Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The family that laughs together avoids ulcers together

Halfway through every December, Joo and I celebrate her/our paeksaengchrist which is a combo celebration of her birthday, Christmas, and the anniversary of our first 100-day mark. This time around, I decorated our apartment in lights while she was sleeping and made a delicious batch of cinnamon rolls...

Unfortunately, I was caught up in the preparations too much to figure out that saran wrap does not serve well as a cover in the oven. The rolls were moist all right... moist with melted plastic. I painfully discarded them and luckily was able to get a second and somewhat less toxic batch done before she got up.

A few days later, we headed to Virginia for our first Christmas at Heather's new home. She was a wonderful hostess, having arranged everything down to a tee. Or a tea rather, as hot drinks were included in her readiness.

After a day at Heather's, we drove over to Harrisonburg for the yearly Showalter Christmas. Mom and Dad were in charge of the planning and had run into substantial obstacles with reserving a location for all of us (60 this year) and so it was a relief that it went so smoothly... Grandma had pulled through a semi-lengthy hospital visit but was in great spirits for the gathering. Luckily she was able to take off work for the reunion (despite her 90+ years, last Christmas she had accidentally scheduled herself to work in the VMRC store during our family gathering!) Here she is with the growing group of great-grandchildren...

I had fun composing a quartet with some of my cousins...

After a day of many hellos and goodbyes, we returned to Heather's for another day of family time. Actually, we also had a reunion with my good friend Pete Allen who I hadn't seen for about 7 years-
I think there was more laughter during this family Christmas than any time I can remember (out of all the times our family has been together) which was beautiful... we all came away with sore stomachs and smiling hearts. Oh, and smooth feet (after Heather taught us how to massage the popcorn crinkles out).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dr. Joo and a long-awaited arrival

Joo and I didn't play up the Christmas advent and spirit as much as we did last year, but we put on some antlers, crank the tunes and put up a few lights. We also prepared for our upcoming string of visitors, which I've calculated will put our household size at an average of 4.2 people over the next several months. The first visitors were Alex and Natalie from Philly...

The above picture was quite amazing in that I don't think I had ever seen Alex (a meat, cheese, and potatoes guy) eat a fresh green so I figured I would capture it on camera for future generations. Joo then practiced some Eastern healing techniques on the couple.

After they left, Joo and I continued in our seasonal preparations with a wreath from Mom and some bows from the Stricklers.
In other news, we finally obtained our live kefir culture that we've been searching for over the past five months. Even the wide assortment at Whole Foods had fallen short of carrying the living grains to make kefir. And then one day, as I was making a call to a local creamery to follow another lead, I was transferred to someone who exlaimed, "Daniel Showalter! Oh, I'm so glad I have you on the phone!" Apparently, there had been a miscommunication and my paperwork had been lost so they hand-delivered the kefir grains within a couple hours and even gave me a free T-shirt. The grains looked nothing like what I was expecting, although had I read Wikipedia's description of them being a "gelatinous community of bacteria and yeasts," I might have been more prepared.
We mixed them with milk and were ready to go after 24 hours of curdling and fermentation... I used the first batch for some fruit shakes and Joo made a nice fluffy whole wheat pizza crust with it... yummy! More later as we experiment with it and find out more about it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Preguntas, preguntas

Our Winter break arrived for me physically about a week before it did emotionally (it takes one week to process the final grades for each class), but that gave me a chance to practice equanimity and try to base my peace on an internal locus rather than an external one. After spending Thanksgiving with my folks, we drove up to Indiana to spend some time with the Stricklers.

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about how important it is to find the right questions in life. Catching up with old friends in a limited time frame, the conversations are steered by the questions that are asked, and so it makes sense to carefully choose those questions. Likewise, in my math grad school program, I'm constantly undergoing a process where new material is presented, and I'm initially very confused. Occasionally the teacher will explain it so clearly that I understand it instantly, but generally I'm left staring at my textbooks until late at night not even sure what it is that I don't understand. My success centers squarely upon my ability to precisely word a question detailing what I don't understand. After that, the easy part is searching for that answer on google, my own logic, or by asking a teacher. Or, as Wes said in one of his poems during a poetry reading at his house, "Living gives us a question that thinking can't understand and only silence can answer."

Craig became Mr. Dairy as he initiated Joo, me and Jalen into the wild world of whipping cream and made his famous old-fashioned buttery popcorn to accompany the movie we watched for their Monday Night Philosophy Group.

The movie was "The Last Temptation of Christ" which in itself raised some questions. Essentially, it is an alternative portrayal of the gospels, but one which is more aligned with the books that got rejected when the Bible was canonized, namely the gospel of Judas. Ironically, the book was written before the gospel of Judas was discovered so it must have been coincidence that the movie sheds a much more positive light on Judas Iscariot (namely that the most difficult and glorious act of his life was to follow God's will and betray Jesus). More importantly is how the crucifixion is portrayed, but I won't spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen the movie.

The next night we attended Wes and Jenny's "Flow" a culmination of much of their relationship together which includes them alternatingly leading breathing exercises, yoga, vocal cleansings, and meditation. It was a refreshing evening as Joo and I have become quite lax in our yoga these days.
Wednesday evening, we attended a drum circle. Led by an Episcopalian priest who offered some very brief reflections before starting in on a beat, it was a beautiful experience filled with laughter, meditation, dancing, and fellowship.
The last couple days were more lowkey and I did some final family conferences with Wes to catch up on our past several months. He has settled into a pattern where he travels abroad 3-6 months of the year and then returns to Kokomo for the remainder to work on his poetry and raise money for his next trips. Even though I've entered a somewhat more traditional life path now, it's always refreshing to remember that we have the freedom to sculpt our own lives and there's nothing specifically dictating that we maintain a 40-hour work week.

In terms of our own fellowship groups in Athens, Joo and I are slowly starting to find some niches. Aside from the incoming Math grad student community, we've been attending a small Korean church (which has led to Joo joining a Bible Study, social group, and cooking group), and also meet sporadically with some couchsurfing friends who have started up a volunteer group known as Rotoract.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Run, turkey! Roll, pumpkin!

Dave, the math guru of our incoming bunch of math grad students (here in the pink shirt- one of his 17 math/science shirts that he rotates through), had his heart set on a math movie night so Joo volunteered to cook the food and we had it over at our place after the last final. We began the festivities with Donald Duck and MathMagicland (in which Joo said she learned quite a bit) and then proceeded on to 21 (a true story about how MIT students used their math skills to become rich by beating the casinos- you can imagine how inspiring that would be to math geeks like us!).

The next morning, we packed up our bags and said goodbye to our house for awhile (it was the first time we had been gone from our house for more than a week and it certainly wasn't the easiest thing to leave. The downside of backpacking is that you never know when you'll find your next clean place to stay; the upside is that you don't have to mess with water boilers, plugs, gas furnaces, locks, trash, securing important documents, etc.) Our next stop was Mom and Dad's, where Mom was ready with her new wire-bending hobby to give us all a lesson...

With her schedule beginning to free up in the initial stages of retirement, she has been investing her time in lots of creative endeavors, all of which Joo found quite interesting and so they worked together while Dad and I discussed the field of education.

We then joyfully carried out our annual Thanksgiving family tradition of rolling the old decorations (pumpkins) down the hill and into the creek.

It took Joo awhile to get the hang of it as she seemed more apt to take aim at Dad...

We followed this up with a nice walk to savor the final breaths of autumn...

And then of course the delicious Thanksgiving turkey (or chicken, whatever... in any case a full and scrumdiddlyumptious meal.)

I think this was my first Thanksgiving at home in 7 years... definitely one advantage of this recent move back to Ohio. In general, it has been a year of huge transitions and decisions for each member of our family, some of which had some pretty rocky lows, but as the year winds to a close, I think we all are quite assured that we are where we are supposed to be, making it a particularly easy Thanksgiving to be grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grad School Life

With my face constantly buried in my books in an attempt to bring back all those mathematical ideas that have floated away from the center (or left side) in the past eight years, Joo has been forced to take initiative and create her own social endeavors in Athens. In the above picture however, we did go together to an Indian celebration (Diwali) where the math grad students (and even professors) broke all stereotypes and dominated the dancefloor. I've been fortunate to enter with a fun-loving social group of new grad students, and we've formed a supportive community that has embraced Joo as well.

On the other hand, Joo has circles which I have scarcely even met, the best example being her English/citizenship training classes. Her teacher does an excellent job of making the interactions personal and interesting, and Joo took first prize the other night in some word game contest...

The Halloween decorations were already going up when Joo and I moved here in June, so we had an idea of just how important the holiday was for Athenites. Apparently the town of 30,000 swells to 100,000 for Halloween weekend and some of the events which transpire are legendary. We had to at least catch a glimpse of the wild festivities, so we strolled down the main street around 7:00 pm, at which time, the craziness was already starting to build.

Being surrounded by forests here on the outskirts of Appalachia, (and with it being our first real "autumn" in four years), Joo and I took several delightful walks amidst the changing leaves.

We also dug the first holes of our garden at this house in order to plant some cloves of organic garlic we had picked up at the weekly farmer's market. Having had such a wonderful experience with our first garden this past year at my parent's house, it was exciting to start mapping out our ideas for the upcoming spring on our new property.

We took another refreshing break from studying/translating a few weekends ago when the Ramers came out to Ohio for a college visit for Kathryn, and we met them up in Cambridge. The entire town was decorated in mannequins from Dickens' time in Victorian England. We spent most of the time catching up, sharing hilarious YouTube videos, swimming, and playing Taboo in the hotel room. It was a wonderful time and made me reminisce about the year when I lived with them before travelling to Korea.

One night, walking home, we were followed by a kitten who kept running out in front of us and then laying down in our path and inviting us to play. We eventually got home and went inside for dinner. About an hour later, I heard a knock at our door (yes, it was actually a knock) and opened it up to find the cat waiting on us...

I called his owner and discovered that his name was Philip and that he must be lonely because his owners had taken a trip to Columbus. Joo took the opportunity to play with him and said that it somehow made her feel ready for us to have children. Hmmm....

But the vast majority of my time has continued to be focused on my studies (and studying-related activites as shown below)...

I've taken all but one of my finals now, so after the last one on Tuesday, we'll have a movie night celebration with some of the math grad students and then head to my parents for Thanksgiving. It's been a mentally and emotionally exhausting quarter, but it's also been highly rewarding and I anticipate this next quarter (and hopefully all the following ones) as one in which I can dedicate myself to the learning process more than feeling burdened or anxious about grades. One thing I will say about some of my experiences from this past quarter is that I reflected a lot on my own teaching philosophy and the role that evaluation plays. In other words, if the ultimate purpose of education is to increase the awareness of a student about a subject (or perhaps even better their overall quality of life), how can grading be used beyond mere assessment to encourage students to learn more/find enjoyment in a subject?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Casas de carton

Here in Athens, Habitat for Humanity sponsors an annual event called Cardboard City. The basic idea is that you gather a team, raise some money through donations, and then show up to a parking lot where you are given duct tape, cardboard, and about 90 minutes to construct a building to stay in for the night. The money all goes to Habitat then and a good time is had by all. We got invited by our couchsurfing friends Greg and Regina and their new dog Gus (no, Gus didn't actually invite us but on a tangent, he did ask Regina to marry Greg... but that's a different story...)

As darkness fell, we worked feverishly to construct our home. Joo and Regina worked on an elaborate recliner while Greg and I focused on a combo box-A-frame structure and a bench for lounging on our cardboard porch.

In the end, it started to rain and two of us had sore throats so we called it a night and left the younger citizens of cardboard city to battle the elements.

John, our sometimes home resident, had a shock the other morning when he stepped out on our porch and found that his car had disappeared. While Joo got pretty worked up and upset, John stayed calm, confident that I had just played an elaborate joke on him. By the time it dawned on him that I would have had no access to his keys, Joo was on the phone with the police and they eventually found that his car had been towed. As the story unfolded, his car must have coasted from its parked position and rolled down the hill into an intersection around 4am and apparently, being against the law to park in an intersection, the tow truck came and took him away...

Mom visited the following week, bringing the year's final harvest from our first garden. We had lunch at a Middle-Eastern restaurant, grabbed a coffee and then visited some shops in nearby Nelsonville.
But that has been pretty much the summary of our last month. Virtually all of my time is being consumed by studying; even weekends are essentially just open spaces for extra blocks of studying. One of the questions I had going into a master's program in math in my 30's was whether or not my brain could handle it (math is apparently one of those grad subjects where virtually everyone goes into straight out of undergrad or doesn't go at all). In terms of the material itself, although it's significantly harder than anything I saw in undergrad, I steadily am able to grasp it more and more as I invest time. The bigger problem is speed- while my brain may be able to understand the same concepts as 10 years ago, it seems to take it longer, which is coming into play in two ways. First, I struggle to follow the teachers' pace during lectures and have to rely on my notes afterwards to truly digest the information. Which means a lot more out-of-class studying time. Second, I don't have nearly enough time on tests and end up panicking as the clock ticks by while I try to compose the necessary proofs.
That said, overall, in six short weeks, my understanding of mathematics has significantly deepened much more than I expected it to and seeing some of the intricate relationships between different concepts is truly amazing. There's also an intense satisfaction that comes from proving a theorem all on my own- even if the theorem has been proven millions of times before by other math students and professors. For tricky proofs, the moment when the final hurdle suddenly drops and I see the entire path of the proof step-by-step in my mind as I'm sipping on some coffee in my study... I get goosebumps, my eyes widen, and my heart beats faster as I scribble down a complete map and see whether it really works out. When it does, I joyfully write it all out in my neatest handwriting with my best Pilot pen and then take a minute to baske in the feeling before moving on. On a couple of occasions, I was so excited that Joo took notice and politely asked me to explain and so I went through every step of the proof with her while she took great interest (or at least pretended to- it really must have been quite boring for her!!) So those moments make it all worth it, and the class I'm teaching is going well too which is an added bonus.

Joo has been studying quite diligently herself- 4 hours of english class a week in a local program and sometimes spending 8-10 hours at the university library going through classical literature and taking meticulous notes on the vocabulary and sentence structures in order to improve her translation abilities. She has built up her reputation quite high now in Korea after two years of translation and has had some recent opportunities for bigger projects and even a book (which she turned down because she wants to pace herself and improve a bit more before she tackles a huge project like that).