Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Only a Matter of Time Now...

For months you've been standing. For weeks you've been sampling that activity we like to call 'walking'. A week ago, your record was just three or four solo steps. A couple days ago, you broke your own record and took six steps on your own.
Then came today. The place: Koret Children's Quarter, Golden Gate Park. For inspiration, you wore your Thomas the Train shoes. Mom and Dad sat ready. T-minus 10 seconds to launch. 10, 9 ,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2... 1..... blast off! You were off. No hands on you. Mommy following behind. 1 step, 2, 3... 7 steps, a new record. But, you kept going; 9, 10, 11, 12... Was this it? Should we stop counting? Would you just keep going forever, now? 16, 17, 18... 19. And, a fall.
There are milestones and there are milestones. This is one of the biggies. Other parents tell us that after a 'walk' like this, that it's only a matter of time. A few days, a week at most. You're mobile. Time to babyproof the house. We're so proud of you, little Rai! Check out the video below...


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Greening Our World

Another early night for you tonight, Rai, so we couldn't even get our daily photo of you. Instead, I'm left wondering about what to write about with no photo of you from which to draw inspiration.
Hmmm... let's see... what photos do I have sitting around from the past week or two... ?
Got it! While driving around the Mission District a few weeks back, we came across a home whose entire front wall was painted with a wonderful, jungle scene. It may look a bit shoddy, even tacky, at first but, upon further inspection, it's evident that it was the work of quite a good artist!
If we can't bring vines and rainforest foliage our way, then this is surely the next best thing. Here, at home, we're doing our part too. No, we haven't gotten the green light yet on painting this building, but, added to our game collection is the hand-crafted 'Paradice', a chess-like game with a 'save the forest ecosystems of the world' theme. Great game -- can't wait until you're old enough to appreciate this one and the few dozen other games we've got waiting for you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Our California Baby Turns 10 Months Old!

We Californian's are so full of ourselves that we refuse to use products made outside of California. We'll eat only locally grown produce, watch only our made in Hollywood films and, obviously, we'll only use shampoo made in the Golden State.
This undying loyalty to all that is Californian made it a bit tough on you, Rai, for you first few months. Unable to find a local shampoo and bodywash, we didn't give you a proper bath for a few months. Of course we hosed you down a bit, but we refused to use soap and shampoo. That all ended a while back when we finally found 'California Baby' brand body products. You're a California baby so obviously this is the product for you.
So, today Rai, on your 10 month birthday, we celebrated with your 10th bath! We're all glad to have found that local shampoo!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mister Mom

Last week, Rai, was a great week! I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but your Dad was home with you all week. We spent every minute, every hour, from morning to evening together. Perfection, right?
Your grandparents were out of town, visiting your Uncle Sterling, Auntie Nicole and Cousin Gabby in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year so, it was either paying a babysitter some unthinkable amount of money for a week of taking care of you or me taking a handful of my many accrued 'sick' days off and staying home to be with you. I was with, I had a week off of work, and I got paid for it. It's a win-win-win situation!
On Friday, we got together with another father-son pair, another teacher from Galileo who has it even better than me; he's taking the entire semester off to be with his daughter! I can only dream...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When in Rome...

Rai, I heard something interesting on the radio the other day. It was mentioned that of all the European nations, it is Italy that has the lowest per capita internet access. Not only do most homes not have internet, but there is also an overwhelming lack of wifi hotspots in Italian cities. A Dane who was being interviewed told about how shocked he was to find that less than 2% of Rome is covered by wifi as compared to his native Copenhagen at 100% coverage.
It's not that Italians are not tech-savvy or unwilling to accept change. Italy was one of the first nation's to embrace cell phones completely. So, why not the internet? To seek the answer to this question, we took you down to North Beach, San Francisco's 'Little Italy'. Surely, we could find the answer to this puzzling question in our little piece of the Old World's boot. And, we did.
North Beach is packed, day and night, weekday and weekend. The few main streets are lined with cafes and restaurants with seating spilling out onto the patios. The main park, Washington Square, is equally busy with most good grass space taken up at any hour of the day. Having spent a month in Italy, we can say that this is not too different an atmosphere than can be found in Roma, or Napoli, or Firenze, Venezia, or any other Italian city. Italians love to to chat. There is a welcoming cafe, warm espresso, and friendly face waiting for you on every corner. With a half dozen sit down spots waiting for you just outside your door, why stay indoors? Why live virtually when such a vibrant real world is just outside your window. Take it slow, live life, enjoy! That's the Italian way.
The internet doesn't seem to fit that lifestyle and while we sat around in the grass of Washington Square, minutes turned to hours and the afternoon was gone before we knew it. Did we think of the internet once? Certainly not.

Friday, February 19, 2010

You Dislike Lines Too?

Common likes bring people together. Common dislikes really bring people together.
Yesterday, Rai, I discovered that we have a strong and passionate dislike (I hesitate to use the word 'hate') for queues in common.
It's Mr.Mom week for me as the grandparents are out of town and someone had to take care of you, right Rai? Having a pile of sick days accrued, I took this week off to be with you. Other than the daily walks, our one 'special' activity for the week was to be a visit to the Academy of Sciences. Wednesday was the one free day for the entire month. We arrived at the front steps of the Academy at 11:30 at looked at the line.
We looked at the line. And looked. And looked. And looked. I turned my head a full 90 degrees to follow the line to my left. Off in the far, far distance, the line went around the corner and disappeared behind the stand of trees. To that corner, the line was already about 300 meters long (400+ people) and who knows how much further it continued beyond that corner.
I had no intention of finding a spot at the end of that line, then waiting for hours before admission into the museum. You had been looking forward to this, though, so I didn't want to tell you. Serendipitously, you looked at the line, let out a little shout, than started to moan in your 'I'm complaining' kind of way. There it was, that sealed the deal. You weren't into the line either.
We turned around and went home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hilltops and Cobbled Lanes

Rai, when asked, "why does San Francisco have so many unique neighborhoods?", your Mom and I will always give the same answer: "It's the hills!" San Francisco is not a big city. The Bay and the Ocean limit the city to just 7 by 7 miles but the city's 43 hills throw a natural obstruction in your way at every turn, making it feel like a much larger place.
First, there is the fact that the hills actually increase surface area. Beyond that, however, the hills divide parts of the city that would otherwise be connected allowing, over time, for each to have developed it's own unique culture, look and feel. The hills also create hillside neighborhoods with roads that wind and curve their way up the slopes, homes that perch precariously on stilts, hilltops covered in trees, and creaking, wooden staircases that connect it all. All this wouldn't exist if it weren't for those hills.
In search of hilltop views, secret lanes, and staircases, we set off on foot to walk a hill we rarely visit. Russian Hill is one of the city's more affluent addresses, yet it remains one of the most historic too. Walking, we searched for hints of it's past. The wonderful Macondray Lane is a good example of this. Amongst the congested streets and high rise condos of this neighborhood, this little lane, lush and green, cobbled and boardwalked, is a reminder of what this entire area may once have looked like. Nearby hilltops gave us great views to the west over the Marina and towards the Golden Gate Bridge and to the east towards Telegraph Hill, downtown and the Bay Bridge.
One day, if you've got a little of that 'explorer' in you, Rai, you'll spend hours, days, and weekends exploring as we do. It's walks like this one that remind us of the magic that is San Francisco.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Welcome, Year of the Tiger

For the thousands of Chinese in San Francisco, the first day of the Lunar New Year probably means a visit to the temple, a haircut, a new outfit, and a huge dinner at the family's favorite Chinese restaurant. For us, the Chinese New Year will always remind us of our wedding day so at least driving by the golden dome of San Francisco's City Hall (our wedding chapel) is a must. This year, however, we thought, "Chinese New Year? Let's go to Chinatown!"
Visiting Chinatown on New Year's Day seems like a great thing to do. Surprisingly, Chinatown was pretty quiet. There were actually fewer people on the streets than on a regular weekend. No lanterns, no music, no festivals, no lion dancers. The festivities come later, at the end of the two-week period that brings in the New Year. We were early.
We did make the rounds of the three historic temples, climbing the three or four flights of stairs to get to the main hall of each, parting clouds of incense smoke as we made our way to the altars, and watching visitors depositing oranges and dollar bills as offerings.
On the quiet, almost noise-less streets below, we were startled by a surprise stink-bomb attack. The youth made their getaway while throwing mini-explosive poppers over their shoulders. We ducked down the nearest alleyway, finding the Fortune Cookie Factory along our way.
Although we tried, we couldn't quite find the atmosphere we were hoping to find on this New Year Day. Moving away from Chinatown, however, we did find something that brought to mind what the new year should symbolize; renewal and a fresh start. We walked down a small, dead-end lane of beautiful shingled homes. The entire alley was lined with blossoming cherry trees. The petals had already begun to fall and the street was a river of pink and white. We'll take the ground littered with cherry blossom petals over one covered in firecracker residue any day. As more petals floated to the ground, I tried to recall the Japanese expression for this very event. "Pink rain" or "rain of blossoms" it was. Welcome, New Year. What will the Year of the Tiger bring our way?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentines Day

Things weren't looking good.
Sure, there was a red, lace tablecloth on the table and some candles even, but the female:male ratio wasn't promising. We've heard that the proportion of females to males in the world is growing so we couldn't understand what had gone wrong at this party. The numbers were outrageous; 6 males: 1 female.
In the world of wild animals, that would mean an all out battle, a fight to the finish with the dominant male coming out on top and claiming the one female as his own. You, Rai, and your friends are not wild animals, though. In fact, you and your baby buddies hardly noticed that on this Valentines Day, at the fancy Cybelle's Pizzeria, only one of you was a girl. All you boys just grabbed at whoever was nearest you, boy or girl, held hands with whomever was willing and cuddled with the nearest warm body.
The one girl did notice, however. She did all she could to show off her pink dress with hearts on it and even flashed her matching pink panties a couple times. No reaction. "Just another one of us," all the boys thought, collectively.
And how can we forget your part, Rai, in this androgynous affair. You arrived flaunting those hot pink 'walking wings' that your grandparents picked up for you recently. The 'boy wearing pink' thing effectively wiped out the 'blue for boy' and 'pink for girl' conditioning all your playmates had gone through. A clean slate for gender roles and appearances. How San Francisco that is!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Quick Recovery

Rai, that first sickness of yours that we wrote about didn't last long at all. The worst of it passed that morning then, by the time Aunt Kate and Uncle Neil arrived, the pain and frustration that had come with the sickness seemed to have passed.
Still, you had about one-fifth the energy you normally have so Kate and Neil go to see the relaxed version of Rai instead of the "I want to move around and play... right now!" version of Rai. You spent most of the time relaxing in their laps or arms.
By the time we took an evening walk, you seemed back to your normal self. Wow, if only all of us could recover from a cold and flu so quickly!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rotating Anniversary

Rai, today is our anniversary and by the time you read this you'll probably realize that our anniversary date changes every year. In order for you to fully understand this phenomenon, I will have to begin this story weeks before I met your father in the ancient year that was 2001.

I sat in the middle of hectic and loud train station in Chennai waiting for someone from the ashram to pick me up. As a young girl, I had admired the orange robes and giant afro of Sai Baba in a photo that sat in my father's meditation nook. Now, I had finally taken a solo trip to India to embark on the spiritual journey that I had fantasized about since I was that little girl. At eight years of age, I had had the opportunity to visit Sai Baba's Ashram during the Christmas holiday but was afraid to go by myself.
Now, at 23 years of age, I was probably less prepared than I would have been at eight. I hadn't done much research and hadn't made the necessary arrangements beforehand and that's precisely why I was sitting in this train station for hours with so many Indian Rupees in my money belt that it looked like I had a pot belly. I probably never told the ashram what time I was getting in.

Just as I was laying my head down on the bench to take a nap, a taller Caucasian man, a very gentle looking man with a very unusual glass eye spotted me in my neon pink sari and said, "Ashley? I'm here to take you to the ashram." As I followed him through the busy train station he told me all about Chennai. "Do you smell it?" he asked. The only thing I could smell was the overwhelming and unmistakable aroma of feces. "Yes, I can smell it." He laughed and continued, "It may smell like feces now but, in time it will smell like rose petals."

During our one stop to get some batteries for my camera, I fell into a mixture of cow dung and mud, losing my sandals in the process. Since we didn't have time to pick up shoes, it was decided for me that I would go barefoot for the remainder of my trip.

My journey in India began with the fulfillment of that childhood dream. I spent three days at Sai Baba's Ashram and one of those days was Christmas Day. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. From there, I went directly to another ashram. At the gate, a guard sat at a desk behind a stack of papers. He looked my name up, and with a perplexed look, said "Foreigners sleep in the hall. You have a key to the suite which is reserved for close friends and family members of the master. You must be very special." As far as I was concerned this Master had physic powers and knew I would arrive drenched in cow dung, exhausted and disillusioned by my own inadequate spirituality. From that moment, I was a believer, a follower of this psychic guru! A few days later, I was able to meet the Master once, face to face. To this day I can't recall our conversation but, I do remember he said that I reminded him of Grace Kelly. His entourage wrinkled their noses in disagreement and I was told to leave.

As it turned out, I wasn't the disciplined spiritual seeker I thought I would be in India. While others meditated and prayed, I ended up with many hours to myself, walking the ashram's halls and courtyards. I was simply unable to meditate longer than three hours a day. I appreciated the time I had to read, and reflect about my life up until that point. I occasionally asked permanent residents about life and its purpose. I will never forget their answers and I will tell them to you Rai on the day you ask me the very same questions.

One afternoon, while I was in my suite, when I couldn't think of anything else to do, I told the Universe I was ready for a serious relationship. I followed that with a page of scribbles, a list of attributes I would like to have in a life partner. In other words, on paper, I created the perfect partner, asking the Universe to present this person to me as soon as possible.

A week later, I met your father at the base of Gwanak-san in Seoul. As we hiked up the mountain together I told him of my adventures in India. He couldn't stop laughing when I told him of the frog on my seat in the airplane (I will tell you this story one day as well). A few months later, I dug up the now-crumpled paper I had written on in that ashram in Chennai. I looked at my wish list for that perfect life partner. As it turned out, your father had every attribute on that piece of paper and a billion more! When you think of your soul mate, the perfect partner, and you find someone who meets all these expectations and exceeds them by a billion, that is love, Rai. Don't ever settle for anything less than that.

Two years after hiking up Gwanak-san, we raced to San Francisco's City Hall on Chinese New Year Day, rushing to make our scheduled marriage appointment. In our rush, we crashed into a pole in the parking lot, and made it to our appointment just in time. It was that day, as hoards of Chinese people raced through City Hall and as lion dancers swayed before us that we were married. And so, it would be on the day of the Chinese (Lunar) New Year that we would celebrate our Wedding Anniversary for the years to come. The result is that, in the western calendar, our Anniversary changes every year, sometimes it's in January, and other times in February. We still celebrate on Jan.22, the day of our wedding but, the rotating date remains more important for us.

So, today, Feb.14th, New Year's Day 2010, the beginning of the Year of the Tiger (and Valentine's Day) we take the time to look back on our relationship and smile at all the amazing and crazy things we have done together. We look at you, Rai, in awe and say, "I can't believe we made someone as beautiful as you!"