Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Developmental Assessment

Liam had part one of his half-yearly developmental assessment at the children's hospital yesterday. He did really well, and completed (or tried to) a series of exercises and tasks that would place him at a certain developmental age.

He surprised us with some of the tasks he managed to complete, with how well he listened to instructions and observed what the Physiotherapist was doing and tried to copy her movements, but he didn't fare so well in others - i.e. he couldn't put in place a basic three-piece puzzle and could not recognize shapes at all.

They put him at approximately 14-16 months developmentally at the end of the session, which is a slight growth from half a year ago, but on the larger developmental scale, he's still falling behind. The doctor also advised us to include an Endocrinologist on Liam's medical team as he hasn't been growing much physically in the past year. This is something we'll have to look into when we're in New Zealand.

As usual, it is always hard to hear/see results like that on paper, to have it so 'officially' stated where your child is developmentally, which is no where near his physical age of 2 years and 8 months old. But none of it was surprising, and this will help us to figure out what will work best for him in a schooling environment and how to support him in the best possible way.

In Germany, he was enrolled in a kindergarden for developmentally-delayed children. It is a special school where each class only consists of 5-6 children with two teachers trained in special needs per class. There are physiotherapists and ergo therapists on site. It is a great school for children like Liam, but unfortunately we won't be able to send him there after all. I hope to find similar support in Auckland.

Some parents may prefer their child to be integrated into a mainstream school, but after careful research and speaking to Liam's doctors/therapists, we came to the conclusion that it would be better for him to attend a class that can attend and cater to his special needs. There is no point sending him into a class room with other nearly 3-year-olds who can already string together long, complex sentences and do 24-piece puzzles and count and say alphabets when he can't do any of the above. Sure, it may motivate him to do a little more, but he will also be utterly overwhelmed and lost in a class of 20 children, with or without a personal aid.

On an upbeat note, my little man completely surprised me this morning and left me in tears. He was playing with his little brother Nolan and pulling at his earand just when I was about to make him stop, he looked at me and said 'Ear', clear as day. And then he stuffed his finger in Nolan's mouth and said 'Mouth' (or more like 'Mouff'). I was ecstatic and I started to ask him where the different parts are on his face, and he pointed to them all! Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Ear and Hair! I've been pointing and naming them on his face for months but I was never really sure he understood, as he's never repeated it back - but apparently he's been listening the whole time and he totally gets it!

This only tells me that it doesn't matter what a piece of paper say, or where he is at developmentally compared to other children his age. He is learning so much everyday, in his own way, and he's turning into such a little person with a huge personality. He's funny, affectionate, stubborn, and gives the best hugs and kisses. He cracks us up on a daily basis, and I don't know where I'd be without my little man reminding me every day of the things that truly matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New Blog, New Adventures

So, I've decided to immerse myself completely into my passion for food and wine with an all-new website over at Eat.Drink.Auckland and its corresponding Facebook page here.

I'm not going to stop writing about food and wine here, although I will be primarily using this blog for more personal posts with a focus on the expat life, parenting, family and of course, our ongoing journey with understanding Williams Syndrome.

There are other projects and dreams on the pipeline, but for now, I'm excited to be able to do this and hope to create a platform where I can share with you my passion for the hospitality and food&beverage industry, including the products, news and events, and of course, the people who are the heart and soul behind it all.

I hope you enjoy this new journey with me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur

The iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur
In all the excitement of our upcoming move back to Auckland, I sometimes forget that prior to that, I'll actually be spending two months back in my hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with my family. The Husband will be there with us for the first two weeks, return to Germany to finish up work and tie up loose ends here, before joining us again towards the end of February.

We have a lot planned during our time in Malaysia, beginning with celebrating my birthday and Christmas with my parents and some of my cousins and other extended family who are also making their way home from various parts of the world - some of whom I haven't seen in many years! It will be the first time a lot of them are meeting my boys, which is hugely exciting for me and them, and although I have no doubt we'll all be terribly jet-lagged having arrived only a few day before the celebrations, I do also hope it will be a time of love, joy and many treasured moments.

This will be followed by a short getaway to the island of Langkawi with my parents, where I hope to enjoy a few days of sun, sea, great food and plenty of relaxation (or as much relaxation as there can possibly be while looking after two babies).

The rest of our time there will hopefully be a time of family-togetherness (minus my husband), introducing my children to the wonderful extended family they do not yet know they have, indulging in excellent Malaysian cuisine, and catching up with many family and friends that I haven't had the chance to during my past visits back home.

This time around, I'm also lucky enough to be there throughout the Chinese New Year festivities in early February (again the first for my boys), a special cultural celebration and part of my heritage that I've missed for more years than I care to remember!

Each time we've visited in the past, we've only managed to spend a week or two with the family, and to be there for two whole months is the ultimate luxury. Words cannot express how much I've missed having my loved ones in my day-to-day life, how much I wish to share our lives with them, to have them know and love my boys in person, to have people you can lean on. Technology has certainly made it a lot easier to be in each others' lives, and for that, I'll always be grateful for Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, but it's not the same as watching your mum tickle your baby, listening to your dad sing lullabies with your toddler, talking with your cousin over a bottle of wine, being with people who've known you all your life, who know you at your best and your worse and love you all the same.

There is so much to look forward to, and I'm excited to share a little bit of my hometown and where I come from with you here over the next few months.

No matter how far I journey or where I may live or call home, Malaysia is the place of my birth, and she can be pretty amazing. I hope you'll see that too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Food, Wine and Buble!

What a blast of a weekend it's been in Stuttgart! Even though both the kids were sick, they were complete troopers and adjusted well to the sudden change in their surroundings.

"I'm not sleepy, mum" (Oh yes, you are!)
Creamy and smooth Poppyseed Cheesecake
We were there bright and early on Sunday, and spent the rest of the day in the excellent company of our dear friends Dorothy and Volker, indulging in some of Stuttgart's finest cheesecake, followed by a delicious homemade dinner of a Chinese-style 'Steamboat' meal, where ingredients like okra, stuffed eggplants, tofu, wanton (and really anything else you feel like adding) is thrown into a huge pot of boiling chicken broth. It was comfort food like none other, and perfect to socialize over on a cold autumn night.

Dorothy's homemade stuffed eggplant and okra, with wantons
A local Spatburgunder from Weinstadt, Stuttgart
A lovely South Tyrollean wine
We enjoyed our dinner with a 2012 Spatburgunder (which is what Pinot Noir is called in this region of Germany), from a local producer called Ellwanger. It was a dry, easy-drinking red with a lovely finish that went well with our tasty but delicate soup and vegetables. This was followed by a gem of a bottle, a 2008 Lagrein from South Tyrol, which was a completely new variety to me. Full-bodied with complex flavors and spicy notes, I enjoyed this wine immensely, and it has peaked my interest to find out more about South Tyrollean wines!

More wines from Ellwanger
Is there a happier sight in the world?
The next day, we took a short drive to the Ellwanger winery to discover some of their other varieties. I love nothing more than visiting vineyards, wine-tasting and talking to the people behind the bottle. The Husband calls it my 'happy place' and I am inclined to agree! We left with three different bottles of wine, all specific to the region, which I will be happily tasting over the next weeks.

The colorful and captivating rolling vineyards of Weinstadt, Stuttgart
Our trip ended with what was initially our sole reason for going to Stuttgart - a Michael Bublé concert! It's the first concert of his I've ever attended, but I can tell you now that it won't be my last! I had an absolute blast watching my favorite singer performing live. Our seats were upgraded for some inexplicable reason so we ended up sitting only six rows from the stage. The opening act, Naturally 7, got the crowd in a wonderful mood, the sound in the hall was fantastic, the energy was electrifying, and for two hours I sang, danced, cheered and clapped my hands sore as my Number One crooner performed all my favorite songs on stage. 

It was a complete freedom from my usual role of being a mum, and I can't thank The Husband more for making the entire trip (the tickets, the drive to and from Stuttgart, taking time off work, looking after the kids while I go to the concert) happen for me and making one of my dreams a reality!

Michael Bublé performing at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyerhalle in Stuttgart
My modern-day Sinatra
The man in action
We arrived home this morning and my WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) certificate was waiting for me in the mailbox! I have officially passed the Level 2 examinations that I undertook in Offenburg last month, and am now WSET Level 2 certified! It wasn't a huge exam, but it took a lot of effort and determination to study on my own for two months after the kids were in bed. I am really proud that I managed to complete this, despite not being able to participate in the online classroom activities as much as I wanted to. Next up, Level 3 in New Zealand! 

WSET Level 2 certified!
The past few days have been quite literally non-stop for me, and I'm looking forward to a few normal/routine days where I can get back to packing/selling/boxing/organising for our impending move home. But I will go to bed tonight with thoughts of a life filled with cherish friends, good food and wine, getting a step closer to a dream I didn't realize I had until yesterday, and through all that, Michael Bublé's voice in the background singing: "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life…. for me… and I'm feeling good." 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Goodbye Karlsruhe (part 2)

We're heading to Stuttgart today to spend a few days with our good friends Dorothy and Volker. It is a much needed change in our surroundings and will hopefully lift all our spirits a little!

Both the boys (and I) have been down with a bad cold and cough for a whole week now and it's been a tough week to ride out, but thankfully we're nearly over the hump. Unfortunately, a lot of the medical appointments and procedures we had scheduled for the past week were unsuccessful due to the virus and plenty of other reasons, so they all have to be re-scheduled, which is the last thing we need with all we have going on for the next five weeks.

But sometimes life gives you lemons, or limes, and you go to the bar and fashion out the yummiest drink you can concoct, which in my case would be a Gin and Tonic, because why resist what you can't change and all that?

On a high note, I'll be catching my very first Michael Buble concert tomorrow night. I have been a huge fan for years and for some strange reason, always left the country he happened to be touring just when he's due to perform there. Well, not anymore! And I have The Husband to thank for making this happen for me. (I will be thinking of you, Sarah R. and swooning on your behalf!)

So for now, I'm going to have to love you and leave you with more pictures of my home for only six more weeks!

Shopping streets (I will miss these cobbled walkways!) 
The Natural Science Museum
Karlsruhe Schloss (palace)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Solitaire's the only game in town

I am rarely on my own. During the day I always have at least one child with me, and at nights we're all together. And I love spending time with my children. I love that I get to be the one to hold them when they're upset. To be there for the moments. To catch a giggle. To cuddle a small body heavy with sleep.

But I won't pretend that it's not a lonely existence. Most days I only hear the sound of my own voice, and I don't talk to anyone else apart from my husband when he gets home from work in the evenings. Every Tuesday, for an hour, I get to chat a little with Liam's Ergotherapist. Twice a week, I see my friend Annie who comes by in the morning to help me with the children on my busiest days. And that's truly about the extend of adult conversation I have each week. On special occasions, I'd meet up with some girlfriends for drinks in town, which I've really only done twice since Nolan was born.

You'd think I would crave more of a social life, with how quiet my days mostly are. And sometimes I do, but not in the 'let's-have-a-party' kinda way. I miss my best friends, who are scattered all over the world. I miss having them over for a no-fuss meal, where you can open the door in your pajamas and they won't care, and we'd cook together, eat and drink wine and talk for hours.

But surprisingly enough, sometimes I also miss solitude. Yes, even more solitude. Because being on my own with the kids isn't quite like truly being alone. Some days I'm so busy taking care of them, doing chores, feeding, cooking, cleaning, bathing, that I don't really have time to just sit, until both of them are in bed. I may lack adult contact and conversation, but the house is never really quiet, unless both kids are sleeping. When they're awake, there's shouting, crying, laughing, more crying, whining, songs, television, and through it all, always, always the sound of my own voice, trying to bring order, cease a tantrum, soothe, play, teach, love.

As an only child, I spent a lot of time on my own growing up, and sometimes I miss that sense of… space. It comes as no surprise that a lot of my favorite activities like reading, playing the piano, writing, listening to music, even running, are all solitary acts. This is not to say that I don't enjoy being with people. I do. Especially where food and wine are involved. But when it's really up to me, I prefer quality to quantity; that is, I'd rather have dinner with a few special friends than a large group of acquaintances.

Sometime last year, I told The Husband I needed to get away. Just me. Just for a night. I needed to be on my own. Not to go out dancing or paint the town red. But just to be completely alone for 24 hours, without the children, without him, doing whatever I wanted to do, alone. He agreed. I went to the nearest hotel, brought my laptop, a favorite DVD, a book, a bottle of wine, a packet of crisps. I left the house on a Saturday afternoon, checked-in, and didn't leave the hotel until the next morning. It was quiet. I was alone. I was still lonely, but it was also kind of wonderful. I ordered dinner from the room service menu, sat around in a robe all day, watched a whole movie without interruption and THEN read chapters of my book while sipping on my wine, and fell asleep for eight hours straight. It was bliss. I didn't have to worry or think about anyone else. For just one day a year, I could put my wants and needs first. Follow my own schedule. Of course, the next morning I got up at 6am like I always do (damn you biological clock), and decided I missed Liam  so much (this was last year) that I checked out at 8am and came home.

This year, I did the same again, just a month ago. I went back to the same hotel, brought pretty much the same things, except this time, I decided to have dinner in town on my own before heading back to the hotel. The Husband thought I would feel strange dining out on my own on a Friday night and I was a little worried too. But there was a Japanese restaurant I'd really wanted to go back to, which was definitely a social place and not really made for a solo diner. I didn't want to feel awkward, but I also didn't want to waste the one night I had to myself eating at a place I didn't really care for. And so I decided why the hell not, got dolled up, and went.

I certainly got a lot of stares that evening, and from the minute I sat at my table surrounded by couples and groups of friends, I contemplated leaving. But then I quieted my mind, and my emotions. I decided to focus on the food, the wine, and the atmosphere instead. And as I did that, the discomfort of being on my own in a social situation changed into a positive feeling. I was out of my comfort zone, but suddenly it made me feel alive. I didn't have to make conversation, I didn't have to think. I was simply present, and enjoying my food and surroundings, and it was okay. In fact, it was more than okay, it was good.

We've since decided that this 'me-time' getaway will be a yearly tradition. Once a year is not a lot of time to carve for, for yourself. And I can't stress how good it was for me to have just that one night on my own. To be fully conscious, aware and comfortable in my own company. It wasn't just about re-charging, or about a good night's sleep or a good meal, although they were all certainly bonuses. It was about remembering to love me, to care for me, to remember who I am, which is especially important when your primary role is taking care of someone else all day long.

I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who understands this, and supports it. In fact, this year I'm extra-lucky, because I get to do a proper trip on my own in just three weeks - to Paris! It will be the first time I'd have left the children for so long, since ever, but I also know they're in good hands.

I am excited but also nervous. The last time I travelled completely on my own (which wasn't work-related), was back when I was a university student in Michigan. I loved traveling on my own then, exploring cities, meeting new people in random places, being open to the world and my surroundings.
I've since become a little placid. I've gotten used to relying on The Husband for navigation, for helping me with my bags, for being my companion when we dine out and being someone to share experiences with. But similar to my mini-experiment with dining alone here in Karlsruhe, I want to remember what it's like to be comfortable in my own company. To make my own experiences without anyone else's influence, and I'm so thankful for having the opportunity to do so even now.

Being solitary, being alone, does not always mean being lonely. For me, right now, it means being still. Being present. Being conscious. Being accepting. Being alive.

It's the only game in town. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Goodbye Karlsruhe (Part 1)

As I was walking around the neighborhood running errands today, a few thoughts went through my mind. One, that although I'm not unhappy to be leaving Germany, there are some special places and memories I have of Karlsruhe I never want to forget; and two, that even though the city is a giant construction pit at the moment, there is also a lot of beauty around me if I only paid attention to them.

I haven't written much about this city that's been my home for over two years. A part of me has always resented being here, perhaps because of the reasons why we ended up here in the first place. Along with the unconscious resentment, I thought it was boring, dull, uneventful. Compared to Kuala Lumpur and Auckland where I spent the majority of my adult life, there's nothing in Karlsruhe that excited me, that took my breath away. It isn't a loud, vibrant, chaotic metropolis like KL. It isn't stunningly beautiful like Auckland. It is just… there.

But recently I'm beginning to realize, that just 'there' has been enough for me these few years while I learned the ropes of being a first-time mum, while I came to terms with having a child with a genetic disorder. Just 'there' has provided us with financial stability when we needed it, support and benefits and care for our child, so that even on days when we felt completely alone, we were never really afraid or worried about how to care for him.

No, there were no big events. No huge excitement. The city does not pulse. In fact, every Sunday the city sinks into its shell and goes into slumber. I didn't paint the town red, or made many friends, but the few I did, are people I will treasure all my life.

And through it all, passively, quietly, there were plenty of moments. Visiting a vineyard in the Pfalz. Having a Gluhwein at the Christmas market. Walking along Lichtentaller Allee in Baden-Baden. Ice-cream by the castle on a hot summer's day. Watching Liam play with the other children at his daycare. The sudden realization that I can read an entire menu in German.

Life catches you off guard, if you aren't paying attention, and I want to start paying attention. Not to the past, not to the future. But to every present moment. I want to start capturing images of beauty, of places, of people, of buildings that have been the backdrop of my life for the past two years, so that one day, when the clarity of it has faded in my mind, I can still look back fondly on my time here, and remember the good times.

I'm going to name these series of posts, Goodbye Karlsruhe. It may consist of just words, or it may just be an image, or a few of them.

I'm sorry it took me so long to introduce my neighborhood to you. But it's never too late to start.

The fire-station next to our apartment block
One of the streets leading to our apartment
This restaurant 'Wacht Am Rhein' is located right outside our building.
It is 10 feet away from Liam's room window. We've unfortunately yet to try it.
The Beiertheimer Allee Park where I run
They are bringing the city trams underground. But for now, this is my daily view.

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