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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chusoek A Korean Harvest Festival

Chuseok is a 3 day harvest festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar which usually falls around the Autumn Equinox. Although the exact origin of Chuseok is unclear, the tradition can be traced back to ancient religious practices that centered around the significance of the moon. The sun’s presence was considered routine, but the full moon that came once a month, brightening the dark night, and was considered a special and meaningful event. The celebration is to give thanks to the ancestors for a great harvest and to share the bounty with your family, friends, and neighbors. Over 35 million Koreans will travel to their ancestral home over the holiday, the roads get very busy and train tickets sell out. Families that live off of the Military base received gifts of fresh fruit from their land lords, a Korean  working at my husband's office gave us a Korean pear. Pears, apples, and fresh rice are part of the feast at Chuseok.

There are three different ceremonies preformed as part of Chuseok; Bulcho, Seongmyo, and Charye. Bulcho is when families visit the graves of ancestors and clear away weeds and debris as a sign of devotion and respect for your family it is done about a month before Chuseok, but can happen after. Seongmyo is the actual visiting of the grave site and it involves a bowing ceremony. Charye is done at the home in front of an altar of food offered to the ancestors on the morning of Chuseok. Traditional Korean belief is that when people die they watch over their families for four generations, during this time they are seen as part of the family and the relationship is reaffirmed on special days. The ceremonies are to show appreciation and respect for the ancestors, who return to enjoy the holiday food prepared for them.

As with any ritual the setting of the altar space is important, I will share what I have found to be general rules please note that each region has some variables. For example in a Buddhist home spicy vegetables (garlic, chives, spicy peppers) would be avoided because it is believed that they disturb the spirits. A screen is placed to the north, with an altar/table before it. The spirits will visit from the north and enjoy their feast from behind the screen. On the north side of the table a wooden tablet (wipae) used to hold a paper (jibang) with the name, title, and place of origin of the ancestor written vertically in black. Sometimes the wipae is not used.  This is the honored place for that ancestor and as food is placed out it should be set so that the departed can eat from this position. Here is an example made all in wood.




The food is prepared to be beautiful, fresh, and taste wonderful. You want to serve your ancestors the best you have to offer. Special lacquered dishes are used to present the food which should be stacked tall and symmetrically. Food is arranged with the red foods to the east and white foods to the west, and each row is as follows; southern most row is dessert type goods so fruits, cakes, and cookies (what the ancestor would eat last); next row side dishes, vegetables, Kimchi, salted and fermented fish dishes, dried fish goes here too; next row toward the screen  is for soup there could be as few as 3 kinds or as many as 7 and a dish of soy sauce for seasoning, next are the meats - fish should have its head which points east and the back of the fish toward you so it is ready to be served to the honored guest; closest to the screen the main dish in Korean cuisine, that means rice, rice cakes and soup here there should be as many rice bowls as there are ancestors being honored. Pile the rice on high so it looks like a mound is sticking out of the bowl.



There are several traditional foods, I have copied their description from wikipedia;

One of the major foods prepared and eaten during the Chuseok holiday is songpyeon (송편),a Korean traditional rice cake which contains stuffing made with healthy ingredients such as sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nut, walnut, chestnut, jujube, and honey. When making songpyeon, steaming them over a layer of pine-needles is critical. The word “song”(송) in songpyeon means a pine tree in Korean. The pine needles not only contribute to songpyeon’s aromatic fragrance, but also its beauty and taste[11][12] Songpyeon is also significant because of the meaning contained in its shape. Songpyeon’s rice skin itself resembles the shape of a full moon, but once it wraps the stuffing, its shape resembles the half-moon. Since the Three Kingdoms era in Korean history, there was a Korean legend saying that these two shapes ruled the destinies of the two greatest rival kingdoms, Baekje and Silla. During the era of King Uija of Baekje, an encrypted phrase, “Baekje is full-moon and Silla is half moon”, was found on a turtle’s back and it predicted the fall of the Baekje and the rise of the Silla. The prophecy came true when Silla defeated Baekje in their war. Ever since, Koreans started to refer to a half-moon shape as the indicator of the bright future or victory.[13] Therefore, during Chuseok, families gather together and eat half-moon shaped Songpyeon under the full-moon, wishing themselves a brighter future.[14] 

Another popular Korean traditional food that people eat during Chuseok is Hangwa. It is an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns. Hangwa is made with highly nutritious ingredients, such as rice flour, honey, fruit, and roots. People use edible natural ingredients to express various colors, flavors, and tastes. Because of its decoration and nutrition, Koreans eat Hangwa not only during Chuseok, but also for special events, for instance, weddings, birthday parties, and marriages.[15] The most famous types of Hangwa are YakgwaYugwa, and DasikYakgwa is a medicinal cookie which is made of fried rice flour dough ball and Yugwa is a fried cookie that also refers as a “flower of Hangwa”. Dasik is a tea cake that people enjoy with tea. 

Back to ritual set up:

Note the small table in front of the first here you place the drinks (Soju, boiled rice water, water), an incense bowl filled with sand and a bowl of sand. The burning incense represents heaven and the bowl of sand earth. You need to call upon both to recall the ancestors, as their spirits float in heaven while their bodies are buried in earth. There should be two candles placed on the main table. Now you are ready for the ritual.

The ceremony is usually run by the eldest male in a family, but this is changing I found a wonderful blog by an American woman married to a Korean man here is her Chuseok blog: 

The Soul of Seoul, Chuseok

The ritual is held first thing in the morning. The family bathes and men wear suits, women a conservative dress or traditional hanbok. The table is set, open the door and welcome the spirits. The eldest male lights the incense. Then he bows head to floor 2 times then kneels. Everyone else bows head to floor 2 times then one bow from the waist.  Soju is poured in a cup held by second oldest, then poured out in the sand this is done in an order of three; some places say 3 cups, some say pour in 3 sections. This is to symbolize the ancestors descent to the offering table. The next cup is poured then circled in the smoke 3 times then placed for spirits to drink. Each of the male family members makes a wine offering. Chopsticks are tapped on the table 3 times then placed on a dish, a spoon is placed in the rice, the concave part faces east, repeat for each spirit. Once the table is set everyone leaves for a few minutes for the spirits to eat in peace, then you return. When multiple generations are being honored the process can be repeated for each generation. Bow three times again replace soup bowl with water bowl, place 3 spoons of rice in water, cover dishes and discard wine. Bow 2 times and say goodbye, then the jibang (paper with name) is burned in the incense bowl. Clear the food to a table in another room to be enjoyed by everyone. 


Here is a blog that goes into great detail on the Korean Jesa, a ritual to honor the deceased. 

Ask A Korean, How to Hold Jesa

Different forms of this ancestor honor ritual are held 3 times a year; Chuseok, Lunar New Year, and an individual ceremony at midnight on the death day of the person. 

I hope you found the information on this ritual as interesting as I did, if you are interested in trying your own ritual I highly suggest reading the Ask A Korean blog he goes into great detail. 



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Household good arrived!!!

Wow, our stuff arrived!!! Unpacking is as fun as ever, I am a little dismayed that this is taking me so long – seriously I have done it 6 times as a wife and I only have ½ of our stuff so what gives!?! Then I realize I ONLY have HALF of my stuff!!! The buffet that platter lives in, not here and hardest of all we don’t have any book shelves or desks. Ok, I guess I can cut myself a little slack for wandering around with items in hand like a zombie. As a plus I now have a full complement of pots, pans, bake ware, and tools throwing dinner together just got easier. Of course I am still figuring out the best organization for the stuff but that generally takes me a few weeks of working in the kitchen with it all. OH Oh (jumps up and down clapping) and now I have other clothes to wear, those 12 outfits I brought were getting old after 12 weeks – a few of the high quality Walmart t-shirts are actually wearing out Yikes. I have learned just how much smaller the Government Issue dresser is compared to mine – and geez do I need that many pairs of underwear or socks?!? Dog is happy we now have 3 large golf umbrellas. I have my stuff 30 days earlier than expected, so I will be thankful and find solutions to where will I put this or that.

We also have our van and I got my Korean driver’s license. Overall the experience here is improving, I just need to get brave and go out and adventure. To drive off the post requires coping with the way Korean’s drive. Everything – signage, painted arrows on the road these are mere suggestions the native population drives with abandon. Interesting fact all accidents require both drivers to take 50% responsibility, yes if you hit a parked car it is 50% that driver’s fault. Then there are the signs they aren’t all in Hongu (the Korean alphabet) but the words all look the same to me, one name can be different from the next with just 2-4 letters difference that’s very hard to notice while you are driving by. If I get lost getting directions from someone when I can’t even ask in Korean could be difficult, plus I don’t know my numbers, or left and right in Korean. Others tell me there are lots of Koreans that speak English and it would be fine.

We have been out and about in Pyeongtaek (the large city by us) and Anjeong ri (the suburb of Pyeongtaek right outside our gate) and both adventures were fun and exciting. The girls and I went to the market in Anjeong ri before the van came so that involved a half mile walk to a 20 minute bus ride then we walk out the pedestrian gate into the ‘ville. It was lots of fun and the Korean merchants were very helpful and friendly; we bought great veggies and fruits that were inexpensive and so fresh and tasty. Next is to try the large market in Pyeongtaek, just gotta be brave and go.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Monsoon season

I like to plan ahead. I feel like it gives that Murphy guy less to do, the things I plan for don't happen - it is that one thing I miss that screws it all up. SO I knew that July and August were monsoon season and I tried to buy rain boots for the kids and myself but we lived in El Paso, TX which is a desert rain boots were hard to come by in June. No matter since it isn't (so far) days of constant rain. It rains every day for some amount of time, and there is now standing water in lots of places but I don't always get wet when I walk the dog.

The other morning it was really wet air, so you got wet while you walked along but the water had not reached a critical mass and started to fall to earth. I was ok with that and the dog did his thing and I didn't even need to change my clothes when I got back in the apartment. Oh how 5 hours can change the world. Looking out the window while I waited for the elevator I thought, Hmm it is raining a little. In the time it took that little metal box to go from 4th floor to 1st floor it was pouring. Dog had to go, so out we went. Dog was not happy. I found the whole thing laughable. The water ran down my face I couldn't even see, dog did not complete the mission. He tapped out.

So with the standing water and pouring rain - I really need boots. Oddly I am having trouble finding any, you would think shops would capitalize on this moisture and get some rubber boots in, alas so far no luck. Thankfully the rain is back to falling at night. The weather reports say it has been a dry monsoon season, and the country is headed for a drought. I do hope it rains, and the Koreans don't have a drought, I just hope it waits until I find some boots and a really large umbrella for the dog. I don't think he can hold it more than a day at a time.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tossed under the bus . . .


Right now I am writing my resume, can you tell? I was gathering my papers I have this folder that I have kept copies of my resumes through the years and letters of recommendation and cards of love and support from family and friends. I found it was a good place to go when I got sad and felt worthless. I could read all these letters that said I was responsible and a hard worker. Sometimes I forgot about my folder of attagirl, and those months would get dark . . . . Anyhow in the back I found my darkest day, orders leaving Oregon.

Once upon a time I was crazy happy in Salem, Oregon. I had friends, a purpose, I was on a great housekeeping schedule, I felt like I fit in - it was amazing. At the elementary school a ponytail and no makeup it was ok, hell it was standard Mom attire! Only problem, spouse was a recruiter and he was really unhappy, we had grown far apart and lived as roommates. We didn’t even communicate with notes, neither one knew what the other was doing in their life. Then it was time for him to return to the regular Army, he started to come back to me, the sarcastic loving guy I married started to show up at our house. We got our orders for Germany, *squee*, I love Germany. I was excited even though I would leave my home. One week before we were getting on the road they changed our orders – in a voice mail – to Ft Rucker, AL. Southern gals, inspite of the crazy melting humidity, to go everywhere-even the gym in make-up and with hair done. To say I hate Ft Rucker is a supreme understatement, I do not fit in there and we had been there 2x already. I cried for 3 days. I knew I had to make a choice, my marriage (kids were 7 and 3) or my happiness and that really is how I saw it. SO I made a sacrifice for my family, for my kids and returned to HELL.

I went to AL, and held it against him for the 2.5 years there and another 2 years at Ft Bragg, NC. It was pretty bad, I gave up. Actually laid down and gave up. I don’t even know if he could have done anything, at times I told myself that if he at least apologized for what the Army did, or admitted that I gave up so much for him then I could forgive him. LOL my husband isn’t good at sorry even when it is his fault much less for something he can’t control – but my twisted mind felt like there were words he could use to fix it. Like any good martyr I suffered for my cause, I stayed in bed for the better part of 2 years – yeah that’ll teach ‘em!!

When I started to get straight with my health and my mind a therapist asked me why did you leave Oregon? If you were happy there why didn’t you stay? I had to admit that if I had stayed we would have been divorced in a year, we were too far apart at that point and we needed to become husband and wife again. There are strong marriages that can take time apart, or even damaged ones like ours (he was deployed 2x while I continued to hold vigil) can make it if you are together in theory. If I had stayed I would have declared my independence physically when I was already living it mentally. So while he was in Afghanistan the second time I chose to get better. We were supposed to retire in a year so I would get to go back to Oregon and have a career – the kids were 13 and 10 they could function without me. He would retire and be an at home Dad while I got a career. I had a happy family picture in my mind all of my suffering was over my reward earned.

The Army did it again, while deployed he made the Sergeant Major (SGM) list and called to tell me we were going to Ft Bliss for a year and then he had to spend another 4 years in the Army to retire at SGM. I really didn’t know what to do, OH the rollercoaster of emotions. I could go to Oregon and start a life with the kids and he could join us when he retired, I could stay in NC and see where he went after school. I wanted my family intact, but wasn’t ready to trade my soul again. I am nothing if not dramatic! Once again I had a plan and here it was tossed under the bus.

I put on my big girl panties, it took me a couple of months to find them. I was pleasantly surprised that they were too big, while getting healthy I lost 50 lbs and 2 sizes. With new found pleasure at my healthy success I loaded up the family to move to Ft Bliss, TX for a whole 10 months. In Texas we discovered each other again. He came home for dinner and lunch and we laughed and enjoyed each other, both pleasantly surprised to find we were still in love. I let go of my martyrdom, and he forgave the years of passive aggressive behavior. I am a fool, I planned on getting to Ft Lewis, WA and starting my life 3 hours away in Oregon.  Thought we could have it all. Oh the Gods have a sense of humor.


I am writing this from Pyeongtaek South Korea. This time I got through my shock and dismay in about 24 hours and decided this was my overseas adventure that I had waited 8 years for, being a martyr did finally pay off.   

Monday, June 2, 2014

Motherhood Sucks

Motherhood sucks

My oldest is 14, I only have 2 kids and I am still on my first husband. And in a minute you will see why it is nice that he is still putting up with me. Husband is in the military so we move every few years and it was hard to find career worthy jobs – I decided to stay home and call that my job. Well it was way too thankless.

At work you get paid, and the boss doesn’t care what you do with that money. As a SAHM you are expected to keep everyone happy while figuring out how to save money to prove that you have contributed to the family. For me that meant I didn’t buy myself things like new clothes, or get my hair done. A job offers accolades when you do well, at home you can never please everyone. When a project is finished at the office you celebrate and review what went well and how to improve the next project. When dinner is finished there is no thank you and as a prize I get to do the dishes. There will be more dishes in 2 hours after everyone has dessert, so I guess that ‘project’ is never done.

To add insult to injury while dinner and then dishes are being done the rest of the family does as they please – watch TV, play on computers, enjoy their free time. This year I have decided to do as I please and to force the rest of the family into working. It was hard. When they complained I wanted to jump in and take over, but I believed that my movie watching was just as important as their free time so I kept my ass on that couch!! When guilt over the mess in the kitchen started to upset my stomach, I walked to the living room and checked into Facebook. My time and effort have paid off; I think I found some new hobbies. The fact that they really can do house work shows me that I can get a job, and it won’t lead to social services visiting my home.


Best of all, I am not caught up in getting stuff done so that I actually stop and spend time really listening to my kids instead of multitasking my way through a conversation. I still don’t get many thank yous, and the place is a little out of control sometimes – but it is worth it to have a life. Maybe motherhood isn’t too bad, maybe I was just doing it wrong. Shhh don’t tell my husband.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back to the Gym



So I have been trying to lose weight for – well since I turned 12 and I am 44 now so . . .you do the math. After 40, with 2 kids and a couple bouts of depression, where I stayed in bed for months I was in really bad physical condition and I decided to make a change. It took 2 years of trying different workout methods, and eating plans before I realized that I couldn’t make myself work hard enough to change alone – I got a trainer 3x a week and she made me hurt every day. I love her – she saved my life.

 It took 12 months to lose 50 pounds, and then we moved. So I lost my gym, my grocery store, and my workout buddies. I got settled and started again – thankfully I didn’t gain any of the weight back, unfortunately I didn’t keep making progress either. So here I sit with really another 50 pounds to lose to be healthy, again trying to make a go of it on my own. (I hear the song “All By Myself” playing, hmmm).


A local friend is a runner and got me to try a race with giant inflatables.


 I started the couch to 5k program using this app so that I wouldn’t slow down the real runners too much.


It went well in 4 weeks I got to where I could run for 90 second intervals at a pretty good pace. On day one of the program my 60 second run on a treadmill showed my heart rate going to 188,(might have been close to a heart attack, but since I didn’t pass out it’s all good) by the fourth week I was running faster and my heart rate only made it to 170 and my recovery was much faster. We did 3.5 miles with 11 obstacles in just under an hour – not bad for newbies.

We finished the race and I didn’t have another one on the calendar so I didn’t run for 3 weeks – I walked and did the elliptical but it was a half-assed effort. Truth be told I really dislike running, but I found it was an easy way to knock out 300+ calories in 30 minutes, then 30 minutes on core work and some weight lifting and you have real progress in 1 hour. I returned reluctantly to the gym, and decided to start again at week 1 but day 3, I thought maybe I had a little conditioning left – WOW I was shocked I ran the whole routine at my faster speeds and without any extra recovery time, and no slowing down WOO-HOO!!!


I am back to the gym, on my way to being in great shape!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Count down to PCS (permanent change of duty station)

As you might have gathered from earlier posts we are getting stationed in South Korea. This was a real shock to all of us it was 27th on our wish list followed by Ft Rucker, AL; and Ft Polk LA – and my spouse already has over 20 years in the Army so we would be potentially retiring at the end of our tour in Korea – hmm seems complicated to me.  We live our lives “at the needs of the Army” so South Korea it will be.

In 4 weeks we have managed to get 2 passports each (one of the bureaucratic hoops we get to jump through), the cat and dog have their shots and lab work, we had our physicals, and some needed paperwork has come in so that I can start the next series of appointments.  My time has been loaded with interesting ‘things to do’, seems our last duty station didn’t put any of our medical visits in the computer so I had to re-do all the fun appointments – the boob smasher, and every lady loves “could you scoot a little farther down the table?” Fortunately even with the constant need to do things twice we are still moving down the check list.

 Unfortunately it has taken up so much of my time I haven’t been able to do research on the fun parts of moving to South Korea, just the nuts and bolts of getting 4 humans, a dog, and a cat there. I have lots of ideas I want to research – local festivals, National events and celebrations, and basic info- what is the weather like  *sigh* hopefully I will have some cool things to tell eventually, right now I need to get on the phone and check the cost of shipping an 80 pound Lab from Dallas to Seoul . . . .