Return to Yongwon Street

Busan

Today was incredible, and like most of my time since arriving in Korea last Friday, today I was once again reminded of how very lucky I am. I am writing this blog post from the comfort of my room on the 26th floor of the five-star hotel where I am staying in the southern port city of Busan, South Korea. Normally more than I would spend on myself, I justified the decision to stay at this rather fancy hotel as an early 40th birthday present to myself, and to commemorate my return to this city 10 years since leaving it. I used to live and work in this area until I decided it was time for me to return home to the United States in 2007.

And to this day, I still believe my decision to leave Korea when I did was the right choice to make. After 5 years in the country, I was missing the comforts of the United States, I missed friends and family, I missed weddings and babies and felt my career would not grow unless I moved back home. And so I did.

It wasn’t until a year ago that I started having these recurring dreams about being back in Korea. They were dreams of being once again in Seoul and Busan, the two cities I lived in during my time here, and these dreams simply wouldn’t go away. For the past year, I have been having them about once every two weeks, and I knew deep down inside the only way to make them go away was to return to these cities ASAP. Continue reading

Sometimes You Just Need to Splurge

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Funny how society has wired us to feel as if we need to justify splurging. I don’t understand why we have to, although I’m just as guilty of doing it myself. The fact of the matter is, sometimes you just need to splurge. And splurging, I have found, means something different to each person depending on lifestyle, income, values, etc.

As for me, there are a few things I will splurge on from time to time, most of them contributing to the sanctuary I have turned my condo into (I tend to spend more time at home vs. going out these days, and I absolutely love it!): Continue reading

Simply Being (Self Care and a Sunday Evening Reset)

If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. 

— Inflight passenger announcement

This weekend I have done absolutely nothing noteworthy. I didn’t go out, I didn’t meet friends, I saw no interesting movies, read no fascinating books, and engaged in no intriguing discussions. With the exception of about one hour of telework that I needed to complete on Saturday, I indulged in guilty pleasures both on Netflix and through my reading material choices; I tried to eat healthy (didn’t always succeed); and made it to the gym each day (a small victory that I’ll take). But other than that, this weekend has been a total reset for me, both physically and mentally, and it continues to this very moment, right now on a Sunday night.

Continue reading

Why the China is on the table and not in the closet

Finally, fall has come to Wyndham Circle and life is glorious on this easy-going Sunday afternoon. I have the balcony doors wide open and a cool, dry air is circulating throughout the condo. I’m sitting in my favorite comfy armchair with my laptop on my lap and a Spotify acoustic mix softly playing in the background. It’s just me and Soju the Cat, and both of us are enjoying the rare peace of a clean, quiet home.

As I recently turned 39, I’ve noticed my values changing. I spend more money on making my home a warmer, more tranquil place rather than going out to eat or having cocktails with friends. I’m using my vacation days at work and I’m rarely checking email over the weekend. I take the bus to the office, a longer commute than the metro but a more relaxing experience to start my day, and I’ve found a hobby that has kept me occupied, challenged, learning and creative all at the same time.

I have also come to realize that time passes by way too quickly. Last night I took advantage of a dining set sale at World Market and purchased a collection of plates I have been eyeballing for a few years now. Upon seeing my latest purchase, J. Miguel commented that now we have dinnerware for special occasions. I think my response surprised him a bit. “These are not for special occasions,” I told him in all seriousness. “These are our daily use. Life is too short to keep such beautiful dishes in storage until ‘just the right time.'” And I meant it.

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While there is a sentimental sense of “sweetness” to saving precious things for just the right moment, there is also the tragic reality that by doing so, we are denying ourselves simple pleasures during our short time on this earth. Why do we only wear our best clothes to church? Why do we only put fresh flowers in our homes when guests come over? Why do we use the nice dinnerware on holidays and special occasions? Why can’t every day be filled with little joys?

I understand such traditions are what make certain moments even more special. They are indeed what made my childhood so magical. But I also realize the world is different now from how it was when I was a child, and that we can’t take everything for granted. And for this reason, I am not saving my best dinnerware for special occasions or my nicest clothes for church. I am going to embrace each day as much as I can, even through the tiniest acts, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

 

Reflections During the Waning Dog Days of Summer

Life has started to slow down here on Wyndham Circle. While tiny signs of fall have struggled to emerge, they have been quickly stomped out by summer’s jealous heat and humidity. The DC area is a former swamp, after all.

Today I am indulging in a day off from work. Part of the reason is because my new accent chair was to be delivered today, but the biggest reason is that I simply needed a break. Time is precious. Work is important but so is free time to do what I want, even if it is nothing at all.

I have a colleague at work with ties to North Africa and Italy. He works in the peace building space with a focus on Libya and North Africa and the roles Europe and the United States play in the efforts to relieve the political turmoil taking place in that part of the world. Yesterday he told me about a friend of his who like him, is also an Italian working on the ground in areas of strife and unrest. This particular friend of his survived the war and violence of Afghanistan, the dangerous environment of North Africa, and the ferociousness of much of the Middle East only to come home to Italy after working in these areas of tumult so he could be killed in his own bed under his own roof during one of the strongest earthquakes Italy has seen in recent history. “Death has a strange sense of humor,” my colleague told me somberly.

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My office for today is my small, but comfortable home. My company is my cat and the friends I am calling who I have not spoken to in months. I am reminded that days like this should be treasured.

I remember his words on my day off work, during these waning dog days of summer; a day when I have peace and quiet, calmness and contentment and not the stress and exhaustion that is part of my daily job. I am spending this day in my small but beautiful home, enjoying my time on this earth and the simple pleasures that come with it. I am calling friends I have not seen or spoken to in ages. I am eating healthy food that also brings me delight. I am thinking how wonderful it is that I have been blessed to enjoy days like this when there are so many people in this world who are truly suffering. I am remembering that life is like the Wheel of Fortune. Some days/months/years are good and happy ones and some are difficult, depressing and severe, but that nothing—except death—is permanent. And for that reason, nothing should be taken for granted.

Enjoy the simple pleasures in your life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Seasonal Shifts

This time of year in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, something shifts in the atmosphere. It’s very slight, but also very noticeable. The sun’s patterns begin to change, the nights get a shade darker, the air oh-so-graudally begins to dry out. The mornings are a tinge cooler, the evenings a little more comfortable. It’s not so much that the seasons begin to change this time in August as much as it is the fact that summer is simply coming to an end.

I’ve seen this subtle transformation take place in different parts of the world, and I’ve seen how different cultures respond to it. In Kyrgyzstan where I did my Peace Corps service, the people of the Chui Valley start the canning process, preserving their fruits and vegetables while the harvest is plentiful and healthy. Beets, onions, berries, cherries, pickles, carrots and peaches. All of it stuffed tightly into jars with salts and seasonings, sugars and spices, stored away for those long winter days and nights that are not too far away.

In South Korea, you know summer is coming to an end when you start to see red chili peppers drying out in the sun on top of blankets and tarps spread out on the sidewalks. No doubt these fiery delights are being prepped for the autumnal kimchi crop, soon to be packed into clay pots along with a variety of salts and seasonings where they will ferment with a mixture of cabbage, scallions, and sometimes dried fish, all part of the age-old process of producing one of the country’s traditional side dishes—a product of huge national pride.

Yes, there are many ways the world reacts to the end of summer.

Soju on the rug

This year in our home, the end of summer coincides with our continuous home decorating efforts. Our bare condo is slowly showing signs of warmth and comfort, and even though our work would have taken place no matter what time of year I purchased and moved into the place, the “nesting” activities only further emphasize the coming fall ahead. Just a few days ago the new braided rug arrived for the master bedroom, covering the hard bamboo floors with a cushion of softness and traditional coziness, reminiscent of my childhood days growing up in rural Minnesota in a home full of beautiful braided rugs, often with a dog lying on top. Of course, now that I am on my own the dog has been replaced a cat, but the tradition of creating an inviting sense of warmth that was so prominent in my childhood house continues in my “adult” abode.

I’ve even noticed my music playlist gradually changing. The Nicki Minaj, Enrique Iglesias, SWAAY and Jason Derulo tunes are being swapped out for James Taylor, Nora Jones, The Zach Brown Band and Alison Krauss songs. And alas, the kitchen table is not being spared either as it sees less watermelon and more spaghetti squash.

Summer is ending. What changes are you making as you prepare for the transition into fall?

Today I Bought Myself Flowers

As a city person, I consider buying fresh flowers a luxury. It’s almost along the same line as paying for a manicure or pedicure—it can be a lot of money for temporary pleasure.

Ever since the home buying process began, I’ve been living frugally, waiting for my finances to even out. On top of buying a home, the physical acts of moving and getting settled in can add up in expenses. And until I finish unpacking my last box and moving in that last piece of furniture (which will be next weekend with the couch and accent chair) I will continue to forbid myself the indulgence of pretty nails—nails that will only be destroyed with the manual labor involved with “settling in.”

Flowers

Table flowers

But I let myself slip today with the flowers. And they weren’t that expensive, to be honest. (Although if I add them to my weekly shopping list like I’d like to, it could get scary.) But I made an exception today. The condo was looking stark without living room furniture and needed some color and sophistication that only a vase of fresh flowers could bring, so I broke down and bought two bouquets at Whole Foods today, slipping them into my favorite vase at home.

As I admired them throughout the afternoon, pleased with my splurge, I came to the conclusion that it’s important to buy oneself flowers every once in a while. And they don’t have to be flowers literally and it doesn’t have to be something that can be bought. The point is to once in a while allow yourself to experience something simple that brings you pleasure, a treat you wouldn’t ordinarily indulge in but one that makes you happy.

Today it was flowers. Next week, it might be donuts, who knows? What was your “flower purchase” today?