The instructors at Clip n Climb and we were impressed, given the girls’ ages and the fact that it was their first time. They were fearless, trying out the different climbing walls and challenges. My job was to make sure Leena was properly clipped into the auto belay system and coached through the footholds. I couldn’t believe how high she went! I have dauntless girls. Sonya even tried the Vertical Drop Slide, for which she got to wear a jumpsuit and helmet. She was pulled way way up until she let go halfway between the red arrows for “malade” (sick) and ”super fou” (really crazy), about a body length from the top. We’re definitely coming back! This place is AWEsome.
At the Singapore airport, Leena somersaulted face-first down an up-escalator. Terrifying. Watching helplessly, my baby and her fragile neck rolling down those toothy metal steps that cut her on the left cheek. Otherwise, luckily she was okay and handled the incident like a champ.
The girls were just as awesome on the way back as they’d been on the way there, mostly watching their iPads and sleeping. Late at night when we finally opened the front door to our home, it felt so cathartically wonderful. Skywalker was waiting for us by the shoes.
Jet lag hit us hard on our return, but luckily, we’re getting back on track, except for early bedtimes and early mornings, which might not be a bad schedule to keep! We get to have a slow family start to our day. Enjoying the return to an autumny Montreal before Sonya starts school next week.
This sweater weather is absolutely my favorite. We took the air conditioning units out of the windows and keep the windows open so the house has a lovely cross-breeze. We’re also spending as many daylight hours outdoors as possible.
Enjoying my final days of biking to work— getting too pregnant to pedal comfortably uphill anymore, so I think it’s a regular bus commute from now on.
One of the largest Ferris wheels in the world, taller than the London Eye, with air conditioned glass capsules to take in the skyline.
When we arrived, the girls immediately spotted the Flyer from our Singapore House bedroom window and fell in love. Every night before going to sleep, they’d say, “Good Night, Ferris Wheel!” Now we’ve taken a ride on it just like we promised them we would! Arrived early in the morning and had an entire capsule to ourselves. Such a great experience!
JURONG BIRD PARK
While Drex, Justin, and Melissa went to work, the girls and I hung out together. We spent an entire morning and afternoon with the birds— watching a High Flyers show, having lunch with parrots, and admiring flamingos. I pulled Sonya and Leena along in a rental wagon. They were so joyful and well-behaved, I mindfully ignored the heat and discomfort of being so pregnant— 28 weeks now.
Jurong Bird Park might use Sonya’s picture with the birds for promotional materials, so we got a photo CD and food vouchers for the park!
DOWNTIME AT SINGAPORE HOUSE
Late afternoons the girls and I waited for people to come back. Mostly the girls kept themselves busy playing together.
Sonya and Leena were both enrolled as drop-ins at a day camp Tuesday through Thursday, so I got to spend a couple hours three mornings at the American Club with my latest book club pick, hot chocolate, and dessert. Afterwards, I lounged poolside and knit a baby vest while the girls swam in their floaties. We’d snack on edamame and then have a late bento box lunch.
Had a great Friday night out at the Marina Bay Sands. Dined at Osteria Mozza. One of the best meals we’ve ever eaten!
Now packed and ready for our trip back to Montreal!
I didn’t take many pictures this trip. Nearly all these photos are thanks to Justin or Troy, who helped document wonderful moments from our Ruths reunion halfway around the world. We got to stay at the luxurious Centennia Suites, Justin and Melissa’s beautiful home, which the girls immediately started calling “Singapore House.” We mostly traveled by taxis, which we learned to hail from the curb.
Here is Sonya in Melissa’s Emerson office. She looks like a future Fortune 500 company CEO in the making. And then here we are walking down Orchard Road with our flimsy but functional secondhand umbrella strollers while the girls sticker and take notes in their observation journals.
It was heartwarming to see the three little cousins playing together. They are such wonderful girls— and excellent bowlers! All three of them outscored me with their “ball slides” on our fun bowling night at the American Club. (Although pregnant bowling is tricky— an added handicap to my weak bowling skills).
After an action-packed week of visiting landmarks, Sonya and Leena frosted cupcakes for the dual birthday celebration for Daddy (who turned 35) and Singapore (which turned 49). Then Sonya and Auntie Melissa organized a Super Surprise Birthday Party and Baby Shower. Very special!
Then we watched helicopters fly by the Singapore House balcony with the flag before going to see National Day fireworks near the Marina Bay Sands, which looks like a starship docked on three skyscrapers, all futuristic and otherworldly, like Singapore itself. Such fun! So glad we could all make this trip!
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Wednesday, July 30th— Everyone arrived and we went on an evening electric cart tour of Hanoi. The girls enjoyed sitting with Uncle Justin and spotting differences from our urban landscape in Montreal: roadside food vendors, lantern shops, and lots of motorcycles loaded with all sorts of interesting things like flowers wrapped in newspaper (including water lilies) and baskets of strange fruits (durian, rambutan, and mangosteen).
Early the next morning, a Paradise Cruise van picked us up for the drive to our ship by Ha Long Bay. On the way, we spotted more motorcycles loaded with all sorts of interesting things, like live goats and large ceramic pots.
Here we are at the dock with all the cruise ships fanning their orange sails like very upscale traditional Vietnamese junks.
We had a full itinerary in between excellent meals, like cruising through limestone islets, walking through Surprise Cave (Hang Sung Sot), swimming near TiTop Beach Island, fishing for night squid (no success), and kayaking around the lagoon at Luon Cave.
Photos in this post courtesy of Uncle Justin and Auntie Melissa. See the girls enjoying their shady tent on the sunny deck? Sonya was also the youngest chef to make a spring roll at the evening cooking class aboard the ship.
And then we sampled a local rice wine and learned how to toast in Vietnamese: “Mot hai ba, dzo!” (which translates as: “One two three, DZO!”)
PART 1. FLYING OVER
Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.
— Martha Gellhorn,
Travels with Myself and Another
For months, ever since Drex got an academic collaboration offer in Singapore and we bought the family tickets, I’ve been mentally preparing myself and the girls for our long voyage to Vietnam before heading to Singapore. I explained that it would take more than a day and we’d need to take three planes to Hanoi.
The first plane from Montreal to Chicago would be an Activity Plane (no electronic devices). Then there would be a layover and a second plane from Chicago to Tokyo (which the girls were highly anticipating) because it was the iPad Plane. Drex had configured, loaded, and optimized the girls’ orange iPad buddies with movies, games, and other apps to keep them busy for the long long voyage over the Pacific. And then, even after we’d made it across the world, we’d still have a third (and final plane) to get to Hanoi. That plane would be an Anything Plane— iPad, Activities, whatever.
Despite all the preparation, and the girls’ excellent travel history, I reminded myself how much we were demanding of them. I expected there to be Complications, Incidents, Uncontained Bodily Fluids, Mood Disturbances, and Total Emotional Breakdowns at some point. NONE of that happened. It was astonishing as we took the trip segment by segment just what excellent, well-behaved world travelers our girls revealed themselves to be. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised really. After all, we’re Adventure Buddies— and We Can Do!
Our family T-shirts got a number of compliments at the airport. And we felt a tremendous sense of camaraderie throughout our voyage. When we arrived in Tokyo, Sonya said, “Since we’re such good travelers, can we take more trips around the world?”
My “snack kits” were very popular. The girls could unwrap and enjoy one whenever they were hungry, and eating it was an Activity in and of itself.
I’d also pre-packed individual large-size slide-top Ziploc bags into “Activity Kits.” One kit included bird, flower, and leaf stickers. The girls could draw a tree and then create some multimedia art.
Another Activity Kit included peel-and-stick gemstones to bejwel plastic stick-by-number bracelets, which the girls made into collars for their stuffed animals. Leena sat on my lap. I tweezed gems and she stuck them on. Both girls exceeded my expectations of their fine motor skills. I thought I’d need to help more with this particular activity, but Sonya could do it all on her own and Leena, impressively, needed very little help on my lap.
After lunch at O’Hare Airport and a Run, Stretch, Jump break at Gate K19, we got on the iPad Plane and commenced Total Entertainment Zone Out. We flew Japan Airlines and I have to say that the inflight service and legroom in economy class were stellar! The flight attendants were in love with the girls— who, as a result, collected a lot of airline swag. I drank plenty of water, did periodic stretches to maintain blood flow, and baby boy just tumbled around happily in the womb.
PART 2. FIRST MORNING IN HANOI
Ruths family friends, from when Drex lived overseas in Rumbai, Indonesia during his junior and early high school years, picked us up from the airport and deposited us at the home of an ex-pat family that’s traveling abroad and graciously allowing us to stay in their home. They have a daughter somewhere around the girls’ age so there are toys and we are so comfortable and so grateful to have these amazing accommodations in Hanoi. Not to mention our awesome hosts, who’ve arranged so much of our itinerary so that we can see, experience, and enjoy the local Vietnamese culture.
We began our first morning early at 5 a.m. by a statue of Ly Thai To, the Vietnamese emperor who moved the capital to Hanoi in 1010, over a thousand years ago. In the morning, lots of local women, mostly middle-aged and older, gather for free laughing yoga, tai chi, aerobics, and ballroom dance classes. The girls were wide-eyed on the sidelines trying to figure out what in the world was going on, but then they joined in. The girls turned heads and brought out smiles. Reminding me, yet again, how lucky I am to be their mommy.
And here I am, beginning my third trimester overseas by Ho Hoan Kiem or “Sword Lake.” And there is Leena, holding a frog she just caught.
It was so hot and humid. My Fujifilm X20 camera had a chip read error, so this picture of Leena kissing a frog is glitchy. By the way, the frog smooch happened inadvertently, otherwise I may have tried to stop her. (Germs! Germs! Everywhere germs! I’m filled with paranoia). But Drex reminds me to relax. There’s no invisible amoebic dysentery or typhoid in the pool water— or so he tells me.
We’re all having fun. Relaxing. Eating safely. Enjoying life and time together. A larger number of Ruths have arrived now. More adventures to come!
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
— Hans Christian Andersen,
The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography
Truthfully, I’m not the best traveler in the world.
I know this because I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve met people who are great at it. Real naturals. I’ve met travelers who are so physically sturdy they could drink a shoebox of water from a Calcutta gutter and never get sick. People who can pick up new languages where others of us might only pick up infectious diseases.
— Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love
While Drex took the girls to jiu jitsu, I had a quiet house to pack and focus. We decided to “travel light”, which now means: two carry-on suitcases, one activity tote bag, one checked suitcase (to transport large-fluid-ounces of sunscreen, bug spray, and kaopectate), along with my backpack, Drex’s backpack, and a travel-size guitar. Oh, and two booster seats. And two umbrella strollers. (Last time Drex and I went to Southeast Asia, before we were married or had any kids, we just brought along two backpacks— but now there are two more Adventure Buddies, and this is their first really big adventure like nothing they’ve done before, and so we want to create a precedent of joy to inspire a lifetime of travel).
I’ve been planning different super-secret “busy craft” activities (with things like peel-and-stick gems and washi tape— materials the girls don’t normally use) and building up anticipation around all the fun we’ll have on the plane! Meanwhile, Drex has been acquiring and loading apps onto their iPads for what I’m hoping will be Total Entertainment Zone Out, at least for some portion of our Chicago to Tokyo leg of infinity hours.
Apart from the super-secret activities, I’m very proud of my “snack kits.” For example, we have Goldfish crackers, a squeezie apple pouch, and five M&Ms. Then we have a tuna-and-cracker box, another squeezie apple pouch, and five more M&Ms. Okay, not the most healthy (or creative)—I also regret the massive packaging waste in the name of Convenience— but well-fed girls are happy girls in my experience.
We went with some friends to La Ferme Quinn to learn about a “modern” working hive and how the honey gets harvested from these screens called “supers.” The most stunning bits of trivia I learned today was that honeybees need two MILLION flowers to produce one POUND of honey. And in her entire lifetime, a worker bee gathers less than a TEASPOON of honey. In the future, I’m going to lick every fallen drop of honey off my plate— it’s some bee’s life work!
We tasted the raw honey, ate a packed lunch, and then got busy picking blueberries (which we’ll eat or freeze before our trip— but my bet is on EAT).
Today’s fun and games means tomorrow is all about SERIOUS packing, cleaning, and getting ready for the great ADVENTURE!
It all began in early July when I discovered an amazingly talented freelance graphic designer on Pinterest named Brian Steely. So I e-mailed him and asked if he’d be interested in a small project to design a family seal for us. He said yes. So we brainstormed, and Derek came up with an idea:
… some sort of campfire. A campfire is made during an outdoor adventure— it’s a place where adventurers come together, share stories, make plans, rest, and prepare themselves for the adventures ahead. The act of building and maintaining a campfire is also a very communal activity— gathering wood, building the fire, and tending the flames. Finally, a campfire really only happens out away from the comforts of home— those who share a campfire are sharing in a commitment to venture into the unknown in some significant way.
I knew he’d hit upon the perfect image. So I shared this vague concept and some info about our family with Brian and he e-mailed me his first version (posted here). We gave our feedback and on his second try (posted here), Brian just absolutely nailed the design with a circular badge rich with symbolism.
We got the family seal files yesterday. Over the weekend, I found an absolutely highly-recommended Montreal vinyl T-shirt printing service— Black Alien run out of Mohammed’s apartment on Sherbrooke. We got to bring in our own T-shirts, so the girls have sizes that fit them perfectly and I have a maternity top! Mohammed provided same-day service on a small batch order and produced really fantastic T-shirts for our trip next week. Here we are in our travel adventure outfits for the trans-Pacific flight (we can do!).
The girls love the design SO much. Sonya’s giving it a big hug on the grass. This summer, on a family walk, she came up with our motto: “We can do.” And she feels a sense of pride and ownership over the design. But of course, credit goes to Brian for his amazing talent, creativity, and workmanship! It was such a pleasure to work with him! So happy with this amazing design!
After the weekend festivities, we kept Sonya’s actual birthday day simple and family focused. She woke up to find a package from Dida and the first clue of a scavenger hunt that led to some special birthday stickers which the girls immediately used for some multimedia art (scanned below: Sonya singing, Leena standing next to a table of treats).
And there’s a picture of me and my girls and my baby boy bump in the kitchen. 23 weeks & stretching out my regular tops over maternity bottoms.
So many fun little memories I wish I had more time to write about:
- going to the girls’ daycare to help with an electronics activity (started off as a metal brad & paper clip circuit to light up an LED and ended up being a tape an LED around a small round battery when the kids’ fifteen minute attention span maxed out, but they all seemed happy taping the glowing LEDs to their t-shirts and pretending to be robots)
- grabbing a quick bite with D at Wilensky’s lunch counter, serving their special since 1932 (when it cost a nickel)
- making progress on my work projects— I want to make sure everything is ready for hand-off when I go on mat leave at the end of October
- squeezing in a few hours to write— even if most of that time was spent staring off into space trying to come up with good character names
- receiving a special balloon delivery from Uncle J and Auntie M
- remembering to take the roasted sweet potatoes out of the oven before the smoke detector went off (after they’d been in there over an hour at 400 degrees)
- hearing D and L chat while melon balling two halves of a watermelon— so sweet; wish I could remember every word, but all I’m left with is an image and a feeling of wholesome contentment
- having Sonya’s requested birthday dinner: baked salmon, carrots, and celery with hummus, brown rice, and those sweet potatoes (sprinkled with fresh windowsill rosemary and oregano) with ice cream smoothies!
- eating cupcakes!
- opening another package from Grandmama, Grandpapa, and Uncle W
- FaceTiming with family
- getting a lower back massage with three pairs of hands
- Candle Time
- quiet evening, talking with my D— now each of us at our computers and me soon to go to sleep :)
D just updated his blog: here and here — he is such a keenly observant writer and he captures a different dimension of the girls’ life and our life. I enjoy hearing his viewpoint and figuring out what happens on my Monday nights out.