Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I Saw the Sign

It was a very normal day.  There I was at the Daiso, which is the Dollar Store here but way better.  Annalee was with me and needed a nap.  I was thinking about dinner and the kids and what time my husband was likely to get home.  As I perused the aisles looking for a new liquid soap dispenser, I saw it.  There, like a message from above, was a toilet seat with lid inscribed with these most inspiring words: “Find joy in the ordinary”.  

I just have to say, one of my favorite things about living overseas is the signage.  It adds so much delight to my life.

Well, okay, I can’t lie: as a foreigner, some of the signs are downright confusing.  Do I push or pull?

Is it a yes or a no?  
Am I coming or going?  
Also, and maybe most importantly, what time is 24:07?
I sure could use an extra seven minutes in my day!

I know how easy it is to misinterpret language especially on menus (says the vegetarian who once ordered a giant leg of lamb) (and that was before Google Translate came along and further muddled things), but these do not sound appetizing. At all.

Also, I went down this aisle many times but never could find the sand among the biscuits, candy, and chocolate.  Probably for the best!!

Some of the signs make me think Koreans just get me.  

Coffee — okay, usually tea for me — is magic! 
 “Strange but sweet”, seen on a bag of apples, is probably the three-word description most people would use for me (except for maybe certain taxi drivers in Shanghai).   And I’m pretty sure I’ve given people the exact warning on this rotti bun bag: “Don’t bite me or you will love me.”

There was this sign, which sounds like good advice,
 but makes me worry a little about what happens when they’re over two.

Other signs make me think they’re just trying to ruin all my fun.
 If I can’t feed fingers to the petting zoo, what even is the point in going?  Then again, they do want me to provoke the animals, and that could be entertaining.

Some of the signs make me laugh just because.  

I can’t really explain it. 

Some are hilarious in an absolutely terrifying way, like this one at the dentist above a picture of a titanium screw going into a gum.  “Have a health & Shiny tooth.  All the happiness in the world, Your smile is started.”
The best I’ve ever seen, though, was a year ago, when I was having so much trouble with our property manager in Busan.  It had been a long week of endlessly drying windows like it was my job, and there were several other things weighing heavily on my mind.  That’s when I looked up in the elevator and saw this gem.  Most of it is... well, a bit puzzling, to say the least.  But one part is crystal clear.  

I actually doubled over laughing right there in the elevator.

Here’s the thing: I love these signs because they are actual signs — reminders — that I should always keep my eyes open.  I mean, sure, I don’t usually lift the lid of the toilet seat and find joy in what’s underneath.  In fact, sometimes what I find there can be really stressful.  Unless I really need to go — that has definitely happened!  All joking aside, though, there’s almost always something beautiful, hilarious, or poignant to see as long as I don’t get bogged down and forget to look around me.

Still, if you lift the lid of your toilet seat and find me… send help.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Best Things I Bought in 2018

Not gonna lie: I’ve had a lot of buyer’s remorse in my life.  Like my first car, and the piano that cost more than my wedding, to name two, and all the high heels I’ve ever bought.  But every now and then, I buy something and think, Good move, Joy. 

Like this past weekend... it was warmer!  After a month of freezing or below temperatures, it was the low 40’s Fahrenheit.  Buuuut, Korea is experiencing its unfortunately all-to-frequent bad air quality days.  The current Air Quality Index (AQI) was over 180 today last I checked, so the kids have been indoors.  I think we might all be kind of losing our minds at the moment, except for Christmas we gave the kids something that I think is pretty ingenious.  (See below!)  And that got me to thinking about the things I got this year that were actually great buys.  

Please understand, I’m definitely not advocating thoughtless consumerism or filling your house with more clutter — that’s not what this blog is about.  These are just things that have made my life/ sanity/ health/ the environment better — in other words, brought me joy.  I wanted to tell you about them in case you have maybe have some extra Christmas money or gift cards to spend, or are just looking for some darn good ideas.

1 — Reusable produce bags.  It’s been growing inside of me, this sort of mix of panic and disgust at the amount of plastic in our lives.  I’ve read about how little of it is actually recycled and how plastic is showing up in everything — yep, everything.  When I went to Haedong Yongungsa, the Temple by the Sea in Busan, I was so disheartened to see an enormous table completely covered with plastic cups and straws from caf├ęs very near the entrance.  There was a garbage can right beside it — which is a rare sight in Korea — but it was overflowing with the same.  It was such a jarring picture, something so ugly next to something so beautiful, and especially given the proximity to the ocean and knowing the dangers of plastic to marine life.  But moreover, it was just the excess of plastic and the awareness that this was just the tiniest fraction of what is used worldwide.  So at that moment, I decided to start doing more to curb my own plastic consumption, a decision I referenced in my last post.  One step I took was purchasing these reusable produce bags.  I was already using reusable shopping bags, but still stuck my produce in those filmy plastic ones that come off the roller in the store.  These are great — very sturdy and easy to see through.  I thought the cashiers would say something about them, but so far, no one has batted an eyelash.  I love them!  I plan to buy more soon.   

2 — Cloth handkerchiefs.  So along these lines, I also thought I would get myself some cloth handkerchiefs.  My parents’ colleagues during my childhood were almost all British and Australians, and they used cloth hankies.  So this seemed like an obvious, easy choice to me.  I was surprised by some of the comments I got, though, about them: “Gross.”  “So, like, you just keep using those all day?  How is that sanitary?” It’s really no less sanitary than a Kleenex if you think about it, though.  I think the real problem is that we’ve come to think of disposable as cleaner (I got the same kind of comments when I cloth-diapered).  The only slight problem I have with them is that they are definitely bulkier than Kleenex, but I think that’s something I’m okay with.

3 — These reusable shopping bags.  I almost forgot to mention these, but then I was using them yesterday and two people asked about them.  I have bigger bags that I typically use for groceries, but sometimes I forget to grab them from the car.  These fit in my purse — okay, fine, mom bag — and I use them all the time and love them so much.  

4 — Tea Tree Shampoo from Maple Holistics.  I have a really sensitive, problematic scalp.  I used wash it every day with regular shampoo (i.e. the kind with sulfates and parabens and everything scary), but got red painful bumps, almost like it was breaking out.  When I switched to a sulfate-free shampoo, it was better but never great, becoming greasy when I didn’t wash every day.  Enter these shampoos from Maple Holistics.  I’ve tried the Sage and the Degreaser and also like them a lot, but this is my favorite.  I can easily go 2-3 days between washes using them, which is supposed to be better for your hair and scalp.  I use it on my kids too. Our hair is soft and healthy, and I’m so glad I found these.

5 — Manuka honey bandaids.  When Lilly cut her foot this past summer, I followed the doctor’s orders to a tee, but it just looked like it wasn’t healing right.  Every time I changed the dressing we were that much closer to returning to Korea, and my stress level about the possibility of complications while traveling was going up.  We were staying at my sister’s house, and she told me about how my brother-in-law had used manuka honey bandaids after an impressive spill on his bike earlier in the summer, and how they’d made such a difference.  I kept saying that no, I’d stick to what the doctor gave me, thank you.  But finally, I was desperate enough to give her idea a try.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that the next time I changed the dressing there was a noticeable improvement.  By the following day, it looked completely different.  I keep a stock of these now because I cannot believe how much they helped, and I cannot recommend them enough.

6 — Atlas Obscura: Explorers Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.  Wyatt is obsessed with geography, and I have acquired a few great atlases this year as I homeschool him.  But I thought this would be a fun bonus for him, and I gave it to him for his birthday.  It was one of his favorite gifts, and honestly, the whole family — my parents included — enjoys reading it!  If you or someone you know is a geography nut, don’t miss this book!

7 — These “bean” bags

Lilly gets the credit for this discovery.  She was trying to figure out a good place to store her stuffed animals when she came across these.  Hanging things on walls is not a great option in Korea (concrete covered in really delicate wallpaper!), so those toy hammocks wouldn’t work.  Plus we always seem to need more seating anyway.  She asked if we could get one and after reading about them, I bought three.  We have stuffies we can’t part with, plus beloved baby blankets, plus sleeping bags and spare pillows, and only so much storage space.  These were the perfect solution.  Everything is easily accessible for sleepovers and movies nights, but also tucked away and providing bonus seating when we need to flop over and read.  As I write this, I think we actually need one more!

8 — This indoor gym.  This thing is saving our collective sanity this weekend!  I came across it when I was looking for homeschool supplies last fall, and I told Matt, “I think we need this.”  He took one look and said, “BUY IT!!!  NOW!!!”  It comes with a rope ladder, a swing, a trapeze bar, and a gymnastics rings that can be changed out, and you can install it or take it down in a flash.One caveat: the only door it fits in our whole house is in one bathroom because Korea.  I think in most stateside houses it would be fine.  Due to this issue, we almost returned it.  But now, a few weeks later, I’m so glad we kept it.  It’s kept the kids busy getting their wiggles out, given them “vestibular stimulation” (which my OT mom and sister tell me is muy importante for all kids), and has caused plenty of fights about whose turn it is to use.  Sure they’re swinging by the toilet, but it’s things like that that keep life interesting, right?


So there you have it, the 8 best things I bought in 2018!  How about you?  Did you find something that was a total game-changer?  I’d love to hear!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Good Look Around: 2018

Can I be really honest?  New Year’s resolutions kind of terrify me.  Everyone has been posting about motivation and “hustle” and setting goals for this year, and even though I’m doing all those things too, I start questioning myself.  Am I aiming high enough?  Too unrealistically high?  What if I fail?  What if I look stupid?

Now it’s January 4th.  2019 is already old enough for me to have done some regular things, like working out and homeschooling, to say or do things I regret (am I the only one?), and to implement the things I’m trying for the new year.  In case you’re like me, I’m writing down my “to-done list” for 2018 — the things I did well, and the things I could have done better — and some of what I’m working on in 2019, plus some thoughts that really did motivate and encourage me with the hope that they encourage you as well.

In 2018, I:

— maintained a pretty healthy lifestyle.  Don’t get me wrong: we have and love our treats.  But I stuck to my plant-based diet and worked out for at least half an hour at least five times a week, even when I was traveling last summer and moving to our new home without Matt.  It keeps me sane, and I’m glad I did it.

— blogged more than I did last year, which was one of my goals.  I hope to do even better this year, but at least I managed to do at least one post a month.

— read more books last year!  I read 25 books for myself, and 18 read-alouds to my kids.  Considering that 4 of those read-alouds were realllllyyyyy long Harry Potter books, and there were some others that were a hefty length as well, I am pretty happy with this.  But this is only one more book for myself than last year.  I’d like to hit 30 books for myself this year, and at least 18 again for the kids. 

— started homeschooling again with Lilly, Wyatt, and Annalee.  This hasn’t always been an easy choice, and time and again it’s meant doing things that maybe didn’t make sense to other people, even those within the homeschool community, but I feel like we are starting this year on the right foot.

took my kids to three countries, and four if you count the time I was at the DMZ and stepped across the border into North Korea.  They didn’t all turn out the way I wanted; I came home from one of those trips reeking of vomit that was not my own.  But I’m so glad we did them.  I’d love to do more travel with the kids this year, and we are talking about some trips — hopefully more with Matt, too.

— participated in Dressember.  I’m not very good at sticking to something for 31 days (I’m looking at you, 31 Days of Blogging 2014!!!).  But I actually did this.  I wore a dress every day in the month of December in an attempt to raise awareness about human trafficking and funds to help fight it.  There’s so much I learned that I am going to make this a separate blog post, but the fundraising side of it is continuing through January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so consider popping over to my fundraising page to learn more.

A few things I’m working on this year:

— being on time to things.  Matt is one of those people who, if he’s not half an hour early, he considers himself late.  I’m more like the shows-up-10-minutes-late-(at-least) kind of person.  It’s caused some tension in our marriage, to be honest.  If I have an appointment or meeting prior to 10 am, it’s almost impossible for me to get there on time, at least with all my kids and looking presentable.  But we had a weekly homeschool activity at 9 am, and twice I was actually on time to it, having worked out and showered and fed everyone. (*bows to [imagined] thunderous applause and roses thrown onto stage*)   I felt so good about it, I kind of told everyone about it, and realized I wanted to keep doing that more. 

— writing more.  I did 38 blog posts in 2018; I’m shooting for 40.  Moreover, though, I am shooting for at least twenty minutes of writing a day.  Of course, I’d like to do more, but this would be a good minimum if I actually did that every day.

— keeping a prayer journal.  A few years ago, I did this and did it well.  I’d write three things I was grateful for and then write my prayer requests.  I found the last one I did the other day and realized how badly I need to start this up again.

— being kinder to the planet.  Last year I got to this point of being really fed up with the amount of plastic in my life, so I’ve been working on ways to reduce that (more on this coming!).  After participating in Dressember, I’m also looking especially hard at ethical business practices, and the companies that implement them also tend to be “greener”.  I’ve already started scrutinizing what I purchase as a result, even not buying things because of what I learned, and I plan to continue down this path.  It’s hard to put a number on this.  I wanted to say, “I will buy nothing made of plastic this year!” except I realized how hard it would be to follow through.  I mean, even dental floss comes with plastic!  But I’m committing to some practices that I plan to tell you more about soon.

A couple things have quieted my resolution fear these past few days.  First, I remembered the words in Love Does that Bob Goff writes, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”  I want to be sure I have time to hug my babies (even the adult one!) and have real conversations with my husband because it’s so easy to feel disconnected in the busyness of our lives.  I want to have more play dates with friends because they’re good for my kids and me.  I want to give more to things that matter to my heart.

Finally, something that has struck me over and over again in the past year, is my gratitude for my friends, for people who love me in spite of myself.  In 2018, I had a chance to connect with people who knew me when I would say I was at my very worst — when you’d look up “hot mess” in the dictionary and there’d be a big picture of me with a neon highlighter encircling it.  These people spoke truth into my life then and loved me. Last year, through the littlest words that maybe they didn’t even realize meant so much, they spoke truth again that managed to both humble me —“How could someone love even me?”— and build me up — “I’m truly loved”.  

I had plenty of challenges this past year, too.  I struggled with wondering if what I do matters; I heard the message loud and clear that I was failing.  But then as we watched It’s a Wonderful Life in December, the note Clarence leaves George in the copy of Tom Sawyer really stuck out to me:

“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

My hope is that whatever 2019 has in store for you and me, we remember this (a quote originally attributed to Mark Twain) and remember that we are loved, and we strive to be good friends and speak words of life and truth and love to others.  I believe if we do that, failure is impossible.