Clarissa Day in Boston

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In the fall, we decided that we wanted to attend at least one day of PAX East 2020. Held in Boston at the end of winter, we had not been since Tim won tickets when I was pregnant with Clarissa in 2013.

Eight hours plus stops is a long time to drive with a five month old so we decided to stop halfway in New Jersey. We had lunch at Shady Maple on our way through Pennsylvania. Then we spent the night with Tim’s Aunt Paula.

We deemed Friday Clarissa Day and did several activities that we knew Clarissa would enjoy. The high was in the 30s for the day and very windy, so we put Tiffany in her snowsuit every time we went outside.

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We went online to LAZ Parking and reserved a parking spot at the Dock Square Garage. We then walked a couple of blocks to the New England Aquarium where the Northern Fur Sealswere outside. This guy was asleep but the rest were awake and ready to greet us.

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The aquarium was good. But we have seen better ones in Asia. There was a live presentation at the coral reef at the top. We did see a lot of different tanks that were clean and vibrant.

Clarissa was able to touch a sea star, sea urchin, hermit crab, horse shoe crab, and oyster upstairs. She also got pretty wet touching some sting rays. The sharks never came by for her to pet. She wasn’t super impressed with the gift shop so she did not buy anything there.

We chose our particular parking garage because Hard Rock Cafe was on the first floor. We ate there for lunch. The service was okay but the food was great.

Next we headed to Assembly Row to check out Legoland Discovery Center. We have been to the Tokyo location, but Clarissa was two and doesn’t remember. There was free public parking for up to three hours so we decided to do that.

I was impressed that Clarissa chose to do a ride. She enjoyed it so much that she did it twice, once with Mommy and once with Daddy. She liked the VR roller coaster as well. I think we all enjoyed seeing the major sights in Boston as a Lego city. Clarissa and I took a class while Tiffany napped in the stroller and made a Lego panda. We also made Lego race cars and actually raced them on a track. There were a couple of play places and also a big clock where every half hour a dragon would pop out and sing “Rock Around the Clock.” Clarissa really enjoyed that and would dance every time.

We contemplated visiting Carlo’s Bakery on our drive but saw some interesting reviews and decided to skip it. Instead we headed to Mike’s Pastry which is supposed to have the best desserts in Boston. We had them pack a box for us of like 15 different things that we wanted to try. It will take us a week to eat it all, but they have all been pretty good so far. I’m not sure that it’s the best dessert that I’ve ever tasted. But if you want pastries in Boston, I would check out one of their locations.

We ate at Legal on the Mystic for dinner. Clarissa had a cheese pizza but Tim and I enjoyed some excellent seafood.

We ended the day at Burlington Mall. Clarissa has been wanting to try Build-A-Bear and so we decided that vacation was the perfect time to check it out. There was a sale of buy one, get one for $10 so Clarissa ended up with both Toothless and Luna. The girl that worked there was great with Clarissa. She got to help stuff her dragons, kissed the heart that went inside them, and give them their first bath.

When your vacation turns into a history lesson

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We went to Virginia Beach for Christmas for the first time in six years. It is the first Christmas with relatives that Clarissa will remember.

We were there five days so we had some time for exploration. On Thursday, we headed to Fort Story to see the lighthouses. The general public can get on base by showing ID and getting a visitor pass for your car. Tim’s work ID got us on base without all of the extra steps.

Our first stop was to see the Cape Henry cross. When the settlers first arrived in Virginia in 1607, they planted a cross on the beach before heading to Jamestown. There is also a statue for French Admiral de Grasse who was very helpful during the Revolutionary War. We also went to the lookout to see the beach.

Next, we walked over to the “new” Cape Henry lighthouse which was built in 1881 and is still functional today. Across the street is the “old” Cape Henry lighthouse, which you can actually climb. There is an admission cost and you have to be 42 inches tall. You are not allowed to carry children up the 192 steps.

Clarissa really enjoyed our little field trip. Be careful where you step though. We all ended up with small brambles on our pants and shoes, probably from walking through the grass.

On Friday, we headed to Colonial Williamsburg. Tim and I wanted to see it decorated for Christmas and we were honestly disappointed in that regard. But Clarissa really enjoyed seeing the old houses.

The Governor’s Palace had a garden and a maze that Clarissa really enjoyed. She also enjoyed seeing the kitchen. You can only see the main part of the house on a tour, but after five minutes of waiting, Tiffany was losing it so we had to keep moving.

We headed to the art museums because there was an advertised craft event. We did not last there either as Clarissa was bored with the craft. She liked the art museum though. It was fun to see the old furniture and animals.

Veterans and their families can get in to Colonial Williamsburg for half off admission and active duty families can get in free once per year. Another perk to this kind of ticket is the Liberty Lounge. The information lady told us it was kind of like a USO. There were chairs to sit down (and nurse the baby), a bathroom, and hot drinks (coffee, tea, or hot cocoa). It was a blue house next to the Millery.

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Veteran’s Day Fun

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I appreciate that there is a federal holiday to celebrate my husband. Tim served in the Air Force for four years as active duty and has worked for the Department of Defense as either a contractor or federal employee almost every job since.

His first choice for his free lunch today was Texas Roadhouse. But when we got there, there weren’t any parking spots and the line to get in was outside. We headed to Buffalo Wild Wings instead for his free wings and fries. We were all pretty happy with our meal.

Our next stop was Fair Oaks Mall. We had never been before but I saw on Facebook that veterans and their entire family could have free entry to the Children’s Science Center. I am so glad we decided to check it out.

There were several different exhibits and stations. In one room, Tim and Clarissa were able to create a hovercraft, make slime music, and play with Legos. There was a room for children 5 and under that had a large fish tank, life size light bright, fort building, and books. A different room had a place to learn about wind turbines and forces. We really enjoyed all three of those rooms.

Then there was an announcement that the kids could learn about animals and watch the staff clean an animal tank. Clarissa and some other children could get really close to an axolotl. The staff were really great and talked about fresh water vs salt water tanks. They explained adaptations and talked to the kids for about 20 minutes.

The last part of the museum was science experiments. There were three to choose from and you are allowed to do all 3 if you want to. Clarissa chose to do two of them. She learned about acids and bases with putty and also studied some rocks.

In the science experiment room, there are a few more fish tanks. Clarissa enjoyed the seahorses, lobster, and hermit crab. Before we left, a staff member asked Clarissa if she wanted to see some land animals. She invited her to get closer and she was able to see snakes, a lizard, cock roaches, and a scorpion. The staff member was very knowledgeable and answered all of Clarissa’s questions.

After we finished at the science center, we decided to check out the mall. Santa is already there, and while we don’t usually do Santa, they had a really cool display. Clarissa was able to make a badge that allowed her in to elf training. The staff members walked her through and she got to see how tall she is, and dance in a virtual elf costume. She got to press buttons and choose Santa’s route and load the sleigh. There was even snow! Then, her badge let her have a visit with Santa. It’s genius really because the badge puts her name on the screen so that Santa knows her name. Clarissa really enjoyed it.

At the end of our mall visit, we decided on Coldstone for some ice cream before we headed home.

Clarissa’s last adventure as an only child

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The Wednesday before Tiffany’s due date, Clarissa and I went on one last adventure. We were up early to drive Daddy to work so I decided that we should go somewhere before my ob appointment. We decided on Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield. It was Clarissa’s favorite so far as she has asked to go back at least 5 times in the past month.

We arrived about the time the visitor center opened at 10. Clarissa was not interested in the animals just yet when she saw the huge playground near the parking lot. She was the oldest kid there since it was a school day but she didn’t mind. She played there for an hour before we headed to the visitor center.

The visitor center was small but nice. There was a restroom, small play area for babies and toddlers, as well as several small reptiles to look at. Clarissa really enjoyed looking at the turtles, snakes, and frogs. Her favorite part was probably touching the snakeskin.

We then headed outside for a nature walk. There were plenty of insects and birds among the plants. The pond was great too with several turtles. Clarissa enjoyed looking out on the pond from the dock. She made up some rather loud songs and even made a new friend.

After the pond, we spent some time on a nature trail with our new friends before heading back to the playground. We finished our adventure at McDonald’s for a happy meal before my last ob appointment.

Huntley Meadows Park

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One of the problems of moving to a new area in the summer, is that sometimes it’s too hot to explore. We had planned to visit Huntley Meadows Park a few times, but never got around to it until the weather started to cool down in September.

The park was really nice. There is a visitor’s center with displays of plants and animals that are in the park. There is a gift shop as well as some classrooms as well. We are going to have to go back another time to check out some of the homeschool classes this fall. The visitor’s center is closed on Tuesdays but there is a portapotty in the parking lot.

We had a great time on the trails. We walked on the boardwalk (dogs and bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk) and then through the woods as well. The whole thing took less than an hour to walk through and it is mostly flat other than the overlook that has steps. It is perfect for families with small children. There is another side to the park with a different entrance that has a trail as well, but we didn’t get over there on this trip.

Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for Living in South Korea

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We lived in South Korea for four years and when new people met me they asked me so many questions. I answered the same questions all the time. There are many forums and facebook pages for military spouses. There aren’t as many resources for civilian employees and families. You can ask questions on the active duty pages, but the answers are sometimes different than what you need. People kept telling me that I should write a book. So I did.

Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea by [Faust, Suzanne]

Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea gives you the information you need to know before you arrive in Korea about things like insurance, schools, and what to pack. It also includes random things you wouldn’t think of like:

  • You need a VPN to watch Hulu (or American Netflix).
  • Don’t choose media mail for shipping unless you are willing to wait 6-8 weeks for your items to arrive.
  • Shutterfly pictures and Christmas cards ship by media mail, so you will need to order by the end of October if you want them to arrive early enough for you to send them out on time.

This book was written specifically for DoD Civilians (GS and NAF employees) but it also includes helpful information for active duty and contractor families. If you have a friend thinking about coming to Korea, show them my book. It’s easier than reading every blog post I have written about Korea; though they are welcome to do that too.

Download Say Kimchi Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea

Clarissa’s birthday museum adventure

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Every time we take Tim to work, we see the Washington Monument in the distance. Clarissa gets really excited and points and shouts, “Look! It’s the tall tower!” When we asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday adventure she said she wanted to see the Dinosaur Museum and the Tall Tower.

Her adventure day was rainy. And we told her that we could go and see the outside of the Tall Tower but the inside would not be open until next month. So she decided that we could skip the Washington Monument this time and go back in the fall so we could see the whole thing.

We started the day by taking the same bus that Tim takes to work every morning. Then we took the metro into Washington DC. Our first stop was the National Air and Space Museum. Clarissa loved it. She thought the space shuttles were amazing and she enjoyed the kid exhibits that taught about friction and flight. She was even able to climb into a cockpit and pretend to fly an airplane. Some of the exhibits in the kid section were out of order and they are renovating the museum right now, so we will probably need to go back again to see everything.

We crossed the National Mall and saw the Capital Building on one side and the Washington Monument on the other, so she did get to see the Tall Tower from a distance.

Next, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Clarissa was able to see her dinosaurs. But she also really liked both the mammal and bird exhibits to see real animals instead of just bones. She was really excited about the dioramas in the fossil section as well. We didn’t head upstairs to see the bugs because we were getting hungry, so I’m sure we’ll be back.

We went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. All three of us enjoy the food there so we knew it would be a good choice.

After lunch, Clarissa asked for one more museum. We decided to the try the International Spy Museum. I’m not going to lie. This museum is pricey. Clarissa was free because she was 6 but the adult prices are over $20, even with a discount. Clarissa loved it, so I guess it was worth it. But Tim and I would have preferred to go by ourselves to really enjoy the experience.

When you go into the museum, the staff hands you a lanyard that you scan into the computer. The computer gives you a secret identity. Then, they usher you into a room to watch a movie about being a spy before releasing you into the general museum. There were a few computers to get clues and work on your mission. However, it was a really crowded, rainy, Friday in the summer, so we couldn’t get near the computers. The exhibits were very informative, but Clarissa blew through them because it required a lot of reading and she just isn’t there yet. So we looked at some pictures and spy stuff, but didn’t really get the full experience.

The next floor wasn’t quite as crowded, so we did a little bit with the computers and reviewed some clues. Clarissa was excited to find her clue and scan her lanyard. The exhibits were very informative and had video as well as text on the walls. I think this museum is geared toward tweens/teens and adults. Clarissa wasn’t afraid of anything at the museum, but I think she would have gotten way more out of it if she was older.

After the third museum, the pregnant lady was pretty tired, so we headed back. We took the metro back to the Pentagon and then the bus back home. On the walk home she said, “This was the best day ever!”

We wanted to watch a spy movie but couldn’t think of one that was really appropriate for Clarissa (other than Bolt which she’s seen a hundred times) so we ended up watching some White Collar. She was really into it after the museum so we’ll have to find a spy movie for her.

A Pennsylvania Adventure

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We decided that it would be easier to visit Pennsylvania before Tiffany was born than to try to come to the big family Thanksgiving meal with a two month old. We knew we wanted to stop somewhere along the way to break up the trip. Tim had not had a meal at Shady Maple since before he went into the Air Force, so we decided to stop there for lunch as our halfway point.

I saw a billboard on the way that said that Shady Maple Smorgasbord was the largest buffet in America. I believe it. The building itself was huge. There was plenty of food. You stand in line and they seat you. The waitress asks if you have eaten there before and explains the four different grill stations as well as the salad, dessert, and drinks. Then you get to go through the line and serve yourself. You leave dirty dishes on the table and get new ones each time you go through the line.

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We all really enjoyed our lunch. Clarissa said we should go back to eat there again. There is a set price for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is a different price each night of the week because there is a different special. Clarissa was half price because she is 5.

There were several other attractions nearby. The Shady Maple also has a Farmer’s Market, a Gift Shop, and a General Store. We went to the gift shop which is located under the Smorgasbord. It was huge! There were so many different items for sale. There was a huge toy section, pop culture pictures (think Beatles and Star Trek), Christmas items, and a large selection of personalized items. As usual, there was nothing that said either Clarissa or Suzanne. But there were several items available for Tim and Tiffany. I couldn’t talk Tim into buying this mug though.

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After lunch we headed to Tim’s parents house. We hung out with them for a bit before we all headed to his aunt’s house for dinner and some pool time. There was also a birthday dessert for Tim and Clarissa.

On Saturday, we went to Knoebels. Most of Tim’s extended family (including himself) have spent many summers working at Knoebels as lifeguards and in food service. So it is kind of like a part of family history to be able to go there. Parking and admission to the park are free. Then, you pay for food, rides, and games. Veterans and active duty service members can get a free book of $20 ride tickets by showing your military ID or DD214.

At first, Clarissa wasn’t super excited about any of the rides. She did some of the games that require quarters like using an excavator or driving a car. She got excited about the trains so we rode the train twice. She was also really excited about the bounce house and the hand cars. The food was good and the prices weren’t awful for an amusement park.

After Knoebels, we took Clarissa to play at Fort Discovery in Sunbury. It was a wonderful playground and she would have stayed all day if we let her. It is located right next to a community center and baseball field, so there are bathrooms and parking available.

Next, we headed to Shikellamy State Park. Tim and I actually got engaged at this park ten years ago. He had originally planned to take me to the overlook to propose, but the road was still closed for the winter so he had to settle for the marina. We went to the overlook for the first time Saturday. The views were beautiful. And you can see the marina from the overlook so that was fun to be able to point out the spot to Clarissa.

On Sunday, we headed home a different way so that we could stop by Clarksburg Premium Outlets near Gaithersburg, MD. I read that there was a STEAM Fair that day so we thought Clarissa would enjoy the festivities. There were a few fun events and the shopping was decent too. We got some decent deals at Motherhood Maternity and Columbia.

Another nature center adventure

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In Korea, if they were going to cut the water off at the apartment for some reason, they might tell you the day before. Or an hour before. Or they may just shut the water off…At our new place, they have shut the water off twice for repairs. But they always give about a week’s notice and say the water will be off from 9-5, when it’s really only off from 9-12.

We needed an adventure day for the planned water outage on Thursday. I planned trips to two different libraries to return and pick up requested books. We had a few errands to run and I had an ob appointment in the afternoon. But we had this glorious three hour window to work with.

Clarissa and I decided to check out Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale. The parking lot is rather small, though there does appear to be some street parking about a half mile down the road. It was also really easy to find in Waze. There is a large brown sign right as you get off the highway as well that points you in the correct direction.

The Nature Center looks like it is in the middle of the woods. There is a butterfly garden sign as you walk to the building. We didn’t see any butterflies though.

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The outside of the building was really cool. It had several different birds and animals and their wingspan. The largest was a  Quatzalcoatalus (a type of dinosaur) and the smallest was a humming bird. Clarissa really enjoyed measuring her arms to see which animals she was bigger than or smaller than.

Inside the Nature Center itself were several small live animals (snakes, frogs, and turtles). There were also several stuffed birds and mammals around the room as well as interactive displays. Clarissa’s favorite was either feeling the mammal fur or the microscope slides of the insect parts. She really did enjoy the entire thing.

I thought this whale vertebrae was pretty cool. Clarissa was amazed that one back bone could be so big.

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After we looked around the Nature Center, Clarissa was able to choose a prize. We had a coupon from completing the summer reading coupon that said you could pick a prize at the nature center. She chose a plastic bug (they also had spider rings and magnifying glasses).

We brought a picnic lunch and went exploring for a place to eat. There was a playground on the property, but it honestly looked pretty old and dirty. There was also a place with benches for a campfire area. We also found picnic benches really close to the Nature Center. But we ended up eating near the pond and play area behind the Nature Center. Clarissa enjoyed climbing on things and looking at the water.

After lunch, Clarissa had a choice between walking on one of the nature trails and playing with the toys inside the Nature Center. She chose the toys. She spent about a half hour playing with costumes and puppets. We also noticed some educational toys at the end with puzzles and stories.

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Clarissa said this Nature Center was better than the other one we went to and says we should come back a lot. I informed her that there are about ten of these within a half hour of our house so we need to check out the other ones before she can really choose a favorite. Hidden Oaks is only about twenty minutes from our house, so I’m sure we’ll be back at some point anyway.

The Nature Center is open from 10-5 during the week (except they are closed on Tuesdays) and from 12-5 on the weekend.

We couldn’t wait until Christmas

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We came to Virginia Beach for a visit Memorial Day weekend. It was nice to travel as a family, especially since Tim had not been to Virginia Beach in four years. We said goodbye and planned to return for Christmas. But after our weekend trip, Clarissa and I still felt like there were other things that we wanted to do before Christmas.

Last week, Clarissa and I took the train from Alexandria to Norfolk to visit my family again. We had a great trip.

On Monday, Grammy, Clarissa, and I went to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. There was a parking lot next to the 31st street garage that charged $10 to park all day and was practically empty when we arrived about 11.

We almost didn’t go because it was so hot outside and I didn’t think that Clarissa would last long. But Clarissa had the time of her life in the water. We taught her how to jump over the waves, though it required some assistance from Mommy or Grammy when we went deeper. But she loved it and never wanted to leave.

On Monday evening, my best friend and my mom threw a baby shower at my parents’ house. It was fun to see some out of town relatives and a few close friends. Clarissa had a great time with one of her best friends as well (a perk to your friends having daughters of similar ages).

Tuesday we got to play some with my niece and then met my friend and her daughter at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It was super hot and humid outside but we had a wonderful time. We took the tram to the children’s garden and the girls played in the splash pad there. There were bathrooms nearby as well as a yurt that had a changing room.

Once they were sufficiently wet, we explored the different sections of the children’s garden. There were several sections, each with a different continent. Each continent had indigenous plants as well as a scavenger hunt where you could search for 1-3 of the animals listed. There was a paper near the bathroom that explains the scavenger hunt. When you find the animal cut out, you stamp your paper with the stamp provided at each continent. When you finish, there is a tent with a worker who will give you a prize. You get to plant a seed in a biodegradable cup and bring it home to plant at your house. The girls really enjoyed that activity.

There was also an alphabet garden that showed plants that started with different letters. Several had signs that said “please touch” which was a pleasant surprise. Most of them were herbs and plants that smelled good.

We then walked to the butterfly garden and butterfly house. There was also a butterfly maze but it was almost 100 degrees outside so we skipped it.

The butterfly house was not at all what I expected, but it was great. It was not air conditioned as it was pretty open with mesh around it, almost like a green house. There were plants inside as well as caterpillars, butterflies, and a mother/son volunteer team who were wonderful! They helped the girls hold a butterfly and explained things about butterfly life cycles. We learned a lot and really enjoyed it. If you live in Hampton Roads, she recommended a Monarch Butterfly Tag and Release event in September. She said come to the early morning session though because it is very crowded by afternoon.

Tuesday evening two of my aunts came to dinner. We had a great visit with them. Clarissa had a blast learning to play “telephone.”

On Wednesday, Clarissa got to play with the sprinkler and the hose at my parents’ house. She had a great time getting all wet.

Wednesday night, I got to have a dinner date with Shannon at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

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Thursday was more low key. We spent the day with my parents and my niece watching movies and playing games. Thursday night, Pappy got out his guitar and Clarissa got to dance around. So many memories of my childhood were spent dancing around that living room so I am glad Clarissa was able to experience that too.

We took the train home on Friday and had a rather uneventful ride. We made sure not to sit in the quiet car this time so it was more enjoyable.

Taking an Amtrak train

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Since moving to Northern Virginia, we have maintained our one car lifestyle. The big difference is that in South Korea, Tim had the car most of the time to get to work and Clarissa and I took public transportation. Here, Tim takes the bus to work and Clarissa and I keep the car during the day.

Clarissa and I went to Virginia Beach this week to visit my family. We didn’t want Tim to be stranded without a car all week so we took the train. It was pretty easy to go online and book tickets. The train is pretty cheap too. It only cost $138 total round trip for the two of us.

If you are taking the train from Alexandria, there is hardly any parking. There are a few spots you can pay for and two spots for 30 minute parking. The station does have a bathroom but there isn’t a screen to tell you where to go. You can sit inside or outside. A few minutes before the train arrives there will be an announcement on the loudspeaker that tells you the train number and where the train is going.

There are not assigned seats. You simply pay for a reserved seat in either business class or coach. Then when the train comes, you find an open seat and sit there. You are responsible for your luggage. But the conductor did carry mine up the steps for me. There are racks at the front of each car or above your seats to place your luggage or carry on. Once the train starts moving, the conductor will come by and scan your electronic ticket and put a piece of paper above your seat so that they know when you are supposed to get off the train.

Apparently there is something called a quiet car on an Amtrak train. Often it is the train right behind business class but it can be located anywhere on the train. If you choose to sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet the whole time. No talking on your cell phone and no using electronic devices without headphones. I didn’t see any signs about this when we sat down but we were informed by another passenger that we were sitting in the quiet car and so we had a quieter trip than I anticipated. There are small blue signs on the ceiling as you enter and exit the car but I didn’t see them until later when I was actually looking for them.

There is a cafe car on the train that sells food. You can buy things like personal pan cheese pizza ($7), hotdogs ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($3), and drinks. The prices are not awful but definitely more than you would pay at the grocery store. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink on the train but they cannot refrigerate or heat up food for you that is not bought in the cafe car.

There is also a restroom in each train car. They are a decent size and fairly clean as well. Our train starts in Boston and goes all the way to Norfolk. We got on in Alexandria so someone must clean the train as they go because I thought it was clean for our entire trip.

Not all of the train doors open at each stop. You have to listen to the announcement to figure out which car to go to. There is also an announcement at each stop that will tell you the current stop, the next stop, and how many minutes until you arrive at the next stop.

Will we ride Amtrak again? Absolutely. You can eat, chat, and go to the bathroom whenever you want and it doesn’t add time to your trip. We will just make sure we do not sit in the quiet car. Though I will say that Clarissa did very well. The same passenger that was upset with us in the beginning walked by as he exited the train and said, “Your daughter is very well behaved.”

National Cathedral

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We met up for Thai food with some old friends for lunch. After lunch, we decided to check out the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

We bought Clarissa a camera for her birthday so she was really excited to use it for this trip. She kept saying, “This is so beautiful!” and “I’m so glad I have my own camera so I can take pictures of whatever I want.”

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Tim and I had been to the National Cathedral before, but it was before Clarissa was born. It was also before the earthquake in 2011 so it cost more to get in now and I felt like the atmosphere was completely different. Adults pay $12 and children (ages 5-17) pay $8. Parking was really expensive too, so it would have been better to take the metro.

The cathedral itself is beautiful with the stained glass windows and arched architecture inside. Clarissa kept saying, “Wow!”

There were several different chapels located inside. One of them looked like it was set up for a wedding. There is a lego build right now where you can pay for some lego pieces and help to build a model of the National Cathedral. The proceeds go toward the restoration project from the damage of the 2011 earthquake. The girls thought it was really cool. The volunteer said that when finished it would be the largest amateur build with instructions.

We also walked around outside and saw the gardens. There were bunnies, butterflies, bugs, and fish around as well.

The gift shop was surprising. It already had Christmas trees set up with nativity sets (in July). They were also selling Buddha statues and coexist stickers, which doesn’t make sense to me in a church. It felt more like a museum to me.

It is worth going if you like looking at pretty architecture or are looking for more of an indoor activity to get out of the weather. But it wasn’t a super spiritual experience.

Our first visit to the National Zoo

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In May, the National Zoo had a special on annual memberships. If you bought a membership in May, you would get two free months free so your membership would go until July 31, 2020 instead of May 31. Admission to the National Zoo is free, so at first I questioned why a family would need to pay for a membership.

Then I read about the zoo. The zoo is located between two metro stops. But each metro stop is about a half mile walk uphill to the zoo, where you will do a lot of walking anyway. There is parking at the zoo but it costs $25 for the day. So if you leave in the DC metro area and plan to go to the zoo at least three times in the calendar year, you break even with parking alone in addition to the discounts you receive for food and gift shops inside the zoo.

Clarissa loves animals. If you meet her in person she will tell you, “I love all animals, ocean animals, and bugs infinity.” The zoo is about twenty minutes from our house so I figure, even with baby Tiffany coming, we’ll go to the zoo at least three times this year. Today was our first trip to the National Zoo.

I had read that although there are five different parking lots for the zoo, and they fill up by  10 AM, so you want to get to the zoo early. We arrived about 8:45 since it is a holiday weekend and we thought it would be crowded. The parking lot was pretty empty at that time. We parked in lot D so we were walking up hill in the morning and walking downhill at the end when we were tired.

The website says that the zoo grounds open at 8 AM and the exhibits open at 9 AM. We arrived about 8:45 so by the time we walked into the zoo and went to the bathroom it was almost 9:00. There was a worker at the entrance selling memberships and giving kids dinosaur hats. The barn animals are at that entrance as well as a bumble bee playground so there is plenty to see right there. You are allowed to touch the cows, donkeys, alpacas, and goats, but they weren’t close enough to reach on our visit. Clarissa still enjoyed seeing them.

The first building we passed was Amazonia. It was a few minutes after 9, but that building didn’t open until 10, so we kept going. We walked through the American animals and got to see sea lions, a grey wolf, and an American otter. We even got to watch them feed and talk about a harp seal.

When we got to the top of the hill, the elephants were not outside so we kept walking. At the top of another hill we saw the Elephant Community Center and went inside. We finally got to see elephants and learn some things with the interactive exhibits.

At that point, we had been outside less than an hour but had been walking up hill on a very humid day with no breeze. Clarissa was asking to go to the gift shop (she earned a treat this week) and go home. We walked to the visitor center after 10 AM only to discover that the gift shops don’t open until 11.

We walked down the hill and stopped by the small mammal house to see the Fennec Fox she was so excited about. We all really enjoyed the animals and that the building was air conditoned. I convinced Clarissa to walk by the pandas and cheetahs since it was on the way back to the car. But neither one was outside because it was too hot out. We did however find all six of the animatronic dinosaurs, so she was excited about that.

We left by 10:30 and the parking lot was almost full so I do recommend arriving early if you are planning to park. But if you want to buy anything at the gift shop, you need to stay past 11.

While the National Zoo is a great zoo, we will do things differently on our next visit in order to enjoy it better. First of all, we will wait until the fall when kids are back in school. Then it won’t be as crowded and we can probably arrive closer to 10 AM. All of the buildings and gift shops will be open if we come a little later. The lower temperatures will also mean that most of the animals should be outside so that we can actually see them.

After the zoo, we headed to Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Falls Church for Clarissa to pick out her stuffed animal. I didn’t take pictures since we were just in there for a stuffed animal. But I will say that it looks like a great toy store. There were plenty of stuffed animals, puppets, educational toys, books, and costumes. I know we will be back.

Then we headed to lunch in Fairfax at a place called Masala Wok, which was recommended by one of Tim’s friends from work. There are Indian dishes as well as other Asian noodle and rice dishes. Tim and I really enjoyed our food. Clarissa just ordered naan, but was quite content with hers as well. We even got to watch part of one of the Cricket World Series games. I don’t think I have ever watched cricket before. It was interesting.

Happy Third Trimester to me!

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Today marks the beginning of the third trimester in Tiffany’s pregnancy. In some ways, I am so ready to meet her. And in other ways, I am glad she has a few months before she joins us. I think I would feel more ready if our furniture from Korea was in our current house. Soon enough. With about twelve weeks to go, the house will be ready in plenty of time for her arrival.

At Clarissa’s twenty week ultrasound, they had a few concerns. There was a small hole in her heart and she had a “bright bowel.” They had concerns about things like Down Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis. This was terrifying for a first time mom, but the blessing in it was that they sent me to EVMS (the local medical school) for further testing and ultrasounds. I got to see extra clear pictures of Clarissa at 22 weeks and 28 weeks and then another set at 35 weeks. By 22 weeks, the heart in her heart had closed and by 28 weeks her bowels were fine. She just wasn’t “ready” at the earlier ultrasound times.

With Tiffany, the ultrasound schedule has been completely different. While we were in Korea, they did an ultrasound at every appointment. We have been looking at things like her brain, spine, and liver since the beginning. We left Korea at about 20 weeks so they didn’t get to my anatomy scan before we left. My only ultrasound at my American doctor was at 24 weeks and I had to ask for that since I missed the 20 week anatomy scan that most people get. Her ultrasound showed that everything was fine, so that was the only ultrasound my ob plans to do this pregnancy.

On the one hand, I was glad for this. Tiffany is healthy. There are no concerns. On the other hand, I was sad. I got to see clear pictures of Clarissa’s face all the time. And we still had not really seen a great picture of Tiffany’s face. We decided that we would go to a special place that specializes in 4d elective ultrasounds. We went to InfantSeeHD in Fairfax.

Maria, our ultrasound tech was wonderful! She was super excited to see our baby. She had me move around in different positions so that we could see more. Tiffany had one of her feet in her face pretty much the entire time, but Maria was able to move around so that we could see her whole face anyway. She also said that Tiffany already has a full head of hair. We also got to watch Tiffany practice sucking on the placenta.

I’m not going to lie. There was a little bit of sticker shock when we saw the price for the ultrasound packages. Because there were concerns with Clarissa, insurance paid for all of her extra ultrasounds so I had no concept about how much these things normally cost. But we did get a full video recording of the thirty minute session and 84 still images on a jump drive.

Then, I wanted to celebrate. So we decided to check out Happy Tart, a gluten free bakery, in Falls Church. We parked in the garage for Pearson Square and it was really easy to find. The prices were reasonable for gluten free treats. Cookies and macaroons were $1.75. Cupcakes were $4.50 each. They also had bags of English muffins and drinks for sale. Clarissa loved her cookie. Tim and I thought the cupcakes were delicious. We will definitely be back!

Then we finished our evening with dinner in Shirlington. Since it was my choice, I chose Guapo’s for a Mexican dinner. I pretty much always love my Mexican food. The impressive part was that Tim enjoyed his dinner too.

Settling in to life in America (reverse culture shock)

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In some ways, life in America is like our life in South Korea. Tim goes to work during the day. Clarissa and I are home with Mittens. Homeschool is back in session. We think we found a church to attend. Tim’s days off are for exploring. We are still a one car family.

But in some ways, life is very different. Sometimes I think the transition from America to Korea was easier than the transition from Korea to America. I wonder if it’s because of the differences or if it’s because we were looking forward to moving to Korea for so long that it made things easier?

Before moving to Alexandria, I had only ever lived in Hampton Roads or South Korea. In Korea, most families are only there one to three years. So everyone is either new, or remembers what it is like to be new and attempts to help new people. We don’t live near military housing here, so there isn’t an influx of new people all the time that need to get plugged in (at least not the way it was in Korea). So when Clarissa and I go to a new place, people don’t seem eager to include us or invite us in to their group. The exception to this being our wonderful neighbors.

I consider Hampton Roads to be pretty conservative socially. It wasn’t quite southern with the large military population, but there were definitely likeminded people around. Before we left, the LGBT stuff wasn’t a big thing. Gay marriage wasn’t legal in most states before we left. Four years later, and in Northern Virginia, it is definitely more liberal. (Granted we arrived right at the beginning of Pride Month, so this may not be how things normally are?) But, Clarissa and I have had some interesting conversations about cashiers and why they are dressed like a girl but definitely look like a man or why we see men kissing each other at a restaurant.

I think it was also pretty common in Hampton Roads for moms to stay home with their kids, especially when they are younger. There were working moms too. My mom worked weekends when I was a kid. In my neighborhood, it seems pretty common for both parents to work though. When Clarissa and I go to the park, most of the kids her age have nannies from foreign countries. Or the moms that are there all have kids in private school uniforms and are hanging out together. I am having a hard time finding stay at home moms here. I am sure they exist. I just haven’t found them yet. When I looked online, it says that there were 91 elementary school aged kids in Alexandria who are homeschooled this school year. So these families do exist, but they aren’t a large percentage of the population.

The other thing that I am getting used to is having a car. We had one car in Korea, but Tim had it most of the time because he was working. Now when Clarissa asks if we can go somewhere that requires driving, it takes me a minute to remember that I am the one with the car and we don’t have to wait for Daddy to get home or for the weekend to go to the park or the library. It is also weird to be able to get the errands done during the week so that we can actually do fun things on the weekend.

The supply situation in South Korea was interesting on base. Many items from the commissary or PX came by boat, so if something was out, it might take a month to get it in. Then if there was an embargo on something, like poultry, you just had to go off base for the Korean version because the commissary just wan’t going to carry it. Amazon was the fastest way to ship things and it was great to get your item in a week, if you found a seller who would ship to an APO address. Here, I can go to multiple locations of the same store if I want to. But so far, most of the items that I want are in stock the day that I go shopping. Amazon is so fast. When we left, prime was definitely 2-3 days. But most things, if we order before midnight, will be delivered to our house the next day.

We have a great library system here. Because of our location, we are actually eligible for the library in a few different cities. In Korea, the army libraries were all connected on the same system, so I could request up to 5 books at a time from a different library. But because they were all in different cities on the peninsula, it might take 3-4 weeks to get the book I want. Here, the books are all located in the same city, so I can request multiple books from a different library, and it will be at the library that I want to pick it up in a day or two. We are also allowed to request like 20 books at a time!

The air quality here is amazing. In Korea, the air quality continually got worse while we were there. I don’t remember it being as much of a problem when we lived in Daegu. But in Pyeongtaek, especially the last year that we were there, the air quality was a problem. It would be  over 200 for weeks straight (healthy is 0-50). We often had to wear a mask outside so that we wouldn’t get a headache or sore throat from the air. I think in the five weeks we have been in Virginia, the air quality has only been over 50 once and it was 68 that day. The air quality this morning was 4.

Clarissa’s personality has been a little more outgoing here than in South Korea. She said to me the other day, “I can be more chatty here because everyone speaks American!” She has no problem walking up to a kid on the playground and asking if they want to play with her. At lunch the other day, she even asked if we could sit with a little girl and her mom because they were about the same age. She never would have done that in Korea, even on base. She still doesn’t like big groups of people though. The first playground we went to, I thought looked really cool, but there were a ton of kids there and she asked to leave about ten minutes later in favor of a less crowded playground.

I’m not that in to beaches…

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Clarissa and I had not been to Virginia Beach in two years. Tim had not been back since we moved to Korea four years ago so we decided that we would all visit for Memorial Day weekend.

My goals for the weekend were pretty simple. I wanted to see my family, my best friend, and my dog. Tim wanted to visit some of his favorite restaurants. Clarissa was just along for the ride.

We drove down on Saturday morning and made decent time. We got to see my parents, as well as my sister and her family. I was able to hold my 8 month old niece for the first time. We were having so much fun that Clarissa didn’t want to leave to see Josie (the dog we rehomed before we moved to Korea).

Tim did get to have dinner at his favorite Japanese restaurant. While it was fine, it wasn’t the amazing quality that we expected.

After Clarissa went to bed, Tim and I tried to decide what to do on Sunday morning. We originally thought we would go to the beach, but forgot that the water was only 60 degrees this time of year. So we came up with a few options. When Clarissa woke up in the morning, I asked her what she wanted to do.

“What do you want to do today Clarissa?”
“I don’t know”
“We could go to the beach”
“Ya let’s go to the beach!”
“Or there is a petting zoo”
“I’m not that into beaches…”

So we opted to go to Hunt Club Farm. We had a great time and the price was great. Entry was $6 per person but they had a buy one get one free deal for the holiday weekend. You could buy animal feed for $5, bird feed for $1 (but we had a coupon for free bird food), and pony rides were $5.

 

They also had special deals where you could buy a season pass to come all summer to the petting farm. If we still lived in Hampton Roads, we totally would buy the season passes. Though I will tell you that it is better to put the animal feed in your hand instead of just holding out the cup of feed to the animals. The llama totally stole the cup out of my hand, ate the rest of the food, and tossed my cup. The worker said that sometimes they have signs up, but the llama takes them down. Apparently, “he is 15 years old so it is too late to change his bad habits.”

Hunt Club Farm also has a country store. You can buy ice cream, cold drinks, homemade preserves, stuffed animals, and plants, among other things. Clarissa talked us into buying her a stuffed chicken because “I don’t have a chicken yet!” I am excited to try the pumpkin butter and strawberry preserves as well. The ice cream was also delicious. Though Clarissa was adamant that she wanted cheetos instead.

We stopped by Josie’s house on the way back to Grammy and Pappy’s. Josie is 9 years old now so she has mellowed a bit. But she is still a wonderful, playful dog. Clarissa had a great time playing with Josie and the hose.

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We had more playtime with my parents and then had dinner with my sister and her family at Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant. The menu changed so his favorite meal that he has been looking forward to for four years wasn’t available anymore. Again, the food was fine, but not what we were expecting.

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I finished the evening with a visit from my best friend. And then we went back to our hotel. We left early Monday morning and definitely beat the traffic. It took less than 3 hours!

Ah life with a car

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When we moved to South Korea in 2015, we didn’t bring a car with us at all. My 14 year old car got totaled the day we got the official offer. And Tim’s car had recalls on it like every other month. So we ditched the cars and thought we would do public transportation in Korea. And we did, for the first year.

There is a one car rule in South Korea for Americans. In Daegu, it is pretty easy to get a second car approved if you live off post. At Camp Humphreys, it was harder. So while we bought a car in January 2016, Tim had it most of the time because he was working. I could use it after work or on weekends. But for play dates and events during the week, Clarissa and I either got a ride from a friend or took the bus somewhere. It wasn’t a big deal in Daegu because there were like 1,000 different busses and a subway system. Plus all of our friends had two cars. Pyeongtaek was harder because the one bus only went one way to AK Plaza and most of my friends were stranded without a car during the day as well.

During our time in Pyeongtaek, Clarissa would always say things like “I can’t wait until we move to America because we will have two vehicles!” So when we found out we were moving to Washington DC area I had to disappoint Clarissa and tell her that we would still be a one car family. However, she is happy about it because instead of Daddy taking the car to work and us taking the bus everywhere, Tim takes the bus to work and we get to keep the car for the day. I forgot how nice it is to have a car and be able to run errands during the week or just to be able to go on a random adventure because we feel like it.

So on Wednesday, Clarissa and I went on an adventure. We decided to check out Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center in Alexandria. It was an easy ten minute drive from our house. At first I thought I missed it because it is attached to an elementary school building. We really enjoyed it and plan to go back!

There are several small animals in tanks and aquariums inside. Clarissa got to see snakes, lizards, bugs, turtles, and birds. There were also cool things to look at under a microscope and a different magnifier. We saw most of those things in about twenty minutes.

Then, Clarissa went to the play area. There is a puppet stage, puppets, stuffed animals, plastic toys, and plenty of books to read. We stayed there for almost an hour. Clarissa would have stayed longer if I let her.

Next to the Nature Center is an entrance to Dora Kelley Nature Park. From the parking lot, take some stairs through the trees down to a paved path by a small river. Clarissa kept saying, “Are we in the woods?” We could hear animals and bugs but didn’t see many in person. Clarissa really enjoyed walking around and “being in nature.” There were a few different paths that you could take and there are multiple entrances so if you go to the right one and stay on the paved path, it would actually be stroller friendly. The entrance we went to is not because there were at least 25 tall steps to go down to get to the path.

On our way home we stopped by the shopping center near our new house to check it out. We had lunch at Duck Donuts which was new to us. And then we found some fun things at Michaels to work on until the rest of our stuff comes. There is even a small kid store called Robcyns that has clothes, educational toys, and books. Clarissa has been asking for a stuffed snake for about a month and we finally found one here! We also checked out Fresh Market for the first time which reminds me of a smaller version of Whole Foods.

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What a PCS really looks like for a civilian

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Monday was our third move in four years. This is pretty normal for an active duty military family, but we are civilians. Some of the process is the same, but other things are very different, so I thought I would share some of our experiences.

In the military, they often tell you where you are going and how long you will be there. This can change, but at least you have an idea of how long you will be in a place before the military moves you again. The military will pay for you, your family, your personal belongings, and a vehicle to get to your next duty station. You are usually authorized a week or so in a hotel before you leave your current duty station and when you arrive at your next duty station.

Government civilian life is very different. First, if you land a federal job in the United States, it is usually permanent. So you can do that job (unless they decide your position is no longer necessary) as long as you want. Theoretically, you could do the same job or at least move up in the same organization your entire career in the same location. However, there are rules about moving overseas. Most jobs are two or three year contracts and you can extend after that for a total of five years overseas before you have to return to the United States. At which time, you must complete two years in the United States before returning overseas.

Generally, if you have a job overseas, the government will pay for your move, just like they would an active duty service member. You receive a document called “orders” that tells you what you are authorized. Generally, the government will pay for the employee, spouse, and dependents under age 21 to travel to the new duty station as well as to ship one personal vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage. You can even use nontemporary storage at the government’s expense. There are also allowances for hotels before you leave your home of record as well as temporary lodging in your new location. There is a transportation agreement so that if you leave this position before a full year, you have to repay the government for the cost of your move. They did change the rules recently so now you will be taxed on the move however.

The process that went the most smoothly was the first move from Norfolk to Daegu. I really think the reason is that the Human Resource people in charge of the move were in Korea and so they are used to dealing with this PCS (Permanent Change of Station- Move) process. Tim received a tentative offer and a list of things to do like paperwork and a drug test. Then about a month later, he received an official offer with a travel date about six weeks after that. I don’t remember how quickly the orders came, but we had plenty of time to get flights and movers scheduled. Other than it being my first overseas move and our first big move as a family of three, it wasn’t a mad dash to get everything done on time (unless you count the snow…).

The other two moves, from Daegu to Pyeongtaek and Pyeongtaek to Arlington have been more stressful. I really think that part of it is that Human Resources is in America and they don’t deal with PCS as often. They don’t understand that the government won’t book your flights or movers until you have orders and so you really do need them quickly if your start date is less than 30 days away. Either that or they don’t care. I’ve never met them in person, so I can’t speak to that.

A government PCS is really a lot of hurry up and wait. Tim has been applying and interviewing for jobs since June. For the job he starts next week, he interviewed around Thanksgiving. The tentative offer was at the end of February (on our four year anniversary of landing in Korea) and the official offer came April 4. At which point HR gave us two options for start dates, April 28 and May 12. We chose May 12.

When applying for a government job (usually through usajobs), there is a section that talks about relocation. Overseas jobs and some stateside jobs say that relocation can be authorized. Many jobs say relocation is not authorized, so if you want to take that job, you will need to move yourself there. Tim was only applying for jobs that said relocation was authorized.

We were told that when you move from overseas to a stateside job, the receiving agency is supposed to pay for certain moving expenses, like hotels when you arrive back in the United States. This job said relocation expenses were authorized so we weren’t worried about it. After accepting the offer, Tim immediately asked about how long it would take to receive orders and how long we would be authorized a hotel in the US. It took a week for HR to respond and say that they would not be paying for the move itself. So of the four weeks we had, one week was wasted.

Tim completed his full contract with this job overseas, so they owe us a pcs as described in our travel agreement. This means that Tim’s Korea job will pay for flights, shipping, household goods, and a personal vehicle back to our home of record which is Norfolk. They will also pay for hotels before we leave Korea. But that is where the money was supposed to stop. The gaining agency was supposed to pay for the PCS from Norfolk to Arlington as well as some hotel time in Arlington. Our Korea HR ladies were pretty confident that the new job would pay for this, as it is the common course of action.

Two weeks into the process, the new job said no. We still expect you to be here, but we’re not paying for anything. The posting says “may pay for relocation” so we’re not going to…Lesson learned. Before you accept a job offer, ask if they are paying for moving expenses. Just because it is listed in the job posting doesn’t mean they will actually pay for anything.

It got pretty stressful at the end of our time in Korea. Our lease was up on our Korean apartment on April 30 so we needed to move out before then, but we couldn’t schedule movers until we had the orders. The week before, Tim asked someone in HR about expediting his orders and the response was, “We process them in the order we receive them and it’s not fair to people who have travel dates before yours.” I was curious how many people were ten days out like we were.

April 30 was a Tuesday. Tim had unsigned orders the Friday before which let him tentatively schedule movers but the guy in charge wasn’t happy about it and wanted him to come back with the signed orders on Monday morning. He did have signed orders on Monday morning but they were incorrect because they said we were moving from Daegu to Arlington instead of Pyeongtaek to Arlington. But we were able to move out on time. The corrected orders came on Wednesday so we could book our flights. That gave Tim three days to run around on base getting all of the out processing done and sell the car. I had to take multiple taxis Friday to get all of the paperwork done for Mittens to fly with us (I will post more about that process next week).

By the time we knew we were moving, the hotel at Camp Humphreys was full. It was really hard to find a pet friendly hotel near Camp Humphreys so we ended up staying at Osan for the rest of that week before we left. It was kind of fitting to end our time in Korea there because Tim was actually stationed on Osan Air Force Base from 2005-2007, so that is where his Korea dream began. Tim had his favorite Thai, Sawatdee, three days in a row before we left.

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Pictured is Tim standing where is old dorm room was when he lived on Osan.

Then we had to figure out how to get to the airport. There is a bus that will take you from Osan to Incheon, but it doesn’t allow pets. I tried hiring a pet taxi, but he wasn’t sure that he could fit the three of us, Mittens, our suitcases, and her crate into his van. Plus he didn’t have base access so we were going to have to take multiple taxis to the main gate to meet him anyway. So the day before we left, we found a friend with a van (who actually used to work with Tim in Daegu but is at Humphreys now) who took us from Osan to our hotel near the airport. It was a little tricky because hotel check out at Osan was at 11, but check in at Incheon wasn’t until 2 so we spent a while moving our six suitcases, three carry ons, the car seat, Mittens, and her big crate from where we were staying to the hotel lobby so that we could be in air conditioning while we waited for our friend to come.

I was glad that we went to a hotel near the airport the day before. We had a morning flight so we wanted to be closer. Plus I didn’t want Mittens in her crate longer than she needed to be since it was already a 14 hour flight. We arrived to our hotel with all of our stuff, and they didn’t have a record of our reservation. Thankfully I had my reservation email from hotels.com. The hotel was actually pretty bad. The air conditioning was not turned on in the hotel yet even though it was over 80 degrees “because it’s not summer yet.” So we were really hot and the beds were Korea hard.

The hotel advertised that they had a shuttle to the airport. That was only half correct. There is a bus stop across the street that will take you to Terminal 1 of the airport. So we had to get our six suitcases, three carry ons, Mittens, her crate, and the car seat across 6 lanes of traffic…Thankfully it was 6 AM so it wasn’t super busy and there was a median. But it wasn’t an easy experience.

Once on the bus, someone took interest and said he would help us. He helped us cart our luggage from this bus to the next bus stop that took us to the bus for Terminal 2. He then helped us bring it into the building and then we parted ways. We found out he was actually former Korean Air Force and was a pilot for an airline now. I was so thankful for him. I don’t know how we would have gotten everything there on our own. It took 3 luggage carts and Clarissa had a hard time pushing it.

I was really stressing about Mittens being rejected for the flight, but she was fine. At check in someone came to get her and put her on the plane. We were allowed in the priority line through security because of Clarissa. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, just really long.

Once we landed at Dulles, I was concerned about how we were going to get everything where we needed to go. But the immigration line was really short and they had Mittens ready for us when we got there. She seemed pretty terrified but she was in one piece. One of the managers was like, “Do you need a big luggage cart?” and told one of the workers to help us. He carted all of our luggage to the rental car shuttles and helped us get on the rental car bus.

By this point, Mittens was crying because he wanted out of her crate. The ladies on the bus thought she was funny. Tim went in to pick up the rental car and Clarissa and I stayed outside with all of our stuff. I was able to move Mittens from the massive hard crate she hates into the smaller carrier and she calmed down.

We went to my aunt’s house to pick up some mail and sim cards for our phones. Tim’s worked fine but mine didn’t. Clarissa wanted McDonald’s so I went in to order her a happy meal. Happy Meals have different options here than they do in Korea and I had been awake for almost 24 hours at that point. The lady spoke excellent English but had an accent so I really didn’t understand her and had to keep asking her to repeat herself so I could order Clarissa’s food. I was so embarrassed. Tim and I had Chickfila for lunch and then we headed to the hotel.

The first day was the hardest. We lasted until almost 6 PM and then were up before 1 AM on Tuesday morning. We headed to Denny’s for breakfast about 2 and then were at Walmart by 3. People aren’t as judgmental about bringing a little kid out in the middle of the night as you might think. At least I didn’t see any dirty looks and no one said anything, even if they were thinking it.

We looked at a house on Tuesday that we really liked but decided that the commute would be too far for Tim. Wednesday we bought a car. It was actually going to be difficult because we don’t have a permanent address yet, but since we used USAA for our loan, it was fine. We saw two houses Thursday and applied for one of them. The rental application is tricky though because online applications want a bunch of information that doesn’t work if you’ve spent the last four years overseas. First of all, Korea isn’t an option for location and I don’t know how they would follow up with my Korean landlord anyway.

There are a few areas that we have been to multiple times and decided that we like to hang out there. There is so much to see and do. Tim finally started to get answers from the new job about how to report. You can’t just walk in to the pentagon…We’ve been asking questions for weeks and now that we’re here they just decided to call him to answer some of his questions.

Our favorite things to do in Seoul with kids

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I got a lot of feedback on our top 10 places to visit in South Korea with kids post so I thought I would add to the series with a top 10 places to visit in Seoul. During our four years of living in Korea, we have probably spent a total of two months in Seoul and I feel like we haven’t seen everything yet!

Just a reminder that Clarissa has been five and under the entire time that we’ve lived in South Korea. So our list may be different than a family with older kids, teens, or no kids.

Neighborhoods

There are two neighborhoods in Seoul that we really like and for different reasons. Hongdae (Hongik University Station exit 6) is very artsy and modern. You can buy lots of cute jewelry, art supplies, and gundam here in modern stores. On a visit there last fall, I got my ears pierced and we visited a bunny cafe.

My other favorite neighborhood is Insadong (Anguk Station or Junggak Station). It is another artsy area but very different. Here you can buy traditional pottery, silk scarves, wall paintings, and plenty of other Korean knick knacks. Some are in carts that only accept won and others are in stores that will take your credit card. While visiting this area, you can also let fish nibble the dead skin on your feet or visit a temple.

Palace

There are several different palaces in Seoul. Our favorite (and close to Insadong) is Gyeongbokgung Palace (Gyeongbokgung Station or Anguk Station). The palace grounds are huge and lovely. They even have a changing of the guard ceremony several times per day. The entrance fee is 3,000 won (less than $3 USD). If you want a different experience and to get in free, there are several shops nearby that will let you rent a traditional hanbok and walk around a few hours looking like a Korean princess.

Outdoors

Another cool place is visit is Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station or Mongchontoseong Station). You get to see all four seasons at this park so you may want to go more than once. There are several miles of walking trails, cool trees, monuments and sculptures, flags form all over the world, buildings from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and even some playgrounds for the kids.

Mall and Aquarium

If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall is near Olympic Park and is our favorite mall in Seoul. This is our favorite mall because all of our favorite stores are there. Tim really likes the Hi Mart. Clarissa gets excited about the Toy Box, Lego, and Studio Ghibli. I really like Butter, Flying Tiger Copenhagen, and Miniso. But there are several floors of shops and restaurants in the mall itself. Also attached to the mall is Avenue L which is a higher end mall. Avenue L also has an art museum. Inside Lotte World Mall, you can take an elevator to Lotte World Tower and look out over Seoul on floors 118-122. There is also a kid cafe inside called Teddy Bear Zoo, which is pricey but Clarissa really enjoyed her time there.

Also located on B1 of Lotte World Mall is Lotte Aquarium. This is our favorite aquarium in South Korea. There are several large tanks with whales, sting rays, and even penguins. There is a spot where you can pay 1,000 won to feed a small tank of fish. Then you can feed carp with a bottle for 2,000 won. There is also a free touch tank. There are food stands within the aquarium as well as face painting and a craft area that you can pay for as well. Aquarium admission can be pricey, but if you show your military ID or American passport, you can get a discount. It should cost us over 90,000 won to get in, but we usually only pay 61,000 won.

Temple

Korea has a large Buddhist population so there are temples all over the place. Many of them look similar and have architecture much like the palaces you may also visit. But, if you are going to visit a temple while visiting Seoul, we recommend Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Temple Station or Samseong Station). It is one of the largest temples that we have seen as it is a complex instead of just one building. It is pretty much across the street from Coex Mall (did not make our top 10, but if you aren’t going to get to Lotte World Mall or if you need some lunch, it is an acceptable mall) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Zoo

Sometimes the zoos in South Korea make me sad. The animals don’t seem very happy in their small cages. But there are some exceptions to this. Our favorite zoo in Seoul itself (Everland Zoo is probably better but way more expensive) is Seoul Grand Park Zoo.Seoul Grand Park is a subway stop on line 4. The zoo is exit 2. But you can also get to the Science Museum at exit 5.

The parking lot brings you to the bathrooms and a place to buy tickets for the elephant train that will take you to the zoo. You can walk if you prefer. The guy said it was a 15 minutes walk. But the train was super cheap. Adults pay 1,000 won (about $1.00) and little kids like Clarissa pay 700 won. After our train ride, we bought tickets to the zoo. Adults pay 5,000 won (less than $5.00) and preschoolers are free. We thought we would also try the theme garden which also has farm animals which costs 2,000 won. A combination ticket for both was 5,600 won.

The zoo was great. We saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, tigers, and bears. There is also a petting zoo and insectarium. There are plenty of restaurants that sell Korean food as well.

Museums

There are a few museums worth taking your small children to. The Figure Museum was very close to the Apgujeong subway station and easy to find with the statue in front. There were six floors of exhibits with each floor having its own theme. All three of us really enjoyed the museum.

Another favorite was  Seoul Children’s Museum located in Children’s Grand Park (Please note there is a zoo here as well, but I do not recommend it…). Admission costs 4,000 won per person but children under 3 are free. It was well worth the cost. There were 4 floors of exhibits that all of us enjoyed. You could pretend to be blind and get on the subway, learn about animals or space, play dress up, build a house, or play with water. Most exhibits were explained in both Hangul and English. If we lived here, we would buy a membership. I think the museum is geared towards kids second grade and under.

 

Girls Trip to Seoul

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I have never been to a Broadway show. And I never pass up an adventure with the ladies at my church. So when we started talking about going to see Lion King Live, I knew I wanted to go.

We met up at church at 3pm and the eight of us piled into Jen’s van for our hour and a half drive to Seoul Arts Center Opera House. I was glad to be a passenger instead of the driver. I hate driving in Seoul traffic and there were many u-turns to find a parking lot that actually had spaces available.

We did make great time and decided that we would try the restaurant at the opera house because it was easy to find. The food was actually really good and reasonably priced for a venue like that. I was able to get a classic burger and french fries for 11,000 won (like $10) and the pizzas and pastas were between 20,000-30,000 won ($20-$30). Everyone enjoyed their food.

Then we had about an hour before the show so we stood in line to take pictures. It was very cold outside and they didn’t have the heat on in the hallways so we were in our jackets for all of our pictures. There were programs for sale, binoculars (which they called opera glasses) available to rent, as well as a coffee shop and a vending machine for drinks.

Photography was forbidden in the auditorium itself which was actually a very comfortable temperature. We bought the cheapest seats (60,000 won so like $50) so we were on the fourth floor in the last two rows of the theater. But we could still see and hear everything that was happening on stage. The theater wasn’t sold out either which surprised me.

I had never been to a Broadway caliber production before and I was actually very impressed from the beginning. The giraffes came out first which were dancers on stilts. They must have needed very strong abdominal muscles for that. They were all in sync with each other’s movements. There was a live orchestra and drums. The costumes were great and the sets were simple but I really liked them. I was actually very impressed with the caliber of actors, dancers, and singing in the show. The show was mostly in English with what was probably an African song or two in the mix but there were Korean subtitles on a large screen off to the side.

The story was very true to what I remember of the movie, except that Rafiki the crazy monkey was a girl in the live show. But all of the usual songs were there. There were a few Korea specific jokes in the show. For example, they talked about going to Dongdaemun Market and Zazu said “don’t send me back to Everland Zoo!” Also, Zazu sings “Let it Go” to Scar instead of “It’s a Small World.”

One of the ladies said she was going to come back with her kids. I think kids would enjoy the show and there were actually several in the theater. Lion King is in Seoul until the end of March and then it moves to Busan, so there is still time to go see the show.

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After the show, we headed back to the car so that we could go to our next location, Dongdaemun Market. I guess we didn’t really do our research on this one because the night market is closed on Sundays (which actually means Saturday night). So we went to Doota (a big department store type mall) which had cute stuff but department store prices. The better deal would have been the outdoor market, but it wasn’t there that day. There was one small section of outdoor shops in yellow tents so we went there. I had some street food (chicken kebab) and a few of the ladies found hats and things to buy. It was only about 20 degrees outside and the usual Korea wind so we didn’t last super long anyway.

We left Dongdaemun a little after midnight and went to a 24 hour McDonalds on the way home since ladies were hungry again. It was a wonderful adventure. Maybe will try Dongdaemun again in the spring when it is warmer.

Our favorite books about South Korea

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In honor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I thought I would share our favorite children’s book about South Korea. Some of these we own and some we have borrowed from the library (actually all are at the Camp Humphreys Library).

 

One of Clarissa’s favorite books to borrow from the library is Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell. A little girl is adopted from South Korea and comes home to live with her new family in America. She doesn’t know any English but her family quickly learns a few Korean words, specifically “goyangi” because of their pet cat that the little girl loves so much.

We own Bee-Bim-Bop by Linda Sue Park because Clarissa loved it so much when we borrowed it from the library that we read it every day for a week straight and actually had to learn to make bibimbap from the recipe in the book.

Last year, we reviewed Carole P. Roman’s If You were me and lived in… South Korea. I think Clarissa likes it because it talks about some of the places we have visited. I think it gives you some idea of Korean culture as it discusses Korean words for mom and dad, money, school, and sports.

Lately, Clarissa has been interested in Sori’s Harvest Moon Day by Uk-Bae Lee. This story is about a little girl and her family and how they travel to their grandparents’ house for Chuseok, which is one of the two major holidays in South Korea. It is interesting to see how another culture celebrates a holiday to honor ancestors and spend time together.

Another book we borrowed from the library is called The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park. This story is about a boy who lives by the sea. His family has the important job of lighting a fire on the mountain each night if everything is calm. Each mountain has a family to light a fire. This way, the king will know if there are invaders in the land. If the fires are not lit, then the king will send soldiers to help. One day, the boy’s father hurts his ankle and he has to light the fire himself.

The library on post has an entire section of Korean children’s literature. Some of it is Korean folktales and others are books written in Korean. But these are our favorites.

Our top 10 places to visit in South Korea (with kids)

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We’ve lived in South Korea just shy of four years and have been on countless adventures (apparently I have 80 posts about Korea on this blog…) People always ask our favorite places to visit. Here is our top 10. Keep in mind that our entire time in South Korea, Clarissa has been five and under so a couple with no kids or teenagers may have a different list.

Please note that I am putting these in order based on location so that you could feasibly plan a trip from this list. Tim and I do think that if you did a trip to South Korea, this would give you a decent idea of cultural things though.

Seoul

There will be a post at some point about our favorite things in Seoul itself. But for now, these are our favorite places in South Korea that just happen to be in Seoul.

There are two neighborhoods that we really like and for different reasons. Hongdae (Hongik University Station exit 6) is very artsy and modern. You can buy lots of cute jewelry, art supplies, and gundam here in modern stores. On a visit there this fall, I got my ears pierced and we visited a bunny cafe.

My other favorite neighborhood is Insadong (Anguk Station or Junggak Station). It is another artsy area but very different. Here you can buy traditional pottery, silk scarves, wall paintings, and plenty of other Korean knick knacks. Some are in carts that only accept won and others are in stores that will take your credit card. While visiting this area, you can also let fish nibble the dead skin on your feet or visit a temple.

There are several different palaces in Seoul. Our favorite (and close to Insadong) is Gyeongbokgung Palace (Gyeongbokgung Station or Anguk Station). The palace grounds are huge and lovely. They even have a changing of the guard ceremony several times per day. The entrance fee is 3,000 won (less than $3 USD). If you want a different experience and to get in free, there are several shops nearby that will let you rent a traditional hanbok and walk around a few hours looking like a Korean princess.

Another cool place is visit is Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station or Mongchontoseong Station). You get to see all four seasons at this park so you may want to go more than once. There are several miles of walking trails, cool trees, monuments and sculptures, flags form all over the world, buildings from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and even some playgrounds for the kids. If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall (didn’t make our top 10 but we do like it) is nearby and has plenty of options for eating, shopping, and a decent aquarium.

Korea has a large Buddhist population so there are temples all over the place. Many of them look similar and have architecture much like the palaces you may also visit. But, if you are going to visit a temple while visiting Seoul, we recommend Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Temple Station or Samseong Station). It is one of the largest temples that we have seen as it is a complex instead of just one building. It is pretty much across the street from Coex Mall (again not our top 10 but we like it) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Suwon and surrounding area

Clarissa refers to Hwaseong Fortress as the Great Wall of Korea. We were impressed that she did the three mile plus hike. There are several places to rest as you walk. I wouldn’t bring a stroller as you need to go up several flights of stairs, but a carrier would be fine. It isn’t a dangerous hike at all. There is a palace inside the wall, but it is not better than Gyeongbokgung that is listed above. There are several monuments and bells. There is a place to learn archery at certain times of day. You can get snacks at a convenience store. It is very pretty during certain times of year. At certain places on the wall you can see most of Suwon.

I went to several different folk villages in Korea and the best one is the Korean Folk Village in Yongin. We have been twice. There are several different houses and shops set up so that you can see how peasants and rich people and governors have lived in Korea over the years. Several times per day there are shows with horses, acrobats, or folk dancers. I grew up going to Jamestown and this was the closest thing I experienced to this. There is also a great Folk Museum that has exhibits from many countries around the world to see how indigenous peoples live. A small amusement park is attached. There is admission for the folk village and museum, and you can also add on rides at the amusement park or different experiences like pottery making for an additional cost. There is plenty of Korean food available for purchase as well.

On our first trip to the Folk Village, we went to Everland the next day. Everland is an amusement park with the same caliber rides as a Busch Gardens. There are different countries represented as well as food. Clarissa was only 2.5 so she was too small for all of the rides except Thomas the Train. But the real reason that we went there was the zoo! Admission to Everland will cover the zoo and the rides. But the zoo alone is worth the admission. It is the best zoo in South Korea because of the size and quality of the exhibits. It is also the only zoo in Korea that has pandas. There is a safari ride that takes you over land and water to see animals close up. You can also pay extra for a pony or camel ride.

If Clarissa was making this list, she would add Anseong Farmland to the Suwon and surrounding area. However, this would not be easily accessible by public transportation so it would really only be worth going if you already live in Korea and are planning to be in the Pyeongtaek area (Camp Humphreys or Osan).

Busan

People head to Busan for the beach. The water in South Korea is pretty cold in my opinion, but Busan has some very pretty beaches. Our favorite is Haeundae Beach. It is a very nice beach, but also very crowded during tourist season (July and August). You can see some pretty parks nearby or a sand castle festival in May. I like the contrast of the water with the tall buildings. There is an aquarium right on the beach, but you can skip it unless you have really young kids who need something to do.

Another cool temple is check out is Haedong Yonggungsa. You can take a bus near Haeundae Beach or you can take a taxi. It is a beautiful temple, on the side of a mountain and right on the water. There are plenty of statues and shrines inside it to see. We happened to go the week of Buddha’s birthday so it had special lanterns.

If you’re going to be in Busan and are looking for a fun park to go to with your kids, I would recommend Busan Citizen’s Park. There are so many beautiful plants and different playgrounds. Your kids will love it! It’s not super easy to get to with public transportation, so again, this would be great if you have a car.

A quick trip for our favorite things in Daegu

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We’re about four months from DEROS (Date of Estimated Return from Overseas). No, we don’t know where we’re moving yet in the United States. But we know we’re leaving relatively soon so we decided to go back to some of our favorite places in Daegu this weekend.

Most military families are in South Korea for two years, though some may extend for three years. Since we are a two months shy of the four year mark, most of our Daegu friends don’t live there anymore so we mostly went for the food.

Saturday morning we drove down to Daegu. The traffic wasn’t bad until we got to Daegu, which is normal. Thankfully Daegu traffic is not as bad as Seoul traffic. When we arrived at Camp Walker, our first order of business was lunch at Awesome Burger, which is near gate 4. We were able to meet up with one of Tim’s friends for lunch. Tim got his usual hellgate burger. I got a regular burger with no bun. Clarissa just ate french fries. We were all very satisfied with our meal.

The next stop was the library. While we lived in Daegu, the Camp Walker Library was pretty much Clarissa and my favorite place. We were there at least once per week. They ordered a bunch of books from my wishlist so I know that I like the selection there. I was disappointed that none of our friends were there. It looks like they may have moved as well. But Clarissa and I still found several books to borrow (you can borrow books from any army library in Korea while stationed on peninsula).

At 3:00, we headed downtown to our hotel, Novotel. We stayed there when we were moving in and out of Daegu so we knew we liked the location. We did forget however, that the temperature is always awful. It was set to about 80 degrees but they did give us a fan for our room. But the view is always great.

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After settling in, we did some shopping. We hit up Daiso (like a Family Dollar), Mango Case (cellphone accessory store- the place to go if you need a screen protector or case for a phone or tablet. They apply it perfectly!), and S Dot (like a Michaels- located next to the Play Station Store). Then we headed to our favorite Korean Barbecue right as they opened at 5:00. If you wait until 6pm or later Kyung Sung Market is packed! (Kyung Sung Market is in Banwoldong a few doors down from Mir Dental)

The food was delicious as usual. Our usual Dunkin Donuts wasn’t there anymore. So we decided on Auntie Anne’s for dessert and walked backed to our hotel. There were some pretty Christmas lights and some people singing Christmas Carols in Hangul on our way.

We did something unusual for us, and just relaxed in the hotel room (we usually run around for hours until we come back to the hotel room and crash when on vacation). Sunday morning, we had McDonald’s for breakfast since it was across the street from the hotel. On our way back to the hotel, it started snowing. Clarissa enjoyed catching snow on her tongue. It was fun to watch the snow from 21 floors up, but you can’t see it as well in the pictures.

After checking out of the hotel we went to our favorite emart (like a Target) in Wolbae. It was a great emart when we left a year and a half ago. It has since been renovated and is even better. It includes a kid cafe and an electromart now so we were happy.

We headed back to Camp Walker for Tim’s favorite pizza. Italy and Italy is right outside gate 4. It was snowing really well by the time we got there. We like it because you can customize your pizza or pasta. The food was great, as always. Tim’s friend came back to see us for lunch.

The snow let up about the time we got out of Daegu. The traffic was only bad in Daegu as well. Since it was primarily a food vacation, we had to go to Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant when we got back into town. Sawatdee (in Osan’s ville) is our favorite.

That time we were the only people at Anseong Farmland

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The last time we went to Anseong Farmland was for a birthday party. It was a Saturday at the beginning of September so it was pretty crowded. We had a great time and Clarissa has been asking to go back for two months. Today I decided the air was clean enough and it was still warm enough to go. I am so glad I did.

We went arrived on a Wednesday afternoon about 3pm. The website said that they were open every day from 10-6 so I figured we would be okay. There were only four cars in the parking lot so I was a little concerned that the place was closed. We walked up to the ticket counter and purchased a farm horse ticket (12,000 won for children and 17,000 for adults gets you general admission to Anseong Farmland plus a horse riding experience).

We walked over to where the horses were and realized that it was time for people to get horseback riding lessons. Either that or there was a school there on a field trip. We were willing to wait. A man came out and said, “Uh. We’re full right now.” I asked if we should come back later and he said, “Um. No. Come with me.” He proceeded to take Clarissa and I to a different barn where the ponies are kept. He took out a pony on a leash, showed Clarissa what to do, and let her walk around with the pony. Meanwhile there were at least 10 other kids with a Korean teacher having a class.

 

He then took us back to the barn and told us to wait while someone warmed up a different horse for Clarissa to ride. So we watched as a tall horse and a smaller horse warmed up and trotted around the arena. Then it was our turn. Clarissa went first. The trainer walked Clarissa around the circle five times. During her ride, Clarissa learned that her horse was actually also a five year old girl. She was thrilled. I had my five laps around the circle too but there aren’t great pictures from my ride.

During my ride the trainer asked where we traveled from. I am pretty sure that they assumed we were on a trip from America and not Americans who live in Pyeongtaek. I don’t know if everyone else will get the same experience. But we had a wonderful visit!

Our next objective was to feed some animals. Last time we were there on a Saturday so there were people selling animal feed everywhere we went. On a Wednesday afternoon we were the only ones walking around and that was not the case. We got to pet bunnies, but there was no one selling carrots today.

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Thankfully there was actually an attendant selling food with the farm animals. Usually, you pay 1,000 won for a small basket of food. He gave us a heaping bowl for the pigs and then when we asked for food for the sheep, he gave us 3 baskets for the price of one and said, “service” (that means free). Clarissa had a great time feeding sheep, goats, pigs, deer, and cows.

Then we went up the hill to see the donkeys. The man came out of his shack and gave us four carrots for free when he saw us looking at the donkeys. We walked around a bit and then saw the horses. So we went back to the man and I was prepared to pay for more carrots. Last time, we paid 1,000 won for two carrots. This time I gave him 1,000 won and he gave us 8 carrots!

On the way out, I noticed there were two houses for birds. In the first house, we went in and birds kept landing on me. At one point I had one on my head, one on either shoulder, and two on my arm. None would go near Clarissa. There was a machine to buy bird food, but you needed to have 500 won coins. So we only bought one container of food.

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Then we went to the other house. There was an attendant there cleaning. Clarissa wanted to look at the birds more closely. He said, “Do you want to feed them?” and proceeded to pour birdfeed in Clarissa’s hand. When the birds didn’t come, he put some in his hand, whistled, and brought her closer. They came to him and then he moved his hand next to hers and they started eating from her hand.

Clarissa and I had a wonderful afternoon. We were at Anseong Farmland about two hours. I highly recommend going on a weekday. There wasn’t a tractor ride though so if you want that you probably need to go on the weekend. But we so enjoyed having the place to ourselves. Clarissa loved our first trip but kept saying this was so much better.

Our first apple picking experience

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I don’t think they have apple picking where I grew up. I know they do a few hours away but we never went. Obviously, if I haven’t been, Clarissa yet to go apple picking either. So we were excited when the homeschool group decided to go apple picking together.

We went to Yesan Apple Wine (in Waze), about an hour away from Camp Humphreys. Waze made it pretty easy most of the way. The last mile or so, you just follow the big red apple signs.

If you make reservations, you can do an apple making experience at 2:00pm. They had a really great system in place. Everyone signs in and pays for the number of personal pies you are making (7,000 won each). Then there is a classroom set up. The teacher comes in and demonstrates all of the steps. Find your name on a table and follow the steps. The teacher walks around during the process to remind you things like to put the egg wash on your pie.

While you wait for everyone in your group to finish, there are sliced apples to eat. They were delicious. Sweet and juicy. Then, we went downstairs to tour the winery (in English). The process to make the wine takes three years. The brandy takes longer. They make a few different apple wines, blueberry wine, and apple brandy. The adults got a taste test at the end.

Next, we went outside to pick apples (5 for 10,000 won). We were instructed to pick a basket. Then our tour guide showed us “a good apple.” The apple should be red with no yellow on it if it is fully ripe. Clarissa had a great time picking the apples off the trees. She picked a few for me too and wants to go back again.

By the time we finished picking apples, our pies were ready. So we sat down to eat them. They don’t offer utensils though so we ate one almost like a big cookie and then brought the other one home for Tim.

The whole process was about 90 minutes. Our entire group enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for families. In the parking area there are also chickens to see. There is a “gift shop” near the entrance as well if you want to buy additional apples, apple wine, or apple jam.

Korean Folk Village take 2

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We did a family trip to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin when Clarissa was two. There was a homeschool field trip there last week and Clarissa and I decided to go since she didn’t remember the first trip. There were actually several things that we did this trip that we didn’t get to do the first time so I was happy about that.

We decided to pay for the full admission which includes the Folk Village and the Amusement Park as well. Full admission is 27,000 won (about $25) for adults and 20,000 won ($18) for children. If you plan to skip the rides, adults pay 18,000 won for admission to the folk village itself. Children pay only 13,000. There is parking available for 2,000 won per car or you can take public transportation available. I saw several buses that said they came from Suwon station or Incheon Airport.

We started our beautiful fall day at the amusement park. Clarissa really liked the boat ride and the train ride. She was too afraid to go on anything else but the teenagers we were with loved all of the rides available.

If you look at the boat ride, to your right is a World Folk Village Museum. Clarissa and I kind of stumbled upon it while we were looking for a bathroom. It was honestly one of the highlights of our trip. There were nine different buildings with 2-3 different countries inside. Each country showed clothes, weapons, jewelry, or housing for an indigenous people of that particular country. The signs were in Korean and English. There were longer descriptions in Korean as well but we learned plenty without being able to read the longer writings.

Clarissa and I had some great discussions about all of these countries. She recognized some of the names like United States, Japan, China, Peru, and Australia. Some were new to her: Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Iran. There were maps on the wall so we could see where each country was on the map. I think we have a lot of books to read now so we can continue learning about these places and cultures.

We met back up with our friends for some gelato and then headed to the Equestrian Feats show. It was great! The performers basically did gymnastics on horses. It was only about twenty minutes and our attention was focused the entire time.

After the show, Clarissa and I wondered a bit and saw some different types of houses you would find in Korea at different points in history. There were government buildings, mansions, and farm houses. There were several additional experiences that you could pay for like making a clay pot or woodworking, but they close earlier in the day so you need to do those first. Clarissa really enjoyed walking through the jail and seeing the governor’s house, sitting in the governor’s chair, and pretending to be a prisoner on trial.

I was surprised that five year old Clarissa was interested in all of the buildings and houses. She actually walked the whole day without complaining. She kept saying, “What’s that? Let’s go over there…”

The Folk Village is open 8 hours each day. You can easily spend the entire day there and not see everything. I recommend it for children and adults.

When can we go back to Awesome Farmland?

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In September, Clarissa was invited to ride horses at a birthday party at Anseong Farmland. I had been planning to take Clarissa there anyway, so we were really excited to go.

General admission to Anseong Farmland costs 10,000 won (about $10 USD). If you want to ride horses, it is an additional 8,000 won ($8 USD). That price pays for one 3-5 minute ride around the ring. They have riding helmets available and a staff person leads the horse around the ring.

Clarissa was a little nervous at first since she is generally afraid of heights and things that go fast. But with each lap, she seemed to relax a bit more. She was disappointed when she only got one turn. I think if we go back, I will have to pay for more than one turn…

General admission gives you access to the petting zoo. You can pay additional money at each station if you want to feed animals so bring won. One thousand won (about $1 USD) will pay for two carrots to feed rabbits, horses, or donkeys. You can also buy hay for goats, sheep, cows, and alpacas. They had food for pigs as well but they were performing when we were feeding animals so I don’t know what they eat.

There were plenty of animals to see, even if you were not feeding them.

There are several different buildings at Anseong Farmland. Some are restaurants and others are experiences. You can make pizza in the dairy experience. I should note that is Korean pizza, so some of the topics may be different than what some Americans are used to. But you can just add what you like.

There is also a building to do art. One of the restaurant buildings also has a mini trick eye museum.

The kids all enjoyed climbing and taking pictures with some statues. There was a playground on the grounds as well. Clarissa also enjoyed the carnival area. Most rides cost 3,000 won ($3 USD). Sometimes there was a discount if you paid for multiple rides at once. Clarissa’s favorite ride was the bumper boats that we did together. She also enjoyed “diving the train.”

Certain times of year they also have tractor rides but it was still considered summer when we went so we didn’t get to try that. Clarissa keeps asking when we will go back to “Awesome Farmland.” She can’t say it correctly and doesn’t hear the difference between Anseong and Awesome. I think we will try again now that the weather is cooler.

I think Hongdae is my favorite

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We have planned to go to Hongdae a few times on a Saturday, but rain has canceled our plans. I was excited to go today, even though it was a Tuesday so I would miss the art market.

I think Hongdae is my new favorite place in Seoul. It feels different than most other sections of the city. Actually it doesn’t feel like you are in a big city at all. It feels more suburban with a bunch of cafes and artsy things.

Very close to the Hongik University Station exit 6 is a store called Object. It was really cute. Four floors (three for shopping) with coffee, books, stationary, and jewelry. I found several things that I liked there.

The next stop was Gundam Base. We all had fun looking at the different models and figures. Tim and Clarissa found one to work on together.

We found a very small, but still fun Xiaomi store. It wasn’t on our list for the day but we randomly passed it. We loved it in Hong Kong so we definitely had to check it out.

Then we saw a very large ArtBox. This is the best one we have visited so far. Clarissa and I found several art kits to work on together.

The next planned stop was Crow Piercing. I had my ears pierced twice growing up. One of my ears always got infected so I let them close up. I have been talking about getting my ears pierced again for at least a year so I did my research to see the best place to go. Crow Piercing was highly recommended so I chose to go there. I was not disappointed. I got to choose my earrings and he pierced my ears very quickly since part of the holes were still there anyway. It only cost 8,000 won (like $8 USD). I found a few other earrings for after my ears heal as well. It was very clean. My guy spoke great English. They are open from 1240 – 11 PM everyday.

Our last stop in Hongdae was Clarissa’s favorite. We went to Bunny Cafe. We all enjoyed feeding and petting the bunnies. It was a very clean place and the owner and bunnies were friendly for the most part. One bunny did bite Tim though.

We headed to I Park Mall for lunch. They have finally finished all of the renovations there. It looks great, but some of our favorite stores are gone. We could have skipped it.

The highlight was definitely the Studio Ghibli Store. We went to one yesterday at Lotte World Mall but this one was way cooler because it had the house from Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro‘s tree.

The Gundam Base was fine too but we had already been to the one in Hongdae. They were comparable so you only really need to go to one.

Because we still have not seen everything in Seoul…

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We spent Columbus Day weekend in Seoul. Though we have spent a lot of time in Seoul since we moved to Korea, we wanted to try a few things we had not tried before.

Our first stop was disappointing. We wanted to check out the Seoul Animation Museum. Apparently it is closed. I took a picture of the outside so that other people could find it before we realized that it wasn’t a museum anymore. Oops.

Our next stop redeemed the day. I had never heard of the Figure Museum before a friend mentioned it this week. It was very close to the Apgujeong subway station and easy to find with the statue in front. There were six floors of exhibits with each floor having its own theme. All three of us really enjoyed the museum.

Next we headed to Lotte World Mall for some dinner and shopping. Clarissa chose a kangaroo to paint. The staff member used a hair dryer to dry it so that we could take it home.

Since Clarissa was in an artsy mood, we decided to check out the Lotte Museum of Art  in Avenue L which is connected to the mall. It was an exhibit of Kenny Scharf. He was an animator for Hanna Barbara so we recognized some of his work. Some of it was pretty weird. But it was all very colorful.

Before leaving we decided to try Lotte World Tower. The views from the 118 – 122 floors were amazing. It was a very clear day so we could see very far.

It was 5pm by then so we headed to Itaweon for dinner. I had read about a gluten-free Cafe so we headed to Sunny Bread. They are only open Wednesday through Sunday so this was our only opportunity to go. There were a few things left in the pastry case so we bought one of each to go so we could try it all. Very tasty.

Finally we arrived at Manimal for dinner. It was very close to the pedestrian bridge from Noksapyeong, across from Buddha’s Belly. I have never been to an American style smokehouse. I expected it to smell smokier than it did. Tim and I ordered a platter to share. We chose three meats and three sides. All of it was delicious but way too much food. We could not finish it so next time we will get the platter with two meats instead.

Last beach day of the summer

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We were invited to a beach day with some friends at the end of the summer. Korea’s official beach season is pretty short. It actually starts on Tim’s birthday (July 13) and ends on Clarissa’s birthday (August 20). Some beaches are open a little later, until the end of August, so we decided to go to Eurwangni Beach in Incheon.

Eurwangni Beach is about an hour and a half drive from Camp Humphreys. Tolls cost about 11,000 won each way ($11 USD). The beach itself is pretty small. The waves are very calm and it is shallow for a good part of the beach so it is a great beach to bring small children. The sand area is clean. There is a public bathroom, shower area, and free parking right next to the beach. There is also a small playground and a path to explore the rocks along one side of the beach. There are plenty of convenience stores and restaurants for when you get hungry.