Christmas 2016 (a.k.a. Christ-sick-mas)

Oh man, this past Christmas was such a bust for us. It just seemed like everything conspired to keep us at home, miserable, sick, and tired.

The season was so bad for colds & flu. It started with J getting a bad fever at the beginning of December, developing a lingering red rash all over. It was bad enough that we took her to the hospital and they IMMEDIATELY panicked and asked if she was up to date on her vaccinations – she is – because they were worried about measles. Luckily it was not (vaccinate your kids, people). It seemed to be a bad heat rash or maybe a roseola virus, neither of which needed medicine. So we just waited out. It went away in another few days, but not before I came home from a work trip with a little cough/cold, which I promptly spread around next.

BigB caught it the worst, and by the time Christmas itself rolled around, his cough was so bad that we had to take him to the hospital next. (FYI if you would like to send us a belated Christmas gift, some kind of hospital gift cards or hard cash to pay off our medical bills would be welcome!) He got redirected to a clinic because emergency was packed – he managed to see someone at a local clinic and they diagnosed him with “the worst virus they’d seen all year”, prescribed him some cough syrup and a steroid inhaler and sent him home.

He spent the next few days sleeping all the time and seemingly getting worse by the day. He was so lethargic, I honestly thought he was on his way into a bronchitis-induced coma. As I was preparing for the worst, we had the brilliant idea of googling the medicine he was on. We should have done that first… As it turned out, the “cough syrup” was not what we thought, it had no active medication for coughing but was instead an extremely strong sedative that is only available in this region of Europe, being banned in the rest of the world. It was mild relief to find out he was not experiencing a systemic failure but only drugging himself into a stupor.

He stopped that medicine and perked up after a few days – just in time to go through with our New Year’s plans to visit Paris & Amsterdam with some friends. Except he had a terrible relapse while were on the road and spent the whole vacation lying on the couch of our b&b. So the kids and I had a nice time in the Netherlands… that post coming soon.

Meanwhile, we did make the best of the Christmas season as much as possible, and we felt the love from our family & friends shining all the way through our quarantined misery.

Here we are in happier times, getting ready for the holidays:

Christmas is also when we celebrate LittleB’s birthday, so we managed our best to have a nice family birthday party for him. He basically got 100 lbs of lego and we had an epic lego city set up in the living room and, well, everywhere.

Christmas day rolled around and we had a quiet morning, followed by an excellent dinner with our good friends. B barely made it through the evening, but he put on a brave face.

Hopefully next year will be a bit more exciting! Merry (belated) Christmas!

Lovely Leuven – catching up

We are back online after a little break. Time to catch up on some recent adventures!

The best thing about living in Central Europe is being able to visit nearby cities easily by car. So at New Year’s, we decided to take a quick weekend trip to see our friends in Leuven – one family lives there now and another was visiting from Indonesia for the holidays, a perfect excuse to go!

We woke up (very) early on New Year’s Day and hit the road. Personally, I was excited to see the sights as we drove up through France, Luxembourg and into Belgium. As we set off, up and over the Jura mountains, the sky started to lighten and we caught glimpses of beautiful green valleys and misty fields. Then the fog rolled in. And in, and in… It was so foggy that we could only see a few meters ahead of us on the road. And it stayed with us, as we drove up through France, Luxembourg and into Belgium. We saw no sights. At one point, we decided to stop for lunch and the only thing we could find – literally – was a McDonalds. Thank goodness for those glowing golden arches. We couldn’t even see far enough off the road to find a gas station when we needed one.

The sun appeared for just this one moment on the drive up!
The sun appeared for just this one moment on the drive up!

But we made it to Leuven safely with a joyous reunion (and well-deserved beer) at the hotel. That night, we grabbed some Italian food with our pile of extremely tired kids and planned our city touring for the following day.

Top of the Belgium bucket list was beer. The guys were keen to try all the Trappist beers that Leuven had on offer and they made a little dent in them – unfortunately, the brewery that they tried to visit only gave tours to 8 or more people, so they had to settle on simply drinking all the beer in the bar instead of on the tour. I think that was an acceptable compromise. The rest of us wandered the city, checking out the remnants of New Years parties and explaining to the kids every five seconds why there was so much confetti and empty bottles on the street. But we topped it off with some gourmet hamburgers, so all was forgiven.

We also found a delicious chocolaterie with amazing handmade truffles. The owner let the kids dip their fingers into the chocolate fountain – I’m really not sure how sanitary that was, but the kids were thrilled. Then we bought some pies and books in the market, and gave ourselves a walking tour of the amazing city architecture.

That night was dinner with the whole gang – and more joyous reunions took place! The kids went wild while we tried our best to have some adult conversation. And J was lucky to have a sleepover with her bestie that night. Note to self: don’t ask the kids to take the photos of you and your friends because they will all be out of focus.

The next day we said our goodbyes and headed back on the road for another foggy drive home. We decided to take the long way around the Jura, heading up through Geneva instead of over the mountains – good choice, since we could now see the snow that had fallen over the weekend and blocked our way. Phew!

Looking forward to our next trip!

Christmas Catchup

I can’t believe it’s already the last day of 2015. It’s been a whirlwind year, and an even busier past few months filled with travel, work, settling in, new school and lots more stuff I can’t even remember.

But we were lucky to end the year with a visit from Grandma L, and we managed to fit in a few day trips around the area. Here are the highlights:

We spent a day in Gruyères, a small medieval village best known for the cheese of the same name. As it turns out, it is also home to the H.R. Giger museum – that was a weird discovery. I don’t usually expect to see hypersexualized alien torsos and spinal columns on display in front of a stone house from the 1400s. But the cheese was great, and the adorable local castle even better – straight out of a movie set. We capped off our trip with a visit to the Cailler chocolate factory, whose highlight was a 20-minute animatronic history of chocolate followed by all-you-can-eat chocolate tasting.

In the lead up to the holidays, we headed to the Christmas market in Montreux and took the funicular train up the mountain to meet Santa. Montreux is a beautiful area, with a view of the whole valley and across the lake. Well, apparently it is. It was completely foggy while we were there, so we only saw blank whiteness all around. BigB spent the whole train ride texting me “The Langoliers are coming… Langoliers…” The market itself was cute – personally, I was on a mulled wine tour of the various kiosks, which I’m pleased to say was quite successful. Then we had a weird potato and cheese stew called tartiflette for lunch that had very little flavour other than salt – so basically like all Swiss dishes.

Up the mountain, we arrived at Santa’s Grotto. First we had to walk down a poorly lit underground hallway for nearly 500m until we emerged into some kind of tiny WWII bunker that was decorated for Christmas. The kids didn’t really want to visit Santa, so that was a bust. But at least BigB got to sit on the big guy’s lap. Not sure what he wished for…Then we stopped partway down the mountain at another little Christmas village on the grounds of a castle, where the kids watched a play (in French). LittleB’s assessment: “It had its ups and downs. But I don’t really know what it was about.” J said it was about “magic” and “an accordion”. Sounds like exactly how I would imagine a French christmas play. The adults hung around outside and enjoyed the wood fire and watched the clouds start to clear away for a little sunset magic of our own.

And suddenly it was Christmas!

Best wishes to you all for a wonderful 2016!

Christmas in Canada

We had an old-fashioned canuck Christmas at home this year. Visits with Santa (twice), snow, sledding, Christmas village tours and sleigh rides, dinners, friends, presents, caroling. I hope all your holidays were as merry and bright!

Happy New Year!

-The Cayas

Aussie Adventure Part 1 – Blue Mountain Christmas

Our first day in Australia, we woke to a grey Christmas Eve morning, but excited to pack up the van and drive a few hours west into the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are not exactly mountains, rather a higher-elevation chain of sandstone foothills just outside of Sydney. Indeed, I was expecting something a bit more… mountainous… but actually the region is almost tropical. I guess having driven through the Canadian Rockies many times makes other mountains just look like adorable little hills. The Blue Mountains are still beautiful, though!

The drive up was rather uneventful. The day stayed rainy and misty, so we didn’t manage to do any kind of sightseeing along the way, even though the route we took was apparently teeming with “breathtaking views” of valleys, forests and cliffs. Mostly we just saw fog, clouds and mist. But before long, we made it to the cottage and settled ourselves in for a cozy few days.

We rented a lovely little cottage in Katoomba. It was a large enough town to have decent shopping and restaurants, but small enough that we had a nice break from big city life. The cottage itself was just the right size – room for six to sleep, a modern kitchen, woodstove in the sitting room, and an updated bathroom complete with a claw-foot tub. Perfect for a Christmas getaway!

Even though we had celebrated an early Christmas before the trip, we still had another Christmas Eve birthday cake for LittleB and little visit from Santa the next morning. I guess he figured out that we were travelling… Us parents and grandparents celebrated Christmas Eve festivities with a fridge full of wine and beer, a BBQ full of steaks and an all-night game of Hearts.

The gloomy weather stuck around into the afternoon of Christmas Day, but we decided to try a bit of local sightseeing. Our cottage was situated directly on a tour route with many lookouts and famous sites – like the Three Sisters. The first stop we made was at the Cliff View lookout, so we were, understandably, excited for some cliff views. Not so much.

Next, we drove down to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters. But we could barely see the parking lot. We didn’t even bother stopping. Instead, we headed back to the cottage for an afternoon beside the fire!

Fortunately, the next day, the weather cooperated and we managed to do several hours of touring and exploring within Katoomba and beyond. First we revisited the Cliff View lookout and saw many lovely cliffs. We also ran into some bush firefighters on patrol, and they told us a cool story about the Dog Face rock. Then we took a peek at the Three Sisters, along with several bus loads of tourists.

That afternoon, we drove further west to check out the Blackheath area and beyond, seeing many more cliffs and some fire-ravaged hillsides. Most memorable, we took a tour off the beaten path to visit “One Tree Hill” – the highest point of the area, and we were looking forward to a view from the top. Well, it turned out to be a water tower and some scraggly trees, without any view at all! We also checked out an area that had suffered from wild fires in November – the burned trees and colours looked almost like Autumn. Only, you know, burned up.

On our last day, we packed up and shipped out, stopping at two more lookouts on the way. At the last site, we spent nearly an hour watching the morning mist burn off as the sun heated up the valley below. It was magical.

At the end of the road, we passed back down the mountain and into Sydney for a week of sightseeing.

Pre-holidays holiday fun

Before I can get into trip details, I have to share a few pesky little things that happened in December called “overseas visitors” and “Christmas” and “LittleB’s birthday”.

First of all, mid-December was especially exciting because my parents came to visit! They arrived on the last day of school, but wisely chose to stay in and sleep off their 30-hour flight rather than go to the end-of-term assembly. What’s that? You would have gone, out of grandparental obligation? Well, the next time you are sleep deprived on the wrong side of the world, I will force you to watch two hours of awkward elementary school kids performing off-key songs and dancing to Gangnam Style. Or as J planned to do: bounce a basketball and sing “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?” by Sharon, Lois and Bram at the same time (she can’t do either very well).

One of many ballerinas...
One of many ballerinas…
One of many gangnam dancers
One of many gangnam dancers

Unfortunately, my parents were here for the week before our travels when I was fresh off bed rest from my horrible back injury – so I wasn’t able to take off much time, having used up all my work goodwill the previous week. B got the lucky job of showing them around town. This consisted of going to the one mall, swimming at my work and touring the botanical gardens. Surprise, they managed to accomplish all three that week!

We always like going to the botanical gardens here. They’re so strangely unkempt. As if someone just put a fence around a normal forest and started charging admission. There are some nice areas, like the orchid house and the great lawn (it is literally just a big lawn), but the rest is rather overgrown and, frankly, a little boring. To be fair, I’ve heard that there are a number of unusual species kept there, which would probably be more exciting if I knew anything about unusual species of tropical trees. I don’t. Instead, we are usually the exciting thing for the locals – and as usual, everyone wants a picture with us instead of the trees. When B took my parents, they were swarmed by local students who, for some bizarre reason, were trying to get my father to sing for them. My father is not a singer, and I’m certain he doesn’t look like any Indonesian singers, so I have no idea why this was even a thing. Who randomly asks strangers to sing for them? Indonesian school kids, that’s who. (He declined.)

Swimming with grandma and grandpa
Swimming with grandma and grandpa
Testing
Testing out our new underwater camera
Like I said... a bit unkempt
Like I said… a bit unkempt
The Great Lawn
The Great Lawn
Swarmed by kiddos
Swarmed by kiddos

We also took my parents for a swanky Christmas brunch at a hotel in Jarkarta. Those are always a good excuse to eat too much. At least they had some really impressive Christmas decorations!

Huge Christmas decorations in a Jakarta hotel
Huge Christmas decorations in a Jakarta hotel

Because we were leaving for our travels on Dec 22, we would be on the road for both Christmas and LittleB’s birthday. I decided it would be best if we had those celebrations beforehand – I’d like to say it was because having Christmas at home is more special, but really I just didn’t want to bother bringing presents with me either there or back home again. So… I wrote a special letter to Santa asking him to have Christmas early, on Dec 21. As it turned out, he was happy to comply! Christmas morning was fun, with some nice presents for the kids and some Baileys for the adults. We did LittleB’s birthday early too, and he got a nice little haul for turning 7!

7 time
7 time
Grandpa couldn't eat the icing, so we cut out a piece beforehand
Grandpa couldn’t eat the icing, so we cut out a piece beforehand
Percy Jackson books!
Percy Jackson books!
"You bought me a box of yeast??"
“You bought me a box of yeast??”
"Oh yay, it's an iPod!"
“Oh yay, it’s an iPod, not yeast after all!”
Calm before the storm
Calm before the storm
Stockings!
Stockings!
Presents!
Presents!
The great opening begins
The great opening begins
Opening up
Opening up
Do you want this?
Do you want this?
Grandparent presents
Grandparent presents
Christmas cuddles
Christmas cuddles
Yay, more books!
Yay, more books!
This is my "now I have to clean up all this crap" face
This is my “now I have to clean up all this crap” face

On Sunday, we piled into a van I rented from work (our car was too small for all of us) and headed to the airport. Now, we have missed a flight before so we’re a bit airport-wary, and many other folks had been saying the airport traffic was really bad around then, so we left about 7 hours early for the flight. Of course, that was the one day when no one else was on the road, so it only took us an hour to get there. There’s not much to do in the Jakarta airport. We stood around for a while… we watched tour groups of Indonesian pilgrims pile through the airport… the kids cried a bit… finally check-in opened… then we spent another few hours waiting on the other side… Anyway, we eventually made it to Sydney!

Waiting....
Waiting….

Our first night in Sydney was rather uneventful. We picked up a van from the airport, and after B nearly had his fingers cut off by slamming them in the car door, we headed into the city. We had the morning to kill before we could check into our hotel on the outskirts of town. We booked something farther out because we were heading West into the Blue Mountains the next day, so staying downtown would have been silly. Anyway, it turned out we stayed in the sort of low-income, industrial area of the suburbs. Food options were a bit limited, but we managed to find our way to the Chinatown area and enjoyed some awesome bbq pork buns, as well as a really tasty Italian dinner nearby. We needed to conserve our energy for the real fun when we headed out the next day! But that’s the next post. Stay tuned!

B-roll

After the excitement of Christmas, and the sad departure of Grandma, it’s been a quiet few days. We’ve been hanging around the house, cleaning up all the new toys and reorganizing a bit, and just enjoying the neighbourhood.

Tomorrow is New Year’s eve, and we’re planning to stick around home. We may head into Jakarta to get a few groceries and check out “teak street” (where all the teak furniture is sold), but we’re not joining any of the festivities. I don’t think we’re quite ready to face Jakarta for New Year’s.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some of our B-roll photos. These are the ones that either didn’t make the cut or were simply capturing the funny things that happen around here.

The kids had a dress-up day at school recently, where they had to come in as what they want to be when they grow up. J wants to be a chef, I hope.
The kids had a dress-up day at school recently, where they had to come in dressed as what they want to be when they grow up. I hope this means J wants to be a chef, otherwise we have an issue.
This "Barbie" has hair that gives me nightmares.
This “Barbie” has hair that gives me nightmares.
When we were Christmas shopping a little while ago, the mall had dedicated a whole level to Spongebob.
When we were Christmas shopping a little while ago, the mall had dedicated a whole level to Spongebob.
While we were walking in the Botanical Gardens, J found this and was very concerned that someone had "left their guts behind."
While we were walking in the Botanical Gardens, J found this and was very concerned that someone had “left their guts behind.”
J being a walrus. It runs in the family.
J being a walrus. It runs in the family.
I don't know what a Gramary Gun is, and I don't want to know.
I don’t know what a Gramary Gun is, and I don’t want to know.
B was so pleased that he "took a picture of taking a picture!" I think it's cute that he thinks he invented the idea... at least it turned out to be a good shot!
B was so pleased that he “took a picture of taking a picture!” I think it’s cute that he thinks he invented the idea… at least it turned out to be a good shot!
This mis-ordered rainbow cake also gives me nightmares.
This mis-ordered rainbow cake also gives me nightmares.
I can't think of a better way to transport a giant bag of tiny baby shoes than this. Other than about a million better ways.
I can’t think of a better way to transport a giant bag of tiny baby shoes than this. Other than about a million better ways.

See you next year!

CHRISTMAS!

Merry Christmas everyone!

-The Cayas

Holiday roundup

This has been a busy week again. Wednesday was the last day of school, and I was hoping to take off Thursday and Friday – that didn’t work out so well. We did go for some last-minute shopping on Thursday, but then I got called into work and thus ended my vacation days.

But we have been gearing up for the holidays! B and I and his mom had a marathon present wrapping session earlier in the week, and I think everything is ready for Mr. Nick tomorrow night. Our neighbourhood friends are planning a rather big dinner on Christmas eve, and we’re bringing pie and a ham… tough to do without an oven! So we’re borrowing a slow cooker for the ham and cooking the pies at the host’s house, and hopefully it will work out. It had better, because the ham was $60 and each apple cost $4. I think they’re plated with gold foil or something.

Yesterday, we decided to take Grandma for a little trip through the botanical gardens. We spent a while touring the Orchid garden and wandering around a few fountains and fields.

Today, we went swimming at my work (again). But this time it was bittersweet. Our best friends in the neighbourhood decided very suddenly and unexpectedly to go home for Christmas (to the UK) and they won’t be coming back. J is a bit devastated, because their daughter was in her class and they spent every waking second together. I guess we’ll be visiting jolly old London sometime soon! Anyway, they fly out tonight, so this was our last swim together. Luckily we brought our handy underwater camera and managed to get a few pictures.

P.S. I’ll post again soon with exiting Christmas photos! Until then, enjoy this photo of us with moustaches:

We drew moustaches on each other. J is rocking the cowboy, LittleB is a dastardly villain, and I have the full goatee.
We drew moustaches on each other. J is rocking the cowboy, LittleB is a dastardly villain, and I have the full goatee.

Christmas under construction

So this weekend was very exciting around the household. First, Grandma arrived on Thursday and has been the centre of attention ever since. She might need to stay longer than she planned!

Grandma and J having a snuggle!
Grandma and J having a snuggle!
Grandma and B having a snuggle!
Grandma and B having a snuggle!

On Saturday, we took a (kid-free!) trip to the mall to do some Christmas shopping and see a movie (on our own!), which I’m slightly embarrassed to admit was the most recent Twilight movie. But it was either that or go see Hotel Transylvania. C’mon.

After our outing, we decided it was time to put up the tree! This wasn’t a very long process, since the tree is only about 3 feet high, but it was still a fun activity. I put some xmas tunes on shuffle and we went to it!

Grandma brought some Christmas crafts with her. Guess which one is J's?
Grandma brought some Christmas crafts with her. Guess which one is J’s?
Christmas is in the works....
Christmas in the works…
It's beginning to look like Christmas!
It’s beginning to look like Christmas!
B making it "perfect" - J is helping....
B making it “perfect.” J is helping…
It's done! Welcome Christmas!
It’s done! Welcome Christmas!
Kids enjoying their handiwork.
Kids enjoying their handiwork.
Christmas arrived at the office, too!
Christmas arrived at the office, too!

Yesterday, we took Grandma to the pool at my work. It was a lovely day, and we didn’t get stuck in too much traffic (which was good, because I was driving). Then, we had some friends over for dinner to cap off a lovely weekend. Now we’re looking forward to a quiet week.

‘Tis(n’t) the season in Bogor

It is most decidedly not beginning to look a lot like Christmas here. This breaks my heart a little, because Christmas in Canada is my favourite season. I love the smells, the baking, the cozy sweaters, the family game nights, the silent snowfalls, singing carols, and having a glass of wine by the fire with friends. But so far, it still feels like July here. I’m having trouble getting in the mood.

On the other hand, it’s kind of a relief to be free of the pressure – Christmas can be whatever we want it to be here. Minimal presents, simple decorations, less planning and travelling. Really, I’m kind of looking forward to not making a big deal out of it.

That being said, we found ourselves in Jakarta last weekend doing some “Christmas shopping.” Now, this is kind of hard, since the kids come everywhere with us (and spend most of the time whining). So, one of us distracts them while the other tries to search out toys, etc., and buy them surreptitiously. It works best if we’ve already bought something from another store and thus have a bag already. This time, there was no way that was going to work, so we split up to do some separate shopping. B wandered around while I took the kids for ice cream and for a trip on the mall train.

Yes, the mall train. It’s not really as exciting as it sounds – it was a sort of modded golf cart that travelled around the mall on fake sticker tracks. But the kids loved it, and it kept them in one place for 10 minutes, so it’s a win in my book. Even if it did cost us $3 each.

After all that, we didn’t end up buying any presents, but I did snap photos of all the things the kids were eyeing. Santa’s getting a multimedia list this year! We also broke down and bought a little fake tree and decorations. B wasn’t going to leave the store without one. I think we’ll be decorating it this weekend!

Otherwise, we’re all very excited because Grandma is arriving tomorrow morning. The kids are over the moon, and I hope she’s ready for them to sneak into her bed every night this week. I’m excited that they might remember how to not act like wieners since grandma is here, and we might finally get a break. If not, they’re both getting a tooth car for Christmas and nothing else.