Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Taiwan Might Be Home If...

Taiwan Might Be Home If...

...you consider red bean soup a delicious and perfectly acceptable dessert.
...you can identify bok choy, edamame, and kohlrabi.
...you can distinctly pronounce "shuìjiào" (sleep) and "shuǐjiǎo" (dumplings).
...you're at the movie theater and check the Chinese subtitles to see if you heard that line correctly.
...your favorite fruits include passionfruit and guava.
...you always open Facebook and Google Translate simultaneously.
...you know the names of the people who sell you vegetables.
...you don't hesitate to answer when someone asks you how much you pay for rent.
...you aren't surprised when random strangers take pictures of your child.
...you put on your winter coat when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
...you're used to the sound of the Buddhist television channel blaring 24/7 in the apartment next door.
...you don't own a car, and don't really miss having one.
...you consider any apartment that has more than two rooms to be huge.
...you think Hong Kong is synonymous with "visa run."
...you find your boss sleeping, head-on-desk, every day after your lunch break.
...you know the chorus of at least one Chinese song when you sing karaoke with your friends.
...you taste the difference between oolong, jasmine, green, and black tea.
...you aren't grossed out by raw meat, whether it's hanging at the market or on your plate in a restaurant.
...your washing machine is located in your bathroom...in your shower.
...your oven is smaller than a microwave.
...you hang your clothes to dry in your living room all winter, because that's where the dehumidifier is.
...you're not sure how you'd pay your bills without 7-11.
...you can walk pretty much everywhere you need to go in less than an hour.
...your rice cooker is an essential kitchen appliance.
...you've set a limit on how many bubble teas you may consume per week.
...you eat 50% less meat than you used to, and 50% more vegetables.
...you never drink cold water anymore.
...you have a Chinese name, or at least a Chinese-sounding version of your English name.
...your local friends' children go to bed later than you do.
...you don't find it strange that the garbage truck sounds like an ice cream truck.
...you pay less for your child's doctor's appointment without health insurance than your co-pay would be in America.
...you really want to learn how to play mah-jong.
...you can only fit three days' worth of food in your refrigerator at one time.
...you inadvertently speak Chinglish: "How cool!"  "Give you." "You said what?"
...your toilet paper doesn't come on a roll.
...you use the towering silhouette of Taipei 101 to find your way when lost.
...you think tofu could be its own food group.
...you keep a pair of plastic shoes in your bathroom to avoid treading on the perpetually wet floor.
...you are seriously considering purchasing a scooter.
...you frequently peek inside passerby's strollers and are shocked to see a dog instead of a baby.
...your rain boots are your most well-worn pair of shoes.
...you've tried acupuncture to treat a sore muscle.
...you ask your mom to bring cheese when she comes to visit.
...you consider paying more than $10 for a restaurant meal exorbitant.
...you walk past at least one bustling temple every day.
...your friends back in America still think you live in Thailand.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

CNY Vacation 2013

We kicked off vacation with a special Chinese New Year's Eve dinner with our friend Audrey's family.  It was so kind of them to include us in their celebration!  We shared a delicious traditional 12-course meal.  

Communal dishes are placed on a rotating tabletop, and everyone uses their own chopsticks to help themselves.  And, of course, no Taiwanese celebration would be complete without some karaoke!  

The rest of our week was spent mostly doing this:

Though during nap time, we also did quite a bit of this:

Yes, those are Dominion cards.  Yes, I actually enjoy playing this game now (perhaps because I've started beating my husband?  Ha.)  And yes, we have reached a new level of nerd-dom in the Spencer household.  
Of course, we also did some experimenting in the kitchen.  This is our attempt at traditional Chinese New Year Red Bean Cake (a steamed dessert made of red beans, sugar, and glutinous rice flour).  Despite how it looks, it tasted pretty good.  As I'm typing this, it occurs to me how weird it is that we consider red beans a dessert food now.  Anyway...

One Tuesday, we headed up to the hot springs in XinBeitou.  We enjoyed a nice soak with friends Audrey and Gus, her parents, and their pastor + family.

The pastor and his wife have five sons (quite unusual for a Taiwanese family!)  They have been planting churches in southern Taiwan for many years and it was great to meet them.

Keira provided us with never-ending entertainment (especially as this was the day she started laughing!)  The pastor's wife graciously offered to hold her while we enjoyed a soak.

On Wednesday, some dear friends offered to babysit, so Kalan and I went on a movie date to see Les Miserables.  We highly recommend it!

Throughout the week we also enjoyed several meals with friends, a few play-dates at the park...

...and many walks around the neighborhood.  This man we saw was doing Chinese New Year calligraphy.

Another Taiwanese tradition we experienced this year was hong bao.  During Chinese New Year, children are given red envelopes with "lucky" amounts of money inside.

We were surprised when Keira received several hong bao.  (Guess it's time for a savings account!)  Her first hong bao was from Chang-uh Ayi ("Auntie" Chang, who sells umbrellas in the store downstairs).

Wow, what an awesome week.  We're thankful for this restful "stay-cation"--especially for all the time we spent as a family and the memories made with friends.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Make Your Own Organic Hair Gel for Pennies

This week's DIY experiment was hair gel.  This is my favorite thing I've made so far.  I will never buy hair gel from the store again!

Here's the unbelievably easy, two-ingredient recipe:

Put 1/4 C flaxseeds and 2 cups of water in a pan.  Bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally so the seeds don't stick to the bottom.  Once it starts turning into a thin gel, turn down the heat so it's simmering.  Stir continuously for about 10 minutes, or until the gel is thick.  (When you stop stirring, your seeds will suspend in the gel instead of settling to the bottom.  Then you know it's ready).  

Turn off the heat and immediately pour the gel into a fine mesh strainer over a bowl.  (If you don't have one I think an old nylon would do the trick).  While its straining I recommend washing out your pan right away, because the gel will be hard to get off once it's dried.

Whisk a few drops of lavender oil (or other favorite essential oil) into your gel.  I used lavender because it's supposed to be good for your hair.  Also, it makes the gel smell really good!

Ta-da!  Homemade organic hair gel.  You can save the seeds in the fridge and re-use them for one more batch.

But does it really work?


I was really skeptical, especially since my naturally curly hair is rather difficult to tame.  I had been using a lot of mousse every morning and doubted that anything less could work for me.

But...not only did it work...it worked better than the store-bought mousse!  My hair didn't feel crunchy, and my curls were soft and defined even at the end of the day.

In the morning, right after I showered and put the gel on
In the late afternoon, after I had been out walking on a windy day
The only downside I can find with this gel is that you need to keep it in the refrigerator.  I think it will last about 2 weeks in there.

 Is the money saved worth the work?

Yes.  Here's the cost breakdown:

1 bag of organic flaxseeds: $2.71 USD
(The 4 cups in one bag will make about 32 cups of hair gel (since each quarter cup can be used for two batches).  If I use 1 cup of gel per month, this bag will last me almost 3 years!)

A few drops of lavender oil for each cup of gel: $0.32 USD

So the grand total is: $3.03 USD for nearly three years' worth of organic hair gel.

(That means I will save about $60 per year!)

Plus you're avoiding chemicals that can harm your body and plastic containers that harm the environment.

Now that's a good deal!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Keira: 4 Months Old

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Can You Name This Plant?

One of the shopkeepers downstairs gave us this aromatic plant as a Chinese New Year gift, and I'm curious to know its name! 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

新年快樂!Happy Chinese New Year!

Today is Chinese New Year's Eve, and the beginning of a week-long vacation for us.  Woohoo!
We will be staying in Taipei and are looking forward to spending time with friends.

Mother-daughter CNY footwear.  :)
新年快樂!Xīnnián kuàilè!  Happy New Year!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hiking + Strawberry Shortcake = Birthday Fun

For Kalan's birthday we hiked Tiger Mountain and had a special seasonal dinner that finished with strawberry shortcake (I never thought strawberries would be in season for Kalan's February birthday--yet another benefit of living in Southeast Asia!)  Here are a few pictures from the day:

Keira gave Dad some of his favorite Taiwanese tea
Looking for the trail
We passed a large temple on our way to the trail head

Fortunately there were signs to help us find the way...
and fortunately we know the Chinese character for "mountain..."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Kalan!

In honor of Kalan's birthday, here are 27 interesting facts about my husband:

1. He grew up in a mountain cowboy town that didn't even have a stoplight.
2. When he was little he liked to make up his own board games.
3. He plays the saxophone and was the drum major for his high school band.
4. At one time he was the Tae Kwon Do State Champion of Colorado.
5. He really misses weight-lifting with his younger brother.

The entrance to Kalan's childhood home
6. He's a huge extrovert.  His Meyers-Briggs personality is ENTJ.
7. He can successfully order food at a restaurant in Chinese.
8. When it's his turn to choose a date night restaurant, he always picks Cash City Hot Pot.
9. He sported a ponytail for a season of his life.
10. He lived in Russia for a year and can speak Russian.

Kalan's ponytail.  He's in the brown zip-up sweatshirt.

11. This year he made his own pair of Vibram shoes using toe socks and hot glue sticks.
12. His preferred shaved ice topping is sweet red bean and taro.
13. He voluntarily spends some of his free time conjugating Greek verbs.
14. He has an associate's degree in culinary arts and likes to experiment in the kitchen (for example, last week he made marshmallows from scratch.)
15. His favorite card games include Bang!, Texas Hold'em, and Dominion.

16. He has the most diverse Kindle library of anyone I know...everything from writings of the ancient Christian church fathers to World War Z.

Making marshmallows.  They were delicious!

17.  He can consume an entire bag of Circus Peanuts within 24 hours.
18. He doesn't own a TV but watches Law and Order on our laptop from time to time.
19. He secretly enjoys planning our budget on a carefully organized Excel spreadsheet.
20.  Last year on Kalan's birthday, I greeted him with, "Happy Birthday!  I'm pregnant...you're a dad!"

21. He can use a sewing machine to alter his own clothes.
22. He enjoys reading stories to Keira using funny voices and accents and makes us all laugh.

I love you, Dad!
23. He can fold a stack of cloth diapers faster than his wife can.
24. He starts his morning with a hot cup of pu-er cha (dark fermented Asian tea).
25. He prays out loud for Keira and I before we fall asleep at night.
26. He hasn't set foot in America for the past three years.
27. His dream is to help the church expand among the unreached people of Asia.

We love you, Kalan.  Happy Birthday.

Monday, February 4, 2013

四個月收涎 Anti-Drooling Ceremony

When babies in Taiwan turn four months old, their parents traditionally host an "Anti-Drooling Ceremony."  Our friends invited us to their home to partake in this Taiwanese tradition (our daughters were born just two days apart!)

First, we prepared some cookies.  Chef Kalan took the lead for this part.  

Second, we strung 12 cookies on a red string (for good luck) to make necklaces for the babies.

Third, we took turns breaking off cookies and wiping the babies' lips while saying blessings over them.

 It's hard to tell yet if the ceremony worked.  In the meantime, I'm going to buy some bibs.

Happy four-month birthday to Jasmina, Ranim, and Keira!