Sometimes, the b’ar eats you

Oh look at that, another post by me lamenting my abject failure to maintain any posting regularity and recommitting myself to posting more.

A few days after my last post here, the Eminent Spouse and Child arrived with the Eminent Feline. We had a whirlwind weekend of introductions and then they jetted back to Japan for the rest of the summer. I had high ambitions for the 10 weeks or so it was going to just be me and the pets. I was distracted with family, then with getting myself situated both in the house and at work and lost my focus on blogging here.

I was able to get off the base and into the city the first weekend to get my phone set up (we’ll return to this debacle later on) and took some pictures as part of the 100 Strangers project. I discovered 100 Strangers via my friend Tom Brouns, who incidentally has a phenomenal series of posts in his “found film” series about old film he bought that turned out to have been shot in South Korea soon after the war ended. I’ll put up these pictures as I can too.

But after that weekend, I took delivery of my stuff sent out of Nigeria and Japan, so spent a couple weekends unpacking and organizing that. Was nice to get my chair back! Then I was off to Japan after our National Day Celebration (I dressed up as Uncle Sam) for the weekend. I got back, got sick with an nasty office bug, and before I knew it, the family was returning and I’d barely explored the city. I did get out a couple times with friends for meals and whatnot but realized that you really can’t accomplish much during the week, so it’s essential to be effective and efficient on weekends.

A week before the girls were scheduled to arrive I was able to volunteer for a TDY assignment to the Solomon Islands, which was a terrific trip, both professionally as well as personally. It sucked that I missed their homecoming but as it turned out they got hit by typhoon and ended up delaying their their flight back by a couple days anyway. Right after they got back the rest of our stuff arrived from the US so we’ve been busting ass to get it all put away. The one possible complaint I could make about our house is that we don’t have much extra space, so we’re are aggressively reducing. It’s painful for me to admit defeat and get rid of many of the books I’ve long intended on reading, but its way past time to acknowledge the fact and stop dragging this stuff around.

So there’s lots to catch up on!

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The Korean Adventure begins

So the Eminent Canine and I arrived in Seoul yesterday and made it through customs with only a minor hiccup. The vet didn’t include the official rabies titer results page (FAVN for those in the know) which caused a fair degree of consternation at the quarantine counter but they eventually relented based on the vet’s report which was based on the FAVN report. My fantastic social sponsors had the house reasonably stocked with food and snacks and they brought me a sausage pepperoni pizza to boot.  Stayed up late enough that I think I’ll able to avoid jet lag (although dodged a bullet after waking up at 3:00 AM; thankfully fell back asleep until 6:00 AM). Nice secluded house with a yard big enough to throw a ball around, yay!

Went to get my iPhone activated today but the office was closed, apparently in observance of Memorial Day here in Korea. Will have to wait until Monday to get my personal number set up.  I’d also hoped to get my badges for access on and off the base but that will have to wait until Monday as well since the Embassy was closed for Memorial Day. The Eminent Canine and I enjoyed just chilling out today, exploring the house and then taking a nice long walk through the housing neighborhood this evening. Ended up having American fast food today because I didn’t have any Korean won when I was at the food court at the shopping mall (the pajeon looked delicious!) and then the base tour of the food court coincided with lunch time, so that was that. Can’t wait to start eating off base though!

Not a whole lot to report otherwise. The Eminent family arrives next week with the Eminent Feline and then our stuff will be dribbling in from Africa, airfreight, and the rest over the next few weeks.  Hopefully I can keep any readers updated regularly, hopefully 2-3 times a week.

Cherry Blossom – Washington DC 2014

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The Eminent Child took this photo.

Drafthouse Cinema

We happened to stumble across a draft house cinema a few weeks ago while looking for a restaurant with friends and it turns out they’d been there. “It’s a good time,” they said, so we went, and I think I’m in love.

It’s a full restaurant with table side service inside a movie theater. They’ve got deep soft chairs with tables and counters and play recent as well as classic movies. We saw Catching Fire a couple weeks ago and tonight we’re going to watch Gravity. It looks like they also have classic movies from time to time as well as stand up comedy and whatnot.  My favorite part was that precisely at 7:00, the lights dimmed and the movie started.  No opening trailers, no announcements, just a movie! In spite of the service and people eating it was quiet and immersive.  Great concept, well executed.

I’ve since modified my retirement plan to a full on brewery-taproom-bar-cinema-live music club concept.

Happy, uh, New Year?

I blink and we’re two weeks into 2014 already!

The year has started out strong. The Eminent Spouse has settled in to teaching and I may have had a breakthrough with Korean. I’ve really struggled with language production even though I have very little issues with the conceptual side of the language. I think it is due to the similarities between Japanese and Korean and it’s proving extremely difficult to overcome my natural inclination to create high-level sentences.

Because the grammar is so similar, my brain wants to use Korean in the same way I use Japanese. In the long run this is going to be a big boon, I believe, but for the first few months its been excruciating. I just don’t (or didn’t) have the grammar currency in Korean to cash the checks my brain was writing. It’s getting easier as I’ve learned more of the essential grammar and now its a matter of learning sufficient vocabulary and getting the grammar tools down in rote memory so they can just pop out instead of being explicitly processed every time.  Last week I had a few class sessions where I felt that I was understanding the teacher’s side of things and producing my half of the conversation without too much delay or relying on help from the teacher. It was fun and hopefully portends well for my performance from here on out.

Other than school, the Eminent Child has been assigned as a Printer for their colonial life social science module. We had to go pick up some rubber stamps at the craft shop for her project demonstrating the work of colonial era newspaper printers.  Fun stuff.

Not much else of note, I suppose.  We did start watching Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix. Good stuff, but I had a parenting self-check when I realized that Netflix censors MitM from under-12 Kids’ accounts. I don’t know if our family enjoyment of the show makes me a good or bad parent.

Merry Christmas!!

Our first family Christmas in the U.S. (of course we’ve visited for the holidays before) was a terrific success.  We had a fantastic relaxed day, enjoying the games and food we got for presents. We chatted with family online and just had a nice day. I got some Calvin & Hobbes books, a couple great cooking books, and a new LEGO Mindstorms set. I’ve been wanting one of those for YEARS, ever since the first one was released. We made a remote controlled contraption with spinning blades that the Eminent Child delighted in chasing the Eminent Companions around the house with.  Good laughs!

Happy Christmas Eve!

We just spent a fabulous evening with some friends of ours, enjoying delicious temaki-zushi, excellent whisky, and exotic teramisu all evening.  Since we punched into Dec 24th and we’re spending the evening tomorrow with friends, we decided to exploit a loophole in the Christmas Eve gift opening option. The Eminent Child got the tie-die T-shirt set she’s been wanting, the Eminent Spouse got a food chopper (not quite the food processor she wanted but not a bad second gift after a new mixer), and I got a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon. Clearly, I’m winning.

Because we’re having dinner with some friends tomorrow our traditional waffles and sausage dinner will be postponed till Dec 25th proper, but it makes a fitting final meal for us as they depart to Japan and I to the home grounds the day thereafter.

A visit to the National Christmas Tree 12.13.2013

Friday night the Eminent Team picked me up after studies and we headed downtown to check out the National Tree.  We hadn’t been downtown during normal hours and had a fun time experiencing the joys of DC traffic at night. We muddled around looking for parking and lucked out to find a pay-to-park spot right near the White House and wandered over to the south lawn to check it out. I don’t think it’s an actual tree anymore, more of a teepee of lights, but it was pretty. It had large scale model trains running all over and over 50 smaller trees representing each state and territory (and commonwealth. Apparently Kentucky is a commonwealth, not a state??) around the periphery.  There was a small stage and bleachers set up that had musical performances by visiting choirs and bands. We listened to a great set of arranged Christmas Carols sung by an out of state high school choir.

I tried to take some pictures but its quite difficult to get good images of the low light environment with a bright shining tree (and it was the spot lights on the periphery that really made it hard.  I’ve included a few but wasn’t really satisfied with any of them.  Ideally I’d use a tripod and take a few different shots, then blend them for the best result.  No tripod at the moment though.

There was also a Santa’s workshop that thankfully wasn’t crowded. We got pic of the Eminent Child (and an almost decent pic of the cute elves!). We found the Idaho tree too!

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Hard working kid 12.12.2013

The Eminent Child missed ballet yesterday as the Eminent Spouse was under the weather. It wasn’t such a bad thing, though, as it gave her a chance to work on her plant project that all three of us had conveniently completely forgotten about over the snow days in spite of buying all the materials at the craft shop on Sunday.  She made a magnificent poster of a flower with all the parts labeled and a neat 3D element that you can pull off of the poster and examine in your hand.  It’s really well done and as far as I know, she did most of it herself. I helped her brainstorm but was careful to let her have executive decision making. I snapped one pic tonight but the glitter glue (yeah!) was still drying so we have to wait until tomorrow morning for the final shots.

Tomorrow the Eminent Spouse hopes to learn that her background check has finished and she’s cleared to start teaching next week.

And oh yeah, we’ve been married 15 years now. Huzzah!

Put your money where your mouth is

Yesterday was a decent Korean day and I’m getting better at putting the sentences I want together. The whole struggle has been about finding a way to cognitively distinguish Korean and Japanese in production.  They are so similar it has always felt like I could do more in Korean than I really could, which tripped me up and slowed me down. I’m not having any trouble with the new grammar on a comprehension level, so it’s just a matter of learning the vocab and getting use to producing it accurately.

Last evening I went to a financial planning seminar offered by the department.  I’ve always been maxing out my TSP contributions and have done some reading on different investment strategies but I wanted to get some feedback on whether or not the approaches I’ve settled on are reasonable. I’ve kind of hedged on all of my strategies: I put half of the money in managed L funds and then manually arranged the other half across an array of funds ranging from the conservative government bond G fund to the risky small business fund. I put most of it in the C fund which is basically an S&P 500 index fund. My understanding of the preferability of no-load mutual funds and index funds was confirmed, which was reassuring.

We’ve got a “Roth IRA” option in our TSP now too that I’m not entirely clear on. It appears that we’ve just got two options for investing in our TSP (which is our acronym for 401(k)): pre-tax standard deposits that are taxed on withdrawal and these new “Roth” deposits that are deposited after taxes but then tax free on withdrawal.  The advice that I got when the program was announced was essentially to bet on future taxes. If you think future taxes will be higher, pay them now and then get your money tax free later on. But it was also pointed out that $10 invested after paying taxes is the equivalent of $13 invested before taxes which provides greater principle for the magic of compound interest to work on over the life of the investment. This means that even if you’re paying higher taxes on it later on, you’ll have so much more money that you’ll come out ahead.

Considering that no one knows what’s going to happen to our tax rates in 26 years (I hope I can last that long!), I just split the difference and maxed out my contributions with half from standard deposits and half from Roth.  I know that retrospect will permit me to say I should have done one or the other but at least I don’t have all my eggs in one basket.

The big thing we messed up on was not establishing a 529 educational fund for the Eminent Child early on. If we’d started it when we got married (15 years ago today!), we’d be sitting pretty. Instead, we’re way behind the 8-ball and there’s no way we’re going to be able to pay for her education unless we basically save our entire income from here until she graduates high school (which is a long-winded way of saying there’s no way we’re going to be able to pay for her education). Some friends of mine were talking about trying to convince their parents to give gifts as 529 contributions and how that just doesn’t have the same effect as giving actual presents and gifts.  Something to think about when if I become a grandparent.

It was overall a good session. I had to leave before the discussion on insurance but I did get the presentation powerpoint and will look through it. Right now I’m paying for the best options and think I’ll stick with that. With my family history of heart disease and the state of my health (I’m fine, but plenty of warning lights in weight, blood pressure, triglicerides, pre-diabetic, pre-metabolic syndrome, cholesterol, etc), there’s reasonable odds we’ll need good health and even life insurance. Maybe I’ll be able to pay for the EC’s education in the end after all!