Vote From Overseas!

The Federal Voting Assistance Program, FVAP, makes it easy to maintain active participation in the democratic process back home while we live abroad. As U.S citizens, despite living overseas, it is our responsibility to vote. I, personally, cannot imagine not voting, especially since we actively serve The United States of America, voting gives us a stake in the game.

Voting overseas is a very simple process. Just complete the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). This form acts as both a registration and absentee ballot request form. To ensure that your ballot is received in time for each election, it is recommended that you complete a new FPCA annually whenever your mailing address changes or at least 90 days prior to the election your voting in.

FVAP is the Federal Voting Assistance Program, and on their website you will find everything you need to fill out the FPCA.

Follow these 4 simple steps and you will be ready to rock your vote no matter where you are in the world!

1) Go to the FVAP website for Absentee Voting
2) Select your State or territory of legal residence – here you will find all the information you need to vote absentee according to your State.
3) At the bottom of the webpage you will find a link to download the fillable FPCA
4) Remember! You must print the form, sign it, and send it to your State according to your State’s rules.

FVAP, is a nonpartisan Department of Defense component, works to ensure Service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world.
I am a voluntary member of FVAP’s Blogger Network and am not compensated for my posts. The thoughts presented here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of FVAP or any of its representatives.

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Organic Rosehip Oil Is Great


valentia

As a 40 something woman, I love to find products that keep my skin soft looking young.  I’ve used Valentia products in the past and really liked them, so I was glad to have the opportunity to try the 100% Organic Rosehip Oil to review.

Again, Valentia came through with a fantastic product.  My skin has been soft and smooth and looking fresher than ever while since I started using the Rosehip Oil from Valentia.  It absorbs very quickly and while the scent is not floral, in my opinion, it isn’t bad, as some other reviewers have stated.  If the scent bothers you, you can easily add an essential oil of your choice.  The rosehip oil can be used on its own or with other moisturizers and I find it makes my skin look and feel great all on its own.  I live in a very humid climate but have had no trouble, whatsoever, with oily skin while using this product.

I highly recommend the 100% Organic Rosehip Oil from Valentia, for soft, smooth skin.

I received a bottle of the product from the company to try and review, but the opinions are my own.

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Vaccine Debate Over: Vaccines Save Lives

The title of this piece seems to state the obvious, right?  So why are the numbers of anti-vaxxers increasing?

Fear.  Misguided fear, but fear nonetheless.

vaccines-protect

From the CDC

There is no dispute over the fact that vaccines save lives.  The inoculations developed and used over the past 40+ years had practically eradicated life altering, disfiguring and often fatal, diseases.  Some kids cannot get vaccinated, the herd immunity effect helps to protect those kids, as well as those for whom the vaccine was not effective.  So why, in recent years, have the numbers of parents who vaccinate their kids dropped?

measles

Because anti-vaxxers think the risk of getting one of these now rare diseases outweighs the risk of having their child be injured by the shot meant to keep the illnesses at bay.  I see their point.  I’ve met families with kids who had terrible reactions and are permanently, severely, disabled.  These tragedies are rare, but tell that to a family affected by one of these occurrences and you’ll get a big reaction.  I often hear people trying to help parts of the community, saying, “If I save one life because of my actions, it will be worth it.”  So, how do you tell a family whose once healthy child is forever maimed that their one child is less significant than another? You can’t.

The fear of vaccines, though, does not seem to be about these rare events.  The idea that vaccines “cause” autism is still real amongst many communities and I hear this quoted as a reason to not vaccinate.

I am the mother of a child affected by autism.  While this does not, in any way, make me an expert in the vax or anti-vax world, I do feel it gives me a bit of credibility in speaking to the issue.

Many elements of this debate upset me.  I love my autistic son.  I loved him before his brain started making some things harder for him and I love him just as much now; but when I hear other autism parents say that they wouldn’t change their kid if they had the chance, or that they believe their child is exactly who he/she was meant to be, my heart flips.  I don’t get it.  Why would anyone want their child to struggle if they could prevent it?  I repeat, I love my autistic son as much today as the day he was born, and I adore the person he has become at age 16, but if there was any way at all that I could make his life easier for him, I would… without hesitation.

But, I don’t know what causes autism.  Do you?  I don’t know what doesn’t cause autism, either, and that, I think, is the more important part of this debate.  Speculation is wide spread and conflicting.

Do toxins cause autism? Is it genetic?  Is it a reaction in the gut that starts the process?  Is it injury during labor and delivery?  Does a change take place in the womb?

I’ll say it again, because my biggest peeve related this issue is when I hear people say that X (fill in blank) does not cause autism.  The fact is, we don’t know what causes it.

Good scientific research indicates that autism may be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors.  This makes sense to me, but the details are not clear.

So, how do I reconcile all of these conflicting forces of thought?

I 100% vaccinate my children in order to inoculate them against the harmful diseases the vaccinations protect us from, but I do not subject my children to more than one injection at each doctor’s visit.  There is no dispute that vaccines cause changes to our children’s bodies.  That’s the point.  What we don’t understand, though, is could there be unwanted effects if the immune systems of some more fragile kids are bombarded with too many toxins at a time?  Do the toxins build up in some children’s bodies?  It’s a tough question that is yet to be answered.

The cost of the extra, vaccine only, office visit is worth the peace of mind I get from taking a bit of precaution when it comes to the well being of my children.  My eldest son was vaccinated on the regular schedule, but my other three, born after their older brother stopped talking at the age of 13 months, had a more conservative vaccine schedule, slightly spread out, but close to on-time; and all were fully vaccinated by the time they entered school.

IMG_5611

I hear the chatter on tv, online and in the papers.  I know there are strong opinions on both sides of this public health issue.  I know my path is different than most, but in my opinion, it was the right way to go for our family.  And, other than the scientific fact that vaccines help to prevent the spread of many terrible diseases, there are not facts to say what does, or does not, cause changes in our kids, only speculation and circumstantial anecdotes.

I’m ok with that for now.  I know that people, who are smarter than I, are scientifically studying autism and might figure it out some day.

I’m not ok with other people thinking that not vaccinating their kid at all, in order to prevent a possible consequence, is ok.  Anti-vaxxers are counting on my kids and others to shield their kids from exposure via herd immunity.  It doesn’t work when more and more people are going un-vaccinated, and the tactic is leading to illness and death from preventable illnesses.

This is an undisputed scientific fact.

The rest is pure speculation.

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Delicious Valentine Craft and Treat

This is a fun activity to do on a cold or rainy day.  Colors can be modified for any holiday.  Kids of practically every age can get involved in making this fun treat.

 

 

These treats are salty and sweet and make delicious and cute Valentine treats to share and enjoy. Enlist the help of your kids.

What you’ll need

  • Bite-size, knot pretzels (they look a bit like hearts)
  • Hershey’s Kisses (you choose your favorite type)
  • M&M’s candy (valentines colors or other to suit the season)

How to make magic happen

  1. Heat the oven to 200 F. Set bite-size, twisted knot pretzels (one for each treat) in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper, then top each pretzel with an unwrapped Hershey’s Kiss.
  2. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes until the chocolate looks shiny but retains its shape.  Kisses will feel soft when touched with a wooden spoon. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and quickly press an M&M’s candy into the center of each Kiss.
  3. Allow the treats to cool for a few minutes, then place them in the refrigerator to set, about 15 minutes. Enjoy and Share! 

     

    We made half with classic milk chocolate kisses and milk chocolate M&Ms and half with dark chocolate kisses and dark chocolate M&Ms.  100% Delicious!

     

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Breaking News: MCRMC Recommendations Released

This is a great breakdown of the news, by Sarah Peachey of MilitaryOneClick.com

homecoming-half

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released its annual report today to “modernize the Uniformed Services’ compensation and retirement system.” The committee believes the following recommendations will help to maintain the all-volunteer force specifically through compensation, retirement and benefits modernization issues.

A hopeful point in the report said, “Our military pay and retirement recommendations grandfather the retirement pay of existing retirees and those currently in the force. They also maintain the majority of the existing retirement structure, which is an important retention tool, while allowing members of a younger, more mobile work force to begin investing in their own future.”

The following suggestions — at this point only suggestions — await debate and passage by the House and Senate:

Pay and retirement recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Help more service members save for retirement earlier in their careers, leverage the retention power of Budget Cutstraditional Uniformed Services retirement, and give the services greater flexibility to retain quality people in demanding career fields by implementing a modernized retirement system
  • Recommendation 2: Provide more options for service members to protect their pay for their survivors by offering new Survivor Benefit Plan coverage without Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset
  • Recommendation 3: Promote service members’ financial literacy by implementing a more robust financial and health benefit training program
  • Recommendation 4: Increase efficiency within the Reserve Component by consolidating 30 Reserve Component duty statuses into 6 broader statuses

Health benefits

  • Recommendation 5: Ensure service members receive the best possible combat casualty care by creating a joint readiness command, new standards for essential medical capabilities, and innovative tools to attract readiness-related medical cases to military hospitals
  • Dentist StockRecommendation 6: Increase access, choice, and value of health care for active-duty Family members, Reserve Component members, and retirees by allowing beneficiaries to choose from a selection of commercial insurance plans offered through a Department of Defense health benefit program
  • Recommendation 7: Improve support for service members’ dependents with special needs by aligning services offered under the Extended Care Health Option to those of state Medicaid waiver programs
  • Recommendation 8: Improve collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs by enforcing coordination on electronic medical records, a uniform formulary for transitioning Service members, common services, and reimbursements

Quality of life

  • Recommendation 9: Protect both access to and savings at Department of Defense commissaries and exchanges by consolidating these activities into a single defense resale organization
  • Recommendation 10: Improve access to child care on military installations by ensuring the Department of Defense has the information and budgeting tools to provide child care within 90 days of need
  • Recommendation 11: Safeguard education benefits for service members by reducing redundancy and ensuring the fiscal sustainability of education programs
  • Recommendation 12: Better prepare service members for transition to civilian life by expanding education and granting states more flexibility to administer the Jobs for

Veterans State Grants Program

  • Recommendation 13: Ensure service members receive financial assistance to cover nutritional needs by providing them veteran_pledge_squarecost-effective supplemental benefits
  • Recommendation 14: Expand Space-Available travel to more dependents of service members by allowing travel by dependents of service members deployed for 30 days or more
  • Recommendation 15: Measure how the challenges of military life affect children’s school work by implementing a national military dependent student identifier

 

UPDATE:

 

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released its official report Jan. 29, recommending several changes to current benefits. This nine-person commission, appointed by the president and majority and minority leadership of both levels of Congress, was established by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to do a full review of all pay and benefits for service members, veterans and retirees to maintain an “all-volunteer force.”

The recommendations from the report came from the insight of more than 1.5 million people, including service members, veterans, retirees and their Families. The commission also worked with more than 30 military and veteran service organizations and received input from research institutions, private firms and not-for profit organizations.

The results are a combination of good news and bad news for service members and their Families. Some good news includes support for the current basic pay table and numerous allowances (Basic Allowance for Housing, Basic Allowance for Subsistence, etc.), suggesting that the current system is “an appropriate compromise” for service members. Some of the bad news includes a significant overhaul to the current TRICARE health care system, but offering a lot of choices for Families.

Here is a list of the recommendations and how they may be implemented:

Pay and retirement recommendations
Recommendation 1: Help more service members save for retirement earlier in their careers, leverage the retention power of traditional retirement, and give the services greater flexibility to retain quality people in demanding career fields
The current retirement system does not provide retirement savings to an overwhelming majority of service members. Under the current system, 83 percent of enlisted service members will never benefit from the traditional 20-year retirement plan, as they don’t stay in service for that time frame.
The suggestion: Those currently service will be grandfathered into the current plans. For those who come in later, there is a need to restructure the current system to provide retirement benefits to all service members regardless of their time in service with a modern 401(k)-type plan, with retention benefits of the current retirement annuity, lump sum career continuation pay, and retention bonuses paid at important career milestones in the lives of service members. This system would sustain and potentially improve retention and increase lifetime earnings of retirees.

Recommendation 2: Provide more options for service members to protect their pay for their survivors
The Survivor Benefit Plan is a low cost way to provide lifetime benefits to retirees’ survivors, but the Commission received complaints about the SBP because of an associated offset from VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
The suggestion: A new SBP should be implemented where service members would fully fund the SBP costs, but would no longer be subject to the DIC offset. The current SBP program with the DIC offset should be maintained for service members who want to retain lower-cost coverage.

Recommendation 3: Promote service members’ financial literacy
The Commission discovered that with a lack of choice in current pay and benefits programs, service members lack sufficient knowledge of finances. The 2013 Blue Star Families Annual Lifestyle Survey found that only 12 percent of service member respondents indicated they received financial information from their command or installation.
The suggestion: The Department of Defense should increase the frequency and strengthen the content of financial literacy training. This is especially important because the commission’s recommendations for retirement and health care will require financial decision-making on the service members’ parts. Additional financial education could help protect service members from predatory lenders and other financial manipulators.

Recommendation 4: Increase efficiency within the Reserve Component status system
The commission believes that the current Reserve Component system “is complex, aligns poorly to current training and mission support requirements, fosters inconsistencies in compensation and complicates rather than support effective budgeting.” The current system can cause pay and benefit disruptions as service members transition to different duty statuses.
The suggestion: Streamline the current 30 statuses to just 6 for simpler transition.

Health benefits

Recommendation 5: Ensure service members receive the best possible combat casualty care
Through the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the medical system grew and evolved to provide the best quality combat care. Evidence shows it may be difficult to sustain these combat medical capabilities with the typical mix of cases seen in the military health care system during peacetime.
The suggestion: The military should seek to enhance dedicated oversight of medical readiness through the creation of a joint medical component within a newly established joint readiness command. The commission believes that Congress and the DoD should define essential medical capabilities and continue to support a training platform for medical personnel.

Recommendation 6: Increase access, choice, and value of health care for active-duty Family members, Reserve Component members, and retirees.  The commission believes that TRICARE limits access to care by confining beneficiaries to a lengthy and frustrating process for specialty care and weak networks of civilian health care providers.
The suggestion: Active-duty service members should continue to receive their primary care through Military Treatment Facilities. Congress should replace the current health care program with a new system that offers beneficiaries selection of commercial insurance plans. The costs of these plans would be offset for active-duty families with a new Basic Allowance for Health Care as well as a fund to lessen the burden of chronic and catastrophic conditions to cover unexpected medical bills.
Mobilized Reserve component members would also receive BAHC to cover the costs of a plan from the new system. All reserve component members would be eligible to purchase a plan from the DoD program at varying costs.
Non-Medicare-eligible retirees should continue to have full access to the military health benefit program at cost contributions that gradually increase over the years, but remain over the average Federal civilian employee cost share. Medicare-eligible retirees should continue to have access to the current TRICARE for Life program to supplement Medicare benefits.
The TRICARE Dental Program and the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program should remain in place.

Recommendation 7: Improve support for service members’ dependents with special needs
Service members often lose access to state-based programs when they move between duty stations because of long wait lists in some states.
The suggestion: Benefits offered through the military’s Extended Care Health Option program should be expanded to include services provided through state Medicaid waiver programs.

Recommendation 8: Improve collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs
DoD and VA provide resources to ensure that service members and veterans receive the best health care, but there have been some issues with the transfer of information for effective care.
The suggestion: The current DoD-VA committee should be strengthened with additional authorities and responsibilities to standardize and enforce collaboration between the organizations to provide better care by enforcing coordination on electronic medical records, a uniform formulary for transitioning Service members, common services, and reimbursements.

Quality of life

Recommendation 9: Protect both access to and savings at Department of Defense commissaries and exchanges
The commission believes the commissaries and exchanges provide great benefits to service members and should be maintained. More than 90 percent of active-duty service members use commissaries and exchanges.
The suggestion: The commissaries and exchanges perform similar missions for similar patrons with similar staff using similar processes. The commission believes they should be consolidated to provide better for service members and their Families.

Recommendation 10: Improve access to child care on military installations
The commission found that the demand for military child care often exceeds availability, resulting in more than 11,000 children on waiting lists as of September 2014.
The suggestion: Congress should reestablish the authority to use operating funds for construction projects up to $15 million for expanding or modifying child development program facilities serving children up to 12 years old. The commission also recommended that the DoD should streamline child care personnel policies to help ensure proper staffing levels and update job descriptions to reduce staff turnover.

Recommendation 11: Safeguard education benefits for service members The commission found that there are currently duplicate and inefficient education benefits that should be either eliminated or streamlined to improve the sustainability of these benefits.
The suggestion: The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty and Reserve Education Assistance Program should be sunset in favor of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Service members who reach 10 years of service and commit to another two years should be allowed to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill to dependents. The housing stipend of the Post-9/11 GI Bill should be sunset for dependents (beginning in July 2017), as should unemployment compensation for anyone receiving a housing stipend.

Recommendation 12: Better prepare service members for transition to civilian life
Unemployment is still a challenge for veterans ages 18-24, who had higher unemployment rates in 2013 (21.4 percent) than non-veterans of the same age group (14.3 percent).
The suggestion: DoD should require mandatory participation in the Transition GPS education track. The Department of Labor should permit state departments of labor to work directly with the state VA offices to coordinate administration of the Jobs for Veterans State Grant program. Congress should require One-Stop Career Center employees to attend the GPS classes to develop a personal connection between transitioning veterans and the career centers.

Recommendation 13: Ensure service members receive financial assistance to cover nutritional
The commission recognized that some service members will continue to need financial help to purchase food for their families. The Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (SNAP), better known as food stamps, is available to service members in the United States. The Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, the military’s alternative to SNAP, is currently a second option, but served only 285 service members in fiscal year 2013.
The suggestion: FSSA should be retained for service members in overseas locations where SNAP is unavailable, but should be sunset in the U.S. where SNAP is available.

Recommendation 14: Expand Space-Available travel to more dependents of service members
Dependents of service members who are deployed or more than 120 days can currently fly unaccompanied on military aircraft when there is space available; however, shorter deployments are becoming routine.
The suggestion: Dependents should be able to access Space-Available flights for deployments of 30 days or longer.

Recommendation 15: Measure how the challenges of military life affect children’s school work
Children of active-duty service members are not being identified separately in student performance reporting. Military children often experience unique stresses associated with deployments and frequent moves, which can adversely affect their academic performance.
The suggestion: Implement a military dependent student identifier through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This would provide consistent reporting on the academic performance of military dependents and identify any required support to meet their needs.

– See more at: http://militaryoneclick.com/breaking-news-first-look-at-mcrmc-report-recommendations/#sthash.qoPIJKmJ.dpuf

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All in an Expat Weekend

Sometimes weekends pass with nothing out of the ordinary coming to pass.  This was not one of those weekends.  Nothing dramatic happened but we saw several things that made me double take.  Life abroad is full of things we don’t see at home.

It all started on Friday at the boys’ school with a reading celebration in the Feisty First Grader’s class.  In the class, EACH CHILD possesses an iPad.  All the kids found their files in the videos app and, with headphones, each parent listened and watched as the child read a favorite book.  Harold and each of his 18 classmates has access to an iPad in the classroom, just as Bob and his 21 classmates each has his own laptop in the classroom.  This is one of the many clear benefits to international schooling.  The kids also get to use the several 3D printers in the school in their art and technology classes.  (More on that later.)

6

Our plumbing issues continue, so the facilities department contracted with a company to repair our septic tank.  Upon investigation, though, they determined that the septic tank is actually broken and crushed and cannot be fixed.  They have to replace it.  They filled in the hole they had dug, put excess dirt into bags, which they used as weights to keep the caution cones secure.  The workers blocked off the area and even pulled up the stakes securing the trampoline, turned it and re-secured it, so that the entrance isn’t blocked by the hole.

7

Workers in our backyard. The white outhouse looking thing is the water heater.

 

Before we ventured out on Saturday, I decided to try to change the settings on my GPS to speak to me in English.  I thought that since the menu can be set to English I might be able to select the correct setting to get an English voice.  No such luck… No such option:

5So, the GPS is helpful but manages to add an element of stress since I cannot read the street names or understand some of what it says to me.  Thankfully, I do know “Turn Right,”  “Turn Left,” “meters,” and the always helpful, “Recalculating,” among other phrases.

Next, I happened upon a large pile of scat on our driveway when I moved to open the gate to get the car out of the garage.  It was clearly droppings and it looked like it came from a bird.  I was perplexed because its size seemed to make it impossible for a bird to be its origin.  At the top elevation of my Saturday run, though, I found what I assume to be the source of the mess on our driveway.  An enormous, screeching hawk!  I saw it soaring above me, screeching at the top of its lungs.  I guess it’s all part of living with nature all around us.  I am choosing not to dwell on the fact that if it was spending time above our house, there must have been something it was hunting.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the tailless stray cat that hangs out in our back yard lately.

3

9Next, we went to the American Club for haircuts, where we saw an older gentleman who found his manicure VERY relaxing.  When we first took our place at the station opposite him, he was completely slumped over the side of his chair!  The manicurist had to push him into a sitting position.

8After the haircuts, we stopped in the market at the American Club, where Harold chose a soft pretzel as large as his torso!

4

On Sunday, Horatio and I went back to the American Club for the Sunday Brunch.  The food is delicious and the spread is massive and includes a large variety of seafood.  If you look closely, you can see the man in this photo donned plastic gloves in order to eat his crab legs without getting stinky hands!  The couple at the next table enjoyed the endless platters of steamed shrimp, heads, tails, and all.

2Finally, on our way home, we spotted this family on their way up to the national park.  Hopefully they don’t plan to have more kids because they seem to be at maximum capacity on their vehicle.

1I always know to keep my camera handy when we are out and about here in Taiwan.  I don’t want to miss a thing.  Who knows what next weekend will bring?

 

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Check out the new Spartan Up podcast and win a code for a free race entry

Check out Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena’s new Podcast “Spartan UP!”

WE UNCOVER WHAT MAKES THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE WINNERS.

The epitome of grit, Joe Desena, founder & CEO of Spartan Race and NY Times best-selling author, travels the globe seeking answers from experts like Sir Richard Branson, Steve Pressfield, Barbell Shrugged, and many more. Joe’s interviews with authors, academics, athletes, adventurers, CEOs and thought leaders will shift your thinking, make you laugh and and give you the tools you need. He’s on a mission to find the secrets to success in all aspects of life. Not only does Joe interview epic people, he has brought together an amazing panel to break down and analyze every aspect of these interviews. We give you the ultimate blueprint and action steps to assimilating these powerful conversations into your own life. The Podcast is now live here:

SPECIAL GUESTS INCLUDE:

  • Former member of Seal Team Six
  • Olympic wrestling coach
  • Ultra marathoner (who carries a fridge on his back)
  • CEO of Virgin Group
  • Visually impaired wrestler
  • Emeritus US Army General
  • Founder of Seal Fit

“People who push the limits get much more out of life than those who watch others do it.”

– Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder & CEO

 

“You can actually convince other people to have more of a growth mindset. You can, for example, show them scientific evidence that people actually do change.”

– Angela Duckworth, “GRIT Expert,” psychologist at University of Pennsylvania

 

“No one develops obstacle immunity. Someone always is fighting to overcome obstacles. Surrounded by people who are trying to form family who will help you fight through these obstacles.”

– Camille McCue, elite athlete

 

“The minute you start projecting the future, you’re living in the future, you’re not living in the now, in the moment.”

– Gracie Van Der Byl, distance swimmer

Every day, Joe De Sena, founder and CEO of Spartan Race and New York Times bestselling author, inspires millions of people all over the world to get off the couch and take on any obstacle, on an off the course. Now, he is ready for a new challenge.

With camera in tow, Joe travels the globe to explore what it means to Spartan Up! in all aspects of life in the new Spartan Up! Podcast series.
Read the full press release here

Enter the giveaway to win a free Spartan Race Entry

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Seeking Medical Care Abroad- When Dr. Google Fails, You Have No Choice But to Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

We have a very good Regional Medical Officer where Horatio works.   I’ve taken the boys to see her for various ailments during the six months we have lived in Taipei, but one of the boys has been unwell since October and what I’ve been hoping to avoid is now coming to pass:  we have to seek treatment at a local medical facility.

When we lived in Beijing, medical care was easy to get.  We had access to two very good international medical facilities, in addition to a medical unit at the embassy.  I even delivered our fourth son there!

made in china

I took a tour of the local medical facilities soon after we arrived in Taipei so that if we needed to use the services, they wouldn’t be completely unfamiliar; I immediately knew I wanted to avoid visiting them again, if at all possible.  I’m not naive, of course.  I realized it was unlikely that I’d be able to keep everyone healthy and safe from injury for two years, but a woman can hope, right?

Care is good here, but unfamiliar and intimidating, given the language barrier and differing philosophy, or lack there of, of bedside manor.  Nothing about living abroad is easy… except housekeeping.

After several weeks of feeling unwell, we had some bloodwork done at the Medical Unit at Horatio’s workplace.  The diagnosis was Walking Pneumonia.  He took a course of antibiotics and felt better, but never fully well.  He remained fatigued and complained of a sore throat almost every day.  I admit to consulting Dr. Google on more than one occasion, but while I found various diagnoses, nothing was clear.

This Monday, the health aid at the school phoned to tell me that our guy had fallen ill and nearly fainted.  His colorless face stunned me, when I saw him.  Something was definitely wrong.  I took him straight to the doctor, where she did a course of neurological tests (normal) and ran an EKG, which revealed some irregularities, but nothing glaring.  During our conversation, I realized that this was the fourth fainting episode since July.  Each episode could be explained at the time, but putting it all together painted a different picture.

Before we knew it,  we were scheduled to see a plethora of specialists and today we spent four hours at the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTU).

Deceptively quaint from this view.

NTU_Hospital

National Taiwan University Hospital

 

Overwhelmingly enormous from this view and inside.

National_Taiwan_University_Hospital_Taipei

We were met in the lobby of the Children’s building of the hospital by a Nurse Interpreter.  She led us from appointment to appointment and interpreted as needed.

Entrance to Clinic

Entrance to Clinic

During our four hours at the hospital, we saw only one other westerner. We drew a lot of attention, but most of it was not as blatant as this sweet little girl.

little girl staring at Bob

Little Girl Staring at Bob

Everything in Mandarin

Everything is in Mandarin, so we can’t understand the chart

ENT

ENT

ENT clinic

ENT clinic

EKG

EKG #2, at the hospital

hospital viewThe result of all of the testing is that he has a heart arrhythmia.  He has to wear a 24 hour EKG halter monitor and we will get the results in a week.

My dread of using the medical system here was unwarranted.  The care was excellent.  We are still anxious about his ailments and are eager to learn a diagnosis that we can fix.  Living far from the familiarity of home is challenging in the best of times.  It’s times like these when living overseas is most stressful.  I am grateful to have a good doctor coordinating all of our care, as well as access to the local hospitals when necessary.

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Oh The Twists and Turns of This Life We Lead…

The windy mountain road we navigate to get to and from our house is a metaphor for our life here in Taiwan.  It is full of twists and turns and near misses; but overall, lovely and with perks.  Like many other things, it’s important to remember to keep things in perspective.

I drove the back road to and from Dwight’s orthodontist appointment this afternoon.  Sure, the road is treacherous and Dwight enjoyed pretending he was in a stunt driving video game, knocking all other drivers off the mountain, but it gets us where we want to go and using the mountain wall mounted mirrors and quite a bit of caution, we do it safely.  Horatio doesn’t like that I take this road but, in time, he’ll use it as well.

Here’s what the last bit of mountain road looks like, as we pull up to, and past, the Chinese Culture University.  Dwight filmed as I drove.  Notice at the start of the video you can see how close the road is to the mountain’s edge, where you will also see sightseers shooting pictures of the view; also notice the number of scooters not only on the road, but on the side of the road, which basically turns it into a one lane road.

On the home-front, we had another flood; at bedtime, of course, because if it happened during the day, we might be able to take care of it and rest our weary heads more peacefully.  That would be too simple.  Murphy’s Law, right?  At least my Mr. Murphy was home to see it this time.  I’m thankful for small favors.

As we were brushing our teeth last night, Horatio and I turned to look at each other to gauge whether the other had heard what we each thought we had heard.  Indeed, a gurgling sound was coming from the shower and the toilet.  I looked down and saw water rising from the drain in the floor… Again.  We looked in the shower and water was rising in there too, and, it suffices to say, the water was not clean.  The other two bathrooms in the bedroom side of the house revealed similar situations.

Moments such as these are the bane of my existence as a diplomat.  I find it hard to remain positive in the immediate moments of such… um… messes.  However, as I opened my mouth to express my exasperation, and started to say, “this is terrible.”  I realized that while definitively unpleasant, it wasn’t “terrible.”  Cancer is terrible.  Sudden death is terrible.  Life altering accidents are terrible.  A bit of poo in the shower is not terrible, it’s a blog post.

Again, it’s all about keeping things in perspective.

(Note: The plumbing issue is ‘being investigated.’ A new tool must be purchased to hopefully fix the problem.  In the meantime, we’ve been asked to only use one water flowing source at a time.)

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My First Driving Misadventure

Day two of driving in Taipei and I already experienced the perils of relying on the GPS on the mountain back roads.

We have two main choices of roads up the mountain to where we live.  One is the main road and is two lanes in each direction and no more treacherous than any other local road.  It takes a bit longer to get to the school, and it involves more city driving and traffic once you hit town, but it’s an easier drive, overall.  The second main way to get up and down the mountain is the windy road by way of the Chinese Cultural University.  Driving it involves dodging 100s of scooters, one lane sections of the road and a twisty, edge-of-the-mountain route.  This route takes about ten fewer minutes to get to the school.

map to yangminshan
Yangde Blvd is the main road up to where we live. The windy road in white, leading to the Chinese Culture University, is the main back road, to the area where the school and many shops are located. Our home is just down from the University.

After a successful run at the simpler road yesterday, I decided I was ready for the back road today.  On the way home from the dentist’s office, which is very close to the school, I set the GPS to take me home and set on my way.  Before I knew it, Zack and I found ourselves on one of what we call the “back back” roads.  It looked familiar, so we continued on our way and I figured it would just take us just a little bit longer to get there.

After about 10 minutes, I realized why the road was familiar to me.  I’d been on it once before, in a taxi.  I know this because we came to a permanent road block.  We could go no further.  Even the GPS suddenly registered that the road ended, and, just as I remembered it, the section of the road leading up to the roadblock is one lane.  When the taxi I was in encountered the roadblock, the driver chose to back down the mountain.

dead end

Dead End

I decided to take a different strategy. I had Zack get out of the car to watch my progress and ensure that I did not back into the ditch that lined the side of the road.  He made the helpful comment, “Well, you have your phone, and there is a signal, so if you get stuck, you can just call for help.”  Ummm, no thank you, how about if you just make sure I don’t go back too far?  That’s what I said in my head, but aloud, I said, “please just tell me when I am getting close to the ditch and should stop.”  Remember, Zack in my Aspie kid.  I will never tire of his perspective.  In fact, I was happy to have him as my passenger, rather than any of the other boys, who would have worried aloud, and often, throughout the adventure.  Zack remained pretty laid back for the whole process.  The only indication he gave that he was at all concerned was when he said, “see, this is what I meant when I said it seems like being a grown up is stressful.”- A reference to a conversation we’d had yesterday.

dead end 2
White Lightening

With Zack’s help, I turned the car around; reset the GPS, which immediately recalculated and redirected us to the correct road; and headed back to the bottom of the mountain to restart our journey home.  We went back to our starting point and then got on our way.

Driving is complex here.  The roads split in odd directions, there are forks in the road everywhere, the traffic circles are numerous and regular lanes suddenly turn into scooter lanes or turn-only lanes, with no notice.

We made it home in record time, by which I mean ‘longest’ time.  All was quiet on the home front, though.  None of the other boys were aware of the extra time we’d spent venturing home.

On the roads, I happily play the role of the clueless foreigner because that’s who I am.  I may as well make the best of it, and use it to my advantage.  I see no point to getting agitated over these small predicaments.  I just remember that I’m in no rush and I will get there eventually, and in good condition.

Home is where the Navy sends us, no matter how topsy-turvy the journey, nor how different from our idea of normal it is.

This picture is of the University from the bottom of the mountain.  It gives you perspective of the distance/elevation we travel each day.

view from TAS

Zoom view from near the school up to the University.

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