2012: a review, of sorts

I started the year on vacation in sunny Tampa, Florida. Husband and I flew down to meet my dad and my brother for the Outback Bowl - where Michigan State beat Georgia in hands down the most exciting game of football I've ever witnessed. on actual New Year's Day we went to the Salvador Dali museum, which was an all-around amazing experience.

2012 was the year of the nailpolish for me. my essie obsession started the previous fall, but over the year it exploded. I now have 37 bottles of essie. and I love each and every one. this was also the year of what I like to call the "red pants revolution". I got over my fear of being judged and decided to wear what I wanted, even if it meant being overdressed or in head to toe neon. my colored denim collection now includes pants and/or shorts in the following: wine red, mint green, olive green, lemon yellow, bubblegum pink, deep teal, and yellow with white polka-dots. being colorful makes me happy.

our trip to Boston in February was perhaps the most significant event - the one that triggered a huge life-change. I spent a lot of time that week in our hotel room writing and trying to be brave enough to accept that what had once terrified me so much I said I would never do it [moving to Asia] was becoming a reality. but once it was decided, it was a huge weight lifted. Husband and I had been spinning our wheels in the unknown for months... knowing we wanted to move abroad but having no idea where we would end up.

we spent a wonderful few days celebrating [with incredible brunch, mexican, and a bottle of johnny walker blue label] before we had to come home and face the reality of all that needed to be done: passports, visas, moving, packing... deciding what to bring, what to leave, and what to get rid of... quitting our jobs, selling our cars, leaving our family + friends + cats behind.

in our months before we left we tried to spend as much time as possible soaking in what we would miss. a million thanks to all our friends for the memories made... baseball games, concerts, bonfires, going away parties, barbecues, and many many drinks. and our amazing families who took our moving to the other side of the world without [much] complaint.

and then we were here. I know that many things may have been easier had we moved to another country. somewhere I could use my Spanish, anything within the eastern time zone, someplace that takes less time and money to get home from, an English-speaking culture, or Turkey where Husband has spent so much time already. but Taiwan has been good to us. especially in the people we have been lucky to meet here. and regardless of where we go next, this place will always have a piece of my heart.

I won't rehash all the events since moving to Taiwan, but some favorites have been our road trip to Hualien and Taroko Gorge, euchre nights, figuring out how to bake in a toaster oven, learning to scoot, our epic karaoke evening, the daytrip to Yehliu Geopark, painting my chalkboard wall, drinking on the rooftop, exploring the statue garden [post coming soon], and the many dragon-covered temples of our city.

2012, you were an adventure.


still developing

[photo from this great blog]

this has been an extremely difficult post to write. the weight of all the things left undone and unsaid this year - from my 13 by 2013 list to the kitchen full of dirty dishes - is starting to put me into panic mode. but I'm taking a deep breath, deleting, and starting over.

I had a lot of expectations about where 2012 would take me. Taiwan... was definitely not on that list. from the moment we arrived here, it has been a learning experience. eyes opened. fears faced. stereotypes smashed. more than I had imagined, and sometimes less. it hasn't all been pleasant or comfortable, and at times was downright terrifying. but that's life. progress. growth.

and while I've grown immensely in our time here, there is still much I want to accomplish. lucky for me - there's a whole new year just ahead in which to do it.

so here I am: 2013. trying to find my voice. wanting to be authentic, and vulnerable, and me. sometimes terrified. but still growing, changing, discovering. still developing.


taichung botanical garden + rain forest greenhouse

in downtown Taichung there is a long, winding park that leads you to the National Museum of Natural Science and the Taichung Botanical Gardens. rising up out of the green space is a giant glass and metal structure: the rain forest greenhouse.

the first thing you notice when you step inside is the waterfall. the second thing you notice is that the waterfall is not flowing from a stream or river, but from spigots located near the ceiling of the structure.

as we wandered through the paths, navigating around school tour groups, we realized that November is probably not the ideal time to visit the greenhouse. there was a lot of green... but not any flowers in bloom. [we plan to return sometime in the spring]

when we reached the bottom of the "trail", we found they also have a cafe and science center in the basement. with little fish, piranhas, and giant fish as long as I am tall. they also had an interesting collection of colorful frogs. [I can't tell you much else about them as the signs were all in Chinese]

it was a nice way to pass an hour or so before heading to the museum, though I think it would have been better if: 1. flowers were in bloom and 2. there was an English tour and/or signage. definitely worth a stroll through to see the waterfall and the frogs and fish, though.

and of course, the giant mosquito statue outside that tried to suck the life out of Husband.


merri xmis: an expatriate holiday story

this sign is hanging on our recycling building next to the school. I'm not sure I could have found a better way to express what celebrating Christmas in Taiwan is like... bright, colorful, well-meant, but just not quite the same as you expect.

I accepted a while ago that this would not be a traditional holiday. and tried to embrace it. hence the tree decorated in yarn pompoms and plastic dinosaurs. [not pictured is the Transformers pillowcase that Husband fashioned into a tree skirt.] and while these aren't our traditional traditions... maybe they can be new ones.

Christmas Eve, one of our friends organized a dinner at the fancy hotel down the road. gathering with 20 friends and co-workers for a multicultural buffet is not the same as eating a home-cooked meal with family... but it's not bad way to celebrate. and while the Taiwanese people don't quite seem to get everything about Christmas, they try. throughout dinner there were carolers [singing songs we had never heard before] and of course Filipino Santa distributed candy.

my camera battery died on me partway through dinner. and then I pulled out my iPhone instead and... that died too. so I tried to take it as a sign that I should just relax and enjoy. the meal was actually very good... they had sushi and steak and turkey and pork chops, a table full of shellfish I avoided, and tons of tiny desserts. I am not ashamed to admit that my meal mostly consisted of cheese and caesar salad. [which had REAL caesar dressing - a rarity here.] and for dessert I lucked out in the gluten department: tiny macarons!

Husband and I came home and opened presents after dinner. our amazing friends and family sent us so much of home, it was almost like being there. many of our gifts were Michigan State or state of Michigan themed. oh, and the food. we are now up to our ears in kind bars, gluten free mac + cheese, and sriracha hot sauce. [and that's a good thing!]

Christmas morning I woke up to the sound of Husband making breakfast... my sister-in-law sent gluten free pancake mix and maple syrup! it was heavenly. sadly, Husband had to go into work, but he returned at lunch with some flowers for me from a school fundraiser.

while Husband was working, I skyped with my parents and brother... and Beaumont! so I got to spend time with family on Christmas, even if it was through a screen. I got to see snow, and watch the fireplace, and Beau going crazy over his new laser pointer.

I lounged in my new Spartan pajamas for a bit, painted my nails with the festive polish my Mom sent me, and then it was off to the kitchen to make cheese olive tarts. [don't worry, there will be another post full of nail pictures of this awesome glittery red]

after Husband came home from work, some friends came over and we watched the most essential of Christmas movies [in my opinion]: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Muppet Christmas Carol.

during which we has a feast of olive tarts and chili cheese dip and assorted chocolates and candies, A&W root beer and Dr Pepper. and maybe a little scotch.

and that's the story of our first expatriate Christmas. a little different, but all in all a pretty good Christmas I'd say. I hope that all of your holidays were just as happy.

so for now I'll leave you with our tiny tree and a little scribble I made with my new iPad stylus [thanks, Husband!]


merry christmas, happy holidays

it would be all too easy to slip into Grinch mode this Christmas. between being sick, subbing, and the sunny + 70F weather... holiday spirit has been difficult to come by.

our celebration this year has been quite unlike any we've experienced, but that's not to say it was bad. though we couldn't see our families [in person at least] we did not have to brave a 12 hour drive through the snow or worse - Newark Airport. sure, my camera batteries died last night at dinner. but not before I got a picture of us with Filipino Santa Claus!

I think especially in moments like this... a holiday meant for celebrating with family at a time where you are far from home... it's most important to not be defeated by your circumstances. to make the best of what you have, enjoy the good of how things are, accept the unexpected, and maybe even start some new traditions in the process.

all in all, our Christmas has been pretty great. and it's not over yet. I'm not going to make promises as to when I'm going to catch up on pictures and blogging... it could be tomorrow and it could be a month from now... but rest assured my camera batteries have been recharged and I have much to share.

and for those of you just starting your celebrations: Merry Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

[photos from a few years ago... Beaumont being [mostly] a good sport. one of the many reasons I miss Target is because you could always find some little gem like this pet antler and jingle collar set for $5. ah, retail therapy.]


DIY yarn pompom ornaments

with only 3 days until Christmas, I figured I better post this tutorial. in early November I stumbled across a trove of artificial trees at our local hardware store. I lucked out that the tiniest tree was only $8 US and I happened to have some spare cash from subbing that week. the decorations they had for sale were... not to my taste, shall we say? so I decided to stick with the thrifty theme and make my own ornaments. 

the idea for yarn pompoms came from this tiny pompom curtain tutorial [it's in French.]

I wasn't entirely confident that I would be successful. so, I picked yarn colors I felt I could use for other projects [what projects exactly I have no idea.] I also didn't want to have the obvious red and green color scheme. Husband likes to have a tree that doesn't look too... planned. and I of course want to plan everything down the position of the last branch.

I started by making a pompom on a fork, like in the tutorial above and elsewhere on the internet. I was frustrated because it seemed too small and it was difficult to slide the yarn off the fork. so I dug around in my kitchen drawer and realized that my potato masher would be just the right size I wanted. you just have to be sure to wrap around an even number of... prongs? loops? squiggles? whatever they are... so you can slide the bundle off at the end.

1. wrap the yarn into a bundle around your potato masher [or fork] a good 30 to 40 times.
2. tie some yarn loosely around to hold the bundle together and slip off the masher.
3. tighten the yarn as much as you can and knot securely. tie the ends off to make a look to hang.
4. cut the loops around the bundle to open up your pompom. trim if needed.

and that's that. you have a yarn pompom, with a convenient loop to use it as an ornament! I repeated the process using different yarn color combinations to make an army of little pompoms for my tree. if you use only one color at a time, just wrap it twice as much so the pom pom is still full and fluffy.

we have also added a few other interesting ornaments to our tree, including dinosaurs and a lion... but that's another story. [which does not involve a potato masher.]


well, hello there.

[sunset view from the kitchen table, Christmas 2011 in DeKalb IL]

despite my exhaustion and aching knee and stuffy nose, I felt the urge to write. decided to embrace it while it's here. and let what will come out, come out.

it's been a week since my last post... a week!

in fact, I don't think I've turned my computer on since then. take full-time substitute teaching, add a dash of nasty cold and a pinch of dog-sitting and there you go. my spare moments have been spent sipping tea, napping, curled under blankets with a book, or soaking up the December sun. but... I felt the call and I have returned.

the truth is I have about a hundred half-formed thoughts I'd love to write about. maybe in the next few weeks I'll be able to complete and organize them enough for publication. discovering "the whisky cave". progress - and partial lack of- with my happiness project. [ugh. and my 13 x 2013 list] making big plans. the arrival of Christmas packages from home. Husband's birthday. decorating our tiny tree. new year's plans. the incredible group of people here we are blessed to call friends. a knee update. teaching. our traveling, visiting, and hosting itinerary for next summer. life with a dog. adding the diary of a young girl by Anne Frank to my reading list.  rooftop escapes. the rest of our Taichung trip. my new "sexy nerd" glasses. how to Christmas shop in Taiwan....

you get the idea. there's a lot, but none of it solid just yet.

and that's all she wrote. [for today, anyway.]



to taichung: the high speed rail

I want to start posting about our trip to Taichung, so first things first... if you are going to travel in Taiwan, the high speed rail is the way to go. the station in Hsinchu is an easy scoot away, and parking is plentiful [and cheap.] the station is big and bright, and everything is labeled in both Mandarin and English. even the automated ticket machines are easy to use. the station also has a 7-11, Starbucks, and Mos Burger ... so we stopped for a snack while we waited for our train.

there are two kinds of tickets you can buy: reserved and non-reserved. the reserved tickets mean you have a specific assigned car, row, and seat. kindof like an airplane. the train platforms are labeled so that you know where to stand to board your car, so that you will be closest to your row. insane organization, I love it. non-reserved seats are a little cheaper but you can only sit in the 2 or 3 non-reserved cars and seats are first come, first serve- everyone else stands.

regardless of which car you are in, the train is clean and the seating is comfortable and spacious. there's also a service cart that rolls through with coffee, tea, and snacks for purchase. but the best part about the high speed rail is that it's high speed.

[this might get a little bit math class, so if you hated those "if a train leaves Chicago traveling 60mph towards New York, and at the same time a train leaves New York..." kinds of problems, maybe you should skip the end of this post. though you should note that the only way to get between those two cities by train is to route through Washington DC...]

the distance from Hsinchu to Taichung is around 115 km or 70 miles, and according to Google [and traffic] would take approximately 2 hours and 18 minutes driving time. OR. you can take the high speed rail and be there in 25 minutes. even with the time by taxi to get from the train station to your destination, it's a no-brainer.

also, consider that I used to take the train from Princeton NJ to New York City [only 81 km or 50 miles] and the trip took between 53 and 89 minutes depending on the time of day... the high speed rail is more than twice as fast as New Jersey Transit.

in fact, you can travel from the north end of the island in Taipei, all the way down to the south at Zuoying in just two hours. 352 km or 219 miles. that's just shy of the distance between New York and Washington DC, and only slightly more than the distance between NYC and Boston. I can tell you I have ridden the fastest Amtrak Acela train from NY to Boston... and the trip took me 5 hours. [closer to 6 if you drive - I've done that too!]

I feel like I've gone off on a tangent, so let me summarize my conclusions:
1. the Taiwan high speed rail is fast, convenient, and awesome.
2. I wish the US had trains that traveled this quickly.
3. I also wish the US had trains that traveled to more destinations.
4. I wish the US would have built them years ago and saved me all that airline money spent and all those 12-hour drives from Princeton to Detroit, and some serious commute time to/from NYC.
5. sorry my list of conclusions turned into a list of tangents.
6. I promise the next post about Taichung will actually be about Taichung.
7. can you tell my brain is fried from substitute teaching all week?
8. thank you, and good night.


Dr. Gus Bojangles

this furry guy is staying with us for the next few weeks.

[I'm totally still a cat person.]



editing: pictures from our trip to Taichung last weekend. Husband and I took the train down for the afternoon and had a nice little adventure date. I haven't been out of the house much [other than running errands and subbing] since the crash, but hopefully there will be more adventures soon. also some crafty stuff, and nails.

subbing: 8th grade literature and social studies. one of our friends had to fly home to the states on short notice because her dad is sick, so I'm teaching her classes for the next two weeks or so. we made some rough plans before she left, but on the first day I realized a story we planned for one day would take up a week. which is actually a good thing. so I had to sort of re-plan some things, and I'm going to be putting a test together for next week. I know it's not near the work "real" teachers do, but it's crazy.

fostering: oh yeah, we are also watching our friend's foster dog while they are away. after 2 days... I'm pretty sure I'm still a cat person. dogs are a lot of work with all the walking [though it does get me out in the fresh air and sunshine for some exercise... ok maybe it's not so bad.] Husband grew up with a dog, but where he could just open the back door and let the dog run free for exercise and bathroom breaks. I think it's a different experience for him too. though this weekend he plans to give the dog a bath. that should be exciting.

missing: easily available, ready made gluten-free goods. in particular: buddy's pineapple/pepperoni/onion/hot pepper pizza and new planet off the grid pale ale. and my dishwasher. the charm of washing everything by hand and neatly stacking it to dry is starting to wear off. [now that I'm "working" again I miss he little things that used to make our life convenient.]

feeling: borderline sick. I've had general feelings of icky-ness for the past week or so, sinus pressure and sniffles mostly and some low fever. I usually get sick when the weather changes, and all the scooting around in the chilly rainy weather seems to have done me in. I spent monday on a self-imposed sick day with lots of tea + rest, and hope to catch up on more this weekend.

reading: I finally finished the happiness project! and now I'm reading trashy romance novels I downloaded for free on my kindle app. [most of which are better written than the 50 shades of grey series, so stop judging me.] I also downloaded some classics on my list to read... but I like to alternate my reading material between "serious literature" and light and fluffy.

loving: our new space heater. totally worth the downpour I got caught in last friday on my scoot over to get it. Husband and I had been sleeping with every. single. blanket. we have in the house to keep warm at night, but now our room is a toasty little haven. the best part is that it's portable... it may or may not be under my desk keeping my toes warm right now.

the next few weeks will probably be sparse on posting, until I'm done subbing + dog-sitting. feel free to link your "currently" post below or share what's going on in your life.


["currently" post inspired by Danielle at Sometimes Sweet]

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