Thursday, December 27, 2007

Knitting in Nelson

When winter greeted Nelson, it was especially freezing for a California family whose warmest jacket was made of recycled plastic bottles. One sunny clear morning as the kids were riding to school in a warm heated car, I got on my bicycle and rode down the hill and headed for the city. Not even down the first hill, my bare knuckles and face were splashed with freezing air. I thought of going back home, but the idea of having to walk up my bike on the steepest hill of my bike ride convinced me to continue riding to the city.

My body warmed up from biking, but my knuckles were cracked, brittle and dry. When I finished my errands in town, all I could think about on my bike ride home was that I needed to go wool shopping. Our first month in Nelson was spent exploring random places. One of the random places we visited was Grape Escape. Coincidentally we visited on Grape Escape's 10th Anniversary. I think it was 10th but was definitely an anniversary. There was a jumpy castle in addition to balloons and play structures. Also, child size picnic tables alongside regular size picnic tables.

Next to Grape Escape Cafe were about 6 other shops. One shop that i especially liked was Cruellas. The yarn is locally knit and dyed. The scarf and poncho I ended up buying was made with a combination of wool and alpaca. It was super soft and after removing the poncho, I wanted to put it back on because it was warm, and light in weight rather than bulky. Cruellas also offers instruction once a week for $10. The insruction is on what ever project you want help on. Included in the fee is tea, coffee and baked treats. I've never been to the tea and instruction but saw the baked cakes on the table and it looked very tempting.

The coffee at the cafe is pretty good and definitely a good idea if you want to enjoy a coffee while the kids are running around the play structures.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Zurich trip report

Zurich Trip Report

The dramamine did work :). However it did not put her to sleep as I expected. So mari and maya spent a large part of the flight doing various painting and cutting projects. It was a short 7 hour flight across the pond (atlantic) and we landed in a cold frosty zurich early saturday morning. We flew Swiss Air for the first time. Air NZ and Singapore airlines spoil you a fair amount (video on demand, good travel pack for the kids). Swiss Air did not meet their high standards. However the child meal was not too bad (veggies, mashed potatoes, chicken strips).

We did not have to fill any of the stupid custom/immigration forms that most countries make you fill up. So customs/passport control was a breeze, we got our bags and headed off to rent a car. Rented a car from EuropCar along with a GPS navigation unit (which is so so useful). We typically tend to avoid renting cars for short trips, but for some strange reason, I figured a car might not be a bad idea on this trip.

We drove to the youth hostel near Lake Zurich and checked in. Had our first cup of bad, weak coffee at the hostel. We love the common spaces that are so common in hostels but unknown in hotels. The common space and steps saved us the next two nights. We then headed off to Shopville/RailCity which we assumed would be indoors. We also assumed there would be some activities for kids as advertised. We were wrong on both counts :(. We did spend a few hours there moving constantly between the semi-cold and very-cold places. The kids had a sausage for lunch while mari and I shared an excellent mozarella tomato sandwich and a good latte. After a quick afternoon nap, we then headed to Planet Magica which is an indoor playground for kids (similar to Chipmunks). The kids bounced around for two-three hours before we headed back to the hostel. Maya was jetlagged and did not want to goto sleep. So mari and i took turns doing various projects with her. We finally made her climb the steps in the hostel (5 floors) a few times to tire her out. She finally went to bed at 12:00 am or so. PJ seemed to have had her rest by this time and decided to get up. Luckily for us, we coerced PJ to go back to sleep after an hour or so. Maya had two semi-big falls from the bunk bed at nite which made things even more interesting. As parents, you need to deal with the combined jet lag of you and your kids, which makes travel even more fun and interesting. Hopefully it will be a bit better in India.

The next day we went to Kinder City (older kids should check out technorama) and spent a few hours there. Its quite a large indoor spot with lots of interactive activities. Its a bit like exploratorium. Maya got a bit car sick and was not well for the first couple of hours. She finally threw up and then felt much better. The cleaning staff at the museum were not very pleased with us :( (obviously they dont have kids!). We had a great thin crust cheese pizza at kinder city. Maya and PJ then enjoyed the big kids exhibits for another hour or so. There were additional activities like bread making, dinosaur sand blocks, chocolate making which we had to skip, since we did not know how good/bad maya felt. Its quite amazing to watch her bounce right back and continue playing before/after she is sick. Zurich is really cold (-2 degree cent), so we cannot spend a lot of time outside. We have a fair amount of warm clothing but dont have all the things like mittens and ear muffs etc. The kids start freezing and are unhappy after 5-10 minutes outside.

Our next destination was trampolino, an indoor playground similar to planet magica but much bigger. It was also quite crowded, but the kids had a great time jumping and doing various activities. Its kinda cool to see them persevere in various things and keep trying till they get it. For one of the slides, i had to jump in and help them climb up. We hoped to exhaust them before bedtime. Unfortunately, i did not have time to do any research with regard to food places, so we did not really eat any good swiss food. PJ was also quite tired by 6:30 pm or so, which made getting dinner outside even more difficult. We got some good bread/cheese/smoked fish/salmon roe/meatloaf from the grocery store (coop is one big chain, migros is the other) and had a pretty good dinner. Gave the kids a bath to get them in the sleepy mood. This worked great for PJ who was out by 8:00 pm. Maya stated that she was not tired but was kind enough to keep herself entertained for the next hour or so. She ended up making a fair amount of noise which woke PJ up and now we had 2 jet lagged kids to deal with. Once again, the common spaces in the hostel and the steps saved us. After making the kids climb up and down three times and a few games in the lobby, we headed back to sleep for a couple of hours before we got on the flight to Mumbai.

We had to get to the airport a bit early, since we had to find our way there and to the rental car return. We also take our time to feed the kids at the airport, do lots of postcards with them and in general get them physically and mentally tired (hence i can type this blog post, while they snore next to me!). Maya was nice enough to remind us of her "dramamine" medicine, even though she does not like chewing the tablet.

Onto India and more fun travels. We'll start using some of the home schooling material that we've lugged half way across the world. More home schooling stories coming up in future blog posts.

New York trip report ..

We flew into new york on dec 18th on United. The flight was quite comfortable and turbulent free. However, Maya got sick on the plane, for the third time in a row and threw up. I suspect plane travel does not sit well with her. The kids decided I was their favorite parent and wanted to sit next to me the entire time. We had a 3-1 seat configuration and mari got to chill for some time. We spent most of the time playing melissa and doug's pattern travel game. Its a bit too easy for maya, so will need to get her something more challenging for the next flight.

We spoke to a pediatrician in New York, who recommended we give her Dramamine before take off which will dull her balance sensors (they are behind the ear). They seemed to have worked well so far (writing this on the Zurich->Mumbai flight). However, she did throw up on a car trip yesterday when we did not give her Dramamine.

This has been our first trip with two kids who are grown up (relatively speaking). Its a lot of work with kids at this age which makes travel quite hard and different. When the kids were younger, we could carry them on backpacks and pretty much do things we liked, wander the city, stop at cafes etc. At this age, we think more about what activities will entertain and educate the kids. So we basically hunt for discovery / exploratorium museum equivalents in various cities. Both New York and Zurich will be cold this time of the year and will limit any outside activities

We got into NY late friday. The kids were glad to be in a spacious one bedroom apartment and we spent the evening doing various projects. Mari, Lara and Frank went to dinner at Frank's Italian restaurant in the East Village and came back with a pretty good report. The next morning, i had an excellent CiviCRM meetup with some of our users and consultants. The kids wanted to stay at home and do school, which is what Mari did using some of the home schooling material we have. We went for lunch to Momafuke, the noodle bar in east village. We got the sashimi appetizer, the hot mushroom bun and the squid salad. The squid salad was exceptional and definitely worth getting. The other two appetizers were quite ordinary and a bit disappointing. The portion size seemed a bit small. For the main courses, Mari got the chicken ramem, kurund got the shrimp and rice, and I got the pork and poached egg ramen. All three courses were quite good and devoured by us (with some help from the kids). The pork pieces were quite fatty (which makes the soup tasty). Its kinda ironic that restaurants are going back to using the "good parts" of an animal to prepare food. This is quite common in my Mom's home cookin. We then took Metro North to visit Kavya, Esha, Suhrud and Chayya. We had a delicious indian meal at their place (baingan bharta, cholle and upside down veggies). The kids took care of themselves for most of the visit. Kinda nice that the kids can entertain themselves at this age.

The next morning we headed to the Museum of Natural History (MNH). We met Mari's cousin, Rona there. On our way there we managed to lose Kurund in the subway. For the next three hours, the kids were quite sad and kept mentioning that Kurund is lost and they will not meet him again. It did not help that MNH is a very hands off museum (see, read but dont touch) and the kids got bored there pretty quickly. MNH does have a discovery center which is open ONLY from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. Not sure why such a large museum has such limited hours for something which all small kids like. MNH was very crowded and the noise level was so so high, seemed like all schools in NY decided to visit it that day (or so it felt). Overall MNH is not a great museum for kids under 5, IMO. The one thing that did excite the kids for 30 mins or so was the evolution of man (from chimpanzee to neanderthal to man). Maya went around checking which one was male and which was female. PJ was quite happy to see monkeys.

We then went over to Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon Bakery. We were a large group and bought food from the takeaway. The menu is quite limited and we tasted most items on the menu. The sandwiches (tuna salad, roast beef, turkey, vegetarian) were made on some great bread and the quality of ingredients was high. The focacia sandwich was the tastiest which yummy bacon on top :). The desserts (macaroons, chocolate chip cookie and chocolate cake) met our high standards. The chocolate cake was as good as any of the chocolate stuff from tartine, if not a wee bit better.

We then visited Elin Waring and Manhattan Country School (MCS). Elin has deployed CiviCRM at MCS. MCS is a small progressive school on Upper West Side. Diversity in NY is so so different than diversity in San Francisco. While all the SF schools make a strong attempt at being diverse, it still means that 60% of the kids are white. The kids at MCS were like a mini-UN (borrowed from lara's description of a subway car in NY). Visiting MCS made me think that staying in NY for the spring / summer / fall might not be a bad idea (assuming we figure out what we will do with the kids education). NY in winter might be a wee bit too cold for my liking. Our final destination of the day was Manhasset, Long Island. We took LIRR and the kids entertained (or tortured) the other passengers by playing phone the entire ride over (30 mins). We had another great indian meal (alu gobi, dhal and shrimp curry) and the kids used frank as a jumping bag.

The next morning we had coffee and breakfast at Araca (with lara and rona) on 7th Avenue. This place (another Lara find) was started by someone who worked at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bay Area. The coffee was obviously quite excellent and the food was very good (poached eggs on fry bread, chile poblano sandwich with avocado salsa, egg and potato quiche). This place was so so small that only 4-5 people could stand inside at any given time. There is a bench outside so we rotated people and food from inside to outside on a regular basis (was quite cold that morning). We then headed to Children's Museum of Manhattan (we wanted to goto Children's museum of art, which opened a bit too late for us, 12:00 pm). I took a 90 minute walk along the riverfront while the kids enjoyed the museum. We also purchased some Kapla blocks as a present. Seems quite an interesting set and we'l probably purchase a set for our kids when we get back home. We were running a bit late and to mine (and rona's) disappointment we had to skip Katz and settled for H&H bagels and cream cheese for lunch.

Now off on another plane ride to Zurich. Maya is getting a bit tired of planes and has mentioned a few times she does not want to get on a plane to goto europe. The postcard game is quite entertaining (and a great diversion) and we spent an hour or so writing postcards to all our friends in NZ and other parts of the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The evolution of Maya and PJ

Its kinda cool to see a kid grow up and evolve. We've seen quite a few changes in Maya since PJ became part of the family close to two years ago. Its fascinating to see how they interact with each other and how maya has adapted in how she deals with PJ. Initially, there was the timid Maya who did not really know what to do with PJ. These days, we see a Maya who gets on the offensive a bit more than needed. PJ knows maya's soft spots and does not hesitate to use them at times. Not sure if its the younger kid syndrome, or PJ's character, but she does like to needle maya. Most of her attempts are when she thinks no one's watching. Unfortunately for PJ, maya does not take this lying down any more. So fireworks typically follow such outings. Kinda reminds me of the line of control between india and pakistan.

With PJ's influence (or so i think), maya has become more social and interacts with people more easily. She had two children sessions by herself at two schools in SF recently. She enjoyed both the sessions quite a bit, and had a pretty distinct spring in her step after the second session at Live Oak. However, when we visited the other two schools where PJ is also a potential student, Maya was quite reserved and was glued to our sides. Mari's theory is that Maya thought it was little children's work since PJ was there, and hence did not participate

Maya has taken an interest in computers these days. We've started spending some time on a computer and she sits on my lap typing the various numbers and alphabets. We then do a bit of spelling on the computer where she decides what words she wants to spell. Today she decided she wanted to learn how to spell stinky and yucky. She seems to find great humor in this.

Another fascinating topic for her these days is death and dying. Need to do a bit of research on what our responses should be, but we do have good conversation about this. She mentioned earlier today that only people died and animals did not. Mari explained to her that a pig had to die for her ham and cheese pastry earlier today and fish need to be sacrificed for her sushi dinners.

The private school admission experience ...

So we've applied to 4 private schools (San Francisco School, San Francisco Friends, Children's Day School and Live Oak) in San Francisco. The supply / demand curve is completely out of whack, and as such there are approx 100-200 applicants for approx 10 spots. We have PJ who's applying for the age 4 slot, where typically schools have between 0-2 vacancies. As such, i suspect our chances at those schools (SF and CDS) is quite low. Our chances at the other schools is probably a bit higher. The schools were very accomodating and scheduled us for both parent and kid interviews before we took off. That does give us some hope :)

These four schools are part of the group of small progressive schools in san francisco. Overall the type of education they offer is quite similar across the schools. Differentiated education, small class size (approx 8-12 kids / teacher), focus on arts and music, emphasis on the environment and community, a focus on diversity at multiple levels (ethnic, income and family orientation).

Last year we visited SF school and I was quite impressed with it. This year, i had a slightly different outlook. Maya and PJ attend Richmond Montessori, an excellent program in NZ. The teachers are friendly and interact with the kids in a very nice supportive manner. I also spoke to my friend Smita who is home schooling her kid Amitav. So I spent the first few weeks on a couple of home schooling mailing lists (post on home schooling coming soon) and learned a bit more about home schooling. While the private schools were still quite impressive, I was not as enamored of them as I was last year. I think home schooling is definitely a option and compares quite favorably to the private schools. We hope to visit a public school before we head out. The SF public lottery system is not ideal, since you dont know if your child will get into any of the schools in the neighbourhood

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life in San Francisco and my poor old knee

Our life in San Francisco seems so so busy on this trip. Between school appointments, tours, open houses, visits to the doctor/dentist and work its a constant stress machine. We need to figure out how to slow things down a wee bit when we come back. Maybe we'll do a better job on the next trip

A couple of interesting things to note on this trip. Decided to get my knee checked by the good folks at kaiser. We discovered pretty quickly that my left knee ACL was non existent and an MRI revealed a potential tear in the MCL. The doctor thinks the MRI might be wrong with the MCL tear since i can squat without pain. Had some good visits with the physical therapist, Brian Soo, who gave me a few good trip on strengthening my quads, hamstrings and glutes. I've not lost a lot of strength/muscle on my left leg, which is indeed a good thing. Most likely, i will opt for ACL surgery when we revisit the US in July 2008

Our going back to NZ has hit a tiny little snag. We failed to get an extension to our visa at the NZ embassy in LA (since there is no concept of a visa beyond a year). Hopefully our immigration paperwork will come through before Feb 9th

Its time for us to start thinking about a potential school for Maya / PJ in the city. The supply/demand equation is totally out of whack. I've been chatting with Smita about her home schooling experiences with Amitav and am more convinced that home schooling is a saner/safer/more efficient option. More details on our school visits in the next post