About Me

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Yilan, 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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Getting My House In Order

new view, new apartment

My landlady gave a 2 week notice to find a new place to live about 3 weeks ago, her father was sick and was going to be living back in the apartment (ya right, she's selling). It was a miracle I found a place  over a year ago, as friends and I were scouring the internet for 6 months when I was moving from Tainan to Yilan. We couldn't find anything back then. We had to stay a month in a ghetto studio by the train station until I found my awesome new apartment across from the Yilan County Government park. This time around I would have preferred to live in Yuanshan or Weiyuanshan closer to my work, some place I could have a few chickens or a goat but I had no time to be choosy. My friend in Tainan Tony Coolidge is connected everywhere and knew of a place in Yilan City. I wasted no time.
new view, new apartment

I was lucky to find this when I did. Its the same price and size as the apartment I had, with an extra bedroom. It has better views of the mountains is slightly closer (not much) to my work, just between 
Piggy's and the sport's park. The previous owner was a North American who lived in it for 8 years and took good care of it. He painted all the rooms mellow colors, I welcome the change from asylum white walls.  The only downsides are there is no underground parking, no protected courtyard Zen can run around and play with the kids in our building, and the place is unfurnished. Basically I spent my paycheck and deposit on furniture and a used TV (that broke after 3 days).

We moved house last weekend. It was a struggle boxing everything after dinner for 2 weeks, I was scrambling to finish when the movers showed up. Last Saturday, they efficiently packed and moved everything in a few hours, but I was still taking things and cleaning up until dinner time.

new living room

Meeting my previous landlady was extremely uncomfortable. She had 2 friends and a  notebook and they were noting every detail, turning over every nook and cranny, I really expected them to not give me some of my deposit. And this after making them wait for an hour (the restaurant we went to was weeded, it took a while and I had sent her several messages we would be late, which she didn't seem to regard.) After a very tense inspection I got back my deposit except for the price of water and electric, which I had to negotiate. I was happy to leave, I even left my washing machine because  my priority list is that big.

Formosan Blue Magpie  台灣藍鵲.

Zen had a great first day at her new school on Monday. It's small by Taiwanese standards, only 94 students (her first elementary school in Tainan had 2000 students.) Each kid has their own laptop and she had time to watch She-Ra and AFV, play kickball, start a new traditional wind instrument and is now the best one in math in her class. She will be starting a wood carving project next week. 

Its at such a beautiful spot in the mountains, next to a lake, gorgeous in any kind of weather. A bit of a drive, but I work in the area anyways. I am hoping this principal has fine tuned the balance between academics and fun. He is for an alternative, hands on approach but with using technology, literacy, which seems more practical in Taiwan. Her first week she saw a family of macaques outside her window (her teacher told me 10 or 11 of them), and the indigenous Formosan Blue Magpie  台灣藍鵲.  When I picked her up after lunch (she has a half day), she and her teacher were catching lizards, always good fun. Her teacher takes the class hiking once a week during PE class time in one of the 3 trails outside their campus. They also run around the lake once a week.
Zen happy at her new school

The school bus conveniently drops her off at my work 3 days a week while she finishes her homework in my office. After I clock out, we head to the cantina and enjoy a complimentary dinner. Its a godsend not having to scramble my brain, and resources to come up with dinner after a long day at work. 

I am just about all done unpacking, just a few more boxes; this weekend I have 2 massive loads of laundry, the TV man coming tonight and cable guy in the morning. All in the process of getting our house in order.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bloody Moon Festival Weekend

Hello Moon Festival  or Mid-Autumn Festival a three day holiday weekend, celebrating the much needed end of summer. I have so many pleasant memories associated with this harvest holiday,  yet this year's was a little different.

Last year we went to three separate waterfalls including the amazing Auhua waterfall in Yilan County,  as well as Mingchi Forest, a wonderful memory, a fabulous weekend (read post here). A few years back when we lived in Tainan, my daughter and I headed to Guanshan to witness rolling hills of orange daylilies against the backdrop of the blue mountains that separate the east coast from the rift valley. A distinct, amazing mid autumn festival weekend. A further Moon Festival weekend of note was  shrimp fishing  at my friend's family business, where we joined her family BBQ, surprisingly dazzled by their impressive fireworks celebration.

 Friends back home ask me what Moon Festival is. In Taiwan it amounts to accepting the obligatory invitation to a communal mass BBQ which is a smoky, loud and carnivorous endeavor. (For a thorough explanation click here).

Zen and I went to a pre-Moon Festival BBQ in Toucheng with friends the weekend before the actual holiday and that was quite enough processed meat, pomelo and smoke to last me.

This year's blood moon wasn't visible in Taiwan, but the absurdly powerful gravitational forces were indeed felt in the form of a wicked typhoon.  The night before the typhoon came, I overheard my neighbors beneath my balcony complain I was boring for not BBQing (among other things), so I went down and joined them and had a good time. It was a more subdued and less smokey affair.

Leaving work Friday I told everyone I knew, "Just you watch, it will be a 4 day weekend" and sure enough Typhoon Dujuan indeed gave us in Yilan another day, Tuesday off and a rain free one at that. I admit watching the news I was starting to feel apprehensive, the typhoon was literally bigger than all of Taiwan and it was hitting smack into Yilan. Local news was vastly more entertaining. There was Yilan train station a sea of people all pushing each other to try and take the afternoon Monday train back to Taipei before all hell broke lose. The high-speed train stopped running at 3 pm leaving millions of travelers on their holiday weekend stranded.

On the morning of  Monday the 28th it was calm. Zen was playing with her friends outside. The wind started to pick up so the girls were playing with the gusts, trying to walk against it. Around noon I called her in and at around 1pm the rains came and it looked like being inside a car wash looking out of our windows. The news said the typhoon would hit us directly at 9pm, but it seemed to have come sooner. Our windows were leaking in our bedrooms and kitchen. We went thru all our towels and some blankets trying to sop it all up. It was a minor inconvenience, but we were safe. Little did I know that all our neighbors lost power and my coworkers lost running water too. I had filled up my bath tub just in case.

My daughter and I drank pots of chai and British tea and watched episodes of Portlandia, reveling in being utter couch potatoes for a day. Typhoon Dujuan left at 1am and Tuesday was called off everywhere but Tainan. Yilan received  914 mm of rain, just second after Su-ao which is still Yilan County and a 15 minute drive down the coast.

My favorite doorman, Moon Fest BBQ with neighbors the night before Dujuan
 The weather Tuesday was perfect, the better to assess the damage and clean up. All the trees in our neighborhoods were blown over, completely uprooted, the topsoil was ripped out by the winds. In other parts of Yilan and Taiwan the rivers were flooded. I spent most of the day cleaning my balconies and floors, washing the towels and blankets that quickly dried in the sunny weather on Wednesday. If it weren't for the fallen trees and blown off building signs, you would haven't guessed a typhoon was in town the day before.

The fallen soldiers at Yilan Sports Park

Not the most ideal mid-Autumn Festival weekend, but I can't complain. Taipei dwellers tend to flood Yilan on holiday weekends anyways and working full time and Z doing homework at her anchingban til 6:30 makes kicking back at home a necessary and joyful relief.

Mid Autumn Festival BBQ, Toucheng.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I Love My School! Happy Teacher's Day to Me

Days are getting shorter, front entrance
Today is Confucius birthday but was celebrated on Friday at schools across Asia. That whole day the intercom kept on repeating the same sappy song in Chinese, "Thank you teacher.." It influenced the kids. I had students walk into my office and give me a card their class signed, no expensive bribes (chuckle), not that I expected any.

There are moments throughout my day where I am clicking my heels on the inside, counting my lucky stars that I am here, that this school has found me. I teach social justice, to 9th graders and some ESL to 7th and 8th graders. I was given the choice to teach all social justice classes, but for variety's sake, I decided to take just the 9th graders and my coworker was given the 8th graders. Its good for them to have different teachers. I am creating my own curriculum, my managers who are my co-teachers, are transparent conspirators, good people, real educators, who went to grad school in the States and appreciate a liberal Western education. This is a subject I care passionately about, that I went to graduate school for. I worked 7 years like a slave for this job to fall in my lap, like the Judaic narrative of Jacob working 7 years for his bride. This is my year of jubilee. Even the petty annoyances of kids losing their papers here and there aren't enough to rattle me. I am just too damn happy to be here.

The 15 minute drive to Yuanshan is gorgeous. I skim the outkirts of Yilan city, the fields of flooded rice patties near the sports park, the mountains reflecting in their waters and head towards the mountains, never the same perfect color on the morning drive in the scooter, tho the car is safer and I have tunes. The campus is beautiful, immaculate, surrounded by fields of fruit orchards, dragon fruits vines growing on the fences, nestled at the base of the mountains. Wisps of fog and clouds trail the small peaks, the air is sweet from farmers burning grass in the distance. Every morning the kids are busy cleaning the floors and classrooms, all is spick and span. I teach 28 classes but amazingly I have time, more than enough time. Teaching the same 2 subjects and materials to different classes, prep is minimal and by the 3rd repeat class, I would have tweeked and perfected what didn't work the first time.

The kids are comparatively well behaved, compared to my semester at their competitor Chung Dau in Zhuangwei (which really isn't competition). The lowest level 8th graders who my manager thought might be too much trouble actually are the sweetest class, all 36 of them.  After junior high hell at Chung Dau, where the wealthy socially challenged controlled the classroom and their paying parents bought the board, these kids at Huey Deng are absolute angels. I think my current "bad" class just didn't test so well, actually their English is good enough. For Teacher's Day on Friday, they sang me a song which they rehearsed independent of their homeroom teacher. Acutally I have a few students who were in my nightmare classes in Chung Dau and here they are totally different students, dare I say they are thriving and so am I. The culture of this school is positive. I can teach at a slower pace for the kids to genuinely learn, I don't have to dumb down tests (yes that's a thing) and I am not seen as a babysitter/entertainer, but an actual teacher.

I am really enjoying this age group. Maybe its God's way for preparing me to parent a teen soon. Teenagers are just little kids in bigger bodies and even some of the 7th graders still literally are little kids; not all the boys have hit puberty and they are dwarfed by the girls and bigger classmates. On Monday morning they cry quietly for their parents, still homesick, getting used to life at a boarding school (they go home on weekends).

 On Friday afternoons I am free. Between prepping I was walking around the track listening to my headphones just flabbergasted at the civility of the students, some playing basketball in the many courts, some jogging,  a few playing catch with a baseball and gloves, others raking leaves and bagging old grass. Kids feel invested to care for their school, there is accountability for their behavior in and out of the classroom. Sure they are extremely wealthy and pay 82,000NT a semester, but they don't act spoiled rotten. Its obvious most live in a bubble, they haven't known much hardships and its difficult for them to relate to some topics such as human rights violations in Taiwan, poverty or even people with disabilities. Their comfortable lives is their biggest hurdle in educating them about social justice, but their EQ as a whole are high, so they are open and kind-hearted enough to listen and that's everything.

I cannot reiterate enough that on a daily basis I am communing to higher powers my utter gratitude. This constant communion of thankfulness is invigorating, I look forward to everyday. I didn't think there were schools, students, managers in Taiwan that function on such a professional level, a well oiled machine.  Every job prior has been a stepping stone for this present moment. I am basking in this victory.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Confuscius Confusion and Swimming Against the Current

                          (Preschool winter concerts turn into elaborate kindy graduation performances)
I'm all for going with the flow, most of the time. But I have had to put my foot down when it comes to navigating the dire straights of parenting a child in the Taiwanese education system. It certainly has enlightened my understanding of being a teacher here myself. Confucius birthday, better knows as "Teacher's Day" ironically is coming up (September 28th) so now is a good time as any to indulge our private and recent struggles of at times swimming against the currents.

                                                        (Here Z as a toddler is pretending to teach her friends)

For the most part Z's teachers have been amazing, from preschool and kindergarten teachers laid the foundation of "bopomo" the phonetic alphabet of the traditional characters. She was memorizing Tang dynasty poetry like a parrot, perfecting her impeccable pronunciation as a wee child. Elementary school was unknown territory, but her homeroom teacher and anchingban owner  (in Tainan) were superb; we all communicated well together, despite language and cultural barriers, which was helpful as my kid was going through a kind of lying phase, trying to use her drama skills to see how much sympathy she could arouse from adults. But with support and cooperation we got through it.

                        (learning Mandarin was easy when it was a song, the good ol' days)

There was one major incident where her Taiwanese language teacher in Tainan without my consent (or without informing Z's home teacher and anchingban) were filming my kid for promoting Taiwanese language, which scared the bejeez out of me and her anchingban for ten terrible minutes, as she was MIA. Then there was her homeroom teacher giving Z a flu vaccination without my consent, subsequently getting sick, which I was livid about, but let it go.

But what kind of education?

Recently, it was new territory going to a private, wealthy elementary school. It was in fact a terrible experience for my kid, being bullied ("haha you have no Dad, you have no one to take care of your mom!") on a daily basis. That class went thru 3 homeroom teachers in one year as the class was utterly unmanageable. She lasted a semester there before returning to the public education system in Yilan.

Its been a test in patience and understanding on my part to deal with this young teacher, and most likely the reverse is true as well! My kid certainly didn't help her relationship early on by inciting a class mutiny against teacher, for giving the kids too much homework. (Z was organizing the class to demand less homework- future labor organizer perhaps?). At the time I had to side with the teacher that the classroom isn't a democracy and the teacher is the captain. Now  considering the past few weeks of this new semester, I think my kid brilliant and perhaps forward thinking after all. There were times when I had to LINE message her, Z had been spending 4 hours doing her homework and was crying, and teacher responded by reducing the amount of copying of characters, which is great, but, I wish it was already at a sane amount to begin with.

                                  It bares repeating, kid learn better by creative playing. Here they are running  a noodle shop.

Last semester I had to have several meetings and even met with the principals to demand that my child be allowed to have her precious recess. Teacher being a good, traditional teacher, was taking away Z's only breaks to inflict academic punishment (copy and memorize). My view is that's counterproductive and harmful and teacher can be more creative with her punishments and rewards other than taking recess away. Even prisoners get time everyday to walk around outside.

I understand they have to copy a character a zillion times to get it in their minds. I copy characters myself and unfortunately those characters don't stay in my memory very long. Mandarin is indeed a time consuming language. I understand this is a Confucius culture where there was no need to think and question as that would lead to dissent, as much as recite. I appreciate my child can read and write Chinese, but when it affects her quality of life I am obligated as her mom to stop the madness and find the balance.

The proverbial dung hit the fan last night as my child in tears confessed that the past 5 days of trying to memorize her current assignment was an exercise in futility. Yes, once again its a Tang dynasty poem written over a thousand plus years ago and yes no one uses the language like that anymore, except possibly in a University essay, but still she has to memorize it. I was kind of shocked she was having so much difficulty. Her memory is in fact one of her greatest strengths (unfortunately for me sometimes). I tried to help her with her memorization (the blind leading the blind) as I can read the "bopomo". Yet she wasn't making any progress and was getting headaches and being generally stressed out.

The poem she doesn't understand

You can imagine my surprise when she confessed she had no clue what the poem was about, it was all meaningless. Yes she knows the characters, but the sentences? The poem's significance was totally unappreciated. Her teacher didn't even bother to explain the meanings and nuances, no one asked her to either. Even having lived here for seven years and understanding the influence of a Confucian rote memory system, I was still floored. No wonder she couldn't memorize it. Unlike being a toddler who could memorize poems mindlessly like a parrot, she is now a more sophisticated, thinking being. I am now suggesting her teacher to explain the meaning of future poems as I am unable to. I hope this approach would help her memorize it easier. I'm still appalled that I have to tell her teacher to in fact teach.

Its frustrating, most Taiwanese friends want to help, but they still don't understand where I'm coming from. They suggested books she had in preschool, or looking up the meaning myself on Google, or having their kid help drill Z. They don't get that memorizing something mindlessly is whats totally bizarre (to me). They say its useful for expressing moods, writing essays in the future, and I don't disagree, but that would require Z to actually understand the poem first. When I told a friend that this kind of education was why Taiwan was suffering in innovation he took it personally. I can't even communicate this with people who are supposedly friends, can I hope to communicate this with her teacher?

Fortunately, her teacher this afternoon backtracked and explained the poem to the kids so much that my kid feels like she understands the poem. Happy Teacher's Day to her indeed. I hope she will continue to do explain poems from the beginning for the rest of her long career. I learned that 1500 year old poetry is not to be taken lightly.  If its so highly esteemed than it should be explained in language kids can understand, so that they can draw their own meanings. My dear friend of 15 years told me she learned that poem in Junior High and her teacher took great time and care to explain it. She thought Z too young to appreciate it.

I love my new job and life in Yilan, if we go home prematurely its because I can't help my kid navigate a balanced life in this education system. She talked about wanting to "escape". I tried to explain its a stressful world, whether we are living in Denver or France or Yilan and she has to learn to manage her stress. We can't just run away or change schools. I suggest she ask questions early if she doesn't understand until waiting til the last minute to admit she's clueless (another legacy of the learning system here, students are afraid to ask questions and lose face.)

I've reached the point where I am planning to just flat out tell the principals she wont be going to University here, she wont be testing her Junior High years away to get into a local University. Heck, if we are still here when she's 20 its doubtful she could even be a legal citizen considering the current web of confusion for children of APRC holders. I'm just happy enough she is fluent and can read and write well enough. If I'm ok with that why isn't everyone else? Why is asking her teacher to teach, opening up a can of worms for some individuals? (who don't have kids and are not teachers of course.) The teacher handled it gracefully, I regret keeping her on her toes but she took a test for her enviable position out countless applicants, so I hold her to a professional standard.

Now I know why when I ask questions to my 9th grade social justice classes, that require them to think critically I get these blank stares. They never really have to think about meanings before, they cram just enough to answer a, b, c or d or mindlessly recite a beautiful poem.

9/ 25 Post update: Later last night my friend gave me the English version, and her opinion (being a teacher and Taiwanese) is that this poem isn't appropriate for children (being a drunken ode to wine and drinking written by a notorious and much venerated alcoholic), but it is beautiful and even in English quite difficult to understand, read here: I doubt my kid could appreciate this in English!

I made my descent from the Zhongnan Mountains that twilight had tainted blue,
The mountain moon followed me down as it rose high.
I looked back on the path taken,
Only to see belts of viridian traverse the hillside.
On my way I encountered a mountaineer and followed him home,
Where children came to open a gate made of twigs intertwined.
I passed the threshold to find a secluded path behind green bamboos,
As we walked along, our clothes brushed pass various vines.
Inside the lodge pleasant conversations abounded and I had a resting place for the night,
Accompanies by good wine, we were chatty all the while.
We got on to sing folk songs like Wind in the Pines,
By the time we had finished singing, many heavenly stars have retired.
I was drunk in merriment and in high spirit my company was,
In such ambience of joy, the world of concerns and politics was out of mind.

Immigration Headaches for APRC parents in Taiwan

I have shared this with my students and Facebook posts, so I better also share to a wider audience. The current Taiwanese immigration system is like most, flawed, confusing and in need of reform. Long standing APRC holders who have been a positive influence in Taiwan are being punished along with their family members because nothing has been done to improve current laws.

My friend Toby is a perfect example of an upstanding long term expat whose family is suffering under the current immigration system. Tomorrow he is meeting with Taiwanese immigration to see if they can change his son's visa from 90 days to 180. Watch this video posted September 9th.

My friend's son will be 20 soon and they are trying to figure it out. Basically if I am still here when my daughter Z is 20, she is no longer my dependent and yet cannot apply for an APRC herself. She can't legally work here despite being in the school system since preschool. She would have to do Hong Kong runs to renew her tourist visa, or stay as a student under a student visa. But perhaps if I transfer her visa before she turns 20 I might be able to secure something. Ask a different immigration officer and you get a different answer.

There is a FB group Foreigners for Taiwan Immigration and the private Taiwan DREAM group for parents. On one of the most recent DREAM posts (Sept 10), supposedly there is a new law, that no one including the immigration officers know about, which is confusing. The father whose 20 year old got an ARC dependency status recommended an immigration officer named Eric who was willing to help anyone in this situation. A month before his son turned 20 he turned in the paperwork that his son has been living in Taiwan for 10 years and applied for a Dependency ARC, but apparently this only works if you transfer an existing visa, not if your child has already been enduring visa runs, like my friend Tobie. [NIA Officer Eric Chen. 886-7-623-6334 E-mail: eric817@immigrations.gov.tw.]

There has been a petition in the past, and since this law isnt' legit for every child of an APRC holder, I am thinking of organizing a letter campaign with my students to write to the main immigration office. Taiwanese people need to stand up for long-term foreign friends and call elected officials to rewrite some of the current immigration laws. Here is an excellent article published September 10th to share with your Taiwanese friends.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Buzzin' Consumerist

Its been 4 weeks since we returned from our trip home and I am still buzzing. My fantastic job certainly helps maintain the positive vibes (worthy of its own post). There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think fondly about Colorado, conversations with friends, my family. It was all like a dream.

I had to face the reality that I am a consumerist. Stocking up on goodies was in order, literally. I had so much joy buying products through Amazon and iHerb that I could not get in Taiwan- ok iHerb does ship here but if I could stuff it in my carry on, why not?

I still benefit daily from the cruelty free products I bought. Here are my top 5 of many.

1. Vega Protein shake.  Recommended from my Canadian friend who is a kindred spirit in all things healthy. The whey based junk at Costco and the gyms are filled with sugar and all kind of weird chemicals, and all Herbalife protein products in Taiwan are soy based, I have an allergy to soy. Why is it so difficult to find a vegetable based protein shake on the island?

2.  Nature's Way Hemp Protein powder. Used every other day alternatively with Vega. Each serving has 11 gm of protein and 13 gm of fiber.

3. Organic Tulsi tea- Boulder based Organic India company. I mix tulsi loose leaf  with the loose leaf yerba mate which is bitter. Tulsi is the queen of Indian ayruvedic herbs and has dozens of health benefits like being top in antioxidants, boosts metabolism, anti-aging, combats cancer and are full of minerals (here are 33 more). I also got some tea bags of tulsi and lemongrass. I'd like to grow it actually.

benefits of Tulsi tea

4.  Now Stevia in packets. I got 2 boxes, one has chromium which helps regulate blood sugar. I've seen only flavored stevia from a yoga studio in Loudong.

5. Minerals Fusion  SPF 40 Moisturizer, another local brand from Littleton, Colorado. No junk, easily absorbed and lasts a while.

Honorable mentions: Now almond oil, Dr Bonner's Mint and Hemp pure castille soap, Giovanni dry shampoo, the crystal deodorant, bosu ball, Dabur clove toothpaste, neem oil, Bragg Liquid Aminos soy sauce alternative, a psychedelic new yoga mat,  and much needed workout shoes.

What I wish I would of brought back: spelt tortillas, sourdough bread, books, my violin, special gel inserts for my left heel.

But back to reality. There's more to life than things. Also there's been little consumption this month, not having worked last month, my car needed some repairs, and also I am still catching up on bills.

Might come in handy if in a hurry post workout or traveling through Java.

I am counting down the days to my first full time paycheck since December and making plane for CNY in February (everything books out fast). Life is good!

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.