Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bye bye, Erin

Sophie with her primary caregiver, Erin
Erin with Sophie on the first day of daycare, 19 Jan 2010

With Erin
Erin with Sophie earlier this month, 5 June 2012

Erin's last day at Gretchen's House :(
Erin and Sophie today, Erin's last day at Gretchen's House

Today is Sophie's teacher, Erin's last day at Gretchen's House. She's moving to Nebraska so we've actually been swapping notes about our moving woes... Erin's been Sophie's primary caregiver from the very first day Sophie started daycare and the two of them have developed quite the special bond. In fact, if Sophie had it her way, we would 1) stop in Nebraska on our way to Singapore, and 2) take Erin (and the rest of her preschool friends) with us home :) Next to Jude and I, Erin probably knows Sophie the best-- Sophie's likes and dislikes, Sophie's strengths and weaknesses, how she's like when she throws a tantrum, what to do when she gets a boo-boo, etc. And Erin is just such a lovely person to begin with- we really really like her; not just because she's Sophie's teacher, but as a person, she's so fabulous. That she is also an awesome teacher makes us count our blessings everyday. We never worry when Sophie's at daycare because we know she's in good hands and that Erin's around to care for her.

If you ask her, Sophie will tell you that Erin is moving to Nebraska and that she is sad that it's Erin's last day. But I'm not sure if she fully comprehends what that really means. But Jude and I do, and we're genuinely sad. We can only hope to be able to find a caregiver who will take care of Sophie as wonderfully as Erin has...

Today, as part of a project I'm working on for Sophie, I brought our copy of Dr. Suess's Oh, the Places You'll Go! for Erin to write in- just a little message so that Sophie can remember her by in the future.

What she wrote made me cry:

Sophie-
It puts a smile on my face to imagine all the places you'll go. Just think of the places you've been so far-- Chicago, California, Singapore, Ann Arbor... the Muppet Studio (in your imagination!). Just the past few years I've seen you go places. First you were a cute, wiggly baby with an active set of lungs. Then you were a fun, curious toddler. Now you're a smart, thoughtful, creative, hilarious, fun-loving PRESCHOOLER! Your future is wide-open and you're sure to go any place you set your mind to. Some "places" are still a mystery-- will you grow up to be a teacher? Or an actor? Or a firegirl?! Other places are already clear-- you're going to be a thinker. You're going to be a book lover. You're going to have a wonderful sense of humor. Caring for you and seeing you become who you are has been my honor and I can't wait to see you continue to grow, learn, and mature. There's a Sophie-shaped place in my heart that no one else will fill. I know you won't remember me but I hope to have made a positive impression in your life as you have in mine. I wish you all the best in all the places you go and I love you very much Sophie Yew. Much love,
Erin

Bye bye, Erin. We miss you already :(

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Remembering when...

The thing about having to purge your house for a big move is that you unearth things you don't even remember you had kept away. Like Sophie's club foot casts.

Sophie's casts
Sophie's casts from when she was 10 days old to 7 weeks

It doesn't seem like that long time ago when we were taking her to the hospital every week to get her leg cast and how unnerving it was to contemplate the possibility that she might never have normal use of her left foot. And now, every time she annoys us by running away faster than we can catch up or when she heedlessly climbs up the play structure without us close by, I have to remind myself what a gift that actually is.

Sophie still wears her Markell shoes to sleep at night, just as she has every night for the last 2.5 years. At this point, she knows nothing else and probably thinks every child goes to sleep with a pair of shoes connected by a bar in between. She is starting to protest a little-- just because they sometimes get in the way of her getting comfortable in bed-- but we're going to try to persevere and keep her in them till she's four. Our pediatric orthopedics doctor gave us some references to specialists in Singapore who can take over supervising Sophie's progress and thankfully, they're at the university hospital and so close to us.

Markell shoes Then & Now
Markell shoes then and now

We just absolutely have no space to bring all her casts or shoes back to Singapore with us, but we are going to keep the first ones. They'll make for good show-and-tell items when the time comes.

See photos of Sophie's club foot treatment here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Exhilaration

Part of me was a little afraid that a year later, Sophie wouldn't enjoy the carnival as much as she did when it rolled into town last year. I was worried that being a year old and more aware of her emotions and anxieties, that she might be a little more apprehensive of the different sensory experiences of the rides and the carnival itself.

I was wrong :)

[Click to watch a flying spin ride as experienced by an almost three-year-old]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chronicling The Move

We're leaving Ann Arbor in just under a month. And we've arranged for the movers to pack and load the week before that. Which means every waking non-work, non-Sophie moment has been spent purging, packing, recycling, throwing, and donating. Having gotten rid of all the clothes we won't be taking with us, our next task was to tackle our books and papers. Between the two of us, Jude and I have clocked in 120 credit hours of coursework for our doctoral degrees, two prelim exams, and two dissertations. That's a lot of lecture notes, data printouts, assignments, journal articles, books, and copied book chapters. Oh and drafts of our dissertations. You should have seen the boxes of books we're setting aside to donate to Jude's school. Every year, they hold a book drive to raise funds for Alternative Spring Break (ASB). Basically, next year's ASB will pretty much be underwritten by us and our friend, Eric whose family is moving to Dublin in a few weeks too. And ever wondered how many trees two doctoral degrees kills? This is Cart 1 of two full shopping carts we had to take the the recycling bin.

That's how many trees 2 doctoral degrees killed

I'm taking pictures of our house as we slowly (ok, maybe not so slowly) empty it out. These were taken before Jude and I got started this past weekend, so exactly a month before we leave:

Living room
Sophie's room/ Office
Basement

As you can tell, we've got our work cut out for us. We've actually already made quite some progress since-- closets have been trimmed of clothes we won't be taking with us, books have been packed away, and the filing cabinet in our monstrosity of a basement is now nothing but hanging folders. We'll be doing more everyday so watch this space for updates.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Up!!

Sophie woke up at 6.30 this morning-- almost a full hour before she usually does; she barely touched the breakfast she specifically asked for (apple-cinnamon oatmeal); and she hardly said a word on our drive to school when she's usually hyper-chatty. Had we made any sudden movements around her, she probably would have spontaneously combust from all the excitement she was containing.

Today, Sophie starts preschool :)

Preschoooool!
Preschooool!!

Going to preschool has basically been all she's talked about for the past 6 months and we're glad she'll get to experience it, even if it's just for a month before we leave. It's basically been the motivating force behind getting her to potty-train and move out of her crib. And over the weekend, the only way we could get her to do anything-- eat her vegetables, pick up after herself, come home from the sandbox, etc.-- was to remind her about preschool on Monday.

It's not like things are going to be very different for Sophie in preschool- the preschool classroom keeps pretty much the same schedule and it's in the room just next to hers right now. Their use of time is probably a little more structured and there's likely to be a tad more learning that goes on, but in general, I don't think it'll be a huge transition for her. She'll have new teachers but again, they're all in the same wing so she knows who they are already (also, being the nosey girl that she is and having been at her daycare since she was 6 months old, she knows EVERYONE and they all know her...) But in spite of this all, as far as Sophie's concerned, preschool might as well be in a different country. Oh, and then of course, there's the fact that the preschoolers have their own playground that they don't have to share with the smaller kids. I remember seeing a boat structure in there but was sternly corrected by Sophie this morning- "It's a ship, Mama. It's not a boat. It's HUUUUUUGE!"

Because this is the first week of transitions, Sophie has the option of returning to her toddler classroom after lunch in case she gets anxious about the new surroundings. I told her toddler teachers not to hold their breath... :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making faces

Sophie and I are working on a picture book describing the different emotions she feels. Until we're finished, here's a look at the photos we'll be using:

Sophie's emotions

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Field of dreams

Here's a thought experiment- think of something you really really love. Like really. Got that? Now imagine a roomful of it. You following? Okay, now imagine entire museum halls filled with nothing but life-size manifestations (albeit in skeletal form) of this object of love. Throw in a generous helping of pure toddler wonder and awe, and what you have is Sophie Yew at Chicago's absolutely brilliant Field Museum of Natural History.

It's quite something to be in the presence of 500-million years of evolutionary history- forces you to put your life in perspective a little and it's oddly humbling and inspiring both at the same time... Since nothing I write can describe the magnificence of the museum or how enthralled all three of us were by the exhibits, here are some photos instead:

"Wow Mama, look at that!!!"
"Woah, Mama..."

In front of Sue, the largest and most complete (80%) Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton currently known.
In front of Sue, the largest and most complete (80%)
Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton currently known. She is

67 million years old.

Sophie's favorite dinosaur, the pterodactyl
Sophie's favorite pterodactyl that she spotted the moment
we entered the Main Hall.

Sitting in a dinosaur's footprint :)
Sitting inside a dinosaur footprint :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Artic (no, that's not a typo...)

Talking with Sophie about Chagall's American Windows
Talking with Sophie about Chagall's America Windows

It was one of those very special moments that I wanted to bottle up and preserve forever. Sophie will likely not have any memory of it when she grows up but I always will. And I will remind her of it as she gets older, that we once stood together in front of Chagall's America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ever since I saw it in person in 2004, America Windows has been one of my favorite pieces of (public) art ever. I've always been a Chagall fan and have seen a few of his original artwork, but nothing quite prepares you for the stunning magnificence that is America Windows. Calling it stained glass is like calling the Taj Mahal a house- it's so much more than that. I only managed to see it twice before it was removed for restoration in 2005. It took 5 years of intensive conservation treatment and archival research before the windows returned in 2010 as the stunning centerpiece of a new presentation at the east end of the museum’s new wing. And the moment we walked into the Art Institute yesterday, I made a beeline straight to it with Sophie in tow.

And it took my breath away. Again. Sparkling, shimmering, glowing. I asked Sophie what she saw in the windows, which sections she liked, and I told her why it's one of my favorite pieces of art. It wasn't like I gave her a crash course in art history or anything- we just talked about the windows like we would talk about a picture in one of her storybooks- the colors, the "characters", what we thought was going on, how the images made us feel, etc.

In fact, that's how we spent the next hour or so at the Art Institute. Visiting the Art Institute was one of the first things we've done with Sophie that was more for Jude and I than it was for her. Usually, on our vacations, we'd stick to things Sophie enjoys-- the children's museum, the aquarium, parks, etc. But this time, we wanted to go to the Art Institute and we took it as an opportunity to share with her something we love.

And it turned out to be really fun. And funny. Trust almost-three year olds to be the harshest art critics. The Art Institute was having a Roy Lichtenstein retrospective which was great- we thought Sophie might enjoy Pop Art a little more than say, the Impressionists. Sophie had very honest-- and VOCAL-- opinions about several of the pieces that caught her eye. "Why is the lady not wearing a diaper?", she asked, as we stood in front of Frolic (which prompted the woman next to us to say, "You must write this down in her baby book- how precious!"); "Oooh... I like hotdog. But I like it with ketchup, not mustard." (Hot Dog with Mustard); "I like some spaghetti too!" (Ball of Twine); and my favorite, "Why is the lady crying? Maybe she's in the shower. I think she has shampoo in her eyes." (Drowning Girl). Like I said, it was loud and hilarious :)

We had a wonderful time even though we obviously didn't visit all the exhibits. We're actually looking forward to some local and regional art when we move back to Singapore. Jude and I really enjoyed the National Museum of Singapore after it reopened a while back and I have a feeling Sophie might too. Here's to more museums to discover and explore together!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Girl & the Goat


1. Finally :), 2. hiramasa crudo, 3. chickpea fritters, 4. smoked goat rillette empanadas, 5. wood oven roasted pig face, 6. crisp braised pork shank

Long-time readers of the blog know that both Jude and I are huge fans of Top Chef (see here and here). And one of the restaurants opened by Top Chef cheftestants that we've always wanted to try is fourth season winner, Stephanie Izard's Girl & the Goat in Chicago. We've only heard good things about the food (1486 glowing reviews on yelp can't be wrong...) and so when we knew a month ago that we were going to be in Chicago to celebrate Jude's 40th birthday, I immediately tried to get reservations for us. But I clearly underestimated her popularity- a month ago, the earliest opening available for reservation was early July!!

Thanks to our friends, Libby and Naomi who live in Chicago though, we found out that there are a small number of tables set aside for walk-in customers. And so even if it meant that we had to eat dinner at 4.30, we made sure we ate very little earlier in the day (Jude and I split a Cuban sandwich at around 10 in the morning...) and were sufficiently hungry when doors opened for walk-ins at 4.15 :)

The restaurant and food were everything people said it would be, and then some. There is nothing pretentious or stuffy about Girl & the Goat- the ambience is relaxed, communal, and inviting- everything sharing and enjoying food ought to be about. The food is served small plates style-- meant to be shared-- and between the five of us (Sophie had her own little buffet of food I had packed), we had thirteen wonderful dishes that just delivered punches of flavor one after another. Everything was not only delicious, but interesting- who would have thought that scallops could be served with duck? Or that hazelnut hummus and chickpea fritters would be such a taste sensation together? And don't even get me started on the raw fish crudo with crispy pork belly or that hunk of pork shank that just blew all our minds away... And she made me love beets. Beets! Each plate was a conversation starter that got us talking about what we loved most about the dish-- we wondered aloud why we don't use fish sauce more often in our own cooking, we tried to figure out how we would try to recreate her ragu at home, and we all now want to eat more green beans because her sauteed green beans outshone some of the proteins as one of our favorites of the evening. Basically, the experience was communal not just because we were sharing everything that was put on our table, but also because the food made us think and talk about the thought that must have gone into conceiving each dish and about how much we were enjoying what we were eating.

The best part, it wasn't even that expensive at the end of the day. People like to think that delicious, creatively crafted food has to be expensive as well, but not at Girl & the Goat. We walked out feeling like we scored a deal considering the amazing food we just had the privilege of tasting.

If you have a chance, dear readers, drop by Girl & the Goat if you can. Even if it means making reservations months in advance or having dinner at 4.30pm :)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Farm in the city

When people think of Detroit, they think of cars, urban blight, Eminem, and maybe casinos. If you ask Sophie about Detroit though, she'll tell you that's where farms are, and where you hang out with chickens and collect eggs. That's what happens when you bring an almost three-year-old to visit your friends who live in Detroit who have turned the abandoned lots next to their apartment complex into a wonderful cornucopia of fresh vegetables, healthy happy chickens that lay eggs everyday, and of bustling bees that help with pollination and also produce a modest amount of honey.

Listening to Rachel talk to her about the chickens
Talking to Rachel about the chickens

Trond and Rachel have painstakingly turned what was otherwise another prairie-zed piece of land into a precious gem that is just teeming with life. Sophie spent the evening feeding mulberries to the clucking chickens and learned about all the different baby plants (squash, tomato, chives, lettuce, potato, etc.) that would soon bear fruit and vegetables. I think it was good for her to see the effort that goes into growing and cultivating the food that makes it to our table and to recognize that food doesn't just come from the store or the market.

Feeding the chickens some mulberry
Helping to feed the chickens

She was particularly thrilled to be able to help collect the freshly laid eggs and put them carefully into a carton for us to take home. It occurred to us that since she can't actually eat the eggs because of her allergies, it's the closest contact she can probably have with eggs for now :)

Even though she can't eat the eggs, she can still help to pack them up
She can't eat them, but she sure knows how to pack 'em!

We made the eggs for dinner tonight, as part of "Breakfast for Dinner"- the country bacon was from our new favorite artisan sausage store, Biercamp, and the potato and fennel were from the farmers market. It was about as local and farm-fresh as they come and it was as soul-satisfying as it was delicious :)

Breakfast for dinner
Country bacon, farm fresh eggs, roasted potato and fennel

[More pictures here]