Category: birthday party

Catching up on life

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  A new marriage, lots and lots of birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a dance event, a skiing trip in Colorado, huge amounts of interpersonal drama, and new jobs for both Michael and myself have proven to be just about all that I can handle.

It is ironic that, although I have been writing more than I ever have in my entire life, I think it’s the longest I’ve been silent on this blog since I started it.  Most of my time lately has been taken up writing for my new blog, forgingsignificance.com.  Right after the wedding I spent several weeks working on some quillwork for an artists’ market at my church, but since about mid-December I have officially taken the plunge and started working full-time toward becoming a freelance writer.

Since then, my days have consisted of lots of website tweaking and beating the pavement trying to submit articles to other sites.  I’ve consistently written at least twice a week on my own blog for several months now, as well as already had 3 articles accepted in other places.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and feels like I’m not making any progress; but then I remind myself that I’ve really only been at this a few weeks, and that helps puts things into perspective for me.

This post is just a brief summary, both for your sakes and mine, of what I’ve been doing the past few months.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write more regularly on here now that I’m in the swing of things :).

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Michael and I had the opportunity to go visit my New Jersey grandparents in October, just a few weeks after we were married.  I was so grateful that Michael had the chance to meet them both, but especially my grandfather, as he ended up passing away just a few weeks later.  We all miss him a lot.  He left quite a legacy.

I was able to do a few fall-specific things, like carve a pumpkin with Michael, meet my friend Sarah in Ellijay for their Apple Festival, and go to the Perry fair with my mom and younger siblings.  That was a really fun afternoon.  Perry is about half-way between Atlanta and Albany, so we met in the middle and made a day trip of it.  It’s hard to develop a relationship with your siblings when you live far away and they can’t drive and don’t have cell phones, so I’m always grateful for the opportunities that we do get.

I once again hosted a Christmas party this year, except this time I did 3 days in a row of Christmas parties!  We took this idea from a friend, and the thought was to try to incorporate as many people as possible, while also making an effort to focus on different aspects of the Christmas season.  So the first night was “celebrating friends,” which was basically my normal Christmas party.  I made dinner, we played games, decorated gingerbread cookies, etc.  One of the games was a new one – I wrapped little treats in saran wrap and made people unwrap the ball with oven mitts on.  It was actually a lot more fun than I expected!  You can read more about that here.

The other 2 nights were “celebrating others” and “celebrating God,” where we wrote letters to troops and did a lessons and carols service, respectively.  We had almost a completely different group every night, and it was really a lot of fun!  I was definitely tired by the end of day 3, though :).

One of the highlights of the last few months was New Year’s Eve.  Michael and I spontaneously decided to go to Birmingham for the night.  And it was really so much fun!  We hung out, played games, watched the ball drop, and enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning with people we love.  Nothing different from what usually happens when I go to Birmingham for NYE, but considering how much drama has been swirling around Michael and I lately, it was a welcome and much-needed respite.  You can read more about that trip here.

I also really enjoyed my birthday celebration a few days later.  It was a pretty low-key affair, but I was surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world (including my mother-in-law, who had just had knee surgery and could hardly walk!  It really meant a lot that she made the effort to come out.  I have great in-laws).  We had a potluck dinner and then went to downtown Atlanta to see the Christmas lights in Centennial Park.  The lights were gorgeous, and we even got a funnel cake!  I suppose that was my pseudo birthday cake, haha.

Several of my friends also brought gifts to the potluck, and as I opened them, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful they all were.  These people who had come to celebrate me together really cared about me.  I know it seems silly, as most people would say it’s obvious that I’m cared about…but when it feels like you’re being surrounded by selfish emotional drama on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.  It was a wonderful night to be reminded that I’m cared for.

We went on a ski trip 2 weekends ago – Michael’s first time!  It was bitterly cold, but a lot of fun.  Even though I’ve been skiing several times before, I actually ended up being a lot more sore than he was.  I think I was so scared from how fast I thought I was going that every muscle in my entire body ended up tensing up, lol.  But we both made it through the day in one piece, so I count that as a victory! 🙂

All that aside, Michael and I have been trying to focus on taking care of ourselves and getting into a regular schedule.  We’ve become connected with a small group at church that focuses on outreach to internationals in Atlanta.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  I’ve also started part-time work teaching a beginner ESL class twice a week.  It’s quite a challenge when you have Spanish, Chinese, AND Russian speakers, and there’s no telling how many people will actually show up!

Now that things are starting to calm down a bit, I’m hoping to be able to update both blogs.  But for the most regular updates, be sure to head over to my new site (forgingsignificance.com) and sign up for my newsletter!  I always post there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Ringing in a quarter century

Well folks, it finally happened.  I am now officially 1/4 of a century old.  Michael planned a dinner at Red Lobster with some Atlanta friends the night before my birthday to celebrate, but other than that the actual day passed by fairly uneventfully.  The next weekend, however, I went to a dance event, and a couple weeks later I went to visit my dear friend Sarah in Houston.  I have decided that those were the rest of my birthday celebrations….your 25th birthday only happens once, might as well make it last the whole month, right? 🙂

The dinner at Red Lobster was nice, albeit quite low-key.  I was originally a little sad because a lot of my house church friends were still out of town, but that just meant that it ended up being a whole new group!  Chris and Julia, Michael’s parents, and my mentor from church and her husband were all there, along with several house church people who were still in town.  I felt very loved and cared for.  We were going to go bowling after, but instead we all went to my house to watch Million Dollar Arm, which had been given to me as a gift earlier that night.  I do so very much love having people into my home :).

The dance event, Sweet Side of Swing, is possibly my favorite event out of all the ones I’ve ever been to.  The leveled classes making learning easier for everyone, and every detail is attended to with such care that it makes it almost impossible to NOT enjoy yourself.  This year was even more special by the “Swing Literacy Development Training” course that I took.  This was an add-on that was offered in addition to the regular workshops and social dances….8 solid hours jam-packed with tips and techniques for teaching swing dance more effectively to beginner and intermediate dancers alike.  It was a really well-done workshop…I’m very much looking forward to implementing the things I learned at the weekly Atlanta swing dances!

But, as fun as Sweet Side of Swing was, the crux of the month was definitely my visit to Houston.  Aside from my brief dinner with her last year while I was in Houston for an interview, it’s been years since I’ve seen my dear friend Sarah.  We saw each other a lot while we were in Korea, and keep up regular phone conversations now that we’re both back stateside…but phone calls can’t hold a candle to seeing beloved friends in person.  I took advantage of the long weekend around MLK day to go see her…only got to spend a couple of days with her, but a couple of days is vastly better than nothing!  Sarah and Donnie are incredible hosts – possibly the best I’ve ever met – and also great friends….the two of those together made for one very happy houseguest!  Sarah picked me up at the airport, and then I was greeted at their home with a welcome sign and guest basket.  Over the course of 2 days, we managed to pack a lot in – game night, puzzles, church, a tour of NASA (Donnie works there), walking around an adorable little boardwalk and mini amusement park, and even a round of restaurant hopping (messy burgers in a sports bar with lots of character for dinner, and then drinks and cake at a gem of an establishment nestled right on the water afterwards).  And yet, somehow, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.  I guess that’s what happens when people who care for each other a lot just get to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.  I have decided that, even though they’re short, weekend trips are much better than nothing, and I’ll be making every effort to make more of them in the future!  So glad to be blessed with friends all over the world with whom I can pick life back up when I see them, no matter how long we’ve been apart!

 

The upside of glitchy software

My dear friend Elizabeth recently celebrated a birthday.  Many months earlier, she had mentioned that she had never been to an aquarium; her birthday also happened to fall on a Sunday this year, which is a very convenient day for planning things, since most people don’t have to work.  So our church small group planned an outing together to go celebrate her birthday at the Georgia Aquarium.  For a first experience, that’s a great aquarium to go to – it’s actually the largest in the world…for now, at least.  But for all of our best intentions, this outing almost never happened.

We got there around 3:15 on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, however, no one had thought about the fact that it was Labor day weekend.  The place was PACKED.  Seeing the huge swirling mass of people as I was parking, I almost turned around and retreated before I ever even made it to the aquarium doors.  But Elizabeth is a dear friend of mine, and so I soldiered on.  When the group of us who were going finally found each other at the ticketing booths, we realized that there was another problem.  The Georgia Aquarium sells tickets for specific entry windows.  Usually there aren’t enough people there for it to matter; you can just walk up and buy tickets for whatever time slot you happen to arrive within.  But by the time we got there, all of the tickets were sold out until 7:00 pm.  Almost 4 hours away.  To make matters somewhat worse, between season passes and guest passes and some people buying tickets in advance, everyone was actually able to get in at 3:00 except for 2 people, Matt and Aaron.  As we stood there at the self-ticketing kiosk, trying to figure out what to do, Aaron started absently tapping the “buy tickets” button over and over again.  All of a sudden, the 3:00-4:00 time window showed up as available!  But then the next time he tapped it, it had disappeared again.  We quickly seized our chance.  Aaron and Matt whipped out their credit cards, and kept tapping the screen until the 3:00 window showed up again.  It had to be quick, you see, because we didn’t want the system to figure out that we were gaming it and started behaving properly again :).  So yeah, hooray for glitchy software!  Without it, the stories and pictures below never would have happened.

The aquarium itself was pretty cool – being the largest in the world, I knew it would be.  I had been there several years ago and enjoyed it both times; but honestly, I find the cost of admission prohibitively expensive, and normally would rather spend my time and money elsewhere.  BUT, this time was different.  Michael’s dad works at the aquarium, and it just so happens that he was there at the same time we were.  So all of a sudden Michael comes up to us and asks, “do you want a behind-the-scenes tour?”  His dad had just randomly decided to take us all “behind the curtain,” as it were; so we tagged along behind him as he showed us all of the inner workings of the aquarium.

It was really one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen.  We got to see the enormous whale tanks from above, and where they cultivate coral for their exhibits, and the machines that they use to simulate waves, and the rows upon rows of water pumps and sand filtration systems that are constantly running, and the in-house animal hospital that they take the fish to when they need a doc.  It was definitely one of those things where I sort of knew that a lot of stuff must happen behind the scenes in order to bring about the polished finished product, but I had no idea of the enormity of the effort until I actually saw it for myself.  Despite the crowds, it was a really awesome day.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And to think, it was all thanks to a glitchy ticketing system! 🙂

Birthday surprises

I left for Atlanta right after New Year’s day, on January second.  Grammie needed to get to the airport, so I decided to take the airport shuttle from Columbus to Atlanta with her, so I could spend some time with her one-on-one.  This also happened, however, to be the day before my birthday.  And I must admit…I was having a bit of a pity party on the way up to Atlanta.  Here I was, the day before my birthday, going away from family and not going towards friends.  School didn’t start for another 4 days; most of my friends were still out of town.  I didn’t even bother trying to plan anything; I just assumed that my birthday was going to go by unnoticed.  At least I’d get to see Elizabeth – she had already said that she would pick me up from the airport after the shuttle dropped me off.

So she picked me up, we got to my house, and she sent me up the stairs with my stuff, saying she’d be right behind me.  I still didn’t suspect a thing.  I heard her coming up the stairs behind me.  And all of a sudden the footsteps separated, and I realized that there was more than one person coming into my house.  Elizabeth had made a little mini surprise party for me!  She had contacted all of my friends to see who was in town – in the end it was only 2 people, but that didn’t really matter :).  So after I went up the stairs, she snuck in Matt and Courtney with her.  They had a cake, and sang to me, and it was just a lovely surprise.  Elizabeth even managed somehow to hide clues to a little scavenger hunt to lead me to a little birthday present – all while I was right there in the house!!  Either I was really out of it, or she’s reallyyyyyy good.  Maybe a little bit of both :).  Either way, it was a huge surprise…totally blessed the socks off of me!

The curveballs continued into the night and the next day.  That night I went dancing, and got to have a special birthday dance.  You can check it out in the video below.  The next day, my actual birthday, was full of little gestures in unexpected places that just meant so much to me.  Chris and Julia treated me to lunch.  A dance friend of mine met up with me to give me a scarf that he had bought for my birthday.  Several friends surprised me with a birthday dinner – which meant even more because the guy who had organized it, Michael, had lots of family stuff going on that would have given him plenty of excuses to not bother with making someone else feel special on her birthday.

L-R: Michael, Jonathan, Jessica, little Nicholas, and Matt

Then that evening Alan, the founder of Wicked Westie, took all of the volunteers to Andretti indoor racing.  It was his way of saying thank you for the help that we give him.  Andretti doesn’t just have indoor racing, though – it has a rock wall, ropes course, and an arcade, as well.  And we did it all.  It was such a blast.  I didn’t get back until almost 1:00 am, but it was totally worth it.  A perfect way to end my birthday – racing go-karts with my dancing friends :).

L-R: Doria, Hannah, Cherylyn, and me

L-R: Stefanie, Jennifer, Nichole, me, and Christopher

That’s me! 🙂

The whole gang

So that’s the story of how my dull birthday turned into the best one of my life.  It was humbling to see how well God wants to take care of me, if only I’ll stop planning everything and leave it up to Him.  Even in silly little things like celebrating one’s birthday.  I had lots of surprises this year for my birthday.  But the biggest surprise shouldn’t have been one at all.  The biggest surprise was just how blessed I am to have the people I do in my life.  People who give selflessly, who constantly put others ahead of themselves.  People who are willing to put my needs ahead of their own.  It shouldn’t have surprised me…but it did, nonetheless.  It really was quite humbling.  I’m so undeservedly blessed!

Gratefulness

I’m finding, as I get older and my schedule fills and responsibilities multiply, that I have to make a conscience effort to verbalize the things that I’m grateful for.  Otherwise, they simply get…forgotten.  Swept under the rug.  Left by the wayside.  And that is truly a tragedy.  Because there are so many beautiful, wonderful things that we can be grateful for.

Such as….birthdays.  My dear friend Elizabeth turned 22 last week.  She had a big shindig at her house – I got to meet all of her equally wonderful friends and family.  The next day was my mom’s birthday, and I spontaneously decided to go down to Albany and surprise her.  Oh my word.  She flipped out.  She was soooooo surprised.  It made the 6 hour round trip drive totallyyyyy worth it :).  Oh yes….surprises are another thing that I’m grateful for.  Good ones, at least ;).
I’m grateful for a crazy stupid busy school schedule – classes and 3 jobs and English tutoring and Spanish language exchange and dancing and volunteering at church and more – because I’m grateful for the opportunity that God has given me to further my education and experiences.  I’m grateful for the people that God has placed in my life over the last few years.  I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had – yes, even the really really bad ones – that have grown me and made me more like Jesus.  
I’m grateful for discount restaurant coupons from Groupon.  My friend Amy had one for an Asian fusion place called Mulan (yes, like the Disney princess; another company for which I’m grateful).  We walked to Midtown, and had a lovely evening just shooting the breeze together.
On that note…I’m grateful for godly friends in my life.  I’m sitting here writing this in my friend Elizabeth’s house.  As I’m writing, her father walks in and starts talking to me about the “God pocket,” an idea written about by Bruce Wilkinson.  Basically the idea is that you set aside some money and dedicate it to God, and then give to whoever you feel led.  Tonight he gave it to me, saying that he wanted to thank me for being a good friend to Elizabeth and that he hoped that it would help pay for gas.  Seriously.  I love God’s timing.  I’m grateful for my friends and I’m grateful for the Lord and for His timing and sovereignty in my life.
So many more things I could list….but maybe I’ll save them for a later date :).  What are you thankful for today?
A few pictures from Elizabeth’s birthday: her cousin Lauren is on the left, and her sister Mary-Catherine on the right.  Both incredibleeeeeee ladies 🙂

We took mom out to Red Lobster for her birthday….what a fun evening! 🙂

Hopey, me and Chad

Joint birthday celebration for my mom and dad; Chad got a cake that read “Happy birthday to the man in tights and our favorite Jewish mom!”

The man in tights himself!! 🙂 

Putting God’s promises into practice

Well, it’s about time for another update from Sinbad!  I’m afraid that my life has been quite mundane recently.  Despite my best intentions to get out and see great city of Atlanta, the combination of a lack of funds and time, and a plethora of other demands on my time and attention, have made my life rather nondescript.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  In reality, I’ve had quite a few first-time experiences this semester.  But many of them were things that I would have much preferred to never experience.  You know how some people say that there’s a first time for everything?  Well, I’m a firm believer that there are some things that I never want to do, and this semester has only proved me right.  It’s been some of the hardest few months of my life, and it’s only by the grace of God that I’m making it through.

But, luckily for me, God’s grace does get us through the tough spots, and I’m reminded every day how blessed I am to have Him, and my amazing family and friends, in my life.  Here are a few of the positive highlights of the past month that are worth mentioning:

I moved again!  My new place is lovely, and my roommates are pretty cool.  We’re still figuring out how to live with each other – they’re night owls, I’m an early bird, they’re messy, I’m orderly – but I think it’s going to work out well.  Hopefully I’ll at least make it to the end of the semester, hehehe.  If you don’t have my new mailing address shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you.

My sister’s birthday fell just 2 weeks after school started.  Since I had never in her memory been home for her birthday, I decided to change that this year.  Her smiles of ecstasy made the six hour drive totally worth it.  “Lauren,” she told me, “you’re my favorite birthday present this year.”  Absolutely melted my heart. I was only able to stay for a weekend, but it was a much-needed respite from everything that had been happening in Atlanta.  The whole family went out to Putt-Putt for her birthday, and of course there was also a birthday dinner with Grammie.  It was nice to see everyone relaxed and happy and just enjoying each other’s company, even if it was only for a few hours.

My friend David took me out to dinner at this cool place in Duluth, the artsy section of town.  We also wandered into an art store, filled with pieces by local artists.  The owner encouraged me to put some of my artwork into the store, which I’m seriously considering doing.  (oh, on that note, 2 of my quilling pieces were accepted into Georgia Tech’s student art show!  Woohoo!)  The art shop owner, an amateur photographer, also asked me if I wanted to model for him!!!  I busted out laughing at that.  A model I most certainly am not, lol…but it made my day to be asked, anyway! 🙂

Speaking of dinner….I’ve been on the hunt for good Korean restaurants in Atlanta.  I’ve been to 4 different ones all over the city since the semester started.  Two of them were quite disappointing; two of them, I will almost certainly be going back to in the near future.  It feels like a piece of home, when I sit there crossed-legged on the floor, speaking to the waitress in my broken Korean, eating a bowl of pig-spine soup and trying the myriad of side dishes with my metal chopsticks :).

I recently went to the quarterly board of director’s meeting at the Carter Center.  I’ve applied for an internship there over the summer, so when I was offered the opportunity to attend the meeting, I jumped at it.  It really was quite interesting – they had speakers talking about the Carter Center’s work in China, Kenya, and Latin America.  Plus it’s always fun to rub shoulders with ex-presidents ;).

I’m also finally getting back into dancing.  I hadn’t gone in months, due to one thing or another.  I tried to go 2 weeks ago, but my car ended up breaking down, which was very sad :(.  But it was fixed by the next week, and so now I’m back on the dance floor.  It feels so good – I had almost forgotten how much I love it, and I can certainly use all the de-stressing I can get.  Last week the dance fell on Valentine’s day, so they had flowers and chocolate for everyone who showed – I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the day!! 🙂

God’s been teaching me a lot through all the things that have been going on this semester.  One thing that I’ve really been trying to learn is to abide and rest in Him more.  Rather than resting from our work, God wants us to work from a place of rest in Him….that’s a tall order for someone as busy as I am!!  But I’ve been working at planning out my weeks so that I have all of Sunday to rest and not do any homework.  It means that I’m alwayssssss busy during the week….but on Sundays, I get a glorious Sabbath day!  It’s been great.  I’ve started a weekly get-together (on Sundays, of course) of ladies that I love, trying to build a community together in which we can love on and encourage each other.  It’s quite encouraging and exciting.

I’ve also picked up a lot of the things that I am interested in, but had let fall by the wayside – practicing guitar, doing crafts, brushing up on my Spanish and Korean, diligently reading the news, writing more, and working out.  I’ve decided to fast from Facebook for Lent this year to give me more time to focus on the Lord; it’s amazing all of the additional things that I have time for when I’m putting God first!  Of course I’ve always known that in theory; but I just love seeing God put His promises to practice in real life!!!  Sooooo…..that’s my life for now.  Prayers are always appreciated (and I’ll never turn down a letter or chocolate….lol ;]).  

Christmas break part 2

We returned from New Jersey a few days before New Year’s Eve.  But was that enough traveling for me??  Oh no, Miss Glutton-for-punishment still had over a week of traveling remaining.  My parents dropped me off in Atlanta; while they went on to Birmingham to spend New Year’s Eve with old family friends, I hopped on a bus and went down to Orlando to spend it with new ones.

My good friend Sarah (the same one whose wedding I was in in October) moved to Texas shortly after her wedding.  Her sister, Hannah, with whom I also got very close over the wedding weekend, lives in North Carolina.  However, it just so happened that they were both (along with their husbands, of course ;]) in Orlando, visiting their parents.  So, I told myself, what better time to visit!  Kill several birds with one stone – go to 1 place and get to see several good friends who are normally scattered all over the country! 🙂  And so it was that I arrived in Orlando on the evening of the 29th.

From the moment I arrived until my departure, it was nonstop mayhem.  Now, please do not mistake me; mayhem is not always meant in a pejorative sense, and in this particular instance it’s definitely meant in a positive light.  While we were almost constantly doing something the entire 6 days that I was there, they were all wonderful things.  I had a lovely time reconnecting with this wonderful family; the only downside was that as my sleep deprivation increased throughout the week, so did my irritability – it had reached a critical level by the end of the week.  Sleep must be a priority for both my happiness and the happiness of those around me, lol.  🙂

But anyway, a few highlights from the week:

We went to Busche Gardens my first full day in Orlando.  What a place!  Where else in the world can you find giraffes, hippos, and lions (both real and topiary), water rides and roller coasters, trains and zip lines, Egyptian artwork, ice skating performances by world-class skaters, singing and dancing performances, dippin’ dots and spanish empanadas….and I’m sure I’m forgetting a myriad of other things, too…all in one place??  It was a lot of fun – like a grown-up playground.  And then, I’m sure completely out of concern for our well-being, the park employees even threw in a built-in workout!  Many of the rides were closed, so we ended up walking a lot more than we had expected to ;).  So yeah…..that may have been a bit frustrating, but it really was a lovely day – definitely a bonding experience for us all ;).

The whole gang at Busche Gardens!

Fantastic ice skating performance!

Water rides in January….they’re crazy!!

Left to right: Hannah, Josh, Jon, Sarah, and Donnie

For New Year’s Eve, we had a wine and bread tasting party.  There were some incredibly exotic (and, I’m sure, expensive) wines that made appearances.  It almost made me wish that I enjoyed alcohol!  But nevertheless, the bread was super yummy, and the company lovely; I made it just long enough to watch the ball drop, and then went home and went to bed :).

The Reichel’s have a New Year’s Day tradition in which they go to a famous pancake house for breakfast on the first of the year, so this year they brought me along with them.  It’s apparently really famous – there was an hour and a half wait – but there was a little lake and place where you could walk around, so it wasn’t hard to amuse ourselves.  I even got a photo-op with a couple of planes!! 🙂

Check out the sunlight, and the Spanish moss, and the leaf in the foreground…I’m particularly proud of this picture 🙂

The whole gang at the pancake place

Sarah and I went on a bike ride one morning, and then had breakfast at Panera’s.  With all of the craziness and people coming and going throughout the week, it was so wonderful to be able to have 2 whole hours of uninterrupted time with her.  Definitely just what my heart needed :).

Jonathan and I saw Les Miserables together, and then met Hannah and her husband Josh and a friend at a portable ice skating rink.  It was fun, although I must admit also rather disconcerting to be ice skating when the outside temperature had to have been in the 60’s.

Me, Jon, Hannah, and Josh at the skating rink

Check out their awesome golf-cart zambini!! 

The night before I left (my birthday!), we went to an Irish pub in downtown Disney.  It was not my first choice for celebrating my birthday, but it also happened to be Josh’s birthday, and he was really dead-set on going, so in the interest of keeping the peace I went along with them.  It ended up being pretty cool – there were live musicians and Irish dancers, the food was delicious, and the band even sang for Josh and me to wish us happy birthday!  But by that point, I was so dead tired, I probably would have been just as happy doing nothing and just going to bed, lol.

I got a birthday candle and ice cream!! 🙂

My departure from Orlando was a little more exciting than I would have liked.  There were 4 accidents on the highway to the bus stop, and the traffic was so backed up that I ended up missing my bus.  We were within half a mile of the station, in standstill traffic, so I got out and started running on the highway in a desperate rush to get there on time – it was something straight out of a movie!  Just picture me, running along the shoulder, my jeans wet almost to my knees from the drizzling rain, with Jon running behind me in his dress shoes and slacks pulling my roller bag, scrambling like mad people to catch the bus…ut alas, it was all for naught, and I still missed it.  But I am blessed with wonderful friends who offered to drive me on to my next destination – Jacksonville – and so the journey continued.

I was only in Jacksonville for a few days – my pastor from Korea and his family were there, and his wife had planned a surprise birthday party for him.  So I showed up for a few days to celebrate with them and to see the whole family.  It was so good to see them – definitely made me nostalgic for Korea again, though!

Beautiful shot of a park that we visited

Me and baby Zamanta!  She was a newborn when I left Korea!! 🙂

All of this time spent with other people’s families was wonderful, but by the end of the week, I was definitely ready to get back to my own.  No matter how welcoming people may be, it’s never the same as spending time with your own family! 🙂  So I came back to Albany for a day, had dinner with my family, collected my stuff, and then headed back up to Atlanta and started classes the next day!  And moving back to Atlanta…..well that’s a whole new adventure in itself!  Stay tuned!

Christmas break part 1

Well, after a long hiatus, Sinbad has returned!  Hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more regular in my writings this semester! 🙂  But I can now officially say that I survived my first semester of graduate education!  It was a really tough semester, so I’m really pleased to be able to say that I survived :D.

The one good thing about being a graduate student, is that there are no finals in grad school!  So, I was able to leave about a week and a half earlier than everyone else, which was wonderful, to say the least. The latter half of my Christmas break was frenetically crazy, so having an extra week at the beginning of the month to just relax at home was just delicious.  I got to be home for both Josh and Matt’s birthday (and see their graduation from white to yellow belt in karate!), decorated the tree with my siblings, went to a tacky sweater party as a family, drove around looking at Christmas lights, and overall just had a grand time together.  I’m so blessed to have a family that loves me so much :).  It was even better this year, because last year my Christmas was so squeezed, since I only had 2 weeks of leave to be home from Korea.  I think having such a crazy holiday last year made me appreciate the extra relaxing time even more this time around.

Mom made a homemade ice cream cake for Josh and Matt’s birthday

The brand-new yellow belts! 🙂

My shirt is snoopy, and I’m holding a Charlie Brown ornament.  I thought it was cute… 😉

My family really got into the tacky sweater party

Mom and I dressed a bit more conservatively 🙂

Right before Christmas, however, the mayhem began!  Together with my family, I drove several thousand miles – right around 3000 – within the span of 2 1/2 weeks.  The whirlwind tour began in North Carolina, with a visit to my dad’s parents.  They took us to WonderWorks, the same hands-on science museum that I went to in Orlando late last year (check out this link to read about that).  And it was just as fun the second time around!  Maybe even more, actually, since this time I went with my beloved family :).

The whole family (plus Jan!) in front of WonderWorks

Indoor ropes course!

Even mom went up!  I was so proud!! 🙂

After North Carolina, we went even farther north, spending Christmas in New Jersey with my mom’s parents.  We did a bit of visiting, a bit of helping them move and get unpacked, a bit of hanging out; and then it was time to move on again!  After 3 days spent with each set of grandparents, we headed back down to Georgia.  It was quite a whirlwind tour, and exhausting to say the least; but really wonderful at the same time.  I get to see my grandparents so infrequently; getting to see all of them within the same week was just unheard-of happiness! 🙂  More about the latter half of my Christmas break in the next update!

Highlights and lowlights

Well, I am firmly settled into my life here in Atlanta these days.  Between my classes, TA job, church, and dancing, free time is in short supply, indeed.  But I’ve been trying to take at least a little time every week to do something relaxing and fun with friends.  Some of my favorite highlights include:

For their honeymoon, Rachel and Ryan went on a road trip, but they swung back through Georgia on their way back to Oregon, where they are living now.  So I drove up to Ellijay and got to see them for an evening.  It was soooo lovely to be able to just spend time with and enjoy each other, away from the stresses and pressures of wedding fever.

Ryan, Rachel, me, and Rachel’s sister Sarah

A few days later, I got to see some Fulbright friends!!  Adam and Leora had both renewed their contracts to teach in Korea, but they were visiting some friends in the states before they went back to Asia.  So we met up at a great little Greek falafel place, and then went to a state park and hung out for the afternoon.  It was wonderful seeing them, albeit a little strange – although we’re all Americans, up until then I had never actually seen them in America, so it was odd being together on our “home turf,” so to speak.

Leora and Adam 

My first weekend after moving to Atlanta, I was back in Albany again – for another wedding.  But this one I just attended – I wasn’t in it – so it was much more relaxing.  I got to spend some time with my family without the stress of preparing for Chris’ wedding….plus we got a great family shot in the process! 🙂

An old family friend, Phillip, came down to visit me shortly after I moved to Atlanta.  It’s been years since we’ve seen each other – one of us was always out of the country – so it was good to reconnect.  We went to Atlantic station and got gourmet ice cream and laughed at all of the country music blaring from the speakers….then, for dinner, we went to a place called Chow Baby, which is now officially my favorite restaurant in the entire city.  It’s like an Asian buffet on steroids.  You go down the line and pick all of the ingredients you want – meats, vegetables, sauces, everything – and then they cook it for you in a delicious stir-fry and deliver it to your table.  Absolutely excellent.  I had a blast :D.

To celebrate labor day, I went on a rafting trip with some old friends, some new friends, some old family, and some new family.  Myself, Chris, Julia, a friend from Berry (Emily), a dancing friend (also named Chris), and a new Tech friend (Sunny, who is also Korean, so she’s doubly cool!) drove up to Tennessee to go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee – the same river that they did the Olympics on in 1996.  It was threatening to rain the entire day, but never actually did, so it was perfect.  I had a blast.  It was a nice retreat from all of the stresses that I was having with my living arrangements at the time.  Bonus points for the fact that I unknowingly made reservations with the exact same rafting company that I had years ago gone rafting with as a part of a youth group trip with from Cornerstone Church in Americus.  So I was having a major walk down memory lane :).

Left to right: Sunny, myself, Julia, Chris, Emily, and Chris

After I moved out of my old house and into the new one, I went to a graduate student picnic.  Not only did I see some of my old housemates from the old house – and we were on great terms, spent the entire picnic together – but I also got to meet Fernando, an awesome guy from Panama.  He was dancing with the GA Tech Salsa club, and I went over and asked him to dance with me :).  Great dancing and great friends – how can you go wrong with that?….and it was also really nice to know that no one at my old house harbored any ill feelings about me moving out.

Seth, myself, and Shawn (lives in my old house)

Peace signs….I love my friends 😀

Also, speaking of housing, check out my new digs!  It’s nothing special, but it’s exactly what I need at this stage in my life.  I’m very happy here.  I also get along really well with all of my roommates, which is always nice.  We cook for each other, run errands for each other, tell each other to go to bed when they’re tired and to eat right, and just generally look out for each other.  It’s a splendid arrangement.

In celebration of Mom, Dad, and Chris’ birthday, the Albany family drove up to Atlanta to have a big family cookout.  Well, it was supposed to be a cookout, but due to torrential rains, it turned into more of a cook-in.  But when you’re with people you love, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re inside or outside.  I had a blast.  That was also the weekend that I acquired a bed, thanks to my incredible parents who drove up a second car just to bring me my bed from Albany, thus making me officially completely moved into my new home.

The next weekend was Tech night at Six Flags!  One night every year, Six Flags closes down their park to everyone except GA Tech students.  So I gathered 3 of my new friends, and we all headed down together.   It was myself, Fernando (the Panamanian that I met at the grad picnic), Seth (a Singaporean I randomly met at orientation), at my Korean friend Sunny.  Four people, 4 nationalities…..I was in heaven.  I love connecting with people who come from completely different backgrounds from my own.  We rode every single roller coaster :).  After it ended, everyone was starving, so I took them all back to my house and made them pasta (at like 1:00 in the morning….lol) before taking everyone home.  It took me the whole weekend to recover from it….but it was worth it.  Developing friendships is something that I’m really going to focus on doing while I’m here in Atlanta.

Seth, myself, Sunny, and Fernando

Soooooo scary!!!!!

Speaking of cultural experiences…..I had another one last Sunday.  I took my new Mexican housemate with me to church, and we went out to lunch afterwards.  Somehow, we ended up on Buford Highway (which, if you don’t know Atlanta, is known for having an incredibly high latino population), and randomly went to this little restaurant called La Pastorcita.  The food was actually really good – tasty, plentiful, and cheap – but I tell you what, the second I walked in, I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.  Not because I was laughing at anyone, per se….it was just a cultural shock, and I didn’t know what else to do.  I felt like I had walked straight into Mexico.  They had the Mexican music, the sombreros, the Mexican families and couples and groups of men shoved into the boothes, the menus in all Spanish….seriously, it was legit.  Absolutely fabulous…I loved it.  Atlanta is a city in which you can feel as if you were transported to almost any country in the world, if you go to the right place in the city :).  

Other notable things which don’t have any pictures attached to them, but deserve at least an honorable mention….I’ve found a fantastic Bible study that meets only 3 houses away from mine, I’ve been dancing to my heart’s content and then some, and I’ve finally started to gain my bearings around the campus and the city.  Can’t think of anything else at the moment….but I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a few days ;).

So there you have it!  Some of the highlights from my life over the last month or so.  It hasn’t all been rosy – classes are incredibly overwhelming at times, I still have lawsuit issues going on with my psycho ex-landlord, my hearts still pines for Korea and my students and friends over there….but overall, I am very blessed.  Blessed, indeed.  God is so good!

There and back again

Well my nerdy book-worm friends will recognize the title of this blog as a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which I suppose is rather fitting considering the fact that I’ve just spent the better part of an hour downloading dozens of free literary classics onto my Kindle to keep me occupied during my numerous upcoming flights.  But other than that, there is really nothing relating to Tolkien or Middle Earth or Hobbits in this blog.  This one is about Christmastime in America :).

The trip to America was long and boring, but I would not go so far as to say grueling.  It was uneventful, and marked mostly by sitting and watching movies, but not a particularly pleasant trip, nonetheless.  I started at 2 in the morning from Gyeongju, catching a bus to the airport in Seoul.  I met a girl from California while I was waiting on my flight who was doing the same thing I was, and we got some coffee and had a nice long chat.  It was a much better way to pass the time than just sitting in a corner of the airport :).  So anyway, 1 bus, 2 planes, 3 customs and security checks, 4 airplane meals, and 27 hours later, I finally found myself in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport.  My friend Sylvain met me at the airport.  We got some airport pizza, he got a good laugh at seeing me so completely jet-lagged, we caught up for a little bit, and then I took a shuttle to Columbus, where my family was there waiting for me.  Actually, I ended up waiting for them for a little bit, but it was ok, because I got to meet lots of interesting people while I waited.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy striking up random conversations with strangers I meet in my travels.  That’s not really something I can do in Korea, as usually there is a pretty large language barrier that makes communication of any depth really impossible.

So anyway, my first week in America was marked mainly by just spending time with family and friends, punctuated by Christmas, my birthday celebration, and visits from Grandparents.  I went on a picnic with my friend Tyler, saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie with James, took daddy to see Mission Impossible, and played lots and lots of games with my siblings.  I went to a Christmas Eve Eve service at my church on the 23rd, got a hair cut and a pedicure with my mom, and went shopping with my grandmother.  Christmas day was a relaxing affair – we waited to open presents until after church, and then just hung around and visited with each other.  It was also the only day that I got to see Chris, which was a nice treat.  Mom and I hosted a tea at our house with some of her lady friends who had been wanting to meet me, which was fun – I’ve been wanting to meet them, too, and I haven’t had a real tea in years.  Then my grandparents came down to visit on the 27th, and stayed until the 30th, so I got to spend a lot of time with them, too.  That was awesome – it had been close to a year since I’d seen them.

Josh’s birthday present – Joshua 1:7 in Korean

Tyler’s Christmas present – Kimchi!!  He was so happy 🙂

My first picnic in years 🙂

She’s such a cutie pie <3

The Fenner family, all together!  Such a rarity these days…

Merry Christmas!!!

I love, love this picture!!

Spreading the Korea love….

Yay for seeing grandparents!! 🙂

Tea with the ladies! 🙂

Haha we’re silly 😀

Christmas presents from the host family 🙂

On the 30th, we packed everything up and made the long drive to Birmingham, Alabama, to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends the Roberts’.  This has been an annual tradition with our families every year for as long as I can remember – we take turns hosting each other in our respective homes, and it’s always a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t been able to be present for several years for one reason or the other – usually it’s because I’m out of the country, lol – so it was especially nice for me.  So we had lots of fun, played lots of games, watched the ball drop in New York City (and for a special treat, watched the moon pie drop in Mobile, Alabama!  Gotta love the south, lol….), went to church, and then headed back home.

Games with the Roberts’ are always super intense, lol…

Happy new year!!

Friends… <3

On the way back to Albany, my parents dropped me off in Atlanta.  So that was goodbye to my family, and hello to Atlanta.  Bittersweet for sure, but it was good to see my friends in Atlanta.  So Rachel and her fiance Ryan picked me up from my parents, and we wasted no time.  That night was spent playing putt-putt with J-Parr, and then going to Jonathan and Jessica’s house and playing games until wayyyy too late at night.

The next day, January 2nd, was the day before my 22nd birthday.  However, since my 22nd birthday was going to be spent on a plane, the 2nd was the celebration day.  I got to watch the tournament of roses parade (my favorite parade…ever!) for the first time in like 3 years.  After that came lunch with David and the Knights and then more games.  And then the evening came.  What started off as a simple dinner with friends morphed, because of my fabulous friends, into a full-blown birthday dance.  They even had a steal dance just for me.  As I was looking around the dance room at all of these dear faces, half of whom didn’t even dance, but had come just to see me, I was overwhelmed.  I felt so loved.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up my visit to the states.

They were calling me the “princess” because of what I was wearing.  I think that’s why I was making that face, lol.  But…I did win the game!! 🙂

Soon-to-be newlyweds….love those guys

Jonathan and Jessica
Me ‘n David 
Old friends from Berry <3

again….spreading the Korea love.  What can I say?  It’s infectious 🙂

My friends are silly 🙂

Yay for sisters 🙂

So, armed with my suitcases and enveloped with the wonderful new jacket that they had bought me for my birthday, Rachel and Ryan took me to the airport early the next morning.  I was fighting a cold, but I sat next to a really friendly lady on the plane who made the trip a whole lot more bearable.  When I finally arrived in Seoul, the plan was to meet Sarah and Leora and Adam and go up to Hwacheon to see the ice festival.  So I met them and they gave me a little birthday party and it was great to see them.  But by then I was REALLY sick, so instead of going north to Hwacheon, I went south to Gyeongju.  I know my limits, and that would have been just too much.

Brand-new fiancees!  And I get to be in the wedding!! <3 

So I finally got home to Gyeongju…and my host father took one look at me and hauled me off to the hospital.  Within an hour, and after much poking and prodding, I found myself with an IV needle sticking in my arm and a bagful of medicine.  Add to that extreme jet-lag, and my host mom’s constant fussing and overprotectiveness was NOT appreciated.  All I wanted to do was sleep, and that was the one thing they didn’t seem to want to let me do.  Although I must say, sleeping with a needle in your arm is most certainly not the most pleasant sensation.

Today, the next day, was mostly spent in bed, with a short foray into town to swap stories with Elizabeth.  I’m glad I got to see her – I needed to get out of the house, and I think talking with her restored a sense of normalcy and acceptance to being in Korea again, which I had been lacking since my arrival.  So yeah, that was America!  Winter camp starts in 2 days – keep me in your prayers!!  I’m super nervous about it – I’ve never done anything like this before.  I’ll have my students for more time in the span of 2 weeks than I had them for the entire semester, and I’m terrified that I will run out of material.  I guess it’ll just be another chance for God to show His bigness!! 🙂