Sunday, April 10, 2016

Austin Half Marathon Shadow (In Seoul, S. Korea)

I finished my first half marathon after having a baby yesterday. The last one I did was March 2014, so almost exactly 2 years ago, right before I got pregnant.

I had some trouble in the couple long runs in the weeks before. I had some over-tightness that led to some muscle strain in my glutes and back. The longest run that I did for my training was 9 miles. I took the long run off the week before to give myself time to heal, took it pretty easy the week before, and then ran 13 miles. 

After 7 miles in, I had to slow way down due to the pain. I was frustrated because I felt like I could have gone faster cardio-wise, but when muscles are just tightening up.. 

But I was able to finish (2:10, which isn't even my worst time), get my medal, and walk most of the way home (I was walking so slow that James carried me on his back for part of the way) and I had my favorite new fan cheering me on the whole way. 

Jensen got excited and waved at me every time I passed. My husband told me he continued to wave at me after I passed him. Poor little guy probably kept wondering why I was running away from him. 

The cherry blossoms were everywhere and they were beautiful. The weather was perfect (slightly cool and dreary, but perfect for running). It was my first half marathon in Korea and outside of the States for that matter. 

My awesome husband ran around and was everywhere on the course with Jensen, taking pictures. 

So yeah. It wasn't my fastest race, but I think it will stick out as one of my favorite half marathons. You can't help but smile (even through pain) when you have such a cute little cheerleader. 

Go MOM!!!
Going to continue to work on strengthening and stretching. For now, I'm happy with my finish and my heart is full. God is good. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Best and Worst Things About Living in South Korea

Okay. We've been here over 4 months. I think I've generally gotten the feel of living here now. So here's the best and worst, as told from the perspective of a runner, new mom, and Army wife. Let's start with the worst.

The 10 Worst Things About Living in Korea

1. Produce (and other groceries). Commissaries never seem to have great produce, and this one in Korea is especially bad. It's hard for me to get off-base to go shopping, and produce in Korea just tends to be really expensive anyway. Also, you can't always find what you are looking for.

2. Air Quality. This doesn't really affect me, because I don't have any sensitivities or asthma. But everyone always talks about it and uses it as an excuse to not go outside (or take their kids outside), even if the air quality is "acceptable." Basically if the air quality dips below a certain level, everyone will judge you if you take your baby outside for a minute. Even though it's really not that big of a deal.

3. Outside building/city appearances. Koreans take great care about their personal appearances when they are out and about. They look awesome. All the time. Also, the inside of apartments, coffee shops, restaurants, malls, etc, look great. The outside, however, doesn't always look so hot. They put their trash out on the curb, sometimes not even in bags for the trash guys to come pick up every couple days. The electrical cable management looks horrendous. This is one of the reasons that I'm glad we don't live off post. Thankfully we have dumpsters on post and good cable management.

4. Walking and Personal Space. I kind of mentioned it before, because it's one of the first things that I noticed. You get less space here while walking. Sometimes when I'm walking toward someone, I literally can't move any farther to the right and I feel like I'm playing chicken with them. Then they'll just barely lean to the side and we won't hit each other, or just barely touch. Why? Why not just move to the right and give me some space? I don't get it. Also, even though they drive on the right, it doesn't seem like it's common courtesy to move to the right here while walking. Also, if you are approaching an old person, they aren't going to move. Old people always get right-of-way in Korean culture. Period. James had Jensen in the backpack carrier while ordering a coffee and one old woman just shoved the backpack (with our baby in it!) to get by, forcing James to pivot. I haven't gotten a chance to ask a Korean friend if that was actually acceptable here or just rude. Either way, it's been the most annoying culture difference for me. </rant>

5. Mail. I didn't realize how addicted I had become to 2-day shipping until we came here. We get an APO (Army Post Office) address here, which acts as a United States address, but the USPS delivers it here in Korea. Granted Amazon doesn't usually take too much longer than a week, but not everything will ship APO. I've already shipped something home just to have family ship it to me themselves. Occasionally something will ship really slow and come here on a boat, taking about 1 to 2 months. Also, James has to pick up out mail, because it's in a clearance-only building. So if I order something for him through the mail.. it's kind of not a surprise.

6.  Hourly childcare is basically non-existent on base. Usually, I guess, you can get hourly on-base childcare for relatively cheap at most bases. Here, there are only a couple "slots" for each age group. It's basically a lottery on who calls in first to reserve a spot for the following week. Basically, you have to figure out childcare on your own.

7. Distance from family. This one is kind of a gimme. It's expensive to fly home. It's a 13+ flight just to get back to the states. Kinda sucks.

8. The winters and summers are bad. I'm a midwest girl, so I thought this wouldn't bother me. The thing is.. I drove everywhere when I lived in Illinois. In Korea, if we are going anywhere off-base, we usually take the train/subway (traffic and drivers are cray in the city). That involves walking and then standing on a freezing platform waiting for the train. Also, the underground stations are just as cold as the above-ground ones. Yeah, we didn't go out a lot in the winter here. Also, I haven't experienced it yet, but apparently the summers are brutal too.

We did get some snow though and that was pretty. 
9. The language barrier. Usually, it's completely okay to not be able to speak Korean (that's one of my points below). However, sometimes it's just frustrating when someone starts talking to me and I have no idea what they are saying. Also, street food. I wish I could just be like.. hey, what is that? I don't want to accidentally eat dog. Or octopus eyeballs.

10. North Korea. Do I live here in fear? No, but it's still the elephant in the room about living in South Korea. And despite our reassurances, we have family that are afraid that we are here. This is how I feel: if the United States' government really thought that we were in danger, they wouldn't be paying to move families over here to live with our soldiers while they are stationed here. It's not cheap to move a whole family and their stuff overseas. Is that an ignorant stance? I don't think so. I still pay attention to the news. We had a choice to have Jensen and I stay behind and have James do a "unaccompanied tour" here, but we chose to stay together as a family. If you want to read more, this is a good article.

Okay, enough of the negative. Here are..

The 10 Best Things About Living in Korea

1. The cafes and restaurants. Koreans know that good pictures for Instagram and Foursquare are important for business. Decor is chic and food presentation and taste are on point. They have fantastic bakeries, cafes, and all kinds of international food in the area we live (Itaewon).  They also have themed cafes, like Hello Kitty, Audrey Hepburn, Harry Potter (this one is actually in Daegu, 2 hours away by speed train, which is the only reason I haven't gone), and more are popping up all the time.

Turkish Coffee. No big deal. 
2. The Kids Cafes. This one took us a few months to discover and I'm not sure why. But these places are amazing. They are like Chuck-E-Cheese, but actually really nice. You can sit there and watch your kid play in a ball pit or jump on a trampoline while you drink your coffee or beer or whatever. It's normally the equivalent of about $4-5 per hour.

3. The Trails. In South Korea, you can bike to and from any major city and never leave a bike trail. Okay well, I haven't personally done this but we have been told by multiple people that it's true. There's a bike shop that has some kind of little passport and you can collect  stamps at different locations around the country. These are also accompanied by pedestrian trails, so it's great for running too. They also have little convenience stores with cafes very often (as much as every kilometer) along the trail in Seoul. So you can stop as often as you want for coffee and snacks along the way.

4. Race Prices. Between my husband and I, race prices normally can really start to add up sometimes. Here, not so much. The Army MWR sponsors all the races on post. We don't spend a dime, and we get a free shirt when we finish. Also, Korean races are much cheaper as well. I am running the Seoul Nike Women's Half Marathon in May and I paid the equivalent of $24. The same race is probably over $100 in the States. Granted, it's a little harder to Google information about Korean races, since they don't always show up in English search results.

5. Cheap Public Transportation. This is an awesome thing about Seoul. We're never more than about 45 minutes away from anywhere in the city by subway/train, and it will be just a couple bucks each way. Taxis are also very cheap, although we try to avoid taking them since we don't bring Jensen's car seat around with us. If we want to visit another city, we can hop on a speed train for about $40 and get there in a couple hours. The bus system is pretty good too, but honestly you are never more than a few blocks away from a train station and it's awesome.

6. Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). We get a special allowance for living here from the Army, since living in Seoul is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. We try to be pretty thrifty about how often we go out to eat and how much we spend, so we are actually pocketing quite a bit of money here.

7. The Community. We live on base here for the first time, and we love it. We have a small group with the Chapel that is all people in our neighborhood and we potluck and study the Bible together every week. I run into people I know at the commissary almost every time I go. People I know often honk and wave at me when I go running. The feel of the community here is this very small-town island (or bubble) in the midst of living in this huge foreign city and I'm kind of loving it.

8. It's usually okay if you don't speak Korean. I'm trying to learn some basic things, but honestly, most Koreans in our area speak a little English. Most signs and menus have English as well. And if they don't, there is always Google Translate.

9. No Deployments. James is kind of already deployed while we are here. He won't go anywhere else while he's here in Korea. It's kind of like a family deployment.

10. We get to live in and experience another culture (for free). There's part of me that wishes that Jensen was just a little older, because he will likely hardly remember this place. By living here, I'll learn so much more about Korean (and other Asian) culture that I would have never learned from a book or by just visiting for a couple weeks. Forever, we'll get to tell people that we lived in Korea. As much as the cultural differences are difficult, it will make me think about things much differently once we go back home. And I'll be forever thankful that we had this opportunity.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Running After Pregnancy

Okay. I've mentioned that I wanted to dedicate a post to this and this is me finally doing it, about 13 months postpartum. Standard disclaimer: I have absolute zero medical background and this is based solely on my experience. Anyway, here's the story.

I've been a runner for approximately 12 years. Prior to pregnancy, I only had a handful of minor injuries that didn't prevent me from running for too long. Then during the pregnancy, I started getting a pain that felt like I had pulled a muscle in my groin. Turns out that thanks to the wonderful hormone called relaxin, which basically makes all your muscles relax (heh) and get looser as the baby is growing, I now have all sorts of pelvic instability issues. The major issue being that one hip got higher than the other.

Running for two at 15 weeks
I started seeing a physical therapist while I was pregnant, because I couldn't even put on a pair of pants or get in and out of my car without being in pain. Not crazy pain, just pretty uncomfortable. I would see my PT and get realigned and even feel well enough to run afterwards. This PT told me that my problems should almost immediately disappear after the baby was born. I have found out since then this was NOT correct. Apparently relaxin can hang out in your body for up to 6 months postpartum. Meanwhile, I was trying to return to running as soon as possible. Not because I thought I needed to lose weight, but because I just really love to run.

So being crooked (caddywompus as my British PT called it), and then running and putting impact on my crookedness just really made everything worse. I saw a PT once after Jensen was born and then didn't get around to seeing one until a few days ago. It's hard to make an appointment with a baby, a stay-at-home job at the time, and all that moving.

The good news is that I am a lot better now. I can comfortably run 5 miles right now and I'm training for a half marathon. I saw my regular doctor about a month ago and she literally pushed my hip back up into place. After that, I've felt much better and thought I was "fixed," but she had put in a referral for PT so I went to that appointment. Aand, I've still got problems. I'm tight in some places and not strong enough in others. I've got to continue to work on pelvic floor stuff (yawn) and this tightness I've been feeling in my upper butt is related to a weakness in my back.. all somehow related back to the pregnancy. Let me tell you, I left there with a lot of feelings. It's nice to be told the plan for how she's going to fix me, but it's also hard to hear all the things wrong with me all. at. once. And on top of everything, I've got to figure out childcare with Jensen during these sessions.

However, she didn't tell me to stop running. She even gave me a support belt to wear during runs for that lower back issue.

Did I mention I just turned 28? And this was the day after my birthday? Happy Birthday to mee.

So if you are reading this and having trouble returning to running after pregnancy or running while pregnant, this is the advice I have:

1) If you have any pain at all, just go see your doctor and get a referral to see a PT.  Particularly one who is very familiar with pelvic floor issues. I can't stress this one enough. Unless it's an injury that you've had before and that you're familiar with treating yourself, just talk to the experts. Continuing to run could just be making it worse.

2) Do pilates. I have, on and off, been doing a great post-natal pilates video by Anita Seiz on the Gaia Yoga network. I think it has really helped. It is, however, in my humble opinion, really boring to do a pilates video by yourself. I really would just rather be running, but I know it's really good for all the stuff that gets messed up from pregnancy. I'm personally going to start going to a class at the gym again.

3) Don't take this to mean you can't run during pregnancy. You absolutely can, most of the time. You just have to keep an extra eye out for injuries and do it under the guidance of a doctor. I've had three different doctors and talked to three different physical therapists now (moving and Army life for ya!) and ALL of them were supportive of running during pregnancy, baring injuries.

4) Don't compare yourself to other mamas. Some women will return to running a couple days after having a baby and will be racing again a few months after. These are not the majority. I'm here more than a year later, and still having trouble getting back into it. Every pregnancy and every woman's body is different. I just had a mom tell me that she thinks she's a stronger runner since having her baby and is running longer than she's ever run before. Maybe, eventually I'll get there too.

I sometimes regret running during the pregnancy and right after (I think I went on my first run at about 4 weeks postpartum). I think I really did make things worse. But really, the thing I did wrong is that I didn't go see a doctor.

How common is my experience? I honestly have no idea. My current physical therapist told me "very common" and that she sees it a lot. I have a hunch that some women feel some pain, but just simply live with it or stop running (or were never runners to begin with!) so they are never diagnosed. I can tell you, if I wasn't a runner, the only time I would feel any pain at all is if I'm walking all day, like when we go to a theme park or spend a day in the city. So who knows? All I know is that this is what I did/am experiencing.

So there's my story and my two cents. This past year has been my happiest in a lot of ways (becoming a mom and all that) but also been full of frustration. God is definitely teaching me some patience and humility. I am so incredibly thankful that I'm getting back to being able to do one of my favorite things without pain.

Much love,
<3 Amy

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars, Christmas, and Jensen Turns One!

Oh gosh. Has it really been a full year? Anyway, I won't waste too much time saying all the things that moms always say. It really did feel fast. This year was just a crazy year anyways (2 moves, one to another country) and in the midst of everything, we are still adjusting to being parents.

Star Wars The Force Awakens came out (on the one year anniversary of Jensen's due date!) and we actually got a sitter for the first time. After basically a full year. We'd only been to one other movie while a family member watched him earlier this year and what can I say? I'm kind of a nervous mom and the timing with nursing is always a little tricky anyway. And we didn't live by family the whole year (womp womp, military life). The thing is, you can take a laid back baby to just about anything except a movie theater. Well. Anything that James and I do on a regular basis anyway. We're not exactly clubbers.

So yeah, we got a sitter. And went on a movie date. Jensen was wonderful for the sitter and we got to see the new Star Wars movie, which was pretty much the movie I had been waiting for since I was about ten years old.

That same week, we had a virtual birthday party with my parents, James's parents, and some of our siblings. Jensen opened presents (with a little help) and dug into his Buttercream BB-8 cake that I made on camera while family watched on the other side of the world.  It was bittersweet. I can't imagine living here without the connection of video chat with family. I'm so thankful that we live here when we do. Even if this had been a decade earlier, it wouldn't have been so easy (thank you, Google Hangouts).

And that same week was Christmas. It was very Star Wars-filled. The go-to themed gift for everyone in our family was anything Star Wars this year. I even got Star Wars mascara in my stocking. But this was the first Christmas that we didn't either have family come to us or us go home to family. Again, we did video chat to open presents, but it just wasn't quite the same.

That's definitely the hardest part about living in Korea. It's not the weird food or the language barrier. It's that my heart breaks every time I think too much about how my parents and James's parents only get to hang out with Jensen through a computer screen. But thank God for that computer screen. I don't know how we would get by without it.

I've been going on some really cool runs through the city (sans stroller), but haven't brought my camera or phone with me so I'll have to remember to do that a few times soon. I've been reading more. Jensen is toddling around and exploring all the time. James has been home on break. My heart is full.

<3 Amy

PS: I ran 4 completely pain-free miles for the first time in.. forever. I'm starting to get excited and will blog more about running soon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Living in Korea Part 2: Getting Settled In

We've been here for about 7 weeks now and now that household goods and our car have arrived, we are somewhat settled in. We are living in an apartment on base, which we love. I might post pictures once we hang pictures on the walls. We live on the first floor, so it's not too hard to take our dog out (something we were concerned about, moving to a city), we live in a neighborhood of other American families, and there are little play parks around the neighborhood for Jensen to play on.

What is it like living in South Korea? Well, our experience is a little different because we live on base. It's kind of like living in a little American bubble in the middle of a huge city. It's relatively quiet, the commissary (which takes American dollars) is just like any commissary on base, we have a few Starbucks and all the typical AAFES stuff (post exchange, Taco Bell, Burger King, KFC, etc).

But then we get to leave our little bubble and step out the gate into another country. We've gotten pretty good at the subway system, which is the best way to travel around the city. We've been exploring around, but it's starting to get a little harder with the weather getting colder. We've heard there is fantastic hiking outside the city, so I can't wait to do that. Also, we can't wait to use the bike highways that go in and around Seoul.

There is plenty of weird Korean food but also plenty of completely Western/American places to eat in our little international neighborhood as well. We could live here for two years and easily not eat any kimchi the whole time. But what fun is that? The nice thing about it though, is that we can dip our feet in slowly and experience a different culture at our own pace. There was no culture shock and I really don't think there will be.

Personally, I think adjusting to not working anymore has been as big of a change for me as it has to move to another country. I'm still trying to figure out how to structure mine and Jensen's day. Do we need structure, I hear you say? Yes, I think so. Otherwise we're both sitting in pajamas at 2pm, eating ice cream, having accomplished nothing with the day.

I am running more. After everything, I think the pain I was experiencing (still kind of experiencing but it's mostly gone away now) is down to core stability weakness. I am doing exercises to strengthen those muscles and working up the mileage slowly. I'm running about 3 times a week, and the farthest I have run recently is a 5k, but I'm thinking I'll start adding to that soon. I really can't wait to get back into longer runs again.

Meanwhile, Jensen is learning how to walk. Doing crazy things like moving to another country does not slow down other things, like my baby growing up into a toddler.  We'll be spending out first Christmas together without mine or James's parents. Kind of crazy, right? There is a part of me that is really sad that we can't have a big 1st birthday party with family for Jensen. But there's still Skype and there will still be cake and singing. Life is kind of bittersweet sometimes.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Living in Korea Part 1: First Impressions

We've been here in Seoul for about a week. We already moved into an apartment on base and I've already fallen in love with this city. We left my brother-in-law's house in Seattle-area at about 4am on a Tuesday and we checked into a hotel here in the city at about 9pm on Wednesday.. and it's confusing with the time change but basically we were traveling for about 26 or 27 hours. With a 10-month-old, cat, dog, and ALL the luggage, it was definitely the most tiring travel day of my life.

From our hotel room. Jensen looks out on his new city!

First impression of Korea:

1) It's a lot more European-feeling and a lot less "foreign" than I thought it would feel. Granted, we've mostly been hanging out in the Itaewon, the international district of Seoul. But there are coffee shops, french bakeries, craft beer, wineries, and every kind of international food you can think of here. Also, most people in this part of the city speak at least enough English you take your order pretty easily, so that is helpful.

2) They love babies here. Jensen is getting a LOT of attention here. Like.. a lot. They are just a lot more friendly with little kids here. I have a hunch that he's getting a little more attention because he's also a Western-looking baby too. At one point we had no less than 6 hotel employees that had stopped while we were waiting for an elevator and were making funny noises and faces at him to get him to laugh. It's a good thing he's cool with strangers and is basically a little flirt anyway.

3) They don't really move out of the way on the street. When walking opposite directions, I feel like I'm always the one moving out of the way. James was told in his cultural briefing that it's no big deal to bump into each other. It's not considered rude. You don't even have to say "excuse me," you just keep going. So I find myself wanting a little more space as I'm coming up on someone and it feels rude to me when they don't move, but really it's just because they don't expect to need as much buffer as I think there should be. Unless we are walking Roxy, our 75-pound German Shepherd mix. Which brings me to number 4..

4) A lot of Koreans are terrified of our big dog. Roxy and our cat have been staying at the base's animal kennel which we stay at the hotel. We took her out walking in the city for the first time and got a lot more space than we were getting without her. It seems like it was a generational thing. Older ladies were not shy about all-out scowling at her and moving as far away as possible. One women (I think a Grandma) was walking with kids and almost violently pulled one of the kids to the other side of the sidewalk. I mean.. she basically looks like a smaller black German Shepherd but she was happily wagging her tail. She wasn't that scary looking. On the other hand, we stopped a cross walk with three little Korean grade school-aged girls who were very curious about her and not at all afraid.

5) Speaking Korean is kind of intimidating. I took three years of high school Spanish and I have been to Italy a couple times. Saying hello in those languages is really easy ("hola", "ciao"). One or two syllables. "Please" and "Thank you" are also very easy to learn. Saying hello in Korean is 5 syllables "an-yong ha-say-o."

6) The beds are uncomfortable. I guess I'm basing this only on the hotel bed we stayed in and now on the loaner bed we have in our apartment on base. But Koreans like to sleep on the floor, so I'm guess our beds are pretty typical. I thought our mattress that we own was pretty firm, but I was wrong. There's firm and then there's like, stone floor firm. So besides having a jet-lagged baby waking up in the middle of the night, we were pretty uncomfortable for the firm week. We just spent some money on a really nice mattress pad though and it was the best. decision. ever.

7) Koreans are just really friendly. I've not met a rude person here yet. Everyone we've met has been really gracious towards us English-speaking Americans.

Anyway, I'll write more about our apartment and such soon!

<3 A.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pure Stay-At-Home Mom

In James's Military Intelligence Career Course, there were guys that were known as "Pure Military Intelligence." This meant that they were MI from their commissioning in the beginning. James was Infantry up until this course, so he switched over branches and became MI. So for James, there is this asterisk. Yep, I'm MI now, but I have Infantry experience. 

I feel like I've been a "Stay-at-home mom" with an asterisk. Yep, I stay at home, but I work as a programmer part-time. Well.. unfortunately the working hours of my team in Seattle-area do not translate well to hours in Korea. It's pretty much exactly when I'll be sleeping over there. To phone into team meetings, I would have had to get up in the middle of the night. 

So.. I gave my two weeks notice just a few days after we found out about Korea. We are moving soon (just a few weeks now until household goods come) and there is organizing and vet appointments and well-baby appointments and all this paperwork that has to happen. 

I have a lot of feelings about not working right now. I go in between this:
 And this:

I'm more sad than I thought I would be. I was already missing my team by being one of the only remote workers when I used to be physically there, but the finality of quitting (at least for the next two years) still was really sad for me. 

So. Now I'm Pure Stay-At-Home Mom. Household Six. Domestic Engineer. It feels weird. 

Was it impossible to still work from Korea? No. But was it more stress than it was going to be worth? Probably. Also, I was to be able to take advantage of being in another country. The problem with working from home is that you are stuck at home. We are going to be right in the heart of downtown Seoul (I almost said right in the "soul" heh) and I want to be able to explore with Jensen during the day. 

We got our command sponsorship approved. And our flights are booked. The five of us (Me, James, Baby, Dog, and Cat) all have spots on a patriot express flight to Korea. It's happening. 

I've already scoped out that there are two big marathons that happen in Seoul. There is a huge running community there. Seoul is just a really freaking cool city. It's going to be awesome. 

<3 Amy