Saturday, April 25, 2009

Got a House!

The Great White House-Hunter is victorious! I found an absolutely perfect and adorable townhouse two days ago and put in an offer....and today, the contract was signed. My offer has been accepted! Closing will most likely not be until June (this is a short sale), which is fine, since I didn't plan to move in until July.

My new house has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a nice-sized kitchen and dining room, and a gorgeous brick patio. The living room features a beautiful hardwood floor. Very little needs to be done to the place, aside from some cosmetic changes, and the windows and sliding glass door should be replaced before too long (they're not broken, just not energy-efficient). I'm going to go ahead and replace them all before I move in, since it'll save me so much in heating and cooling costs.

I'll try to post a few photos after I close later. What a relief to know that I have a lovely place to live in addition to a great new job!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Please Take Note...

As you may have noticed, more blog changes have taken place tonight. Aside from some more color-changing and a few picture edits, I've also added a list of books that I have read (and recommend) during April (and stretching until May - two months at a time seemed practical). All the book titles are hyperlinked so that you can learn more if the title intrigues you. Eventually I plan to add another page where I will be reviewing films, books, and pretty much anything else that strikes my fancy, at which point I will change the links to direct visitors to my personal reviews. No promises on when this update will take place, since I am right in the middle of house-hunting, but I do plan to have it done by the end of May, if not sooner.

UPDATE: The new page is up and running. I've decided to call it "According to Stephanie" (hence the change to one of my labels on this blog). Feel free to check it out! It's not terribly impressive at the moment, but I'm sure it will be a site of interest in due time.

The Great White House-Hunter

I am beginning to feel like one of those tough old British colonels from 1930s murder mysteries - you know, the men who go on safari and hunt down elephants and other big game, and who usually suffer from rheumatism. Only in my case, I'm hunting for an elusive house in one of the craziest housing markets in the country.

Owing to its proximity to DC and Quantico, Manassas is an area where housing never ceases to be in demand, and at the moment, the supply is very low. The government's moratorium on foreclosures has left many homeowners doing short sales, which are pesky, complicated, frustrating, and, at the moment, getting snatched up by people offering amounts ridiculously over asking price. I put in a bid on a townhouse that I loved just yesterday, and was outbid by someone who offered $19,000 over asking price - and the area just isn't worth that much! So, I have now widened my search to Woodbridge, which is also a pleasant area, albeit with a much longer commute to work. I've also enlisted the aid of a second realtor, hoping to double my chances of snatching up something worthwhile. In addition, I'm now considering getting an actual house rather than a townhouse, and putting in a lot more work.

Becoming a homeowner is a lot more work than I thought!

Monday, April 20, 2009

DC Delights Me

At the moment, I am back in Manassas, VA doing some much-needed house-hunting. I'm having a surprising amount of luck, as I have already found two places that I liked, both of which were MUCH less than I was expecting to pay. I have a whole week of more house-hunting ahead of me, so I'm pretty confident that I'll be making an offer on a place by Friday.

On Saturday, following a few hours of house-hunting, we (my parents and I) went out to dinner with two of my friends from college, Matthew and Matt. We ate at Macaroni Grill, which I heartily recommend - the chicken cannelloni was the stuff dreams are made of! It was amazing and wonderful to see how, although college is a thing of the past, my college friends and I still get along every bit as well as we did when we were trembling freshman stumbling about in an enormous new world.

Yesterday, my parents and I decided to take a break from our search and spend the day in Washington with my good friend Matthew. We went to Capitol Hill Baptist Church for a very well-done sermon, and then wandered over to the Eastern Market for lunch. Eastern Market is a neat section of DC that I somehow never discovered in my previous travels up there (most likely because I usually went up there to visit the DAR library and museum). The street market was fun to walk through - they sell just about everything imaginable there - and we found a tasty little Mexican restaurant for lunch, where I had one of the best chicken tamales I have ever had.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to venture over to the mall area, where an Earth Day rally was in progress. The turnout was somewhat laughable, but it was still interesting to walk past. I really wanted to visit the Museum of the American Indian, which is one of the Smithsonian's many fantastic museums in DC. Somehow, I always neglected that one, which was definitely a mistake. That museum is stupendous! We only had time for the fourth floor, but I guarantee I'll be back again very soon to tackle the whole museum.

We completed our day with a delicious Chicago-style pizza at Uno's in Reston, which is another restaurant that gets the coveted "Stephanie-stamp-of-approval." After such a grand meal, we dropped of Matthew at his car, and headed back to our hotel for a much-needed early bedtime. Washington, DC is an exhilarating, beautiful, and fascinating city (it's my favorite city, actually), but a visit there always wears me out. I can't wait until I call this area home!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just to Clear up Any Confusion...

Because I frequently post about plans on here, and my plans have a habit of changing, it can sometimes be a little hard to keep up with me! So, just to clear up things for my dear readers...

While I did get accepted to graduate school, I originally was not offered an assistantship. I was named an alternate, which left me with no funding to pay for my master's degree. Since I could not justify going so deeply into debt with the current economic state of the country (and the rest of the world), I decided to put in job applications. Owing to my purchase of a new car, I knew that I had to limit my search to the USA and Canada. I sent out a few "feeler" resumes to some private schools (I would rather strap my head to the underside of a garbage truck than teach in a public school), just to see if I could generate any interest. Within days, I was hearing back from interested schools. After about two weeks of sending out resumes, and having only sent out about ten or so, I had already turned down one offer and accepted an offer from a school that I never imagined would want me!

Let me explain that last statement: I do believe that I am a good teacher (my former students and former director have said so), but I am not yet certified, and I have only a major to work with (no minor). Since the position called for teaching both history and English, I figured that they would not think me qualified to teach English (even though I honestly believe that I am). Also, I am young and have only a year of experience as a teacher, so I assumed that someone with more experience would be snatched up. I was surprised and delighted beyond belief when ECS showed interest in me, and I almost cried with joy when the headmaster offered me the position. I guess passion for the subjects really is worth something!

One week after signing the contract with ECS, I was contacted by Liberty and offered the assistantship that I had previously wanted. Since I always honor my agreements, and since I know that ECS is where I am supposed to go, I made the decision to turn down Liberty's offer. Since Manassas is too far from Lynchburg to allow me to commute, I am deferring my enrollment for a little while. I am going to take a few CEUs (continuing education units) in English, just to improve my skill in teaching that subject, and then next year (Lord willing) I will get back to work on the master's degree (part-time and most likely through the distance learning program).

I am very excited about the opportunity awaiting me in Manassas, and even more excited to be returning to my favorite state of the USA - Virginia. Michigan has its moments, but Virginia is everything wonderful about the USA, all rolled into one glorious and beautiful state.

Promised and Delivered

Well readers, here's that update I've been promising. The look is different, but the writer is still the same! I hope you like what I've done with the site. Aside from the visual changes, I have redone the post labels, added a "This Day in History" section (at the bottom, after the last post on the page), and removed a few items that I felt were no longer needed. Later I plan to add a few more features, which I also hope you will enjoy.

With the new look comes a new purpose as well. Now that I've completed my year in Korea, this blog will follow me as I readjust to life in the USA, continue to travel, and start my new chapter as a newbie junior high teacher in Manassas, Virginia (beginning in August). I hope to continue to show you all just how much fun and how many memorable adventures a Christian girl can have (and probably how many mishaps as well, knowing my luck). Stay tuned!

Words of Wisdom

On Facebook, one of my friends from college suggested posting lists of 25 wise things we had learned in life. I made my list of 25 "words of wisdom" that I live by, and thought I would share them here as well as on Facebook. Enjoy!

1. If you do what you have always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.

2. "You'll never see a U-haul following a hearse." (wisdom from Mr. Wessing, the administrator of my high school)

3. Life is a risk. You can't steal second if you keep your foot on first.

4. "No man is a failure who has friends." (wisdom from "It's a Wonderful Life")

5. Don't let the hand you hold hold you down.

6. God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called. (This one gets abused sometimes, but in the proper context, it is quite true.)

7. “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, 'It might have been'.” (wisdom from John Greenleaf Whittier)

8. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (wisdom from Edmund Burke)

9. “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” (wisdom from Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss)

10. “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” (more wisdom from Theodore Geisel)

11. "Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate." (wisdom from Dr. Albert Schweitzer)

12. Each destination is also a starting point.

13. Integrity is doing the right thing, especially if no one is watching.

14. A truly ethical person is one who does more than he's required to do, and less than he's allowed to do.

15. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.

16. Love never dies a natural death.

17. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. It's more important to do it right than to do it first.

18. Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.

19. "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." (wisdom from Samuel Johnson)

20. Until you find something worth dying for, you're not really living.

21. You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

22. If you fixate too much on the destination, you'll miss out on the journey.

23. When it comes to getting things done, the world is in far greater need of bricklayers than architects.

24. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." (wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt - and if this one gets over-quoted, it is simply because it's true)

25. Be good to the people you meet on the way up, because you'll meet the same people on the way down.

Bonus: "Trust in God, but wear clean underwear." (wisdom from me - if you don't get it, I'd be happy to explain)

When Good Vacations Go Bad

Here, for my curious readers, is a summary of what happened on my trip to Greece and Ireland, which I was still supposed to be on right now:

The first few days were great. I walked for about ten hours a day, hiked, photographed everything, gorged myself on history, and kept getting mistaken for a Greek by the Greeks! It was looking like the best trip ever. Which brings us to Saturday, April 4...

I woke up feeling a bit sick. I brushed it off as just blood sugar problems (I've gotten to where my sugar is never above 68 now, so feeling weak or sick in the morning is pretty normal). I took the bus to Kifissia, then caught the metro to Monastiriki...or so I thought. Turns out they were doing some major work on the metro suddenly, so it was only going a short ways. I got deposited in a bad part of Athens, with no idea which bus to take to get where I wanted to go. I didn't want to waste good money on a taxi, so I opted to walk in the direction of the Acropolis (I figured that I could use that to navigate, once I could finally see it). I wound up lost for about two hours, during which time I re-sprained my bad ankle (left), and hurt my bad knee (right).

I finally found where I needed to be, after several miles of walking. Since I wasn't about to be slowed down by a bum ankle, I went to several archaeological sites, hiked all around them, and of course, hurt my ankle worse. Then I started to feel a whole lot sicker. I thought it might be from all the time in the hot sun, so I got some gellato. I started feeling even worse, and then got a four-alarm migraine. At that point, I knew I had to go back to the hotel. I asked directions at the metro station, and was informed that I could take a different line partway, then catch a bus, then get back on the metro to get to Kifissia. As I was waiting for the metro, I collapsed from dizziness, which resulted in a crowd of concerned (and very sweet) Greeks around me. Finally, I made it back to Kifissia.

On the bus from Kifissia to Anixi (where my hotel was), I threw up all over myself and the floor of the bus. Since I was so humiliated and felt so bad for subjecting everyone else to that sight, I got off, planning to clean up a little and then catch another bus. When I was searching my bag for more kleenex, I discovered that I had been mugged at some point. My wallet had contained my credit card, driver's license, all my cash, and my travelers' checks. So, I was now sick, injured, and moneyless in Greece.

After walking the three or four miles back to the hotel (which was murder on my ankle), I called my parents for help. We were able to cancel my credit card easily, so the low-life thief won't get much fun out of that. Then I had my parents book me a flight back home, and help me cancel the rest of the vacation (there really wasn't any other option). On Monday morning I flew back home. It was definitely not the vacation I had imagined.

Still, it could have been a lot worse. God was looking out for me, even if He did let some bad things happen. I always carry my passport when I'm vacationing in other countries (just in case). On the fateful Saturday, however, I took my passport out of my bag for some reason and left it at the hotel. Also, I did get to have a couple of wonderful days before the "stuff" hit the fan. I got to see the things I wanted to see most of all, and I even got a few souvenirs. I could have been hurt a lot worse, I could have been injured physically by the mugger, I could have been raped and murdered when I was lost in the bad area. I could have been lost much longer. And let's not forget how wonderful the management at my hotel were. They let me stay an extra night, arranged for a cab to the airport and then let me charge it to my bill with them, and were very sympathetic listeners.

So, while it was definitely the worst vacation of my life, it could have been a lot worse. Now I just need to get over this awful "mystery-plague" that I'm sick with.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Big News

Okay everyone, you might want to sit down before reading this. Are you ready? Now for the huge, tremendous, monumental news that I mentioned two posts ago:

In the midst of a recession, with unemployment growing higher by the day, after less than three weeks of looking...I got a job! Praise the Lord! All that frantic praying really paid off!

As of August 12, 2009, I will be the new junior high (7th, 8th, and 9th grade) history and English teacher at Emmanuel Christian School in Manassas, Virginia. In addition, I'll also be supervising an afterschool ESL program for Korean kids. I've signed the contract, and I couldn't be happier.

Apparently I'm a Terrorist

The journey home from Korea, as one might expect, was not an uneventful one. After all, this is me we're talking about. "Interesting" things always happen to me!

Of course, I kind of set myself up this time. Not only was I flying all the way from Korea to the USA, I also had a short layover in Japan. That meant three trips through customs! Three chances for mishaps, in other words. I also had the following additional complications:
1. I was traveling with my dog (he went cargo, not carry-on).
2. Owing to the DREADFUL exchange rate, I did not change any of my won that I had saved into dollars. So, I was carrying nine million won in ten thousand won bills. Yeah, you might as well start giggling now.
3. I was smuggling two bottles of soju in one of my checked suitcases, wrapped up in two of my sweatshirts.
4. One of my bags had had its mate destroyed on the journey to Korea, so I knew the airlines were salivating at another chance to demolish the set.

So, anyone want to make any predictions or bets before I tell you what "interesting" things happened on the long journey home? Okay, I'll give you a minute....ready? All right, read on:

Jasper actually caused very few troubles. I had a health form and a signed rabies certificate, as well as an airline-approved dog carrier. After what amounted to an interview with someone in an office with a very long, official-sounding name (it was in English, but I can't remember it), I filled out some paperwork, paid two different people, and then Jasper was whisked away on the same conveyer belt as my luggage. I could hear his tail thumping on the side on the carrier as he drifted away from me.

I would like to give quick kudos to Northwest Airlines for their Priority Pet program (since I'm going to complain about their airline in just a few paragraphs, I figure I should also mention what they did right). Before both of my flights took off, a flight attendant brought me a paper stating that my dog was safely on board. You cannot imagine how much easier my flights went when I didn't have to struggle with the fear that my dog had been abandoned in Japan (he doesn't speak the language). So for that part of the trip, I give my warmest thanks to Northwest Airlines.

I discovered when I got to Gimhae airport in Busan that security had apparently been stepped up a notch (maybe because they knew I was flying that day). Not only did they have the normal x-ray security check of carry-on bags; they had also decided to unpack each carry-on after it got through being screened. Since I had nine million won in cash, they were naturally a bit curious about me. I patiently explained about the exchange rate woes, they carefully examined my money, and all seemed to be well. Then, they discovered the horrifyingly dangerous weapon that I was trying to smuggle in my carry-on luggage...

Without giving the matter any thought, I had carelessly thrown a lavendar facial sheet into one of my carry-on bags. It was like a giant wet-wipe with eye-holes (in its original sealed package, with what it was proclaimed boldly in large type - in two different languages), so I figured that made it technically not a liquid, and I figured it would be just fine. I was, of course, wrong. Apparently, face masks are an extremely inhumane torture technique used by the likes of Hamas and Al Quaida. I could, after all, threaten the pilot with a facial if he didn't divert the plane. Clearly, I was in possession of something fearsome and dreadful. At least, that's the impression I got from the reactions to my facial sheet.

Immediately, I was suspiciously interrogated about what this horrendous thing was. I explained carefully, as two airport employees attempted to penetrate my soul with their piercing eyes. Then they discussed the matter amongst themselves. Finally, I was allowed to keep the facial sheet. I figured that with that troublesome search behind me, my troubles were over. Fat chance!

As I said before, security had been kicked up a notch when I was leaving Korea. So, they were unpacking each carry-on a second time at the gate. I had purchased a Gatorade after completing the first security check (not aware there would be a second), and the airport employee quickly confiscated that. Then she saw all the cash, and I had to trot out my explanation of that. Then, her eyes narrowed in horror as she saw...yep, the facial sheet again. I once again explained what it was (she could have just read the package, but I'm not sure that they bother teaching airport security employees top-level skills like reading anymore). Once again, a conference had to take place between two security people. Then, the decision was made. They confiscated the facial sheet. I have to say, I was relieved to see it go. I had no idea what a volatile substance lavender is.

(NOTE: Once, on a flight to Oregon, it was discovered upon landing that the couple behind me had smuggled a dog onboard. That's right: a LIVING, BREATHING Pomeranian made it through x-ray without notice. Yet a facial sheet almost landed me in an interrogation room. I've more than once seen hobbling old women, barely able to walk, deprived of their walkers so that those can be examined more thoroughly for drugs/weapons, yet I've also seen kids pull out giant scissors to work on craft projects on planes, and I've seen people get alcohol through and drink it once aboard the aircraft - after they started the idiotic all-liquids-in-a-one-quart-bag rule. Anyone else think airport security is a joke?)

When I arrived in Tokyo, I had to have my carry-ons unpacked and searched thoroughly as soon as I departed the plane (everyone had to go through this, which meant a very long wait before any of us could make it to customs). Even though I was connecting to another flight, I still had to go through Japanese customs. I'm guessing that they had probably kicked up their security in Japan for the same reason Korea had (I have no idea why). Since I no longer had the facial sheet, I only had the cash to explain, and I was getting to be a pro at that.

The flight from Japan was long and turbulant. We hit a storm system as we left Tokyo, and the plane was bounced around like it was stuck in an angry pinball machine. Poor Jasper must have been terrified! Even though I never get airsick, I started to feel a little nauseated. Then, coming into Detroit, we hit an even worse storm system and the plane got knocked around a second time.

Once I got into Detroit, I went straight over to the luggage carousel and waited for my bags to come. And waited. And waited. And started to stress out. And even started to tear up a little (it had been a stressful, emotional week, so don't think too harshly of me). The last two (literally) bags to come around the carousel were mine, and I let out an involuntary whoop of relief to see them. Then, of course, I started laughing hysterically. Why? Because Northwest Airlines managed to destroy the very suitcase I had assumed they would be gunning for. Destroyed is actually an understatement. The damage was so bad that my bag had been completely severed around the middle, and was now in two pieces. Some thoughtful individual had wrapped it in plastic and duct tape, so only a handful of my possessions inside the bag were lost or broken. Still, I think it'll be a while before I willingly fly on Northwest Airlines again. I don't blame them for the turbulance, but the handling of my luggage was unacceptable - what'd they do, play football with it?

Next I collected Jasper, who had decided to amuse himself on the plane by shredding his puddle pads into microscopic pieces. He whined to be let out, but I had so say no, since we still had to go through customs. Of course, the man was VERY curious about the money. After listening to my explanation, he demanded to know why I hadn't declared the money on my customs form. I reminded him that as long as cash is under ten thousand dollars, it does not have to be declared. And then, finally, I ran into the welcoming arms of my mother. The Korean chapter of my life was over, and the next chapter was waiting to be written.

By the way, customs never discovered the soju.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry...I Got Lazy, Okay?

Hello once again, dear readers!

What, you thought I was dead? Well, yes, I guess that is understandable, since I did stop writing before I left Korea. Rest assured, Jasper and I both made it safely back to the USA. And there were only a few mishaps (more about that in my next post)! Then after that, some really exciting stuff happened (more about that in the post after my next post)!

Okay, now to address the matter of updating this blog. I promised another makeover in March...and March is over, and my blog is still the same. I can't do much about that at the moment, since I'm currently in Greece (more about that in the post following the post after the next post). However, I do faithfully promise that the new blog makeover will happen in April...or possibly May. But it will happen!

Also, please be aware that times and dates are different on here again. I had to change the time zone when I went to Korea, which screwed up the times and dates on the posts prior to that, and now that I'm home again (sort of), the time zone needs to be changed again. So, if you want to know when I really posted any of the Korea posts, just add 14-15 hours to whatever time you see (depending on Daylight Savings time, since the USA has it and Korea doesn't).

I will do much better at keeping this updated in the future than I did in March. Yes, I promise.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"