About Me

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Tainan, Taiwan
I'm an ESL teacher from Colorado. I worked in Taipei in 2000 for over a year, paid off my undergrad loans, traveled, saved $ to travel some more. So when I got pregnant in grad school I thought I could return to Taiwan, be economically self sufficient while my daughter masters Mandarin.We came to Tainan when she was 2. Taiwan is an excellent base to explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety and benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Post RV and Rocky Mountain High Recap

The view from Mt. Evans

It took a day or two to catch up on sleep once we returned to civilization. I did not miss sleeping in the RV at all, it was amazing to be home. My parents' guest bed is a million times more comfortable than my beds in Taiwan.  I spared no time and quickly got online and starting ordering goods I couldn't get in Taiwan and calling friends to make plans.

One of the observations my daughter made about the States, or at least where we were was, "There's so many white people here!" Which one of my brothers found hilarious. For me I noticed how much worse the traffic was, how everyone has smart TVs and bluetooth their cell phones to theirs cars and of course there were all the green cross shops from marijuana legalization.

High above Berthoud Pass

 America is more comfortable generally. I ate well to say the least. While all my friends were avoiding carbs at all costs for health reasons, I was happy to eat spelt tortillas and bread. I couldn't get enough. Unlike bread in Taiwan, one slice with organic butter is all you need to be satiated. I was having turkey melts for lunch, with New Mexican green chili. That was one intention I did do as planned, eat green chili for every meal. I had it with my eggs, my lunch, my dinner.

 I embraced my inner hobbit and had 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners; or one breakfast, one brunch, lunch, supper, dinner and dessert. Suffice to say I gained 2 kg, which is fine with me (and totally noticeable as I'm so short) because I had the creamiest yogurts, kefir, cottage cheese with peaches and blueberries, Ben and Jerry's ice-creams- my bones were stocking up on all the calcium I ate from the dairy. (Here in Yilan I hardly eat dairy, a little yogurt or kefir as its expensive at the local Santa Cruz health store.) I had so much cheese as my mom gets raw cheddar. It was fabulous.

 I went to the gym almost everyday with my Mom for a Zumba class, which was fun if the teacher was decent. I caught one amazing yoga class with my friend who taught it and mostly did yoga in my folks' backyard. I wanted to do a massive morning yoga class at Red Rocks, but they were all sold out, so before I left CO, my friend and I went to a Yoga Journal sponsored Yoga Rocks the Park downtown taught  by Amy Ippoliti. It was incredible. I was inspired to walk in wheel pose, see the demonstration here.

Hiking at Chataqua, Boulder
 Sadly I didnt do half the things or catch up with half the people I wanted to.  I had this brainstorm of places to go and things to do, and who to do it with- but its ok, resting at home, my daughter playing with her cousin, me trying to bake at altitude (upside down lemon cake, zucchini bread with goji berries and pumpkin seeds) and cook (chicken tandori, biriyani) was relaxing.

Bear Creek Lake.

 We had wanted to go to Water World, Elitches (an amusement park), but never made it. However my friend took us to Bear Creek Lake where our kids could play and we could catch up. It was blistering hot that day, I stayed under an umbrella most of the time, the sun at altitude was intense, but every afternoon like clockwork there was summer thunderstorm. I love the crackle of thunder right over head, the Thor dazzling lightening,  The weather the whole time was in a word-perfection. It wasn't too hot (80F/ 24-26C) and in the evening and night it got chilly. My daughter liked to say, "This is like winter in Yilan!" She loved it. People, kept on telling us how hot it was "just the other day", but we didnt really see it. What a relief not to be melting in the sweltering Tropic of Cancer humidity. It felt more like the end of September than August, autumn is early. Colorado was uncharacteristically green due to a monsoon summer, El Nido no doubt. Everyone agreed winter will be intense this year.  I hate to miss the aspens change color.

Hail Out of Nowhere 2
They had a blast gathering hail for cranberry snow cones! I was weary for them, with the thunder and lightening.
Posted by Kathy Benavides on Monday, August 10, 2015

 It was just like Colorado weather to unleash a mighty hail storm for my daughter to experience. I pitied anyone caught in it, it would be painful. My daughter and niece braved the hail under a massive umbrella and gathered buckets of it which they later ate with condensed cranberry juice, heaven's own slushie.

View from our campsite
We had another family camping weekend at YMCA's Snow Mountain Ranch in my parent's pop up. During a short hike to a waterfall we saw a mama moose with her calf just a few yards away, it was indubitably memorable. I felt honored that this massive animal let us be so close to her precious baby. I've seen elk before but never moose, let a lone at this close range. My sister in law, got great video of the calf, I only saw it on the way down from the waterfall and my photo unfortunately was too blurry.

We saddled up in the morning and went on a trail through the mountain forests. The scenery was stunning, relaxing. We stopped for ice-cream in Empire on the way up and for views of Berthoud Pass on the return trip back to Denver.

Views overlooking Boulder

 My trip would be incomplete without more hikes and a trip to Boulder to catch up with friends. I hiked the flat irons at Chataqua in my mom's clogs which wasn't ideal and I def felt the altitude having to stop a few times, but it was worth the views and exercise in the end.

Z had to see Red Rocks! Maybe next time we can catch a show

My Dad took my daughter and I to Mt. Evans, which has the highest paved road in America, far above tree line. The views are usually extraordinary, with big horn sheep and the Rocky Mountains extending as far as the eyes can see in all directions, but because of forest fires in Washington State and Oregon, the visibility was compromised. It was still stunning and cold despite the sunny day, the wind chill made it 45 F (7 C). My daughter was cold and the altitude made her dizzy. As is our tradition, we went down to Echo Lake at the base of America's highest road and had some famous pie at the Lodge while watching the alpine hummingbirds feed out the windows.

My Dad and daughter, Mt. Evans

Later we went fishing. My kid has been lucky in Taiwan to catch fish easily with her little bamboo pole, but for some reason her patience was tested with these brown trout. It took  several hours for her to catch 2 brown trout while everyone around us seemed to be reeling them in. I had a few bites myself I failed to hook. The real kicker was when the fisherman on site was teaching my kid how to gut a fish. She was utterly disgusted, but being the adventurous epicure I know she is I dared her to eat one of the beating fish hearts and she did. She popped it in her mouth like a little raspberry, 'Temple of Doom' style. I knew she would, she's eaten fish eyes, grasshoppers, some kin of larvae caterpillar and  crickets before. That kid won't do anything she doesn't want to.

Z ate a fish heart while it was still pumping! She caught 2 brown trout (after much time and effort) and when the guy was teaching her how to gut it, I I dared her. She chewed it up! Haha!
Posted by Kathy Benavides on Friday, August 21, 2015

One of the things my daughter hankered to do was eat at the nearby Fondue Restaurant. She's been keen to eat Fondue the past year after reading about Switzerland and wanting to live there when she's an adult.  It was my first time at the Melting Pot, although it's in my neighborhood, I suppose its slightly been out of my price range or occasion. Anyways, it was expensive, but amazing. We shared a few dishes and were stuffed. I enjoyed a local Denver cider with the mouth watering white wine, Gruyere, blue cheese, whatever it was, which was perfect with green apple, strawberries, anything. It was the ultimate delectable experience. It reminded me of Hot Pot places in Taiwan, all the family gathered around heated pots of vegetables and meats, except fondue, chocolates and cheeses are so much more appetizing. I doubt Taiwanese would like to eat there as the place is haunted, they have ghost dinners for Halloween and the staff testified to their own personal close encounters.

Dip it good!
My folks, it will be their 42nd anniversary the beginning of September

The day before we had to fly out of DIA, all 4 of my brothers and their kids got together in the park, which had prior been impossible with everyone's schedules. My little nieces and nephews are beyond cute, precious and of course I think they are all extremely intelligent. We ended the day with chicken wings and beer, the restaurant had the Bronco cheerleaders and mascot so my daughter and niece got some posters and autographs, a great souvenir for her, although the meaning is lost on her not having grown up at the mercy of Bronco season.

The first time my kid tried Gatorade, which boggled my brothers
Z with Miles the Mascot

The highlight of my trip of course was spending time with family and resting. The entire time in the forefront of my mind was when and how I would settle back in Colorado. I cried when I said goodbye to my grandparents, because tears ran down my grandpa's face when he said, "I probably will never see you again," implying they will die soon. It wasn't pleasant to leave him like that. It wasn't pleasant to leave America as it turned out, but that's another story.

Uncle Mike behind the camera, and some of the Benavides clan, Albuquerque.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Epic Family Road Trip 2: Colorado

This is a continuation of my previous post about the RV road trip with my family during our summer holiday. (For all the photos click here.)

The Colorado- New Mexico border
 After Ojo Caliente we high-tailed it to Cortez and made camp at sunset. Cortez is located in the "4 Corners" region, near where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet. Its an area where Native Tribes have reservations, the Ute, Navajo and Apache. We drove near a few of their entrances, empty roads that disappear into the horizon.

Our RV at our campsite in Cortez, CO.
 The grounds of the KOA campground was on a hill overlooking the mountains. I appreciated the different vegetation, the scrubs and sage here it all looked aquatic, like coral in a colorful reef. I could imagine all this landscape underwater, which it once was. What I will never forget from Cortez, besides the delicious Mexican food is the conversation I overheard at the KOA office. My Dad and I were getting some decent coffee for a change (after drinking instant most of the trip) and a few campers were talking loudly with some KOA staff. They were all agreeing that Donald Trump was needed as president to solve the "veteran problem". I about spit my coffee out and spun around in shock. It was too early to pick my chin up off the floor, my sleepy eyes bulged out of my head. I wasn't caffeinated enough to process, was I still dreaming? Is this a nightmare? I was experiencing culture shock, conservative White America at its best. I thought it was an urban myth a creation of the media, but it was true, actual human beings-with brains, truly support Trump. I mean I'm no GOP fan, but come one at least Jeb Bush has experience, and is somewhat more respectful to brown people (thats about it).

The Tree House, Mesa Verde
 We took our time for breakfast and then headed to the archaeological wonder of Mesa Verde National Park. It was the girls first time and we adults have been here before. What was interesting is that the cliff dwellers who lived here were the ancestors of the Pueblo tribe we visited prior outside Taos. My mom and the girls lined up to go down into one of their pits. The tourists were international, we heard Italian, German French. We could still see three stone grinding stones. There were many places we could not crawl around and climb unlike my last visit. Time and tourists, take their toll, the stone is crumbly, most of it was fenced off.

My daughter and mother, Mesa Verde

It was a very short inspection of the cliffs as we didn't have so much time and the park has 600 cliffs dwellings, so it would be impossible to see it all in a day.

The breathtaking San Juan National Forest

 We headed to Montrose. The drive between Cortez and Ouray through the San Juan National Forest was stunning. I was so tired, not having had one decent night's sleep, but the scenery was breathtaking so I put on headphones, listened to Tame Impala's new CD and followed the play between sky and mountain. The highway went along the Las Animas river which unknown to us was at the same time being poisoned my gold mining companies, defiling the whole region. It's a monumental shame (read A Yellow River Runs Through It) of a bigger problem the state of Colorado has to deal with sooner rather than later.

In Montrose my parents wanted yet again more Mexican food. Although I've been pining for decent Mexican food the two and a half years since my last trip, variety is nice. My daughter observed, "The best Mexican food in Taiwan is the worst Mexican food in America", which is true, its hard to imitate without the real ingredients. So my Dad drove to a little hole in the wall Mexican place he and my mom liked. Fortunately for me and Z it was now a Nepalese restaurant called Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen. My daughter was stoked to have white rice and dumplings. I was happy to have curry, saag, naan, chicken tandoori washed down with a beer shared with my mom. It was totally out of my Dad and brother's comfort zone but they were stuffed. My niece had her first mango lassi, my daughter had a cinnamon lassi I helped her finish. It was nice to be full, satiated without that gross stuffed feeling, Mexican food is so heavy, so much cheese.

Black Canyon Gorge
 With full stomachs we went to the Black Canyon Gorge to see the sunset. We were the only people on the rim, there was no time to walk around, behind schedule we hopped in the RV and headed to our next campground in Gunnison. It was a cold, wooded private campground owned and operated by an elderly Polish immigrant. The whole trip I was asking myself, "Could I live here?" Most of the time the answer was, "Yes!" Yes I could see myself in Northern New Mexico, maybe not Taos or Santa Fe, but definitely somewhere in between, like Espanola, or Abiquiu. As for SW Colorado, I could live in Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray once I accepted the long winters and adopted a winter sports lifestyle. Totally doable.

San Juan National Forest
On the way home from Gunnison we stopped at a goat farm, Bed and Breakfast in Salida and the girls petted some goats. Closer to Denver the highway between Salida and the big city was as you can imagine also first rate, they don't call it Buena Vista for nothing. Yes I could live here too in an earth home or yurt. The seed has been planted, someday soon (2 years?), we will reestablish home base in Colorado.

Goat eyed view of  the Rockies, Salida.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Epic Family Road Trip 1: New Mexico

Eagle Nest Lake

The day after our arrival about 29 hours of straight traveling,we, my family hopped in a 34 foot RV and headed down to New Mexico. My mom, dad (our driver), my daughter, brother Eddie and niece Emma were all on board. It didn't take long to enter New Mexico (5 hours of driving from Denver) and because of the monsoon summer, the terrain was lush, wild flowers carpeted the hils and valleys, beaver dams were sprinkled here and there along the rivers. Coming down into the Moreno Valley, I was mesmerized and made my Dad stop when there was a shoulder on the road. Outside Eagle's Nest, NM we saw a herd of deer and then a doe with her two fawns. The scenery was poles apart from the beautiful landscapes of Yilan, certainly more wild and pristine. 

Taos Town
 I knew it was going to be a great day when I could do morning yoga surrounded my aromatic wild sage. Our RV camp spot was surrounded by it. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the jet lag, waking at 3 am for the next couple of nights. Undisturbed sleep i the RV was an impossibility, pretty much the whole trip. It's like a boat, when a person is walking, we all feel it.

In the morning we walked around Taos  and found a historic, luxury Bed n Breakfast called Casa Benavides- distant relatives no doubt (both my parents come from NM). I couldn't get enough of the adobe houses and gardens, looking out over the  Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains. It made me think of the lyrics of that Paul Simon classic, "Hearts and Bones", of running around my grandparent's backyard. I could live here, easily.

I love New Mexican gardens

That first night we caught a live Friday night music performance in Taos plaza, the town center. It was comfortable, old hippies letting loose, everyone was dancing, my mom included. I was surprised how cold and cool the weather was like 65 F, my kid and I were shivering.

Our RV parked in the background
Maria de Guadelupe
old doors and bells
We walked around the town, the girls (my daughter and niece) had fun snapping photos on their new cameras. Taos feels so familiar, I could live here. The food here and everywhere in New Mexico was sublime, native green chili garnished, featured in everything and they were "Sandia hot"-  a reference to the Sandia mountains outside Albuquerque and meaning just right. The beans were perfect, like homemade. I couldn't get enough homemade corn tortillas and mad a point of trying out new dishes.

Adobe goes perfectly with blue trim and hollyhocks

Taos Pueblo
I've been here before with my Dad, but this time around was very different. There were a ton more tourists, an outside parking lot with shuttle vans and our own volunteer University student guide. He made it more interesting, he definitely knew his history. Taos Pueblo is a world heritage site that's been continuously inhabited for a thousand years.

The Holy mountain of the Taos Pueblo people
The people who live in Taos Pueblo have no electricity or running water. They get all their water from the river that flows from their holy mountain. Theodore Roosevelt seized 48,000 acres from their holy mountain and the people fought the US government for years. It wasn't until 1970 that president Nixon returned their mountain and sacred Blue Lake back to the people.

I bought several sage bundles to burn, 2 cross necklaces for my niece and daughter and a gorgeous green petrified moss necklace and matching earrings for myself. I also bought the girls a dream catcher each. I know its cheesy trinkets, but better I buy them here and support native jewelers, than a shop in town. I bargained, they were receptive which was fun.

My mom, daughter and Ed, Chimayo

This was my 3rd time to this ancient pilgrimage site of El Santuario de Chimayo. I went before in 2000 with my dear friend and then later with my Dad. The biggest draw is the healing sands in the back, side room of the sanctuary. Since before the Spanish came, Natives considered the sands sacred, the place was an energy center, a vortex. People with disabilities or diseases come and fill a small bottle of sand for themselves or sick loved ones that couldn't make the journey. There are written testimonies, crutches of people's miraculous healings on all the walls. The church itself is an artistic and historical wonder. Unfortunately I couldn't take photos of the wooden carvings, old doors and murals from the 16th century.

The various grottos all over the grounds reminds me of Asian temples, the colors, the statues of holy saints, a familiar energy. There was a Vietnamese chapel in the back and a Vietnamese Virgin Mary as well as an outdoor chapel under some willow trees.

Santa Fe
We spent most of the day at the living air museum at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. They had some annual Wild West show with different exhibits. It was educational, each volunteer was an expert at their crafts and patiently retelling their history lessons to us. 

For example, each step of the weaving process from spinning the wool, to dying it from plants, insects and crustaceans, to weaving it and embroidering tapestries, they do the real thing.

Th drying yarn after being cooked with plant dyes

Embroidering a church tapestry will take her 4 years to finish

Synthetic dyes couldn't be so richly colored as these.

 Other working exhibits: the water mill, corral, smith, tannery. At the end of the day we tried archery, my niece takes lessons so she was nearest on target. We watched a target shooting competition on horseback which was LOUD but I could appreciate the good horsemanship and being able to run a course and change guns or reload, it didnt look easy, but was once a necessary skill I suppose.

The one room schoolhouse, brought my mom lots of memories

Z is interested in his old pistol

Our RV generator stopped working and we called all the RV shops in the Santa Fe area, no one was available.  One guy called back and made 2 trips to the Golondrinas parking lot (a dusty field). It cost a small fortune and supposedly the RV shop in Denver would reimburse my Dad back. He had to replace 2 generators. Finally we were relieved to be on the road heading south to Albuquerque. It was starting to rain again. Nothing smells quite as nice as the rain on New Mexico dust.


An hour way was Albuquerque, synonymous with my paternal grandparents, amazing food, and my extended family. We settled at the KOA campground there, not as picturesque as the setups outside Taos or Santa Fe, but they had a pool and the girls ended their day with a cold, splash.

Z at the butterfly pavilion, Botanic Garden
The next day we all met at my Aunt Susie's for a spread. It was mind bending for all of us, my aunts and uncles to realize that little Kathy was 40, which means they are pushing 60.  I was always the little kid in their eyes, even tho I was the eldest grandchild. Its like we are all stuck in the body memories of our eternal 20 year old selves. It affected their field of vision so that they thought I looked younger. My grandma who had trouble remembering me and kept on asking my Dad who I was (her mind has made the slippery decent), bless her, every time she said I looked like a teenager. The last time I saw them was after my daughter was born at my grandparents 60th anniversary and the same BBQ I started eating meat again after 17 years of being vegetarian (always a fun story to tell).

 I basked in the presence of  hearing my grandpa retell me the same old stories and some new ones, which was a surprise. Stories have morphed into legends over the years like my Uncle Mike (who was there) being able to sit up by himself the first day he came home from the hospital, haha. Or my grandma riding her horse jumping it while holding my infant father.

Aunt Susie, Eva, myself
My cousin Eva was at summer camp in Oregon and she was flying back that night. Not wanting to miss her we had my aunt drag her out of bed the next morning and had her guide us around the Botanic Gardens. The butterfly garden was the highlight for my daughter and niece, but I enjoyed just strolling around the various environs, admiring the flowers and cacti, chatting with Eva and my aunt. They are so grounded and positive.

Ojos Caliente

I was just about to enjoy the medicinal waters of  this New Mexican hot springs when we found out kids weren't allowed after 6pm so we had to save it for the following morning- only to find out kids cant begin to enter until 10 am (they need to update their website). At least they can go to the mud pool which is what really mattered to my daughter that night, as we ended the early evening with S'mores.

 "Ojo is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water including lithia, iron, soda and arsenic. Over 100,000 gallons come to the surface, revitalizing those who soak in these legendary, healing waters. Our eleven pools are filled with different types and combinations of these waters with temperatures ranging from 80-109 degrees."

Mud baths!
My mom covered in mud.

I soaked in the iron springs first, as it perfectly timed with my monthly induced anemia. I brought my brother Ed and mom in with me. The iron recharged me. Then it was  time for mud baths. My mom and I spent longer there, we helped each other load up on layer after layer of mud. I dried out like a lizard on a rock in the sun. After we washed up we took a quick dip in the arsenic pool but not too long so we could catch a yoga class in a yurt. It was a basic flow, but good, very calming and centering and right for the moment.

We boarded our RV and headed north to Colorado, a long drive to Cortez.