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.


photo and quote by 13 year old Dwight


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. 

photo 1

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…


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.


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


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


Harold opening the front door.


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


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


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


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


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.


shards of glass atop a wall surrounding a home.


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


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.


part of our backyard. Watch out for cobras!


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.


More exploring on our run.

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T-22 Hours Until Lift-Off

The countdown continues.  22 hours until wheels up and our journey to Taipei begins.  We have a 6 hour flight from DC to San Francisco and then a 14 hour flight to Taipei.  I’m grateful that we have only one change of planes but surprised to learn that there is no meal on the 6 hour flight to San Fran!  Even the United agent was confused as to why the system kept rejecting her request for kids meals for the boys and vegetarian meal for me.  She finally figured out the request was rejected because there is no meal and expressed her dismay!  She advised me to stock up on food in the terminal and I assured her this is not our first time to the rodeo and had it covered, but thanked her.

The boys have their digital devices charged and ready to go and we have back-up battery juice packs, just in case.  Bob has about 10 pounds of biographies, in his backpack, which he’s been itching to dig into but has been saving for the trip.  We loaded the ipads with new movies and audio books and kindle books, so no one should be bored.

We have been out of our house for three weeks now and are packed and ready to go (for the most part.)  We have 13 suitcases and a bike box for the longboard.  Because we are traveling on military orders, we are each entitled to 2 checked bags and Horatio is entitled to 3.  We’ll have to pay for the extra bag and also if any of the bags are overweight, which it very likely.  We’ve arranged for transportation to the airport at 5:45 tomorrow morning, and there will be people from Horatio’s office at the airport to pick us up when we arrive at 6:30 pm on Thursday. I hope it all goes smoothly.

pile of luggageI’ll admit I am grumpy today.  Horatio asked what is wrong and I said, “nothing other than the obvious.”  I thought about it for a minute and then went on, “I think I’m working my way through the stages of grief and today I’m on the anger stage.”  He acknowledged the validity of my feelings and we moved on.

Leaving a community we’ve been a part of for five years is hard.  We firmly planted and put down roots here and immersed ourselves.  We have fantastic neighbors and friends and are very attached to them.  I have avoided dwelling on this aspect of the move but it’s hitting home now.  I have focused on the tasks at hand for the past few months, but with departure looming, I have no choice but to face the heartache head-on today.  True, I’m still focusing on the tasks of final packing and laundry and cleaning, but I’ve said farewell to two dear friends today and Bob and Harold will do the same.  Dwight, bless him, is just like his mom.  He made plans to see his buddies one last time, but decided he would rather just chill today… thereby avoiding having to say goodbye.  Zack remains glued to his laptop but will be writing his first blog post today, on his Globetrotting Gamer blog. 

There’s still much to be done, so I’ll be back to writing upon our arrival on the other side of the globe.



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So Much To Do

Despite the fact that we have moved out of our house, and we fly out one week from today, the work is not complete. 

We had the house cleaned from top to bottom and the rental manager will have the carpets shampooed after we give the word.  The fridge and freezer and pantry are still full, sadly, so we have to transfer the contents to a food pantry. 

Today’s schedule was packed with pre-move tasks.  I started my day with an 8:00 doctor appointment to get an extra three months worth of all of our family’s prescriptions.  With 6 people, that’s a lot of medication!  After that appointment, I drove home, picked up Dwight, and returned to the clinic for an appointment to check his ears.  He’s had a series of ear infections in the past couple of months and a history of 6 ear surgeries, so we need to make sure the infection has completely cleared, which it hasn’t.  He will be on low dose antibiotics for the next month, until we can get set up with a doctor in Taipei.  I also saw my doctor about a move/packing related back injury.  It only takes one awkward move to really ruin the day, and perhaps put a major damper on the already foreboding 22 hour plane trip.

Meanwhile, Horatio was preparing my car, a white minivan the kids affectionately refer to as “the family Ferrari,” for shipment to Taiwan.  This process involves a mass of paperwork and having the car cleaned inside and out.  Part of the paperwork is a document we need to print from the internet and we have no access to a printer.  So, he is driving to a friend’s house to use their computer and printer.  He had to go to FedEx to make seven copies of his orders, and one each of several other documents.  Tomorrow we will drive to Baltimore, to the shipment port, at which point the vehicle will be inspected for dirt and damage and must hold less than 1/4 tank of gasoline and contain nothing but car essentials.  We won’t see the car again for months.

Dwight depends on his longboard for entertainment and stress relief  We want to let him hand carry it on the trip so that he can use it as soon as we get to our new house.  It is too large to fit into one of the huge duffel bags we have, so we have to find a way to transport it on the plane.  Horatio found a plastic bike case on Craigslist, so he is investigating that.  I think we can just wrap it up in brown paper, or take it to the UPS Store to have a box made, but we’ll see. 


Dwight (13), with his ever present longboard. He fastens the helmet when he’s actually longboarding. Yes, that’s Harold’s hand in the foreground. He’s a little instigator, the mini me of Dwight, for sure.

It is now 5:00 and we are still in the midst of pre-move tasks.  Dwight is having a few friends over to hang out in one hour, and then he’s spending the night at one of the friends’ houses.  He’s been keeping himself busy with his buddies.  He’s really going to miss his social circle and I’m glad he’s making the most of the time we still have here.  He is hosting 2 guys and 2 girls.  It’s his first gathering of this kind.  He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is thinking clearly about his situation.  He isn’t looking for a girlfriend because, “we are moving to Taiwan, Mom! What’s the point?”  He’s enjoying his friends and has a positive attitude about making new ones when we move. 

Young Bob had his best friend over today, too.  They laughed and swam and played basketball.  It was bittersweet to see.  He and Red (not his real name) have been friends since they were six years old.  They plan to stay in touch by texting, Facetiming, and playing Xbox together remotely. 

I’ve put up an emotional wall around myself when it comes to bidding farewell to my own friends and family, but I’m finding it harder to suppress the crushing feelings when it comes to seeing my children having to say goodbye…  That’s a completely different post, though. More on that later.

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Moving Along

We are now in the midst of our move to Taiwan.

It’s  been weeks of organizing, sorting, discarding, donating and cleaning.

Simply put, moving is hard.

Packing up a house and moving everything to a new one is stressful and time consuming.  Packing up a house and moving some things to the new one by ship, some things to the new one by air and some things to storage, not to be seen again for five years, is overwhelming, complicated and downright unpleasant.


Bob (10) ‘boxed in’ in the midst of the pack-out

Many people down-play the ordeal of a military move by remarking about how great it is that the military pays the moving company to pack up our household goods for us.  Yes, not having to box everything up ourselves really helps, but the stress is no less palpable.

Deciding what to take and what to store is a major challenge when you won’t see the stored items for five years.  Five years is long time in the life of our children.  Two of our boys will be out of high school by the time we move back to the US, meaning that whatever we don’t take, they are unlikely to see again.  For the younger two boys, anything we don’t take with us is sure to be outdated and irrelevant to them upon our return.

With these issues in mind, we sorted, stacked, donated and discarded for weeks.


One pile of many piles of items for donation

We have strict weight limits, so we don’t take much in the way of furniture or large items.  We take clothing, toys, kids’ books, kitchen essentials, bedding, towels and personal items (like pictures for the walls) to make the new house a home.  We store our good dishes and crystal, most of our artwork, furniture, books and rugs.  Zack (15) asked what happens if we accidentally send something to storage and then realize we want it.  I told him we’d just have to buy a new one.  He didn’t really understand why someone couldn’t just go to get it for us, but we explained that long term storage is not accessible for forgotten items.

During the sorting process, Horatio and I didn’t always see eye to eye on what to take and what to leave.  He looked at a toy or picture or kitchen item and see that it was not a necessity, while I saw something that, whether it was used often or not, the kids would feel more comfortable just seeing it in the new house because it is familiar.

We sorted everything into four separate categories and labeled everything: Pack to Taiwan- Sea Shipment, Pack to Taiwan- Air Shipment, Pack to Taiwan- hand carry, and Pack for Storage.


Harold (6 1/2) holding a sign he took off of something, somewhere.

We worked it out and the pack-out finally is complete after 2 weeks of movers in our house.

10322822_10203119016029010_492726122635831081_n 10322822_10203119016109012_4234940307117138711_n 10380883_10203119019669101_4782135326397435711_n IMG_5304

We are out of our house now, living at the home of dear friends while they are on vacation.  We are subsisting on two designated suitcases and two carry-on bags, each.  We fly out in about ten days.  In the meantime, we are making the most of our time by spending it with family and friends.


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Even Glow Serum – Antioxidant Skin Treatment – 20% Vitamin C by Valentia Skin Care Review.

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.


My search for a natural skin product that would help my face look more even and fresh is over.  Valentia’s Even Glow Serum immediately began to even my skin tone and reduce the look of my ever increasing wrinkles smile lines.  With all the stress I am under right now, I could see my face aging by the day.  I am so glad to have found this great serum.  I only review products I like and I could go on and on about this one.  I really love what it has done to my skin.  Only three drops does the trick and my face feels great all day.


I like to use natural products with pure ingredients and Valentia’s vitamin C serum fits the bill.  The serum is 98% Natural – 75% Organic – and (close to my heart) MADE IN USA.  It contains ORGANIC ROSEHIP OIL & ORGANIC SEA BUCKTHORN OIL.  These oils promote skin hydration and lock in moisture to protect your skin from signs of aging and improve its beauty and youthfulness. Rosehip Oil, specifically, has been used in medical communities around the world for those with serious skin ailments and only recently has North America learned to embrace natural solutions from our ancestors. These two organic oils are full of antioxidants and therefore act as the perfect supporting cast for our  – Vitamin C  RESISTEM (PLANT STEM CELLS) – This provides the perfect mix of protection from stress-related aging and promotes skin detoxification. Resistem will help your skin regenerate faster while protecting it from environmental stressors. // HYALURONIC ACID(BOTANICAL) — An ingredient that allows your skin to retain moisture and increases elasticity and firmness. /// GREEN TEA EXTRACT- The catechins contained in green tea are a potent antioxidant which also contribute to the overall anti-inflammrtory, and anti-irritant benefits of this ancient health and beauty secret.

I highly recommend Valentia’s Even Glow Vitamin C serum.  The price is affordable and the quality far exceeded any of my expectations.  I received the bottle as part of a blog promotion but I am hooked.  I will continue to use it, for sure.


I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

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Joining Forces Aims to Assist Military and Veteran Caregivers

Yesterday I was privileged to sit in on a conference call announcing great efforts by Joining Forces and RAND Corporation and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.  


Office of the First Lady



April 11, 2014


Today, as part of their Joining Forces initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are hosting Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Senator Elizabeth Dole, and military and veteran caregivers from across the nation to announce commitments that will strengthen the support provided to the friends and loved ones caring for our wounded warriors.  The event will be live streamed at


A fact sheet with information about today’s commitments can be found here.


These commitments follow the release of a RAND Corporation report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation that calls attention to the challenges faced by America’s military and veteran caregivers. The report estimates that 5.5 million Americans care for service members and veterans, including 1.1 million caring for someone who served after September 11, 2001. These caregivers provide a tremendous service for our nation, often while enduring their own emotional, physical, and financial hardships.


The following op-ed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden appeared this morning on the website of Military Spouse Magazine.


On June 7, 2012, Linda Mills received a phone call that changed her life forever: Linda’s husband, Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Mills, had been seriously injured when an IED exploded in Afghanistan.


Almost immediately, Linda quit her job to become Andrew’s full-time caregiver. In the weeks and months after the explosion, Andrew underwent more than 30 surgeries. The two of them moved from North Carolina to Virginia, so that Andrew can rehab at a state-of-the-art military hospital. And every single day, Linda has stood by her husband’s side, helping with physical therapy, assisting with daily personal care, and managing the family’s legal and financial responsibilities.


Today, after two years in her new role as a caregiver, Linda considers herself not just a military spouse, but a nurse, an advocate, a scheduler, and a coach. And as she often says, even a tragedy can lead to a new beginning – in a few weeks’ time, she and Andrew will welcome their first child into the world.


And Linda’s story of commitment and resilience isn’t unusual. There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in our country, including 1.1 million who support our newest generation of post-9/11 veterans. According to a study commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, many of these caregivers don’t have much of a support network for themselves, and over time, the physical, logistical, and emotional demands of caregiving can take a serious toll. In fact, caregivers report more strains on their relationships at work and at home than non-caregivers. Often, their own health suffers, and they are at higher risk for depression. There are financial consequences too: military caregivers wind up missing as many as three or four days of work a month – and that means lost income as well.

The burden that these women and men bear for our country is real – and they shouldn’t have to shoulder it all alone.


That’s why, three years ago, the two of us started our Joining Forces initiative. We wanted to show our appreciation for the incredible families across America who do so much for our country. And we wanted to show our support not just with words, but with real, concrete action.


This month, we’re celebrating our third anniversary of Joining Forces and taking pride in the progress we have made with help from individuals across the country who’ve stepped up to answer our call. In just three years, hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses have been hired or trained by businesses nationwide; all but a few states have streamlined their professional licensing requirements to better meet the needs of veterans and military spouses; and so many schools, faith communities, community groups, and neighbors have found countless ways to make a difference for our military families.


But this month isn’t just about celebrating everything we’ve achieved – it’s about challenging ourselves to do even more for our military families. And that means reaching out to more and more of our military caregivers. We are thrilled to work with Senator Elizabeth Dole and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter to bring together leaders from across the country to make commitments on behalf of these courageous women and men. For instance, the Military Officers’ Association of America, USAA Bank, and the American Bar Association are working together to launch a new website to provide caregivers with legal and financial assistance. Easter Seals is expanding its caregiver training, so that thousands more caregivers can get the skills and resources they need to help their loved ones. And the Chamber of Commerce is expanding its Hiring Our Heroes program to help caregivers get more flexibility in the workplace, so that they can more easily balance their caregiving responsibilities with the demands of their jobs.


Plus, we know how important it is for caregivers to be able to connect with their peers so they can lean on – and learn from – someone who’s stood in their shoes. So we’re proud to announce that the Department of Defense is creating in-person caregiver peer forums at every military installation that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world. They will also be creating online tools, so that caregivers who aren’t able to attend an in-person forum can connect to their peers as well. And on top of all that, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and many other organizations are committing to train 10,000 caregiving peer mentors – a commitment that will reach 50,000 caregivers nationwide.


All of these new commitments are a big deal, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. Because they all come on top of the tremendous caregiver support offered by the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, and since then, thousands of caregivers have received travel reimbursements and financial stipends of up to about $2,300 a month. Thousands more have received comprehensive caregiver training, health insurance through the VA, and mental health care and counseling. And through this law, caregivers are eligible for up to 30 days a year of respite care, which means they can relax and re-energize – or just find some time to clean the house and buy some groceries.


So we want to encourage all eligible caregivers to take advantage of these benefits and connect with a host of other resources by visiting and


In the end, that’s really what Joining Forces is all about – connecting military families with the resources available to them, and rallying our country to do even more. So we’ll be asking everyone across America – whether you’re a business owner, a faith leader, or simply a neighbor down the street – to ask yourself what more you can do to help these families that have done so much for us.


And most of all, we want all of our military spouses and caregivers – like Linda Mills and millions of others – to know how awed we are by their strength, determination and service to this country. We’re going to do everything we can to keep rallying people all across this country to step up in ways that make a real difference for them and them families. And we’re going to keep working until we have served them as well as they have served us.


Michelle Obama is First Lady of the U.S., and Dr. Jill Biden is Second Lady of the U.S.


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