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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

http://www.ideabooks.nl/9789866204739-2013-kaohsiung-international-container-arts-festival-inhabitables

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

http://container.khcc.gov.tw/English/home01.aspx?ID=1

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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.  🙂

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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.

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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?

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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.

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http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

 

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A Sweet Container

One of the hardest things above living overseas is missing my family and friends.

I feel fortunate that I can visit the US every summer and that Skype lets me see and talk to people almost as if I’m in the same room with them. While we all take this separation in stride, there are times when I really wish it were possible to physically be with the people I love more often than just during two months in the summer. On the bright side, at least my husband is with me now. The first two years that I was in Taiwan, he was still in the US. It’s great to be together again.

One of the most awesome things about living overseas is making friends who become a family in your new home.

As with any situation, living abroad has its share of ups and downs. Sometimes, I love what I’m doing here, and other times I feel frustrated and worn out. But there is a constant throughout my four plus years year–and that is the group of students who remind me in hundreds of ways why I came here in the first place. I will be sharing some student stories in future blog posts, but today I wanted to share something that happened earlier in the week.

Last Saturday was Teachers’ Day (the birthday of Confucius). On Monday morning, I walked into my cubicle in our research room and found a gift bag on my desk. Inside it was this box. Along with a note:

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Dear Deborah,

This is a gift from Macaca, your student who graduated from the department of biotechnology two years ago. She asked me to bring you this sweet gift and wish you a good Teachers’ Day.

Best wishes!

Inside are some of the most beautiful chocolates I have ever seen in my life. This picture doesn’t do them justice! They are almost too pretty to eat!  I said ALMOST! So far, I’m still admiring them, but that won’t last forever. Look at these gorgeous beauties!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most amazing part of this story is that Macaca, the student who sent these, was my student the very first year I was a teacher here. I haven’t been her teacher for three years, and yet she still remembers me on Teachers’ Day. I was so touched by her kind gesture.

Many other students have moved me over the years, and I plan to share some of their stories. My point is that the connections that I continue to build here sustain me in those moments where I long to be in my home country. But these students share their country with me and help me make it my home while I am with them.

591 days to 60!

Containers of Surprise (and Delight)

Invitations: Potential “Surprise” Holders

invitation

invitation (Photo credit: Theis Kofoed Hjorth)

This blog post was not planned. The photos and words are the result of a day of surprises. They arrived in an invitation, in a new day, in a museum, and in the art it held. The surprises actually began yesterday. My husband and I were already out on an outing with our friend, Steve–an outing of “Western” proportions, involving Costco, Starbucks, and IKEA. Luckily, Steve and Dave were going to hang out at Steve’s apartment between Costco and IKEA, which gave me time to get some work done at Starbucks. That was my compromise for taking an afternoon away, to get a couple hours of work done sometime during the day, and the guys didn’t mind.

While I was sipping my iced latte and working on a literature review, my cell phone rang. I was surprised to see it was my regular taxi driver, Mac, calling. Surprised because classes don’t start until next week, and I didn’t really expect to hear from him until then. But as he’s done in the past, he and his wife wanted to take Dave and me on an outing the next morning. The connection was awful and I couldn’t make out everything Mac was saying, but I did get that they would pick us up at 9:00 and something about the afternoon. If he gave me specifics about where we were going, I didn’t make them out.

A New Day: More Surprises

English: Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum ...

Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up thinking I probably should have declined the invitation and stayed home to get more work done, but the one thing my moratorium allows for is social events. The reason is I tend to hole up too often and not get out and do fun things. So I got ready, but wasn’t really looking forward to it. But my reluctance changed quickly to excitement when Mac greeted us with the plan for the morning. We got into his SUV (not the taxi) and headed to Yingge Ceramics Museum in New Taipei City. Dave did a lot of ceramics in college and I love anything in arts and crafts. In fact, this was a place on my “wish” list, and we were on our way! I was glad that I had not talked myself out of going.

Museums: Another Kind of “Surprise” Container

Three floors of exhibits and more out in the back of the main building. We did not get through everything in the 2 1/2 hours we spent there. Here’s a view of the open space from the third floor.

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Beyond the amazing exhibits, there were loads of other surprises in this museum. For starters, admission is free! Not just on special days or at the holiday time, but always. Even the audio tour players and head sets were free. You left your ID card with them; you could punch in numbers at various exhibits to hear lots of details. They had the audio sets available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English, and one especially for children. There may have been others, but you get the idea.

Some of the exhibits were so delicate, I had to remind myself that they were ceramic. For example, this piece, Unread Books, looked so real that I could almost picture the pages turning.

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Another piece I really enjoyed. The English title is something like, Look Up and See the Blue Sky.

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And the kitty lover in me couldn’t resist the whimsical rendering of cats in the afternoon sun.

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Surprises in Art

A huge kimono type garment hung in the museum. It was exquisite. It was clearly, decorative only. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale from this picture, but let’s just say that it was too large for any one to wear. The real surprise of this piece though are the thousands of ceramic butterflies sewn (or clipped) to the cloth. (No clear indication of how they are attached.)

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Prepare to be amazed!

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The sheer volume of these butterflies and the size of this piece of art are just breathtaking. The museum makes great use of lighting to highlight many of these pieces.

Another surprise was a piece with an English title, Sad Child with Short Wings. I’m not going to try to figure it out. But it was cool looking. Stands about 15 inches high. (In this photo, it appears a little bigger than life.)  hehe

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My Personal Art Surprise

This piece had an English name of Dilemma. As I looked at it, I was baffled. People kneeling in a circle facing one another, holding their dismembered heads in their hands. Two of them had empty hands and one head was on the ground. I thought the dilemma pertained to some sick game of “Musical Heads” in which a head is taken away before they start the music back up, and that the dilemma was how to decide who leaves the game, or who no longer has a head. Like I say, I was baffled. You take a look! (The lighting for this piece makes it hard to get a good picture, but I think you get the idea.)

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I turned to my husband and told him my insane “theory,” and he asked me if I had listened to the audio for it. I didn’t realize that one had an audio, so I was excited. He told me the number of that entry, #94. I don’t think I’ll ever forget. When you enter 9-4-Enter, you hear the story of this ceramic piece. Here’s the English version.

With no more strength to move forward, those people melt down. Each looked around and found that the others were in distress as well. They had no one to help them. When looking forward, they only saw a pitch black road that led to uncertainty. When looking backward, they found the road they just took had disappeared. So where to go and what to be? “That’s too painful. Could I not think about that?” they cried out! And they pulled off their heads.

WOW! And I thought MY interpretation was a little odd. I think desperation of that sort would go beyond “dilemma” to something more, well, desperate. I thought about the times I get frustrated and don’t know what to do next, but pulling my head off isn’t usually in the list of options. The words of the people, “That’s too painful. Could I not think about that?” was done with such a whiny tone, too. Once I heard this interpretation, I knew that I had to include it in tonight’s post. So let me know what you think about it in the comments below.

So that was our unplanned trip to the ceramics museum. Our hosts only had the morning for the outing, but Dave and I could have spent the day. We didn’t even get through all the exhibits and demonstrations. We are already looking forward to a trip back when we can spend the whole day. Dave already found out the museum is a ten-minute walk from the train station. I’m sure I’ll have more things to share. Until then, look up and enjoy the blue sky!  :

Listmaking: A Path to the Clearing

3186629203_bfcf404f50_mRemember this? It’s a photo I used in last Tuesday’s post, when I wrote about my decision to take responsibility for my over-crowded schedule. I would use my four-week semester break and figure out a way to tackle my to-do list. I chose clearing as my winter keyword–I was beginning to gain a sense of calm as I mapped out a plan for these four weeks.

I even declared a 30-day moratorium on saying yes to any new responsibilities in an effort to get a handle on my schedule. I am ready to embrace a more intentional mode of living, but I am finally getting to know myself as I really am. If there is space in my calendar–or even the illusion of space on my calendar, I’ll get sucked in by every interesting idea that comes along. So the moratorium, along with my winter keyword of clearing is providing just the right focus for my process. I envision three steps that will lead me to the clearing.

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that I need to complete.
  2. Use the available containers of time to assign tasks appropriately.
  3. Follow the schedule.

Making the List

The Master List

The Master List

I won’t lie to you. Making a list that includes all the projects and tasks I have committed myself to is a rather immense task all on its own. Luckily, I had a head start. Over the last few weeks, I’d been working on breaking down big tasks and writing them in my calendar to do on a particular day, even if not at a particular time of that day. So to make the master list, I just gathered up all the calendar pages, along with my notebooks where I’d periodically make running lists to help clear my head of all the stuff swimming around. When I got done, I had the Master List shown here..

It still seemed overwhelming, and it’s not even complete. Many of the projects on that page haven’t been broken down into manageable steps yet. So there was still lots of work to do, but at least I felt as if the enormity of the project was “contained” on that sheet of paper. I could use it to move to the next step, Or so I thought.

Assigning Time Slots

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My approach to time is to arrange tasks and activities into blocks of time (containers). The main point of this approach is to avoid stuffing the container too full. Unfortunately, I seem to have this idea that as long as there is even a tiny pocket of space on the paper, something else can fit there. Somehow, my brain hasn’t mastered the concept that open space on the paper is not the same as available time in the day. The amount of space on the page cannot accurately represent the amount of time in the day. Unless I actually arrange the space on the page in pre-measured time increments. Which leads me to a related problem.

A related problem–as you can see, is that while I pack a mean suitcase, my packing of time slots is not as efficient. I don’t think about time in a linear way. I mean, I get that there are just so many hours in a day. And I really do get that each task takes a certain amount of time, which often can be estimated with some degree of accuracy.

Discoveries on the Path

At this point, in the process, I had two realizations.

First, I need to figure out a better way to “package” time, so that I don’t have so much free-floating time on my planning sheets. I need smaller containers with which to plan. (This concept relates to the fact that I’m better with small suitcases than large ones–the illusion that the larger space is significantly larger in my mind than it is in the physical world.

Second, it is abundantly clear that I have to be realistic about what can be accomplished in this four-week break. I didn’t get to this point overnight, and I’m certainly not going to dig out of it on some kind of magical time schedule. I need to prioritize the projects and tasks to determine where to focus my time and energy. I also need to remember that this IS supposed to be a break and to allow some time for some R&R. I will focus on during the break, and which will have to be scheduled in at a later time. And of course, those scheduled later will be handled at a slower pace, because the semester will be back in full swing.

Following the Schedule

This is where things really fell apart. Actually, this step was destined for disaster from the get go. The tasks that hadn’t been broken down tended to stay on the list undone. Then they got moved to another list, where they still remained undone. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting done, but I was spending too much time moving things from one list to another, time that could be used more productively. For one, tasks needed to be more clearly delineated. For another, I had fallen prey to the mistaken belief that if I worked hard on this plan thing, it would work. I had conveniently forgotten that many things are beyond my control.

Last week, some major challenges threatened to upset my (mostly) well-designed plan. Not one glitch, not two, but several of them came at me in rapid succession. While the clearing keyword makes sense, I found that it was too delicately balanced on the mountain of tasks. I had taken a few deep breaths and began to believe that i had a plan, but it didn’t take much time with the reality of those glitches to throw me into a state of near inertia. Projects that I thought I had handled suddenly became more complex, with problems buried in each step. Something had to give.

Adjusting the Plan

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

Lovely Beans, a llocal coffee shop

On Thursday, I was still struggling to find some momentum. I needed a change of scenery to regroup. I needed to make some adjustments to the plan. The local coffee shop seemed to be the perfect solution. I grabbed a secret weapon that has proved useful in the past–index cards!

The time at Lovely Beans didn’t solve all my problems, but it allowed me to see things from a different perspective. I am now experimenting with a way of using the index cards to help me prioritize the tasks and build a more realistic path to that clearing. More details will follow.

In the meantime, we are headed to a wedding this week. It’s not THAT far away, but we decided to include an overnight as part of it and have a little R&R. Next week, I’ll post the dates of my upcoming do-it-myself quilting retreat.

How Big is Your Suitcase?

Packing for a Trip

Brown & Red Duffel Bag

Brown & Red Duffel Bag (Photo credit: rebecca)

I do my fair share of traveling. Not as much as others, I’m sure, but over time, I’ve gotten lighter and lighter about the way I pack. I have special things I like to bring, like things to read, and journals to write in, but when it comes to clothing, I pack easy wash-and-wear items that mix and match. I can fit enough of these items in a duffle bag to last 5-7 days. Doing laundry once during a week-long trip is not a big deal to me. If it’s a longer trip, I just do laundry more often. Personal care items are kept to a minimum. I make sure hostess gifts and souvenirs on the return trip are lightweight and sturdy. In recent years, even the “project” items has become almost as easy as packing my netbook and an electronic reader. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make life simpler when so much of what I’m working on and reading can be carried with those two items.

Sometimes, when I have packed and unpacked for trips of 7-14 days to Philadelphia or Albuquerque, I felt like I was re-enacting the scene from Mary Poppins where Julie Andrews was pulling out all kinds of impossible things from her carpet bag. But this method of traveling served me well, and I was doing it long before the airlines started charging for checked luggage.

96 Leather Passport Airline Ticket Holder

(Photo credit: ExecGifts)

It’s only been in the last eight years that I started travelling internationally. Four years ago, when I came to Taiwan, I could bring two checked bags and a carry-on as part of the ticket. This was especially important when I first moved here. With two suitcases, I could bring enough things to get me started in my new home. When I travel to the US to visit in the summer, I sometimes packed my smaller carry-on in the larger one, and then had the second one to bring things back from the US, like my quilting fabric that was stored there.

Last summer things changed, and  I had a ticket that only allowed for one checked piece of luggage. Going from Taiwan to the US wasn’t too difficult, since I was already accustomed to going back with one bag, but it wasn’t as easy on the return trip to Taiwan when I wanted to bring a few things that I bought in the US. In the end, I paid for the second suitcase because there were specific things we had planned for me to bring back. But this year, I will plan my trip accordingly.

Making Connections

My duffle bag served me well for many years, but eventually it just got too tired to make the treks through those airports. But roller bags are great, and I love mine with its brown, pink, and white stripes. I didn’t think ahead, so I don’t have a picture to post of it, but it may show up some time. My roller bag is truly a carry-on size, so in some planes, it actually fits under the seat. But it holds a lot, and I almost can get that Mary Poppins feeling when I use it. Plus, she didn’t have wheels on hers, although she did have that great umbrella that made going through security a non-issue.

As I travel, I’ve noticed that some people seem to think the size restrictions for carry-on luggage don’t apply to them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has boarded a plane to find that the overhead bins are inefficiently utilized because someone’s roller bag is too large to fit front-to-back in the bin. But then, I have traveled with groups and seen people whose suitcases overflow with things that take extra attention and maintenance. When I travel, I don’t want to have to worry about stuff. I like the freedom of having less stuff to worry about. That’s why I was particularly fascinated by my daughter-in-law’s blog post about the preparations she and my son were making for their trip to Europe last September. She has gorgeous photos of the trip, but I was also impressed with the preparations she made for the trip. Talk about traveling light!

Speaking of Connections

Yup, it's February - How you doin'?

(Photo credit: Esther17)

You may wonder why I’m writing about travel and suitcases. I think about scheduling time the same way I think about packing a suitcase. And while I might say things about people who can’t seem to pack light, I’m totally guilty of overpacking my calendar.I want to somehow take what I know about traveling and bring it to my daily life. I’m sure some of the people who frustrate me with the over-sized bags are probably great with managing their time and packing their calendars effectively.

That’s actually why I’m writing about suitcases tonight. I was working on a post about my new work on scheduling as I focus on my keyword of clearing (see previous post). I discovered that my system was flawed in that it didn’t give me breathing room for a few major surprises that came along Tuesday night. I’m working through those now, with a planning system that uses index cards in a new way (at least for me). A post explaining this system is forthcoming–just not tonight. Stay tuned! I’m hopeful that the new system will be better suited for my journey to the clearing.

Keywords: Power Containers

(ReDiscovering Keywords)

I haven’t always thought of keywords as powerful, but they now play a key role in making my life less stressful and more infused with meaning. I have dabbled with keywords over the years, as my friend, Joycelyn, has developed and used keyword lists in countless ways. As she points out, single words can “evoke a concept or a mood or an attitude or a way of being , . . [that] can send you off on a journey . . .” As someone who knows how the written word can  inspire, motivate, heal, and challenge, I had failed to recognize how much power can reside in a single word. But there was no denying the power it held for for Joycelyn, or the impact it was having on her life.

A few months ago, she challenged me to select a seasonal keyword for fall. She had chosen one, as well as a song to go with it. I had to admit, the idea came at a perfect moment. A thematic focus was something I certainly needed. I was feeling really scattered and overwhelmed. And her explanation of using the keyword for a season at a time made sense to me. Choosing a focus for a year was a little too long, but changing every month might be too often, but a season seemed just right. I felt like Goldilocks and that I had just found the perfect bowl of porridge.

My Fall Keyword

I hemmed and hawed over my selection, looking for the right keyword. One that captured my motivation, my inspiration for the season. I was already well aware of the consequences of my over-commitment, and I needed something to help me focus; something to help ground me when I started to feel overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of ever catching up. I eventually settled on clamoring. For me, it evoked an image of lots of things all vying for my attention. For one reason or another, one (or several) would emerge as the top contenders at any given time, until something else was pushed into consciousness, sometimes by internal urgency, but more often something clamoring from outside. The point is that even the things from outside could be traced back to my unbridled assumption of tasks, ideas, and projects.

(photo credit: Gustave Miller)

(photo credit: Gustave Miller)

Interestingly, I had a really hard time coming up with a song, whose lyrics fit my theme. Realistically, I had to acknowledge, looking for the “perfect” song for my theme of clamoring seemed to be pointless considering all the things on my already overly-full to-do list. I moved to classical music and settled relatively quickly on Ravel’s Bolero. The dissonance throughout the relentless rhythm that builds and builds throughout the piece seemed to fit the way I felt about all the clamoring. But I also thought that maybe having a visual focal point was as helpful to me as the aural one. After looking around, I found this painting, Clamor, by Gustave Miller (see website). I love how it all the parts of it try to demand equal attention. I was ready.

The power contained in that keyword changed my life throughout the fall. I became more and more conscious of how my life was slipping away because of all the things clamoring for my attention. I hardly had a moment to think. The power of that word led me to my conscious decision to have a moratorium on new responsibilities and to focus on making space in my life for what was really important. In fact, I needed space to discover what I actually think is important. My schedule has dictated what I do, and I need to find time to listen to my heart instead of my calendar. My calendar needs to serve me, not the other way around.

My Winter Keyword

A Clear Path

A Clear Path (Photo credit: Michael Loke)

As fall leads to winter, my keyword clamor led me to a new keyword for winter. Clearing. I’m a little late in choosing this one, but it’s perfect in terms of the school calendar. We just finished our 18 week semester. I have four weeks before classes start again. I need to see how much of these excess responsibilities I can move through before classes begin. I will also build in restorative breaks, reflection time, and other gifts of time to help bring a sense of space and well-being to my hectic life. I will make friends with the calendar and with myself.

The picture on the left will become my visual cue for this season. I especially like its title, A Clear Path. As I explore the keyword clearing over the next several weeks, I like the image of creating a path to the new life that I will envision during this time. For music, I’m going to use Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I will primarily use Winter, but since I want to reconnect with my sense of the seasons, the entire album will be a good way to reconnect with the seasons, as I use my semester break for clearing.

Seasonal Containers

Childhood in Michigan

I loved the four seasons, and the way they provided a way of containerizing time. Each season had its own schedule and events. Easter ushered in spring time and led to anticipation of my birthday and the end of the school year. We could start spending more time riding bikes and playing croquet in the yard. Summer brought camping trips, swimming, badminton games, and bike rides. We spent more time outside than in, and the days just flowed one to another with time spent with friends in the neighborhood.

Four Seasons - Fenner Nature Center

Four Seasons – Fenner Nature Center (Photo credit: Aunt Owwee)

In the fall, the new school year was almost exciting, especially when it was accompanied by the slow-motion fireworks of the reds, golds, and yellows of the leaves as they changed color and drifted to the ground. The peak of autumn color is breathtaking, and the smell of autumn is amazing. The plum tree in our backyard would give up the rest of its fruit, and Halloween was just around the corner. The season concluded with Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, before winter took up residence.

While Winter is my least favorite season, there was always something magical about the first snowfall. I also liked Christmas music and going shopping with my sister to buy little gifts for our parents and siblings. And who could argue with Christmas vacation! The tough part of winter showed up right after the first of the year. Going back to school wasn’t nearly as interesting as it had been in September. The days were cold, and sunshine didn’t stay around very long. The evenings were dark. Snow’s novelty had worn off; the only good that came of it now was the chance of a snow day. Luckily, most winters, that wish would be granted at least once.

Seasons of Adulthood

As I started my own family, the seasons continued in much the same way, the ebb and flow of activity meshing with the way I remembered things from childhood. Even though I worked in the summer instead of spending my days outdoors, I still enjoyed the daylight that extended far into the evening. Even though I had a job that often required me to work on holidays like Easter and Christmas, we found ways to modify our family celebrations to honor the contents of each season.

As the children started leaving the nest, the academic calendar still guided my experience of the season, first as I completed my B.A. as my daughter finished high school, and then during my time at graduate school. The seasons and the academic year coincided–the dreary winter days coming at the very time when focus and purpose seemed to be at their lowest. Autumn and spring were once again the friendliest seasons.

My first Christmas in Taiwan

My first Christmas in Taiwan

Two things changed when I came to Taiwan, but they were only external changes. First, the academic year is different. A case in point: here it is January 11, and this week’s tasks include grading final exams and posting grades on the computer system. In other words, classes and finals are over, and winter break has begun. I know this sounds weird to my colleagues in the States. A couple of the differences: Our semesters are 18 weeks long. We don’t have a break at Thanksgiving or even Christmas Day–as evidenced by the picture on the left. We do get New Year’s Day off, but we made up the extra Monday that came with it by teaching on Monday of exam week.

The second thing is the difference in the physical characteristics of the seasons. My students talk about Taiwan’s four seasons, but they don’t have snow. Their winter is cold (but not as cold as many parts of the US), often with days and days of rain. Spring is beautiful, sunny and pleasant. Summer is hot, hot, and hot with very high humidity. Luckily, I visit my family each summer back in the States. It takes until mid-October, though, for the temperatures to be reasonable. Classroom temperatures during September can be rather unpleasant. But once mid-October comes, it’s hard to argue with the great weather. And there are days of sweater weather even in December.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about seasonal containers. Vacations, holidays, the natural ebb and flow of the seasons, and what that means to my schedule. And unfortunately, I have to confess that the seasons and other seasonal breaks don’t make much of a difference in my life. My busyness has taken away my sense of the seasons as containers for specific types of activities. The days have become a list of tasks that spill over into the next day, and the next day, and the next week, the next month, the next season, the next year. Unfortunately, I got to the point where I saw no end in sight.

While others are planning activities and even trips for the CNY (Chinese New Year) before the next 18-week semester begins, I am trying to figure out how to catch up on the multitude of tasks and responsibilities that I have added to my schedule, often without thinking things through. It’s second nature for me to take on every project that comes to me. Hence the moratorium of December 28 was so essential for me if I am going to reclaim any sense of balance in my life.

In the days ahead, I’m going to be creating containers of time and space to begin clearing my schedule and opening my life to the cyclical nature of the seasons. Calendars, to-do lists, index cards, grids with tasks arranged by time, by category, by priority are the tools I am exploring as I try to see my way clear to a more considered life. Stay tuned as I find a new way to create space for myself and begin to appreciate the seasons again.

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Exploring Containers (Compliments of My Grandson)

Meet Mr. Logan. He will be two later this month.

logan 23 months

Even as an infant, he was interested in exploring non-conventional containers. Who cares about cribs and car seats and bassinets when you have Daddy’s firefighter helmet?

fireman logan

At 5 months old, Logan discovered that a discarded box could be a makeshift car . . . . . .

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. . . . .  or a music lounge.

music lounge

By the time he was 13 months old, Mr. Logan was still finding more than one purpose for containers. Why just keep your toys in one, when you could also use it for a reading and music center?

logan multitasking

At 22 months, he finds that containers are good for exploring different possibilities. Perhaps a new vantage point. “If it’s good enough for the blocks, maybe I’ll check it out, too,” Logan says.

containerized logan

At Christmas time, Mr. Logan discovered that gifts can double as containers. This wagon doesn’t have to just hold toys.  It can be a nice resting place.

Logan in Wagon

It’s nice that Logan is showing an interest in containers. Another place where he can bond with Grandmother. And of course, let’s not forget how happy he was to explore his John Deer quilt that I gave him when he was 17 months. You can’t tell, but even his quilt has a container in it. He’s standing right in front on the barn block I included.

I love this little guy!

logan's quilt

A big shout out to my Kate and Gabe (daughter and son-in-law) for providing such a great home for Logan. Check out Kate’s penpalling blog at SincerelyKaterz.

family

Getting a Jump on 2013

Resolution - better time management

(Photo credit: vpickering)

New Year’s Day conjures the tradition of resolutions and starting over. Changing our lives and becoming better people. Grandiose ideas of how we can break habits, institute a shiny list of things we will accomplish, and generally make the world a better place for all. Well, I’m going to do something different this year. Something that challenges my most troublesome trait while giving myself a gift of time in the coming year.

As my regular followers know, I post on Tuesdays and Fridays, which meant posting on two holidays. On Christmas Day, I posted (A Gift of Time), and I will also be posting on New Year’s Day. The plan was to post my New Year’s Resolutions on January 1, but I have decided to do that today instead and offer another surprise for New Year’s Day. Besides, if my post about resolutions happens today, it will be one of the few times this year that I’ve actually finished something EARLY!

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve accomplished a lot this year, much of it on schedule. In fact, I’ve accomplished more than I thought was possible. Largely, it’s because of my juggling skills. I’m a master of several tricks that allow me to appear that I have things together, even when I’m wondering how I’m really going to pull it all off. Usually, I do, but not without a lot of unnecessary stress. And for all I’ve accomplished in the past year, there were others that didn’t get done. Some of them were things that were more important to me than the ones that did get completed, but I didn’t always look before I jumped. The reality is that I have way too much going on and that most of my days are at the mercy of my schedules and deadlines–of my own choosing in many cases. I have such a strong sense of responsibility that I get done what has to be done, but I drive myself crazy in the process. So I have to consider why I end up in the same situation over and over again. And resolve to change it.

But when it comes to frustrations associated with the making and breaking of New Year’s resolutions, apparently I’m not alone. According to Psychology Today (see link below) British psychologist Richard Wiseman found that 88% of all resolutions end in failure. We all know the rules: make them doable, make them measurable, take small steps, and keep an element of positive motivation in them.

I hadn’t really thought too much about that last one, but it seems pretty true for many of my own resolutions as well as for the resolutions I’ve heard and read about. Why is it that most of my resolutions have been filled with SHOULD’s instead of WANT’s? This isn’t actually the time or the place (YET) to explore what I have trouble figuring out what it is I want, but that is one of my problems, maybe one that explains why the should’s win out for me most of the time. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this year will be different. First I have to avoid the typical resolution traps.

So that brings me to my alternatives for resolutions for the new year. I can:

1. Do the usual, and end up as part of that 88% statistic. (Obviously, this is the easiest habit to fall into. Just say no.)

2. Make things more measurable, and build in a better system of accountability. (Damn! it looks like that one involves multiple resolutions to implement make a list of resolutions about how I will manage time better.)

3. Skip the resolutions all together this year. (Tempting, but not effective in really changing things.)

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I may not yet be sure about what I want to do with the gift of time I want to give myself, but I do know I need to do less this year. But that is not a solid enough resolution to make a difference. I’ve known for many years that I don’t know how to say no. I even got hired for a job many years ago based on giving my inability to say no as a “weakness.” And I have resolved from time to time to change my activity-collecting ways, but without much success. If I do nothing but make another vague and impossible resolution for January 1, 2013, the results will almost certainly be the same. So, my fourth option will be:

4. Do something dramatically different. (This seems to be the path to a different outcome, and I certainly want a different outcome.)

What about giving myself 24 hours to consider a request on my time? I could just tell the requester that I need to sleep on it, and I’ll get back to them. Maybe if I took the time to STOP AND THINK, I might not simply jump on every opportunity that sounds remotely interesting. The problem is that without knowing what I ultimately want to do, I have no way of evaluating whether an opportunity furthers my overall life vision or just fills up more time containers. Unfortunately, without some kind of evaluation system, I would have to hope that my enthusiasm for a new project would wane to some degree in my allotted time frame and that I could be strong if the person or people involved tried to play on my sympathies (and my difficulty with saying no). That seems to be another recipe for ending up in the 88%. This is another situation where I would need to implement another system (evaluating and deciding) in order to follow through. No,  I need a stronger defense against my tendency to over-commit. And then it hit me. I knew what I needed.

A MORATORIUM

a 30-day container in which I say “no” to every new demand on my time.

  • Social events are exempt.
  • I get one “get out of jail free” card in the event the opportunity of a lifetime really does come along.
  • The moratorium is renewable at the end of 30 days.

A moratorium gives me the tools to say no without having to deal with my typical loopholes. I don’t have to go through a decision-making process. It becomes a non-issue. I don’t have to second-guess myself. For the next 30 days, I can work on digging out from under the commitments I have and know that nothing new will be added. Hence, the renewable aspect of the plan. Eventually, I will see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, I can use a few moments here and there to gain a better sense of what I would rather be doing with my time. Then I can put on the training wheels and begin to consider requests again, once I have a basis for making such decisions.

In the meantime, I have hope that I may make it into the 12% this year. Wish me luck!

How about you? Are you making any resolutions this year?

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Finding Fabric 2

With a few specialty shops on the first floor, the real action for quilters is on the second floor. Stairway to heaven?

With a few specialty shops on the first floor, the real action for quilters is on the second floor. Stairway to heaven?

Last month, I wrote about how my fabric stash came to be in Taiwan. Along with the story about the fabric I brought from the US and a picture of my grandson with the quilt I made him, I also told about the fabric district in Taiwan and my two visits there. I’ve been trying to get back there, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that it actually happened. After several previous cancellations and false starts, my husband and I took a train to Taipei and met up with our friend Jean to visit the fabric district at Yongle (Chinese for “forever (yong) happy (le)”). The street that leads to our target location is lined with all kinds of shops, including many with rows and rows of fabric bolts, but I was holding out for the big corner store that is full of fabric stalls. Here is the stairway to the second floor.

If your only fabric shopping experiences have been at chain stores like Joanne’s or Hobby Lobby, or the labor of love fabric and quilt stores that can be found in almost every city in the US, you may not believe what you are about to see. The closest thing I’ve experienced is shopping in south Philadelphia in what is known as Fabric Row. You can go from store to store, and encounter a seemingly endless array of fabrics for every conceivable purpose. With patience and perseverance, you can find almost anything you can imagine. The second floor of this corner building at Yongle is very similar, except the floor is mapped out with stall after stall of fabrics and other textile delights. You can actually get lost. OK, maybe not you specifically, but we did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI felt disoriented as we entered the building, like the orientation was wrong, the entrance didn’t look right, and so many things since the last time we had been there, which–in truth–hadn’t been THAT long. Then I couldn’t find my two favorite fabric stalls. There are enough stalls that I knew I could find something, but it just felt a little “off.” .Luckily, while I was wandering with Jean finding new fabric haunts, my husband (Dave) was doing some wandering of his own. He discovered that we had actually come in the back of the building this time; there are TWO main doors to this place! He found a map on the wall. The entrances are indicated by the corners of the building that have circular entrances..

A map for a giant room of fabric stalls! Do you see how many of these things there are? Every one of the stalls represents a container absolutely overwhelmed in fabric.Do you also notice that if you are near one entrance (looking at the map on the wall) and you want to get to the opposite entrance, that there is no direct diagonal path? It took us two tries to actually find the other entrance. But when we did, I was able to go straight to my favorite stalls and dream.

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Just remember that for every picture you see, there are rows and rows and aisles and aisles of these stalls. Sensory overload if you’re not prepared. But it’s truly a lot of fun if you are into this kind of thing. I have to admit, I can’t think of a better maze to be lost in.

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Dave wandered around taking photos, while Jean helped me communicate with the vendors. I’ll share the details of those encounters in a later post. For now, I’m just smiling at the memories and thinking about next time.

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