Move 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again!  The time each year when the Payne family packs up all their earthly possessions and migrates.  This year we are crossing continents again as life takes us back the United States.  So far we have a perfect record, we moved once in 2012, once in 2013, once in 2014, and this is our move for 2015.  It’s a great housekeeping method- about the time things start getting cluttered, broken, or really dirty- we move!

You would think that since we have such a moving habit we would have  a pretty good system by now, but instead, every move teaches me afresh that God is the only One who’s supposed to be in control and our real job is just to choose to trust Him.  Along the way, He rewards us with new treasures of truth lived and learned.

This first thing I’ve learned this move has to do with people.  Very often during our time in Korea I have used the word “isolating.”  Living in a foreign country, being unable to speak Korean, homeschooling, living off post, it’s all been very “isolating.”  But now, as people say their goodbyes and send us off with so many sweet words and displays I’m convicted that it’s my own insecurity that has been the biggest force in isolating me.  There are so many relationships that could have been a blessing to me but I held back from them and justified my actions with judgements.  Why do I feel I must be restrained toward someone until I have bumped into them a certain number of times  or met a certain quota of social pleasantries?  Why do I have to wait for something to break the ice?  It might just seem like the social norm, but as a christian I have Christ in my heart and if I close my heart off until people earn the privilege, then I am being selective about who gets to see Christ in me as well as missing out on whatever God could have taught me through an encounter!

As I walk around town this week each familiar face I see first reminds me of the sadness of moving and starting over, but second inspires me to live openhearted wherever I go.  I don’t need to trust every encounter- the Bible commands me to be wise- but I do need to seek connection for the sake of the kingdom of God and for my own good.  Moving is a great time to practice this: making eye contact, seeking to know about people, looking out for ways to care for the people I meet as if they are my brothers and sisters, (which the Bible says they are,) inviting people into my life, and being willing to share in theirs.


A Very Korean Beach Experience

Wangsan beach

Minutes beyond the Ichon airport- our portal to and from our family in the states- about an hours drive from our house, is the edge of Korean peninsula.  A place where gentle, emerald mountains suddenly stop, in a rough, torn edge, and the crumbled piles of boulders hold back a murky, greenish-brown sea.  The ocean here isn’t beautiful, not azure water and sparkling white sands, like the Caribbean.   No, this isn’t a tourist’s ocean- its a fisherman’s ocean, where every rocky outcrop and the entire horizon are latticed with poles and lines and the spires of fishing boats.  Here the shells on the tide’s edge match the leftovers of each bather’s lunch.  It’s not fancy, or picturesque, but the swell of the mountains coming right up to the sea, the roll of the rocks underneath your feet, the color of water, it’s all very much in harmony.  It’s all very Korean.  And so are the crowds of bathers.  There are two beaches on this portion of peninsula edge, maybe the other isn’t so bad, but here, it is as if every metropolitan worker has shed their Americanized business attire and every shred of their English and come to soak in their native sea, and they are all trying to do it on a 400 meter long stretch of rocky beach hemmed in on either side by dark mountain roots.  To even get to the ocean you must navigate the school of parking.  Not school as in you must learn what to do, but school as in fish, as in darting, diving, shimming round, suddenly appearing, then with a flash of your tail (lights in this case,) darting into some crevice.  After parking you must walk to the beach- and being American you don’t exactly match the scenery- also, as you suddenly realize that even though this is a beach, all the women stay fully dressed- even down to cardigans, while sitting in the water, you, with your shoulders bare above your pool cover up and your daughters, skipping along in what you previously thought were modest one pieces, will suddenly feel what it’s like to be a guppy finding itself in a school of barracuda.  if you survive, it’s time to wade- through a sea of umbrellas, tents, and people.  Koreans bring a tent to the beach- or perhaps we were just on the camping beach site, who knows, but you will duck under umbrellas, squeeze between picnic blankets and tents, and yank children away from hot kerosene stoves.  Eventually, you may realize that your feet are in water- congratulations, you have reached the ocean!  Though it may be hard to tell since the density of human population is just as great in the water as out.  But don’t despair.   As the tide goes out, the beach will grow, leaving a long muddy stretch (just when you thought your feet were going to start bleeding from the golf ball sized rocks you’ve been walking on.)  Some of the Koreans will go home, many will retire to cook in their tents, and your children will still be rolling in the waves, catching crabs, burying each other in the gritty sand, swimming out farther than you wish they would, marveling over the colors of sea glass and standing still for longer than you’ve ever seen them as they watch the ocean move things around their ankles.  Then, you will see the exquisite, harmonic beauty of this Korean beach.  (Of course by that time your camera will be out of batteries.)

Wangsan Beach from the water

Wangsan Beach from the water


Wangsan Beach

Wangsan Beach


All Together

“Grace, grace, God’s grace…”  Blending a family of five kids can sometimes feel like a train wreck.  Being perfectly honest and just letting what’s in my head fall into the paper today I have to admit that I fall apart over our attempts to bring our family together.  Even as I am sitting here there are things happening that are making my skin crawl, and Satan is just outside the door with a big bucketful of despair waiting for the chance to douse my heart.  A kindergartener throws a temper tantrum.  Elementary schoolers bicker, make messes, and cause more noise that our apartment can contain.  A highschooler stirs up strife.  Kenny and I have to stay up to 1 am in order to have a private conversation and stay in touch.  All the parenting advice in the world, all the self-admonition to be patient, to control my temper, all the structure and family policies- nothing can make me strong enough for this job!  I can’t get myself under control, much less my household- it’s a mess!  “Grace, grace, God’s grace.”  At a moment of blood boiling, will-this-ever-get-better-ness, I suddenly remembered that line.  “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin.”  Take out sin and plug in “family” or “kid’s foolishness,” or whatever in that moment is stopping me from resting- resting in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  My five year old just fell on the floor in a temper tantrum in the middle of the crowded subway station.  God has a plan to redeem her heart from her sinful nature just like He did mine.  I don’t need to panic.  My six year old just spoke words he never should have heard.  My God is still bigger.  My eight year old has a heart ache because of the unkindness of a sibling he admires, God knows this. He is in control of my baby boy’s life and will work all things into the fabric of Their relationship.  We only have two months before our nine year old leaves us again- it doesn’t make it hurt less, but God is with her.  Our teenager spews forth all the foolishness of youth, but God is big enough to bring him into a relationship with Him, and that alone can make his life what it should be.  I blow it and sin against a kid, or my precious husband, and I don’t have to hide because God has already forgiven me, and His plan to bless my family and grow them into strong, life consuming relationships with Him won’t be thwarted by me.  “Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater.”  Greater.  Grace that is great enough.  Great Grace.  That’s our family.

Family Trip to I'Park Mall  Kenny loves malls; can't you tell?

Family Trip to I’Park Mall Kenny loves malls; can’t you tell?

We climb on statues.

We climb on statues.

The optometrist's waiting room.

The optometrist’s waiting room.

Acting out a statue at Seoul Grand Park.

Acting out a statue at Seoul Grand Park.

Bathing Beauties at Seoul Grand Children's Park

Bathing Beauties at Seoul Grand Children’s Park

Daddy daughter dance- where Dad went on to win the hula hoop contest!

Daddy daughter dance- where Dad went on to win the hula hoop contest!

David’s 100th Lesson

In the fall of the year David and I sat down at our dining room table in Georgia and I laid a copy of Sigfried Engleman’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons on the table between us. “David, it’s time for you to learn to read.  Are you ready?”  Boy, was he ready.  David had been determined, since he was four, to learn to read.  His brother, whom he idolizes, read late into the night every night, using the special flashlight he had earned on completing his 100 Easy lessons and David, laying on the bunk below, couldn’t wait to bask in the glow of reading.  For ten months David read almost every day.  He would start reading on the floor, book spread in front of him, then half way through he would groan, and put his hands on his back, leaning back like a little old man, and say “Oh, my back!”  Then we would move to an easy chair, with him curled up on my lap while I held the book.  David learned to be careful tracking as the text shrunk and the lines grew closer together.  He learned the special sounds made by the various blends and, his favorite, he learned about quotation marks:  “now we’re going to find out what he said!”  Reading didn’t come with remarkable ease for David.  Sometimes we took breaks from the 100 Easy Lessons, which David insisted we needed to change to “100 Hard Lessons,” and read other things until he was ready to go on, but through it all David was the most determined young reader I have ever seen.  He didn’t complain, he didn’t put his head down and give up, he just kept reading- sounding out, back tracking, and completely making things up when he got too lost.   We finished the school year at the end of May and he still had a dozen lessons left to go, so he just kept reading.  Finally, on Friday, David finished his 100th lesson!  “This is the last end,” he read, as we all sat around our table in our dining room in Seoul, Korea.  The family cheered as Kenny turned off the video camera and we presented David with the gifts that have become a tradition for this first rite of passage in our family: a cookie sheet with the number 100 made out of gummy bears, a small gift (Pokemon cards in his case,) and the coveted flashlight.  Kenny picked out David’s flashlight: a smaller version of the lights soldiers use with an L-bend in the neck and interchangeable color lenses for signaling.  It was perfect for our little warrior.  David raced to bed that first night and read a super hero book.  Then he hopped out of bed and went to his sister’s bed and read her a Biscuit book.  Eventually, we told everyone to turn off the flashlights and go to sleep, but since he learned to read David has carried his flashlight everywhere- Sonlight Kid’s Camp, church today, the bathroom- and read everything he can find.  It makes me feel joyful to see him enthusiastic about one of my favorite past times, but more than that, I’m grateful to God for the character David showed while learning to read.  He was determined, and joyful, even though the task was sometimes frustratingly hard.  I’m so excited to see how God will grow this character in David and how He will turn David’s new skill into a tool for building his relationship with God.  Welcome to the world of readers, my little joy!


Gifts of Grace

Grace /gras/ n 1: unmerited help given to people by God 2: freedom from sin coming through divine grace 3: a virtue coming from God 8:CHARM 9: ATTRACTIVENESS, BEAUTY 11: ease of movement

I had a nasty temper. I mean really ugly, un-controlled, violent anger volcano-ing out of my eyes, mouth and hands at the least provocation, anger that had been a part of my internal make up since childhood. God is worked miraculous victory, changing me from the inside out – but those memories of ugly rage, sinful lashing out, and agonizing feelings still shape the way I see myself. So you can imagine how much it meant to me when a woman named Grace for whom I have great respect- a woman who to me embodies quietness, gentle grace and productivity that is precious in the sight of God, gave me an unexpected mother’s day gift along with an encouraging note. If the weight of a compliment is measured by the character of the giver the words of that note were solid gold, which I shall treasure for the rest of my life. The gift that came along with this blessing of words was a book titled “Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home.” I looked at the book, read the back with much excitement and then stuffed it in my carry-on bag and ran out the door to Hartsfield International Airport. I had a short flight from Atlanta to Detroit, then a layover, then a fourteen hour flight from Detroit home to Seoul. It was a long trip to make alone with three kids, and moving around the airport was especially tricky as we had used our trip back to the states to buy all our summer clothes and were thus hauling seven bags in addition to our pillows pals, souvenirs, and a homemade bow and arrow, but I wasn’t terribly worried. I had done the reverse flight just a few weeks before and the kids were great travelers. So, with a little patience and plenty of digital entertainment I figured we would be fine. But then, the flights were full and we, travelling on standby, didn’t get on. No big deal, this sort of thing happens when we fly stand by. We would just try the next flight- except that flight was full too, and the next, and there were no more flights until the next day and they were already full too. When we didn’t get on the last flight I felt devastated. I was tired and hungry and I wanted to go home to my husband. There were these kids who had already been sitting in an airport for an entire day and were tired of carrying their heavy bags and there were all these people and no one could tell me how I was going to get home. Was it awful? Were we miserable? Was this where my nasty temper took charge with angry growls at the children to sit down and stop complaining? It could have been- for a brief moment it almost was- but then, there was grace. As we sat after that last plane I read the book, my gift of grace from Grace. I read about the gospel, and God’s gift to me, and getting home didn’t seem so desperate any more. God took any frustration or desperation from me and let me enjoy the challenge instead- he freed me from my ugly temper- he gave me grace. Then God gave all three kids great attitudes even though they did enough walking and ruck marching for Dallas to develop raw spots on his shoulders where his backpack straps rubbed him through his t-shirt- God gave us grace. We had no trouble getting a hotel, and even though it was past bedtime, we pulled bathing suits out of our bags and tumbled into the hotel pool- where we soaked in grace. The next day was another entire day spent in the airport. Time and time again fellow passengers complimented the kids on being well behaved, or talked and laughed with us about our adventure. Stressed gate agents stopped and talked to me about their day and did everything they could to make us comfortable. My three kids and I ended up stuck in the Detroit airport for two days. We flew out of Atlanta on Tuesday morning and on Thursday night we flew back to Atlanta to try another route home. Between those times we spent hours sitting in the USO waiting for flights, we traveled up and down the concourse at least six times carrying our entire luggage from gate to gate to gate, and we experienced a glimpse of grace. It was grace- a free gift from God that helped us, that kept me from being slave to my temper, grace that gave us gracious attitudes toward one another. It was grace that attracted people to us and made it easy for us to move through the airport. Because God is gracious, even though we didn’t deserve it, He gave us the ability to move through this adventure with grace. See, grace is like that- it’s the nature of a gift, but it’s also the nature of the giver, and the nature of the work upon the receiver, just like my book, Glimpses of Grace, was a gift from Grace and helped me be graceful during my adventure in Detroit. So, this today, I am saying “thank you Grace, for grace.” And as a side note, I did eventually get home to Seoul- I’m there now writing through a jet legged haze, sitting next to one of my biggest gifts of grace.

Chocolate Bubbles

“Mom, today is the first day of the month!  That means I cook!”  Dallas had been begging me for weeks to set aside one day as a “kid’s cook” day.  “David and Ana and I can pick out the menu and get the ingredients when we go to the grocery store and then we can do all the cooking and you and dad can go read your Bibles.”  Really, how do you turn that down?  So I had agreed to make the first of every month “Kid’s Cook” Day, but today was the first of May, and not only had we not planned a menu or picked up ingredients, but we were leaving for an international trip the next day, we weren’t packed, my todo list was a mile long, we had spent the entire day cleaning the kitchen and we were supposed to attend a pot luck at church in the evening.  It was not a good day to turn kids loose in the kitchen.  Still, I had committed, however regrettably, to this date, and two big brown eyes weren’t going to let me forget it. “Ok, Dallas.  I guess you could make a cake for Bible study.  We could grab frosting while we are out this afternoon, but please, please keep the kitchen clean.   You know we just spent the whole morning scrubbing it.”  “OK Mom.  Don’t worry, I will take care of it!”  I gave him the recipe.  A chocolate cake from scratch.  Ambitious for an eight year old, maybe, but Dallas has actually done quite a bit of cooking.  So, I handed him the recipe, made him responsible for his little brother, and took his little sister with me to clean the bedrooms.  “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo” right? (Finding Nemo)  And when I passed through the kitchen a few minutes later I was impressed.  Dallas and David had mop and dish cloth in hand.  After each ingredient they were mopping up any spills, then Dallas would read the next ingredient and measure it out for David to pour in. Over the next thirty minutes I checked on them periodically and they ran in to ask the location of certain ingredients.  Elliana and I were hunched on the bottom bunk of the boys’ bunk bed, scrubbing a smudgy wall with magic erasers when Dallas ran in again.

“Mom, we only have enough baking powder for one cup and the recipe calls for three!”  Pause.

“Dallas, did you just put a cup of baking powder in your cake batter?”

“Yes, the recipe calls for it.”

“Go read it again.  I don’t think that is what the recipe says.”

“Yes, it is, see, right here, ‘three…’ oh, ‘three teaspoons.’  Oops.”


So we looked in the bowl, and there was the baking powder, dumped right on top of the sugar, salt, flour, and all kinds of other all-white ingredients.  I scooped out what I could, dumping it into the trash while telling Dallas “I’ll do what I can but  it’s hit or miss.  The cake might not work now.”  “Just from one ingredient?”  “Yeah.”  Dallas finished the cake, we mixed it up and it tasted great.  It was just the right texture.  The kids took turns carefully scooping it into a muffin pan, and I slid it into the oven.  Five minutes later I noticed the cupcakes smelled done already- in fact, they almost smelled burnt.  Hmmm… Opening the oven to investigate I was hit in the face with a cloud of black smoke.   The cupcakes had erupted up in a mushroom cloud of atomized chocolate then collapsed in a ring of sticky, gooey, chocolate sludge.  “Kids, I hate to break it to you, but I think your cake might have exploded.”  I grabbed oven mitts and started pulling the toxic waste out of the oven, but the fall out on the oven floor was still smoking and we live in an apartment building.  If our smoke alarm goes of the whole building evacuates.  Envisioning a crowd of angry housewives and toddlers spending the morning in the parking lot because of our chocolate cake I shouted to the kids to grab towels and wave them under the smoke detectors while I turned off the oven and tried to stop the smoking.  Chaos erupted briefly as kids ran back and forth across the house shouting and waving dish rags, but in the end the alarms did not go off and a few minutes later I caught up with Dallas:

“So, what happened?”

“I didn’t read the recipe right and the cake exploded!” (Said with the glee and appreciation only an eight year old boy can invest into the word “exploded!”)

“And what were the consequences?”  His face turned a little more serious, not downcast, but thoughtful.

“We don’t have a cake, and there’s kind of a mess.”

“Mmmhhmm, and what about all those ingredients you used?”

“Well, I guess they were wasted.”

“Yup. So who is going to take care of most of those consequences?”


“Nope. I am going to make sure we have something for small group.  I am going to clean up, and Dad is going to keep working so we can buy more ingredients.”


“See, when you are little we will help you out with the consequences as much as we can, but when you are bigger there will be no one; you will have to take care of them yourself.  That is why Dad and I are always harping on you about being self controlled.  Go slowly and think before you act because a minute of carelessness always has consequences.”


Then we ate the remains of the exploded chocolate cake.  With apples, we called them chocolate bubbles.  Dallas is working on perfecting the recipe- intentionally this time.




Spring In Seoul

    It should be considered a travesty that I can title a post “Spring in Seoul” and not include a single picture of cherry blossoms.  About a week ago every patch of dirt peeking through the concrete was suddenly filled with flowers.  Pear trees and azaleas in every shade from white to red, forsythia, lilac, clematis, orchids outside of every restaurant, and exotic-looking bleeding hearts and columbines enchant the city like rainbow will-o-the-whisps appearing around every corner and peeking out from the most unexpected places. There are no daffodils- no Bradford pear trees (and no one mourns,) and its colder that we are used, so we can still be found wrapped in our coats and huddling in the sun, but in every place that grass triumphs over concrete there are kids, pulling off their shoes, picking dandelions, splashing in puddles and climbing up every vertical surface.

DSC02377Every Korean kid has his own umbrella and when I have taken my little ones out without umbrellas other adults will actually hold their umbrellas over my kids heads as they walk along with us.  Here David is walking home from the library holding the new sketch book which the librarians gave to every child to celebrate library week.

Elliana at Blute

Elliana at Blute

On Thursdays we join a group of our neighbors for a hike around Seoul.  Our first hike took place in a drenching, cold rain, (one of those times when strangers felt the need to hold their umbrellas over my boys.)  To hide from the rain our guide brought us into a hybrid coffee shop/florist called Blute.

Choco mint latte

Choco mint latte

The kids were soaked and freezing, (a trend I am noticing about our time in Korea.  Maybe it is time to invest in rain coats.)  Wanting to reward them for their courageous attitudes I bought them a 6000W ($6) Choco Mint Latte (mint hot chocolate.)  I thought I would be smart and read the name in Korean.  After about five minutes of sounding out the Hangul characters I realized they were pronounced  “choco mint latte.”


With every tray a bouquet!


Entering Blute is like stepping into a pre raphaelite painting.  There were so many neat details that I let the kids take turns wandering the store with my camera and practicing their photography skills.  Leave it to David to break into some kind of class happening in the basement and snap this priceless shot that just shows what it is like to be David.


If rainy days are flower shops and fancy hot chocolate, sunny days are compost and the community garden.  We were blessed to meet a family who brought us on board with this start up venture.  This week we interrupted our school day to gather green waste and stuff pallets for lasagne gardening.  Saturday the men managed to somehow find a wheel barrow which they pushed off into the furthermost reaches of Hannam village and magically returned filled with dirt.  The kids helped transport the dirt over the chain link fence and spread it on our garden.


We call this creative gardening- yes, those are mixing bowls.


No garden is complete without a fairy house.

A Great Sense of Humor

Before we moved to Korea my father gave us a piece of lighthearted advice. “There are two things you need to enjoy your time in Korea: a great sense of humor, and no sense of smell.” We knew the second was true the minute we landed, but it has taken experience to understand exactly what my father meant by saying we needed a great sense of humor. It may be true of life in any foreign country, but our last few weeks have been full of moments where we had to chose between frustration and laughter. Whether it was trying to transport five people, five suitcases, three bags, a box of groceries, and a guitar in one taxi or walking three miles with the kids to the hospital for more asthma medication only to have our appointment rescheduled for six hours later. Or maybe the time we got settled in the booth for a nice American meal at Outback, only to have our eyes pop out of heads when the menu revealed the prices were nearly double what they are in the states. Oh, and not forgetting the time the automatic gate broke and it was raining and dark and we had to walk the entire perimeter of the village along the back alleys of Seoul. Yes, we are learning to rename disasters as “adventures,” but our greatest test yet came yesterday.
The buds are beginning to open on the cherry trees, and in Seoul that means city wide picnicking. So, we packed up a bag of sandwiches, fruit, dip, and water bottles and hopped on the subway for the Seoul Children’s Grand Park. (Which, by the way, is about the most amazing free attraction for families in Seoul!) We planned to spend the day at the free zoo, riding a few cheap rides, and picnicking, then watch the musical water show and ride the subway home. We pictured a day of family fun and Korean culture and the Park is defiantly a great place for that, but, well…. First we learned that one of our children gets claustrophobic in the tight packed Korean body crowds. He coped pretty well until he tried to curl up on the floor in the middle of the bird house. So we broke away from the crowd, lost two kids on the playground and eventually regrouped. When we caught our breath we realized we were in the middle of a series of beautiful water features: fountains, waterfalls, tranquil pools, all strung together over rocks and under bridges to form a man made stream. In that stream, with rolled-up pant legs and bare feet Korean children were wading. Coats (still needed in the windy 50 degree temperature,) were laid on the river bank, homemade boats floated down the current, older siblings helped younger ones keep their footing in the gentle flow- the more adventurous children were even climbing the low limbed trees that over hung the water. In short it was idyllic- a paradise of peace and play- or at least it was until three loud America children stampeded into the water in a cloud of splashes and shrieks. While every other child enjoyed the water quietly without even splashing their shirt sleeves, in a manner of minutes our three were completely soaked from fleece pullovers to sneaker-ed feet. (How did they even get their shoes wet when we had taken them off before they entered the water?) They had a few minutes of bliss racing up fountains and down waterfalls and ruining the tranquility of the peaceful ponds before the temperature suddenly froze them in their tracks. Then, there we were standing in the middle of Seoul Children’s Park in the middle of a crowd of silent, staring Koreans, with three dripping, freezing, crying children. (Dallas here insists I interject that he was only half soaked, and freezing and was not crying, so I guess you can change that to two freezing, dripping, crying children, and one who was just cold.) What could we do? We had at least an hour walking and riding the subway in order to get home and we were quickly realizing it was way too cold to make the kids suffer the consequences of their actions. We attracted actual pointing and staring from the Koreans with their kids in coats and hats as we carried our shivering, crying troop through the park in search of a restroom. There we split our forces and rung out the kids clothes. Alone in a bathroom stall holding my shaking, crying little girl, who was trying to form possible solutions between her blue lips- “Maybe Daddy could go home and get us clothes and we could wait here?”- I had a decision to make. Elliana was soaked, and it was getting colder, we had a long ride home, and I was wearing a cami and a cardigan, no extra jacket, what could I do? I took Elliana’s pants and dried them in the hand drier as best I could, then I wrapped her in my cardigan. The neck line was too low so I turned it around backwards, and used my earrings to hold it closed. I stuffed her wet clothes in the massively heavy picnic basket, that it was becoming apparent I had carried needlessly all day, I hoisted Elliana up and walked out of the stall- in my spaghetti strap camisole. Given the choice between my daughter’s health and my modestly what else could I do? Outside I found Kenny had similarly clothed our wet boy. So we walked out of the park: Kenny and Dallas followed by David, still crying and blue wearing his daddy’s pullover which reached his shins with the sleeves dragging shapelessly off the ends of his arms. Then me, wearing a cami, carrying a picnic bag, and a crying girl in red cardigan fastened with robin’s nest earrings. And if we thought people were staring before, well, you just have to picture a crowd of Asians in winter coats, parting like the red sea before the family of soaked, half naked Americans. Once we got to the subway I huddled in a corner, trying to hide behind Elliana, and warm up David at my side. Here we decided to do some clothing shuffling. David had mostly dried (or at least stopped dripping) under Kenny’s hoodie, so we decided to give the hoodie to Elliana and get me back my cardigan- and on a side note, if you are ever an America considering wearing a tank top in Korea, don’t! They can wear skirts that are only six inches long and its fine but let an American show her arms and the mothers will cover their kid’s eyes and turn them away in horror. So, we were in the middle of trying to shirt swap surreptitiously- I had Elliana half out of my cardigan and mostly into Kenny’s pullover- when a random Korean man decided Kenny would be a good place to practice his English. “Hi! What your country?” Umm… how do you say we’re Americans and would you excuse us while my wife gets dressed in the subway? Then another friendly Korean sat down next to David. Seriously, we ride in ignored silence every other time but when we are wet, naked, and miserable, everybody wants to be our friend. This Korean actually put his arm around David and started taking pictures of him and talking about how cute and friendly he was… until he felt the wetness from David’s still soaked cargo pants soaking through his own jean leg. Then delight turned to horrified confusion and we had no idea how to tell him it was water not pee. Eventually we got home, and got baths and hot soup and bed, and our day of family fun and Korean culture was behind us. That’s when Kenny and I sat down on the couch and cracked up. I will never forget my Hester Prine walk through Seoul Children’s Park, or Elliana shivering in her designer outfit, or David wetting on a man on the subway. We all have those experiences that we know we will laugh about later, but to really enjoy your time in Seoul you have to learn to laugh about them as they are happening. My dad was right, you need a great sense of humor- and possibly the Korean words for “water, not pee.”


Seoul Children’s Grand Park


The Musical Fountain

The Wading Creek

Part of the Wading Creek

The Moment Before Disaster Struck

The Moment Before Disaster Struck

Venturing Out


Crossing the bridge from one side of post to the other.  See Seoul Tower in the back ground?

Crossing the bridge from one side of post to the other. See Seoul Tower in the back ground?

This week we began to explore! We are still living in the beautiful Dragon Hill Lodge. After nine days here we are calling Elliana the Korean Eloise after the books about the little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York. The children have learned to take turns pushing the elevator buttons, about tipping waiters, and that it is not OK to play merry-go-round with the revolving door. We have become friends with the ajumma that cleans our room each afternoon. She made my day Friday when she gestured around the room at my kids and said “happy family.” That meant a lot after nine days of uninterrupted family togetherness. Every afternoon this week we headed out exploring. To get around we ride the post buses. It took me several days to figure out the on post bus system, which has four lines, involves a lot of math in public and uses military time. The kids have decided that the very back of the bus is the coolest because it sits up higher than the other seats. I discovered it is not a good idea to let them sit there when we are on our way back from the grocery store. (Sorry to all the poor soldiers sitting on the aisle who got whacked in the knees with grocery bags!)

The Commissary has kids sized shopping carts- but beware they are so, so, so loud.  Even the kids said we sounded like a stampeded of elephants, heading through the store, except Elliana's, her's squeaked like a mouse (which explained the elephant stampede.)

The Commissary has kids sized shopping carts- but beware they are so, so, so loud. Even the kids said we sounded like a stampeded of elephants, heading through the store, except Elliana’s, her’s squeaked like a mouse (which explained the elephant stampede.)

We found two parks, the put-put golf course, the bowling alley, the PX and the commissary. Then, on Friday we were finally ready to venture off post. We rode the bus to the gate, got stuck in the computer monitored gate and then, after nine days in Korean we finally set foot on Korean soil. We ventured forth boldly into uncharted territory, and then about 100 yards off post found an awesome park and had to stop.

This thing has constellations punched in the sides so you can stick your head in and star gaze

This thing has constellations punched in the sides so you can stick your head in and star gaze

That day we also learned how to cross the street in Seoul. See, they don’t have many sidewalks over their major roads. Instead they have subterranean pedestrian pathways. So, to get across the street you enter the subway, walk along and exit where you want. For us it was like playing whack a mole from the mole’s perspective. We went into the subway knowing where we were headed but were never sure where we would pop up.

Saturday Kenny was off so we went as a family to I’Park mall, one of Seoul’s tourist attractions. The reason we went was not a love of malls but simply because the kids and I had figured out how to get there on our Friday explore. There we learned that malls in Korea are about as attractive to us as malls in America. Also, that Korean malls are laid out like a three dimensional puzzle and have no benches for resting. Instead of floor by floor maps, their directory is arranged by product and they have huge seven story department stores that are impossible to escape. We visited E-mart then spent three hours looking for the children’s play area. We found it next to a sign that read 15,000 w admission. That’s $15 a kid, $45 for our family. So, we settled for ice cream and walked back to the park.


We are all really enjoying the simplicity of this time sequestered as a family. I am being spoiled by the lack of cooking and housework, and Kenny is enjoying all the free time for the family. It’s fun to take a break from everything and be able to enjoy family without distractions. Kenny taught the kids how to make lightning with spearmint life savers (the whole family in the bathroom with the lights off crunching enthusiastically.) Dallas built a spa and insists I get my hair brushed every evening. A few nights ago he and his assistants even washed my feet and walked on my back. I told you I am being spoiled! Last night was family night so for something special we let Elliana chose and run the activities. She and I went to the hotel basement and ordered pizza, bought popcorn, and rented a movie, and then we all snuggled up on the couch for Brave, pizza, popcorn and pocky. I hope we are making memories and tying strings between our family members that will last into the future.

The kids spend a lot of time drawing on the coffee table in our hotel room

The kids spend a lot of time drawing on the coffee table in our hotel room

Welcome to Korea

I am sitting at a desk in our hotel suite looking out at a three panel long panorama of Seoul, South Korea. The view is wide, but shallow, because the ever present, opaque, grey fog only allows me to see Young Son Garrison, spread out nine stories below me and the very first line of Seoul’s sky scrapers. The rest of the city and the craggy layers of mountains beyond are still hidden- like the sunrise. Here the sun’s entrance is just a humble blush in the fog. As the day progresses the fog will retreat, unveiling more of the city, but it hangs in the sky all day long.

We arrived in Korea two nights ago. The flight that brought us here was about 15 hours long. The boys set a family record by playing ten hours straight of video games. Elliana and I tried BeeBimBop with pickled cucumbers and sea weed soup. Everyone got a little sleep. By the time we landed Elliana could say hello and thank you in Korean and had decided to become a flight attendant when she grows up. The army kept us waiting about five hours between the time we landed and the time we reached a hotel, but it really flew by. Once we traversed the baggage claim and customs I took the kids to a Korean snack shop where I saw ice creams and snacks I remembered as a kid (Will and Kaitlyn, pictures to follow.) Then the kids made friends with another newly arrived army family whose boys were about Dallas’ age. Five over stimulated kids was a bit crazy in the airport and on busses and while were trying to carry bags, but the kids had fun. We are staying in Dragon Hill Lodge, the garrison hotel for military personnel. I used to visit this hotel when I was a kid. I remember the stone lion-dragons outside the front door, a panel of rock carving depicting Korean history, the waterfall in the garden, and the ceiling and fans of the hotel restaurant (funny the things you retrain as a child.) Now, though, the hotel also has a huge children’s area with traditional children’s garden and playground, and the hotel restaurant has been changed into a food court with about five restaurants. There is also a market wing where you can buy everything from souvenirs to a car. Yesterday, our first full day in Korea, the children were up at five, thanks to jet leg. We ate pop tarts from the in PX exchange in the lobby and did school all morning. After lunch with Kenny we went to the hotel pool for nearly three hours. The kids seemed to be doing great but when we sat down for dinner jet leg hit. David literally fell asleep waiting for his food and almost tumbled out of his chair. Elliana ate then climbed in my lap and fell asleep faster than I have every seen anyone. Even I ended up passed out on the couch before 8 pm and then we were all up bright and early at 6:30. So, we are not quite adjusted yet but the kids remain up beat and that makes all the difference. I have learned that our trio doesn’t get whiny when they are tired, rather they become extremely hyper, and lose all judgment. This has resulted in some interesting situations, such as when Dallas attempted to pick up a Korean woman thinking she was one of our suitcases, or when David nearly lost his hand playing “Elf” in the revolving door. Understanding that it is their way of expressing the grogginess Kenny and I both feel we have left off lectures (and in fact feel sort of bad about them,) and are making sure the kids get plenty of attention. It was amazing the difference in their ability to think after just half an hour of our undivided attention. I am sure there must be some principle in child psychology there but I am just glad to know what I need to do. There are other things which require an adjustment period, besides just the time. Korea smells- I can’t say bad because I am sure it smells just fine to a Korea, but it is going to take some getting used to. Also, the food, whether Korean, or American made by Koreans, just doesn’t taste like anything we are used to. For example, lasts night’s bean burrito contained boiled potatoes and plain pulled pork. It was weird. Thankfully, a banana still tastes like a banana so we are stocking up on fruit and veggies. Even the cartoons here are weird- the kids just spent the past hour watching a show about flatulent bugs- no really! Exploring a new culture is so much fun and I can’t wait to get off post and explore Seoul! Kenny is restricted to government property until he finishes in processing on Monday, so, we will use the weekend to adjust and then dive in to our new country!

Elliana watched "Hotel Transylvania" three times

Elliana watched “Hotel Transylvania” three times

ALL the boys play video games

ALL the boys play video games

Amy and Elliana sleep on the flight

Amy and Elliana sleep on the flight

The Hotel Pool

The Hotel Pool

Please shower before swimming.

Please shower before swimming.