Saturday, January 30, 2010

Baking for Illiterates

Not much baby news to report this week (except that I got my new maternity pants today - hurrah!), so I'll tell you the story of our travails with our new bread machine instead. The story begins not long after we arrived in Korea, when we came to the sad realization that nearly every baked good we attempted to produce came out flat, heavy, and unappetizing. We blamed our crappy convection oven because it's difficult to control the temperature, and things tend to cook very unevenly in it. So our dear friends and cousins Chrissy and Ryan kindly offered to ease our suffering by buying us a bread machine for Christmas (thanks, guys!). I guess I mentioned a few weeks ago that after weeks of examining our options and exploring the bewildering Hangeul jungle of the Korean internet, we finally managed to order and receive a brand new Korean bread maker, plus a box of Korean bread machine mix. We ordered the same model as our friends downstairs, Daniel and Marina, and they helpfully showed us how to use the machine and wrote down their basic bread recipe for us. A frustrating bout of experimentation ensued:

First attempt: Following Daniel and Marina's instructions to the letter, I start the bread machine on its first loaf. The bread rises only to about half of the ideal height and is heavy and unappetizing. Keegan researches bread problems online and concludes "It's the yeast, stupid." We test our yeast in a container of warm water and see very little activity.

Second attempt: We replicate Daniel and Marina's recipe again, but this time with brand new yeast and whole wheat flour. The result is still about half-height and super dense.

Third attempt: Keegan and I both have a lightbulb come on over our heads at the same time. Maybe the yeast, which is in fairly large pellets that seem to remain intact throughout the baking process, needs to be softened and activated in water before baking. Keegan points out that the instructions on the back of the yeast package, though nearly incomprehensible to us, do contain a measurement in milliliters and a time in minutes. Perhaps the amount of water and amount of time required to activate the yeast? We try the bread machine mix with our activated yeast and achieve a light, airy, slightly sweet, delicious loaf! I recommend it with Nutella and a cup of tea. I also recommend learning more Korean.

Encouraged by our success with the bread machine, Keegan has begun baking some other breads using the no-knead bread cookbook that my parents got him for Christmas. So far the results have been amazing - thick, hearty, crispy, and perfect to eat with soups or pasta. The bread machine bread is much better for toast and sandwiches. Say good-bye to store-bought bread, Plaskon household!

Another funny situation involving illiteracy in Korean came from my attempts to understand the directions for the bread machine mix. I could understand most of the instructions on the back of the box, but strangely there didn't seem to be any amount listed for the water we needed to add. I took one packet of the mix to my Korean teacher to get her advice. She frowned and told me that she would come to the store with me after our lesson to look at the box the packets came in, which I hadn't brought. It turns out that there is a chart on the side of the box that lists the amounts of water needed for use with various bread machine models. The instructions on the back of the box and on the mix packet say "See side of box for necessary amount of water." I felt sheepish and sorry for illiterate people everywhere. Sigh.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's (Most Likely) Going to Be a Girl!

Keegan and I had a doctor's appointment this morning, and when the doctor was doing the ultrasound, he asked if we would like to find out the sex of the baby. It is still on the early side, but possible to tell at this point. The baby was not terribly cooperative, but Dr. Lee told us that he was 95% sure that it is a girl! I am so excited! I would have been happy with a boy, of course, but deep down, I really hoped it would be a girl.

Some of you saw my Facebook status update this week that I have started to feel the baby moving. To be honest, I think I've been feeling it for a while. About two weeks ago, I was writing a short e-mail to Chrissy when I felt a funny little poke in my lower abdomen. I immediately stopped typing to consider what it was. I hadn't been thinking about feeling the baby or anything, and I had this completely new feeling, like a bubble bursting inside. I have been feeling very gassy, too, though, so I thought maybe it wasn't really the baby, and I should wait to get excited about it. But the feelings continued, at least a few times each day. Now that they've gone on for about two weeks, when I feel gassy and when I don't, I feel more confident in saying that I'm feeling the baby. According to my pregnancy books and more experienced moms, it's a bit early but also within the realm of possibility. I read somewhere that thin women can sometimes feel movements earlier, so maybe that's why.

The doctor's office was really crowded this morning! All while we were waiting, I could feel the baby moving around, but by the time we made it into the exam room, she had settled down and wasn't dancing around as much. The ultrasound was amazing - the baby has grown so much! Her head now measures almost 4 cm (around 1.5 inches) in diameter, which dates her, according to the ultrasound at 18 weeks, plus or minus 12 days. The doctor said the baby is 18 centimeters long, which is about 7 inches! That seems a bit on the long side to me - guess we're having a tall baby.

Baby's patented death ray stare. I think it's hilarious, but Keegan thinks we shouldn't make fun of our little girl.

A little bony (Dr. Lee says the skin is very, very thin now) but pretty cute, if I do say so myself. Also, less scary than the 2D version!

After the ultrasound, I gave some blood for prenatal testing (the quad test, if you're interested). They'll be screening the blood for hormone levels that might reveal genetic abnormalities. As I understand it, if there are any red flags, further testing can be done to confirm (or disprove) what was found in the blood test. I'll get the results next week. Our next visit is in four weeks, and they're going to do a "super" ultrasound that will look for any abnormalities in the baby's heart and facial structure.

I guess the extra-long baby explains why my weight has been increasing quite steadily this week. I gained almost a full kilogram (2.2 pounds) from week 16 to week 17. I am happy to be growing, though, since I got off to a slow start in the first trimester. So far, I'm up two kilograms total.

The belly at 17 weeks

This week was very, very quiet for me. Keegan has been very busy with work, driving back and forth to Yeosu, about two hours away, to work on a small cruise ship. I've been puttering around the house and watching "Grey's Anatomy" on DVD. Thank goodness there are at least a couple of my students still around for lessons. With my relaxed schedule, I had a chance to talk to Laura for about two hours on Monday morning. It was wonderful to catch up with my best friend and to hear that she is still considering coming to Korea to visit one of these days. I also had time to (finally!) buy our plane tickets for our trip back to the U.S. in March. I'll be home from March 10 until April 12, with a visit to Costa Rica from March 24 to April 2. Keegan will be in the U.S. from April 2 to April 12. I hope we'll get to see as many of you as possible, dear readers. It's so wonderful to have concrete plans for our trip.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Baby Parade

It's been a very uneventful week. I can think of a few things to write about, though. First of all, this week I had the chance to meet with the son of one of my regular students from Brazil. He and his brother are here in Korea visiting. I taught both of them briefly last year, so it was nice to see them again. The younger son is preparing to do research in marine biology off the coast of Brazil, and he was working through some scientific papers in English about the feeding habits of fish. He and I read the articles together, and I asked him questions about biology, while he asked me questions about the language in the articles. His reading ability was impressive. I gave him some vocabulary lessons about connecting words (like "although" and "thus"), which I hope will help him when he has to write his own paper in English. The biology articles were really interesting, and I felt lucky to have the chance to be exposed to research in a field completely unfamiliar to me.

I had Wednesday afternoon free, so I invited some friends over for coffee. My friends Joy and Kayoko stayed for a few hours, and while we chatted and had tea, we were treated to a parade of mothers and children who couldn't stay the whole time. First our downstairs neighbor Clair visited with her spirited two-year-old, then my friend Alana and her brand new two-month-old, and finally another neighbor Marina and her shy one-year-old. It was fun to see so many babies at different ages, especially since I spend so much of my time now thinking about what our baby is going to be like. Everybody had stories to tell about their pregnancies, too. After everyone left, Marina gave me a few bags full of baby clothes, and one bag of maternity clothes. There were several pairs of denim capris that fit perfectly, and they have adjustable waistbands, so they should continue to fit well.

My favorite item from the bags of clothes Marina gave me.

Speaking of maternity pants, I have started wearing mine. I think I am definitely looking more pregnant (and have put on another half a kilo), and the elastic waistbands are so comfortable! I am thinking about ordering a few more pairs online, now that I know what fits and how the million different "belly panel" options work.

I'm wearing maternity pants over my little belly bump.

On Friday morning, my Korean tutor helped me to order a bread machine online (thank you, Chrissy and Ryan), and it has already arrived - talk about efficient (and free!) shipping! While she and I were poking around on the Korean shopping site, we found the English version of the site, and now I have been set loose on the Korean online marketplace. Look out world! Maternity tops and baby items, here I come! Hopefully, the arrival of the bread machine won't contribute overmuch to the already rapid expansion of my waistband.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Move Over Target, Home Plus is on the Rise

Yesterday after my Korean/English lesson I decided to pick up some cat food at Home Plus. As I was walking from the cat food aisle towards the produce to pick up a few odds and ends, I passed the clothing section and decided to look for a few sweaters to cover up my bulging belly. I know my belly does not look very large yet, but it has become impossible to button my regular pants and still sit down comfortably. This means that I have to either leave the pants gaping at the top, close the button with the help of a rubber band, or wear maternity pants with ugly waistbands. I had a horrifying realization earlier this week when I tried to put together a favorite outfit and saw that I couldn't wear that particular sweater anymore because it was too short to cover up my unsightly waistband. So I resolved to find some longer, somewhat stretchy sweaters to get me through the winter months. Well, I hit the jackpot in the Home Plus clothing section. Whatever else you may say about Korean fashion, it is very well suited to pregnancy! Most sweaters and shirts are extra long, and I had no trouble finding a few cute ones that look like they'll stretch at least enough to get me through March. The blue and grey striped one, in particular has a lot of room to grow. I also bought a black sweater almost identical to one I bought at Target a couple years ago. The one from Target looks about 20 years old because it is so pilly. The Home Plus version promised Anti-Pilling technology!

New sweaters for maternity and beyond. Note that I am unable to figure out how to "look into the camera" and also that Chili wanted to appear on the blog again, sneaky thing.

I finished up my shopping and headed out to the parking area feeling very satisfied. In the parking garage, the Home Plus once again proved its worth: they've installed a brand new fancy parking indicator system that shows you where available spots are. As you drive up and down the rows of parking spaces, you can see which spots are available because they have a green light over them. Occupied spots have a red light. Each section of the parking lot has a bigger sign over it showing whether there are any open spots in that section. And at the end of most rows there is an LED sign telling you how many spots are open on that row and how many are open if you pass that row and continue to look. What a great idea! I was thoroughly impressed and probably only narrowly avoided several collisions because I was fascinated by all the technology. Three cheers for you, Home Plus!

The fancy new parking system at Home Plus - look for the red and green lights above the cars.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy 2010

We welcomed in the new year this week. Well, we were asleep for the beginning of the new year, due to Keegan's unwelcome stomach bug, but we had a great time visiting our friends Nate and Eliza in Mokpo over the weekend. We went to see "Avatar" at the theater, took a couple long, snowy walks with the dog, and ate lots of delicious food, including Eliza's wonderful frozen lemon mousse. Keegan somehow managed to find world's most delectable (and large) strawberries, and we consumed an entire large container of them between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

I got a chance to restart lessons with my students this week, and along with that, I told them all the news of the new baby. Everyone was excited and happy, although disappointed that I won't be able to teach after the baby comes. I hope that I'll be able to find another interested teacher who can take at least some of my students because they are really making good progress.

I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday morning, and everything is fine with the baby. I think the doctor was a little surprised to see me because he had forgotten that he told me to come back two weeks after my last visit. He did a quick ultrasound and told me to come back in a couple weeks for a blood test to check for any abnormalities with the fetus. It was, as always, good to see and hear the baby's heart and to watch him/her squirm around on the ultrasound screen.

I have started to feel better over the past few days. My appetite seems to be returning to normal, which is a welcome change. Now when I am hungry, there are a lot of appealing options to choose from, and I am enjoying my food a lot more. I've been sleeping better, and I seem to have more energy. I guess the second trimester may live up to it's billing as the most comfortable time after all. Of course, as I write this, I'm feel extra gassy and crabby, so we'll see.

Because of my indigestion and crabbiness, I'll wrap up here, but first, a few long-awaited pictures:

The belly at 15 weeks. It looks a lot bigger from above. And seems a lot bigger judging by my pants.

3D ultrasound. I think the arms and legs look extra long and gangly.