Monday, July 09, 2007

Reflecting on the Summer

Ni Hao to my sweet friends and family around the world. It's late August (ignore the weird July date stamp on this post) and we are back in Taipei, excited about the year ahead. What a gift to have some lazy (and not-so-lazy) summer days with family and friends in the States! And what a warm, happy feeling we had to see familiar faces in Taiwan upon our return.

If you didn't catch the update on my June trip with the kids to the States, check it out at this link. Our trip back to Taipei, this time with McLeod accompanying, went like this:

We board airplane. Kids sleep and eat.

We change airplanes. Kids sleep and eat and sleep some more. McLeod also sleeps.

I become nevous during jet stream turbulance and don't sleep.

Still-nervous and now-tired, I knock over glass of milk and sit on a nest of soggy magazines for last hour of the flight into Taipei. We land.

We pick the slowest immigrations line ever. Man in line behind us erupts into some kind of waiting-induced fit and begins loudly cursing in English. Caroline begins singing made-up songs at the top of her lungs.

We get through the line, head to baggage to add our 5 checked bags to our 5 carry-ons.

Long ride home but at least everything looks crazily familiar. We drop off our bags and head straight for Chili's to scarf down food.

We return to our lovely apartment, and I finally sleep. (I have no idea what the other family members did at that point.) Really extremely uneventful flight for which I am truly grateful.

Alabama Adventure
Now comes the part where I feel like a kid starting back to school with that evergreen assignment, "What I did on my summer vacation."

June started with the journey for me and the children to Sweet Home Alabama. Here we first checked in at my parents' home on five-acres of wooded bliss, complete with trails easy enough for little explorers, lots of feathered, scaly and furry creatures, a new tire-swing hung by Barret and Doc (my dad), and close proximity to Target. Did I mention there was a Target? I was there within 24 hours of arrival, just roaming the aisles and drinking a Frappacino. Heavenly.

My parents were the jet-lag calvary while we all re-adjusted to the time zone. I will never forget waking at 1a.m. to find Doc and Barret playing Go Fish in the kitchen. Once we'd gotten over the worst of the jet lag and taken care of our yearly check-ups, we headed to Lake Martin for a little boating, swimming and fishing. Due to draught, the lake was the lowest I'd ever seen it, and a tornado had blown through just before we got there, so things were a little torn up. I love the lake at every season, in every circumstance, though. With the low water level and churned up surroundings, we had a chance to explore wide beaches and hunt for "treasures of the deep," our term for the flotsam and jetsam that washes up, or in some cases, comes floating by. We have a tie this year for best finds: a He-Man style play sword that warbled out an other-worldly tune at the press of a button and a Lake-Martin-chilled can of Budweiser that Doc snagged as it floated by.

While we were lounging at the lake and tromping through the woods, McLeod finished up in Taipei and then headed State-side for business travel and a golf weekend with his dad. He also got to make some customer visits to New England this summer and met up with our recently re-patriated friends John and Rhonda Adams. [Adams Clan: We miss you so much. We keep expecting to see your smiling faces around TienMu, and it's just not the same. We will strive diligently to be as kind to the new crop of expats coming in as you were to us!]

In July, the kids and I reunited with McLeod at his parents' home for a great visit with his family. One of the highlights was a trip with Grandmommy and Aunt Rachel to Birmingham's McWane Center for hands-on science fun. With cousins Sydney and Zachary, the kids got to race minature boats, meet Bob the Builder, shake a robot's hand, see a fiery display about combustion, watch me ride a counter-balance bicycle suspended a few stories above the ground, and laugh at McLeod's transformation into the frozen Han Solo from Star Wars lore. I was so pleased that our home state now boasts such a classy, fun science center that still managed to capture a bit of what it meant to be in Alabama--afterall, where else would you have a massive model of our unofficial state mascot, the large-mouth bass, for the perfect photo op?

Relaxing in the Florida Keys
After tearful goodbyes to our Alabama friends and family, we made a brief stop in Houston to check on our house, visit our church, and let McLeod stop in at the office before we were once again traveling. This time we joined friends for a vacation in the Florida Keys. We stayed at the relaxing Hawk's Cay Resort on Duck Key. This was a great family-oriented place with fun water areas for the kids to play with their parents, a kids club with a parents' night out program, and nicely furnished condo's with washer and dryer (very important to us!). It wasn't a beach vacation per se, since the Keys don't really have the crashing waves and stretches of sand you would find on the Atlantic or Pacific coast, but it was nice mix of relaxation and activity with chances to golf, explore the reefs, boat, fish, and eat seafood at the local restaurants. On one of our days there, we drove to Key West to shop, visit the aquarium, tour the pirate museum, and stop off for food and drinks at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and the Hogsbreath biker bar. Another day the ladies indulged in some pampering at the resort's Indies Spa while the guys took all the kids to feed massive tarpon schooling at a near-by dock. Check out some video of these armor-plated monsters snacking on bait fish:

Since it was spiny lobster mini-season, McLeod also got to go on a lobstering dive in hopes of bringing home something for the cook pot. His catches were too small to keep but he had a blast luring them out from under the reef while continuing to enjoy his new-found passion for SCUBA diving. While McLeod was diving, I got to take Barret snorkling on a coral reef where the mast and a cannon from an old shipwreck were still visible. I was immensely proud of my brave five-year-old. He has come so far from the kid who only a year ago wouldn't go into water past his chest. To be out there in the ocean with him was amazing. The swell was a little intimidating--this was not like snorkeling in the pool or the lagoon--so we made two short swims and then rested on the boat with Captain Kelly. Barret even suffered a painful jelly-fish encounter but was brave enough to get back in the water and try again. Of course, having some fierce jelly-tentacle stripes to show off almost made the encounter worth it! McLeod rented a boat later in the week, and we were able to make a second, easier snorkle trip on our own to a sandbar where the kids could touch bottom and hunt for sand dollars. Caroline had a blast bobbing up and down in her swim vest, and Barret and his friends got to play with some large hermit crabs sporting crusty barnacles on their shells.

My personal highlight from the Keys was a chance to swim with several dolphins who live in their own lagoon at Hawk's Cay. This is something I've been wanting to do since I was about 16! The resort offers a special Dolphin Discovery program that lets visitors accompany the trainers into the water to feed and play with Nemo, Sebastian, April and their buddies. I was amazed at how big these guys are up close. Nemo, the largest and one of the oldest, is over 500 pounds and has three or four chubby "chins" on his neck that he likes to wiggle up and down to make the trainers laugh (or maybe it's just to make them give him more fish). Of course I have to share a picture from the amazing encounter! Special thanks to Kristy, Paul, Kayleigh and Colin for a fantastic trip. It was wonderful.

Home to Houston One Last Time
We ended the summer back in Houston to visit friends and even managed to squeeze in some short weekend trips to see additional family. I shared lots of hugs with my gorgeous Colorado neices, Sarah (2) and Rachel (1 month), and the equally gorgeous cousin Madelynn (3) in Austin, TX. While in Houston, we were able to catch an Astros game, which they won, and share some delicious meals (love the Tex Mex!!) with friends. Thanks to everyone for some great memories to hold us over for another year.
I'm already at work on the next update as school starts up and we get back into the rhythm of life in Taipei, so see you online again soon!


robbie said...

Yeah Cassia you adventure queen!

robbie said...

By the way, Robbie is me, Nicky :) xx