8.16.2014

Last swim meet

Who knew that six weeks ago, when I posted about the fact that I was coaching again, it would all be coming to an end much sooner than I expected? I sure didn't. As frustrating as this season has been it has been equally rewarding, if not more so, and I was  really looking forward to taking the team even further. There is talk about the high school reinstating their swim team now that the move to the new high school is complete and I was looking forward to being involved in that possibly.



Today was my last swim meet as the coach.


I tried not to think about it much while standing on deck but it was difficult not to. Watching our swimmer J. swim a 50 of each stroke when, at the beginning of the season, he could barely make it from one end of the pool to the other was tough. Knowing how far he came in such a short amount of time makes me so proud of him. Watching several of our swimmers who have struggled both with starts and turns really start to improve on them and be willing to try them during a race made my heart swell. And being able to hang out on a hot pool deck and just chit chat with them all (while trying to take splits for 4 kids in the same race) was the best way I could think of to spend a Saturday afternoon. 


Oh, how I missed this. And oh, how I will miss it again.


I despise goodbyes and I was hoping that our exit from military life would allow me to at least cut back on them. Apparently not. 


We pack out in less than two weeks and fly a few days thereafter. To say this has been a whirlwind would be an understatement. I'm still trying to process it all. The upside is that everyone's tour here is short so maybe our early goodbye will spare me having to say goodbye to friends over and over and over as they leave (if we were to stay).


But I am still sad. I love the kids on my team and I love what they've built and the one silver lining is that the team is in excellent hands with the woman who has been coaching alongside me. We've had someone else come along and express interest in helping out so my hope is that the two of them can continue to build the program. I can't wait to see where it goes.


Our fundraiser for the pups is going well and we are already over $2,000 in funds raised. I am humbled by the response. You can check out the donation site HERE


I am going to go lick my wounds a bit and then get my act together for our end-of-the-season party. I think they expect me to give a speech or something...




Pau.




- hfs

8.08.2014

Life changes (again) and a bleg

People often ask us how long we're here. Most military families are here for 1-2 years. My answer has always been, "Until God tells us to leave or another job opens up stateside." We were anticipating being here 2-3 years. Last week, MacGyver found out that his position was being defunded.


God is definitely telling us to leave. 


Not what we anticipated and we are scrambling. 


Flight time has been difficult to come by - a battle at times. There are a variety of factors at play, some of which include the fact that the F-model is like a new car (compared to the D-model 'beater' it replaced) and therefore doesn't break down as frequently and the fact that the brigade has a full complement of maintenance test pilots at the moment. MacGyver's flight hours never really materialized and the position is now being defunded. From a bottom-line perspective, it makes sense. No sense in paying a guy not to fly. From my perspective, it sucks. 


August is the hottest month here. We adopted 2 rescue pups, not realizing that civilian contractors do not have anything that resembles 'orders' upon their exit. Orders of some kind would have exempted us from the cargo fees necessary to ship animals during the summer months. And this is on top of the fact that MacGyver racked up only single digit flight time in his year here (not including simulator time, which he racked up copious amounts of time). Needless to say, this year has been somewhat of a bust. He did manage to complete the F-model training which makes up for a lot of the other frustrations with the situation but he's not yet really been able to fly in it because, like a new car, they rarely break. 


So we are headed back to the states in just a short while. I am disappointed and glad to get out of here at the same time. Leaving my swim team just as I was getting into a groove and making some headway in terms of securing more lanes and more practice time for my swimmers is frustrating to say the least. However, the other person I have working with me is awesome and I have no doubt that she will take the team to a higher level. Also, last week, another person showed up on deck and expressed interest in helping to coach - she also brings with her extensive swimming experience so I am excited to see her come on board and I hope the team continues to grow. We have one more meet and then our end-of-the-season party. It will be so hard to say goodbye to these kids. 


There are a lot of other things I will miss about this place and many things I will NOT miss. But that's another blog post for another time. Trust me, it's coming.


For now, I have a bleg. Getting the pups off the peninsula in light of a non-existent paycheck just as we were getting our financial feet back under us after months of unemployment is proving difficult. That being said, at the urging of many of my friends and family, I created a GoFundMe page to help raise money to pay for their shipping. You can find it HERE. Anything raised beyond the amount necessary to cover shipping costs will be donated to Homeward Bound which is an animal shelter designed to help find foster and permanent homes for pets of servicemembers that cannot be kept. They do good work up there. 

Help us get home! http://www.gofundme.com/cokoyw


So, if you have a moment to go check out Ginger and Mishka's fundraising page and either donate or share it, I'd really appreciate it.


Time to go pack some boxes. Again. Didn't I *just* do this?!? On to the next adventure!




Pau.




- hfs

7.13.2014

Why do we not have this?

So...Starbucks. I love Starbucks. Specifically I love iced venti chai tea lattes and their Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappucinos, so really what I love is dessert in a cup. But that's beside the point. Starbucks. We are fortunate to have it over here. However, this IS the land of the 'not quite right' so Starbucks Korea is not quite the same as Starbucks back in the states. There is no 'My Starbucks Rewards' here which means no free drink for every 12 that you purchase, no free drink on your birthday, no special promotions for members, etc.

It's a travesty. (not a 'tragedy'. Just a travesty.)

I have brought it up to the management at the SBUX on post and basically I get a pat on the head and a smile and that's it.

This past weekend, we travelled to a different military installation on the peninsula and I found this...





WHY DON'T WE HAVE THIS??!?

Obviously Starbucks Korea isn't going to implement a rewards card any time soon but the nice thing about Starbucks is that the empower their employees to run local promotions (I asked at the place where I found this to make sure that this WAS something our local SBUX could do. They can. They are just choosing not to.) and the management at this SBUX came up with their version of a punch card - a sticker book. Names are printed/written in the column on the left (the pages are in page protectors) and the stickers are placed in the column on the right. The baristas note when a free drink is earned and the stickers are removed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

WHY DONT WE HAVE THIS??!?

Seriously, how difficult is this to do? It's not. It's really not. My children could do this. Maybe I should offer their services to our local SBUX.

Here's the thing that kills me about this place - in the next 2 years, the bulk of 8th Army will be shifting its location from Yongsan up in Seoul down to Camp Humpreys. The population at Camp Humphreys will almost triple in 2 years. The demand for services and burden placed on infrastructure will be heavy. It will be the major leagues.

And this place isn't even up to Little League status. They are playing City League.

I would go on a rant about it all but this post is about Starbucks and not the ridiculousness that is Camp Humphreys.

Needless to say, I'll be showing these pictures to our local Starbucks management.




Pau.




- hfs

7.07.2014

Geoje Island

Our family recently had the opportunity to go on a retreat with our church. Given that we rarely travel (MacGyver's work hours and 2 young puppies to take into consideration usually put the kibosh on most of our travel plans), this was a great opportunity. We were fortunate that the kennel on the Air Force base had room for the pups so they were able to experience their first sleep-away doggy camp!

We traveled 4 hours south to Geoje Island (or Geojedo, depending on whom you speak to) - prnounced "go-jay" or "go-jay-doh). Aside from day trips up to Seoul and down to Cheonan we've not really been too many places. The southern part of the peninsula is even more lush than where we live so the drive was fantastic.



Not my picture.


Our first stop, aside from rest stops, was the Historic Park of Geoje POW Camp. This camp housed prisoners of war during the Korean War. Built to accommodate up to 170,000 prisoners, it held approximately 20,000 Chinese prisoners and up to 150,000 North Korean prisoners. It was closed in 1953, upon the signing of the armistice. The camp shows visitors what daily life was like, taking extra care to point out how well the prisoners were treated, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. It gives detailed history and explains that there were often riots among the communist and anti-communist factions of prisoners in addition to those between prisoners and guards. There are still some of the original buildings (or parts of them) still standing as well.


Geoje-do Historic POW camp

Entrance to history tour

A look into the life of a POW

History of the start of the war

Progression of the war

Incheon landing operations

The Chinese cause trouble

Cease-fire...where we still stand today...mostly.

Foreign aid and influence

The toll

Parts of some buildings still remain. This was the entrance
to the PX.

What was left of the medical facilities

MP station and brig

It was interesting to tour this site (and to be in Korea in general) as my father served in the Army during the Korean war (as did, if I'm not mistaken, two of my uncles), though he did not serve IN Korea. He, instead, served in Germany at that time. Plus, I am a HUGE fan of M*A*S*H and love to see the history of the war that formed the basis for one of my favorite shows as a kid. I'm surprised there is not a M*A*S*H museum here.


After the POW camp, we headed off to our hotel. We stayed at the Tiffany Pension (i.e. hotel) which was right across the street from Hakdong Pebble Beach (also here). The hotel itself was nothing remarkable - the rooms were clean as were the bathrooms. There is a coffee shop on the 2nd floor and a picnic/BBQ area out back. The staff were incredibly accommodating to our large group, even opening up the coffee house hours early to allow us to eat breakfast (that we brought) and hold worship service on Sunday because it was raining. The rooms were Korean style which meant we slept on the floor. Next time, we will bring an air mattress - I am too old and too American to sleep on the floor. There were several marts and a ton of restaurants within walking distance which made it a perfect place to stay for the weekend. There was a nice boardwalk along the beach as well. The beach itself was a pebble beach, not sand, which was interesting. The sound of the waves on the pebbles is incredibly soothing. We all had a great time looking for sea glass and being by/in the water. The Boy and his friends used debris they found to build a raft (pictures forthcoming).



The intersection outside of our hotel and the beach.

We cooked out at the picnic area that evening and then were up early to catch the ferry over to Oedo Botanica - an island that is one giant botanical garden. 


Oedo (외도)

Hibiscus on Oedo - I find pieces of Hawaii everywhere.

One of the many amazing views on the island.

Wonderful attention to detail.

There were many statues (Roman, Greek, among others).

After traipsing all over Oedo (so many stairs!), we boarded the ferry back to Geoje-do and were able to explore the ferry landing area there.

Windmill at the top of the hill.

One of the many amazing views.

I would like to live here. Please and thank you.

Beautiful.

We had lunch and wandered some more and then it was time to catch the bus back to the hotel. We were all exhausted so we laid low for a few hours - some napped, some went to the beach, some explored some more. Dinner was out back once more and then a few of us snuck away to go try a Korean dessert place up the road. I would show you pictures but I was too busy eating! Korea has its own version of Hawaiian shave ice called patbingsu (팥빙수) and it is DELISH. 


patbingsu 

It is usually made of finely shaved ice (often finer than the shave ice we used to get in Hawaii), sweetened condensed milk, fruit (to include tomatoes sometimes), red beans/paste, and topped with ice cream, Frosted Flakes, marshmallows, etc. There are other versions that are chocolate, coffee, peanut butter, etc. You can make it/top it with whatever your heart desires. It's quite yummy, which is why I have no pictures of my dessert.



We were supposed to have gone to a waterfall area for church the next morning and then on to a bamboo forest but it was raining so we held our worship service in the coffee house and then packed up and headed north. We stopped at the local maritime museum that highlighted the island's fishing and shipping histories - a neat look into the history of the island. We grabbed lunch in the parking lot and then boarded the buses for home.


The pups were so incredibly excited to see us when we picked them up the next morning - I think they missed us. They slept pretty much the entire afternoon after we brought them home so I suspect they played hard and didn't sleep well while they were there. But the kennel staff said they did fine so that's good to know. We missed them though.


All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend our 4th of July weekend and kept us from being too sad that we were missing great fireworks with great friends back home. I can't wait to go back down there again!




Pau.




- hfs



6.23.2014

Coaching again

In the 'be careful what you wish for' category, I'd like to offer myself up as an example. I started coaching swimming back when I was fresh out of high school and the pool where I worked needed someone to coach the summer club team. When I moved to Colorado, I found that EMT jobs were paying just above minimum wage but I could land a coaching job for $10/hour. Back in the mid-90s, that was GOOD money (the sad thing is that wage hasn't really changed - the team my daughter swam for recently doesn't even pay their assistant coaches $10/hour...20 years later!) so I took it and began coaching year-round swim teams. I've coached summer club in California, age-group and summer club in Colorado, high school swim and water polo in California, and high school and age group in Alaska.


I stopped coaching once my daughter was born and have been ITCHING to get back on deck ever since but for one reason or another it's not happened. My daughter finally joined the swim team where we were living before Korea and I tried to get on deck with them but it never worked out. The experience of sitting in the stands while my daughter swam about drove me nuts. I did my best not to pick the practices apart (thank goodness she had a technically solid coach) but I couldn't sit there for long so I gave in and became certified as a Stroke and Turn judge. At least now, at swim meets, I had something to DO. But I still craved deck time.


Then we moved to Korea.


The circumstances on this peninsula are...frustrating. Status of Forces Agreement stipulates that a certain percentage of all employees on post are local nationals and that percentage is quite high. One of the ways the Army gets around this is that all of their coaches and officials are volunteers. Yay - working for FREE!!! There is no governing body for sports here. Back in the states, there is USA Swimming. In Europe, there is the European Forces Swim League. Here, we don't even have Stroke and Turn judges. You can tap dance your way through a 50 Breaststroke and it won't matter because there's no one to DQ you.


Our swim team is the ONLY activity on post that functions year-round. We have two competitive seasons: summer and winter. In between the competitive seasons, our swim TEAM turns into a swim CLUB - same hours, same goals, same types of workouts...just no competitions. We take a short break in between seasons but, for the most part, we function year-round. For free. Did I mention I'm not getting paid? Because it's a volunteer position.


I have 35 kids 37 kids 40 kids on the team.


In THREE lanes  My 5 fastest swimmers have one lane and the other 32 split the other two lanes.


And I had to beg, pester, and cajole the management into allowing us the use of that third lane. In addition to that, I get to defend our program to those that come to me complaining that we are 'taking up the whole pool' when they want to lap-swim. The other day I was approached by someone who asked if they could have our third lane. "You can just scootch your kids over into the other two so I can swim, can't you?"


Um, no. And when I explained that I would not, and the reasons WHY I would not, they stormed off in a huff to lodge a complaint with the management.


The pool where we practice is one of THREE pools on post. Our pool is the smallest and the oldest. The Splish & Splash park has a beautiful Olympic-sized outdoor pool with two lap lanes continuously open during their (usually-poorly-attended-because-they-jacked-the-cost-of-season-passes-up-by-150%-this-year-in-an-amazing-display-of-business-ignorance-on-the-part-of-the-company-that-operates-said-park) operating hours. We aren't allowed to use that pool for practice. The manager, when asked, chose to pretend that the question didn't exist and has never given us an answer or an explanation for the lack of answer. And the lifeguards...oh, the lifeguards...but that's a different rant. My blood pressure is already through the roof today.


The other pool - part of the newly-opened Super Gym, has been down for repairs since last year. LAST YEAR. The anticipated re-opening date for this pool is October December but, given the delays that other construction projects on post have faced, I suspect it will be spring 2015 before we see that pool reopened. And based on the lack of access we've been granted to the Splish & Splash park, I am not hopeful that we will be 'allowed' to hold practices at the Super Gym.


Lest you think I do nothing but gripe, I will tell you my team is great. We have kids ranging from 6 years up to 15 years of age. I have some kids that do a passable freestyle but nothing more and I have some kids that have been lucky enough to have swum with high-caliber year-round swim teams back in the states. And I have an awesome assistant coach that swam competitively with a Division I college (something I was never good enough to do) and who brings with her a wealth of insight into stroke technique and high-level competition. We have great parents that want the best for their children and a local CYSS staff that do their best to helps us function smoothly within the confines of ridiculous amounts of DoD red tape.


I am thoroughly enjoying being back on deck. I love coaching. I love watching my swimmers 'get it' when it comes to making adjustments in their strokes to help them swim smarter and to swim faster. I am looking forward to watching their times drop this summer as we get ready for our competitive season.


But I hate the Army. The Army does its best to suck the joy out of my coaching and it's exhausting to keep it from doing so. Talk to me after our first meet and maybe my perspective will have changed.


Maybe.




Pau.




- hfs

6.21.2014

Pollyanna versus Debbie Downer





I am a realist with a wicked pragmatic streak running right up my core. I do my best to see things as they are, not as I want them to be and not through rose-colored glasses. Occasionally my cynicism creeps out but I try to keep that under control, though Korea makes that difficult much of the time. So my approach to life usually lands me smack in the middle of two pretty annoying groups of people: the Pollyannas and the Debbie Downers.


Living in Korea is a challenge. That's why they call it a 'hardship tour' and they have this thing called 'command sponsorship'. The American military infrastructure here is limited. It's growing and improving (as best it can with everything handled by the lowest bidder...the lowest KOREAN bidder which brings with it its own issues) but it's still limited. Our commissary is small. Our PX is stocked by someone who apparently used to work at Family Dollar and doesn't understand that if you're going to stock bikini tops, maybe you should stock BIKINI BOTTOMS. I am pretty sure that was covered in Buying 101 but, apparently, they failed that course. Thankfully there is online shopping and APO addresses, but I digress.


My point is that living here is an adventure and that adventure brings challenges. When those challenges arise, most people look for solutions and often the solutions come from raising the concern in the first place. The main forum for those concerns here is Facebook. Most on-post programs/organizations have a Facebook page in addition to the local spouses' page and that is the avenue most used to address shortcomings and problems.  There is also ICE (Interactive Customer Evaluation) but I think that avenue is broken...but that's a different rant. Usually a solution is presented and implemented and life goes on. However, in reference to the two annoying groups of people I mentioned earlier, sometimes someone goes overboard. There's always that person (or people) that do nothing but whine: it's too hot, it's too cold, there are only 27 varieties of cereal at the commissary and not 28, the command is being mean to me by not granting my 2nd car exception to policy waiver, I couldn't get in to see the doctor for my child's well-child visit on the exact day I wanted, etc. Debbie Downers drag everyone down if you let them. I'm not saying there is never reason to gripe - trust me, this place is rife with reasons - but when that's ALL you do day in and day out, it might be time to re-evaluate your outlook on life. I'd blame the location but I suspect this is more of a feature and not a bug.


The flip side of this is the Pollyanna Brigade: that group of people that, no matter what happens consistently and annoyingly remind us all that we should 'be grateful for what we have not focus on what we don't have'.


Yeah, I'm going to need you to take your sunshine elsewhere. There was one Mary Poppins and she didn't live in Korea and she wasn't a military spouse.


I get that family members should be grateful that they (we) are allowed to accompany the servicemember here to Korea. In the past, this was truly a hardship tour and it was rare that spouses were granted command sponsorship so the majority stayed back in the states while their loved one lived over here alone for the year. And I get that family members should be grateful that there IS infrastructure here to support them (and it's getting better - new hospital, commissary, PX, and other supporting facilities are currently under construction) because relying on the economy alone is challenging at best. But to stick your head in the sand and ignore short-comings because 'we should be grateful they LET us be here at all' is not only annoying, it's lazy.


I have always maintained the mantra that, if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. Those that refuse to work to improve these circumstances not only do a disservice to themselves but to the spouses headed this way in the future. The improvements we've seen here - the increases in services and programs for families with children, the opportunities for single soldiers in terms of recreation and leisure, the fitness and health-improvement opportunities...none of those came about because the military just up and decided one day that it needed to offer these things to its community. They came about because spouses and servicemembers highlighted short-comings and demanded improvement.

On a larger scale, one can simply point to the Post 9/11 GI Bill as a shining example of the power of constructive criticism. Were it not for the incessant requests of servicemembers and their families for portability in terms of the GI Bill benefit, we would have never seen that change. The outcomes of the annual Army Family Action Planning conference are other examples of the power of constructive criticism - many programs and services have been created or improved and many obstacles removed because of recommendations from this conference.

If the Pollyanna Brigade had its way, there would be no AFAP because 'we should all be grateful for what we have'.


Pshaw.




Pau.




- hfs

6.07.2014

Writer's block

I used to think that writer's block was caused by a lack of subject matter. Lately, I find myself in a the exact opposite position - there is so much that crosses my mind on a daily basis that I want to stop and write about. By the time I get my brain lined out enough to string a coherent thought together, I am overwhelmed by all that I want to discuss.


And as I sit here, trying to get words out, I am still all balled up.


We've been here 5 months. Hard to believe that - feels like we left yesterday. I am still really homesick and looking for any and every opportunity to get us back to the states, preferably back to my house so I can set into motion all of the plans I have for it and my acreage. I could go on and on about the things I miss but the list would be long and I don't think that is a judicious use of my time. Instead, I'll try to recap some of the stuff going on here.


Let's see...where did I leave off? Two puppies, adjusting to Korea, eating lots of good food, trying to learn the language, a volunteer position coaching the swim team, making some friends, already having to say goodbye to others, wrapping up the homeschool year, kids' activities, a play that 1/2 of my family is involved in, and trying to find things to do this summer that a.) don't break the bank and b.) keep us from being bored.


A lot has happened since I last wrote - not so much to me personally but in the world. And I have opinions...lots of opinions. But I have neither the time nor the inclination at the moment to hash them all out. But I need to and I want to - they are clogging up my mind. So I will make a list (it's what I do) and start working through it in the hopes that I can unclog my melon.

1. Sewol ferry sinking and the cultural indifference of Koreans toward safety
2. the ridiculousness that is the Army in Korea
3. Bowe Berdahl
4. the sad state of lifeguarding at Camp Humphreys (see #1)
5. reflections on the 1-year anniversary of MacGyver's departure from the Army
6. reflections on this past school year and upcoming changes for next year
7. my thoughts on the question, "When do you plan to go back to work?"
8. Basal Cell Carcinoma and paying the price for sunburns when I was 8. And 9. And 10...
9. The release of the NTSB report on my friend Lex's crash and the 27 months since he died
10. Korean food that I love



I am sure there is more - this is just what is currently floating around in my head. It's been a crazy few months and I'm hoping that this summer gives us a bit of a break before we start school again in the fall(ish). I'm enjoying the relatively mild weather - we've only broken 90°F once so far but I know that the monsoon season is coming. I'm debating buying raincoats for the dogs and possibly boots as well but I suspect it will just be easier to hose them off each time we come in from a walk. Takes them forever to dry though.


For now, I will go back to something I love...food.


Honey bread. Because God loves me and wants me to be happy.



Java Chip Frappacino. Because I can't drink Chai *every* day.



Jolly Pong - my favorite Korean snack food. Like Honey Smacks but with a cocoa coating.



Korean BBQ. Galbi and the accompanying banchan (side dishes) are my favorite food here.



Organic strawberry spread from a local strawberry farm. Delish.



Korea does Baskin Robbins better.



I've started making my own bread at home. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.



One of my favorite candies and I can't find it anywhere here so I have to order it. Thank goodness for both Amazon and eBay. And APO addresses.



McDonald's is here for when we are feeling homesick.



Korean culture class teaches all sorts of stuff. Like how to make kimbap.



Wild strawberries grow in my 'backyard' (not really my backyard...more like the forrest behind my house).



비빔밥 or bibimbap. Rice and veggies (sometimes meat but I prefer the vegetarian version) topped with sesame oil and soy sauce served in a ragingly hot stone bowl. Aside from galbi, this is my other favorite Korean food.


It will be surprising if, when we leave, I don't weigh 25lbs more than when we arrived.




Pau.





- hfs