Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Last Friday ushered in the new Chinese Lunar Year – and it’s my kiddos’ year! Happy Year of the Dog!

We’ve always done a little something to celebrate CNY. Lanterns outside our home have been a staple since the kids were babies. As for food, when the kids were little I’d often have them help me make homemade dumplings. Then for a couple of years, we made soup with homemade noodles that we learned to make in Beijing at a cooking school. The last couple of years, though, I’ve stepped up our celebration a notch, knowing that for Chinese families, CNY is a big occasion with an incredible feast.

The tablescape

Last year, I happened across some cute paper napkins from Superstore that I instantly knew would be perfect for CNY as they feature mandarin oranges –  a traditional Chinese symbol of abundance and good fortune. Not only were they perfect for the occasion, but they served as my inspiration for the overall decor and colour scheme: orange, with hits of gold, red, white.

Aren’t they pretty? In the photo above, you can also see one pair of my kids’ chopsticks. They both have dog chopsticks, while Paul has a rooster set and I have a tiger set. We purchased them the last time we were in Beijing, and they are one of my favourite souvenirs ever.

By the way, I used these napkins last year, we used them this year, and since I bought a whole bunch of them, we’ll probably be using them for years to come! I just love them, so why not?

Anyway, once I saw these napkins, I knew that clementines or small mandarin oranges had to be part of the decor. I had previously seen arrangements of oranges in a vase with chopsticks sticking out of them, and knew I wanted to recreate a couple of arrangements like that.  (Note: I know that sticking chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice is a no-no but I’m hoping that this is acceptable!).

In between the two vases filled with oranges, I placed a tight arrangement of carnations.

I used red carnations because red is a traditional colour but I added some pink carnations as well for dimension. I think the pink also gives it a fun pop, making the arrangement look a little more modern. I wrapped the square vase in a wide gold ribbon, and then finished it with much smaller red and pink ribbons.

I recently purchased some faux greenery from Pier One that came on long stems that I intend to place in a vase; however, as I was setting the table, it occurred to me how nice the greenery would look as a sort of table runner. Upon looking a little closer at the greenery, I realized that it could easily be detached from (and re-attached to) the stems.

And lastly, inexpensive gold chargers beneath our white and silver china added another hit of gold to the tablescape.

The food

So, with the table set, all there was left to do was cook!

Last year, for the first big feast I ever made, I scoured Pinterest for the recipes that appealed most to us. For my own ease of reference and for anyone else who is interested, here are links to recipes I used last year and / or this year:

I also made store-bought dumplings, which prompted my friend with a Chinese husband to remark that I’m lucky my hubby isn’t Chinese because store-bought would NOT be acceptable, LOL.

This year, I didn’t make the sticky rice because I realized too late that I was supposed to soak the glutinous rice. Oops! I did make it a day later, though, since I already had most of the ingredients chopped and ready to go. Also, I skipped the char sui pork this year just to make it a little easier on myself. I plan to make some soon anyway for steamed barbecue pork buns. That’s always a yummy treat.

Anyway, back to the meal …  I don’t have great photos because (a) there was no natural light so I just used my phone camera instead of my big camera; and (b) I was in a hurry because I wanted to call the family to dinner before the food got cold. But here is a glimpse of some of the dishes:

Claire’s favourite food by far is the sesame salmon. She must have had three or four helpings of it! Ren’s favourite is the noodle dish, with the mushrooms picked out of course! The daikon cake (bottom, center) didn’t look great but it was my fave.

We were fortunate to have Paul’s parents in town to celebrate CNY with us, and they were so gracious about my adventures in Chinese cooking! I consider myself very lucky to have such a sweet family who ignores my culinary fails and instead offers gratitude for my efforts 🙂

And most of all, I consider myself lucky to be a mom to these two extraordinary kids – the whole reason we embrace CNY the way we do.

They have enriched our lives in so many ways, from making us parents all the way to introducing us to new cultural experiences. Cheers to our sweeties and all that the Year of the Dog has in store for them!

This Friday is Chinese New Year and marks the beginning of the spring festival! We always celebrate Chinese New Year in our household but we are especially excited this year because we are ushering in the Year of the Dog – the zodiac of both Claire and Ren!

When Paul and I decided to adopt from China, we also consciously chose to incorporate as much Chinese culture in our lives as we can. We think its important that the kids are familiar with the culture of their birth country and that we as a family appreciate and celebrate it in both small and little ways (language, food, art, festivals, clothing, travel, etc.).  It’s been a learning curve over the years for Paul and me – and not without mis-steps, such as the one I may have made with these latest creations!) – but again, I think it’s important that we are at least putting in the effort. And hopefully our cultural blunders will be few and far between.

So back to Chinese New year … in addition to trying my best to cook a feast for the big night, I also decorate the house a bit, both inside and outside.  I usually hang a red lantern on our front porch and occasionally I hang spring festival couplets (store bought from the T & T Supermarket) on our front door. Last year I took the additional step of putting together Chinese-themed planters.

This year, I wanted to step it up a notch by making a wreath for our front door. (I think our door cries out for something, and so I unwittingly have been amassing wreaths for every season and occasion.) While I was at it, I thought I’d also change up the planter design a bit from last year’s festival.

The wreath

After perusing Pinterest for inspiration, I headed off to Michaels for supplies. There, I grabbed a grapevine wreath to use a base, gold ribbon, and some faux greenery, blossoms and greenery that I felt fit the occasion:

  • bamboo,
  • pussy willows, which are a symbol of spring and in Chinese culture symbolize growth and the coming of prosperity, and
  • magnolia branches with small whitish-pink* blossoms because they remind me of being in Shanghai in the spring and seeing magnolia trees in blossom everywhere.

*Note: I know that white flowers in Chinese culture are traditionally used for funerals so I do worry a bit about my usage of these here! I love the look of them and the travel memory they evoke for us but now I’m second-guessing myself about using white flowers on the wreath. I think I’ll swap these out next year for bright red and pink flowers, or orange Chinese lantern flowers.

I also planned to incorporate some red envelopes from Walmart.

I played around with a few arrangements before I finally settled on an asymmetrical look. I felt like the wreath needed something at the bottom, and I didn’t like the look of the gold bow I considered using, so I dug around in my storage area until I found a cute little Chinese ornament with the red tassel.

I quite like how the wreath turned out, but like I said above, I may switch out the whitish flowers for something else next year to avoid a potential cultural faux pas.

The planters

For continuity with the wreath, I used the same magnolia branches and pussy willows in my planters. I grounded them with my square boxwood wreaths (placed on top of the planter openings), which I use for that purpose in almost every season.

I had some thick faux bamboo stalks from the dollar store that I use for gardening stakes – and also for the limbo at school dances 🙂 – and decided to use them for a bit of height and weight in the planters. Each stalk was originally about five feet tall but I wanted more of them and an overall shorter arrangement, so I asked Paul to cut them into thirds. I tried to put the bamboo stalks into the planters as upright and straight as I could but I can tell from these photos that I wasn’t overly successful.

I think the planters are pretty cute and look fairly balanced (a little height, a nice base, some good filler). They could definitely use more color, though! I’m leaning towards orange Chinese lantern flowers instead of the magnolia branches, because that will coordinate with the color scheme I’ve planned for the tablescape. But I’ll add that to next year’s to-do list. For now, I’ve got to keep cleaning the house and planning the feast we’ll be enjoying on Friday! Wish me luck with all the preparations!

  • Allison

    As always, you’re so crafty and unbelievably talented! It all looks great Monica. 🙂
    Best wishes for a wonderful celebration on Friday.ReplyCancel

  • Wow, you are such a creative person, love the decor! Would you like to follow me on BLOGLOVIN? If you decided to follow me, please let me know so I can follow you back. Thank you! xoxo

    http://www.cantiquejoice.comReplyCancel

Once Claire’s dance competition was done, we were on our own in Poland for three very short but glorious days! Our first stop? Krakow!

Krakow fascinates me with its lengthy history and rich culture. Dating back to around the 7th century, Krakow flourished as a center for trade and education, and was the seat of royalty for several centuries. (The capital moved to Warsaw in the 16th century.) As it developed and grew, buildings were created in the dominant architectural style of the moment, and since this occurred over many hundreds of years, many different types of architecture are represented in Krakow (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, etc.). Unlike Warsaw which was almost completely devastated in World War II, Krakow’s historic buildings remained unharmed.

Getting there

We took the fast train from Warsaw Central Station to Krakow Glowny Station, which took about two and a half hours. I always enjoy taking trains in Europe and Asia. Probably my number one reason is that we simply don’t have efficient and affordable trains in Canada, and I’m envious! Although I don’t mind driving (thank God, because I do a LOT of it), I don’t particularly appreciate the North American reliance on personal vehicles to get around. I also just like to travel in a country by the same method many of its citizens do that is different from our own ways – and in Europe, that includes trains. Lastly, we usually stay in or near city centers, and I don’t really want to bother with traffic and parking in a strange city when I really just want to sight-see on foot and by subway (when available) anyway.

Our hotel in Rynek Glowny

Upon arrival at Krakow’s Glowny station, it was just a short walk to our hotel right in Rynek Glowny, the main square of the old town. Dating back to the 13th century, Rynek Glowny is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe.

In the photo below, you can see St. Mary’s Basilica on the far left, and on the very far right, next to the United Colors of Benetton, our hotel, the Venetian House Aparthotel, a boutique hotel in a 16th century townhouse.

Just inside the entrance to the hotel, fresh greenery welcomed us.

The hotel looks small from the outside but that’s deceiving. We had a large one bedroom apartment all to ourselves, complete with a kitchen, dining area, living room and bedroom with three single beds.

It was a great hotel for us, and the location couldn’t be beat! Here’s Claire meeting St. Nicholas just steps from our hotel.

Enjoying Rynek Glowny

With only a day and a half (and much of that in darkness, considering that it was completely dark by 4 p.m. each day!), I knew we would not even scratch the surface of all that Krakow has to offer. So instead of trying to “see it all”, we decided to just really savour the experience of being in Krakow during the Christmas season. (We did fit in a bit of sightseeing – more on that below –  but it was scant and hurried.)

But back to the idea of Christmas … what better way to enjoy the Christmas season than to spend time in a European Christmas market?

My favourite booth at the market – aside from the food stalls, LOL – was the pottery one. I love everything floral, and that is what Polish pottery seems to be all about!

 

I couldn’t help but purchase a couple of mugs for myself at that stall. Other than that, we didn’t buy many souvenirs but it was still fun to peruse the wares and take in the market’s ambience.

Fresh evergreen trees and branches were available for sale in the square, and in addition to seeing it everywhere for decoration, we saw several people carrying some greenery home.

One of my favourite memories of being in the square (or even in our hotel room for that matter) was at the top of every hour when a bugler would emerge from the top of St. Mary’s Basilica to play the haunting hejnal. If you look closely in the photo below, you can see an open window through which the bugler emerged. The song is very short and ends oddly / abruptly, because according to legend, the original bugler’s throat was pierced by an arrow while playing the song to warn the city of approaching invaders. After playing the hejnal, the bugler would wave his arm out the window at all the people below before disappearing for the next hour.

If the ambience in the market wasn’t already on point with the evergreens, pretty market wares and haunting hejnal, the yummy food and drink offerings certainly made it happen! The big cask in the photo below is a stall selling mulled wine. Yum! The lineups at these stalls were usually quite long so we always got our mulled wine instead at the restaurant at our hotel (billed as the “best mulled wine in the square”, LOL).

(By the way, when we returned from Poland, it did not take me long at all to look up Polish mulled wine recipes that we could imbibe at home. And imbibe we did!)

The food offered throughout the market was incredible. I should have taken pictures of every stall. There were stalls featuring several types of Polish soups (Polish rye soup quickly became our favourite!), sausages in buns, chocolate-covered waffles, chocolate-covered pears and strawberries, pierogies, cheese and other things I simply don’t have names for!

This stall below sold open-faced sandwiches that we couldn’t resist. First, the guys behind the counter would slather a fat slice of bread with … well … I think it was lard. It sounds gross but really, it was amazing. Then they’d cover that in sausage, carmelized onions, and some other mystery stuff. Lastly, sliced pickles would be placed on top.

We’d definitely have that sandwich again but sadly we only had it the one time as there were so many other things to try!

These rolls below were one of our favourite treats. They are made of dried fruit, nuts and seeds. That one with bright orange (mango) was so yummy that we bought a bunch of it and enjoyed it throughout our stay in Krakow. I wish I could have brought some home as gifts but sadly, customs would not have smiled on our generosity.

At the stall pictured below, I thought those little decorative formations were bread at first. It turns out they are cheese! They are made of salted goat cheese called oscypek.

This lady was grilling small circles of oscypek and topping them with cranberry sauce.

Of course we had to try it! They were delicious but super-salty. And I’m a salt fiend so that means they were extremely salty. One or two bites was all I could handle!

And of course, what would a visit to Poland be if we didn’t eat Pierogies? For every meal. And in between as snacks. And for dessert. (Just kidding about that last one: we actually forgot to try the dessert pierogies!)

We tried several kinds of pierogies but loved the ruskie pierogies the most (both boiled and deep fried). Sometimes if we were getting too cold, we’d take our plate (or soup bowls as the case may be) back to our hotel to eat.

But most of the time, we’d eat in the square.

Krakow was once a major international trading center for its own exports (salt from the nearby Wielickza Salt Mine, lead, and textiles) and imports from the East (silk, leather, wax, spices, etc.). Trading began in this square in roughly 1300. The original building for trade burned and was subsequently replaced in the 16th century with this renaissance structure (below) known as the Cloth Hall.

The main floor of the Cloth Hall features a shopping arcade on the inside, and shops and restaurants on the outside.

The inside of the shopping arcade within the Cloth Hall:

And at night:

We stopped at most of the shops but I especially loved this one featuring Krakow szopka (nativity scenes).

These nativity scenes represent a tradition in Poland from around the 18th century of creating nativity scenes that contain historic buildings in Krakow (such as St. Mary’s Basilica) as a backdrop to Christ’s birth. There is an annual competition held every year before Christmas for creators of large-scale szopka, which unfortunately we didn’t get to see. But at least I got to see these pretty souvenirs!

I swear, I’m part crow. I love anything shiny. And if it’s colourful, that’s an added bonus!

Having grown up in a strong Catholic family where our nativity set was always prominently placed during the holiday season, I could definitely appreciate the Polish szpoka tradition.

Underneath the Cloth Hall is a museum called Rynek Underground devoted to Krakow’s past. For me to call it a museum is a bit of a misnomer because it’s actually a multimedia archeological site of Krakow’s history from medieval times on, inspired by discoveries made during an excavation there in the early 2000s. It’s a neat combination of historical finds and high tech displays. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was pretty cool.

The square doesn’t have a town hall anymore but it’s town hall tower still remains. The tower pictured above was built in the 13th century in the gothic style (with the top “helmet” rebuilt in a different style after a fire) and is open to the public for climbing in order to get a few from its observation deck on top. So that’s what we did!

Claire was funny on the way up the tower. From a girl who can dance for hours, she sure can complain about a few {hundred} steps!

At the top, we were rewarded with gorgeous views through the glassed-in observation areas.

You can see our hotel in the photo below.

 

Back down at ground level at the base of the tower, there’s this guy.

Officially known as Eros Bendato (Eros Bound), this sculpture by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj is more commonly known as the Head.

We ended up visiting the gothic 14th century St. Mary’s Basilica at night which wasn’t ideal considering we’d miss the full effect of its renowned stained glass windows. It was also very dark so I knew my photos wouldn’t do the beautiful basilica justice; I only bothered to photograph the 15th century wooden altar and the gorgeous blue starred ceiling.

Grodzka Street

One of the main streets leading off of Rynek Glowny is Grodzka Street. It’s also one of the oldest streets in Krakow, and used to form part of the royal route that kings would travel on to reach Wawel Castle. It too was our path to the castle.

For our walk, we grabbed some rich, thick hot chocolate.

It was the thickest hot chocolate I’ve seen outside of the famous Angelina’s in Paris. I felt so bad that we were enjoying this treat without Ren as I knew he’d love it. I’ll have to try recreating it at home for him sometime.

Along our way to the castle, we went past the 17th century baroque-style Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with these larger-than-life-sized statues. Normally I’d stop in at every such sight along our walks but being short on time on this trip, we breezed right on past. It was a little painful.

And yet another historical building we shot past in a hurry … St. Andrew’s Church from the late 11th century built in the Romanesque style:

Historical buildings like this are always staggering to me. Being from a young country like Canada where our many of our “old” buildings tend to be demolished to make way for the new, I can’t get over the length of time these have existed (nevermind the difficulties faced building these without all of our modern equipment!)

Wawel Castle

It wasn’t long before we reached Wawel Castle. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries by Casimir III the Great as the royal residence, it is now a national museum.

The castle complex consists of a number of structures built on Wawel hill, none of which we actually toured due to time constraints! (Insert sheepish face here.) My sister-in-law Chrissy tells me that the Royal Apartments are particularly impressive.

The famous clock on the Wawel cathedral tower:

Walking the castle grounds:

At the base of Wawel hill near the Vistula river we found Smok the Dragon.

There are several versions of the legend about Smok, but I’ll just share one here. One of the stories is that the dragon appeared in the city during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s legendary founder. The dragon devastated the countryside and the city, pillaged homes, ate livestock – and especially enjoyed devouring young maidens. No one could defeat the mighty dragon. Finally, however, a young cobbler bested the dragon. He stuffed a sheep with sulphur and left it outside the dragon’s den. Sure enough, the dragon ate the sheep and became so thirsty that it drank water from the nearby Vistula River until the dragon actually burst! The King looked kindly upon the young cobbler and allowed him to marry his daughter.

Everywhere in Krakow, they sell little dragon stuffies, figurines, keychains, etc, and of course these were also present near the dragon’s den. We decided to pick out a little stuffie for our niece Sophia while we were there.

Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter

Part of the reason that we didn’t tour any of the castle’s buildings was that we wanted to participate in a free walking tour of the jewish quarter that would be starting shortly. Thankfully we made it there just in time.

On the tour, we learned that before World War II, some 68,000 Jewish people lived in Krakow, many of whom lived in the area of Kazimierz. During the war, the Nazis forced all the Jewish people of Krakow into a small ghetto in nearby Podgorze (more on that below). If they didn’t die there due to disease, they died during the liquidation of the ghetto or at the extermination camps where they were ultimately sent. After the war, only about 3,000 jews returned to Krakow.

Now, there are less than a 1,000 (active and inactive) Jews living in Krakow.

We toured past several synagogues, including the Old Synagogue (now a museum):

The Izaak Synagogue:

The Remah Synagogue:

And the Temple Synagogue:

These synagogues survived the war because the buildings themselves were useful to the Nazis. Some of these were used as storehouses, for example.

Aside from places of worship, we also visited beautiful Szeroka Street which is full of quirky bars and restaurants.

Also on Szeroka Street you can find the childhood home of cosmetic great, Helena Rubinstein (see the seafoam-coloured home in the center of the photo below):

And just on the other side of Szeroka street is the statue of Jan Karski, a famous resistance fighter during World War II who escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland to inform the western allies about the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the existence of the extermination camps.

Following World War II, Kazimierz was largely ignored by the communist authorities and fell into disrepair. However, in the early 90s, that all changed when Steven Spielberg came to film Schindler’s List. Although historically most of the story actually occurs in Podgorze, much of the movie was filmed in Kazimierz including in the street pictured below.

As a result of the international attention brought to Kazimierz by the movie, tourists began to flow in and redevelopment occurred quite quickly. Now it is a bustling and heavily-touristed area of Krakow.

Leaving Kazimierz, our tour continued across the Vistula River into Podgorze, the area where the Nazis created the Jewish Ghetto. To get there, we crossed the Bernatek footbridge featuring lovely acrobatic sculptures.

The footbridge is also known as the Lover’s Bridge, as it is adorned with padlocks left by lovers.

Podgorze

On our way through Podgorze, we passed through the square where Jews were loaded onto cattle cars bound for the camps. Now known as Plac Bohaterow Getta (the Ghetto Heroes’ Square), it was then called Plac Zgody. The 70 empty chairs in this square represent the nearly 70,000 Jews who lived in Krakow before WWII.

A street in Podgorze …

Only this small part of the Jewish Ghetto wall still remains.

Lastly, our walking tour took us to Oskar Schindler’s enamelware factory. It is now a museum of Krakow’s history during WWII. Paul and I both read Schindler’s List and would have liked to tour the museum. However, we didn’t tour inside – not for time constraints this time – but because it is advised that visitors be 14 years of age or older. With Claire being only eleven and having been only recently introduced to information about the Holocaust, we felt she wasn’t ready yet for this type of tour.

Izaak Stern, a key figure in Schindler’s List, is pictured below.

By the time our walking tour was done, it was already dark outside. We headed back to the Old Town, found a cute restaurant and enjoyed some sour rye soup.

We warmed up a bit, enjoyed the Christmas market a little more, and then ended our evening at the outdoor (glassed-in with heaters) restaurant outside our hotel, drinking mulled wine (for us) and hot chocolate for our Claire-bear. It was our last night in Krakow. Early the next morning, we would depart for Warsaw.

We were sad to leave Krakow after only a short visit but we were also grateful for the wonderful memories made there. It may have been a whirlwind visit but it was a great one!

 

 

Stay tuned for part three of our adventure in Poland!

  • Marianne

    Wow….thank you for your detailed tour….beautiful pictures of course!ReplyCancel

Back in December, amidst all the hustle and bustle of Claire’s Team Canada experience, our boy Ren turned 11 years old!

I took his birthday portraits back in late November and meant to have this post up and running by his birthday, but unfortunately my time fell short and so this post is more than a month late! Nevertheless, I still want to mark his birthday on the blog and chat a bit about our wonderful son.

So, this guy …

… he’s a pretty fantastic little man. This birthday was an unusual one for him in that he didn’t have Paul, Claire and me there; we were in Poland, and Paul’s parents came here to look after Ren the entire time we were gone. We knew he was in great hands and that his birthday would still be special – as he would be celebrating it with some of our closest family and friends – but it couldn’t have been easy on him to have his immediate family away on his birthday. And you know what? He didn’t once complain. He unselfishly took it in stride. I think that’s pretty remarkable for a young dude.

Taking things in stride … I think that was a theme for Ren this past year.  When he was little, he would pout whenever he was unhappy or felt he was being treated unfairly. But over time, and this year especially, I can see a new maturity in Ren. He’s accepted new routines and changes stoically and with dedication (e.g. weekly math tutoring with daily practice, a move to a different program at school) and I’m so pleased that it has been paying off for him in school, giving him new reason to be proud.

As always, he is imaginative and playful, kind and compassionate, thoughtful and witty. He continues to be a voracious reader, and I’m occasionally stopped in my tracks by his ever-growing vocabulary or a particularly complex sentence that’s just come from his mouth.

More and more, I can see glimpses of the man Ren will become and it makes me proud. He has a strong moral compass, a natural curiosity and a kind, kind heart. Each year, we see something new and positive alight in him, and we know we are blessed to have him in our lives.

Much love to you, Renchie, and may your eleventh year be your best yet! xoxo

  • Marianne

    We were so very honoured to spend Ren’s Birthday with him amongst such a wonderful family.ReplyCancel

What a whirlwind these past few months have been, much of it due to Claire’s participation on Team Canada Dance!

Back in March, Claire auditioned to be a part of Team Canada Dance (West), which would be competing in Poland at the International Dance Organization’s (IDO) World Championships in Ballet, Jazz and Modern Dance. It took several months before she learned of the good news, but good news is always worth the wait: she made the Team!

From August to almost Christmas, our lives pretty much revolved around her involvement on the team. With seven routines to learn, she spent many hours in rehearsal while Paul and I spent many hours driving her back and forth to the dance studio! As time went on, there were parent meetings, shopping trips for extra dance things she needed, fundraising requirements and finally in November, a showcase of all the amazing dance routines Team Canada West would be performing in Poland – oh, and more rehearsals after that of course!

Finally, on December 1, we departed for Poland. Unfortunately, our team wasn’t able to fly all together on the same plane but Claire at least had several team mates and friends with her. Here they are at the airport before leaving.

The team itself was made up of 61 dancers and three choreographers. The following picture was taken much later in the trip, but it shows the entire team.

We were the one lucky group from our team who had a direct flight from Toronto to Warsaw. The rest of Team Canada West had stopovers in Frankfurt, Munich and Amsterdam.

Thankfully we arrived in Warsaw without incident and boarded our bus for the one-hour drive to the hotel and convention center southwest of Warsaw. Situated about 15 minutes from a small town named Rawa Mazowiecka, our home away from home for the next several days was Hotel Ossa Congress and Spa. It was massive, and even saying that is an understatement.

I couldn’t get the entire thing into one picture so you’ll only see parts of it at a time. The pictures above and below show the main entrance and the theatre wing off to the left.In the next photo, you can see the front wing of another huge section of the hotel. We stayed in the back wing of the far right-hand side of the hotel. I should have worn my Fitbit to count the steps I took every day going back and forth from our room to the far-off theatre wing.

We arrived at the hotel before dinner on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m, these crazy girls were all set to dance!

LOL, I had to include that silly shot because soon enough, the girls had their serious dance faces on!

Now, normally at dance competitions, spectators are not allowed to take photos because there is a professional photography company on site and they want the monopoly on the photos so that they can charge an arm and a leg. At this competition, however, you could buy a special pass to take photos yourself from the audience. I was torn about whether to bother or not, but Paul insisted I’d want to take photos and he was right! I didn’t really have the right lens for it, but the photos are good enough for my purposes.

Their first dance up was their small modern group:

In this category, there were 22 routines from various countries. Whoever made it to the semi-finals would dance again, and then again if they made it to the finals. And our girls made it all the way to the finals! (By the way, in regular dance competitions, the kids only dance their routines once so it was great to see each routine several times over at this competition.)

Our girls placed 6th out of 22 with their small modern group, and we couldn’t have been more proud!

Claire was able to ward off jet lag and exhaustion during competing, but as soon as we got back to our room, she succumbed to it all! Lucky for her she had the next day off to relax.

Tuesday was the debut of their large modern group. By then, they were all (mostly) rested and they danced their hearts out once again.

Their large modern group was one of my favourite routines of theirs. They danced it beautifully, and came in 5th out of 18.

Next up was their small jazz group.

The girls totally killed it in this routine and it paid off BIG! They earned the gold medal!

Here’s the moment they realized they got first place:

Seeing that realization set in upon their faces is a moment I’ll never forget. They were the new world champions for small group jazz!

And here they are on the podium!

When they proudly sang O Canada, with their Team Canada East counterparts to the right in third place, I couldn’t help but well up a bit. It was pretty incredible to witness their joy and pride.

That took place on Thursday which was a crazy day. The girls performed their small jazz group that day (in continuation from the night before) as well as ALL of their ballet routines.

Their first ballet routine that day was their small ballet group.

Both Canadian teams – East and West – performed beautifully and soon only those two teams were left in the running for first and second place. Note in the photo below how Claire (near center) is clasping hands with one of the girls on the right-hand side of the picture from Team Canada East. They became close over the course of the week, bonding over performing ballet duets in the same category.

Team Canada East ended up taking the gold for the small ballet group dance but all was well because we still got to belt out O Canada! Besides, silver is nothing to sniff at!

Ballet large group was next.

Once again, our girls made it to the podium in second place, with Team Canada East in first.

Finally, near Claire’s bedtime, she and her partner Anna performed their beautiful duet.

(Note: the last photo above is from the professional photography company at the event. It was posted on their web page.)

The girls made it to the finals (performing for the last time well after Claire’s usual bedtime!) and came in fourth place!

At one of the merchandise tables, they displayed t-shirts you could buy that contained the name of every solo or duet participant by genre in the competition. Since Claire had a ballet duet, her name appeared on the ballet t-shirt which of course we had to buy!

Friday morning was a little rough considering how late the girls had to stay up the night before but once they got on stage, you’d never know it! They brought amazing energy to their dance and completely nailed the routine.

This, their large jazz routine, was their last routine of the competition. It was a little bittersweet seeing them perform it during the finals because we knew it was their last moments on the world stage. But wouldn’t you know it, they went out with a bang! They earned second place once again, next to their Team Canada East friends in first.

Here’s the moment they realized Team Canada East won gold while our girls took silver.

It was an amazing end to an equally amazing week.

Later that day, I had to capture Claire wearing all of her hardware: one gold medal, three silvers and two finalist medals. (She was also a finalist in their seventh routine but it was a large group and they received certificates instead of medals for that one.)

Dance was the reason we were in Poland but if you ask Claire, what stands out to her most are all the fun times she had with her friends. They spent countless hours in the rehearsal hall together, eating meals together, swimming, exploring, making each other laugh and consoling each other when emotions ran high. These twelve girls are thick as thieves now, and will always share a special bond.

While Claire treasures the friendships she made during this experience, I see additional things that Claire gained. She’s always been a hard worker but she gained more stamina during these last few months, both physically and mentally. She gained more independence. She’s become more resilient. She’s become a stronger, more compassionate team member.

It’s like those articles we dance moms come across from time to time about why we spend so much time, money and energy on our children’s dance if our children are not going to become professional dancers one day. It’s because it’s not all about the dancing at the end of the day. It’s about all the lessons learned and skills developed along the way.

And so, from this mama’s perspective, the whirlwind of these past few months, the jet lag, the long days, the thousands of dollars to travel to Poland … the value of all of these is not the collection of medals earned on stage in Poland; rather, the value or the reward is the culmination of the skills and qualities Claire developed during these last few months. The hardware may get lost in a drawer some day but the intangible benefits of the experience will serve Claire well over the course of her life.

  • Kelley Berting

    Well said Molly! One of my favourite posts of all time.ReplyCancel

  • Marianne

    Beautiful!ReplyCancel

What better topic for a new year’s post than a new baby? (Well, maybe some new year’s resolutions couldn’t hurt, but a baby is soooo much more fun!)

Introducing my beautiful new niece, Josephine Noelle.

My younger brother Stu and his wife Chrissy welcomed this lovely little lady on December 21. Her first name is that of our paternal grandmother, while Noelle is uniquely hers, inspired of course by the season of her birth.

I was very fortunate to be able to photograph baby Josie on Boxing Day when she was only five days old. While I snapped away, Paul and my kids played upstairs with Josie’s big sister, Sophia. From what I heard (and saw on little breaks), Claire and Ren played Ring-around-the-rosie basically non-stop for over two hours. When Sophia wasn’t mauling Ren, that is. She has really taken a shine to her big cousin, and I was proud to see how sweet he was in handling her exuberant affection!

But back to the beautiful Josephine …

Look at all that gorgeous dark hair! Just like her big sister, this baby was born with a full head of dark hair. It’ll be interesting to see if she eventually becomes a light-haired beauty like her big sis (and Mom), or if she’ll stay dark like her dad’s side of the family.

Sigh. Isn’t she amazing? I may be a little biased, but really, I do find every little part of her just adorable. I mean, even her tiny ears make me ooh and ahhh!

When Chrissy was expecting Josie, she knitted (or crocheted?) this pretty blanket. She did something similar for Sophia too.

And oh yes, I had to take photos of baby Josephine in her birthday suit on a (faux) sheepskin rug! For the sake of her modesty, however, I’m not sharing all of the birthday suit photos.

Just look at those little hands and the fine hair on her face in the photo below. She’s so new and perfect.

Speaking of perfect, Josie’s big sister Sophia is simply amazing. Not to say she isn’t going through some of the typical stuff when a new baby enters the home, but her loving and affectionate nature hasn’t wavered.

I’m so happy for Chrissy and Stu to have welcomed another wonderful, healthy girl into their family. Congrats and all the best wishes, Chrissy and Stu, to you and your family of four!

  • Marianne

    Monica…..you so captured the essence of this beautiful baby girl! Congratulations to all!ReplyCancel

How can it be Christmas Eve already? I feel like it should still be September!

This year has been a year of highs (our recent trip to Poland for Claire to compete at the World Dance Championships – more on that in a separate post) and lows (the passing of our beloved old kitty). There have also been other significant memorable events and moments throughout the year … another trip to Disneyland this past February, a mini-Jiangxi girls reunion in August to name a couple. I haven’t blogged it all – although I meant to – but maybe I’ll get around to it at some point. In any event, it was a good year overall. But I have a feeling that 2018 will be even better!

Merry Christmas to all of you! May you have a safe and joyful holiday season.

I realized recently that after flying several international and domestic flights with my family, I have considerable experience in flying with kids. By the time my children were 10 years old, I’d logged well over 100 hours in the air with them!

We have received so many sweet comments from flight attendants and fellow travelers about my kids’ good behavior on board. Although my children deserve credit for their own good behavior, I’m just going to take a moment here to pat myself on the back for having a hand in it. After all, I do think my husband and I prepared them well. We’ve got to take a bit of credit sometimes, right parents?!

Basic premise

Before I get into my tips for traveling with kids, I want to share the premise upon which most of my suggestions are based, and that is simply to help your children understand what to expect. The unknown is scary and can be overwhelming – for any of us! But if kids are equipped with a basic understanding of what will or may happen on a flight or at the airport, it’s easier for them to go with the flow.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: my kid isn’t even two years old! How am I going to get through to him or her? That’s where my tips come into play. Below, the ideas I’ve shared are all things I did with my first child before she was even a year and a half. (We adopted our second child at 27 months old, and I went over the same things with him then.)  I firmly believe that our kids can understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. We just need to find engaging ways to communicate with them at their level.

Tip #1: Play “airplane” well before you fly

One of the best things we did with our kids was to play “airplane” – and we played it often! In fact, we even had a name for our airline: “Claire-Bear Air” (since we only had Claire at the time we started the game).

We would arrange chairs and stools two by two, a few rows deep, with an “aisle” between the sets of chairs. I’d start by explaining how an airplane is set up (rows of seats, with bathrooms at the front or the back, etc.), and that we are expected to remain seated and buckled in for safety throughout the entire flight, just like we do in the car. A flight attendant would come around, help ensure everyone is buckled in safely, and serve drinks and sometimes food.

Of course, I would then have to act the part of the flight attendant while my children pretended to be civilized passengers on board. Ordering their own drinks was something they particularly enjoyed.

We all know kids learn from repetition, but I didn’t want to repeat myself constantly with rules about what they couldn’t or shouldn’t do on the airplane. So instead, I’d get them to tell me the rules in a silly quiz-like session. For example, I’d ask things like:

  • Are we allowed to hang out in the aisle?
  • Should we take off our seat belts?
  • Are we allowed to stand on our seats?
  • Should we kick the seats in front of us?

My kids loved answering back with firm “nos” to all the questions I posed. They would then proudly proceed to tell me why these things aren’t permitted. If they wanted, they could turn the tables on me and ask their own questions about airplane dos and don’ts.

Tip #2: Invest in an approved child-restraint system

As soon as our children were old enough, we purchased the Cares Harness Child Aviation Restraintfor each of them. Approved the Federal Aviation Association, this child restraint harness supplements the airplane seat belt, and provides for a much more secure ride, especially in the case of turbulence.  In addition to the all-important safety aspect, we also appreciated the harness for the fact that it kept our kids “contained”; my husband is certain that the harness helped impart to the children that they were to remain buckled and seated, just as they are in a car seat.

The harness is quite compact and very easy to install. We never had any issues with flight attendants questioning our use of it, although it was sometimes new to them at the time.  I can’t recommend this harness enough. Just don’t forget it on board when you deplane!

Tip #3: Explain about lineups and going through security

If your kids are anything like mine, they don’t like waiting in lines. To help prepare them for going through security and customs / immigration, I explained in advance that there may be long lineups where we have to wait our turn.

Explaining is one thing – again, just helping to set expectations – but the real challenge comes during the lineup itself. Be prepared to chat with your kiddos about everything and anything while waiting in line … their favourite TV show or characters, their favourite stuffies, what they want for Christmas, etc. Just keep them engaged to keep them from getting bored. Remember, kids love our attention, and this is a chance to dote on them while also distracting them from an otherwise boring lineup.

The other aspect of security that can be daunting for little ones is when everyone needs to walk through the scanner separately. My daughter in particular was nervous whenever she had to be separated from me in public even for a moment. Again, just talking this through in advance and then again in the lineup helped alleviate her concerns.

Tip #4:  Have your carry-on well-stocked and with like items in ziplock bags

This is kind of a no-brainer, but be sure to pack:

  • a variety of snacks (within aviation regulations, of course);
  • a compact change of clothes for the kids in case of vomiting or a diaper blowout;
  • any required children’s medications,
  • formula, diapers, wipes, etc., and
  • lots of things to keep little hands and minds busy.

The last point, in particular, is vital. Don’t rely on in-flight entertainment to keep your kiddos busy; it’s not uncommon for the entire in-flight system to be down, or for a particular headrest screen to be nonfunctional. Pack an assortment of new-to-the-child activities that will help keep their interest: stickers, small puzzles, finger puppets, mazes, colouring books, washable markers, etc.

Package like items with like in ziplock bags for easy removal when you go through security, and for easy access on the plane.

Your carry-on bags will be F-U-L-L. In the early days of traveling with our kids, our carry-ons were almost exclusively filled with stuff for the kids. I probably had a magazine or a book in there for myself somewhere, but between their diapers, wipes, formula, snacks, and activiites, there wasn’t a lot of room left for my stuff. But nevermind, I didn’t need things to keep me busy because … see Tip #5.

Tip #5: Anticipate that you’ll be very busy

Don’t expect to relax much on the plane, especially if you are traveling with toddlers. You’ll need the carry-on with all their snacks and activities tucked under the seat in front of you, and believe me, you’ll be accessing it regularly.

You’ll be busy handing your kids new activities, picking up fallen markers, putting things back in the carry-on, holding their drinks, etc. I’m not going to lie, it may tire you out a bit but it is totally worth it for the peace of mind it provides. Tiring yes, but stressful? No.

If you are traveling with a partner who is going to be looking after one of the kids, be sure to familiarize him or her with the carry-on for that child, and prepare them in advance for how busy he or she will likely be during the flight.

By the time my kids were five or six, they were managing all their activities on the plane themselves. They knew the deal. They knew how to behave appropriately. I could finally sit back and relax! So have faith, your time will come too!

Tip #6: Sweeten the deal whenever you can

Dentists would surely not approve, but we always gave lollipops to our kids at take-off (obviously not when they were babies, though!). Not only did the sucking action help with ear pressure, but it also just gave them a happy distraction.

At home, we rarely had juice as a beverage but on an airplane? Absolutely! They thought it was fun to order their juice all by themselves, and then enjoyed savouring its sweetness. You may want to hold their juice on your tray, though, to avoid spillage.

Tip #7: Go to the bathroom before its an emergency

Kids need to know in advance that there can sometimes be long lineups for the bathroom. If they wait until they really, really have to go, they may get stuck waiting in line – or even have to go back to their seats if the plane encounters turbulence. So give them fair warning that they need to tell you if they have to go before the urge is very strong; that they will probably have to wait in line and hold it until it is their turn. Ask them often if they might need to go to the bathroom soon.

Tip #8: Read books together about air travel

I’m putting this great tip last simply because it’s something we didn’t actually do with our own kids. Being book-lovers, I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me to find some books on the subject. I guess we were too busy playing “Claire-Bear Air”.

Here are some that I would consider:

*****

And that’s my list! I hope these ideas are as helpful to you as they were for us. Our children have been very easygoing travelers since the beginning, and I truly think its due in large part to them knowing what to expect, how to behave and being kept engaged with us or their activities. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to alleviate their stress – and therefore ours – on the flight. It may take a little effort on our part – at least in the beginning – but it is so worth it!

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. If you purchase something via these links, I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.