Thursday, June 27, 2013

Playing under the trees

Once a volcano and now a southeast Portland landmark, Mt Tabor provides a great refuge from city life. We are currently "living" on the north side of Tabor in one of our house sitting gigs for our time in Portland. Several months ago, I was surprised and awed at the responses to my request in the Sunnyside Environmental School newsletter for house sitting opportunities. Families whose children were in my classes, I knew from the greater school community, or I did not know at all responded. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. I fully appreciate the outpouring of hospitality and the sense of community from Sunnyside.

Today began with a steady rain that gave way to cloudy skies around noontime. After rain the previous day, the girls were ready to roll so we loaded up our new machine and headed for a walk.

Our hope in Beijing is that we can take the girls on bike rides so this contraption easily attaches to a bike. The girls sit much cozier than in the last one and are already enjoying the extra companionship (well, sometimes footsy gets a little crazy). They also like to hold hands from time to time though at the moment XO is more eager to grasp hold of her lil' sisters hand.

Lunch occupied our minds as we cruised past the caldera (this one is quite old so you need to know where to look admist the tall trees) and down the other side. It is quite calm up in the trees and the girls spotted birds and the occasional squirrel. Wednesdays are car free, making it nice to cruise the roads without worrying about drivers.

After lunch, we met Grammy in a fun play area and the girls ran wild for a bit. A few shots...

Can you look any happier than XO?
Double swinging

XO loves pretending to drive a car though she beeps her horn way too much. What does that say about my driving?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer is officially open for business

Well, here we are in Portland and it is good to be home. The girls managed to adjust to the time zone differential and to English immersion summer camp. The faces are different, the scenery is different and the places are just not the same. For example, sidewalks are awesome!

We bought a bin of sidewalk chalk and the girls got to work. Xian had a different color for each member of the family. Krista would say "Daddy" and she would grab one piece of chalk and then "Mei-mei" and another would appear. In Taichung our community did not really have sidewalks and those in town were almost more of a hazard than the streets. Scooters zipped about and dogs sprang out of partially closed doorways. Here, the girls colored in peace as a few walkers passed by.

Barefoot and loving it!

Trying to wrangle the girls
Of course, what says summer like a trip to the ice cream shop? XO loved double-fisting mango sorbet as Sage did laps in the store to point at all items (hello language development!) and pause for a few poses.

Sage on the prowl

Summer also means time with family and the girls hung out with their northwest cousins.

XO and cousin Nolan
Sage & Logan pose as Ben & Jerry
The brakes are already being pulled out to slow down the days though we appreciate the long hours of daylight. In Taiwan, some change in the day length was evident but the long evenings of this latitude are great!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A frantic last day

The house echoed once it was stripped of photos, play kitchens, rocking horses, stuffies and other items representing our time there. The movers were long gone yet the final details caused us to race around while policing the stairs. Yikes! The baby gates were gone and the girls instantly realized new adventures were to be had if they could only sneak past the tired sentry.

Late the previous day, we picked the girls up from Paradise for the last time. They had good times there and are hopefully leaving with a strong beginning in Chinese. Their teacher, Ella, was absolutely wonderful and showered the girls with love, patience and support.

Goodbye Ella!
Last class photo
A bit earlier, Wes - one of our fabulous neighbors - raced over with a special package. Wes likes bugs and knows his Taiwanese ones. For months, Krista badgered him for a bug or two though had no idea of the amazing package he would give us as we left. This is a gift for a friend but one that was so nice we wanted to keep - he promises another for us!

The mad dash was finally on. We needed to make several stops before driving the jungled-in, windy mountain road to AST for the last time. An airport shuttle service was scheduled to pick us up there for the two hour ride to the airport. The Taiwanese traffic gods were on our side as we flew through lights, avoided accidents and got through all of our errands with a bit of time. Little did we know the payment due - in the short amount of time unloading our bags, the little black "no-see-ums" that plague the AST campus descended on Xian. Her legs swelled. Her face pudged. Her eyes began to bulge. Those critters are one thing that we are sure to not miss.

The ride to the airport was smooth and uneventful. Eyes then followed us as we carved a wide swath through the ticketing area.

Wow! I've always been a backpacker traveler so this display of suitcases is quite stunning. The catch is that we are in transition mode. Belongings shipped from Taiwan will not reach Beijing until months after we do because of import requirements so bags of stuff are in transit with us.

Airplane notes - in general, it was a great flight. Yeah right, we were stuck on a plane for 15+ hours. Yet, with that in mind, the flight was good. The girls did a great job traveling and we were barely hassled through security and passport controls. So here we are, back in Portland for the summer. Yay!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On the Move!

Farewell Taiwan - three years ago, we departed Portland with Audrey and a few belongings...

In all honesty, we did not have much information about what where we were going and we didn't have much of an idea about what we wanted. Except for one thing; or should that be two little items? We jumped into the international teaching field without much research and jumped at the first job that landed at our feet. Ecstatic that we did not have to visit snowy Boston (there was a horrible storm that year) for the job fair, we briefly read about Taiwan's mountains and said, "Yes". We had also heard about the possibility of adopting children in Taiwan so we blindly hoped that we would be able to find babies and make it through any legal hurdles. Now, our family extends to Xian and Sage as we pack up for Beijing.

To complete our move off the island, we're also making an electronic change of our home. McGowans on the Move better captures what we are up to. The girls are constantly moving and learning and we plan to continue writing about their journeys. We also hope to write about our new home and future travels while also spending sometime thinking about their multilingual journey. Our hope is to continue working on Chinese (we have a fabulous ayi lined up in Beijing who will take care of the girls while we work and help with their Chinese language), on English with Krista and French with me.

A big thanks to everyone who has followed along so far. We appreciate your support and will continue to rely on your kind words and thoughts as we again transition to a new home and culture.

Farewell to our little buddy

He took us cruising around the neighborhood in his cherry-red convertible Benz. He smiled as we broke his drum kit. He showed us the tasty goodness of apples. He smothers us with bao-baos (smooches and hugs).  For our last outing, we enjoyed roof-top dining as lightening boomed around us. Goodbye Asa- thanks for all the fun!

18 days in a month and a half

We leave Taiwan tomorrow so it's fitting that we yet again pilot the Freeca to the hospital. Since the beginning of May, we spent 18 days at the hospital. A full week was spent living there in the middle of May and Sage was operated on for the second time at the end. Over the last week, XO and Mom got sick and Sage finally caught the bug as well.

We hope that our goodbyes to Taiwan involve a goodbye to sickness. Give us healthy girls! As a tribute, we give our accumulated medicine.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Formosan Macaque Park in Dakeng

For the last two years, our home lies in a community that nestles up to the Dakeng Scenic Area. Drives home in the afternoon can be peaceful as the city falls behind and green slowly overtakes the scenery. Audrey and I spent many mornings running on the roads that lead up to the first trailhead. There are four main trails in this area and they are joined by a ridge trails. At various times, my path has been crossed by a Formosan Macaque but we have never visited the area where they are known to congregate. As our time rapidly comes to an end, we decided to check out this "park".

A few hanging out on a log
 A write-up of the park can be found here, but the general story is that this man known as Uncle Guo began laying out food for the monkeys and they started to hang-out in this area. There are no fences or cages so these guys and girls can check-out whenever they want.

Xian and Sage were completely fascinated! The scene was not one or two macaques strolling about but big families. We must have seen over 40 hanging out. There were little babies, toddlers, teenagers, a couple big males and lots of moms.

The back side of the red object is a mirror.
To get to this park, drive up to Trail #4 of the Dakeng Scenic Area. This is the one that hosts a Boy Scout Camp and a firefly garden. There are several signs with arrows and monkeys that make it easy to navigate the turns. At one point, you round a bend and find yourself on a typical Taiwanese back-country road: steep hill, barely wide enough for a car and a curve at the top. It's OK, just keep going and you will soon cross a creek and arrive at the park. Admission was 60ntd for adults.

We Love You

Dear Dad-Dee,

Happy Daddy’s Day to the best daddy in the whole world! We’ve come a long way together since that ride home in the car with all of those crazy bright lights (I still don’t like bright lights btw). You’ve been the best daddy a girl could ask for. I know sometimes I confuse the word “food” with “daddy” but hey you know how much I love to eat and I love you too, so it all goes together, don’t ya think? Plus, you always cook up the most amazing meals. You make the best bread hands down! The kitchen is such a fabulous place because you don’t care that I’m a baby-wait a toddler-you teach me to cook just like I’m a big girl. I hope someday I can grow up to cook as well as you. I also love how you, mei-mei and myself have a secret language that Mommy pretends to understand-but we all know she doesn’t. I love the walks you take me on, showing me things; especially the banana plants because bananas are my favorite! The time spent sitting on your lap being read to is a time I will always cherish. There is nothing quite like “Caca Boudin” and the “Pied” book, that one is really great (I’m still working on my spelling too).

The point is Dad-Dee, you’re the best. I know I’m touchy sometimes and can be a bit demanding (just because I’m a girl who knows what she wants!) but at the end of the day, I look forward to a good ole fashioned snuggle and dance around the room with you.


Dear Da,

I’m still working on getting your name down, but at least I’m not like Xin-Xin and get all messed up with what is food and what is Dad. Geesh, that girl. Anyway, I wanted to tell you Happy Daddy’s Day. You’re really patient with me and all of my craziness. Keep in mind though, I take after you-I just want to be on the go non-stop and explore new things, and learn all I can. I’ll grow up someday and maybe, just maybe, I won’t cry so much (don’t hold me to that, I’ll deny I ever said it). I love early mornings with you when it is just you and me and Audrey-although Xin-Xin seems to be invading our private time as of late. The walks you take me on in the carrier totally rock! There is just so much to see at 4:30 in the morning, who could ever dream of sleeping later? Oh man, I almost forgot. . .the towers. . .Oh how I LOVE the towers you build. There is something so satisfying about running across the room and knocking those towers to the ground. The really cool thing is, you just build me another one. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!

You and me, we’ve had our ups and downs. There was a time when I couldn’t hear and so I didn’t follow directions really well-but that time is passed and I’m ready to get with the program! I’m perfecting my eye roll since I have “the look” down pat, so I’m ready to show you just how much I understand when you ask me to do something I’m not really willing to do. I’m learning new words every day and pretty soon, I’ll be able to say Daddy, just like big sis! For now though, you’ll have to be okay with a firm finger point and a light sounding “Da”.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Audrey departs

This morning, Audrey was whisked away in a blue van. It wasn't intended to be that way. Her journey to Beijing began earlier than expected. Today, the blue van's job was to get her papers in order and to get her cleared for her trip. Instead, a voice appeared over the driver's phone. "There are issues with her flights. She must leave now." Now? "Yes."

We're not even really sure where she is at the moment. The blue van took off and we believe she boards a plane for Hong Kong on Sunday. The girls return home this afternoon to a home emptied of their pooch. Maybe it is better this way? For weeks, Xian has called Audrey's name as we leave school. The excitement of seeing her furry friend has calmed many car seat conflicts. It will be months - Audrey overnights in Hong Kong before flying to Beijing to spend the rest of the summer.

Just over three years ago, we were dealt miserable travel plans for our trip to Taiwan. In order to make the trip bearable for Audrey, we scrapped a portion of the flight plan and decided to drive/camp to San Francisco. In the middle of the night, on the banks of a beautiful river, Audrey felt the need to get out of the tent. The next day we all paid the price for her evening excursion. This time, we hope that Audrey has a quick travel and a fun summer at "camp".

In Taiwan, Audrey's favorite locations involve coast lines. If swimming is an option, she is a happy dog.

An early trip to Kenting, on the southern tip of the island, found a perfect spot for her.

A fast moving stream in Taroko Gorge

East side of the island

Audrey - we hoped you enjoyed your days in Taiwan. Your pack doubled in size and you have a few little ones to take care of once we rejoin in Beijing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teppanyaki Night

It's fast, it's tasty and it's fun. Teppanyaki can be considered a version of Taiwanese fast food. From walking into the restaurant to taking the first bite, the time can be measured in minutes. When we first moved to Taichung, this teppanyaki restaurant was a short walk from our apartment. The guys cooking there - and there has only been guys in this place - quickly remembered us and smiles greeted our arrival. An English version of the menu appeared after a few visits though we have rarely strayed from our original order.

Cooking it up
The menu doubles as an order form and marks indicate how much of each dish, drinks and rice you would like. Once the girls popped into our lives, the weekly excursions to teppanyaki rapidly dwindled and the random take-out sufficed though the food never tasted as good once it got all the way home.

This week, we decided to take the girls and arrived a bit on the early side of 5:00 to avoid the mad rush. A few other diners sat around the grill and we found seats on one edge. The girls appeared fascinated as various foods cooked in front of them.

Food rapidly arrived and a successful dining experience (meaning no meltdown!) was had as we enjoyed the cooking and left for the night market.

Oh, the Places You'll Go

How do you measure stages in your life? As a teacher, each year takes on a different quality as students enter our room at the end of summer and spend a year growing as we talk, think, laugh and sometimes cry. Our girls are winding down the last few days of their first school experience. Almost a year and a half ago, a 7-month old Xian and a 4-month old Sage began going to school. They've loved it and get excited in the mornings as we prepare for the day. If, in order to make another stop first, we pass the turn to school in the morning, a disgruntled Xian quickly voices her discontent. They have friends who each day give the girls a rousing "Bye bye!" and they have a wonderful teacher who has shown lots of care and kindness to these two little ones. Next week, it will be time to give a final "Bye bye!" as we depart Taichung. With this in mind, we asked our girls' teacher to sign their special books. Each girl has a copy - one given to us by a friend of Krista's as we packed our bags for Taiwan and the other given by an old friend of mine as I graduated from high school. Where will they go? What will they see? We hope that they have an amazing journey as they meet wonderful people and visit this world.


One of the drawbacks of living in a seven story house is that each floor is a different room (oh, and there is the issue of having to always go up and down the silly stairs). Our girls quickly aged out of the "living room" space but are not quite ready to charge up and down the stairs. This means that rooms get mighty small, mighty quick and the girls spend way more time than necessary finding out ways to get to places they don't need to be. Sage's current trick is to pull out a drawer so that she can use it as a stepping stone to get up on counters.

Xian, who currently has just over an inch on Sage, doesn't need the drawer and can pull herself up to the counter. They tend to congregate there and when they think Mom or Dad is not looking quickly stand and race back and forth. If a song is played that they like, dance routines are practiced. We're hoping to get out of here without a serious tumble...

Sage feeling better...

Chalkboard table

The girls just got their first play session on the chalkboard table. They loved it! The table was once your run-of-the-mill wooden table but a quick sanding, some awesome blue paint and a few coats of chalkboard paint has given it a nice, new purpose. It still serves as our main "dining" table so that the girls can eat on their stools.

A budding relationship

We get asked from time to time about our four-legged girl, Audrey. How is she doing? How does she like the girls? What is she going to do over the summer... Here's a quick update.

Over the last year, Audrey grudgingly tolerated the girls. Who knows - maybe the newborn cries were too much for her to handle. She wondered, what are these little beings that receive so much attention. Slowly, slowly, those little beings began doing more than screaming. They sat up. They flapped their arms and one day, each began moving forward. Audrey watched from a distance and always ensured that she was out of arms reach. Crawling changed the dynamic again. No longer was she safe on her bed - the little ones visited her. It seemed touch and go for awhile at that point. Was Audrey really ok with them? She quickly became grumpy when chased down. Recently, love has been the game around here. Xian is a bit more on the gentle side so Audrey often shares space with her and Sage is becoming a good friend as well. She is starting to understand the need to be kind with Audrey.

Sage asking to join Xian and Audrey on Audrey's bed. She is signing, "I want".

Both girls coloring on Audrey's bed as she snuggles in behind them.

Eventually, they all get tired of each other and the jockey for positions begins...
Sage on Audrey's bed

Xian on the bed

Audrey trying to find comfort on a small pillow.

Next week, Audrey takes off for Beijing. She will zip through Hong Kong and then spend her summer in doggie camp until she rejoins us in August.