Searching High and Low for Bread and a Run

I can’t find a reliable source for sliced bread.  I thought I had, but it turns out I haven’t.  I’m looking forward to the arrival of our bread machine in our shipment as much as anything. 

I’ve been to the local grocery store three times this week and the bakery shelves are completely bare. It’s a strange thing.  I can understand regular western products disappearing from the shelves.  If they can’t get the supply, they can’t put it on the shelves.  But they bake the bread in the store, so what’s the deal? 

While I continue my pursuit of bread, I also remain in pursuit of a good route for my run.  The route I have been taking for the past three weeks is basically a steep incline up the mountain and therefor, a steep decline back home.  Neither of which is ideal.  So, today I headed up through the village, where I’d been told the road leads to a less hilly path.  It was beautiful and I was happy to see that while most of the route was mildly hilly, it was definitely doable. 

The area where I ran is so remote, my map my run app lost connection.  I kept waiting for the notification that I’d reached the mile mark, but it didn’t come.  When I finally stopped to check my phone, knowing I had to have run a mile, just based on the time, I saw that the connection had been lost.  I turned around and after several minutes, I heard the familiar voice say something wholly unfamiliar.  “Time, five minutes 37 seconds; Distance, one mile.”  I laughed out loud.  Twice that is more like it.  It was fun to hear, though. 

These are pictures from my new route.  It is truly beautiful but the smell is more than a little unpleasant due to the hot springs in the area.  Sulfur!  I’ll have to find the hot springs on my next route.

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Waterfall!

Waterfall!

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The locals use pipes to take advantage of the fresh water, but it spoils the view.

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Camp Sunshine Supports Military Families- Special Event With Navy SEALS August 21

HOPE

Camp Sunshine is a retreat in Casco, Maine that provides respite and hope for children with rare and life-threatening illnesses and their families. Situated on a 27-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake, Camp Sunshine has welcomed families from 48 different states and 24 countries to its facilities to participate in a week of healing, growth, and relaxation so that they may go back out and fight their battles with renewed strength and energy.

Sebago Lake

Incredibly,  due to the generosity of its donors, the camp provides housing, meals, camp activities, and 24 hour on-site medical support for free to every single family that comes for a session. Having served over 40,000 family members in its 30 year existence, Camp Sunshine provides a wealth of information and resources for families who are struggling to make sense of life with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness. The camp is committed to providing families with lasting memories and allowing them to build a community with other families who are also traveling the journey with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness.

future Oncologist

 While Camp Sunshine has welcomed military families through its doors year after year, an exciting opportunity will now make this magical place a reality for even more! On August 21st, four active duty Navy SEALs will be swimming the 13 mile length of the lake where Camp Sunshine is located in the hopes of raising $80,000, enough to send 40 more military families to Camp Sunshine in the future. The evening following the swim, a gala dinner will be held at Camp Sunshine with an opportunity to meet the SEALs, followed by a keynote address from an honored guest.

For those interested in attending this event, more information can be found at http://www.sealsforsunshine.org, where there are options to purchase tables at the gala dinner as well as reserve a spot on the beach where the SEALs will finish their swim. In addition, donations can be made towards the SEALs for Sunshine event here, where they will be doubled by the New Balance Foundation as part of a $300,000 matching campaign they have with Camp Sunshine. As a reminder, all contributions for this event will go towards helping military families with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness experience the magic of Camp Sunshine. For families who believe they may qualify, information about Camp Sunshine’s programming can be found on their website, along with general information and testimonials.

Sunny w-kids

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Let The Fearlessly Be Themselves (even if it’s hard)

No one who has actually had a child said that parenting is easy.

The key is to make it as easy as possible, though.  As in most other areas of daily life, I find it much easier to not sweat the small stuff.  I know it’s cliche, but it works.  For me, one of the things I’ve done to make my life as a mom to 4 boys easier is I do not battle with the kids over clothing choices.  I even let 13 year old, Dwight, wear athletic shorts to school every day for the past two years.  He occasionally wore long pants when the weather was bitterly cold, but those days were few and far between.  I know some other moms judged me for this parenting choice, but to me it was a matter of logical consequences.  If he chose to wear shorts, he’d be cold, so, let him be cold.  It wouldn’t harm him.  He would just be uncomfortable.  He is old enough to make these sorts of choices.  He also never carried an umbrella because it wasn’t cool.  I’m not sure how arriving at school soaking wet is cool, but I’m not a middle schooler, so what do I know?

Tomorrow is the first day of the boys’ new school and, for the first time, I struggled with whether or not I should insist that they wear collared shorts and nice shorts on the first day.  I want them to make a good impression on their teachers.  I really thought about this a lot and even posted the question on facebook for other people to weigh in on the question.

Despite my mild anxiety over this, I knew the right answer and yesterday I told them they could wear whatever they want on the first day, and every other day, of course.  Their personalities and actions will speak for themselves.  Their smiles and good attitudes will project more than their clothing.  I’ve made peace with it. 

Part of Bob’s character is he likes to have a military hair cut.  I wanted him to go to school feeling confident and sure of himself, so, this morning, before orientation and meet the teacher day this afternoon, we trekked up the hill to the tucked away barber shop one of my neighbors had pointed out to me as where her husband and son go for hair cuts.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Notice the typo in the sign.

 

IMG_5595 We had to walk down the narrow stairwell to get to the barber shop and at the bottom, it looked like an unfinished basement with some chairs, where two old men sat, chatting and drinking tea.  I told them I was looking for the hair place and they pointed to my left, where we found an actual, small, old school, barber shop, and barber, Augusta, reading the paper, waiting for customers.  He looked genuinely happy to see us. 

I showed him a picture of Bob with his hair the way he wanted it cut today and he said, “no problem,” and set to work.  We chatted a little, in Mandarin, of course, but my Mandarin is a bit rusty, so after discussing Bob’s hair and the fact that he has 3 brothers and a Dad who will also come to him for hair cuts and that we just arrived in the area less than 4 weeks ago, and they start school tomorrow, I’d exhausted my useful vocabulary, so he worked quietly while I looked on and took photos on the sly.

IMG_5597 IMG_5600He was quick and careful and did a terrific job.  In the end, the cost was less than $6 US!  He could have had a shave for an additional $3.50 US.

IMG_5602Now Bob is ready to fearlessly be himself on the first day, and every day, of grade 5.

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Adventures in Cotsco (not a typo)

Have I mentioned that we don’t have a car here yet?  We ran into complications when we tried to ship it, so it sits, waiting, at our dear friends’ house in Virginia, until we get the paperwork and then they will ship it to us.  Once it ships, it could still take up to four months to get to us.

So, in the meantime, we use buses, the metro, and taxis. 

Today we decided to take a taxi to stock up at Costco.  We walked to the main street, about a quarter of a mile from our house, and hailed a taxi.  Horatio asked the driver if he knew “Costco.”  The driver was puzzled, so Horatio took out his phone and brought it up on google maps, which shows addresses in English and Mandarin.  We laughed when the driver said, “OH! Cotsco.”  This led to a quick exchange to clarify that here, Costco is pronounced Cotsco. 

30 minutes later, we pulled up to said Costco/Cotsco.  The store opens at 10:00 but the doors actually open at 9:30, officially, and you can checkout at 10:00, but it is so busy that when we arrived at 9:30, people were already walking out with purchases.  I’m not sure what time they actually let people in, but I am sure that I’ve never experienced a busier Costco or Cotsco than the one in the Neihu district of Taipei, Taiwan.

We meandered through the aisles and, just like we would back home, came across many people handing out samples.  Imagine our surprise when we saw that Cotsco in Taipei was featuring Mogen David wine today, as well as several whiskeys, which were available to sample at 10:00 in the morning.  When in Rome Taipei!

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Whiskey sample lady and Horatio. She was happy to hand us samples, in any volume, but not so happy to have her photo taken.

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My “on the sly” photography needs some practice… 2 bottles of Mogen David Kosher wine for $389 NT (New Taiwan dollars), which is $13 US.

IMG_5580 This was my fourth trip to Costco since we arrived in Taiwan 3 1/2 weeks ago.  I’m gradually figuring out what we need to keep us happy and healthy in our new home, so my trips are more efficient each time.  Shopping at Costco is great because we can find some of the comforts of home, but it’s very expensive.  I wanted to buy tortilla chips because the boys really like nachos.  The bag of chips cost $8 US, though, and I just couldn’t do it.  As it was, we spent $580 US on our overflowing cart of goods!  Moving to a new place is always expensive and here we use cash for everything, so it feels like we are bleeding money.  Seeing a total of about $17,400 NT caused a shock to my system, but it’s part of the process, I guess. 

They sell rotisserie chicken here, just like in the US… EXCEPT that the chicken comes – with – the – head – still – on!  We passed on that one.

If you look carefully, you can see the head and neck curved toward its back.  Not a happy sight for this vegetarian!

If you look carefully, you can see the head and neck curved toward its back. Not a pleasant sight for this vegetarian!

We should be set for a while.  I’d like to avoid going back any time soon.  Plus, Horatio is leaving town, again, and without access to his office’s banking services, I’ll have to make due with the cash I have on hand, which isn’t a lot.  Taxis up and down the mountain on which we live cost about $9 ($265 NT) each way and I’ll be doing it at least 3 times this week, so I’ll have to watch my NT$!

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It’s Going to Take a While

I’m going to do something I rarely do.  I’m going to complain, so if you aren’t in the mood, feel free to skip this post.  I think I’m due, though.  So far, I’ve done pretty well settling into life here.  It’s only been 2 1/2 weeks, so I guess some bumps in the road are to be expected, but I’m not in the mood, so I’m going to share the bumps with my supportive readers.  Of course, as always, I’m keeping it all in perspective.  I know none of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  Thank G-d, we are all healthy, we have a comfortable home, plenty to eat and drink, happy kids, etc.  Sometimes, though, it all feels like a bit too much.

Adjusting to a new “home” is almost never easy.  I’m finding this one to be especially hard at the moment.  In some ways, I think I’m doing quite well, but the lack of friends, and the plethora of undesirable creatures, are starting to get to me.

I know the friend issue will work itself out in the next few weeks because the families in our neighborhood, the majority of whom are on home-leave in the US, will make their way back, and school starts on the 14th, so we will meet people at the bus stop, at the grocery store and at new-family events at the school.

The creatures are going to be a constant presence during our stay here, though, and I’m struggling with that fact more each day.  The mosquitoes are larger than your average blood sucker and more than a little bit of a nuisance.  Poor Bob already has more than 20 bites.  I’ve started putting a mixture of basic moisturizer and tea tree oil on Bob and Harold at night since they seem to be the most affected, and it is helping.

Ants are merely a bit of a bother.  I put down traps in the kitchen and their numbers are dwindling.

We’ve now seen three large cockroaches, one which was flying.  I really REALLY hate cockroaches.  I dealt with them in my first apartment in DC and again in our house in Virginia Beach.  I didn’t like it 22 years ago, I didn’t like it 16 years ago and I don’t like it now.  I will go to great lengths to eliminate them from my living space.  They are a part of nature with which I will not share my living space.  I would not step on one crawling outside in my yard, but if they get too close for comfort, they give me no choice.

cockroachToday I had my first snake encounter.  I’d anticipated it since we arrived and the wait is now over, sort of.  I walked into the living room and spotted something that looked like a long piece of black yarn on our carpet.  Upon closer investigation, I discovered it was not yarn, nor a large worm, it was, undeniably, a tiny snake.  It slithered and had scales.  Our family resident snake expert, 16 year old Zack, identified it as a nonvenomous blind snake, and it was fast!

blind-snakeLuckily, our new housekeeper was on hand and had experience with this sort of thing.  She picked it up with a paper towel and gave it a burial at sea.  I still will be nervously on the lookout for the larger, venomous snake species who occupy the great outdoors on the mountain on which we live.  As long as they stay outside, though, I think I’ll handle it well.  As I run each day, I maintain a 2 foot distance from the brush and shrubbery at the side of the road, just in case.

The boys have dealt with the creatures with grace.  They seem unphased.  I am extremely proud of them for how they are adjusting.

On my run a few days ago, after a heavy rain, I encountered more than 20 of these red and black, 6 to 12 inch-long worms, and about half a dozen large spiders.IMG_5539IMG_5537Today is the first day all the little annoyances have gotten to me.  I’m sure I’ll feel better in a day or two.  I know I’m entitled to a day like this now and then, but I hope they few and far between.

Thanks for listening.
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Sharing Nature

I know that if we are going to live in nature, we have to share it with the other creatures who occupy it, but it’s going to take some getting used to, I can tell.

When we were selecting the area in which we wanted to live, in anticipation of our move to Taiwan, making the choice between an apartment building in town, close to everything, or a house with a yard, on the mountain, close to nothing, we weighed the pros and cons of both.  In the end, the decision came down to the fact that in a house, the boys would each have their own rooms, we’d have a yard for the dog, and places for the boys to roam.  We were warned, however, that we’d have to watch out for snakes.  Everyone who heard we were considering a move to Yangmingshan mountain said it!  I admit that this was a bit of a sticking point for me, and now that we are living here, I find myself constantly on the lookout for cobras- yes they live here!  Every slightly curved stick, or shifting leaf, startles me.  So far, I haven’t seen a snake, but I’ve seen plenty of other reminders that we live in a national park.

The boys and I encountered this National Geographic event on our way out to the village yesterday.  Watch the video:


 

We found these snails on the wall of our house last week.  The boys wanted to keep them as pets.  I vetoed that request.  There seems to be a gecko living in my bathroom, though.  I’ve seen him twice now and I told the boys that if I see him again, we can name him and consider him a pet.

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photo and quote by 13 year old Dwight

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I experience the paranoia most of all during my daily runs and hikes.  Lately, I’ve been running and hiking (some areas are just too steep for me to run up, so far) up a small road that leads higher up the mountain.

photo 2 photo 3This guy/gal was on the path yesterday.  I doubt it was one from our house as I’m not sure he was moving quickly enough to have covered the mileage, but pretty amazing. 

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New friends told me that if I headed up the road from my house, one mile, I’d find a set of 100 steps, which I could climb to add to my workout.  I’ve been searching for these steps for a week now and finally found them today.  They are actually 1.36 miles from my house (thank you mapmyrun).  The reason I kept missing them is that 1) they go down, not up where I’d been looking for them, and 2) they are quite narrow and off the path…

IMG_5520This is the view from the top of the steps.  The buildings closest to the front are across from where we live.

IMG_5522 IMG_5521Each day, I get less and less paranoid about snakes.  I enjoy the journey and find the people I encounter on the path to be friendly, some extremely so.  There’s one stocky 70 something year old man who shifts the load he is carrying to free a hand to wave or salute me as we cross paths each morning.  He’s adorable.  Too bad I can’t have him over for dinner.  My Chinese is too rusty for that.  Maybe some time, tough.

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Stages of Culture Shock

Culture shock is a reality, no matter how similar the new culture appears to be.

The stages of culture shock are spelled out in the official health handbook of my husband’s office.

IMG_5512I can attest to the fact that these descriptions are quite accurate.  We have been here for 9 days and I’m somewhere between Stage 2 and 3.  So far, all of the stages involve coping methods using combinations of different beverages, both coffee (in the morning, to help with jetlag) and whiskey (to help wind down at night).

When a family arrives at a new posting, in a new country, the embassy provides them with what they call a “welcome kit.”  It contains necessities to tide you over until your household goods shipment arrives.  Typically, it contains: bedding, towels, and basic kitchen supplies, like pots and pans, plates, flatware and bowls and a small coffee maker.

The "Welcome Kit" list
The “Welcome Kit” list

So, we have the basics, but the quality is such that even the boys want to know when OUR pillows, sheets and towels will be here.  For drinkware, we have 8 coffee mugs and that’s it, no glasses, and they don’t even match!   I went out and bought paper cups so that we don’t have to run the dishwasher twice per day, or, continuously hand wash.  The second time I went out to restock, the coffee cups were on sale, so I bought them.  I laugh when I see young Harold drinking from a cup labeled as coffee.

I’m temped to buy some items that would make things easier, like a larger bowl for salad, a cookie sheet to bake on, and more silverware, but it seems silly to spend money on things we will have by the end of September (hopefully.)  Our air shipment, which has our bedding and towels and coffee maker, will be here in about 10 days and our sea shipment will be here sometime in September.

Is it coffee?

Is it coffee?

Nope... NOT coffee.  Something to look forward to at the end of each culture shock filled day.

Nope… NOT coffee. Something to look forward to at the end of each culture shock filled day.

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Typhoon Matmo, ahead of schedule

I made an unfortunate decision to take a quick walk to the grocery store to pick up some last minute supplies.  It had been lightly raining off and on, so I grabbed an umbrella and off I trod.

Here’s how it looked when I exited the store.  Thunder and lightening soon followed.

The downpour is torrential and Horatio just walked in the door, soaked.  Hmmm, too bad no one suggested that he take an umbrella to work.  Oh wait…  I did!

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Costco in Taipei: The Same as Home but with Taiwanese Characteristics

The morning after our arrival, our welcome family took me to Costco.  I have to admit that knowing there is a Costco here was extremely comforting to me, making the move slightly less overwhelming.

The store was pretty much as I expected it to be.  It looked just like an American Costco, but with Chinese characteristics.  As with any Costco, you have to plan your timing so you don’t end up in a mob scene.  We arrived about 30 minutes after the official opening time and the store was busy but not overly crowded.  As I shopped, though, it grew increasingly congested. 

The store has two levels and upon entering, one must go directly to the second level. I struggled to find my way down, after I’d meandered through the second level.  The “down” people mover was not at all clearly marked.  I eventually found it, obviously, otherwise I might still be there, walking through the toiletry items and vitamins…

From the ramp, going up to the second level.

From the ramp, going down to the first level.

I quickly made my way through the aisles, getting items on my list, such as bath soap and bath mats, as well as food items the boys are used to from home, such as chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and Ritz Crackers.  I also found the fun snacks they remember from when we lived in China.

IMG_5422I filled my cart, even while skipping items to get on a future trip, in the interest of saving space and money.  This cart full of items came to about $600 US.  Moving and settling in is an expensive process!

IMG_5426I even ordered a cake for Zack’s upcoming 16th birthday.  I asked for it to be ready on the 23rd, since Horatio will be traveling starting on Saturday. However, we are in the path of an incoming typhoon, so I asked Horatio to call and see if we can have it tomorrow, instead.  More on the typhoon later…

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notice the different flavor options. Like I said, the same, but different.

 

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Home is Where the Navy Sends Us

I made it to 9:00 pm and am ready for bed, but since many people have asked about our house and surroundings, I wanted to share some before I fall asleep.

We arrived Thursday night and are getting the lay of the land.  Dwight and I went for a run this morning, with the intention of exploring the neighborhood.

The neighborhood is Yangmingshan, a national park in the mountains in Northern Taiwan.  We live in a community of 20 homes owned by the US government, but all around us is genuine Taiwanese life.

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Inside the steel door to our house, behind Zack is the front door.

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Outside the steel door to our house, inside the gate.

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Harold opening the front door.

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Living room and dining room, Zack is walking into the kitchen.

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family room. This is open to the living room and dining room. The desk in the far corner is where I sit to write.

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Harold passed out from jet lag at 3:00 on Friday and could not be urged to wake up without intense effort, at 5:30. He ate and bathed, fighting to stay awake the whole time. Back to bed at 6:00

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Road cleaner wearing a traditional style Chinese hat, but in bright orange plastic.

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Dwight investigating the wall surrounding a local home. Despite the fact that we’ve been told this place is extremely safe, the wall is topped with shards of glass.

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shards of glass atop a wall surrounding a home.

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the view from the US government owned pool, about a ten minute walk, through a nature preserve park, from our house.

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The guard sitting just outside the gate to our house. He is actually guarding the construction site across the street, but moved to the gate, about 15 yards from his original location, after we moved in, and he smiles, says “hi” and sometimes opens the gate for me.

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part of our backyard. Watch out for cobras!

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Harold in front of the sunroom. Above his head, to his left, is the outside part of an air conditioning unit. The units are in every room and can heat or cool.

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More exploring on our run.

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