Thursday, August 28, 2014

no end of summer blues here + my new twitter account

Next week, school officially starts.
The kids will come, lessons will be planned, papers will be marked and the weeks and months will start to roll by.
This is about the time I normally start to get the end of summer blues.
No more sleeping in or staying up late, no more endless days to fill with whatever I please and no more feeling of complete and total freedom.
Plus, I will actually have to get dressed in the morning.
But I am okay with the end of summer this time because I think this year is shaping up to be extraordinary.
In fact, I cannot wait for it all to start!
What am I so looking forward to?
Travel, of course!
We have some truly spectacular things brewing for the 2014-2015 school year!


three week new zealand road trip
We are heading to New Zealand with two of our super awesome friends in January. We are going to spend three weeks road tripping all over both islands. Right now, apart from having purchased our airfare, that is as far as I have come with planning. I anticipate some Sundays at Starbucks obsessing over guidebooks/blogs are in my future! 
Do you have any NZ travel tips? I'd love to hear them!

24 hour layover in seoul, south korea
We intentionally booked out flight back to Taiwan from New Zealand with a 24-hour layover in South Korea. I have to be honest here. Apart from Jeju Island, South Korea was never high up there on my list of places to go. Maybe one day in the city will change that and I will be dying to go back. Our flight lands early afternoon and then leaves the next afternoon. It should be an action packed adventure!
So we have 24 hours in Seoul! What should we do/see/eat?? Tell me! 

one week birthday/graduation celebration in tokyo + hokkaido, japan
My amazing husband is hitting two pretty impressive milestones this March. He is turning the big 3-0 and he is graduating with his degree in education. Guys, this is He will be the first one in his immediate family to graduate from college and he will be one of the very, very few in his huge extended family to graduate from college. You have no idea how hard this man has worked over the past two years so we can live our dream come true. So we are gonna live it up in Japan! My man loves, loves, loves all things Studio Ghibli so we will start in Tokyo and go to the museum and then fly north to Hokkaido to eat massive amounts of ramen and ski until our legs fall off! 
Have you been to Hokkaido or the Studio Ghibli museum? What do I need to know? Dish please! 

two week eastern european tour with kiddos
I have had this crazy idea stewing in my head for years: lets take some students somewhere cool for a while. I have tried unsuccessfully (due to money) to do this before but now it's coming together nicely. It looks like my friend/colleague and I will be taking a group of 18 students to Eastern Europe for two weeks. We will explore Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey! I am super stoked. The best part is that Sean gets to come and so does friend/colleague's wife!
Have you been to Hungary/Bulgaria/Romania/Turkey? Did you love it??

summer fun in the usa
We will be spending some of next summer back at home in Washington State. My cool big brother is getting married and we are going to fly home so we can be a part of the big day!

and a tentative hong kong ladies weekend {at disneyland}
When? Who knows. That's the beauty of being a one hour flight away from hong kong! 


So you see, I really have nothing to be upset about.
So what school is starting?
Will I have to hear the alarm go off?
But still, look at all the exciting things I have to look forward to this year!!!!
And in other news, you can follow along with all of these exciting adventures on my new twitter account!

This post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up. Check out Pack Me To for more great travel writing + photos! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

my love affair with my scooter

When we were in America for two months, I missed a lot of things about Taiwan, but I missed one thing the most, and that would be my scooter.

If you've never driven a scooter in Asia before, you might not understand, but I have. I do every single day, actually.

My scooter is petite and black & white and has the cutest circular mirrors, and she makes my life wonderful.

Why do I love my little scooter so much? Read on and you'll wish you had one for yourself.

never having to wait in line at a red light
It is totally acceptable and even expected that scooters weave in between cars, buses, and trucks to cut to the very front of the line. In fact, there are even designated boxes at the front of each light where scooters are supposed to congregate. Plus, there are timers on the lights that tell you exactly how much longer until the light turns, which is kind of an excuse to go 10 seconds before it actually turns if there are only a few cars coming in the opposite direction.

the chaos
I don't really think Taiwan has any real traffic laws. I have been driving a scooter in Taiwan for more than two years now sans a license or clear understanding of the rules of the road. I've only ever been pulled over once, and neither officer seemed too concerned that I had no license. In fact, they just let me go. In Taiwan, everything goes. This includes driving on the sidewalk, driving down the wrong side of the road into on coming traffic, cutting around and in front of cars, and just about anything else you can imagine. I know this sounds terrible, but it's not. I call it organized chaos. Your only job is to not hit someone or something. That's easy enough, and once you loosen up, scooting feels like the best video game ever.

the freedom
I cannot tell you how great it feels to take off on a scooter adventure. We like to head up into the hills and explore more of Taiwan. Usually, we have a vague idea of where we are going but always get lost on deserted, narrow, jungle-like roads. Most of the time, if we go up into the hills far enough, we can spend an hour without seeing any other car. Just us. It feels awesome to explore places, the wind blowing all around you, and simply pull over onto the side of the road anytime something you see strikes your fancy.

the cost
Most of the time, Monday through Friday, I just use my scooter to get to work and back and run an errand or two. Because of this, one tank of gas can last for about two weeks. Do you want to know how much that tank costs? You don't, but I'm going to tell you anyway: $3 USD. That's right. Three dollars, so that means I usually pay about $6 USD every month for gas. Doing the math, that means I spend about $70 a year in gas. I know, now you really wish you had a scooter too.

Check out these fun Youtube videos to see exactly what riding a scooter in Taiwan is like:

Friday, August 22, 2014

a welcome home, taiwan style

This is what happens when you leave Taiwan for nearly eight weeks. You get back and find that:

Your power has been turned off. It's 90+ degrees outside and humid as hell, and there is no AC or fans or dehumidifier for you. You melt.

Your gas has been turned off, so no cooking/warm-ish shower for you. Do you know how much it hurts to shave your legs using cold water? You are forced to wear a skirt that shows off your hairy, hairy legs.

Your Internet/phone has been turned off. That means no checking in with family to say you made it safely, and there's definitely no facebook messages/calls out to local friends asking: where do I go for power/gas/Internet and phone?!

Your scooters won't start. Either of them, so then as your husband works on them you walk through the muggy, oppressive heat showing off your hairy, hairy legs on a mission to get some breakfast down the street, and, of course, people stare, but still, you count your blessings because you also discover that:

There are no huge, scary spiders waiting to scare the daylights out of you. There are no cockroaches even though you accidentally left garbage in your sweltering apartment for eight weeks. There is no mold growing along your walls or on your towels/bedding/clothes.

And most importantly, locals are still the friendliest people on the planet. As you and your hairy legs make it around town to the power/gas/Internet and phone company offices, on foot at first then via scooter after your amazing husband fiiinally gets them started, they bend over backwards to figure out what you need, and then they get you all sorted out and everything turned back on.

Then you go home, turn on the AC and fans, make some eggs, email your people in America and finally take a shower and shave your legs, and all is right in the world once again.

Then you do what you love to do when you're in Taiwan: sit back, eat some dumplings, drink some tea, admire the dragon covered temples and feel perfectly lucky you get to live your life here.

Thanks for the welcome home Taiwan!

Monday, August 18, 2014

confessions of a memento hoarder

I have a confession: I am a hoarder.
A hoarder of travel mementos.
If it's a train or plane or boat or bus ticket, a museum stub, a map, a brochure, a receipt even, then I keep it.
I even sometimes pocket pebbles from beaches or napkins from restaurants.

I know, I know.
That's weird.

But for some reason, I get attached to these tangible reminders of our adventures abroad.
But it also begs the question: what to do with all this stuff that is more than just stuff?
I mean that napkin?
That napkin was what the waiter wrote the address of my favorite Parisian museum on so we could show it to the taxi driver.

What a shame it would be for those mementos to just sit forgotten in a box in the depths of some closet.

Thus started my obsession with scrap booking.
And yes, it is an obsession.
I could spend hours + hours and days + days going through all of my prints and mementos trying to find the perfect way to tell their tales.

{And I have dropped a pretty penny on all of the ridiculously fun supplies one needs in order to scrap: funky scissors, pretty paper, double sided tape, stickers, punch outs, ribbons... I could go on and on}.

Scrap books are the perfect place to store mementos from trips and they tell a story as powerful as any blog I have come across.

My scrapbooks include postcards I sent to my family and train tickets.

They include metro maps and travelcards.

They include brochures of places we've been.

They include entrance tickets and tourist maps.

They include rail passes.

They include walking tour routes.

They include city maps hotel owners drew all over.

They include bus fares.

They include money and local postage.

They include island road maps and boat tickets.

They include luggage tags and receipts.

And sometimes they just include fun prints.

I have made four scrapbooks: two of Europe, one of Asia and one for my honeymoon.
All of these scrapbooks are years old.
I cannot tell you how much fun it was to look through these memories and see these mementos and remember these adventures.

I didn't bring any of my scraping stuff to Taiwan.
But now I am seriously wondering why.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

what's in my suitcase: the expat edition

In less than one week, we are heading back to Taiwan. Lately, I have been tying up all of my loose ends when it comes to stocking up and packing.

Most expats I know {myself included} did a horrible job packing to move abroad their first time, but I think that's just how it goes. If you're moving to a country you've never been to before and trying to cram all of your earthly belongings in just two suitcases, how are you supposed to know what to bring and what to leave behind?

In my case, I got to Taiwan and discovered that I messed up royally.

I had no idea what heat and humidity really were until I got to Taiwan- and I certainly had no idea how to dress appropriately for the dreadful combo.

I had no idea it was colder inside than outside when you live in a cement building during the winter. And I sure had no idea how important layering would be: think wool socks & gloves & hats, indoors.

I had no idea that finding sunscreen without bleach in it or more than two kinds of icky deodorant or any tampons at all would be nearly impossible-- and I had no idea how much of a mess I would feel because of it.

I had no idea that getting around on a scooter everyday would sometimes suck, like when it rains all the time in May.

Or how important sunglasses and rain gear would become.

And products to tame perpetual helmet hair.

But now I am smarter.
And now I am prepared.
So I took advantage of my time in America to fix my previous grievous packing mistakes.

Now, the contents of my suitcases are an American-girl-in-Asia's survival kit.
Bring it on Taiwan.
So what's in my suitcase?

things that make me feel human 
5 sticks of deodorant
5 tubes of my favorite face wash
2 powder foundation compacts
2 bottles of my favorite mascara
3 huge boxes of tampons
2 chafe cream sticks
1 bottle of sweat proof sunscreen
1 tub of fancy humidity-fighting leave in conditioner
1 bottle of my signature perfume

things that let me be comfy & cute, winter or summer
5 lightweight skirts
5 heavy weight skirts
5 lightweight dresses
1 lightweight jacket
1 heavyweight jacket
3 jean capris
2 pair of leggings
4 pairs of canvas (washable) flats
10 tee shirts
10 long sleeve shirts
4 cardigans
2 light weight scarves
3 pairs of yoga pants
3 workout tees
1 pair of running shoes
2 headbands
100,000 pairs of World Market earrings
2 waterproof tote bags

NOTE: Taiwan does have H&M, the GAP, and other American stores. However, I am a size 12 pants and 38C chest. It is exceptionally difficult for me to find clothes that fit here in Taiwan, so I try to pack everything I need to get me through the year.

things to use in the kitchen
1 tortilla press
1 food processor
20 powder packets of Hidden Valley ranch dressing
10 powder packets of red enchilada sauce
1 bottle of Johnnys seasoning

things for our international adventures
1 blue & white polka dot tote bag
1 purple day back pack
2 wrist purses/wallets
1 driving map of New Zealand
1 National Geographic photography guide
1 camera
1 tripod


Strictly speaking, did I need all of these things?
Probably not.
But having them will make living in Taiwan so much pleasanter for me:

Now I have enough clothes to wear during the nasty hot and humid season to get through an entire work week without having to do the wash, which takes three days to hang dry.

Now I have enough workout gear that I won't have to put on newly washed wet workout clothes or used sweaty wet workout clothes.

Now I have products to help my hair not look so crazy and my armpits to sweat a little less and not want to commit murder when that time of month comes around and I am stuck in the teenage girl world of pads.

Living abroad is all about adaption.
But there are certain things I don't want to adapt to.
Like being miserable in the heat.
Or using sunscreen with bleach.
Or putting on icky deodorant.

If the clothes in my suitcases let me dress in a way I feel good about come typhoon season or winter, then it was money well spent. And if the beauty products in my suitcases help my poor American body survive 90 degrees & crazy humidity or 50 degrees on a scooter, then Target can gladly have more of my money. And if the travel gear in my suitcases allows us to continue adventuring and exploring, then I don't care if my bags are overweight at the check in counter at the airport.

I will gladly pay the overage fee. 

This post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up. Check out the fun travel blog Pack Me To for more great writing + photos. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

to the sea

I am no sailor.
Or salty dog.
Nor a mariner or seafarer.

But I am a Pacific Northwesterner.
And the water is in my blood.

I have never lived more than five minutes away from the sea {until Taiwan}.
Beaches are where I stroll and sand is what I have to shake out of my shoes before going inside.
I collect beach rocks and sea glass and driftwood. 

We are coming to the end of our summer adventure in the United States.
We are beginning to cross off items from our shopping lists and strategise the best way to utilize the 200 pounds of luggage we get between our four suitcases.
Dates have been made to say goodbye to dear family and friends.
We will be back in one year but one year is a long time to wait to hug your mother and pet beloved dogs.

So when my mother suggested my family spend a Sunday afternoon together on a chartered sailboat, we all jumped at the chance. 

So that's what we did.

We spent four hours sailing in the sunshine.
We laughed.
We talked.
We ate.
We simply enjoyed each other's company.
And we admired the beautiful sea. 

I am a Pacific Northwesterner.
And water is in my blood.
So I can think of no better way to spend a few quality hours with the people I love before we part ways and head to the other side of the world.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

expat problems: how not to get fat when visiting home

I know, I know.
This topic is a little weird + funny.
But I think most expats can relate.
When you go home, wherever that is, there are just so many delicious ways to gain weight.
For me, after two years of living in Taiwan, simply walking into an American grocery store feels like bliss.!
But the thing is, I don't really want to go back to Taiwan weighing 20 pounds more than when I left it.
Some people whose genetics smile at them and make life all butterflies and rainbows may not understand this but I actually have to work at maintaining my size 12 body.
I eat balanced meals and work out at least five times a week.
If not, watch out size 16!
So even though I may not be the poster child for healthy living, I actually found some pretty great ways to enjoy all the culinary delights of home without expanding my waistline.
So here is how I, an expat visiting good old America, have enjoyed all the foods I missed over the past two years in Taiwan without needing to go out and buy bigger pants.

share meals at restaurants 
When Sean and I go out to eat, we only order one meal. Then we split it. Because lets face it: almost all restaurants in America serve enough food to feed at least two people with just one entree. We alternate who gets to pick a restaurant + meal. If it's Sean's turn to pick, he chooses the restaurant and the meal. The next time? It's my turn. Another additional bonus? This saves us lots of money!

indulge, once or twice
I became obsessed with the concept of a donut before leaving Taiwan. In my mind, I just knew I had to have this particular donut when I returned to America. It was a maple bar with chocolate drizzled on it. The weird thing is that I was never a big donut eater, even when I lived in America. But for some reason, the idea of going home became synonymous with the idea of eating this particular donut. So that was one of the first things I did when I got back to America. But in the past five weeks, I only ate two. I don't need more. I satisfied this craving. I indulged. And I really don't need to do it every day while I am in America simply to make up for the fact that I cannot ever eat this donut in Taiwan. Once or twice was enough.

find ways to be active
So we run at least five times a week in Taiwan. Usually, we do quick trips to the track and log one or two miles. Back in America, we lack the convenience of a track and steady schedule. Sean and I are bouncing all over the place, from house to house and town to town. That said, we still find ways to be active. Sometimes that means visiting the local gym or swimming pool. Other times, that means going on hikes or playing frisbee with the family dogs. Being home is no excuse to be lazy. We are having a blast staying fit and active with each other and our family and friends!

So there you go. 
Three simple ways to enjoy all the delights of home without having to blow your summer budget on bigger clothes!

Monday, August 4, 2014

ocean shores, wa

Ocean Shores, Washington is a bizarre, bizarre place.
Even during summer, the coastline is smothered in heavy fog.
And the beach is actually a highway.
As you stroll the beach, you have to watch out for cars and trucks.
And every once in a while a Great White shark is spotted.
That said, it's still an awesome place for a weekend getaway.