seoul round three

I know there are a number of people who question my love of Seoul, but I love it. Maybe because it was my first Asian city outside of Japan. Maybe it was because when I went for the first time it was magical. Maybe it’s just my love of Korean food. Whatever it was, I fell in love right away, so I was happy to go again when my dear friend, Oliver, told me he was going to be there for work. His wife very kindly gave him the “ok” to head out of the country a few days early so we could meet up and play tourists. And to make the trip even better, I got to stay at my friend Jaclyn’s house and visit with her. It was another amazing trip!

And here are my favorite things to do in Seoul. (These are just in chronological order from this trip.) One quick tip for all attractions: be sure to check what days places are open as there are a lots of things closed on Mondays and some on Sundays and Tuesdays.)

img_7948DMZ/JSA Tour – I did the DMZ tour on my first trip to Seoul and loved it, but I didn’t realize at the time that there was a difference between a tour of the DMZ and a tour of the
JSA. The JSA requires a bit more advance planning (the tours fill up fast) and it’s the only area where you can actually set foot on North Korean soil from South Korea. So, this time I made sure that I got to do a tour of both. It was amazing. And intense. And I highly, highly recommend it. I booked us through a company called Cosmojin and they were fantastic.




View into North Korea



That little curb between the two buildings is the border between South and North Korea. You can even see a North Korean soldier standing at the top of the steps in from of the large building in the background.  


Itaewon – this is a cool little neighborhood that reminds me of a tame Harajuku. Great restaurants and lots of people watching.



Spicy tofu at Jonny Dumpling. So delicious!

img_8036Nanta – This is a kind of musical / performance art / comedy show. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it’s super fun and equally ridiculous. This was the second time I’ve seen the show, but it was made even better that the first because Oliver got called up on stage and he was perfection. They said no photos, but of course I managed to sneak a few.

Myeong-dong – This is one of two central shopping districts in Seoul. I like this one because it’s not too huge and crazy AND has amazing food stands. Olive made a great partner in food adventures, which is needed you’re going to try everything you want to without wasting a ton of food.




Changdeokgung Palace Secret Garden Tour – The palace itself is impressive, but it’s the Secret Garden that really makes this one worth visiting. It’s absolutely stunning. During peak times in the fall and spring it can be difficult to get tickets, so plan ahead. It’s one of my favorite palace/shrine/equivalents in all of Asia.


I love doors, especially old ones in gates or walls. This one was so pretty. I wish my photo did it justice.




The War Memorial of Korea – My friend Heather took me here the first time I went. It’s such an interesting place. And bonus, this time, there was this amazing Korean calligraphy temporary exhibit. There’s a beautiful exhibit of a teardrop made from dog tags that I absolutely love, as well. In addition to this, just around the corner from the museum is this amazing little hole-in-the-wall fish place. We weren’t able to make it because it was closed the day we went, but if you can go, do it!

Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Nation Folk Museum of Korea – These are basically connected so you can plan to do them both on the same day. This palace is massive. In addition to that, they do a kind of “changing of the guard” which is very fun to see. (I didn’t take any photos of the Museum because we didn’t go there this trip…no time…but you can see my photos from my first trip here.)




How adorable are these munchkins?!


Oliver: “I am walking where Psy walked.”



Janet’s Cooking Studio – I’m sure there are several Korean cooking classes you could choose from, but Oliver and I both loved this experience. Janet is a native Korean who spent much of her life in the U.S. Her English is perfect, as is her knowledge of Korean culture and food. We started with a tour of a local Korean market (we were the only foreigners there) and it was absolutely delightful. We tried some new fruits neither of us had heard of before and then got to taste roasted seaweed fresh out of the roasting machine thing (I have no idea what it’s called). It was so very good! This was followed by cooking five Korean dishes in her darling studio. There were two things from the class that really stood out to me about Janet as an instructor. 1) She adapted the recipes slightly so that we would be able to make them in America. While some people wouldn’t love this, it was nice to know we could recreate these in our respective countries. 2) She was very mindful of our skills and abilities and adapted her teaching based on that. As I love to cook and do it quite a bit, she didn’t spend as much time talking about the basics and she let me flip my Korean pancake (pajeon) which was super fun!




N. Seoul Tower – A total tourist trap, but well worth the views! I took no pictures this time as it was my third trip to the tower.

Insadong – This is another place we didn’t get to this trip, but it’s a great little tourist area where you can get all of your souvenir needs met with lots of yummy treats. There are also a number of great restaurants in there. You can see my pictures of this area here.

Finally, watch a Korean drama. Such an interesting experience. I can’t tell you where to do that because I did it in my friend’s home, but do it. You will not regret it.


I think that’s it…for now. This is in no way comprehensive. Just my favorites.

the magical maldives


Okay, so here goes. I’ve had a few people tell me they’d love a blog post detailing the information about my vacation with my niece to the Maldives, so I’m going to capture it here and try to make it as organized as possible. Also, I’ll include links to my reviews of the resorts eventually (haven’t gotten around to do them yet. I try to review most places on Trip Advisor.

Also, I’m going to qualify this post, though, with one major disclaimer: this was a once in a lifetime trip for me, so while I was not totally “money is no object” about the trip (I’m not made of money and I’m a terrible budgeter), I was also not traveling on the cheap either. And I’d almost say if you tend to be a very frugal traveler, the Maldives is probably not for you.


Getting there: There are airlines that fly to the Maldives, but from the west coast of the U.S. (which is where I was coming from) I recommend Cathay Pacific (even though that means LAX and I LOATHE LAX). You will fly to Male (airport code MLE) and from there, you’ll have one more leg, either by speed boat or sea plane, depending on where you’re staying. Speedboat is the cheaper option by far, but a sea plane…is a sea plane and it was amazing to see the Maldives from the air. Your resort should arrange this last leg of transportation for you, but you’ll likely pay for it separately. Also, if you’ve got time and/or budget, I’d do a stop over in Hong Kong. You can get the highlights in a couple of days and take care of jet lag at the same time.

Choosing a resort: Most resorts are their own private islands, so you need to do your research and figure out what you want. For me, I had two main criteria. 1) I wanted an over-the-water villa (like I said, once in a lifetime) and 2) it needed to have a reputable dive center. This helped narrow things down quite a bit. Then it was a matter of reading reviews and budgeting. I actually booked three different hotels to hold the rooms while I did more research.* Ultimately, I chose the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi. It used to be a Hilton, apparently. And we did four days (three nights) which was perfect for us.

While this resort required transfer by sea plane (which, as stated is PRICEY), the room itself was significantly cheaper than any other water villa I found at the time AND the resort had an awesome dive center (they actually have a few locations throughout the Maldives. More on the dive center in a bit.


A few other pointers:

1) Due to our arrival time (10pm) in Male, I booked us at the Maldiva Inn and arranged for an airport transfer. While I could have booked something closer to the airport, I’ve learned through lots of experience that a little distance from the airport generally gets you cleaner and safer rooms for about the same price. Worth the 15-20 minute drive. The airport transfer was $10 each way. While this was necessary due to arrival time in Male, it was super helpful budget wise. We saved a ton on that night and were at the resort around 8:30 am the next morning. We wore our bathing suits on the plane as we planning on not being able to get into our room until the regular check-in time. We were pleasantly surprised as our room was ready around 10:30 am.

2) Food is EXPENSIVE. I’ve talked to other friends who’ve been to the Maldives and read 100s of resort reviews…doesn’t matter where you go, it’s pricey. My advice is to do what we did: book your room with breakfast included. There are all inclusive options and if you really want to not worry about it and you’re going all out, this could be the right option for you. For us, we had breakfast included (and it was good!) and loaded up in the morning. Then we did protein shakes for lunch (yes, I packed protein shakes for every day and two shakers), so the only meal we were paying for separate from the room rate was dinner. And that was still expensive! Just be prepared. For two of us, with a few drinks (even without the alcohol, I’m a firm believe that island vacations necessitate fun beverages) throughout the day and dinner it was around $150-$200 day (we always did dessert…this was vacation after all)! I will say that while the food definitely wasn’t worthy of the pricing had we not been on a remote atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it was quite very good.


This lime creme brûlée was amazing!

3) Budget for your activities so there are no surprises. Nothing worse than arriving somewhere and not being prepared. My niece was doing the open water portion of her dive certification and I was accompanying her on all dives, so I priced all of that out so I knew what I’d be spending. I also knew we wouldn’t just want to lay on the beach or by the pool every second we weren’t diving. Our resort had a number of free activities, provided you had experience. I wanted to do paddle boarding (but neither of us had really done it before), so I budgeted for a 30 minute lesson and after that, it was free to use the equipment.



4) I unintentionally chose a resort that had an adults only pool. I’m not sure if the resort we chose was especially kid friendly (wasn’t looking for that info), but there were quite a few kids. I’m not opposed to children in theory, but I mostly only have patience for the ones I’m related to when I’m on vacation, so the adults only pool was unexpectedly awesome!

5) For diving (if you’re a diver), because I knew I’d be joining my niece on her open water certification dives, I really didn’t worry too much about specific dive sites. There are probably amazing places that I could have focus our trip around, but with the limitations of a new diver, I just decided to not even research it and assumed the diving would be good wherever we went. Ignorance is bliss and we saw amazing stuff, so I feel really good about that decision.



6) We had some extra time between our sea plane arrival back in Male and our flight from Male back to Hong Kong. Our butler (yes, we had a butler) was super helpful and arranged for a tour of Male which was actually really cool. The tour guide didn’t charge us anything, but we paid him $20 for about a 30 minute tour (it’s a small little downtown).


*I use for almost all (like 99%) of my hotel booking. I know there are other websites out there (that may be better and or cheaper), but I love their app, I’m happy with the prices, and they have pretty true-to-point reviews. Plus, because I use them so much, I get an additional 10% off frequently and welcome drinks at most hotels. Small thing, but I love it. I also never use the non-refundable booking option. I’ve learned through experience that it’s worth it to me to pay a little more to know I’ve got some flexibility in case my plans change OR I find a different hotel that looks better.


what a difference six months can make

When I hit rock bottom this summer, I had no idea that my life would be so different in just six short months. So many times in my life I’ve looked back and thought to myself, “If I’d started doing [fill in the blank] six months ago (or a year ago), think of where I’d be today!” Well, this time, I did start doing something six months ago and I’m so proud of where I am today.

I’ve learned so much about myself over the past six months. It’s been about more than just losing the weight. It’s been figuring out what triggers my overeating and how to manage that. It’s been discovering how to be social without having it revolve around food. It’s been understanding how I’ve been standing in my own way in so many ways. I started this journey on July 14th and in just under six months, I’ve lost about 50 lbs and gained so much more.

When I started this, I also started (re-started, I should say, for the third or fourth time) a 100-day challenge with a couple of friends which involved taking a selfie every day. Even after the 100 days, I continued to take selfies with some regularity. And I’m so glad I did. It’s kind of amazing (at least to me) to watch my body (and spirit) change before my eyes.

And on that note, before I share the video, I just want to make a few more comments. Being someone who’s struggled with my weight for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the pressure to look a certain way my entire life. But this has not been about looking a certain way. Sure, it’s one of the benefits. It’s the benefit that everyone can see. But for me, and my daily life, it really is about so much more than that.

This transformation is about being able to sit down on a deep couch and not worry about how awkward I’m going to look as I try and get up off of it. It’s about going scuba diving and not having my mind consumed with how I’m going to get back onto the boat when there’s no ladder. It’s about buying clothes that look good on me and not just whatever fits. It’s about going on first dates and not worrying that the first thing a guy is going to think is that I’m fat (yes, blind dates…from the interwebs).

It’s about not worrying about what I look like in pictures any time someone pulls out a camera. It’s about having the energy to keep up with all of my nieces and nephews, including going down the slides at the park and knowing my butt will fit. It’s about not constantly wasting brain space thinking about my weight, or how I look, or beating myself up about what I should or shouldn’t have eaten. But most of all, it’s about feeling like I’m taking care of this amazing body God has given me.

ETA: And again, there are so many people I have to thank for their support along the way in this! You all know who you are! Thank you!!!

run, run, rudolph!

I started training for my first marathon in 2007. Running was therapy at the time. My life was a bit of a wreck and running gave me something. And I needed something.

Over the years, I’ve continued to run off and on. Last year, I decided to go for marathon #2 here in Tokyo…mostly because my friend won the lottery for it and so I kind of had to do it. I was undertrained and overweight, but I finished.

What I love about running (and I know I’ve written this before), is that no matter how I feel about the way my body looks, I can’t help but appreciate how amazing it is when I’m running. And when I complete 26.2 miles, I can’t do anything but be in awe of it.

So, with the marathon in Tokyo completed, I decided I should probably go ahead an run a marathon on every continent. Africa was meant to be done last summer, but I wasn’t able to finish. I will definitely be going back.

In the past, speed was never really my goal, but as I started to lose weight this past summer, I also decided it was time to change that. I found a great race time predictor that helped me determine how fast I should be able to run different distances based on my marathon time. Since I hadn’t tried increasing my pace ever, this was a good place to start.

So, for the past six months I’ve been working on increasing my pace. My first goal was to see how fast I could run a mile. I used the treadmill to push myself and managed to run a mile in 8m57s. This was achieved after losing about 35 lbs.


So, based on this, I could run a 5K in under 30 minutes. I didn’t believe it, but that’s what the race predictor said, and I decided I might as well try. It took almost two months, another 10 lbs, and a few attempts, but I did it eventually. Again, on a treadmill.


Now, if you were to look at the race predictor, you’d see that I should be able to run a half-marathon in about 2h16m55s. That pace seemed super aggressive considering my PR for a half-marathon was 2h24m22s seven years ago. And actually, until I looked it up just now, I thought it was 2h36m…not sure where I got that. Also, there’s a difference between running on a treadmill and running in a road race. In fact, given my last marathon finish time of 5h58m40s, I thought 2h30m00s would be a pretty good goal. With this goal in mind, I needed to find a half-marathon. The one I found was a little one in Arizona on Dec. 20.

I set off from my sister’s house early that morning to make the hour drive to the west valley. It was too far and too early to drag any of my family members there, so I was on my own. Because my goal was 2h30m, I knew my average mile pace needed to be 11m27s. With my Garmin strapped securely around my wrist, I was ready to go. I took my place at the very back of the pack (I prefer to kill rather than being killed) and waited for the gun to fire. (Except in this case, there was no gun, just a guy who yelled something that signaled for us to start.)

I started out at a pace that felt comfortable, doing my best to stay as comfortable as possible. Having run enough races in my life, especially half-marathons, I know to go out slow and not get caught up in the adrenaline and energy that a race can give you. To my surprise, though, when I looked down at my trusty electronic running buddy for the first time, I was averaging 10m43s. This was both a bit nerve-racking and motivating…which I think is how most people feel when they’re set to hit a goal they thought was beyond their reach.

Thinking about how good I was feeling at that pace, but also knowing that pace probably wasn’t sustainable for the full 13.1 miles, I decided to go for an average pace of under 11m00s, which would put my final race time at 2h24m05s or below, which would have been a PR..even against the PR I didn’t realize I’d actually set. I was kind of excited.

So, I ran. And ran. And ran. I took quick little breaks for water and fueling, that was it. I did slow down a little a mile here and a mile there. At one point, I started to think that maybe I could come in under 2h20m00s. But then I checked myself. Sometimes I get a little crazy in moments like this and think I can accomplish crazy things only to completely blow up and not even accomplish my original goal. So, I calmed down and stuck with the sub 11m mile goal.

And I killed it!


Next up: sub 5h00m00s marathon…and another continent crossed off the list. If anyone wants to join me, I’d love to have a running/travel buddy. Check it out here. It’s sure to be amazing!

saipan (google it)

turtle saipan

So, I turned 37 on Tuesday. And, as has been my tradition recently (two years makes it a tradition, right?) I took a trip. Last year was Burma/Myanmar with Brittany. This year was a little solo trip to Saipan (google it) to go scuba diving and enjoy some warm weather, the beach, and a little taste of America.


It was a really good trip and the diving was amazing! My dive guide, Harry, was an American who’s been in Saipan almost 20 years. In addition to great diving, I got a lot of great stories about Saipan, it’s history in WWII, and the current state of politics in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It was fascinating. And some of the best diving I’ve done. If you ever make it to Saipan, I highly recommend diving with his company. And you have to ask him the story behind the name of his company, because it’s pretty cool.


It was also a much needed break from my crazy busy life and gave me some good time to reflect on the past year, as well as what I want for the year to come. There were a number of little personal epiphanies that took place. Some were a little painful…in the way muscles are sore after you work them hard. So, not a bad pain, but just a “wow, I haven’t worked those muscles in a while” type of pain.

IMG_4876If you’ve never taken a solo vacation, I highly recommend it. I know it sounds kind of scary to some of you. Or maybe you’re just thinking, “What’s the point?” And maybe there wouldn’t be a point for you, but I definitely need these times to just do a little personal inventorying.

And back to the part about it being Saipan. Because it’s an American commonwealth, I got to enjoy a little taste of America, including Diet Coke and Winchell’s. Happy birthday to me!


And while the trip was over way too soon, I left feeling ready to take on this next year of my life with some good plans and goals to make some needed changes and to continue becoming the person I want to be…and more importantly, the person I think God wants me to be. And what a better reminder of how blessed I am than this little rainbow as seen from my plane when heading back to Japan.