Confessions of a recovering control freak

One of the biggest challenges I frequently encounter is how to keep my routine without being too rigid about it. Teaching has been one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done, hands down. But finding routine and rhythm in the middle of the epic to-do list and other demands in life WITHOUT driving myself insane in the process has become a holy grail quest for me.

Lately, I have been working to be more intentional with my time–to use what breaks, gaps I have to do something that will make it just a little easier to relax at the end of the day, or that will help bring that end closer faster.

A few things I’ve picked up along the way have been ideas like batch cooking. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind eating the same meal a few (several?) days in a row, doing one round of cooking on a Sunday afternoon will save so much time during the week. I like hard boiled eggs at breakfast, so cooking a dozen or so on Sunday takes me 10 minutes and means I don’t have to really make myself breakfast on school days when I’m just trying to stumble out of bed. I’ve also portioned out oatmeal into small containers to take to work–I use the hot water in the water cooler and in a minute, I’m eating breakfast at my desk while I open up my work for the day. It doesn’t seem glamorous or exciting by any stretch, but simply not having to think about what to do about breakfast is easier and feels like less of an interruption to my already-struggling-to-wake-up brain.

Gretchen Rubin is an interesting thought leader that I’ve really appreciated over the last couple of years and her one-minute rule has been invaluable. Essentially, if I can do it in less than a minute, I don’t delay. At the end of the day, I spend less than a minute going to the closet, grabbing an outfit that looks good and putting it on the hook next to my bed. Or I throw baggies/containers of my pre-cut veggies, pre-made meals and throw them in a bag in the fridge so all I have to do is grab them on the way out the door in the morning. I don’t know exactly how much *time* I’m necessarily saving, but it makes my mornings smoother, which speaks for itself.

The part where I struggle, though, is in feeling not-so-flustered when something (inevitably) crops up and rustles the apples in the cart. I take a backpack to school that usually has my computer, datebook/notebook, iPod, exercise clothes, and any resources I need for any tutoring or lessons I might have that day. The day goes: walk to work, teach classes, read or study Korean at lunch, finish school, go straight to the gym, exercise and shower, go to tutoring and then come home to practice guitar/read a book/watch some TV with Jerry. At least, that’s the ideal routine when I’m not realizing that I’ve forgotten a sports bra (BIG FAIL) or left my breakfast at home (minor fail).

Blame my control-freak, anal-retentive tendencies. I like to think I thrive on routine, but when something throws me off of the routine early in the week, it feels like the consequences ripple all the way through to Friday. If I don’t spend time doing my meal/snack prep on Sunday, by Friday, I’ve gone a week with running to the on-campus convenience store for string cheese and an apple, which means time lost for things like answering questions my students approach me with between classes, or not being able to print homework assignments between classes and then realizing the printer is now occupied by another teacher with two reams worth of work being spit out… You get the idea.

Mostly this is me being a little too Type A for my own good. Ultimately, the copies will be made, but maybe it means I come to class a minute or two late (something my students don’t seem to have a problem with). The fact that a convenience store exists on campus and that it is just downstairs is actually kind of a saving grace–on the mornings where I’m wiped and can’t make coffee or have forgotten my snacks, it helps to know that that resource is there and I don’t have to go through my day decaffeinated or hangry. (Ultimately a win for myself AND my students.) But I have to work on the attitude problem that makes me feel like I’ve somehow failed or am sucking at life for not being totally “together” at that moment.

Life is setbacks and mix-ups and messiness and dealing with all that that entails. So learning to give myself a bit of grace to relax and realize things are not nearly as stressful or flustering as my knee-jerk reaction tends to assume goes a long way to keep a mental peace sustained through the week. I’m starting to ‘get it.’

And though it be instant, even convenience store coffee is still coffee and let us all say a prayer of thanks for that… Now, back to lesson planning for me.


Playing catch-up

I think some time ago I promised that I wouldn’t go too long without updating again. Looks like that endeavor may have failed…

In the last six months, I have finished the ultimate frisbee season, had to cope with the sucky-ness of good-byes to friends I’d become close to in my first year in Korea, finished my first semester at Bugil, sprained my ankle… badly (thus derailing my hope to train for this fall’s Seoul Marathon), traveled back to the U.S. for a month-long summer break (visiting about five states in the process), returned to Korea to start my second semester at Bugil, started getting to know the new wave of teachers that have arrived, resumed Korean lessons, picked up new students to tutor, gone on my first hike in Korea, and we’re back again at midterms season for the fall. Did I miss anything?

Oh, right! Annie’s visit!

My good friend Annie came to visit me from California, which was awesome. She was in Korea for about a week, and in that time, we hit Busan and Seoul, Suwon and the island of Muuido. There was a lot of food, a lot of traveling and a lot of fun, especially since it was all condensed into one week. My tour guide skills are now sufficiently up to snuff…

But now fall is settling in and the air has a crisper feel to it. I no longer sweat my makeup off as I walk to school, so it really must be getting colder. Spring and fall are brief, however, so I’m scrambling to work on some knitting projects to prepare both myself and Jerry for the bitter winter, which stretches on endlessly, it seems.

I have also picked up a guitar. Seriously. Apparently, I’m going to learn. Stay tuned for that one… 😉

Cherry Blossoms

Spring descended on Korea recently with a burst of warmer weather and absolutely gorgeous flowers. Magnolias on campus bloomed first but were quickly followed by the beautiful and locally famous cherry blossoms. Bugil is known for these blossoms as trees line the main walkways up to the school and fill other areas with slightly-blushing blossoms for about two weeks in early spring.

Jerry was in Australia when they first came into bloom, but thankfully there were enough left by the time he returned so that he could enjoy them briefly before they were gone. Many of the blossoms have already fallen, but some still cling to the trees. Below are just a few pictures I snapped of how lovely they look(ed).

No sooner than the blossoms began to open and the campus became a destination point for locals wanting good pictures. Jerry and I took lunch outside one day and enjoyed an impromptu student performance on the lawn–guitars, some percussion and even some singing. Absolutely lovely afternoons!

Every year, Bugil hosts a famous Cherry Blossom Festival. Food vendors set up at the base of the hill, near the entry way and Hanwha (the company that invests in the school) sponsors fireworks for the evening. Initially, I was really upset because my ultimate frisbee schedule was going to mean I would have to miss the festival, but luck was on my side–the cherry blossoms bloomed early and the school rescheduled the festival to accommodate more people being able to see the blossoms before they completely disappear.

The fireworks were spectacular–better than any I’ve seen in the U.S. and the show was inclusive of other pyrotechnics and lasers, all coordinated and timed to music. Really cool. I was glad to have been able to go. Some friends and I met up with a potluck picnic and made an evening out of it, which was really nice. Hanwha did a great job putting the show together–though I would really hope that they would considering the company began as an explosives corporation before becoming the conglomerate that it is today.

Fun fact! My new favorite Korean word is 불꽃 놀이 (bool-goht nohl-ee) — it is the word for ‘fireworks’ and the parts of the word translate to ‘fire flowers playing.’ It just creates a pretty picture in my mind, so I really like it.

Happy Spring from Korea!




Spring in Korea

Magnolias on campus


It’s finally warming up here in Korea and I could not be more elated about this. We’ve been told by several people that this winter was “mild” by Korean standards and I still think it was just so cold (at least, compared to what I’m used to in California). 

Spring means more time outdoors–I’m planning some hikes for later in the season and I play ultimate frisbee almost every weekend as part of a league I joined. We recently played in our first tournament, which was a lot of fun. A lot of the self-driven frustration with needing to improve quickly took a backseat to the priority of just playing and I had a lot of fun. I even scored a point for the team in our final game, which was really exciting.

The sport itself has been challenging physically, for sure. I’ve been a distance runner for several years now, so it is a challenge to use my energy for more explosive movements. Our next tournament is in Busan, where we will play on Haeundai Beach, so I expect moving around on sand will be extra challenging on the legs. 🙂

However, as lovely as the warming weather is, this is the season for hwangsathe yellow dust that blows over from China into Korea and Japan. We’ve already had one dust storm that lasted about a day but of course, we do expect more. Jerry bought us some masks to help protect our respiratory systems during these storms, too, which I’m sure will come in handy if things get pretty yucky. The most recent storm saw air particle levels in the 200s, which is definitely ‘unhealthy,’ however this was incredibly brief–I think we each expected these storms to last days, but the levels only spiked for a few hours that day while we were inside for classes.

It’s easy to get concerned about the dust storms–there is no shortage of horror stories online that are so sensational you can’t help but wonder if they’re totally bunk–but we’re pretty well-prepared. Aside from masks, we’re signing up for electronic notifications from the Korean weather service, which sends us text messages in advance of a coming storm so we know which days we’ll likely need to grab our masks. We each monitor the air quality on our phones (God bless technology!), so I know when things creep above 100 particles or the ozone looks high, it’s time to opt for indoor activities and skip the run for the day. 

Overall, I can’t wait for spring to really get underway. Bugil is famous for their Cherry Blossom Festival, which happens in mid-April, when the campus’s cherry trees are in full bloom. There are currently pops of color in the Korean forsythia (a bold yellow) and some purpley-pink flower I can’t quite identify. The photo above is of one of the magnolia trees outside the building I work in, which fragrances the area so nicely. After what seemed like an intense winter, I’m incredibly grateful for and welcoming of these warmer temperatures.


Bali, belated (part 3)

This is the third in a series of posts about our trip to Bali. You can find the first here, and the second here.

Our second day was spent chiefly in the Sacred Monkey Forest. After a late breakfast (accompanied by Balinese coffee, which I was an instant fan of), we hit up the monkey forest and paid for some bananas to offer them. The Forest is home to over 500 grey macaques who often wander out of the forest during the day to look at the tourists. A friend of ours had warned us about the monkeys becoming aggressive at times–his Bali vacation was nearly spoiled by an emergency trip to get a rabies shot after one of these monkeys bit his hand when he did not want to give it his cell phone–so were excited to see them, but also wary of possibly getting too close. 

Inside the ravine, following the path to the bathing temple.

The monkeys were not shy at all, but we found our bananas were quickly finished when one approached me and grabbed the bunch instead of the single banana I was offering. Not wanting to upset him and risk a bite, I didn’t even try to resist giving them and instead, watched him scamper off and be pestered by a monkey buddy also wanting to share.

There are three Hindu temples within the forest and we visited each, concluding with the largest at the end. We donned bright green sarongs to be dress-code appropriate and went inside to look around and take pictures. I loved the intricacy of the stone carvings and can’t even fathom how long each had taken to complete. Throughout our trip in Bali, we would see altars built everywhere, usually tied with yellow fabric and frequently smoldering with incense and food offering. In Ubud, we had to be careful not to step on the offerings left on the sidewalk in front of the little shops. Inside the temple, there were many offerings at the altar, though monkeys often took the food left inside them, but I’m sure the gods knew their source meant well…

hat photo
The last photograph we have of Jerry wearing his hat.

But back to those monkeys… They are fearless! At one point during the day, though, we had found ourselves pretty deep into the forest and out of nowhere, a monkey had leaped onto Jerry’s shoulders. Jerry stayed really calm while the monkey reached down to search the pockets of his jeans. When they turned up empty, he grabbed Jerry’s Yale cap and jumped off, scurrying away with his find. We watched as the monkey tugged and pulled, even at one point seeming to wear the hat before taking it off and attempting to chew it. He continued to try to eat the hat for a minute or two, but upon realizing that a baseball hat is not edible, he abandoned this and ran away, presumably to pick the pockets of another unsuspecting visitor. The hat was too far away and the terrain was slick and close

monkey and hat
This monkey absconded with Jerry’s hat and then tried to eat it.

to the edge of a ravine, so rescuing the hat was pretty useless. Inside the ravine, we could see scattered items we assumed had been taken from tourists and left by their furry thieves. As we left, we watched another monkey steal the passport card for another visitor and, again, try to eat it–though this was dropped and abandoned when another monkey came along to call dibs. Thankfully, its original owner was able to grab this back and not have to deal with Immigration on their way out of Bali. (“No, I swear, a monkey REALLY DID steal my passport card…”)

A monkey, reading a book
This monkey stole a book from a kid’s backpack. They’re kind of assholes like that…

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in cafes and doing some shopping (there are still gifts in our apartment waiting to be sent to our families…)–we had tried to see about a Balinese dance performance, though a storm came in and the show was canceled on account of the rain. A bit of a bummer, but oh well. The next day’s travel plans would take us to Kuta, known for its amazing surfing.

In all, Ubud was pretty terrific–and we did make a couple of furry friends while there… 😉

Waiting for the rain storm to pass–it didn’t.
Inside the main temple within the Monkey Forest, wearing green sarongs to follow the dress code.
Feeding a macaque… They move fast!
More monkey feeding…
Taking a break at a cafe in Ubud–after this, we went back for more monkeys and then went shopping.
making friends
Jerry, making friends with a monkey in hopes of hearing how he might get his hat back…
Jerry, surrounded by his minions.

Bali, belated (part 2)

Instead of one massive post, I’m breaking this up into sections–you can find part one, here.

View from the restaurant at the resort where we stayed. This and Balinese coffee made for a wonderful wake-up.

We spent a total of two and a half days in Amed, the second of which being more subdued than the first. We slept late, relaxed more, and later found ourselves wandering around in search of more amazing food. (Seriously… I cannot speak more highly of the food we ate in Bali. Everything was fantastic.) We took full advantage of the opportunity to just relax and not have obligations or commitments. It was really nice…

Balinese coffee–thick, dark and delicious. I was an instant fan.

On our last night in Amed,  we arranged a ride to our next destination (Ubud) through the concierge and went swimming in the private pool for our cabin. If there is one thing I will always associate with Bali, it might just be plumeria–there were huge trees surrounding our cabin and the pool, making the air so fragrant. Jerry discovered Amed while surfing a CNN travel page talking about lesser-known beach areas to visit. A more remote location in Bali, Amed was a sanctuary. Volcanic beaches, amazing snorkeling (there’s even a shipwreck to see underwater if you can get out that direction) and so many beautiful flowers and trees. Ubud is more of a culture hub for Bali and also boasts one of its most popular tourist points: the Sacred Monkey Forest, which we were very excited to see.

Rice field on the way from Amed to Ubud.
Rice field on the way from Amed to Ubud.

The morning we left, we ate breakfast at our hotel and soaked in a bit more of the view before starting to get ready. I think we were both reluctant to leave because we were so relaxed and loving where we were, but we were also excited to see what Ubud had to offer. We had two nights in Ubud, then onto Kuta. The man who drove us to Ubud was so nice, stopping along the way so we could take pictures of the beautiful, verdant rice terraces.

Rice field
One of the many tiered rice fields in Bali.

“Would you like to see the water palace?” he asked. Not knowing what that was, we agreed, thinking it probably wouldn’t be much and we’d be on our way. He pulled over at one point and we all walked across the street to what looked like a fairly busy marketplace. Meandering through fruit stands and people shopping, we stopped at a small building and through a tiny window, we received tickets for the Tirtagangga Water Palace.

Part of the Tirtagangga water palace, nestled deep behind the temple.

Upon walking up the small, stone steps and through the gate, I think my jaw actually dropped to see how beautiful a place it was. The area was largely composed of large pools, one with a maze of stepping stones working through it that people were walking along. Statues punctuated the maze as you walked through, and the stepping stones turned out to be less stones and more columns that had been leveled off so people could walk easily. This meant, though, that you really needed to watch your step as poor footing would cost you a fall into a pool full of koi with water about waist-deep.

Statues in the maze at Tirtagangga water palace. Each stone was approx. 2.5-feet wide/long, but dropped off about three feet if you were to step off the edge and into the water.

The palace was complex and had many things to see inside–not the quick pit stop I was expecting it would be. I loved the beautiful dark stone of the statues and pools, the bridges and numerous fountains. The plant life was incredibly colorful and lush and there was a temple within the complex as well. We ended up spending about an hour and a half there, I think, just wandering and looking.

First dinner in Ubud, dining alongside a rice field. Not depicted accurately: The incredibly LUSH green of the plants…

After returning to our driver and getting on our way, we snacked on some fresh passionfruit and bananas as we worked our way closer to Ubud. The beauty of traveling to place like Bali in December is that there are far fewer tourists and far better rates for lodging–ah, off-season… We knew our next hotel was on the main road in Ubud and we found it pretty easily after our driver dropped us off. Right at the end of the road was the Sacred Monkey Forest and as we pulled into Ubud, I gasped to realize that the “stray cat” I thought I saw slinking across the street while traffic was stalled was in fact, a gray, long-tailed monkey. They freely roam outside of the Forest and aren’t shy about approaching tourists, not to mention picking their pockets.

While a tropical thunderstorm kicked up, we ducked into a restaurant with an incredible view of a rice field and ate dinner to wait out the rain. Later that night we went out and found a nice cafe where we heard live music and sat drinking fresh fruit juices for a few hours until the music (and thus, our evening) ended.

We really enjoyed Tirtagangga! The warm, humid climate of Bali was SUCH a nice break from below-freezing, snowy Korea!
First pathway into the water palace, which was not a singular building, but a large enclosure composed of a temple, many, many fountains and beautiful walkways.
Musicians at a cafe after we made it to Ubud. They sounded great and were a nice accompaniment to our evening out.

Bali, belated (part 1)


Bali was a pretty incredible place, to say the very least. We had a short, but wonderful trip

Bali arrival
Bleary-eyed in a blurry photo, but happy to be in Bali nevertheless…

that provided a great escape from Korea’s freezing temperatures and just in time for Christmas.

At first, we were unsure of whether we’d be given the time off, but after my school approved the vacation time use, we booked tickets and hotels and we were on our way… Our travel itinerary included Amed, Ubud and Kuta, which we saved for the very last day.

View from the balcony of where we stayed… I wish we could have stayed forever.

Upon arrival, we hit customs (which took a long time and we found ourselves prey to a rather pushy Australian proselytizer), then found a driver at the Denpasar airport who drove us all the way out to Amed–a three-hour trek. It was dark, there were few (if any) streetlights and the roads were narrow and winding. We could see glimpses of the moonlit sea as we got closer and closer to Amed–Jerry had booked us a couple of nights at a beautiful resort just a few yards from the water. Walking into our cabin, my nose was hit with the scent of plumeria blossoms that the the resort staff had placed throughout. Our room had a beautiful balcony that overlooked the water and we were the only people staying at the resort, as far as we could tell, which made the atmosphere so much more serene and relaxing.

Fishing boat parking at the spot where we attempted snorkeling–as luck would have it, jellyfish were EVERYWHERE, so we ended up going back a little while later.

It was after 10 pm, but we hadn’t eaten since that afternoon on the plane. The resort is not exactly in a lively, happening area, so we asked the concierge at the front where we might find some food. “We can take you there,” he said, explaining that he and his friend would be willing to drive us to an open restaurant. We were all too happy to agree and soon found ourselves on the back of motorbikes coasting around the curved roads. I think I honestly had to stifle a squeal of excitement as I soaked in the feeling of the warm, humid air on my face and through my hair as we rode out to a nearby restaurant (a 10-minute ride). The hunger-induced headache that had been nagging me all night slipped away after we were served an amazing meal of fresh fish, rice, veggies and fruit juice. It was amazing, and subsequent meals proved just as delicious.

After returning to our cabin, we turned on the air conditioning (definitely not a necessity in

I can’t get over how blue and clean and beautiful the water was… And warm, too!

mid-December in Korea) and sank into bed. The next morning I woke up rather early, just in time to see the sun coming up over fishing boats hundreds of yards out from where our balcony was. After falling back asleep for a little while longer, Jerry and I took in breakfast at the resort and rented some snorkeling gear from the concierge.

A boat ride down the coast to get close to where the shipwreck in Amed is and we were ready to go! At least, for a little while we were… The water in Bali was SO WARM and amazing… Not at all like the chilly Pacific waters I’m accustomed to in California. We jumped out of the boat and as I went to put my mask on…


I looked down at my leg, which hurt pretty badly, trying to figure out what was hurting me all of a sudden. There were no cuts on my skin–I looked thoroughly, thinking I’d walked into the propeller blade on accident (that would sooooo totally like me)–and no reason why my leg HURT so much. Then I felt it again.

I’m yelling, as Jerry and I are trying to figure out what’s going on, and then I see it… A

Two unsuspecting, soon-to-be jellyfish victims. Thankfully, the stings were very mild and we hightailed it out of there quickly.

small, brown squiggle in the water. A jellyfish. And there was another. And another. And another… All in all, there were MANY jellyfish… Jerry got his first sting around this time, too. We tried to swim away from them, but there were so many that it became really difficult. The stings were small, but annoying, to say the least. Jerry backed up at one point and managed to get two that stung his back at the same time–this later turned into a really big welt. Not cool, jellyfish, not cool. We gestured to the fisherman what was happening. He mimed spitting into his hand and rubbing it on his skin, which actually ended up being rather effective, but still… we didn’t really want to try to work around them, so we took the boat back to the resort and opted to snorkel there. To our relief, there were just as many beautiful fish to see and plenty of coral, too.

We hit another hotel for lunch at their restaurant, then got back in the water to snorkel some more. We relaxed with dinner and hung out in our cabin, watching an incredible storm over the ocean from our balcony.

It was a beautiful day and so relaxing. Just what the doctor ordered…