We’re just back from a fantastically chaotic 5-week travel binge- Boston, Cape Cod, New York, Chicago, a lake in Wisconsin, home (with a double-case of RSV caught somewhere in the germ-swamp of OHare).
Cape Cod: a whirlwind of parents and grandparents and children and sandy feet and beach crabs. 9 grown-ups looking after 6 kids, all under 4. Milo taught Alastair how to eat shells. Eeek.
Which was all a far cry from New York City, where we spent two glorious weeks in that perfect end-of-summer balmy – but not baking-hot – weather. It was a fun routine of elevators (“Mino push the buddon please to go down down down?”); cheerful doormen (“Mino say heddo to friend man?”); stroller rides to Washington Square Park for its plaza where the men drink from paper bags and play chess; and lots and lots of taxis, policecars, firetrucks, and other vehicles of New York’s Finest, including a fine horsie with tickly whiskers who says Neigh.
The lake in Wisconsin was the pinnacle of kid craziness. We had 10:11, with no child over the age of 6, and only one other over the age of 3. We stayed in our friend’s great-grandmother’s chalet-style rambling lake house, with a massive lawn sloping down to the lake, a rowboat, sailboat & motorboat, on-site tennis, and a huge porch that afforded the adults some wine-drinking and politics-talking time (Sarah Palin…really???) while the kids careened around the yard. Milo learned about bumblebees and spiders, and why we should only look and not touch. Alastair learned how to say “guh, glerrrrramph” and whack at the other babies.
Home via Milwaukee, where we stopped by Calatrava’s amazing bird-ship-like art museum sailing out over Lake Michigan for some play in the lobby. A magical white, windowy, watery open place with shocks of sculpture color, perfect for running and gazing and wearing out kids before our long (delayed) flight home.
I like to eat with chopsticks when we dine out at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant or when we cook Chinese food at home…it really does taste better with chopsticks, doesn’t it? Of course, my daughter doesn’t like to be left out. She quickly fell in love with the idea of chopsticks (what kid wouldn’t?) and she simply will not accept a fork or a spoon if there are chopsticks available. But chopsticks can be tricky, even for many adults, and my daughter’s first attempts resulted in tears of frustration.
Enter Chopstick Kids by Fred & Friends. A cheerful little boy or girl in red or pink silicone sits atop the chopsticks (it will work with almost any pair) and keeps them in line, making them much easier for small hands to manage. Now my daughter can participate happily in the meal, chopsticks and all. Someday she’ll learn to use chopsticks on her own, but in the meantime Chopstick Kids is a great training tool and a wonderful way for us all to enjoy our dinner together!
One of the best ways to help your child become a true citizen of the world is to travel as often and far as you dare. It helps them learn to love adventure, open their mind to new ideas and cultures, and break out of routine.
Of course, traveling with children is not always easy. It’s dirty, filled with cumbersome gear and, for me, often involves wearing way too much of whatever my son had for dinner. Sometimes regurgitated.
But the secret is that those hardships are a small price to pay. In fact, I would argue that any discomfort or annoyances are, at the end of the day, completely and totally worth it. The advantages of traveling with my son — what he learns, what I learn — makes any angst about the process seem silly by the time we return home. And I’m not alone. There are plenty of other Moms out there who are traveling all over the world with their kids and blogging to tell the tale.
Looking for the best places to visit? Great hotels that won’t mind if your child stomps up and down the stairs while you check-in? Funny stories of just how much a four-year-old can barf on an airplane? Commiseration? Inspiration? Look no further than your browser. There are plenty of great Mama blogs that explore the where’s, why’s and how’s of traveling both near and far with young’uns with experience, poignancy and, most importantly, humor. Here are some of the best:
“When I grow up, I want to have butter. And cheese!” This is my daughter Mila’s answer almost every time she is asked what she’d like to be when she grows up. She used to say she wanted to be an astronaut, and then it was a character from one of her favorite movies, but lately…all she wants is to consume dairy products. Like a growing number of children in America, Mila has multiple food allergies. Macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets? She can’t eat that. Goldfish crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Nope. Actually, very few menu items typical to mainstream toddler cuisine in America are safe for her to eat. At restaurants the entire children’s menu is usually off limits. Now, I love food – lots of different kinds – and at first it was difficult for me to accept that my own child might be unable to share that love of food with me.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where we sampled a wide variety of ethnic cuisines. My grandmother took Chinese cooking lessons from the Benedictine Sisters of Peking and I remember my own mother cooking us dinners from that little cook book in turn – spring rolls and Taiwanese Special. I remember Bangladesh chicken curry over rice, a recipe my mother received from some missionary friends. How I loved the way those wonderful spices seeped into the rice and turned it bright yellow! A family from Cuba lived in our home for a while and fed us sopa de frijoles negros (Cuban style black beans) and fricasé du pollo (Cuban chicken fricassee) and guava paste on crackers. Later on, as a college student in Chicago, I discovered a love for Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisines.
When we began to face the challenge of feeding a child with food allergies, I became frustrated with the difficulties of providing variety in my daughter’s diet. Then I discovered that many of my favorite ethnic foods were already naturally safe for Mila to eat – no disappointing substitutes required! I discovered a wonderful alternative food source in the local Asian supermarket and in the inspiring dishes at my favorite ethnic restaurants. It’s easy to avoid wheat, dairy, and soy in Thai cuisine, for example, and Indian cuisine offers many vegetarian options, which makes it easy to stay away from eggs. As it turns out, these foods that I’ve loved and had previously considered something of a luxury or a special treat are the things that Mila can eat on a regular basis. Masala dal (Indian lentils), pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup)? Yes, she can eat that!
I do hope she can grow up to eat butter and cheese (and if she’s an astronaut, I guess that would be fine too), but even if she doesn’t, I’m confident now that there are many varieties of foods and flavors she’ll be able to enjoy anyway. I want her to feel lucky for the opportunity at such a young age to explore the culinary traditions of so many different cultures. Because, really, those food allergies, when they might have meant a boring and restricted diet, have actually inspired our family to enjoy ethnic cuisines on a more regular basis and to explore the wonderful international supermarkets in our area. Maybe next time she’s asked, she’ll forget about butter and cheese and say, “when I grow up I want to have pud makua yow (Thai basil eggplant) and vindaloo (spicy Goan curry).” In the meantime I’m happily satisfied with her excited smile as she exclaims “mmm, this is spicy, right?!” and shovels in another bite….
It was Moushumi’s 7th month birthday and she was going to choose her destiny! For such an important event, it was of course necessary to get dolled up. I wore a beautiful silk sari, and Moushumi wore an adorable red sari that mimics the one worn by a bride in our Bengali culture. Even my husband, who is American, wore Indian clothes. The occasion was Moushumi’s Annaprashan, a traditional Bengali-Hindu rite-of-passage ritual that marks the occasion of an infant’s first taste of solid food, typically rice. It also involves a fun pick-your-destiny game for the child.
My parents, who live close by, had the event at their house with delicious catered as well as home-made Indian food. My parents invited all of their close friends because in our culture, it is customary for everyone to come and bless the child. Many people came long distances to share in this special day with us, including some of my oldest friends. Several of my husband’s family members were also able to come for the whole weekend, which was wonderful. My husband’s father had an important role to play, helping my stepfather feed Moushumi the rice pudding that is the centerpiece of the ceremony. He wore Indian clothes, and handled his slippery-soled Indian shoes very well. It was truly a multicultural event, with two grandfathers from different cultures trying to feed an agreeable but confused baby.
It’s worth describing Moushumi’s outfit in detail, to convey the cuteness. She wore a red silk sari, and jewelry, including anklets, a garland and a special head-dress. She looked adorable! When we came into the room where the guests were waiting for us, she gave everyone a big smile. She was the star and I think she knew it!
Both my stepfather and my father-in-law took turns feeding Moushumi her “payesh” or rice pudding. The payesh was blessed by a priest during a “puja” or worship at our house earlier that morning. She basically spit it out, but that was good enough for us. We then played the destiny game, which involves presenting the child with a tray holding different objects. Everyone watched intently to see what she would pick. Minutes before, my mother had run out to the yard and grabbed a clump of soil with grass still attached. That was the first thing Moushumi picked up – and then she promptly threw it down on the floor! People joked that this meant she was rejecting a life as a landowner. She briefly touched the book and then picked up the pen. My family was very happy about that because we have many professors, doctors, and writers in our family and the pen signifies learning and intellect. She finally picked up the gold bangle and everyone cheered – you can’t go wrong with gold, it signifies wealth. As her mother, I conclude that this game showed us a future where she is curious about everything and will make many messes. After the ceremony, Moushumi had a quick wardrobe change into a red dress and was passed around to everyone at the party! We then ate and drank and chatted while the star took a well-deserved nap.
It was a great, if somewhat exhausting, day. Although she may not remember a thing, Moushumi was very aware at the time that something interesting was happening – eating something new, having people fawn all over her, wearing lots of funny stuff, and being able to grab and throw things. She got meet lots of new people as well as see some family members that she doesn’t see often. I believe she felt the love – and really, that is the point of events like these, isn’t it – whatever culture it may be? Despite differences in culture, everyone who took part understood that it was an occasion to come together and celebrate the miraculous beauty of a new child.
Norway is renowned as the “cradle of skiing” and it is possible to ski there, even in the summer time.
Emily and I wanted to see these snow capped mountains first, so we headed toward Jotenheimen National Park, home to Norway’s highest peaks.
We needed to rest up before we embarked on our journey through the mountains, and found ourselves in the perfect spot. The quaint and eclectic Elevester Hotel sits in the shadows of Norway’s tallest mountain.
Inside, the hotel is decorated with motifs and crafts from Norwegian history.
The upholstery fabric and hand painted designs on the antique furniture inspired some of our winter textiles, as used in our Elevester Floral Dress (shown above).
We were ready to make our way up to the peaks. As we climbed higher, the snow walls began to tower at least 3 feet above our car. I was starting to regret not bringing along some cozy mittens and warmer layers…
…but along our decent, snow gave way to waterfalls and lush green pastures.
We decided to stop in Skjolden, a small town on the other side of the mountains. We were delighted to find that the town was having a local craft fair. Here we met Olga, a sweet woman selling her hand knitted mittens and slippers.
The history of hand knitting in Norway dates back to Viking times and most snowflake motifs and lice patterning that we see on ski sweaters today, originated there. A Norwegian collection would not be complete without a nod to these designs.
When the weathermen said we would be getting a storm we didn’t expect it to be of the magnitude it was. Ike rolled in and just as Mayor White said, we hunkered down. The winds started around 5pm Friday and then the rains, lightning, tornadoes and I’m sure some “unclassified” natural phenomenons began. It was the longest night of my life.
I continued to pace the house with a flashlight every 30 minutes to make sure the loud booms I was hearing weren’t broken window or a hole in the roof from a tree falling. My husband and daughter slept through the entire thing – even the loud popping and crashing of power lines and transformers every 2 minutes.
When the morning broke, it was vividly clear the destruction Ike left us. My street was completely flooded, huge 100 year old pines were literally picked up from their roots and thrown across yards, huge tree limbs and debris floated down our street like it was a river. Everywhere around us, our neighbors were in their fishing waders or rain boots, mid-thigh to waist deep in the water trying frantically to check on each other.
Meanwhile, my daughter’s allergy triggered asthma was acting up and not a single person in our neighborhood had power. In the rain and wind, I wrapped her up, grabbed her nebulizer and medicine and walked half a mile to the police station in hopes they had power. They did. The police couldn’t even give us a ride back to our house because the water was too high for their squad cars. And so, every four hours, we made the trek to the police station and accumulated an impressive collection of junior police officer stickers.
Saturday afternoon, we began the clean up. It took us six hours to get our front yard passable. I didn’t even want to look at our backyard. So without power, water and basically no contact with the greater Houston world, we did the best we could to keep a positive outlook and entertain our daughter who, at two and a half, had no clue what had happened.
Once the water receded, we ventured out into our neighborhood and to be honest, it looked like a war zone. Fences and trees were ripped apart and thrown everywhere. Power lines were snapped in half and dangling across streets. The park down the street was shredded to bits. It was so depressing, I didn’t want to go any further.
Saturday night, the rains came again. Winds were hitting about 30-40 miles per hour and of course, at 4:30 in the morning, my daughter needed another breathing treatment. Again, I wrapped her up, went out in the pouring rain and took her up to the police station.
Sunday morning when we woke, it was still pouring rain, high winds and we were flooded again. No one would know we had spent six hours cleaning the day before. Still without power and water and not a power service vehicle in sight, we waited for the water to receed and then we just headed out of town.
Now it is Wednesday, and I am writing this from my computer on a ranch in Llano, Texas. We can’t go home because we still do not have power on my block. My entire neighborhood has power, but of course, my block does not. Probably because the transformer is sitting in my neighbors’ backyard.
We’re grateful to be where we are as we have plenty of food, water, electricity (especially air conditioning!), but we are ready to go home. Ike has truly been a lesson for us. It’s amazing the things we all take for granted like power, clean water, being able to cook food and more. For a major city, such as Houston, to be completely destroyed is a really tough pill to swallow.
We don’t know when or if my daughter’s school will re-open, we don’t know when gas, food, water etc. will be available and most of all, we don’t know if we even have jobs when we return. I guess the main thing we learned from this is that even though we are very possessive of our material things, it’s not what is important. I’m not going to lie. If we go home and looters took all that we have, I will be upset; no devastated. But, once that emotion passes, I will realize that my family is safe and well and that’s what matters most.
If my daughter was older, I would take her with me to Galveston to help with the clean up efforts, but it isn’t safe. But I will have her help me deliver water and food to people near us that aren’t as fortunate as we are. A lesson in humanity and community has humbled us all in Southeast Texas.
If any of you who read or contribute to this blog have family affected by Ike, please know you and they are in our prayers and thoughts.