On another occasion, I returned home to find a miniature greenhouse constructed in our front yard. It was apparently a monumental occasion because, although Joo's dad has worked in the architectural business for most of his life, this was the first joint project her parents had ever completed.
However, by far their most predominant activity while I was studying was to go out and find antique stores. Gyu's parents (his mom is shown below) are antique aficionados, but have generally only collected historical Korean pieces, so she was in heaven in any one of the many antique malls dotting the American roadways.
Towards the end of their week-long visit (oh, just to bring the reader up to speed; Joo's brother (Kiwi) and cousin (Gyu) were staying with us for a 3-month stint, and then her parents and aunt flew in for a week before we all went out to California for the wedding of Joo's sister (Jusu)), I was able to take a bit more time off and we drove out to a nearby lake where we set up a grill and had a picnic.
We played badminton for a good hour afterwards- unfortunately our birdies (shuttlecocks?) kept disintegrating in mid-air leaving me to try to explain to Joo's father (who is a badminton guru) why Americans didn't emphasize the quality of our birdies like the Koreans do since we generally only play it at picnics. I think the extremely cheap price of steak in America more than compensated for this deficiency on the picnic though :)
As he had done so many times when Joo and I lived with him in Seoul, Joo's father treated us with a pizza (because he has discovered that is the quickest way to bridge any cultural barriers and bring a smile to my face). We ordered from Avalanche, the local organic pizza joint and, for the first time ever, we (or he and Joo's mom, rather) splurged to purchase the Godzilla- a mountainous pizza that has apparently won a prize for the best pizza in America.
At the close of their week with us, we went to visit my parents up in West Liberty, which was the first time my parents had ever met Joo's father. The car ride down was a bit interesting. As had happened when her relatives came out for our wedding two years ago, I flubbed up the reservation side of things so on Saturday morning as we were ready to head out, our rental car was sadly sitting in a car lot that was only open on weekdays. Argh! They were all accepting of packing 7 adults into a small Toyota Camry however. This picture doesn't do it justice, but we actually formed three rows of people and even practiced a "DUCK!" drill whenever I saw that we were coming up on some cops.
When we finally arrived, everyone waddled out of the car (well, at least all those unfortunate enough to have had a backseat experience) and spent a couple lovely days with my parents- grilling out, playing some more badminton, lamenting once again the sad state of American shuttlecocks, compensating with cheap American meat, laughing a lot, exchanging cultural remedies for seniors' aching bodies, playing an intense punishment-based game of spoons, and exploring the Ohio Caverns.
After I finished another week of classes, the four of us (Joo, me, Kiwi, Gyu) flew out to California on a 36-hour whirlwind trip for Jusu's wedding. The lack of sleep increased our propensity for doing strange things as the women were busy doing last minute wedding shopping...
The wedding itself was held in the church Jusu and Sang-Ok (I just realized that when you write Jusu's husband's name like that it appears like a comment Simon Cowell might make after the appearance of an unprepossessing singer. Incidentally, it isn't pronounced in Korean like it looks in English) attend, and was pulled off with nary a snag. Well, I guess that's not true. When we were waiting in a room for the normal church-goers to clear out, a congregational member accidentally took Sang-Ok's wedding suit thinking it was his own leaving the bridal party in a panic with 30 minutes to go until the ceremony. It all worked out eventually and a nice wedding followed by a scrumptious feast was held.
On our way home to Athens, I had an experience which was new to me but I had always been curious about. It's commonly known that airlines frequently overbook their planes due to an algorithm to optimize profits and, when everyone DOES show up, they offer bargains for people who will give up their seats. But what happens when no one actually gives up their seat despite the lure of a free ticket? Well, as we found out, they start kicking people off the plane even though they have legitimate tickets. As a combination of us being the last to check in and the nefarious alphabetic last name picking, Gyu (Yang) got the shaft and had to stay alone in Chicago. When we travelled in South America, Kiwi had gone off alone before, but this was Gyu's first independent adventure in a foreign country... thankfully he weathered the incident fine.
A short four days later, we paid John Thornburg a visit in Columbus, played a final round of disc golf, and then sent the boys on their way back to Korea for a month before they return back here to Athens. Coming home to a quiet house, Joo and I had a sense of empty nest as it was almost the first time since we had owned the house that it had been just us (either my friends or Joo's relatives had been at the house constantly since we bought it). It was a chance for us to reflect on the past year of our rather unintentional intentional community and we decided that we truly enjoy either way.
We did take advantage of our new freedom to rev up our social life again which had been on hold for quite awhile. One thing we did was attend a concert by Ben Harper... I felt it was rather mediocre, but I'm sure my perspective was colored by the $60 we spent on admission- over half of our entertainment budget for the entire year.
More fulfilling was our spontaneous invasion on Mom and Dad's semi-annual Cincinnati card show weekend where Dad sets up for three days at a ballcard show, Mom does some heavy duty shopping, and they have a ritualistic set of local restaurants they frequent. We tried out a new one, after hearing that it was one of the best Hungarian restaurants around. I think the rumors had jumped ethnic lines as it turned out to be run by a Ukrainian couple who had gone to culinary school in Germany, but the recommendations were right on the money in terms of quality. The trip was even more complete with a gourmet pancake restaurant, a long-awaited (for Joo) trip to Ikea where we finally got a small table for our living room after a year of wondering whether or not we should buy one, and a visit to Jungle Jims (the biggest grocery store I've ever been in... it stocks foods/spices from around the world).
To combat the empty nest back in Athens, we agreed to host (or rather I agreed and Joo so kindly went along with) our first party party. For those unfamiliar with such terminology, the difference between a party and a party party is that a party consists of at least 8 people whom at least one of the hosts knows. A party party is now extended to friends of those who know at least one of the hosts. In other words, I didn't know about half of the 13 people who came, and Joo only knew about 3 or 4. Nevertheless, it went extremely well and we had a wonderful time chowing down on the selection of potluck dishes, telling geeky math jokes (many people were math majors), and playing catch phrase.
Halfway into the final quarter, Joo and I are now in a sort of intermission. She just finished her first major paper (on Kafka and what it means "to be human" nonetheless- a rather daunting subject if I may say so myself), registered for her first full-time term of culinary classes coming up in the fall... we have another week before May 10, which is simultaneously our anniversary, my birthday, and the day the boys return for another 3-month stay. Mom brought Joo a stack of the books I read while growing up so Joo is now going through them to get a feel for my "childhood friends" that shaped my personality (Daniel Boone, Swiss Family Robinson, Heidi, among others...) I'm wrapping up my mid-terms, finishing my first round of graduate research, and gleefully eying that coming summer break (although I must say I really am enjoying both my graduate coursework and my teaching- currently a Precalculus class). The topic of pregnancy is present these days in virtually every family conference, as is our next steps in life for both of us, but at the same time, we've both been working on that old philosophy of enjoying the moment- that's certainly more Joo's strenth than it is mine.