Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to Make Yogurt

Living in a foreign country forces you to get creative. 

We've created some simple fixes using duct tape and glue all to avoid a humiliating trip to the store.
We've made bread because bread here can be funky.
And most recently, we've started making our own yogurt.

It's just something you've gotta do in Korea because it's pretty hard to find good, plain yogurt. They tend to favor the watery, sugary, drinkable kind. As it turns out, it's a fairly easy process and requires very few materials. You basically just need milk, live culture yogurt, a thermometer, a measuring cup, and some kind of incubator (more on that later).

Start by pouring 8 cups of milk into a large saucepan.

We rigged this dandy little hanging thermometer to be able to monitor the temperature of the milk without sticking it in and taking it out every five minutes.

Now you need to scald the milk by heating it until it is just about ready to boil. There will be little bubbles that form around the edge of the pan and it only takes a few minutes. You don't want the milk to actually boil, but just be a few degrees below boiling (95 degrees Celsius or 203 degrees Fahrenheit). After you reach this point, turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner. 

Now you need the milk to cool to about 42 degrees Celsius or 108 degrees Fahrenheit. This could take an hour on the counter or ten minutes in a cold water/ice bath. It depends on how much time you have to work with. We usually start our yogurt on a Sunday morning so we can monitor it during the day, so we aren't in a big hurry worth drawing an ice bath.

Once the milk has cooled to the right temperature (42C, 108F), you need to add 4 tablespoons of live active cultures. This is what makes the milk react and grow and create yogurt. You can simply buy a carton of yogurt at the store in order to start your yogurt or (as I did) you can reserve 4 tablespoons from the previous batch and use it in the next batch.

Whisk the yogurt into the milk and put the milk into a dish with a lid.

There are several methods you can use to incubate or keep your yogurt warm. You can buy an electric incubator. Some people use coolers. Some people use heating pads. Or you can simply use your oven like we did. We put the lid on our container, stick the thermometer inside, and wrap it all up in a towel. We keep the door closed and wait. Regardless of which method you choose, you want the milk to stay a constant temperature of roughly 42 degrees Celsius or 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some sources say that just leaving your oven light on will keep the yogurt warm enough, but our light doesn't stay on when we close the door, so every hour or two we just reheat the oven slightly. It's a bit more labor intensive, but it's what we've got and it works all right.

We usually let our yogurt sit for about 12 hours. But some people do it as little as 7, so experiment with what works best for you. The longer you leave it the more tangy it will be. Last weekend, we started ours in the morning, incubated all day, and then forgot about it before we went to bed and by the time we remembered the next morning it had been 24 hours! It was slightly more tangy, but all was not lost and it tasted fine.

I found this blog to be quite helpful in "fixing" yogurt that is runny or chunky.

As soon as your yogurt is done, I recommend setting aside 4 tablespoons of yogurt for your next batch. Otherwise you'll eat it all and have to go buy more yogurt at the store.

There are tons and tons of different variations on yogurt. Everything from how to incubate, what kind of milk to use, how to add flavors or sweetener, etc. For my first time, I referred to this blog about how to make Greek yogurt. We haven't actually made Greek yogurt, because the straining process feels like we are wasting yogurt.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lack of Space

Ten months, friends! Ten months.

That's how long we've been in Korea. I say that as an accomplishment as if Korea is such a hard place to live. It's not. In fact, it's been easier to move and get adjusted here than we expected. Only two months in I was pretty sure we'd be staying a second year. It's just a good place.

There are things I love about living in Korea. That Koreans don't sprawl and apartments are the norm. That Korea is fairly environmentally friendly. Everyone composts, friends. It's the law. That we ride our bikes everywhere. Bi bim bap, yum. And how this morning over breakfast, Jeremy and I could hear yelling and cheering out the window. The guys at the car wash down the street had gathered to watch Korea play in the World Cup. We'd hear a huge explosion of cheering and read the description on-line: Oh, Russia just got a yellow card. It was fun that everyone was watching and everyone was cheering. Even when I got to school.

I cannot stress enough how great Korea has been to us.


Will you grant me a moment?
Just this one moment to talk about this one teeny, tiny frustration I have with living in Korea?

Personal space.

When you know Korean people they are kind and friendly and all-around great people.
If you don't know a Korean stranger, all bets are off. All social rules of conduct go in the trash.

Now, I am not a sociologist/psychologist or anyone else credible. I am not harping on nor attacking all Korean people. My Korean friends and I will humorously discuss these cultural differences and they chuckle at my hang-ups just as I chuckle at theirs. I'm only comparing the Koreans I've encountered to the Americans I encountered in the mid-west. We are a disgustingly friendly bunch. We smile at the grocery check-out guy. We make eye contact and smile or half-acknowledge the person walking down the street. A waitress might call you "Sweetie" and if you bump into someone, you say, "Excuse me."

However, here are a few things I've noticed about Korea:
-I'm regularly bumped into or barely avoided by students in the hallway. And they always seem surprised, but they never say, "Excuse me" or "Sorry."

-I've come close to hitting easily two dozen Koreans on my bike because they just weren't looking around.

-Motor bikes will frequently take short-cuts onto the sidewalk where the rest of us are walking. It's kind of terrifying.

-There is not a right side of the sidewalk to walk on. Even when there's a designated bike lane (with a picture!). There's a lot of swerves and near misses. (I'm not making this up, Korea has the highest pedestrian death rate in the developed world)
-Koreans will often make contact with me, bump into me, clip me with their grocery cart without a glance or an acknowledgement.

The first word I learned in Korea was "excuse me." It's the most common word I use and the least common word I hear. I asked my friend, Jongmin, about this and he said, "Koreans don't say 'excuse me' because if they did, they wouldn't have time to say anything else!" He also mentioned that maybe it has something to do with the "saving face" culture in many Asian countries. Not wanting to take time or energy to admit to such a minor offense.

So here's my theory on the personal space issue:
Americans have the luxury of sprawling. We leave a lot of space between each other in the grocery store, between our houses in our neighborhoods and between our cities. So we learn to keep our head up and pay attention.

However, Korea is a small country with a lot of people. Koreans don't have the luxury of having any space to themselves. Your apartment's about all you've got. They are used to being in close proximity to other people. So they learn to only be responsible for what's right in front of them. If they spent time and energy thinking about what's fifteen feet ahead, they'd be encountering 5-10 people. Constantly. Best to just keep your head down (usually in a cell phone...that's not unique to Koreans...) and push through.

And Koreans have their own perceptions of personal space.

I asked a Korean friend if she thought Americans were friendly when she visited Oregon. She said, "Yes, but also kind of exhausting! Everyone says 'hello.' Everyone smiles. By the end of the day, my face hurt." And another friend cited how everyone wanted to know how we was doing. They wouldn't stop asking, "How are you?" and he felt tired (if not intruded upon) trying to provide genuine answers to the butcher, the check-out lady, and the gas attendant.

And when I get too high and mighty regarding my own "issues" with personal space and awareness in Korea, I remember this story my co-teacher told me about visiting Seattle: "I was standing in-line at Starbucks to get coffee and the white woman in front of me kept turning around and giving me dirty looks. I couldn't understand why. I thought it was because I was Korean. So I was nervous because my English isn't very good, but I didn't know what to do. After a few minutes, she turned around, looked angrily into my eyes, and shouted, 'Do you have to stand so close to me?' " This story breaks my heart.

Because my co-teacher had no intention of angering this woman. She was not doing anything on purpose. She just had no idea. And neither do the people I encounter in Korea. They are just going about their business and I'm the one wasting time and energy fretting about this.

And I am indefinitely clueless to some of my own cultural norms that contrast with those of Korea. My friends here are incredibly gracious in spite of my oddities. Like last week, when I was sitting in a chair at school, an ankle tucked under one leg and a co-worker walked in, looked at me, paused, then said, "Heather, in Korea, feet belong on the ground." I was embarrassed. I was not trying to make anyone upset. But, it happens.

And screaming and yelling wouldn't make me suddenly break that habit.
Just as screaming and yelling isn't going to make Koreans walk on the right side of the sidewalk.
Because apparently, I'm the only one who cares.

So, basically, what I'm trying to say is: I'm silly. Korea's great. Yay.

All right, I'm done.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elliot Rodgers, The F-word, and Why I Can't Do This Anymore

Today, I unsubscribed from all of my feminist websites and newsletters.

Not because I disagree with their message (a.k.a. promoting equality for all human beings), but because I just couldn't read another sickening story about atrocities that still happen to women in the 21st century. And this post is not about unpacking what feminism is and what feminism is not. I'm not here to argue what the feminists should or should not be doing. Put aside "the word" and think about one woman in your life.

I mean, have you read the news lately? As a human being, it's all a bit heart-breaking:
  • Elliot Rodger's May 23 shooting spree provoked by women who wouldn't have sex with him.
  • A group within the Men's Rights Movement that says "drunk women are freaking begging to be raped." And other on-line threats that are so appalling, I was even afraid to mention them here at all. 
  • The Steubenville boys who repeatedly raped a teenage girl and posted videos about it on-line.
  • One in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
  • Every year 683,000 adult American women are forcibly raped each year, that's 59,916 per month, 1,871 per day, 78 per hour, and 1.3 per minute.
  • It's estimated that 60% of rapes are not reported to police and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. 
  • And oftentimes women do not report the rape to police because of the incredible shame that is bestowed on women instead of their attackers. From women being interrogated with "What were you wearing?" and "Did you kind of like it?"
  • There are 400,000 untested rape kits sitting in evidence rooms across the country. Which means that 400,000 women went through a second unwanted violation in the hopes that their attackers would be punished and then...absolutely nothing happened.
  • Rape jokes exist. And people laugh at them. Ya know, because rape is hilarious!
  • Domestic violence.
  • Molestation.
  • Incest.
  • Gang rapes.
  • "Corrective" rape of lesbian women.
  • Honor killings.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Child brides.
  • Child pornography.
  • Gonzo pornography which presents women as just objectified "things" and degrades them using sexual cruelty.
  • Cat calls on the street.
  • Women who are being killed for rejecting a man's sexual advances.

The world is not a safe place for women. 

As Nicholas D. Kristof writes in Half the Sky:
“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century...That should be an international scandal.” 

But it's not.

It's almost like we expect violence in men. It's become so normal we hardly notice it. After all, 83% of crimes are committed by men. And it's not all men. It's some men who violate and dehumanize women. I can easily find one hundred good men who are fighting the good fight to protect and honor women. But I can't find you one woman--not one--who has not been harassed or assaulted at the hands of a man. And sadly, women are not the only victims of violence and I know many of these atrocities are happening to men too (particularly gay men, but that's a whole 'nother blog).

 And it's maddening. And it's saddening. And it feels like this:

Like I'm trying my darndest to carry all of this stuff.
I read these stories everyday.
And it breaks my heart.

But I carry.
I hold on to these stories.
I continue reading and learning.
Because it's the least I can do.
Surely, I can feel uncomfortable and horrified for fifteen minutes of my day.
Because another woman is living this everyday.
The least I can do is give a damn, right?

And so, I do.
I read.
I sign on-line petitions.
I "share" relevant issues and articles on-line.
I write letters to Amnesty International.
I talk about the work of feminism with anyone who will listen.
I hurt for these women because they are my sisters.

I can't carry all of this.
It's impossible.
But I can't unsee it either because it's everywhere.
And I'm afraid to be home alone.
Afraid to walk to my car at night. 
Fearful of male strangers.
I worry about the safety of women in my life.
And you can't tell me I have no reason
because I have every reason.

So, what's girl to do?

Being scared isn't helping me, only paralyzing me.
On-line activism is limited and feels meaningless.
Carrying these stories on my shoulders is not sustainable.
But putting them down feels like defeat.
Like I'm giving up on them.
Letting this slide.

And at the end of the day, I wonder:  How is what I'm doing actually helping women? 

So, I'm curious:

How do you process injustice and stay present in your own life?

How do you face a world of persistent bad news and still remain optimistic?

How do you combat compassion fatigue?

How do you fight for justice without becoming jaded?

How do you care deeply without being traumatized--or worse yet--indifferent?

Monday, June 9, 2014

What If What Doesn't Kill You Doesn't Make You Stronger?

About a year ago, I was e-mailing with a friend/mentor and talking about my future career. How maybe I just needed to settle for something/anything even if the job sucked the life out of me. And he swiftly responded, "You know how they say 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?' I think that's bullshit."

He continued: "It might make us stronger, so long as everything comes out all right, because you climbed the mountain and got stronger in the process.  But what doesn't break us can also weaken us, make us cynical or fearful.  What doesn't break us can also make us bitter, confused, angry. And the phrase never mentions what happens if we do break. Trauma isn't to be trifled with, as you well know. And years of a job that drains, no matter how important, no matter how good you are, comes at a price."

His words challenged many of the beliefs I'd held about hard work and perseverance. About how to be successful. About how all the pain will be worth it. About the things we say/do to justify this pain: "This will make me stronger. This will make me stronger. Push. No. Matter. What."

Isn't there some middle ground between a military bootcamp AND eating Cheetos on the couch. Surely, there's somewhere that we can be successful in our goals and respectful of our limits.

Yesterday, Jeremy and I went rock climbing with a couple of friends here in Korea. We hopped on a bus bound for Gaeryeongsan National Park and started our hike to the slab where we'd be climbing. What was supposed to be short little mile, turned into a quite vertical crawl up and over boulders and through thick forest. Eventually, we arrived at our spot, completely isolated from any other climbers or hikers. Perfect. I've been climbing off and on since I was thirteen, so I'm fairly familiar with the drill: harness, helmet, tie the knots, get a belayer, double-check for safety, climb.

However, until this point, I had never lead a climb. This means that instead of safely setting up the route from the top and dropping the ropes down to the climber and belayer, the climber free climbs to each anchor spaced roughly 10 feet apart and that point becomes her/his next fall point. This means that if you fall right before you were about to reach the next anchor, you could be falling 20+ feet.

And this is exactly what happened to me. I had set my last anchor below me and was struggling to reach the next one. I felt the panic rising as I realized I was about to fall. I lost my footing and the next thing I remember is falling while simultaneously clinging to the rock with my fingers, arms, and legs trying desperately to shorten my fall, to catch a handhold on the jagged rock sliding past me. But at some point, I just curled inward trying to protect my head and face, waiting for the next anchor to catch me.




What probably lasted probably about three seconds, felt like thirty. So, now I am just hanging silently like a rag doll from this rope, with my poor husband on the other end gently asking, "Bo, are you all right?" I just swayed there for a moment trying to catch my breath. And if you've ever felt defeat, may it be a basketball championship or a bad review from your boss, it usually looks exactly like this:
hanging by a thread, weak and bloody.

And I knew exactly what I needed to do next. I needed to come down.

Not up.
Not onward.
Not "suck-it-up and keep going."
Not "what will your friends think of you for giving up?".
No "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Just, no.

I needed to come down. To stand on the ground. To assure myself that that moment was over. Now--and forever--in the past. To assess the damage and just breathe for a bit.

Because even though I was physically capable of jumping back in the saddle and giving it another go (no broken bones) this was not a situation that required it. This was not a time to prove anything. Courage is not just grand acts of valor, but small moments of bravery. And all the courage left in me knew to listen to the Truth that was saying: "Dear Child, that took a lot of bravery to even attempt. I'm proud of you. And wowzy, that was quite the fall. Let's just take a moment." (I like that my inner Truth uses words like "wowzy." But it's okay if yours doesn't.)

After sitting out for awhile and just watching, I decided it would be a good idea for me to climb again. Just to get the jitters out. To avoid vilifying the rock. To make peace. But not to lead climb. No, just a basic climb. With an attachment point above instead of below. Where the most I could possibly fall would be inches instead of feet. Baby steps, folks. That felt like a good compromise. A way of saying, "Yup, that was terrifying, but I like climbing. And I need to remember what I like about climbing."

So I did. It felt right to me and the view from the top was worth it.

And what feels right to me, probably feels different to you. And that's fine. Because try as we might, the world doesn't only come in black-and-white. And neither does success. We don't have to choose  between ONLY achievement OR laziness. It's not either/or. Ninety-percent of the time it's and/both.

The point is not to STOP pushing ourselves. 
The point is to push ourselves with INTENTION

Set boundaries.
Think about how far you're willing to go.
Is it worth it?
Are you doing this for you or to impress someone else?
Can you let go of what you "should" do?
Can you be a little gentler with yourself in some areas?
Can you be a little harder on yourself in others?
It's up to you and no one else.

I think we like to say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" because we really ache to feel that all of this pain is worth it. That--at the end of the day--it all makes sense somehow. And, thank goodness, sometimes the pain does feel worth it, but other times it doesn't. You and I, we are so damn resistant to discomfort. We can't bear to think that sometimes, bad stuff just happens and we just have to figure out what to do next whether or not there's a lesson to be learned. And in those moments we just have to be kind with ourselves and do the next right thing.

Yesterday, my next right thing meant doing another climb.

Today, my next right thing means letting this go and giving the shame gremlins a piece of my mind. After this, I will smear some coconut oil over my scrapes and sit very still.

What doesn't kill you might make you stronger (sometimes), but it's not a rule worth following. Let's not throw ourselves into rocks just for the sake of being a wee bit "stronger" in the eyes of others.
Don't stay in that nasty relationship.
Don't exist in a life that sucks your joy.
Don't wear the mask so people will think you've got it all together.

Sometimes what makes you stronger is letting go of everything.
And again.
And again.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


  • Lately, we still live in Korea.
  • Lately, we still like Korea.
  • Lately, we are still staying two years.
  • Lately, we go to work every day teaching English to elementary school kiddos. The Korean school year actually begins in March and so there isn't really a long summer vacation like in the States. But we'll get the month of August off. Yay!
  • Lately, we've been searching for airfare to the States because we're going to come home and visit in August! If you see any airfare for two people that's cheaper that $4,000, just let us know. Oy.
  • Lately, the weather has been heating up. Like whoa. Thanks, Korea, for not using air conditioning in public schools. It's really building my character. And it's only June.
  • Lately, Korea's been having local elections. Which means that campaign season has been in full swing. I only know this because one day these people showed up on the street corners and they haven't left yet. Don't miss out on the coordinated bowing.

  • Lately, on the weekends, we play Ultimate frisbee with our friends.
  • Lately, Jeremy and I decided that 2014 would be the year we read one book a month. We are both six months in and seven books through. That feels good. 
  • Lately, I've been reading:
          -Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

          -Wildwood: Imperium by Colin Meloy

          -Dear Sugar: Advice on Love and Life by Cheryl Strayed

          -The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

          -Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Changes the Way We Live, 
               Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown

          -Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

          -The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, 
               and One Man's Quest to be a Better Husband by David Finch

  • Lately, my favorite book has been Dear Sugar. It's a quirky compilation from an anonymous advice column and it made me laugh out loud at times, but also feel deeply for some of our very human struggles. 

  • Lately, I've been cooking:
          -super protein pancakes
          -super protein brownies
          -sweet and sour tofu
          -sesame noodles
          -mint and ginger lemonade
          -rosemary and earl grey cookies

  • Lately, I've been painting and it always feels so good to paint.
  • Lately, I drank some spoiled milk and it ruined my hope in all good things. That was a bad day. 
  • Lately, I've been trying to teach my co-teacher the difference between "of course" and "yes". She's doing so good. The other day, I asked her, "Do you know where Yuna is?" And she said, "Of cour... I mean...yes" with a big grin on her face. 
  • Lately, I've been sitting on a blog, too afraid to write it, too afraid to publish it, so I've been writing little else. Except lists like this. 
  • Lately, I've been thinking about language and privilege and how much easier my life has been because I speak English. Wow, what a gift! A gift some people would kill for.
  • Lately, we've been happy.