Sunday, March 19, 2017

Date Night: Ecotopia!

The second question everyone asks when they find out I'm a vegetarian (usually after some form of "Why?") is, "What about your husband?"  

The short answer is no, he is not vegetarian. The longer answer is: I became a vegetarian at 15.  I started dating Matt at 16.  So it's not like I dropped this bomb on him after our wedding.  When we married, I told him that he was welcome to eat meat, but I wasn't going to cook it or clean up after it.  So at home, he is a vegetarian.  Our system works pretty well.  He complains to friends about his hardships, but honestly, he (usually) says he likes my cooking and has tried to become a vegetarian several times, especially five years ago when both our dads suffered serious heart problems within six months of each other.  He says that he just feels like Bruce, the shark in Finding Nemo, whenever he smells meat cooking.    

And one of the many incredibly sweet things he does is that he's always trying to find good vegetarian food for me.  So the other night when, for the first time in about two months, Skyler actually asked if she could baby-sit her siblings (praise the Lord for good big sisters!!!!), we headed out on a date.  Honestly, it's hard to find Korean food without meat.  Yes, they use tofu in their cuisine, but it's almost always accompanied by beef, pork, or seafood.  So our go-to for eating out here is Indian food since it's always easy to find vegetarian dishes.  There are two good places within about a mile of where we live.  But a week ago Saturday, Matt did some research and found that in Namcheon, about six subway stops away, there is an all-vegan restaurant, and it had rave reviews -- even from omnivores.  

It took forever to find the restaurant, even with the directions that were on their Facebook page, but we finally walked up to find it empty except for the proprietor and another woman (maybe the chef?).  They put their arms up in an "X" position and though smiling said, "No more food.  Free market day.  Many people here.  Food all gone."

Of course.  

Now let me back up a little.  That Saturday was kind of a weird day for me.  I'd gotten up early to make the vegan banana blueberry pancakes that I always make for breakfast on Saturdays, but we left shortly after to cheer on Lilly in a basketball tournament that lasted for most of the day.  So besides the pancake I started the day with, I had only eaten a couple cheese sticks, and a tiny portion of leftovers I scarfed down when we were finally home.  

So now, I was good and hungry.

No, no... I was hangry. I mean, I realize I said I'm not really making plans for this yearbut dinner?  I couldn't even plan on dinner?!!?!  Was it really so preposterous of me to think that I could say, "Tonight, I'm going to go out with my husband to this place and there will actually be food there."?!  To walk into a restaurant that was still open and think that, you know, maybe there'd be SOMETHING TO EAT?!?!?!

Matt led me, fuming, to a nearby convenience store where there were some tables to sit at and bought a couple drinks and a pack of Mentos.  "Want one?" He asked.

"I hate Mentos," I grumbled.  

"I'll get you something else if you want.  Can I interest you in some dried squid?  Kimchi?"

I was in no mood for his jokes.  "No.  I'm starved.  I want real food.  I want dinner."  By now it was after 7, so breakfast, my last real meal, was already roughly a million years ago according to my stomach. I finally caved and popped a couple Mentos into my mouth.

And you know, for all the bad rap high fructose corn syrup and food coloring get.... well, let's just say they have a time and place.  I started to think a little more clearly and went to a Facebook group I'm part of that is specifically for restaurants in Busan.  I searched Namcheon, and to my surprise, there was another vegetarian place.  According to the directions, it wasn't even far away.  We ventured out again, thinking that if nothing else, it was close to the subway, so we could always head to our neighborhood for Plan B (and hopefully the Mentos I'd eaten would keep me alive).

It didn't look promising at first, just another alley with myriad shops lit by neon and fluorescence.  But then I saw a little sign with a tree and the name "Ecotopia".  Just off the alley was the loveliest gem of a restaurant, with a small, walled garden, a chalkboard sign and a bucket of flowers.  The lights were on, and a warm glow emanated from within.  There were tables on the patio that looked perfect for a warmer evening, but since we needed jackets outside, we went inside to the almost-empty restaurant.  Though the sign still said "Open", after the night's adventures, I was feeling pessimistic.
"Open?  Yes?"  The woman nodded, yet I was sure she was going to tell me they were out of food or didn't serve Americans or something.

There was an iPad at the cash register with a menu in Korean, but she touched it quickly, and the language switched to English.  Glory be!
"What can I get you?" She asked.  I wanted to hug her.  All the options looked delicious, but I chose a vegetable gratin and Matt got the cress bibimbap.  We sat down at one of the nearby tables, but the woman said, "You can sit there!" indicating  a small room in the back with a cozy, cushioned bench that wrapped around half of a large table.  There was also a counter facing the window with chairs at it and a vase of flowers,
 but no one else was there.  It was quiet and intimate and perfect for conversation.  When the food arrived a short while later, we were both very happy with our selections.  
Everything was exceptionally delicious -- the gratin fully of garlicky roasted vegetables in a creamy but light sauce, the bibimbap full of flavor and accompanied with a lovely assortment of sides
 -- and we headed home with full stomachs and big smiles.
Our first date was butterflies and sweaty palms.  Don't get me wrong -- that was fun, too. But this date, over twenty years and a thousand inside jokes later, was laughter and conversation that I never want to end, the amazing (saintlike) patience of a man who won't quit until I'm happy, and will pose for 
and take silly pictures for my blog. It's also the knowledge that when I look into his eyes I'm looking at someone who knows me so well it's scary.  Like how a couple Mentos will actually -- sometimes anyway -- make me a better person.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Happy Endings

It's kind of funny when you think back to a year ago, isn't it?  A year ago today we were headed home from an idyllic three days on the Big Island of Hawai'i, and "home" was a beautiful big house on O'ahu with lots of space for my gaggle of kids to safely run around outside with all their many friends. We were filled up with goodness from our little getaway, feeling so happy our cheeks hurt from smiling. 

And then, literally as we were leaving Volcanoes National Park, something really hard happened.  We had a two-and-a-half hour drive back to the airport in Kona along a gorgeous road with breathtaking vistas.  But when I remember that day, honestly, I don't think about those views as much as I remember the lump in my throat and the ache in my chest, the crushing silence in the car, my hollow and awkward attempts to make everyone laugh.  

A couple months later, when we found out we were headed to Korea  I had to get an overseas health screening.  Basically, this is a re-hash of your entire medical history with the doctor to see if there's anything that might be incompatible with living overseas. I can't even tell you how much I was dreading it.  My doctor was exactly my age, a guy who had always seemed good at frank and funny, bad at compassion.  I'm pretty healthy, but my past has a couple big issues: an eating disorder in my early teens that almost cost my life, and a doctor's misdiagnosis that led to three excruciatingly painful days in the hospital seven years ago.  

I didn't want to talk about those things.  Not even a little.  By the time I'd finished telling the doctor, I was crying and shaking.  He was quiet for a minute as I sat on the exam table, twisting the paper towel he'd handed me for my tears in my sweaty hands.

Then he took a deep breath and said slowly, "I can see that was really hard... and very painful... and scary...  But I also look at you and see someone who is very healthy and who has five great kids!  So... I guess what I'm saying is, these are hard stories, but they have a happy ending.  Don't forget that."

I've been thinking about those words for almost a year now, wanting to write about them, but not being sure when or how.  Then today while I was working out, I listened to a podcast I enjoy -- "The Happy Hour" with Jamie Ivey.  She was interviewing Heather Avis  who struggled with infertility for years before adopting three children, two who have Down Syndrome. As I listened, I thought, This woman is awesome.  I wish we were friends.  

She was talking about a book she wrote that comes out next week on World Down Syndrome Day, the title of which is the hashtag she started on Instagram: The Lucky Few.  She also discussed something called the People First language where instead of describing someone by their abilities or conditions, you talk about them as a person first before the condition. For instance, instead of saying "a Down syndrome girl", you say "a girl with Down syndrome".  

I love it.  Isn't this truly what we all need?  I've always been vehemently against labeling my kids as anything like "The Smart One", the "The Athletic One", or "The Difficult One".  I don't want to be defined by what I'm good or bad at, what I've been through, what I can't do or what I struggle with.  I don't want words like "Anorexic" to describe me (which is why I haven't written about it before on this blog), even though my heart shatters every time I hear about someone struggling with an eating disorder because I know that pain so well, and if I could end eating disorders today, I would in a heartbeat. 

But at the same time, when I think about pain in my past, it tends to become my focus rather than the "happy endings", or what happened next.  I let the hard times color my views of the present, if not define my stories, rather than see the healing or how far I've come.    

I've waited so long to write this because for starters, I think of the wounds in the hearts of those who might read this, and I don't want to belittle that or sound like a Pollyanna.  Also, I'm not at all sure how everything I'm dealing with right now will end happily.  I've had days in the past few months when I woke up with a sense of dread, my first conscious thought honestly being, "I wonder what sh!tstorm is going to hit today."  

But I think that's exactly why I need to write this, especially today -- to have it down for myself even if no one else can relate.  What bothered me so much about the first book manuscript I wrote was that it was a total MEmoir -- who did me wrong, caused me pain, etc.  While it ended on a happy note, that's not what I want my story to be.  Similarly, I want to remember the beauty I saw that day a year ago -- acknowledging the pain, but knowing it doesn't define the whole story of that trip or my life since.  

I posted this picture on Instagram (taken on the Big Island) about a week after we got home with a quote from the poet Jack Gilbert, "We must risk delight.  We must have stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world."   

I want mine to be the story of what God did with a very flawed, broken girl, of the many extraordinary people He placed in my life.  I want it to point to His goodness and glory, not mine.   If somehow I can do that, I believe that however the story is written, whether it ever turns into a book or not, it will have a "happy ending".

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Our Kind of March Madness

{Loving the brave little blossoms starting to appear!}

You know the saying, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb"?  Gosh, I hope that's true.  

A week ago Tuesday, I went to a super fun game-turned-karaoke-night with some of my friends here, and as I was walking home, my phone rang.  It was Matt.  "You need to get home right now.  The baby just threw up."

Do I even need to tell you that was an awful night?  Or that the bug had gone through the rest of us by Friday?  So.... yeah.... last week was not my favorite.

And the weird thing is, this is not the first time we've had the stomach flu on these exact dates.  I'm sure because of a picture that popped up on my Facebook timehop, and I remember thinking then how we'd been sick with it before on those dates when we lived in Virginia and also (!!) when we lived in Spain.  It's almost like I should block out the first weeks of March.  "Sorry, we won't be attending ____. That's our annual stomach flu week."

March is... just a weird month.  It's the month my husband was born, so that automatically makes it awesome.  But besides our tendency to get the stomach flu, it's historically been a month with a lot of upheaval -- and I mean that not just in reference to our digestive systems.  One March I left the country of my birth, the place I'd called "home" for almost all of my first 11 years.  One March, I got my braces off and went to youth group, and saw this incredibly cute guy across the room, and because I'd just gotten my braces off, I smiled at him.  It was in a March that I found out my first baby was a girl.  March eight years later, I conceived her second sister. (Sorry, TMI?)  Another March we found out we were moving to Hawaii (two weeks later!!!).  March three years ago started out terrible but ended with the great news that we were moving into the base housing we'd waited almost a year for, a change that brought a whole world of goodness to my time in Hawaii.  The past two Marches (even in otherwise fantastic 2015) were hard, messy low points of the year. Times I think about and kind of shudder, if not actually get a lump in my throat.  

This March will bring more change to our family, probably the news that will decide where Jayna will be attending college this fall.  That, to me, is so weird. 

But I've done a lot of cleaning this week, and with that came a lot of thinking.  And with all that thinking came this blog post, to catch you up on the strange goings-on inside my mind.

I apologize in advance.

1)  I don't share a lot of "what I've learned" posts because I don't usually feel like I can ever say, "Yup, got that down. Check!"  I've been accused of not having a "useful blog" because of this, but I'm sorry.  I don't feel "wise" or "learned" enough in most cases, and writing that kind of thing makes me feel like a fraud.  

Then again, I would probably get more traffic from Pinterest if I retitled my posts things like "How to Plunge Your Toilet Without an Actual Plunger."  How's that for useful?!

But I digress.  And I'm here right now to share one incredibly valuable lesson I've learned, so lean in close.  These gems are few and far between:  

If you think you're going to come down with the stomach flu (or for any other reason find yourself hurling), eat pizza.

I've tested my hypothesis many, many times.  My reasoning is this: you will never not want pizza.  When I was pregnant with Jayna, literally every time I ate pizza for something like five months, I'd throw up.  Did that stop me from eating pizza???  NOT ON YOUR LIFE!!!  Every time someone put pizza in front me, I'd go, "Mmmm, that looks good."  Also, since pizza isn't exactly great for you anyway, if there were a chance you would never eat it again, would that be such a bad thing?  No, right?

Instead, last week I ate a bunch of healthy food, thinking foolishly all the while that the healthy food would keep me... you know, healthy.  It didn't. And now that I have my appetite back, do I want any of that stuff??  Heck no.  I want pizza.

2) Remember my assessment of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) last time I had the stomach flu?  Yep, still true.  It did not prevent my getting it.  BUUUUUT!!!! At Matt's suggestion (he'd read it somewhere), I did drink a dilution of it when I woke up still feeling blah two mornings later, and you know what?  It helped!  I think I was the first to get fully back to speed.  

3) Okay, you probably don't want to read any more about stomach illnesses, so let's talk about bowls.  About five years ago, I bought a big set of plain white Corelle dishes.  They were simple, so they'd go with everything, and they were inexpensive to replace.  Perfect.

But they were a little plain. And I've been wanting something pretty, especially bowls because you use bowls for almost everything, right?

Anyway, I went to Costco one morning a couple weeks ago and found the prettiest bowls for a good price.  The box said there were eight, but when I got home I realized four were small and four were the size I wanted.  

So I went back the next day and bought another box. Then I saw another box just down the aisle, donburi bowls from Japan.  
They were so pretty, and inexpensive, too.  I bought a set.  Did I necessarily "need them"? Well, no.  But every time I open cupboard and see those bowls, I genuinely feel a little happier.  Sometimes I open it just to peek at them.  

I've also started making a point to set the table with them.  One thing I think my family does well is that we commit to dinner time together. There are no electronics, just us and a lot of talking.  We fill our plates in the kitchen, usually, and sit around the table to talk.  It's good as far as being useful and not dirtying too many dishes.  But sometimes I feel like our system makes meals a little more "feeding trough" than "festive", and I want our dinners together to be a celebration of coming together.

The bowls kind of do that for me.  Maybe I'm not so weird?

4) Related: my book club just finished reading Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine.  I'd read it four years ago, but it was fun to read again with friends.  It's kind of a kick-in-the-pants to get you to open your house and practice true hospitality, the "come-as-you-are-and-find-me-as-I-am" kind.  I highly recommend it; I just love her closing words (they're not a spoiler, you need the rest, trust me): "If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. Come to the table."

So tell me, friends.  How have you been?  What have you read?  And most importantly, seen any pretty bowls lately?