Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall has Arrived, and with it... Reflections

Rituals. The word (and concept) used to remind me of obituaries. I saw them as an enemy to everything I held precious in life - spontaneity, creativity, unconventionality... the refreshing "teas" if you will. I think that was perhaps because that stage in my life was more one of collecting experiences whereas now my primary focus is more centered on sifting through my past experiences and assimilating them in a meaningful fashion. In short, I would now rather set up some cherished rituals rather than break them down as in the past, and one of those are our monthly Mennonite meetings that a group of four of us couples have arranged for this year. I specifically chose the word "ritual" here instead of "tradition" (although I'm warmer towards traditions these days also) because of its spiritual connotations. Spirituality has taken a different shape in my life than it used to and I'm still trying to understand what that entails, but fellowship is certainly in there somewhere.
Thad and Kristen Metzler-Wilson invited us out to their log cabin home in Nelsonville for the annual meeting and, when we arrived, we found Thad grinning (or was it straining?) as he put the final cranks into a tub of homemade ice cream. We were grinning too before long as we indulged in the ice cream ourselves... it was his grandmother's special recipe that used a hint of lemon in the vanilla to cut some of the sweetness.

Kyle and Suzie Yoder were there also and we found out that Suzie had just published a book with Mennonite Publishing House called Sensing Peace ( so we all congratulated her and interrogated her on the details (such as how hers had been chosen out of 100 submissions for an idea for a children's book).
Our discussions spanned a wide range of topics from living in a Trappist monastery to how to properly can fruits and meats. Speaking of foods, Joo is now three days away from her first day of class as a full-time culinary arts student (her class last Spring was just a part-time English class to get ready for the program). She's been vamping up the dinner presentations here at home as well...

Cammy Strickler came down to spend a day and a half with Joo and I this past week. We went through an intense 3-session crash course in math to get her ready for the GRE. One of her comments, combined with some recent readings in math, my summer research, and various other stimuli got me thinking a bit (overly?) teleologically about math education. She said, "I used to be an A student in high school math, but I'm so rusty on all this stuff now." Do you notice anything wrong with that comment? All that math we cram into high school minds assuring students that it will be useful later in life... Cammy IS later in life now and rarely (if ever) uses math beyond an elementary level. And I dare say she's not unique in that aspect. So what's the point of requiring the abstract math for students if they are unable to apply it to real life? (Actually, the higher level math that would arguably be the most useful in real life, probability and statistics, is often skipped over and rarely gets its own course in secondary school - a good 3 minute video on this at The other major argument, beyond eventual applications, is that math sharpens people's logic and reasoning skills for life in general. This may be somewhat true, although I would tend to think my personality is naturally more of an investigative/curious slant rather than something math has given me (although I will say the world of math is an incredible place for exploring those curiosities). But what is the point for the majority of the population?
Keep in mind, these questions are coming from someone who absolutely adores math. I'd take a nice challenging proof over watching TV any day of the week. I remember one time wishing I could be put in solitary confinement for a year and just work through math problems. And I do believe that math is in everything, even complex patterns like social relationships, but I'm not as sure that people use their math skills consciously in these areas. And some would argue that our way of teaching math conditions kids not to apply math to the real world. Another great TED talk on this and other intriguing stuff by progressive math teacher Dan Meyer can be found at: So perhaps students could be taught problem-solving or how to apply math in the real world, but that's a different story...
In any case, I think that allowing myself to sincerely question my faith was one of the best things I ever did as a youth pastor and so questioning the role of math education seems fitting at this point when I'm on the verge of committing my next several years (and maybe beyond) to the field. One of the best points of grad school is that it's a wonderful platform for trying to enact change in areas that don't seem to match up quite right.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Just in the Nick of Time

It was two days prior to the start of a new school year and I was beginning to question the steadfast budgeting standards I had set. My main home improvement project of the summer had been to replace all the old windows in our house (there were six of them). John had helped me finish most of three of them, but three remained and I knew it wouldn't be a good idea to start on my own after school started since I didn't really know how to do it myself and a gaping hole indefinitely in the side of our house probably wouldn't be the wisest move.

But there was another obstacle underlying my fear of diving into a project alone... our Lowes coupon hadn't arrived yet. Whenever we embark on a large project, we're sure to obtain one of Lowes' "golden ticket" coupons- a blanket 10% off on entire purchases. They used to be freely distributed at the post office but it seems that the downturned economy has altered that policy somewhat. And yet I couldn't bring myself to do what would be a $700 project without that coupon knowing that SOMEHOW there must be a way of obtaining one of the coupons. Joo's sister Jusu had moved to a new apartment and had signed us up for her Lowes coupon but it yet to arrive. So I had waited for two weeks and now school was a mere two days away, and like I said, I was beginning to question my rigid standards- should I compromise and just pay the full price so we didn't have to deal with windows that were rusted shut and draft for another winter? (shown below; yes I could have cleared all arachnids out, but the window tracks were beyond repair)

I had decided NOT to compromise and just resigned myself to waiting until Spring, figuring that I could certainly get a coupon by then. And then it came! The tricky part was that I would have to buy ALL the supplies for all three windows even though I wanted to just buy the stuff for one window and see if I could handle it first. But there was no time to ramble down one of my internal monologue marathons that can last for weeks over difficult decisions (making decisions has always been a particularly hard thing for me). So I bought it all. At 90% of the price of course :)

The first hammer smash at taking out the old frame was a bit nerveracking, but invigorating at the same time.

The hardest part about the project was choosing my leverage points. I needed to use various points for leverage to rip out the old frame, but I had to be careful not to bash out or bang up something that I needed to remain intact. After numerous close calls, I finally got the old frame out, made a new frame, and then set the new window in. At that moment, my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe there was a glorious chorus of angels harmonizing around us (perhaps you heard them from wherever you live?).

Yes, I had already put in a new floor, a new roof, some drywall, and some other random projects, but all of those had help, or at least supervision, of someone who knew what they were doing. Seeing the final product of the three windows in filled me with a sense of euphoria and self-confidence. But most of all, relief, at the fact that I completed it all in the final hours before going to sleep on the eve of my first day back to grad school. That way, the musical flow of a differential equations lecture the next morning at 8:00 had free reign in my brain and didn't have to compete with worries about how I was going to prevent squirrels from running through a hole in the side of our house.
Speaking of the freedom of release, it's been an odd past couple years with me in terms of friendships. There's a part of me that wants to set up regular, dependable meeting times with a close guy friend like I've had in most times throughout my life. Sort of accountability meetings perhaps to keep me moving towards my goals. And I think I've become rather attached to that idea, which hasn't materialized. But when I look back at the past two years since leaving Korea, I've met with close friends quite frequently... the only problem is it tends to be random, sporadic meetings. For example, a couple days ago Alex Friel called up and said he'd be near Athens and wanted to swing by. Of course I was delighted to see him again but it's always been hard for me to enjoy a good thing with the knowledge that it will end soon, especially when I'm not sure when the next time will come. So I guess it boils down to that elusive ability to savor one's blessings without attaching to them. Except for my relationship with Joo- I think that's one thing I'm fine staying attached to in my Jebudhi approach to life (Jebudhi comprises the Love of Jesus, the Peace of Buddha, and the Compassion of Gandhi).
Speaking of blessings, one of the best parts about my grad program so far has been my advisor, Bob Klein. He kicked the year off with one of his famous parties (but this was the first time I had been invited, so it was a true honor to mingle with his eclectic mix of colleagues). Wanting to spice up the party a bit, Joo and I brought some red ginseng...

And on that note, another school year began (for me -- Joo's still got another couple weeks before her culinary program starts up, although she did receive her chef's uniform and hat in the mail and looks quite dazzling in them!) This quarter is the third in a row for me that is packed solid with classes I truly enjoy. Perhaps the most challenging one will be Coding Theory; an exciting fulfillment of a boyhood fantasy to learn how to make and break secret codes (but this will be a bit more abstract and sophisticated then the evolving writing system I created to encrypt all the secret portions of my journals throughout my twenties).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From hosted to hosts

Finally... a blog entry that brings us up to date :) I've been running behind for awhile now. So the four of us (Kiwi, Gyu, Joo, me) returned from the road trip through the North east and they flew out to Korea a few days later. It marked the beginning of what should be the first extended period of Joo and my marriage that we'll be living alone. To compensate for some of our hawjawnham (empty feeling where a close person used to be), we had a string of guests over for dinners and overnights.

Having not entertained guests other than the boys in awhile, we started out conservatively by inviting Gus over. Gus is the Cavalier King Charles spaniel pictured below.

Gus pushed our limits a bit by bringing along his roommates Regina and Greg. These were actually the second people we met when we visited Athens (they hosted us as couchsurfers).

Soon after that, we headed up to my parents' house to do a little housesitting. Actually, we went up for John's goodbye party, as he was heading down to Texas for grad school. Previously, he had never been out of Ohio for more than 2 weeks and so it was quite a bold move for him. The two of us went out to Bellefontaine to play a triple round (54 holes) of frisbee golf since it might be awhile before we get to play again. My parents left for Pennsylvania so Joo and I had some fun pruning branches (with a mixture of a saw and karate) and picking berries.

I received my fourth installment of my monthly Cheez-it supply. Now that I finally figured out the joke, Mom took a bit more liberty in personalizing the box...

We hit up a local garlic festival on our way home which I unfortunately don't have pictures of. It was a deliciously unique festival with treats ranging from garlic chocolate chip cookies to a live folk band that played increasingly harder as a thunderstorm rolled in and rain was pouring down torrentially around us.
Upon returning home, we were delighted to receive our first couchsurfing request. We've surfed with six different hosts now but have never hosted anyone. Hmmm... I guess that's not completely true; we did host the band Paleface via a couchsurfing connection, but this was the first time a request actually appeared in our couchsurfing mailbox. Luckily, our initiation into hosting was an easy one as the surfers were Dave and Lane from Bellefontaine. Even though we knew who they were, we really didn't know WHO they were since I hadn't talked with Lane since youth group seven years ago and I had never really had a conversation with David before. We chatted the night away, mostly swapping cultural stories (Lane of her time in Hawaii and Kyrgyzstan, Dave of his solo month-long hike down the Portugal coast, and Joo and I of our South American journey). As these two were more on the adventurous end of the spectrum, Joo gave them a bit of the acufire treatment she picked up in Korea.
Since it had been a full year since the "Acufire accident" (enough said), and Joo had learned quite a bit more, I finally took the courage to partake in the ritual again myself.
The next day we went out to Sells Park to do some hiking. Although Joo and I have lived here a year, we had never explored beyond the mouth of the trails and so we branched off into what turned out to be a rather longer hike than what we expected. It was a beautiful one with some areas feeling like dense Latin American jungle and some nice boulders.

Below, there is a picture of a little child praying that David and Lane sent us, and some flowers that Thad and Kristen brought us. Thad and Kristen are both professors at OU who have some Menno-connections with my past (what Mennonite doesn't?) and we had been wanting to spend some time with them for awhile. They live in a log cabin (although phrasing it like that gives a bit more of a rustic picture than their mansion-like cabin warrants) up in Nelsonville 15 minutes down the road and we've been looking forward to starting up monthly meetings with them and two other couples here soon. In all that we've experienced in Athens so far, we really haven't plugged into any sort of community on a regular basis and so this is something we're both looking forward to. We visited a couple churches also, but felt pretty strongly that neither of those would be a good match for us; in the meantime, Joo's been plugging in increasingly with the women at a nearby Korean church.

Although Joo and I had managed to survive with a single car for these first two years of living in the US, we finally reached the breakpoint this fall since she will be a full-time student in a college that's a 15-minute drive away and I'll be doing my student teaching outside of Athens. This turned out to be perfect timing, however, as Mom and Dad were ready to get a new car and were willing to sell us their old one at an excellent discount!

Joo drove the car back to Athens and remarked how it was much nicer now that she could see around curves before turning. (Yes, I did ask what she had done previously, but you don't want to know the answer). With about a week to go until my school started up again, orientation was in full swing and I spoke on a panel for the incoming teaching assistants. It felt so long ago since last year when I had been in the crowd of students at that same panel, nervously wondering how I would handle undergrad teaching.