First Impressions of Taipei

We have been in Taipei about 40 hours now, not enough to get a huge feel for the place, but enough to form some first impressions.

First of all, it’s colder than I expected.  The last two days have been cold and rainy.  Cold enough that we have had to turn on our heaters.  I was expecting the rain, but not the cold.  I’m told that this is pretty cold, even for winter in Taipei and it should warm up soon.

We live outside of the city a ways on a mountain called Yangmingshan.  We live in a home that has apparently always been occupied by Americans.  This neighborhood was built for American military personnel but has been used as Foreign Service housing for some time now.  Our house is not much to look at on the outside, plain white stucco, but the inside is completely new, clean and roomy.  I love the kitchen!  It’s big and it has two refrigerators–foodies like myself, Rejoice!  We also have a large fenced yard with a big climbing tree out front.  Jason and I are the only ones in the family yet to climb the tree, but I have a feeling we will swing from its branches before this tour is up.

Yesterday I went into the city for the first time.  My neighbor Rosy took me to Costco in Taipei.  The city is surprisingly clean and modern.  The traffic is chaotic and congested but the roads themselves are pristine.  There is some truly beautiful architecture. Taipei is very green and mountainous.  The second tallest building in the world is here.  It’s called Taipei 101 and it is visible from all over the city.  This morning the top was surrounded by clouds, much like the mountains in Utah on rainy spring days.

Going into Costco was a really bizarre experience.  I was the only caucasian person there.  Everyone was speaking Chinese, yet most of the products were the same products I saw in the Costco in American Fork in the US just last week.  It was like I was in a strange dream.   I bought hearts of romaine lettuce from California, Kirkland brand cleaning wipes and that giant container of red grapes.  I bought the same gigantic bottles of shampoo and conditioner I’ve always bought.  Yet oddly enough, there was no Minute Rice.  Apparently the Taiwanese are a bit too high-brow for instant rice.  (Do you blame them?)  The strangest thing though was that the tortillas came in packaging with only Chinese writing.  Riddle me that!  Even the food in the Food Court was the same as one would find in the US: gigantic hotdogs, raspberry smoothies, caesar salad.  It was like two worlds collided in one gigantic warehouse.

Our neighborhood is great!  There is a small grocery store about a two-minute walk from our house; as well as a 7Eleven, McDonald’s and Subway.  In between the American chains are tiny  mom-and-pop eateries with signs only in Chinese, selling heaven only knows what.  I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what they are selling.  My boys have ventured out a few times on their own to the various establishments, coming home with six packs of Coke and liters of Pepsi (to their mother’s dismay.)  I don’t think I would have dared do that at their ages, so even though they bought contraband beverages, I’m pretty proud of them.

Our neighbors have been awesome.  We’re sort of at their mercy since our car won’t arrive until early January, at the soonest.  We’re blessed to be surrounded by good, kind people.

One last thing.  In the movie Dan in Real Life, as Dan’s family is getting to know the Juliette Binoche character, someone asks her what her perfect day would be.  She says that it would start out with her waking up in a totally new culture where she didn’t know the language and she felt completely out of her element.  My perfect day would start the same way, and it has these last two days.  I’m blessed!


A Tribute to my State and Community

Yesterday, an unexpected, but inevitable thing happened to me.  For the first time since we started this Foreign Service process I actually teared up.  I ran into an old friend of mine named George Durrant.  We talked for a few minutes about our move.  He asked when we were leaving and I said in just over three weeks.  He put his arms around me and said, “Then this is probably goodbye.  I’ll never forget you Erin.  You’ll always be an angel to me.”  That’s all it took, I was in tears.  Then again today, while preparing our air shipment, I ended up having a good, hard cry.

Please don’t take my tears as tears of regret or second thoughts.  Rather they were tears of gratitude for the people and the community I have lived in and among my entire life.  So, maybe this week before Thanksgiving it’s fitting that I pay tribute to the state and community that I love and call home.

What do I love about the state of Utah?  Here are a few of the countless things:

Soaring mountains that have always been like a protector and comforter to me, four distinct seasons, Lake Powell-aka  The Happiest Place on Earth (no offense Disneyland, but you don’t hold a candle), stunning canyons, the greatest snow on earth (it even says so on our license plates), the red rocks of southern Utah, Pioneer Theater, the Utah Symphony, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Brigham Young University (Go Cougs!), smoke-free public places, Temple Square at Christmas, respected Governors-past and present.

Now a few of the countless things I love about my community:

Good and safe schools with some truly wonderful teachers, a church on practically every corner, Cafe Rio, very low crime, great neighborhood parks, wonderful walking paths, sports and arts programs for my kids that don’t expect kids to play or perform on Sundays, the unwritten law that schools and teams don’t schedule events on Monday nights so that families can spend that evening together, the other unwritten law that Sundays are for families and not a day for kids to play with friends (i.e. We don’t have kids ringing our doorbell to play with our kids on Sundays), caffiene-free Diet Coke available at every gas station, book clubs, not having to worry that my kids are safe when out and about, emphasis on families.

But what I love most about my state and community has to be the people who call this place home.  I have the best neighbors who truly care for the welfare of my family, I have an incredible church community-most of whom I view like family.  I have great friends who are wonderful examples to me-I love them dearly.  I have neighbors who take the time to care-like the two women who came over after my dad died and spent an  hour and a half with me-comforting me as I cried and cried-shedding a few tears of their own for their deceased fathers.  In my community, we bring dinner after the birth of babies and send thank you notes for the tiniest acts of service.  Utahns are generally educated, giving, compassionate, respectful and trustworthy.  Families are the number one priority and we will do almost anything to see families succeed, our own as well as others.  We mourn for each other’s losses and rejoice in each other’s successes.  We care for one another in a unique way.

I am blessed, I am grateful and I am proud to call Utah my home.  So, the good-byes are starting and so are the tears.  In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher wrote: To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing . . . A time to get, and a time to lose . . . a time to love.

Now is my time to do all of these things, both for what I’m leaving behind and for what lies ahead.

Amish Country

The East coast is beautiful, much more so than I ever thought.  It is so green!  Green!  Green!  Green!  Granted it is crowded, but the trees are able to hide the feeling of urban sprawl except in the downtown areas.

I recently went for a drive with a friend from work through Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Fall has taken its toll on the corn fields, but the countryside is still green and beautiful.


Lancaster County
Lancaster County, PA


Of course the Amish folks were everywhere.  I met a young Amish girl named Linda at a roadside stand selling Whoopie Pies.  She was an engaging young girl whose accent sounded more Australian than German.  I would post a picture, but, “The English are not allowed to take pictures of the Amish.”  I’ve never been called English before.  I did take a few pictures of the famous horse buggies.  I hope I didn’t offend anyone.  I figured I could outrun any trouble.

The Amish country is filled with tourists like me hoping to get a look at the keepers of the 19th Century.  I wonder if they feel like animals in the zoo, on display for strange aliens to look at.

Whatever guilt I felt about invading this peaceful country vanished as soon as I discovered Fry Pies.  I purchased one from a roadside stand and kept it, thinking I would eat it after lunch.  The pie got eaten a few miles away.  After which we returned directly to the stand to purchase 10 more.


Fry Pie Stand


There was no one attending the stand.  It had a sign with the price and a metal box for the money.  Put your money in and grab your choice of pies.  Mmmmmm, fry pies!  I can feel the real butter coursing through my veins.

This last picture proves I am still in junior high.


Intercourse, PA


At least I refrained from buying the t-shirt.

Soliciting Advice from Foreign Service Parents

Dear Foreign Service parents (or any parent out their who has moved a child out of the country):

I need your advice.  How have you prepared your children for Foreign Service life?  How do you prepare them each time you change posts?  What has worked for you and what hasn’t?

I would appreciate any and all advice you could give me.

A huge thank you in advance!


Is My Husband Wise or Just Cheap?

When Jason and I were dating and engaged, he worried that our financial backgrounds may have problems meshing.  His father was a rancher, my father was an attorney.  In his mind, I came from a rich family and he did not.  He worried about what it would mean to marry what he considered a rich girl.  Truth is, I didn’t come from a rich family.  We were comfortably middle-class.  But it’s true that I never worried about family finances growing up and apparently he did.

So Jason and I married and I like to believe that he was pleasantly surprised at how conservative I was with my spending habits.  My philosophy on money is this:  I have never worried about finances, so why would I want to put myself or my family in a situation where I have to start worrying.  No possession on earth is better than a good nights sleep; therefore, I never want to lose sleep over money issues.  So, yes, I try to be careful.

The one financial decision we have always agreed on is that we would NEVER put anything on a credit card that we couldn’t pay off that month.  So far, that’s worked pretty well for us.

Notwithstanding, my self-proclaimed “carefulness” with spending, there have been incidents in our marriage where I have accused my husband of being cheap.  Here is one example:

When I was pregnant with our oldest child, Jason and I went on a campout with our church group.  Jason had a few basic camping supplies from his Boy Scout days; so, with one small exception, we were fine for one night in the mountains.  That exception was that we didn’t have any camping pads on which to sleep.  So as we were loading up the old Jeep Wagoneer I suggested we stop by Wal-Mart on our way to the mountains where I had recently seen camping pads for as little as $5.00.  At this suggestion, Jason basically accused me of being high maintenance and insisted that camping pads were an extravagant luxury.  Needless to say, his pregnant wife spent a pretty miserable night on the hard, cold ground.

If you think that this is the first time I have brought this up since the initial incident, you think way too highly of me. I bring it up all the time.  I think we can all agree, that on that particular day, Jason was CHEAP!

Fast forward to 2004.  We had been living in our second home but felt that we needed something a bit bigger for our growing family.  So we started the search for a new home.  We had a price range in mind and I had seen a number of homes that I felt we could afford, though a new home would stretch us more than we had been stretched previously.  I had basically decided on a home that was at the higher end of our price range.  I knew that Jason was a little uncomfortable with the cost of the house, so I agreed to look at a home that he had found that was well below the cost of the homes I had been looking at; in fact, it was about half the cost of the house I had chosen.  When Jason and I went through the less expensive home, we both felt that this was our home and we immediately put an offer on it.  We moved into our current home six years ago this month and it has been a great home.

When we were doing the financing for our home, Jason felt that we should take out a loan with a five-year arm.  Mortgage companies were really pushing arm loans back in 2004 but we knew that they were a bit controversial.  When I expressed some concern about the loan with Jason he told me not to worry, that he would have the house paid off before the five-year arm expired.  I trusted him.  Well, he didn’t pay off our mortgage in five years.  Instead, he paid it off in three and a half years.

So, my husband may be cheap, but here’s the truth.  His thriftiness has put us in a position where we are able to go into our new life as poor government employees with no debt.  We’ll be able to keep our home in Utah without worrying about a house payment while we’re overseas.  We’re not rich, but we have enough of a nest egg to pay for our kids college, church missions and weddings.  I’ll never drive a Mercedes, but we’ll never have a car payment either.  Had the family finances been left up to me for the 17 years of our marriage, we would probably have multiple car payments and a big mortgage.

So, I pose the question:  Is my husband wise, or just cheap?  Well, today one of our church leaders counselled us to pay off mortgages as fast as possible, and my heart swelled with gratitude for my cheap husband.  Maybe wisdom and cheapness can co-exist in one person.

Single Parenting

Today marks the longest space of time that Jason and I have spent apart in our 17 year marriage.  Before this, the longest was last spring when Jason went to England, Bahrain and Egypt for work.  That time he was gone for 16 days.  Today marks 17 days.  And we have another 12 days before he’s coming home for a short two-day weekend.

Going into this I knew it would be hard.  I use military families as my inspiration.  If they can do it for a year and a half, I can do it for four months.  I feel weak and whiny saying this, but it’s really hard and I’m truly not cut out for it.  There is a reason that the Lord intended families to have a mother and a father.  I knew that before, but boy, do I have a testimony of it now.

Confession time:  I have been a really cruddy mother these past 17 days.  My temper is short, I yell a lot, and I’ve actually seen red a couple of times.  I speak to my children in a way that I would never speak to another human being because anyone else would order a padded wagon to come pick me up and take me away.  Luckily, my children don’t yet know the number to the padded truck hotline, but it’s probably just a matter of time before they figure it out.

I’m used to having a husband who, ala Superman, swoops in when I start getting frazzled and saves the day.  He knows when I’ve had it and I need a little Time Out.

Husbands as good for other things as well, as I’m coming to appreciate.  They’re good for back tickles, taking out the garbage, and long talks in bed.  Mine is also very good at computer tech support.  He is so good at tech support that I literally have no idea how to even download music onto my IPod.  Nor can I change the ink cartridge on the printer or look up our checking balance on the internet.  I can see I have now crossed the line on my confession and readers are probably beginning to think I’m somewhat dim-witted, so I’ll stop now.

After my father passed away, my mother started saying all the time, “Make sure you give that husband of yours a hug every time you get the chance!”  Well Mom, you’re right.  I haven’t hugged my husband nearly enough and I wish I could give him a big hug right now.

I also wish I had a longer temper and a shorter fuse with my kids.  I wish I were one of those mothers who only spoke to her kids with a sweet, angel voice and only said loving and positive things; but unfortunately, I’m not.

I’m trying, but I have a long way to go.

Freedom of Assembly

Last weekend TV personality, Glenn Beck, held a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I hadn’t heard much about it but I wanted to see any kind of gathering in such a historical place. The news mentioned there could be some tension or if I was lucky–violence. I’ve never been a very political person but what else am I suppose to do in Washington D.C. by myself? So off to the metro I went.

The sidewalks were pretty full from the Foggy Bottom metro station to the Lincoln Memorial, but not overly so. It wasn’t until I got right up to the monument that I got a good view of the crowd. Regrettably, I arrived just as Sarah Palin was finishing her speech. I suppressed a tear and climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

From the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial
From the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The view was brilliant! There was a lot of debate in the news about how many people attended the rally. I didn’t count them all, but there were a lot! Both sides of the reflecting pool were packed. Both lawns outside the line of trees next to the reflecting pool were packed as well. I left the Lincoln Memorial and circled around to the South. I hoped I could find a way back to the reflecting pool so I could see the stage. There was no way I was going to make it. It was standing room only from the tree line to the water.

The crowd in the tree line near the reflecting pool
The crowd in the tree line near the reflecting pool
More of the crowd in the tree line

I didn’t catch much of the speeches. Most of what I heard gave me the feeling I was at a religious revival. The crowd seemed to receive the messages well.

I continued to work my way back through the crowd to the Washington Monument. The crowd started thinning out by the time I reached the big lawn between the Washington Monument and 17th Street. By thinning out I mean I could actually walk up the slight hill without stepping on anyone.

The crowd on the lawn in front of the Washington Monument
The crowd on the lawn in front of the Washington Monument

I hiked up toward the Washington Monument and took this picture of the crowd.

Looking back toward the Lincoln Memorial
Looking back toward the Lincoln Memorial

By this time I was getting way too hot and decided I needed to relax with the greatest gift of Western civilization, so I walked over to the National Gallery of Art to partake of air conditioning. It was truly wonderful and made me proud to be an American.

Sadly, without my wife by my side I did not appreciate the fine art in the gallery. Fine art is always better with Erin around. I did like this painting. Evidently some people think it is pretty good.

The Alba Madonna
The Alba Madonna

I must admit going through the art museum by myself did have its advantages. The biggest being I could leave whenever I wanted. So I exited the building onto Constitution Ave. I looked up 6th Street and saw a large crowd of people gathering in the distance.

Rev. Sharpton's March
Rev. Sharpton

I’ve been buried in my new job and I haven’t watched the news for a long time so I had to ask a security guard what was going on. He told me the Reverend Al Sharpton was holding another rally at a local high school. I guess they were not too happy with Mr. Beck holding his rally on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

See if you can pick out Rev. Sharpton in this photo.

The Rev. Sharpton is in there somewhere
The Rev. Sharpton is in there somewhere

The crowd was a lot more lively than Beck’s crowd. They were shouting slogans and singing songs. It was moving to hear, “We Shall Overcome.” I decided to fall in with the marchers and see where they were going since this was as close to a civil rights march of the 1960s as I’m ever going to get.

It was a great experience and wonderful to see my fellow countrymen peacefully gather together and express their opinions. In that moment I was not moved by any individual message. I was moved my nation allows such gatherings and grateful that each rally was peaceful and honorably executed.