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New Years 2013 Update

Happy New Years everyone from a very cold Seoul (link).  In the 15 years I’ve been in Korea, today was the coldest day I’ve seen.  The newspapers reports that it’s the coldest day since 1986. Not surprisingly, the pipe to our hot water heater is frozen. We have water, but just no hot water. Anna says she has coupons to the local sauna, so I guess I know where I’ll be having my shower later. I just couldn’t step under the flow of frigid water this morning. I didn’t have heart or the body heat to do it.

I been too busy to write.  There was grading, practicum and the general bustle and paperwork that comes with finishing up semester as well as a couple of holidays, the associated parties and gatherings. But I’ve decided to make some time for writing today.

I guess the big news that everyone will be wanting to hear is how Anna’s meeting with her lead doctor went last Monday (Dec 31st). Anna met with Dr. Lee and he has scheduled her surgery for January 10th. Anna will enter the hospital on the 9th for prep, because she’ll be having surgery in the morning and they want to control what she eats and  drinks.   Anna learned that her last batch of chemo was cut short because her blood toxicity was too high. The chemo regiment she was on can do serious damage to your heart, liver and kidneys if the toxicity level in the blood gets too high.

Dr. Lee praised Anna on her ability to tough it out. The basic concept behind is: Chemo therapy is really toxic, so hopefully we can kill the cancer before we kill the patient.  Dr. Lee pushed it to the limit literally with Anna.  The main tumor which was almost 5 cm has been reduce to less than 1.7 cm. Dr Lee was quite please with the amount of reduction. The metastasized nodules in her lymph nodes are also significantly reduced, but there was still one nodule that had a significant amount of mass and seemed to be very active. Dr Lee will therefore be targeting the main tumor and the surrounding tissue and the area troublesome area of the lymph system that didn’t respond well to the initial treatment.

Following surgery Anna will get more chemo as well as radiological and hormonal  treatments. Dr Lee didn’t elaborate on the extent or the time frame for these treatments. He is very much a one-step-at-a-time kind of guy.

In other news. Andy (승현) is of with his fellow graduates to celebrate the New Year and to celebrate their completion of elementary school. He joined his mates at Daejeon O-World. They had been talking about going to a ski resort, but the sub-zero temperatures seemed to have altered these plans. O-World is an indoor amusement park.

BoA has decided to try her hand at guitar, so she is taking some guitar lessons this winter break. Anna also found her a math tutor so she’ll be getting some math lessons, too. BoA, as you can imagine, is especailly excited about the latter.  I’m planning on taking her to “What The Book” in Itaewon to help her select some winter reading material. I need to work on her English. It certainly hasn’t improved in the last year and it may even be a little rusty due to lack of use.

Noah is on break from both his daycare and Taekwondo lessons. He has decided that WAR is his favorite card game. We played WAR for about one and a half to two hours yesterday. Don’t tell Noah this, but it is a mind-numbingly boring game. I kept trying to rig my cards so that I could lose faster, but even cheating didn’t seem to help. There always seemed to be one more card and then no matter what I would do, I would inevitably go on a run and pick up another 12 cards…I’m gonna have nightmares about this. I think I’d rather push a rock up a hill in Hades like Sisyphus than play two hours of WAR.

I’ve still got practicum to finish up before I am officially on break. I have a session tonight (Friday from 6:30 to 10:00) and my final batch of practice teaching observations tomorrow (Saturday). Then I am free except for the two orientation session I have to run for incoming students in January and February. Of course, free is a relative term. I am free of teaching and the the day-to-day business of maintaining those classes, but I still have a couple of “projects” to finish up. In terms of getting a promotion and pay raise, the project that will keep me most busy is the completion of the article I plan to submit to an SSCI journal. I also need to tinker with my course packets. Some feedback from students said that the course packet seemed out-of-date. Sadly I am not sure what they mean by out-of-date. I’m thinking that instead of finding new content, (much of which are core concepts that have remained fairly constant over the last 30 years), I will try a new layout and font and see if this solves the problem. I even plan to use some former students as a focus group. “Which of these looks more up-to-date, exhibit A or exhibit B?”   Anyone who knows Korea, knows that packaging is important.

 

 

 

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Updating the update

Thursday, 6 December, 2012

Since my last post updating Anna’s progress, there have been some significant and positive changes.

First, Anna’s doctor has made a change in her schedule. He examined her on Saturday after Anna had finished her scheduled chemo treatment. This was suppose to be the last chemo treatment before Anna had surgery, but Anna said that during the examination her doctor became excited (sic!).  These are Anna’s words. Personally I can’t imagine her very staid, and even-keeled doctor getting excited, but anyhow… During the examination of her left breast and lymph nodes, he noticed a significant reduction in the size of the cancerous masses.

Anna said he was excited because this change had occurred in the course of the last two week cycle. Up until this examination, Anna had only described his opinion of her progress as being cautiously optimistic.  As we have both read on the internet, chemo doesn’t work for everyone the same way, so there is a bit of craftsmanship to the science involved in the administration of the chemo regimens that doctors prescribe to their patients. But now that Anna’s body seems to be responding very well to the current regiment, the doctor thinks it would be best to extend the current cycle for three more sessions to see if there is further reduction in the masses and more importantly annihilation of any metastasized cells in her body. This will push Anna’s surgery into February rather than the end of December.

Anna also had a chance to talk with her radiologist. It seems that Anna and the radiologist share a connection; that is,  Anna’s mother and the radiologist’s mother were school friends back when they were growing up in Incheon. These kinds of connections are very important in Korean society, and consequently the radiologist took a more detailed and careful look at Anna’s case and gave Anna a call on Tuesday. The radiologist described Anna’s breast cancer as resembling a bunch of grapes, with the largest number of masses in the breast itself and fewer clusters spreading through the lymph nodes from the breast to just under the  left underarm. Neither Anna nor I were aware that her cancer was grape-like, I think both of us envisioned it as one large tumor in the breast and smaller secondary tumor near the underarm.

In other news, the end of the school year is quickly approaching and that means Anna is busy filling out application forms for next semester. These applications are for  Noah so he can enter the lotteries that many of the best  kindergartens in our area use to select incoming students.  Since we have three children and are labeled a “multicultural family” we often have better odds at securing these coveted spots than your average Korean family with a single child.

Anna spent the morning filling out the applications and now it is time to run around to several schools, drop off our applications, the associated paperwork, and the obligatory “here’s my foreigner” that is required when one claims to be a multicultural family.

Korean spouse: “Here’s my foreigner.”
Foreign spouse squeaks, “Hi.”
School official looks foreign spouse over critically to be sure that he/she is really non-Korean.

Really, it’s gonna be the best part of the whole afternoon.

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Ups and Downs

On Saturday (Sept. 8th) Anna woke feeling weak and run-down by afternoon she was feverish. Even though the blood tests suggested her white-cells were supposedly rebounding, they apparently hadn’t rebounded enough to keep her well. As per the orders of her doctor, with a return of fever it meant that Anna had to return to the hospital. To make matters worse, traffic in Seoul last Saturday afternoon was hideous. A 12 km trip that should take 30 minutes or less turned into a two and a half hour nightmare.

We had left BoA in charge of Noah, because we only expected that I’d be gone an hour, but instead it took me four hours to make the round trip. Our home phone must have come unhooked, because when I tried to call home to tell BoA what was happening, all I got was a busy signal. Thankfully BoA is capable and Noah was good, so they weathered the storm. (And, no, BoA, didn’t call me once to find out why I was late which either suggest she is secure and independent or that she has a more polychronic conception of time).

After getting Anna checked in and settled in her room, I didn’t even consider for second that I would drive back. There was no way I was returning to that nightmare. I happily ditched the car in the parking garage and willingly paid the ten dollar (12,000 won) overnight fee.

By the time I got home I was starving, but I was completely uninterested in cooking so I grab a pizza from Pizza School. It’s not what I would call a quality pie, but it is cheap, fast, located at the subway stations and within two minute walking distance of the house. When I got home, I discovered that BoA had cooked dinner for herself and Noah. She had made a very nice Doenjang Jjigae (된장 찌개), rice and Geran Jjim (계란찜), so they were completely uninterested in my pizza.

On Sunday we visited Anna in the hospital and drove the car back home. In the afternoon, I went with Noah to his friend’s birthday party. Noah had a good time, but I was at times a bit overwhelmed by the 20 or so screaming kids.

Due to Anna’s immune system, the doctor has decided to postpone Anna’s next chemo treatment until next week, so Anna is looking to come home on Tuesday.

Originally written Monday, 10 September

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Anna Update Aug. 28th – Sept 7th

Anna returned to the hospital for her second chemo treatment on the 28th that left Noah and I to hold down the fort at home for a couple of days (8/28 ~ 8/30). Anna went in Tuesday evening and returned Thursday afternoon. Two fun filled days of absorbing toxic chemicals. Anna felt OK until about Saturday afternoon (9-1) and then the nausea and joint pain started.

Anna almost returned to the hospital on Tuesday, 4th of Sept. because her white cell count was very low, but since she didn’t have a fever the doctors allowed her to remain at home. Anna doesn’t want to return to the hospital because she says her hospital food sucks. I only mention this observation for the amateur anthropologist among us. I believe lousy hospital food must be a universal trait of humanity, because I have never heard of any one raving about the food they’ve been served in a hospital.

Anna and I have just returned from the hospital again. Anna had another blood test to monitor her white cells. Her white cells are still low, but seem to be on their way back up, so the doctor asked her to book room for chemo treatment #3 which will begin Tuesday, 7th Sept and end on Thursday the 9th.

Here is a picture of the shrubbery tea I mentioned in a previous post.

The shredded shrub I brought to the hospital because I thought it was the 둥글레차 (Dunggeulle Cha)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Back to School, Feeding Rabbits and Typhoons

Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th of August, Anna and I spent the days at home with the kids. Andy and BoA sorted out their clothes and packed what they needed to take back to school. I washed anything that was dirty and that they deemed they could not live without for a week. BoA also had some cooking homework to do, so she cooked and took pictures of her cooking progressed. She made some sort of potato-based appetizer with cheese ham and vegetables that she fried in an egg batter. It tasted find, but it was an awful lot of work for just an OK appetizer. Sadly, BoA didn’t share her recipe or any of her pictures with me, so they’ll be nothing to upload.

Monday I got up early to make sure Andy and BoA left in time to catch their bus. Then I readied Noah for his bus to daycare, and finally I took Anna to the hospital so she could reserve a room for her chemo treatment which starts Tuesday and ends Thursday. She also had a few tests take to make sure that her body was ready to do the chemo dance again. On the way home we stopped by e-mart. Shopping with Anna is a swirling vortex that sucks up a whole lot of time but doesn’t accomplish very much. For her, I suppose it is therapeutic, but for me it just sort of ratchets up my stress levels, because while Anna shops I’m unable to get any work done. Then after shopping I had to go and pick up Noah.

Noah informed me while feeding the school rabbits that his school had been canceled the next day because of the approaching typhoon.

Noah feeds the bunnies.

Note to self: There will be no work getting done on that day either.

Luckily the storm ended up being a dud in the Seoul-Gyeonggi Megaplex, so Anna was able to get to the hospital for her next chemo treatement without blowing away.

Originally written August 29th

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Still no Anna at Home

Anna remains in the hospital because her body refuses to cooperate and her doctor, an older gentleman, errs on the said of caution.

Tuesday afternoon Anna’s fever and migraine returned and this scuttled her homecoming. It also scuttled the peach cobbler that Andy and I were going to make, because instead of baking and awaiting Anna’s return, I got to make one more delivery. This time the delivery was via the local clinic to get a new prescription for her migraine medicine and then to the drug store so I could fill that prescription. Once I had medicine in hand, I then rushed to the hospital, dropped it off and rushed back to get Noah at daycare.

Tuesday became one of those lost days. I know I lived it, but I don’t have anything to show for that living. Yesterday was by far more productive. Scott helped me find people to take my evening TESOL Professional Education Center (TPEC) classes for next semester, and I also analyzed and sorted the not on the list words for  corpus linguistic research project that Dave Leaper and I are doing. I still have about 85 more words to analyze and sort, and then when that’s done Dave can re-crunch the numbers and we can finish up our paper for the September 15th deadline.

This morning I took BoA to the dentist to get two of four cavities filled. That set me back 125,000 won. We return tomorrow to get the other two filled. Any bets on how much that’ll cost me?

After the dentist, BoA and I drove to the post office with BoA and Andy’s bedding. With Anna sick, I don’t see us driving down to their school to bring them everything they need, so we shipped it via the post office instead. In fact it’s significantly cheaper to mail it than to drive it down there yourself. It costs about 120,000 won in gas to drive down to BoA and Andy’s school and we shipped two large boxes for under 20,000 won.

On our return form the post office, BoA and I made more Dubu Jorim and we finished the peach cobbler that Andy and I started. Even though Andy was at the hospital with Anna, he gets credit for some of the work, because on Tuesday he washed, peeled, pitted and then cut all the overripe peaches from these boxes:

Our week started with the arrival of six new boxes of peaches.

 Peach Cobbler

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, melted
4 cups fresh peaches – peeled, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Pour butter into the bottom of a large casserole or 9 x 13 inch pan. (or two pans of similar size)
3. In the prepared dish, toss together the peaches and 2 tablespoons sugar.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the 1 cup sugar, salt, baking powder, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk.
5. Add peachers to casserole/baking pan
6. Spoon batter over the peaches.
7.Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until top is golden brown.
8. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream

<Note: If BoA pours the melted butter into the batter, the cobbler still comes out fine; just make sure you are using no stick pans.>

 

BoA and I then made the batter and baked the cobbler.

Enjoying the fruits of her labor.

It’s now time for me to get Noah and then Noah and I will head to the hospital to see Anna. Andy and BoA are already there. BoA left as soon as she had consumed her cobbler.  One of her school friends, Gyu Min (규민) was there. 규민’s mother and Anna are friends, so 규민 tagged along hopping to see BoA, but she got to see her nemesis, Andy, instead.

Remember when your in 5th and 6th grade your nemesis is often the boy or girl that you most like, but shhh don’t tell Andy and 규민 that we know their secret.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

The Delivery Man

Anna called last night. It must have been around 8:00 pm, because I had just finished with Noah in the bath.  She called to ask me to bring her migraine medicine, because the Tylenol that the nurses were giving her just wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t too surprised, because I remembered that when we left Anna on Sunday, she had been complaining of a headache. So, my guess is it only go worse over time.

After a quick search of the places Anna keeps her meds, I found her pills. I then gave Andy and Noah instructions such as: “Andy, remember to brush Noah’s teeth before he goes to bed;” “Noah, no TV after bath time;” and to both of them “Bed time is at 9:00. Tomorrow is a school day for Noah.”

This perked Noah up because he knew that tomorrow there was a school trip to the aquarium. I then made both promise to be good. Noah promised willingly; whereas Andy promised sullenly – Ah, adolescence!

The trip to the hospital was uneventful except that the shuttle bus to the hospital had stopped running by the time I got to Hangangjin (한강진) and, of course, as soon as I started walking to the hospital the skies opened up and it began to pour. After a soggy walk, I arrived at the hospital and delivered the medicine.

Anna immediately took a pill and then she showed me her new hardware. (Really there wasn’t much to see but she seemed quite proud of it.)  Her doctor had surgically inserted some kind of tube into her shoulder so that the nurses wouldn’t have to poke, prod and bruise Anna’s arms and legs in search of arteries for their needles. This corroborates the fact that Anna will be getting lots of needles in the near future.

I didn’t stay long; only long enough for Anna to load me up with dirty clothes and other unwanted articles to lighten their load home. BoA stayed with Anna to help her home, since Anna is unsure exactly when she is to be released. I told BoA to get a cab home rather than take the subway especially if it continues to rain like it has been.

I got home a little after 10:00 pm. Noah was asleep and Andy was on the computer. Before turning in myself, I readied Noah’s lunchbox and put the leftover curry sauce and the rice in the rice cooker into the refrigerator knowing that the Delivery Man had completed his mission successfully.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Teaching Andy How to Make Dubu Jorim (Korean Braised Tofu)

Anna called while I was instructing Andy in how to make Dubu Jorim. She told us that she will be released form the hospital tomorrow. Her white cell count is up and her fever is gone. Hopefully some home cooking and some rest will get her back on track.

Ever vigilant, Andy watches the tofu sear.

How to cook like 승현 (Andy):

Cut the tofu/dubu block into slabs.
Let slabs dry or pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess water (Remember oil and water don’t mix, just ask 승현 if you don’t believe me).
Heat a some canola oil mixed with seseme oil in a large non-stick skillet (about a tablespoon or enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan)
Add the tofu pieces (tofu breaks easily so do it carefully)
Sear over low to medium heat until lightly golden brown (about 4 – 5 minutes each side).
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce

Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespon of teriyaki sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
a dash of kampot pepper
1 teaspoon sesame seed (if you have them – we didn’t)
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 scallions, finely chopped (if you have them – we didn’t)

I have also added corriander and cumin to the sauce to give it a more exotic taste
Water, lemon juice and lime juice can be used instead of broth. Using water or the juices makes the sauce less salty.  Lime and/or lemon juice tends to give the marinate a more fruity flavor.

As tofu/dubu browns, remove and set aside until all tofu/dubu is seared
Remove excess oil from frypan
Put tofu/dubu back in frypan and spoon the suace over the seared tofu/dubu
Simmer for 4 – 5 additional minutes over low/medium heat.
Flip them over and simmer for another minute or two.

Top with a garnish of chopped scallions/green onions and/or seseme seeds

Andy’s final product looked like this:

We packed it into a Lock & Lock because we will be using it as a side dish through the rest of the week.

 

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Anna’s Fever Broke

Anna’s fever broke on Saturday night and the boys were able to visit the hospital. We brought with us the supplies that Anna requested: Canned pineapples, fresh peaches and apples, face wash, and clothing. I was supposed to also bring 둥글레차 (Dunggeulle Cha) in a zipper lock bag. I brought some cut twigs, stems and branches that were in a zipper lock bag instead, but Anna informed me that it wasn’t what she wanted.

In my defense, I’m more of a coffee than tea kind of guy. For those of you who what to know more about Korean Tea, please follow the link.  I have included a picture of 둥글레차 (see below), but I can’t provide a picture of the tea I brought to the hospital because I ended up leaving it there. I searched for its name and image on the internet, but with no success. It doesn’t seem to be a popular kind of tea and no wonder; it truly looks like someone went outside and had at it with the dead shrub next to their house, and said, “Tah Dah…TEA.”

Dungguelle Cha

둥글레차 (Dunggeulle Cha) made from the dried root of Solomon’s seal

 

If Anna’s white blood cell count comes back up she will be released form the hospital in the next couple of days. The doctors, however, have postponed her next chemo session until they feel her immune system is ready for it. Once home, she will also be able to enjoy her 둥글레차.

 

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Weekend Update

Anna’s been in the hospital since Tuesday when her blood test showed that her white cell count was low. She has since become feverish and the doctors believe it serious enough to keep her hospitalized. Anna says that have her on medicine to fight the infection, but Anna didn’t specify if it was viral or bacterial in nature. The doctors have also asked Anna to limit her visitors, so the boys (Andy, Noah and I) have dutifully remained at home. BoA has been our representative at the hospital and is with Anna now.

Since I am house bound and responsible for all homely duties, I have endeavored to perfect that Thai-Szechuan Fusion Stir-fry Sauce that I concocted out of the ingredients that I had on hand. I have attempted to codify it  below.  The boys have deemed it sufficiently delicious enough to request it on two occasions. They are not, however, gourmands, so caveat emptor for they have puerile tastes. Nevertheless, having been raise in Korea their “spiciness” threshold is fairly high.

Spicy Thai-Szechuan Fusion Stir-Fry Sauce makes enough to serves 4-6 people.

2 Tbsp. sodium-reduced soy sauce
1 Tbsp. Kikkoman Teriyaki sauce
1 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp.sesame oil
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken/vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. chili paste (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh minced ginger (or more as desired)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic Or more as desired)
1/4 tsp. green lemom grass powder
1/4 tsp. dried lemon grass powder
1/4 tsp. yellow saffron powder
1/4 tsp. Kampot pepper powder

Add corn, potato or rice starch to thicken as necessary.

Other variations are possible. For example, I have also on occasion added lemon or lime juice to the sauce and once I added the fermented maeshil (매실, 梅實) extract that Anna has in our kitchen, but the recipe above is the one that the boys have decided is best. In fact,  once the boys return from hunting the kittens in the wood pile behind our apartment complex, we will be having a fried rice made with the remains of stir-fry tonight.

This is a picture of the fried rice Andy made with the left over stir fry from last week. I can’t very well have a picture of a meal I haven’t cooked yet, could I?

Hmm, it just started to pour. I think the boys will be returning, so I best get back to the kitchen.

 

Saturday, August 18th, 2012