Korean Wife Camp: Learning Hangeul & the Korean Language

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Learning Korean

In school, I studied French and Italian, and did well. Knowing some Italian made it easy to get around Mexico. I have a good ear. And I’ve always been curious about the challenge of learning a non-romanic language, and wanted badly to learn one… but learning a language without a readily available practical application for it seemed like a waste of time and energy. It would be too hard to keep up, and it wasn’t like I was going to change careers to make that language a new path for myself. Basically, learning a more exotic language, just to be able to say I did so, seemed like a fruitless exercise in ego. Can you imagine?

“I speak Aramaic, you know.”

“Oh cool, what do you use it for?”

“Um…” *crickets*

Then I met Paul. And BOOM. A reason to learn Korean came crashing into my life. As I mentioned in my first KWC post, Paul and his mother speak almost exclusively Korean when they’re together. We’re spending about 2 weeks in Seoul during our Honeymoon. And we definitely plan to raise our daughters to be bilingual from birth. I’ve picked up a few conversational words here and there… mostly from Paul and his mother, going out to eat at Korean restaurants, and watching K-dramas on DramaFever. But in order to get to a point of fluency, which is my end-goal, I had to get into a class. So I’ve plunged headfirst into the wild and wacky world of Hangeul: the Korean alphabet.

I started by enrolling in a class at the King Sejong Language Institute at the Korean Cultural Center of LA. Korean Cultural Centers all over the world offer language and culture classes at extremely affordable rates because they’re subsidized by the Korean government. So for a 12-week class, the cost was only $80, which is unheard of! But, the class pace was too slow for me, and the drive to Koreatown during rush hour was brutal. So, I looked for a more privatized option, and Tabitha from Winston and Main recommended I check out iTalki.com, which she was using to brush up her Japanese.

iTalki allows you to search for teachers based on the language you’d like to learn, and has detailed profiles for them including photos, credentials, student reviews, and even videos. You can buy trial lessons to sample up to 3 different teachers before settling on one, and take your lessons via skype or G+, allowing you to tap into teachers anywhere in the world. You can also find conversation buddies if you’re just looking to practice your language skills, or meet other people who speak the languages you fluently speak. The rates are extremely affordable for private lessons (usually $15-$25/hour, depending), and you can schedule as many or as few as you like per week, or sign up for a package deal.

I found my teacher, Zeanie Yoon, on iTalki, and she has been a total game-changer in my learning. Her ability to teach Korean with mnemonic devices, analogies, humor, and common sense really appeals to the ways I learn best; and having her full attention, rather than sharing it among a group, allows us to move much more quickly and focus on what will help me most practically, the fastest. I feel so lucky to have found her.

If you’re interested in learning a new language, or brushing up an old one, iTalki is running a special in the month of July – so if you use this link to go find a teacher, you get $10 in free credits to use on the site.

And if you’re curious about the basics of Hangeul…. here you go!

To break it down: Hangeul was developed by Sejong the Great, 4th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Han (한) meant “great” in archaic Korean, while geul (글) is the native Korean word for “script.” Unlike general phonemic writing systems such as the Roman Alphabet, it was uniquely designed to combine consonant letters and vowel letters into syllabic units. Hangeul is a very logical approach to the alphabet, because the consonant letters are based on the shape of the speech organ used to create the appropriate sound for it, such as the tongue, teeth, throat, lips, etc. It’s not an exact science, but knowing those correlations has helped me. The vowel shapes are said to be based on the 3 “elements” of fire, earth, and human. I find this to be far less helpful in learning their letters.

Consonant letters:
ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ
Vowel letters, dipthongs and thiphongs.
ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅢ

Until next time, 안녕히 가세요 (goodbye!)

BPA Be Gone! 10 ways we’re kicking plastic to the curb.

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This article published by Mother Jones last week was a frightening reminder that we don’t know the whole story about BPA and how the chemicals in plastics affect us. It seems that even so-called “BPA-free” plastics are not safe. And I promise I’m not going all tin-foil hat on you. These allegations are backed up by some pretty significant science.

In fact, a lab called CertiChem ran extensive testing on 18 everyday plastic items from places like Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us,  and found that a quarter of the items “came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics.”

“CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.”

This type of hormonal exposure is incredibly dangerous, and I want none of it. And while it’s unclear if we’ll be able to see or pinpoint it’s effects in our lifetime, this statement particularly affected me, and influenced our decision to make some drastic changes in what we use in our home:

“A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.”

Fuck. That. Noise. To that I say…


I fully support LN Smith‘s idea that “every dollar you spend… or don’t spend… is a vote you cast for the world you want.” And the world I want encourages companies to give a shit about the safety of me and my family. But not all of them will, so we’re spending our money on those that do, and trying to avoid shopping with those who don’t.

Here’s some of our favorite plastic-free gear for the kitchen, where minimizing BPA exposure matters most.

bpa-free glass stainless options kitchen bottles storage

1. 4-Ounce Jelly Jars: these are as versatile as they are cute. Just perfect for small batch jams, snacks, salad dressing, spices, pills, or individual portions of almost anything. Also perfect for traveling with. I put lotions, my homemade deodorant, and hair ties/barrettes in these little jars and pop ’em in my travel bag. Easy peasy, and all under the 4oz. TSA maximum for liquids!

2. Half Pint Mason Jars: we use these for canning, but also to store small-batch dry goods like popcorn, seeds, sauces, nuts, etc. They are also great for using as vases to hold flowers, or certain produce items that want to be upright. And a great size for loose craft items too!

3. Quart-Size (32-oz) Wide Mouth Mason Jars: Maybe the most versatile size of our collection, these are awesome for storing large-batch stocks, since they can be frozen. Or we store produce in them, with a small square of damp cloth, in the fridge. (Here’s an awesome guide on storing produce without plastic, for more ideas.) I also like these for keeping leftover dried pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, etc once the bag is opened. I keep my whipped coconut oil in one of these on my bathroom vanity for body lotion. I use them for storing our homemade almond milk. And, as you know, they’re the perfect size for making/storing my homemade laundry lube.

4. Half Gallon Mason Jars: oh, how I love my big daddies. These are brilliant for storing larger amounts of dried goods that we get in bulk – like flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, washing soda, borax, etc. Also great for brewing large batches of sun tea, or infusing waters.

5a. Flip and Tumble Reusable Produce Bags: these always come in my canvas tote with me to the farmer’s market, so I don’t have to use the plastic bags provided there. These have such a fine mesh they can also be used to pick up dried goods in bulk like rice. Then when I get home, I can transfer them to a jar for long-term storage.

5b. Simple Ecology Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bags: with a wider-gauge weave, these are sturdy as hell and hold produce like a mean m-fer. Also a staple for our weekly farmer’s market trips.

6. Snaplock Tempered Glasslock Storage Containers: tempered glass means they can go from the freezer to the oven and not crack on you, so these are multi-talented like crazy. We use them mostly for storing leftovers and packing Paul’s lunches for work, but they can also be used to freeze portions of stock or lasagna or whatever you like… ready to be reheated in a snap. And speaking of snaps, the lids are the most secure I’ve tried. They snap on and over the lips of all 4 sides for an air-tight and water-tight seal.

7. Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle: These guys come with us to the gym or out shopping, filled with water. Lightweight, unbreakable, and dishwasher safe… they’re perfect sports bottles.

8. Aquasana 18 Oz. Glass Bottles: We’re hardcore slaves to our SodaStream machine, but the plastic bottles are so no bueno. Since we haven’t found a great option to replace it yet, we’re carbonating the water in their bottles, and immediately transferring it to these sturdy glass bottles. I also like to use these for iced tea, when I brew a big batch.

9. Cuisinart PerfecTemp Stainless Steel Electric Kettle: RIP, Keurig. We barely knew ya. Yup, had the sucker for about 6 months, but decided there’s far too much heat and plastic involved to feel comfortable about it. So, we’re selling it and pulled Paul’s old stainless steel kettle out of retirement. It has variable temperature settings, heats up in seconds; and the kettle is cordless, so once it’s been heated, you can move with it easily.

10. Glass Bottles With Stoppers, 33 3/4 oz: We use these rarely, but they’re lovely for storing larger amounts of carbonated water. Especially if we have company and want a couple carafes on the table.

…and this is just the start.

Sure, the lids on some of those items are plastic, but their contact with what’s stored inside is so minimal, I don’t mind too much. And hey, baby steps right?

Pretty soon, those baby steps are gonna add up to quite a journey. And we feel pretty great about the direction in which we’re headed.


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So, this happened…


…and then this happened…

dana enagement(pardon the blur, but you get the idea.)

…because this happened…

dana larue ring…and then this happened.

dana larue engagement

dana family engagementPaul’s 10 best friends walked in. Then my mom, sisters, and best friend, (all from out of state) walked in too.

And I couldn’t be any happier to have this happen, with this man…

dana paul engagement

…for the rest of my life.


How an episode of New Girl changed my life (or: the frozen baby story)

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Last December, I was sitting in the living room of my mid-divorce crash-pad (you know, that friend’s apartment where you live for a few months before you can bear going out into the world on your own), in the midst of what I thought was an innocent New Girl binge… trying to escape the realities of my life by daydreaming about how I’d totally be best friends with Jess, thanks to our love of patterns and polka dots, our quirky glasses, our awkward outbursts, and similar reactions to a glass of rosé….

New-Girl_Meme-V1.jpg(But I mean, let’s be real. I’d probably freaking hate her in real life, because she’s too cute and stylish and charming. How could I compete with that? That shit ain’t natural.)

Anyway… there I was, enjoying Schmidt’s shenanigans, the whole “will they or won’t they” Jess and Nick saga, and their rollicking games of “True American.” And then I reached Season 2, Episode 9: Eggs.


Did you guys know that there’s a simple blood test that can check the age of your ovaries? Or rather, gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”? Yeah. Neither did I, until Zooey and friends did an episode about getting Jess and CeeCee’s AMH (anti-müllerian hormone) levels tested. And there I was, staring down the nose of my 35th birthday, in the midst of my divorce, and for the first time, doubting my fertility.

My ex-husband and I had always planned on “starting to talk about trying” around the time I turned 36, and I foolishly, blindly, just assumed that I’d be good to go, no matter what. But suddenly, I saw the ignorance of that assumption and was gripped with terror about the possibly dwindling likelihood of my ability to conceive naturally.

If I’ve ever known one thing for sure, it’s that, my whole life, I’ve desperately wanted to bear children. Like, grow them in my belly and push them out the hard way. All my friends were always much more “if I could just skip the pregnancy and get straight to the baby raising, I’d be happier” types. But I’m like the opposite. It’s a mind-melting miracle that we can create a human out of such basic, seemingly miniscule matter. It blows my mind that we can serve as a host to this… alien, living through us until they’re ready to emerge. That we, as women, are equipped for such a task. And, with all the hell my body has put me through in the form of medical mysteries and chronic illness, I figured the least I could do is use it for this unique purpose that only half of us are built to serve. It’s on my life list and has been, as long as I can remember. So, the idea of losing that chance because I had my head in the sand for too long was no bueno at all. Like, not at all at all. The good news was that I had a physical scheduled for later that week, including several blood tests, in preparation for an eye surgery the following week. “Bingo!” I thought, in the midst of my sweaty panic, “I’ll just add this on!”

So there I was, a week later, wrapped in my clumsy paper gown on the exam table at my local urgent care, trying to act casual while asking them to “maybe just draw an extra vial of blood for an AMH test. Cuz… you know, New Girl.” (by the way, what is with those damn paper gowns? How have we not come up with some better, more comfortable way to deal with medical modesty? Do they make you sweat, like, extra? They make me sweat extra. But I digress…) The blood was drawn, and a week later, the doctor emailed me a scan of the results, with a note suggesting I talk to my gynecologist for her interpretation, since they weren’t knowledgeable about their meaning enough to comment. But it wasn’t necessary. I could plainly see that between an “expected range” of 0.16 – 8.43 for my age, my result was a paltry 0.96. My heart leapt into my throat and then sank slowly into my stomach. I didn’t know exactly what it meant… but I knew it wasn’t good.

The conversation with my gyn was unencouraging:

“We really don’t like to see anything below a 1.0 in women your age. My advice would be to try to get pregnant as soon as you possibly can.”

“Um… I’m kind of in the middle of a divorce.”

“Oh. Well, then I’d say you should look into freezing your eggs sooner rather than later.”

I knew full well that freezing ones eggs is a huge expense. My mind was racing in panic. Would I need to take out a loan? Could I even get a loan? Should I just find a sperm donor and move home to Chicago and do the single mom thing right now? Should I just give up hope and get comfortable with the idea of adoption? Should I just show up at a local bar with a T-shirt on that says “open for business: put a baby in me!”? BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN A DEPRESSIVE DIVORCÉE WEDDING BLOGGER WHO IS PROCREATING OUT OF SHEER DESPERATION, AM I RIGHT?

Then, I pretty much had a full-on nervous breakdown. Granted, it was fueled by wayyyy more than this egg nonsense, but it surely wasn’t helped by it. (more on this later, probably.)

I was doubting everything. My decision to divorce. My future. The meaning of life. My sanity. The axis of the earth. I was sure I was being punished.

new girl meme

(I have a tendency to over-react a bit.)

Meanwhile, the simple truth is that I had been on low-dose chemotherapy for 4-years in college to suppress my immune system so it couldn’t attack my eyes. And well, chemo is an all-too-common thief of fertility. If I had only known that earlier…

I got the name of a reputable fertility specialist from my gyn, and went in for a consultation a month later. On my birthday. Because that was the first available appointment they had. A month later. On my 35th birthday.

“So, Ms. LaRue… what brings you here today?”

(Deep breath) “Well, today’s my 35th birthday and I’m getting divorced and I saw an episode of New Girl about the AMH test and my results were low and I really want my own baby and I don’t know what to do.” – It all just tumbled out of my mouth like an avalanche of emotion.

My doctor, god bless him, looked at me with a benevolent mixture of pity and amusement, and patiently walked me through a super clear understanding of fertility and exactly what my test results meant. Long story short, it means my ovaries are much older than that of a “normal” 35-year old woman, but the eggs inside them are totally the age they should be. Which means, if I freeze my eggs at 35, when they’re defrosted (no matter when that may be), they’ll still be 35-year old eggs. But, what it also means is, if I don’t freeze my eggs, my ovaries will stop producing enough of those perfectly-aged eggs for me to get knocked up with, sooner rather than later. So, while I might be able to get a baby in me naturally, I also might not, and the longer I wait, the less likely that is. So to harvest/freeze my eggs would be the most prudent security measure. Like an insurance plan, of sorts. Then a lovely front-office assistant came in and informed me that the process would cost about $8,000. And none of it, including today’s visit, would be covered by insurance, that’ll be $250 for today, thank-you-very-much.

I had no money, and I had no idea where to find any. So I had no choice but to put the baby thing on the back burner for a while, which was a good thing because, frankly, my mental stability was pretty damn tenuous at that point, and I was more concerned with just making it through the darkest days of my divorce grief and depression alive.

Fast forward a few months. I turned a corner in my mental health: I made peace with my split with my ex, I had quit drinking for several months, my medication had been managed, I had gotten my own apartment. I was starting to feel human being again. Healthy again. And, miracle of miracles, I had HOPE again.

And then, I met Paul. And like, suddenly, in a very once-in-a-lifetime way, that was it. When I absolutely least expected it, I found my lobster.

you're my lobster (yeah, I just totally made a Ross and Rachel reference in the same post I referenced Nick and Jess. Pop culture love fest up in here!)

On our second date, he asked me why my ex and I hadn’t had children, and I told him everything. I figured it was better to lay it all out on the table right off the bat – no surprises, no secrets. And he was just like, “well, shit. We’d better get those eggs in a freezer then!” On our second date.

Seven months later, we’re there. Tomorrow is the first day of my cycle, and that’s our cue to start the process with my doctor, harvest my eggs, fertilize them, and put them on ice, where they’ll await us until we’re ready. That’s right: I am about to make my future babies. I just won’t get to meet them until… we’re ready.

When this began, I was convinced it was a punishment. Now I see, it was a gift. The elegance of this crazy world is clear to me, and it seems as though it was always supposed to work out this way. (At least, that’s how I like to think about it.)

So, thanks, New Girl. If it weren’t for you, I might have completely missed out on a chance to realize the future I had always pictured for myself.

I’ll be documenting the process here, if you care to follow along. And happy to answer any questions y’all might have. So stay tuned, it’s gonna be an interesting ride!

Camp Mighty 2011: better late than never

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If you know me, you’ve no doubt heard me jabbering on about my Life List, and working toward (or celebrating) crossing items off of it. And if you don’t know me, you can get to know me better here. I first wrote the first draft of it as inspired by Maggie and in preparation for the inaugural Camp Mighty at the Ace Hotel in glorious Palm Springs… though as long as I can remember I’ve kept a mental tally of “things I want to do someday”… I just hadn’t written it out yet.

Not to get all “THE SECRET!” oprah-style on you, but over time the practice of committing my goals and dreams to writing has been like a magical key to more productivity and opportunities in my life than I could have ever dreamed. Partly thanks to the simple fact that writing it out has kept me focused and culpable – motivating me to pursue them more actively and consistently. And because I do it publicly, it affords friends, colleagues and passers-by the opportunity to offer assistance if they are so moved to reach out… rather than secreting it away in the confines of a hello kitty diary hidden under my mattress.

Call it the Law of Attraction, or call it rewarded effort – but having a Life List has changed my life and given me confidence to pursue bigger and brighter dreams every day. It’s pretty bad-ass.

I’ve since been to two more Mighty events, and have come away changed from each one, in different ways. Regularly touching base with my List and the Go Mighty community helps to keep me focused on moving forward – something I’ve desperately needed this past year more than ever. And the past two events have been critical in the inception of this new blog! So I’m kicking things off with a very belated but well-deserved recap to the event that started this ball a’rollin’.

I came away from Camp Mighty 2011 with a renewed focus on my goals, a wealth of inspiration, tools and skills with which to attack those goals, and an entirely new community of people that have become incredibly dear friends since.

There were inspirational speakers like Evany Thomas, who hilariously reflected on pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone; and Buster Benson, captain of awesome and resourceful sites like 750 words (which I use every day) and HealthMonth, who taught us about the science of habit making and breaking which was absolutely fascinating.

There were life skills workshops (who’s up for sabering open bottles of champagne with samurai swords?!?), delicious meals, hours spent communing in the hot tub… and a killer space camp party complete with costumes and Tang-tinis.

We were broken into 4 Teams in advance, and each team member was responsible for raising or donating $200 to Charity:Water – a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. The Camp’s total funds raised went into buying a drilling rig called Yellow Thunder which will bring 40,000 people clean water each year in Ethiopia.

The apex of the weekend involved splitting into our teams for the afternoon, and sharing the 5 goals from our list we were committing to for the following year, one of which we’d request help from our Team to achieve. My team was super bondy, warm and engaged; and many tears were shed and hugs were given. It was an epic, intense, and vulnerable afternoon that left me feeling more supported, encouraged, and hopeful than I’d felt in a very long time.

Here’s what I laid down for myself last year:

1. Sell and write my book – check!
2. Run the Zombie 5k – check!
3. Throw a proper Greek Easter feast for my Los Angeles family – check!
4. Learn Photoshop – no check, yet. merrrr.
5. Visit Asia – no check, I got divorced instead.
…and my sixth goal, over which I had no control, but wanted to “put out there” just in case it helped:
6. Go a full year without surgery – check! I made it a year and a week. (more on this later)
…plus my super secret seventh goal, which I dared not speak nor write but held quietly in the darkest, most fearful corner of my heart:
7. Sort out my marriage – check. (ouch.) (see #5)

But that was just the beginning. Since last year’s Camp, I’ve completed 13 goals from my Life List.

Pimp as hell.