Friday, January 23, 2009

He who is limber falls like timber!

I have to admit that this is by far the most enjoyable "limbo" period of time I've had in my life as I wait to hear back from grad schools. Within weeks, the course for our next several years will be determined, but now that I've done everything in my power, it's just hanging out with Joo and the fam, translating, and enjoying the increased flexibility of yoga!

Mom and Dad are also getting more flexible too, not just by having us around, but by some of their own version of yoga too as you can see!

Our friends Wes and Jenny came and spent a weekend out with us recently - we filled it with making buckeyes and various versions of hot cocoa, sledding, hiking through the woods, and thrift store shopping. Wes also came to meet with our friend Jim who has headed up the Digals fund (the money to help educate the tribal girls in the area we lived) and discuss how to proceed with the situation. If you hadn't heard, most of their village, including their house was burnt by some mobs in the recent wave of violence in India last fall. We got an email from Simon at one point so we know they are safe, but now we are trying to figure out what to do with the money we had designated for their education as they are suddenly in the middle of a big city instead of the tribal mountains.

Joo, falling increasingly in love with coffee, has been quite the little barista. You can see here how high she has gotten her milk foam level (that's only hand-whipped whipped cream!)

And I continue to gaze in awe at the beautiful winter landscapes...

Surprise Birthday Party!

It was 4:00 am on a brisk autumn night in Seoul when I took a taxi home from my first "date" with JooYeon. It's not that it had been that long of a date- it started around 2:00 am- it's just that both of our work schedules were insane at that time and we had to meet whenever we were both free. Anyway, in the euphoria of the cab ride home, I made a spontaneous resolution. For the duration of our relationship (which even at that point I was confident would lead to marriage), I would always have at least THREE surprises brewing for Joo in the back of my mind.

For example, that very night I stayed up until 5:00 am designing the beginnings of a book which would come to detail our first 40 dates. In the months before I actually gave her this book, I planned it out carefully - how I would attach a pigalo, her favorite flower, and drop it off for her at work on a day when she was feeling glum. More interesting than the book itself is the psychological effect this process had on me. Knowing that I had a surprise for her that she would like made me extremely happy. In a sense, that could be the same as the "Christmas Spirit" of the month of December for those who have already bought or made gifts and are excited for their loved ones to open them. Or, let's say that you are frustrated or angry with someone; if you also are anticipating giving them a surprise, it somehow softens that frustration or anger.

The only thing I found bittersweet about Christmas is that it builds up to a big climax and then it's over. Which is why I decided to constantly have three surprises in the back of my mind for Joo (so that even when I unveil one surprise, I still have two more in layover until I come up with a third again). By the way, they aren't always big surprises - some times it's just knowing that I will bring her a cup of coffee unexpectedly when she wants it - nor are they always in the near future (I got this Amazonian weaving for her secretly seven months ago and hid it at the bottom of my backpack during our whole travels).

On a tangent here, I never really got the point of throwing a "surprise" birthday party on someone's birthday - obviously they're going to be at least a bit suspicious of people hiding smiles and trying not to laugh. That's why I chose to throw JooYeon's surprise birthday party 25 days AFTER her birthday when she had no idea. Granted, part of that was that I needed time to hunt down the traditional Korean birthday meal - seaweed soup...

Surprises are fun for everyone- Dad had fun distracting Joo by walking her to the end of the driveway to get the mail while Mom and I prepared the party and Mom got Joo some gift cards to her favorite fast food chain, Subway...

Keats once wrote a poem entitled, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" where he focuses on how anticipation can hold even greater power than an event itself. For instance, in one section, he examines a picture of two lovers facing each other on a piece of pottery and claims -

"Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"
And I've found this to be true. While of course it's wonderful to see Joo's face light up at each new surprise, it's even more constructive in the long run to spend hours while I'm driving or falling asleep (if any future insurer is reading this, let me clarify that those are two separate occasions) thinking of what Joo enjoys and brainstorming out the next surprise. It helps me to stay closely connected with her interests and surmount some of my own selfishness (which I've discovered had accumulated quite significantly over my first 28 years of life devoid of any long-term relationships).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January Reflections

Oh to be a child again! I remember one day in Korea after teaching a particularly energetic elementary class, my co-teacher told me that there is an Eastern belief that all of us have energy fields and that the energy fields of children tend to be much stronger, wild, and lively. While few people would argue this point, the interesting twist was that simply BEING in the physical proximity with such a vivacious energy field actually increased one's own energy. Incidentally, by "energy" here, I'm not referring to how hyper you are at any given moment, but rather a more persistant part of your being. Simply put, being around children literally makes you younger.
If this is indeed true, I think I'm continuing to reap the benefits of working with children/youth over the past eight years. I find myself with an abundance of energy these days, and a joy for life that leads me to do things like jump out in the snow with Joo (and my parents) and sculpt an igloo just for the fun of building something and then sitting in it.

However, while I may possess a renewed youthful vigor, my mind is much different from when I was a child. The Romantic poet William Blake wrote two parallel collections of poems entitled "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience." The former discusses the joys and freedom of childhood innocence before they become corrupted by the world. latter discusses the human experience of working through all the disillusionment and evil encountered in the world to eventually reach a second, higher innocence. In other words, while we may at times want to return to our childlike innocence, this is simply impossible without wiping away our memory of all the heartache and suffering we've seen and experienced. However, it IS possible to plow through to an acceptance of suffering that would have the same spirit of youthful trust and innocence. So I would say that's one goal of mine these days. To have the awareness, responsibility and maturity of an adult with the blissfully free spirit of a child.

While my tall stack of journals and lifestyle of self-reflection may have laid the foundation for this life, my relationship with Joo has been a huge part of finally figuring out how to actually flesh it out in my day to day life.

We've continued to spend some lovely and peaceful nature-filled days here. Joo and mom alternate turns to make sure the brave birds who decided to stick out the cold winter have enough to eat until the Spring comes...
Our Christmas tree (the little pudgy one) has moved on to its next stage in the cycle of life by providing warmth for those same birds.

And as the nation (and world) waits anxiously to see how the Obama administration will shift us all in our next political stage in life, I am encouraged by some words from his inaugural speech, "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." My cousin Daryl who was fasting until Israel withdrew from Gaza has ended his fast today (Day 17) and his devotion and personal responsibility for peace exemplifies the same path I aspire to journey. More specifically, my main focus of these past few months has been on investing less energy in "being right" and more energy in listening to what others are saying to me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The List and the Pendulum

The fun days continue at the Showalter household. It took about a month, but Joo and I are finally unpacked and caught up on our lengthy "To Do" list. Which, in case you're wondering, looked something like this (a small excerpt):

52. Chop wood and stack in the garage.
53. Fill out online application for OU
54. Wash our smelly South American clothes
55. DRY our smelly South American clothes (Hallelujah! Finally!)
56. Translate an MBA application
57. Dig a compost hole
58. Call grad school recommenders
59. Deal with guilt of having called recommenders after a long interim of non-correspondence
60. Find a place to stay while visiting OU (Yeah Mindy from Couchsurfing!!!)
62. Plan JooYeon's surprise birthday party
63. Wonder why there is no number 61 and if it was important

So, despite the long list, I can't complain at all because they were all quite enjoyable and light tasks. And I don't think I've spent this much time with my parents since high school (even when I lived here for a year in my early twenties, we barely saw each other), so that has been a real blessing. Here we are on a little sledding fiasco on our hill...

Joo has been gungho on helping out with everything- inside and outside the house, as can be seen here by her valient attempts at chopping wood...

There have been quite a few funny moments on the homestead, mostly due to a synthesis of my dad's humor/partial hearing and JooYeon's willing and gentle spirit. For instance, the other night I came upstairs looking for Joo around midnight and all the lights were out. I called out, "Joo?" and a small voice came from a dark back corner of our dining room, "Over here!" She had been working on translations in the pitch dark for the previous two hours because when Dad went to sleep he jokingly/casually told her, "Joo, you're responsible for turning the lights off when you go to bed." And she was afraid she would forget. :)
Another one was at the dinner table tonight when we were talking about some Quechua (Incan) words we had learned and Joo mentioned "Allyiyangchu" (hello). A minute later Dad asked, "Joo, what was that word you just said?"
Joo: Pardon?
Dad: Yeah, that's it! What does that mean?

And then there are the games we play a couple evenings a week - Rook, Outburst, Sequence, Mexican Train, and here we are during the charades of a Cranium game...

My life has tended to more often than not be one of swinging pendulums between extremes and now is no exception. After charging through six countries in under a month, we've now been in my parents' house for about two weeks with only a small trip into town a mile away and a couple days over at Justin and Angie's house. Not to mention going from the smoldering heat of a Costa Rican beach to freezing Ohio winter within an airplane ride.
While I have now applied to three schools (in Ohio, Arizona, and Connecticut), Joo continues to explore various potential fields while she carries on her translation work for now. One thing she's quite interested (and talented) in is cooking. I'm sure she could be a wonderful culinary artist, and little Clay probably agrees with me...

So we continue to treasure this time as our next steps (three weeks in Korea, a couple weeks gathering our belongings back here, and then moving to our new home wherever it may be) draw closer and closer. One thing I've noticed... having more free time now than in the past three winters... snow is much more beautiful!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Osama, Obama, and my cousin Daryl

Hello all,
As my greatest hope for my blog is to share the things I've been thinking about - which are some times humorous, some times exciting, some times meditative, etc. So, I thought for today's entry, I would share a couple letters from my cousin J. Daryl Byler who is living with his wife in Jordan working on many things, but ultimately peace in the Middle East. One of the greatest things I've learned from Daryl and people like Daryl is that stories always have two sides and the more we tend to polarize ourselves towards one side- liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, superpower or terrorist - the more we will find ourselves swimming in ignorance.
Tonight for instance, I was watching the news and saw a clip of Osama Bin Laden's final slams against Bush and call for Moslems to attack Israel. Everyone in America knows that Osama Bin Laden is "the bad guy," but I found myself thinking, "huh, I can really relate with what he's saying here. Israel is basically slaughtering a cornered group of scared people on the grounds that there are 'terrorists' in the mix. And yet, considering the pain, suffering, and loss these guys have gone through, who can blame them?" Actually, that's not quite true. Of course, I wouldn't advocate a holy war like Bin Laden is doing, but I do feel that Israel's recent attack is unjustified and horribly unethical. Anyway, I was very impressed when I found out that Daryl is going on a liquid fast (he will not eat any solid food) until Israel ceases their attack. I'll let you read his words though- the first is a short email I received from him today, followed by a longer letter that he wrote President Obama a couple days ago.
This is the 11th day of my fast. We are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The death toll crossed 1,000 today. If you have friends who would be willing to call their Senators' or Representative's office that would be great. This is a politically charged issue to be sure. I did an open letter to President-Elect Obama on the blog yesterday that summarizes what I think U.S. political leaders need to understand about this issue. It's fine to post my letter if you like. Also, MCC also has a Gaza Crisis section on its homepage with a link to "Palestine Update" -- a daily blog written by MCC Palestine staff.
Warm regards,Daryl

You can find more news and Daryl's letter to the Israeli Prime Minister at:
January 13, 2009
Dear President-Elect Obama:

My prayers are with you as you prepare to assume the Office of President of the United States one week from today. May God give you wisdom and courage for the many difficult challenges you will face. Obviously, one immediate foreign policy test will be the current military and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I am a U.S. citizen working for a Christian humanitarian organization in the Middle East. The state of affairs in Gaza is urgent. It has immense implications for the region and for the United States. Today is the 10th day of my fast for peace, which I began at the time of Israel’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. I plan to continue fasting until this unconscionable situation ends. Hopefully, by the day you take office, a ceasefire will be in place. But even if it is, there will be much work ahead to assure a just and durable peace that will lead to long-term security for both Palestinians and Israelis. You campaigned on a theme of change. I plead with you to change the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
For too long, the United States has looked at this issue primarily through the lens of terrorism – specifically, that Israel is the victim of Palestinian terrorism. For example, with the current crisis in Gaza, the Bush administration has taken the position that Hamas is the sole provocateur and that, if Hamas would only stop firing rockets into southern Israel, peace would prevail and all would be well. Israelis should not need to live in fear. Acts of terror by Hamas and other groups are unacceptable and should be soundly condemned. Still, Hamas is not the whole picture or the sole problem. Ironically, Israel once supported the development of Hamas as a counter-balance to the PLO.

It is time to re-frame this issue. I encourage you to read American-Israeli author Jeff Halper’s book, An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel. One cannot understand the current reality in Gaza without understanding Israel’s 18-month-long suffocating economic siege of Gaza; or Israel’s 42-year-long occupation of the West Bank; or Israel’s dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967; or Israel’s ongoing violation of international law by constructing settlements, by-pass roads and a massive separation wall on Palestinian lands. And yet, the United States seemingly turns a blind eye and continues to heap praise on Israel as a shining democracy.

I beg you to take a fresh look at this issue and chart a new course. The current approach is not working. It is making Israelis less secure. It is causing Palestinians to suffer. And it is badly damaging the U.S. image throughout this region. Failure to constructively resolve this issue will make it impossible to address other issues in the region that I know are important to you -- Iraq and U.S.-Iranian relations. Of course the United States will remain a strong friend of Israel. But what good friend fails to challenge behaviors that are self-destructive and harmful to others?There will be powerful forces that seek to stop you from altering the U.S. approach to this conflict. I pray that God will give you courage to do so in spite of strong opposition.
J. Daryl BylerAmman, Jordan

Monday, January 12, 2009

Let not the Rushing Flow of Life Sweep away our Friendships...

As our lives drift by, what happens to those friendships which once used to pump us with daily adrenaline, the soulmates with whom we weathered some of our bitterest storms together, and with whom laughter was so prevalent it was almost a language of its own snorts, giggles, and floor-rolling? One of my personal measures of how successful I am in life is how well I actively preserve these precious bonds, even as the two souls take different paths religiously, politically, and probably most importantly, geographically. So, when I had a chance last week to reunite with my former co-counselor and university roommate, Kyle Miller, I was extremely excited.
During the 7 or 8 year interim since our last meeting, we had both gotten married and so Kendra and Joo joined us to make the reunion complete. We met at Mohican State Park for a nice picnic lunch and hike (much more pleasant than the last time I had been there running my first marathon in subzero freezing winds!)
Even though the main reason I was there was to spend time with Kyle, Kendra, and Joo, I couldn't resist a little nature connection on the edge of some falls. And just in case any future potential insurance providers happen to be reading this blog, I should note that the dropoff is relatively minor and that I was accompanied by a certified RN whose first-aid provisions could have greatly offset the gravity of any falls, thereby reducing any ensuing hospital bills.
Joo, on the other hand, threw caution to the wind and ran across a deep ravine and then lunged onto an ice-covered pond. Bad Joo. :)

Having incurred enough risks for two uninsured youngins for one day (can you believe it would cost us $8,000 a year for health insurance at this point, even though both Joo and I are in great physical shape? If you have benefits at your job... treasure them!!!), we headed off to a nearby cafe where we continued our discussions on life and taught Kyle and Kendra how to play Go Stop. Kyle was unhappy about his cards...

...but once he realized that if one of his "bad" cards were to spontaneously fly up into his eye, he would at least have insurance coverage to pay for most of the surgery, he lightened up considerably and we all had a good time!

The conversations could have gone late into the night, but alas, we both had other places to be and so we said our adieus, confident that at some unknown point in the future, we shall meet again. And until that time, the increasing benefits of technology make it easier and easier to stay part of each other's lives!
P.S. Just as an afterthought, if Mary (my insurance representative) is reading this, I am very grateful for you braving the snow to meet with Joo and me recently. Any shocked references to the American health care system or insurance policies were not in any way directed at you!!! We love you :)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The only town in the US where no one asks me how to spell Showalter...

I've already indulged in my overly sentimental familial Christmas blog for the year, so I'll tone it down a bit in this one. :) On Christmas day, we made our annual 8-hour trek to Harrisonburg, Virgina to see my dad's side of the family. It was a beautiful drive as always, and seemed to be more lively and joyous with the addition of Joo to the family journey, even if it did mean a 33% net reduction in back seat space for Heather and me. Now that we have matured slightly past the point of striping territorial lines on the seat with masking tape, the more the merrier. Our first stop was Grandma Showalter (shown here with Heather) who was as sharp as always (other than being the only member of our entire extended family who actually had to work on December 26- luckily she found a replacement!)

Heather and I both crammed some extra visits in during our short stay. She met with a friend (pictured below... well the baby of her friend is pictured below) and Joo and I met with Millard Showalter, a former math professor of mine from EMU. He displayed some of his famous storytelling skills and inspired me with a true story of how he used mathematical calculations and statistics in a court room to get out of a speeding ticket a few years back.

Mom and Dad stayed with Dad's brother Glen Showalter in the house Dad grew up in (also known as The House that Had Enough Vintage Ballcards to Let Dad Retire at Age 35 if they hadn't Accidentally Gotten Thrown Away)

Heather, Joo and I stayed at our cousin Louisa's house with her husband Wayne and four kids. The third girl, Elly, was having a big American Girls birthday party during our stay so she got lots of added attention...

The kids had just received a Wii for Christmas and since it would be absolutely impossible to wrench any kid away from a new video game, we jumped in and joined them in some wrestling, bowling, and tennis.
The next day was the big family gathering which was a whirl of food, stories, games, and entertainment...

The climax of the day was Grandma Showalter's reading of the Luke Christmas passage to all her great-grandchildren.

Joo surprised me by remembering almost all of my extended relatives' names. More precisely, Joo ASTOUNDED me by remembering MORE of my extended relatives' names than I did! Here she is playing with my cousin Chad's son, whose name I think is Jon, but you would have to ask Joo to be sure.

The whole affair was a grand time, although my one regret is not having more time to catch up with each of my relatives since I only see them once a year (or once every four years when I find myself gallavanting through various countries a lot these days). One fun moment was trying to send Joo and my translations in by deadline (which was 2 am). We had it finished, but the internet had crashed at the house we were staying at. So, at 1:30 a.m., we drove slowly through a residential neighborhood in a random town, with Joo clicking constantly on "Find a network" Luckily, she did, and we got it sent JUST in the nick of time- whew. A stressful job at times, but we did calculate that it has helped us offset about half of our extended honeymoon costs. And more extended honeymoon = more time with the people we love (including each other).