Friday, December 31, 2010

Festive Food and the Fellowship that Follows

After returning back from our Christmas trip to Virginia, Joo and I were determined to socially savor the remaining week before school starts up again. We began by meeting my old EMU roommate Kyle and his wife Kendra who were in on a brief visit from Oregon. We found a convenient centrally-located town (Cambridge, OH) and a cozy little diner where we could play a few rounds of Go Stop and hash out the past two years. Kendra has been preparing to run a relay race (which sounded kind of strange to me for someone over 30, until I heard that the race was over 200 miles long and that she would be running three six-mile legs).

On our ride home, Joo asked me why I had been somewhat subdued during our reunion with Kyle and Kendra; to reflect on that question, Kendra's race somehow served as a metaphor for the long conversation that ensued. We discussed how we enjoyed different friends at different paces. In other words, we have some friends with whom we could spend every afternoon for years on end and enjoy the relaxing comfort of the friendship (marathon friendships). But the downside is that it is sometimes hard to squeeze out an intense experience with only a couple hours. And then there are other friends with whom we would much rather just spend short, sporadic bursts of time with (sprinter friendships). The ideal is to have a pleasant blend of both. By the way, if precision is important to you, you should switch all the "we's" in this paragraph to "I's."
The next day, we had another lovely meal with our couchsurfing friends Greg and Regina. They invited us over and Greg cooked up a savory portabello risotto to go with a curried butternut squash soup. This was followed by some games of Euchre, which involved some unexpected twists and turns as Greg and I taught the girls how to play. We were delighted to hear that the two of them would be extending their time in Athens by another year...
Then, on New Year's Eve, something inspired Joo to throw a party for all the children at the Korean church. She invited them all (eight of them, ranging in age from 3 to 9) over to our place for some Avalanche pizza, a movie showing of Despicable Me, some games (Set, Taboo, and whatever I could think of that involved tennis balls), and some cooking with Joo (spinach alfredo pizza and chocolate cookies).

One funny part of the day was that we had been worried whether or not we would have enough seats for everyone. We failed to realize that a couple of our chairs could comfortably sit up to three tiny children!
I can clearly remember taking a subway ride in Seoul a few years ago when Joo and I had just started dating. We were discussing some of our views on life and Joo mentioned how she would never want kids because she couldn't stand to be around them. We laughed at this today after the kids left and she expressed how much she was enjoying teaching them and relating with them these days. Of course, I can't blame her too much as I proclaimed adamently for almost eight years that I would never get married!

And so we come to the close of 2010. As long as I get this uploaded within the next three hours and six minutes, I will have accomplished at least one of my goals for the year: maintaining the blog by writing more than half of the entries that I did last year (this will be 23 for this year vs. 44 for last year). Actually, I also got some meaningful research under my belt and went much deeper into the world of mathematics, but my greatest fulfilled goal (or wish?) of the year revolved around Joo. I had hoped that she would be able to plug into the community here and find a niche. To my delight, she has found not one, but two - and solid ones at that! She is truly enjoying both her culinary studies at Hocking and her spirituality/fellowship at the local Korean church. A fine year indeed ;)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Convergence of Sustained Love

Refusing to acquiesce to the manipulating spirits of materialism, our family decided to approach Christmas gift-giving a bit differently this year. Specifically, we decided to give only couple gifts (rather than individual gifts), and the gifts themselves had to be recycled, homemade, or purchased at a thrift store. Joo and I printed out homemade cards (with a bit of help from Paint) with pictures such as the one above showing how Mom and Dad look more alike every year and the one below commending Bob for choosing the correct Showalter to propose to.

The reactions were good enough to elicit a triple-digit kilocalorie loss worth of laughter for the involved parties.

We had the pleasure of staying at Ryan and Angie's house for Christmas since they were down visiting his sister. On Christmas evening, Mom and Dad gave us date boxes filled with ideas for all sorts of free/cheap dates throughout the year ranging from late night hot chocolates to books and calendars that we could enjoy together.

Bob gave me a duplicate book he owned called "Shelters" which details the design and utility of shelters from various time periods and cultures. I immediately began scheming out where and how I could build on of them this following summer. I think it must be the intense Lego addiction of my childhood bubbling to the surface.

Joo's mom and aunt had designed a silk sheet for my parents...
After opening all our Christmas presents, Dad did not tell us yet again the story of catman on Afton Mountain, but had he done so, his face would have looked something like this...

Enjoying our rare delight of having the whole family together, Mom and Dad tried to break their early sleep cycle by staying up late, but they barely made it to 10:00 before collapsing in exhaustion.

The following day, we gathered with the larger Showalter family for a chaotic afternoon attempt to catch up with as many relatives as possible. I was designated as the silent auctioneer for our charity gift sale (a new addition this year). As the years pass and our family multiplies, I find myself simultaneously more frustrated and more delighted with these annual meetings. While I treasure the ever-broadening range of discussions/games, I am also acutely aware of all those which are unable to materialize due to time constraints. Joo found a wise approach; she just hung out in the crafts room with the kids and let relatives filter in one at a time to talk with her.

John had grown quite a bit in stature and wit and responded immediately to someone's question about how he was liking kindergarten... "medium" was his succinct answer.

Claire used her family connection with me to pull some strings. I hid her bid in a small corner of the silent auction sheet so that she was able to win a pack of silly bands.
I failed to come up with any of the creative spontaneous games for the children like I have in the past (maybe all that modern algebra has drained my creative juices), and so we appealed to the default Mennonite game of Dutch Blitz.
On the other side of the country, our nephew TaeGum has more than compensated for any of the skinniness he began with as a premature baby. In fact, Joo thinks he may have a future career panning out for him as the Michelin Man.

With only a handful of days remaining in the winter break, I feel good about reducing my Google Task List by about 50% and am quite excited to teach probability and statistics this next quarter. As I move deeper into my master's program and search for ways to make math classes relevant to my students, this seems like an excellent class for exploring connections with the students' lives.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Using the Power of Timshel for Forgiveness

Joo and I hosted the annual reunion of the guys from youth group, which was fun as always. One of the guys made the comment that this was the first year it felt that each of us was truly travelling our own paths in life (John left Ohio for the first time to go to grad school in Texas, Andrew got married, Matt got his first real world job, and Dustin drifted back and forth between a job and grad school).

In addition to playing the new game we invented a couple summers ago (frisleyball), we had a treat when Drew and Laura Castle came over with their baby Roxie. After a couple of the guys held her, Joo gave Roxie to me to hold and said laughingly (but also ominously?) that it was a "test." Thankfully, Roxie fell asleep right away so that worked in my favor...

The boys and I spent our time catching up, eating delicious middle Eastern cuisine from Joo, watching Inception, discussing Inception, and challenging each other with spelling tests (not quite sure how that one started).

After the boys left, Joo and I headed straight over to the church where she had the kids make no-bake cookies in the shape of Korean characters (she's been teaching them their names in Korean).

We finally made some time to spend with Micah and Ariel after having wanted to get together with them for some time. They invited us over for a delicious pizza-making event followed by a riveting game of Blockus.

Micah broke a glass in what was perhaps the gentlest "smash" I've ever seen just by accidentally tapping his cup against the blender when he turned around. Being a bit OCD (I have a feeling that is one things many of the med school students share with us math students), he was extremely thorough in his cleanup.

The Korean church also had their annual Christmas performance, which was fun for Joo in two ways: for one, it was her first Christmas performance she had ever attended (this is the first year of her life when she has been going to church), and two, she got to help the kids get dressed and emotionally psyched up.

Perhaps the most unexpected incident over break occurred when we heard from Kyle and Suzie that they would have to move suddenly. There had been a little spat between their dog and their landlord's dog and - before they knew it - they had only three days to find a new place to live. It was a strange thing, both for them and for my own personal processing, since I know them to be an incredibly generous, loving, and tender Mennonite couple. Ironically, Suzie had just published a book on Peace with Herald Press. The whole affair seemed to fly in the face of the normal karmic balance of how life usually works.
But they were able to pack everything up, find a place on Craigslist and the Menno-crew gathered to work together on moving day (except for Thad and Kristen, whose car broke down on the way over to help out - I would say that it was a bad week for the Mennonites, except for a quick flashback from when I used to read excerpts of Martyr's Mirror- THAT was a bad time period for Mennonites). The most amazing thing for me in the whole move was observing how gracefully Kyle and Suzie handled the situation and even how positively they continued to speak about their landlord (something that I might have been able to do only after a month or two or forcing myself to forgive).

The move also allowed us to process concepts of possessions and simplicity (Kyle and Suzie had amassed a truckload of possessions, but Micah and Ari, as well as Joo and I, knew that we would have much more trouble with everything we owned). We discussed the 100 possession trend where modern people have been taking a Jesus/Buddha-like step and reducing their belongings down to almost nothing, giving most of their things away to charity. Here's one story in the New York Times although there are many more out there:
After the move, Micah and Ari had us all over to their place for chili and cheez-its; Joo brought some meatballs and Kyle and Suzie contributed some fresh bread and cookies from the Village Bakery... lots of yummyness :)

I also just finished my first fiction book in quite some time - East of Eden. After reading numerous academic articles and math text books, it was refreshing to relax into a story about Life and the story of humanity. Here's a brief quotation from the book that addresses one of the key themes of Timshel ("thou mayest" or, essentially, freewill):
"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The healthiest food in the world (or top 5 anyway)

For a Korean, "seeing red" is a good thing; in fact, it is perhaps one of the most satisfying sights in the world (as long as it's not their name written in red which forebodes disaster). And the most beautiful red object is a pot of freshly made kimchi. Actually, I take that back; a pot of six month properly-fermented kimchi is probably even more appealing. In any case, Joo has become the kimchi go to girl for the Koreans in Athens community as well as the chefs at her culinary school. Which means ever-increasing big batches of kimchi and even thoughts of opening a stand at the farmer's market at some point in the future.

She's even working on innovative new ways to use kimchi such as the kimchi sandwich shown below.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the U.S., her sister Jusu has done her share of making things this year too - namely TaeGeom (pictured below in his favorite sleeping position). He was born prematurely, but now has grown into a healthy, full-sized boy.
Some trailing pictures from Thanksgiving that didn't quite make the deadline for the last blog...

I was delighted to see the entire Longenecker family together in the same place for the first time since Chris and Alison's wedding five years ago. After enjoying hors d'oeuvres galore and sharing our favorite Youtube videos, we played a riveting game of Settlers of Catan and caught up a bit.
Joo and I rarely splurge on buying something new, with our philosophy being that only something crucial for health or relationships can take priority over budgeting. So, although we've talked about getting a desktop for over a year now, we didn't make the leap until a doctor inspected some numbness in my extremities and decided my hunched over posture on my laptop for several hours a day was causing it. So, now I'm not only more physically comfortable, but mentally too since it felt like a justifiable purchase :)
Joo's birthday was on the 16th and so Mom and Dad drove all the way down for the day and to give some wonderfully creative presents they had designed. Yes "they." Amazing, as Dad is very rarely inspired to give a custom-made gift, but apparently he hired someone to tailor a chef's apron. Mom made a fully-accessorized chef bear for Joo. It was a touching moment for both Joo and me to see manifestations of what thoughtful parents we have!

After doing a little celebrating at the house, we piled into the car and headed over to Eclipse - a new brunch store that opened up down the road a few weeks ago. They are participating in Athens' 30-mile club by pledging to get as many of their ingredients locally as possible. It was fun to hear the waitress say she could explain anything on the menu or tell us whose farms/gardens anything came from :) I think everything except the kalamata olives in my dish was within the 30-mile radius. Hmmm... I wonder how kimchi would taste in an omelette...