Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Bucket List

My husband and I spend a lot of time vying for control of the computer.  Last night, I gave up the fight and decided to watch the Discovery Channel, which I don’t totally hate, unlike most television.

There was a feature about a group of German climbers out to conquer a mega mesa in Venezuela.  They were the first to accomplish this feat.  It was followed later by a special about the 1982 Canadian expedition to Everest.

I should probably make it clear at this point that I can barely climb into our bathtub.  I’m about as climb-oriented as a pregnant water buffalo.  I guess that’s why I admire climbers so much.  I also think they’re a bit nuts, but I understand their motivation.

Before I met my husband, I really wanted to do a Nepal Everest base camp trek.  I have no motivation to climb any mountains, let alone the mother of all mountains.  I think it would be amazing to learn how to climb, but I’m terrified of heights, and I’m just not sure I could get over that fear.  Or that I’d be physically strong enough.  There’s that.  In any case, I’ve wanted to hike into Everest base camp since high school.  It’s this odd dream that I have.  I even used to keep Tibetan prayer flags in my old Korean apartment.  I was toying with the idea of going to Tibet or Nepal after finishing my first contract in Korea, but obviously that never materialized.

Seeing that program reawakened my irrational desire to see this mountain myself.  I have no idea why Nepal and Tibet are so thrilling to me, but they are.  I want to go, and I have to do it before I’m too old to handle the altitude and physical strain.

Of course, any rigorous hike requires that you be in great shape.  I haven’t been in great shape since high school, when I literally ran a 10k every day and could bench press 145 pounds.  It’s been 10 years, but at least I know that it’s possible for me.  It took me almost a year to get that far – I was fat like I am now when I started.  I was seriously fit when it was all over, though.  That’s where I need to be again.

I guess it’s sort of hit me, what needs to happen in order for me to live the life that I want.  Being a fat slob on a couch ain’t gonna get me to Nepal or on any other trekking adventure.  It’s going to require physical motivation, a lot of practice hikes and camping excursions, and saving money for years, most likely.  Never mind getting the equipment.  Believe me, good trekking gear doesn’t come cheap.

Everest isn’t the only attraction on my “bucket list,” though.  Funnily enough, many of the ones nearest and dearest to my heart require arduous treks to get there.  Why is it that so many of my remaining “must-see” places are on mountains?  Guess I better get over my fear of heights!

The List

1. Trek to Mount Everest base camp.  Bask in the awesomeness of the top of the world.
2. See the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings.
3. Hit up Machu Picchu , Lake Titicaca, Cuzco, and some other Peruvian destinations.  Peru is fascinating.
4. Finish touring Edinburgh.  I still want to go on the haunted tours of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, the South Bridge Vaults, etc.  I love a good ghost story, it’s my thing, let it go.
5. Tour some of the castles in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
6. Do some U.S. camping trips to Isle Royale, the Boundary Waters, Chaco Canyon, etc.
7. Go to creepy Aokigahara Forest at Mt. Fuji.  This should really happen before I leave Asia, but I doubt I’ll have the cash. 😦
8. Learn to scuba dive.  I’m kind of scared of water, but I think I could enjoy diving.  I need to get over the fear of water.
9. Take skating lessons.  I love hockey.  I love figure skating.  I’m not a great skater.  I need to at least learn how to stop properly.
10. Learn to ride a motorcycle.
11. Learn some herbalist remedies.  I’m a big believer in natural medicine.  Better get a garden going first!
12. Become a better cook.



A Music Post

I just finished helping my husband write his student evaluations, which number into the several hundreds.  If I ever have to look at one of those things again, I think my hand is going to spontaneously cramp up at the memory.

But this post isn’t to whine about my husband’s awful job.  I’ve been taking a look at what’s been playing on my iTunes lately, and you know, I have ridiculous taste in music.  Here is a small sample of what’s been on rotation for me the past couple of days.  It alternates between excellent, incredibad, and head-scratching.  I love music.

1. “Me and the Devil” by Gil Scott-Heron.  Excellent song that is alternately creepy, soulful, and dramatic.  Yeah, it was totally one of the end themes from True Blood, but there are worse things about that show than its music showcase.

2. “Best Thing I Never Had” by Beyonce.  Ridiculous song with ridiculous lyrics.  “You showed your ass” has got to be the worst line ever for a song supposedly written by a mature woman.  It sounds like it should have been written by Jim Steinman circa Celine Dion or Meatloaf, but instead it just sucks.  The music video is even worse.  It’s like an advertisement for David’s Bridal or Victoria’s Secret but on a seriously low budget.  I have no idea why I’m listening to this pop garbage.  I don’t even like Beyonce.

3. “I Wish I Was the Moon” by Neko Case.  Don’t get on me about this being another True Blood song.  Neko Case is amazing, and I can’t believe I didn’t discover her thrilling voice and strange lyrical stylings years ago.  I love indie folk/country singers.

4. “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash.  It’s not my favorite Johnny Cash song, but it’s a good’un.  I just love Johnny Cash.  He was real.

5. “Crystalline” by Björk.  There is no part of me that doesn’t love the Björk experience, and I truly believe that Björk is a total experience.  Her music always makes more sense to me after I watch the video that accompanies it.  This new one reminds me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It does sound rather Oriental, except for the intense techno beats in the middle.

6. “Amor Fati” by Washed Out.  This one is probably going to get filed in “summer jams” for me.  Washed Out reminds me of Air or Aphex Twin or some other similarly ethereal escape music.  It makes me think of lying on surrealist beach somewhere and just melting into the sand.  It’s insanely relaxing.  I guess “Washed Out” is probably an appropriate band name, because that’s sort of how you feel when you listen to it.  Apparently,  he belongs to a genre called “chillwave.”

7. “All I Want is You” by U2.  There are a lot of people who hated Reality Bites.  I am not one of those people.  I totally went through that stage in my early 20s – the one where you quit your decent job and run off with a philosopher-poet who is bad for you on multiple levels.  Also, I have a weak spot for Winona Ryder back when she was the ingenue.  I could listen to this song on repeat.  It’s one of those songs that, if you had to set a soundtrack, would get put into an intensely climactic moment when love is realized or something like that.  It makes me mad sometimes that I like this song, because I can’t stand Bono.

8. “Stress Relief” by Tech N9ne.  Tech is the best rapper on the scene today, period.  I don’t even particularly care for hip-hop, but I love him.  The only reason I even know who he is is because I went to school at Mizzou, and he’s from Kansas City.  Tech used to come to CoMo once or twice a year.  He’s got his own label, Strange Music, and they’re so much better than anything mainstream hip-hop is doing.  This a great song for those days when you want to break someone’s face.

9. “Gone City” by Lydia Lunch.  I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled onto Lydia Lunch, but it was when I was still in my old apartment on Anthony Street.  I only listen to her in the fall, for some reason.  I love this track, which isn’t really a song – more like a soliloquy.  Lydia Lunch is definitely not for everyone.  I think she started with a band called Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, which was part of the NY “no wave” scene, which was like a really abrasive punk-related movement.

10. “Midwest Diva” by Leslie Hall.  “Don’t you threaten a lady with a cheese plate.”  This woman is amazing.  Her music is hilarious, but it’s shockingly good, as well.  She wears gem sweaters and gold spandex pants.


The Longest Day or How I Learned to Stop with Korean Salons and Let Julia Color My Hair

Yawn.  I just got up after sleeping for literally about 12 hours.  I enjoy a good sleep-in, but normally, I’m not quite this lazy.  I didn’t sleep more than two hours on Friday night for reasons best known to my brain.  I got up at 5am, lesson planned for my Saturday literature classes (gag), taught said literature classes, nearly pummeled the bad students for being disgusting and awful, discovered that I LOVE my middle school students, had my friend highlight my hair REAL American blond, and then I came home and promptly collapsed.

My Saturday job is seriously overpaid, if you decide not to include the lesson-planning in with the actual teaching.  Still, four lit classes on a Saturday is kind of brutal, especially given that the literature is primarily intended for middle school students and being taught to 3rd and 4th graders.  My instructions, before I began this class, were, “Make sure the kids read it, but don’t make them do too much writing or anything.”  Okay, groovy.  Come in, ask them some comprehension questions, and then have them play games using the book as source material.  I can do that.  Of course, the same old problem remains: the parents want me to brutalize them with work.

I think I might have finally struck a nice balance, though.  The parents seem to really like me this semester, and I’ve gotten some compliments from all but one class, and the mothers for that class are NUTS.  Only one of them is actually nice.  The rest of them have literally had loads of plastic surgery, making them into hideous harpies who smell like Lolita Lempicka perfume and look like Dina Lohan before she goes out drinking with Lindsay.  They exhibit similar behavior to so-called stage mothers, as well.

Still, I make good money off of those classes, and that makes it worth it, in the end.  Usually a day or two after the fact.

I’ve had my hair colored several times in Korea.  The first was an at-home coloration that went, well, a bit left of the middle.  It was a red color that I’d bought in England just before we came back to Korea.  My husband informed me that I’d better be careful, because the color does exactly what it says on the box.  Being used to Feria colors and the like that we get in the US, I figured he didn’t know what he was talking about because he’s a man and never colors his hair.  Wrong.  Fire-engine red means fire-engine red in England.  It’s not like the Feria box from America.

So that one resulted in clown hair.  I looked like I belonged in the third ring of a Ringling Brothers act.  Probably something involving baggy pants and a tiny car…

I got that “fixed,” but the salon’s best job of covering it up gave my hair a blackish-purple tinge.  It was awkward, at best.  Graeme said he preferred the red.  They both looked awful, and it took forever to wash/grow out that mess.

I went back to being a nice, normal “ginger” red color for awhile, which is my old stand-by when I don’t have the time/money/inclination to do anything else.  One day, though, I decided that I was looking especially old, and I started thinking back to the days when I didn’t look so “circulated.”  I wanted to be freshly minted again!  Blond.  I could go back blond.

Ah, but there’s one problem: Koreans have no idea what to do with foreigners who want blond hair.  The Korean idea of blond is a strange orangey-yellow color that hasn’t fully developed on one’s head.  I don’t know whether this results from not leaving the bleach on long enough or from the wrong kind of developer or what.  Either way, I wound up with hair that looked like it had been attacked by the sun.  My husband started giggling the minute my hair was washed.

I left it like that for awhile because, come on, it’s not like there are many places in Korea that know how to do foreigner hair.  There are one or two in Busan and several in Seoul, but come on, am I really going to go to Seoul every time I need my hair highlighted again?  I figured I’d live with it until I figured something else out.

Then, lo and behold, there came a solution.  I was at a dinner party at my friend Julia’s house last week, and I met a really cool Welsh girl, Ruth.  Ruth has awesome highlights, and we were talking about hair, and she mentioned that a friend of hers had left an entire professional highlighting pack, complete with low-lighting mix, combs, brushes, and mixing bowls.  Awesome.  Julia agreed to do our foils for us the following week around 7pm, after I finished work.

I went over yesterday after work, and Julia was rather amazed how trusting we both were with our hair.  I was like, “Come on.  I let a Korean, who knows nothing about waegook hair, color me blond.  I hardly think you’re going to go any worse than what I’ve already got.”  It took ages for her and Ruth to completely foil me with the two different shades of color, but they finally got it done.  Then Julia and I did Ruth’s touch-up.

When I finally got in the shower to rinse, I was AMAZED.  Never had there been such a fantastic set of highlights completed by a nonprofessional in Asia.  I mean, I look like I just went to the salon in America.  Or England.  Or Australia.  Or really anywhere that knows how to make Caucasian hair look reasonable!

I came home, and my husband was like, “Wow!  Your hair actually looks really pretty, honey.  You should always be blond!  You look so much younger!”

After months and months of seeking after the Fountain of Youth… Well, I haven’t actually found it.  Frankly, it’s been enough for me to find the Fountain of Decent Hair Color!

Now I just have to get the perfect hair cut…  I really want to cut my long hair off.  I had short hair as a child, and everyone thought I was a boy.  My grandma hated long hair for reasons completely unknown to me.  I was traumatized by my short hair and swore, after growing it out in middle and high school, that I’d never go back.  Well, I’m officially sick of long hair.  I had hair down to my chest for ages in college, and you know, I’m really over the whole long, extension hair that honestly doesn’t look good or sexy on very many people.

I always put my hair up.  In the summer, it’s too hot to have it down, and I have to walk everywhere.  If I leave it down, it’s disgusting immediately after washing, so there’s no point.  Also, I hate blow-drying my hair for longer than three minutes.

I think the kicker has finally come after watching “Factory Girl.”  Frankly, I’m not sure why it got panned as hard as it did, other than it wasn’t completely true to the story.  Maybe I’m just saying that because I think Sienna Miller is gorgeous, in spite of her sluttish ways.  I loved her hair when she played Edie Sedgwick.  Actually, I loved Edie Sedgwick’s hair, too.  In fact, I really like short hair.  It’s been trying to come back in fashion for several seasons now, and I think it’s just time.

The question is, can I, a girl with a fat, diamond-shaped face, wear short hair?  Would I look like a man?  I like to think that, given that I pile on the eye makeup and wear huge earrings most days, people wouldn’t mistake me for a man now.  It is Korea, though, and short hair automatically seems to equal man/big, butch lesbian around here.  Koreans don’t get short hair on women.  Of course, they also don’t get decent hair color or how to make edible desserts. I think it goes without saying, at this point, that I don’t care what Koreans think.

I need a haircut.  It’s going to happen, that much is certain.  The question is: Do I chop off most of my shoulder-length hair and go for short hair again?  I don’t do bobbed hair, so don’t even suggest it.  I’m not Anna Wintour.  I really want a semi-pixie haircut, but short in back and a little bit longer in front, to frame my face.  Will I take the plunge?  Stay tuned..

To Teach or Not to Teach…

Unfortunately, it seems like the answer is likely going to be “not to teach.”  I have really enjoyed the time that I’ve spent in Korea teaching English.  Well, mostly.  Like most jobs, it has its days.  Still, overall, it’s been good.  I’m what most people call a “grammar Nazi,” and I just can’t stand bad spelling, punctuation, or grammar.  … So yes, teaching English is alternately uplifting and the ultimate in frustration, since I routinely see kids mix up words like “chicken” and “kitchen.”

When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer.  I got told on a fairly regular basis that I would be a good one.  Like Lady Gaga, I think I started to believe my own hype.  When the end of undergrad rolled around, I still wanted to go to law school, but I was suffering major burnout.  I’d been in school for five years, lived in France and Germany, and I was tired.  Tired of writing papers, tired of being at the mercy of insane French professors (never had a crazy – in a bad way – German prof), and tired of going to school all day and then working until late at night and coming home to write more papers.  In short, I guess I was ready to move on.

Well, moving on from being a career student is rough.  It seems like, the longer we’re in school, the harder it is to become a “real person.”  My first job out of uni was working at a bank.  Heh.  I really took (and got) the job because I had two friends who were working there, one of whom was in HR.  I basically had them at hello, which is pretty fortunate, because most college grads don’t walk right into a bank job with a lot of room for promotion.  There was just one problem…

I hate banks.  I had the idea of fractional reserve banking.  I had the Federal Reserve.  I wasn’t all that fond of accounting class.  You can imagine how well I took to answering questions about NSFs, overdraft, debits, credits, etc., all day.  It wasn’t exactly the ideal job for someone whose primary set of knowledge has more to do with Frankfurt than finance.  There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t hate that job.  After six months, I was ready to have a nervous breakdown.  I came home and cried a lot, and I often came in, poured myself a glass of whiskey and ate half a tub of ice cream.  It was bad.

I would never kid myself into thinking that I would enjoy that job more or be any better at it today, because I probably wouldn’t.  I probably would have had a different attitude on the job, though, because I know enough now, having been out of college for longer than 10 minutes, to know that decent jobs don’t grow on trees.  That said, I still have nightmares about that job.  It’s always 7:59 in the morning, and I’m standing in front of my desk, waiting for the phone lines to open and the banks to unlock the doors.  Waiting for the barrage of angry people – because honestly, most people who come into the bank with a problem are the most belligerent people you will ever meet – to berate me from 8a.m. to 5p.m.  Yeah, bankers’ hours only exist in small towns now.

So here I am.  I can’t really go back into banking, partly because I suck at it and partly because I honestly hate it.  Teaching, well, that’s another story.  I like teaching.  Actually, I like it a lot.  But I’ve also discovered that teaching in the USA isn’t going to be teaching in Korea.

In Korea, there are a heckuva lot of annoyances that come along with being the foreign teacher.  For one thing, if you have a Korean co-teacher, they will more often than not try to blame their incompetence on you.  I have had this happen, but I was (thankfully) smart enough to cover my own rear.  Parents complain if you speak Korean, even though the average seven-year-old child barely pays attention in his or her native tongue, let alone to foreign gibberish.  Parents complain if the foreigner is too fat, too dark-skinned, not blond enough, not tall enough… I’ve heard it all.  I’ve seen people get hired and touted as good teachers just because they have blond hair and blue eyes.

That said, I don’t really think it probably even begins to measure up to the amount of b.s. with which American teachers at home put up.  You’ve got to deal with the kids and the fact that you can’t discipline them in any meaningful way.  You’ve got to deal with parents, and that can go in both directions: parents who won’t leave you alone and parents who couldn’t care less at all.  You have to deal with the governmental and administrative expectations, which I hear means TONS of paperwork.  I should probably admit right now that I’m not all that great at going along with policies with which I don’t agree.

This is probably also the point where I might add that I’m a pretty hard-core libertarian and getting worse every day.  I’ve been reading through For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard, who was/is one of the greatest minds in modern libertarian thought, and he doesn’t have too many kind words for state-sponsored education.  Have any of you ever seen Hocus Pocus, the old Disney Halloween movie about three witch sisters, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy (all of whom I adore)?  Bette Midler’s character describes school as “a prison for children,” and that’s exactly how Rothbard describes it.  I wonder if the writers ever read Rothbard?

The point that I’m making is that public education, if you buy into libertarian thinking on this sort of thing, basically provides parents with a babysitter and the state with a way to indoctrinate children in “the right way of thinking.”  It doesn’t help children become independent thinkers or foster much in the way of creative thinking.  In effect, it tries to make everyone adhere to the same mold.  It says, frankly, a lot of what I was thinking when I was a kid in school.

So there it is.  Once again, I find myself becoming more and more philosophically opposed to the thing that I was thinking I could do for a career.  Excellent.  Fantastic. Back to the drawing board.

I thought about law school again, and then I looked at the price tag.  Wow.  100K-150K without grants or scholarships.  I could buy a house – a nice house – for $120,000.  That’s a lot of money, and now you look at the all of the articles from newly minted law school graduates saying that they can’t find jobs.  Most of these people are in debt over $100K.  How are they going to pay the bills?  How are they ever going to get ahead?  Law school debt cannot be erased; it must be paid.  I’m not in debt.  Do I really want to go that far into debt in the hopes that I’ll be one of the lucky few to get a job during this recession?  The fanciful part of me says that I’d be fine, but the realist in me says that I know better.

I got an email from my Aunt Sue – “Bub,” actually – and she said that I needed to keep looking and something would come up.  Well, as usual, she was right.  I got online and started researching the job fields that were projecting the best salaries and the greatest growth over the next 10-15 years.  Do you want to know what the biggest one is?  Guess.  No, it’s not nursing or accounting or any of those traditionally “practical” enterprises.  It’s court reporting.  Stenography.  Sitting at a funky-looking typewriter and keeping up with the lawyer monkeys who are fighting about who-knows-what.

Court reporters are in HUGE demand.  There are only 100 certified court reporters in the state of New Jersey.  Of course, part of the reason that court reporters are in huge demand is because the training is quite difficult.  The shorthand theory isn’t what gets people – it’s learning to type 225 words per minute on a steno machine.  It takes some people 3-4 years.  I’m hoping I might be able to beat those odds.

What do court reporters need?  Good English ability.  Check.  Good memory.  Check.  Decent coordination.  Check.  What does Margaret need?  Good salary.  Check.  A job that doesn’t require too much interaction with people who suck.  Check.  Court reporters spend most of their time being politely ignoring and listening to those would rather hear themselves talk anyway.  Perfect.

Now the only problem is finding a program that isn’t too expensive and won’t take me forever to complete.  I’m actually quite excited about perhaps getting into this.  Is it possible that I’ve finally found a job (that isn’t a librarian) that will allow me to mostly be left alone, work when and where I want to (within reason), and still make a dang good salary?  Is that too much to hope for?  I hope not.  Stay tuned…

What I Wish I’d Done for Chuseok

My husband and I haven’t had very good luck with our vacations this year.  Actually, we haven’t really had very good luck with vacations since we came back to Korea.

Last year at Chuseok, we were pet-sitting our friends’ cat, Chubby, who used to be my cat.  She was mildly insane, and I hadn’t been looking forward to it, but I was relieved to discover that she had calmed down a lot since going to live with our friends.  On the night before Chuseok (a three-day holiday) started, the cat got sick.  Really sick.  All of the vets were closed for the holiday, and we weren’t able to get her to a vet until it was too late.  She died before our friends could get back and say goodbye to her.  Needless to say, watching her expire in our house was hardly a great vacation.

This past summer, we planned a lovely belated honeymoon to Thailand.  As we were on the airport limo bus, our flight was canceled at the last minute.  We got a full refund on everything, but obviously having your honeymoon canceled at the 11th hour isn’t exactly the best way to start your summer vacation.  Instead of having a romantic, 10-day beach vacation, we came home and had to go back to work three days early.  Whee.

For Chuseok this year, we were determined that things were going to be different.  Of course, on Friday afternoon, my boss informed me that I might not want to go to the water park, as there was a typhoon/tropical storm skirting around Korea which was going to bring lots of rain.  So far, it has.  It’s supposed to clear off by Tuesday, but it hasn’t made for the late-summer beach-combing experience I’d had in mind.

My friend’s husband, I’ve just discovered, is in Japan camping with some buddies of his.  One of these friends is filming a documentary about Mt. Fuji’s legendary “suicide forest,” Aokigahara.  I first learned of this place on, of all things, Destination Truth, one of my late-night guilty pleasures.  I hate admitting that I watch anything on the SyFy Channel, but I always think that the host has the best job in the world – traveling around, pretending to hunt for ghosts, werewolves, and elves, and getting paid to do it.  That job was made for me, minus all the rock-climbing he seems to do.

Anyway, the “suicide forest” is quite a creepy place.  It’s at the base of Mt. Fuji, and because of electromagnetic fluctuations, it can be quite easy to get lost.  The forest is dark, and compasses don’t work all that well there.  The scary part is, Japanese people often go to this place with the specific intention of, well, “passing themselves away”, as Evie from Girls Will Be Girls would have so delicately put it.  As a result of all of this bad energy, it’s supposed to be a very haunted place.

I love ghost stories and haunted houses.  A haunted forest is the sort of thing that has my name on it.  I’m pretty bummed that I’m not one of the guys on that trip, actually.  There is nothing I would enjoy more than camping in a supposedly haunted forest for Chuseok.

I just read an article on this stating that over 500 people have died in that forest since the 1950s, and apparently, it all began with a Japanese novel called Black Sea of Trees, in which two of the characters kill themselves in this forest.  Is it strange to anyone else that a novel has resulted in this place becoming a living monument to death?  Are the Japanese really that susceptible to suggestion?  My grandpa once told me that I would never be able to understand the Eastern mind, and while I’ve come an awfully long way, it seems at times that he is correct.

In any case, I will be interested to see this documentary, whatever it does or doesn’t turn up.  I rather expect that it will be more or less a case of four or five guys being nervous in tents for three nights, but I might be wrong.

I would like to at least hike into Aokigahara before I leave Asia, although I doubt it’s going to become a reality, since my husband doesn’t share my love of the spooky and macabre, and Japan is a really expensive place to travel, besides.  I guess I’ll just have to watch the documentary and report back!

Marge’s Dutch Apple Pie Recipe

I love pie.  I’m on a diet, so I can’t have pie or anything else made with sugar and/or white flour.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy pie!  Hot apple pie is one of my favorite things in the fall, particularly when it’s hot and has natural vanilla ice cream half-melted over it.  Mmm, daddy!

Here is my recipe for joy.  Bake it.  Love it.  Don’t expect to lose any weight, ‘cuz I love me a lard crust!  I am the Paula Dean of lard.

The Crust (8-9 inch standard crust)
Honestly, I really prefer to use lard for my pie crusts, but you can’t really get it in Korea, near as I can tell.  Crisco works just fine, too.  I find that I don’t need to use as much lard as I do Crisco, for whatever reason.  Pie crust is really all about the feel.  You’ll know if it’s too dry, because it won’t hold together.  If it’s too wet, it will be like working with paper mache.

1 c. flour
1/3 c. lard
1/2 tsp. salt
approx. 2 Tbsp. cold water

I use a fork or a spoon and just mix it all together in a bowl.  Sometimes I use my hands, though a fork does it just fine.  I’ve used cold milk in place of the ice water before, but I’ve got to say, I now prefer the ice water.

The Filling
Baking apples don’t really happen in Korea.  Fortunately, the apples are big and sweet.  Honestly, I’ve made a lot of pies with regular apples.  I like the sweeter ones, but a mix of green and red or red and yellow works fine.  It depends on what you like.  I have a serious sweet tooth, so you know what I like!

Between 4-7 apples, depending on size.  Four was perfect for me today, but I’ve used as many as seven.
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves, if you want
1/8 tsp. allspice, if you want

Apple pie spice works fine, too.  I like plenty of spices in my apple pie, because that’s what gives it that amazing aroma.

Crumbly Topping
I fudged on this one tonight because I forgot to get butter at the store.  I made do with 1/2 a stick, and it worked out just great!  I just altered the amount of the other ingredients, and I had more than enough topping for the pie.

1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
1 stick butter
cinnamon to taste, if you’d like

When you’ve got the crust rolled out and transferred to the 9″ pie pan, you can put the apples in.  Add the crumbly topping, and you’re ready to pop it in the oven.  I preheated my oven to about 400F.  I am using a small counter-top oven here, and it still takes about 40-50 minutes to cook.  Keep your eye on it, and if the top starts to get too brown, cover it with some foil and let it finish baking. 

… And then I found five dollars.

That’s how my friends and I used to finish boring stories when we were at university.  I guess the theory was that, if you were going to induce comas with long-winded drivel, you may as well throw in that surprise twist at the end.  Today, however, I’m going to start with it.

I found $10 on my way to the grocery store tonight.

I never find money.  I’m not generally a “lucky” person.  Have you ever met those people?  They always win contests, they usually get at least five bucks on the scratch-and-play lotto cards, and things just seem to go their way, even when they aren’t really trying.  Of course, I’ve also met a whole bunch of people who fall into the “terminally unlucky” category, and they’re always getting kidney stones, having fender benders, fights with friends, etc.  Granted, some folks make their own trouble, but I genuinely believe that there are lucky and unlucky people in the world.  I am of neutral luck, which I guess just means that life is mostly whatever I make of it.  So when God hands me a couple of greasy bucks, I pounce on that like a fat kid at a cake party.

I snatched up dinner fixin’s and the few things I needed to make a quality apple pie.  I usually like to watch a movie or something while I cook.  I enjoy the background noise, for some reason.  I was horrified and incredibly pissed off to find that my computer wasn’t loading the new external hard drive, which is now the resting place for our entire video library.  I spent about 30 minutes trying unsuccessfully to troubleshoot the problem myself, and then I gave up when the urgency of my hunger was no longer a minor issue.

I did finally get the hard drive working again late in the evening, and the problem turned out to be with the computer rather than the new hard drive.  Whew!  I feel like a bit of a genius for solving the problem, though, as I’m not all that computer savvy and feel like it’s a bit of an effort to do anything beyond update Facebook.

In any case, unable to access the video library, I rented “Rio” – cute, mildly entertaining, wouldn’t watch it again – and sat down to eat my chicken salad dinner.  I then proceeded to bake the heck out of an apple pie.  I’m not genius in the kitchen, and I will admit that.  However, I like to think that, of all the things that I know how to make, Dutch Apple Pie is probably my best recipe.  I don’t remember ever screwing up an apple pie.  I’ve screwed up at least two pumpkins and seriously overcooked a pecan once, but never an apple pie.  I know, I know – I’m tooting my own horn.  But I really did a bad job on some pumpkin pies (all made from scratch, including the pumpkin goo) last year, and I haven’t lived it down yet.

Now the biggest task is keeping my husband away from the pie before I can deliver it to my boss.  I’m hoping he’ll enjoy it and repent of the sour mood that he was in today.

I might be wrong, but I think he’s sore because two students quit this week.  I have no idea why the older one quit, but the younger one?  Well, that’s a fairly typical hagwon tale.

This little girl, Kelly, went to an English-speaking kindergarten.  I have friends who have worked in English kindergartens.  Best I can tell, parents pay WAY TOO MUCH to have their kids be around native speakers for an hour or two every day.  I don’t really think that the kids learn all that much, to be perfectly honest.  It seems more like a free-for-all, in most cases.  I mean, I have some seven- and eight-year-old students, and it’s all I can do to keep them in line.  It’s tough instructing kids in their native tongue at that age, let alone in a different one.  Most of them think the foreign teachers are living jungle gyms.

Getting back to the point, because this girl went to English kindergarten, her mother thinks that she’s a prodigy who belongs with the 4th and 5th grade students, many of whom know more about English grammar than most American students of a similar age.  This girl can’t spell “computer” or “puppy” correctly.  The 5th grade students will frequently spend time telling me Korean folk tales or how to program a website.

My boss, eager to appease her demanding mother, put her in class with the 4th and 5th grade students.  Of course, she had no bloody idea what was going on, her homework sucked, she couldn’t do the tests, and she was driving me insane with her incessant demands.  That particular class is already a handful, between a kid whose nickname is the Korean equivalent of “Ovaltine” and his lunatic sidekicks, it’s hard to find time to personally tutor a kid who is as dumb as a box of hair and can’t pay attention.

I recommended that she be put into a class with the 2nd and 3rd grade students, and my boss agreed with me.  Of course, two days later, her mother pulled her out, explaining that the material is too easy for her.  Granted, I’m sure that she does know what a cat is, but the point is that she can’t speak well, can’t spell her way out of a paper bag, and frequently doesn’t pay attention.  She belongs with the kids her age, and her mother refuses to believe this.

I understand that she was sent to an English kindergarten.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that she clearly didn’t absorb a lot of what was being taught there.  That may be the fault of the teachers, it may be because she didn’t pay attention, or it might be because she’s simply an average student with average linguistic capability.  Although some parents don’t want to believe this, the hard truth is that not every student is gifted for language learning, much in the same way that I was never gifted for math.  Some kids are great writers and some are mediocre, at best.

I have another student, Cherry.  (I know, I know, it sounds like the name of a jaded old streetwalker, but she’s cute as a button.)  Cherry is not a brainbox.  In fact, she’s not much better than average, really.  But that kid works hard.  She didn’t know anything when she came into her class, but she’s worked her little butt off, and grade-wise, she’s now the second-best student in her class.  The boy above her is a natural talent who always makes straight A-pluses on everything.

Kelly is not Cherry.  She plays around, and she doesn’t care all that much about being the brainiest kid in class.  That’s fine.  Not every kid can or should feel like they have to be valedictorian.  What drives me crazy is the insane, pushy parents who insist that their children must be the best because that is what they (the parents) want.  It’s fine to push kids, but parents should also set realistic expectations for them.  Don’t throw your kid into a class that sets them up for failure.  That is exactly what this mother wants.

To help my boss out and hopefully appease this nutty Korean mom, I agreed that she could be bumped up to the 4th grade class.  Although there are problems with most all forms of education, this is one of the more obvious side effects of profit-driven education.  I guess if this is all I can complain about, though, things aren’t too tough in my neck of the woods.  At least I don’t have to deal with budget cuts!


It Has Recently Come to My Attenshun…

That I love Hallowe’en.  I also love these spoofs of indie actress Chloe Sevigny.  Actually, I rather like her, as an actress, but she is ridiculously pretentious and hipster-ish, which is always good for a laugh.  You can expect these from now on whenever a holiday comes around and/or I post about said holiday.  Enjoy!

Chloe Sevigny: Hallowe’en

The Smell of Fall

Today wasn’t the first day that I “smelled fall,” but the scent is definitely getting stronger.  Am I the only person who can smell the change of seasons?  I can’t even accurately describe what it is, but whenever winter is giving way to spring or summer is giving way to fall, there is a distinct and noticeable change in the way the air smells.  Maybe I’m imagining it, since it’s now September and Chuseok is upon us, but I don’t think so.  I’ve smelt spring when there was snow on the ground.

I’m also fairly convinced that women (no offense guys) are better at this sort of thing than men.  I mentioned it to Graeme as we were walking downhill, and he said that he couldn’t smell it.  I recall having a conversation with my friend, Holly, once about something similar.  She said that she can smell it when her students are getting sick, and I concur.  I can generally tell, without evidence of the sniffles or eardrum-shattering coughs, that people are sick.  Not always, but sometimes.

Apparently, the biological reason for this is so women can protect their children and will know when to give them extra care.  Is it possible that similar things are true for weather, or is possible that some people just notice those things more?  I’m not sure.

Whatever the case, in spite of the warm sun, I am confident that fall will be here, probably by the third week or so of September.  I love fall.  Fall is my favorite season.  I love the warmth and the general good feelings of the summer, but fall just makes me feel good inside.  There is something about fall that feels like coming home. The only thing that I don’t enjoy is the potential for rainy weather.

Let’s start with the fall holidays.  Halloween.  YES, PLEASE.  I think the history of Halloween is fascinating.  Of course, I respect that fact that not everyone enjoys Halloween because of religious beliefs, but I find that Halloween/All Souls is quite a spiritual time for me.  I don’t find it frightening or scary in any real way, but I do feel as though it’s a time to get back one’s spiritual home and a good time to remember the departed who are dear to us.  Hammy?  Perhaps, but that’s the way I feel about it, and I quite enjoy it.

In the past, my friend Kendra and I used to make pumpkin pies and hot mulled wine around Halloween.  I will absolutely never forget the year that she forgot to add the sugar when we made the pie.  We kept wondering why it wasn’t solidifying better, and then about an hour into the baking, she remembered.  Fortunately, we rectified our mistake the following year with a delicious squash pie.  I should ask her what the name of that squash was, because it could kick any pumpkin’s butt back to the pumpkin patch.  We literally sat down and ate the whole pie before it even cooled.  Wash it down with hot, spiced wine?  Mmm, buddy!

I’m getting all warm and cuddly just thinking about fall back home.  Fall here is absolutely gorgeous, don’t get me wrong.  The Japanese maples are just stunning, and I’ve decided that we must have one when we get back home, because their cranberry-magenta colors in the fall are breathtaking.  The mountains look like a painter’s pallet of color, and it really makes me feel sorry that there is so much urban sprawl in Korea.  The country itself is beautiful.

Still, in spite of the mountains, I always find myself thinking of the Illinois River Valley in the fall.  I think it’s a combination of my mother taking me to the Spoon River Drive when I was a kid and Saturday evening car rides with Grandma and Grandpa when I was young.  Grandpa often drove us around down by Meredoshia, and as you’re coming over the crest of the bluffs heading towards the river, there’s this really great view of the entire river valley.  With all the colored trees and the brown corn and the dust from the combines, it melts together and just looks really amazing.  I always think of that particular view when I think of fall at home.

I would really like to have a Halloween party of some sort this year.  The main problem is this: most of my friends have left Korea.  Also, there’s the natural destruction that accompanies parties.  Still, I haven’t really celebrated Halloween in a long time, and I think it might be time for a change.  Perhaps this is the year?  Perhaps a smallish, generally inoffensive gathering?  Korean cops have a tendency to break up foreigner parties, although thankfully, the Korean cops are mostly college boys doing their mandatory military service, so they aren’t exactly threatening or overly involved in doing a good job.

Or I could just avoid all of this, find a cheap, crappy costume, and go to O’Brien’s, a.k.a. the most active foreigner bar in Changwon.  It also the number one place to go if you want boys who appear prepubescent to hit on you all night.  (I.P. Bar is where you go if you want 50-year-old engineers from Doosan Heavy hitting on you on all night.)  I guess this all depends on where I want my Halloween to go.  Do I prefer Halloween to be covered in fall sweaters, delicious pie, hot wine, and a chill atmosphere?  Or do I prefer Halloween to appear as though a slut bomb exploded in the middle of a crowded bar full of people whom I mostly don’t like?  … I suppose when I write it down, the choice seems rather obvious.  Wine and good conversation it is!  … Now I just have to get it past the hubby!

And now, just because I feel like it, a list of my favorite fall things!

1.  Halloween.
2. Jack-o-lanterns
3. Colored leaves
4. Scary stories and driving around looking for haunted houses
5. Wearing sweaters with shorts
6. Spoon River Drive (mostly because of nostaligia)
7. Apple and any variety of squash pie, just out of the oven
8. Hot, spiced wine
9. Bonfires/wiener roasts
10. Indian corn
11. Driving around with Grandpa while he tries to spot deer and turkeys that he hopes someone in the family will shoot at a later date.
12. The harvest moon
13. Watching Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and various other Halloween-related movies that are comforting rather than terrifying.
14. Leftover Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
15. Listening to the fallen leaves blow


A Dabble in a Little Rumpy Pumpy

So, in case you’ve been unintentionally or politely ignoring my links (they’re a motley crew), I have a thing for The Oatmeal.  With the exception of Dilbert and The Far Side, they are possibly my favorite comics ever.

I have to share “Minor Differences 4”, because I have had the majority of these thoughts more times than I can count.  Please enjoy and love The Oatmeal.

Disclaimer to older friends and family reading this: The Oatmeal is nowhere near PG-13.  It is so inappropriate sometimes that it’s painful.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.