Sunday, August 6, 2017

the saddest hot air balloon festival ever

photo credit
As a world traveler who has been around the block and back, I know all too well the crushing difference between expectations and reality when it comes to something like a hot air balloon festival. However, when I read that there would be a hot air balloon festival in Hsinchu, my hometown in Taiwan, I was beyond excited. I have always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon! In order to have realistic expectations because, hello, this is Taiwan, I googled "Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival" and "Hsinchu Hot Air Balloon Festival", and I came across a bunch of photos like the one above (which, spoiler alert, is not my photo).

Okay, so it's no Albuquerque hot air balloon festival, but still, I thought it looked pretty cool and worth a 30 minute scoot adventure to see on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when we had eight precious baby free hours to ourselves because our awesome nanny Sheila was hanging out with Ruby.

We kissed Ruby & Bubu goodbye, slathered on sunscreen, opened Google maps on our iPhone, and followed the little red arrow down winding, twisting roads to a new part of Hsinchu County we had never been to before (which, after living here for five years, still surprises me that there are such places).

At one point, Sean turned to me while scooting up into the hills and said: "I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN! THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT!"

What can I say?

After parenting our high needs infant for the past three months, doing anything that resembles our old life feels blissful.

We scooted around a sharp bend and instantly stopped due to all the orange cones blocking our way (Taiwan, why would you put a bunch of orange cones in the road right after a sharp bend in the road? This is something I will never understand about you.).

A police officer told us in half English half Mandarin that we had to park our scooter and walk the rest of the way. He assured us it would only take 10 minutes.

I looked down at my poor footwear choice and shrugged.

We had come all this way during our rare baby free time to see a hot air balloon festival, and I was not going to let my poor wardrobe choice stop me from doing just that.

We trekked uphill (the entire, by the way) for 25 minutes in the blazing heat and humidity before we heard the first sign of the festival: music.

By this point, my feet were sloshing around in their own sweat and I could feel blisters forming, but on I pushed forward.

On and on.

Until we finally came upon the festival.

There were vendors selling corn on the cob, stinky tofu, and Taiwan Beer. We followed the little hot air balloons that were hanging on trees to a vast field full of people and tents and... nothing else.

That's right.

There wasn't even a single hot air balloon in sight.

I felt a little better about the situation because we weren't the only people who looked really confused.

I took out my phone and double checked the website I consulted. There, in writing, it stated that there would be at least three hot air balloons around during festival hours.

In traditional Taiwanese fashion, people were consoling themselves by taking pictures of themselves making the peace sign in the hot air balloon cardboard cut out in front of the empty field, so we decided to do the same thing.

We walked around the empty field waiting for a balloon to magically descend from the empty sky, but after stewing in our own sweat for 20 minutes, we decided we were being ridiculous.

As we made our way back to our scooter, we came across a slide that had a sign next to it boasting how it was "The Longest Outdoor Slide in all of Northern Taiwan", which, truthfully, isn't really that impressive because Taiwan is a really, really tiny country, and somewhere in this teeny, tiny country there is a bigger, badder, cooler outdoor slide.

We looked at each other, laughed, and decided: why the hell not?

So we slid down the largest outdoor slide in Northern Taiwan. Honestly, I didn't really slide down. I more shimmied down the slide because by this point my clothes were completely soaked through with my own sweat. Sean laughed hysterically by the time I made it down the largest slide in all of Northern Taiwan, which shamefully took much longer than it should have, because my pink shorts were see through and black from all the crud my sweat cleaned off the slide's surface.

Ce la vie.

We walked the rest of the way to our scooter laughing hysterically and holding hands. Weirdly enough, we had a great time together even though the whole outing was a complete disaster.
But, seriously Taiwan, even I didn't think you were capable of something quite this sad. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

a change of heart & big announcement

... in 338 days.

If you had asked me three months ago whether this was even in the realm of possibility, I would have said: no (rather emphatically). However, Ruby has proven to be a game changer, and, in the end, I guess it was a little naive for us to think this wasn't a very real immediate possibility. 

I mean-- we just had a kid. 

This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to us. Ever. Bigger than any job, move, adventure, or the like. 

She is a live, breathing human being we brought into this world, and, as it turns out, the world we want her to be a part of at the moment involves grandmas and uncles and cousins and clean air and mountains and forests and ferries and ocean and backyards and fire pits and BBQs and family holidays and old friends and things that are familiar and things that feel like home because they are home. 


That is the world we crave because, let's face it, we have a pretty amazing home. 

We came very close to leaving Taiwan this summer and breaking our school contracts-- because what is a piece of paper compared to a year of missed people and places and life? 

In the end, though, we decided that we could do this-- meaning parent our child-- half a world away and completely by ourselves for the next 11 months. 

Taiwan, our adopted home, has been good to us. 
Our school has been good to us. 
The past five years of our lives we have spent here were good to us. 

It felt wrong in some small yet significant way to flee from all of that. 

However, while Taiwan has undeniably done a lot of great things for us, we no longer feel like we belong here. Not for the work, which is really not bad work all things considered, and not for the money and benefits, which are truthfully great money and great benefits for the work we do. 

Life is opportunity cost: what do I give up to get ____________? Prior to Ruby, we could justify the opportunity cost of living in Taiwan, but not any longer. 

So what does this all mean? 

It means we are on a countdown. 

This will be our last year living in Hsinchu. 
It will be our last year working at our school. 

It means that come July 2018, the four of us will board an airplane with one way tickets back to the Pacific Northwest. 

We will likely live with my mother for a short period of time. Sean will likely roof again for a short period of time. I will likely substitute teach for a short period of time. We will likely rent a place in Poulsbo or Port Townsend and buy a beater car.

And we will spend a lot of time with family and friends and nature. 

We will also need to figure out: what next?

I very much doubt we will continue to teach in any capacity-- not in American public schools, at least. Perhaps I will freelance write. Perhaps Sean will sell his custom rock climbing holds.

Who knows what we will choose to do.

I am okay with not having answers because I can see the bigger picture: we will be coming home after six wonderful years away, 100% debt free, with quite an impressive savings, as the parents of a beautiful little girl and a silly fur dog, and as the owners of passports full of stamps from far off places.

Not to mention the fact that we will always have this card-- being a married teaching couple in the international teaching circuit-- in our back pocket if we ever want to or need to pull it out, dust if off, and use it again, which is akin to some of the best job security (not to mention adventure security) we could ever hope for. 

And at the end of the day, this is what we know to be true:

When we came to Taiwan, we had no answers and no idea what to expect, yet a beautiful story emerged from all of the uncertainty. We have no reason not to expect the same to be true moving forward and homeward.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

making a scene at the cold springs

During the summer, one of our favorite things to do is scoot to a small mountain village called Beipu. Why? For its cold springs of course! Summer in Taiwan is hot and humid. The cold, blue waters of Beipu are cool and refreshing.

Our favorite cold springs is not the official cold spring that people are allowed to swim in. Instead, ours has this sign as a greeting:
However, it has never stopped us or locals from enjoying a dip in the river. Last Monday, we decided to head up to the cold springs when our nanny was on duty. It was our friend's last day in Taiwan before moving back to America, so we thought it would be a perfect way to spend the day.

It also turned out to be the most stereotypical Taiwanese day we could ever hope to experience. 

We got to the cold spring after a 30 minute scoot only to find whole families camped out with grills, tables, and enough Taiwan Beer to last for a month (or, for them, the afternoon). Kids were splashing around the cold spring with their floaty toys and squirt guns. And so were the adults. Three people asked if they could get their picture taken with us because, hey, how often do waiguorens (foreigners) appear in small Taiwanese villages and their cold springs? 

We had a good laugh and then scooted home pretty dang sunburned. 

Taiwan, you may be a little rough around the edges, but somehow, that only makes you more enchanting. 
Thanks for letting me borrow your pictures Brittany! 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

to friends and scooters

One downside of expatriate life is having to say goodbye to dear friends. As we have been living in Taiwan for five years now, we have said our fair share of goodbyes to people we have genuinely come to love.

This time around, though, it feels harder.

One of my dearest friends is leaving Taiwan this week. We have spent the last two years playing tennis, going on scooter adventures, exploring Taiwan, and enjoying meals and ice cream and game nights together.

She is the kind of friend you vent to about life's ups and downs. She is the kind of friend you leave your six week old baby with so you can enjoy a meal out with your husband and mother. She is the kind of friend who is the first person (besides your husband) you tell you are pregnant. She is the kind of friend you talk to about your hopes and dreams. She is the kind of friend you have sleepovers and movie nights with even at 30 years old. She is the kind of friend who teaches you a great deal about friendship and love.

She is the kind of friend you want nothing but the best for, but are sad the best will take her half a world away.

Basically, she is everything a girl could ever hope to find in a friend.

It seemed necessary to take one last scoot adventure together before she heads back to New York soon because hands down, some of my absolute favorite moments in Taiwan have been spent on my scooter exploring the mountains with this lady.

Sean assumed baby duty last Friday so we could take off on one last adventure. It felt so good after mommying for 8 weeks to do something so baby-unfriendly. We scooted through villages and valleys, across wobbly bridges, and to the top of a random mountain. We stopped time and time again to take a bunch of pictures together.

I know that this was not our last scoot adventure ever.

And I know we will see each other again, either in Taiwan or the Pacific Northwest or the East Coast or some other random place & country I cannot even fathom at the moment-- and I hope that one day we will explore somewhere together again on scooters.

But until then, all I can say is-- here is to good friends and scoot adventures and dear husbands who make sure they happen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

2 months with Ruby Mae

I was not eased gently into motherhood. It started with a pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia, which has the very real potential to be lethal to both mom and baby, and evolved into early motherhood complicated by a newborn with GERD, a severe form of acid reflux that means our home is pieced by Ruby's pained cries and that meant Ruby was hospitalized for three nights and four days when she was four weeks old.

If I had to choose words to describe my introduction to motherhood, I would choose: frustrated, angry, helpless, overwhelmed, and disappointed. Overall, not good things; however, they are truthful things.

Things have been really difficult you guys.

However, I am now two months into my journey through motherhood, and I can say that things have been getting better around here.

I made it beyond the six week window during which preeclampsia can still strike after delivery, and today my blood pressure is totally and completely back to normal, so phew.

And Ruby is on three medications to manage her GERD; while she is still pretty fussy a lot of the time, most of the time it is a fussy I can live with (confession: early into this journey of mine, I left Ruby with my mother and scooted deep into the mountains of Taiwan because I was so dang frustrated with Ruby's constant cries and my inability to do anything to help her).

However, more so than normal blood pressure and GERD medications, I think the source of improvement around here has been my monumental shift in thinking.

Before, I was insanely upset that I got the sick baby. I gave birth at the same time as four other women I know. Only my baby had a medical condition that caused her to cry literally all of the time. I was so upset because I felt cheated out of the picture perfect Facebook moments my other new mommy friends were getting to experience with their newborns.

And I was horrified that my baby was miserable all of the time.

Our days were spent hunkered down in the apartment and punctuated by shrill cries. Truthfully, those days seemed endless.

It took time and a three hour visit from a lactation specialist to help me realize that my baby is not miserable all of the time.

The lactation specialist saw how distraught I was and told me that I had a wonderful new baby and that I was doing wonderful as a new mommy. She convinced me that Ruby would get better eventually (which she definitely will) and one day our household would be calm again. She told me to think of Ruby's cries as nothing more than a conversation rather than condemnation. (She also suggested that I get my aura adjusted so I could let go of the stress from the last 15 weeks of my pregnancy and first six weeks of my experience with motherhood, which I haven't done.)

Time has helped me learn to distinguish Ruby's I-am-hungry-cry from her I-am-tired-cry from her I-pooped-my-pants-cry from her I-am-in-pain-from-GERD-and-really-there-is-not-much-you-can-do-cry.

Time has also given us the gift of more calm moments due to her medications and in the past few days more smiles.

Other things have helped too.

A random post on Facebook that had nothing to do with babies helped shift my thinking. It was about how many people miss out on sharing their lives with others because things are not perfect. The article advocated for inviting people over even if your house is a wreck because what matters more: waiting for your mess to be cleared away or friendship? I kinda applied that to my life. Instead of hiding away in my apartment with my crying baby, I can invite people over and go out to meals and homes with my crying baby. She is my metaphorical mess, and I can still have friendship and a life, mess and all.

We also hired our cleaner to nanny for us twice a week for eight hours each time. Monday was her first day, and she and Ruby did pretty well together. I got to have 8 hours to myself to finish some projects around the house and go out to lunch with my husband. It was blissful. That time will save my sanity, and I will continue to employ her after Sean goes back to school in September.

And while it would be a total lie to say that I have settled into motherhood, I can say that I am far more comfortable wearing this hat than I was just a few weeks ago, and today I have a rather optimistic view of the world and the idea that I am Ruby Mae Bucholz's mother.

I hope to report two months from now that Ruby has outgrown her GERD and that all is well in our household, but I am also pretty confident that if I cannot write those words two months from now, we will all still be hanging in there doing pretty okay.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the passport photo saga

Ruby was a citizen of nowhere but the world for six whole weeks!

Two weeks ago, we headed to Taipei to visit the American Institute of Taiwan, America's quasi embassy. We had to make an appointment to announce the birth of a U.S. citizen overseas and submit paperwork for her passport and social security card.

Before we left for Taipei, we spent nearly a whole week trying to get a suitable photo for her passport application. Shockingly, the rules for newborns are the same for everyone else. She had to fully face the camera so both of her ears were showing, she had to have both of her eyes open, and she had to have a neutral look on her face.

Suffice it to say, it was a difficult task-- especially because of Ruby's GERD, a medical condition she has been suffering from since two weeks after her birth that causes her great discomfort and makes her cry much of the time she is awake.

We got some pretty cute (and pretty funny) mugshots at home, but every time I took them to the photo printing shop, they pointed out everything that was wrong with them. Most of the issues had to do with the not 100% white background or the angle of her head.
In the end, after four attempts and failures at home over the span of just as many days, Sean took Ruby to the photo shop so they could take her picture to ensure it would not be rejected and therefore make her application invalid. It took a lot of time and some finagling at the shop, but in the end, the photographers got the photos we so desperately needed.

And I have to say that Ruby enjoyed her trip to Taipei. She rode a train for the first time, she spent the night in a hotel for the first time, and she ate out at a restaurant for the first time.

It was also the first time I got to hear someone call her name: Ruby Mae Bucholz, and I almost cried.

While the past eight weeks have left me feeling rather beaten and bruised, Ruby is such a precious gift and I cannot wait to watch her grow and change.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

giving birth in Taiwan

You have to keep an open mind. 

This was my mantra-- for both my entire pregnancy and the weeks leading up to my scheduled c-section. These were the words I spoke to myself. These were the words I spoke to my husband. These were the words I spoke to my mother.

Because we were all just a little bit nervous about the whole having a baby overseas thing.

In the end, my childbirth experience exceeded my expectations, but that does not mean everything went smoothly, and I definitely needed to utter my mantra more than once during my 6-day hospitalization.
hospital admission
Since I had a scheduled c-section, I knew when to go to the hospital-- sort of. During my final prenatal check up, I filled out hospital admission paper work and submitted it to the main office. I knew that I needed to report to the hospital on Friday May 5th, the day before my surgery. However, when we asked about when on Friday May 5th, the receptionist could only find one English word: later. We took that to mean some time in the evening, so we arbitrarily decided on 8pm.

Then, on Friday May 5th, I received a phone call at noon. It was the hospital wondering where I was and if I would be coming before 2pm. This would not have been a big deal if a. I wasn't about to leave for the airport to pick up my mother whose flight landed at 3pm and b. my husband would be at work for another two hours. In the end, after some rough telephone negotiation in two broken languages, I agreed to be at the hospital before 6pm.

To this day, I am still not entirely sure what the receptionist meant when she said later, but she and I certainly have different definitions of that word in relation to the time of a day.

It was also during this noon phone call that I had another hunch that I would need to wholeheartedly embrace my mantra. When submitting our paperwork for admission, we asked for a private room. Then, before we left, we made sure the receptionist understood our request. Our worst nightmare was being put in the free community room that housed four women, their babies, and their families post birth. We felt confident that we had everything in order. However, the woman on the phone told me they were out of private rooms and that we would be in a shared room with another woman, her baby, and her family. Normally, this would have cued massive amounts of irritation and panic, but I simply repeated my mantra, put on my big girl panties, and left for the airport to go get my mother.

Suffice it to say, though, things were not going very smoothly, and I hadn't even made it to the hospital yet.
the night before
Around 5:30pm, a friend pulled up in front of our apartment. I threw my suitcase and Ruby's diaper bag in the back of his car and Sean followed us on his scooter to the hospital. Traffic was terrible and Sean got to the hospital 20 minutes before I did. We didn't decide on a meeting place, so I ended up waiting for him to find me for 10 minutes. Eventually, we were led to the 5th floor and to our room. The first sight that greeted us? An exhausted woman who had just given birth lounging on a hospital bed eating McDonalds while loudly watching a corny game show on the television.

That night, we had to fill out even more paperwork, which required more than one phone call to my friend who speaks Chinese so she could be the translator between the nurses and me. The nurses had to remove all my nail polish and set up my IV. We kept trying to ask when the c-section would happen the following day, but all we were told was: morning. After the whole later debacle, we didn't really trust that our interpretation of morning was the same as theirs. Sean was going to go get my mother whom we left at our apartment while we got settled in, but after seeing that cramped quarters in the shared room, we decided to leave her at home so she could rest.

I tried to sleep, but I was way too pumped up to actually do so.

In the end, we both just sat there listening to the Taiwanese family talk and watch TV. I think we were both trying to come to terms with the fact that we would be parents at some time the following day.
the big day
Around 8:30am on May 6th, a nurse came to my room and told me to get on a gurney and that I was headed to surgery. She also told Sean to follow along because while he could not be in the OR, they would bring Ruby to him in the OR's waiting room.

We both gawked at the nurse.

We thought we would have some warning or something-- like a nurse popping by and saying "your c-section will be at 11." Sean had been planning on picking up my mother so she could be in the OR's waiting room with him and meet Ruby with him.

Instead, we were in an elevator headed to the 3rd floor-- the operating floor.

This is about the time I legitimately freaked out. I had read everything I could get my hands on about c-sections and talked to all of my friends who had c-sections, but suddenly confronted with the reality of it, I found myself feeling like a fish out of water.

Luckily, Sean was able to stay with me until the last minute. Luckily, he also didn't witness me throw up all over myself eight times in the operating room from pure nerves.

The surgery went fast and smooth. The entire time I pretended to be in a coffee shop. I don't know why. That's just where my mind went. I was sipping a coffee, people watching, and listening to cheesy coffee shop music. This daydream was just what I needed to get by until I heard Ruby's first cry.

The nurses brought her to me and my first thought was: that can't be my baby; she's way too cute and perfect! Confession: I was a really funny looking baby, so I expected to have a funny looking baby too (because let's face it: most babies are funny looking). 

the following days
In Taiwan, the policy is five nights post c-section in the hospital. It was a long five nights. Eventually we were moved to a private room. We got to spend all the time we wanted with Ruby, and the only time she left us was for her baths and her tests and check ups.

I ended up having a severe reaction to the whooping cough vaccine, which resulted in a fever, a swollen tongue, and a lump the size of a gulf ball accompanied by a huge rash on my arm. My blood pressure waxed and waned, but in the end I was not showing signs of eclampsia or HELLP Syndrome, which I was super relieved about. 

I also misunderstood what a nurse said about my pain medication and ended up spending the second night without any pain relief of any kind-- let me tell you, it was not a very fun night. Then, when I discovered the little pain medication button still worked, I suddenly felt much better about life. 

The hospital's policy is that I could not eat or drink until I farted. Yes, you read that right. Let me tell you: it took two days! However, I was exceptionally lucky because I did not suffer from any gastric complaints that usually affect women who have c-sections. 

In the end, I was able to get up and walk (very slow) laps around the hospital floor the day after surgery, and today, almost four weeks out, I am very much back to my old routines-- scooting around town, taking Bubu for walks, and puttering around the house-- just, you know, with an infant hanging around. 

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