Monthly Archives: May 2009

May 27, 2009

learning mandarin

Since my son was born — he’s now two — I’ve been speaking Mandarin to him. My partner speaks Vietnamese to him. I never really thought much about whether to speak to him in English or Chinese; I knew I was going to speak to him in Chinese, my first language.
Once he was born, though, I found myself looking for the right words to say to a newborn! My English is much better than my Mandarin, so it’s sometimes hard to stick to speaking in just Mandarin with him. Through raising him, I’m learning about my own limitations with Mandarin, and surprisingly, learning about my strengths and how quickly things come back. These old school phrases that I must have learned as a child just seemed to come out of nowhere! And Since he’s started to pick up more words, I realized how important it is to keep the language going!
One of the things I’m learning is that, like any aspect of parenting, it’s so important to surround yourself with a community of like-minded folks, or people in similar situations. When we have our friends over, who happen to know Chinese or Vietnamese, we ask them to speak to him in those languages. When my parents visit, of course, he will have a sudden explosion of Chinese words. It’s really amazing.
We’ve also been going to the local branch of our library. We’ve been checking out DVDs of “Follow Jade!” and music videos in Vietnamese. My son definitely likes the Jade videos (who he calls “Auntie Jade”) and though it’s bilingual and targeted towards an English-speaking audience, he still picks up new vocabulary from the segments. The library, especially in these tough times, is such a great resource in more than one way. I’ve also checked out multiple books on raising a bilingual child, and those have been helpful too.
I’m wondering if there are other parents out there raising their kids with multiple languages, and how that is going. Are people considering bilingual or even full immersion preschools to keep the language going? What are some other resources out there for parents raising bilingual/multilingual children?
Momo is a freelance writer and mom of a two year-old.

diapers and laundry and diapers, oh my!

Question from my best friend, Lisa: What do you do about laundry and diapers when traveling overseas?

Answer: Always make sure we have easy access to both!

It’s actually somewhat amusing that Lisa asked me this question. Twelve years ago she and I spent a college summer in Germany where, for two months, our clothes did not once see a washing machine. We were too poor and cheap so, for the entire summer, we washed our clothes in the bathroom sink using dishsoap. I think the dishsoap was Lisa’s idea. We smelled lemony fresh and, for the most part, looked pretty clean.

Don’t think Steve and I are laboring over hotel sinks washing out Grace’s grubby t-shirts, at least not most days. Now that we can actually afford to do laundry the modern way, we do. We always first price out the cost of having someone else do our wash for us. In developing countries like Honduras laundry is a non-issue because it is so cheap to have someone local do the wash (a few dollars/ load). In Buenos Aires this was the case as well, even though our apartment did have a washer. We preferred to spend our time sight-seeing than waiting for a load to finish so frequently utilized the low-cost lavanderia (wash-and-fold) around the corner where the price even included ironing Steve’s shirts!

In more developed countries like Turkey the cost to have someone else do the wash was outrageous. Istanbul surprisingly also didn’t seem to have a single public laundromat. Luckily for us we had rented an apartment from Manzara Apartments and they had a washing machine in their offices they let us use (one of the few good things about this company – more on them in a later post). The washer was tiny though (held about half of what our washer at home holds) and there was no dryer. We just washed the absolute necessities since we then had to trudge a quarter mile home with the wet laundry to line-dry it.

For the most part though, when we travel we are able to do our own laundry because we rent apartments/houses equipped with washers. On our recent escapades in Turkey we rented a house at the coast during our second week. It was equipped with a washing machine and a huge sunny deck for line-drying the clothes. We returned home with suitcases full of clean clothes rather than the usual post-vacation piles of dirty laundry.

One thing we never, ever use are hotel laundry services. Almost always these services are outrageously expensive no matter the country, up to $5/ item. If we’re that desperate we’d rather resort to me and Lisa’s “dishsoap laundry method” than shell out such exorbitant amounts.

As for diapers, we usually try to take enough with us for an entire trip because diapers overseas are almost always imported from the US and therefore very expensive. Diapers aren’t heavy so they don’t add a lot of extra weight to our luggage, and as we use them up they make room for whatever souvenirs we’re collecting along the way.

On our most recent trip to Turkey we found ourselves short on diapers the last day at the WOW Istanbul Airport Hotel. I called down to the front desk to find out where we could buy diapers in the area. I was pleasantly surprised when the kind man on the other end, in very broken English, said they’d send some up. An hour later no diapers had arrived so I called again. This time no one on their staff knew anything about the phantom concierge’s promise to send up diapers nor did anyone even know what “diapers” were. I tried the British word “nappies.” I tried explaining “you know, the thing babies poop and pee in.” I was transferred to six staff members before the last guy asked me to spell “diapers.” I did and he said he’d call me back. Five minutes later, after what I imagine was a lot of frantic googling and then titters when the staff figured out what I wanted, he called me back triumphant: “We do not have any in the hotel.” OK, that would have been nice to know an hour ago when someone else was promising diaper room service. Sadly we found a local grocery store and bought an entire pack of 36 diapers of which we used one. We left the rest of the package behind in our room so if you happen to go to this hotel and need diapers, just tell them you know some crazy Americans left some behind and they’re probably languishing in the hotel’s lost-and-found.

We have yet to find a country that doesn’t have very easy access to diapers and wipes, despite any language barriers. Though often expensive, every corner pharmacy or drugstore around the world seems to carry Huggies and disposable wipes. Too bad for the landfills but good for traveling parents.

the pleasure of to-doing the to-do list

to-do-listFew things are as sweet for this wife, mother and business owner as a completed to-do list. One where every last task is crossed off and the list for tomorrow reads “To Turkey.” I feel more relaxed now than I probably ever will during my vacation.

That’s where I find myself tonight, as we prepare to take off for Istanbul, Turkey in the morning. I’ve never been a last minute person, running around frantically in the final hours before an exam, a big event, or a trip to get everything ready. Instead I run around frantically a day or two before and I wind up with this wonderful window of a few hours just before leaving where everything, yes, everything, is done. Anything that’s not done doesn’t matter at this point. If it was urgent, I did it already. Everything else can wait until I get back and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing it right now.

I savor this sensation of done-ness in a life typically so planned, so frantic. Is it possible that I plan trips just so I can have those few satisfying hours before of having nothing to do? Perhaps so.

So what do I do? I won’t bore you with the details I took care of to prepare for my absence from my online business. I’ve provided below though my standard checklist of things-to-do-before-leaving, things which apply to just about every traveling family. I hope it helps you create your own quiet moment of done-ness.

Traveling Family’s Pre-Departure Checklist

One week before departure

  • Stop mail, newspaper, diaper delivery, garbage/recycling pick-up.
  • Notify neighbors of absence.
  • Make arrangements for pets including extra food, water, litter, etc.
  • Provide instructions to housesitter/ pet sitter.
  • Provide emergency phone #s to relatives/ close friends.
  • Notify debit/ credit card companies of travel plans, especially when traveling internationally.
  • Get sufficient cash from bank, especially important when traveling internationally.

Three days before departure

  • Laundry for everyone.

Two days before departure

  • Pack. I try to be mostly done with this 24 hours before departure, so I know what I may need to run to the store to pick-up.

Day before departure

  • Last minute trip to Target to buy anything I found we’re out of while packing.
  • Confirm/ check-in online for flights.
  • Print out relevant itineraries, boarding passes, hotel names and phone #s, transportation info, etc.

And now I’ll go cross the last item remaining on my to-do list: “Blog- To-do list.”

global wonders

I’ve long been a lover of music. Music of all kinds.

Music moves me and I often used it to veg, motivate, relax, provide perspective or to just all-out-jam to.

I’ve long wished for my children to also become lovers of music and I’ve been very excited to introduce them – concurrent with our pending move to India – to music from all over the globe.

At our recent Playdate Goes Global, we created cds of various international themed children’s music, but I SO wish that we’d been able to provide each family with a GLOBAL WONDERS CD!

Now available (AS OF TODAY!) through Amazon.com and at Target, ToysRUs and other retailers, this truly great CD features authentic culture in music styles that you moms and dads will also enjoy listening to (I promise!). This is not another one of those cds that you cringe at when your kids ask to listen to it!

Our family has spent many an afternoon be-bopping to this CD and the kids are even learning the words (in other languages!). Global Wonders is an award-winning CD, produced/composed by Jim Latham (who has also written for Disney).

This CD includes an impressive 19 songs spanning the globe – almost literally – with music from India, Italy, Greece, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Ireland, Cuba and the United States (New Orleans Jazz, and Hawaiian Tiki). Highlights include a unique version of Vande Mataram, (India’s national song and the second most popular song in the world, per the BBC), incorporating a children’s choir into the chorus; Go Go Greece, a get-up-and-dance traditional Greek song; Banda Dance from Mexico; the Bollywood style India Celebrations; and America The Beautiful in a gospel vibe.

Take a listen at their special Global Wonders YouTube page or check out the Global Wonders website.

This family already has “India” the Global Wonders DVD on their wish list!

May 18, 2009

does your toddler like spicy food?

My 19-month-old daughter Zoe likes a broad range of different cuisines including sushi, Indian, Mexican and Thai food to name a few, yet she does not like anything spicy.  My friend’s daughter who is about the same age loves anything spicy –she eats about half a container of Whole Foods guacamole at a sitting.  This same guacamole at first taste made my avocado-loving daughter cry and scream “mouth, mouth, juice please!”  My friend attributes her daughter’s love of spice to the fact that she herself ate spicy food while she was pregnant and while she was nursing her daughter.  But it would be difficult to find someone who ate more spicy food when pregnant or nursing than I did (I was known for putting very hot Vietnamese chili sauce on much of what I ate while pregnant).  Yet my daughter does not like spicy food.  The other day I gave her a fairly mild samosa and she took one bite and said “this too spicy for Zoe.  No eating.”
I know from my time living in India that babies and young children are usually fed a mild version of the food that their parents eat –made with all of the spices minus the chili powder (by taking out the child’s portion earlier in the cooking, before the chilies have been added).  In other parts of Asia I’ve seen families eat non-spicy food but add chilies to their own serving as desired.  This way the small children can eat the same food without it being spicy.  Then, as the children get older they can add spice little by little.  I assume that in other countries where the food tends to be spicy they also have a way of making a mild version for little kids to ease them into eating spicy food, but I don’t know this for sure.  Apparently different kids accept spiciness at different times –some by a year old are eating what their parents eat while for others it takes until they are 8 or 9.  In any event I’ve never heard of anyone raised on spicy food who does not like it as an adult, so all children who grow up with spicy food eventually learn to love it.

six travel lessons i learned from baby vomit

Just as we arrived at our seats for our return flight from Buenos Aires last year Grace, 15 months old at the time, proceeded to puke all over herself, me, my seat and the floor. I learned several valuable travel lessons on that img_3458incredibly long, painful, smelly flight home. Let me elaborate.

  1. Kids can go from happy and healthy to horribly ill in a single moment. Grace had been in good spirits and eating well all day, despite a flight delayed by more than 12 hours (that’s another story). Like the flick of a switch she became ill and she remained sick the entire flight home.
  2. Always carry a change of clothes for you and your child. Thankfully I had done both in Argentina and I was able to slip into the bathroom and clean myself up. Since she threw up multiple times on that flight though, my change of clothes didn’t stay clean for long and I now carry at least two clean shirts for myself as well as several for her.
  3. Benadryl is a wonder drug for flying. You’ve probably heard parents say how great it is to help kids sleep on planes, at least those kids who get sleepy from it (some don’t, I’m told). Grace is of the former category and Benadryl helped her finally get some much-needed rest when her body wouldn’t cooperate. A lesser-known fact about Benadryl is that it’s an antiemitic, meaning it inhibits vomiting. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful for drugs.
  4. Airplane blankets make great clothing protectors if you think your child is going to throw up on you yet again. My apologies to whoever had to wash those things but we were desperate.
  5. Flight attendants are not particularly helpful or sympathetic to sick children. We had one plastic bag given to us for dirty clothes and then we were told we couldn’t have any more as they were short. Nobody ever came to see how she was doing, what they could do for us or even just to give us a comforting pat on the shoulder. I get it, vomiting children are gross, but a cup of water would have been nice at the very least when I was dying of thirst but unable to move for hours because I was trying to keep Grace asleep in my arms.
  6. Carry on several plastic bags. As mentioned above, the flight attendants would only give us one when we could have used 2 or 3. Plastic bags are always a good idea anyway. Clothes seem to get wet or dirty on just about any flight, whether anyone is sick or not.

You can’t always avoid kids getting sick (we still have no idea how Grace got sick on that flight) but you can be prepared and minimize the disgusting factor. For more on keeping kids healthy while traveling, read Steve’s post on being prepared.

discovering modern istanbul

Like many world cities, Istanbul is a complex mix of the new and the old. Everywhere we turn we are reminded by a cobblestone street, a crumbling mosque or an historic tower that we are walking in the steps of ancient history. But this is a vibrant, bustling metropolis, the economic and cultural center of a nation bidding to enter the EU.

The core of modern Istanbul life is Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian-only shopping zone full of people no matter the time of day. Our apartment was located just a 10 minute walk from one end of Istiklal so we spent quite a bit of time on our trip meandering and discovering what it had to offer.

A “nostalgic tramway” reminiscent of San Francisco’s streetcars runs the length of Istiklal. Since the street is built on a slight slope, the most comfortable way to explore it with little ones is to ride the tram from the southern most point to the top end of the street (Taksim Square) and walk back down. That way it’s slightly downhill the whole way plus the tramway is a lot of fun for kids. You can reach the start of the nostalgic tramway by taking the Tunel funicular from Kadikoy. When you exit Tunel at the top (end of the line – there’s only one stop) you’ll see the streetcar stop right outside. You buy your ticket from the driver for 1 Turkish lira (about 60 cents).

Istiklal Caddesi is jam-packed with fashionable boutiques, kitschy tourist shops, cafes, movie theaters, restaurants, and historical sights. We most enjoyed just walking along and people-watching, stopping here and there for a bite to eat or for a cup of coffee. After riding the nostalgic tram to the end, Grace and I started our first day of exploration of Istiklal after we dropped Steve off for his conference at the Hilton near Taksim Square. First we stopped to try a simit from a branch of the chain Simit Sarayi. A simit is a ring of baked dough dipped in sesame seeds, similar to a bagel. You see simit vendors selling their snacks from red carts all over the city. They’re cheap, fresh and very good.

Back out on the street Grace and I followed Rick Steve’s walking tour of Istiklal Caddesi in his Istanbul guidebook (highly recommended), which pointed out some of the historical sites along the way. There are some old movie theaters, churches, mosques, flower and fish markets, that kind of thing. We didn’t feel the need to stop long at any of the sites but following the tour at least I knew what I was seeing along the way.

We made a stop at the Ipek silk shop about halfway along the street, on the left if you’re headed towards Taksim. It’s a high-end silk shop with very helpful staff and good quality scarves. I found a few nice cotton/wool blend scarves (the shop has more than silk). Grace was the princess of the shop with all five shop attendants doting on her, kissing her, and even tying a jaunty scarf around her neck which they gifted to her (and she proceeded to lose on the street shortly after we left!). We have quickly learned that Turks adore children and have no qualms about showering children they don’t know with affection. Grace slowly warmed up to the idea of such expressive strangers and started to return their love with shy waves and air kisses.

There’s a great English language bookstore, Robinson Crusoe (#389), along Istiklal. They have English speaking staff and a wide-range of books about Turkey and other English-language books. It’s a good stop if your kids need something new to read as well.

A fun culinary treat along Istiklal Caddesi, and throughout Istanbul, is ice cream. Turkish ice cream is thick and stretchy so the servers (found in cafe windows along the street – you’ll spot them by their red and gold hats and vests) do all kinds of tricks with their gooey concoctions. When we stopped for a cone after dinner one night the server shot a long metal rod out the window at Grace. Stuck to the end of it was the scoop of ice cream with a cone. When Grace grabbed the cone, the cone (and scoop) detached perfectly in her hand. But the server wasn’t going to let her get off so easily. He continued to grab the whole thing away from her but reaching out and slapping the end of the metal stick back on the ice cream, to which it stuck and he could pull it away. She was bewildered but amused by the whole endeavor but eventually he let her eat it in peace.

We ate a few meals along Istiklal Caddesi during our time in Istanbul too. Haci Abdullah (Sakizagaci Cadessi 17, just off Istiklal (past the Aga Mosque) was rated one of the best restaurants in the city by Lonely Planet Turkey, so we had to give it a try. The food was good and the service was fast, plus it’s a large fairly noisy restaurant, a good thing when dining out with a toddler. Still it was expensive for what we got and we found we enjoyed Hala (about halfway up Istiklal Caddesi, on the right side if you’re headed towards Taksim Square) so much more. Hala serves gozleme, a traditional thin crepe-type dough folded over various ingredients like cheese, spinach, ground meat and other vegetables. The crepes are made in the restaurant window where you can watch women roll out the dough and cook it over a griddle right in front of you, which is very fun for kids. We also tried their stuffed grape leaves (dolma) and Turkish ravioli (manti), both fresh and tasty.

Overall Istiklal Cadessi is an entertaining place for families, worth at least a short outing during your stay in Istanbul.

 

clean and green

Living on a large creek that is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has made me very conscious of how my activities and choices impact the water we absolutely cannot live without. When I take my son on walks, I often pass right by the very sewage treatment plant that is used the treat the waste water from my own house before it is returned to a small stream just downstream from our house. I cannot pretend that what goes into our drains disappears and is magically replaced by pure, clean water.

I started making my own laundry soap so I would know exactly what ingredients I was dumping in my local waterways. It’s easier on our clothes, easy to make, and very affordable. Do a Google search and you will find a lot of different recipes out there, but this is the one I use because I can always find the ingredients and it is easy to remember.

Laundry Soap

1 bar Kirk’s Castile Soap

1 cup Washing Soda

1 cup Borax

Grate the bar of castile soap to make little beads of soap. You can also use a food processor to grate the soap, but slice the bar of soap into thin strips before you put it in the processor. I’ve also heard that a salad shooter works well. Mix the soap beads with the washing soda and borax, and store in an air proof container. Use 2-4 Tablespoons a load depending on the size of the load. You can also use Oxyclean Free or any bleach-free alternative in place of the Castile Soap, and this would be a better choice if you are washing diapers. This recipe is perfume-free, dye-free, phosphate-free, and biodegradable. It is also the perfect choice if you or your child has chemical sensitivities.

For stains, I use a 50/50 mix of regular Dawn and Dr. Bronners liquid Pure Castile Soap. This works really well on oily stains. I like Biokleen’s Bac-Out for food or organic stains.

And of course, hanging your clothes to dry keeps them from fading and is generally, much easier on them and a much greener choice than drying them in a clothes dryer. I have an indoor clothes drying rack that I use in the winter, and a retractable clothes line that I use when the weather is suitable for outdoor drying.

At 3, my son loves helping with the laundry. I think getting our children involved at an early age observing and participating in our green choices will make for a greener future and a healthier planet.

playdate goes global

What do you get when you combine 14 crazy mommas, over 30 children, some ingenious passports and loads of sugar?

Playdate Goes Global, that’s what!

In a community where diversity is NOT a large part of our children’s day-to-day experiences, two of my friends and I decided that a cultural lesson was in order.

All invited moms were instructed to choose a country, research with their children (admittedly most of us did the work on our own), plan a craft and provide a snack – all that correlated to their chosen country.

We gathered yesterday afternoon for the result and boy was it crazy!

After each mom and kid team set up their tables (some with flags, some with appropriate fabrics, some with music and some with books or reading materials), we started the process of “clearing customs” with each family.

Handcrafted passports were handed out to each child, along with a Country Itinerary (their checklist to be sure they made it to each country).

With all of these countries to visit – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Poland and Russia – can you believe we made it to all of those locations in just under two hours?

Whether it was sampling mango chutney, eating with chopsticks, tasting eclairs or dipping melons in grecian yogurt, the children were given a fantastic example of what food might taste like in a different country.

No hotdogs, mac-n-cheese or pizza here! What was incredible was that most of the kids responded to their taste testing with a resounding “Mom! That was really GOOD!”

The crafts were equally as educational. Chinese lanterns, german pretzels (made from playdough), coloring boomerangs, Indian rangoli, Faberge eggs or pasta art from Italy, these kiddos exercised their creativity!

When we planned this event, we envisioned a very brief introduction to various countries and how people live on these far away places, with playtime taking up the majority of the time. What surprised us was how “into it” everyone got.

We watched kids run up to other kids and ask “Have you been to China yet?” or “Oooh, go make the craft in Germany!”

We as parents have a responsibility to teach our children not only about manners and their ABCs, but also to be more culturally aware. We owe it to our kiddos to help them understand that there is an entire world out there.

Just across the ocean, just across our borders … lies a completely different way of living. Whether it be the standard dress of a country, varied religious practices or general ways of life … it can be incredibly rewarding to watch your little ones soak up this new information.

Many schools host international/cultural fairs when children are in 3rd or 4th grade. However, you don’t have to wait until your kids get into elementary school to start expanding their horizons.

Gather some of your friends together, and host a ‘trip around the world’ for the benefit of your kiddos!

May 10, 2009

field of dreams

Take ONE patch of dandelions

Add in TWO stir-crazy kiddos as mom is busy packing up our belongings

Mix in with some dabs of paint

a little bit of creativity

 

BEAUTIFUL!!!

 

I realize that this may be over-kill, but you should SEE the tubs of craft supplies that I have packed and ready for the move.

I am deeply fearful (I call it a bomb shelter mentality) of what we may or may not be able to find when we arrive, and we thrive on random craftiness.

Call me silly, but if our family has craft supplies, we WILL travel!

I encourage you to get crafty with your kids.  All it takes is some dandelions (and whose yard DOESN’T have dandelions right  now?), some paint and a willingness to take some TIME.

Take some time and create!