Monday, April 25, 2011

A Spring-time Cornucopia

It's been a rainy spring down here in Athens (several schools are racking up the flood days on top of all the snow days they had), but the weather did manage to stay fairly nice for the annual Korean Church Retreat. I'll get to that in a second. First, here's a quick photo from our quarterly Big Bang Theory math party to celebrate the end of finals week during winter quarter. As we've all started to go down our respective paths of specialization, I barely see these guys anymore, which is probably why this party went late into the night playing online trivia games.

Another fun event was a dinner we had over at Drew and Laura's place in Marietta. Roxie had sprouted crawling legs and was all over the place with her mischievous smile.

Drew and Laura had cooked us a nice dinner of enchiladas and salad, complete with a full dessert plate afterwards. I'm not quite sure how they had the time to do it since Laura is a full-time dentist, Drew is a full-time student, and I don't think they've had anyone taking care of Roxie.

Joo has also continued to do some wonderful cooking. People keep warning me that she will eventually get tired of cooking all day as a job and not want to cook at home, but thankfully that hasn't been the case yet! Recently, she's been testing out a few foods for Kiwi to potentially market in his coffeeshop in Korea. For example, here are some beignets, followed by some yummy stuffed pretzels (my new favorite).

So, back to the Korean campout. For starters, it was a bit more focused than the typical church retreats I've been used to in the past. There were a couple breaks here and there, but most of it was group bible study and intense prayer. For Joo, the biggest question was processing some matters such as speaking in tongues; for me, my focus was on a decision.

The director of the Sunday school approached me to see if I would be interested in leading the youth at the church beginning this Fall. Luckily, there's plenty of time left to process the offer, since I'll need quite a bit of time to think this one over. My four years as youth pastor of Bethel were filled with some of the richest, most meaningful memories of my life, but they also included two of the most frustrating and darkest years of my life in terms of personal internal conflicts. A lot has changed since then, and so a more pressing concern might be whether I could handle the time commitment in addition to starting my PhD program. Anyway, that's something I'll be considering for the next couple months.

Given such weighty thoughts, it was nice to have some simple fellowship over marshmallows and kim-chi (not at the same time, although now that I think about it, maybe that would be a combination for Kiwi to market in his cafe? :) ).

And of course, Joo does a lot more than cooking at the Korean church and testing things out for the cafe. She's been buying more bulk foods and spices as she learns how to use them (such as lentils, textured vegetable protein (TVP), cumin, etc.)

Here is an example of just what a lucky guy I am... a grapefruit feta salad, mushroom focaccia bread, and seared tilapia. :)

As the summer nears, I'm looking forward to hitting an academic checkpoint (my master's degree in mathematics), and both Joo and I are anticipating our upcoming trip to Korea. I've pulled the Korean language books off the shelves again and have them sitting by the toilet for intense study. My vocabulary seems to have faded considerably since when I lived in Korea, although my speaking and listening skills are much stronger now (even with the Eastern dialect that Joo's family speaks).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Joo's Feast

This entry will be short and I'm divagating a bit from my normal chronological order, but I did want to be sure to highlight the wondrous feast Joo prepared in her first ever major test of culinary leadership. While my winter quarter finals centered on a 40-page SPSS printout full of numbers and statistical analysis, Joo's main final was to organize a Sunday brunch buffet at The Hocking Inn. She was in charge of everything: designing several hot and cold dishes, running the food quantity/price calculations, training all her "employees" how to make the dishes (a real feat since several of the dishes were Oriental and the other students/chefs had had little experience with them), and then running the show on the day of the big event.

Even though the buffet didn't open until 11:00am, she was on her way out the door by 6:30am to get things ready. Some of her specialties were cranberry/sweet potato casserole, sushi rolls, lemon-cheddar chicken, bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef), and Asian lettuce wraps.
Everything went smoothly during the prep phase and the first hour or so of the buffet. Then, tragedy struck. On her way to refill some of the dishes, Joo set a large tray filled with sweet potato casserole down on the edge of the counter. Unfortunately, the center of mass was just beyond the edge of the counter (shameless plug for the importance of understanding math in our everyday lives) and the pan slid (in what I'm sure was probably slow-motion) off the counter and crashed on the floor. The amazing part, or so I've heard, was that everyone in the kitchen stood there in silence waiting for Joo to burst out in a stream of profanities (apparently the typical culinary reaction), but instead she calmly put another pan of casserole into the oven, cleaned up the mess and went out to refill a different dish instead. The head chef said he had never seen someone react so professionally (well done, Joo!)

Overall, she received very high marks on the food (both from her chefs and from those eating at the buffet, including myself) and it gave her a boost of confidence in her culinary abilities. It also gave me a bunch of delicious leftovers to nibble on :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doors Closing and Opening

As the fellowship competition blogs heated up last week, it became apparent that the National Science Foundation was getting close to releasing this year's round of fellows. I knew that my chances were slim to join the ranks of the many Nobel prizewinners, and that my proposed project was nothing compared to past proposals (such as the founding of Google). But it still was a painful blow to open up my inbox Tuesday morning and read the rejection letter. In addition to the financial aspect, there was the sinking feeling of being ordinary.

And yet, more surprising was how I soon began to feel a huge weight lifting off my chest. Hope is a strange creature with many faces, and waiting for the winners to be announced was one of my more painful run-ins with Hope. Once I had the closure of the rejection letter, I could finally kick my Belaki into full gear. Belaki is a word I neologized to symbolize the process of coping with an undesirable result by magnifying the disadvantages of the unattained goal (be it a girl, an award, a job, a faith, etc.) and then brainstorming the desirable alternative options. I think the whole process was facilitated by the failure essay I had written in the previous blog (which was a separate scholarship contest by the way). After writing the essay, I had done a lot of thinking about the metaphysical benefits of failure.

But after soaking up those benefits for awhile, I was glad to move on. In this case, I had the good fortune of beginning a new research assistantship to distract me. For the next three quarters, I'll be part of an inter-disciplinary project called the Boat of Knowledge. It's essentially a STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) collaboration between a small group of professors, graduate students, and high school teachers. Part of the project will involve a houseboat that we'll be taking on the Ohio and Muskingham Rivers to collect data like water samples. This quarter will be spent learning about water quality, local river organisms, and getting to know each other in the classroom. In the summer, we'll spend a week on the boat together, and then in the fall, we'll lead some experiential lessons in high school classrooms culminating in a river expedition with students.

Since the assistantship will cover my tuition even over the summer, it's looking like I'll be able to start my PhD program earlier than expected (this summer instead of this fall). Luckily, both the Boat project and my PhD courses will be flexible enough that I can head over to South Korea for 3 weeks with Joo to spend some time on the east coast with her family.