Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top 5 memories of 2011

5) Starting a new job that I really enjoy:

New office (after 3 weeks)

4) Jude successfully defending his dissertation!

Title slide

3) Sophie turned 2 in August:

Cake 2

2) We welcomed my beautiful niece, Julianne, into our world :) Such joy!

Arrival of Baby Julianne

1) Spending Christmas at home, surrounded by family, basking in much love :)


Farewell, 2011...

Little chums

Sophie's always been sort of a parallel play sort of kid- we'll have play dates with friends and for the most part, she'll be playing along side other children but not really with them. We're not really worried- her teachers tell us that most of the toddlers in her class do the same and it's a developmental thing that she'll outgrow soon enough.

So it was really nice when we found Sophie playing wonderfully with her little friend, Sean, at a play date today. Sean is my brother-in-law's nephew and just a week younger than Sophie. We had a little meet-cute for them the last time we were home but back then, it was more an excuse for the grown-ups to have a popiah party... :) This time though, they were old enough to actually interact with each other and it was such a joy to watch them together! Maybe it's because we had prepared Sophie for the play date beforehand (she actually woke up in the morning reminding us that Sean was coming even though she has no memory of who he is...) but there were no meltdowns, no possessive grabbing of toys, lots of good sharing, and tons of happy squealing and chasing around the house and garden. Basically, loads of fun was had all round. It definitely helped that Sean is such a sweet boy with such a gentle disposition- every time Sophie was out of his sight, he would call out "Sophie!..." or jie jie ("big sister" in Chinese, which was what his mom asked him to call Sophie). On her part, Sophie would happily call out, "Sean! Oh... Sean!"

Here's to more play dates with Sean every time we come back- he seems to bring out the best in Sophie!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I grew up being really close to my cousins on both my paternal and maternal sides. In fact, we remain close till today and one of the joys of coming home is hanging out with all of them again. Sophie has no idea what or who cousins are yet-- I think the whole concept of family is something she's only beginning to grasp. But in the past two weeks, she's spent some time with both sets of cousins and if nothing else, she has developed a real affection for them and enjoys their company a whole lot. On my side, she's become really fond of showering Julianne with smoochy kisses whenever she can and gets really concerned when Julianne starts to cry ("Why is Baby Julianne crying, Mama?"). She also likes watching my sister and brother-in-law give Julianne her baths, which is really quite sweet.

On Jude's side, even though she's technically met Amelia and Aiden once before when we came back two years ago, it wasn't until Christmas that she really got to interact with them properly-- playing with playdoh together, attacking the Christmas piñata with gusto, and hitting the playground with equal relish. They even had a blast at the beach together yesterday, where Amelia schooled Sophie on the finer points of sandcastle architecture while Aiden modeled the proper way to enjoy the seawater splashing about you...

Being so far away-- at least for now-- may mean that Sophie won't get to play with her cousins as much as her Mama did with hers; but I'd like to think that familial ties are stronger than geography. I love my cousins dearly and-- if she doesn't already-- as she grows older, I want to believe that Sophie will love hers too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I miss her so much...

This hasn't been an easy post to type. I started three times and had to stop each time because my eyes just kept welling up. Not being in Singapore when my grandmother passed away will always be one of the saddest moments of my life. She was peaceful at her deathbed, I am told; and for that, I am grateful. But it didn't make visiting her grave any easier.

It was important to both Jude and I that Sophie was with us. She obviously didn't grasp the gravity of where we were and what we were doing, but I think she understood that we were there to visit my Por Por (what she calls my mom) and was uncharacteristically quiet as she laid the flowers at my grandma's grave. She doesn't remember meeting her exactly two years before of course, but she'll have pictures. And my memories.

Sophie meets Great-grandma (Ah Ma)
26th December 2009

At Serene's Grandma's grave
26th December 2011

How do you take a Christmas family photo?

1) Negotiate the terms of agreement with a tantrumming two-year-old (I believe it was a bowl of udon soup in exchange for getting up for the family photo)

Getting Sophie ready for our family photo

2) Mill about while everyone gets their act together (a.k.a our Modern Family moment)

Our Modern Family moment

3) Make the best of the slightly blurry but otherwise really festive seventh take:


Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It doesn't matter what the climate

A beach is a beach whether it's almost freezing cold in Saugatuck, Michigan or tropical humidity in Changi Point, Singapore...

For picking up sand and shells

For playing with sticks

And for pictures with Mama...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ode to Parkway

It had been the one unchangeable I could always count on, the one shopping mall I've always been able to find my way around virtually blindfolded since I was allowed to visit it by myself when I was twelve. But I guess two years is a long time to be away and in my absence, my beloved Parkway Parade has finally succumbed to the metamorphosis that seems to have beset so many familiar locales around the island. Having lived in the East of the island all my life, this shopping center has always had a special place in my heart, even with the fancier, shinier, brighter malls sprouting up in the city. In its own modest way, it had (well, still has, I guess) everything I need in a mall-- sundries, groceries, food, shopping, and services like my optician and watch repairman.

And having spent so much time there these past twenty some years, I knew exactly where everything was- every shop, how most of the owners and vendors looked like, even how competitors' prices matched up (particularly amongst the mall's many optical shops). So imagine my utter discombobulation when Jude and I popped by for what I thought was going to be an easy (and quick) errand trip. Armed with a list of things to buy and Sophie happily napping at my parents', I was certain I could get everything I needed within the two hours of Sophie's nap. In fact, I was convinced that if we were strategic enough in our shopping, we might even be able to do it all in under an hour, with time leftover for coffee and a snack. Clearly, I didn't factor in 1) the Christmas shopping crowd; 2) the many makeshift shopping carts that have sprung up in every available space all over the mall; 3) an expanded basement food court that I had to meander through just to get to the elevators; and 4) all the shops that have newly opened, expanded, shrunk, moved, changed names, or closed down. It actually made me feel a little sad-- disappointed almost-- like having an old friend change on you... In the end, we did manage to get our shopping done, but in two hours instead of one. There was coffee-- but to go-- and no time for a snack.

Five years ago, I blogged about something similar; five years later, I pretty much still feel the same way. Like I told Jude as we sat in an inexplicable traffic jam in the middle of the day along Orchard Road last week, every generation of Singaporeans has-- and will-- grow old in a Singapore that is nothing like the Singapore in which we grew up.

Christmas isn't Christmas till

Now that, is what you call a Christmas tree

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And we're baaaack!

In the end, the journey was more forgiving than anticipated- there were a couple of sort-of meltdowns, but they were mostly because Sophie was just really tired from her sleep schedule getting messed up. She did really well on the flights, mostly because we were *very* liberal with the whole watching videos on the iPad thing- basically, for 18 hours, we allowed our toddler's brain to turn into Kipper mush. Oh, and consider this my public service announcement to our vegetarian/vegan friends out there who are going to fly Delta in the future- because I love you, I'm just going to tell you right now to stock up on whatever you can get at the airport to sustain you throughout your flight, because you're not going to get anything (sustenance, nutrition, flavor) from the vegetarian meal option. The only things Sophie (or I) would eat were the fruit platters, a cold bagel, and a side of plain couscous. She basically survived on packets of the airline's complimentary pretzels.

But putting that all behind us, we're home now, and that's what matters. Sophie's been thriving on all the attention she's been getting from family, and really having a wonderful time. She's still a little jetlagged and she literally starts perspiring just sitting still in the living room, but I don't think it bothers her at all. Everything is just so new and exciting for her that every second has been spent just asking and learning about new things. Like chicken rice :) And wild monkeys at MacRitchie Reservoir (where we found ourselves early this morning when Sophie decided to wake up at 5.30). But most importantly, Sophie got to meet Baby Julianne in person, and it was really sweet:

"I give Baby Julianne a kiss."
"I give Baby Julianne a kiss."

Two weeks. At home. With family. And friends. Christmas. Good food. I say, bring it!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Last hurrah for the year

Peek-a-boo, Mama!
Why, hello there!

I guess it's fitting that two days before we leave for the sunny, warm, and humid tropics, we should spend the morning frolicking (and I mean that fairly literally) in the wintry snow and bracing cold. It had snowed a couple of days ago and even though there isn't that much snow out, it was enough for one last sledding attempt for the year. The last two times we tried sledding with Sophie weren't the greatest of successes (the first of which was almost exactly a year ago actually...), but today, what with being much older and even more fearless, Sophie had a whale of a time and couldn't get enough!

Click for more photos

When Jude brought her down the first time, I swear the entire neighborhood could hear her squeal of delight :) And all the "wheeeee!"s that came after too, of course... She tried to make a snow angel like what she's seen in one of her books but we had to tell her there wasn't really enough snow to see the full effect.

This time Wednesday morning (Singapore time), we'll be basking in 90F/33C weather in a city 2 degrees north of the equator. Snow and cold will almost literally be half a world away.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

One more week

Sophie gets new headphones
Sophie loving her new headphones

This time next week, we'll probably be sound asleep in Jude's parents' place in Singapore; we would undoubtedly still be reeling from jet lag but relieved to have survived the 25-hour journey from Ann Arbor to his parents' doorstep. And that's what worrying me the most right now- that dastardly flight. It's actually making it a little hard for me to get excited about being home because all I want is to get the flight over and done with first. A combined 21 hours on the plane with a rambunctious 2 year-old who *needs* her fresh air and run-around time (even in winter), and for whom only a fine line divides pure euphoria and a total and epic existential meltdown. If that doesn't send shivers of dread down any parent's spine, then I don't know what does.

I know the flight is only going to be as stressful as I allow it so we're going to try to be as prepared as we can, but also not to get hung up about it too much either. Sophie's actually traveled well on planes the last two times we've traveled recently, but they were only 2-hour long trips and we timed them during her afternoon nap so she slept most of the way. This time though, we're going to have to make sure we have enough to occupy her with or she's just going to go all banshee-crazy with cabin fever... So this weekend, we're going to the Dollar Store to get a bunch of cheap chachkies, wrap them up in newspaper, and give one to her every hour to just unwrap and play with. Hopefully, the novelty will be fun. I'm also packing crayons, a coloring/sticker/activity book, and a couple of "search-and-find" books that usually occupy her for quite a while (like her favorite of the moment, In the Town, All Year Round).

Between Jude and I, we have two iPads with a combined battery life of 16.5 hours, identical sets of kiddie apps, all three Toy Story movies, and as many Kipper episodes as I could download from YouTube. We got Sophie her own kiddie headphones (which she LOVES) so she's all set in the entertainment department. I know, three movies and a whole load of cartoons might seem a little excessive but I've reconciled myself to the notion that a long-haul flight is NOT the time for interactive intellectually-stimulating books or carrot sticks. Sophie's going to get all the mind-numbing animation and whatever snacks she wants/needs to stay calm. Thankfully, her dairy allergies mean that the snacks she loves are mostly crackers and gummies, so they're not even really that bad for her... I'm also packing her favorite snacks because I'm not holding my breath on the vegan meal option I got for her as part of her ticket. I dislike airplane food enough as it is, I can't imagine what the vegan version is going to be like... I'm thinking, what's the worst that can happen? That she has nothing but soy milk, saltine crackers, chocolate bunny rabbit crackers, fruit gummies, and a bowl of udon during our transit in Tokyo over the course of the entire journey? I mean, honestly...

Café Sophie

So we found out a little too late that all Sophie wants for Christmas is carrot. Thankfully, what we did get her isn't too far removed from the vegetable. On top of a second hand lemonade/vegetable stand we had gotten her a while back and a tea set she got for her birthday, Sophie also has various varieties of toy food that have been gifted to her over time. And so for the longest time, her favorite thing to do has been setting up picnics and tea parties with Jude and I and her soft toys. Then when we were at our friends' place for a play date one day, we noticed how taken Sophie was with their play kitchen. She would be all engrossed, talking to herself about what she was doing ("Be careful, the oven is hot." "I put some carrots in the pot." "I'm hungry. I'm cooking."), and playing independently of us, which is something we've noticed she's doing quite a bit of lately.

So we thought it would be a good idea to shop around for one for her for Christmas. We had several criteria: 1) it has to be made of wood; 2) it has to be fairly compact to fit in Sophie's play yard (which is basically all of our very small living room); 3) it has to be reasonably priced; and 4) it has to be well-designed. And we found it all in the Educo My Creative Cookery Club.

Early Christmas present
Early Christmas present

We decided to set it up early since we'll be spending Christmas in Singapore and there is no way we are going to haul the kitchen set all the way across three continents just so Sophie can open it on Christmas morning. It's been a couple of weeks since she's had it and she LOVES it to bits. Even her teachers at school know about it because apparently she talks about it all the time. She has a field day putting all manner of toy food into the pots, stirring and frying, putting things into the "oven" and "refrigerator", checking to see if they're cold/hot enough, and taking them out. We've also been using it to teach her new words like spatula, salt and pepper shaker, and temperature.

And even though she's more than happy to play with the kitchen set by herself, it's actually been a lot of fun playing along with her. She asks us for our orders, we tell her what we want (Jude always gets a sandwich with everything and I have a burger with red peppers and onions), and she'll make it for us. Of course, service is not always the promptest at Café Sophie- Jude's been waiting on his last order for six days. Every time he asks Sophie where his sandwich is, she'll open the "oven", peek in, and tell him, "Be patient, Dada, it's in the oven. It's hot."

Monday, December 05, 2011

Meeting Santa for the first time

So- guess who we bumped into at the farmer's market yesterday?

Guess who we bumped into at Kerrytown today?

I'm quite sure Sophie doesn't comprehend exactly who Santa Claus is or what he represents but she was excited enough to see him nonetheless. We didn't know he was going to be there and I guess no one did either because we barely had to wait 5 minutes before it was Sophie's turn to sit on his lap. Maybe because there was none of the hype or anticipation that sometimes accompanies the first Santa meeting, Sophie was actually really comfortable being held by him. She duly answered his questions (What's your name? How old are you? What would you like for Christmas?, which she breezily answered with "carrot"- I wish we had known that earlier coz it would have been much easier than what we've gotten her- for another post...) and was more than happy to give him a hug and snuggle.

She was still talking about her little tête-à-tête with Santa later in the afternoon and so I think it did mean something special to her. We haven't decided if we're going to do the whole "Santa brings children gifts on Christmas thing" but if we do, we know she at least likes the idea of the guy... :)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Got milk?

Hot chocolate treat on blustery day

We were listening to The Muppets channel on Pandora when Rufus Wainwright's version of "Hallelujah" came on (don't ask- I haven't yet figured out which music gene in The Muppets is somehow related to this track...). About a minute into the song, Sophie asks quizzically, "Why is the man sad?" Now, while I appreciate her sensitivity to melancholy, anyone who's heard the original (or better yet, Jeff Buckley's version) would tell you that Rufus Wainwright emphatically does not sound half as sad, but what does Sophie know? She thinks Elmo is the paragon of normal... Anyways, before I could suggest that she have a conversation with Leonard Cohen about his songwriting, this is what she offers as a solution:

"Maybe he needs to drink some soy milk."

Now if only she were right and epic heartache could be cured by a dairy substitute...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Random daycare daily report #20

I've never seen a child more excited about playing in the snow than Sophie was today. All morning long, she kept going over and trying to put her snow boots on. Then we were finally getting ready to put on snow clothes, we had a hard time convincing Sophie that her boots has to go on last. She was excited about those boots! :)

Incidentally, at drop-off this morning, Sophie basically burst into her classroom and shouted out loud, "ARE WE GOING SLEDDING??!!" I guess they sort of did :)