Sunday, December 29, 2019

Simply Christmas

Hey. Remember Christmas? I know, right? Time is always a bit nebulous at the end of December but since the new year hasn't rolled in yet I'm going to go ahead and talk about our holiday.

I've always been a big baby about Christmas. I also have grown children living on the other side of the world so I'm learning how to let go of a few bells and whistles while holding on to the real meaning of the season.

I do love some bells and whistles at Christmastime, but knew I'd need a different strategy this year.

This year there were no little girls in the house. Or big girls. Or grandsons, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins. This year Daughter2 boarded a plane for South Korea to spend Christmas with her sister, meet her new nephew, and relish the role of aunt to the cutest little mancubs we know.

Instead of feeling blue about our quiet house I felt so much tenderness in my heart for these girls who have loved each other so well since the day they met. Girls who are sisters, kindred spirits, the best of friends, one another's listening ear...

And you know what? It was enough. A friend shared a little saying on her Facebook page earlier this month and I really took it to heart. It was this-

 'The first Christmas was simple. Mine can be too.' 

I know how to complicate things but this year I just said no. No to overdoing the baking and the buying and the everything and yes to simply Christmas.

Hubs decided he wasn't going to put up outdoor lights and he didn't (there is a lighted wreath but that's him showing restraint). And I decided not to haul my snow village out of the attic because as much as I enjoy seeing it all lit up this time of year the set up (and take down) is such a chore.

We did put up a tree because sitting in front of the tree in the early morning quiet darkness is perhaps my favorite thing.

And because we're not always the best at going small, we also put a tree on the screened in porch.
And a small one on the bar top downstairs, but I drew the line at a third big tree like we normally have.

See I can do small.
And I can like it.

We hung all the stockings and hubs drove to Tennessee and brought his mama here to spend the week with us. We downsized long held traditions keeping just enough to make us feel the way we love to feel this time of year.

There were new memories made, new traditions we'll perhaps carry forward into future Christmas celebrations. Neighbors joined us for a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner and I found a small ham to glaze for Christmas Day. There were cookies baked, cards sent and a few presents under the tree.

There was dock diving and FaceTiming with our people and a boat ride Christmas Day.

The weather y'all! Fantastic!

There was a stroll through tiny town to see the lights and a happpy text from big little girls in their pjs half a world away.

There were grandsons in matching pjs too-

And memories pulled out and dusted off-

There was light and peace and hope and love-

Because one long ago night Christmas simply came-

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Meri Kurisumasu

That's Merry Christmas in Japanese. At least it is if the Internet can be trusted. We can always trust the Internet, right?

Grand Hyatt Tokyo

An-y-way-Merry Christmas! Let's talk about Tokyo because I still need to wrap up my recent travels and there's nothing else that needs doing in December, is there? For anyone interested, small and slow is my holiday mantra this year.


We spent a few days in this fabulous city on our way out of Asia because it's a favorite of the hubs and he wanted me to experience it. In a funny coincidence this summer we met the couple building a house just a few up from ours on the lake. We spent an evening together in our home and as it turns out they currently live guess where? Tokyo! They invited us to connect with them when we were in town and we did.

They offered to pick us up at the airport and as we stepped out of Immigration we were greeted with a big 'hey y'all!' So nice to hear after nearly a month away. They pointed out a lot of the city sites as we drove to the hotel and offered all sorts of helpful tips for exploring this place they call home.

Not gonna lie. Mostly we're about the food.
But also the sites and we did manage to squeeze a lot in to a few days.

We had the most fabulous hotel room with a three sided view of downtown Tokyo and, if the weather cooperated (which it did on Day 1), Mt. Fuji.

Thursday was in fact a picture perfect day weather wise so hubs and I taxied to the Imperial Palace to see the stone walls, moat, and gardens.

This is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan so you don't go inside and you really can't see much of the buildings themselves, but the grounds are beautiful.

As an aside, hubs and I did ride the 'metro' (subway) systems in both Seoul and Tokyo and both were easy to use and so clean. The city of Tokyo is enormous and seems almost spotless. You notice.

We also like to walk when we can and ride taxis on occasion because you see more of the city that way.

We left the palace grounds and made our way to the area around Senso-ji Temple which sits in the middle of a busy commercial and entertainment district.

There were throngs of people checking out the vendor stalls lining the walkway into the temple and throngs of people in and all around the temple too.

We sampled a green tea rice cake as we walked and you can forget about the styrofoam-like rice cakes we buy here...

This was dense and creamy and rich...

We wandered around the temple grounds and then had a delicious lunch in a restaurant nearby, chosen for us by the gentleman waving us in from the doorway. I had soba noodles (the more I ate the more they seemed to grow) and tempura veggies which were scrumptious.

Hubs had soba noodles and sushi and we are fans of the food here. Also the presentation. Nobody slings a plate down in front of you, sloshes tea into a saucer so it drips while you sip, or rolls their eyes waiting on you to decide what you'd like to order.

Lunch cost some amount?

There was an area hubs wanted me to see that he knew I would enjoy. It's called Kappabashi and is the fake food capital of the world. Maybe not officially, but it could be. Everything you would ever need or think you might need or didn't even know you'd need to open and run your own restaurant is available in this little section of town.

There are shops filled with nothing but 'fake food', the kind the restaurants use to entice you to come in and sample their version of the real thing. Besides the fake food there's store after store filled with every sort of pot, pan, and cooking utensil you can imagine. I loved it!

After leaving Kappabashi we took a fairly long taxi ride across the city to the most famous 'scramble junction' in Japan. You have to experience this for yourself y'all. Holy moly! I read a half million people might use this junction beside Shibuya Station in a single day, and as many as 3000 people might cross here on one green light. One!

Essentially it is a multi-sided cross walk through mega traffic in this super trendy part of Tokyo. All vehicle traffic is stopped at the same time allowing people to cross in multiple directions at the same time. The area around the crossing feels a bit like Times Square with all the lights, electronic billboards, and people except there's no scrambled cross walk like this one in the Big Apple.

Ka-razy! but so much fun to see in person.

We'd run out of steam by late afternoon so we made our way back to the hotel for a cup of tea in the main lobby restaurant. The little touches here are impossible to describe or even remember except to say you leave feeling less stressed than when you arrived. There's an art to that and they've mastered it here.

We were in the Grand Hyatt (highly recommend) and people come from all around the city to dine in one of their many restaurants. We had dinner in the steakhouse our first night there and it was superb.

This isn't the steak. It's dessert (raspberry pavlova) and so yummy I had to snap a picture.

Friday morning we awoke to drizzly skies so made a plan to see one of the many museums we'd read about online. We decided on the Edo-Tokyo Museum which did not disappoint. Lock and leave your umbrella here which is so sensible.

The museum features models of Edo and Tokyo between 1590 and 1964.

That's a lot of history. A lot a lot. There's also a life-size replica of the Nihonbashi (bridge) and we really enjoyed our visit.

We had dinner plans with our neighbors that evening, so after lunch spent some time napping and just soaking up the view from our room.

Our neighbors took us to dinner at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel which featured seasonal Japanese cuisine.

Every morsel was beautiful and delicious. We told them we'd treat them to some Carolina BBQ in our backyard once they're back stateside.

Hey now! That's fabulous in its own way too.

We were flying out later the next day but not before we met up once more for guess what? Another meal! Probably our favorite of all the meals we had the entire month we were away.

We dined in the hotel tepanyaki restaurant where lunch was cooked right before our eyes. This was not like the 'cook at your table' type of restaurant you may have tried elsewhere because this is Tokyo. Think depth of flavor, stunning presentation, a comfortable elegance that leaves you wanting more. No detail overlooked and your meal a literal feast for the senses.

I could write a whole post about this lunch but here's a peek, minus the flaming dessert that refused to load here-

After lunch we snapped a picture in the hotel lobby then boarded the shuttle to the airport for the long flight home.

What a privilege to see this part of the world. To experience the foods and customs and beauty of a place I'd never been. To taste and see and savor the sights and sounds of somewhere new. To spend time with precious family, dear old friends, kind strangers, and brand new neighbors...

To be reminded once more it's a small world after all.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thoughts From A Church Pew

Good Morning! And happy Thanksgiving to you all! I love this holiday perhaps more than any other because it feels good to stop and smell the roses, count your blessings, and let a meal wing you back to the memory of childhood dinners on the good china.

A week and a half ago I sat beside my daughter in a church pew on a military base in South Korea. I looked around my seat at the (mostly young) men and women, the newlyweds and the single folks, the families with young children, some with a baby on the way, those who left family on the other side of the world for one reason or another, and I felt so much love for these people who I don't even know, that I wanted to cry.

I listened as the pastor reminded everyone there were sign up sheets out for Thanksgiving dinner, people opening up their homes to share a meal with singles who might want a home cooked plate of turkey and dressing or families who want a full table on this day of gratitude, and I thought this is America. Right here.

I thought about life back in the states, about all the angry noisy noise and how our all day news and our 'friendly' social media feeds and our television screens are filled with so very many complaining about so very

We have that luxury in the land of the free and in 2019 we've run with it full throttle.

Someone said something I don't like. 
They need to be verbally assaulted, eviscerated, labeled. 

Someone is going to give a speech on my college campus and I already know I don't like or agree with anything they will say-think-feel so they should be protested, banned, their every sin laid bare. 

Every little thing an emotional trigger for somebody somewhere.

Me Me Me 

Meanwhile, on a military base in S. Korea young men and women get on with things. They rise at dawn as the trumpet blows. No calling in sick, no skipping class or an assignment, no tweeting their outrage and discontent from the warmth and comfort of a 60K a year dorm room paid for by parents or exorbitant student loans.

They get up and put on a uniform. They head out to pt because there is value in being both mentally and physically fit. They do their jobs, large and small, the seemingly menial and the obviously meaningful because it takes all kinds to make the world go round.

They grow in ways they didn't expect and develop the sort of skills and character traits America was built on...self-discipline, adaptability, patience, courage, selflessness.

As I sit down at the table with family today I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for our military men and women. They can't jump in the car and go to mama's for the weekend, in fact here in S. Korea most don't even have cars.

Or packages delivered to their door 24 hours after hitting purchase.

Or their favorite television shows, favorite stores and restaurants, or a million other things we take for granted every single day.

Some are homesick for America and go to bed tired from the mental energy it takes to live an ordinary day in a foreign country, base or no base.

But these soldiers are tough and resourceful and optimistic and they will find a way to mark the holiday. It won't be grandma's homemade rolls on the table or watching the game with dad, but it will still be a day of giving thanks.

And while we're giving thanks let's also remember the young wife married just a month before moving around the world, far from the only hometown she's ever known. And the mama with a just turned one year old who has yet to meet his grandparents in person because 7000+ miles is just not that easy or affordable to arrange.

Think of the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, best friends, missing their soldier today and every day.

Think of all we have at our fingertips here in the USA and be grateful without any buts! attached.

Vow to hit pause before hitting send-publish-share on words that do nothing in the way of adding peace to this land we love.

Hug the people you're with knowing there's a mama somewhere who would love to do the same but who settles for FaceTime and phone calls squeezed in around upside down time zones.

May your Thanksgiving day be blessed!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

South Korea Scramble

There are a few million bits and pieces I still want to mention about our trip east so I'm going to drop them here. I guess you could also call this post Picture Overload, but whatever.

We were away for a month give or take a day, four days of which were spent traveling, four days in Seoul, and four days in Tokyo. I know! I haven't even mentioned Tokyo here yet, but we'll get to that. Let's wrap up S. Korea first.

When your 'kids' live far from home it's so nice to see their space up close and in person. If you read my daughter's blog you might have seen the video tour she posted of her apartment which was great, but it makes a mama's heart feel better to see it in real time for herself.

The apartment and grounds are really nice and we spent a lot of time on the playground with the mancub. I might have gone down this slide a hundred and seventeen times but how could you say 'no more' when this is the reaction you get every single time?

The second day we were in town this fabulous thing happened-

Coffee with my friend from England. She and her husband have been so kind to my daughter and it was wonderful to catch up in person.  They also attend the same church as my girl so we were able to see her hubs and daughter a little later on in our visit too.

We walked into 'the ville' several times while we were visiting. So interesting to see how people live all around this great big world. Of course we indulged in the famous and delicious Korean BBQ one night-

And we ate some 'this is not your typical takeout' takeout-

As is true of toddler households the world over, mornings typically began with a whole lotta track works-

Halloween happened while we were there and the cutest little Woody you ever did see wore his costume around to a few neighboring apartments for his first taste of trick or treating. Also you need to know his mama is completely amazing, having just arrived home from the hospital a couple of hours earlier. 

One afternoon hubs and I walked to the local Anjeong-ri market, more commonly referred to as the 3/8 market since it's only open on dates ending in 3 or 8.  

The produce was amazing along with lots of fish and other foods, snacks, and candies. 

We stopped in a newish coffee shop on the walk home for a cup of tea which never disappoints here. 

Real china and attention to detail make it so. 

One beautiful day we ventured to a nearby park to run and play and worry about a kite someone managed to get stuck in a tree.

Speaking of trees, the ginkgo trees were everywhere, a gorgeous shade of bright lemon yellow. Apparently once the leaves drop the female of the species has an extremely unpleasant odor, but we weren't in town for that. 

We read a lot of books. A lot a lot. Maybe thousands, but particularly this one-

His favorite is the story of 'Noah' and the Whale, and every time we read this one the mancub expressed great concern at Jonah's sandals coming off as he sunk into the sea. 

We also ventured out to toddler story time at the library on base-

There were somewhere around fifteen kids in attendance and there was paint!!

God bless the mamas and the librarians! 

Mostly we did a lot of this. 

Baby watching. 
Because no matter where in this world you may be...

There is nothing quite so sweet as a sack of sugar in the form of a newborn baby boy.