Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snoozing and socializing

Mom and Dad drove in on the 26th, and then we met up with Heather and Bob en route on our annual Christmas trip out to Harrisonburg, VA to see Grandma, who was doing well. We stayed with my cousins, and had fun playing Rook, Scum, and BS with the whole family...

With a few more babies in the midst, the large family gathering was more crowded than ever - which, of course, made the time seem shorter than ever as it was difficult to catch up with even a fraction of my relatives.

The intermission activities between lunch and the snacking/catchup sessions included caroling door-to-door (we were in a retirement home) and playing a round of human checkers. This was the low point for poor Joo, who was forced to jump over my innocent 5-year-old cousin John and knock him out of the game (he ran away crying about the lady that had killed him).

Despite the above story and the below picture, Joo really was a favorite of the kids.

Back at home (and probably a week before Christmas), Drew and Laura came over and brought their new addition to the family, Mack (a mix between a black lab and a boxer - pictured way below somewhere - he's the one with fur). Unfortunately, Roxie and Mack had a few ugly run-ins that evening which convinced Joo that we should not get a dog when we have children (although Drew repeatedly claimed it had been a one-time occurrence).

One of the ladies at church (Meelim's mom) gave Joo a lovely cake because 한국문화에서
임신여자들은 예쁜음식을 먹어야대요.

Mom, Dad, Heather, and Bob all gave us gifts centering on health... (Mom's rationale for the duct tape, in case you were wondering, is that fixing stuff quickly alleviates stress that might otherwise occur from things being broken - works for me!)

Immediately on the heels of our family trip, three of the old youth group guys (and their special someones) came down for our annual reunion.

Although we did engage in some lively conversations and play some riveting sporcle, the central focus was our fourth series of frisbee-volleyball. We created the game a few years ago on a whim and it has grown to obsession status. The field is divided into two triangularish plots of grass separated by sidewalk. One team serves the frisbee and then the other team catches it, passes it around, and returns it. The only caveat is that to keep the frisbee in play, you must be in the air (both when you catch, and when you release).

It sounds leisurely, but it is probably one of the most intense games I have ever played, mostly because we've built up so much hype around it, and because you never quite perform as well as you think you should.
Joo has blossomed into a wonderful host and was delighted to introduce everyone to homestyle vegetarian sushi-rolling.

Here's Mack.
With the female components at this reunion (for the first time), there weren't quite as many crazy contests and punishments (a trademark of past reunions), but we still made room for some occasional showdowns like this race backwards up a steep hill.

And that brings us to the end of another year, or the beginning of a new one rather. I have about 13 hours left of Winter break and should probably spend at least half of that sleeping. This upcoming quarter promises to be perhaps the most demanding quarters of my graduate career, in part because of the heavy courseload, but more because of all the other projects/tasks I have going on. Yesterday, when we arrived home from church, Joo was abnormally quiet. Eventually, I pulled it out of her that one of the men at church (that we are close with) had some heart problems this past week, presumably linked to stress from his research work and the hours that he has been keeping. Joo was worried about him, but even moreso that I am travelling down that same path towards career obsession. It's a realistic fear- and the one that I shared with the youth group as part of an accountability sharing session for things we want to work on in this upcoming year- so I will strive to keep a balance as the next few months unravel. We'll see what happens. Happy New Year :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Enjoying Misery (ables)

Joo and I spent Thanksgiving this year at my sister and Bob's house, along with my parents. Heather shouldered the task of preparing most of the dinner, with Joo and Mom contributing a couple dishes each. We had ham, turkey, green beans, cornbread casserole, salad, stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon, parmesan artichoke dip with pita chips, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, fruit cups, pumpkin mousse, pecan pie, and probably more, as well as a whole spread of appetizers that Heather prepared for us.

After dinner, we piled into the cars and drove over to Yellow Springs to a small independent theater where we watched Force of Nature, a documentary on the life work and discoveries of the Japanese biologist David Suzuki. Dad seemed to enjoy the movie the most, mentioning that it had felt like going on a journey back through his own life. For me, the documentary touched on several issues that resonate with place-based education. For example, David said that the most powerful words anyone can say are, "I'm staying," because of the revolutionary commitment to a place that involves.

But the surprises weren't over. As an early birthday gift for Joo, the family had gotten Joo and me tickets to see Les Miserables the following day (I just got lucky by being the spouse of the birthday girl). It had been a long time since Joo or I had been to a professional musical, and Les Miserables is perhaps my favorite novel of all-time, so we were quite excited.

The performance was stellar- not only by the stars, but also the minor characters, such as the lady who played Madame Thenardier (pictured below, between our heads).

After the musical, we met up with the rest of the clan at the newly renovated Wympee Diner, now known as The Olive.

Joo has continued to pour herself into her teaching of the Korean children at the church, to the point where they are now eager to invite her into their lives outside of church. One such case was our outing to see Junu play ice hockey...

Another was a trip to the local elementary school carnival.

Although my classes have been out for a couple weeks now, Joo still has another week or two to go and so she has been hitting the books hard. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to provide her with much help in her Personal Finance and Accounting classes, because she has gone beyond the realms of what I know. Of course, that doesn't stop me from listening to her questions, pretending like I need to go do something while I actually Google the question, and then returning with a thoughtful answer. Shhhh...

And, as promised in the last post, some reflections on the past few months...

Throughout my twenties, I took great pride in viewing myself as counter-cultural, unique, quirky, adventurous, etc. At any given time, I had a couple interesting projects that I could discuss, and another 20 in the planning stages. When I was 21, and back living with my parents during an engineering internship, this creativity was formerly incorporated into my lifestyle. Every month, I picked a new skill and devoted myself to learning it within a month. If it stuck, I continued it afterwards; if not, I at least had a month's worth of something interesting that allowed me to connect with others. Months I remember include sign language, calligraphy (Old English), French, German, guitar (alternative tunings), piano (jazz improvisation), and frisbee throws (I learned 23 of them). Other months, I just picked a random topic- like the country of Hungary- and spent the month learning everything I could about it.

During my 14 month Round the World trip, I carried a notebook that succinctly captured my eccentricities. It included my graphical theories of social interactions; my lexicon of neologized words; recommendation pages for little-known music groups, books, and movies (I used these lists as conversation starters, but also to explore beyond mainstream); specific things I wanted to emulate about certain travellers and locals I met along the way; psychological experiments; my labyrinthine artwork; a ten-category quantitative ranking sheet for each place I visited; the basics of the language for every country I went to, etc.

Anyway, the reason I'm mentioning all of this here in this post is because I have felt much more like an Everyman recently. I'm throwing myself headlong into my studies. When I do slow down momentarily for a treasured social interaction, I often find myself lacking anything interesting to say. In my marriage with Joo, I find myself fulfilling the same stereotypical masculine roles that I used to criticize so harshly. I feel disconnected with Nature, despite the fact that I'm living in the foothills of the Appalachians in an area where parks and forests abound. All that said, I really do enjoy the content of my coursework and research. I'm just a bit disturbed at how little of what I treasured during my twenties is present in my current life. Maybe this is a natural progression of life and I'm being haunted by a past Daniel who held different values, maybe it is just a temporary situation because of my studies/research, or maybe I am simply failing to be true to that which I value most in life. I wouldn't label it depression; depression, ironically, was much more a part of my twenties. In fact, it probably was the depression of my twenties that fueled my values and lifestyle of that time, so perhaps I am just experiencing one of the disadvantages of contentment. Certainly, when I consider my life as a whole compared to what it was ten years ago, I am much happier now.

So, those are my ramblings for the moment - not representative of my overall world view, but an important portion of my life these days that probably has not shown up enough in my blog entries in order to give an accurate picture of who I am and how I'm doing. Who am I? I'm Daniel Showalter! (cheesy allusion to Jean Valjean's line in Les Miserables, the musical ^^)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mingling with Nature

Ahhh... another quarter done :) I love 90% of the material I've been studying, but I really do yearn for these slow days when I can sleep in, stretch out, and walk around our toasty apartment in my wooden shorts (Joo's aunt bought me a pair of Korean shorts that are made out of some wooden fiber that is incredibly comfortable!)

My courseload this past quarter was fun, but even better were the fine lot of professors I had (and just in case you're wondering, grades are already submitted and I don't think any of them have the blog address!!) I took Theory of Statistics with Dr. Lin, which was a challenging yet inspiring class; I think I finally found my mathematical niche. I loved Modern Algebra and Coding Theory, but found it hard to justify the long hours I spent on proofs, because the connections with life were rare and mostly based on my eccentric analogies (which I still do... and still enjoy of course!). Statistics is just as interesting, but almost every problem is situated in some real life context- when I walk around now, I find myself constantly estimating risk, reward, lifespans, distributions, etc.

Another fun course- mostly because of the professor- was qualitative research methods. John Hitchcock (shown below) uses both qualitative and quantitative methods in his research, which seems to be the most suitable path for me. Kind of like when I was in high school and decided to never get married because Jesus' take on singlehood was, "the one who can accept this, should accept it" (Matthew 19:12). In other words, the most powerful researcher is the one who can flexibly use whatever method is most directly suited for the question. Like I said. Eccentric analogies.

The foods Joo brings home from her culinary labs continue to be just as delicious as ever, but they are getting progressively more appealing aesthetically.

One of the highlights of this past quarter has been having Drew attend Ohio University. He lives about 45 minutes away from Athens, so our home has become his base camp here. This creates lots of opportunities for solid conversations as well as adventures in DIY home repair (he just bought a cabin in a woods and I'm still mostly clueless when it comes to such things). One recent project was a trip to the junkyard to discard the accumulating pile of stuff around our house- we found a little friend nesting just outside one of the windows...I assume it's a garter, but if anyone knows differently, let me know :)

Just as cute and slinky, but perhaps more rare was a creature (caterpillar, I assume?) we found while taking a hike in Hocking Hills Park... anyone know what this is?

Every now and then, Drew brings along Roxy. Without fail- she gravitates straight to the spiny Korean foot mat we have in the kitchen. Mom recently gave us a little chair matching our other porch chairs specifically for Roxy. She seems to like it although she feels no need to be limited to conventional sitting positions.

With a slightly reduced workload this quarter, Joo has had some extra time to become involved in what I'm studying. Occasionally, she reads one of my assigned papers and then discusses it with me which is a real treat. I recently heard a statistic about the high divorce rate among couples where one of them is studying in a doctoral program... I could see how this could happen since the work can be all-encompassing. However, with Joo being open to discussions on any topic, we have much less of that separation (not that our marriage would be in danger otherwise, but it is a pleasant bonus :)

Speaking of happy marriages, the newlyweds Heather and Bob are doing well. Bob's a welcome addition to the family (as I've mentioned frequently before), and Heather's happier than I've ever seen her before.

Heather and Bob came done awhile back so that we could spend some time together in Hocking Hills before all the leaves fell. I didn't plan on going with them because I had so much work to do, but eventually we worked a strategic way for me to focus on my readings on the trip to and from the park...

I'm glad I ended up going because the views were gorgeous.

Bob was a biology major for quite some time and so he provided us with lots of cool trivia along our walk.

Joo, on a random whim, acquired a short-lived but intense fascination with fungi on our hike and was amazed to see how many kinds there are that she had never noticed. But then again, maybe it's because she married a fun-guy? (lame, I know; my brain's a bit fried at this point).

Chris and Allison drove down to spend a night and catch up a bit. Joo gave us a lesson in rolling kim-bap (Korean sushi). As you can see, Chris was a better student than me (his rolls are on the left).

We also did some fire and suction therapy (that's two separate things thankfully, although I hear they do combine the two in China).

I think I'll save my reflective piece on the last few months for the next entry since I'm still a bit anxious to get ahead of my research schedule.