Reminder

Posted September 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

No day shall erase you from the memory of time.
— Virgil

Thirteen years ago, I was a sophomore in college… I pause and reflect today, as I do every year, but I don’t dwell. What today reminds me is that life is precious. Moments are fleeting. You really never know what’s going to happen. So I try to live a grateful life while not being too paranoid.

We’re cherishing the fall days outside, before we have to dress in our moon suits to go out in the winter.

Sonya and Leena like assembling their own outfits. Leena even invents new ways to wear her clothes, like insisting the t-shirt design goes on the back, or layering shorts over leggings.

In the future, Sonya and Leena live in a house with stairs inside (a dream of Sonya’s) with a snowman like Olaf from Frozen and a cat like Skywalker. Upstairs, they have a dog, and in the attic they have a hamster. They’re both Adventure Princesses who take care of animals. Drex and I live nearby and we visit each night for Candle Time, but we always have to knock before we come inside.

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The Wonders of Living in Montreal

Posted September 10th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

This morning Sonya scootered to her school downtown, blitzing down the hills. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and we weren’t particularly rushed. I strolled along, catching up with Sonya at the corners, one arm swinging her backpack, one hand on my belly feeling baby kick, and thinking about my discussion last night with Drex. Around this time last year, when we were thinking about schools and Quebec’s French education system, we felt worried, anxious, uncertain, and hell-bent on moving back to the States so the girls could get an English education.

But we really love our home, our jobs, our friends here— and some part of me seriously wonders if we’d ever find a place that fosters my creativity the way Montreal does. This city is my muse, filled with artists, musicians, and free spirits. The only hitch in the giddyup, really, is the language issue.

Fast forward one year and there’s an enchantment over our lives. Sonya comes home everyday from maternelle, ready to tell us a new thing she’s learned (like Halloween vocabulary— ghost is fantôme, and pumpkin is citrouille, and bat is chauve-souris, which literally means “bald mouse”). Leena has updates of the latest adventures she has in the Champs des Possibles (the name of the wild urban park where their daycare spends a lot of time running in the long grasses, hunting snails, and digging in the dirt— the “Field of Possibilities.”)

When I went to pick her up early from school last Thursday, Sonya was walking around the concrete playground in short stilts, being followed by a couple of impressed kids. She wasn’t ready to leave (“I just figured this out!” she said triumphantly), so I pulled out my knitting and sat on a bench, amused that nobody made me sign a waiver to let my five-year-old run around concrete on some stilts with no helmet or padding or anything. Isn’t that great? And I mean that whole-heartedly, with no sarcasm. I really think that’s great.

Maybe the current enchantment will wear off, but for now, I’m under the magic spell of the best city EVER (especially as I look forward to my year-long PAID maternity leave coming up in a few weeks!)

Maybe this positive outlook stems from the fact that 1. The girls seem to be thriving and giving us all that they learn, discover, and experience to enrich our family. 2. Drex recently submitted his tenure dossier at McGill, his undergraduate class has over 50 students enrolled, his research group is doing well, and he’s working on some great collaborations and 3. I’ve been working on a project I’m passionate about at work to improve communication between cancer care teams and primary care physicians, I’ve been finding more time and inspiration in the evenings to write, and I just began an eight-week ceramics class at Atelier Make.

It’s eight Tuesday evening classes in handbuilding, each 2.5 hours to work on a new project/technique. Our first class, we learned how to wedge, roll, cut, and texture our clay into little ceramic ornaments/pendants/earrings/objects. It was a lot of fun! Next week, we’ll learn how to make a cup without a handle, then the following week, we’ll learn how to make a cup with a handle. Then a plate. Then a platter. Then we’ll have a few classes for glazing and finishing our pieces. I hope mine don’t explode in the kiln. (I’m scarred by memories from high school art class. A coil pot I’d worked on for weeks didn’t survive its firing).

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School Daze!

Posted September 5th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

[Me and the girls with their froggie umbrellas in the rain at school drop-off]

Sonya and Leena swapped necklaces on Monday: Leena has Sonya’s pink ballerina and Sonya has Leena’s purple elephant. Whenever they feel alone, they can hold onto each other’s necklaces. Still, the separation has been tough on them. They’re used to having each other throughout the day.

I should mention: there’s no air conditioning at the school! My goodness, it was stifling when I went to pick Sonya up— as hot as a Vietnamese prison (which I know firsthand from recent memory). So now Sonya goes to school in shorts and t-shirts with a hoodie for recess outside.

[Leena this morning in front of the school after dropping off big sister]

This week has been about figuring out logistics — how to get ourselves to four different places each morning. We’ve kicked our household organization into high gear to make sure mornings run smoothly—  lunches packed, backpacks ready, game plans established the night before.

We’re doing it! But there isn’t 1. a newborn 2. snow 3. a sick (or traveling) adult— oh wait, Drex just got a sinus infection! So I had to hustle with the girls to school this morning! Arrived breathless just as the bell rang! Well, we’ll just take it a day/week/month at a time and remember the family motto: WE CAN DO!

With a little special help from handy dandy Time Timer! I have fond memories of Time Timer from my childhood. I was ridiculously excited when the Amazon package arrived. (Drex also downloaded the app for our iPhones). Twenty minutes for breakfast? Set Time Timer! We can all watch the shrinking red wedge and chew accordingly. Need to brush our teeth and have our shoes on, ready at the door? Set Time Timer! It makes Getting Ready a game we’re all playing together.

One of the sweetest moments this week was sitting down to lunch and finding two beautiful notes the girls had packed for me, just like the notes I pack for them. I felt really special and lucky. (BTW— another app we recently downloaded is Habit List for new habits Drex and I are trying to cultivate, and I’ve been on a streak for Packed Lunches— it’s too easy to grab something downtown; there are so many tempting food options near my office).

[#LikeAGirlI was very emotional through this video; third trimester hormones]

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30 weeks

Posted September 2nd, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

One of my favorite family rituals, Candle Time, is a chance every evening before the girls’ bedtime to dwell on the day’s good things and to anticipate tomorrow’s fun adventures as we sit around our kitchen table in the transitional light of two beeswax candles (one for each girl to blow out) in a very special wooden holder made by a Quebec artisan.

This same artisan searched for the perfect piece of wood with THREE branches to make us a new truly beautiful, functional, and meaningful Candle Time centerpiece. Marguerite, owner of La Grande Ourse, a Waldorf toy shop near us, generously gifted us three new beeswax candles, too. I feel so lucky to be a part of a vibrant Montreal community! This candle holder represents, on so many levels for me, a sense of belonging and interconnectedness.

As Sonya starts school this week and Leena continues at daycare on her own, I hope that they carry the sense of love, acceptance, safety, and comfort we’ve nurtured at home as they’re off having their separate adventures in the world. Now, more than ever, I look forward to the time we take each evening to pause, reflect, share, and simply be together.

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Clip n Climb Laval

Posted August 26th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

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.

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Back Home

Posted August 22nd, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

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.

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Singapore — Week Two Highlights

Posted August 17th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

SINGAPORE FLYER

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.

AMERICAN CLUB

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.


DATE NIGHT

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!

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Singapore — Week One Highlights

Posted August 12th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

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

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Ha Long Bay Cruise

Posted August 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

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!”)

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How to Travel Happily with Toddlers while Pregnant and Arrival in Hanoi!

Posted August 1st, 2014 in Uncategorized by Mitsy

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

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