Well, I Live in Korea Now

I made it to Daegu, South Korea! After a ten-hour flight, a two-hour wait, and a three-hour train ride, Neil and I made it safely back to his apartment on Saturday, 9/6! *Cue the cheering crowds*

First things first. If Korean Air wanted to pay me to wax poetic about their awesome service, I would be all over that. But even though they haven’t offered (fools!), I’ll do it anyway. Y’all. This is by far the best airline I’ve ever flown. (It helped that the flight was mostly empty so I had my own row.) But from the moment I entered the plane, it was a lovely experience. Classical music played over the loud speakers while everyone boarded–and we all know that classical music levels up pretty much any experience.

Let’s talk meals. Meal #1: traditional Korean bibimbap; fruit; tea; and two glasses of complimentary wine. (The wine gave me hope that I’d be able to sleep, but no such luck.) Awesome first Korean meal!

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Meal #2: Chicken and rice; salad with tiny shrimp and Hawaiian pineapple dressing; fruit; roll; coffee. No wine. :( (Also, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to take off the foil before I took a photo.)

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Later they came through and handed out some snacks. The lights were completely turned off, though, so I couldn’t see what the choices were. She said one was a brownie, so I reached for that (duh). After the flight was over I looked at the package and saw that it was indeed “Real Brownie.” Good thing they didn’t stiff me and give me a fake one.

I managed to watch four movies on the flight–so obviously I got a lot of work done. Chef, The Other Woman, Maleficent, and Mom’s Night Out went by as everyone around me enjoyed about eight hours of shut-eye.  Neil has since informed me that, as a people, Koreans seem eerily adept at falling asleep anywhere at anytime. I envy them!

Finally I got my first glimpse of Asia! Don’t be too intimidated by the quality of my photos; I’m pretty professional.

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This was when things finally started feeling real. Up to this point, I’d just been taking another trip. But it really started to hit me that I was about to see Neil for the first time in a little over six months. Truth be told, all I could think of was that I needed them to turn the cabin lights back on so I could put on some makeup. A girl can’t have a reunion like that without at least a touch of mascara!

Immigration took about an hour and thankfully my bags were waiting for me beside baggage claim when I was done. It had taken Neil a week to get his bags whenever he flew in, so I was paranoid that the same thing was going to happen to me. Shoof!

Then, finally . . . it was time to see this guy! 

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Check out those cacti. Shout out to the Lone Star State!

Let the adventure begin!

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Six Ways Not to Suck at Long-Distance Relationships

As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in a long, long, long-distance relationship. Until mid-March 2015, Neil will be teaching English in South Korea. That means a 7,000-mile separation and a 14-hour time difference. Though it could be worse, we’re definitely talking about a less-than-ideal situation.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they could never do a LDR. I feel you. I thought that, too. (If we’re being honest, I sometimes still feel that way.) But I’m here to tell you that it can work! Neil and I are a little over five months in, and despite some rough patches—which are to be expected—we’re making it work. 

A long-distance relationship is like one giant, never-ending refining process. When nothing can be hidden in date nights and happy hours and make-out sessions, you’re bound to learn a lot of new things about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. But you have to be willing to learn and improve. Recognize your own areas of weakness and cultivate growth there. If there’s one thing long-distance is good for, it’s helping you realize if your relationship is worth the work or not.

To be clear, I don’t mean that loving each other is work—that’s the easy part. I’m talking about everything else. You have to work to talk to each other; you have to work to include your partner in your life; you have to work to stay connected. It’s okay if you find that you simply don’t want to work that hard (which probably means it’s time for the relationship to end). But, if you do, I have some tips to help make an LDR easier on both of you.

1. Get on the Same Page.

To start, you both need to understand why the transition to long-distance is necessary. Is it unavoidable or is it voluntary? If it’s voluntary, discuss why you or your significant other feels it needs to happen. Everyone knows that LDRs are challenging; that’s why it’s so important to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. For us, there are myriad personal reasons—from finances to personal growth to the pursuit of adventure. Keeping those motives in mind can make a world of difference in your perspective and perseverance.

2. Establish Your Expectations.

The time before someone leaves can be chaotic—especially if it’s an overseas move. But despite all that, prioritize sitting down and discussing each person’s expectations of the upcoming situation. Obviously things will be different than they have been; you’ll have to find a new normal. What do each of you envision that to be? What is most important to you? What are some areas in which you tend to struggle now? They will likely be amplified when you’re apart. How will you handle conflict when it inevitably comes? (If you’re not good at discussing your problems, now is the time to learn!)

3. Relax Your Expectations.

Chances are reality will be different than you expected. You both have to be willing to adjust. Before Neil left, we planned to talk for fifteen minutes every day. That worked for one week, but it turned out that it just wasn’t practical. I had to relax my expectations and learn to be more flexible. (It might have taken me a bit, but I think I’ve gotten the hang of it now!) Once I adjusted my expectations to fit what was realistic, I found myself more content with the whole situation.

Operating under unrealistic expectations sets up both of you for failure. Have grace and patience with your partner—assume the best of them. If you’re dealing with a major time difference, assume they want to talk to you as much as possible, but they also need sleep! It’s nothing personal; you’re just on different schedules.

Respect each other’s needs and you’ll find you’re both much happier (and healthier) individually and as a couple. Plus, everything that exceeds your base-level expectations will feel like such a treat!

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

I realize that I’m saying something unheard of here, so I’ll give you a minute to let it sink in. . . . Really, though. It’s been said so often it’s ridiculous. But that’s because it’s true—and it can’t be overstated.

You might have guessed that I’m a words person (you’re so smart!). This means that I need to talk. It’s how I feel and express love. But in an LDR, communication goes beyond that—it’s your survival. When you no longer have the option to sit and watch a movie, to kiss, to hold hands, even to look in each other’s eyes, all that’s really left are your words.

Each person has to be willing to talk even—perhaps especially—when they don’t feel like it. If you’re mad, you have to talk about it. If you’re sad, you have to talk about it. There’s no other way for your person to know that you’re upset—and there’s no other way to air out the issue.

But it’s not just the “boring” stuff. You’ve also got to flirt! You’re still in a relationship, after all. Don’t stop showing your love. Pursue each other! Have fun. Compliment each other. Leave emails or text messages for the other to wake up to. Mail letters and care packages. Send each other silly pictures; send each other pictures when you feel like you’re lookin’ good!

When Neil left, he decided he wasn’t going to cut his hair the whole year he’s away. He’s been great at sending me hair-update photos that generally feature some truly impressive curls (even though we’re approaching mullet territory right now). It’s silly, but it’s things like that that keep you connected in everyday life—and that can make all the difference.

5. Appreciate, Appreciate, Appreciate.

This goes hand-in-hand with number 4, but it’s important enough for its own bullet point. When your partner does go above and beyond to show their love, remember to tell them how much you appreciate it. No one wants to feel underappreciated. Figure out what makes your significant other feel valued and appreciated. Then do it. Simple as that.

6. Keep Living Your Life.

Don’t let your aloneness translate into loneliness. Sure, there will be times when it can’t be helped, but don’t let loneliness become your dominant feeling. If you’ve moved abroad, you more than likely have an adventurous streak. Take advantage of that! Get out there and see your new world. Strive to meet new people and make friends. It may be easier than you realize. You are surrounded by opportunities you may never have again. Even if you’re not the one living abroad, life can—and should—still be an adventure.

When we found out Neil was leaving, I made a list of things that I wanted to make myself do while he was gone—even simple things like going to a movie alone or trying out three new coffee shops. Do whatever motivates you to get out of the house.

This is the time for each of you to get to know yourselves as individuals. Don’t miss out on that because you’re afraid.

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Obviously, there is so much else that goes into making it through an LDR. But thus far, these six tips are what I’ve found most important. I’m sure that more will follow!

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A Reintroduction

You know what’s scary? Writing. It’s scary to think of putting yourself out there in print and no one reading or caring. It’s even scarier to think of putting yourself out there in print and someone reading or caring.

There’s something so terrifying about recording your thoughts and feelings, your hopes and your fears, your dreams and your nightmares in the written word. What is that? It’s as if once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. Permanently branded on the memory of the universe. I don’t know why I feel that way. It’s not as though I can’t erase my writing with a couple clicks of a mouse. . . .

Blogs are weird, guys. They’re just straight-up weird. There’s a built-in arrogance that comes with a blog. (Seriously—just take a look at how many times I’ve said “I.” I couldn’t even get through that sentence without it). It’s as if I’m waving my arms and yelling, “Here I am! I have something to say and I want you to hear it! I feel important enough to have created this space on the Internet just for my own thoughts!”

Because here’s the thing: What if I don’t have anything to say, in particular? If I’m not—and don’t think I want to be—a “blogger.” If I’m not the new Julia Child or the next Martha Stewart. If I’m not married and I’m not a supermom. If I’m not a fashionista and I’m not a photographer and I have no clue how to do my hair. If I don’t spend my weekends redoing my house because—oh, right—I don’t have one.

When I started this blog three years, two moves, and one heartbreak ago, I said that I wanted this place to be an endeavor of the heart and of the mind. I wanted it to be literary; I wanted it to be professional; I wanted it to be “cotton tee meets pearls.” I wanted it to have a clear purpose. And I wasn’t sure how personal I ever wanted to get. The main purpose of Pearls was to have it on my resume as evidence of my writing.

But where’s the fun in that?

So here is a brief (re)introduction:

  • My name is Auburn.
  • As of this moment, I’m 26 years old, which is older than I ever imagined myself being. (Really. I don’t even know what to do with myself.)
  • I live in Austin, Texas.
  • I’m still an editor, though now it’s mainly online articles and such rather than books. And can I just say that I feel a ton of pressure to be extra good at writing since my chosen profession is so closely related? Glad you let me get that out there.
  • I’m in a long-distance relationship with a wonderful, compassionate, fiery redhead of a man named Neil. And when I say long-distance, I mean long.distance. Neil will be teaching English in Daegu, South Korea, from March 1, 2014 to about March 15, 2015. Thankfully, he’s the best person in the world with whom to navigate a 7,000-mile separation and a 14-hour time difference. In a mere 44 days, I’ll join him for 3 months of love, laughter, and getting lost together in a new world—but who’s counting? I definitely don’t have an app counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until September 6 at 3:25 p.m. or anything like that.
  • I have been blessed with an amazing family and a fantastic group of friends—and I actually mean that! My parents have been married for almost 47 years—to each other! Talk about inspiring. I have an older sister who is one of the most talented and creative people in my life. And all my friends are truly the smartest and most beautiful people in the entire world. No one could convince me differently.
  • There is a very real possibility that I love chapstick and free things more than anyone else you know.

Well, I think that does it for key, first-date points. I still have no idea what I’ll write on here, but I know that, whatever it is, it’ll be life. And that’s worth writing about.

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The Perks of Being a Perks Fan

If any of you know me–really know me–you know that my all-time favorite book is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I love it so much for reasons so deeply ingrained in me that it’s almost impossible for me to explain it to people. I usually just wind up saying, “Here. Read it. Remember high school while you do.”

When Neil and I started dating, this was the first book of mine that I had him read–after I managed to partially recover from the shock that came with finding a boy to date who actually likes books. Having him read Perks  was definitely a (probably not-so-subtle) dating test, a “I cannot date if you if you don’t see the obvious beauty that is this book” kind of test. The result? He stayed up until 4:00 a.m. that night to finish it. And now we’ve been dating for almost a year.

I’m going to try not to wax poetic here. What I love most about Perks is easily Stephen Chbosky’s awareness of life and his way of communicating that to us. He takes emotions, situations, and struggles that we’re all familiar with and finds a way to name them, concisely and beautifully. Things you didn’t even know could be described. But he does it, and you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Given, the book is full of teen angst. It is high school, after all. But really now, who didn’t have their fair share of angsty years? And isn’t it good to be reminded of it all? If I could, I would quote the entire book to you, but that would be quite illegal, so I’ll stick to my favorite moments of soul-speak.

Perks is written as a series of letters from an anonymous boy to an unidentified recipient, and it has one of my favorite opening lines ever–one of those things that I love so much but can’t quite explain why.

“I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.”

(page 2)

It also has one of my favorite descriptions of those perfect moments of friendship and life where everything just . . . clicks quietly.

“But the amazing thing was that it wasn’t a bad sad at all. It was just something that made everyone look around at each other and know they were there. Sam and Patrick looked at me. And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that’s all you can ever ask from a friend.”

(page 66)

Then finally, what I feel may be the most perfect line ever, the most perfect description of the indescribable.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

(page 39)

I’m writing this post because tonight I get to go see the movie! It’s opening night and I am pumped! Not as pumped as I was to receive a SIGNED COPY OF THE BOOK, though. My friend Stephanie worked on the movie and when she found out how in love I am with the book, she offered to try to get me an autograph and she got it! Now I have my original copy (complete with underlines and highlights from my angsty years), my signed copy, and plans to get the movie edition to complete my little collection!

Both versions! (Also a bit of a shameless plug for the fantastic book When the Dust Settled, written by Tamara Littrell and edited by yours truly!)

My autographed copy! *Squeal* So kind of Stephen Chbosky!

Now I’m off to see the movie I hope does justice to my favorite book! And sit through all the credits until I see Stephanie’s name!

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Book Review: Making Toast, Roger Rosenblatt

Roger Rosenblatt’s Making Toast (HarperCollins, 2010) is a book I stumbled across on a table display in good ol’ Barnes and Noble. I had never heard of it before, but the title caught my eye and once I read the back cover copy, I decided to go for it. Marketing strategies at work, people!

Premise

When the author’s only daughter, Amy, unexpectedly dies at age thirty-four from a rare heart condition, everyone she leaves behind is hurtled into the fog that comes with figuring out how to lead a life you no longer understand. For Roger and his wife, Ginny, this means rediscovering how to traverse the world of small children, as they leave their home to move in with Harris, their son-in-law, and their three grandchildren, Jessie, Sammy, and James (“Bubbies”), ages seven, four, and one, respectively. Suddenly thrust back into the world of birthday parties, soccer games, and bedtime stories, Roger and Ginny learn to take each day in stride. Three generations come together as Roger, Ginny, Harris, and the children begin to reassemble their lives, reconstruct their family, and support each other as they navigate the course of their grief.

Review

The main issue I take with many memoirs is the sense of self-importance that can so often accompany this genre. It’s understandable, I suppose, given the nature of telling your own story. (That’s where a good editor comes in!) However, Making Toast does not for one second fall into that sticky tar pit. Instead, Rosenblatt paints a witty, honest portrait of grief, showing us that it is—perhaps surprisingly—rather other-centric.

Making Toast follows a relatively nonsequential (though loosely chronological) format; for anyone well-acquainted with grief, you know this is the only way to write a book like this. Your endeavor to keep up with the hops, skips, and jumps of Rosenblatt’s flashbacks, memories, and present-day activities earns you a day pass to the surface level of Rosenblatt’s grief experience. This entails most notably his unabated anger at a God who shows no benevolence and whose presence will not be found with their family. Unfortunately, the book never seems to penetrate any further than this, as Rosenblatt keeps up a wall around his deeper feelings, leaving you constantly wishing to see just a little bit more.

The most impactful aspect of this book was the reminder to me of what a beautiful thing it is to be known. Several sections of Making Toast focus simply on personality traits and quirks of the characters—Jessie’s favorite winter coat, Bubbies’s way of sitting with his hands locked behind his head, Harris’s stoicism, Sammy’s favorite Power Ranger, each child’s breakfast preferences as R0senblatt engages in “the one household duty [he has] mastered”: making toast. And Amy. Amy as a child, Amy as a teen, Amy in medical school, Amy the doctor, Amy the wife, Amy the mother.

It is in this subtle, quiet way that Rosenblatt reveals the depth of his emotion for his family. Through his awareness of each person, that close familiarity gained through the intimacy of family and tragedy, he pays tribute to each family member. Toward the end of the narrative, Rosenblatt gives voice to my own thoughts:

“Odd that I seem to know Amy more completely in death than I did when she was alive. I do not know her any better . . . but there was so much life that I was unaware of until now. The distance of death reveals Amy’s stature to me” (141-42).

A testament to the powerful force of a united family, Rosenblatt’s memoir reminds us all of the human capacity to live with grief without ceasing to love. However, there is no room for sentimentality in Making Toast. There are books to be read, children to be raised, and, of course, toast to be made.

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Cooking Craze

I stayed away from Pinterest as long as I could bear it; I really did. But I caved a few months back and since then I have been your typical pinning fanatic. It might be one of the main reasons I haven’t spent as much time blogging. It’s just so darn awesome! My favorite part of the site is its handiness as a digital reservoir for all the delicious recipes I stumble upon in my day-to-day life as a food junkie (I’m nowhere near fancy enough to qualify myself as a foodie). Just the other day I decided I had to create separate boards for my “sweets” and my “savories” because there were getting to be too many recipes to handle on one board.

I thought I’d offer up a few of my favorite treats that I’ve made thus far! I didn’t take photos of every dish I made; sometimes I was just too hungry for that!

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Time Warp

Pearls, how I have failed thee! It has been far, far too long since I’ve posted on my lovely blog, but I’m planning to change that (look, I’m doing it right now!). Life has been a blur lately–a kaleidoscope of emotions, events, victories, losses, and, well . . . life. Just like everyone else in the world, my life is crazy at times and obviously I’ve been a busy bee since Thanksgiving. Buzz, buzz.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but here are a few highlights of the past seven months: a mugging at gunpoint (I kid you not); an onslaught of work; falling out of love; getting to know myself and my God; falling in love; spending four hours trapped in a tent by a feral hog (again, I kid you not);  and learning, learning, learning (dare I say growing?!).

All this has left little time for recreational reading, but I’m hoping, praying, desperate for that to change soon. Until then, I leave you (and by “you,” I mean myself) with the reminder that through all the joys and hurts, hope is always within arm’s reach.

All around hope is springing up from this old ground. Out of chaos life is being found in You.”

–Gungor, “Beautiful Things”

{Check it out here.}

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