Posts in Heart on Sleeve
Stella Turns TWO!!!

Oh my girl! She turned two yesterday. While my heart is full of sentimental ramblings and blubbering idiocy about how sweet this wee little bunny is, I'll spare you. Because, after all, what you really want is pictures of The Most Awesome Day Of Awesomeness, RIGHT??

Here you go: 

We started the day with oatmeal, extra blueberries and maple syrup. Because she's so sweet.


And then post-breakfast presents. This was the first present occasion which she really "got" the whole present concept. As a big present fan myself, I can tell you that I'm very pleased about this development. 


 The bus puzzle from her Aunt. A very very VERY big hit. BUS!!


A sweater from Grannie. Also much loved. So much so, that it needed to be worn RIGHT AWAY.

Then it was off to the toy store where she got to pick any toy she wanted, care of Mama and Papi.


 Testing out her new found love, the shopping cart. 


Next up, a ride on the subway (aka the BUS!). Probably the most exciting part of the day. Then it was home for a plate of noodles, and a nap. 

And it may or may not be true that I, too, fell asleep, and the snoozy household was snoozing so well that we almost missed our own birthday party. Oops. But then, I was just trying to be true to my heritage by being late and stuff. You know. It's a thing that we do.


 Cake (egg free, dairy free, sugar full!) made by Papi while I napped. Because the cup cakes I made the day before, let's not even talk about those. Except I'll say that there has never before been a greater gastronomic catastrophe.


There were bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles. 


See. Bubbles.


And for the grown-ups too. Out of paper cups, because we're classy like that. 


And presents. This from Stella's BFF, which has been a big hit, btw.



Oh, birthday girl. You are the sweetest little lovely ever.


 Then after all the cake was eaten, and all the bubbles blown, it was off to the playground for sliding.


Then home, and pizza for dinner. A favourite of Stella's. 

Really. Perfection. My girl. This day. Thanks for indulging me.


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Hearts and Hotels

When I was a girl, I used to dream about hotels. A night in a huge bed. Crisp white sheets. Room service. Slippers and bathrobes. Pool swimming. It was the stuff of magazines, of plush privilege. And so beyond my reach. Staying in a hotel meant you had arrived; I so wanted to arrive. 

We never traveled, growing up, except up and down the great lakes to my grandparent's cottage. Resources, temporal and financial, were meager. In my family, we ate store brand cereal for breakfast, and dinner was cow’s tongue with raisin sauce because it was cheap, but seamed fancy. In the summer, three of us piled into the back of  a red k-car, legs sticking to vinyl seats, and stop touching me! she's on my side! STOPIT as we drove four hours and hours through the Canadian shield. We didn’t stop at McDonald's for lunch, but ate brown bread sandwiches from re-used milk bags. Economizing. We slept two to a bed in a cramped cottage, and I dreamed that maybe one day we'd drive to Florida and play all day in the waves then sleep in a big hotel bed at night.


Then, at twenty-four, I found myself with my  boyfriend in a car, being driven up a palm-lined lane to the soft orange light of a luxury hotel. I was terrified and thrilled in equal measure. My chef was starting a new job on a new continent, and I was coming along with less than a thousand dollars in my bank account. I had no plan, no idea how I'd finagle my legal status after my tourist visa ran out, but the pain of being apart was worse than the unknowing.  I’d figure out my visa situation, and I'd find a way after my bank account ran dry.


We arrived at the hotel, and doormen in opulent silk guided us from the car. There were sleek black cars parked in front of the doors, and a Channel boutique in the lobby. I was wearing my best outfit; it was from H&M.


I always thought room service, crisp white sheets, and calculating tips for the house cleaners was beyond my reach, yet there I was living in a hotel for a month as we waited to find our apartment. I had room service palak paneer for dinner whenever I wanted it, but I never knew how much to tip, conflicted because in comparison to those who brought me my meal, I was rich, but every dollar mattered to me, and once my money was gone, there was no plan.



Source via pinterest


Now, all these years later, I’ve married that boyfriend because the pain of being apart is still greater than the anxiety of not knowing what will happen or where our life will take us next. I still watch our dollars, but I no longer fear that they'll dry up.



{Source via pinterest}


Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating six years of marriage, and I'll be counting the many ways in which these six years have realized the impossible, and looking forward to all the impossible possibles in the six years to come, and the six years after that, and then the next six years.

Who knows what is to come. I'm imagining starting our adventure all over again in a new city in a new country and in a new language. We’re talking about chaos, and humidity, new faces open and warm.  I'm longing for markets filled with fruit I’ve never before seen, dishes pungent and spicy, rickshaws, motorcycle taxis, batik prints, heat, traffic noise, horns, dust, and adventure. And, perhaps, as a treat, a weekend away somewhere in a nice hotel on a beach with sand so white and water so warm. And crisp white sheets on a big hotel bed, and room service for breakfast. I'll tip the service staff and not worry about the dollars, and we'll three sit on the bed and eat waffles and tropical fruit, he and me and our little girl.






I was compensated for the writing of this post, but the content, sentiment and words are mine, all mine.

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A month ago, I wanted to see the future. I wanted to look into the unknowable and know. 


This week I got what I was looking for, an answer to a big question. But that’s only opened more cans and more worms and I want more more more. The details, the minutia, the timeline, specifics. I want to know particular smell, pungent and ripe, on the North-East street corner of my future. I want to know the sound of the taxis and motorbikes, the dust, the exact weight of the humidity at 11:37 AM. I want to know what the light will look like, filtered through what kind of smog, and at what angle the sun will hang while my girl naps, and who her friends will be, and will she go to preschool, and will I be able to find peanut butter and chia seeds. I want time to speed up while I eddy and billow around my apartment, and put things in boxes and check things off lists. But I can’t yet.  


I want to tell you about the thoughts swirling around my mind. I want to write about how I filled five pages of my notebook with things that need my attention. I want to tell you of adventure, heat and chaos, and newness and hopes and dreams and fears. Maybe I also want to tell you that trying to be mom enough almost broke me. I want to write about what I know about attachment parenting and feminism, and how potty training is going, and what it taught me about instincts, achievements, and “shoulds.” I want to tell you how I haven’t been writing because I’m too afraid. And that when I sat down and made my to do lists, under the heading of Writing, there was one dash. And nothing  else except butterflies.


Some of these things I can’t talk about yet. Some, I just don’t know where to start.


Instead I closed my computer, I sat on the floor, criss-cross-apple-sauce, and counted my breaths. 


Then I lifted my screen and I could just write. 


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We got up at 4:30 this morning. Though, we had been awake since three. Restless tossing and scratching drove off drowsiness. I lay on the cot in her room, while she scratched and turned, sat up and stared for a while, then pitched her body towards the mattress, with no relief.

She clapped her hands when I lifted her out of her crib. Pointing to her chest and said, Mama? Funny joke, monkey.

I was tired like a hangover, and my stomach sour from three cups of coffee. But we did the dishes, and swept the floor and talked to our people on skype. 

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Nap time came with white sheets and open curtains.

In the kitchen I closed my notebook, to do lists postponed. We'll make it easy today, I told my girl. 

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We left piles of laundry on the couch and crumbs on the floor. We put out pans of water, whisks and measuring cups. We blew bubbles on the balcony, and waved to the big girls below. We ordered pizza and ate in front of the TV. My girl climbed into my lap and pressed her cheek into mine. She demanded my last piece of crust, and got it. Then she held out her last piece for me to bite, and said, "appy!"

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-Just Write.

-Counting Down to Mothers Day

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Today was a day just like the one upon which my girl was born. Grey, and neither hot nor cold, the air still with gathering weight as the rainy season approaches. But I didn’t think of the weather, nor my daughter’s Birth Day as we cycled off to daycare. I thought about her upcoming second birthday and weather I had the wherewithal and organizational skills to make cupcakes with pineapple flowers. 


We road in silence towards the daycare, housed in the very building in which my daughter was born. At least once a week we see newborn babies, and marvel at these tiny, fresh new lives so full of hope and peace peace peace as they sleep in the nurseries while their mothers rest, joyful and at their recent accomplishment.


We rounded the corner and, there, at the entrance to the birth center, was an ambulance, blue and white and so much bigger than it’s physical size. My heart balled up. 


On a day just like this day, the very same hour, nearly two years ago, there was an ambulance at these doors waiting to take my girl away.


She was born blue and not breathing. They took her out of the room soon after, and I didn’t hear anything. No one told me anything. I lay on the bed and I didn’t know. I had just birthed my girl, after 23 hours of unmedicated, pitocin induced labour, in a country I didn’t know in a language I didn’t speak. I set aside my fears and I did it. She was here, but I still hadn't seen her face. And I hadn’t heard her cry.


I didn’t cry. The shock was too big. Though I knew that they were taking her away to the biggest hospital on the island so that she could breathe and grow strong and clear her lungs, but I still didn’t really know. It has taken me this long and I'm stil not sure if I really know what was inside those moments and hours right after.

I got to touch her cheek before men in helmets carrying oxygen tanks took her away in an ambulance so big and blue, just like the one outside today. She was sedated and intubated, and I was in my room, no baby at my bedside. 


I didn’t see her again until the evening of her second day, but she kept growing stronger and she did clear her lungs and four days after, we took her home. 



I walked with my girl in my arms into the building. We padded up the stairs and my ears were pricked, I looked for signs in the silence. I looked for a gurney, for men in uniform, for people rushing about. I looked for life. But nothing. We made our way past the very room that witnessed my girl’s first moments, and I thought of that mother, of that baby, and of that father. 


I dropped my girl off. She waved goodbye and bounded off to see the babies. 

I turned and walked away, sick to my stomach. 


The ambulance was pulling away as I got on my bike, and I wished so hard that in two years time, on a day just like this one, at an hour just the same, that mother would be thinking of cupcakes and weather or not she had the wherewithal to organize a second birthday party.

-just write.

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Things About Where I've Been

IMG_3798{Image credit: Mr. Chef}

I took another unintended blogcation. We've been gone, roaming around Southern Japan. And it was beautiful, hilly, lush and the kind of verdant green that makes your nose flair and your lungs fill with the air so fresh and moist and new. As if released directly from the mitochondria of moss and bamboo to be take up directly into your lungs.

But it wasn't really the travel that kept me away. Nor the scenery. The waves at the beaches or the ramen in bowls wide and piping hot. There are things that have been going on. Things that I have written about here. Things that I haven't. Things that I'd like to tell you about, but won't. Things that I don't want to talk about but probably should. These things have have weighed on me, and I've been aching and storming and I've had a headache and I haven't been able to crack a smile in seven days. The things have drove me down, and then conspired to make the past week one of the top five most stressful of the previous decade, a decade that includes the birth of a baby, a marriage, and two instances of leaving a country with 24 horus notice. So. 

But the things are lifting up, clearning; they're setteling down, going back where they belong.

It's sunny today. I slept in. I ate my breakfast on the balcony while my girl folded the laundry. We went to the park where the cherry blossoms are still in bloom, fresh and new and pure. We ran into my midwife, she who delivered my girl, tiny and new, almost two years ago. I think that's a sign. I'll be back, and new things, better things will be beginning soon.


And, since I've been gone, I haven't really kept up on my blogging responsibilities, so horror of horror, I've fallen behind in my Top Baby Blog quest to rule the world. I'd love it if you would you give me a virtual hug in the form of a vote.


Click To Vote For Us @ Top Baby Blogs Directory!

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99/366 {Evenings on Vacation}


A vacation with a one-year-old and a shared bed in a new room leads to a sleepless night and a missed nap and marching time means there's no time for a swim, so instead you take your tired baby to the buffet restaurant the moment it opens and fill a plate full of food she won't eat, and try as best you can to mop up the water she threw on the floor or intercept airborne cutlery, she's just too tired to behave, and then you abandon your beer, two sips in, and go back up to the hotel room, where you stay, lights off,  and alone, and peanut butter smeared on crackers become dinner, a can of beer from the minibar is your consolation prize for making it through in one piece. 

Still. There are no dishes, no toys to pick up at the end of the day, no meals to plan, no juggling more tasks than time. Alone in the room, there is the rise and fall of her breath. Its quiet, but for the tap tap tap of your keyboard. There is a baby asleep since six-thirty, and no responsibilities, and a good book, so you go to bed at nine, and then your husband comes back from dinner and and you sleep all together in a room with the ones you love most.


Just write.

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Some days are difficult, with dirty floors and a pile of three-day old laundry and bathrooms wanting cleaning and a preoccupied mind that wont let me rest though all I want is to find some rock to rub up against and shed my skin and be new and creep away into some dark corner and just watch, silently.  But these two, they dance to hip-hop at lunch time and so I decide that I'd rather get a plate, sit down, and stay.



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More Pins and More Needles

It was my day to sleep in. But I woke before dawn, convinced that I could smell something damp and growing. I worried about mould, and I couldn't sleep.


I spilled my smoothie all over the counter. Twice. Pureed blueberries and kale juice pooled, stagnant, and then drifted, ominously towards the floor. 


I forgot to buy water. And mushrooms, which are an essential ingredient in tonight's dinner. Fifteen precious morning minutes slipped into history by as I tried to find my phone, and get it into my bag.I forgot where I was going, what I was doing, piles of paper in hand, as I wondered towards the front door. 


I'm trying to keep it together. But I'm preoccupied, anxious and not here.


I thought we would know something by now. Where are we going, what's happening? When are we moving?


Big boys were in town this week, and meetings were scheduled. My husband and I agreed not to get our hopes up. We said the meetings were nothing, just checking in. We said that we wouldn't know, and we'd be fine with not knowing. That if we didn't move till after the summer that would be fine. It would give us a chance to put some extra money aside. We are happy enough here, it would be okay.


But we're not really happy here. And it's not really okay.

My hopes crept up. I couldn't nudge them down. I thought that at least we'd get an indication. Third quarter. We're looking at either x or y country. In my secret heart, I told a story about a look-see trip. Somewhere warm. They'd show us a nice apartment. And then we'd go back to the hotel, and we'd sit in the lounge sip champagne, and dream together, the three of us. And we'd be so happy.


Instead we got nothing, no details. An assurance that a move was in the works. But when and where  is privy to only the big guns in Hong Kong. As a consolation prize, they handed us an empty promise of further details at a later time. 


But when, and where, and who? We have no idea. My life is on hold until some bigshot makes a decision. And we just wait.


I'd like to live my life. I'd like to buy a lamp and know that it will work where we live without a voltage adaptor. I'd like to plan a vacation, and know from which airport I'd leave. I'd like to have an answer for people who ask me what's happening. I'd like to start thinking about when we could maybe have another kid. I'd like to start thinking and dreaming about the time in between now and a million years from now.


Pleas fates, please throw me a bone. Give me a clue. This waiting and wondering is hard work. I'd like to lie down but the pins and needles hurt so.

Linking up for Just Write.

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Whispering and Wondering

There’s a lot of waiting and wondering in Expat life. Rumors and whispers and and emails that you read, and re-read a million times in hopes that you can discover some hidden meaning, or decode a implied message. Maybe he knows where we’re going? Maybe she’s heard? Maybe that call to a co-worker, asking after us, is a sign. Is that off-colour joke holding a cryptic message? 


You hear something, and your heat starts racing, and you begin imagining newness, and envisioned tropical heat warms your toes for the first time in a week. Mangos and rice and banana leaves flash. Dirt and pollution and stinky canals. Tuck tucks, getting lost, and forgetting the word for “thank you”. Beaches, apartment hunting, redecorating.


I’ve been dreaming of tropical locals this week. Checking expat forums, wondering what life is like over there. In that place that I can’t name because it’s probably just a rumor or a coincidence or just a funny and completely irrelevant tidbit that falls thoughtlessly off someone’s tongue. 


We’ll be the last to know where were going and when we’ll be going there. We won’t hear anything about our move until it’s upon us, and the it’ll be a thrilling flurry of quotes from moving companies, cat paperwork, last minute shopping, boxes, and critical decisions about what goes by air and what by sea. Just help me cross my fingers that wherever it may be it’ll be warm and there will be friends for me to meet. 


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Only read this if you care about mom bloggers writing about their eating habits on the internet. Because really, I'm totally lame.

You guys, this is pretty hard to believe, but I'm giving up sugar. For a week. Starting today at lunch. Because I had some good baguette left over and I hadn't properly said good-bye to my raspberry jam. We needed some closure.



I'll wait for a second while you process that.



I KNOW!!! 

Clean eating

My motivations are entirely vain - you see, my skin is an asshole. It's breaking out looking like a 17-year-old pizza delivery boy. All the while, it's also wrinkling. Which is effing BS if you ask me. So, when I read that Danielle's natropath had suggested a sugar moratorium as a means of curbing her skin problems, well, I was on that bandwagon, so fast, because obviously, everything that you read about some random stranger's naturopath on the Internet is totally, 100 percent truthiness. 


Anyway, I'm not going whole hog, because, let's face it, in Japan that's pretty much impossible. We don't have spouted grain hippie fairysauce toast 'round these parts. And in a country which believes that white rice is pretty much an essential part of a healthy diet, whole grain/sugar-free anything is an ultimate unicorn. 

But, I am committing on this here blog to cleaning up my palava of a diet. No added sugar (that I know is there. I am sure some will sneak in, after all, I'm functionally illiterate). Whole grain bread made by me. Whole wheat pasta (sorry Mr. Chef, I know I insult your Italian heritage,) tones of veggies, lean protein, that kind of thing. But I'm not ditching wine. Or coffee. Come on, I'm aspirational, but not a masochist. 

I'll report back in a week (unless I die of a chocolate withdrawal, which a real possibility.)

(It should be noted that upon discussing this plan with Mr. Chef, he insisted that when [note when, not if] I become a raving bitch due to chocolate / sugar withdrawal, he'll personally shove a bar of Lindt 70% right in my pie hole. Now I have all the motivation I need to prove him wrong.)

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I need to chop some onions.

I want to be able to do regular things. Like wash the breakfast dishes before noon. Or put on clothes. Or brush my teeth. Or dress my child. Or change her diaper. Or chop some onions for dinner. But these things, lately, have elicited such fervent protest, such maddening shouts, such heartbreaking tears, such hurtful looks accusing me of the greatest of betrayals, that I feel completely and utterly incapable.  No, I don’t really feel incapable. I just feel like I don’t know.


I need to take a shower so I give my girl the iPad. (But no screen time for babies under two. It will rot her brain. She won’t develop normally.) But I’m dirty, it's been three days.


I need to put my girl down and drain the spaghetti and take the squash out of the oven. She screams, prone on the kitchen floor, face covered in snot. (But don’t let your baby cry. It harms her self-esteem. It breaks her trust.) But this is hot. It’s dangerous. 


I just need five minutes to think. I need to write a grocery list. I need a moment of not being touched. (She craves your attention. You need to spend more time with her.) But I’m with my girl all day.


I need to do something. I need to vacuum. Or dust. Or pick up toys. Or make lunch. And she wants milkies. Again. Every twenty minutes. All day long. (Don’t offer, don’t refuse, that’s the right way to wean.) But if I didn’t refuse, we’d never eat lunch. The bathrooms would never be clean.


I need a good night’s sleep. She has black rings around her eyes. She’s tired. (Crying it out causes brain damage. And attachment disorder. And babies don’t cry unless they need something. You must pick her up.) She needs a nap. 


I read the books and visit the websites and everyone seems to know what not to do and how I’m harming my relationship with my child and how they’re an infinitely better parent than I am and if I only tired this or abandoned that it would all fall into place. You’re dooin it rong. But none of it makes sense. None of it works. They don’t tell you what to do when changing a diaper causes twenty minutes of inconsolable sobbing. 


So I hold her. She arches her back, tiny firsts push my chest away. Still, I hug her close and tell her, “You’re angry, arn’t you?”  I feel guilty. 


But I still need to take a shower and chop some onions for dinner. 



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And Then We Had Dinner And Went To Bed At Nine {SOC Sunday}

Here's my five minute brain dump. Okay. Seven minutes. But I stopped to text mid-stream. I hope that's okay.

You can join too, at All Things Fadra. Just set a timer.  Five minutes. Write. And link up. Sundays.

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I went for a walk yesterday. By myself. I was downtown. I didn't have anywhere to go, so I followed a tangle of power lines up and down side streets. I watched the blue seep out of the sky and the clouds flare red for a moment. I put my headphones in, and turned my music up a bit too loud.

I drifted around downtown. I didn't think about the laundry that I left in the machine, or what was for dinner, or the clothes that I had taken in off the balcony and dumped, unfolded on my bed. I didn't think about sippy cups or snacks or diapers or creative ways to avoid a flailing arms and an arched back and no you may not run away from me and into traffic. I didn't think about how people ask me "what does your husband do" and about how that makes me want to punch them in the face because don't they know I have value beyond his career status. Okay, maybe I thought about that a bit.

 I just roamed. And listened. And watched the neon lights flicker on. And remembered, for a moment, what it was like to come home at 5 am when the blue was just beginning to trickle into the sky and the clouds flared with pink and how I looked forward to my cold sheets and I would go to sleep and wake up at noon. Then I got home and we all had dinner. I helped my husband give my girl a bath and do the dishes and went to bed at nine.


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Why Me? Why Now?

I spent much of my first and second winter bundled and be-toqued, perched upon a toboggan transformed by my father into the ultimate cold-weather baby chariot. A chassis set atop the toboggan, lined with foam padding and sleeping bags became the mobile nest from which I was introduced to the Canadian outdoors. Pulled by my dad on cross-country skis, we glided through Eastern Ontario woods, or skated down the frozen Rideau Canal.


My daughter, on the other hand, has spent much of her first and second year nursing in airport lounges or wandering up and down the aisles of a Boeing 777, as we make yet another Pacific crossing. She knows nothing of skates, or skis, or four-foot snow drifts. 




My childhood was perfectly ordinary. Perfectly Canadian. Outhouses, mosquitoes, and springtime sugar shacks populate my memories. There were never-ending car trips up and down the length of Ontario in the backseat of a beat up station wagon. And summers on Georgian Bay where I learned to paddle a canoe, build a camp fire, and whittle the perfect bannock stick. It was the stuff of an Atwoodian short story, with, perhaps, a bit less pathos and certainly much less poetry.




My daughter, too, is Canadian, but her upbringing thus far, has been vastly different from mine. Her youth, all 18 months of it, has been the stuff Therouxian travelogue: never-ending jet lag, three continents and three languages. Stella frolics on the grounds of Shinto shrines. She bows when she meets other kids. Stella has never been in a canoe. She has yet to be introduced to the delights of bacon with maple syrup. Rather, Stella chows down on sushi and soba noodles, and wields a fondue fork with deftness and skill. 




In many ways, though, my daughter's experience is very Canadian. She's the child of an immigrant--her father proudly received Canadian citizenship in 2007. She is, in her Japanese-Swiss-Canadian self, the embodiment of multiculturalism, and will, one day, know more than I could ever hope to learn about culture and identity.




I'm tasked with raising my third-culture-kid to be Canadian when much of her life has been spent outside her passport country. Standing outside of the typical Canadian parenting arena, I have distance (several thousand kilometers thereof) and thus perspective on the theories, practices, trials, and joys of raising a Canadian kid. While I am united with my Canadian peers by universal parenting struggles (notably #zombiemomism, monumental messes, and impending toilet training {oh help mah gawd halp}), I also face unique challenges: raising a trilingual child; navigating the myriad and sundry parenting questions that emerge from this tri-cultural tapestry; and figuring out a way to teach my kid that there's more to Canada than the Edmonton Oilers and maple syrup on bacon. I look at parenting through a different lens. Whether it be a new take on weaning a toddler, a recent internet co-sleeping controversy, or the joy that I have found in Asia's instance on letting children be children, I see things differently than the typical Canadian parent.




And that, dear internet, is why I'm submitting this entry in hopes of becoming Today's Parent's next blogger. Wish me luck!


For three of my favourite posts, please see here, wherein I discuss one of the parenting lessons I’ve learned in Asia. And here, where I reveal that acceptance and tolerance of difference is much harder in practice than it is in theory, and here where I show you what traveling with a toddler is really like.


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Favorites From September

As trite and prosaic an observation as this may be, September has gone by in a flash. 

Four weeks ago, summer was still upon us with heavy air and punishing heat, and now we wear sweaters and rub our hands together against the chill.

I started this month like most, drifting. But now I’m focused, putting all my energy and all my words into a class I’m taking.  I’m building something, every spare moment  I’m hammering away, getting ready to launch.

Stella started September sitting and scooting. She’s now hiking up our hill on her own steam, holding my  hand only for a moment. 

She had a handful of signs at the beginning of the month. Then, suddenly there was a burgeoning of new words. Some we’ve been working on for months, some original Stella creations: bath, please, thank you, water, iPad, dog, baby, eat, cracker. She’s signing for everything, making little Stella sentences. “Papi, phone, more.” 

Please call Papi. 

After he hangs up, Stella kisses the phone good bye.


What a month. What a year. What a sweet girl.



The Paper Mama

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Favorites From September

As trite and prosaic an observation as this may be, September has gone buy in a flash. 

Four weeks ago, summer was still upon us with heavy air and punishing heat, and now, we wear sweaters and rub our hands together agains the chill.

I started this month like most, drifting. But now I’m focused, putting all my energy and all my words into a class I’m taking.  I’m building something, every spare moment  I’m hammering away, getting ready to launch.

Stella started September sitting and scooting. She’s now hiking up our hill on her own steam, holding my  hand only for a moment. 

She had a handful of signs at the beginning of the month. Then, suddenly there was a burgeoning of new words. Some we’ve been working on for months, some origional Stella creations: bath, please, thank you, water, iPad, dog, baby, eat, cracker. She’s signing for everything, making little Stella sentences. “Papi, phone, more.” 

Please call Papi. 

After he hangs up, Stella kisses the phone good bye.


What a month. What a year. What a sweet girl.



The Paper Mama

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Happy Happy Friday

It was a week of rain, fevers and gloom. Frustration reigned as plans were canceled, vacations postponed, while uncertainty hung oppressively above us.

A typhoon rolled through up North, and suddenly the skies cleared, the humidity vanished, and the sun came out. So, to park! To park! To sea! To beach! To shake off the remnants of a foul mood and clear the way for the coming week. 



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 May your Friday be so happy.


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Married to a Chef

People often ask me what it’s like being married to a chef. They want to know, who cooks at home? Do you eat foie gras all the time? How do you stay so thin? 

Well, people of teh internets, let me tell you, being married to a chef is EXACTLY* like you’d picture it: a handsome husband, sophisticated yet casual, with perfectly done hair and a TV-ready smile picks veggies straight from the garden and whips up an enormous feast. You and your friends gather round the table as he serves dish after dish of delicious food as he talks about his love for the ingredient, his inspiration, blah blah blah food snobbery blah.  

{*By this I mean exactly the opposite.} 

  Married to a Chef

No, no, friends. Being married to a chef is not like living in the Food Network. Your chef husband likely does not have a back yard herb garden. He does not sit outside on a tomato crate preparing a salad. Nor does he have a half-turn-to-the-camra-pause-and-then-smile like Rocco DiSpirito. A real chef is far too cool for that kind of bullshit. 

A real chef is hardly the tooth-sparkly-smile charmer of TV cooking personalities. He’s too busy making bathroom jokes, listening to punk rock and trying to out-crass the next guy to give a crap about perfect hair, Prada shoes, or social climbing. 

First of all, a real chef works all the time. If you have the good fortune of being married to a chef, you will see him for exactly five minutes per day. Weekends? Working. Evenings? Working. Holidays? Working. Christmas? Working like a son of a gun.

 A real chef will likely not cook you dinner. After a long day in the kitchen, the last thing he wants to see is a chef’s knife and sauté pan. And if he does venture in to the kitchen on his day off, an elaborate four-course meal is not in your future. Think pizza. Lasagna. One pot meals. 

And forget any ideas of going out for fancy dinners. Valentines day in a restaurant  with a chef will never ever ever happen. If you DO manage to get your chef husband to take you out, sparkling dinner conversation will consist of the following topics: the food is shit; he’s a better cook than this clown behind the stove; the menu is crap; the prices are ridiculous; and the service is incompetent; Shit. Crap. Crap. Crap.

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There are certain advantages though: an uncommon piece of cheese might be brought home as a way to say ‘happy Thursday’; a delicious dinner scrapped together from an almost empty fridge; a sandwich, beautifully prepared, the perfect antidote to a particularly difficult nap-time scream-a-thon. 


Being married to a chef  is often a party; you’ll stay out late. Together, you’ll meet a dude who’s just back from doing time in a Chinese jail, and the three of you will drink Serbian moonshine until five AM. You’ll laugh all night long. Inappropriate lolz, perhaps, but hearty, chefy lolz none-the-less. 


But is not all fun and games. Chefs are amongst the hardest working people you’ll ever meet.  A real chef will come home long after you and the kids are tucked in tight, wash all the dinner dishes, leave the kitchen cleaner than you could ever manage, and never complain about your burnt pasta sauce. He’s just happy he didn’t have to cook. 

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And then there’s this. A chef is a leader. A brigade of young, slightly off kilter cooks look to him for guidance. It is up to the chef to see the potential in people; to know when to push, when to hold back. He can read people. He looks at his team and intuit that what is needed to lift their spirits is an epic night out, or maybe a simple family meal before service. A chef is patient beyond measure, having seen it all in his years behind the pass. The most monumental of tantrums roll right off his back; he’s seen it all, done it all, and the most screaming unreasonable demand from the service staff fail to rankle him. He keeps his cool, gets the food on the plate, solves the smoked salmon crisis, and grows an extra arm to compensate for the cold kitchen guy who didn’t show up for his shift.


Yes, the hours suck, you’ll hear way to many off colour jokes, you’ll never really truly enjoy a fancy meal again, but being married to a chef is pretty great. You’ll learn how to properly salt your pasta water. And you’ll find the best father for your kids anyone could ever ask for.

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On Doing It All (Airing My Dirty Laundry)

Internet, I am super-mega-effing stressed out right now, and it's all your fault. YOU! You, with your shiny happy pictures on Facebook of your smiling little kids, your sunsets, your perfect dinners, your soccer games, your evenings with friends, your tidy little houses, and your chirpy LOLtastic updates. You with your blog posts, coyly letting slip that you have a jillion kids all of whom are little prodigies, who you sit with while they practice piano, and behave themselves while you run a business and singlehandedly keep your household ticking along like a Swiss watch, (except for that one lampshade that is just a tad off kilter, and that's like totally shameful for you). Blerg, you Internet.I can't live up to your standards! BLERG YOU!


(Just kidding, Internet. I love you. Don’t be mad.)


You see, I can’t live up to that. For example, this is what my house looks like right now:

(Minus the baby, who, praise the heavens, is peacefully napping. Hopefully for many many many minutes.)


The problem is, my expectations and my ambition are in conflict: I expect myself to keep an immaculately clean house; to have organized closets; to make homemade baby food; to dream up and implement baby betterment projects; to cook meals worthy of a chef; to handwrite thank-you cards in a timely fashion; keep the baby happy and entertained; and a myriad other household tasks, varied and sundry. 


But I also have ambitions: grow my blog; finish that freelance project I'm midway through; learn to sew; start running again; explore my little corner of Japan; keep up with friends and family back home; go out and do awesome fun things with my girl. Bike to the shore. Decorate my house. Finish that resume. 


But there is just not room for all of these things in my life. The expectation / ambition conflict means that something always gets left by the wayside. Unfortunately it is usually my living room. (Incidentally, when taking my daughter out to play the other day, I had to go over her with a lint roller to make her presentable enough for public observation. Oh gawd. I am the best mother ever.) 


Once more, for the kids in the back row, I give you this in lieu of a thousand words: 



Please note the dirty breakfast dishes on the table. And the random blanket strewen across the couch. Along with the cat cage, that was recently extracted from THE CLOSET OF HORRORS,  of which I remain very afraid, and as I have not yet found an alternate home for said cat cage, it just sits there in our livingroom. Like this. 



So anyway, I'm stressing out about not being as good as the other mothers out there in Internetlands real and imagined : not doing as much; not being organized enough; not being fun enough; our outdoorsy enough; or ambitious or industrious or whatever enough. And then, I read this book to my girl for her bedtime story.


This gem of a book! This little treasure with it's jaunty rhymes, it's joyful illustrations, it's depiction of the real life of a family.


Peepo! by Janet & Allen Ahlberg


Look! A messy house! Puddles on the floor! Clothes strewn in random places! A baby who lost his shoe! A mother working hard, trying to stay on top of things! This looks just like my life!




And I started to feel a bit better. I'll bet that more people than are willing to admit have dirty laundry like mine. I'll bet more people have chaos that they are sweeping under the rug. But we keep it hidden, and post shiny happy things on Facebook and on our blogs. 


Now, here is where I would say, in conclusion, that I'm going to go easy on myself, modify my expectations, realize that they are unrealistic, and that no one actually lives that way. 


But what I'm actually thinking is HOLY CRAP I've got to organize the closet, and clean out the fridge, and make baby food, and that massive pile of ironing isn't de-wrinkling itself, and there are masses of emails that are hanging over my head, and the minutes in the day are not nearly enough to find the time to finish that video and write that update, and think smart thoughts, and my kid is whining, and needs me to pick her up and I can't make dinner and ... gah gah gha ... brainaneurysmkaboom. 


So, maybe I'll just conclude with a question or two? Are you swimming along swiftly, or just barely keeping your head above water? If you're managing....please tell me howhowhowhowhow!?!???????




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The Spores Go Marching Million By Million

It's rainy season in Japan, and for the next four? six? eight???? weeks there will be rain, humidity, and general jungle-like conditions. It's impossible to escape the wet; food goes off the second you bring it home; paper becomes clammy and damp; condensation builds up on the windows; and there is a constant looming diaper crisis as I wait days and days and days for laundry to dry. And in the back of my mind there is a sustained disquiet as I fret about harbouring a secret mushroom farm in the closet.

Over the past several days (weeks?) I had been smelling a distinct earthy oder emanating from Stella's bedroom. I dealt with this as I do most problems: if I ignore it long enough it will go away! Unfortunately this failsafe problem solving method did not work this time, as I finally bit into the sour apple (as Mr. Chef says) and emptied the storage closet in her room.

I discovered this:



This was only one of the affected items. There were too many to catalogue and I was beside myself with frustration, not thinking how hilarious it would be to take millions of mouldy pictures. Too bad, internet, too bad. 

An empty closet. An entire package of garbage bags. A full dumpster. A wasted day spent dealing with mould, spores, swears, wet, frustration, waste and bleach. 



When things like this happen, as an expat, it is tempting to blame the country you live in: "Eff you, Japan, you stupid jerk. If I lived in Canada I wouldn't have mushrooms growing in my closet and I wouldn't be poisoning my baby with thousands of little mould paratroopers invading her respiratory system. I hate you. You are a meanie.  I miss my parents. I miss my friends. I miss grocery stores. I miss barbecues. And lakes. And fresh snow. And understanding what strangers say. And understanding what to do and how to exist in society. And it's all your fault, Japan. Wah." Or so goes my normal line of reasoning. 

I did this a lot when we lived in China. I did it when we lived in India. I do it here in Japan. And I'm sure that wherever we are next, I'll do it there, too. 

The thing is, it's not really Japan's fault. Mould is part of the package. Along with distance from loved ones, and strange food, and unexpected closet invaders come benefits - the cultural experience, the adventure, the quality of life, the chance to know distant corners of our world. We've chosen this life, and we are lucky to live it.

It’s just that part of being an expat is knowing how things are elsewhere. Wherever we are that happens to be our home, there are wonders and irritations: beauty and groping in India; great social life and public urination in China; cleanliness and mold in Japan. And thus, wherever I am temporarily putting down roots (?!?), I know that I will whine about certain aspects of life, and appreciate others. We live in our present home with memories of our past homes, and hopes for our future homes. 

So, I'll try to look on the bright side, and remember the privileges that come our way. But I won't promise to abandon self-indulgent pity-fests the next time I have to throw out an entire closet worth of goods, or the next time I get felt up by a strange man in a public market, or get spit upon by a careless passer by, because moaning is part of the package, too. 

(Thanks internet, for listening to me whine. You're a real pal.)



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