New Year’s in La Ville Lumière

New Year’s Eve isn’t all that exciting once you have kids – basically we stay in and I usually sleep through the ball drop every year. But it is fun that we have managed to start a new year in different time zones and places over the past few years: Jakarta, Sydney, Banff, Leuven and now Paris!

If you recall, BigB was pretty sick, but I managed to pack him into the car and drive us on to Paris. It’s only about a 5 hour drive from here, and the weather was in our favor. As usual, there was plenty of fog along the way so the views were not exceptional, but the sun came out a few times and gave us glimpses of some beautiful frosty landscapes.

We arrived at the adorable, tiny apartment we rented. It was probably the most parisian place ever, filled with weird knicknacks, old theatrical posters, a bathroom plastered with books and maps, a collection of VHS tapes from the 80s, and the tiniest kitchen I’ve ever seen (we couldn’t even figure out how to get the over door open because it kept getting stuck on the door frame beside it). So, basically, we loved it. It also had a huge balcony (it was the top floor of a large apt building) with views of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and across the city. Well, theoretically it did. Mostly we saw fog. And it was cold. We didn’t spend much time out there.

We arrived on NYE itself, so we grabbed a few groceries from the store and settled in for the night. A few bottles of wine and a viewing of “Conan the Barbarian” went down well. We brought some sparklers to light outside, but forgot a lighter, so we just looked at unlit sparklers for a while, and went to bed by probably 10 pm. Happy New Year!

We woke up the next year and headed out for the day. New Year’s day in Paris is celebrated quietly, but there was a parade happening in the Champs Elysées – so we checked that out. Their Christmas market was still going on, which meant we filled up on vin chaud and crepes, poked around at the shops, and saw some depressing animatronic “christmas” dinosaurs. The parade itself was a bit of a mess – it wasn’t well organised, just clumps of people crowding around a handful of marching bands from the US and some random other acts. The best part was probably the tiny firetruck blowing confetti at everyone. We followed it around for a while to get extra confetti. By the way, air-blasted confetti gets everywhere.

The next day we did a little walk around to see the Bastille (which was under construction, so instead we checked out the Starbucks next door), visit Notre Dame (where the kids were only interested in the spinning play structure at the playground), and exploring Saint-Germain (where our rain-soaked kids just cried until we fed them hamburgers and went home on the metro). So, we managed to see Starbucks, a few playgrounds, a hamburger joint and some metro stations. All in all, I guess it was a typical vacation for us!

We ended the trip with an evening of sparklers (we finally remembered to buy a lighter), watching “Peter Pan” in French on VHS (watching something on “tape” blew our kids’ minds), and a microwaved frozen pizza (recall the oven issue) – and we left town the next morning on our way to the Netherlands!

Gong xi fa cai, Kuala Lumpur

We were lucky to get two New Year’s trips this year! After coming home from our trip to the Rocky mountains, we had a long weekend vacation in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was lovely – turns out we really like Malaysia. What a beautiful place! The people are friendly, the food is great, it’s easy to get around. Jakarta, please take note.

We only had a few days there, so we had to pack it all in.

Day 1: arrive on in the afternoon, tour the aquarium, buy groceries, check into apartment, go swimming, listen to fireworks, watch weird Chinese movies all night. Check!

Day 2: Tour to the Batu caves, colonial ruins & monkey park, century-old fishing village, evening boat trip to see mangroves and fireflies. Check!

Day 3: Water park, science center, ice cream lunch, wandering around. Check!

Day 4: Pack up and visit the Chinese flea market before hopping the train and plane home. Check!

Here’s a whirlwind photo tour:

Winter magic in the rockies

Well, New Year’s was quite some time ago – but it’s never the wrong time of year to share the glory that is winter in the Rocky mountains.

We spent three lovely nights in a Canmore condo with our friends, enjoying some incredible snowshoeing in the Sunshine Valley, watching a snowstorm blow across Lake Louise, spending frosty evenings in the outdoor hot tub, sharing wine and games into the night warmed by the cozy fireplace, and having delicious dinners of both homemade and restaurant variety to top it all off.

Our snowshoeing trip stole the show. It was a perfectly crisp, clear day, with the bright sun glinting off the fresh snow. The light and air were magical, the trees perfectly framed by clumps of pure white.

We journeyed along the Sunshine Valley floor for hours, taking photos and getting lost in the glory. And that night, we rang in the new year with good food and laughter. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve.

The next day, we drove up to Lake Louise so A could teach J how to ski, while B and I photographed everything in sight, went tubing, drank beer and hot chocolate, and drove around the Lake. So, basically the perfect New Year’s Day.

It was all over too soon! But we’ll always have these gorgeous memories. You’ll want to look at them babies in full screen:

And if those glorious views were not enough for you, here’s a message we recorded for the kids from the valley lookout:

Plus – bonus video of B and I tubing at Lake Louise, with a surprise ending (for me, at least!):

Happy (belated) New Year!

Resolutions

It’s a new year already. I can’t believe how quickly 2014 passed – so quickly that it seems like it didn’t even happen!

I often have this feeling of time whirling past, like I’m just part of the audience as life rushes by – as though I’m in stasis, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for some next phase, some kind of change, for the right time to engage. It’s a feeling I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, and it seems worse when living abroad: that somehow real life is on hold, and the time we spend away doesn’t really count. It means we are often making choices that don’t move our lives forward: we sit, and wait, and eat, and wait, and wonder when life will really begin. What is this feeling? Depression? Ennui? Homesickness?

You would think that picking up and moving across the world shows us to be brave, confident go-getters, grabbing the world with our fists and shaking loose everything we ever wanted. But most of the time I think we’re running from this feeling of being trapped by time and routine, only to be trapped by that very thing, in a grand chicken-or-egg game around the world.

Coming up on three years abroad and after a long trip home for the holidays, our thoughts are turning again to the future. Do we stay? Do we move home? Do we try something new? The thought of moving home scares me, as though somehow I will feel like we failed and be unhappy there, falling into old routines as if nothing ever happened, as though the last three years were meaningless and did nothing to break us free from the rut of suburban life. But staying scares me as well, as our current routines become, well, routine – and now there is nothing special about being here anymore: we’re just living the same regular lives we could have anywhere. Trying something new is just as scary, knowing that we will have to get over this hump of ‘life in stasis’ again, as we figure out the necessary sense of normalcy that lets us function in school, work, and society, but feeling like our progress in the world has been rewound all the way back to the beginning. So where is the happy medium? How can I have it all? Extraordinary experiences within a healthy, forward-moving life?

I guess I need to start small, making time for myself and my family, building up the core of personal health and strength that we need to be successful anywhere, whether that means a villa in Indonesia, a suburban townhome in Canada, an apartment in Europe, or a hut in the desert somewhere. I think I feel like life is passing me by because it is passing me by – it always will be, no matter how I choose to spend it or where. It’s not homesickness or depression, it’s just being faced with mortality. And I won’t find the strength to face that down from where I live or how, but from finding significance and happiness in every moment, no matter how small. So this year I will try to make time for those moments, and more time for the things that make me happy:

  1. More music practice each week, and try writing a couple of songs
  2. Regular weekly blogging, and start writing short stories
  3. Make time every day for exercise and yoga practice, and aim to be able to do 100 push-ups by the end of the year
  4. Try a new recipe every week, stop drinking soda, strict limit on dairy/wheat/sugar
  5. Host a music/games/theatre/poetry fun night for friends at least once a month
  6. Take a photography class
  7. Refresh my Spanish and French skills, and learn some German
  8. Spend at least 1 quality hour with the kids after work, no matter what
  9. Travel wish list: Siem Reap, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Sulawesi, Northern Bali, Perth, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, London, Scotland, Iceland

So here’s to 2015! All the best to you and yours. I can’t even guess where I will be writing my 2016 plans from at this time next year, and I think for now that’s exactly how I want it.

Happy New Year from the Cayas!
Happy New Year from the Cayas!

Aussie Adventure Part 4 – New Year’s Eve

It was New Years Eve in Sydney! The whole reason we planned our trip at this time of year was so we could be there for the NYE fireworks at the harbour. Last year, we even watched the Sydney fireworks on TV, since they are such a big deal. It is pretty cool to be celebrating the new year almost a day before the rest of the world. It’s like time travel.

Our plan was to head downtown and wander around a bit, see some of the city sights before grabbing some dinner and finding a place to watch the ‘works. There are 9 pm “family” fireworks and then the midnight event. We were hoping to see both shows.

We got downtown around 11 am, and it was already packed. We couldn’t sightsee anything, because a lot of the downtown core was fenced for crowd control and people were milling about everywhere. We tried to get in to see the Opera House up close, but that area of the harbour was already shut down because it was filled to capacity.

We settled on a quick walking tour of the Rocks shopping area, grabbed an expensive and rather disappointing lunch at a cafe, and wandered around looking for a place to squat. It was noon. We found a pretty good place in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art and hung around. Now it was 12:05. Only 9 hours to go, then another three til the big ones. Dear lord. So we snoozed, we people watched, the kids whined, we played sudoku, the kids cried, the kids ate all the packed food too quickly, we bought more food, we took turns wandering around. A plane showed up to do some very cool trick flying.

Finally it started getting dark! Night time! Nope, just a rain cloud. It rained on us. Everyone scattered and we lost our sweet spot. By now it’s about 8:00 pm. The rain stopped and we waited anxiously for the fireworks to start.

At last, we saw them! B got one kid up on his shoulders and I got the other and we were ready for the show!

Here’s a video that YouTube decided to squish, sorry for the weird ratio:

Were they worth a 10-hour wait? Not one bit. Ten minutes of fireworks later, the kids were ready to go. We left my parents to enjoy the adult fireworks at midnight, dragged the kids back to the subway through a frighteningly densely packed stream of people, got to the hotel, put the kids to bed, and proceeded to watch the midnight fireworks on TV, again. At least we could hear the thunderclaps in real life this time, so there was that.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it. (How appropriate, since we are in Sydney right now!)

Click here to see the complete report

Also, just so you aren’t left hanging – I’ll be posting some more interesting content than this soon! I just imported 600 photos from Australia.. stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

Selamat tahun baru!

We had a very nice night at home to celebrate the new year. We made homemade toaster oven pizza, drank far too much wine, enjoyed good company, and we were treated to a free fireworks show from our balcony.

It turns out that Indonesians love their fireworks. I think we were the only household in the city who didn’t set off our own display. The whole horizon was lit up for almost an hour. It was intense and beautiful!

This was a snow play area in the mall we visited yesterday. But the snow was more like slushy ice, and it was pretty gross. Oh yeah, and it cost SIX DOLLARS to play in it.
This was a snow play area in the mall we visited yesterday. But the snow was more like slushy ice, and it was pretty gross. Oh yeah, and it cost SIX DOLLARS to play in it.
Our friend brought over some sugar so we could predict the future in the Finnish tradition.
Our friend brought over some sugar so we could predict the future in the Finnish tradition.
You melt the sugar and then pour it into a bucket. The resulting shape then tells you something about your future.
You melt the sugar and then pour it into a bucket. The resulting shape then tells you something about your future.
Too bad we did something wrong, and this was the only shape that survived the process.
Too bad we did something wrong, and this was the only shape that survived the process.
So I guess most of us are going to die... or get married. I'm not sure.
So I guess most of us are going to die… or get married. I’m not sure.
We watched the telecast of the Sydney fireworks.
We watched the telecast of the Sydney fireworks.
Then we watched the live neighbourhood fireworks from the balcony. This was around when I lost my wedding ring over the edge. So maybe our future prediction was true after all...
Then we watched the live neighbourhood fireworks from the balcony. This was around when I lost my wedding ring over the edge. So maybe our future prediction was true after all…
Champagne!
Champagne!
Obviously fireworks are hard to capture on an iPhone, but I tried my best...
Obviously fireworks are hard to capture on an iPhone, but I tried my best…
Fireworks 2
Fireworks 2
Fireworks 3
Fireworks 3
Fireworks 4
Fireworks 4
Fireworks 5
Fireworks 5
Fireworks 6
Fireworks 6

Best wishes to everyone for the new year!