The ocean is a miracle, both constant and ever-changing; and the best part is, you never know what will come from it. Literally anything is possible! That said, since moving to Korea, sea glass collecting has been an amazingly satisfying hobby. Like the ocean that shaped, bruted, nurtured and carried each piece, the possibilities are endless in what you might find. Collecting sea glass, and especially the act of strolling the beach being completely open to said possibilities, also helps calm and sharpen my mind in the quest for what to write next. And although I have buckets and buckets of fine Pacific sea glass, mostly in shades of aqua, I would like to share, in response to requests from a few of my readers, a few unique pieces I had the fortune to find.
This earl grey butter jar to the left contains tiny gem-quality pieces of glass, including a perfectly-preserved round marble, that are completely smoothed over with no chipping or inclusions. I’d like to make jewelry out of these at some point.
So, without further ado, check out some incredible pieces below!
And….the search continues. Thanks for reading!
Fifteen years ago, just months prior to the 9/11 attacks, I made a decision that surprised all I knew and loved; including, on some occasions during my service, myself. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. My husband at the time did not know what to make of this, since I had always expressed an interest in law and journalism; but never military service. But in time, I was able to realize, for the both of us, that God wanted us there. There were many lessons to be learned as well as taught, people who needed us and others we learned to count on. Although I held aspirations toward a civil service career as well as a deep love for my country, my motives for serving the Marine Corps were not entirely patriotic. As an honor student at Liberty University in Virginia, I burned out of school as a result of financial pressures. As I saw military recruiters around campus quite frequently, I considered trying a military career as a professional foundation for civil service opportunities, an avenue to finish college, and to build a stable economic foundation. I chose the Marine Corps because I believed it to be the most challenging and hardcore of the service branches. It was not until after the “thirteen weeks of hell” we call basic training, however, that I truly grasped what being a Marine meant to me: to be responsible for and ready to sacrifice for your fellow Marines at all times. To me, this was the ultimate in living for the sake of others. It is the standard I continually strive to apply in my present life as a wife and full-time mother of three vibrant and energetic sons. In retrospect, I see my 4–year term of service in the Marine Corps not so much as a duty fulfilled, but as a period of basic training for life as parent and more.
Throughout my service, I experienced several major challenges that, when overcome, helped me grow in ways that I could not have outside the military. One such challenge was the Corps’s emphasis on self-confidence and the ability to act quickly when ordered, and issue quick judgment calls regardless of whether or not you knew what you were doing. As a college student, I was used to taking time to think and consider every angle prior to decision making, and then double and triple checking the results to ensure correctness. In the Marine Corps, however, decisiveness and confidence matter more than confirming and reconfirming the right answers. This, I learned the hard way. As my occupation specialty (MOS), I was assigned to train as a computer network administrator, which was a field I wanted to learn; but had no real confidence in. My talents lay elsewhere. Although I trained very hard to master complex technical applications, it seemed difficult to keep up with what seemed to come naturally to others. It was difficult, if not demoralizing, to ward off snarky comments from more tech savvy co-workers when trying my hardest to develop my skills for the mission. Pride also kept me from reaching out to others for help. Instead, I sought to preserve what was left of my ego and try to learn on my own, and then beat myself up in silence for not being fast enough. I eventually came to realize that as a part of a team, I needed to let go of my stubborn pride and reach out to my fellow Marines for help instead of trying to prove that I did not need them. Once I started to humble myself, which was not easy as I thought I had been “humbled” enough, I learned the importance of being patient with myself, as well as with others. It turned out that the more patience I displayed toward learning, the more patient my co-workers became with me; and the more I was able to progress as an “information warrior” with their help. In short, by letting go of my false confidence (the belief that I can and should do it all myself), I was able to develop true self-confidence through teamwork. By allowing myself to be taught, I was eventually able to offer consultation to others, including senior officers, regarding the internal applications of their computer systems. I was later awarded a Certificate of Commendation for improved efforts and results.
Some time later, when the computer specializations were contracted out to civilian companies, I was put in charge of the battalion secure vault, which harbored some of the most sensitive classified materials and computer network terminals on base. My team and I then assumed information security detail which included monitoring secure network traffic and performing background investigations to determine security clearance levels and need-to-know status prior to issuing access documentation of classified information to personnel, among other things. This new billet, due to its sublime nature and sporadic task list, challenged me to find ways to keep myself and four subordinates busy and alert without getting too complacent. Between deployment embarkations, we often experienced lengthy periods of down time, during which I, or a delegated teammate, would conduct study sessions on mission-specific rules and policies, inventories, and personal sharing discussions to keep us from goofing off on the Internet, and help us stay on track in case of surprise inspections and/or work orders.
As a somewhat older Marine for my rank bracket of Sergeant and below, I often faced social challenges with the hierarchical fraternization rule, as most personnel in my age group and maturity level were of senior enlisted or officer ranks. I enjoyed conversing with them about college, raising children, etc. at work; but could never freely socialize with them outside of work. The Marines I was “permitted” to socialize with (mostly younger males) often had differing interests, such as gaming, car parts, and poster girls, which often left me feeling isolated. However, I ended up becoming an elder sister, and in some cases, a mother figure to some of these junior Marines—especially those who got into trouble with the law, their bank, their women, etc. In these situations, I was able to offer guidance based not only on the experience of my years, but also on premise that I had made many of the same mistakes (traffic tickets, occasional bounced checks, credit cards, etc.) myself during my college years. This, in a sense, prepared me well for parenthood. I also faced my fair share of idiosyncrasies being female Marine married to a civilian man, when the reverse is more often the norm. On many occasions, I was asked to provide my husband’s information when filling out paperwork assuming that I was the civilian “dependent” and my husband was the Service member. It was both amusing and annoying to have to point out the reverse case each and every time. And then there were the wisecracks about who the “stronger” one in our couple must be. In any case, these missives added spice to our whole experience as a family serving and supporting one another while learning and assimilating with Marine Corps customs and courtesies.
In short, my experience serving in the United States Marine Corps has indeed been an honor and will forever shape my perspective on life and future endeavors. Though I had never been deployed overseas, as God had other plans for me, I truly value the everyday adventures and learning experiences that service on the home front had faced me with. I will never forget the people I met and grew to love and treasure. And not one day goes by that I ever take for granted the service and sacrifice of my brothers and sisters serving in combat missions overseas. I will never forget the day I went out, seven months pregnant at the time, to see off deploying members of my battalion. As the buses rolled away, I tried the best I could to stand composed and resolute as I watched the tear stained faces of my co-workers’ children being comforted by brave mothers and family members as they walked back to their cars. Then I did what my deploying teammates could not; I wept and held my toddler son tight. Soon after, I went right back to work to support those who were sacrificing their families so that I could be there for mine. To this day, I strive to do my absolute best to honor their service and sacrifice, as well as my own, by teaching my children to value their country and its original ideals founded by God; and all that is worth serving and protecting. Thank you, and Semper Fidelis.
As a night-owl writer and coffee enthusiast since high school, my greatest comfort since moving to Seoul, as well as the most surprising thing, has been the sheer abundance of chain coffee shops, as well as numerous independent cafes. And each coffee shop has its own unique personality. With that, I would like to share a bit about Seoul’s top five coffee shops from a customer’s perspective.
Angel-in-us (how can you not love that name?) is one of the most prominent coffee chains in Korea, and are fairly easy to spot in any given area in Seoul. There are two locations inside Seoul Station. They feature a large variety of coffee, tea, smoothies and juice drinks, as well as a rich array of desserts and sandwiches (pictured). My personal favorite are their mint chocolate cupcakes!
EDIYA Coffee is also one of Seoul’s most dominant coffee chains, as in one of those that can be seen on every other corner. In fact, there are three locations within walking distance of where I live in the Jeongneung area near Kookmin University! The name, “Ediya” is, in fact, derived from an Ethiopian tribe on an island where coffee is grown and harvested (see picture). Their coffee drinks are also very satisfying and bold, specifically their iced lattes and Americanos. They also offer a variety of frappe drinks, smoothies and bubble teas, as well as coffee and tea menu. Their desserts are also decadent, which is standard in most Korean coffee shops, I might add. The honey/butter/maple cream toasts (pictured) are positively to die for!
Keywest Coffee is a design café that very much lives up to its namesake. This venue offers a South Florida ambiance with its signature décor, especially with their blue, papaya and mango-colored tiling, offset by green wooden planks, resembling indoor patios. Keywest offers a standard variety of coffee drinks and beverages, as well as some generous desserts. I personally recommend their coconut frappe, espresso affocato and key lime pie (pictured).
Tom N Toms Coffee
We locals refer to it as “Tom-Tom,” and like the other cafes, Tom N Tom Coffee offers a wide variety of coffee, beverages and juice drinks, both hot and iced. But what sets Tom-Tom apart, in my opinion, are the food items offered. Like Ediya and Keywest and Angel-in-us, Tom-Tom makes a fine honey bread toast with generous dollops of whipped cream; but their tiramisu (pictured) and soft pretzel breads are what keeps me coming for more.
Yoger Presso—a name that tickles my funny bone a bit, basically encompasses its amalgamation as a coffee shop and frozen yogurt and smoothie bar. You can go there for coffee; but if you crave a cool treat, especially with summer on the horizon, Yoger Presso is the ideal break. My personal favorite are any one of their fruit-topped frozen yogurt-topped smoothie “sundaes” (pictured).
Simply put, Seoul has no shortage of amazing coffee. Other honorable mentions to look out for include Cafe Bene, Holly’s Coffee, Twosome+, Bogner Coffee, Caffe Pascucci, Paris Croissant and many more. No matter the style, if you’re ever in Seoul, you’ll never be more than a stone’s throw away from great coffee!
It all became real as the Vice-Principal of Chungduk Elementary School offered us vitamin “candies” and cups of warm water, and said, “Welcome to our school” in complimentary English. Our three sons, meanwhile, were nodding off on the office couch, as it was around 1 AM in Charlotte, NC, where we had flown in from just the day before. I watched our whole game plan change as my Korea-speaking husband did all the talking. I was, at first, hesitant with the idea of our children being foisted into a school environment in a completely different language, even though the Korean culture comprises a large part of their roots. I still felt a nagging obligation and calling to raise them as Americans in America. What would such a drastic move do to their future, should they opt to make it back in the United States?, I wondered.
Then again, I reminded myself of the advantages early foreign language and cultural immersion could afford them, as some of my friends’ children back in Charlotte picked up Mandarin and German in recently-implemented language immersion kindergarten programs. Still, I admit, after trying unsuccessfully to get them into the DoD school on the Army base (I was neither active duty military, nor a local hire), and the fact that my husband’s new opportunity did not afford international schooling coverage, immersion into Korean public school turned out to be a last resort. And although my boys did have their range of struggles in the beginning, including failing even math and English tests, simply because all the questions were in Korean, they quickly picked up the language, as they had to in order to thrive and fit in. This initially wracked me with guilt. But the guilt gradually melted into heart-warming pride once they acquired a working command of Korean, with which they were also able to help their classmates with their English lessons, as well as serve as a conduit between non-Korean-speaking English teachers and non-English-speaking school staff. One of my sons was even elected a class Vice-President during his first semester, even despite the then-language barrier!
And as a minimal-Korean-speaking parent relocating here well into my 30’s, I also had my fair share of struggles and victories. Fortunately, my children were assigned the teachers who could speak the most English, and I was able to communicate with them reasonably well, using “Konglish”—a rudimentary combination of Korean and English—during most parent-teacher conferences and classroom events. I did this not because their English was deficient, but rather because I wanted to make more of an effort, along with my kids, to communicate more in Korean.
In Korean school, from my experience, parent involvement is often encouraged, but not to the same degree as in American schools. One common experience held almost quarterly is called the “Open Classroom,” similar to the open houses I had when I was a kid, where parents are invited to come in and observe the classes while they were in session. Unfortunately, unlike after-hours open houses in American schools, Open Classrooms are held during school and work hours, making it difficult for most parents to attend. And these sessions were often held for all classes at the same time, which made it a challenge for those with multiple children in the same school. At one point, I had to run back and forth between three different classrooms, as all three of my sons’ open classroom sessions were being held simultaneously! So my sons and their teachers knew not to take it personally when I had to duck out and run to their brothers’ classrooms.
And during these Open Classroom sessions, parents were also encouraged to fill out evaluation forms and offer suggestions. But due to my limited language skill, I often passed on filling the evaluation forms. And even though I could not understand much, I still made it a point to show up anyway in order to show my support for the teacher, as well as for my children’s education. It certainly gave me a new respect for immigrant parents back in the US, whose children were both my sons’ classmates, as well as my own friends back during the Reagan Administration.
One other rather delightful event, usually held in the fall, are the high-energy “Sports Days,” similar to what American schools call “Field Days,” in which each class competes against others on the same grade-level in games like relay races, tug-of-war and dodge ball, etc. And sometimes, parents, and even grandparents, are invited to compete against one another, as their children cheer them on. At one Sports Day at Chungduk, my sons enjoyed watching their grandpa, who lives with us, play ring toss with the other halmonis and harabojis! But unlike most American Field Days, Korean Sports Days are often garishly decorated, much like graduations, festooned with balloon arches, strings of international flags and convention-style banners. Street vendors selling wares ranging from slinkies and pinwheels to flower bouquets, also line up to cash in on Sports Days. They’re that big of a deal!
All in all, although we did not originally plan on living in Korea for the duration, or having our kids immersed in Korean school for more than a couple of years, my husband’s career took off in unexpected ways, and for that, we have rolled with the punches and come a long way since that first day in the Vice-Principal’s office, nearly five years ago. My oldest is now in “Middle School, first grade” (7th grade) at Korea University Middle School, and my younger two are not far behind. Since then, they have fully adapted, and our new challenge is to keep up their English literacy, which we supplement through individual reading and private tutors. They are also avid swimmers and Taekwondo red and black belts; and it prides me beyond belief to see them thrive alongside Korean kids, even as their language skills now far exceed my own. I no longer worry about their adaptive skills, nor my own. In fact, since our move to Korea, I feel I have developed a newfound sense of peace that wherever the future takes us, we will all be fine, and be better for it.
Here’s a light, but satisfying, dessert I have always looked forward to making for the holiday season (when the stores finally carry eggnog)! I always found it to be a wonderful alternative to ice cream, as custard tends to go better with a cup of coffee or hot cocoa after dinner, or when mingling by the fire. Try it anytime this holiday season, for a unique seasonal twist on a classic dessert experience!
6 large eggs
4 cups premium eggnog
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla
3 tsps gelatin powder
½ tsp salt
Yields 4-6 servings
- Separate 6 large eggs, placing yolks in a large bowl. Set egg whites aside. Add salt to the egg yolks, and mix until fully combined.
- Combine eggnog, brown sugar, vanilla and gelatin powder in a medium saucepan. Stir mixture over low heat until fully combined. Then remove from heat, and let cool for several minutes.
- Gently add egg yolk mixture, and stir over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon.
- Pour eggnog mixture into bowls or cups, and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
- Top with garnish of your choice (Suggested garnishes: cinnamon, dried cranberries, Maraschino cherries, crushed candy cane pieces, toasted coconut, chocolate shavings, caramel topping, whipped cream or topping).