Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Packing tips for travel

Two weeks into our trip I'm feeling very practical rather than observational. We're in Tokyo taking a recharge/laundry day after four days of intense travel as a whole family. (Michael is back at work and we 3 women are chilling out. Tomorrow I get to give a talk at the Tokyo-American Club, which I am really excited about.)

I've had some travel & packing tips rolling around my brain, so I am going to write them down here. I can't even judge whether they're original or not, since right now they all seem like common sense, but since this is free advice you'll at least get your money's worth.

The iPod provides the greatest amount of entertainment per ounce if you and/or your kids enjoy listening to music or audio books. "Harry Potter" on audio is great!

For our 3 week trip we packed enough clothes to last a week, and we did laundry twice.

The old saying is true: pack twice as much money and half as many clothes as you need. We were able to buy what we needed in terms of toiletries, etc. in Sydney, Beijing, and Tokyo, so I found that I had overpacked on supplies. I wore pants four times, most shirts twice without any problem before washing.

Even if you don't wear panty liners at home, they are a godsend on a long trip for warding off that "not so fresh feeling" the TV ads have warned us about all these years. Helps extend the laundry....'nuff said.

Find a pair of walking shoes that you can wear with or without socks, preferably with a dress or pants as well. Keen, Merrell, Mephisto are all brands to consider. On a long trip it's well worth the investment. I figure we walked 2-4 miles a day. My Keen "Seattle" Mary Janes took me all over the place. Little T's Merrell "Sprint Jump Kids" Mary Janes did the same for her.

Before you leave home, make sure no one has packed more than they can humanly carry. If your kids aren't old enough to lug their own luggage, you'll need to negotiate who will pack and carry the kids' belongings. We've all almost dislocated our elbows and shoulders pulling around the heavy bags we packed for this trip!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thankgiving Dinner: PB&J on the Great Wall

Hi Friends and Family,

Yes, being in Beijing makes me appreciate you all the more. We had a fantastic day though. Grannie Annie, Little T. and I had a Thanksgiving meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on top of the Great Wall! It was quite a long tour day, with stops at a cloisonne factory and a silk factory. Annie even said that visiting the Great Wall was one of the highlights of her life. The thing I loved about it was that while you were actually standing on it, you could see it radiating out for miles on other mountain peaks, giving you a connection that you wouldn't ordinarily feel by standing on one mountain and looking at another. It was quite hard to walk on, with steep stairs and inclines. After all, it was designed to keep people OUT.

Our tour guide was a young man who had recently graduated from college. He spoke good English, and he kept a running list of new words he was learning. The words he'd learned right before meeting us were Home Depot and wheat. He said FAQ a lot, which makes sense as a tour guide. And the new words he picked up from our conversation were graffiti (on the Great Wall), raisin (we had some for lunch), and dubbing (as in movie languages). I thought it was interesting to get a glimpse of someone adding to his vocabulary. The words seem random as a list, but it was clear how they came up in context.

For those of you wondering when the blog will get back to motherhood topics, the answer is soon. I am engrossed by Susan Maushart's new book, "What Women Want Next," which is not in print in the US right now. I picked it up in Sydney, I am 2/3 finished with it, and it's covered in highlighter. I feel so many connections between this book and "Mojo Mom." That's not a shock since Susan Maushart's previous book "The Mask of Motherhood" helped me decide to move forward with writing "Mojo Mom." It was an unexpected delight to come across her newest work. More about that later....

Until then, eat some turkey for me!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Great Wall of China

We're visiting the real Great Wall tomorrow. Today I hit the Great Wall of Travel Exhaustion. Yesterday and this morning I was so exhausted that I felt tipsy, slow, and stupid! Fortunately, I rallied a bit today, though we've kept up a fast pace for this whole trip.

Meltdown report:

I know that Sheryl Grant is probably wondering if we've gotten this far of the trip without a kid meltdown. Well, no. Little T. had a spectacular meltdown on Sunday in Sydney, after a morning spent in Luna Park, a Coney-Island-type amusement park. She seemed just fine, then we went to lunch, and she was cranky, then fell asleep with her head on my lap. After lunch we woke her up to get on the ferry and she was wildly upset. We got back to the apartment and she took a two-hour nap. Then she rallied admirably and stayed on a normal sleeping schedule.

She was also a little hard to manage on the second leg of our trip from Hong Kong to Beijing, but I really couldn't blame her after our overnight journey. That's when my exhaustion set in as well. As we walked to our connecting fight at the end of our 3-hour layover, the airport had woken up but we were burning out. I could feel the edge creep into my voice as I gave the mundane commands every three seconds: keep walking, keep moving, get up off the floor, don't get caught in the moving walkway. (I think of it as my "wait until your father gets home" tone of voice; you know, the one that none of us thought we'd ever use before we became mothers.)

Today we walked around with Grannie Annie in the area around our hotel. We tried out the Silk Road Market, which Little T. described as "a shopping nightmare" as vendors approached us from all sides, "Hi friend, want a purse (shoes, suitcase)?" They really didn't want to take no for an answer and they wanted to make the sale now.

Tomorrow we'll get out of town a bit with a tour to the Great Wall. More then.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lost in translation? Not yet.

5:10 am Tuesday. Three-hour Layover at Hong Kong airport.

We flew 10 hours overnight from Sydney to Hong Kong. Little T. slept all the way so I have no complaints. The Hong Kong airport is swank--Prada, Gucci, Tiffany swank. And landing at 4:30 am, it is deserted. Swank and deserted, not my expected first impressions of China! I am sitting across from a Starbucks which I will gladly visit when it opens. Little T. is sitting next to me in the kids' area with a huge plasma TV. It all seems very weirdly globalized/Americanized. I can only imagine that over the next week we'll be seeing the disparities between the haves and have nots played out on a grand scale.

I was sad to leave Sydney, a "great city in the middle of nowhere" as one Sydneysider described it to me. It has that Mediterranean climate, Pacific Rim culture feel to it. More Californian than European. The people were friendly though we didn't get to really talk much to the locals (with jet lag we were not up for any late-night pub crawling). The Australian accent intrigues me. On some objective level, it could be analyzed to be irritating, but as spoken, it is endearing. There is such a feeling of "no problem, mate" that is refreshing, even among the North Sydney ferry commuters in their power suits.

I still feel that I could never live in Manhattan, my husband's hometown. I don't have the right energy and I hate the Northeastern climate (I grew up in the cold, been there, done that)--but I could definitely live in Sydney. Just a thought experiment.

So in 5 hours we'll arrive in Beijing, and I have no idea what to expect. This will be an exercise in taking it all in as it comes along.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mojo Mom's Australian bookshelf

I've loved exploring Sydney. My favorite part is the ferry system. Freeing transit from one-dimensional roads into two-dimensional boat travel is exhilarating, especially on a warm spring day zooming across Sydney Harbor.

We ferried to Manly beach yesterday, a resort town "seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care." It was brilliantly sunny and just warm enough to swim, so Little T and I jumped in the waves while Michael and Grannie watched. Litte T would definitely be a budding surfer girl if we'd stayed in California. She is at home in a rash guard shirt and board shorts. I'm sure someday she'll give me a hard time about how cool it would have been to grow up there, but I personally think it's a great place to discover in one's twenties.

I nabbed 15 precious minutes to browse in a bookstore the other day and I came across two very cool books that are not available in the U. S. It is humbling to think that even with Amazon.com's selection available to us, we aren't even getting a global representation of English-language works, much less other languages. It makes me realize what a powerful tool the web can be to bridge these gaps, if only we can find each other in the first place.

The first book I came across is A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia Fine, which describes the distortions our brain makes in constructing reality and presenting it to our consciousness. I can't wait to dive into it. It's the kind of book that rekindles my interest in neuroscience, at least on a spectator level. The book will be out in hardcover in the U. S. in July 2006.

The second book is Motherhood: How should we care for our children? by Australian social commentator Anne Manne. I have just begun the first chapter, but it resonates with the issues in "Mojo Mom," with a focus on sociology and policy. My first impression is that it's akin so "Perfect Madness" from a more balanced, academic point of view. If you've read my Amazon.com review, you know that I thought that Perfect Madness was much to overwhelmed by the problems of the current state motherhood, leaving little room for solutions.

My only regret for the trip is that we are being utter tourists and I haven't had a chance to talk to many Australians. But everything is going very smoothly and we're having a wonderful time, so I can't complain!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Visiting Taronga Zoo

We're back from a fun yet exhausting day at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. I learned that when you painstakingly recreate the natural habitat of the animals, when you exhibit them they are really hard to see because they have camouflage to blend in the background. I'm still pretty tired though we've all made a valiant and surpisingly successful 2-day effort to conquer jet lag. I'm switching over to bullet-point speak.

Most impressive exhibits at the zoo: the lions and tigers.

Most impressive yet disturbing to me: the gorillas. I'd never seen gorillas in person before. They are so human-like. I truly felt like a voyeur looking in someone's living room window.

Koala bears: cute, but they sleep 20 hours a day, thus, they didn't do anything while we were watching.

Practical travel tip of the day: I think my daughter could get wearing one pair of pants on this whole trip, Hanna Andersson ribbon trim pants. They are indestructible and look great even after 3 days of almost constant wear. A great investment at $32--she wore her old pair for 1 and 1/2 years and finally outgrew them long before she outwore them.

I feel like I should have something more profound to say, but honestly, this is what's on my mind today!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mojo Family Down Under

We've made it to Sydney, Australia. I am so tired that I won't write much because I can hardly type. Brief scoop: our trip from North Carolina--> Chicago--> San Francisco--> Sydney was gratifyingly smooth. We only experienced one near-meltdown when we had to wake up Little T. to change planes in San Francisco around 11 pm. I caught the save by giving her a piggy-back ride to our connecting flight.

The 14 hour flight from San Francisco to Sydney went without a hitch. The business class upgrade was definitely worth spending the frequent flyer miles. We got to be upstairs in the 747 which is really cool. The iPod is the best in-flight entertainment per ounce. Little T and I listened to 2/3 of Harry Potter on audio. What a great story to hear read out loud.
Then we all slept--a miracle.

Sydney is gorgeous. It reminds me so much of San Francisco with its sun & water, eucalyptus trees, and even parrots flying loose (native or escaped pets??). It was sunny and about 75 degrees this morning when we landed, and then it suddenly got very windy and rainy. From our hotel we can see the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and people pay big bucks to take a tour walking across the top arch(!). We can still see people up there in the raina and I couldn't imagine being stuck up there in blustery showers.

I am doing okay with the jet lag but it makes me literally feel very stupid. I had almost bought in to the time change, that it's supposed to be 2:20 on Tuesday afternoon, but then I turned on the computer and it says "Mon 10:27 pm." D'oh. Kind of broke the spell like when Christopher Reeve found the penny in his pocket in "Somewhere in Time." That's a nice obscure reference to end on. More tomorrow!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Money $mas, everybody

Bah, humbug.

I am in a cranky mood because we ran errands the other day and I just can't believe that Halloween and Christmas are merging into one long candy-fest/consumer orgy. I used to hate it when people called Christmas "Xmas," but now the season has gotten so commercial that I think we might as well call it "$mas."

Here are the three things that are really getting on my nerves:

1. Christmas decorations in the mall and Christmas music playing in all the stores. I can tolerate about 2 weeks of Christmas music at the most. At the very least wait until after Thanksgiving to start with it.

2. Christmas presents for dogs and cats at Petsmart. This really brought the consumerism overload home for me. There are gift-filled dog stockings, Barbie-brand dog toys, and tons of "outfits" for dogs out now. This is gross. Who are we buying this for? It looks like the ultimate in wasteful spending. Why not direct this money and effort into a cause that truly needs support?

3. Candy samples everywhere. We went grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Two weeks ago there were caramel candy-apple samples out for Halloween, and now there are gingerbread cookies and holiday chocolates placed at a kid's-eye level. I know I can say no as a parent, but it's hard to say no to everything and it feels like our kids are bombarded by sweets morning, noon, and night.

We're traveling abroad over Thanksgiving, and it will be interesting to see how it's done in other parts of the world. More on that next time. We're all busy packing our suitcases and getting ready to go, and I am happy to report that for this trip, Michael has done almost all of the advance planning.

Signing off in the midst of holiday bombardment,

Money $mas to all, and to all a good (extended shopping until mid-) night.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Memo to society: Children are not optional!

Want to start an argument? Get together a group of people and bring up the topic depicted in today's New York Times, "At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops." In the year 2005, should children in public be seen and not heard?

We've all been there as the parent with the child who is melting down just at the wrong time. I've made a last-second connection on a packed Southwest Airlines plane, walking down the aisle with my squirmy toddler, watching 200 people avert their eyes as they silently prayed "Please don't try to sit next to me."

Today's NYT article portrays the clashes in the public sphere between parents with kids and people without kids--for the purposes of this discussion, the "child-free." A cafe owner in Chicago posted a sign saying that "children of all ages have to behave and and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." I do see two sides to this issue. Parents should teach their children to act reasonable in public, and pay attention and make adjustments when there's a problem. In the NYT article, people's gloves definitely came off and predudices showed through when the cafe owner said that the mothers who were upset by his sign were "fomer cheerleaders and beauty queens" who "have a very strong sense of entitlement."

I have to break it to the gleefully "child-free" that children are not optional to society! Before I had a child, I viewed having a familiy as purely a personal choice. But now, in addition to the personal satisisfaction I get from having a family, I view childrearing as an unpaid, essential service to society. As the Baby Boomers retire, who will serve as their doctors, lawyers, and caretakers? Our children. That annoying toddler you see running around right now might build your house, legislate as your congressperson, or hook up your oxygen tank in 30 years.

In the meantime, most of us are doing our best to raise well-behaved children. The truth is that all children "have their moments." On Sunday my family is leaving for an around the world adventure, accompanying Michael on a business trip to Australia, China, and Japan. I am fascinated to see how we will be received around the world. On our 24-hour plane trip, my daughter (who is now 6) will surely have her ups and downs. But I will not apologize for our right to be there and to claim our space in the world.