Thursday, November 29, 2012

Counting down to Christmas

Counting down to Christmas

To the strains of the Vince Guaraldi Trio (soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas) and Pink Martini's Christmas album, we finally got round to putting up our tree and hanging up our stockings last weekend. Christmas has always been a big deal in my family and the joy of counting down to it is something we've always shared with Sophie.

As you can tell, our first proper Christmas tree is a little on the slender side but it fits exactly where and how we want it to- at the edge of our living room wall and next to Jude's speakers. Most importantly, it has a little bit of everything we love-- things we picked from my mom's that I've always loved, those from dear friends who live too far away (specifically salt dough ornaments that dear Finn made for us back in Ann Arbor and a little Finnish elf from one of Tarja's Pikkujoulu parties), and new favorites that we (ok, Sophie) just added to our collection :)

The personalized stockings are handmade from an etsy store, byebyebirdieengland and are just about the cutest things ever. Sophie thinks they're adorable too and they've actually become an unexpected way for her to learn her letters. Today, looking at them, she realized that her name has fewer 'E's than mine and very plaintively asked that I share my extra 'E's with her. She was so sad, it was quite funny...

We still haven't found a Christmas wreath that we like and there's the whole yet-to-finish Christmas shopping issue (and then its attendant wrapping of presents), but that aside, that familiar quiet joy that always pervades as Christmas rolls around has definitely set in- things seem a little prettier, you find yourself being more forgiving of others and yourself, people are a little less grumpy, a little more generous, and there's just an all-round sense of well-being I associate only with Christmas coming round the corner...


1. Our first proper tree, 2. Salt dough ornament from Finn, 3. Tree topper, 4. Our personalized Christmas stockings have arrived :)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marking our return to the concert scene

The last time Jude and I got a chance to spend a night out without Sophie was January 2010-- Avatar was playing in the theatres, neither one of us had graduated, and Sophie had not even stared on solids yet. We were home for Sophie's first Christmas and the family was more than happy to jump at the opportunity to babysit. Since then, we'd just never got round to getting a babysitter in Ann Arbor and by then, we had just gotten used to schlepping Sophie everywhere with us. We had to eschew going out to anything past her bedtime but that was something we just got used to.

But sigur rós isn't just any old something and now that we're back home, family is around again to help us out with watching Sophie. She was more than happy to spend the night at the grandparents and hang out with her aunts, uncle, and Julianne-- she had her jammies, books, and toys picked out the night before and it was all she could talk about all Friday. When we said bye to her before the concert, she gave both of us a tight hug, reminded us that she was going to miss us, but told us to have fun anyway :)

According to Sam, Sophie did whine a little just before bedtime and asked for both Jude and I, but snuggling helped and she eventually fell asleep quietly and slept through the night without any fuss (except maybe sleeping horizontally and hogging precious bed space...) So all in all, I think Operation "Jude and Serene Return to the Concert Scene"was officially a success. We were praying it would be, what with Regina Spektor in December and possibly the Laneway Music Festival in January... ;)

Speaking of which, sigur rós was simply astounding. We've loved their music for so long and to be able to see them in Singapore was an exquisite experience. For a couple of hours that afternoon, I was so afraid that the concert would get washed out by the heavy storms, but thankfully the skies let up, the concert went on, and even though it did start to pour towards the end, it was less an inconvenience than a poetically fitting end to a gorgeous set. Because really, who listens to sigur rós on a bright sunny day anyway?...


I listend to them A LOT as I was writing my dissertation and there were several moments throughout the concert that brought up difficult memories of me crouching over my laptop tapping away into the wee hours of the morning, which made for a rather complicated experience, especially while standing in the drizzle that would then give way to a downpour. But I love how I feel when I listen to sigur rós-- complicated or not-- and watching them 'live' and sharing that with Jude and my cousin Terri was something quite quite special.

The concert didn't exactly have the same vibe as what I had always envisioned a sigur rós concert to be (see video below) but having it out in the open at Fort Canning was quite an inspired idea, although it would not have been my first choice in Singapore. I was expecting something smaller, a little more intimate, something more befitting the spare lushness (how's that for an oxymoron) of their music. But it worked out beautifully in the end, and it was quite the night to remember.



More pictures here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from afar!


1. Sophie tucking in (Thanksgiving 2011), 2. Thanksgiving dinner (Thanksgiving 2010), 3. Family portrait 1 (Thanksgiving 2009), 4. "Let me at it!" (Thanksgiving 2008), 5. Getting ready (Thanksgiving 2007), 6. My plate (Thanksgiving 2006), 7. Kathy, Stan, Yong, and Jonas (Thanksgiving 2004), 8. at dave & jen's (Thanksgiving 2003)

Those of you who've been reading the blog long enough know that Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite American holiday, mostly because I associate it solely with our time in the U.S. without any of the baggage of missing home. And the food of course. Now that we're back, I miss it very much, the same way I'm missing Fall, my favorite season. It's times like these that I actually try not to think about Ann Arbor too much because it actually stings a little behind my eyes...

But I'm nonetheless going to take the time to remember all the wonderful Thanksgivings we've had over the years and our fantastic friends with whom we've had the utter privilege and joy to have spent Thanksgiving. Thank you for your friendship, fellowship, and love, and for introducing us to the fabulous world of (deep-fried) turkey, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. A particular shout-out goes to our friends Rick and Emilee with whom we've spent five out of our nine Thanksgivings in the U.S.- you guys had better make good your plans to celebrate Thanksgiving here in Singapore next year! You and your turkey fryer... :)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sophie sells lemonade



And perfects the art of bargaining... Although I have to say, $3 from $15- we got a pretty good deal on our part :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

COVEmoments

One tradition of the Singapore early education system that I've never really understood is the kindergarten graduation ceremony. Oh, I get that it's a huge deal that the kids are leaving the (relatively) carefree stage of their childhood behind and moving up to formal schooling- it *is* significant and it should be celebrated.

What I don't understand is why it has to involve a whole song-and-dance program, multiple rehearsals, kids in elaborate costumes (that the parents have to pay for and which will ostensibly never get worn again), and thick make-up for all the children involved (girls and boys). Nobody I've spoken to enjoys it-- kids or parents, it's so much work for the poor teachers, and it costs so much more money than is necessary.

So it was with much relief when we found out that at Sophie's daycare, they have no such tradition. This weekend, the whole center celebrated the Kindergarten Two children graduating on to primary school and instead of the usual concert/pageant extravaganza, we all participated in a family games day instead. Even though Sophie's three years away from her own "graduation", she's come to know the children who are graduating this year and it was exciting for her to be celebrating with her friends (even though she only has the vaguest notion of what we were celebrating...)

The families didn't have to cough up a lot of money for the event-- a modest registration fee (which covered a goody bag and lunch) and an event t-shirt that we bought for Sophie which also didn't cost us too much and which I can totally see her wearing again. The whole thing was based on the theme of the Kindergarten Two curriculum this year-- Loving our Planet. Prior to this weekend, families were asked to contribute as much recyclable material as they could so that they could be used during the event's activities. Then we basically spent Saturday morning running around City Square Mall-- Singapore's first Eco Mall-- completing various tasks that involved the recyclable materials like building a tower and replicating the life-cycle of a caterpillar.

Task 2- building a picture frame from recycled materials
Making a giant photo frame from
recyclable materials

Sophie at the head of a caterpillar
Sophie as the head of the "caterpillar"

Every child and parent (even some grandparents) was involved and even though I think many of the younger kids-- Sophie included-- got tired running up and down a mall after about an hour, I think the intentions behind the event were great. We were never bored, we didn't feel like what little money we spent was wasted, and there were so many learning opportunities for all involved, especially the K2s who experienced the culmination of their year's learning in such a wonderful and engaging way. We were really so so happy for them all as they walked up the stage to proudly get their kindergarten certificates at the end of the festivities.

Graduation ceremony
Graduation ceremony

Like I said, it's going to be another three years before it's Sophie's turn. But if this year's event is anything to go by, we will only have a wonderful celebration to look forward to in 2015.

More photos here.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sophie the Rain Cloud

In retrospect, in light of Hurricane Sandy devastating the U.S. East Coast, dressing up as a rain cloud was probably not the most respectful idea. But if you know our daughter, you'd know that once she got something into that stubborn head of hers, she wasn't going to let it go without a fight. And so a rain cloud she was...

Sophie Raincloud!

I think last year was the last time I would have any say in Sophie's Halloween costume. This year, even though we have a perfectly functioning dinosaur costume she could have worn, Sophie insisted on being a rain cloud. She was adamant. I asked her why and it turns our, it's because of this video, an episode of her favorite Kipper cartoon where Arnold, Kipper's pig friend, takes a balloon ride into the clouds. When Sophie was sick a couple of weeks ago, she probably watched this video at least 10 times so I guess it stuck in her head...

And so with the help of a huge roll of cotton batting (the material you use to stuff quilts), an old dress, some felt cloth for rain drops, and A LOT of adhesive spray, Sophie's costume was born. She actually thought of crying on cue during trick-or-treating; and screaming- "So it will be like real rain and thunder, Mama." Oh Sophie...

Squirt galore

But in the end though, we settled on a squirt bottle which she ended up not using much of because she needed two hands to operate it and she was too concerned with her pumpkin candy bag.

In such a hurry to get to the parade

I think Sophie had a lot of fun- running around the estate with the big kids (some of whom mistook her for a sheep until they saw the rain drops...), shouting "trick-or-treat!" at the top of her voice (which was something she didn't do as much of last year), and riding up and down the elevators. One thing that did scare her though-- and which marked the end of Halloween for her-- was the last house we visited.

Last house...


It scared the bejeezus out of her when someone opened the door dressed as a vampire, flashing a torchlight under her face. At that moment, trick-or-treating was officially over :( Anyways, by that time, she was getting really tired too. And the humidity was probably getting to her as well. Her costume was basically one large quilt fluffed up so I can imagine that the mugginess was not fun.

She was happy going home with her little candy haul. She diligently picked out the ones she knew she could eat-- mostly the lollies and gummies-- and then force-fed the chocolates to Jude. I think it was her way of enjoying them vicariously through him :)

More photos here.