Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Surprisingly enough, I think Thanksgiving might be moving into position as my new favorite holiday. It seems a simple, almost humble holiday to me. There are no cartoon mascots, no candy, no obligatory gifts - just a traditional meal with people you care about. I adore how Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in her book Eat, Pray, Love, that Thanksgiving is "a day of grace and thanks and community and ... pleasure." That’s exactly how I feel.

Jason and I held Thanksgiving at our place this year. We invited a large group of people - friends, friends of friends, co-workers, and neighbors to come together and celebrate. Over the years, my Thanksgiving traditions have evolved. As I’ve spent 14 years living far from my family, I tend to celebrate with groups of friends or their families. In doing this, it’s easy to pick up new traditions. For instance, cranberry sauce never made to the table (or into the house) during holidays while I was growing up. However, it's now a staple on my Thanksgiving table because a friend once insisted I try it...and I loved it. This year, my friend Nate could not comfortably celebrate without Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. He bought a ton of it at Costco and lugged it over to our place. It was a nice treat and one that I’ll probably adopt in the future.

Along with a dominate group of Americans, we had many non-Americans at the table too. We shared our Thanksgiving with a German, numerous Koreans, a Kiwi, some Canadians, and a Polack. I found out this year that Thanksgiving isn't an exclusively American holiday. Canadians celebrate it too, albeit a little sooner than we do. Their holiday falls on the second Monday in October. Of course the end of harvest season is celebrated in many other countries, only under different names. Since everyone worked on Thursday, we waited until the following Saturday to celebrate. And although it was a cold, grey, rainy day outside, it was a warm, peaceful, homey day inside.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday this year and were able to celebrate with it with people you love.

Holidays don't seem as special if there aren't kids around. Thankfully we had four little ones as guests this year.

As our friend John's birthday fell on the same day as our celebration, we had cake along with pumpkin and apple pie.

Darts were a part of the festivities - as they have been daily since Jason brought a board back from the states last summer.

We had recently acquired a few new pieces of furniture - just in time too. Previously we only had one couch to offer people.

I made a sweet potato cassarole, deviled eggs, and gravy. Everything else came from a restaurant on the American military base in Itaewon.

Brendan and Jenna have since moved on from Korea. They're moving to Istanbul in a few days time.

I love trivia games, so I put one together for the party. Eden even tried to join in for a while.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I've been a part of two book clubs in my life. The first one, Poppy and I started our last semester of college. While most people were cramming for tests and sending out resumes, Poppy and I sat at coffee shops drawing up lists of things to occupy our time. (We only took two classes our last semester.) One thing on our list was to plan (or more accurately fantasize about) our trip to Mexico and Central America. Another one was a book club. We gathered a great group of ladies together, read a bunch of books, drank some decent wine, and ate delicious food. The books I remember from that time are A Room of One's Own and Little Alters Everywhere. After we left, the book club continued on and may still be in progress (it was going strong a few years ago, but I haven't inquired since).

The second book club is one that I'm a part of currently. It isn't a Korean book club, it's a Skype book club with a group of wonderful friends I met in Flagstaff. However, no one lives there anymore.

Our new book club meets once a month and lasts anywhere from 2 - 5 hours depending on what's happening in our lives. We've read some wonderful books so far - Three Cups of Tea, The Winner Stands Alone/The Alchemist, Love Medicine, Midwives, Here on Earth, ect. I look forward to these discussions all month. Sometimes we have deep, in-depth conversations about love, life, our personal legends, deceit, brief encounters, daydreaming, ect. Sometimes though...when there are a few of us who haven't finished (or read) the book, we look up the 50 hottest men of the year and discuss them in depth. Either way, it's always a blast.

I'd like to introduce you to these lovely ladies. In reverse alphabetical order, here they are:

Poppy Villavicencio

I first saw Poppy in a business class in college - we first met at Flagstaff Brewery. She's a sagittarius who likes yoga, fasting, walks in the woods, and Peruvian men. Together we survived Huehuetenango, bedbugs, and Guatemalan bandits. She currently resides in Burnsville, MN with her husband Edward, and little girl Ananda.

Nicole Hanson

The first time I met Nicole, I invited her to a Thanksgiving party. I knew right away she was a cool chica - she even owns a Jeep Wrangler! Nicole likes sleeping in, playing with her puppy Berlin, Sedona daytrips, and eating the fine cuisine her boyfriend prepares. Although she professes to hate the cold, she's contemplating leaving Las Vegas for frigid mid-west winters.

Lara Lau Schommer

Lara and I were like two ships passing in the night. We met briefly in Flagstaff but she returned to Minneapolis around the time I started hanging out with her group of friends. We became close after I moved to MN which is where she lives with her husband Jeff, and rather large dog Moose. Lara is an activist, a bike rider, a music lover, a great tour guide (I've seen all of the houses of her childhood friends), and the only person I'd want to be stuck in a pine box with.

Erika Henderson Flak

I don't remember when I met Erika, but we had some great times in college and even hiked the Grand Canyon together. I only wish I had spent more time in her company when we lived in Flagstaff. She's one funny girl. Her passions include karoke, taking in stray animals, hair extensions, and most recently snuggies. Her and her husband were married in Alaska and now live in Susanville, CA.

Carley Saravia

I met Carley through Nicole, but we didn't start hanging out until Nicole moved to Vegas. Then we tried to get our boyfriends to become friends, which was a surprisingly trying experience - now they're great buds. Carley is a talented jewelry designer, avid house painter, garage sale enthusiast, and great pen pal. She's also one to dole out wise words when they're needed most. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband Stefan, and two children, Aislyn and Greyden.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Urban Camping

Camping in the middle of a megacity - a city of more than 10 million people. Impossible? Not at all. Not when that city is Seoul. If you look at the geography of Seoul, you'll see it is bordered by 8 different mountains. This allows Korean folk to get their hiking fix in between their hellishly long hours - be it working, studying, or keeping house.

If you think the last one doesn't involve hellishly long hours, you'd be wrong. Things get dirty here quick! Living here is like living on a dirt road in a house with open windows. You sweep, dust, mop, and wash windows one day - and the next you have to do it all over again. I sometimes contemplate hiring a maid (as my co-workers do) to keep our apartment sparkling clean. However, we're too cheap for that.

But yes, you can go camping in the middle of Seoul. I read about it on the internet. There were no pictures or maps - just one small reference to "campground #5" somewhere near Seoul National University. So, I convinced Jason, Fritz, and Nathan that I knew of a campground on Gwanaksan. Since it was peak season for autumn colors, we decided to try it out.

After a longer than anticipated hike from the subway station, we found the (a) trailhead. We kept our eyes peeled for any signs that would show us the way. Unfortunately, the only signs we came across were 'No Camping' and 'No Fires' signs. Undeterred, we hiked on. After 45 minutes or so on the trail, we began to ask other hikers where the campground was. While I may not know much Korean, I was positive that no one we spoke to knew of campground #5. The laughter, the crossing of arms into an X, and the words "no camping" weren't too hard to interpret. "No worries" I said to the guys, "Koreans aren't really into camping".

After another 20 minutes of hiking, Jason and Fritz left the trail to explore a clearing which turned out to be campground #5. Unfortunately, the campground was surrounded by razor wire and the camp pads were overgrown by about 5 years worth of grasses and such. Apparently the 'No Camping' signs were for real. Jason has never been one to be deterred by trespassing, so he led us back into a creek bed that was hidden from the main trail.

So, we set up our tents, made a fire, and commenced to camp. I'll admit my heart quickened a few times when we heard sirens, and I was quite preoccupied by errant sparks, but it was a good time. I'm not sure the guys will trust me the next time I come up with an idea though. My last one was a hike around a "beautiful lake" which we did on a cold, gray, rainy day. The "beautiful lake" part wasn't quite so beautiful either as there was a freeway overpass right above it. Oh well, I'm sure I'll keep trying.

The hike from the subway station - I have no idea what was so dangerous about this road. It looked fine to me.

Colors on Gwanaksan.

Nathan and I waiting while Jason and Fritz explored the clearing.

Jason and I slept in Fritz's tent.

While Nathan enthusiastically slept in his own.

Group shot with my pretty bag in the foreground.

We took the easy way out and jumped on a bus for the return trip to the subway station.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why - oh - ming

When people ask, as they do often in Korea, where I'm from, I usually pause for a moment to consider my options. Do I say Iowa, which is where I was born? Do I say Arizona, the place I lived the longest? Do I say Minnesota, the last place I lived in the states? Do I say Wyoming, where the bulk of my family lives?

After the pause, I choose one place or another and give a short caveat.

"I was born in Iowa."

"The last place I lived was Minnesota."

"My family lives in Wyoming."

"I went to school in Arizona."

The Wyoming answer always gets a similar response.

"Ah! Hello! How are you?"

"Good. Thank you."

"Where are you from?"

"I'm from the United States."


"Ah no, actually my family lives in Wyoming."

"Miami! Oh nice! Very beautiful!"

"No, not Miami. Wyoming."


"Why - oh - ming."

"Wah - oh - me."

"Yes, Wyoming."

"Where is this?"

"Do you know Colorado?"


"It's the state just north of Colorado. Do you know Yellowstone National Park?"


"Well, it's a beautiful place."

"Ah, good."

However, there are some people I've met in Korea that have actually been to Yellowstone...and boy do they want to talk about it. Kenji, a Japanese man who works at Hansei, went there 10 years ago. He loved it. Every time we talk, he finds a way to bring it up so he can relate his experiences to me. After two years of this, I find myself very busy whenever he walks into a room.

Thinking about this now, I realize that I more often say, "Wyoming" now when I answer that question. I guess it's the whole family thing. As much as I love Flagstaff, I haven't been there in too many years to count. And Minnesota...where a group of wonderful friends are, doesn't seem like home anymore. So, Wyoming it is.

During my visit there this summer, I missed my older nieces. They live in California and we didn't coordinate our vacations. So, I spent the summer playing aunt to my sisters' kids. They span in age from two and a half to eight...and they are lovely. I used to be worried that I would be that strange woman who came to town once in a while and brought presents that were too young for them. Thankfully, our jobs over here allow us to spend a great deal of time in Wyoming in the summer. This means that I have the pleasure of getting to know the little ones and hone my aunty skills for a least one month out of the year. I love it!

Abby didn't waste any time, she started picking on Jason as soon as we got off the plane.

Luckily the Frog Pond was saved from demolition and we were able to take the kids swimming a few times over the summer.

My sister Theresa has a fondness for bowling so we usually stop by the bowling alley once a season.

The kids are cheaters...they used this little contraption. I think I'll use it next time. I tied for the lowest score in both of the games we played.

Dad, Theresa, and Chad

Jaime and Jason chatting it up.

After a few turns with the bowling ball, the kids decided they liked the arcade games better.

Grandma helping the kids pick out balls.

I helped out with Violet and Amelia's Vacation Bible School class this summer. Aren't they cuties!

We camped in the same campground as last summer, but we were missing my parents and the Wollschlagers this year.

Ben and Abby playing in the dirt.

Shoshone River

Reinker Crew

On our hike Amelia got a bit tired, so she convinced everyone to carry her at different times. Not hard to do when you're that cute.

Mike doing what he loves best.


On our way back from camping we ran across this little guy.

I think he was trying to cross the highway, but the crowd of onlookers made him shy and he stayed where he was.

Park County Fair Demolition Derby

My little sister Theresa participated in this a few years ago. Thankfully she's stayed out of it the last few years.

They have a regular derby, a women's derby, and a small car derby. I believe this was the regular round.

As you can see, it's draws quite a crowd.

Storm's coming!

The Wild West Balloon Fest is held in Cody in early August. We didn't have to go any farther than my parent's back porch to enjoy the spectacle.

One guy seemed to have some problems and barely made it over the rooftop of their neighbor's home.

The Wollschlager's welcomed a new addition to their family this year. Meet Lulu.

I can't believe how old the kids are getting. Ava and Ben started kindergarten this year.

Jason and I took a drive up to Pahaska Teepee and came across a moose. Though we usually see one each summer, they're still a treat.

He didn't seem intimidated at all by the numerous onlookers taking photos of him eating dinner.

We took a second camping trip in WY this summer and the Lamascus family joined us.

Amelia and Jessica's youngest daughter, Layla played well together.

Two little tow-heads...Abby and Melody.

I'm pretty sure Ben just got caught on the wrong side of the fence.