Taroko Gorge (Taipei pt 2 of 3)

When we first planned this trip, Alexis mentioned Taroko Gorge.  I was skeptical–it was two hours away and seemed like it would really be cutting into my coffee shop time.  It didn’t take much to convince me:  she just said again that we should go, and I agreed.  Besides, the two hour train ride was a perfect time to get my little monster to sleep.

Since the taxis were cheap, we opted to take a cab.  The driver drove us to the train station instead and used Google Translate to tell us that it was much cheaper to take the train.  We tried to pay him for his two minute drive, and he refused.  Throughout our weekend, we were amazed by the hospitality and kindness we were shown.

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Once arriving at the gorge, we immediately stopped for lunch (typical).  I had some of the juiciest salmon ever, and somehow the orange served as dessert totally hit the spot.  It was perfect hiking fuel!

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Another thing about Taiwan: they LOVE babies!  The two hour hike was basically just a constant meet-and-greet between Teagan and her fan club.  People were taking her photo, grabbing her feet, melting into puddles when she smiled back.  For the most part, it was pretty flattering to have people love my baby that much.  Finally someone understood how I felt about this little babe.  I know she is basically more boogers than baby, but one smile from her can stop your heart.

The hike itself was easy, and apparently some trails are harder.  Ours was basically stroller/wheelchair friendly.

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The gorge was incredible.  We never did find out what made that water so blue; we were too absorbed in our excellent highbrow conversation. (Example:“I think I’m growing up because I like prosciutto now.”)

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I hiked and thought about finding God in all things.  When the view is this pretty, God is tangible and breathable and impossible to ignore.

We boarded the train home with sore muscles and full hearts.

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Taipei (pt 1 of 3)

 

Lately, I have been incredibly busy and every spare second has been reserved for spending time with my sweet family.  One night shift has a way of seeping into the day before and day after; before I know it weeks have passed.  I missed my friends!  I’m lucky to have friends who understand the struggle and love me anyway.

I’d planned on going to Taiwan with my friend Alexis for months, and when it finally rolled around I was tempted to cancel.  I was so freaking tired, and the laundry wasn’t done, and blah, blah, blah.

Luckily, I rallied and made it.  We ran late, hit traffic, had issues with customs and had a knife in our carry-on.  Alexis joked that it had been a while since she’d had to run through the airport to make a flight, and a few minutes later we were doing just that, stinky baby in tow.

Somehow, we made it!  We were on our way to Taiwan!

Our flight was short, only 1 hour, and customs on arrival was easy–they pulled us into a baby carrying and/or disabled line.  We opted to take a taxi to our AirBnB because for 40 minutes it was only about $12.

We were immediately in love with Taipei.  It felt so modern and Westernized, but still exotic.  Our apartment was in a cool neighborhood I’d found by searching “hipster areas Taipei”.  Even though it was cloudy, we could see the famous Taipei 101 in the distance.

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After a short break to set down our suitcases, we were off!  Our first stop was Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.  I meant to take my time in the museum and learn about the president memorialized here, but it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t be staying long.  Teagan had skipped her morning nap to make friends on the flight, and by afternoon she was getting LOUD.

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We stayed just long enough to watch the changing of the guards and snap a few photos, then split up with Alexis to head home.

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I watched Law & Order in the apartment while the booger queen rolled on the floor, then ordered the most delicious Dim Sum ever.  It was starting to really feel like vacation!

 

Nara

We were so sad to say bye to Grandma–Teagan loved all the attention and was so sad to see her go!  The timing worked out for a last minute weekend getaway so that we would all be at the airport at the same time, which just drew out the sad good-bye.  Instead of a good-bye, its a “see you later”.

Soon, we were on our way to our next adventure—Kyoto, here we come!  We are so acclimated to Okinawa’s tropical climate that the high of 62 degrees was rough on us.    Teagan doubled up on the layers and snuggled us tight!

We stopped at favorite Indian restaurant in Gion, then caught up on some much needed sleep.  In the morning, we got an early start for Nara.DSC01337

Nara is known for its many deer that take over Nara Park.  You can buy deer cookies anywhere around the park, and they love it!  Teagan was not so sure about the deer.DSC01348DSC01349 copy

Nara, you’re beautiful.
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After a full day in Nara, we headed back to Kyoto for the night–the girls went to sleep, and Carl went for a hike/ramen feast.  Typical.  This trip was the first that naps were very important, but I was happy to use the babe as an excuse to catch up on some sleep.

For a few months, I’ve been burning the candle from both ends.  I’ve been taking on too much, committing to the wrong things and putting myself last.  The result is being able to do everything, but doing it all poorly and acting cranky the entire time.

Example: my schedule was recently switched so that I would now be working Thanksgiving night.  My response to the schedule change? “That’s okay, I’ll make a turkey!”  I walked away wondering how I had over-committed myself once again.

The thing about breastfeeding is that you can’t make milk if you don’t sleep.  You can’t make milk if you forget to drink water.  There were a few really scary days where I thought my body had given up on milk, and I was forced to slow down.

I’m learning to love it.  I’m getting all kinds of cuddles from this babe and having a great weekend off.

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Cheers to the super, super, incredibly slow life.

Osaka

We are having a blast with Carl’s mom in town–it’s so nice to have family around helping with little things.  Teagan loves getting to know her grandma, and we love showing her the island.

This weekend, we took her to one of our favorite cities–Osaka!  We got to work enjoying kuidaore (“eat until you fall down”) style food, Osaka’s speciality.  First up: okonomyaki.  Okonomyaki was invented post-WWII when food and supplies were scarce.  Some creative mama with a home full of hungry kids decided to invent a cabbage pancake filled with whatever’s in your kitchen.  Like all fried food, okonomyaki is best enjoyed with beer.DSC01047.JPGDSC01042DSC01044

We stayed in an adorable apartment that was completely Doraemon themed.  What is Doraemon, you ask?

Doraemon is a cat-like robot from the 22nd century of the future. His favorite food is dorayaki, a sweet bean paste filled bun, and his birthday is 2112-9-3 he is also know by the name “Ding-dong”. He weighs 129.3 kg, is 129.3 cm tall, can leap 129.3 cms in the air and can run 129.3 km per hour. He is afraid of mice and hates rats, his ears were eaten off by rats. He has a fourth-dimensional pocket on his abdomen from which he can take out many amazing TOOLS. Doraemon was sent back to the 20th century because Nobita’s grandson can’t bear to see his grandfather suffer. So he sent Doraemon to help out with Nobita’s troubles

EVERYTHING was Doraemon-themed.  The toaster, the toilet, the toothbrushes provided, the snacks were all on theme.  We were provided with Doraemon onesies, and when the owner found out that we had a baby with us, she brought a baby sized Doraemon outfit so we wouldn’t be left out.  I love Japan! So weird and great.

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The next day, we headed to Universal Studios Japan to explore Hogsmeade.  We dressed up the baby for the occasion: her shirt says I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.DSC01060

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We stayed all day and by evening, we were totally tired!  A restful night back in the Doraemon room, and we were back in Okinawa before we knew it.

I love Japan and this little family!

 

Weekend Update: My Tokyo Trip

I’ve been to Tokyo before, but this trip was different.  For one thing, I was staying in one city for five whole days–unheard of!  I rarely get that much time off.  I was also serving as a pretty unofficial tourguide to my dad, who’d never been to Japan before.  Probably the biggest difference, though, was that this time I’d be traveling with a two month old baby girl.  Let me just hit some of the highlights:

Meiji Ji

I love that this lush forest is smack dab in the middle of a bustling city.  It’s always my first stop in Tokyo as one of the best ways to clear my head after busy travel days.

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Warayakiya

I’d never been here before–it was a recommendation from the hotel’s amazing travel desk.  They grilled tuna over huge blazing flames of burning wheat grass (the traditional style of Shikoku).  After what felt like five hundred years of pregnancy, this partially raw fish totally hit the spot.  Yum!

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Dominique Adams Bakery

I’ll admit, I came here purely to take a photo of my ice cream.  Worth it.

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Tsukiji Fish Market

Everything I’d read about this place made it sound like if you couldn’t make it in time for the 3:00 AM auctions, you shouldn’t even bother existing anymore.  I was glad to have a reason to go; my dad suggested it and it was AMAZING.  Streets of vendors with delicious looking fish, giant clams, soda flavored ice cream, ultra-sharp knives.  Breakfast was the best sushi I’ve ever tasted.  I say that I travel on my stomach, that is to say that I plan my trips around delicious foods and remember my travels by the the snacks I’ve tasted along the way.  Tsukiji was an experience I will never forget.

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Oh, Sweet Summertime

I’ve been lucky enough to travel home pretty frequently while living overseas.  I love being able to take Teagan to meet my family and close friends that I’ve known for years.

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More on the trip later–right now I’m busy soaking it all in.

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Weekend Update: Maureen is here!

When people make the effort to visit us here in Okinawa, I know that they must really love us.  It’s incredibly expensive, and such a huge undertaking to fly for almost 24 hours each way.

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Maureen came out to Okinawa last week, and we’re having the best time.  I am loving having another pair of hands to help me with T.  I’m getting spoiled: I can shower for longer than thirty seconds without the relaxing sounds of a hysterical baby.  I have someone to share every mundane baby noise and movement with.  Sometimes I even get to eat with two hands!

35312066772_f02ac4fb18_o-1-e1498215051826.jpgHaving visitors always brings out the best in me; I have a reason to get out and see touristy things.  We’ve seen ancient castles, gorgeous beaches and waterfalls, and of course we’ve enjoyed ramen and sushi.  It’s so nice to be with someone I’ve known long enough to just be with.  Instead of shallow conversations about people at work, we have pointless talks about Harry Potter character development.

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Today, I am thankful for good friends and good food.

Okinawa’s Hydrangea Garden (Yohena Asaji)

Last summer, we moved closer to Carl’s work and away from a lot of the “big city” areas of Okinawa.  Down south, there are cafes, malls, and so many Americans.  Where we live feels wild–nature is everywhere.  Beautiful beaches, overflowing jungles, and plenty of peace and quiet.

I’ve been looking for ways to stay local.  As fun as it is to spend long car rides with a screaming baby (she HATES the car seat), I prefer to find things to do a little closer to home.  When I heard about Okinawa’s Hydrangea Garden, I couldn’t wait.

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Yohena Asaji is so-named for its owner and founder, Mrs. Uto Yohena.  This year, she’s 100 years old!  She has been caring for the hydrangea fields for forty years, and before that they were tangerine fields.  The story goes that she started with one plant, and it did so well that she ended up with more…and more and more and more and more!  She is the ultimate plant lady!IMG_2630

There are over 10,000 hydrangea plants today.  It’s not just hydrangeas, though–she has all kinds of exotic looking and fragrant blooms.  I even spotted a few budding tangerine trees.IMG_2632Teagan enjoyed her nap in the carrier and only poked her head out for this photo.

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We finished off the afternoon with a shaved ice–delicious!

The past few days, I’ve gone to bed with such a full heart and a thankful spirit.  What else could a girl possibly ask for?

Currently readingBorn to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

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“No one you have been and no place you have gone ever leaves you. The new parts of you simply jump in the car and go along for the rest of the ride. The success of your journey and your destination all depend on who’s driving.”

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Fukushen Garden

Around here, weekend time together is precious.  On one of Carl’s last days off before he left, we decided to go exploring in Okinawa to a place I’d wanted to go for a long time: Fukushen Gardens in Naha.

Fukushen is a traditional Chinese style garden that was built to celebrate Okinawa’s sister city, Fuzhou.  It was smack in the middle of the city with walls on all sides.  When we bought our tickets, a greeter asked us where we were from–a tricky question in the military.   We told her Okinawa, and everyone laughed.

As soon as we were inside, the baby decided she was starving.  I parked myself on a bench overlooking a large koi pond and sculpted garden, one of the most peaceful places to feed a baby.  We were blessed with perfect weather, too: a light breeze kept us comfortable.

My favorite part of the sprawling garden grounds was the largest and according to the brochure, the most dynamic waterfall.

A dirt path took us into a rock cave behind the waterfall.  I was loving it!

All of that sleeping had T working up an appetite, so we pulled over at a nearby beach for a second lunch.  What a perfect day!

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I love continuing to explore Okinawa and finding out more about this beautiful island.

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Hong Kong pt. 2: Victoria Peak and the Star Ferry

One of my travel traditions is to obsessively plan beforehand using The Lonely Planet.  I’ve had such good luck with those guidebooks–they’re the best!

For this trip, I basically stole one of the suggested itineraries, which took me first to brunch in Soho at The Brunch Club (no pictures because I was too hungry!).  I left Soho via an area of Hong Kong known as “Ladder Street”–so named because it is so steep that ladders were used to climb it in the past.

The Peak

Victoria Peak was next on my list.  “The Peak” is famous for its panoramic views and history as a strategic stronghold.  I was glad for the historic tram that took me easily to the top.

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The Octopus card, Hong Kong’s metro card, was the best!  Instead of waiting in the long cash only line, I got to skip ahead with my Octopus card.  Oh yeah!

 

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Exploring the gardens and panoramic views

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Star Ferry

On my Lonely Planet itinerary of must-see attractions was the Star Ferry.  The whole time I was riding the cute little ferry across Victoria Harbour, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much Carl would love it!  The view was amazing, but somehow I only managed to take pictures of myself.

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I finished my second perfect day in Hong Kong with a fancy movie in a 4D theater with special seats marked “NOT FOR PREGNANT”.  Ummm, okay.