What Am I Waiting For?

The creative action this week was to make something new from something old. My big goal was to make something crafty with my son. I was going to use old water bottles to make discovery jars, or empty milk cartons to make containers for crayons and markers. Or I was going to make little creatures with him out of things we found, and today while I was walking the dogs, I gathered some pine cones and eucalyptus nuggets (I’m sure that’s the scientific term for those pod things they drop) and moss and all kinds of cool things nature had discarded. And then I remembered my son is 13 months old. He is not “crafty”. Destruction is his thing, not construction. I can’t even build a tower with his blocks without him toddling over and smacking it down. He is happiest when he is hitting things with sticks, smooshing squishy food in his hands, or tearing pop-ups out of books.

I keep wanting to buy him art supplies and then I don’t because he just eats whatever he’s holding. I look at the fingerpaints longingly, and then put them down, sighing and saying, “Someday soon”. It just occurred to me that I have been projecting my wishes onto him. I have been dreaming of making art with him, and he might want to someday and he might not. It is my passion, but it may not ever be his. I need to let him be who he is, and give myself permission to play and make stuff without waiting for him to join in. Maybe it’s less scary to be silly and not produce great results if you’re playing with paint with a child. If I painted for myself, I might be disappointed if it wasn’t “good”. Oh, the burden of consciousness. If I could only be as free from that results-oriented thinking as he is. He’s sleeping now, and there are so many other things to check off my to-do list, but instead I am going to pull out the fun things I gathered and make something. Just for the fun of it. Just for me.

What are you waiting for? Go work on something you’ve been putting off. Something that will feed your soul and create wonder in your life. Go.

Books, People

Little Man Reads – 10 months

We are getting back into the swing of things after our trip. It is wonderful to be on our home turf in our beloved city, San Francisco. Sometimes it takes going away to see your life with fresh eyes and realize how good you have it. We really do live in one of the best cities on Earth and I’m glad to be back.

One of my favorite things about this city is all the opportunities to meet authors and illustrators as they share their work at bookstores. We still have a number of excellent independent bookstores in the Bay Area and they are popular stops on book tours. Just this morning we went to see Nikki McClure at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. She is one of my favorite artists. I posted about her back when she had a local show of her amazingly intricate and beautiful cut paper pieces. Her subject matter is often a celebration of nature, simple things, and motherhood – kind of a modern outdoorsy Mary Cassatt. So it’s a natural that she also does childrens books, the latest being Mama, Is It Summer Yet?

She explained to all of us at the reading that she created this book in response to her son’s question. The illustrations show the clues in nature that the seasons are changing and getting closer and closer to summer. As someone who dreads winter, and gets giddy with the spring and arrival of warmer weather, I loved it, even though my son is too young to be into it just yet. I was also inspired to get out my art supplies and get back to work on some stories. She said when she was little she played pretend that she was an artist, but thought it was similar to being a princess, a make-believe wish. Sometimes I still feel this way, so it’s always encouraging to see someone in person who is making their art in real life, not in some magical castle far, far away. She even did a demonstration of her technique and wowed the kids (and me) with her X-acto knife wielding skills.

So, that’s my mom pick for the featured childrens book on my sporadic review of what Little Man is reading lately. I posted at around 6 months and now at 10 months he is into completely different things. For one, he rarely sits still in my lap anymore unless he’s very, very tired, so sadly, our storytimes are fewer than when he was less mobile. At around 8 months his favorite was Sing-Along Song, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by San Francisco local LeUyen Pham. He enjoyed the rhythm and onomatopoeia of the text, and would reach out and touch and smile at the pictures of the little boy exuberantly going through the routine of his day. Now, he’s as busy as that little boy, zooming around the house with a very short attention span.

So, at 10 months, he likes Go, Dog. Go! the board book version. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s action-packed. He’s also into books with texture and sounds and pop-ups, basically he needs bells and whistles to keep his focus now. And he wants to destroy them. Chewing, grabbing, tearing. Books have to be tough now for him to enjoy. So, I will be putting my signed copy of Mama, Is It Summer Yet? away until he’s ready, and letting him enjoy tactile books like Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet.


Packing Up: Taking Home More Than Trinkets From Taiwan

We start our long journey home bright and early tomorrow morning. Almost three weeks ago, I sat in piles of laundry carefully deciding what to pack so we didn’t bring too much, and tonight we needed to borrow another suitcase to take home all the generous gifts from family and things we bought. (Did I mention how much shopping we’ve done? We went a little bit crazy!)
Besides the new stuff, I’m taking much more valuable things with me. Memories of a whole new side of the family who made it very clear how much they love and care for us. The knowledge that my baby has completely bonded with his grandparents, and that he will be in good hands when they come out this summer to help while I work full-time again. A fondness for a city I didn’t expect to like so much, and a certainty that we will be back and probably for a big chunk of time at some point (I have to learn Chinese somehow). But I will also take back some lessons learned about myself.
There was a part of me that struggled with my new identity as mother to this little boy before we left. I missed my freedom, my alone time, and worried it would be a long time before I’d get the chance to pursue the things I’m interested in again. Coming here put some things into perspective. Flipping through my husband’s life in the photo albums his parents have kept made me see how fast it all goes, and how relationships change. He posed happily and easily with his parents in the pictures when he was young, silly and carefree. With adolescence comes an awkwardness, a distance; you can literally see when a boy reaches an age where he no longer turns to his mother for comfort, and it made me want to cherish these days that my son still needs me.
And boy, does he need me. This trip also made me realize how significant being a mama is. Even though we were with people who love him dearly, I am the one who knows him best. I notice the signs he gives when he is in need of something. I know when he’s thirsty, tired, hungry, needs a diaper change, needs some space, wants to be walking and playing rather than being held, or just needs kisses and hugs from his mama. I know when to pull out his favorite book to keep him from going sideways in public. I know when I need to be his advocate and tell others when he needs to rest.
His Baba (Daddy in Chinese) is also essential and can give him things I can’t. He’s a much better rough-houser than I am, he makes better silly faces and sounds, and he’s the best “closer” when it comes to getting Little Man to finally go down to sleep. I think his role will become even more important as our son becomes older and looks to his father to see what it is to be a good man. His grandparents, cousins, friends, caretakers and teachers will all become more important at different stages in his life. But right now, it’s all about me. I saw that over and over on this trip when he was tired or nervous or trying something new, he needed me there for him.
I’m sure that need will pass much faster than I will be ready for. So I come back from this trip with a renewed sense that being a mama is the most important thing I can be doing right now. My husband and I will get to travel for ourselves again one day, I will get to spend more time pursuing my passions eventually, but for this relatively short period, I will enjoy being my baby’s number one.


One. Oh. One!

This is my one hundred and first post on this blog. And we just went to the top of Taipei 101. The giant building is one of those things you “have” to see while you are here. But just like I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly nine years and have never set foot in the Transamerica Pyramid or walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, my in-laws watched 101 be built from the ground up only a few blocks from their house, and didn’t go up in it until now.
It was worth checking out, even though we had to wait in a long line to get in and to come back down. I don’t know if it’s because our baby is extra specially cute (which he is, if I do say so myself), or if he seems exotic because he’s mixed, or if they are just crazy about all babies here, but our son draws a lot of attention in Taiwan. Usually just playful smiles and sweet compliments, but I guess because he had a captive audience with that line, he became the star attraction. Good thing he’s in a phase right now where he likes strangers because he was being aggressively admired by one and all as we slowly wound around through the amusement park style line. Groping, poking, pinching fingers all trying to get a piece of him as if he were a lucky Buddha. He basked in it, hamming it up, showing off his dimples, even beaming through the forced portrait session in front of the green screen version of 101 spewing fireworks.
We zoomed up the fastest elevator in the world in 37 seconds, up so high your ears have to pop to adjust. We leaned against the windows over dizzying views of the entire city. We stood on the outdoor observation deck and spotted my in-law’s building, which we could have spit on with a good wind. We looked at the huge ballast that keeps the building from swaying too much in high winds or earthquakes. We came, we saw, we got back in line, our baby had a brief meltdown, I felt claustrophobic, and it made me glad we haven’t been hitting up too many of these “must-see” sightseeing venues.
We have had a great time wandering around neighborhoods, eating delicious food (I promise I will get to that food post, but it will have to wait until I get home and can add pictures to it), and hanging out with my husband’s relatives. Last night, we left our son with his grandparents and our cousins took us to a night market, the best dumpling house in the city, and then to a favorite local bar, and we sat and talked for hours. It was such a perfect way to see a slice of life in a different place. You wouldn’t get to know my San Francisco by seeing the Pyramid or the Bridge, and though I may have seen most of Taipei from the 101 building, I will remember it most by the people I met here.
Slow Travel 101: Stick with the locals. They’ll show you where it’s really at.


Our Trip Within a Trip: An Excursion to South Taiwan

We are back in Taipei after the trip my in-laws planned to show us more of the country. Beforehand, it was billed to me by my husband as a one-hour ride south on a high speed train, renting a car so we could cruise the rest of the way down the coast, then relaxing at the beach for four days. It didn’t quite turn out like that, as we are both learning that traveling with a baby and your parents does not equal relaxing, but it was definitely an adventure.
Our destination was Kenting, a national park at the southern tip of Taiwan known for beautiful beaches. We left the house at nine a.m., so I was imagining we’d be frolicking in the surf by the afternoon. The journey proved to be much trickier than described (this is when my husband claims “lost in translation”). After a short subway ride to the train station, a scenic trip on the clean and comfortable high-speed rail to Kaohsiung, we hopped into the rental car and managed to get lost for hours due to the agency being out of GPS units and the lack of a good map or clearly marked roads. It was a blessing that I had a baby to tend to in the back who has discovered his voice and knows how to use it, because otherwise I would have been terrified that my husband and father-in-law were both looking at the map most of the trip instead of the road.
As we were driving along the coast, it felt just like the trip from Tijuana to Ensenada in Baja California – beautiful views, but shabbier construction, more treacherous roads and stray dogs as you go. So I was surprised when, seven hours after leaving the house, we finally rolled up to a sprawling, brightly colored hotel complex called the Chateau Beach Resort. His parents had booked us rooms at the Club Med of Taiwan. It’s the kind of touristy place my husband and I have avoided in the past, opting for smaller, unique boutique hotels, but I can see now why people flock to these all-inclusive resorts. They are incredibly family-friendly. I guess this is our new world of traveling with a child to consider.
Road-weary and as cranky as my poor nap-deprived baby, I perked up a little when they showed us to our room and they had provided a Pack-n-Play and baby bathtub. And even more when I saw our window overlooked an incredible network of pools, some designated for small children, and a giant, gorgeous beach. Hallelujah. We settled in, then toured the grounds which included an arcade, craft room, archery area, volleyball courts, bike rentals, a cafe, shops, and a couple restaurants. Something for everyone. We ate at the buffet dinner, where a highchair and a baby bowl and spoon materialized before we had time to even ask for it.
After bathing and putting an oh-so-sleepy Little Man in his cozy crib, we set up the camera and gave the video monitor to my husband’s parents who had a room next door so they could come get him if he started crying, and we were off to explore – a nice perk to traveling with in-laws. Otherwise, we would be stuck in our room trying to be quiet after 8 p.m. This way, we got to check out Kenting town at night, which is a lot like Cabo or any other tourist-driven beach town, with souvenir shops, discos and bars pumping loud club music. Only, this is Taiwan, so there are also food stalls lining the streets. Even though we’d just eaten, we managed to sample goodies like fried milk, fresh coconut, and of course, my husband had a variety of meats on a stick.
It felt like we were on a date. Only, when we came back, there was my father-in-law about to go into our room because somebody was up. Our little buddy woke up every couple of hours, and was wide awake by six a.m. That’s when you start wondering, “Why did we think it was a good idea to travel with a kid? Wait, why did we have a kid in the first place? Can we send him back?”
And then you see his little face the first time he goes in a swimming pool and he clings to you because he’s unsure and then a few minutes later is wriggling like a fish and splashing with his hands and beaming at you. And a little later he is giggling because his Grandpa is burying him in the sand. And then he’s taking giant steps toward the waves while the love of your life holds his pudgy hands, and you think, “This. This is what I came here for.” And I wanted to stay forever.
But it turns out we were leaving the next morning. The folks had planned a night in Kaohsiung, so we left that lovely place after only one great afternoon at the beach, and got back in the dreaded car. This time, we didn’t get so lost, and made a worthwhile stop at an amazing aquarium, the Taiwan National Museum of Marine Biology. A whale shark! A beluga whale! Glass tunnels under a huge amount of water and a stunning array of fish, stingrays and sharks! This was definitely on par with the Monterey Bay Aquarium I’m used to going to, and a highlight of our trip.
The highlight of Kaohsiung was definitely the food. I’ve been on the search for the best shaved ice (“tsua bing”, a dessert specialty) in Taiwan and found it here at PoPo’s (“Grandma’s”) in the Yancheng district next to our hotel, the Kingship. I will describe this perfect dessert in loving detail in the food post, but let’s just call it creamy dreamy mango goodness for now. The Liouhe Night Market was also a delight, where my little carnivorous baby got his first taste of pig knuckles and I got “di gua”, deep-fried cubes of sweet potato rolled in melted syrupy sugar that hardens like a crunchy candy coating, still soft and sweet inside. Delish.
The Kingship was decidedly un-family friendly. No special baby stuff. Not even enough room on the floor to set up the pop-up tent we brought for him, which meant he was sleeping with us. Or not sleeping, since the hotel had absolutely no sound-proofing and you could hear everything from the wedding banquet five floors below us, to the painfully loud tour group of obnoxious old people staying on our floor (they came in around nine p.m. and left around seven a.m. like a troop of hollering baboons, both times a couple crones even knocked on our door in search of their friend and ran away when my husband answered) to the woefully wailing baby a few doors down whose parents must have left him alone to cry it out while they partied at the banquet downstairs.
The next morning, everyone was tired and cranky again. We traveled home during prime nap-time, so Little Man did not get good sleep again. By the time we got back to Taipei, the beach was already a distant memory and I was ready to go home. Like home home. To my own space and my baby’s routine. But we still have a bit to go, and after some sleep I feel up to making the most of it again. Though I wonder when the words “relaxing” and “vacation” will ever go together again.

(Those of you anxious to see pictures will have to wait until I get back home since I can’t download them directly from my camera to the iPad. Bummer.)


Anniversary, Interrupted

We celebrated seven years of marriage by getting away on our own for a night. Our first time leaving Little Man overnight. I was a bit nervous about it, especially since he’s been extra clingy toward me when he doesn’t feel safe here, but fortunately he has become quite comfortable with his grandparents and they were eager to send us off. As soon as we left and were walking down the street alone, hand in hand, I felt free and light.
I’m going to have to cut this short because we are about to get on a high speed train to the southern coast of Taiwan for four days of beach time, and I’m guessing there won’t be wi-fi, so it may be awhile before the next post. Briefly, our night away had all the potential for romance and relaxation. My husband found a swanky boutique hotel near the Museum of Contemporary Art, and made reservations at a fancy sushi restaurant. Unfortunately, brave eater that he is, he opted for chef’s choice and one of the many strange things that came his way did not agree with him, and after a previous night of bad clams, he was taken down, and spent the evening groaning the night away in our swish room.
And just to make sure we didn’t get any rest, I woke up around 3 a.m. desperately needing to pump (when breastfeeding is a bummer), and the batteries conked out. We managed to crack ourselves up as we rolled downstairs, exhausted and disheveled, imagining what the front desk must think about why we might possibly need four AA batteries at this time of night. We hoped they wouldn’t ask since “breast pump” isn’t exactly part of my husband’s Chinese vocabulary, and miming or making sounds to describe it could be very confusing.
Turns out they didn’t have any, so we had to stumble out to a 7-11. What a night. But our in-laws and our baby had a great time, so we may attempt it again later in our trip. For now, off to the beach!


And Slow It Goes

Exploring Taipei with a nine-month old can definitely be categorized as Slow Travel, a concept I blogged about before we left. We are living like locals, camping out at the in-laws, and venturing out around our baby’s two-nap schedule. Which means we can’t really be out for longer than four hour stints, so we are getting to know the neighborhood well and getting lots of down time. When we go further than our feet can carry us, we take a bus or MRT, Taipei’s subway system. Cities like Jakarta and Bangkok prepared me well for this city. By comparison, Taipei is much tamer and easier to navigate, more like New York or Singapore, where there is constant action but the rule of law still counts for something.
We made it to the National Palace Museum which houses a giant collection of Chinese art and artifacts. The highlights for me included a beautiful display of painted scrolls by Chiang Chao-shen, a master calligrapher. Also, the famous hand scroll Up the River During the QingMing Festival, painted by court artisans depicting the daily activities of the Sung Dynasty was captivating in its detail. A collection of curios, intricate boxes meant to hold some of the emperor’s most valued treasures, which were also on display, was impressive. Many pieces were so tiny and elaborate it was difficult to imagine how they were made. My favorite piece was in the Rare Books collection, a gorgeous Tibetan version of the Tripitaka, or Buddhist scripture, hand copied in gold ink. Almost as special was the room designated for nursing mothers that I put to good use. They really look out for mamas and their babies over here.
So far, the only other “must see” from the guidebooks we’ve been to is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, built to honor the “Father of the Nation”, and happened to be there during the changing of the guard, which was cool. Even more entertaining were the many groups of high school kids practicing hip hop dances around the perimeter of the memorial. One of them stopped me to help them finish their English homework, asking me timid questions about my plans while in Taiwan. Teenagers here seem very polite and respectful of elders. They actually got up on the subway to give my mother-in-law and whichever one of us was holding the baby their seat, and I literally saw one helping an old lady across the street. Can you imagine?
Mainly, we have just been behaving as if we live here. We spent a day visiting my husband’s relatives. I mostly sat and smiled as they doted on our son. More than anything else, we have been eating. The food deserves its own post which I will get to soon. In the meantime, we’re enjoying sampling outstanding fare at every meal and getting fatter each day that passes. Ah, sweet vacation. Tomorrow is our seventh anniversary and we are celebrating by going off on our own for a night, a date planned by my man, so I don’t know any details yet except that it will be our first night away from our little guy. Will let you know how it goes.