Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Survival of the fittest (not the cutest)

On our final day in Cleveland, Mom and Dad took us to Lake Erie for some hiking and then out to lunch at Bahama Breeze. With Dad in the midst of wrapping up one job and beginning training for another, Mom loaded up with inspections and teaching training classes, and Joo and I trying hard to go the extra mile to impress a new translation company, it was quite refreshing to take a break for a few days :)

Soon afterwards, as we are now just a week away from closing on our home, we decided to take another jaunt out to Indiana to visit our friends the Stricklers. As an added bonus, John and another friend, Drew, were also headed out West so we saved some gas by carpooling. Along the way, we stopped at the house of a man who supplements his disability income with a permanent garage sale. Joo was elated to find not only a faux wood clock radio (which she really seems to like to collect for some reason) but a big calculating machine that she has dreamed of having for years, each for only a couple dollars.

The Stricklers had a bike trip planned for when we got there, so we loaded ALL the bikes on the car somehow (which somehow struck me as funny when I thought of how a caveman might perceive the vehicle).

At 26 miles round trip, it was a decent length for a bike trip, especially considering Joo's previous experiences with biking. Joo had only been on a bike twice in her adult life: once was in the Atacama Desert of Chile where she was inches from being run off a steep cliff by a semi. The second was a couple weeks ago in our neighbor's driveway going back and forth a couple times to try to get over the fear that had been created in the Atacama. So a 26 mile journey was a bit beyond her comprehension, but she has a knack for tackling her fears and so she went along with the plan.

The 13 miles out to our picnic spot was quite leisurely. We stopped occasionally for tasty foods like berries (above) or Doritos (below).

But by the way home, Joo was beginning to feel her aching muscles a bit more. To add on a little pressure, it was getting dark and we didn't have any type of light source...

At each break (shown below), Joo dismounted with a small yelp and doubted whether she would be able to finish, but she always got back on and kept going (a good choice considering there was no other choice!)
When we arrived back, Wes and Jenny were waiting for us expectantly and Joo promptly collapsed in the grass, exhausted but content :)

On a different night, we accompanied Wes and Jenny to their friends from one of their small groups, Karla, Ryan, and their daughter Izzy. They were delightfully countercultural, some examples being getting married in a cape (which Joo is modeling here with Izzy) and being 75% raw foodists.

There's probably a few definitions for being a raw foodist, but for Karla, Ryan and Izzy it meant eating a vegan diet (like vegetarianism but without eating eggs, milk, cheese, butter, etc.) that was never cooked above 105 degrees Farenheit. This is because the enzymes in fresh fruit, vegetables, etc. apparently break down around that temperature and higher, thus greatly decreasing the health benefits we would get from the food. This may be true but it also poses some difficulties in balance because it means elminating not only animal-related products, but also many types of grains (like rice, wheat, etc.) that need to be cooked to be eaten. Nevertheless, the meal they prepared for us was incredibly delicious and felt very balanced as well. It was raw-foodist lasagna with pasta and salad. Most of the "noodles" were made with creatively sliced zucchini, and the other layers were a delectable combination of fresh veggies, crushed nuts, and some kind of non-heated oils. Dessert was a chocolate-cherry shake with raw cacao (as opposed to the toasted variety we are more familiar with).

Back in the land of animals, the Stricklers were engaged in a debate over three orphaned raccoon cubs that were frolicking around the property. Wes felt they were too young and should be fed and protected until they were old enough to take care of themselves. His parents and grandparents also agreed the coons were cute as babies but were a bit reluctant to allow them to form too much familiarity with the garden.

As I described a few months previously, the Stricklers run a Monday Night Philosophy group and the topic while we were there was watching and discussing the movie Baraka - a haunting and professional audio-enhanced set of video clips from around the world. I've occasionally dreamed about what it would be like to wake up every day as a different person randomly chosen from around the world and to live their life for one day (and then wake up the next day as a completely different person, and so on). I don't know how the videotaping was done unintrusively, but Baraka came close to giving that picture into the sacred parts of people's lives. However, perhaps intentionally, it was glaringly devoid of portraying any human relationships which (to me) gave it a rather isolating and depressing feel, despite the intense beauty of the nature footage.

Riding on the heels of that, I saw a book sitting on Mom's couch, Miracle in the Andes, that was so interesting I read it all the same day. It was about the same event described in the book Alive where the Uruguayan rugby team had crashed and some members survived for over two months by eating dead corpses. However, this book was strikingly different as it was actually told from the perspective of one of the survivors. The author mentioned on several occasions how the raw beauty and power of the Andes Mountains seemed intent on eliminating the "human annoyance" that had disturbed it.
I'm not sure why, but these events served to make me treasure my relationships even more, including my relationship with nature. Speaking of which, I'm finding it increasingly hard to kill bugs, such as the worms crawling on our broccoli plants. Maybe I should become a Jain monk.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Play Ball!

Our new home (even my pessimistic side has now grudgingly allowed me to start referring to the Athens house as such... we removed all conditions and are now in full contract, with less than two weeks to go until closing) is growing larger and larger in our minds, but along with that comes a sense of sadness at moving out of my parents' home.

Thankfully, we still have several trips/events planned together, the most recent one of which was an early Father's Day celebration with a 3-day trip up to Cleveland to watch 3 Indians games.

The weather was great, the only precipitation being bird droppings. Apparently with the relocation and development of some areas of Cleveland, the gulls had nowhere to go but the stadium and so they are now swarming in numbers. The Indians can't be too upset though because one of the gulls helped them win last week when a line drive hit it in the tenth inning, causing the centerfielder to miss the ball and the Indians runner to score the winning run!

We loyally held up our sign to support the South Korean member of the Indians, Shin-soo Choo. He's batting in the coveted cleanup position for the Indians and is perhaps their most adored player. Unfortunately, he's also 27 years old and South Korean law mandates that every male serve in the army for over 2 years before they are 30 and so it's uncertain how things will work out for him. It probably doesn't help that North Korea is being more rascally than ever with their nuclear threats.

Back at "home" (quite the relative term for Joo and I), we were actually living in yet another house for awhile... doing some housesitting for our neighbors the Norviels. Most of our time was spent either crunching out translations with our dual laptops, watching HGTV- the home channel- for new ideas, playing a few old Nintendo games like Super Mario Brothers, or pondering how we could prevent the increasingly-withering pansies from dying.

We walked over to our garden every day too, where the fruits of our labors were beginning to show. Here is our first pepper peeping out, followed by a full bucketful of ripe lettuce.

I was more than happy to clean the chainsaw off and do some muscle work in the yard- too much translating can tend to get tedious, mostly because of staring at the computer screen for hours each day.
Here, Mom enjoys the Showalter Spa after a long morning of gardening...

We got a bit more mock parenting practice too when we met Justin and his kids at the park.
In more karmic news, they say that your past failures/weaknesses tend to circle around (even though they may look differently) so that you must confront them over and over throughout your life until you can eventually overcome them. For me, one of these since childhood has been disorganization. This can cause more problems than you might realize, especially when highly important things suddenly vanish when they are most needed. With Joo and I both being rather messy, we've gotten along fine in this arena other than spending a couple hours each week looking for the cell phone or car keys. But then, a week ago, I was carrying too much cash in my wallet (a rare occurrence) and so I put $150 in a nondescript envelope on the floor along with an assortment of other random objects. And then of course, forgot about it. Since I had neglected to tell Joo about this, she had no idea the next day when she cleaned our room. After the trash had gone, it suddenly hit me that the envelope was gone and so we tore the room apart looking for it, while Joo was convinced she had thrown it away, despite how careful she had been while cleaning.
It's hard to describe the frustration we felt. It goes back to a prophecy that JooYeon received from a fortuneteller in Korea who foretold that she would never be able to save money because she had a figurative "hole in her pocket." For a long time, she simply resigned herself to this fate and didn't even try to save, but after we dated for awhile, we began budgeting tightly and all of that turned around. Since then, Joo has done an incredible job of living very cheaply with me, all the more important as we are on the verge of buying our first home, considering having children, I'll be earning very low wages with grad school, etc.
So, this was much more than a loss of $150... it symbolized months and even years of working so hard and disciplining ourselves, making sacrifices at key times, and then seemingly throwing it all away with my simple act of carelessness. It felt like I had failed Joo- she had respected me by joining in on a budgeting craze- and then I had disrespected her by literally throwing away our hard earned money. It really wasn't the money itself- if we had only known that it had gone to at least a semi-decent cause, it wouldn't have been bad at all. Even losing it on the street, we could hope that someone who needed it more had picked it up. But just throwing it in the trash where it would deteriorate in a landfill... ugh...
Eventually, after much agony and regret, I took a load of laundry up to the washer and found the lost money. We rejoiced, but we also spent a lot of time reflecting on the whole situation - not just on how to stay organized and prevent it from ever happening again - but also about our approach to struggles, regret, blame, communication, etc. Just for fun, why don't you try telling your spouse today that you accidentally lost $150 and see how they react!!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Almost Perfect

Well, the waiting process for a new house continues, but there are hopes on the horizon. After looking at a diverse range of about 30 homes over the last several months, we were slowly growing doubtful as to whether we'd find one and were on the verge of checking out rentals (although the $8,000 first time homeowner's tax credit was shouting otherwise). And while our realistic expectations were dropping, we were also accumulating a list of what our "ideal" home would contain.

JooYeon's ideal home:
Korean floor heating system (radiant floor heating)
Brick exterior
Wood floors (fake or real)
Open kitchen/living room
Kitchen island
Well-placed washer/dryer
No basement (half of Athens is in a flood zone and we had seen some mildewy, rotting basements which probably supported several ecosystems of grody life)
2 or 3 bedrooms (less wouldn't allow for guests and more would be too much to heat/cool)
Within our target price range
Walking distance to downtown (Joo's still not overly fond of driving and certainly not biking)
Quiet and safe location
Enough lawn for a small garden

My ideal home:
Walking distance to OU
Low enough price to combine my parents' loan with our savings and not have to go through a bank
Good quality structure with an open layout
One that Joo really liked (although I agreed with everything she wanted)
3 bedrooms
No major foundation, roofing, or other severe problems

Obviously we weren't apt to find anything that met all, or even most, of these qualifications, but we did finally stumble across one that was 6/12 for Joo and 3/6 for me (in terms of how many of our ideal qualities it met)... a "halfway house," you could say. That was more suitable than what we had found elsewhere so we put our slightly conservative bid on the same day that it hit the market, but got outbid by $15,000 by two separate people on the same day (a story which has previously been lamented on this blog). Then, a few weeks ago, our realtor Brooks found one on Craigslist and sent us some pictures - we weren't that interested so we just told him that maybe we would take a look at it on our next trip down if we had time (as opposed to previous potential houses where we had rushed down that same day or soon after). We unknowingly came across the same house in our own searches, and were mildly interested but not motivated enough to send an email of inquiry. Then, in our most recent trip to Athens to look at two potential houses, Brooks brought this same house up again. We didn't really want to, but the owner of the second house wasn't answering her phone so we decided to check the house out just to kill some time.

To our amazement, it met one after another of the things we were looking for! By the time we had checked everything out, it had scored a 9/12 for Joo and a 4/6 for me. A few days later, Brooks informed us that, by some crazy coincidence, the home had Korean floor heating - something we had not seen in any of the other 30 homes we had checked out. That raised Joo to a 10/12 and me to a 5/6. But also in a non-list appraisal, it just felt like a great home for both of us :) The only things it DOESN'T have are wooden floors (which we could always install, at least faux wooden) and a brick exterior (not much we can do about that one) for Joo and I'm awaiting our inspection to see if it clears my final standard (no roofing/foundation/major issues).

We went ahead and put in a bid at what would have been an ideal price for us. The seller refused this bid but compromised some by dropping the price by $5,000. It was at our upper limits for the house, but at the same time we had seen how much work the seller had invested into the house and his logic behind the price seemed reasonable, so Joo and I discussed the matter awhile and then signed the conditional contract. Now, the final hurdles to leap are the inspections and title searches and we should be ready to sign! However, having seen many similar contracts go awry in the past, we're trying to keep our excitement down until we have the keys in hand :)

That said, we have finally started unloading years of my memories from the attic and have been packing them up. That kind of thing is always quite philosophical for me. How do I know what to save, what to throw away, what to give away??? Boxes of letters from friends dating back to elementary school days for instance...(I was always a big fan of pen pals) chances are that I'll never read any except a select few again, but what if my whole perspective on life changes in the next 20 years and it turns out those letters carry a lot of sentimental fragments of my childhood?? On the other hand, there's something beautiful and freeing about simplicity and minimalism... so here are the final results, minus some clothing and books:

The legos incidentally were an easy choice to keep since they will probably be our cheapest form of furniture in our new home! After a rousing round of miniature golf, Heather said her goodbyes at the airport...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shocking Sharon Showalter

It's good to keep life spicy with a fun surprise now and then. Joo and I were planning to go with my parents into Pennsylvania this past weekend for the ordination of my Aunt Marilyn. It was a particularly special occasion for two reasons: one, our family rarely all gets together anymore and two, Marilyn had to go through 15 years of bureaucracy and traditional mindset to reach a point where her pastoral skills were finally sanctioned by the church. But although it would have been nice for Heather to come, she was of course all the way out in Arizona and it would be hardly practical for her to fly in for only one day.

Or so we told Mom. Secretly, however, Heather and I conspired that she would indeed come to visit unexpectedly and then come back to Ohio with us for a couple days (her boss had encouraged her to take some extra time off). I informed Dad, Joo, and Marilyn (who in turn let the entire extended family know) so that, by the time the weekend rolled around, everybody had a twinkle in their eye ready to see Mom surprised. Under the guise of visiting an old friend, I was able to borrow the car without suspicion and picked up Heather at the airport and then drove her to the church where Marilyn's ordination service was ready to be held. Heather snuck in and started tapping Mom on the shoulder while Mom was posing for a picture I was about to take. Little did Mom know I was waiting for her to look at Heather before I took the picture and so she kept staring at the camera as this "annoying and relentless person" beside her continued to vye for her attention. Finally she looked over at Heather, looked back at me, and then did a very abrupt double take at Heather and exclaimed, "Where did you come from?!?" After that, some tears rolled and joyful hugs were shared all around as Mom gradually unravelled all the cover-up stories and lies we had all told her over the past week!

As for the service, Aunt Marilyn (who really is not as scary as she looks in this picture) was given solid affirmation by everyone in the service, both for her gifts and for her patience in weathering her long wait to ordination into the Mennonite church. Family, friends, and congregation surrounded her in a prayer and expressed their pride and admiration.

This was followed by a lunch banquet where Heather reunited with our cousin Ben...
And all the siblings chatted away (incidentally Dad eventually got booted out of this picture for not being a "sibling," but I thought the picture with him was more interesting).
In fact, Dad found many opportunities to release steam throughout the weekend since he was in the midst of the final days of school which, though fun for students, can be a tortuous gauntlet for principals who have to resolve a sudden flood of conflicts and disputes.

We also had the chance to meet Phil Longenecker, who is the uncle of my good friend Chris Longenecker. He could easily be deemed the reigning emperor of the Mennonite Game (if Mennonites had emperors), meaning that he had a solid grasp on a vast network of Mennonite lineage and connections that he was able to plug in quickly. He is also an avid biker and has gone on some very interesting bike trips such as a ride all the way across Canada.

Switching gears, and going back a week from Marilyn's ordination, there was an interesting statement made by one of my cousins on a different civil rights front. With all the current controversy about whether homosexuals should have the right to be married, my cousin Valerie Showalter and her partner Justin Shenk decided to celebrate a "civil union" for the wedding rather than a "marriage ceremony" as an act of solidarity to their "brothers and sisters around the nation/world who are not able to participate in marriage." (I couldn't quite find the wedding brochure so I tried my best to paraphrase what they had written.) They also chose a wide range of local and organic foods for their reception.

After this occasion, my parents spent time with Grandma Showalter in Harrisonburg. Thankfully, she was able to take off work :) Even at age 91, Grandma works so much that she always has to make special requests to get time off when family rolls into town!

Back in Pennyslvania (the order here is really confusing, but I was too lazy to change the order of the pictures that came in), Joo and I spent some time with my cousin Geoff and his wife Jen. They had just bought a new house and so we talked quite a bit about the process involved in buying a house and what happens once you move in (in their case, a whole row of cabinets started falling off the wall as soon as it was loaded with dishes). Speaking of, Joo and I just put in a bid on another house - this one we are much more excited about than the first one that we bid on (and lost). Therefore, the agony while waiting for the response is much more intense (last time that we bid, two other people put bids in on the same day and so we feel some fear that other people will be competing with us again this time and steal it out from under our noses). At the same time, we didn't want to put too much in our initial debt since, as they might say somewhere in the world, "Debt is not a friendly pet."

We all admired Uncle Merv's rescue job where he saved a tree that had been struck by lightening by pulling it together with cords (which the tree eventually absorbed)

So it was a happy occasion, with even the grill getting his kicks...