Wednesday, April 29


Just wanted to let you know that this blog has MOVED... to: 

The site is easier to use and I like the format!  I moved only two posts, so it's new and fresh.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 27

One semester down...

Finishing up the last few assignments for my first semester has brought me great relief.  For the past 15 weeks the hours between 9am -3pm used to be full of reading and writing papers, along with trying to make healthy meals and keep this apartment clean.  Now I have five weeks of freedom before the start of summer classes.  I really don't know what I'll do with all the time on my hands.  The first thing though will be to catch up with friends and on emails.  It's been far too long!  

Saturday, April 18

Keeping the Jones' At Bay

Keeping the Jones’ at Bay

Elated to have just been united in holy matrimony, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe delicately feed each other their elaborate chocolate, mocha, and lemon wedding cake. Covered in fondant icing and stacked four layers high, the couple indulges in its decadence.  Guests are wined and dined with four course meals, while live music plays.  When the celebration finally winds down, guests leave dreamily, with candy, coasters or candles in hand.  The appearances of this celebration mask the truth that soon faces our couple, basking in wedded bliss.

Upon returning from tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, touring across Europe, or cruising through the Greek Isles, said couple will return home to feel the pressure of the Jones.  Why live in a one-bedroom apartment when you get a mortgage for a three-bedroom house?  Of course every newlywed couple needs the latest coffee maker and a flat screen high definition T.V.  How will we stay entertained without a Wii and memberships to the local gym?  Sometimes it feels as if the Jones’ are shouting expectations through a loud speaker. If our couple heeds the luring call of consumerism, they may soon find themselves reviewing their latest bank statement wondering why they have more “month” than money.


After a long day of teaching English to tired, Taiwanese children, my knight in shining armor arrived at my school to whisk me off to our castle.  Nic and I hopped on our grey scooter and headed to our one bedroom studio on the 23rd floor of our apartment building.  It was payday and we had had our prized New Taiwanese dollars stacked neatly in red envelopes; in the Chinese culture red is considered to be associated with luck and wealth.  That night I would cook dinner in our over sized toaster oven in our make shift kitchen. Then, it was date night.

The recent world economic situation can only make matters worse for the average American newlyweds.  Everyone is aware of the joys and stresses that newlyweds face.  Not only are two lives merged, usually two financial situations are combined.    In a country where 20% of divorces occur in the first five years of marriage, and the number one topic that sparks a fight between couples is debt, it seems that the Mr. and Mrs. Doe are fighting an uphill battle.[i] Paying for a wedding can set the average couple back $21,000 - $24, 000. [ii] When you consider this expense combined with the $37,600, which is the average debt for graduate students, we realize the possibly hazardous situation that newlyweds can find themselves in. [iii]

Upon returning from our own tour of Europe and paying off student loan debt, Nic and I decided we would not chase after the Jones’; we determined not to become a statistic and to make a change.  A McMansion with a two-car garage is an impossibility for us right now, but we are satisfied. A TV isn’t a fixture in our home, but from our perspective via the Internet, it looks like that Jones’ have recently found themselves in a precarious situation.  

When newlywed couples lock themselves into a 30-year mortgage in a three-bedroom house, they are often stuck with monthly payments that strip their bank accounts bare.  The average principal amount owed on a mortgage is $69,227. [iv] Most personal finance books discourage the purchase of a brand new car.  Cars devalue the minute you drive them out of the lot.  The average automobile loan in the United States is for five years. Today’s average car owner owes $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth at the time it is sold. [v]

I hurriedly pulled our most recent account balances off the computer and jotted them down in our little green notebook.  There were still a few things left for me to do before “date night” began.  Running over to our wooden closet, I opened Nic’s underwear drawer and dug through our stacks of red envelopes that sit neatly in an old soap box.  I pulled out envelopes labeled “vacation”, “Roth IRA” and “Masters”.  I counted the New Taiwanese Dollars in each envelope and scribbled those totals in the notebook, while Nic grabbed his iBook and shoved it into his backpack.  We drove off on our scooter to the closest Starbucks.  I was the first one to notice the line.  It extended across the first floor of the building and back towards the stairs.  The frustrated, exhausted visages of impatient customers, juxtaposed against the stressed and frantic looking faces of the baristas, greeted us at the door.  Nic and I gave each other that look; the look that asks whether this date night was a good idea, the look that suggests that we should have stayed home instead.  After a brief discussion, we decided that our purpose for being there was most important and we would wait out the line. 

Nic worked his way past the crowd of Taiwanese men and women and upstairs to wait for a seat at a table.  Thirty minutes passed as I stood, waiting, shifting my weight from one foot to another.  I finally placed our order, and at about the same time Nic was able to secure us a table.  Another thirty minutes later I walked up the stairs, caramel macchiato and decaf skim mocha in hand, to my husband who had his ibook out and ready to go.  I pulled out my green notebook and we got straight to the task at hand; setting our financial goals, reviewing our budget and planning our expenses and savings for the next six months.    

According to a recent study, 70% of couples talk about finances on a weekly basis. [vi]  This may lead the reader to wonder why all the problems centered on money?  Research suggests that it’s how couples are talking that is the problem.  Conversations based around money can too quickly become emotional, reactive and therefore quickly heated. 

Some might find it ironic that we chose Starbucks as the venue for our financial date night.  After all, isn’t the infamous “latte factor” an expense that we would avoid like the plague?  Restaurants and coffee shops are, for us, special occasions.  In our opinion, the cost of a coffee is well worth a stable financial future.  To our elation and surprise, after thirty minutes of waiting in a long line of Mandarin speakers, we were let in on the secret of the masses, it was buy one get one free night.

Discussing the details of our envelope-budget, we matter-of-factly discussed any possible areas where we might be able to slash our spending.  Money is not an explosive issue in our relationship.  We discuss our finances often, whether on dates or on an afternoon run.  Student loans are no longer an option for us; we are committed to saving $10,000 to pay for my Masters’ classes as I take them.  Months ago we carefully crafted a rigid budget that allows us to pay this expense.  Before we receive our red envelopes each month we know exactly where that money will go. When the envelopes are empty, our spending for the month is done.  Everything that is left is poured into the envelope labeled “Masters.” Working in Taiwan, teaching English to the masses allows us to work part time and still save enough to pay this seemingly colossal expense. 

Examining the day to day finances of the average American household really opens ones eyes to the reality that the Jones aren’t as happy as they appear to be.  About 43% of Americans spend more than they earn each year. [vii]  Specifically, the average American spends $1.22 for every dollar that they earn. [viii]  Credit cards have encouraged spending beyond our means with the mantra of “buy now, pay later.” The psychological effect of using plastic, rather than seeing the cash move out of your hands, affects spending habits. Even for the disciplined user that pays off the balance every month, the average credit card purchase is usually 112% more than if cash were used. [ix]   If Mr. and Mrs. Jones have at least one credit card, they are likely to have $10,700 in credit card debt. [x] On top of that, they also pay $1,200 in credit card interest annually. [xi]

Dreams of exploring Beijing, isolating ourselves from the crowds of tourists and scaling the Great Wall, have lingered in our minds for months. Consistently stashing some cash away each month has made this trip do-able for us.  Hashing out the financial details of this trip, airfare, hotel, visa costs and daily spending, concluded our date night.  Three hours after parking our scooter and battling the lines of locals, we had broken down our budget, planned for an adventure vacation, shared our dreams for the future, and set up a plan for the next six months.

The Jones’ continue to shout their expectations, however, we turn a debt-free ear.  We may not have the same surface level luxuries of the Jones,’ but in our opinion, our lives are rich.  Has it been worth it, all the budgeting, scrimping and planning, you might ask?  How about you ask the Jones.

[i] Lawler, Mary K.  “Transitioning Through Divorce:  The Six Types of Divorce,” Oklahoma State University.  14 Apr. 2009.

[ii] “They’ll Never Know:  Eight Hidden Ways to Cut Wedding Costs,”  Smart Money  June 11, 2008. 14  Apr. 2009             

[iii] Wines, Leslie.  “Should Schools Warn Students About Debt,”  Boston.  October 24, 2007. 14 April. 2009

[iv] Khan, Kim.  The Basics:  How Does Your Debt Compare? 14 Apr. 2009

[v] Bensinger, Ken.  “New Cars That Are Fully Loaded – With Debt – Americans are Rolling Over Loans, Often Ending Up Owing More For the Vehicle Than It’s Worth,”  L.A. Times. December 30, 2007.  14 Apr. 2009

[vi] Todorova, Aleksandra.  “The Six Financial Mistakes Couples Make,” Smart Money. June 11, 2008. 14 Apr. 2009

[vii] Khan, Kim.  “The Basics”

[viii] Khan, Kim.  “The Basics”

[ix]  Bannister, Paul.  “25 Fascinating Facts About Personal Debt,” Bankrate. September 20, 2004. 14 Apr. 2009

[x]  Money 101:  Lesson 9:  Controlling Debt.

[xi]  Bannister, Paul. 


(This is a piece that I recently wrote for Master's writing class... it's an experiment with the Creative Non-Fiction Genre.  Enjoy :) 



In Taiwan, Karaoke is huge.  Buildings, such as this one,  called "KTVs"  are the homes of Karaoke.  

This afternoon there was some sort of event in the park next to our apartment building.  I don't even know what was going on, but could here a Karaoke version a song from Momma Mia.  

Tuesday, April 14


I decided to take some more pictures of the children I teach.  Here are the little ones... they look cute, but don't be deceived.  :)  They can be little rascals!

This is typical.

This is Genny - his brother's name is Nemo!  :)

Brothers- Mickey and Cody

Sunday, April 12

Our God Conquered the Grave

With the passing of my grandmother just under two months ago, Easter means more to me than ever.  Sin and death are conquered.  We have hope.  Death has lost its sting.   It makes me smile.

Thursday, April 9

We Can Cry Out to Jesus

This past week has been one of reflection for me.  I often think about Grandma, how I miss her, wish I could hear her voice, try to recall her voice, and think of precious times that we shared.  

This week in one of my classes we were discussing superstitions.  Students shared with me more about Ghost Month here in Taiwan.  The grip that death and ghosts have on some people here is really sad.

Today is Good Friday.  In a few hours, people in Bermuda will be flying kites, eating hot cross buns and fish cakes.  I miss that.  I have been reflecting a lot on Good Friday and Easter.  Jesus conquered death. We can be free from fear of death, we have hope for the future.  Jesus closed the gap between us and God.  We can cry out to Jesus.  I was really blessed by this song this morning.

To everyone who's lost someone they love
Long before it was their time
You feel like the days you had were not enough
when you said goodbye

And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there's nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

For the marriage that's struggling just to hang on
They lost all of their faith in love
They've done all they can to make it right again
Still it's not enough

For the ones who can't break the addictions and chains
You try to give up but you come back again
Just remember that you're not alone in your shame
And your suffering

When your lonely
And it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus

To the widow who suffers from being alone
Wiping the tears from her eyes
For the children around the world without a home
Say a prayer tonight

Tuesday, April 7

The Mosquitos are Back!

We really have no idea as to how these mosquitos are getting into our apartment, but every few months they show up.  They are gigantic, human devouring mosquitos.  I despise the mosquitos; they eat me while I sleep.  There is a solution.  There's a plug-in, similar to air-freshener , that makes them disappear.  Good bye mosquitos.  


This morning I was working on assignments, as normal, when I smelled smoke.  I looked around the house, everything seemed normal, so I went back to work, typing away at my laptop.  The smell of smoke got stronger and stronger.  I took a break from typing at looked down.  There was smoke rising from my laptop charger.  Turns out it was melting somehow (ibooks chargers are infamous for this, so I hear) and as I moved it sparks started flying.  Well, I have experience of technological fires (last year I put out a fire in a microwave) and have learned from this experience to unplug the item from the source!  So I did that, and then unplugged it from my computer.  The cord has melted and it's "safe to say" that my laptop will be out of commission until we can find a new charger!  We'll look around here first, if we are unsuccessful, then maybe order one online...thankfully, Nic has a laptop so the work will continue.

Culinary Adventures

Although we both work until about 9pm at night, we have been trying to eat at home in order to keep in our monthly budget for food.  We will be reworking the budget this month as cooking meals at 9:40 at night is overwhelming, especially since I am usually exhausted from working on Master's assignments and then teaching for 4 hours.  Taiwan is really convenient for this new plan as we have the night market right next to our place and we can easily pick up fried rice, noodles, chicken or anything else.  

Last night was one of my final nights to make dinner before we change up our meal plans.  I decided to make Shake and Bake chicken legs for a treat.  They didn't turn out so well.

It was scary
This is a photo of the chicken legs.  For some reason, purple, lumpy blood oozed out of my
 chicken.  I'm sure it was thawed out - it just didn't look healthy at all.  I hope this doesn't make anyone feel sick.  I still feel a little woozy thinking about it.

So instead Nic got McDonald's (he's going to hate me for telling you all that... :)  and I got Gi-pi, otherwise known as extremely unhealthy fried unidentified part of a chicken.... and fries.



On a more upbeat note, here's a new Taiwan discovery.  Yellow watermelon.  That's right folks.

 It's yellow and it's a watermelon (there is pineapple closest to the camera - but behind that is watermelon).  Have you ever seen anything like this before? 

Saturday, April 4

Tomb Sweeping Day


People at their relatives tombs

Today is Tomb Sweeping Day in the Chinese culture.  That means that it is a public holiday, so no teaching for Nic and I today.  It has been really nice to have a whole Saturday off.  Usually we both work on Saturday mornings.  This morning I cleaned our whole apartment down... (which is really easy and takes about an hour since it's a one bedroom studio!)  and then made pancakes.. which were a great success!  For some reason, every time I have tried to make pancakes here they have stuck to the pan and it's become a big mess.  I have tried and tried and tried again.. and today, the effort paid off with beautiful, fluffy pancakes!  I am feeling much better today after visiting the doctor yesterday and taking the medicine he gave me.  I only have a "common cold" but here they give you lots of medicine - 5 pills, 3 times a day!  It really helps and I have a lot of energy back now!  Nic went for a 10k run today!  He was out there for a good hour but is enjoying the free time to exercise.  I have been on a "running hiatus" the past few weeks due to getting back into school work after being in Bermuda, then getting the flu, and now this cold... but by next week I'll be back at it.  

Now on to Tomb Sweeping Day.  I asked my students what they thought about Tomb Sweeping - those who participate in the traditions of visiting relatives tombs didn't seem thrilled about it.  They said it's a long day as they have to wake up early and go to many different locations to cover all of the tombs. 

Here is a description from Wikipedia:  "For the Chinese, it is a day to remember and honor one's ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, (joss) paper accessories, and/or libation to the ancestors. The rites are very important to most Chinese and especially farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They think that willow branches help ward off the evil ghosts that wander on Qingming. Also on Qingming, people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, dance, and Qingming is a time where young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is fly kites (in shapes of animals, or characters from Chinese opera)."  

Ancestor worship is a big part of the culture here and we are learning more and more about the details of that as we are here.  

Friday, April 3

Only 4 more weeks...

Yesterday before work I opened my planner in order to figure out how much time I have left to work on the big projects for my Master's classes.  There are only four weeks left!  My reaction was not one of panic but of pure elation.  Only four weeks stand between me and finishing my first 15 credit hours in the 33 hour program.  Our Beijing trip will be the break between this semester and the summer semester... when I will, hopefully, take another four classes (12 credit hours).  Technically you can only take 3 classes...  and I have tried to request an overload...  but am waiting to hear back on that...  waiting, waiting waiting.