Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 20_Chinese New Year Vacation!

well friends, I am enjoying the opportunity to relax with some family this week in the States... BUT...
I have LOTS of pictures of Chinese New Year goodies to post... and other random interesting tidbits.... SO, I have saved some time in my schedule tomorrow for blogging :)

Stay tuned, coming soon.... :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week 19_Chinese New Year dinner aftermath!

~~~*** Side Note: Fans, it turns out that the company photographer 
actually did not catch me singing karaoke... Whew! 
He had already retired for the evening... Therefore, there is no evidence! Ha. 
I guess I will have to go to Asian karaoke again sometime for your entertainment...***~~~

Beer from the company Chinese New Year dinner - Beer drinking competition:
The women were challenged who could drink this amount the fastest...
The men were challenged to drink the full glass...
The ladies in action!
One of these women is one of our partner's wives! Impressive.
As seems to be the tradition, the winners of each contest were rewarded with red envelopes filled with cash - hong bao - and have since generously donated some or all of their prize money to tea time(s) for the office. Monday the beer drinking winners treated us to gigantic sushi hand rolls, & milk tea. The office desktops were also scattered with pineapple cake gifts received from various clients. Pineapple cakes are a traditional Taiwanese holiday treat. The "cakes" are reminiscent of an American pie crust wrapped around a candied pineapple filling. In reality, the pineapple cakes are not filled with pineapple at all - but are instead made with blended winter melon and artificial pineapple flavoring - the real pineapple is not a desirable texture for the little cakes; I'm told it's too chewy and rough.

On top of all of that, as if Monday did not bring enough treats... our company also gave us each a little bag of chocolates for our own personal New Year's gifts. I am keeping those in my desk for a rainy day...

My fancy little box of chocolates :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week 18_Let the CNY celebration begin!

This Friday was the beginning of Chinese New Year's festivities at our office. The actual Chinese New Year has not officially begun yet - but it is easy to see that people are in the holiday spirit (much like I was before the Christmas holiday!). The office enjoyed a tasty tea time Friday afternoon, followed by a celebratory company Chinese New Year dinner.

For tea time, the office enjoyed two different types of cake (picture below), as well as fruit that the company received as a CNY gift from a client. The cakes were wonderful! I have always enjoyed Taiwanese cakes, which seem very light and fluffy in comparison to typical Western cake. It leaves you wanting a second slice, and feeling less guilty, since they are so light - surely they can't be too bad for you, right? At first glance, I assumed the fruit was apples... but I quickly discovered I was wrong. After asking around, and finding that most people did not know the correct English name of the fruit - I got a few votes for plum, and one vote for pear - I decided pear would probably be my guess. A local variety? Your guess is as good as ours...
Fruit received as a gift from one of our clients.

Tea Time cakes! Left - "1000 layer cake," reminded me of pound cake.
Right - Turtle cheesecake w/caramel topping & toffee crunch crust, delicious!
Tea time was pretty late in the day this Friday, and it wasn't long until we all piled into taxis and headed to our dinner celebration. Dinner was held at a local Chinese restaurant, with traditional family style meals served on a round table and shared by all. (You'll have to forgive the lighting in my camera phone pictures...) The meal was many courses, including expensive seafood dishes and a famous soup that everyone seemed pretty excited about. Additionally, every table was stocked with a full bottle of whiskey in addition to a red bottle of wine - ready for the endless toasts that would be made throughout the meal & rest of the evening! Some tables finished off more than the one bottle of whiskey and wine as the night went on. Apparently, whiskey is commonly used for toasting here even though most Taiwanese are not regular/heavy drinkers. I stuck to the wine, just to be on the safe side...

Cheers! or ganbei! ("bottoms up")
1st course: Lettuce & lobster salad, topped with dressing
A few courses later: Chicken
They say whoever the chicken head faces is buying the meal...
In this case, the partners were not at our table, but they were in fact buying....
A vegetable course: centered with mushrooms.
Shrimp stuffing with lettuce on the side - wrap your own spring roll. Yum!
Fish. I have a particularly hard time with chopsticks & the bones,
but luckily one of the colleagues at our table de-boned the fish for us when it arrived :)
These were some, but not all of the many, many courses, and we also enjoyed a light coconut cake and fresh fruit for dessert. Our tables were separated from the main dining room by temporary partitions. Throughout the evening there were speeches, beer drinking competitions (for both the men & the women!) and karaoke was going on - sort of in the background. After the meal, I was a little bit startled to be informed that I was "on the singing list," and I'd "better pick out a song"..... I will have to post more about my karaoke performance soon when I have access to the party pictures....!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 18_Flora Expo, the Eco Ark

Taipei International Flora Exposition - the Eco Ark

During my visit to the Flora Expo last weekend (see previous blog post), one of the major buildings we toured was called the "Eco Ark" - a building designed using PET, aka polyethylene terephthalate, bottles.

Signage wrapped around a structural column,
Educational display as you wait in line for the building tour.
PET bottles have gained significant popularity among green enthusiasts because the material can be recycled and reformed for reuse as a new product. There are a wide variety of products containing PET on the market now - everything from water bottles, to clothing, to carpet. In this case, the architect specifically used a stacking block like system of PET bottles to create the walls and ceilings of the Eco Ark structure. Of course, because we were on a quest to find "green" at the expo, we picked apart the design concept and formed our own opinion about the building. Just a few things to consider...

Eco Ark - 1st floor ceiling and 2nd floor wall above.
Walking up to the building we were unsure what to expect, but upon arrival it was clear that the PET bottles were mostly aesthetic. That is to say, the building still utilized a traditional steel beam & concrete column structure, with plastic bottles used in lieu of exterior bricks or interior wall board.

1st floor ceiling, curving up to 2nd floor wall.
All of the bottles used were clear (the natural color of PET) stacked together in an original locking pattern - shaped just for this building project - and lit with lighting both from behind and some down lighting slightly recessed into the ceiling (see at back of photo above).

PET bottle chandelier
PET bottles were even used on the interior of the building for decorative items - such as the chandelier above, or hand painted varieties painted by children and used as artwork in the building.

So, without any further research, 
here are some initial observations - some pros & cons about this PET building:

- The Eco Ark uses PET in a new way. It showcases many benefits of this recyclable material : the adaptability yet durability of PET.
- The building reused thousands of pounds of plastic, diverting the waste from ending up in a landfill.
- The design of the building was generally pleasing, with attractive curves and back-lighting. This is important, because people will not choose to use recycled materials if they are not also satisfied with the appearance and functionality of the products. 
- The Eco Ark was designed to encourage the public to think about new ways of building green. One of many on-going steps in the right direction. 
- When the Eco Ark is finished, the plastic bottles could be recycled and repurposed if they want - they are made from 100% recyclable materials. 

- The PET bottles were not able to be used in their original forms. The plastic was re-manufactured to create these unique building blocks - requiring more energy and natural resources (unless the process was powered by solar or wind energy..)
- The PET bottles still required glue (lots of it) to help solidify the structure. Most adhesives release harmful VOC's (volatile organic compounds) into the air, decreasing the quality of the air we breath. 
- The PET resin was most likely supplemented with additional chemicals to create the cleanest and most durable building blocks. 
- The bottles are clear: (Petty as it sounds) Everything shows up on those clear bottles - from a trapped leaf, to a bug corpse - they might require significant maintenance, and water usage to stay clear and pretty. A colored material might actually be more functional, and release less wasted light into the night sky. 
- Many people see the end result of the building and may not understand the life cycle impact of the complete materials/resources used to create it - there are still more problems that need solutions, and greener solutions yet to be found.
- The building system worked well as a temporary structure, but would require intensive integral design to accommodate heating, cooling, plumbing, and functional lighting systems, as would be required of a more permanent structure. IE, this is not necessarily the future of our most inhabited buildings... 

Close up of the bottle stacking system - custom bottle shape designed for the Eco Ark building.
Conclusion: The building is not entirely green-washing (refer to previous blog posts...), but it could have gone further to educate the public on the bigger picture. Most people will tour the Eco Ark and say something like "yeah, did you see that new green building made out of reused plastic bottles?" It is important to break down the finished product and look at the time, labor, and energy that went into the end result. The Eco Ark was a fine idea, but it is not necessarily "the answer."

'What is "green"?' is a question that we are perpetually developing new answers for - our many "green" ideas still need us to take a step further, dig deeper, and complete the bigger problem of finding even greener solutions. At the same time, it is always nice to see someone pushing the envelope. In this case, the building envelope.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 17_Taipei International Flora Exposition

Saturday was a work day for me, but I can't say it was too painful. My team got out of the office and spent the day at the the Taipei International Flora Exposition, checking out green design innovations and getting ideas for our own current and future projects. The Flora Expo is absolutely gigantic, and even though we walked around for 5+ hours, there was definitely more to see! I am hoping to revisit another weekend (the show runs through April 25th, so I might get the chance).

The expo is an "A2B1 level horticulture exposition, showcasing [of] notable achievements in horticulture, science, and environmental protection technology", but of course we attended specifically seeking green design insight and inspiration.

Walkway as we entered the Expo site.
Really neat design, but how many rings are on those tree trunks?
We hope these were reclaimed wood rings :
 re-purposed and given a second life as this walkway...

Standing in front of the "Pavilion of the Future" building.
Note what looks like a hill behind me is actually the roof of the building.
This pavilion featured skylights, solar panels, green roof, & a mini-eco system. 

Mini-eco-system at the heart of the 'Pavilion of the Future.'
[Photo taken standing on roof, looking down]
Man-made habitat/ Eco-system is recreated within this building to promote and preserve
a natural circle of life, even within the city.

Solar panels and vegetation on the roof of the 'Pavilion of the Future'.
The roof looked fabulous on this brisk January afternoon,
but I wonder how it will fare near the end of April in Taipei?

Analysis of Expo's solar panel output.
Unfortunately, on this cloudy day (common this time of year in Taipei),
the panels energy production was 0.00 kWh.

A historical/traditional Chinese home & gardens.
These were just gorgeous. I would love to have a home like that!
With a few modern amenities of course...

Close up of one of many carvings at the traditional Chinese home.

There were representative gardens for all different countries,
This was one of multiple "Thailand" gardens - very impressive :)

The "Taiwan" garden had a dome-like structure built of bamboo, and a calm reflecting pool outside.

The "Bhutan" garden had these <correct name unknown> at the entrance and exit.
You spin them for good luck...
I made sure to spin all three and made a few wishes for luck of my own.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Week 17_Section 1, DunHua South Road

It's finally gotten cold here now. If December was the best weather I've seen yet, January is definitely the coldest! The average temperatures don't drop below 50 degrees F (it happens occasionally...), but with the wind and the rain / moisture in the air, it is always chilly! I've started creatively layering my clothes now - which seems to get me by - but maybe next winter season I will invest in some serious cold weather attire! Most of my clothing from the States is only light-to-medium duty, because I rarely stayed outside for more than a few moments during the cold. Walking to and from my car. My wardrobe has always been designed to simply be warm enough when I have a coat on over it! But considering that many buildings here do not have heaters, or they do not crank up the heat because they are trying to save energy... all of a sudden that leaves this Texahoman wearing my coat indoors too!

Despite the cold, I still walk home or at least part of the way home when I feel brave and bundled-up enough. It's been raining this week, but there was one day without rain that I managed to take a few photos along my way.....

Sculpture & waterfall in a park behind Taiwan Adventist Hospital
Part of the trip is walking along DunHua South Road, Section 1.

I like the area, even though it is less pedestrian, more big bank or residential. This street has many commercial businesses and banks, but few hotels, retail shops, or restaurants (there are some). That makes the area slightly more peaceful, quieter, and less crowded than other parts of my walk.
More sculptures in the park behind Taiwan Adventist Hospital
This calm stretch of the city is still near downtown and the business districts, so it is not completely quiet by any means... but you can find many well-maintained parks and courtyards. It must be a pretty well-off neighborhood in general.

I had seen this park with the sculptures so many times as I walk by, but I just now finally wandered over to check it out. I would really like to come back with a friend so I can take a picture of me with one of the sculptures - they're pretty fun :)

Buddha statue in a private residential courtyard.
This courtyard is lovely! I wonder how much the homes go for?

Sculpture at entrance to a small courtyard adjacent to an art gallery
I always admire this sculpture when I pass it... and I can't quite decide if the courtyard is private, or if it is leading to another business just beyond? One of these days, I will try to check it out. Rain or shine, I enjoy seeing so much on a daily basis. It beats watching life pass by - or failing to notice what I'm passing at all - out the window of a car... :)

In other news: These boots weren't made for walking. A zipper came clean off of one of my boots this week! I am going to have to get that repaired... should be an adventure, I doubt a small shoe shop keeper will speak much English...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Week 16_Back, and looking back

My time here sounds so short when I say it in weeks, but it feels like I have been in Taipei for much longer! It's a new year and with that, time for new things! So - I've decided from here on out I will post more like weekly (sometimes biweekly), just depending on when I have something of interest worth writing.

Week 16 has actually felt quite monumental ~ because I've been pondering the significance of a new year. First, I felt like I missed the New Year or as if it hadn't yet arrived - probably because on my actual New Year's Eve all I could think about was getting on a plane the next morning without my husband... But now that I'm back, I've spent more than the average amount of time picking my brain about what this new year means for me? But before I can even get to my dreams for this grand new year, I've had a lot of time to reflect on 2010 and appreciate it:

In 2010..............

I continued to study the 3D program Revit, and read more books than usual in my spare time. I attended job-specific training, and networked at Metrocon (Dallas) as usual. 

I celebrated the achievement of my Interior Design license. I became significantly better at my work, and finally reached an experience level so that I no longer feel like the 'newbie' or the bottom of the food chain. I juggled endless projects, appreciated and sympathized with my co-workers, sacrificed many a weekend, helped plan a summer barbecue/cook-off, trained new employees, finally bought a Rolodex, and learned a LOT!

I cherished a new year with my sweet husband. I mourned the loss of my grandfather, and wished him all the peace, love, and happiness that only heaven can bring. I congratulated my Dad on the construction and completion of a beautiful new home (that I love visiting!) and applauded my Mom for her recent contribution in an award winning book. I spent time with family more than usual - spending Easter at my parent's new home, celebrating my own birthday in my home town, celebrating my sister's birthday with all the siblings and their other halves, spending time with friends and family before leaving the country. I finally established strong ties with some of my very best friends in Dallas - the kind of friends that you have been through so much together that your friendship is ordinary/every day, but it runs deep.

I left everything familiar and comfortable in an effort to push myself further: to learn, to grow, to experience, and to find my own way of living life to it's fullest. I brought my independence, knowledge & desire to learn, my eagerness to meet new people and explore a new culture, and uprooted my life to Taipei, Taiwan.

Wow! What on earth am I going to do in 2011? :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

day 108_frequent flyer

January 2nd I was still in the air. Due to the time difference, I lost most of a day while in flight (so it sounds longer than it actually is...)

I flew United Airlines this trip, and although it is not the most luxurious airline I've flown with (ie, definitely not my first choice), I think I've officially become a loyal customer. In order for me to ever benefit from my long overseas flights, I simply must choose a favorite airline carrier. Due to the cheaper ticket prices and rewarding customer loyalty program... United Airlines has somehow won the draw. My round trip flight for the Christmas holiday tallied nearly 17,000 frequent flyer miles. At that rate, it won't take long to start seeing some rewards - thank goodness! I'm hopeful that by next year I will be eligible for the free upgrades to business class :)

Of course, mid flight was around the time I realized that I had left my camera in Texas. Darn it. At least I still have my dependable camera phone -

My view over Canada.
Unfortunately my flight back to Taiwan connected through Chicago, rather than connecting through San Fransisco like my flight to the US. On the flight from Tokyo to San Fransisco, the route is more direct, flying near land, but mostly over the Pacific. In contrast, the flight from Chicago to Tokyo flies further north, crossing Canada, Alaska, and the outlying islands then curving back down to Japan. It is both a longer route, and slower due to the direction of the winds. The only good thing about this northern route was the view, and for whatever reason, we seemed to be flying pretty low for the majority of the flight. I loved being able to see the snowy cascading mountains out the window. I've never really spent any time in Canada (nothing more than a day) but I would love to visit. From my seat I could literally see the lines below where large pieces of ice had cracked. The views were spectacular and at least the sight helped to pass some of the time.

day 107_Happy New Years + Go Frogs!

Wow, it is officially 2011. When I was little that number sounded so far away. I've been meaning to make some sort of a resolutions list, or really just a short list of personal goals for the year, but I haven't gotten around to it yet... Must make 2011 list.....

New Year's Day, the husband and I left for the airport around 4am - fun - so that I could be there by 5am to check in for my 6:49am flight out of DFW. Our timing was good because the airport was packed with long lines and I got the feeling that people arriving late were missing flights right and left! We stood in line to check my bags and to find out if I would need to pay any additional fees for my action packer. The action packer is a large storage bin with hard sides and a very firm lid - perfect for someone moving over seas, it has space for a lot more than the average suitcase, and is tough enough that nothing inside will be squished by other luggage. It turns out, it was considered to be checked baggage like a normal suitcase so there were no additional fees! Yay! [Now I have mixing bowls, an extra blanket, my rolodex, etc, etc...] I hugged and kissed the husband goodbye, trying to conceal my heartache, and stepped into the very long security line. I saw the new full body scanner machines that have made such a stir in the US news lately, but those are only used for people in question, and no one had to go through the full body scanner while I was in line.

I also saw quite a bit of purple while I was at the airport...Next was business as usual, but while I was flying... My alma mater, Texas Christian University - the Horned Frogs, was playing in the biggest football game in it's history, the ever famous Rose Bowl!!! Everyone from TCU was SO excited for TCU to play in the Rose Bowl this year. TCU is often put down by the media or sports authorities, saying that they may not deserve to compete with the BCS teams, and even though I think everyone knows that the BCS is questionable at best, it is still extremely difficult for TCU to get credit where credit is due, despite being an undefeated team and proving great statistics these past few seasons! 

I am no big football fan (I sort of enjoy the fact that my new surroundings are not as football crazy as Texas...), but when it comes to my own team (TCU) or my home team (OSU) I am always cheering! I even have football paraphernalia for both teams here with me in Taipei..... So when the plane finally landed and I heard the final score, I was elated to hear that TCU had won and that the game was thrilling down to the last moment! Goooooooooo Frogs!!!

day 106_bittersweet New Year's Eve

Friday was hard, because I knew it was my last full day with my husband for awhile. By the time I picked him up from the hotel (my husband and my sister's boyfriend went into hiding for our all-girls slumber party...) it was already maybe 11 o'clock?

My sister and her boy-o headed to back to Oklahoma, leaving the hubby and I to each other for the rest of my time in the States. By this last day, I was becoming pretty exhausted. I never switched to OK/TX time - which, in retrospect, was certainly to my advantage - and it left me tired at all of the wrong times... especially on a day when I had things to finish before my looming departure!

The last full day was as expected, packing, prepping to leave, and finishing a few last minute errands... and it was New Year's Eve! Truth be told I fell asleep... but I'm looking forward to a great new year.

And while I was sleeping (or technically 14 hours before that) Taiwan was ringing in the new year with the annual TAIPEI 101 fireworks celebration!

Each year TAIPEI 101 hosts the biggest firework display in the city, which is highly anticipated by all - I can't even tell you how many people told me about the upcoming fireworks, and when the big day arrived, I wasn't in Taipei to see it! But if you would like to watch, the show is of course recorded on You Tube for the whole wide world to see (it is pretty impressive):

Not only did Taiwan celebrate the beginning of 2011, but actually Taiwan keeps it's own calendar based on when the R.O.C. was founded and 2011 is especially important because it is the 100th year of the R.O.C. Yes, this actually means that when I date government forms or similar here in Taiwan, I have to write the month, the date, and the year is "100"...

***Happy 2011 to everyone!***
Happy 100 to Taiwan!

Friday, January 7, 2011

day 105_visiting my previous life

Ok, well... the not-so-distant past :)

Thursday was dedicated to time with my previous coworkers and my closest girlfriends/college mates.

My two closest girlfriends from my previous job met me for a sushi lunch at a restaurant near my previous office, in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas - Deep Sushi! I have definitely been missing American sushi and I was SO excited to get to stop there during my trip! Not to mention I was really excited about getting to see the girls. These two have stuck it out with me on some of my toughest days - after all, don't we spend most of our lives at work? - and have also been great friends and mentors for me along the way... I think I have kind people like that in my life now at my new job, but they are all guys instead of gals....

Anyways, there was of course much work talk. Telling me what I've missed, or venting to me about what I certainly don't miss. Being that I know the ins and outs of their jobs dearly, I am a good person to vent to - so I served my role well during lunch. It was also fun to tell them about my new job and what it's like living in Taiwan now.

After lunch, I joined them and headed back to the office to say hello to everyone.... and actually, it just made my day! My previous firm was a fun place, with a fairly small environment (multiple offices, but our office floated around +/- 20 employees) where I felt like I got to know everyone quite well. We had closely knit working teams who went through the good and bad together, and some days it operated as my extended Dallas family. It was really great to be able to go back and visit all of these people who I sincerely like and appreciate, as a non-employee, no strings attached. I could tell them how my life is going, sympathize or relate to how their life is going, and just give them each a big hug and tell them to keep in touch.

Definitely glad I got to see the old firm - there is a lot of good there - but equally glad to return to my new job, that I like and appreciate for all new and different things.

Thursday night I hosted a slumber party for all of my closest Dallas girlfriends (who happen to all be girls that I graduated with from TCU). We graduated with a pretty small class in Interior Design - about 20 girls - and after having spent those 4 years together, practically every single day, we became I would say "like sisters". Those of us who ended up in Dallas post-graduation have mostly kept in touch, and we still get together for birthday parties, weddings, and just to chat sometimes when we feel like it! I'm just hoping they don't all forget about me now that I am so far away! I can appreciate that it takes time to build such strong friendships, so here's hoping that there are such great people in my life here in Taiwan over time. Worth the investment though - both places :)

The night was - as you can imagine - filled with gossip, laughing, stories, and conversations that only girls have, only when no one else is around. Bonus - my sister also drove down from Oklahoma to join the fun so that we could have some more time together too! There was limited talk about my travels and new life - just some - but I think that is because all of the girls said they've been too busy to meet up lately, and it felt like maybe I never left yet? Maybe this was just our next get together, as usual. Sadly... It will probably feel like I've left this time, since I won't be seeing them for awhile... but I am looking forward to hosting the girls in Asia anytime... ladies, start trip planning... please! :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

day 104_more vacay...

The next day was much more of the same [it's probably all starting to sound the same to you, dear blog readers...]. Another day of highly prized time with my husband, as well as a lunch date with some of my extended family (aunt, uncle, cousins). We met in Fort Worth for lunch at a European/Italian restaurant named Taverna. I thoroughly enjoyed my lobster bisque and house salad - Yum! Soups are extremely common in Taipei, but they are typically broth-based with noodles... a bisque would be a special treat. It was fun to catch up with the fam and fill them in a little bit on my adventures so far. Having such a long vacation, time to catch up with SO many people and truly take some time to pamper myself was awesome!

Typically, I would not take an entire week off for vacation, but lucky me ~ it worked out just fine for me this year... AND... I am also looking forward to my Chinese New Year holiday! Another 10 days off of work, because I work for a generous company : ) I think the average Taiwanese has more like 6 days off of work..... but I will take whatever I can get, and happily! When is the US going to start celebrating 6 day holidays...?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

day 103_husband & wife

The next day was my first full day to spend with the hubby sans-family. Bliss!
There is no equivalent to spending time with your other half - not to mention leg rubs, watching our favorite shows together on the couch, being lazy, laughing at each other's jokes, being tucked into bed, and someone who puts fuzzy socks on my feet when I get cold. :)

It's one of the most popular questions: "How are you and your husband doing?" Implying: "How are you two dealing with this extended separation?!" I know that is because people sincerely care, and are hoping we will be reunited soon. Join the club. We hope the same thing! But in the meantime, he can get any remaining bachelor out of his system, I can play bachelorette, and we can still look forward to spending the rest of our lives together. [Surely a few months apart is nothing in the scheme of 60 more years]. In reality, I am only more and more proud of us for our ability to be a couple who's completely smitten... but also two very unique individuals. It's something I've always liked about us - we don't smother each other, we can each stand independently on our own two feet... and there's something to be said for a partner who will travel 'round the world with you... hold your hand while you're chasing your dreams... or even use the opportunity to chase dreams of their own :)

Being able to spend the holidays together was superb... looking forward to when he is able to join me in Taipei :)

day 102_more catching up

When you haven't seen your friends and family lately, there is always plenty of catching up to do. Honestly though, considering that I have only been gone for three months, I wouldn't have seen most of these people recently anyways. Nonetheless, I made every effort to squeeze all of my favorite people into my tight schedule. Who knows when I will be back to the States next?

Monday morning we feasted on a plentiful breakfast with one of my grandpas. By this point in the trip I was constantly full. I don't think my stomach growled once during the entire vacation... but I pressed on through my last heaping meal prepared by my Mom!

After all the breakfast I could stomach, and a whirlwind report to my grandpa trying to explain my "Taiwan experience" in an hour or so (impossible, there's so much to tell!)... my mom, sister & I headed out to get spa pedicures (one of my Christmas gifts) ~ something I haven't done since I left the States, and a great chance for us to have some girl time. Foot massages/reflexology are quite popular in Taiwan, but nail salons, such as those found so often in the US (typically run by Asians)... are not so common place. My poor feet have really been through the wringer, walking to and from work when I feel like it, suffering wind, rain, and blisters frequently... so the pedicure was fabulous!

Once my feet looked fresh and new it was already time to meet up with my best friend from high school (time flies when you are working on squeezing everyone into a week's schedule). He, the husband, and I all headed to out to Ted's Escondido, a local Mexican restaurant favored by the Okie locals ~ What else?! Ha... I think my hubby was getting pretty tired of Mexican food by this point in the trip... but that is definitely the one thing that is severely lacking in Taipei, so he suffered through it for me!

My favorite thing about visiting my very best friends, is that they all tell me how much they would love to visit... and for the most part, they have all been contemplating if it's a plausible scheme... when to come, how long to stay? :) After a satisfying lunch with good Mexican food and better company, it was time to head back to Texas for the remainder of my visit. I feel like I have so many "home"s. Oklahoma will always be home to me, but so will Fort Worth and Dallas, TX....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

day 101_only in America...

The next day (like every day of my trip) was filled with goodies and moments that can't be had overseas.

Let's see. What delicacies had my Mom, Dad, and sister whipped up in preparation for my arrival?
Chocolate pound cake
Yellow pound cake
Peppermint bark
Christmas cookies, hand rolled and cut in festive shapes, with icing & sprinkles!
Chocolate covered pretzels
Mincemeat pie
Pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream! (the best!)
The list goes on, but I get lost in there somewhere... One bonus to having limited time in the States, was that my family was willing to cater pretty much every menu to my request... Yum!

We attended church where I saw some familiar faces, gave hugs, and startled a few with the news that I'm actually living in Taiwan now. Pay attention people! That's what Facebook is for...! Ha, just kidding. Seriously though, it is always a bit awkward when an old friend or friend of the family inquires "So, what are you up to these days?"... and my response is something like "Well, I recently accepted a new job and moved to Asia." Wow. Some people almost respond as if they're thinking "Are you serious?" It either dominates the conversation, or they just aren't sure what to say... so we did that for a bit...

After church, the husband, sister, & I went to visit a dear friend who is also the new parent for our dog Noah! (ie... I really wanted to visit my pooch!!!) Seriously though, we were anxious to visit Noah the Dog, but ever grateful to have such an awesome friend give Noah a loving and comfortable home now that I've moved to Taiwan. Noah was just as spry and energetic as ever. And he remembered us! Not that I honestly thought he wouldn't recognize me, but even still... it was so fantastic to see and pet him in person. Noah's new owner also has a second dog, and the two pooches played like they had known each other for years. As much as I love that dog, I am so pleased with his new home and glad that I didn't try to bring him to Taiwan through the customs and quarantine procedures. I know he wouldn't be the same, and his life in a small city apartment here wouldn't be the same either. 

To top off my day of things only to be had in the USA, I paid a visit to my oldest and dearest girlfriend. We have known each other since the Girl Scout days... and scarily enough, she had actually stumbled upon some of those photos recently and shared them with me. Wow. It is always great to see her, and nice to talk to someone who gets me. I like that I don't really need to express to her exactly what it is I'm doing over seas, or why I'm doing it. I think she gets that it's just "like me." That's Lizzie for you! Here's hoping that she can visit me for her own taste of Asia at some point while I'm in Taipei!

day 100_Merry Christmas!

~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~

[How amusing that Christmas would be the 100th day of my venture]
On Christmas Day, the husband and I enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast with his parents, and then hit the road towards my parents' home. All of my family was of course anxiously awaiting my arrival (since I had landed on American soil, but not yet made an appearance...) and they were calling to check on our status... often! In addition to the usual fam, there was also a special someone I hadn't met yet... and for him, I would like to dedicate this Christmas entry...

To my sister's new love, Bumble Bee... the cat (Marcello you have a cousin...) ~

Bumble Bee with his Jingle kitty collar
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the guest house
Not a creature was stirring, and certainly nay a mouse!
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care <sadly, mine was in storage from moving...>
In hopes that the travelers soon would be there!

The one child was nestled all snug in her bed
While visions of chocolate pound cake danced in her head
With my sis in pajama pants and the bee resting on her lap...
He had just settled in for a long winter's nap

the Bee with his Christmas blanket
Bumble Bee's winter nap didn't last long before the cavalry arrived! Christmas day was filled with the usual suspects: aunts, uncles, grandparent, sister, parents, husband, presents and SO MUCH food! We feasted on more than we could finish in one sitting, and settled in the living room to open our gifts. In addition to exchanging presents, we also have an an annual ornament exchange game in our family each year... so we followed up with opening, stealing, and trading mystery ornaments. Each person draws a number and then we take turns, in order of our numbers, either opening a new ornament gift bag or taking one that has already been opened by someone else. If your ornament gets 'stolen' by someone in this way, you get to open a new bag and so on. Each ornament can only be stolen twice, and surprisingly there was quite a bit of trading hands this year. 

By the end of Christmas Day I felt as though I had already eaten enough for my entire visit. The rich foods and American portions kept me constantly full... more than full... but it was so delicious! ;)

day 99_God Bless America!

Falling asleep next to my sweet husband, and waking up next to him on Christmas Eve was celebration enough in itself! Even still, I was also ecstatic to be back home in the good ol' U.S. of A. Miraculously, I actually slept through the entire first night... and wondered if it would be just that simple? Ha, keep dreaming Lizzie...

I spent my first full day back, Christmas Eve, in Dallas with my husband and his parents. We slept in, and then started our day with brunch at Breadwinners. Knowing that I would only be on my American vacay for a limited amount of time, the general consensus was - we will eat wherever the heck Lizzie wants to! So I tried to pick places that I could never find in Taipei - or anywhere else for that matter. Breadwinners is a local cafe/bakery in Dallas, and I knew the second we walked in the door that I had chosen the right spot. That pastry case overflowing with homemade pies, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes, etc. was calling my name... loudly. :)

Side effects of my time spent away were immediately evident... unbeknownst to me, the husband says I nearly drove a passerby into the wall... as in, I allowed someone the same amount of space that is allowed me when I'm squeezing through a crowd or climbing onto the rush hour MRT train. I didn't notice. Next, when intending to speak kindly to a busser in Spanish, I opened my mouth and Mandarin came out... Woops! Apparently my brain has a single switch that says "Not English," and that switch is currently programmed to flip to Mandarin... so much for my Spanish speaking skills! Either way, brunch was great, and so was dessert...

Christmas Eve we gathered at our home to open gifts with my in-laws. A nice chilly evening, our tini-tiny Christmas tree, and the company of family made for a great evening. Plus the presents! Opening presents is fun for everyone, but honestly, I think I have just as much fun picking them out.... so, I was most tickled when my mother-in-law let out a squeal at the second present she opened: extra-super-fluffy cartoon geisha house slippers! Somehow I just knew when I saw them, that they would be perfect for her (or at least, so I hoped)! Success.

Example Pucca Slippers
(similar, but not the exact pair...
the ones I bought are even cuter!)