It’s been two weeks since my last post, and we’ve been busy settling back into a routine. If you started reading about our adventures from The Seoul of Cyprus to now, you know that we were the bold family that visited nine countries in 10 months. And after all of our overseas traveling, we learned one important lesson: it takes at least a week or two to overcome our exhaustion from worldwide travel. Prof reminded me that coming home after 10 months abroad was going to take more than two weeks to get back to “normal.” And from the looks of my blog posts in recent weeks, we were going to take it easy and take the rest of our summer to get reacquainted to living in our American hometown again.
Critters Gone Wild
While I am not a fan of the great outdoors, the kids have noticed a remarkable change in scenery in the Midwest compared to Cyprus. Most notably, the little critters living in our front and back yards. In our first few days at home, the kids looked at a turkey walking ever so gently along the back edge of yard. They looked at this particular specimen with such great awe and admiration, it was like bringing a part of the zoo experience to us.
Even Linus noticed some major differences of animal life in America. When he saw a little brown creature roaming our back yard during breakfast, he called it a dog in Korean. I quickly looked over and corrected him, “No honey, that it is a squirrel.” Linus insisted that he was right and barked like a dog to let me know that I must have been clearly wrong. The conversation with our two-year old proceeded for a few more seconds until I told him that squirrels make “ffff,ffff,ffff” sounds with my two front teeth. Then he said,”oh,” and proceeded to eat the rest of his breakfast.
(Photo Above: This was the little critter that caused some controversial discussion during breakfast last week.)
Driving on the Right Side
It took about two days of settling and unpacking in the house before I stepped out to drive on my own. When I sat in the driver’s seat, I instinctively reached up to my right side for the shoulder seat belt only to find nothing but air. Thankfully, the ignition is on the same side of the steering wheel, whether you drive on the left or right side, so I had no trouble getting the car started. But when I reached to my left to change the gear into reverse, that’s when I realized I needed to make a mental switch.
But even as I pulled out of our driveway, I still forgot to move to the right side on the road. I slowly headed toward another vehicle as I was about to drive on the left side. A quick wave of my hand to indicate a sorry for my mistake was enough to meet a smile and see my neighbor verbally mouthing, “It’s okay.”
What took several days if not weeks of learning to drive on the left side took only seconds to get my mind, body, and soul used to driving on the right side of the road again.
Stocking Up on Groceries
Our entire pantry and refrigerator were completely cleaned out when we arrived home, thus we had to start with the basics, grocery shopping. We stopped by our local Alphamega-type grocery store. Everything felt the same – the greeter said hello, a plethora of shoppers weaved in and out of two cart-laned aisles, and the same employees who worked the checkout stations happily checked out customers. Yup, this aspect of our hometown remained the same.
However being away from home, it put my shopping proportions in perspective. Living within a block from our local grocery store in Cyprus, I was used to purchasing only the necessary groceries two or three days out which helped us to not waste or throw away unused food. Perhaps it was also living in confined quarters and walking in tight store aisles that really put things in perspective. Everything in America felt so much bigger and more spacious. In some ways, it was refreshing, but it also reminded me that we really didn’t need to buy five lbs. of genetically enhanced strawberries at Costco anymore.
I took this photo before checking out a few days ago. I think I was the only person to carry a basket of groceries around our massively large grocery store. Everyone else preferred to use the smaller push carts for their shopping needs. But by using a small carrying basket, I spent the same amount in dollars on groceries as I did in Cyprus using the basket shopping method. It felt kind of nice to see a smaller grocery bill as I walked out of the store.
While I felt a little strange shopping back at our mega-sized American grocery store, going to our “tiny” local Korean grocery store felt completely and utterly wonderful. If you ever read my post on our one and only trip to a Chinese supermarket in Cyprus, it was the tightest space known to man, probably no bigger than the size of a small dorm room. No longer did I have to settle for miso in powder form anymore, but the real kind that you keep chilled in the refrigerator.
And let’s just say our trip to the Korean supermarket provided one of the best days of black revenue profits for this small business. This was the one place where I didn’t want to shop with a small carrying basket. We were happy to see the familiar dried and frozen goods that looked and smelled delicious. We were also lucky enough to order a hot and freshly made spicy pancake that goes well with soy sauce and rice. Mmm…
One of our favorite family pastimes is going to our local mall for some free air-conditioning and free play space for the boys to unwind. (The Mall of Cyprus and My Mall Limassol needs to set up these free play spaces in the mall. It sure would help Cyprus’ economy if families had a free place to stay and play.)
The boys were so happy and looked as if they felt so free. Nothing pleased us more than to see our kids run with other children who also enjoyed playing with one another. There certainly were some tough moments when Greek-Cypriot children would block the entrance to a play space. I personally took it harder than Piano Man who didn’t seem at all bothered by the rudeness from some of the Cypriot children.
This place space also gave Prof and me the opportunity to shop at our favorite stores, Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew, etc. in turn. It’s so much easier to go shopping with our kids when one parent can walk to a nearby store while the other parent stays with the kids.
Story Time Again
And remember when I shared that there wasn’t much opportunity for English-speaking story times in Cyprus? It was a refreshing experience to walk into a well air-conditioned public library. We saw the same librarians helping people. It brought a sense of comfort knowing that these men and women enjoy their work, provide hospitality, and help our community. Our favorite librarian was overjoyed to see how much Piano Man and Linus had grown in the last year. And there was no worry of bothering our librarians when asking for help to locate a specific book. It was a definite contrast to my experience in Cyprus when I felt like an unwanted pest asking a question or two at stores in Cyprus.
And of course, the boys had a hard time of walking away from the free play space in the corner of the juvenile books section of the library.
Let’s also not also forget the joys of going to Barnes and Noble. (Ah, yes, Barnes, how we’ve missed you.) The blasting air of a/c, open story time on Friday mornings, available Thomas and Friends train set for the kids to play, and free time to read new books just for fun was enough for us to stay awhile. And because the Legends of Chima books at our local library were all reserved or checked out, I ended up paying full-price for a LEGO Legends of Chima book, which goes against every fiber of my Korean money-saving self. However, living in Cyprus taught me to relax a little and let go from my old ways and encourage our son to read the books that he enjoys.
(Photo Above: The same staffer reads a story during Friday morning story time. She’s been reading on Friday mornings since I remember taking Piano Man at 18 months old. It’s a nice feeling to know that some things never change.)
While some places remained the same, another local bookstore in our hometown underwent a major addition and remodeling change, acquiring several hundred square feet of additional store space while we were gone. It was a welcomed change of pace to visit this store, which also had a Thomas and Friends train set for the kids to play.
Going Back to Our After Dinner Routine
If there was one food we truly missed in America while living abroad, we’d have to say is the all-American donut. It’s definitely one of the first things Piano Man mentioned when we moved to Cyprus during one of our after dinner drives looking for dessert places.
In our hometown, our favorite donut is Krispy Kreme. It just takes you back to good ole’ fashioned Americaness, from the white subway tile interior space to the free donut that you get when you walk in. It brings a warm feeling of hospitality which makes you want to come back for more. And coming back to Krispy Kreme felt like coming back home.
Prof and Piano Man enjoyed their favorite raspberry-filled donut, while Linus and I chose a classic, the can’t go wrong with a regular, good ole’ fashioned glazed donut.
We devoured our donuts with some refreshing 2% milk, watched the conveyor belt make more scrumptiously delicious and sweet glazed donuts, and then headed to another favorite, Toys R Us.
Having visited a handful of toys stores in Cyprus, we got used to looking at some toys that were a little out of date. For example, we purchased a 2010 or 2011 LEGO Ninjago spinner, which was no longer sold in stores in the U.S. But it didn’t matter to Piano Man because he enjoyed collecting an older LEGO piece.
But the newest LEGO collection is Legends of Chima, and it has been a family favorite since our 4D movie experience at LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark last May. I wasn’t convinced that Legends of Chima would take off like Ninjago, but after learning the premise about Legends of Chima, I was sold. And it looks like Legends of Chima is making its way to the U.S.
We were greeted with this HUGE picture display of Cragger and Laval when we entered Toys R Us. I mean, seriously, LEGO is trying hard to sell this product line. No need to convince our family of Chima’s excellent products. However, I could tell that it was a definitely a “bigger is better approach” to marketing in America than in the Mediterranean and Europe. To give you a little perspective, Laval’s face in the photo above is about the same height as our five-year old. I don’t know about you, but that feels really big to me.
Linus, on the other hand, didn’t bother to look at LEGOs. He had his heart set on his first true love: planes, trains, and automobiles. Just let him line them up until there are no more in the display shelves, and we’ve got one happy two-year old.
More Beauty in our Midwest Landscape
A few days ago, we finally made an after dinner visit to another favorite spot, a local park along a small lake in our hometown. On this particular day, the weather was unusually cool and breezy, almost like fall weather.
(Photo Above: Prof took this photo to capture the moment.)
We couldn’t help but notice the growing diversity in our hometown. Again, I don’t know what it was that made us see our hometown differently. Was it the lack of diversity in Cyprus or some of the discrimination I experienced that made me see our hometown in a more positive light? Perhaps it was the recent growth in a new downtown medical center that brought in more diversity?
That night in the park, a little girl asked Piano Man if he wanted to play with her. She shared her water balloon making toy, and the kids had fun playing together. A few feet away, a biracial couple probably in their 50s shared about their three-month dating relationship. They were so cute together. I could see the beauty of a budding relationship right before my eyes from the twinkle in his eye to the joy on her face as they talked with me about how they lived and grew up in our hometown.
In many ways, some aspects of our hometown stayed the same while other parts of it changed in its own way. We’ve slowed down our pace of life to match that of the people in our hometown, and we are still working towards acclimating to American life in the Midwest. But the transition back home hasn’t been as radical as the whirlwind adjustment those first few weeks in Cyprus. We are grateful for the opportunity to take it easy and breath a little before our fall adventures begin.