Monday, January 30, 2017

monday morning catch ups. (the one where I talk mostly about my new commute and very little anything else.)

/1/ It's the end of January, so it's time to catch up on what we have been up to, which is not much at all, but I just have to document it anyway. The biggest and baddest (and I mean that literally) news this month is my new work commute. As I have mentioned it before, my work was moving...and now it finally did. Every morning I turn on Google Maps and watch the traffic go from orange to red to blood red while hollering at the kids to hurry up so I can HIT THE ROAD! It's not a pretty sight. Anyway, it's not that a 30-35 minute drive is all that bad in Northern Virginia, but it's knowing what I had before (3 minutes). Sigh, slowly but surely, I will stop complaining, but in the meantime...
^^Getting across that bridge every morning is no small feat!^^

/2/ ...I am now working part-time! Long story short, yes, Luke could pick up Anna from school while I stay at work later to get all my hours in, but if I were to leave work at 4p, I could end up spending an hour in traffic vs. 25 minutes (driving home is faster) if I leave at 3:30p. So! I decided to work shorter hours to save me some sanity, but really it's not THAT short either. In the end, I am just working half an hour less than everyone else, but I will have 3-4 days off a month, which will come in handy during school breaks.

/3/ Last week Luke was in San Jose for work. It was the first time I had to do it all on my own with the new commute. The worst part was having to go out of the way to drop off Will at school. We left home even earlier at 7a to factor in the extra time it took to drop him off, but by the time I finally dropped off Anna, traffic was just that much worse. Luckily, my part time status had just kicked in that week, so I wasn't under too much pressure. Plus, the kids were so good all week and made things easy.
^^When Luke is away, the kids sleep with me.^^
^^7am and ready for school!^^

/4/ I decided that I am tired of borrowing 20 to 25 picture books every 2 weeks from the library and we are just going to read chapter books from now on. It took about 2 and half weeks, but we finally finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and immediately afterwards, we watched the movie. The Tim Burton version. After the movie, Anna made me proud by saying that she liked the book better. I think most adults would agree that books are generally better than movies, but to hear a kid say that? I was impressed :)

/5/ I stayed home with Anna on Inauguration Day. We spent the entire morning making Ham and Potato Soup and lemon bars.

/6/ For Luke's birthday this year I got these chocolate lava cakes from Trader Joe's. The kids didn't like them (probably too bitter), but I did :) All you have to do is pop them in the oven or microwave, and then drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. They were restaurant quality, but for a fraction of the cost ($3/box).

/7/ Other January happenings: booking our annual Williamsburg vacation (done!), Shopkins, The Light Between Oceans, Will's excellent progress report, CNY with family, Totoro (movie, music, and plush), homemade cotton candy from Jolly Rancher (!), and planning for Spring Break and summer camps.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 23, 2017

2016 - A Review

I am not done with Taiwan posts yet, but I do want to do an year-in-review post before it’s too late. For our little family, 2016 was a good year. No major illness, no tremendous hardship. Of course, life with two little kids is chaotic and loud and frustrating much of the time, but in the end, it’s still full of goodness :)

After the holidays, January is always quiet. Thanks to Snowstorm Jonas that dumped at least a foot and half of snow, it seemed like the kids never went to school. We only made it worse by taking them out for another week for a vacation.
We started out February on a Disney cruise ship. It wasn't all fun in the sun, but it was a terrific way to escape winter cold. I spent the rest of the month writing about our trip and making two photo books.
Anna turned 6 in March and we had a little birthday party for her. Then over Spring Break, we took a trip down south to Roanoke VA where the hubs did some serious reminiscing. Oh, we also took the kids to an egg hunt!
In April, we went with friends to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I also wrote about our slow lifestyle with the kids, which can probably be translated into lazy parenting? (I am still struggling with this one.)
Our May included: Clifford the Big Red Dog Live!, family/friends BBQ, birthday parties, piano recital, and PAYING OFF OUR MORTGAGE.
The month of June always means the last day of school and an end-of-school-year trip to Williamsburg for our family, although spoiler alert, 2017 will be a bit different. We are going in July, and with extended family!
I feel like all kids did in July and August was playing #pokemongo, but there were summer camps, local parks, and I can’t forget about that trip to NYC and Williamsburg (again!) at the end of summer.
The kids returned to school in September.
We attend our very first Disney on Ice in October. FOR FREE! And then the kids dressed up as Pikachu and Squirtle for Halloween.
Will turned 5 in November and we celebrated in Dutch Wonderland! Later in the month, instead of staying in town like we usually do for Thanksgiving, we spent 48 hours away from home in Kentucky to meet my brother’s first kid!
In December, we saw Santa before leaving for my biggest solo parenting stint ever in Taiwan. Read about our adventures here. Full of ups and downs!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trip to Taiwan: Taipei (台北)

Besides the illness, the next hardest thing about our Taiwan trip was adjusting to the time difference. Right now, because of daylight saving time, there is actually a 13 hour difference between local Taiwan time and EST. I don’t know how some people are able to adjust in a few days, because I think it took us nearly two solid weeks to not wake up when it was still pitch dark outside. I read online that it normally takes one day to adjust to one hour of difference, so two weeks actually make sense. But boy was it brutal! No matter how tired we really were, our internal body clock just wouldn’t let us sleep past 4am. Then by the time we were ready to head out for the day (like around 9 – 10am….I would have liked to head out earlier but places in Taiwan open late), I felt like I needed a nap already. I think one of the reasons why I WOULD’T want to take another trip like this again for a long time is simply jet lag. It was just too much and so hard on our bodies.
^^Waking up in the middle of the night, hungry for snacks.^^

Next to the illness and time difference, the NEXT hardest about Taiwan was not having a real home base. Sure, my parents have an apartment in Taipei, but the apartment is in a pretty poor condition and nothing like what we are used to back home in the U.S. So, my mom actually arranged for us to stay at several hotels….but the bad thing about that was that it felt like we were always packing and unpacking and moving suitcases! For what it is worth though, the kids did very well with transitions from place to place. I had a harder time with it, but that was probably because I was the one doing all the work. 😞
^^The place where I spent some of my childhood years.^^
^^I slept in this room when I was a kid!^^

Anyway, for the first few days of our trip, we explored Taipei via MRT.

One day, we took Maokong gondola cable car all the way to the top of the mountains for scenic views of Taipei City. That was a neat experience, even though Anna said the ride was “too long.” After we rode the cable car back down, we stopped at Taipei Zoo. I would have liked to walk around Taipei Zoo more, but it was only our second full day in Taiwan and I knew we were already pushing the kids’ limits. Surprisingly, though, Taipei Zoo has many animals that we do not have at the National Zoo, such as penguins and rhinoceros!
On another day, we went to Tamsui, a quaint seaside town, with my parents’ friends. I have great memories of Tamsui when Luke and I visited over 10 years ago…strolling hand in hand exploring roadside stalls and shops. Unfortunately, this last trip with the kids was nothing like that, but the kids weren’t the ones to blame either. See, my parents’ friends had a different agenda in mind, which included riding the ferry across the river to Bali, a neighboring waterfront village, and then renting multi-person bikes because they thought the kids would enjoy it. Well, I guess the kids did at first, but then it got old quickly. Meanwhile, my dad and I were huffing and puffing and not having any fun at all. Grrr. After we returned the bikes, instead of finally walking around Tamsui, the friends rushed us to this restaurant that they wanted to take us but it was closing at 2pm so WE MUST HURRY. Ultimately, I know my parents’ friends wanted to show us around and had good intentions, but it wasn’t how I imagined our day in Tamsui would be.

After we finally got back to the hotel that afternoon, the kids and I fell into deep sleep. That night, Anna threw up no less than 3 times and thus begin her illness.

Annnnnd I will end the post here :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Trip to Taiwan: Sanxia (三峽)

Growing up, nearly all my relatives from my mom’s side lived in Sanxia. I remember spending many lazy summers there. Nowadays, most of the relatives have moved away, but my mom’s oldest sister, my “chubby” aunt, and her family are still there. So, whenever we go to Taiwan (alas only twice before this latest trip), we always go to Sanxia for a short visit. This time, we stayed for 3 nights.
^^Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街) -- mostly touristy now, selling food and trinkets.^^

Our stay in Sanxia was relatively low-key, in fact we didn’t do much at all. First of all, when we arrived, Anna and I were only on day two of being sick, so we felt overall yucky. We took it really easy and stayed home most of the time, but when we did venture out (to go to my aunt’s apartment), with a tummy bug and an already sensitive gag reflex, Anna just couldn’t handle the “smell” of Taiwan and threw up many times. Sigh, those days in Sanxia were probably the worst part of the trip and it made us incredibly homesick. But for me, it wasn’t a total loss. I got to see many relatives and they all met Anna and Will for the first time, I finally visited the very popular Sanxia Old Street, which was under construction when Luke and I visited in 2005, and…..I guess that’s it? As I said, we didn’t do much at all, haha.
^^On the way to Sanxia River and bridge.^^
^^One of the many temples in Sanxia.^^

The culinary highlight in Sanxia was definitely the “fluffy” scallion pancake with egg that Will was eating in the video. It was so oily and I knew I shouldn’t have eaten it with a stomach bug, BUT, it was oh so worth it :)

I took a picture of this treasure at my aunt's house. That was me being held by my mom and next to us were my two aunts...the same aunts in the still frame of the video 💚

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Trip to Taiwan: Jiaoxi (礁溪)

I think making movies from photos and videos might be my new hobby. It's especially easy with an app. I literally just select all the photos and videos I want, click create, and voilà it's done. I made a new movie on our two days in Jiaoxi, a hot spring resort town about 90 minutes from Taipei. Our stay there was very good because Anna and I had just fully recovered from our stomach bug and man oh man nothing feels better than being able to eat! We stayed at Just Sleep, which was clean and modern and just a short walk from the train station. My favorite part was the hot spring stone tub right inside our room. I had never seen anything like it before. Right after we got there, the kids immediately changed into their bathing suits and went for a dip. Just Sleep was also very convenient to the main strip of Jiaoxi, where we found a variety of places to eat.

The biggest highlight for me in Jiaoxi was trying fish spa for the the first time. It felt weird with fish nipping at my feet and all, but I got used to it. The kids liked it too, but loved fishing with their little nets even more. We also found a free foot bath place...that was another highlight. Other than that, it was just a lot of eating, much like anywhere else in Taiwan. At one bakery, we sampled the best taro pastry ever. We literally just stood next to the sample table and ate and ate. 

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trip to Taiwan: Shifen (十分)

One of my favorite memories of our Taiwan trip was the time spent at Shifen. I first saw the sceneries of Shifen from the movie "You're the Apple of My Eye" and thought it was such a cute little quaint town. And writing down your wishes on a sky lantern and set it off into the sky? Too sweet! In reality, though, the "cute little quaint town" was overran with tourists and locals (even on weekdays), but that didn't turn me off either. We snacked our way through Shifen Old Street (sooo many yummy eateries!) along the tracks, wrote our wishes on the lantern and watched it disappear into the sky. The kids had a fun memorable time and so did I.

Here is a little video I made - I hope you all enjoy!

To get to Shifen: Take a northbound train to Ruifang Station from any Taiwan Railway stations (we took it from Nangang Station). At Ruifang Station, switch to the Pingxi Line. Take the Pingxi Line to Shifen Station. It sounds easy, but actually pretty complicated because there is a timetable you have to follow carefully. My mom was the timetable master so she led the way, haha. But when in doubt, just follow the crowd -- everyone heads to Shifen!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

We are back!

^^I really liked our day trip to Shifen.^^


The kids and I are home safe and sound from our Taiwan trip! After 19 days of living out of a suitcase, it honestly feels good to be back home. Right now we are all still trying to adjust back to our local time before the daily grind officially starts on Tuesday when it's back to work and school.

So...the biggest question, how did I survive doing it all on my own? ! I knew that solo parenting wouldn't be easy and I was right about that. The kids bickered, not listened, and asked endless annoying questions ("Are we there yet?", "How many more minutes?", "Now how many more minutes?", "Can I push the button next time?"). It wore me out and I asked myself again and again how Luke managed to convince me to take this trip. The biggest curve ball happened near the beginning of the trip when Anna and I both got ill with a stomach virus. For days we couldn't eat a thing and our tummies just felt bad. We were miserable and lost weight in a country full of delicious foods. After we recovered though, we did make up for all the non-eating and our time in Taiwan was mostly enjoyable.
^^Dipping our feet in a hot spring pool in Jiaoxi.^^

I felt sad missing the festive season of Christmas here back at home, but this was also the easiest Christmas ever. On Christmas Day, the kids and I woke up together in my parents' apartment in Taipei. My mom was flying back to the US that morning and my dad rode with her to the airport, so it was just the 3 of us. Anna woke up right around 6 and begged to go check if Santa found us in Taiwan. I had her wait until Will woke up about 10 minutes later. Then I grabbed my phone and took a video of the kids finding out that SANTA DID FIND US IN TAIWAN!! It was a pretty sweet moment. Of course I couldn't carry much with me to Taiwan, but the kids' had really simple requests for Santa..Shopkins (Anna only), Pokemon cards, and Pokemon sets. They were so happy! After cleaning up (putting two gift bags back in the suitcase), we went to our favorite breakfast place for scallion pancakes and soymilk and saw some local Taipei sights that morning.
^^Not a speck of Christmas decoration, but Santa still showed up.^^
^^Christmas Breakfast 2016^^

I brought my real camera with me, but didn't use it once. I documented the whole trip using my phone and whenever there was wifi, the pictures got uploaded to Amazon Prime Photos so Luke could see all the fun things we were doing (un-fun things were not documented obviously).

A few days before the trip, I was absolutely dreading going on it. It was to the point where if the airfare was refundable, I would happily take the refund rather than go. While I am not ready to proclaim that this trip was wonderful and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, it WAS good to spend time and make memories with the kids and my parents. I got lots of great pictures!
^^On the top of Maokong station.^^

Anyway, this is just a quick post to say that I am back. I will write more when I get a chance! Happy new year everyone!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!