Posted in #yyc, Little Person Updates, out and about in calgary

for the young foodie in your life

The first time that we lived in Calgary was in 2000, and one of our big discoveries was the Cookbook Company Cooks. Chris and I surely bought a lot of exotic salsas and jars of colourful salts there, but most of my memories of the Cookbook Co. are of taking cooking classes in the basement. It was a lot of fun when I started out (I remember volunteering to peel all the potatoes over the six week series if my cooking partner Raj would chop all the onions), but after four or so years, the foodie culture in Calgary had changed the demographics of the class and I wasn't enjoying them as much. We'd had a good run, though.

 Now we're here for Calgary: The Sequel, and we've enrolled Madeline in a week-long day camp at the Cookbook Co. Despite having to drive across the city twice a day, Chris and I kind of wish that we were thirty years younger because it's a pretty awesome day camp and we're totally missing out.

Madeline's made soups and salads and Mexican dishes and pasta dough for ravioli, and she's even eaten carmelized onions and stuffed mushrooms, but the really cool thing about her camp is the field trips. The campers have gone to Modern Jelly Doughnuts, Cibo, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, the Brulee Patisserie, and Village Ice Cream. Madeline day is always better than ours!


Posted in ex-pat confidential, Little Person Updates, sadie the sequel, Traveling with Madeline

how i spent my summer vacation: a study in awesomeness

At the beginning of August, my family loaded itself onto a Qatar Airways 777 and flew across the Atlantic. We spent a lot of our summer vacation in transit – it's a long flight between HCMC and Doha, and an even longer flight from Doha to Washington DC. 

The DC-area is where we experienced the first awesome things about our summer vacation. Starbucks! Iced chai lattes are one of my favourite things in the world, and I have to travel to other countries to find them, so yes, that was a big deal. I had my first iced chai latte of the trip the day that we landed. Another awesome thing: TLC – a channel we don't get here! I totally indulged in garbage tv on our holiday. Whenever we were staying in hotels, I watched a lot of Say Yes to the Dress and Toddlers & Tiaras. I threw in a little HGTV on the side when I was feeling more adventurous. Another awesome thing: I went to an actual Athleta store (yay Tyson's Corner!) and tried on the Nectar dress that I've been admiring for about two years. Turns out it looks absolutely horrible on me, so it's a good thing that I waited and didn't spend a crazy amount of money shipping one to Vietnam. I bought a pair of Dipper shorts instead, and they are pretty terrific. Tyson's Corner also had a store where my children spent their birthday money buying their un-Canadian dolls outfits that cost more than the ones that they were wearing on their very own bodies. But that's what birthday money is for, right?

Part of the attraction of heading back to North America over the summer is the opportunity to fill up on some of things that we miss while we're living overseas, like family and wide open spaces. We stayed with Chris's sister in Maryland for a few days, and it was just lovely to watch my kids play in a fenced backyard, take them to a playground, and even just eat a picnic lunch outside on benches. (The part of this visit where Madeline conspired to play with her five year-old cousin to the near-exclusion of the other three kids was unplanned, though).

Wegmans! We stepped into a Wegmans somewhere in Maryland and Virginia, and it was crazy to be in a regular grocery store again! Gosh, it was spacious and well-stocked in comparison to the types of places that I get to buy groceries here in Saigon. Despite accusing me of going overboard in Target (where I re-stocked our medicine cabinet for the next year), he went a little crazy in the snack-and-drink aisle at Wegmans. The drink where pellets dropped down into the bottle for mixing was kind of neat, but I passed on his super-sized bag of crystallized ginger. 

Part of heading back to an English-speaking county during the summer is about shopping, but the longer that we live overseas, the more content I am to live without a lot of the consumer items that I used to haul back to SE Asia in my suitcase. This trip, we mainly brought home pharmaceuticals, birthday/Christmas gifts for the kids, and a few odd things that I can't locate in Saigon, like duct tape, cork sealer for my Birkenstocks, and sport laundry detergent because my regular clothes were beginning to smell too much like my gym clothes. 

On this vacation, I learned that my kids are generally cooperative enough that I can take them swimming by myself without being way out of my supervisory-and-water-skill league. The first time I took them solo was in Pinehurst, NC when Chris was off golfing. I did get a little nervous when the water they were playing in got deeper than I was comfortable in. This was an awesome development, especially since the alternative would have been hanging out in the hotel room for the entire day instead. This also paid off again when I hung out with my kids at the beach and hotel pool when we were in Hilton Head Island and Chris was off elsewhere in South Carolina watching a professional golf event of some sort. No one drowned, my kids monopolized the water slide at our resort as much as they could, and we came home with new pool noodles and sea shells. 

I also have to mention here that the cleanliness of the public HHI beach was awesome. I certainly wasn't imagining that we'd find an un-ending stretch of sandy shore with no litter or rocks or general ocean sludge. I'm not making this up – it honestly looked like this:


My eleven year-old self (who used to watch Space Camp on a near-daily basis) would have thought that our vacation was totally awesome because we visited the National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and saw this:



Awesome is the only appropriate word.

One aspect of this holiday that I was day-dreaming about before we even left Vietnam was the food. There is a distinct lack of southern BBQ here. However, it wasn't hard to find in the Carolinas. Our first stop after crossing into North Carolina was at some dive in Raleigh where we enjoyed chopped BBQ pork sandwiches and collard greens and stuff. In Charleston, we polished off a helping of boiled peanuts:


And learned exactly why peanuts are a legume instead of a nut. 

The final awesome thing to say about our road-trip holiday is that Madeline and Sadie were good little passengers. They didn't complain much at all about how we strapped them into the back of our rental vehicle for some very long hauls. Madeline usually read or was content to stare out of the window, and Sadie napped or watched Doc McStuffins over and over again on Chris's iPad.  I remembered how I felt about road trips when I was a little kid, and was expecting a lot more tears and tirades. But they didn't happen, so … Awesome. 


Posted in Little Person Updates, sadie the sequel, school daze

those kids that I write about sometimes are still around

There is something sort of backwards about parent-teacher conferences here; I had a twenty-minute chat with my three year-olds preschool teacher (memorable comment: "Sadie applies yellow to all colours indiscriminately") yet had a mere ten minutes to cover four months of progress with Madeline's second grade teacher. 

Regardless of the brevity of the latter conference, everyone is doing fairly well. Even if I don't like how much of an informational black box Madeline's school is, she's happy to participate and her teacher has really been encouraging her reading skills. Madeline's entire grade – so, about 115 students – put on a play last week; Neverland had an astoundingly large population of pirates and Lost Boys, but Madeline sang and danced and spoke her one line in the play with enthusiasm.

Sadie is moving up from the Caterpillar Room to the Butterfly Room. Her preschool supports the multi-age classroom concept, and I think that she's the oldest kid in her current class. I am a little sad that she won't be finishing off the year with her current teacher and friends, but I also think that it will be nice that she'll be familiar with the new room and teacher before the summer break. In theory, this should make the transition back to school in August easier, right? 


Posted in Little Person Updates


It's been a long, long time since I last interviewed Madeline for a post here. I was going to do it today, but by the time I'd remembered about it, she's already been tucked into bed for the night. So, maybe I'll just substitute some little factlets about her at age 7.25 years that I find both wonderful and bizarre. 

I bought a new broom/dustpan set the other day, and though it's designated spot is in the kitchen by the utility shelves, she keeps sneaking them upstairs and sticking them in a corner of her bedroom. 

When I have my iPod out, the only song request that she makes is for "Don't You Want Me" – the slightly stalker-ish song that the Human League recorded in 1982 (though I will admit that it's the recording from the tv series Glee on my iPod; apparently, I cannot say no to Blaine Warbler). 

The other music she requests is Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, so she can turn the volume up while videos on YouTube play and then twirl around in front of the computer with her little sister.

She still wants to play dress-up and other nurturing role-playing things, but I can see her interests maturing. Suddenly, she's into scrapbooking and meditation. Meditation? Where did that come from?

She has a penchant for very modest clothes. Her below-the-knee hemlines and high collars would meet the approval of plenty of conservative-values groups. 

Madeline has a crazy amount of patience with her little sister, way more than I had when I was seven and my sister was three. And she still happily plays with the preschool toys with Sadie, whether it's the Little People or Magnatiles. They made wonderful artwork together today, even if Madeline did end up nearly cleaning out my supply of paint.

Since admonishing her that choosing french fries to go with her school lunch does not mean that she picked a vegetable, I've been hearing her say that she had potatoes as a side dish. She knows that I know that she really just had fries again, because she never eats potatoes in their natural form, yet we keep up the illusion …

She didn't emit one ounce of jealousy a few weeks ago when her little sister was opening birthday gifts, but an inordinate number of those gifts seem to have found permanent homes in Madeline's bedroom. Go figure. She must have been silently plotting, all along.

Over the summer, I realized that the last remant of her toddler-vocabulary had vanished; Madeline's first meal of the day is breakfast and no longer bress-kissed. Sob.

A year ago, she was fussy about sounding out words for reading. Now, she zooms though chapter books like the Ivy & Bean series or the Ramona books at astonishing speeds. And today, when we were playing Monopoly Jr., she was actually playing for her ride tickets with large bills so she'd have to compute her change. This was shocking because a month ago, it appeared that having to do math calculations in her head was a physically painful ordeal. 

Posted in Little Person Updates

six years and six things

IMG_3803 1. The (somewhat accidental) tradtion of spending Madeline's birthdays at the movie theatre continued. It was a little tricky, but Chris managed to find out that Toy Story 3 was playing in Saigon. I suspect that it will be a sad June 29 when Pixar stops releasing their new films in early summer. 

2. Madeline really and truly has a loose tooth. I am excited for her, but also secretly hope that the novelty of showing me exactly how loose it is wears off asap. 

3. There are very pretty birthday cakes here in Saigon, and it's a good thing that Madeline really likes whipping cream.

4. Every now and then, Madeline gives us a preview of her future insolent pre-teen self, which I tell myself is just related to her being out-of-sorts about our move. I am rather glad that I have a few years to prepare and strategize before living with that version of my Madeline on a full-time basis. 

5. I can't tell anymore if she's a little kid or a big kid. Her favourite birthday gifts are a stuffed pony (which I sort of think of as "little kid") and a scooter (big kid item, of course). 

6. Madeline's prized possessions du jour: her yearbook from her last school, a purple glitter pen, and a set of Mr. Sketch scented markers that her kindergarten teacher bequeathed to her.

Posted in Little Person Updates

sprinkles, ponies, and backseat chatter

I will always be fond of the month of June because of Madeline and her birthday on the 29th of the month. The tricky thing with her birthday is that it inevitably falls after school is over for the year. The trickier thing is that with our life in an ex-pat community, most families leave for their summer holidays as soon as the school bell rings on the last day of classes, so there aren't a lot of friends left around here. The trickiest thing is that we are supposed to be moving next week, so finding spare time is not easy. All combined, this means that planning a party where Madeline can celebrate with her friends is rather … well, tricky. Considering my general aversion to parties and current solo-parent status, a big birthday party for Madeline would be hard to pull off … 

So today, twenty days early, Madeline's been treated to a low-key celebration. I took her and two friends to Build-a-Bear where they all decided to stuff matching white ponies with nylon hair and what looks like mendhi tattoos. I confused one of her friends immensely when I suggested that the fourth letter in the name "Elizabeth" was a "zed" at the animal-naming station at B-a-B. Silly Americans and their "zee"s. After we had all of the ponies named and paid for, we headed to Swensons for ice cream sundaes. Sprinkles were had by all. 

As we rode back from the shopping centre, I had to keep my hand covering my mouth to stop chuckling aloud at the conversation topics of the new first graders. Puking. Underpants. Kissing (they are quite certain that if they kiss their stuffed ponies, they will have to marry them as well). They're all really sweet kids, and I'm sad that Madeline isn't going to have another year with these friendships. 

Posted in Idle Chatter, Little Person Updates, sadie the sequel

cannot deny the evidence

Yesterday, Madeline and Sadie were playing on the carpet with three or four of our Little People playsets. I was busy in our storage closet, purging it of empty boxes and trying to organize holiday decorations and so forth. All of a sudden, the background noise of happy sibling interaction was replaced with hysterical tears. 

I sprinted out to the living room and gathered Sadie into my arms to comfort her, and noticed Madeline sitting on the sofa, looking a little guilty. "I sort of hit her on the head," she confesssed, looking extremely uncomfortable and guilty. A short convo about what and why and how followed, and Madeline was let off with a stern warning for this seemingly accidental infraction. 

A few hours later, we were hanging out in Sadie's bedroom. I was feeding Sadie, and Madeline was looking at books. I looked down and noticed a new mark on Sadie's arm – actually, a whole serious of little marks, arranged in two semi-circles. I immediately knew what had really happened when Sadie was upset earlier! Unfortunately for Madeline, she failed to anticipate the tell-tale bruising left by her teeth on her sister's arm when she tried get away with the perfect crime and confess to lesser charges. Sigh.