Christmas Day is a blast. In our house, people get up early on Christmas. The boys slept up in the loft because all of our guests were sleeping down in the basement. We all gathered up at the top of the stairs in our Christmas jammies and took our traditional stairs photos. Then we turned on the Christmas music and let the kids run down the stairs to the presents! The kids were super excited. Madeline immediately went to her new dollhouse and started playing. She loved every part of it. The dollhouse was definitely a work of love as parts of it were painted white to make it look a little cuter than the way it came out of the box. Abby got her Ukulele and a great case to go with it. Emma made out with a white Razor moped type scooter that was a lot faster than we expected. Peter got an electric Segway scooter that was even faster and likely more dangerous. Andrew got a Nintendo Switch, which is what he wanted. Mike and Sara both got the new KICKR snap bike trainer. It was fun to see the kids playing and enjoying each other. It was fun to see them get excited about all the other presents as well. The favorites this year were definitely the various sushi and pizza socks. That was all Mike's idea. He is so clever. Mike and Sara got a hefty check from Grandma and Grandpa. The check was wrapped up in a play doh can and on the outside it said, "We thought you could use some extra "dough" around the holidays.." It was such a generous gift and very much appreciated. I was ecstatic to finally get a Garmin triathlon watch, the Fenix 5S plus. I had been eyeing that watch for quite some time. Mike finally got winterized mats for his truck and his traditional lego set. Maybe he will end up putting together before December of next year. The best present by far, though, was when Ruby announced that she was expecting another baby, which was super fun. In all, it was a great time to be together. Once the morning festivities were over and the wrapping paper was all cleaned up, we took everyone to see the new Mary Poppins movie. This was Madeline's first time at the movies and she did really well considering the fact that she is 2 years old. It was really good and the kids enjoyed a ton of popcorn. After that, we headed back home to be lazy. There really are few days better than Christmas day.
Christmas Eve is always such an exciting day. Most of the day was just spent hanging out and enjoying each other. Some worked on finishing the second puzzle while others played games. In between all of that there was some cooking going on for our big Christmas Eve dinner of ham, rolls, sour cream potatoes, jello, stuffing, and pie. It was a fabulous meal. Everyone got on some nicer clothes for our dinner and when Peter came upstairs in his suit we all just laughed. He, of course, did that as a joke but then kept it on during dinner. After stuffing our faces we got on our coats and jumped in the car to go see the neighborhood lights. We went and saw the ridiculous house over in Pine Creek that resembled that of the house from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Lights were on every inch of that house and every piece of land they owned. It was so bright and crazy. Our favorite house, however, was the one that had synced music on the radio with a cool light show in front of their house. We stayed and watched for a couple of songs before heading over to another section next to Pine Creek with an entire coldesac of decorated houses. They had stringed lights between the houses and Santa on his sleigh riding between the houses. It was pretty cool. After we got home we got dressed up in our Christmas pjs and read from the scriptures. It turned out that Greg, Ruby, and Noble totally matched our family's pjs this year. The kids laid out the plate of cookies for Santa and the kids headed to bed while the grownups prepared for the next day.
It was so much fun to have my parents, Greg, Ruby, and Noble with us for the holidays. The kids loved being able to meet Noble for the first time and watch how Madeline and Noble got along so well. Madeline LOVED being able to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa and she really liked Greg. I was pleasantly surprised how fast she let him hold her. Everyone had fun just hanging out around the house while listening to Christmas music, eating yummy food, and doing both puzzles in the dining room. One day it snowed and Ruby was all too eager to go outside and enjoy it since she doesn't get much of that in Texas. Greg brought his awesome drone that he uses for work and went out front to show the kids how it worked. As he was trying to land it where it took off it got stuck on the roof. Oops. Good thing we knew from putting lights on our house how to easily get to the roof through Madeline's room.
I took Greg, Ruby, Noble and my parents to Garden of the Gods today while the kids were in school. We had the best weather for a nice walk around the gardens. Considering the fact that it has been super cold we were lucky to get a good weather day. Greg was with us for the first part but then had to take a call for work so we left him and took the long way around the paved path. This was Ruby's first time to Colorado and one simply can't visit without seeing the amazing red rock formations at Garden of the Gods on a beautiful sunny day! Madeline had a blast running up and down the path throughout the gardens. She loved being free to roam around. The only part she was not particularly fond of was the cave like nook we were trying to get her to stand in front of to take a picture. Ruby tried to squeeze in the narrow slit in the rock and Madeline was only interested in trying to get her to come out. She held out her hand for Ruby to help her out. It was pretty cute.
Mike took the kids skiing at Breckenridge while I stayed home with Madeline. This was their first time skiing at Breck and they all loved it. The weather was not too cold and the sun was shining. Today's ski adventure was all about getting back on the skis and loving every minute of it.
Every year, the Elves come to play on the 1st Saturday of December. It’s a fun day because we have a silly big breakfast. We have pancakes, doughnuts, bacon, fruit, and chocolate milk and get to enjoy this amazing food in our pajamas! It’s a little bitter sweet because it’s Andrew’s last North Pole breakfast…maybe we’ll send him some bacon in the mail to his dorm. We DEFINITELY should send the Elves to make sure he is behaving himself.
Decorating for Christmas is one of the greatest things you can do after Thanksgiving. There are so many reasons to love Christmas, and decorating really brings into focus the joy of the season. The boys did a great job getting the tree ready by removing the old lights that didn’t work anymore. Mike hung the lights, and Sara put up the ribbon. Watching the kids, in their pajamas, get the ornaments out of the box and put them on the tree is a wonderful moment for parents. Even the surliest of teenagers can’t help but smile as the decorations are put up and the Christmas music plays in the background. It’s hard to imagine that this is the last Christmas where Andrew will be a permanent resident of our house. It’s a special time. The kids may not realize it, but we do. Having all of our kids gathered together in one place is nostalgic and wonderful. We hope that there will be many more years of kids gathered around the tree, putting up ornaments in their pajamas.
Mornings should start with a run. So, on our last day in Taiwan, Mike, of all people went for a run around the Chen-Kai Shek Memorial Park (and up the stairs). He left through the Arch of the Liberty Square, ran up the street and found a McDonalds. With 500 NTD in his pocket, he had just enough to get some pancakes, some hash browns, egg Mc-muffins and get 10 NTD change. From there, he ran in the rain back to the apartment by Dogmen Station. Syrup, butter, and smiles for breakfast as everyone continued to cleanup, do last minute packing, and of course make one last run to the 7-11 to stock up on much needed treats that are hard to find in America. Wen-Ho arrived and helped everyone down the elevator to the waiting bus. Of interest, the bus was not our usual Jin-long bus, rather, it was a much nicer coach. Soon, we were all aboard and off into the rain and traffic toward the airport. We checked in our stuff and had cakes, drinks, and french fries with Wen-Ho. He was wearing his military academy hat, drinking in the last few minutes with his grandkids. Then it was time to go through security, dump out our water (again and again) and board our flight back to America.
Finally, a day where we didn’t wake up before 5:00am! We woke up and took our lazy time getting ready. WenHo came to our apartment and we walked over to the station to head out to the National Palace Museum. We walked through the market, then on to SunMerry where we got our obligatory breads filled with goodies. Then we got on the metro where we made our way to Shilin station. We found a fun little souvenir store and the kids got a bunch of fun stuff (Madeline made out with some new Tsumtsums). We then hoped the bus to the museum and made our way up the stairs to the entrance. We stored our stuff in a locker and then we spent the next hour and a half looking at old vases, Jade, and scrolls. Once we had our fill of the museum (which occurred rather quickly), we walked through the gardens and then hopped into two cabs back to the station. We didn’t head back to our apartment right away, rather we stopped at Taipei Main Station and explored the endless underground stores. We also got McDonalds, much to Peter’s delight. After looking through stores, we ran into the Funks and their kids again. We popped back over to Dongmen station and got some mango shaved dream ice. We should have been doing that every day we were in Taipei. It was ridiculously good. Its crazy that it hasn’t become a thing other places in the world, but it is really, really good. After enjoying the mango shaved ice, we went to the umbrella store, the Birkenstock store and then the little LDS store by the temple. After that we headed back to the apartment where we started to pack a little. Pretty quickly, however, we headed out and grabbed an Uber to the Peking Duck Restaurant where we were going to have our Thanksgiving Feast. We got there a little early, so we headed to the Daiso and bought a bunch of Japanese stuff and had a good time going through the silly stuff you can buy at a Daiso (Japanese Dollar Store). Then it was time for Thanksgiving dinner! We headed up to the 2nd floor where the restaurant was located. Sara summed it up best when she noted, “This is a Nightmare.” Truly, it was a nightmare of culinary horrors. The Peking Duck was good, and one of the beef platters, but otherwise, stacks and stacks of sea creatures came boiled, cooked whole, or just staring wide eyed at us. It was all the terrible things about South East Asian cooking rolled into one Thanksgiving pile of sadness and served on a rotating table in a fairly dingy restaurant. Many of our children are now vegetarians. We then headed back to Dongmen where we said goodbye to Lorene and then headed directly back to Gusto Pizza where the British guy quickly asked if we wanted our regular margarita pizza and Nutella calzones. We were only in Taipei for 5 days and had a standing order at the local pizza place! After what we had just been through, it made us feel pretty good. We took the pizzas back to the apartment, ate, packed, and wandered around the streets for one last time. There is something amazing about a city of that size, bustling at night with neon lights, scooters, cars, buses, and endless amounts of people hurrying off in various directions. Add in a little rain and it's very surreal and calming to just soak it all in.
It was another early morning! We got ready and met WenHo at the temple at 8:30 in the morning to do baptisms. The Taiwan temple is very small, but very nice. The people were super friendly and nice. It’s the only temple where you take your shoes off in the lobby. We parked our shoes out front and Abby and Madeline stayed in the first foyer while the rest of the kids went into the baptistry. We met the Temple President who was very gracious and then got changed. We had the whole baptistery to ourselves and the kids got to do a bunch of names (some of them were family file names from a member in Taiwan). Andrew did a good job pronouncing all the Chinese names as he baptized Emma and Peter. Emma barely makes a ripple in the water. It was really nice. They have a really cool painting in the baptistery which is a traditional Chinese painting of a man being baptized in the river. It was really cool. After that, we did confirmations and Mike had a hard time getting through it. It was a little emotional for him being there with his father and with Andrew who is getting ready to leave the house. It was a nice experience. After that, Mike and Sara did a session while Al walked around with the kids. They got more ice cream and of course more bread at SunMerry. They were fairly spoiled with food during this trip. Once Mike and Sara were done, everyone headed over to the church to help prepare Thanksgiving lunch for the missionaries. It was fun to see the food we had brought over being put to good use. There was so much stuffing! One of the missionary sisters got emotional because of how much the smell reminded her of home. The kids had a blast cutting and serving pumpkin pie to 160 missionaries! There were even two from Colorado. The missionaries were super thankful and super happy. It was fun to be a part of their feast and to feel their energy and excitement. Abby even made a friend with one of the sisters. After the feast, we cleaned up all the food and trash and help stack the tables and chairs. It was a great way to be of service to the missionaries and the kids had fun doing it. Andrew noted that it was his favorite part of the trip so far. That was pretty great to hear. Following lunch, we headed back to the apartment for some rest. Later that afternoon we headed out to Ximending (the Shibuya of Taipei) and took in some electric lights and went to an amazing Ramen restaurant. With everyone full, we went shopping and bought some fun socks, a track suit for Peter, and of course the cutest coat for Madeline at Uniqlo. We took in some street performers and enjoyed the buzz of electric lights as only Asia can do. It was a fun night out in a crazy part of town. Then it was back on the metro, back home, and back to bed.
Up early again! Emma and Mike went out for an early morning walk through the markets. Fish, guts, and bits and pieces! They also went to SunMerry and grabbed a bunch of breads for the rest of the group…though how many of them made it back to the apartment is up for debate. We then headed back to the Temple where we met WenHo and Lorene and Mac (our trusty translator) and our JinLong Bus. We headed out of town to Shifen Waterfall. It was a fun little walk through the deep jungle. We played on horses (Tang Dynasty Stone Ones), saw papaya trees, swung on garden swings (Madeline fell off of one into the mud), and ate octopus balls and drank from a coconut that we then dutifully recycled. The waterfall was pretty cool, but the crazy big plants and ferns and tropical scenery really stole the show. We then headed into Shifen old street where there are lots of food vendors and little kitcy stores. We ate lunch and then headed out and set off a giant sky lantern with our hopes and dreams for the years to come. We did a multi colored balloon with red representing health, yellow – wealth, pink – happiness, and blue – promotion / career. We’ll see how the next year shakes out for us, we stood on the train tracks and our balloon made it out of old street and into the distance. On our way out, we saw a guy making cotton candy art, and our luck already worked out with him giving Sara a free cotton candy bouquet. It was pretty cool looking, until we devoured it. From Shifen, we headed to Jiufen, which is over by the ocean. We hiked around an old gold mining facility (the views were amazing and the ice-cream was ridiculous) and then drove by the ocean, which was very ominous and then back into Taipei. We were all pretty pooped from our big day, so we headed out from the Temple back to our apartment. On the way, we stopped at Gusto Pizza which is a little tiny pizza place run by a British guy. It was awesome! He had toys for Madeline, tasty pizza, and the dessert: Nutella Calzone….delicious! Definitely a welcome bit of Western food after a long day out in Taiwan. After that, it was back to the apartment for some sleep.
SHIFEN OLD TOWN STREET
When you wake up early, you might as well make the most of the day. Sara and Mike went for an early morning run down to Da’an park. It was kind of rainy, but the run was nice because in South East Asia, it tends to be sort of warm, which is great. After the run, we ate our cereal and got ready for the day. We met WenHo at Dogmen station where he had metro cards for us. We then headed onto the metro, which is really clean and nice and easy to navigate (well done Taipei!). We headed out to Taipei 101, which was the tallest, but is now the 4th tallest building in the world. Whatever its ranking, it has to be one of the nicest. The main entrance floors are a giant super high class mall full of top of the line stores (and maybe the biggest Apple store ever built). The elevator to get to the top, used to the be the fastest in the world (going to the 89th floor in 39 seconds). It was pretty sweet. The observation deck is huge and the views astounding. You could see the entirety of the city and the surrounding hills. Of course, the best part were the custom made T-shirts that Andrew and Peter had made. You have to see them to believe them.
Following the Taipei 101 tour, we had lunch in the gigantic food court that was chalk full of people. Most everyone had Indian or Chinese food, except for Peter, who had McDonalds. After lunch, we took the Metro to the end of the line (Xiangshan) and walked to Elephant mountain. On the way, we found a really cool park and Madeline had a ball going down the slides over and over again. The hike up the mountain was about 18,000 steps, which was fun for Mike as he carried the pack and the stroller, but Madeline hiked up most of it without flinching. At the top, the views of Taipei 101 were pretty cool and being at sea level made the whole thing pretty easy. Afterwards, we headed back into town and went to an all you can eat Japanese buffet called Shin Yen with WenHo and Lorene. It was pretty good (the fried chicken especially) and fun to get a little flavor of Japan. The kids all got paper hats at the end too. Afterwards, we headed home and fell asleep hard (on those super hard beds).
When you wake up at 3:30 AM, you really have the whole day in front of you. The kids were up pretty early too, so Peter, Abby and Mike wandered off into the city to see what they could find. They found the temple, some weird German stores, a playground with non-slideable concrete slides, and of course some exercise equipment. The videos of the exercise stuff in the park will come back to haunt them later in life. From there, they walked by the temple and then headed back to the apartment. They passed through Dongmen market because the best way to be introduced to Asia is to make sure you walk through the market and see random fish, mystery meat, stomachs, fruits, vegetables, umbrellas, and steamed stuff. Everyone was up by that point, so we went for a walk down the street to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. It's a beautiful open space with some impressive buildings and some cool parks. The kids enjoyed feeding the fish and getting their picture taken endlessly by other visitors who evidently thought that our family was more interesting than a massive memorial to their founding father. After our stroll, we headed back to the apartment and got changed for church. Fortunately, the church was just a couple of blocks away. We went to the American Branch. The church building by the temple is pretty cool. It has a basketball court, a chapel on the 1st and 3rd floors and a variety of other offices. The talks were pretty good and Mike ran into Elder Goodwin, whose son Scott was in his MTC District and served in the Sao Paulo North mission with him. After Sacrament meeting, we headed back to the apartment to change and rest for a second before heading off to Elder and Sister Funk’s apartment where we had lunch with them, their daughter’s family, and WenHo. Madeline fell asleep and the rest of the kids were pretty tired. After that, we headed back home and Mike went to the Carrefor (grocery store) and got supplies for the rest of the week. After that, we all crashed for the night.
On the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, we decided to take our kids out of school a little early…well, we didn’t have them go to school at all. Instead, we packed up their bags, loaded up the minivan and headed off to the Airport. We had a suitcase full of food for Madeline (Peanut Butter and Jelly), and a suitcase full of American stuff for the American Missionaries. Suitcases in tow, we boarded a flight for San Francisco and soon found ourselves delayed and waiting in the Airport due to the fires in California shutting down all but one runway. Eventually, we were allowed to take off and we headed West. As we flew over Northern California, the devastation from the fires was staggering, as was the thick campfire like smoke that filled the air. The visibility at the airport was horrible and it was hard to imagine how they were letting any flights land or take off at all. Once in the airport, we had less than an hour to catch our flight to Taiwan. The stroller was late to get off the plane, so we sent everyone ahead and Mike waited, and waited, and waited for the stroller and then ran to the International Terminal and made it just in time to board the plane. Madeline did well during the flight (with her improvised lay flat bed). The only bad part was the guy behind us who kept his light on the entire flight and kept her from being able to go to sleep easily. Otherwise, the 14 hour direct flight from San Francisco to Taipei was pretty uneventful overall.
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, we dropped a day and went from Friday Afternoon to Saturday night. As night deepened over Taiwan, our plane descended down to the airport and our bedraggled family wound their way into the arrival hall. Fortunately, they allow families to cut to the head of the line and we were quickly whisked ahead of the first class folks and through passport control. We were happy to have all of our bags make the connection in San Francisco and arrive in Taiwan. Soon, we had our bags and we headed out through customs into the arrival hall where Wenho (Grandpa Al) was waiting with his USMA hat, umbrella, and a friendly smile. It was great to see him and the kids ran out and gave him a big hug. We walked outside and Sara’s hair had already started to curl and Madeline’s hair was so curly that it was practically up above her head. The only disappointing thing about our arrival was that no one drank the asparagus juice for only 25 NTD in the vending machine….what a shame. Our Jinlong bus arrived and it looked like it fell out of the 1980s from a Southern Baptist Choir Convention. It was excellent. We loaded up and headed out into the rain and traffic. It took about 45 minutes to get from the airport to our apartment near Dongmen station. We got dropped off next to the 7-11 which was right below our apartment on the 10th floor. WenHo had brought us some bananas, eggs, papaya, bread, Frosted Flakes, and milk and helped us get all our stuff upstairs. We were all pretty tired, but Mike and the boys headed off into the night to get some treats from the convenience stores (seaweed potato chips and grape soda of course). The kids explored their new rooms with all their nooks and crannies and everyone marveled that toilet paper came in a little plastic bag instead of on a roll. From there, we were pretty tired so everyone went to bed on the hardest beds ever made.
Oh how much fun it has been to have so much snow this month. This is in stark difference to last year where we didn't get much snow at all. Emma and Abby always jump at the chance to go out and play in the snow. It was so much fun for Madeline to be able to go out and play with them today with her new gloves. They helped her build a snowman and throw snowballs. Madeline loved hiding behind the snowball fort. I love watching my girls play together.