Friday, August 9, 2013

The Denali Trip

How the time flies.  In just two weeks I'll be moving back to Hong Kong!  I'm pretty excited.  I'm going to spend a week in Arkansas, then go to Istanbul for a few days (extended layover), and then I'll be in the land of milk tea!  Should be fun times, right?  

Now I'm quite busy finishing up work, getting logistics worked out, and trying to fit in some fun stuff.   I figured it would be some kind of crime to leave Alaska without going to Denali, so last week Nathan and I made the trip.  

We left Friday evening and drove to Denali.  It's quite a long drive but the scenery was great and we had some interesting podcasts to listen to (Freakonomics and Hardcore History!).  When we finally made it to the southern part of Denali, we stopped at a scenic lookout and took some pictures of a mountain that could have been in some kind of villain cartoon.  It was really dark and pointy and funny-looking.  Unfortunately, my pictures didn't turn out so well.  When we drove on into the park, we glimpsed Mt. McKinley through the the mountains and clouds.

By the time we got to our campsite at the entrance of the main park, it was after midnight.  We drove around trying to find our name on a campsite but never did.  After twenty minutes of looking we just pulled into an empty one and set up camp.

I'm not much of a camper since I rarely sleep, so I was up at five thirty.  Although the weather report predicted rain, it was a beautiful morning.  When Nathan woke up we boiled some water on a tiny portable stove so we could have oatmeal and tea and coffee.  We had opted to take the eight hour shuttle bus (four hours each way) and we got on the one leaving at eight. 

The scenery was quite wonderful although it was difficult to stay awake since I had barely slept the night before!  We got to see a mama bear and her cubs, a moose, two caribou and some ptarmigans, although the ptarmigans were the only things that were actually close.  Overall, it was a pretty fun trip!  And of course now I can check it off my list.  Check.

On the bus, ready to go!

It may look like just a bunch of blonde rocks but it's actually a mama bear and her babies taking a nap.

Pretty scenery.

Kind of looks like a green screen, dunnit?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stuck In My Head: Glass

This is not a new song, but for the past, oh I don't know, week or so, I've been playing ATB's Made of Glass when I drive.  Ooh, it's such a great driving song, especially night driving.  Similar to Alanis Morisette's Wunderkind, I feel like I'm in a movie when I listen to it while driving in the dark.  I feel l like I should be pondering some great life change or crying silently after some traumatic event.

I'm not normally into trance.  I like the beats but I find whole songs to be too repetitious and...trance-y.  I generally prefer music that wakes me up not puts me to sleep.  This particular song, though, really caught my attention.  Of course it has a nice beat and it does repeat itself some but it never want to fast forward or yell at my stereo to get to the end already.

Also, while being somewhat lyrically opaque, the song paints a a picture of the transience of life.  My favorite lines are "Sometimes life just seems to shatter.  We're all made of glass."  Beautiful.

Well...I don't really have anything else to here, just listen to it.  Oh, and there's no official MV, so enjoy the scenery pictures someone put together.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Heart Food: Endure

"We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."
-- Thess. 1:3

I like how here there are several external actions that all spring out of the heart.  I like how the work is produced by faith.  It's created by it, a by-product of faith.  It's cause and effect.  So the work would not happen if there weren't faith first.  As James 2:17 says, "In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action (works) is dead." So faith produces work because it must.  At least, living faith must always produce works.

Then your labor, your effort and toil, is prompted by love.  You have to have some incentive to work.  Most people are motivated by money--that's why they go to work every day.  Or maybe they're motivated by the satisfaction they get from their jobs.  Or maybe they're motivated by the desire to be a good worker.  When we're laboring for the Lord, we need to have a different motivation: love.  We should be driven by our love for God and our love for others.  When you love someone, you genuinely want to help them and do things for them.  Sometimes it doesn't even seem like work because you want to do it.  The Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver.  If we're motivated out of love as opposed to guilt or pride, we are well on our way to being a cheerful worker.  I can't say that I'm always motivated by love.  I pray that God would grow love in me so that I would be prompted to work by it.

Finally, endurance.  It can be hard to keep going, keep loving, keep focused, keep praying.  That's something I struggle with.  It's easy to get side-tracked and sit down for a rest.  The Bible tells us many times (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Cor. 9:24, Gal. 5:7, etc.) to run the good race.  We are to throw off distractions and keep our eyes fixed on the prize.  That's not easy!  Something I've learned is that I can't white-knuckle endurance: I can't force myself to love or live a faithful life.  The best way is to focus on Christ, on his beauty, on the way he saved me, the promise of eternity with him, and the joy that comes from this knowledge.  That's how I get the strength to endure.  I pray that this verse would become a reality in my life, that I may work and labor for him, keeping my eyes fixed on him.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Whittier Fourth

I had Independence Day off this year.  Hooray!  Rebecca and I decided to visit Whittier, a small town on Prince William Sound.  It's pretty close to Anchorage, only about an hour away, but I'd never been there before.

Welcome to Mordor

The fun thing about Whittier is that you have to go through a tunnel which is only open at certain times so you have to watch the schedule or you might have to stay longer than you wanted.  We had decided to have a picnic, but when I woke up the day was gray and rainy.  We went anyway but decided to have our "picnic" in the car parked in front of a waterfall.

My view from the car

After lunch we wandered around a bit.  The water was exceptionally beautiful, an interesting gray color.  We drove around the town, taking maybe ten minutes, and bought some fudge before heading back to the tunnel.
My mom bought me that raincoat

Maybe old mining junk?

On the other side of the tunnel there's a visitor center for glaciers, and we popped in.

I made a friend

Pieces of glacier floating around



On the way back to Anchorage, we pulled off at a little lake.  In nicer weather, it would be a great picnic spot as well.  The gorgeous water was only marred by a few seagulls floating on its lightly rippled surface.  Dang seagulls. 

That night I joined my small group for games and a cookout.  Looking back on it, I had a very traditional fourth.  Picnic, games, bbq.  The only things missing was the volleyball/baseball and swimming.  Oh, and the fireworks.  They had a firework ban.  I guess you can't win them all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stuck In My Head: Wolf

Warning: small tangent for the next few paragraphs.  Feel free to skip down to the Wolf section.

I like k-pop.  I hesitate to call myself a k-pop fan, though, since I don't feel like I really fit the demographic.  It seems that most people into k-pop latch onto a certain group (or groups) and become one of their fans.  Now that doesn't just mean that they like their music, but that they are dedicated to that group.  They have official names for fans of certain groups.  For example, Infinite fans are called Inspirits.  2ne1 fans are called Blackjacks.  U-Kiss fans are called Kiss Mes (yes, for real; but there are worse ones than this).  Anyway, the fans usually know all about the members, keep track of their activities, have fan club meetings, and support them no matter what.

That's...not really for me.  Sure, I like certain groups more than others, but I am not that dedicated.  I'm also pretty discriminating.  I think it's kind of hard for me to really be a fan of k-pop groups because they tend to change up their style and genre all the time.  While every artist evolves and changes, a lot of k-pop groups will have several different genres represented in the same album, and that makes it hard for me to whole-heartedly get behind them. I cannot stand ballads, and it seems that every group has to have some terrible slow song in there.  For example, I absolutely love B.A.P's upbeat, aggressive songs like No Mercy or Warrior.  But then there's Rain Sound and Stop It.  Oh my freaking gosh they're bad.  I just don't get it.  They're so good at being aggressive, so why can't they just focus on that?  Why make them act cutesy when they're clearly bad at it?

Because of the constant sound/image changes, it's hard for me to fully support a group.  But I do have lots of songs and videos that I like.  So I guess I'm a conditional k-pop fan?

End rant: back to Wolf

SOOOOO.....Wolf.  Exo is an interesting group.  They've only been around a little over a year but already have a large following.  SM is trying a new marketing style which I think is a good idea.  Exo is a 12-member group (I know, right?) that's split into two sub-groups.  They sing and perform the same songs, but Exo-K sings in Korean and Exo-M sings in Mandarin.  Really, that's a pretty good idea.  Then you can reach out to more fans with the same group but only have to work on one concept.

Anyway, Exo's Wolf came out not too long ago.  When I first listened to it, I was not a fan.  One of the current trends in k-pop is to take a bunch of random song bits and mash them together to try to make one song.  Personally, I'd prefer it if they just stuck with developing one theme well instead of jumping around so much.  I especially hate it when they have a piece of the song that I like but since there are so many parts that I barely get to hear it (ex. I loved the thirty-five second mark of Bilasa's What's Happening but it did NOT fit the rest of the song).  A good (or should I say terrible) example of this is Girls' Generation's I've Got A Boy.  Oh, it gets ugly.

So by all counts I should hate Exo's Wolf  And the first time I listened to it, I didn't like it.  But I listened to it a few more times, and a miracle happened!  It grew on me.  Before long I was going around singing, "Guerra 'olf, naega 'olf" and howling.  I love the chorus too.  It's very epic and spine-tingling.

The video is pretty awesome, so that also might have influenced me in its favor.  I love the shadow arm tree at the beginning and the flowing, jumping wolf pack and the cool member formations with wolf-boys breaking through.  I do have to say that it's a bit amusing to see them try to look fierce.  They're trying so hard, but some of them still just look cute.  Sorry guys.

I did watch the Mandarin version too, but it doesn't sound as epic as the Korean version.  That said, the Mandarin lyrics appear to be light-years better than the Korean ones.  I know, I know.  I never should have looked up the translation; I should have just enjoyed the music.  But I didn't.  Unfortunately, the whole first verse of the Korean version is terrible!  SO BAD!  Cheese?  Toenails?  Those really aren't the makings of a great song.  Who thought that was a good idea anyway?  With all the money they spent on making the video and marketing the song and everything, you'd think they'd have spent a little more time on the lyrics.  Sigh.  I guess it's not much worse than Katy Perry's "plastic bag" line.

Anyway, check out Exo-K's Wolf.  I strongly suggest you watch the video with it, or else you may never want to listen to it again!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Happy Saturday

I didn't really have any plans for today, a Saturday, but plans seemed to find me!  My friend Rebecca texted me in the morning and asked if I'd like to go have a picnic!  Of course I said yes.

Then someone else e-mailed me that they found a place that served chicken feet and egg tarts!  I had just been talking with her about Hong Kong food I like, so it was really sweet of her to let me know.  Since I'm carless at the moment, Rebecca picked me up.  She kindly agreed to take me by the Chinese place to pick up my picnic food.

Thank you, Charlie.

It took me a little while to make a decision, but I finally decided on chicken feet, har gou, sticky rice lotus leaf, and an egg tart.  For good measure I got some bubble tea, but it was just Thai tea.  I talked to the lady at the register a little, but unfortunately she only speaks Mandarin.  :(   As far as the food went, in case the suspense is killing you, it was fair to good.  The chicken feet were great and the sticky rice was good.  The egg tart was decent (a bit too sweet, I think), but the har gou wasn't very good.  It was mashed shrimp instead of whole, and it had this strange taste to it, so I didn't even want to finish it.  Still, overall I was pleased. 

The little lake we went to was a bit out of the city but worth the drive.  It was beautiful!  There was a cute little sandpiper that kept us entertained while we ate.  Lunch and a show!  A bunch of people showed up and started setting up a party, apparently a German party, so we didn't linger too long over lunch.  There was a trail nearby that looped around the lake so we decided to walk it.

There's not much else to say except that everything was beautiful.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Up the trail

Wild roses


Interesting foliage

After the successful, yet mosquito-ridden, walk, we went back to Anchorage and had some delicious frozen yogurt!  Rebecca was taking me home when I saw something was happening out in front of the Dimond Mall.  A Korean festival of some sorts?  She dropped me off and I went to investigate.  A bunch of churches had set up boothes and had food and such.  They had a stage too, but unfortunately I had missed the performances.  They were playing Korean music on the loudspeakers, and a Vixx song that I just bought came on twice!  I bought some Korean donuts and dukboki.  

I was eating at a table when I heard someone calling my name.  It was my boss's daughter!  I went over and sat with her and her friends while I finished my snack.  The festival was over and people started taking stuff down, so I decided to go in the mall.  I didn't see too much interesting stuff, but I did get a pair of much-needed black flats.  I also saw another friend who works at the mall.  It was slow in her store so we talked for awhile. 

Then I got a text from my life group leader.  My church life group was getting together to hang out.  We went to a high school to play ultimate frisbee and then volleyball.  I'm not good at either one, but it was still fun.  I actually even had a fun time playing volleyball, which is saying something.  

Afterwards we went to someone's house where they grilled some fish (halibut and salmon).  It was SO good.  Probably the best halibut I've ever had (although I haven't had it too many times, still).  They had some fun backyard games to play and we also talked a lot.  I played washer pitching, which I'm also not good at (do you sense a theme here?) but still had a good time.  I did get better towards the end!  

All in all it was a wonderful Saturday.  I didn't get much done in a productive sense, but that's ok.  After all, I have to enjoy my Alaskan summer!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

San Fran and Five Iron Frenzy!

Those of you who know me probably know that I love music. More specifically, I'm crazy about Blindside and Five Iron Frenzy.  I got to to a Blindside show a couple years back but Five Iron was still broken up then.  I thought my dream would never come true.  BUT.  Oh yes, there's a but.

They got back together again!  They've been making new music and playing a few shows!  Last weekend they had a show in San Francisco!  I didn't know if I should do it, since it would involve buying an expensive plane ticket, but after talking to my mom and some friends I decided to go for it.  After all, this has been a life long dream.  To make matters even better, one of my good friends from Hong Kong lives there!

I didn't take too many pictures, but I took a couple.

Dim Sum and friends!  Anchorage is sorely lacking in the dim sum department.

Bubble tea!  That's something else Anchorage lacks.

Besides having wonderful dim sum and bubble tea, I also got to eat HK diner food and have...HK style milk tea!  It's SOOOOOO good.  Oh man, I wish there were some in town.  I also got to practice a bit of Canto, which clearly needs a lot of work.  But at least it was fun.

We got to the show right when the doors opened, and there weren't many people there at all!  I was told that San Franciscans tend to plan tons of stuff for one weekend so they can't afford to be early anywhere.  Works for me!  We got a spot on the front row, right in between Reese and Brad!  I literally couldn't have had a better spot.  

They put on SUCH a good show.  They were funny and had a nice rapport.  They joked with the crowd.  They even played pretty much all the songs I wanted them to.  I wondered if they would play "You Probably Shouldn't Move Here" since it's about why you should leave California and move to Colorado (facetiously, of course) but they did!  So happiness. 

This picture cracks me up.

Reese and his dancing.

The wonderful horn section!

I even got a great video, although the sound is crap.  Here it is if you'd like to watch it, but I suggest muting it.  It was of one of my favorites, American Kryptonite.

With that, bye bye!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Heart Food: Searching

Just a quick thought for today.  Recently I've been thinking a lot about how God is worth more than anything else.  While I've always known that, I've recently been thinking about what that means practically.  How does that play out in my life?  How should my life look different because of that?

Today I read Psalm 9:10 "Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you."

Faith can seem crazy to those who don't believe.  I understand that, because they don't know the Lord.  Those of us who know God, who have experienced him, who have had their lives changed, who see him work daily, we know that he will always be there for us.  We know that he is the only constant in our lives.  Our rock.

There are many things that the world would have you seek: money, happiness, fame, security, friends, a good job, creativity, etc.  I know that I feel the pull of them sometimes.  But the thing is, all of those things can easily be lost.  If a person builds their life around those things or around the pursuit of those things, they will come up empty.  But those who seek the Lord will never be abandoned and their hope is sure.  I want to work hard at looking for God and knowing him.  That's the kind of investment I want to make with my life.

"You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart."
--Jeremiah 29:13

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Heart Food: Battle

I was reading in Hebrews yesterday, Hebrews 11-13 to be specific.  That's great stuff, by the way.  Once upon a time I thought Hebrews was a bit boring, but now I don't understand how I ever thought that!  Chapter 11 is the famous "faith" chapter that quickly runs through a lot of the old testament heroes and how they lived by faith.  In verse 32, the author mentions others who he doesn't have time to talk about but who still lived by faith.  So my thought was, why Barak?

I went back to read his story again, which is in Judges 4 and 5.  Israel was being oppressed by the king of Canaan.  His army commander, Sisera, led a formidable army that included 900 iron chariots.  Deborah was leading Israel at the time as a prophetess.  I've always liked Deborah, probably because she was a female judge and also because she actually went into battle!  When she told Barak that God wanted him to lead troops into battle against Sisera, he said he'd only go if she went too!  So it makes me wonder, why is he included in the faith chapter?  Yes, he did lead an army against Sisera, but he wouldn't do it on his own.  I don't really have an answer for this, but maybe God was still honoring his actions, even if they weren't heroic as I would have liked.  And I guess asking Deborah, a woman, to come with him showed how scared he was.  But despite his fear, he did it anyway.  Maybe that's why.

If you don't know the story, they won.  Barak leads some of the tribes into battle and rout the enemy.  Sisera gets a tent peg through the head and they all live happily ever after.  But wait, then there's chapter 5.  I've always had the tendency to skip over chapter 5.  In my mind it was just a song of triumph, so how interesting could it be?  This time I read it more thoroughly.

Barak and Deborah sang the praises of the tribes who fought that day: Benjamin, Zebulun, Issacher, some from Ephraim, and Naphtali.  Despite their fear, they rose up and fought.  They saw God work a miracle through them!  How crazy would that be?  They thought they were going to die, but instead their enemies, their tormenters died.  I can't imagine the elation, maybe even giddiness, they would feel.  

But then, Barak and Deborah also sing about the other tribes, those who didn't answer the call, those who stayed behind to let others fight.

"The princes of Issacher were with Deborah; yes, Issacher was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley.  In the districts of Reuben, there was much searching of heart.  Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks?  In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of hearts.  Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.  And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?  Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.  The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the heights of the field." (Judges 5:15-18)

Barak and Deborah sing about the fighters before and after mentioning the cowards, emphasizing their passivity.  The line about Reuben was most interesting to me.  They really thought about it, but in the end they decided to play it safe.  I imagine that they would have regret their actions.  They had the chance to be a part of something big.  They had a chance to have God work a miracle through them, but they stayed home.  How terrible I would feel!  Of course, their actions didn't change their standing.  They were still God's people, but they missed an opportunity.

I think that could be true for us today.  Are we going to take part in his great work or sit at home?  This isn't about works or earning salvation at all.  But don't you want to be part of the battle?  Don't you want to look back on what happened and just laugh at what God has done?  I do.  I want to fight, hopefully like Deborah, but at least like Barak.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stuck In My Head: Radioactive

The song that's currently stuck in my head isn't my normal kind of music.  In fact, it's possible that I could have disliked this song if I had come across it in different circumstances, but I actually first heard it at the movie theater during the previews.  It was in the trailer for "The Host."  The first time I heard it I immediately loved it and made a mental note to look it up after the movie.  Unfortunately, that mental note got lost during the movie.  It wasn't until I went to another movie and heard it a second time that I remembered to look it up.

As I said, this song isn't the kind I usually go for.  I thought the trailer version was great but the I really disliked the music video version.  Really really really. Dis. Like.  The music video version is almost a minute longer.  Its dramatic pauses are painfully long.  There's all sorts of added sounds like a cheering crowd and dripping water and bells and a snorting beast and...squeaking ducks?  Or something.  The gasp is stretched out torturously.  That's just not my kind of thing.

Then there's the music video.  OH man, could it get any worse?  You have this amazing, dramatic song.  The music video could have been about a prison-break or a revolution or toppling a dictator.  There are SO many options!  But what did they choose?  They alternated between a guy in a prison beating on a drum (at least he was in prison) and a crowd cheering for a fight between...some stuffed animals.  What in the freaking world?  Like cockroaches the squeaky stuffed animals infested this video with fuzziness.  And what do you do with a stuffed animal infestation?  When it gets to the epic chorus, there's the stupid stuffed animals flying around.  Maybe I'm just not cool or ironic enough to get it, but my stomach turned at the lost potential.

I'm not even going to post the official video here.  I hope it gets lost in cyberspace before it ruins the song for others.  That said, if I can forget about the video, I love the song.  It's been stuck in my head for quite awhile, to my delight.

Heart Food: Holiness

"Therefore [since we have been privileged with the Gospel], prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when jesus Christ revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
---1 Peter 1:13-16

1 Peter is SO GOOD.  It's just packed with cool stuff.  Here Peter says three things--to prepare your mind for action, , to be self-controlled, and to set your hope where it should be.  It seems that all of these things have to do with being holy, something he calls us to at the end of the paragraph.

In order to actually do it, actually live a holy life, I need to prepare my mind.  My actions flow out of my mind, what I think and the values I've embraced, whether consciously or unconsciously.  If I've prepared my mind in advance, I won't have to stop and think about what to do in many situations.  It will be ingrained there so I can act.  No hesitation.  A huge part of that preparation is reading God's Word.  David said "I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11).  So we can understand that hiding God's word in our hearts, which I take to mean reading, meditating on, memorizing, and loving, will keep us from sin.  It makes sense to me.  I know it works that way with many things.  For an example, let's look at eating healthfully.  I want to do it.  I know that it's a good thing, but I don't always do it.  When I'm around others that make it a priority or I read a book or blog about healthy eating, I'm filled with inspiration and I can't wait to get started.  This week I've been reading such a book, and today I had Greek yogurt for breakfast and packed cucumbers and hummus for a snack at work.  Sure, I could do it without the book, but it becomes such an effort.  Instead of being automatic, I have to force myself.  There's not as much joy.  And with sinning, and living a holy life, we can't even hope to do it on our own or force ourselves to do it!  We could force ourselves to adhere to certain rules or standards, but that's not holiness, that's legalism.  It's only through Christ that we can truly live a holy life.

Then there's the self-control bit.  I know that self-control is important, but it's not my favorite fruit of the spirit.  I much prefer love or patience or joy.  Self-control...well I'm not so great at that.  If I feel like some chocolate I make up a big glass of chocolate milk (side note: I just read that humans don't register liquid calories the way they do solid ones; so strange!).  I'll decide to get up early to get stuff done or exercise and then will actually get up around eleven.  Self-control is something I should definitely work on.  Part of being holy is staying pure.  I don't just mean that in an abstinence kind of way.  Purity is part of your whole life.  It's being free from evil and corruption.  It's walking in God's ways and saying no to my own selfish desires.  Without self-control I give in because it's easier and because I want what I want.  I know it won't be easy, but thankfully "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13).  

Finally, I need to set my hope on the grace of Christ.  I think I often set my hope on other things, especially in myself and my own abilities.  I feel like through my own experience I can land a job to support myself.  I build a life plan based on what I can do for myself and what I think I can realistically accomplish.  If i study hard and learn other languages then I can get a job as a flight attendent or work with exchange students.  If I have experience teaching I can land a good ESL job.  If I'm good at making coffee, I can work at a cafe or get hired as a barista on a cruise ship.  While that is kind of true, there's so much more to it than that.  If I look back on my life, the story it tells is different.  

I know that God had a hand in every job I've gotten.  I had the credentials to get hired as an English teacher after graduation, but I struggled at first.  During the first couple months I felt like I was doing a bad job in some of the group classes.  I had trouble reading the students, picking topics they enjoyed and getting the to talk.  I really prayed, begging God to help me.  I didn't know what to do, but he did. After several more months I was able to run effective classes and have fun at the same time.  And I know it was nothing I did.  Then when I moved back to the US, I had no coffee experience but was hired at the Cafe anyway.  I gained valuable experience that helped me get my current job...right?  Well, I'm sure my experience helped some, but the way I've gotten my jobs showed me that it was all God and nothing I could do.  I applied for many, many, many coffee jobs here.  I have experience in coffee, restaurants, and interacting with people so I figured it would be easy.  But no.  When I was finally hired at my current cafe, due to some bizarre circumstances. She called me because she didn't know what else to do.  Then the library.  When I applied for the shelver position initially, I figured I'd be a good candidate because I worked in my college library for four years.  But I didn't get the job.  It wasn't until more than a month later that they called me back and offered me a job.  That clearly was God opening the door for me.  Clearly I can come up with all the plans I want but God is the one who makes things happen.  I want to learn to pin all my hopes on him.  In these I'm talking about a jobs, but we must pin our hopes on him in every situation.  And most important of all, he is our hope for salvation and true life.  Amazing!

Holiness isn't that popular of a subject these days.  I think it comes with the connotation of being stuck-up or self-righteous or the "holier-than-thou" stuff.  But we can't ignore the fact that the Bible has called to holiness.  It's not something I understand easily.  What does it mean to be holy while still being a sinner?  If not, then why has God called us to the impossible.  There's so much more to learn and study, but that's the exciting part.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Shrimp Have Heads

Today was a long day.  I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night and had to open the cafe at seven.  It started snowing yesterday and now it's almost ten at night and still snowing!  It was a quiet morning at the cafe, not many customers.  It was nice, sipping an Americano and watching the snow out the window.  When I got off, I headed to the library, my afternoon job.

It was rough going.  For some reason the roads weren't plowed.  Thankfully I have a jeep so I got through, but I thought I was going to rattle to pieces.  At work they told us we were allowed to go home early but we had to take leave time in order to do it!  I stayed.

After work I headed over to New Sagaya, a sweet international market that's only a couple of blocks from the library.  I first got some nice produce.  Hopefully tomorrow I'll make a mess of curry for dinner and some lunches.

Yum yum

On a whim, I wandered over to the seafood section.  I like seafood but don't have much experience cooking it.  I'd like to expand my cooking repertoire and seafood is a good place to start!  One of the fishmongers (is that what you even call them?) at New Sagaya was very helpful.  He showed me their specials, explained the difference between different kinds of fish and shrimp and told me several ways to prepare different dishes.  He even gave me a generous sample of ahi poke!  It's raw cubes of ahi that's been marinated in a special sauce (mine was spicy) and mixed with herbs and onions and stuff.  SOOOOOO good.

I finally decided on some shrimp.  Sure, it's nothing too interesting, but I've got to start somewhere.  Besides, it was a cheaper option.  I was quite excited to buy the shrimp!  They're real.  They had heads.  They had tails and eyeballs and pointy bits.  Hooray!


Bubble bubble, toil and trouble

I boiled the lovely shrimp, saving some for tomorrow's curry, ate them with a soy dipping sauce.  

Delish!  To add to my eclectic meal, I had hummus and pita and feta-stuffed mushroom caps.  I topped it all off with snow ice cream!  I've been waiting and waiting to make snow ice cream. 

The fixin's for snow ice cream.

It was a sweet ending.  And hopefully tomorrow will be another wonderful evening for food fun.  Cooking with Laura: the Curry Edition.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Corned Beef and Barbershops

Yesterday I had a strong desire to consume some corned beef.  On any other day, that might be unusual, but yesterday was St. Patrick's Day.  It's one of my favorite holidays.  No, I'm not Irish.  I just relish the day that the world turns green.  Growing up, it was a given that we'd eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day.  My mother would usually buy several corned beef masses, a couple to be frozen for future use, and one to plop in the crockpot.  My anticipation would build as the smell of cooking meat filled the house.

Last St. Paddy's Day, I attempted my own corned beef dinner.  Now, I'm usually pretty good with new recipes, but that day I ran into several problems.  First, I was working with a new (well, technically used) crockpot and was confounded when the water refused to come to a boil.  What do you do when it won't boil?  Does that mean the meat won't ever cook?  Then there's the fact that corned beef is pink.  How in the world do you tell if meat is cooked if it is pink even after it's done?  You can smirk and tell me to use a meat thermometer, dummy, but no, I didn't have one.  And without it, my wonderful hunk of corned beef turned into a paradoxically tough and soggy mass.  After a few forced bites, I gave up in despair.

This year I don't have a crockpot (that one didn't last long), and I went to church and worked all day so I didn't even have time to make another attempt, but I still really wanted some corned beef.  My brother and I tried to go to an Irish pub downtown.  Surely they would have corned beef.  Unfortunately, they were more about the beer than the corned beef.  We squeezed our way into a white tent filled with people in leprechaun hats downing pints of beer.  That's all well and good, but I was hungry.  It didn't look like we'd be getting any food for at least an hour, so we left.  Our next attempt was a place called Cafe Amsterdam.  Although not Irish, they have (I hear) a variety of beer from all over Europe.  We assumed they'd also have Ruebens.  But they were closed.

Finally, we went to a non-descript place called Peggy's.  Peggy's.  But at least their special sign said they had corned beef.  Our waitress showed us to our booth, and the first thing I noticed were the spider plants hanging in pots from the ceiling.  It reminded me of my grandma's house.  In fact, after looking around the diningroom, the whole place reminded me of grandma's house.  There was blatantly fake wood panelling on the walls.  Strange little knickknacks were tucked around the room in odd places.  Brown, well-loved mugs sat upside down on our table.  Everything was clean but a bit dark and worn.  They offered a plethora of pies, even blackberry, my personal favorite.  I gave in to temptation and had a slice.  Delicious, but grandma's was better.  Probably because she always put sugar on top that got all crispy while it baked.

The corned beef was fine, albeit a bit too well-cooked.  Even that reminded me of grandma.  She always made sure that the cow was very, very dead.  We ate in a side booth, and I couldn't help noticing that we were the only customers in a booth.  The other patrons sat at the horseshoe-shaped counter in the center of the room.  I kept a quiet eye on them as I chewed my smushy carrots.

 They were all men, mostly in their fifties and sixties, but a few forty-somethings.  One thirty-something wandered in at the end.  They didn't come in together and sat a few stools apart, but they had an easy camaraderie like they were in the same club.  Boys only.  One would wander out and another would take his place drinking coffee and gobbling pie.

I heard snatches of local gossip--a man shot a Walmart manager for not allowing his dog inside--and some good-natured ribbing.  The waitresses, two ladies in their later years, were honorary members.  They greeted and joked and poured coffee.  It was a community.

I've always heard of the famed barbershop, the local male hangout where men bond and get a shave.  I've of course never participated in such a phenomenon, but I did witness it from afar.  There was a barbershop across the street from my old cafe.  I enjoyed watching the men come and go.  Grizzled old vets would stump in and out.  Young fathers would herd their young offspring in the ever-swinging door.  A wide assortment of men would come and go under the twirling red, blue and white pole.  Some would visit every two weeks.  I wanted to yell at some, don't do it!  You'll have nothing left!

I liked to think that we had our own barbershop at the cafe.  A group of men would crowd around a table early in the morning; on the sidewalk tables if it were nice, in the diningroom if it were cold.  Most of them ordered black mugs of bottomless drip coffee and talked and drank the morning away.  When I worked mornings, I was a supporting member, greeting them and making sure the airpots of coffee stayed full.  It was a neverending battle.

There's something magical about a place like that.  The community is tangible.  No matter how we've morphed and evolved as a society, the campfire story hour is still alive.  I think it's stayed with us because it's a necessary time of connection.  It's never really about the shave or the pie, it's about the people.

But it would help if the pie had sugar on the crust.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stuck In My Head: Take The World On

Today was a good day.  It almost was a terrible day but was, thankfully, saved.  It was my first day at my new job as a part-time public library shelver.  I had to join a union and everything.  I've always loved libraries, so I'm happy to be working there.

This morning I worked at my other job (a cafe).  I had a jittery feeling all day, knowing that later I'd be headed to my new job!  Feel free to call my shrink, but whenever I start a new job, I always have a bad feeling that something will go wrong on the first day.  I dream that I'll fall down the stairs and break my ankle or I'll get deathly ill or my car won't start.  So as soon as it was two o'clock, I rushed out to my car, eager to be early on my first day.

And then my car wouldn't start.

I know I hadn't left my lights on.  I had triple-checked them earlier this morning to avoid a dead battery.  I tried many, many times, with no results.  I almost had a heart-attack in my motion-less car.  Lucky for me, my brother who's good at fixing everything is out of town for the next two weeks.  He left yesterday morning.  So what to do?  I only had twenty minutes.

This story has a happy ending.  I called one of his friends, praying that he wouldn't be too busy.  Sure enough, he was able to leave work to come pick me up and take me to the library!  If it was possible to die from relief, I would have done it.  I spent the rest of the afternoon touring the library (it has a lot of confusing secret entrances), meeting nice people, and filling out paperwork.  It was a good first day.

On the bus home, I had a song stuck in my head, 2NE1's Take the World On.

I first loved this song because it's catchy and a good dance song.  The melody is perfect.  But now also I love the sentiment of the chorus, simple as it is.

As it played in my brain, it got me thinking.  I've had a lot of annoying things happen lately, like this car incident.  When these little things accumulate, they can be stressful and drag me down.  And then there's other things, big things, like money issues or future plans or whatever.  Those can make me worry and overthink, wondering if I'll be able to make it or actually accomplish what I try.  But I can take it.  Things will work out.

Whether it's starting a new job or figuring out taxes or moving to another country, I can do it.  I can take the world on.

Let's do it.

Bonus: This video about the making of the song is really fun!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fur Rondy

Last week one of my customers at the cafe told me that this weekend was Anchorage's Fur Rendezvous festival.  I looked into it and it sounded great!  Apparently Fur Rondy, as it's called, has been around for a very long time and originated as a time for fur traders to get together and sell their wares.  These days it still has a fur element (many people wearing and selling fur) but seems to be more of a winter festival.   I had a thoroughly enjoyable time!

Nathan, Dan and I started the day off by breakfast at City Diner.  I've been looking at that building every time I drive by, so it was fun to finally eat there.  It was a cute, fifties-style diner, and we all ordered pancakes.

Coffee. Need. Coffee.

After breakfast we went downtown to catch the dogsled race.  I was surprised to see that most of the dogs weren't big huskies or malamutes, but little mutt dogs instead.  I was later told that the big dogs are for long races where they need endurance but the little dogs are better for short, sprint races.  It was fun to watch, but my feet got so cold standing in the snow.  

There were a lot of people selling food up and down the streets.

Run, doggies, run!

Trying to stay warm.

After the race we wandered down to the Railroad Station where they were having a miniature train show.  They had a bunch of different environments (if that's even what they're called) but my favorite one was the miniature Hogwarts. 

Afterwards we wandered through the carnival and stopped to watch some of the fur auction.  Of course, the fur auction is how Fur Rondy got started in the first place.  While I'm not particularly interested in fur (although it does look super warm and fuzzy), it was still fun to watch the proceedings and the people in the crowd.

Can I get three hundred for the artic foxes?

Many people were really into the Fur Rondy spirit.

We were a little cold at that point so we stopped in Sidestreet Espresso for a hot drink.  I really like Sidestreet.  It's very quirky and eclectic, and has apparently been around for twenty years.  The owner creates intense whiteboard special boards for their drink of the week.  He draws authors or literary figures or adventurers or musicians and has a quote included on the board.  They're awesome!  

We walked around downtown some more, looking in different shops.  I stopped in the art fair to look around.  I found the original customer who had told me about the festival at a booth selling some of his handiwork.  After walking around for awhile, we were getting hungry so we stopped in a little hole-in-the-wall that sells pelmenis, Russian dumplings.  The owner was very friendly and chatted with us while he cooked us up some dumplings.  

I had the potato and Nathan and Dan had the beef.

SOOOO good.  Perfect cold-weather food.

After filling up on delicious dumplings, we headed over to the the snow sculpting contest.  There were so many fun sculptures and it seemed like everyone was having a great time!

Near the snow sculpting area, they were having a snowboard/ski competition, so we went over to watch.  It was the first such competition I'd been to, and it was fun!  The one downside was that the competitors kept wiping out.  I'm no expert in the least, but it seemed as if something wasn't set up right.  Maybe the original ramp wasn't high enough or the angle of the slope was wrong or something, but it seemed like most of the skiers/snowboarders were having trouble.  Still, a couple of them managed some cool flips and stuff.  It was a good ending activity.


The ramp.

In the air!

By that time we were tired and ready to go home.  As we walked back to the car, it started snowing, a lovely, soft snow.  Beautiful.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Drive

I've really been enjoying myself here, although I'm not doing tons of crazy things.  I'm just enjoying being here in a new place.  I love the cold weather!   In Arkansas right before I moved, it was in the seventies!  In November!  So terrible.  I think cold weather feels so fresh and invigorating, and it's nice to wear coats and scarves.  The one thing I don't like is about it is that it's harder to wear jewelry.  I'll start to put on a bracelet but then think, "What's the point? My coat will cover it up anyway."  Also shoes.  I have a lot of shoes I like, but they're all summer shoes.  Fun, but definitely not snow friendly.  I do have one pair of boots that I wear all the time.  

Now that I'm more settled, I'll try to post more.  I have a lot of ideas of things I'd like to post about (especially sketchy food places) but I keep forgetting my camera!  I'll have to remember to carry it around.  Well, here are some pictures that will show you a bit of the area around Anchorage.

One Sunday afternoon, Nathan and I decided to go for a drive.  It was a beautiful afternoon.  We went down the highway by the frozen bay.

See the sun setting?  It was only threeish!  Although the days are longer now, when we first arrived the sun would start coming up at nine thirty to ten and start setting around three.  It would be totally dark by four!  

The water looked so cool with all the floating ice.  The current was making the ice chunks swirl around each other and it was actually moving really quickly!  

Of course, we stopped at a little coffe place to get some espresso!  Man, there are SO many espresso places around here.  There are coffee huts everywhere.  I guess that's what happens when it's cold and you only have five or six hours of sunlight in mid-winter.  This little shop was so quirky and interesting.  See the fluffy dogs on the porch?  I also bought some fun cards to send my penpal.

The light was fading, but I was still able to get one of the ski mountain.  So twinkly!

Hope you enjoy these, and look forward to more frigid fun!