Thursday, December 7, 2017

Favorite Holiday Films

When the holiday season rolls around every year, I love to watch my favorite holiday films. It's a nice piece of the overall tradition and helps to get me into the spirit of the season even if I'm not feeling very festive. A lot of holiday films are incredibly cheesy. I have watched my fair share of Lifetime Christmas movies and rom-coms, groaning all the way (or just secretly enjoying every dramatic moment). They are sometimes decent and fun, but I would love if there could be more thought put into holiday films. That isn't to say that I definitely won't watch any of the worst ones this year, but I would like to find some good new holiday films to add to my list. I don't usually watch many classics or comedies, but I would like to. What do you watch? Do you have any suggestions?

Every year my family would watch Disney's A Very Merry Christmas sing-along video. It is my absolute favorite. I love the songs, the animation, and the overall good feelings I get from such a memorable film from my childhood. They remade it in the 2000s, but it wasn't quite the same and didn't have all of my favorite songs. I found this out only after I bought a copy for everyone in my family. Thankfully, YouTube has a good version, but I am still hoping to find it on DVD or download someday. We watched that VHS until it started wearing out. We also had several other Christmas movies on VHS, including the claymation classics, which I haven't seen since I was young. One of them represented Santa living in kind of a big spaceship with a gigantic eye telescope that looked down on the world. It might have been the same film where they were in a big circular room and presents were doorways to Earth and possibly other lands. If anyone knows what this film was called, please let me know!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Colorado 2016: Mt Evans

The mountains of Colorado are a magical place. Growing up at the foot of a mountain in the Columbia River Gorge, I thought I knew mountains, and I thought I knew magical. When we took the scenic drive to the peak of Mt. Evans last year, I discovered new mountains that I had never taken the time to imagine. They were vast and majestic, and I wanted to walk across them. The tundra extended outward toward row after row of navy blue mountains sleeping under a downpour of rain that looked like a gentle mist from the distance. There were flowers, mosses, and lichens calling me to abandon city life and live out my days in a fairy tale world with the mountain goats and prairie dogs.

We stopped by a couple of lakes on our way up. We weren't sure where to go to find a place to walk for a bit that wasn't an extreme hiking trail, so we just wandered around the lake and enjoyed the views. I can't remember what the lakes were called, but I think we'll be going back next year and I'll take note of names and places. I've gotten to know this area of Colorado a bit better and how to find out where to go. For some reason, we didn't think to just look up hiking trails of various levels. It seems so obvious looking back, but we were overwhelmed and used to knowing where to go and where to start looking.

The day was mainly spent staring out at the mountains that seemed to never end. For the next time we go, I would find an easy hiking trail going out into the wilderness on the way to the peak, pack a fancy picnic lunch, and write down the names of how we get there and places we stop. And I would be sure to bring warm clothing even if it's the middle of summer. On our way down the mountain, it started storming. It's a scary drive even when the sun is shining. It was terrifying in the rain, but I have to mention that I am a little uncomfortable with heights.

Further down the mountain on our drive home, it started hailing. To make things worse, our heater didn't work. We were scared that it was the car in general and that we were going to break down. Luckily, that didn't happen, but Colorado's weather can change quickly and it's best to be prepared. If you're exploring Colorado, it would be wise to wear proper hiking clothes that will keep you warm, or at least bring some for when the weather changes. I don't actually own proper hiking clothes, but after experiencing the night cold at a higher altitude this summer, I am planning on stocking up.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

This Year, The Past Two Years

Two years ago, I was just starting to think about moving back home after living in South Korea for 7 years over the course of nearly a decade. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Korea was my home, and moving back to the United States felt complicated. I called it "the States" and "the US" and "America", but I didn't call it home. After living abroad for so long, "home" was foreign to me. Living there would feel like being an expat all over again. I did want to move back, but I was worried about how everything would work out. I was worried about finding a job and an affordable apartment, and paying my student loan payments. I was worried that I would always work two or three low-paying jobs and that I wouldn't be happy because I would be so tired and just struggling to get by.

Things worked out better than I could have imagined in Colorado. All of the doubts that I had in Seoul are gone. I have a good job and a good apartment. I was in the right place at the right time, and I worked hard. I found the right place, at the right time. I arrived in Denver with only a suitcase, and I have managed to build a life for myself here with my partner and our dog. I dreamt of living in an apartment that was bigger than 175 sq ft. I dreamt of living somewhere I was unable to touch every room and all of my furniture while standing in the middle of the room. I dreamt of American streets and houses and neighborhoods, like the ones I'd seen in the movies throughout my years in Seoul. Now we know these neighborhoods. We have favorite places that we always go back to. We have friends down the street, and our neighbors know our dog. There's a gothic cathedral across the street with stained glass windows and a park with benches. There's a grungy little pizza place around the corner that stays open until 3 am. There are parks, restaurants, art galleries, and mountains. This is where we exist. I work, and I live, and I call Denver home.

Last year we didn't have Kiki, and I didn't have a full-time job. This year, after adopting Kiki at the beginning of January, we have had endless moments of joy having this little creature in our lives. We've gone outside more often, taking Kiki to the park to run around and play fetch, or to just enjoy being outside together. She lights up the dog park when she takes off running at full speed, gathering a group of followers at least twice her size. When she starts sprinting, the other dog owners watch and laugh mirthfully. She turns on a dime and none of the other dogs can catch her. We sometimes have to bring her into the small dog area or she gets herself into situations with bigger dogs that she isn't exactly comfortable with.

This year has been good, but it has also felt a bit like tumbling down a hill. We adopted a dog, I got a better job, we found a bigger apartment, there was a fire at our previous apartment 10 days before we were supposed to move, we lived at an Airbnb for a week, we had a chaotic move, and here we are. We're just now starting to settle into our new apartment like it's home, almost five months later. We just recently bought some throw pillows for our couch and some frames for our walls. I ordered a painting from Faye Moorehouse, which is now on the wall above our couch. I am planning on ordering more art from at least one other artist I found on Instagram. We'll be setting up our Christmas tree soon and trying to keep our plants alive through the winter. If they survive, we will try giving them new soil in the spring and maybe even try our hand at a small indoor herb garden.

I keep saying, again and again, that I am finally starting to feel more at home here. It's true every time I say it. I don't know how long it will take, or if I'll ever feel truly at home in the US again--or in any other country for that matter. Maybe that's a side effect of being an expat for so long, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad one. It could be tempting to move to a new place and remain apathetic or actively pessimistic about your life in that place. There have been times where I've almost fallen into this emotional trap, but I've focused on the life I want and I've worked to make it happen. I like that I can make a home and build a community wherever I go. It's hard at first, but it becomes easier. Before you know it, you're satisfied with your work and you're surrounded with fun people who make a strange place real.

Lately I've been helping to plan my parents' wedding with my parents and my younger sister who all live in Washington. My parents have been together for 40 years and are just now getting married. We're having the ceremony at an Airbnb on the Oregon coast. We're staying a short walk from the ocean, and I can't wait to see it again two Saturdays from now. We're only there for three days, so it's a very short visit, but it'll be nice to visit the west coast and spend some time with family. Later in December, we're flying to Chicago to visit Brian's family for Christmas. We're bringing Kiki with us this time, and I'm very nervous about how things will go on the flight, let alone leaving her in a new place when we go out and see some sights without her.

The year will wrap up with a Christmas Eve performance of the Nutcracker and daily life as we wait for the New Year. I have been wanting to see the Nutcracker again for ages. I'm so glad that I finally just bought the tickets. Last year, I waited too long to decide if I wanted to spend the money and the tickets were all gone. I'm looking forward to a quiet Christmas at our apartment, and possibly a New Year's Eve celebration wherever we can find one nearby. For next year, I'm looking forward to being more focused and goal-oriented, as I have some plans regarding work training and studying for a big test that will lead to a certificate. This year, I didn't meet all of my goals, but I did get the new job that I wanted and had my art in a show for the first time in the US, so I would say that I have worked hard and things have gone well overall.

The holiday season has started off with friendship and celebrations. We went to two Thanksgiving parties and one non-holiday dinner party in the past few weeks. We had people over to our apartment last night for a very late apartment-warming party. After all of the holiday parties, I will be focused on preparing for our trips in December and trying to find some time to start my online classes for work. The last days of this year are going to fly by, but hopefully we will be able to stop and appreciate our time with family and the remainder of the holidays. I foresee cozy nights watching Christmas films such as Elf and drinking hot chocolate, playing in the snow with Kiki, many special moments while officiating my parents' wedding, seeing new sights in Chicago while also spending quality time with Brian's family, enjoying our first Christmas with a dog (yes, we're getting her a stocking), and savoring the feeling of being at peace in our lives as we bring in the New Year feeling settled and happy.

I've included some music in this post that I've been enjoying lately. What are you listening to?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Best Ramen in Denver: Sushi Tazu

Two summers ago on a sunny day, I took the subway a few stops over with Brian to find a location for his outdoor watercolor painting class in Seoul. We departed the train at a subway station that was connected to a department store. In search of food, we made our way to the basement food court where people doing their shopping were bustling around as they sought out lunch or snacks to sustain them while they browsed. There were a lot of different types of food to choose from, but we settled on a little Japanese restaurant where we sat at the counter and slurped down a very satisfying bowl of ramen.

Ever since then, that ramen restaurant in the department store basement in Seoul has been our benchmark for good ramen. I'm sure that I did have better ramen while I was in Korea, but that summer day on our way to the park stands out in my mind for one reason or another. Soon after moving to Denver, we realized that there wasn't much variety of restaurants here. There are more than enough sports bars, breweries, and hamburger joints. There are plenty of breakfast spots and pubs. But what we were looking for was good ramen, and after a year of living in Denver, we still hadn't found anything that came close to what we had in Seoul.

It's not really fair to compare the Asian food in an old west American city to Asian food in Asia, but we found the choices in Denver lacking, and we were determined to try them all until we found what we wanted. After visiting a few stores in the shopping center in Cherry Creek, we passed by Sushi Tazu as we left the neighborhood. The exterior caught my eye. It looked like a more relaxed and cozy place in a neighborhood with a shiny new shopping mall and fancy chain restaurants. I stored away the location in the back of my mind and waited for the next time we were in the area.

We were in Cherry Creek again running errands or coming back from somewhere else when we got hungry and needed to find a restaurant. I remembered Sushi Tazu and suggested that we go there. I had in mind that I might have a pork cutlet or some sushi, but as we walked up I saw the sign for ramen and tried not to get my hopes up. We both ordered the pork belly ramen. It was everything we had been hoping for. It definitely lived up to our expectations. We had finally found the best ramen in Denver. Maybe we'll find an even better ramen someday, but for now, Sushi Tazu is where we go when we crave that belly-warming bowl of savory goodness.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sweet Action Ice Cream

The sun shines often and brightly in Denver. Stepping into the light sometimes feels like stepping into a microwave. On a hot summer day, it can feel much, much cooler in the shade. But the sun is oh so beautiful, and the skies are oh so blue. Walking around outside in Denver in the summer leaves me feeling happy and alive. Everyone is out walking their dog, going to the park, having lunch on a patio, or enjoying an ice cream with friends or family.

In my last post, I mentioned that there are an abundance of cafes, restaurants, and shops in South Broadway. This is one of the first neighborhoods we visited. I didn't see its charm right away, but I still had on my nothing-will-ever-beat-Seoul goggles. Now that I have been away for longer, it's easier to separate myself from that bustling city of neon lights and towering high rise apartment buildings. I still miss it dearly, of course, but now I am free to appreciate Denver without having to compare the two (although I still do, sometimes).

Sweet Action Ice Cream is just one of the many little stops to make along Broadway between 1st and Alameda. The front of the shop opens most of the way, which provides a nice place to sit and stare at the dreamy summer scenes and the people walking by when the weather is hot. And honestly that could be in the middle of February just as much as it could be in August. Well, maybe not just as much, but we definitely had a couple of hot days in winter last year.

They have many wonderful flavors such as salted butterscotch, vegan chai, nerds, brown bread molasses, sweet potato casserole, and PUMPKIN PIE. I have to admit that I haven't thought about getting pumpkin pie ice cream from a local ice cream shop until just now, but I am so glad that I decided to write this post today so that I could see they have that on the menu. We're going out to run some errands today, and you can bet your britches that we'll be stopping for a pint of pumpkin pie ice cream on our way home.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Art Students League of Denver

There are an abundance of art events every week in Denver. That's probably true of most big cities, but I do appreciate the enthusiasm of the art community here. Whether you want to walk around a quiet gallery with a glass of chardonnay and a muffin liner full of nuts, visit a historic building where art is being shown and classes are still being held, or hit up a few breweries while popping into a gallery here and there, Denver has a lot going on.

A few weeks ago, Brian met me after work and we walked to the Art Students League of Denver where they were showing work by established and up-and-coming Colorado artists. The Art Students League holds classes for anyone interested in learning. There are opportunities to get involved for established artists or for those who would like to learn, but have no experience at all. There are also volunteer opportunities for anyone who appreciates art and just wants to be a part of it all. Brian volunteered last year for a silent auction fundraiser.

We walked around looking at the art and making the old floorboards squeak. There were a few paintings that I enjoyed, but my favorite piece was the diorama of a 50's housewife multiplied and doing all of the chores at once while her husband sits at the table with his coffee and newspaper. First of all, I love miniatures. Did you know that Denver has a museum dedicated entirely to miniatures? How have I not been yet? Believe me, it's next on my list.

Maybe I'm getting it completely wrong, but the diorama seemed to be drawing attention to the work that women do for their household in a traditional heterosexual marriage. It's a worthy topic of discussion. We haven't left that world behind entirely, yet. There was a button that you could push and it would play a clip on the black space at the back of the room from what I am assuming is a1950's TV show or film.

It would be interesting to find out who the artist is and what they meant their work to portray. Is the viewer's interpretation less important than the artists? Should we always have pamphlets to read to give background on artwork? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do enjoy thinking about how a piece of art might have a different meaning to the one that I assign it. In the end, all art is seen differently from our endless perspectives.

I was a little tired the night that we went to the Art Students League. I didn't note the names of artists and I barely glanced at the pamphlet. There was less to see than I was expecting, but it was still a nice way to spend a Friday night. When we were done exploring the different rooms of this historic building, we walked over to Broadway for dinner. We went to a restaurant called The Hornet in the South Broadway area. The food was good and the restaurant had a nice atmosphere, even though they had big TVs playing sports on the walls. I'm not a huge fan of sports bars.

There's a stretch of Broadway that is home to many shops, coffee shops, and restaurants from about 1st Ave to Alameda. The coffee shops I've enjoyed in the past are Mutiny Information Cafe and Metropolis. Our favorite restaurant in that area is Sputnik, which is next to a dive bar/music venue called Hi-Dive. We've only been to Hi-Dive once, but I'd definitely go again. There's a cute little plant shop that also sells tea and a craft store that is way too expensive for my budget. I'd like to try bowling at Punch Bowl Social and seeing an indie movie or foreign film at the Mayan Theatre. We haven't been back to South Broadway much lately, but thinking of all of the options has me wanting to go again soon.

Read about my art show at City, O' City here.

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