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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The woman at the market

It's Christmas and we are doing what we do when the country we live in doesn't feel like Christmas.  Snow and cold weather is essential to a good Christmas, in my mind, so if we can't have that, we like to escape to someplace completely different.  This year we are in Thailand.  All of that is just a side note to set the stage for the real story that I want to tell.
This afternoon we were at a market, enjoying the great bargains on all the "designer label" things.  We really had a great time, Chad was in his element dickering away at prices.  The kids enjoyed poking through all the stuff and finding their treasures.  We stopped to get some bubble drinks before we hopped into tuk tuks to go back to the hotel.  While we were sitting around a table, a woman approached us.  She was clean and neat, dressed nicely and had a genuine smile that shone out from inside of her.  She held out her hand with little trinkets in it and gave us a card in English explaining that she was deaf and selling these items to support the deaf community.  We began to look through the trinkets--an elephant, a globe and a deaf hand in the symbol of "I love you."  We all looked to Maddie.  Slowly at first, she signed something.  The woman's smile got bigger and softer and her hands began to fly.  Maddie told us that she didn't get it all, but back and forth they went, signing to one another.  The woman pulled out another trinket to show Maddie.  It was a cross.  She pointed to the cross in her hand and then to her heart.  I didn't need to understand sign language to know what she was saying.  
It was beautiful to watch Maddie communicate in ASL to this Thai woman.  Maddie got the trinket with the hand on it and promptly put it on her purse.  Sometimes it's not the activities we do along the way, but the people we meet.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A few foods

A stroll through the grocery store is always an adventure.  Here are a few things that I took pictures of!

Do they collect bee's wings for this?

Not sure what it is, but who doesn't like Hello Kitty in the frozen section?

Domino's Pizza - Peanut butter filled crust

Why not give it the "fresh from the ocean" taste with some seaweed powder?

Meat lovers with corn???

Thursday, November 19, 2015

View from my Window

I don't often take time to stare out the window.  Maybe a glance now and then, but it is a rare moment when I really take the time to look.  I don't have my camera with me, but maybe I can describe a bit of what I see.

Hundreds of mopeds are parked across the street.  They stand in a long row, the white liscence plates facing out.  They all look the same and I often wonder how the owner finds his bike.  Maybe it's by the helmet hanging on the handle, screaming out individuality in a sea of sameness.

A man stands by the street--sometimes he sits in a portable chair he has brought with him.  He is wearing a tan, Japanees style hard hat and a red cape.  Yellow trims the cape that is draped to the ground.  He stands still, facing the ground as people walk by.  He has something in his hands.  I don't know if he is a monk, but no one has offered him anything.  He will be there all day, barely noticed by anyone but

A taxi stops and the driver helps a woman get into a wheel chair.  It takes all he has to heft her out of the car.  She is wrapped in shawls and pink blankets.  Someone runs up and whisks her away.

A young couple stroll by.  She is on her phone, her straight, long black hair flung over her shoulder.  He holds her hand as they briskly walk by.

Shades of green marble the park across the street.  Like a Monet, indiviudual leaves blur together creating dimention and feeling.  The wind blows the long leaves of the palms in ribbons across the sky. 

In the center of the park is a large, renaissance sytle building.  I am told it is left over from the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the early 1900's .  It is an oasis of Savanah charm in the midst of steel and glass.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Catch a Wave and You're Sitting on Top of the World

Playing in the water is part of who we are.  Chad grew up swimming on his school’s team, I had a pool in my backyard and we both were lifeguards in high school.  When the kids were little and we lived near Lake Michigan, I would load them into the car a couple times a week and head out to the beach.  There’s just nothing like sand between your toes and waves to play in.  The last island we lived on, Chad, Damon and I got our diving certifications.  Diving hasn’t turned out to be my favorite sport, but I tried it because I love the water.  Now we find ourselves on an island once again.  We’ve been out to the beach a few times, Chad and Elena played in the waves.  Taiwan isn’t a “lay on the golden sand and bask in the sun” sort of country, but it is a “grab a surf board” sort of a place.  

We set up lessons with Rising Sun Surf Inn 1½ hours away.  On the sand, we laid on top of our boards following the instructions from our teacher.  Theoretically, if I paddled hard, placed my hands on the board then hopped to my feet I would be surfing.  Of course it was much harder than that.  After a few tries though, I found myself flying ahead of the wave, popped into the air and raised my arms in victory.  Not exactly what I was supposed to do, but the feeling I had of success simply expressed itself in pure excitement.  

Surfing turns out to be loads of hard work.  There’s this big board you have to drag out into the ocean while battling the waves.  Then you have to turn the board around and get one top of said board.  As the wave approaches, you paddle like crazy.  This is more of a mental activity rather than anything that propels you towards shore. Then comes a moment when you are completely connected with the water, wave and your board.  You plant your hands and pop onto your feet in one smooth movement.  For a brief moment or two, I experienced the sheer exhilaration of riding a wave.  It's completely addicting.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beach Clean-up Day

We've settled in and life is beginning to find its routine.  We're having fun exploring and getting involved and even enjoying just the routine of living in one place and knowing we will be here for awhile.   I hope to catch-up, in the next few weeks, with some of the things we have been doing and some of the observations I've made.

We joined in, one Saturday, with a bunch of other people from AIT to do some beach clean-up.  Each year Taiwan sponsors various clean-up days on beaches around the island.  There were probably about 200 people on this one beach picking up trash.  It was very well organized and turned out to be a lot of fun.  They had gloves and bags and pinchers for us to use.  The Taiwanese people are amazingly clean and you typically don't see trash around.  (You also don't see garbage cans around either, but that's a different story.)  But after a few typhoons, stuff gets blown in and blown around and it takes a lot of work to get things cleaned up again.  So we just walked around with our  pinchers picking up little bits of refuse and putting it in our bags.  It was amazing the pile of trash two hundred people collected.  

We explored a bit after we were finished and came across a harbor full of these fishing boats.  They are strung with huge light bulbs.  Man I would love to see them all lit up at night!  From what I read, they are used to light  up the boat and attract fish.  I'd like to return when they are coming in from a trip and see them unload the fish.  I'll have to ask around a bit and see what I can learn!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cross Country Season

Yesterday morning I cheered Elena on in her last cross country meet of the season.  It's been a new sport for her, and the best decision made in moving to a new country and school.

I can't think of one negative thing from this running season.  Yeah, Elena ran with an injury, but I watched her overcome the pain, and push herself to reach personal goals.

I really didn't know what to expect of the sport, but I found it to be the most personally supportive group she's been involved in.  The coach knew when to push her and when to tell her to take an easier run.  He saw her strengths and weaknesses and worked with them.

It gave Elena a place to belong, a place to find her feet and settle.

I'm going to miss Sat. morning meets.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Two in One Day

If you've followed this blog since the beginning, you would know I am a little bit bitter about not feeling earthquakes in New Zealand.  I'm over that now.
This morning, around 3:30, I awoke to the bed swaying gently around the room.  Or at least that's what it felt like.  Chad was out in the family room on a call with the states, taking care of some business.  He ran into the room with his eyes wide open and asked if I had felt it.  Yes,  I did.  Is that what an earthquake feels like?  I really was expecting a bone rattling sort of mind numbing shaking. 
We were talking about it at dinner, and apparently many people were awaken by the shake.  Elena slept through it, she was disappointed.
I looked it up, because I was curious.  The quake was a 5.6, off the east coast of Taiwan at 3:37 a.m.  What was felt here in Taipei was 3.0.  My gentle sway has the potential to be a lot worse.  Chad says it was not a gentle sway.  He said I was half asleep.  What really happened was, the room shifted and the apartment creaked.  It was rather freaky.
As I was sitting here this evening, contemplating writing a blog to document my experience, the room swayed once again.  This time my eyes were big.  It felt like it lasted forever, like maybe 20 seconds or so.  Elena ran out of her room and her eyes asked if it was an earthquake.  Yep.  
So two in one day.  My heart is a bit on edge right now.  I think I've had enough excitement for the next three years. 

What Have I Been Doing With My Time?

I typically have a bit of extra time on my hands when we arrive at a new post.  Basically, I'm starting over with no commitments, free to make new choices that will fill my days.  It's a great time to build new friendships, get familiar with the grocery shopping, and just settle in.
Using crazy household objects as straight edges
This is the first post I've come to where I have a job waiting for me.  I did the interviews over the phone and was fortunate to be offered a position before arriving.  I gave myself one month after arrival before I would begin.  I'm coming up on the last few days of an open schedule before that job begins.
I feel like I've had more time at this post.  We are down to one child home, which feels extremely different.  She's been involved in after school sports, so that leaves me with lots of hours to fill during the day.  Our apartment is the smallest space I've lived in for a long time, so it doesn't consume my time keeping it clean.
I've tried to be very purposeful in how I use my time.  I feel comfortable with the grocery stores in my area.  I have a handle on Elena's school and classes.  I can get around on all means of public transportation and am just waiting for our car before I begin driving.  I've organized and bought shelves and feel ready for our HHE to arrive.  I've even painted our entire apartment.
Cutting the scarf
Last spring I began getting itchy to get my sewing machine out.  There wasn't time, and I didn't have a project to work on, so instead, I decided to pack the machine in our air shipment, buy some fabric while home, and use my extra time before working to begin a few projects.
I've been having a blast.  I've made two skirts for work and began a quilt.
I have this silly little goal, to make a quilt from each country we live in.  Of course I have quilts that look traditionally American, I have one I made from fabrics I collected on our trips to Africa and I have one 3/4 finished from New Zealand.  The squares for my Colombia quilt are waiting for inspiration.  While in Russia, I purchased some inexpensive scarves to make a quilt out of.
I got together with a few of my mom's friends, whom I knew made beautiful quilts.  We looked at the scarves, and discussed patter and color options. Then my mom and I went to the quilt store and picked out fabrics.  The clerk was wonderful, she came up with some color ideas that I fell in love with!
So, I've been making a quilt top.  In typical Kris fashion, I packed the sewing machine and scissors in the air shipment, but didn't think of all the other tools I would need to cut out a quilt.  So I've had to be creative.  I've made patterns out of paper, figured measurements on the computer, and used the groves in the tile to make sure I'm keeping my quilt square.  I've found odds and ends around the house to use as straight edges and right angels.  Overall, it's been fun to improvise, but in the future I'm going to make sure I pack the correct tools.
Piecing together the top
Fortunately, I am not a perfectionist.  There are some problems with my quilt that would probably drive some people nuts.  The first is that I should have stabilized the scarf.  It changes shape and dimensions and is very hard to correctly cut.  I will definitely stabilize the next scarf.  The other problem is that I sort of winged the pattern.  There are a few places where I should have just had one large strip of fabric filling a space, but instead I have several strips pieced together.  Not ideal, but it is a quilt, after all.
So I've been having a blast with my sewing machine on these hot humid days.  I will be putting it away in the next few weeks and have no idea when I will find time to sew with abandon again.  I've treasured these creative moments and am glad that I will have a fun project to look at as a result.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eating Locally

We are becoming quiet fond of the local food.  It's the first country we've lived in that we are excited to eat out.  Typically, in other places, we've looked for a good Italian or American restaurant and sort of avoided the local food.  Here, we may not recognize what we are eating, but typically, it tastes good!  
This is a typical restaurant that we ate in one day.  The first clue that it's truly local food is the lack of English.  No English menu, the staff does not speak English and there's not even a picture menu to help out.  Another sign that the food will be good is the crowd around the front waiting to order.

The menu looks long, but everything is simply a combination of meat, rice, noodles and vegetables.  We order through pointing and sign language, typically combined with the help of a sympathetic customer who speaks English.  We always need to have the attitude of "I may not get what I'm expecting so I need to just go with it."  Dining is always an adventure.  For example, the other night we went out.  The restaurant even had plastic molded copies of the entrees.  One looked amazing with beef stew around a pile of mashed potatoes.  As I sat waiting for my dinner to be ready, I kept babbling on about how good the mashed potatoes looked and how I was suddenly craving mashed potatoes.  Big mistake.  Never get your expectations up when ordering food in a foreign country.  My mashed potatoes turned out to be rice covered in a thin sheet of scrambled eggs.  It was rather disappointing.  I couldn't even imagine mashed potatoes while I was eating egg covered rice.  
Several people work up front, taking orders, boxing up meals to go and working the cash register.  The kitchens are typically tiny.  This kitchen was only the size of a typical bathroom.  The women seem to have a rhythm, moving in unison to prepare and plate the food.  
Although I have my days where I just need some good ole American food, I'm beginning to prepare a few local dishes at home.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Butterfly Trail

Crazy, large wasps eating some sort of fig.
Wouldn't you want to see where these stairs led?  I discovered them while taking the dog for a walk one day.  I immediately realized it was the beginning of a butterfly walk I had heard about.  On Labor Day, Chad and I took advantage of a day off to explore and see where the trail ended.  We had a wonderful morning walking together.   

There were so many things to see.  I will let the photos show you what we found. 

Nice view of our area as we headed up the mountain.

an interesting bird 
Sign of all the butterflies we could possibly run into.

Very cool rock with writing
in the middle of nowhere.

Freaky large spider.
We saw a couple of this variety.

We saw lots of butterflies.

More curious steps.
Too overgrown to explore.

Lanterns strung up on an obscure road.

Temples are everywhere.

Chad finds these large snails facinating.

Idols in a temple.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Button on door
What to eat for dinner?  I looked at my list and picked a new recipe then watched the video I had found to make it.  Shoot, I was missing the vegetables.  I'm sure I thought, "I'll get them fresh when I'm ready to make it." last time I did my shopping and of course I didn't bother to figure out what I was making for dinner this morning before I went to the grocery store, so back to the store I needed to go.   Since I needed only Asian ingredients I thought I would try the grocery store I had been avoiding, a.mart.  It's only a block away and closer than Carrefour by a smidgen, so when in a hurry, it might be a good idea to know what they have.

I've been avoiding it because people seem to think that it's the Chinese store in the area.  No English.  No recognizable products.  I've been afraid that I would feel completely lost inside, so why bother?

I can see the back of the store from the end of my street.  It's right there, across a large, vacant lot.  Should I go left or right?  Right looked shorter so off I went.  I found a sketchy looking parking lot and cut through and ended up in the loading area.  I dodged delivery trucks and garbage dumpsters and walked around to the front.  Turns out there is a whole mall there.  I have found this to be typical overseas.  Grocery stores are located in malls and here they seem to be located on the second floor.

I found the main entrance and walked towards the sliding glass doors.  I haven't gotten used to pushing the button that makes the doors slide open.  I usually stand there, like an idiot, waiting for them to magically slide open.  Typically someone walks up, pushes the button and I meekly follow.

I wandered in and was delighted to find that there is a McDonald's in the mall, just around the corner from my apartment.  Right there, easy to get to when I have that need for some greasy fries.  Next to McDonald's was a donut shop.  Why do people avoid this place?  

I found my way up to the second floor and entered the grocery store.  Neat, clean, wide aisles and logically organized.  I walked down a random aisle and found the brown sugar and yeast that have been alluding me as well as several choices of flour.  They had cake flour, waffle flour, fine ground flour, standard flour, tapioca flour and just to spite Americans, they had extra gluten flour.

I grabbed the fresh veggies I needed for tonight's dinner then walked through the freezer section.  On my way to the cash register I saw the most interesting ice cream delights.  It's always fun to try the products in a foreign country so I picked a box of white covered purple ice cream treats.  Who knows what flavor that will be?  I can't even imagine, but it will make for a fun ending to our meal tonight.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Chicken

My goal each day is to have dinner on the table around the time Chad and Elena get home in the evening.  OK, that's always been my goal, but things have gotten a bit more complicated here in Taiwan.  My real goal is to produce a meal that is edible and I know it will take me most of the day to accomplish that.  Once I get into the swing of things, I'll have a list on my refrigerator of the meals I can find all the ingredients to make.  In the meantime, it's trial and error in the kitchen.

One of the meals we love and find comforting is simply baked chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.  Chicken is a meat found in most countries, and having been to the market here in Taipei, I knew it was available.  I'm a bit leery of buying the market chicken because I have no idea how long it's been sitting on that table, unchilled.  The last thing I want is for all of us to spend a miserable week running to the bathroom because I bought meat that had been sitting out in the heat and humidity for too long.

On my shopping trip to Carre Four, the grocery store that has a nice balance of local & other products presented in a bit more Western way, I found whole chicken, nicely wrapped in cellophane and packaged in a familiar way.  I examined it an made my purchase then began contemplating opening the package up and beginning the cooking process.  

I wasn't sure exactly what I would find.  I was a bit worried about feet because I could see there was a bit of color variation sort of tucked up inside the cavity.  I tore the plastic and began pulling at the grey part with my knife.  After a bit of effort, the leg slowly began to unbend and out came the leg, foot and claws.  The feet were scaly and just sort of curled up in a witchy sort of way.  The claws looked like long finger nails ready to scratch a groove in my cutting board.  Yuck.  I looked at the knuckle where I would need to make my cut and gave a shudder.  I quickly flipped the bird over with my knife to see if the small legs needed removing as well.  

That's when I saw what I was completely unprepared for.  The head was still attached, smashed into the side of the breast and squashed flat.  I squeaked.  Mind you, it was not a full out scream, but there was some sort of strange sounding noise that came from me.  It took a few minutes of hopping around the kitchen and shaking my hands out before I was able to return to the bird and sort out what to do.  I picked at the head with the knife in an effort to pry it away from the body and considered what to do.

I made a quick trip across the hall to see if my neighbor had ever removed the head from a chicken before.  She had a cleaver but had never cooked a whole chicken, so she had no useful tips for me.  Armed with my weapon, I marched back into the kitchen to get this over with so I could get on with my day.  I'm not really a hacking sort of person, so I gingerly took the cleaver and sawed it back and forth across a leg.  It didn't even break the skin.  I applied a little more pressure but didn't have any more luck.  So, lesson one learned.  You must have sharp kitchen knives in order to de-head a chicken.  I got my good chef's knife out and amazingly enough, with a little bit of pressure, the leg came right off.  The ease was actually a bit frightening.  Leg number two came off quickly before I turned the body around to deal with the head.  

There's just something about cutting a head off that is a bit disconcerting.  The more I looked at it's face, all ugly and smashed, the weaker my knees became.  I finally just sucked it up and in one, smooth slice the head was severed.  I peeked into the cavity.  Fortunately it had been thoroughly cleaned out to make room to tuck the feet.  I rinsed the body out and placed it in a baking dish.  I'm sure a Taiwanese cook would have a fit because the feet are one of their favorite things.  Not sure what they do with the heads, some things are better left unknown.

Dinner was a huge success.  The bird was juicy and tasty.  Another meal down.  1,085 left to go!