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.