REUNION (AtoZAprilChallenge)

a-zchallengeAlthough I currently face many frustrations in my work, I love the teaching that I do. I get great joy from helping people express themselves. In my current position, that often means encouraging students to discover ways to express themselves in English, even when they lack the confidence to try. For example, I often hear students say, “Teacher, my English is poor.” I finally realized that I heard it far too often, and many of the students who said it actually had English speaking ability that was quite good. So I finally challenged them to change what they said, AND I made them rehearse it with me before they got away. Now, I have them say, “My English is pretty good, and it’s going to keep getting better because I will keep practicing.” It’s great to see their faces light up when they go through rehearsing that response.
One of the biggest joys of teaching is when a former student goes out of their way to visit me. This was the case last Friday when I had a reunion with Jessica, a bio-technology student I had in a required English class three years ago. She was a junior at that time. She is now completing her Master’s degree doing work in cell biology. She will graduate in June and has just completed the oral interview for continuing for her PhD.
What is especially touching about these photos is that she brought her graduation garb from home because she wanted pictures of me with her. She told me, “I didn’t get any pictures with you when I graduated from Ming Chuan, so I want to have a graduation picture with you now.”
When she posted the above picture on Facebook, she wrote the following:
Last Friday, I visited my favorite teacher, Deb Kraklow.
We haven’t seen for a long time.
We prepared pasta salad for our dinner together.
I am very pleased to be able to see her again because she always gave me encouragement and gave me a chance to speak English.
We chatted about our lives and I explained what I studied in my graduate school totally in English.
I was afraid to speak English before.
But now, although only in simple sentences, I can tell her what my research is.
If I had not met her, I’m still a girl who afraid to speak English.
I really appreciate her.

And I really appreciate Jessica. I couldn’t believe it when she told me during dinner that she wanted to try to explain her research to me in English. Jessica’s research examines the link between type I diabetes and osteoporosis and explores alternative treatments methods that could someday help treat both diseases. As you can imagine, explaining all of that in English is quite a challenge, but we worked together to piece it all together, and it turned out great. She was excited about it, and I encouraged her to think about trying to pursue writing her research in English as well to get even more exposure. I can’t wait to see if she tries. Of course, I’ll be willing to help her if she does.

One more fun fact. Because of her Facebook post, a couple other students have approached me about a reunion. I only taught English to the biotechnology majors here for two years, but it’s a special group to me. In a few days, I may be sharing another reunion experience I had a year and a half ago, with a group of biotechnology students from my first year here. In addition, I have a couple posts planned for next month that tell about my birthday celebrations in Taiwan. Two of them feature biotechnology students. AND Jessica is already working on a plan for my birthday next month.

Even without the birthday plan, I will always have the lovely memories of a week ago when Jessica visited me and shared an evening of reminiscing and research. There are many students who will always be part of my life, and Jessica is definitely one who will always have a special place in my heart.




a-zchallengeI’ve been thinking about the letter Q for a while, and since quilting would seem to be the obvious choice for me, I wanted to do something else. I had a few ideas I was toying with. But then Friday came along and changed everything.

When I wrote this post, it was technically Saturday, but I hadn’t gone to bed yet for Friday. I decided to start this post anyway, since I didn’t want to spend much time at the computer today.. In fact, I decided not to spend much time anywhere near the computer or my apartment or my work. I usually work most of the weekend, but not today. I quit!

I am not going to go into the details, but suffice it to say that yesterday was not one of the better days I’ve had. And while there is a lot to do to make things right and dig out from what has happened, there is something surprising that emerged from all of Friday’s nonsense. I’ve not given myself a break lately, and so this new frustration hit me a bit harder than it might have had I been in better balance. And even if it’s just my lame attempt at explaining why I’m taking a break, so be it. It’s worth an experiment at least. So I’m going to add one more “p” to the list from Friday: PLAY!

So when I got up this morning, I gathered a few quilting patterns, cutting materials, and fabric I’ve been wanting to cut for quilting projects that are currently in limbo. I actually packed them up, along with a picnic lunch, and headed to Jessica’s coffee shop. She let me camp out at one of the tables for the day, where I set up my cutting board and went to work. She had a few projects of her own she was working on between customers. We listened to music as we worked. We talked. We drank coffee. We enjoyed a lunch break half way through. We joyfully admired a large butterfly that found its way into the open front doors of the shop. It spent several minutes with us until it found its way outside again.

No pictures in today’s post, and I’m not going to do any real reporting about today’s progress. But some of it will show up in future posts. But after today, I highly recommend quitting. Sometimes it’s the perfect solution. At least, that’s my story.


Have you ever had a time where you just canned the plans and had a play day? How long ago was it? What did you do?  Is it time for another one?

Part 2: PHOTOS AND PARKS (AtoZAprilChallenge)

a-zchallengeYesterday I wrote about observing opportunities and being more selective about what I take on.

During the time I’ve been in Taiwan, people are always curious about what I’m doing, where I’m going, what I’m seeing, and I’ve just never been really good about photography. A couple of times, I’ve made a real effort to get some photos on some of our trips (and then it takes me a while to actually post the events and load those pictures). Blogging has made it somewhat easier for me to post pictures, but I still am not good about taking them. I started browsing online for some tips and ways to practice, and I never stayed with it very long. Then it dawned on me! I didn’t have to.

Photography is one of the things that I made a conscious decision NOT to pursue. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, but obviously, my desire to do it is not very strong. Besides, my husband studied photography in college, AND he’s willing to take pictures for me, so while it would be great to be able to take photos that I am happy with, I am restricting my photography to rare cases where I just want to attempt a few quick pictures. In general, most of the pictures I use in my blog are taken by Dave. As it is with the park photos below.

The post NEIGHBORHOODS had this picture of the gazebo near our apartment. If you look at the right of this picture you see the tall pine tree, which  is at the edge of a little neighborhood park.


This is what the park looks like if you look directly at it. If we were to follow behind the woman with the stroller, we would move through to the other side of the block, where there is a road with a 24 hour store and a grocery store across the street from the park. One of the great things about have Dave take the photos instead of me is that he noticed that the trees are not in full bloom and that it’s easier to look through the park. Which led him to think about taking a few photos from a higher perspective. Our apartment building faces this same direction, and is located slightly to the right of where this photo was taken.


I love this perspective. The diagonal walkway on the left half of this picture is where the lady with the stroller was (to give you an idea of direction).


I think this last one is my favorite. I like the “laciness” of the tree branches and all the people with the various colors of clothing. Yeah, I’m happy to let Dave to the photography. I enjoy looking!


Stay tuned for more glimpses into our neighborhood. We have a few day trips to catch up on as well.

Part 1: PUPPY AND PUZZLES (AtoZAprilChallenge)

a-zchallengeDuring this challenge, I’ve noticed that some letters are easier to deal with than others, and then some just offer so many possibilities, it’s hard to know where to begin. Today, I chose a group of four words and played around with their juxtaposition. But then I realized that things were getting too carried away and that I would just simply things into two posts–Part 1 and Part 2 (more “p” words). So here is Part 1.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo start with, I am speaking of a specific puppy–a dog actually. Puppy is a rescue dog, a Chihuahua that has had a pretty rough life. In the picture at the left, I am holding her at Vanilla Garden, the restaurant where she was staying after her rescue. She normally was outside on the porch during the day, and then carried upstairs to the floor above the restaurant where she slept at night.

When I first started visiting her there, I often would visit with a student who wanted to practice speaking English. One day, one of the students told me the dog’s name was xiāngcháng, which means sausage. I started interacting more and more with Sausage over the next few weeks and months. In the meantime, my husband had moved to Taiwan. (I had been here two years without him. Another story.)

And winter was approaching. Now it doesn’t get down to freezing in Taiwan, but it can be pretty cold outside on a porch during the day, or up in the second floor of a building with no central heat, so I started crocheting a little blanket for Sausage. You can see Sausage trying it out when she first got her afghan.


As you can see in the picture above, one of her problems is that she has a broken leg that never healed properly.

One day in late November or early December of 2011, another student was approached by the owner of the restaurant while we were there for dinner. It turns out she wanted to know if I would be interested in adopting Sausage. I reluctantly declined, for several reasons.

  1. I wasn’t sure how long we were going to stay in Taiwan.
  2. We had a landlord who probably wouldn’t be too excited about us having a dog.
  3. I’m a cat person at heart.

But I still thought about it when we visited. And then I found out that the reason we had been approached is that Sausage didn’t come and sit on anyone else’s lap. And David started to suggest that maybe we should consider it, that the dog seemed to be good for me. And so I contacted the landlord, who wasn’t that hard to convince when we assured him that this was a small dog, who was several years old (at least 6 at the time) and that we would make sure that there were no messes.

So a funny part of the story is that when we actually went to the restaurant to see about taking Sausage for a couple days to see how she adjusted, they told the student who was with me that her name was xiāngcǎo, which means vanilla. VANILLA?! I had been calling her Sausage for weeks. So here’s a brief little bit of information about Chinese. Sometimes words are very close in sound, so that two students who both know the language here the dog’s name and one hears this:

xiāngcháng = sausage

and the other hears this:

xiāngcǎo = vanilla

Even if you can’t read Chinese, it’s clear that the first syllables in both cases are the same, and the second syllables are different but if someone is speaking quickly, you might get the two confused. Well, obviously, since it happened. In a way, it didn’t matter, since we weren’t calling her the name she had been hearing in Chinese. Now she’s bilingual.  haha

So I just started calling her Puppy.  She only eats dog food, even if she is sitting on my lap at dinner time. She might look at my food, sniff it a bit, but she will not attempt to eat it. She doesn’t play much either. We bought her a few little toys when we first got her, almost 2 1/2 years ago. But she’s never played with them. She will come and sit with me for my daily Sudoku puzzle. She’s quite good at helping with them. Even the challenging ones.

The owners of Vanilla Garden told us when we adopted her that when we go back to the US, they would take her back, but now that she’s been with us for over two years, there’s no way that’s going to happen. She’s part of our family, and Dave has looked into what we will need to do to bring her back with us. I mean, Look at that sweet face! How could we leave her behind?









And last summer, she started walking around a little bit more. And even though she won’t play with toys, she has decided that sometimes playing with her dog food isn’t half bad. She will put a piece or two on the floor or in her bed and then go on this massive treasure hunt. It is so funny to watch.


The best part of all: she ACTS like a cat. WIN!



a-zchallengeI’ve lived in a number of neighborhoods in my life, and I’ve loved almost all of them. But today, I want to share what my neighborhood in Taiwan is like. This is the second apartment I’ve had since I’ve lived here. The first one less than a mile from where I am now. The first one was fine for when I was here by myself (the first two years of my time here). But a year and a half in, I had my knee replacement surgery and was anticipating my husband coming to join me six months later. The apartment wasn’t all that conducive to my recovery (as my bed was in a loft with a narrow stairway), so the time was ripe for a change. Since that time, I’ve been in the current apartment. In another post, I’ll share pictures of the apartment itself. But for today, I’m going to show you a few pictures of the neighborhood.

To begin, once you leave our complex, he head to the left and come to a roadway with a lovely gazebo.



As we come out of our apartment complex, there is a park to the right (maybe you’ll see that on Friday — P is for Park. Around the other side of the gazebo is the walkway to Jessica’s coffee shop.


And here is Jessica’s coffee shop. (J is for Joyful Jessica.)


If you turn to the left at the gazebo instead of heading to Jessica’s or the park, you will find the beginning of the business district leading to Guishan Ho Jie (Back Street) which makes this street look like a sleepy village.


In a future post, I’ll lead you down this street to Ho Jie’s business district, then on to the morning traditional market.

If you have any specific questions about my neighborhood, feel free to post them in the comment section below. I’ll see what I can do to answer them and maybe even provide some photos.

Miscellaneous M’s: AtoZAprilChallenge

a-zchallengeAs I was considering all the possibilities for M, there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me. So here is a miscellaneous list of the m’s that passed through, some more often than others. Some are from my happy place, some are just basic ‘m’ words that showed up, and one is a major annoyance. Let’s start with that. Our first ‘m’ is:

MOTORCYCLES: I love Taiwan, but I don’t love all the scooters and motorcycles that try to fly through the streets and (sometimes) walkways. They park and block sidewalks. They sometimes ride on the wrong side of the street if they’re just going a short distance, so that pedestrians are still surprised by them, even if one is trying to be cautious. But most of all, I hate the noise. There are a couple motorcycles owned by people in our apartment complex that are so loud, it’s enough to drive me insane. OK, I suppose that’s not a major threat. But you get the idea.


photo credit: Wikipedia

Dabajian Mountain (photo credit: Wikipedia)

MOUNTAINS: Taiwan’s mountains are beautiful. They’re kind of like layers of mountains, sometimes four abreast.  When I lived in Seattle, Washington, I could see the Cascade Mountains from the kitchen window. While the area where I was born and raised in Michigan is very, very flat, but it is so beautiful in many other ways, particularly with the Great Lakes and the varied coast line.

MY MOTHER: I almost did a whole post with this as the title, but that’s not really the kind of thing she would appreciate. And today, our ‘m’ day in the AtoZAprilChallenge, is her birthday. So I’m going to be nice and just say, “Happy Birthday, Mom!”

MASKS: I just like them, and it came to mind when I was thinking about ‘m’ words, but not strongly enough to build an entire post around them. I especially like the idea of making masks–the craft aspect of it. Not the hiding behind kind.


Image courtesy of fotographic1980 /

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 /

MUSIC: I like listening to music, but I also like making music. The piano is my instrument of choice. Even though it’s been a while since I’ve played, I did have a chance to do a little practicing last summer. (My brother and his family are providing a good home to my piano at the moment.)

MUSHROOMS: OK. I probably shouldn’t advertise this, but I really love button mushrooms. Especially if they’re fresh and sliced. I will load them up on my salad. YUM!

MORNINGS: While I have never loved mornings, I’m finding I’ve gotten a bit more optimistic about them in the last few months. Getting up in the morning gives me a running start to my day. I feel like if I get up and get going on things, that I can always take a break later if I need or want one. But it’s nice to get something done first rather than getting a late start and feeling like the day totally got away from me.

MISCELLANEOUS MONDAYS: Early this year, my daughter, Kate, started a new feature on her blog, Sincerely Kate. You can check out that feature as well as many of her other compulsive ideas brought to life.

MUSCLE: I have no idea. It’s an ‘m’ word. It qualifies. Unless it’s something subconscious about the muscle I’m starting to build from my regular trips to the gym. I’ll take that. 

MAGAZINES: I’ve read all kinds of magazines over the years, but I have to admit the only ones that really grab me anymore are craft magazines–most often quilting. Maybe that will shift once I’m back in the U.S. again, but for now, bring on the quilting possibilities.

There you have it. Ten miscellaneous ‘M’ words for your aMusement.

What miscellaneous ‘m’ words come to your mind if you brainstorm for a minute?

Location! Location! Location! AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeI could have titled this post: I LOVE THIS PLACE! But it only had one L and I didn’t want to be subtle about which letter was being featured today. And this wasn’t the post I originally had planned for today. But Luscious Lavender will have to wait until another day. I changed my plan because I noticed an interesting phenomenon in the last few days. Several people I know have been on vacation and school breaks (not where I am), but I’ve heard of the concept.  😉

What I’ve seen in Facebook comments and blog posts is that people would love to go back to the place where they vacationed. They fell in love, they want to move, they see some greener pastures. After I came to the third reference of this type, I realized I wanted to write about it.

Of course, I’m all for finding a place where you belong and can be happy. I have a friend who went on a vacation about 12 years ago, fell in love with the area, and put a plan into motion to relocate to that area. And while no place is perfect 100% of the time, she has discovered that the place is perfect for her, and she wouldn’t go anywhere else.

But in general, I wonder if the places we visit on vacation are appealing simply because they have what we don’t have at home. A sense of space, of options, a change in the routine. It intrigues me because it seems to take us away from the present moment to dreaming about some future location we will never really be able to achieve. Or perhaps never should achieve. For some, it could be running from one unresolved situation to another. I’ve moved enough in my life to know that no matter how beautiful the spot, it can seem dreary at times. On the other hand, places that most people would consider less than ideal can hold the perfect home and situation for a person to flourish.

Wishing to be someplace other than where we are can sap our energy and reserve. I know because now that I’ve made the decision to move back home to the US in the summer of 2015, I sometimes long for it. And I have to stop and remind myself that I don’t want to wish away the present moment. I have another 15-16 months in Taiwan, and I want to make the most of them. Taiwan is lovely, and there is much to see and do. And while I look forward to my return to the US, this is my home now.

I love my apartment. I love the people. I love teaching. So while there are things that frustrate me, I’m focusing on the things I love. And when I get to the US, I don’t want to be reaching back to the past, wishing I had done more here. Or wondering where I’m going to go next. I want to live in the moment, and that includes appreciating the place that I call home at that moment.

What about you? Are you happy where you are? Do you have plans to move? Have you found a place that truly feels like home?


Kaohsiung, Taiwan: AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeDuring the semester break (mid-January to mid-February), Dave and I had a chance to travel  with one of my students to Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan. I shared some of our adventures a couple months ago when we went even further south, culminating with Coffee in Paradise. You can look here for additional information about that part of the trip.

Now we go back in time by a day to the things we did before our trip to paradise. We traveled by train approximately 4 hours to get to Kaohsiung, where we met one of my students–Green Tea. She and her father took us to a lovely Hong Kong style barbeque restaurant, where we were treated to an amazing array of entrees. Servers pushed carts with various kinds of dishes past the tables of guests, and the items selected were marked on a tally sheet. I was glad I didn’t have to make any decisions. Our host made selections and had us try many things. It was a great experience.

Afterwards, we returned to the car and headed to the water front. This is the Love River. We were told that if we followed it, we would end up very close to their house. But when I jokingly suggested taking that route, I was told it might take a while. The river winds approximately 7.5 miles through the city. Take a look at the great view from the Pier 2 area.


We walked along a short distance and enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather. The weather in southern Taiwan is quite nice this time of year.









Then we headed over to the Pier-2 Art District to see the Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival. On the way to the actual pier where the container exhibit was set up, we got to enjoy quite an array of colorful and whimsical art installations.













The actual container exhibit was fascinating. It was held from mid-December – to mid-February. The weather was beautiful the day we were there. Since I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, here is a short video from Idea Books that shows some of the containers from the exhibit. The video doesn’t give you a good look at things, but you can begin to get an idea of the scope of it.

The information below explains the Container Arts Festival and is taken from the curator’s statement on the Kaohsuing City government website.


Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival is a biennial event that has been held for six times since 2001. Various artists around the world participating in the past container arts festivals presented diverse but complex conceptions of shipping containers developed throughout human civilization. Using containers as vehicles, these artworks were shown to the audience. Some of them might let the audience put themselves inside the containers to further experience the artists’ concepts through senses other than sight, yet these containers were presented as work of art instead of functional spaces for human daily activities.

Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival 2013 attempts to re-examine the characteristics of containers and possible trends of human society, suggesting another development direction for container arts—“Inhabitable” container spaces.
“The Inhabitables” project, practicing the concept of “lifestyle design‧container architecture,” invites several domestic and international architects and spatial designers to design inhabitable container spaces and to further produce prototypes of their design. These containers exhibited at Pier-2 Art District during the container arts festival link up the interfaces of creative design and living space.

The pictures below show amazing living spaces. Pictures were not allowed inside the container, but if you can handle the stairways to the various levels, you can have access to a variety of different spaces for all different purposes. It was a delight to imagine the purposes for each of the rooms. The space was light and surprisingly open. I did not feel crowded as I toured it, even though there were several other people in it at the same time. There was occasional congestion at the stairways, but that’s only because more people were touring than there would be actually moving around if it were actually someone’s living space.

There were several containers that had been converted into different spaces. In the multi-story living structure, photos were not allowed inside, but the space was well organized and very bright. Lots of sun. Here are some of the pictures from the outside. If you look carefully, you will see me though the window.  🙂










In the picture on the right you see me in the doorway. Directly above that doorway is a window. You can see me in that window in the next photo. And next to that, I’ll be in window next to that on my way up to a lovely sleeping area.











There was another container that was made into a museum with many types of miniature robots and other human like creatures all made of metal. This unit, was based on a horizontal layout rather than vertical, and featured a porch and an entry area with tables for brochures and decorative items. A very inviting space.

We didn’t tour everything, as our time was somewhat limited, and there were lines at one of the other exhibits. One of the special features of the exhibit was a type of walkway which was a series of containers end to end that led you around the perimeter of the container exhibit. But much of the actual “sides” were removed, so it was a series of archways. At night, the archways are all lit up. It was fun to walk along.

We continued around the rest of the pier to look at the other installations and to head to the rendezvous spot, where Green Tea’s father was to pick us up. On the way we saw this.

Transformers anyone?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is another part of the permanent installation at the Pier 2 Art Area. As you can see, the scale is pretty large. In the picture on the left, I am posing in front of its leg! The picture on the right taken from further back shows how this Transformer dwarfs the building behind it.



Afterwards, we went back to their home where her father prepared tea. It is one of his hobbies, and he takes it very seriously. It was a lovely afternoon. We rested for a bit before he took Dave, me, and Green Tea to the train station where we would head to Pingtung and meet up with Olivia and her family. The following day would be the coffee in paradise day.

We certainly need to make sure we return to southern Taiwan again when we have more time to spend there. So much to see and do. So many people to spend time with. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this brief exploration of the Pier 2 area of Kaohsuing.



Joyful Jessica: AtoZ April Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few months ago, a new coffee shop opened a couple blocks from our apartment. It was intriguing to watch as it came into being. It wasn’t easy to tell at first what it was, but the back counter had some suspicious looking things that led me to believe that it was a coffee shop. The shop is located on the route that David and I take to the bus in the morning. When we walked by, we noticed lovely potted flowers in front of tables full of a variety of packaged food items, like crackers, cookies, snacks, and the like. Eventually, it was clear even to me that coffee was certainly a part of this blossoming business. So one day I stopped in. My ability to sniff out new coffee haunts had not failed me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI know very little spoken Chinese, and my ability to recognize written Chinese is so limited as to be almost non-existent. Still, Jessica (the proprietor) knew enough English that I could go in and order coffee. And it wasn’t long before I was a regular, taking my netbook and a few work projects to her shop two or three times a week. She and her niece, Polly, were very friendly, and I felt very welcome in the shop. Since Jessica had left school several years ago, she was unable to keep up with her spoken English as much as she would have liked, as most of her friends from school had moved away, some of them abroad. Still, Jessica wanted to practice her spoken English, and I enjoyed giving her that opportunity while learning more about our common passion–coffee.

Over the weeks since her shop has been open, she and I have become friends. She can practice English, and I can have her delicious latte. Until recently, I was always having hot latte, but as the weather has warmed up in the last couple of weeks, I had the pleasure of having her iced lattes as well. So refreshing!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut one day, a really great conversation took place. I mentioned the writing group to Jessica–the one with the college students that I mentioned a couple days ago for the letter G. The group had met in a couple of other coffee shops in the area, but we hadn’t really found a home that was comfortable. Jessica was thrilled to have our group come on Tuesday evenings. Even more exciting, she wanted to join the group herself and work on her English writing. It was a match made in heaven.

The first thing Jessica wrote for our writing group was a short piece about her coffee shop. She wanted to post it on her Facebook page. I include it below to show you how her shop has changed since the flowers and packaged food that she started with.

My name is Jessica. I love coffee, so three years ago I got a shop to sell coffee and brunch. I bought a coffee machine, because I hope that good coffee would make my guests happy in the morning. My dream came true; my business got better and better, but I started having trouble with my machine. The side that made the steam stopped working, and the parts needed to be changed. I was so sad because I didn’t know how to solve it. At the same time, the lease on my store expired, and I needed to find a new store to rent. 

Without a coffee machine, I’m using paper drip to make coffee. Although paper drip is a good way to make coffee, it can’t make crema. Obviously I need a small coffee machine. That’s why I’m learning about coffee machines now. When I get a new coffee machine, the coffee will have a deeper flavor, and I will get perfect crema. 

I’ve also decided to sell different merchandise. Instead of brunch, I will just offer coffee and clothes. I invite you to visit me at my new shop to have a cup of coffee or tea. You can also see a variety of fashionable clothes that can suit your life.

I had never heard about crema before, and Jessica did her best to explained it to me in English. It was great because it was clear to me that our regular conversations were making her more confident about expressing herself in English. If you are interested in learning more about crema, I found this interesting page.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband, David, took the pictures above that show the coffee shop in its early days. So tonight while I was writing part of this post at the coffee shop, he came along with me to get some updated pictures showing the coffee shop with its new focus: a selection of clothing and accessories.

I love the cute handbags that look like foxes and owls. The other thing I like is that there are a couple partial mannequins that “model” a couple outfits. I’m impressed with how often Jessica changes their “look,” and the lovely bright colored scarfs and necklaces she uses to accessorize them. Coffee and clothing isn’t a common combination, but Jessica makes it work, and I enjoy all the color and texture that the clothing brings to her coffee shop.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJessica told me that her friends often ask her why she’s so happy. She tells them it’s because “I don’t have time to be sad.” She looks on the bright side of life. But that doesn’t stop her from being a compassionate and generous person. I have been so touched by the way she has opened her shop every Tuesday evening to the writing group, including free tea to everyone. Those who order coffee get a discount. Jessica works hard to improve her writing. She also continues to expand her vocabulary. Sometimes, when she and I are having a conversation, she will use her phone to look up a new word in English. One of her customers has also joined the writing group. It’s become a great place where students and community come together around the desire to improve their written and spoken English, and I am honored to be part of it.


10246575_237262193144357_4338164945583312658_nThis morning, when I finished my class, I checked Facebook, and saw the picture you see at the right. I sent her a message right away! “Did you make that?” She responded, “Yes, I have a machine.” Tonight when I was there, she told me that she was so happy to have this for her breakfast this morning.

She is also delighted to have the opportunity to improve her English. She never dreamed she would have an American friend with whom she could practice. And I have to say, I’m pretty happy to have a Taiwanese friend who shares my passions of writing and coffee.

Thanks, Jessica! I’m so happy to count you among my friends!

Instructional Igloos: AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeI teach a lot of writing classes to first and second year English majors, but I also teach one English language class to a group of 4th year Architecture students. Even students who aren’t English majors have to take four years of English (or test out of them). In these courses, we technically cover all four skills–reading, listening, speaking, and writing, but it is a challenge because of our class sizes, which range from 40 (if we get lucky to 70). As you might imagine, it’s quite a challenge. Most of our general English classes are taught to groups of students with similar majors and are very general in content. That is to say, that we have a series of in-house textbooks that are used with all students, regardless of their majors (again, this does exclude English majors). For those of you who are aware of my “textbook project,” the purpose of that project is to update these general materials, but that’s a topic for another post. After all, I’ve just finished a very long first paragraph and haven’t even mentioned igloos until now.

One of the departments at our University is architecture, and it is a five-year program. So when these students are in their fourth year, they aren’t following the typical senior schedule (which doubles up some course hours for a few weeks to allow for an early departure a few weeks before actual graduation). In addition, various majors have varying reputations for their interest in learning English, and let’s just say that architecture students have had a reputation for not being terribly interested in English. This is where I come in. Two years ago, I was approached about incorporating some architectural materials into the textbook project (which is no problem, since I plan to incorporate a bit of all departments into the upper division books). But more than that, they wanted to pilot an English course that was more focused on the needs (read interests) of their students. This may come as a major shock to those of you who know me, but I took it on, starting with that second semester two years ago. For the two academic years since that time, I continue to have these fourth year students, and I am already scheduled to have them next year.

From the beginning, I met with the Chair and other members of the Department of Architecture faculty to map out a more specialized course for these students. One of the main concerns was that students were unable to talk about their architectural designs in English when they went to conventions and conferences. So after some basic experiences with speaking in front of the group in English, their presentations over the course of the rest of the semester will be to do just that. They will present their presentations as if they are hoping to win a contract for such a building. For example, three of my students are going to present their ideas for nature centers, so those three students will all present their designs on the same day, in a competitive format to try to convince me, the pseudo investor, that their design is worth pursuing. We have six students who have designs for art museums. I also have students who are renovating space to use for businesses. There are lots of options, and I’m trying to set this up to be interesting for everyone and help them get over their fear of speaking in English. Of course, they also have to learn enough English of the architectural variety to be able to talk confidently about their designs.

As a result, I am always on the look-out for things that might be of particular interest to them. We’ve looked at interesting restaurant designs. We’ve done a project where the students work in groups to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about an architectural structure of their choice. I will also show them snippets of videos that explain particular architectural methods or periods. One such snippet had to do with igloos. I chose igloos because the way they are built is quite interesting, but more importantly, many of my students have never seen snow. So igloos are especially fascinating to them. Although, I try different things with different groups, the igloo has been one constant through the three groups I’ve had so far. In fact, I am planning to add some supplemental materials for next year to help focus on building reading skills and build on the interest that these frozen structures bring out in the students.

Here is one of the videos that give a sense of what’s involved in building an igloo. I think it’s safe to say that even in the US, most people will have to wait until next winter to try this at home.