Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our Home Sweet Home

Reason I Love My Husband #43,268:

As you probably know if you're American and reading this, Friday was Veteran's Day.  Though the kids had school, Matt had the day off.  He still went into work for a little while that morning, so I joined my friends for play group (because they are some of my favorite people here).  As the group started talking about lunch, I texted Matt to see if he was home yet because if he wasn't, I would go out to lunch with them.

He texted back, "Yes home but cleaning the apt. Go eat with your friends."

You guys.  MAJOR heart eyes. Even if he wasn't so dang cute, I'd be madly in love with him because of exactly this.  He spoils me!!

The apartment looked so good when I got back that I took these two pictures of our living/ dining/ music room/ kitchen.  I knew it wouldn't last past the snack time that follows our kids' return home, but I wanted to remember what it looked like for those sweet, however brief, moments.
I just realized I didn't straighten the pillows on the couch after I'd flopped down on it.  I'm definitely no stylist or interior decorator, but you get the idea.

Anyway, these pictures inspired me to write a post about our "home" here.  Honestly, I think the prospect of living in an apartment was one of the most daunting aspects about moving to Korea.  There may have been a very short time, probably in my teen years, when I thought, Yeah, living in an apartment would be cool.  But by and large, I've felt that apartments are teeny little boxes piled on top of each other, and I would run the other way instead of even consider living in one.  In fact, when I talked in this post about how I cried so hard about moving to Korea, the tears started as we were watching the House Hunters International that takes place here.  I just saw all those apartments and felt claustrophobic and terrified.

But for the most part, I'm honestly enjoying our apartment.  It's probably 1,000 square feet smaller than our last house, but I always felt like that was a lot of wasted, unused space.  We have four bedrooms, and they are all a decent size.  Wyatt's room is the smallest, but there is still space for his bed, a dresser, a small desk, shelves, and the IKEA play kitchen.  I think it helps a lot that we have tons of huge windows.  Without them, I'm sure I would feel claustrophobic.  And we have an absolutely amazing view -- one that we couldn't afford if we were living in the States.  

There is, of course... well, lots to get used to.  There's the parking garage.  I am really not a fan of parking garages, and ours is four levels deep.  They are painting the floor of each level right now, so we have to keep our bikes in our apartment, which is really driving me crazy.

There's the obvious problem that I can't tell the kids to just go play in the yard for a few minutes while I cook dinner or something.  Before we knew we were moving here, but we knew we were moving somewhere, we'd told the kids that we would look for a house where we could have a treehouse and swings.  Now, I'm thankful for the playgrounds in our neighborhood, but I do miss having a little yard space.

I do not, however, miss yard work. At all! Silver lining!!

There is the feeling that someone is always close, watching or listening.  As I look up from my writing right now, I can see four towering apartment buildings.  If I moved just a little, I would see more.  It's hard not feel like there are thousands of eyes on us.  Also, I know our family is not the quietest.  I try to be respectful of the downstairs neighbors who probably think there is a herd of adult elephants living above them, but I also feel like kids should be allowed to be kids sometimes.  The people upstairs from us tend to only stomp around late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, so I feel like I can say that at least our noise only really happens at reasonable times.  But it's a little strange when you're in the bathroom and you can hear voices coming through the walls or pipes.

Probably, though, the two things that have been most challenging for me to get used to are 1) the garbage system and 2) the laundry.

We have a large "garbage room" on the ground floor.  The walls are lined with several bins, one each for: paper products, clothing, plastic food containers, plastic bottles, glass, small plastic items (like pill bottles, yogurt cups, etc.), styrofoam (ask me right now how I feel about styrofoam packing peanuts), plastic bags, another glass bin, and metal.  Then there is the stinky wall.  On this side, there are the bins for kitchen waste (compost stuff plus meat), and the general, everything-else dumpster.  The food waste goes into special bins with lids that open and close when you scan this special card, but it smells so bad.  So, so bad.  

You might be reading this and thinking, Wow!  Way to go!  Such green living!!

Yes, I would have thought so too. We throw away so much less than we used to.  But it is so darn tedious separating everything.  Think about my last post, the plastic bags and bottles and what I used them for... I don't blame you if you're shuddering.  Anyway.  If you're a mom, particularly with small children, think about your dustpan when you've swept the floor around your table.  There are probably things like Cheerios and some Goldfish crackers, plus maybe the plastic wrapper that contained the cheese stick your son ate and then accidentally knocked to the floor, plus the little scraps of paper from the art project your daughter is working on for school.  Right?  Now, separate those items.  It doesn't sound so bad every once in a while, but several times a day every day of the week, and you will about lose your ever loving mind!!!! 

I wish I could just say I'm teaching my kids to sort their own trash and just be tidier people because I am... but teaching takes a very long time, and with small children, there are lots of mistakes and accidents.  (For the record, the older two are pretty tidy.)

And then the laundry.  We put certain items into storage in the States, and some of the hardest to part with for two years were my washer and dryer.  About two years ago, we bought a wonderful, large-capacity top-loader.  I miss it so much.  I could throw comforters in it, my king-size bedding plus a couple towels, or more clothes than I could carry in my arms. Here I have a very small front-loader.  I can wash the sheets from my bed, but barely and that's it. I'm scared -- truly scared -- about my kids throwing up in their beds because I literally do not know how I will get all their bedding clean. Most apartment buildings have a laundromat downstairs, and while I love this apartment, one of its biggest drawbacks is that there is no downstairs laundry.

Because then there is the issue of the dryer, too.  I don't have one.  Yup.  Five kids and no dryer.  Supposedly my washing machine can also dry clothes -- if I want to sell an organ to pay for the electricity if I do that all the time.  But I've tried it, and it seems that feature doesn't actually work anyway.  So on the days when I wash the sheets, I spread them all over the couch and make tents with the dining chairs and the laundry rack I purchased, and I turn my fans on them.  It's not ideal -- so very not -- but it sort of works eventually.  

Sometimes, though, I get to missing things like... sheets that are all the way dry when I put three in my bed... or soft towels.  When they dry on the rack or over chairs, they're always stiff and scratchy.  

But what I've been thinking about through all of it are Philippians 4:12-13, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."  I want this to be me.  And frankly, it's not.  I often pray that God will "expand my comfort zone," but when He does, I balk.  I want to dare big and dream big for Him, and then -- even with my million-dollar view -- I grumble about stiff towels.  

What I know for sure is that I need to practice contentment.

Can I take out the garbage without feeling bitter about incredibly tedious it is?  When I take that towel off the drying wrack and it's so stiff and crispy it barely even resembles fabric, can I just be grateful for the fact that it will get me dry next time I take a shower?  (Or that I have hot, running water to take a shower in?) When one of my littles is throwing a tantrum, and I feel like there are eyes and ears everywhere, judging me as a mother, can I just look up and lean hard into God's grace?

This month -- and this week in particular as we lead up to Thanksgiving as I'm thinking more about gratitude -- I'm trying to stare down the things that bring me discontent, and look to God to fight it.  Because deep down, I really truly want to live a life that says, "Wherever, whenever, however, I can do that!" Lao Tzu said it better, of course:
"Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.  
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Just the Little Things

It's tough to know where to start when I'm posting for the first time in three weeks.  So I guess I should begin with my sinuses.

I got yet another cold, and it was a bad one -- the kind that makes you want to lie in bed while someone spoon-feeds you broth and bathes your forehead.  But mamas ain't got time (or volunteers) for that, and a few days later, I was feeling mostly better except for my sinuses.  By the end of that week, my ears started hurting, but I thought it was just because of my sinus pain.  But by Monday, coincidentally Wyatt's fifth birthday, I was in so much pain I needed to see a doctor.

Let me preface this by saying, I kind of have to think I'm at death's door to go to a doctor anyway.  Times I have gone to the doctor for anything that wasn't pregnancy- or birth-related in the past few years are when I was coughing up blood after the flu (although that was kind of pregnancy-related because it was when I was pregnant with Annalee) and when I had a nasty wound that got infected.  Both times I was prescribed antibiotics, and I didn't take them either time because I was also given another medicine or treatment that worked just as well.  The last time I was on antibiotics, I was also hospitalized for three days.

So for me to go to the doctor and beg for antibiotics -- well, that should say a lot.  Of course, it ended up being a much bigger ordeal than I could have imagined, but a sweet friend of mine took me to the hospital that I took Wyatt to before  waited with me the entire time, and then drove me home. By the time I got back, I was in so much horrible pain from my ear, and come to find out, adult ear infections make you insanely nauseous.  I managed not to throw up all over my friend's car, but that night was just terrible and one I don't care to repeat any time soon.  

So that was not fun.  Recovery has been slow-going, and I still can't hear right out of my left ear.  I kind of failed at Halloween-ness this year.  Annalee had a fever, and I still didn't have much energy.  These are my only pictures.  

I didn't dress Annalee up at all.  I know, epic Mom Fail.

Then there was this week.  Matt went back to the States for meetings, and I tried not to be jealous of the food he was eating or the fact that he got to go to Target.  Actually, to clarify, I made him go to Target.  As soon as I found out he was bound for the homeland, I started writing a list.  Is that terrible of me?

Fortunately it was a short trip, but it coincided with parent-teacher conferences at the school. I went to four hours of conferences and still didn't see all the teachers.  The weekend was pretty good -- the weather was lovely, and we walked around a part of Busan that we hadn't yet explored.  On Sunday, though, a certain member of the family (whose name rhymes with "riot") clogged up one toilet with overzealous use of toilet paper.  We only have two toilets here, and even with Matt gone and Annalee in diapers, a one-to-five toilet ratio is not a particularly good one.  The Target/ Walmart-ish store right nearby was closed at the time, so I went to the convenience store downstairs to see if they had any toilet plungers.

I honestly believe they did at one time carry them.  Because I could swear I saw them and went, "You're probably going to need one of those some day."  They did have a bottle of Draino-like stuff, but I wasn't sure I should buy it or if, in fact, it was for toilets since the label was all in Korean.  So despite the fact that they sell all kinds of things at that store -- including but not limited to: pantyhose, sewing kits, socks, underwear, all kinds of personal items (if you know what I mean), quail eggs, soy milk, squid-flavored potato chips, and of course, kimchi -- I walked out sans toilet plunger.  

I did, however, purchase a bottle of my favorite lime-flavored sparkling water.  Because I thought it would be weird if I stared at the bottle of maybe-Draino for ten minutes then walked out empty-handed.  

So then I had to come upstairs and face my Waterloo.  I -- well, it's hard to talk about as I'm still twitching a little. I had to fashion my own plunger.  It involved lots of plastic bags and disposable gloves and three different plastic cups and my arm and wrist hurting.  Thankfully, I do not have a strong gag reflex.  No siree, Bob, not any more.  Motherhood has beaten that out of me.  And all those plastic cups failed, but do you know what worked? (As in, the toilet could be used for liquid issues...) The plastic bottle that my sparkling water had come in!  So my trip to the convenience store was not in vain after all!!!!

Anyway.  Can we please talk a little about this?  Surely I'm not the only one who has had to MacGyver a toilet plunger out of random articles from around the house?!  

Also, don't worry if you're coming over here or seeing me in person any time soon.  Everything was thrown away (well, recycled, that's another story), and I bathed several times in Clorox.  


Kind of.

But yesterday, with Matt still not home, the same little person mentioned above was using our other toilet, when he came running up to me crying, and said, "Mom!  I did something!  We need a stronger toilet!"  

That can't be good, I thought, and went into my bathroom to find most of the new roll of toilet paper in the toilet.  The only reason anyone would need that much would be if they were T.P.-ing a house.  

But can I tell you?  As soon as I saw that, and paired what I saw with what he was saying, I started to laugh so hard.  Yes, son, yes.  You did do something.  But no, I don't think a "strong" enough toilet exists.  Lots of gloves and garbage bags and fishing the toilet paper out of the toilet because I felt like plunging it would just create more problems further down the road... That toilet seems to be working fine.

Knock on wood.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking -- as it does when you're plunging toilets with plastic bottles, and life looks pretty bleak.  First off, I realized I'm not good at talking about the things that are wrong.  I finally put a reference to this on Facebook late that night only because I decided it was funny enough.  But it's hard to talk about things I'm not doing well at, the things I don't know, or everything about my life that's messy and frustrating.  I want to be honest, but I'm scared of being judged.  I end up not writing about hard times in the thick of things because I worry that people will think I'm being too negative.  And I'm starting to realize that there is so much I will do wrong at any given time, or feel scared about, if I wait to share only "what I've learned", I might wait too long.  

So here I am, not just plunging toilets with plastic bottles in bags, but telling you too, that while I really do like Korea, I'm ready for things to get easier.  I'm tired of feeling like we are sick all the time because usually we're a mostly-healthy bunch.  I'm still sad for my kids for having to leave their friends in Hawaii.  I'm wishing I could make best friends for them here.  Wyatt started crying hard tonight sort of out of the blue and said, "Our home was so, so good!  I just want to go back."  My heart hurt so bad for him that I felt kind of like I was caving in, and I fought back my own tears until he was asleep.  Sorry, but that's my real life.

But also... it's all about the little things, right?  One square of toilet paper is a little thing.  But when it piles up with a bunch of those other little squares it stops everything and becomes overwhelming.   Those little things need to be paid attention to before they become a problem.

And the flip side of that is the incredible joy and gratitude that comes from the good little things.  Some of what we sent into storage before moving here was, accidentally, our Halloween and fall decor.  And while we brought American fans over to use with transformers, we really wanted ones that we could plug in.  (I use fans even now to dry our laundry because I don't have a dryer.) But with temperatures dropping, they weren't selling fans any more by the time we moved in.  And also, our usual fifth-birthday present for our kids is a bike.  But we didn't get one for Wyatt this year because we weren't sure he would have enough chances to use it to make a purchase worth the money.

On Halloween, a woman in my building whom I've only met a couple times texted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted some of the things she was getting rid of when she moves in a couple weeks. They were: Halloween decorations, two Korean-plug fans, and a bike.  She called it "a little girl bike" in her text, but then added, "It has Lightning McQueen on it."  I have to say, I'm not sure what makes it a "girl bike" -- I don't think it looks girly at all, and the bottom line is, Wyatt loves it.  

I think about my precious new friend who helped me so much the day I had to go to the doctor for my ear.  She had no reason to do it, and I'm sure it wasn't her idea of fun, but I'm in awe of her kindness.  

And those four hours of parent-teacher conferences the other day.  I was kind of dreading them, but I ended up walking out of the school feeling grateful because I realized how most of the teachers seemed to genuinely care about my kids not just as students but as people.  It turns out my children don't seem to be scarred by homeschooling and are in fact doing pretty well.

So I guess that's what this post is about -- the little things.  The messy, stinky, ugly, little things that we need to acknowledge as being hard before they become huge problems.  And the good, kind, sweet little things, seeing them fully for what they are, and being grateful.  The little things like asking people how they are and then waiting to hear the honest answer, or just making eye contact and giving a genuine smile when you say hi.  Because sometimes I think it's "just the little things" actually have the power to break us and shut everything down, but they also have the power to make us better.