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!

Cacophony (and Coffee): AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallenge Not only was this not my first idea for the letter C, but this isn’t even my first blog post for it. I had another one well under way, but when I came home from the coffee shop this evening (more about that in a moment), I knew I had to write a different post.

There are so many things I love about Taiwan. I have been including some of them in my blog posts, and there are more to come. During my first year here, students would interview me about what (as a foreigner) I liked about Taiwan, usually followed eventually by what I didn’t like. In my first year, there wasn’t much I didn’t like. If I recall correctly, my biggest negative culture shock was the traffic, the seemingly endless array of motorcycles that made the simple act of crossing the street a bit dicey at times. But eventually, you develop nerves of steel in terms of getting around. Still, not a semester goes by that I don’t have a student or two coming to class with obvious injuries, usually after an absence. But I digress.

Something I noticed in my first year here is that politicians have unique ways of getting people’s attention here. OK, not just politicians, but I became most aware of this because it was election year. While there are billboards and outdoor advertising here, as in the US, nothing tops it like the “advertising trucks.” Adorned with pictures of smiling faces and encouraging gestures and equipped with a sound system from hell, these trucks are driven  V E R Y   S L O W L Y  down the street, declaring the wonderful characteristics of whatever person has rented said truck. When it’s not election season, all kinds of other goods and services can be advertised in this less-than charming method. Luckily, there is apparently some kind of ordinance that prevents them from starting before 9 am or continuing past 9 or 10 at night. Of wait, I still digress. It might be because I can’t concentrate. I’ll explain.

The apartment we live in is the second I’ve had since being in Taiwan. I’ll write more about them later, but this is the one I got after my knee surgery when I knew my husband would be joining me in my third year here. I love this apartment. It has a wonderful kitchen (western style kitchens aren’t that common here), a Japanese room that doubles as a second bedroom, and is light and airy. I love my apartment. Except for one thing. We live across from the Gui Shan Township Office. Between our apartment building (we’re on the 4th floor) and the front door of the office building is what used to be a parking lot. The “used to be” part will have to wait for another day. But what is relevant today is that the space is scheduled by political groups, religious organizations, civic groups, and others for various festivities.

We’ve learned to brace ourselves when we hear the set-up activities begin. Tents of various configurations are usually part of it, as well as some kind of stage or a series of tables if it’s an event with food and other booths. One thing all of these festivities have in common is LOUD microphones and jacked up sound systems. Sometimes, when the setup is going on, the incessant testing of the sound system is enough to drive me mad before the actual event begins.

As I type this entry, I am struggling to keep my concentration because there is a holiday tomorrow, and some group is having an event in the former parking lot, right below our fourth floor windows. The picture below is taken from our balcony. You can see the township offices across the way and all the temporary structures for the current cacophony we are enduring.



And that’s where the coffee comes in. Late this afternoon, I had taken some of my work to one of the two local coffee shops where I go for a change of venue. Today’s trip was planned for two hours. But just over an hour in, Dave came through the door. This is rather unusual, but I’m always happy to see him. I asked what was up, and he said, “Bad news! Not our families or anything. But the event this weekend is big and loud, and it’s already gearing up.” He went on to tell me that rumor has it that the event is scheduled to go on all day tomorrow, and possibly Saturday as well. I was grateful for the heads up, because it meant I would stay a little long at the coffee shop. Something about being just far enough around the corner that most of the noise is minimized.

That’s why when I came home from the coffee shop to all the craziness, I knew I had to change my post. How great is this definition I found on dictionary,com? Cacophony: harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails; or a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds. Oh yeah, either way, that’s my life right now.

I can tell you now, that I will be spending a large part of tomorrow at the coffee shop as well. Between the off-key singing (loudly), the noisemakers, the speeches with occasionally yelling, and the drums that start out as a low rumble and crescendo into a total frenzy, I can’t wait until it stops for the night.

But I have to admit, the sound I most look forward to hearing is the hollow echo of the metal tubing that holds all those tents together. There is no sound quite so lovely as when they take down the tents. Unless it’s the sound of my coffee cup on the saucer between sips. I think you can figure out where I’ll be tomorrow.

Here’s an interesting song based in a coffee shop.  Enjoy!





(Banana) Bread: The AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeThe original title of this post was beginnings, but that only lasted for about an hour before its true identity was revealed in my mind.

This post truly is about banana bread, but it’s also about bread more generally–homemade bread, bread made by my husband, Dave. Dave has been using bread machines for many years to turn out amazing loaves of bread. He is known by family and friends (and even some convention goers) late 80’s and early 90’s.

It started back several years ago, when he attended SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) conventions. With the wonderful feasts prepared at those things, Dave really enjoyed the homemade bread. He figured he could make it himself. He made it periodically, the old-fashioned way. At some point between his time in the army and his time in college, he bought his parents a bread machine. Life took him away from his native Iowa to Missouri, where he lived for several years. On one of his trips home, he found that his parents never used the bread machine, and so he reclaimed it and starting experimenting with making his own bread. He was a big hit with his roommates.

His interest in conventions shifted to Klingon (think Star-Trek) conventions. Over a few years time, he attended somewhere between 6-10 of these two- to four-day conventions. When he packed, he also included two things: a coffee maker and–did you guess?–his bread machine. At each of the conventions he attended, he would make a couple loaves of bread each day for his friends. He also made coffee to go along with it. Now, I have to tell you something interesting about the coffee machine. Dave doesn’t drink coffee. He simply got the machine and all the supplies so that he could make it for his friends. As you might imagine, he built up a bit of a reputation when he went to conventions.

When Dave and I met and later married, homemade bread made him a big hit with me as well. But when we moved to Taiwan, we no longer had a bread machine. We did have a western style oven in our kitchen. (One of the reasons I fell in love with this apartment–its large, highly functional kitchen. During our first year in Taiwan, Dave made dough a few times, but we didn’t have the right pans for backing bread, but we had some awesome pizzas. But it was difficult on his wrists. So when he returned to the US after his first year here, he went to the thrift stores and came back with a bread machine. Ingredients are a little different here, but he has shopped the day markets, the night markets, the various grocery stores, the DIY specialty stores, and over time has located exactly what he needs to turn out amazing loaves of whole wheat bread with flax seed, sesame seed, oatmeal, and other awesome stuff. It’s not only a staple for us at home, but it is a regular feature of any meal where we have guests. He also takes it into work to a couple of our friends.

This is where the banana part of the bread comes in. He doesn’t make it in a bread machine, but it has become one of his specialties. While he puts some amazing ingredients in it, like oatmeal. I can do without the extra seeds and the raisins, but if he makes anything too whacky, he will make a plain(er) batch for me. As you might imagine, he has once again built up quite a following–especially in my office, where people are very fond of the portions he brings in. And if you really want to see people go nuts, give them some of his chocolate banana bread, made with cocoa powder and (if you’re lucky) chocolate chips. Awesome!

I think you can see why today’s post had to be about bread. I thought about saving the coffee part of his convention story for tomorrow for the letter C, but I’ll just tell you an additional little coffee fact today. I told you that he made coffee at the conventions for his friends who liked it. What you don’t know is that he makes coffee for me every day now, and has the entire time we’ve been together. He’s got it down to a science. But unlike the convention days where he brought his coffee and the machine and went to it, there have been many periods of time (particularly when we were in the US) when he would actually grind the beans each day. I’m pretty lucky! His last trip to the US yielded a bean grinder, so maybe next time we make a coffee purchase we will get some coffee Beans–another B word for today.

And now for a fun: The Banana Song (about half way through the video below)! Enjoy!


Coffee in Paradise: Reprise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs amazing as that view was yesterday, the Magic Café also has an awesome interior. As if you would ever spend time inside. Well, maybe. If we really did go back sometime, and spend the day (and evening), going inside briefly to enjoy a Round Two latte wouldn’t be bad. Or if the weather didn’t fully cooperate, spending part of the day inside wouldn’t be bad. Though I have to tell you, I’d walk in the rain on that lovely beach!.

To be honest, I just had a brief glimpse of the inside, but I was so intrigued, I asked Dave to get a few pictures of it (since he was enjoying his photography session). He was taking pictures of the building anyway, so I didn’t feel too guilty asking him to take some pictures inside. Though I did have to clarify. I think no one really expected there to be seating inside.

It’s not a big place, but they’ve managed to have lots of interesting nooks and crannies, with an eclectic but charming décor. I find it interesting that with the water and coconut trees that they put so much effort into the interior, but they did, and it looks great!


I have to make a point to pace myself next time and actually check out the inside for myself.


As if there aren’t enough interesting things to look at, there are also some lovely seating areas. And next time, we could pose with our beverages at these seating areas.


Or maybe you would prefer this arrangement. We could pose here as well. You do notice, don’t you, that there is not a single person sitting inside? But I’m sure there are times when the indoor seating is used. But probably not on these beautiful sunny days.


OK, this one I could see spending a little time in this seating area, since one could glace sideways and see the ocean off in the distance. But eventually, who could resist the sand and the waves?


We definitely need to plan a full day for this place next time to get the full coffee relaxation experience.




The Little Quilt That Could

First 5 blocks

(Photo credit: Purple Panda Quilts)

Over the summer, I made it my intention to get back into quilting. I could start right with my daughter’s quilt,  a project for which I’ve been collecting fabric for several years. But I had decided that the best way to tackle that project was to practice the quilt-as-you-go process which allows you to put the batting and the quilting stitches in while you’re putting the block together. That way, the project is worked in sections, and then the pre-quilted sections are all joined together in the final step. So before I started my daughter’s quilt, I wanted to find a small project, an interesting block or two that I could practice the technique on and then move on to the larger project.

When I came to this conclusion, I was still in the US, with my return to Taiwan only a few weeks away. I took aadvantage of that time to look at patterns, browse a few quilting books, and visit a couple of quilt shops in anticipation of my return to quilting. I was looking for just the right small project for my practice work. I didn’t know what it would be, but I was sure I’d know it when I saw it.

August_09_CoffeeMug_largeWell, it showed up in a rather routine place. I have a subscription to a quilt of the block day email. Usually three or four times a month, something comes that I actually save to my design software. Other times, I barely give them a second glance. For example, if the block is some version of a flower, a boat, a lighthouse, or a basket, you can be pretty sure that I’ll just delete the email.) But on August 9th, a great block featuring a coffee cup was the Block of the Day. As many people know, coffee is one of the things I love almost as much as quilting. I was excited.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an interesting turn of events, someone expressed an interest in the coffee cup project, and it has grown into a bigger project. The awesome part is that not only will I get some practice with this process, but one of my quilts will eventually hang on display in a coffee shop in Taiwan. I’ll tell you more about that another time, but today, I want to show you how this coffee mug block has turned into a plan for a quilt with 3 rows of 5 blocks. When it’s finished, it will look something like this.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe coffee mugs themselves will all be made of different fabrics. But the rest of the quilt will be made with the fabrics below. You should note that the light green squares in the picture above will be replaced by the lavender fabric (although it looks a little blue in the picture).





OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are interested in seeing the fabrics that are being planned for the eight coffee mugs that will be in this wall hanging, here they are!

Good news! We have a four-day weekend coming up, and I am going to use one of those days for quilting. I plan to do a lot of cutting and organizing, and with any luck, start piecing things together. I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready, and all the things on my to-do list will wait, while I have a day of quilting. I will post pictures as this project takes shape.


592 days to 60!

Cocoons and Coffee Houses

My last post about containers as a place for processes to occur got me thinking about incubation again, and about eggs and other containers that occur in nature. After the egg hatches, its new container is a nest. Other natural containers include dens, marsupia,* and cocoons. Especially cocoons. They are about more than birth and growth; cocoons are about transformation.

In my cocoons, I don’t do such a literal transformation that my caterpillar self can’t even be recognized in the butterfly that emerges from her cocoon, but there are many types of transformation. In those quiet moments wrapped in the warmth and protection of my cocoon (made from a quilt, afghan, or fluffy blanket), many things happen as a result of just being present in the moment: the blending of ideas, the birth of a vision, the solution to a puzzle, a life-changing insight.

Lovely Beans, a coffee shop just around the corner from our apartment

One of the best discoveries I ever made was that coffee houses are ready-made cocoons. Although there are times when I meet friends for coffee and conversation, there is something transformational about heading to a coffee shop alone, armed with nothing more than a book or two, a notebook and some pens. Even a computer is optional. Cocoons and computers don’t necessarily go together. For me, it is the very act of getting away from the computer that lends itself so well to incubating ideas, transforming lethargy, and gaining a new perspective. The computer, along with all the other things on my to-do list, will be there when I come back.

What do I take to my coffee house cocoon? A very limited task list. I might take one or two projects that have been eluding me. Something that needs a creative breakthrough. A section of a chapter that isn’t quite coming together. A few ideas that need to be brainstormed. A journal. A stack of index cards. Pens in a few different colors.

I’ve never been in a coffee house with bad ambiance or with bad coffee, for that matter. The baristas are almost always good for a short, friendly conversation, but they also know when to let you slip away into your private space. They don’t bother people who are in their cocoons, quietly transforming.

And now the coffee shop becomes, for me, a container of sorts. A cocoon. It holds minimal distractions, but endless potential for discovery. Anyone for a latte?

*marsupium: the pouch where female marsupials (like kangaroos) carry their young. (pl. marsupia)