

From San Diego, we made our way through California to Las Vegas, where my best friend Susan put us up in her living room. I can’t tell you how great it was to not have to worry about hotels while we were driving home.

And the drive was pretty rough, I’ll tell ya. Try driving from San Diego, via Las Vegas, to Albuquerque almost nonstop while acclimating to the time change and going through the initial stages of jet lag. Not easy. I had to eat crunchy, fruit-flavored rice cakes constantly just to keep from dozing. The AC was blasting and the music was blaring.

In defense of Jason (who I’m sure all of you are wondering why he wasn’t sharing the drive time), he didn’t have a valid driver’s license at the time and he wasn’t really allowed to drive the rental, per the rental car place.

So, on August 1st, 2011, Jason and I pulled up to my parents house (my home until I moved to Korea). That was just an amazing feeling. I missed my family!

And in the year since? Well, we bought our house, got married, and are just ten short weeks from having our bouncing baby boy.

In celebration of 365 (366 since it’s a Leap Year?) of being back, we went here for lunch:

 Jason ordered their fish and chips, and I partook of their spicy mac and cheese. YUM.

Then, to celebrate further, we went to another local place, Quarters for dinner. I ordered a blackened catfish sandwich with green chili and cheddar (let’s just call it an Albuquerque Catfish Sandwich).

And so concludes another Preggo Girl’s WIAW (#6 for those who are counting).

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Walkin’ on Empty

WHAT a day.

I should actually begin with yesterday. At around 4pm Jason skypes me to let me know that the landlord has put our apartment up for rent. OK. Right at the moment, there were people at our front door calling to get the pass code for our Seoul-standard electronic door lock. Not OK. First of all, hello short notice. And as such, there are clothes, dishes, even cash kinda lying around. The place is far from tidy.

Second, I don’t know these people, Jason doesn’t know these people… and we’re suspicious. So, no, we don’t want strangers (even if brought over by a realtor because we don’t know her either) walking about in our house without some sort of warning.

So, HOORAY, were packing up everything by the end of the weekend. Calling the shippers on Monday, and sending all our stuff, except clothes and some other essentials like toiletries, home ASAP.

Back to today…

I was up at 5:30 am to do my long walk. My regular week-day walks take me about 45 minutes. I figured today’s would be about an hour, which was pretty dead on.

I had originally estimated my Monday, Wednesday, Friday walk at 2 miles. When I came home this morning and told Jason that I did 3 miles at an hour, I was happy. He was…concerned.

“That’s a long time for just 3 miles, Babe.”

“Oh…yeah, I guess it is. Let me check it.” So I log into this site (which I LOVE) and find my neighborhood.

Oops...

So yeah, not three miles, but just under five (I say five because this wasn’t as accurate as I could have made it, with the few additional side streets I needed to navigate before getting onto the bridge).

This also means that my weekday walks are not actually two miles, but three and a half. And my time is not a 20-minute mile, but a 12-ish-minute mile. These new developments make me happy if I can up my speed before my “race” in October. That would give me a better finish time than when I ran it the last time, or the one previous in 2008.

A few hours later we were on the bus, to Gangnam to run some errands and snag a quick brunch before meeting some of Jason’s co-workers across the river. We were going to see Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D.

The movie was cute. Seeing it with a writer (Jason) and a designer (Karen, one of Jason’s Korean co-workers) was a trip…well afterward it was fun hearing them discuss the creative aspects of the plot and animation.

The theater was inside a mall/train station, so the building was HUGE. After seeing the movie, we had lunch at some fusion place called Pasta Amigo. Randomly, and without reason, I ordered the Salmon Fettuccine. It was really tasty. The Alfredo sauce was a bit sweet because of the onions and fishy (obviously) because of the salmon. The pasta was actually spinach pasta, and therefore it was green… a nice touch.

After leaving Jason’s co-workers to wonder the giant mall, we found a few items at the E-Mart there, and made our way home.

So, what began at 5:30 am with a 5 mile walk, turned into a very long day of more walking with a cute movie and a nice lunch thrown in the middle. It’s also VERY hot these days, and while it’s still not as humid as it could be (think walking though a heated swimming pool while staying mostly dry), it’s pretty miserable none the less when you have to hike back from the subway to the apartment.

Don’t worry. We bought giant bottles of water (will be recycled) and popsicles to help cool us off.

 

Hey Seoul Sister

As I mentioned before, I want to walk the Duke City half marathon in October. I actually started “training” two weeks ago by walking a two-mile loop near my apartment. Last week I didn’t walk. I know, I’m lame. But, moving right along, I did walk this morning (I’m shooting for 3 times a week at 2 miles, and one day where I walk 3 miles) even though it looked pretty close to raining. But, whether it was mist, fog, haze, smog, or just cloudy, it still looked like it was going to rain.

South Korea used to be called “The Land of Morning Calm” due to its high mountains (which is still has) and clean, clear waters (not so much nowadays). This fact is pretty well ironic now, what with being one of the largest cities in the world and all. The hustle and bustle of big city life is far from calm.

That wasn’t the case this morning, however. If you wake up early enough here, it doesn’t seem quite so “large.” Sure, the amount of cars on the road at 5:30 AM probably exceeds the amount of people in my hometown, but it’s a stark contrast to what you would see twelve hours later.

But, I digress. What I really wanted to write about was a few of the things I saw on my 5:30 AM walk.

For starters, cloudy skies. But I continued along my path and once I had crossed the road toward the middle school, it was easier to tell that I wouldn’t get rained on. As I was walking, I was passed by this guy, who was riding a bike, rather than walking, as I had become used to seeing last year. I saw him again for the first time two Mondays ago. It was really inspiring.

As I passed the middle school, I noticed what looked like a broken down bus. As I passed it? Lady Gaga’s. I kid you not.

On the bridge I observed the fallen trees, which were knocked down in last September’s typhoon, which happened the day we were supposed to go to Jeju Island (we still made it there, but on a later flight). The trees were still green and thriving, even though they were pretty much 90% horizontal with the ground. Nature: FIGHTING!

Then, finally, as I was heading back, I caught a glimpse of the orange sun, I blame pollution. But, I guess it’s just random particles in the atmosphere… Let’s go with that.

Anyhow, it was a lovely walk. I feel refreshed and almost ready to be at work today.

En Situ

Things are starting to really fall into place for us as we get closer and closer to our TOD (time of departure).

First of all, our baby kittens have reached Albuquerque. They are spending the night with my aunt, uncle, cousins, three cat cousins, and three dog cousins before reaching their final destination at my parents’ home. There they will be greeted even more animal siblings. They weathered a journey west from Korea (over two and a half continents!) to Denver via cargo plane, then a 7+ hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque. Kudos to our very well-adjusted boys, for not only did they ride separated (first time they have been apart in their entire 11 months) on the planes (plane change in Frankfurt, Germany), they met a myriad of new animals along the way. Still, they come away unscathed. This makes for two very proud and happy pet owners.

Getting Abner and Ebenezer back to the states was probably our biggest concern. We can go ahead and cross that off our list.

Yesterday I managed to find two very inexpensive airline tickets for Jason and me to Los Angeles. Air China departing from Seoul on July 30th, short hop to Beijing, then on to LA. Because LA is about 16 hours behind Seoul, we land ten minutes after we depart. In the general scheme of things, I think this idea of gaining a whole day is pretty awesome. We are probably going to crash at a Marriott that night, because … after 16 hours of travel, we’ll be jet lagged, and Jason doesn’t want us to end up burned to death in a heaping wreck of a rental car. I still have to make our reservations, but I plan on doing that next month (one major expenditure at a time, please).

I also (because I am super awesome) managed to secure a rental car for our drive from LA to Albuquerque. Now, a quick note… the reason we’re driving from LA is (well, there are two reasons) 1. it’s cheaper to land in LA, rent a car for two days and drive that it is to fly to ABQ by about $400. and 2. after spending 12 hours on a plane, 2 hours in china, 2 hours on the plane before that, we won’t really be in the mood for getting accosted by the security check points between terminals. Thanks, but no thanks.

What is left?

We need to begin shipping things home; this includes various art, clothes, shoes, small furniture (like an Asian table that folds smaller and the parts to a cat scratching post), and a few minor things. We need to buy two bike bags so we can get our bikes onto the plane as checked luggage. We need to find homes for all our furniture (a couch, a bed, shelves, armoires, dressers, coffee table, vanity…), electronics (oven, coffee maker, TV, alarm clocks, hair equipment, computer monitors, etc.), and a variety of housewares and spices. We plan on having various foreigner co-workers take what they want. I say foreigner because usually the Koreans don’t do “second-hand.”

Then we go. We will have to buy a pre-paid cell phone in LA as well, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to find. We’re also making our stopping point on driving  day 1 be Las Vegas so we can visit a friend who’s offered to feed us… can’t say no to that!

I think we’re well on our way to getting things wrapped up out here in Seoul.

A Busy Week

Since posting last Sunday, I’ve been a bit busy. Vowing to get even more recipes under my belt, I started watching a few more YouTube channels like Laura Vitale’s “Laura In the Kitchen.” This stylish foodie specializes in mostly Italian cuisine, and makes it look easy as pie. Last night’s spaghetti alfredo was inspired by her fettuccine alfredo recipe. Let’s back up to last weekend. I mentioned in that post that I had been having issues with baking powder. The two days following Christmas weekend, I had tried to make a batch of scones. I tried two different recipes from two different contributors to the UCC recipe site I use. These two recipes were a total fail. The dough was too moist (think goop), and the scones turned out inedible (too much BP created an overwhelming scent of ammonia/urea). The solution? Change recipe sites. I found this recipe and after a slight modification (substituting ½ part plain yogurt and ½ part milk in place of buttermilk) I finally got a delicious result (and honestly, I would have been happy for bread that just smelled NOT of urine). Finally, my dough was “solid” enough to actually kneed, form into a ball, and roll out (had I opted to roll the dough as the recipe suggests—instead, I pulled off small, golf ball-sized bits, flattened them slightly and placed them on the greased baking sheet about an inch apart). The result was an amazingly buttery scone. Add a bit of blueberry jam and you get YUM! 

Coffee House Scones with Blueberry Jam

Last weekend (after posting) I decided to also make us a bit of granola. In my pursuit of recipes, I found this woman on YouTube who provides easy recipes and tips for cooking healthy dishes (skip the lobster one, or you might cry). Rita Heikenfeld posted a nice and easy recipe for maple granola. For this one, you really only need the rolled oats, oil, and maple syrup to get your base, but you can add seeds or nuts to the mix prior to baking and any sort of dried fruit or chocolate afterword. Last weekend’s batch was sans seeds or nuts and only Jason’s half had raisins. This week I will add a bit of walnuts and more raisins.

Maple granola, fresh from the oven.

Yesterday was our monthly Costco run. As expats in SK, we’re not so keen on driving (while pretty easy to get a Korean license as a foreigner, forget about trying to buy a car here, let alone drive it in the amazingness that is Seoul traffic on any given day, at any given time) so, we bus. But, before getting to said bus, we have to prepare (both mentally and physically) for the journey. Before leaving the apartment, we ready our backpacks, Jason lining his with a plastic bag to prevent leaks from any meat we’ll get. We also bring at least three of our five Baggu bags (the most awesome things…ever). From our apartment, it takes roughly 20 minutes to walk to the correct bus stop. Our bus runs maybe every 10-15 minutes, so we wait. Yesterday, as we are leaving the apartment, it begins to snow. By the time our bus get to us, the snow has already begun to stick. Jason is actually happy for this, as it will add a little more resistance to the 2 inch thick ice that has yet to melt from two weeks before. After a 25 minute bus ride, we arrive at Costco. Let the insanity begin.

I’m not sure how many of you have lived in a really large city, but if you have, then you know what I mean when I say that the Yangjae Costco on a Saturday morning is like a mosh-pit of bargain seekers. In a city of around 50 million, it’s bound to be, right? Even with three or four other branches placed around the city. But, I digress. We were only in there for maybe an hour, which is long for us, but I was on a mission to find spices not easily found here in SK (such as granulated onion and garlic, parsley, paprika, oregano, etc) and I found most of those for much cheaper than expected, considering the store near us sells dried bay leaves for about 11,000 won (Costco had them for less than 4,000 won). I was also looking for parmigiano-reggiano (to use in the alfredo sauce), but after finding it for 40,000 won, we passed. We leave Costco, each of us with about 40 pounds on our backs and 10 pounds in the Buggu bags. The trek home seems longer, weighted down with 50 pounds of food each, but eventually we make it.

Shopping

A Post a Week?

So, WordPress has issued a challenge, and I am going to take on this challenge!

Mainly, what my blogs will be about, what they will continue to be about, is my experiences living abroad in Seoul, S. Korea until I move home. It’s January 2, 2011 in Seoul, and I think it’s a great day to begin anew.

Yesterday, the 1st, I sent Jason for sweet potatoes and apples so I could finally make the two recipes I had been anxious to try for several weeks.

Last year (gotta get used to that all over), Chanukah was at the beginning of the month. Traditionally, I would make latkes with my mom or my aunt and cousins. But, for obvious (I’m in SK) reasons, that wasn’t possible this year (or last year in fact, but this year was oddly different and we both felt the distance much more this year, than last).

So, emerging kitchen goddess that I am, I looked around for some recipes. My two big sources (aside from my mother) are AllRecipes and JoyOfBaking which are UCC recipe sites and have just about everything you could ask for when it comes to cooking anything from soup to dessert. My advice, however, is that you read the reviews and compare like recipes. We’ve had some issues with baking powder recently, so BE CAREFUL!

Because we CAN actually find all of the ingredients for the two recipes here, in SK, I was stoked to try them out. I sent Jason out for the sweet potatoes and apples, and he did not disappoint. One thing I would like to note, however, is that SK isn’t big on pumpkin spice, so I did have to make that from scratch with ingredients on hand (see below).

So, the latkes, YUM, and you can’t have latkas without the requisite applesauce and sour cream (we substituted plain yogurt and it was just as good). I didn’t take pictures, but I will be sure to start including them in subsequent posts.

Lastly, I did use the applesauce in my tried and true pancake recipe this morning, and that was REALLY amazing (see below).

Pumpkin Spice

(makes about 1/4 – 1/2 CUP)
4 TBSP ground cinnamon
4 TBSP ground ginger
4 TBSP ground nutmeg
3 TSP all spice (or 1.5 TSP both ground cinnamon & ground cloves)

*mix all spices together with a fork until well-blended

Applesauce Pancakes

(makes about ten medium-sized or 15 small-sized pancakes)
1 CUP flour
2 TBSP sugar
1/2 TSP salt
2 TSP baking powder
1 egg
1 CUP applesauce
1/4 – 1/2 CUP milk (to thin batter)
2 TBSP oil
* mix dry and wet ingredients separately.
* stir the wet ingredients into dry, mix until well incorporated.

Running Return?

 Around about this time in 2006 (I think) I met one of my very good friends, Suzuko.  We had a physics lab together, and we quickly paired up as we were a good few years older than almost everyone else in there. We also managed to find each other in the massive physics lecture the following Thursday. As we learned about force and momentum and all the wonderfully complicated formulas that make up the world and universe, we grew an amazing friendship. I loved physics that semester because Suz and I were devoted to getting through it together. We studied together, took the instructors extra study sessions together, and even got up at four in the morning to call one another in order to finish our homework before class.

In the middle of that semester, Suz completed a half marathon (Disney) and soon became a mentor runner for Team In Training. Of course, she talked about her marathon and recruited me by February. And that was how I began my own training for a half marathon (13.1 miles).

The event was in June and through the whole process, Suz and I trained together. After the school year was over and her husband left for field work for the summer, I even moved in with her and their daughter, Samantha. Initially, Jack’s (Suz’s hubby) sister was staying with them to help with Sammy, but once school was out, Stacie was back in Colorado. So I moved in and it was just us girls. It was probably the most fun I’d had in years.

Suz and Jack had been trying for kiddo number two before I got there and he left for the summer, and well… lo and behold, a few weeks (maybe 2 or 3) before our event, Suz discovered she was preggers (with baby Jamie). The dilemma then became, for Suz, whether to run her event or not. She decided… YES. I’m not sure if most ladies would elect to run 13.1 miles just a few weeks into their pregnancy, but Suz was determined. I was very proud of her for running it and inspired by her will.

My own progress was slow, I was at the time, and pretty much have always been, overweight. Needless to say, I was a slow runner. Sticking with the back (I was the back) of the pack was how I completed each practice with TNT, but everyone there was supportive, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Even with 6, 8, 10, and up to 14 mile runs, I didn’t lose much weight, which was a bit upsetting, but having the experience under my belt was still worth that minor setback.

Immediately after the Animas half marathon in Colorado, I signed on as a mentor myself. TNT was unfortunately losing one (Suzuko) to a pregnancy. As a mentor, I did get a few perks, like not having to raise money to get the same training… I just had to communicate with my mentees and keep them motivated and check in on their fundraising and mileage progress. This is how I met Deb.

Deb is a super perky and amazing woman. Her superhero job is to help people quit smoking. She’s wonderful. Deb and I were pacing about the same (SLOW). Although she was a bit faster than me, I had another woman nursing a pretty bad injury and the tree of us made up the back for the season.

Unfortunately for both of us, after completing the 12 mile run and then the Duke City 1/2 Marathon the following week, we were both pretty much down for the count. I had serious ITBS and she had major shin splints. Her goal of Rock & Roll in AZ (a half) or Hawaii (a full) was put on hold.

Fast-forward to now. I live in Seoul, S. Korea. In the land of very tiny people, I have found it almost impossible to get out and exercise on my own (all mental really) for the utter hatred of being stared at by wispy thin Koreans. 

On the other side of the world, Suzuko now lives in Huston with Jack, Sammy, and Jamie. She is raising two beautiful daughters. Deb has finally healed enough to train for and complete a half marathon and now she’s got the bug again!

As these inspiring women in my live continue to do great things with their athletic and personal lives, I am stuck. I am having a worthwhile experience here in Seoul. I am learning about myself and if nothing else, striving to be strong. I have the love of an amazing, smart, and talented man. 

As the end of our stay draws near, I am finding more and more reasons to start running again. My feet are itching to run, Jason will tell you. I mock-jog in my flip-flops of the way home from dinner on Date Night, and I have been dreaming about it, too. I have a ton of excuses too: it’s too dark, it’s too cold, I’m too tired, the Koreans will stare. But, those are superficial, I know. I am a little worried about starting to run in my now 3-year-old shoes… But, my feet are pretty wrecked already from wearing flip-flops and flats to walk all over Seoul. I do see many foot massages in my future.

Aside from my desire to run, in general, I do want to lose weight. I’ve gain a lot since moving here (about 20 pounds to be honest) and while I chalk that up to the transition from college life to full-time office work, I do have some pretty bad habits.

So, for myself, before my big THREE OH, I want to work on a few things, the least (but most exciting) of which is the running. I know myself enough to know how I operate. It’s the abundance of junk-food, lack of water, and limited exercise that is the root of my problem. I know and recognize this. I have been trying to curb the eating. Jason and I are working pretty nicely at walking after work and eating healthy or at least LESS. We’re trying this new thing called supporting each other (read sarcasm).

My goal for the month leading up to my thirtieth is to start running. I hope to be able to run with my running buddies (Deb and Jamie [NOT Suzuko’s Jamie]) by the time I get home. Wish me luck!