Monday, July 16, 2018

Work and Sickly Doldrums and Some Sweet Recognition

Weather in Hong Kong has been TERRIBLE as of late - slashing, torrential downpour and lots of unexpected thunderstorms.  I worked ALL weekend also, blegh.

Poor Lola still has her cough and a runny nose and my cold, which started out innocuously enough last week, is raging on with no end in sight a full week later.  I am coughing a lot and generally feeling pretty lousy.  My head is starting to hurt and I just feel a bit overwhelmingly sorry for myself.  Hah, am I painting a sufficiently woeful picture here?

As I told Michael last night, he really picked a hell of a time to go to the U.S. for a full week.  He heaped insult to injury by responding that he sure was happy to have dodged this parenting bullet!  (i.e., dealing with taking Lola to the doctor 3 times in 6 days).

But then he also made me feel validated when, one day earlier this week, he wrote in short, simple texts (as if the effort to do anything more would be deadly):

"Exhausting day
I don't know how you did it in Australia
My mind is just shot"

He was referring to my insane cooped-up-in-a-conference-room-hunched-over-a-laptop-until-you-sign-this-or-die experience last year (I still can't think of Sydney without a shudder, and I was also 7 months pregnant, thankyouverymuch).  

And, on another day, after running through his crazy negotiation/meetings/work schedule while jetlagged and on very little sleep, exclaiming to me in genuine awe and horror (in relation to traveling and still having to juggle a ridiculous workload while traveling), "Allison, what have you been DOING?!"   

I just laugh because I have either become inured to it, have been very effectively brainwashed, have a case of Stockholm Syndrome, or am crazy.  Wait, are these all the same thing?

Turns out, just like it's nice to hear "you were right," it's also really nice to hear your other half sincerely and without any qualifications recognize the enormity of what you do (no matter what that is!)  I bet all marriages would be 100% stronger if all couples could switch roles with their partners for just a few days.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekly Catch Up: Catching the Bug and Paying a Visit to the Italy Embassy

Okay, a lot has been happening this week. 

As I mentioned in my last post, Michael has been in the US on a work trip so I've been solo parenting this week.  He has had his hands full between work, mediation meetings and negotiations and running around New York seeing people and getting things done. 

In Hong Kong, thank goodness we have help - I'm so grateful that we can have a full time nanny and helper!  This came in extra handy this week because not only was Michael not at home to keep an eye on things while I was away at the office, Lola also fell sick for the first time. 

It actually started off innocuously enough - a couple of small red dots appeared on her upper thighs on Friday which I thought were mosquito bites.  But then on Tuesday morning, suddenly and without warning, red bumps appeared all over both of her legs, and then smaller red bumps all over her belly, and by the time we got her into the doctor's office, they were spreading up across her arms.  It looked like hives and I was really worried about what could have caused this.  We got some antihistamines, Lola had no fever or runny anything, and we couldn't figure out what happened. 

The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday came and went without much incident, except for a sudden increase of dirty diapers and a dry cough that Lola suddenly developed which interfered with her sleep. 

Then, while I was at lunch on Thursday, I suddenly got messages from both our nanny and helper saying Lola was spitting up a lot of hot, curdled milk, and should we see a doctor?  We rushed to the doctor again and to my utter dismay found out that Lola had a slight fever.  Our thermometor at home was a complete piece of crap and continued to measure her as a whole two degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than she was.  This time, we were able to conclude that Lola likely picked up a gastro bug from her beloved playgroup.  (As my friend says, "playgroups are FILTHY" - I can't say I disagree with her.

The bug is likely the nasty reason linking all of the factors: cough, hives, multiple diapers, milk spit up and fever.   Apparently hives can come out ahead of the actual sickness as one of the earlier symptoms.  The poor girl! 

However, she was still in really good spirits despite having a fever. That morning, she was still chirping and shouting away like a little bird, and ate a whole bunch of organic apple puree (probably still her favorite).  She's such a tough cookie.

Other than Lola's illness, this week was also a frenzy of paperwork activity as I prepared all of our documents for our helper's visa. 

The good news up front: she was approved and we are heading to Tuscany in August! 

Now for the longer rambling story: it was a lot of paperwork to prepare, and our application probably wasn't even half as bad as it could have been because I decided to keep things very, very simple and (1) fly into and out of the same airport (Rome), (2) book one rental car for the entire trip, (3) stay in only two locations (each for one week) and (4) keep all of our movements within the Golden Triangle between Siena, Florence and Arezzo of northern Tuscany. 

The Italian embassy in Hong Kong is something else though.  I didn't see the main embassy but rather just the little back office for handling visas.  There are no windows.  There are five counters of which three look permanently shuttered, and of the other two, only one was open for operation.  The office looked like a room out of the late 1970s or early 1980s.  All of the typed announcements were taped to the windows with yellowing tape and looked like they had been there for a while.

Immediately upon entry into the office, you have to shove your bag through a little hole in the wall, then walk through the door frame which is incidentally also a metal detector.  Then you get to pick up your bag.  But they never check your bag (like they never even touch it, much less look inside), which begs the question - setting aside that this is already the most rudimentary of security checks.  isn't a bag where you would most likely keep a bomb or a dangerous weapon, or, really, anything troubling?

One of the most amusing things about this experience was the extremely limited hours in which you could do anything at the Italian embassy.  All of the rules and limitations made me wonder, what the heck are they doing with all of the hours in the day? 

First of all, nothing can be done without an appointment (more on this later). 

Secondly, they only accept visa appointments from 9 am to 12 pm on Mondays to Fridays.  And it appears that it is one available appointment slot for every half hour (from what I could tell, given how we were spaced apart and how there was only one counter).

For any questions that you have regarding the visa process, they only answer the questions via a hotline between the hours of 2 and 3 pm on Mondays to Fridays (but when I called multiple times, it turns out they actually never answer any questions because they never pick up). 

Then, they require 3 weeks (I will repeat that, THREE WEEKS) to process the visa, during which time they take and keep your passport.  That is a really crazy long period of time in this day and age, especially when I bet all they have to do is print a sticker.

Finally, when my helper goes to pick up her passport THREE WEEKS later, she may only go to pick it up between the hours of 2:30 and 3 pm on that exact day. 

I mean, wow, right?  Are you getting the feeling that Italy doesn't really like to issue visas? 

The most amusing thing that happened while we were there, though, was a really angry and frustrated Italian lady who showed up while we were waiting.  She had been issued a driver's license by the embassy the day before that (I'm certain) she had been waiting forever to receive, and apparently they made a mistake on it.  When she got to the entrance of the door, the embassy employee wouldn't let her in because she didn't have an appointment. 

(They are crazy about the appointments!  Everything has to be done via appointment and if you forget to confirm your appointment two days before the actual day, the embassy may cancel your appointment!  At which point good luck finding another available spot for another 2 weeks!) 

When she finally loudly harangued him to the point of embarrassment, he finally conceded and let her step into the embassy.  When she walked in without putting her bag through the wall, he made her go back and go through the process.  (Again, isn't it better that she brought the bag through the metal detector??  Someone explain this to me).  Her massive eyerolls and huffy sigh were epic.  On second thought, maybe she shares my sentiments about their security protocols.  Then once she was inside, she proceeded to launch into a barrage of furious Italian and indignant hand gestures.  By the end, it seemed like she got what she needed.  I guess this is what it takes to get stuff done here! 

All of this makes me think that, while I am beyond eager to experience the slow food movement and leisurely, beautiful lifestyle of these quaint little towns in the hills of Tuscany, it's good that I don't actually live there.  For me, places like that are for vacations. In my day-to-day, I will take Hong Kong's efficient-to-the-point-of-rudeness method of dealing with administrative matters any day!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Visit to the Office, Baby Buddies, Multiple Dinners at Okra, and More

This past Thursday, I brought Lola with me to work for a quick visit for the first time.  Everyone had been asking about her for a while now and I kept promising I would bring her in, so finally it seemed about time.  When we arrived, it didn't take long before everyone figured out there was a baby in the office and flocked out to meet her. 

Lola was incredibly well behaved, staring solemnly at all of my co-workers in turn.  After a while, she started nervously chewing on her fist, and then her bracelet - probably because the enthusiasm and attention were too overwhelming!

But when I put her in my office chair, she started laughing and loosening up a bit.  (Those mystery hands belong to my secretary, who hid behind the chair and held Lola in place because she was worried Lola would tumble out of it).
Boss.  Yeah, what?

Lola the executive
Lola has also officially started playgroup at Baby Buddies, a play center and nursery school in Sheung Wan.  Of all the trial classes, she seemed to love this one the best, shrieking and sighing her happiness during the second half of the class and then existing in a happy, hyper mood for hours afterward.  She's now going there once a week, every Friday, and playing with a small group (it's limited to 10) of 6-12 month old babies.  This past Friday was her first "real" class, and luckily I was able to attend even though it was in the afternoon from 2-4. 

The schedule is as follows:
- first half hour is voluntary (free play) as babies trickle in with their mom/dad/helper
- second half hour is focused on some group activities, usually of the bouncing/jumping or dancing variety (we did tick-tock the cuckoo clock in one class, and then rocket ship in another) accompanied to music, followed by story time, followed by singing (every baby is sung to while sitting in a circle) followed by some motor-skill exercise (clapping hands, grabbing stuff, etc.), followed by a break for snack time
- third half hour is messy play (Lola's favorite) where they strip the babies down to their diapers and have them crawl around dabbling in three or four different kinds of foods (jello, custard, rice, spaghetti, bananas, etc.) and playing with each other
- last half hour is bath time followed by more playing and singing

During the second hour is when Lola just loses it - in a good way (I think).  She is so happy (something about rolling around in corn starch and jello naked really causes her to lose her inhibitions, ha) that she starts shrieking at the top of her lungs.  This time, she shrieked for so loud and so long that she made two (TWO!) babies cry!  To give you an idea of the volume, she actually prepares by inhaling a huge lungful of air before letting loose, and she turns bright red. What a hilarious baby!

Michael and I also discovered a restaurant, Okra, right near our apartment, that we love.  I wish we had gone there sooner - to think, it's been there for the 2.5 years that we've lived here - all those missed opportunities!  It's a simple Japanese izakaya restaurant on an unassuming stretch of Queen's Road West, next to some hardware stores.  I had read about it a while ago but everything about the place seemed odd and mismatched to me.  Well, turns out you really shouldn't judge anything by appearances because this place rocks.  Everything tastes good and is thoughtfully prepared.  Flooded by enthusiasm, we went to the restaurant twice in two weeks!  My pictures really suck though - the overhead lights are bright and it's hard to take pictures without including your phone shadow.

Their chicken sandwich is amazing, in particular.


Finally, the other news is that Michael is headed to the US this week on a work trip.  It's his first time spending a night away from Lola since she was born!  I think he is going to be miss her a lot.  As he told me just now, "I've seen her every single night since she was born." 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lola is 7 Months!

This post is two days late, but... Lola is seven months!
As evidenced by these pictures, she has taken to shrieking her happiness nowadays.  Never let it be said that she does not have energy! 

Lola shrieks so loudly when she's excited that our nanny has taken to calling her a soprano opera singer.  It cracks us all up because Lola clearly takes so much delight in the simple pleasures - playing peek a boo, hide and seek, eating something delicious, or if she's just had a really great nap.  When was the last time we all let loose with a soul-releasing shriek when we were pleased??

The strength of her vocal chords easily exceeds ours (especially mine this week, as I find myself fighting a rare sore throat.  I am also dealing with a relatively rare bout of insomnia, which had me trying melatonin for the first time and is leaving me exhausted during the day and wide awake at night.  Clearly, I have been better...)

Thankfully, Lola is well - better than ever.  She is so curious and vivacious.  When I took these pictures, she was shrieking with happiness, utterly delighted as she watched her dad appear and disappear by the kitchen.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Weekend Woes, Playing with Food, Picnic in the Park

I drafted this post 3 days ago and then didn't get around to pressing send!  Doh!  Original post below:

Greetings from hump day - two more days until the weekend! 

This past weekend was sorely disappointing.  I had had such high hopes for a relaxing, fun, fulfilling few days, and instead I ended up working the entire time.  About the only good thing about it is that the weather was so terrible (roiling thunderstorms and slashing rain) that I wasn't missing out on, say, sunny days at the beach or a relaxing sail on a junk trip.

It's no surprise that working in private practice is tough - the intensity of client demands, quick turnaround time and high expectations for strong work product all lend to stress and unpredictability. Sometimes my days are incredibly quiet, other times things come up at the last minute and ruin all of my plans.  It's hard to know when to continue to make plans anyway, and also how to take advantage of the quiet times.  I've been in the industry for ten years now (10 years!) and sometimes it still surprises me how much this uneven schedule can unbalance me. 

Having a baby adds to the challenge, because there are even greater, more compelling (read: incredibly cute and pleasurable) factors competing with work! 

These days, every day brings about new changes in Lola. 

Lately she has become very attached to me - I can't pop into her room at night or in the morning if I don't intend to stay.  She will commence a very high pitched, insistent yell until I return. I've taken to slipping out of the door to go to work while her back is turned or when her nanny takes her into her room.

We are trying to encourage Lola to interact with her food more.  Everyone tells us that messy play is incredibly important - including in the weaning process.  I would say that Lola has learned this lesson well...she freaking loves messy play!
Broccoli, broccoli, everywhere!  Incidentally, Lola's apron matched her food.  Never let it be said that we do not color coordinate!

Speaking of taking advantage of down times, I was able to catch an afternoon at home with Lola during a rare interlude yesterday.  We went to Sun Yat Sen park and hung out on the grass.  I was amazed at how many babies and toddlers were running around and having fun in the park.  There was a huge circle of moms (stay at home dads in the expat circle are still rare here), helpers and babies circling blankets and a picnic spread.  So this is what happens on a lovely weekday when I'm usually toiling away at my desk locked in my glass box!

Turns out, Lola loves grass (or more accurately, weeds)!  Well, actually, she loves anything new that she has not encountered before.  She is so curious about textures and colors.  When plopped on the lawn, she began insistently and fervently pulling at it.  Don't be fooled, her little fingers are strong and her strength is mighty!

 We had so much fun - although in these pictures she looks kind of upset, and that's likely because she wanted to get back on the grass!  I love her so.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Blogging Blur

The days have just been rushing by me this month - I honestly don't know why it is that every weekend I come to my laptop to discover that I have yet again failed to update during the week!

Other than work (which has been full of ups and downs - insane one week and then quiet the next) I have been plotting a trip to Italy this late summer / early fall.  We were originally planning to head back to the U.S. in July, but now that I have managed to locate tickets for us in December (booked with miles), I thought it might be better to try a shorter long-haul trip first.  Plus, my sister will be traveling at the same time and could meet up with us in Italy, which would be amazing!   Lola will be about 9 months at the time of our travels - it's hard to tell how cooperative she will be with the bassinet.

It's been really fun to look at beautiful villas and farmhouses in Tuscany, but the logistics of planning out a 2 week itinerary have been a bit daunting.  Plus, as Americans, we totally take for granted how easy it is to travel to nearly any country in nearly any part of the world.  But because we want to take our helper with us on this journey, I am learning firsthand how painful it is to travel with a less favorable passport.  The visa process is very time consuming and requires insurance coverage, guarantee letters, and verification of all parts of the itinerary - never mind that you don't really want to book all of your accommodations if you don't know if you're going to get the visa or not!

My other dilemma with the travels is which airport to fly into - I am not sure if we should pay more to fly directly into Florence (and suck up a layover in Zurich along the way), which would give us an under 1 hour drive to the villa, or if we should pay a little bit less (but still a lot) to fly direct into Rome but then do a 3 or 4 hour drive up the coast.  I also want to explore northern Tuscany more (Florence, Siena, Lucca, Arezzo) and so it seems being based farther north for the entire two weeks would be better.  Hmmm, decisions.  About the only thing I am certain is that I want to go!

Other than trip planning, I have been taking Lola to some trial playgroup classes to acquaint her with other babies and kids and to get some story time, messy play, and music exposure.  She continues to go to the playgroup in our building as well.

She has been making leaps and bounds in her development this month - her sitting skills have improved steadily and just yesterday, she managed to crawl!  She's not fully up on her knees yet, but she is managing very well on her tummy (and it's not just an army crawl as she is using her legs and not just dragging them behind her).

At the advice of her pediatrician, we have tried a couple of times to give her pieces of food that she can eat by herself, but it usually turns into her licking the bowl or spoon, or getting the food anywhere but in her mouth...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

We celebrated Michael's first father's day at a "whole hog" brunch at Rhoda, a restaurant in Sai Ying Pun.  It was Lola's first time out where she could sit in a high chair, and she behaved beautifully!  We had a little bit of a tough time getting her adjusted to being strapped in at first, but then with her toys and some bits of potato, she was quite happy (and made her delight known by mashing up the potatoes and occasionally letting out a loud shriek).

Happy Father's Day, Michael!   You are wonderful and Lola is so lucky to have you!


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Apples and Playdates

Well, what do you know, it's now the weekend again.  My blog updates have become quite sporadic and for that I do apologize! 

I wanted to share some pictures of Lola enjoying her favorite fruit - how happy apples make her!
Her two bottom teeth have emerged now and she likes to rub them and tap them with her fingers. 
Lola also went to the building playgroup this week and played with another little girl and didn't cry  (hurrah!) 

We are slated to go to another birthday party today, and I'm super excited to bring Lola around to meet some new babies and adults. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Fun Filled and Action Packed Saturday

Wow, we did a lot of stuff this Saturday! 

The morning started off with a call between me and my sister to catch up while Lola enjoyed her rice cereal.  She loves eating with a spoon, and continues to love her high chair, as it allows her to be at adult eye-level and feel like she's part of the party. 
She also really likes hitting the table with her open palms and dropping every object from such a great height.  The high chair - who knew it would provide such entertainment.

Here she is, once she was cleaned up, but before she dropped all of her toys off the edge.
 Objects are mysteriously disappearing!
Then I took Lola to our swimming pool for the first time.  She has been in a plunge pool in Vietnam and Singapore, but not the one in our building.  She liked the baby pool, getting comfortable enough that, while propped up on my knees, she reached her legs out and splashed around a little bit. 

But she only barely tolerated being held by me in the big pool, as evidenced here.  Our building pool continues to be amazing - not at all crowded even over the weekend (if you go in the morning).  The pool will be a nice respite this summer because Hong Kong has already been so incredibly hot and stifling.

Does she look worried to you?
After the pool, I squeezed in a yoga class with my favorite teacher before taking Lola on a playdate with a few other girl friends and babies!  I dressed her up and put a bow in her hair.  She has a bald spot at the top of her head so her front fringe is particularly like a bad comb-over currently, but a pretty clip hides that problem quite well.  We really can't complain given she has a lot of hair for a 6 month old.  It's getting pretty curly at the ends in this humidity too.
Peace out
 I had a great time at our mommy and baby lunch date with my friends and our babies.  One boy was two and a half and the other boy was just 3 days older than Lola.  In fact, they had first hung out as newborns side by side in their bassinets in the maternity ward, although they will never remember it.
Everyone was so happy to see Lola when we first arrived that she got a bit panicked, cried and clung to me for dear life.  Eventually she allowed my friends to hold her but not for long.  She also tolerated one of my friends feeding her butternut squash.  It's a tough life, having all this attention and people wanting to hold you and feed you! 

We ate at Rosie Jean's which was a lovely cafe with decent food and a really nice outdoor area full of toys for kids.  They also had a nice set up with industrial fans and lots of air conditioning (a must in this sweltering heat)! I think we'll be heading back there soon!