Sunday, January 28, 2007

One snowy day in January...

Saturday morning the entire family headed deeper into the hills and woods of winter, to join Sijo's Boy Scout Den for a morning at a Sled Dog Rescue Kennel. This kennel has a mission to let each rescued dog continue to enjoy the
sport for which he/she was trained, but to never push a dog beyond his/her limits. Quite a few young boys, and Haiku (the token girl in the bunch) had their first experience driving a team of sled dogs up a little well-groomed trail. Tanka took his ride in the basket of the sled, and delighted the driver (the owner of the kennel) by laughing joyously for the duration of the ride.

We were also lucky enough to meet Noweesh (spelling?) a wild mustang rescued at auction from an unmentionable fate. This shy beauty shares his outdoor living space with a few ewes, a musky ram, and an adorable miniature goat.

Mother Nature provided a deep, drifty, picturesque setting for our Sled Dogging Adventure, which was lovely but made it a difficult drive home. We had planned to go skating on the neighbor's pond in the afternoon, but there didn't seem to be any activity going on there as we drove past. Once we were settled in our warm house, we weren't inclined toward outdoor activity. The boy's sleds lay all day at the bottom of the hill upon which the house sits, getting buried by deeper and deeper snow. In the evening, I feel asleep listening to the wind throw waves of snow against the windows.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Quiet Country Kitchen...

Haiku and I enjoyed a light, easy dinner with an Asian attitude last night. I made Butter Bean Cakes with Asian seasonings. These were too delicate and flaky to be used as a veggie burger, but were wonderful, drizzled with Hoisin Sauce, and served with rice and steamed green veggies.

I'll post a recipe when I make it again - which I will. I am a "little bit of this, little bit of that" cook and don't always know how much of each ingredient I used. I made this up as I went along, using what I had on hand, because I didn't have the right ingredients for the Butter Bean Burger recipe I've used in the past. I did use my favorite Food Network trick though (which I think I learned from watching Rachael Ray), which was to make a mini-burger and completely cook it. After a taste test, I decided things were "just right" and went on to make the whole batch. There were supposed to be two left over for Limerick, who likes to add our vegetarian main dish to his omnivorous meal as a side dish. However, Haiku *really* liked these, so there were no left-overs!

I'll post again later this weekend about our morning with the Sled Dogs!
photo by Haiku, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kindred Spirits...

You know you are reading a good book when you want to copy down or mark a paragraph on almost every page. I am reading such a book now, called Educating Alice (Adventures of a Curious Woman) by Alice Steinbach. This book recounts the unique travel experiences of the author, who went around the world learning the arts or skills for which each of the areas she visited was best known. From cooking at the Ritz in France to taking tea in Kyoto, the author has a gift for sharing the moment with her reader. I am enthralled.

Today, I was in England with Alice breathing in the sweet air of Winchester, as she visits locations important in the life of Jane Austen. She was thrilled to meet kindred spirits studying and discussing Jane Austen. Reading her descriptions and her thoughts, I know just how she feels... the author feels like an old friend or a kindred spirit to me by now too.

Intertwined with the narrative of her present day learning experiences and travel-log, the author shares bits and pieces of her life... her Scottish Grandmother, a childhood friend, long-ago moments that rise from memory to live again. And this time, as she shares so vividly, we live those moments with her. What follows is the opening paragraph of the chapter I am currently reading, Sense and Sensible Shoes:

"On a bright morning in mid-July, I awakened to the smell of new-mown grass and the sound of voices filtered through the tinkle of teacups. For a moment I imagined myself back in the bedroom of my childhood, listening to Mother and Grandmother talking over morning tea and scones while outside my older brother Shelby mowed the back lawn. It was a seductive thought, the memory of childhood mornings when each day seemed a clean slate with yesterday's mistakes rubbed out - so much so that I had to struggle to leave behind the comfort of childhood for the uncertainty of the present. But slowly I allowed myself to remember where I was. In England, in a small hotel in Winchester, I whispered out loud, breaking the spell."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Light in the Garden...
As I drove to town today, it was very clear that Winter had come to give the earth her rest. The branches of the evergreens were white and heavy with snow. The back roads were white from side to side, and running along beside white ditches and white fields. The frozen-time between growing seasons is essential to the slow-turning of the wheel of the seasons. I know all of this, and yet it is hard to move through the long, gray days with energy and wonder. I find it necessary to remind myself that color and light will come again, and I will have my hands in the soil again. Once again, I will be encircled by blossoms and fragrance while little winged creatures dart around me.

I wrote this free-verse in my head the other night while reminding myself that I will feel the sun's warmth on my face again after Winter has had her turn at the wheel:


Light in the Garden…

I am a child of the light.
I stand with my bare feet on warm earth
and tip my head back to drink in the sweet color of the sky.


When twilight falls,
I am not stitched from darkness,
but rather woven of starlight
and the soft hush that falls
as the earth turns into the night.

I do not lurk in shadow,
rather I play and dance
like moon-glow upon the water.

Then, as Earth rolls into the morning,
my thoughts do not hide in the depths,
nor linger in the shallows,
but rise like the mist wraiths
from the surface of the lake.

I am a child of the dawn
I hear lyric in the bird song,
as I hurry to the garden, to let the sun’s warmth kiss my face.

~ Aisling, January 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pretzel Days...
About once a month, we bake pretzels on Sunday afternoon. We have nothing on the calendar for today, so this will be a pretzel day, I've decided. Once I've made two big pots of soup - chicken noodle for the omnivores and spicy black bean soup for the vegetarians - I will clean the kitchen and the fun will begin.

I will make a big double batch of pretzel dough, divide it by five and give everyone enough dough for several large pretzels. I'm the non-creative pretzel maker in the bunch, always trying to perfect a quick, simple twist into the perfect pretzel shape. The kids tend to use their imagination, creating various symbols and character. Little Tanka tends to make a lot of 'Snakes" or "blobs."

These are not your typical pretzel shop creations, golden and heavily salted, but they are fresh from the oven, made and home, and whole lot of fun!

Soft Pretzels (single recipe)


Ingredients


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • Salt for sprinkling on the pretzels
Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add the sugar, salt and flour, and mix until dough starts to form ball. Knead until perfectly smooth, on a floured surface. Roll into long strand and form pretzel or other shape. Place shaped dough on greased baking sheet.

Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

photo by Aisling, Fall 2006

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Winter Garden...

I love this passage from one of my favorite gardening books, Hollyhock Days by Sharon Lovejoy:

"In my gardens I always try to remember the birds with saucers of water and giant bouquets of wheat, corn, millet, and sorghum. I tie them to posts and bird feeders. They look beautiful in the bare winter garden, and they are a true treat for the birds."

In upcoming months, I will be sharing some other information from this lovely book, which contains my favorite nomenclature for the full moons. I missed posting about the January Moon, which is called The Snow Moon according to the information Sharon Lovejoy shares from the September 1925 edition of "Everygirls: The Magazine of the Camp Fire Girls."

You can learn more about this book, and Sunflower Houses, and the other wonderful gardening books from this author here:

http://www.sharonlovejoy.com


A little bit of trivia: The Winter Garden is the name of a book I wrote and submitted to a publisher several years ago. Alas, my little coming of age story was (very kindly) rejected. I guess I will always feel a bit wistful when I hear the phrase "the winter garden."

photo by Aisling, January 2007 - before the snow

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dear Quiet Country Reader,

I wrote a nice blog entry about our family dog yesterday and how much she enjoys the great outdoors, but.... Blogger ate my post! I'll try to write on that subject again soon, but you know how it is: You can never word it as well as you did the first time!

I'll be back on to post later today if I get my homework completed. Did I tell you all I'm a college student.... again? It is going to be interesting to juggle my mom-jobs and school, but I started with just one course. Wish me luck!

More later!

~ Aisling

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cilantro...

No, this isn't an herb garden post. Give me a few more months and there will be plenty of those! This time Cilantro refers to the name of a new set of sheets I purchased this weekend from a holiday gift card Limerick and I were given. I took Haiku to the city this weekend to use our gift cards. She bought clothes and I bought a much-needed set of sheets.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but we were down to one set of very worn sheets for our Queen sized bed. When I washed them (yes, I do that fairly regularly) I had to hurry up: wash, dry, put them back on the bed. So, now I have a beautiful new set that looks very pretty with the polyester crazy quilt sewn many years ago by my paternal grandmother.

Polyester Quilts are a funny thing. No one "oohs and ahhs" over the luxuriousness of polyester. Are there enthusiasts for man-made fabrics as there are for natural fibers? Not that I'm aware of, and yet these quilts (I have a couple) made by both of my grandmothers - probably in the 1970s - of the remnants from their polyester dressed or pant suits, are the most comfortable bedding I've ever had. I have the quilt flipped the "wrong way around" right now so that only the colorful stitching shows against the green backing fabric, just to highlight the new striped sheets.

I met a family at the annual fireworks in our village last summer who were picnicking on a polyester crazy quilt. They agreed that it was the most comfortable blanket they owned. The woman regretted to admit that while it had definitely come down through the family, made by her mother or grandmother, she wasn't sure about the origin of the fabrics. I can look my quilts and call to mind an image of Grandma or Mammaw in a certain dress, or spiffy pantsuit.


photo by Aisling, January 2007

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Quiet Country Kitchen...

As I write this, bread is baking in the oven. Why am I always so intimidated by baking bread? I have been making bread for my family for years, sometimes not purchasing store bought bread for weeks at a time, and yet I always feel like I am undertaking something really big when I think about beginning the process.

The ridiculous thing about that is that from the moment I say to myself, "I am going to make some bread" to the moment I place the loaves in the sunniest spot on the counter to rise, is about 15 minutes. It's not really such a big deal after all, and it is so much more satisfactory to eat these loaves made right here at home, of simple, wholesome ingredients.

I use my Kitchen Aid mixer rather than kneading by hand, but have not yet succumbed to the lure of the bread machine. Aside from the expense, I'm not sure where I would store a bread machine in my small kitchen, with its limited counter space. Usually I make the English Muffin Bread recipe from the recipe book that came with my Kitchen Aid mixer when Limerick gifted it to me 12 or 13 years ago. I'm still looking for a milk-free recipe that is as fool-proof as this recipe, and that my family loves as wholeheartedly as they do this one.



photo 1 by Haiku, photo 2 by Aisling

Friday, January 12, 2007

Little Moments...

I started 2004 with the intention to chronicle our year in narrative and photos. I got off to a good start, and have a wonderful journal of the month of January, complete with great photos of my children, the interior of our house, and the way winter dressed the lakes and hills in that chilly season. Unfortunately, I failed to maintain what turned out to be a huge commitment of time and effort.

I have flirted with journaling my entire life, but never sustained the habit on a long term basis. I think I may have found my journaling "medium" in keeping a blog. I don't generally use it to chronicle our day to day activities, but the way that our lives change subtly with the seasons is evident to me as I read back through my posts. Glimpses of where we went or what we did are intertwined with the expression of my thoughts.

I wonder if I will go back some day and read, with a feeling of nostalgia, earlier Quiet Country House blog entries, as I read this today in my photo journal from January 2004:

"Very fine snow is slowly falling, giving all the world a misty appearance. The only movement out of doors in our quiet little corner of the world is the snow and the pheasant in the creek bed. As I write, it is 10:30 AM. Limerick is already out on a call or two. Sijo and Haiku are watching a cartoon on PBS on my bed. Senryu is upstairs - reading, of course - and Tanka is back to sleep, though he woke around 8:00 and was up for just a little while. I have laundry going, have "picked up" the bedroom, and plan to dive into a very messy kitchen after a little time on the computer. I spent most of Sunday afternoon making Pasties. The filling is time consuming, then I made a double batch of pastry. A big mess, but yummy and worth it. Only Sijo wouldn't eat it."

Are these the things that will matter to me later... these little details? That Sijo wouldn't eat pasties when he was 4 years old? That the kitchen was messy from a meal made from scratch? I think these are the things that will matter. It is the little moments, added together, that make a life. It is nice to be very still sometimes, for just a little while, and consider the importance of all the little moments.

photo from 2004, the first sunset of the year, by Aisling


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Snow falling on farmhouses...

I have always enjoyed craft books (mostly found at the public library) that detail the lovely intricacies of Japanese handcrafts. The one I read about Japanese Thread Balls (Temari) is on my wish list. When I began reading craft blogs several months ago, I found that admiration of these beautiful volumes is widespread! I was thrilled to find The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook by Susan Briscoe in my stocking this past Christmas.

Sashiko literally means "little stab" and refers to a method of running stitch which was created too many years ago to track its origin. The little stitches were used to strengthen old fabric, increasing it's warmth and durability. Being Japanese, it is only natural that the stitches became decorative and added beauty to the garments as well.

Years ago, my grandmother was enhancing gingham with little stitches called "Chicken Scratch" to create eye-catching designs. My mother and I learned the stitches as well. Worked in gingham, which provides a built-in graph for the embroidery designs, "chicken scratch" looks like a homespun American version of Sashiko. I love that this Japanese skill was also handed down from mother to daughter, like quilting or handcrafts have been here. This paragraph from The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook resonated with me:

"Handed down from mother to daughter, from hand to hand, in farming and fishing communities, practical and decorative sashiko created a unique style. White running stitches on indigo blue recall snow falling around the old farmhouses, while inside, women stitched beside the iron heath, conjuring patterns from thread and cloth."

For me, this paragraph conjures images both exotic and familiar. When I imagine the women in kimonos, taking their tiny perfect stitches, while kneeling on tatami mats in front of a Soji screen, the image takes on the dreamlike quality of someplace long-ago and far away. Then I think of the snow falling softly around the farmhouse, like an insulating blanket, and the quiet industry of the mothers and daughters as they stitch together inside their warm haven. As I consider these familiar images, what is exotic becomes comforting and much, much closer to home.

As I turn from these thoughts, I cannot suppress a wistful sigh for the days when sewing circles and quilting bees brought women together in meaningful communion.


Note: You can learn more about Susan Briscoe and Sashiko here:
http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Sashiko-Sourcebook-Susan-Briscoe/dp/0896891860
It doesn't appear that the author has her own webpage, but if anyone knows of one, please let me know!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Winter Memory...

Our first winter in the Quiet Country House was a real "up north" winter, with lots of snowfall and cold enough weather for the snow to stick around. Senryu was in first grade that year, and Haiku not yet in school. Haiku was a wonderful little Mother's Helper during Senryu's school hours. It is true that she made quite a mess with the mixtures and potions that she would churn up in the kitchen, playing at either scientist or chef, depending on her mood. But, she was also very willing to dust, or run toys to the bedroom, or offer thoughtful, carefully-considered decorating advice.

Late in the afternoon, we would look at the clock and realize that Sissy would soon be home from school. No matter how much snow was on the ground... no matter how cold the air... if the skies were clear and blue, Haiku and I would put on our snow gear and trudge a quarter of a mile up the narrow, steep lane to meet Senryu's school bus.

On the first such snowy day, I pulled the sled up behind us as we climbed the hill. When Senryu got off the bus, she settled her little sister on the sled with her and they shoved off down the long, steep slope of our little country lane. As they flew over the glittering surface of the snow, I ran downhill trying to keep up with the sled. We laughed the whole way down the hill, filled with wonder at the beauty and sparkle of a January afternoon.
photo by Haiku, January 2006

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tranquility...

I enjoy Tuesdays at this stage in my life. They are the only week day with no obligations on the calendar. Tuesdays, Tanka and I stay home. Betwixt cleaning and other household chores, I read a story or two to the little guy, and at some point in the day we play a game. I like the tranquility of the day. It is quiet here on Tuesdays, though Tanka rarely stops talking. Still, his voice is the soft (and oft times not so soft) music of childhood, as he pushes cars around, or drags every pillow and blanket from his bed to the center of the living floor.

The beginning of this particular Tuesday was anything but tranquil, however! The alarm clock did not go off at 5:00 AM as it should have. I still don't know why. Haiku's alarm clock did not ring at 6:00 AM. She forgot to set it last night. I woke at 7:40 AM and the house was quiet. So, it was tranquil for a moment, until my eyes focused in on the time. Suddenly, I was leaping from the bed and waking the entire family one at a time. Haiku had already missed the bus. Limerick was already late for work. Sijo had less than half an hour to catch his bus.

Tanka and I were able to come home and catch our breath after the race to get everyone where they needed to be. But, I have had that feeling all day of having forgotten something I am supposed to remember.

Winter has returned to these northern hills. Snow is falling. A cold wind is blowing. I will keep the fire in the woodstove blazing, fighting against the wind that is sneaking in through gaps around the front door, so that my family will find home a warm and cozy place on this cold Tuesday in January.
photo by Aisling, January 9, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sing-along for Two...

When my girls were little and I taught them at home, we began our days with a read-aloud, snuggled together on the couch. We read our way through such amazing stories as The Wind in the Willows, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and many others. After reading, we would work at the table or computer on various other subjects, and we found ourselves with time most afternoons for special activities. At one point, we had a theme for each day of the week: Music Mondays, Teatime Tuesdays (which included art study and a tea party), Walking Wednesdays (for nature walks), Thoughtful Thursdays (for reading, memorization and recitation of poetry), and Feasting Fridays (where the kids would cook a healthy lunch or treat.)

This afternoon after Tanka and I returned from my volunteer hours at the elementary library and his hours at Preschool, I realized that he is missing out on those special afternoon hours with Mom. I decided we would have a Music Monday for two.

In our living room is the piano that I learned to play on when I was six. It looks like it has been through about 8 children with sticky fingers and a lot of enthusiasm - and it has. Despite that, it can still fill the house with (slightly off-tune) music. I pulled out a big yellow songbook of children's music and played a few sweet songs from some old Muppet productions (It's Not that Easy Being Green and No-one Like You) but the song that captured Tanka's imagination was Puff the Magic Dragon.

He probably has not heard that since we was a tiny baby in my arms. That was one of the many songs I would sing to my children on nights when they could not sleep (which for 3 of them was almost every night) as we rocked in the rocking chair that Limerick bought for me when we were expecting Senryu. He held very still and listened this afternoon as I played the piano and played that old favorite from my own childhood. Afterward, he played one of his own compositions. Being 4 and what many call "All Boy," his song went something like this, "Ninja, ninja, ninja song. Ninja. ninja, ninja song."

Later, while I mixed dough for a batch of sugar cookies, Tanka asked me to sing "that funny Dragon Song again.' So we sang about Jackie Paper and Puff, about "strings and ceiling wax and other fancy stuff" while the mixer turned, and while I washed dishes, and while we drove to the bus stop to pick up his sister. I don't think I'll hear that song again without thinking of our little Sing Along for Two.

photo by Aisling


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Christmas 2006...

Senryu told us that some stores and restaurants had Christmas d├ęcor up in Taiwan, but in the apartment she was living in, there was no sign of Christmas. Here at home, the scene was set: decorations and lights filled the tree, stockings were on the stair railing, and Christmas dolls stood in a line across the piano. I took photos of these things and emailed them to Senryu so she could show her host family and friends what Christmas looks like at home.

One photo our correspondent sent home reflected the true state of Christmas in her home-away-from-home: Mary and Joseph driving Santa’s sleigh. My first thought was that the meaning behind Christmas had been lost in translation.

To bring a bit of Taiwanese culture into our own celebration this year, I opted to give each family member a pair of slippers instead of our traditional new pajamas. In Taiwan, as in other Asian nations, it is almost mandatory that one wear slippers in the home. Shoes are left at the door and bare feet are not acceptable. Of course, the enforcement of that “rule” varies from home to home.

From Senryu’s letters home, I thought that perhaps our Christmas dinner should be Ramen Noodles and Fast Food Take-out to reflect how she was being fed. She suggested that we select a traditional Chinese menu, as that was the best food she had experienced in Taiwan. We currently have omnivores and vegetarians under our roof, so our menu included a little something for everyone: Red-Cooked Chicken (which means braised in a soy-sauce mixture), Eight Immortal Jai (Bot Bo Jai) a traditional Cantonese vegetarian stir-fry, and homemade egg rolls. Okay, I admit it, I bought the egg roll wrappers premade, but I did make the filling, then wrap and bake them! Of course, there was a big dish of fluffy white rice to accompany it all and we had a selection of green-teas to drink. We skipped the Almond Cookies I had planned because there were so many Christmas Cookies still on hand.

Our Christmas doll this year represents an auburn-haired American Girl in her Taiwanese school uniform. She has her laptop handy for reading, writing, and keeping in touch with her friends back home. Doesn’t she look ready to take on the world?


1st photo by Senryu, 2nd photo by Aisling
Dear Quiet Country Readers,
There are a few photos added to my post of January 3rd, about Senryu's Impressions of Taiwan. If you are interested in these colorful photos which Senryu has taken, please scroll down and take a look! I'll be posting again later today about our Christmas celebration, and will include photos of this year's Christmas Doll. Thanks for reading!

~ Aisling

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sparkle Days...

Before I write my next post about Taiwan, and how some little hints of that far-away island were added to our Christmas celebration, I wanted to post about a book I read to my boys this week (before I forget!) Reading with my children has been one of the best parts of being a Mom, and one of my favorite authors is Cynthia Rylant. We first encountered this author when my daughter Haiku fell in love with her book GOOSEBERRY PARK several years ago.

I read Cynthia Rylant's book HENRY AND MUDGE IN THE SPARKLE DAYS, the fifth book of Henry and Mudge's adventures, to my sons earlier this week. Henry is a little boy who lives with his Mom and Dad and a big dog named Mudge in a very homey house. The illustrations by Sucie Stevenson are vibrant and cheerful.

I wanted to share some of the sweet illustrations and the comforting text with my Quiet Country Readers. The author captures what there is to love about winter days in a chapter called "Firelight" with these words:

"On winter nights Henry and Henry's parents and Mudge loved to take walks.
They loved to see the warm lights in the houses.
They loved to see the winter stars in the sky.
They loved to see the sparkle of the moon on the white yards.
They felt happy on these walks."


You can read more about this fun family of characters at www.henryandmudge.com
Dear Quiet Country Readers...

I'm having a little trouble loading photos on my blog this week. I'll keep trying and if I am able to add some photos in to my previous posts about Taiwan, I'll give you a "heads up" so you can go back and look!

~ Aisling

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Random Collage of Senryu's Impressions of Taiwan…

What follows are quotes from Senryu’s letters home, giving some impressions of the sights and realities of living in Taiwan. The headings and paranthetic comments in green are mine.

On Necessities:
“Normal Toilet (as opposed to a squatty potty.) *thanks the toilet deity*

On School:

“Yeah, school was something like culture shock. Especially when lunch came around. We just sat at our desks to eat. *grins* It was fun though.”

“At my school, the shop only sells food items. As for bookstore...? OMG!! It was so big, and there were even books in English, so I won't die from lack of reading material, even if I do run out of books I brought!!"

On Food:

“I would really love some Constant Comment, and if you can find it, that French Vanilla tea we had a long time ago. The one you don't buy often because of the caffeine? But mostly the Constant Comment. I haven't had tea in ages! At least, not hot tea. My host family doesn't seem to drink it.” (We were sending a care package.) “And don't forget my precious Smarties! Also, if you could pick up some host family gifts, that'd be awesome. The syrup in the little bottles, maybe... ”

(When I asked if she wanted pancake mix to go along with the syrup she had requested, so that she could make pancakes, she told us this):
"Uh...maybe the syrup isn't such a great idea after all...we've got a microwave and a frige. That's it. There's not even a kitchen sink! They use the bathroom sink -- the same sink everyone washes their hair in.”

“We also had icecream for just 10 NT. Do you realize how amazingly cheap that is!? And it was delicious too. Strawberry and mango flavor. Don't have a heartattack or anything!!! Lol. But seriously, it tasted awesome. “ (NT are New Taiwan Dollars. About 33 equal 1 us dollar, so the ice cream was very inexpensive. Also, she doesn’t ordinarily like “exotic fruits” such as Mango. *grin*)

“Mooncakes are gross. They have hardboiled eggyolk in them.”
Then, in response to my comment, “I can't believe Mooncakes are gross! They sounds so picturesque and yummy. You're spoiling my delusions!”) she said,
“Ah, dellusion dashing... So terribly sorry, Mum. I was disappointed too -- especially since eggs under normal circumstances make me gag. To be given a "cake" (me thinking REAL SUGAR, YAY!), and to have it be filled with the vile natural product known as "yolk"...

(And then shockingly, she mentions Mooncakes as a Good Thing when making suggestions for our Christmas Dinner.) The Grand Hotel has a fantastic restaurant that serves traditional Chinese. Um...just don't serve blood popsicles. *gags* Moon cakes would probably be acceptable, as well. ^^ They're very simple (sweetish tasting dough, filled with red beans -- pulped red beans). Milk tea, oolong....if you can find tapioca, you could make knock-off pearl tea. I don't personally care for it all that much, but it is unique and kinda fun the first time. ^^
(She must have eaten better Mooncakes sometime between the first comment and the second.)



On sight-seeing:
“I'm going to the southern part of Taiwan with the other inbounds -- we'll be (snorkeling)! Don't worry; I'll watch out for stingrays.”



“Snorkling wasn't really snorkling. It was doing the Dead Man's Float with a mask above the reef. But still lots of fun. I got to swim in the ocean for the first time, after all!”


In reference to that same trip: "The clams, we pulled up in nets, and we were out on these floating rafts on the water...a good ten, fifteen minutes from shore. ^^ And they weren't really baked, so much as fried. DELICIOUS. ^^


On Books:
“Kaa-san, I bought The Little Prince in Chinese! There's the English translation in the back, but the language is simplistic enough that I should be able to read it some day.” (Kaa-san is Japanese for Mom.)

On Holidays and Special Occasions:
“I miss Halloween. It is, I think, my favorite holiday. Yes, possibly more than Christmas! Or perhaps they're tied... But, yeah... No one here really celebrates it. I painted my nails black, to honor it, and I may where my Fox-ear hat to school tomorrow (if they'll let me), but... *le sigh* Free candy... I miss free candy a lot. But mostly I miss the costumes."


“I had a very good Saturday. I went to a wedding this morning (boring, but with excellent seafood...) and then joined the other inbounds in an anti-drug march. Got a t-shirt for that... lol. I'm tired now, and my feet hurt, but other than that…”


(When she attended a talent show that was called a Christmas Party:) “The Christmas party was....okay, I guess. It certainly looked festive, but it made me miss you guys. The only Christmas I get, is when I'm out and about. It's really strange to come "home" each evening knowing Christmas is in less than a week, and have the house be.......just.....a house. There's NOTHING Christmasy about the apartment, and it's vaguely depressing... Could you send pictures of the stockings, the tree, etc. for me to share (my host family and) my classmates?"

Monday, January 01, 2007

Taiwan...

In the autumn of 2005, our oldest daughter, Senryu, was selected as a possible foreign exchange student by an interview panel at her school. Limerick and I agreed to let her proceed with the selection process, which involved a 25 page essay-question application, a health exam, and a weekend conference - part of which we, as parents, had to attend. We've always been proud of, if a little out of breath because of, Senryu's bold, intrepid spirit. From the moment she could walk, she's been off and running. Coupled with the years of lively interest in other cultures, and her desire to see the far ends of the earth was no surprise.

The process of becoming an exchange student is a waiting game. After the conference, we had to wait for confirmation that she had been fully accepted as an outbound exchange student for the 2006-2007 school year. Then, we waited again to find out where she would be staying. Her first choice was Japan. Senryu was away at another weekend conference - this time without parents - when she was told her destination. She was thrilled to learn she would be spending a year in Taiwan, the nation that was second choice in her mind, though officially third choice on her application form.

We had waited to select our adopted country for 2006 until we knew where she would be going. Once we knew, it was full speed ahead in learning about Taiwan. Again, I turned to the internet. I bookmarked a long list of favorite places on my web-server and ordered a travel documentary on Hong Kong and Taiwan from an on-line bookstore. We also got a Mandarin language course for Senryu who was eager to find out how similar the language would be to Japanese, with which she was fairly comfortable already. The language proved to be very challenging, since it uses changes in tone to change the meaning of the word.

In the summer, Senryu took an introductory course in Mandarin at a local college along with another local girl who was also Taiwan-bound. The summer flew by at breakneck speed, and too soon, it was time to give our girl her wings. She boarded a plane on a clear day with heart-breakingly blue skies and headed to the other side of the planet. Everything that day felt too bright, and too sharp, and too real.

We held our breath (figuratively speaking) until we received a quick little phone call saying she'd arrived and her host Dad was there to meet her. Everything seemed to be alright, so with a sigh of relief, we tried to get on with life as usual. Only of course, it wasn't life as usual. Haiku started public school for the first time ever. She'd been homeschooled since kindergarten, but with Senryu away she felt she would need to be very busy and engaged to keep from missing her best friend too deperately. All our lives changed, and though we thought the waiting was over since Senryu's adventure had begun, we found that we were still waiting - only now, we were always waiting for an email, or a call, or an update on her blog. And though we wish her the most amazing year of her life, there is still the undercurrent, running through our days, of waiting for her to come home.

We've discovered, with our explorer stationed in Taiwan on a long-term basis, that learning about a country from books, videos, and the internet is nothing at all like experiencing that location in real life. In books, you learn about generalities, not specifics. In real life, you experience what is happening to you right now in that one place on the globe. What is that quote? Something like: Where-ever I go, there I am.

I'll post about Christmas and some cultural specifics about Taiwan in another post this week.