Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Using my hobby for a good cause...

I have been making jewelry now for almost 5 years. I really enjoy it and have had the opportunity to create for good causes several times in the last few years. Last spring I had a jewelry sale to raise funds for North Korea. This year, the proceeds of my Christmas auction are going towards the Home of New Beginnings, one of the ministries I visited in Thailand last summer. In short, this awesome organization meets bar girls in the Bangkok sex industry and offers them an alternative. While many girls have compelling reasons why they feel they must remain in the sex industry, others are able to get out thanks to groups like Home of New Beginnings. Dedicated to living Christian ideals, the workers at Home of New Beginnings love broken women and help them gain vocational training, education, and healing. See my posts from June to learn more about the sex industry in Thailand.

I am very proud that the proceeds from this auction totaled 740,000 won (approx. $700)!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Therapeutic Art

One of the things that I have discovered while living in Korea is that I LOVE POTTERY! I love buying it, looking at it, imagining how I could design it...I just love it. And no one knows my love of pottery like Annette. Annette is my Korean-Canadian friend who has patiently taught me art, Korean, and tennis :) She invited me to join her and another art teacher (did I mention Annette is a high school art teacher?) to complete the trio in private weekly pottery lessons. So now, every Monday, I have 2-3 hours of clay play to look forward to after teaching 4 classes and sitting through PD sessions. Yay!

Today marked the last session for the semester and I am quite sad that it will be another month until my next art therapy session! I have thoroughly enjoyed my weekly opportunities to create and clear my mind. So far I have made an odd coffee mug (not my favorite creation), a star shaped candle holder (much better than my first piece), and a large earring holder (now this one I am finally proud of). While any new endeavor comes with moments of insecurity, it was nice to end my first chapter in my new pottery career on a positive note. I walked away from this session with an art piece that genuinely looked similar to the vision I had imagined in my head. I can't wait to see what it looks like fired! Pictures to come after firing :)

With Seon Young Baek, the talented potter who leads our class:

Annette working on a creative container... my favorite thing she designed this month by far:

Modeling the Christmas gift that my teacher, Seon Young, designed for me!:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Overcoming the Distance

While the miles between my family and my Korean life may be vast, distance will not hold us back. Today I brought my grandfather in to my 9th grade classes via Skype. As an avid poetry reader, my grandfather is a great example for my kids of a person who is genuinely impacted by poetry. My grandfather can recite poetry by memory for hours on end, and this morning he recited a few of his favorites for my class. He also read aloud "The Cremation of Sam McGee," a humorous poem my students analyzed in advance in preparation for his reading. My students asked him questions about the poem and also enjoyed the opportunity to ask about their teacher's childhood. Grandpa took advantage of the opportunity and showed pictures of me, age 5, in a tutu, leotard, and hardhat. Grandma poked her head in for a moment to tell a story as well. All in all, a very special experience indeed :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Belated Thanksgiving Post

Just a few things I am thankful for this November/December:
1) A God who has watched me get things wrong so many times, and yet still loves me.

2) A family that supports me, makes me laugh, humors me by doing video skype...even at 6:30 am CA time, reads my blog, listens to my rambling stories, and loves me, no matter what

3) Dear friends on 6 continents (no friends in Antarctica yet) and countless shared memories with these beautiful people. I have so many mentors, encouragers, adventurers, thinkers, givers, teachers, and

4) I have never had to worry about having enough food to eat or a place to sleep... the more I see poverty face-to-face, the more I realize how unusual this privilege is.

5) Health. There were no complications from my gallbladder surgery; even though I've had a fall full of colds, stomach issues, the flu... I have still been spared from any long-lasting or debilitating health issues.
6) I work in a community where kids openly care about their teachers, each other, and the world. I really teach some amazing children.

7) Technology: it has really enabled me to stay connected with so many loved ones! Skype, Magicjack, Facebook, Gchat...I am grateful that these things help me feel a bit more in touch with the lives of people I care about around the globe.

8) Creativity. I am so glad that I was wired to design jewelry, write, make pottery, compose out of the ordinary lessons, invent strange uses for ordinary objects, and live a colorful life.

9) Travel. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the world through travel.

10) The endless depth of knowledge in the world. In the words of Socrates, "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know." I love that! So much out there to discover. My God is one crazy smart dude.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eat, pray, travel.

My Bible study group members took a weekend expedition to Ulleung-do, an island situated off the east coast of Korea in the middle of the East Sea. While the weekend was filled with far more time travelling than I anticipated, it was still great to get away and spend some time in a beautiful place with six good friends.

Friday my Bible study booked it out of school and jetted over to the bus station to catch a 3 hour bus ride to Pohang, a coastal city known for its steel and its seafood. We settled into our waterfront hotel and then ventured out to the fish market to experience the raw chaos of bartering vendors, brimming aquariums, and tubs crawling with crabs. We had a tasty meal of sashimi and king crab and reveled in the fresh seafood experience.

Early Saturday morning we boarded a ferry and rode for 4 tumultuous hours out to the tiny island of Ulleung-do. Nature did not grant us easy passage, and most of us were at least partially seasick by the time we made it to shore again. Thank goodness I had taken Dramamine to ease the symptoms! Some of my friends were not so lucky.

We had exactly 24 hours on the island before our return ferry. We probably slept for about 14 of those hours, all sandwiched together under blankets in our chilly cliff-side cottage. The remaining 10 hours we wandered the sunny coastline, pausing to take photographs besides scenic rock formations, to hike winding mountain paths up to ocean overlooks, and to marvel at the lines of squid drying EVERYWHERE. When, I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Parking lot? Let’s hang some squid! Rooftop? Perfect location! Stairwell? Street side? Rental car store? Dry that squid! Squid! Squid! Squid! We ate island specialties like garlic leaves, squid (duh!), and bibimbap made with mountain vegetables and soaked in the fresh sea breeze that glided through the tiny coastal villages. It was great.

I have to admit that I was secretly hoping the one daily ferry would be cancelled and we would be forced to stay on the island an extra day. Alas, no magical freak storms at sea detained us and we all made it back safely for Monday morning work. Oh well, we had fun while it lasted!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

a wonderful warm winter day

As far as I'm concerned, today was the first real day of winter. While I am sure I will be ready for the sun again in several weeks, today I ushered in a new season with open arms.

This morning, my alarm sounded and I had the luxury of snuggling in my bed a few extra minutes before stepping onto my heated floor (something I love dearly about Korean apartments). I made myself a cup of tea and lingered in my pajamas as I gathered my things for the day. As I glanced out my window, something I rarely do with a college dorm 5 feet away, I was pleasantly surprised to find snow flurries dancing about busily in lieu of the glare of my neighbor's television screen. I quickly dressed for church and rushed outside, afraid the moment of winter fun would pass. The Californian in me still gets giddy about snow, even when it melts on impact.

For the last few months, I have been attending a new church group. There are about 15 of us who gather weekly at a coworker's apartment and hold a church service together. I love the family atmosphere and the genuine desire for spiritual growth in the group. This morning the Willoughby kids had prepared a drama to go with the message and Heather had made us delicious homemade cinnamon rolls. Both were wonderful touches to an already positive morning. Follow up church with a bowl of one of my favorite Korean soups (duk-gook) and conversations with two of my closest friends here...a perfect morning.

I spent the afternoon doing things around the house I had been putting off all week (like cleaning). While these tasks were not exciting, I was glad to ignore work and do some things for myself. I made it outside to play soccer for awhile and laughed to myself as I put on my winter hat that the girls always tease me about. While I was disappointed at first that no one else showed up for our usual Sunday scrimmage, perhaps lingering indoors instead of embracing the sudden onset of winter, I enjoyed working out for an hour on my own in the crisp winter air.

This evening I decided that the morning's snow flurries justified putting up my Christmas decorations. I pulled out my tree, fixed my ridiculous reindeer's broken leg, dangled ornaments from the doorways, and strung lights. I also downloaded some new Christmas CDs and blared them through my apartment as I danced about between the rooms, adding little holiday touches here and there.

Now, I get to sit on my heated floor, drink yet another cup of tea, and soak in the Christmas cheer of my cozy abode. Ah, winter. Welcome ^.^

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Pepero Day!

Yesterday was Korea's version of Valentine's Day. The result: mounds of chocolate, four foot tall stuffed animal versions of the candy, sculptures of cookie boxes, giant baguettes dipped in chocolate. Happy Pepero Day everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Excited for Christmas

As the semester gets busier and busier and my ever-growing mountain of grading becomes increasingly daunting, I am becoming more and more eager for a respite. Whilst the pull of family and home are always present, this Christmas I could not pass up the alluring opportunity to visit a friend in Israel (at least I get to see Mom in February). When I found cheap tickets with a free 5 day layover in Istanbul, my Middle East trip to visit Gail become a reality. Even better, my friend Elizabeth (who used to work at TCIS with me) has arranged to meet me for most of my Israel adventures and we are planning to spend a few days in Egypt and Petra, Jordan! My worlds are going to converge in just a few weeks! SO excited. I am also stoked to be spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and to have several days for solo Turkey exploration.

The countries I get to visit:

Some of the places I am excited to see:

The friends I get to see! (pics shamelessly stolen from their facebook pages):

Playing with photos is way more fun than planning units or grading essays.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Don't let me watch Project Runway.

When I do, I feel the need to go make earrings out of ridiculous things... like clothespins, buttons, or Rubik's cubes!

At least this pair serves a dual function: they act as unique accessories AND provide entertainment for my students.

PS- my kids love nerdy American eighties paraphernalia. There is a Rubik's cube club at my school Cracks me up :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Easily bored.

I stopped coloring my hair in Korea when I finally accepted that I am more likely going to get purple or orange locks than the desired highlights. I still get a bit restless, though...

Exhibit A, Seoul addition:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cultural Fridays

"I cannot express to you my love for pigs feet and tendons," said my Korean-American friend Janey on our ride out to the pottery village. While the thought of a pig's tendons made me squirm, Janey's zealous sentiments aptly set the tone for our Friday afternoon adventure: relish every possible ounce of culture in this day... and relish we did!

Directly after school I piled into a van with my friends Brian, LeeAnne, Angela, Janey, Annette, and Wendy and headed out to a village about 30 minutes away that is occupied by a community of potters. As trees started outnumbering people and rolling mountains replaced high-rise apartments buildings, I felt the strain of work dissipate and the comfort of fall began to seep in. We drove through tiny villages guarded by angry statues, weaved past brooks, and cruised by ambivalent orange and green trees. As I laughed with friends and watched the scrolling scenery, I could tell it was going to be a good evening.

When we arrived at the pottery village, our host (a local potter) greeted us and ushered us into his studio. We sat and watched him work his wheel. A potter and a professor of art history, Mr. Kim explained the evolution of pottery in Korea. He guided us through some basic skills and then set us lose on our own creations. I made a wall hanging that will house a candle. I am excited to see how it turns out! After we finished our projects, we explored the studio displaying Mr. Kim's creations. Then we sat and drank green tea out of his homemade tea set for about an hour. His 2 year old daughter danced around, fixated with my nail polish and Brian's wallet. She was our evening entertainment as the adults lounged and enjoyed a bilingual/broken English/Korean conversation.

After we departed Mr. Kim's studio, we went to an interesting little restaurant nestled into a nearby mountain village and there we ate like kings. Our meal seemed never-ending. As an appetizer, we shared mushroom and egg pancakes. Next, we ordered the house speciality: duck. I was not particularly excited because I had not had positive duck-dining experiences. However, I was pleasantly surprised! The duck was not nearly as greasy as its Chinese counterpart... in fact, it was crispy and absolutely delicious. It was served with cabbage, cucumber shreds, asian pears, and a tasty wasabi sauce... sounds like an odd combo, but the medley was absolutely divine wrapped in a giant lettuce leaf. I also enjoyed kimchee, roots, and garlic-spiced spinach pan chan (shared sides) throughout the meal. The dish was shortly followed by a spicy chicken and potato stew that made my lips tingle with its red pepper kick. Next came an earthy soup made with green-tea noodles and a miso-like broth. Finally, the meal ended with hot tea and sweet cereal puffs (yes, a bit strange to end with fruit loops).

All in all, a wonderful cultural Friday!

Showing us the ropes:

He makes it look so easy!

Mr. Kim's daughter loves my toe-nail polish

Some of my favorites from Mr. Kim's studio:

Tea time:

Angela showing off a duck wrap at dinner:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pimped out Puppy

Oh, man...I think this pet store took their puppy styling a bit too far. What do you think?

Eighties bangs up front:

Party in the back:

I'd be a bit downtrodden with this look too!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Queen of Lists

I guess I am in a top-ten kind of mood these days. Forgive me for my writer's rut. This week's top ten... I’ve had many little moments in the last few weeks where I have smiled and loved my children. I teach some amazing kids, that’s for sure. Without further ado, ten examples (in no particular order) of my students being awesome:

10) Yesterday, I put up a Facebook post: “I love my students,” and immediately one of my students, in my honor, changed her Facebook status to “I love my teachers”

9) One of my 9th grade classes has a running joke where one person will start singing a Disney song and then it gets stuck in everyone’s heads for the rest of the day. To cheer my up when I was recovering from surgery, one of my students sent me a link to a Disney song. While it did get stuck in my head, it made me smile every time it began.

8) One of my students from 2 years ago came up to me during lunch about a week ago to share that his Youtube video he created in my class about anti-pirating has been viewed by thousands of people around the world! Fun to see my kids really making a difference (and proud of it too!)!

7) I am too lazy to wear make-up these days. I finally wore eye-liner this week for the first time in awhile and got told I was beautiful at least 10 times. Okay, so this one is a bit superficial, but who doesn’t like being told they look nice?

6) I played pick-up soccer with some students and staff a week ago. All the former soccer girls were really protective of me. Every time one of the high school guys would charge me too hard, they would scream “surgery!!!!” Then they would laugh and call me “Lillo and Stitches”

5)Today a student randomly started playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” on his computer and another one of my freshmen did this adorable little bouncing dance for about a minute before he got self-conscious and stopped.

4)Speaking of dancing, I love watching the dance crew kids practice their break dance moves in the hall near my room. My students are so talented... they can study calculus and balance on one arm!

3) Several former students were genuinely excited when they discovered today that I am going on the same service trip as them. They were even more excited when they heard my mom was going too.

2) Beware, this one is more English teacher nerdy: I watched one of my students find a quote on the internet and automatically make an MLA citation for it. WITHOUT prompting!! Some of what I teach does gets through to them!!!

1) Hugs, high fives, waves, hellos, and cheery notes on my whiteboard: I get these frequently! Man, I love these kiddos.

Two of my five classes pictured below (others will come):

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This week's top 10:

Ten signs I’ve been too busy playing post surgery catch-up/English teacher at the end of a marking period/student teacher’s mentor/coach/friend:

1)I haven’t blogged in almost a month. I did not even post anything about my trip to Hong Kong!
2) The dishes in my sink are overflowing and I haven’t been cooking at home at all (see #3)
3) I haven’t grocery shopped since before my surgery (sometimes I wonder how I eat!)
4) I have a carefully calculated estimate of exactly how many more minutes it will take until I finish grading my students’ expository essays (approx. 330 more minutes if I keep up the same pace… the end is in sight!)
5) The plant in my bedroom was completely dead before I realized I had not watered it. I don’t even remember the last time I checked on it.
6) I get excited about 10 minute breaks in my work.
7) I have not turned on my television, even as background noise, all week. For that matter, I haven’t picked up a book for fun or listed to music either.
8) There has only been one night in the last 8 days that I have gone to bed before midnight.
9) I can’t remember what I did last weekend and it’s only Tuesday.
10) All the usual procrastination techniques (redecorating, laundry, etc.) have been done.

Thankfully, I think by this upcoming weekend my mountain of grading should be complete. Then I can start addressing the issues listed above (I think #2 is becoming a health hazard).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strange Indeed

I just saw my new belly button for the first time. What a weird thing... it was one shape a week ago and now it's a different shape. I'm impressed that they made one of my incisions there, though. Way to minimize the scars, Dr. Choi! When he took off the bandages, he asked if I liked "my new umbilical cord?" Took me a minute to realize what he meant. Hello, new belly button.

I also had my staples removed today and all my incisions "look good." I was pleased to hear that my gallbladder's biopsy came back clean. They discovered my inflammation was chronic (as opposed to acute), but no other surprises!

The best news of the day is that I get to take a normal shower tomorrow morning! I am SO excited! :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unexpected Korean hospital adventures

Oh the adventures I get myself into. If you had asked me 11 days ago what I expected my next week and a half to hold, never in a million years would I have guessed the health expedition that I was about to unknowingly venture upon.

I guess it all began about 4 weeks ago now. I started having stomach issues (see past blog entries) and visited a variety of healthcare providers in search of answers. While my condition persisted, it seemed that the source had been identified (a presumed stomach infection). I was caught completely off guard when my symptoms accelerated a week ago Friday. I could not stop vomiting, had severe stomach cramps, and had a fever. Thankfully, I had two good friends around who took my to the ER right away; there began my Korean hospital adventure.

Almost immediately I surrendered my freedom of mobility and my ability to eat/drink with the insertion of an IV. Doctors ran a million and one tests to isolate the source of my symptoms: urine samples, a battery of blood tests, X rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, liver function tests, physical examinations.... After 15 hours of being poked, prodded, drained, and dyed the doctors were quite sure of my prognosis. They determined that I had an inflamed gallbladder with at least one sizable gallstone. They also found infection in both my gallbladder and my colon. The treatment they proposed? Heavy rounds of antibiotics followed by laparoscopic removal of my gallbladder (4 smaller holes in lieu of a full-abdomen incision). Since Koreans do not typically perform surgery on Sundays, my surgery was scheduled for Monday morning and I spent the next 2 days fasting, receiving visitors, Skype-talking with my nervous (and far away!) family members, and anxiously awaiting the scheduled procedure.

Monday morning at approx. 5:45 am the head nurse came in and got me prepped for surgery (i.e., she put my hair in pigtails so my head could lay flat, changed my shirt into a surgical gown, and confirmed for the umpteenth time that did not have on nail polish or jewelry). About 7:30 my friend Emily arrived to keep me company. By the time I went in for surgery, I had talked to my parents about 5 times, my pastor had arrived, and I had spent about 5 hours on an adrenaline high.

Surgery went well. Evidence #1: my gallbladder on a green platter (yes, it was carried out to my friend in the waiting room). Evidence #2: a bag of gallstones that was waved above my eyes the first time I opened them in the post-op room.

I feel the need to pause the story and describe some of the many random things that I experienced in the hospital. But how does one chronicle a week like the one that I had? For example, every night I was woken up about 4 times: 3 am for an IV change, 4 am to have blood drawn, 5 am to describe my bowel movements the previous day, take my blood pressure, and check my temperature, and 6:30ish to go take X rays downstairs. Why they could not combine some of those tasks and wake me up fewer times, I am still unsure about. None of the nurses spoke English, so I quickly learned important medical terms in Korean and used lots of body language to communicate my needs. My favorite nurse made little whimpering noises whenever she thought something might hurt (even though my first new Korean word was "pain," I appreciated the extra warning). I tried to take walks regularly and loved frequenting the curb outside the hospital. In Korean hospitals, patients can walk their IVs down the block to grab food or out to the street corner for a smoke. Cracks me up!

Jumping back to my recovery timeline: I got out of surgery Monday and was in a ton of pain for the first 18 hours. However, with each subsequent healing day, the pain decreased substantially. Tuesday afternoon I was allowed to eat food for the first time. Thursday I sat up by myself. Friday I was released from the hospital and went to stay with a friend and her family for the weekend. Monday, I went back to work (well, I taught about half the day from a couch). My recovery has supposedly been on the faster end of the spectrum, but I have been a bit shocked at home much time it is taking me to get back on my feet. I have always been one to push myself to recover quickly... patience has never been my strongest virtue. While I get my staples out Wed. afternoon, I know that full recovery is going to take awhile.

Throughout the entire process, I have been overwhelmed by the support of my friends, family, and community. I probably had 40 different visitors in the hospital (many came multiple times). I had a coworker who was also admitted to the hospital around the same timing and we kept each other company most days. My friend Emily spent two nights in my hospital room and acted as my official "other" during the surgery. My room was lined with flowers, cards, stuffed animals, etc. Coworkers helped cover my classes during my absence. Friends and family members called regularly from the states. I got countless texts, emails, and notes encouraging me through the process. All this to say, I am blessed. Thank yous do not do justice to the kindness that was showered on me in the last week and a half.

For fear of being overly verbose, I feel as though this must conclude this epic tale. However, I can't conclude without a final thank you. Thank you to all of you who prayed for me throughout the process. Thank you for those of you who called, wrote, visited, or checked in on me. I am very grateful.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

For the first time in 2 1/2 weeks...

my stomach feels normal. I went to french toast fest at the Pinho's and felt like I could eat real food. I took a walk with Jen. Life is just splendid!

On a more serious note, if you are the praying type, please pray for my friends' new daughter. Little Alina was born 10 weeks premature and has had quite the adventure already in life. My friends update the following site regularly on Alina's progress: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/alina_jayde_adams

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Seoul Inspired

I was feeling a bit restless after 2 weeks of being confined to my home (stupid stomach!), so I went up to Seoul for a day this weekend. It was great to free myself from the bubble that is my TCIS life. I got to see Lauren, do a bit of shopping, and stop at one of my favorite places in Seoul: the 5th floor of Dongdaemun shopping center (otherwise known as the place I find my jewelry supplies in Korea). I wandered the stalls and acquired enough quirky materials to pull together 7 pairs of new earrings (1 is still pending). Check out my newest designs:

First, the simplest (funky materials but easy construction):

Some that were a little more complex (painting and/or balancing required):

Finally, my personal favorite, the most Korean pair of earrings I have made to date. Love the randomness: