Friday, December 9, 2011

Ten Sure Signs You Are An Expat Spending Christmas in Singapore

1) Going home involves a 12 hr flight (24 if you're from the States or Canada).

2) In addition to plane fares, presents for every relative, friend, and acquaintance you are likely to meet back home, you also need to buy a winter wardrobe for every member of the family since everywhere is colder than here.

3) After realizing the total cost equals the price of a minivan, you may decide to stay put.

4) You soon discover that for your other friends, staying put, actually means short breaks to Bali and Phuket.

5) The top wish on your children's list will be to build a snowman. (There's that small detail of us living in the tropics...remember?)

6) Roasting chestnuts over an open fire...when it's 93 degrees Fahrenheit...not so fun.

7) Having family visit is great as long as you realize that, along with the delicious Swiss chocolate and Jo Malone creams, they will bring a virus they picked up on the long haul flight. And they will have major jet lag. If they have toddlers, two words: good times.

8) You're not the only one who thinks going to Singapore's Snow City is a good idea.

9) You are thinking of having your entire Christmas dinner home delivered.

10) Your child may spontanously assume the buddha position to decide where to put up the tree.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What If Amy Chua Were Alexander's Mother?

Yesterday, I let Alexander read the online Wall Street Journal excerpt of Amy Chua's book: The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
The book made quite a stir by highlighting the different parenting techniques between the 'no-nonsense' Chinese approach (no playdates, no sleepovers, no school plays, only top grades praised, hours of piano practice...) and the more lenient, 'it's okay if you don't win' Western one.
Halfway through the article, Alexander asked me:
"You're Western, right?"

*** *** ***

This got me thinking, what if Amy Chua were Alexander's mother?

Instead of prohibiting playdates and sleepovers, she would very likely encourage them. You know, to recharge her brain.

Instead of vetoing school activities, such as the debate team, she would embrace a forum where he could debate. One where she was not involved.

She might even feel giddy the day he announced he was giving up the violin or piano. Because frankly, life is too short.

True, she might realize too late that to answer ALL of Alexander's questions is not a good idea. Or to rationalize all decisions is not the best approach, soon recognizing she is facing a mental ninja warrior more adept at finding legal loopholes than a lawyer in a John Grisham novel.

But, maybe one day, she would relent. And sit down with him to watch back-to-back episodes of Mythbusters, admiring his drawings of small villages with large libraries, listening to minute details about the latest Percy Jackson novel, marveling at his photographic memory and his sharp wit. She might even stop trying to run the show. Finally realizing, that with Alexander, it's much better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

10 Questions To An Expat: Southern Belle

Second in line, for my newly introduced series: "10 Questions To An Expat" is mother of two, entrepreneur Belle Waring. I got to catch up with the stylish 'nobody wears vintage better,' queen of soul, over a slice of delicious home-made pecan pie. Yes, she cooks too.

1) How long have you lived in Singapore?
11 yrs.

2) Where are you from originally?
I was born in Savannah, Georgia, lived in South Carolina until 12, and then moved to Washington, D.C.

3) What brought you here?
My husband, John, was offered a tenure-track position teaching Philosophy. It was either Singapore or rural Arkansas. Not a hard call.

4) What do you do in your spare time?
I like painting with my daughters Zoe and Violet, making 'saddest song ever' compilations, and collecting used vinyl LP's. I also run a funky shop with my partner Cheu Koh ( We sell vintage, rehabbed, and industrial furniture. Come check us out! We have a Nespresso machine so... coffee is on the house.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
Having a full-time maid.

6) What do you like least?
It's too hot to walk anywhere.

7) Never leave the house without...?

8) Best weekend trip?
Villa Qunci, Lombok (Indonesia).

9) Interesting fact most people don't know about you?
I have an advanced degree in Classics from Berkeley. That, and I can apply mascara and curl eyelashes in a moving taxi.

10) What advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
Get a maid!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ten Things I Learned About My First Grader

Yesterday, I went to the first Parent-Teacher Conference of the year at Eliot's school. This is what I found out:

1) Eliot does not work well if you push her. Teacher repeated this twice. You must not push her. (No surprise here, she is her Dad's daughter.)

2) Her teacher noted that when there's not enough room to complete a word, instead of writing the remaining letters under the word like most people do, she writes them on top.

3) Needs to de-code things and proceed to do them in her own way (see point 2).

4) She still can't read.

5) She was the only student able to provide a definition for the term 'get along.'

6) On the classroom wall, where it says: "Who I am," she has written: "I am my brother's little sister."

7) First, Eliot told me that her classmate likes me. But then, she clarified that she doesn't really like me. It's the blueberry muffins I brought after reading that she really likes. (Honesty is so overrated.)

8) Her cubby hole has a suspiciously high amount of little raisin boxes.

9) Her Chinese name 'ai le' means 'loves smiling'.

10) She always hugs the teacher on her way out of class.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Things I Do Instead of Working on My Book

1. Make coffee.
2. Read book reviews online.
3. Order some of those books on Amazon.
4. Think how helpful reading those books will be for writing my own book.
5. Update my blog.
6. Email friends.
7. Change my screen saver.
8. Congratulate myself on finally sitting down and writing a book.
9. Think maybe I should be writing a different book.
10. Make more coffee.

I Just Read This in Alexander's School Journal

Singapore. 21.11.11

Swimming. The True Storie
I think I am supposed to love swimming, but i just dont, my mom and dad are trying to make me love it or something I can tell because all my life (so far) I have done swimming lesson after swimming lesson I am on the swim team but did I want to be on it no!! can I quit and join something else like all the other kids NO!! so now I am stuck with a bunch of kids I dont know and my mom says I am supposed to "bond" with them? To me swimming is just something you learn to not drown but no you gotta take swimming to a whole new level with the (over exaggerated) amazing, fantastic Championchips?? I just dont get it at all.

Hmmm, I'm starting to think this boy really doesn't like swimming.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Thing I Hate About Singapore

Last night I had a wonderful dinner out: delicious food, generous hosts, and fun company. It was a bitter sweet night, though, because it was a farewell party. Another one. It seems many of the good friends I have made these last few years are moving away in the next few weeks.
I have always said that the thing I like best about Singapore is the amazing, eclectic mix of people you get to meet. The thing I hate most is when those people have to leave.
And so I am now forced to say goodbye to dear Odette, who is moving back to Switzerland (not so shabby, I know) to take the pharmaceutical world by storm, wonderful Tina who returns to Sydney where she will work and in her free time (oxymoron for this girl) become the global Montessori leader we all know she was always meant to be, and sweet Yasuyo, who will brave the waters of Bangkok to join her husband.
I will miss you guys. Your positive energy, good advice, and the breakfasts in Little India, where over masala dhosas we went from being homesick to accepting Singapore as our new home (sort of).
Goodbye Odette, Tina, and Yasuyo.
Bon voyage. Until we meet again...

Poker Face

Eliot: "I'm NOT shellfish."
(Don't you mean selfish?)

"You only care about the big people, like Alexander."
(Technically, Alexander isn't that big.)

"I know I'm a really good reader, but why can't I read books?"
(Hmmm, tricky question.)

"This boy in my class is sooo mean. He always says no to things. Like when I ask him to marry me."
(That is pretty rude. I should probably talk to his mother.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

10 Questions To An Expat: Gorgeous Germa

Helping me kickstart this new series is the lovely Germa Von Heydebreck- Stricker (pictured here with actor Ethan Hawke, just one of her many admirers). Over a glass of wine at a recent barbecue, I got the chance to sit down and have a chat with the super dynamo, expat mother of four.

1) How long have you lived in Singapore?
Almost 11 years.

2)Where are you from originally?
Hmmm, that's a tough one. I'm German but I grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

3) What brought you here?
My husband Gerald's job. We came for a 2 yr contract with an option to extend for one year. That was more than a decade ago. When we arrived we were four, but then the twins came so now we are six: Alicia (13), Cecilia (11), Lennart and Victoria (9). They all go to the German European School.

4) What do you do in your spare time?
I work at the Goethe Institute organizing events for the language department (, play competitive tennis, kickbox, and enjoy romantic dinners with my husband Gerald.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
I love what most people hate: the weather, no seasons, eternal sunshine.

6) What do you like least about Singapore?
Friends moving away.

7) Never leave the house without?

8) Best weekend trip?
Rawa, Malaysia.

9) What's the most exciting thing about living here?
The incredible mix of cultures.

10) What advice would you give to someone who is about to move to Singapore?
Go out and meet people...there is so much to do here!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's All Relative

Mommy, when Alexander gets married, am I going to be the grandma?

(No wonder, the girl is not looking forward to her brother's future nuptials.)

What Happens in Vegas...

Alexander brushing up on his para-military skills
In the last couple of weeks, Alexander's homework has dwindled to such a suspiciously low amount that yesterday I felt compelled to contact (in what I thought was a super secret email) my concerns to his teacher. I was hoping it would be all hush hush. Alas, his super vision is such that, when called to his teacher's desk to 'have a little chat,' he spotted and read my email (still open on her screen).
When he came home today, not unlike a young Robert De Niro playing Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, he said: "I told you NEVER to tell my teacher anything that happens at home."
Ummm, really? When exactly did we have this conversation. And what does that even mean?
As a friend pointed out today, it could be that he's referring to The Hangover franchise movies, you know the ones that follow the mantra: "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas."
Excuse me, but this is suburban Singapore, a far cry from party town Vegas. At most somebody here chews gum brought surreptitiously into the country. (Not me, I would never do that.)
Not to mention, we rarely leave the condo, kind of like living in a Mormon compound (ok, that's a slight exaggeration). But back to the issue, you're in the fifth grade, why are we even having this conversation?
Because that is the evil genius that is Alexander. He's my firstborn and I love him. But I would rather be shot in the foot than home school him. And this is the reason why: reasoning with him is like a mental cirque du soleil. He will confuse you, change the issue, use special forces tactics.
And that's when it hit me, the summer reading (pictured above) that seemed so casual and harmless at the time...aha, maybe not so casual after all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

After School Clubs

Now that Eliot is in the first grade she gets to join clubs at her school. She chose Chinese Games (I wonder how long before she realizes that the games are actually in Chinese) and Sports Club.
Yesterday she had Sports Club. I came a little early to pick her up so I could see how she was getting on. By far, the smallest (the club includes students up until the third grade), she looked thrilled when selected to be on teams which included 'big girls' but after that didn't look like she was running very much. Having been officially named myself, way back when, member of the 'No Sweat Society' by my badminton coach, I shouldn't judge. In the open hall where the humidity index factor was easily 100 (typical temperature right after a rainstorm in Singapore), Eliot was conferring very seriously with another tiny girl also from first grade. The very patient and enthusiastic coach (you would have to be, to teach small kids a ball game in that steam bath) came over to see why the two girls were having such an animated debate instead of playing.
Later, she confided to me that they were asking each other: "Is this game fun?"
One thing is sure: it takes serious stamina to play outdoor sports in Singapore weather.
What was your favorite outdoor game as a kid?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Introducing Mr. Singapore

Eliot and Alexander with Mr. Singapore himself
By popular demand, here is a photo of my kids' swimming coach: the indomitable, incredibly patient Nelson Lee.

Not your average swimming coach, Nelson, is the 2009 Mr. Singapore winner, Mr. Universe finalist, and Model of the Year. Swimming lessons have never been so interesting.
But seriously, if you are thinking of booking him for yourself (I mean for your kids, sorry-Freudian slip), you may contact me in private. In the meantime, these are five things you should know about Nelson:

1) He has an Australian accent.
2) He attends red-carpet events in Singapore
3) He has helped Alexander get a killer freestyle.
4) He is a scientist (no, seriously).
5) And, most importantly, he gives out lollipops at the end of class.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eating Candy

8:30 am Sunday. Kids eating their Halloween stash from yesterday's trick or treating and drinking root beer, (a drink that, by the way, I always say could be used at Immigration to confirm one's US citizenship, since I have never known any other nationality to like it. The kids and I adore it, but for my husband all other Italians, it's revolting as it smells like a medicine they use for back pain.)
Finally, it's the last day of Alexander's two week school holiday, and I survived. Since the kids now are at different school they have completely different holidays, so Alexander and I were on our own for most of it. It was surprisingly great, as long as I didn't let his never ending requests of "So, what are we going to do now?" get to me.
Unlike his sister who can play independently for hours (even with her erasers, true they are adorable Japanese ones, but still,) Alexander wants to do EVERYTHING with me.
"Mom, do you want to watch Phineas and Pherb or Mythbusters? Should we have a snack indoors or on the balcony? Want to read the new Percy Jackson with me? Let's have some olives or a nutella sandwich or go to the bookstore? Want to play this game I just invented? You get to be a farmer, a fisherman, or a gardener."
You get the idea, mentally exhausting, by the end of the day I don't know what my name is.
On the positive side, he's incredibly (and always has been) enthusiastic about any proposal I may have (unless it involves homework). Nothing will dampen his enthusiasm, even when I try my hardest.
Sorry, Alexander, but I just want to have a cup of coffee and watch Oprah.
"I love Oprah!"
You know Oprah?
"Of course, she's only the best talk show host, ever. Who's that she's interviewing? Who's James Frey? What book did he write? What do you mean it wasn't all true? Can you tell me about that right now?"
Okay, but first I need to clean and re-order all the closets.
"Yoohoo! Count me in. I love re-ordering things."
Looking back, I see that what got me through the toddler years with Alexander, was finally succumbing to the adage: "If you can't beat them, join them."
That, and the knowledge that one day, he won't be reaching for my hand when we walk out the building, he'll want to do everything on his own, and that it will break my heart. So for now, I sit back, watch Harry Potter and eat honey glazed ribs...even if it is 10 in the morning.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where The Wild Things Are

I took this photo after dropping Eliot off this morning at school, it's of the 'greenery' behind the building. No surprise that nobody wants to chase after the ball...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tess, Jude ect.

I have had a kindle for a few months now, and can honestly say, I still prefer printed copies of books. There may be less clutter around the house with a kindle, but, nothing beats the sight of a book on my nightstand. I wonder how many of the books I read as a child were a consequence of intriguing book covers I stumbled across in my parent's library. In my mind, I can still see Somerset Maugham's The Razor Edge, next to the Stories of the Operas, next to Best Quotes. Yes, it was an eclectic mix.
The kindle killed the joy of browsing (to be sung in a Video Killed the Radio Star way). And what greater joy is there for a self-confessed bookworm than browsing? True, with the closure of the last Borders in Singapore there may soon be no bookstores left at which to browse. And, I hate not being able to lend a book, I've just raved about, to a friend.
However, one undeniable perk of the kindle is downloading for free all the classics. As a consequence, I have been reading back-to-back Thomas Hardy. And loving it! Tess of the D'urbervilles may possibly be the best book I ever read.
Showing the homonymous BBC film to my nine year old..not so smart, but that's another blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happiness in the ordinary...

1) Eliot jumping in puddles with her new rain boots.
2) Alexander bringing me home a cupcake from school sale.
3) My first cup of coffee of the day.
4) Rainstorm outside.
5) An unexpected gift (thanks Michele).
6) A really good book on my nightstand (Tess of the D'Ubervilles).
7) Eating masala dhosa in Little India with my friends.
8) The kids playing together...even if it is just 'Angry Birds' on the Ipad.

What are some of the 'ordinary' things that make you happy?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dream Big

"I wish our beds were made of jello so we could bounce on them."

Musings of a Five-yr-old

When I went to pick Eliot up from school today she showed me a tiny eraser that her friend gave her.
"She got it in Hong Kong. Can we go to Hong Kong to get more?"
Hmmm, you do realize that Hong Kong is four hours away by plane from Singapore.
"Well, four hours is not one hundred."
The crushing logic of a five year old.

(Later, while watching the music video of Taylor Swift sing 'Fifteen').
"Is this girl in jail?"
No, why?
"Because Justin Beever is in jail. Maddie told Katie and Katie told me. Because Maddie sometimes looks at the news. A very important girl asked Justin Beever for chopsticks but he didn't give them to that's why he went to jail."
So, this is how rumors in the entertainment world get started.
By first graders...who knew?

(Photo depicts yet another cheerful swimmer in the family)

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's Not About The Hair...

To say that the Singapore climate is not kind to curly hair is an understatement. The sudden rain, the unrelenting humidity. My hair has on occasion reached new highs, and not in a good way, in a Marge Simpson-like way. My hair, once prompted my son to rush out of the school bus demanding: "What happened to your hair?"
Umm, I washed it...and then waited for your bus while it dried naturally?
But sometimes I wonder. Maybe the curls are good, maybe frizzy builds character. Why is it then that I spend a good part of the morning rush hour forced by my five year old to blow dry her hair straight?
Is it because I still remember when I was little and I had a rubber band wrapped unceremoniously by my Mom around my unruly pony tail in the mornings? My hair pulled back so tightly that I spent the rest of the school day with eyes wide open like a deer caught in the headlights. And at night time when the rubber band was taken out there was always some of my hair still attached to it. Could be...

Parents Coffee Morning Singapore Style

Today I met the lovely moms of the kids in my son's fifth grade class.
As always, it was interesting to hear what other moms have to say about their children: love of cricket, interest in Mandarin, gymnastics. And we weren't even intimidated by the very long list of one girl's accomplishments: professional ballerina, proficient in many languages, good at snowboarding, skiing, swimming. At least, not until she mentioned the motorcycle riding and the long hours spent learning for the sake of learning. Because that's just what she likes to do. My first impulse was to say: "Could she please come to my house." The second was to quickly think up something to say about Alexander when my turn came to speak.
He loves watching Phineas and Ferb suddenly didn't really cut it.
But seriously, it is this incredible assortment of people from different cultures and backgrounds that will always be the thing I cherish most about life in Singapore. You get to hear about Japanese-Chinese fusion cuisine, life in Dubai, puppies over pilates...and that's just over coffee. The women, hail from all over the world: Shanghai, Tokyo and London and include a Brahmin healer, a fashion designer, and an intrepid adventurer who is about to trek the Himalayas, on her own. Oh, and an ex- Canadian Olympic Riding Team member. (And just for the record, she was afraid of bragging. Please. If it were me, I'd be putting that on my business card. You know, if I had a business card.)
And you just never know what you're going to learn.
For example, one mom revealed that just the other day her dog was bitten by a cobra in the garden...
See what I mean. I will not be getting a garden. At least not in Singapore.

Can Michael Phelps Skate?

Alexander has started a new school. This school offers many more sports than his old one. He's doing swimming, baskeball, aerial troupe, and athletics. Maybe he was sports deprived.
But to be honest, we're not that sure he's really keen on swimming. After the many laps he had to do to get on the team, his first words as he got out of the pool, were: "I'm going to get you for this."
That can't be good.
I have to confess that like most expats who live in Singapore surrounded by pools I have always been completely paranoid about having both my kids become good swimmers. I watch every single swim lesson. And, the fact that the kids' swim instructor is an ex-Mr. Singapore is totally irrelevant.
On Friday, Alexander had his first swim meet after school, he came in last. I was excited he had competed at all. He complained that the kids he swam against were so big that when they jumped in the lane they created a tidal wave that overwhelmed him. I figured he was exaggerating until I saw them. This kid needs some protein, pronto!
I admit that in part I am influenced by my older brother (yes, the same one who always won at Monopoly, if you've been following this blog) who was on the swim team at Yale. But Alexander likes to dash those dreams. "Of all the sports I do, swimming is the one I like least. Just so you know I'm only doing this for you." (Excellent reason.) In fact, yesterday he confided that all the other kids on the team told him that they also do not like swimming but are just doing it because their parents want them to.
Finally, I feel like I'm part of a team: Annoying Parents Who Force Their Kids to Be on the Swim Team. Okay, so it's not so catchy I get a t-shirt?

Friday, September 16, 2011

So You Want To Be Famous...

My brother Julian wants to be famous. Call me crazy, but I kind of think he already is. You may have been to one of his piano concerts, read about him in the newspaper, or heard me brag about him once or twice. I mean, the boy has already sold loads of CDs, played at sold out concert halls from Sydney to Toronto, performed at $1000/ticket fundraisers, been on the radio, TV, played at Carnegie Hall...but I get it. He wants to be REALLY famous, which begs the question, how famous is that? I worked in Italian television (behind the scenes as a producer) and got to meet a lot of famous people. I got to see their insecurities, constant need for approval, and dissatisfaction (sure I have those too, but I'm not famous so it doesn't count).
I used to want to be famous too, back in the day when I won first prize at my middle school talent show and put on shows for my great-aunts (until my mother told me to stop because she was afraid one of them would die from a heart attack...they did laugh a lot. Best Audience Ever.) But when I got older things changed, it was much more fun to hang out with the 'famous' (you know who you are) people cracking jokes in the background without having to worry how my hair looked (that would have been scary on many levels). So I now wonder how famous does the kid want to be? The best pianist/performer in New York City, Europe, the galaxy? And while we're at it are we talking New York Times or Jerseylicious famous? Does he want his own talk show? Or his Youtube video to go viral? Get on a reality show (banish the thought)? Anyway, your suggestions are welcome. And no, having an affair with Sarah Palin doesn't count...(I already suggested that one.)
Check him out:

Why Playing Monopoly With a Five-yr-old Is Not So Fun

1) They get kind of grumpy when you get money from the bank and they don't.
2) They throw a tantrum because nobody is landing on their property.
3) They REALLY don't like the: "Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200," card.

I wonder if my family's obsession with property (mainly in the talking department) is directly linked to having had a TV deprived childhood and therefore spending inordinate amounts of time playing monopoly. There was really just one rule: my older brother had to win. It didn't matter if it took three hours or fifteen. On those rare occasions, when my little brother or I were winning, he would end up beating us in the end by using extreme tactics like exhaustion or dehydration. (Think episode of Man Vs. Wild.) "So you want to go to sleep? Sure, we've been playing since breakfast and it is now midnight...but only if you admit defeat." Who knew that playing Monopoly with my five year old would remind me of those joyous occasions with my older brother? Moral of this story: she grows up to be an investment banker like him. Or someone who doesn't like to lose. Did I really need to use the 'or.' Your call.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mystery To Me

Yesterday, my Mom had lunch with some old friends who used to live in Verona. Their son, who was visiting from Washington with his wife and child, happened to be sitting next to her. "Do you remember him?" she asked me. Of course. We were in the fifth grade together. He was very popular, on the soccer team. I was a complete geek with glasses, corduroy pants (thanks Mom) and unruly hair (wait a minute, minus the corduroy, things haven't really changed that much.)
Anyway, she was calling to tell me that at the table he had confided to her: "Back in the fifth grade we couldn't wait for friday afternoons because Jennifer used to read mystery stories she had written at home to the class. She used to choose the names of the characters from the students and we all wanted to be in those stories."

Really? Part of me feels elated that anybody would remember (and the cool boy at that), another part feels like I kind of should be writing mystery stories right now. Or that at least my Mom could have replied: "Well, you may have heard of The Da Vinci Code?"
"Omg...she wrote that?"
"Sorry, not at liberty to confirm..."
Keep the mystery alive, that's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

All Grown Up?

Alexander is coming back tonight from his 5 day school expedition to Taman Negara, rainforest in Malaysia, about 8 hrs away by train from Singapore. I don't know about you but I think my 5th grade field trip was to the city market. A bit much? On the second day he was gone, I was already looking through old drawings he had given me and re-thinking the whole 'away at college one day' scenario. Maybe it's not such a good idea after all (well, at least not for me). It's hard to fathom that the boy who was first in line to get on the bus to the faraway (no phone calls allowed) rainforest was the same boy who used to cling to my pants when I left him off at preschool. Not that I'm not happy he left with so much enthusiasm, because I am. Really. Just a little teary.

Yesterday Eliot was playing with a friend, chatting about boyfriends, babies, and marriage. The usual stuff...for a five year old? It's funny because she's so obsessed with mother-baby relationship that now even her pets (stuffed animals with Bear at the helm) have pets.
Anyway, I overheard her saying: "Oh, yes, I have a boyfriend."
What's this, I strained to listen?
"It's the older brother of Alexander's friend. But we don't talk to each's too embarassing." Ah, these modern relationships.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm back...

Hello blog. It's been over two months.
I have to admit that Eliot's 3 night hospitalization for serious case of salmonella in July (after her last day of school party) may have triggered my feeling disconnected and remote, certainly exacerbated by spending part of August in my parent's summer house (no TV, no phone, no Internet) and no, they do not live on some remote Finnish island. Only today, with Eliot finally joining her brother in the school ranks, do I find myself in a quiet house in front of a computer screen with a cup of hot coffee. Wow, Eliot started first grade today, that certainly brings me back.
Of my many (many) school years, the first grade was, hands down, the hardest for me. In retrospect, the fact that I couldn't see the board and badly needed glasses, can't have helped. I still remember just not getting the alphabet, the phonic system, or all.
So Eliot, this morning when you were worried about going to school because you "don't know how to read," believe me, it really hit home. But don't worry, pretty sure you'll be fine.
Now, about that other small matter of Math being in Chinese this year...
I guess some things are better left to discover on your own.

(Eliot on her first day of first grade)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

If You're a Vegetarian Don't Read This!

Lately, my kids have started to shift from the whole puppy idea to the more attainable bunny idea. Though, we still watch compulsively The Dog Whisperer, I noticed the subject in their conversations has definitely changed.
Eliot: "I really want a rabbit. I want a nice white fluffy one."
Alexander: "Well, how would you feel if you were a rabbit with brown spots and nobody wanted you?"
Alexander: "Yes, so let's not say for sure that we want a white one. We'll just know when we see them all which one to choose."
Eliot: "Okay, I'll take very good care of our bunny and I'll tell Daddy not to eat it."

Somewhat scary train of thought but the girl has a point. Her Dad is from Verona and Veronesi are known to eat rabbit (if you are a habitual reader of my posts, you can put that down next to the horsemeat mentioned in a previous post). This is true. He mainly ate it as a child and once mentioned how delicious it is with polenta. This admission so impressed Eliot that I have heard her introduce herself, saying: "My name is Eliot and my Daddy ate a rabbit."
The heartless Dad is still holding out on getting them a bunny but he has offered them this 'not-at-all' traumatizing concession: "Sure you can have a bunny when we get to Italy. There are plenty of rabbits at the supermarket."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Reluctant Graduate

I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure there was no official graduation ceremony when I finished kindergarten. Icecream, maybe. Cap and gown, no.

In Italy, the only official graduation is the one from college and it's slightly different from the one in America or Singapore. For one thing, you're usually on your own, interrogated (yes, I don't use that word lightly) in front of a 'friendly' commission on your thesis while your family watches with bated breath to see if you will actually pass. If you do pass, they give you a mark, 110 being the highest (well done, Michele) then your family takes you out for coffee where they open a bottle of prosecco. But the real fun comes later. Like something out of Boccaccio's Decameron, your friends parade you through the cobble-stoned city streets, carrying you on their shoulders stripped down to just boxer shorts and wreath around your neck (the smart graduates wear bathing suits under their elegant attire) while chanting incredibly scurrilous verses about you. You are then, either covered in shaving cream or hosed down with water, and unceremoniously dumped in a dumpster. I kid you not. I have witnessed this firsthand.
All I can say is, thank God I went to Vassar.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Love Etc.

Today Eliot came out with a basic philosophical truth about love (which I know will come in handy during the rebellious teenage years). It's so clear it's almost ridiculous. I just wish I had thought of it as a kid...

She looked me straight in the eye and explained in a matter of fact voice (not so different from the one I use during university lectures):
"Mommy, I love you even when I say you're the worst Mommy in the world. That's the way I say I love you when I'm crying and angry. But when I'm clear..."
Wait clear? You mean not fussy?
"Yes, when I'm clear and say you're the best Mommy in the world, that's also true. So if I say you're the best or the worst I still really love you. Now, do you understand? Oh, and do you paint your hair golden? I know it's yes, but I won't tell that secret."

Bottom line: If you want to feel crazy love get a five year old. Or a puppy.

Dialectics 101

I was a philosophy major in college so I know a little something about dialectics and the importance of argument in the discovery of truth. But when Eliot has a friend over on a playdate I really don't know if she's engaging in dialectics or 5 yr old style negotiation. The following is just a snippet of a conversation I overheard yesterday:

"If you don't believe in fairies, then you don't believe in God," Eliot matter-of-factly states.
But I do believe in God, replies her friend (nervously).
"Well, you need to be nice to God."
I am nice to God.
"But you're not being nice to me."
Yes, I am.
"No, you said you don't believe in fairies."
At this point, the somewhat confused and mentally exhaused friend, concedes, Okay, I do believe in fairies.
"Okay then. Now, we can play. So which fairy do you want to be?"

(No need for dialectics with the playmates pictured above.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ten Signs We May Have Overstayed?

Sometimes, I'm afraid we've stayed too long in South East Asia and that the kids won't know their roots. What those roots are I'm not exactly sure. Alexander and Eliot were both born in Verona (at the same hospital) but their father (a Veronese) claims they will never be true Veronesi (he's basing this on the fact that they don't swear, play soccer, or eat horse meat). So, I guess this means, for better or worse, Singapore is their home. But, sometimes, I get nervous. What if they never fit in when we do return to live in Italy (whenever that may be)?
The following traits they've recently acquired do nothing to assuage my fears:

1) The craving to eat hot, spicy chicken at 10 am.
2) Alexander's familiarity with chopsticks.
3) Their preference of rice over pasta.
4) Their giddy anticipation of chewing gum in Verona. (Singapore doesn't sell gum. And no, I'm not counting the gum they sell in pharmacies.)
5) Eliot's knowledge of more words in Mandarin than in Italian.
6) The inability to grasp the concept of changing seasons.
7) The belief that everybody has a pool.
8) Eliot's teary breakdown because she doesn't have straight, black hair.
9) Alexander surreptitious usage of hair gel (to have aforementioned straight, black hair).
10) When they say they want to go to Disneyland, they're referring to the one in Tokyo.

They say you can never go home again. What do you think?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eliot's Every Day Questions

"God made us but who made God?"
That's a very good question, Eliot.
"But do you know what the biggest mystery is, Mommy?"
Hmmm...if God made us, who made God?
"Noooo, it's who gave me Bear when I was born?"
Oh, right.

(Any relevant leads that could help solve either mystery would be much appreciated.)

Thanks For The Memories...

"Here's a present for you, Mommy."
Why? It's not my birthday.
"It's for that time when you were nine and nobody came to your birthday party."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Pa!

I recently realized just how much I really am my father's daughter. And it's not just my love of quotes, Russian literature, lists, punctuality, dislike for the phone, morning moodiness, editing prowess, or even desire to read the weekend edition of the Financial Times (undisturbed and in front of a cup of coffee). Well, that too. But it was something more abstract. My brother Julian watched me with marvel as I tried for the tenth time to get through to a travel agent on the phone finally resorting to the military alphabet: "I said I-T-A-L-Y. India Tango Alpha Lima Yankee." Wow, you really are like Pa.
Being the only daughter of an Italian/American Green Beret was not always easy (push-ups were at a premium in my house). I recently saw a documentary on the strict upbringing of Mormon teenage girls. The similarities with my own childhood were uncanny. But on this special day, I want to thank you Pa for being the only Dad who came to every ballet performance when I was a little kid dancing in the Arena, for buying all my fellow ballerinas their own can of pringles (that makes 18) because I mentioned they liked them, for not getting mad at me when you saw me riding on a girlfriend's motorcycle, for not laughing when I suggested I could possibly get a PhD. Instead, finding it an excellent idea and supporting me one hundred percent (that would be monetary, yes, but not only). For always picking me up at the airport. For helping me take my first walk when I got my second cesarean. Most of all, for being an amazing grandfather to the two little devils! So now I embrace the Pa in me, I listen to Johnny Cash, I ask the kids capitals of random countries on our morning rides to school, and sing to them the words you sang to me as a child. "One hundred men will test today. But only three win the Green Beret." Adding, "You know, like your Nonno Mario."
Happy Father's Day.

(Nonno Mario in his bolide with his grandson Alexander who just summed it up best: "He's sometimes strict but he's really nice.")

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Goodbye Jules...

What better way for my little brother Julian to leave than with a personalized cappuccino? In Singapore, even the barista cares...
Come back soon!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

School, again?!

"There's school again today?" (You'd think putting on her school uniform would be a giveaway, but no...we have the conversation).
"Aww, why do I have to go to school?"
Because it's the law. If you don't go, the principal will come and get you.
(I know, sounds terrible, but has actually been working for me since she started preschool two years ago).
"The boss?"
Yes, the boss. Do you want the boss to come to our house and say: 'Is Eliot here? How come she's not in school. She needs to come with me right away.'
"Okay....can I bring Bear with me? But you take him back home with you. I'm not a baby."
It will be fun, you're making dumplings in school today. Besides, going to school is mandatory from 4 to 18.
"What is mandatory?"
You have to do it. But after 18, you can decide to go or not to go.
Alexander, suddenly interested, "I am sooo going to go after 18. And I even want to get one of those doctor degrees."
Medical School?
"No, the one you got."
Oh, PhD.
"Yes, I'm definitely getting one of those!"
Really? You do realize there is some writing involved?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'll Stick With It...

"Please, Mommy, let me do fencing."
Do you know how much it costs, Alexander? After granola, wine, and blueberries, it's the single most expensive thing in Singapore!
"But I promise I'll stick with it. I feel like this is going to be my passion. You know, like Julian, with the piano. Or Da Vinci with art. And maybe I'll get a scholarship to college. What's that again?"
When they pay for your school.
"Yes, they will definitely want to pay for my school....and I can save all my allowance so maybe Eliot can have a scholarship to college too."

Okay, definitely a candidate for 'best brother ever'...but you're still not getting any gear for at least one year! (That was a year ago...I guess it's payback time).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Do You Get to Carnegie?

Practice, practice, practice.

Over 4,000 people showed up for my little bro Julian's Chopin concert last Saturday under the stars at the Botanic Gardens of Singapore. Miraculously it didn't rain, nobody died of a heat stroke...and, most importantly, lots of money was raised for Japan. A memorable evening.
As Julian said, he was a bit jetlagged but luckily the many kids present...kept him awake.

Julian will be playing at Carnegie Hall December 16th.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Relationships 101

Eliot On Relationships.

When girls are little, they like boys but boys don't want them. But when girls are big, boys like them and then THEY don't want them.
Right Mommy?

Such a black and white view of love (and from a five year old). Still, better than the one I had as a kid (see image above). To be noted, the colors are the same...

Symbolic Logic

Symbolic Logic According to Eliot:

"Why didn't you tell them to make me without whining or crying for no reason?"
"You know, the people in the hospital, the ones who made me."
(It was a public hospital?)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Told Her I Didn't Have A Car...

...but she didn't believe me. That would be Heidi, my very good college friend, who is visiting. The good news is she took to the luge very quickly. True, dodging the rush hour Bukit Timah traffic was no picnic but she did welcome the light breeze...

One of the best things about living in Singapore has certainly been not needing a car (most of my friends here would disagree) but they are multi-millionaires who think nothing of paying the exorbitant car tax and they also have...a driver's license.
Me? I'll stick with the luge (or Heidi will in this case).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Star Is Born

Eliot had some big news today: "I'm going to be in the school play."
Really? What part are you going to play?
(My brain starts racing ahead. Maybe she'll be a child star, make commercials that can pay her college tuition, no, suppress that thought, wouldn't want her to have that crazy lifestyle, still she could go to the School for Performing Arts in NYcity and live out my own childhood dreams, no, that's not fair, suppress the thought...)
"I'm going to be a puddle..."
Okay, totally suppressed.

(Excellent photo taken by good friend Heidi who is visiting.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

In the Name of the Father

Our Italian priest has sent over First Communion books from Verona so that hopefully this summer Alexander can have his communion without attending a formal course here in Singapore. But first, he'll have a chat (test) with an Italian priest who will assess his preparation. So we've started going over the basics. In Italian, which makes it hard for him (and harder for us to hold a straight face) like when he said: "last supera" meaning last supper. You can't just add an a/o to words and think that makes them Italian. Well, not every word. Yesterday:
Cosa e' Natale (What is Christmas?) "Quando viene Santa Clauso a dare i presenti? (When Santa Claus comes to give presents?" Nooooo. "Oh, no, I mean, quando nasciuto Gesu'?" Nato (born). Okay, good.
What about Easter? And don't say when the Easter Bunny comes to give chocolate. "Gesu' muerto sulla croce?" Very good. Now, something basic.
Sei cattolico? "Si." Good.
Sei cristiano? "Si." Good
Sei protestante? "Si."
Houston, we have a problem.

(Photo: Alexander and one of the 'guardians' of the Duomo di Verona.

Dreaming of Verona (Part II)

Best espresso in town. Served piping hot with delicious apricot-filled croissants.
I know, it's a hard job but somebody has gotta do it!
This is my favorite coffee shop in Verona and always my first stop the morning I fly in from Singapore.
Not that I'm homesick, because I'm not. Really.

Dreaming of Verona (Part 1)

This is a great mode of transportation. Not so easy to come by, it is reliable, and allows you to see the world from a much higher viewpoint. It's a good idea to keep one of these handy for long walks on cobblestoned streets during hot summer days in Verona...
(Eliot holds on dearly to hers.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Here Comes the Bride...

Alexander and I were watching the royal wedding when, lo and behold, we turn around and see this!
Well, somebody was clearly influenced by all the celebrations.
Not that Eliot hadn't already been giving plenty of thought to her 'marriage day.'
When the boy she likes best from her class came over for a playdate she announced they would be getting married one day. Explaining: "You know, when I'm tall and have longer hair."
The little boy concurred: "Yes, I'm marrying Eliot..." but then (somewhat ruining the romantic mood), he continued: "And then, a chicken. I love chickens."
Ever the pragmatist, Eliot answered: "We could get a chicken as a pet."
"Alright," he compromised.
Nice to see my five year old is a problem solver and not at all a bigamist.
But I have to admit I'm happier when she nixes the whole marriage thing: "Or I can live with you forever, right Mommy?"
As Alexander would say: "Oh yes!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

It's Mother's day, Mom, and you're faraway. And sometimes it's the thing I hate most about living in Singapore. Wish we could have a cup of coffee together and go look for houses that I can't afford. You know the ones, in centro storico Verona with frescoes, dark rooms, and a view. The good old days.
True, you were at times prone to exaggeration, like when you boasted, "My daughter danced with Nureyev." Yes, we were on the same stage and yes, he did choose me to play him as a little boy in Don Chisciotte and even lifted me, but I was 9, so not really the same thing...
And true, you weren't always great at boosting my self-confidence: "You're going to be beautiful when you're sixteen...what's that you say? You ARE sixteen. Well, that's strange. Then seventeen, you'll see..."
And true, you did provide me with slightly odd presents to bring over to my friends when I was little, "Wait, here you go, a nice package of frozen corn, you'll see they'll love it."
What I'm most thankful for today is not that you got me the most amazing wedding dress in the world (it was) or that you supported my going away to Ridgewood and then to Vassar (thank you!) but that when I became a mother you never once made me feel insecure, "Chamomile suppositories to help the baby sleep? Sounds totally reasonable."
So, thanks for putting up with all my shenanigans, for laughing at my jokes, and for always being there for me. I love you. Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Sleuth in the House...

Yesterday Eliot presented me with a crumpled up piece of paper she had found in her brother's trash bin and another piece of paper on which she had tried to re-copy most of the original message. "See, Mommy, I found this, it's Alexander's. He threw it away but I got it back."
'Dear Mommy, sometimes you make me very angry...."
Ahhhh, comes a bloodcurdling scream from Alexander: "She's looking through my private stuff. It's like having the CSI in the house."
Don't you mean CIA? And Eliot, please leave Alexander's stuff alone.
(Such cunning, and from a 5 yr old who can barely write her name, not sure whether to be impressed or scared...)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Alexander, after listening to refrain "I walk alone, I walk alone"in Boulevard of Broken Dreams (his favorite song by Green Day):

"If he puts on eyeliner like that-of course, he'll walk alone!"