Thursday, August 30, 2018

Two Years, No Dryer

I realized something big had changed one morning last fall.  We were staying in a hotel, and I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me.  It was soft.  And my first honest-to-goodness, panicked thought was, Oh my gosh, has someone else used this towel?!

By then, I’d done laundry for at least six people (seven most of that time, and nine when my parents were visiting) in an apartment without a dryer.  And if you’ve ever hung towels to dry, you know that when they are dry, they aren’t soft.  They’re scratchy.  You remove the top layer of skin using them.  And then, apparently, you start to equate “scratchy” with “clean”.  

The two-year anniversary of our arrival in Busan passed a couple weeks ago, and then last week, I left Busan for our new home about four hours away.  And after moving in, something huge happened: I got a dryer.  

I don’t really like to write “what I learned” posts.  My fingers suddenly freeze above the keyboard as I think, Did I really learn?  Can I speak with any authority on this matter?  What if ____ happened?  Would I stand by my words?

But the truth is, these past two years have really changed me. I have learned a lot, and it kind of all comes down to lessons from my dryer — or rather, lack thereof.  Now, I know there are much more difficult things to survive than the absence of a dryer in one’s life.  In fact, I actually used drying racks and clotheslines prior to my move to Korea because it saves a lot of money in electricity bills and is good for the environment as well as your clothes.  I’ll still use my drying rack frequently, I’m sure.

But there are two important factors that set apart my Busan experience from those previous ones.  First, my clotheslines and drying racks were usually outside in the sun (and the occasional, unfortunate downpour).  That, come to find out, makes a huge difference.  And second, I did have the dryer to use on bedding and towels and other items that take a long time to dry.  

So if you will bear with me, here’s how living in an apartment in Korea, without a dryer, has changed me.

1. I learned to think outside the box more.

There is both an art and a science to drying clothes quickly indoors.  You have to make sure nothing is folded over on itself.  You have to turn clothes over to make sure they dry on both sides.  Laundry is your job, and you have to treat it accordingly.  Fans help; dehumidifiers help more.  When you run out of room on your drying rack, use lampshades, chairs, and the back of the couch.

Similarly, I found myself thinking of new ways to handle a variety of problems.  When my property manager told me he wouldn’t replace my oven, I honestly started thinking (with the help of my friends) of ways I might be able to survive without an oven.  (Thankfully I didn’t have to!). I missed having a yard to for the kids to play in — so, so much — but we got creative with our indoor space, and had fun at kid cafes or parks.  Our playground time with friends was a lifesaver.


2. I learned to notice beauty in surprising places. 

It was definitely weird: I started having these moments when I’d hang the laundry and suddenly think, How pretty.  Maybe it was the mix of patterns within a color of the load I’d washed — I really can’t say.  I wondered if anyone else would see the beauty if I left the rack in the living room when company came... Yeah, probably not.

Other scenes began to strike me as beautiful too, in ways they never had before, like the crowded store fronts I passed on narrow crooked back streets, or fruit and vegetables laid out by vendors near the subway station, or this little tiny garden patch in front of a wall on the drive to my kids’ school.  In some of the other places I’ve lived, like Hawaii, it was ridiculously easy to see the beauty around me.  But finding beauty in surprising places is finding an entirely new and special treasure.

3. I don’t say “I can’t/ don’t do that.” so much now.  

This is probably the hardest part for me to write because I know full well that there many things worse than having no dryer.  But still... it’s true.  Since I took the apartment without a dryer, it would seem that I knew what I was getting into.  (Yes, some apartments in Busan do in fact have  them!)  I just didn’t realize quite how hard it would be.  It wasn’t the first time I’d done it, but I caught vomit in my hands so that it wouldn’t get on the comforter — because how would I ever wash that out in my tiny washing machine, let alone get it dry?!  I learned how to get three whole loads washed and dried in a day. That felt like a huge accomplishment worthy of a Facebook post or maybe even skywriting because before Busan, I think I would have said, “No dryer for two years?!  For a family of seven?! I can’t do that!”

There are, in fact, so many things I would have chosen not to go through.  Earthquakes experienced more than twenty floors up, trying to get medical help when there were no English speakers, and smaller things like parking in tiny spaces deep in a basement garage.  (Claustrophobia, anyone?) Learning to back into those minuscule spots in my old minivan that doesn’t have a backup camera, driving through busy intersections with blind corners that have no signal lights.  There are also the hilarious moments I’d have missed if I’d said “No” when we first found out we were moving here, like browsing a catalogue of feminine products in the middle of a busy store.

And then there’s this:

4. I’ve thought even more about must-haves and what is enough.

Being born and raised in Bangladesh definitely shaped my view what what true “must-haves” are.  But it’s also easy to forget, and I can be just as fast as the next girl to justify luxuries in my life, saying, “I deserve this.”  My two years without a dryer brought into sharp relief the fact that what myself and many of my peers consider “standard living items” are in fact so much more than what others have to live with.  When I’m asking God for something — even health or safety — I find myself thinking, Who am I to think that should be mine? 

I can’t imagine our lives now without the two-year Busan chapter.  I’ve thought back several times to the Sunday before we found out we were coming here.  We were at church, singing Oceans by Hillsong United, which we’d sung a thousand times at least already.  And as I sang the line “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.  Your sovereign hand will be my guide,” I was surprised by tears that suddenly filled my eyes and goosebumps crept up my arms.  I wondered what in the world was going on.

All that day and the next, I felt apprehensive, like something big was about to happen.  I thought maybe there would be an earthquake, or one of the kids was going to get sick or hurt, or something terrible would happen to our family back home.  When I fell asleep I was fully expecting to be woken by one of the kids having a fever, or something worse.  But after a good night’s sleep, I thought maybe everything was all right after all.  

And then Matt called and said, “Korea.”  

These were deep waters, but God’s grace has yet again amazed me. I feel stronger than I did before, but I know it’s only and all because of Him.

Last week, when we got our new dryer (it runs on gas, which I heard/ hope is cheaper), did I actually dance like a fool around the house? Um, yes.  Did I tear up a little?  Well, what can I say? I’m a cryer.  Did I wrap my arms around the dryer and give it a hug?  You betcha.  When I pulled the first load of towels out, all warm and soft and fragrant, did I bury my face in them and say, “Thank You, thank You, God.”?  Absolutely. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Crazy for AZ

“So you guys were just like, ‘Hey, let’s go to Arizona?’”

Matt and I looked at each other awkwardly as the waitress in the Thai restaurant where we’d just finished a late lunch asked us this and laughed.  “Um, yeah,” he answered, “pretty much.”

“Okay.”  She clearly wasn’t sure what to think of us.  We’d just shared a bit of our story — that we were living in South Korea and were in the States for a bit of vacation.  Outside, the sky was turning a brownish-gray as a thick cloud of dust preceded the afternoon thunderstorm.  One could see why she might question our logic.

It was true: this wasn’t our ideal vacation.  We’d had more grandiose plans but had changed them when we realized Jayna couldn’t come with us so that we could see her on the weekends that bookended the time Matt was going to be stateside with us.  Arizona was close enough for an easy roadtrip — and you should know by now that we love our roadtrips! — with interesting things to do for a relatively low price.  

Our arrival in Phoenix was heralded by the first big thunderstorm of the season.  I love a good thunderstorm, so I was pretty pumped — right up until hail started pelting our rental car! It turned out to be an unusually strong and detrimental storm.  We spotted several uprooted trees and broken branches, and as we watched the evening news in our hotel that night, we heard of damage to homes and businesses in the area.

But thanks to the storm, the next day was relatively cool (for July), around 90 F.  We headed to McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.  

The museum was closed that day, but the younger kids had fun riding the little train around and playing at the very cute Wild West-themed playground.  
But their favorite part of it was the diorama room, located in a very large building and filled with dozens of model trains.  It was really amazing, and the kids could have spent hours there. Bonus: air conditioning!
We headed to Gravity Extreme Zone next, a huge indoor gym with activities like a ropes course and zip line, slide wall, huge trampolines and foam pits, and an enormous rock wall.  All four kids had a great time there.  

Our next two nights we stayed at the Arizona Grand Resort which has a small water park attached.  We all felt that it was a little overhyped/ overpriced.  There were really just three water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool.  It was fun, but we could have stayed in a hotel with more practical amenities (like free breakfast, which is huge when you’re traveling with kids!) and bought tickets to another water park and probably had more fun for less money.  But we enjoyed spending the evenings on the lazy river or in the wave pool.  (I realized after the fact that I didn’t take a single picture there.)

During the day, when the sun was at its hottest, we headed to the Arizona Museum of Natural History

This was a big hit with my dinosaur-obsessed youngest two especially. 
But there was plenty of other interesting exhibits, including a large section devoted to the native tribes of the southwest and another to mining.  A part of the museum even includes the old jail which was used up until the 1970’s.  There were so many hands-on activities, like piecing together broken pottery, 

trying to replicate the pattern on a Navajo blanket using colored tiles, and panning for “gold”

We left the Phoenix area the next day and headed north to Flagstaff.  On our way, we stopped at the Montezuma Castle National Monument.  

This was a very short but interesting walk, reinforcing memories and history lessons from two years ago when we went to Mesa Verde.  Next we went through Sedona and hiked Bell Rock. 
 Thunderstorms were all around us, so we had to keep moving a little faster than we’d have liked, but the views were absolutely breathtaking.  

All of us felt that a stop at Slide Rock State Park was a must, so that is where we had our picnic lunch.  

The kids had a great time (except for Annalee — she was not a fan!), but if there were a time when I’d have thought for sure we were going to end up in the Emergency Room, it would have been here (not in the peaceful lake that did land us there!).  Lilly was the first one in the water, and just as I asked, “Is it slippery?” she went down!  It seemed like every time I turned my head someone was either falling or tending to someone who had fallen!  Wyatt whacked his head pretty hard, too.  But I think even with the bumps and scrapes we got, that was one of our favorite stops. 

We spent the night in Flagstaff and headed west again fairly early.  On a whim, we stopped at Bearizona, a park with a zoo and a drive-thru part with bears and other animals roaming freely.  

It was fun, but a little nerve-wracking since, again, we were in a rental car and there were warning signs everywhereabout the bears trying to get into cars. 
But we escaped unscathed and drove further, stopping for lunch in Seligman, a cute little town on Route 66.  
It’s kind of just a photo opp stop, but as a clear inspiration for the Cars franchise, it was a lot of fun too.

We drove into the sunset, back to California and Jayna filled with happy memories of saguaros standing tall on jagged mountains, red rocks and gray clouds, and so much more.  It felt too soon to leave, but now we know places to go back to and keep exploring!

If you’re going: during the summer months, at least, Hotwire seems to be a great way to score good deals on rooms.  Our first night in Phoenix, we stayed at a well-rated Embassy Suites for about $60.  Prices are probably more when it’s not quite as hot.

Also, the Thai place I mentioned at the beginning of this is truly some of the best.  Thai Delight.  Do not miss it if you’re in the Phoenix area!!!  The family that owns and runs it is also incredibly kind.  If at all possible, leave room for dessert because the house-made mango-and-coconut ice cream is absolutely heavenly!