Archive for March, 2015

Update from Korea

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

It’s been a little more than six months since our son deployed to Korea so it was wonderful to get a phone call from him on Saturday morning.

One interjection: if you’re like me, you’re used to hearing “deployed” followed by “to Afghanistan” or “to Iraq.” But I have come to understand that “deploy” means to position troops – or even civilians – for action. In our son’s case, we’re very grateful that his deployment has taken him to a part of the world that is more concerned having super-fast internet than IED blasts.

Back to our story: Ethan had scheduled the call with us so that we could relay some information to him that he would need to complete his tax return. But we haven’t talked to him since Christmas, so Steve and I were eager to get filled in about what life has been like for him.

Until recently, he’s been stationed at a huge army base – we’re talking 20,000 people with a PX the size of a strip mall and a couple of Starbucks – in Seoul. But because his job in the army is a linguist, every year he has to pass a proficiency test in Korean. Or at least he has to pass it if he wants to keep his pay grade.

So about a month ago, he relocated to Camp Humphreys for a language refresher course. But unlike the way I picture a “camp,” there aren’t any tents and smore’s at this one; it’s another big army installation – 10,000 personnel – located on the western coast of South Korea.

Studying and writing Korean for eight hours a day gets quite tedious but he and his buddies had a four-day a couple of weeks ago and traveled to Busan, a port city and the second largest city in Korea with a population of about 4 million – making it about the same size as LA. In Busan, they did want most army guys do when they are on leave. They went to the beach and bought many drinks. As his mother, that is about as specific as I want him to be.

It was interesting to hear him talk about how beautiful Busan is. His opinion is that Seoul grew incredibly fast in the 1970s and because of that, the architecture is full of concrete monoliths whereas Busan grew more slowly and more attention was paid to planning. He was impressed by the distinctive skyline of the city.

He told us how he marvels at Korea’s desire to over-achieve in everything they do. One small example he gave was that on an American talk show, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear a discussion about how to get in shape or eat more healthfully. On Korean daytime TV, the topic was not just how to eat less, it was how to not eat at all: 10 Tips about How to Fast.

Because spent 18 months learning Korean and now he is stationed in Korea, people sometimes ask me if he speaks fluent Korean. That’s another aspect he liked about Busan compared to Seoul; not everyone knows English so he was able to use his Korean. And where’s the best place to practice? Talking to a cute girl in a bar, of course.  When you’re 26, some things are the same no matter what part of the world you’re in.

Old guys rule

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

When I asked Steve how he wanted to celebrate his birthday – this was one of those milestone decade birthdays – he said that what he would enjoy most would be to have dinner with our daughters who are in Southern California. Given the way they both love to tease their father about his advanced age, Steve knew he was in for a good dose of elder abuse during our visit.

So how old did Steve turn on his birthday? As Valerie, gleefully pointed out, Hitler was still alive when Steve was born and Jennifer Lynn chimed in that he is as old as most of her friends’ grandparents. But let’s put it in a Biblical perspective, Steve was only half the age of 100 year-old Abraham when Issac was born. I know that makes him feel so much better.

One note: in this day and age, there is a tangible benefit to having children late in life. When Steve qualified for Social Security benefits, we also received Social Security benefits for Jennifer Lynn until she turned 18. I guess it’s compensation for having to deal with a teenager at the same time that old age crankiness sets in. Even Obama who is graying but still a youthful 53 years-old, joked about this last week, saying that “I’m signing an executive order to get off my lawn.”

It’s been interesting to see how Jennifer Lynn who is now a college freshman responds to having a septuagenarian father. She uses it as a point of distinction among her friends. Her father may not be the richest or most well known but he is the oldest.

But that’s only part of it. If Steve was in failing health or decrepit, I’m quite sure Jennifer Lynn wouldn’t be nearly so eager to talk about his age. The reality is that Steve is blessed with good genes so he looks at least 10 years younger than his age, he’s slim and in excellent physical shape, and while there are some 70 year-olds who are just learning how to use email, Steve’s skills in Photoshop, Illustrator and many other complex programs are as up-to-date as our 22 year-old daughter’s. And no retirement in his future; he’s working as hard and growing the business even more than when he was a mere kid at 45.

So the teasing can all be in good fun; we’re all proud of the old guy.

The right stuff

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

There’s a trend that I’ve been reading about that is another example that everything old is new again. People are suddenly fascinated with “tidying up.” This is a concept that I was very familiar with when I was growing up in the 1960s – except in our household, tidying up was communicated in less gentle terms. It was more along the lines of “You can’t leave the house until your room is clean.”

So why the sudden obsession with tidiness? Obviously, most people have too much stuff. We did too, until we moved twice in three years. Moving 50 pound boxes of books that had never been unpacked from the first move really lost its charm. Now that we’ve gone through the process of culling every category of our stuff – clothes, kitchenware, books, tools, cats– we could probably pack up and move in a day. Steve and I joke that if our belongings got any leaner and meaner, we would be sharing the same fork.

I think I first became aware of the decluttering trend with TLC’s“Clean Sweep.” And of course, there’s “Hoarders” on A&E which helps us feel better about the level of clutter in our own lives. “Sure, we’ve got a few closets that need to be cleaned out, but we’re not that bad.”

Then last fall, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” appeared on the bestseller lists and has stayed there ever since, selling 2 million copies worldwide. I think the enormous popularity of the book has to do as much with the messenger as the message.  It was written by Marie Kondo, a 30 year-old Japanese author who started a home organizing consulting business when she was 19. Married with no kids, she is the tiger-organizer but she is also super kawaii – prim, proper, with shoulder length hair and bangs that make her look like a Japanese school girl.

Kondo’s method for sorting what stuff goes and what stays, is to take one item at a time and ask, “Does it spark joy?” This approach is so non-threatening and childlike that I think it makes it much easier for people to contemplate parting with possessions that at one time, were precious to them.  I’m guessing the question I used to ask my kids as we cleaned out their rooms…”Where did this junk come from and why do you still have it?…isn’t quite as endearing. Hence, no bestselling book for me.

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, there’s a full page devoted to a series of photographs showing how Ms. Kondo origamis a shirt into a perfect little bundle that according to one of her top five tips, should be stored on its side, not stacked in a drawer. Her other tips include tossing papers and tidying up by category. But there is a major piece of advice that she left out if you really want to live a life that is clutter-free: don’t have kids.