From jetty jumping, water trampoline, kayaking, swimming, and exploring low tide rock pools far away from the shore to snorkeling, paddle boarding, sand castle building and playing with friends this could not have been a better vacation!

This holiday vacation we brought along our new toy the GoPro waterproof camera. I am not sure who had more fun with it, Dad or the kids. What I do know is that we got some great photos because of the GoPro! What a fun way to spend Thanksgiving. Even though we did not have the typical turkey dinner and most of our family was so far away we were still able to give thanks for all we have done and seen and experienced and spend time with some of the people we love.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is unique to America and thus not a big deal here in Singapore. Ever since we moved to Asia we have traveled over this particular holiday with friends and / or co-workers. This year our holiday adventure took us and our good friends the Hirschmans to Nikoi Island in Indonesia. Nikoi is a short 50 minute ferry ride plus two and a half hour drive across Bintan to a speed boat that is 25 miutes at top speed to the island. Not bad considering the other options and a tad less expensive than flying a family of five. Nikoi is small but beautiful! The Hirschmans have been there six times before and highly recommended it. The staff is friendly and great with the kids. Upon arrival the staff is ready to help with whatever you need including hanging with the kids near the tree house and pirate ship fort or hooking them up to the zip line or showing them where the water trampoline is located. Before long the staff knows all your childrens' names and has carved them either a working bow and arrow or sword or knife (all dull) out of bamboo and wood!

The stilted villas are open air and huge enough for two families of five to stay together (that would be us and them). The food is yummy and the drinks are tasty as well as reasonably priced. The best part is that they provide an early meal for the kids then a campfire (weather depending) and movie in the outdoor kids club (complete with beach bean bags) while the parents have their meal. The kids had no problem hanging out in the kids club without us, even Tru. She knew where to find us and also made friends with a few of the staff members.

We had good weather for November and that meant lots of beach time and swimming. Eric, Tru and I even kayaked around the island while the big kids were jetty jumping. We got to watch them jump from our and then Tru wanted to take a turn so she and Eric jumped out of the boat and swam to the ramp.
On November 12th of this year 2014 our baby girl turned 9 years old! Our lovely, creative, compassionate, kind, amazing little girl is growing up so very fast. It is so difficult to believe this is her last year of single digits! Kaya has traveled to many places, learned new languages, met and made many friends yet she is still our little Kaya who loves to perform, create art of all kinds, and play with her brother and sister. She loves anything to do with animals and the ocean. She enjoys swimming, bike riding and going on hikes and listening to music but most of all she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. To celebrate this wonderful girl we planned two celebrations. The first one was on her actual birthday and at home. We made her a marine themed birthday banner in her favorite colors blue, teal, green and purple. We got her a bouquet of flowers with her favorites, white lilies. Nora made her favorite meal chicken rice with sweet potato spring rolls and upon her request I baked her Grandma Shirley's apple pie! I even got vanilla ice cream from her favorite local ice cream parlor. "It was the perfect night" she said.

For Kaya's second celebration she invited just a few friends to visit the S.E.A. aquarium on Sentosa. Luckily I was able to get another mom to help me because even though there were only five girls they were all very excited and the aquarium is a large and busy place. They had so much fun seeing and learning about the ocean life. We started with a cupcake celebration outside, under cover from the rain, then we spent a good amount of time walking around the aquarium. We finished with a short trip to Candylicious (a massively large candy shop) where the girls all got to pick one treat! We were done before dinner time but not before the massive storm. Luckily it cleared up a bit before we had to walk back to the car. Kaya said over and over how thankful she was to have such a perfect party with her girlfriends!

Our amazing, wonderful, loving, kind, adventurous and musical little boy turned 7 on November 6 of this year, 2014! We can hardly believe how quickly time has gone. He was only a bitty babe when we moved across the world to Singapore and now he is a tall 7 year old who loves his sisters, his friends, his school, soccer, drums, and still - his elephant friends. He is such a great kid! We are so lucky to have him in our family and to show Ashwin how great he truly is we put together two parties to celebrate his life thus far. First we made a birthday banner in the style of his new favorite footie team and player Neymar Jr. from Barcelona. I baked pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (his request) and of course we had to have his favorite meal - PIZZA. We celebrated at home just the six of us.

Shortly after our midweek family celebration, Ashwin and some of his closest friends headed over to AMPED, an indoor trampoline park, for a bouncing good time! The kids were running, jumping, somersaulting, cartwheeling, and soaring across the large trampolines for one hour. The staff (and experienced trampoline jumpers) gave the a brief instruction on how to do forward flips! They loved it! Then we had a short but fun cupcake celebration complete with chocolate vanilla soccer themed cupcakes that I made along with my new pastry tip that turns frosting into grass!!! So much fun! Check out the mini jersey cupcake topper that Eric made, great job dad very realistic.

On August 31st our littlest girl turned three! Although she sometimes acts and sounds like a five or six year old, Tru is by all means three and proud of it.

Tru enjoys eating noodles and miso, red bean bao, Nora's spring rolls, mac and cheese and peanut butter and jelly. Although if you ask she would probably eat cereal three times a day with milk or with yogurt. She does have a sweet tooth and loves to get ice cream from a little shop by her play school.

She loves swimming, running, jumping and playing with her brother and sister. She is super fast on her scooter and swings up high sitting or on her tummy, with no fear. Painting is one of her favorite forms of expressing herself along with dance and music. She can sing "Let it Go" with tons of emotion and can tell you almost all the stories in the books she has. She is even trying to read. Her imagination is just as elaborate as her big sis and her humor is not far off from her brother's. Tru can make up some amazing stories but her big talent right now is knowing all her phonics and her alphabet. She is starting to do her own "homework" trying to learn to write her letters!! Perhaps she is trying to catch up with her siblings.

Whether she is swimming in a lake, hiking through forests, visiting the zoo or going on bike rides with her mom she is always up for an adventure. She is the perfect mix of everyone in the family yet so much her own person. I think it is her determination to do things by herself and her ability to communicate her very strong will along with her kind soul that makes her unique. We love every moment with our adorable, funny and sweet little Tru Mae. Happy Birthday! Love Mom, Dad, Kaya and Ashwin.

Tru requested a Rescue Bot themed party, her favorite cartoon at the moment. She LOVES all the rescue bots but her favorite is Heatwave.
So we had a few close friends over, decorated the place with "3"s and rescue bots. Played a few games like "Soak the Fire" and "Boulder's Relay". We even had themed deserts including Chase's wheels (oreos), Boulder's boulders (grapes), Blade's blades (watermelon wedges), and Energon cubes (jello). I even got soaked playing the part of Bumblebee!

It was a fun party that lasted many hours into the night allowing the grownups to catch up and relax while the kids watched a few Rescue Bots episodes.

The end of the first leg of our trip is approaching, but that didn't slow us down today anymore than any other day. I ran/hiked all around the large lake in just about an hour. The hills are killer but the path is beautiful. I will miss my morning runs.

Tractor rides, swimming, playing on the Wii, finished Jr Master Chef, Italian dinner and a campfire to roast s'mores. The kids have had great time and love it here.

Lots of outdoor play today - tractor rides, water play, yard art, and kayaking.

When you have fun doing it the first time. Do it again. A trip to Bloomington to retrieve a forgotten water bottle, a quick trip to Sam's club - a $4 watermelon the size of Tru and enough coconut oil to last 2 years for the price of a tiny bottle in Singapore and a stroll around Kirkwood.

Back on the boat for some swimming and jumping.

Sometimes you just want to do it again!
The hills make it much more challenging. But the scenery is wonderful.

Another day packed full of fun. Went out on the boat with neighbor Dave and his boys. Kaya tried her hand at wakeboarding. Ash and Tru drove the boat. But then a storm came and we packed back to dry land.

Then it cleared up and we went to Cedar Creek winery for a picnic dinner, live music and dancing. Tru and Kaya made lots of friends.

But it didn't end there. Kaya and Ash went back out on the boat with Grampy and Tru and Grammy and I went swimming. What a day. The kids are passed out!
Schoolhouse Rocks as an awesome play, Laughing Planet, and Chocolate Mouse - a fun day in Bloomington.

Hot dogs. foil packets of veggies. And s'mores. So full...

Tru's biggest thing these days is the word beautiful. She has been using it a lot lately to describe things. Like the lake, the fire, and the view from her tent, where she is now soundly asleep.
I forget how beautiful it is here.

Long afternoon of shopping, dinner in downtown Columbus with a cool indoor play area that was free. Then an antique ice cream parlor been around since 1900!

Sooooooo much ice cream for sooo little !!! Not sure they have ever eaten or seen that much before!
The fastest way to get over the jetlag is to get into the sun and start having fun.

It worked pretty well. Everyone was asleep by 7pm.

Everyone was tired, some slept more than others. But we're here.

The morning started early, but we've made it as far as Narita. So far no meltdowns and no upset tummies. However I am the only one who napped on the first leg. Wish me luck!

One might think that on the first day of summer that the the kids who have been working so hard all year and getting up early might want a quiet day of vegging out with a few cartoons or with their favorite toys. Not my three. The first full day of our summer holiday was jam packed! We started the day with a few cartoons but then we were off for a day full of firsts and unexpected last minute adventures. It all began with Tru's first hair cut!

About two weeks ago I took Kaya and Ashwin to get their hair cut and Tru was very upset that Ronald did not have time to cut her hair as well. Tru has been coming along to watch her siblings get their hair cut for two years and she really likes Ronald and getting her hair done! So naturally when Ronald mentioned that he could cut her hair she jumped at the idea and was ready to go. But we had to wait until I could get a proper appointment because at Curly and Spike they like to make a big deal out of a first hair cut. I finally arranged a time for Tru to get her hair done and it fell perfectly on the first day of the summer holiday. Kaya and Ashwin were very happy to come along and support her in her very first hair cut.

It was only 10:30 when Tru's appointment finished. So we decided to take advantage of the sunny morning and went for a walk along the canal to our favorite "rainbow bridge". Just as we were planning on continuing our walk one of the "modern" (i say this because there are also traditional bum boats that run along the canal you can take for a more cultural experience) water taxis came along. Kaya and Ashwin were curious so they yelled to the boat driver "WHERE DO WE GET ON???" He pointed to a spot by the water where there were stone stairs and before I knew it we were boarding the taxi! We decided we just wanted to ride a little bit as we did not think that we could make the entire ride around the canal to the bay by the merlion, which would be a 40 minute ride, without snacks :) So the driver graciously took us back to our originally alighting point and we walked back towards the mall to have lunch.

On the ride home Tru fell asleep and the kids talked me into taking them to see Maleficent, Disney's new take on the Sleeping Beauty story. I was hesitant at first having seen the previews but after hearing about how all of their friends were seeing it... I decided to give it a try. I quickly booked tickets online for a 12:30 show and we were one our way. The movie was really good. We all enjoyed it and really liked the story line. I was happy and surprised at how they both connected to the characters and were not afraid (that much) of the sometimes dark scenes. After the movie we had to pick up a birthday gift for Kaya's friend who was having her sleepover party in just a few hours. While we were shopping we ran into a few fun statues and had to take some pictures with them.

To finish of the long day I took Ashwin along to drop Kaya off at her party but ended up staying while Ashwin played with the girls and the other kids from the condo and I caught up with my friend (the birthday gals mom). Then Ashwin and I walked over to a mall to grab a bite to eat and play a quick but fun round of glow in the dark putt putt. We then went back to the party because Kaya was not up for actually spending the night. Ashwin played with the birthday gal's brother and I got to chat a bit more with my friend. We did not leave their place till after nine. We were all tired and ready for bed! If only we all could have slept in the next day.

What did Tru do this whole time? She had some fun girl time with Nora and then daddy daughter night with pizza and a few episodes of Rescue Bots! She missed us but I think had a good night too.
It has been two years since we last saw our good friends Fiona, Mike and their daughter Olivia. We met them while living in the condo. Olivia and Kaya, being the same age and similar personalities, hit it off immediately. Ashwin also got along well with Olivia but really attached to Mr. Mike and Ms. Fiona. We became good friends and had many adventures together here in Singapore.

When we found out that they wanted to come back to Singapore for their Easter break we were all super excited and so very happy that they wanted to stay with us! When they got here it was as if no time at all had passed. The girls picked up where they left off and were best buds all over again, although much taller! Ashwin too was excited to hang out with Olivia but even more excited to hang out with Mr. Mike. Even little Tru, who was only just a wee little thing when they left, really attached herself to them all - loving especially Mr. Mike. Tru was happy to give up her room for the weekend so that the girls could sleep together and during the week I made sure to find a day we could skip school to all take an adventure to Lego Land! It was a very hot day and I had to do the driving across the border and in Malaysia without Eric but it was well worth it. The kids all had a great time and we got three FREE annual passes for each of the kids! I only wish I had taken more photos.

Most of our time together was spent hanging out. They, of course, had other friends to visit but we were lucky to get most of their time. We went swimming a bunch of times (and at the club) and played with nearly all of our toys. The grownups even got a night out on the town from which we did not return till after midnight (the first time in a long time I have been out that late). Near the end of their visit Kaya got to show Olivia her school. Tru, Ms. Fiona, Olivia and I joined Kaya in the 2nd grade annual Walk-A-Thon to raise money for a local organization called Food from the Heart that feeds hundreds of families in Singapore. In one hour Kaya made her goal of 9 laps around the H.S. track in the sweltering heat. Tru ran nearly four of them and we joined her for all of them! Her class alone walked 307 Laps, or 122.8 Km, or 76.75 miles!!!!!! I am certain that the entire 2nd grade met or even exceeded their goal of $50,000 dollars. We were all sweaty after the event but so very happy and proud to have made a difference.

Early this past Friday morning, Good Friday and a day off from school, we sadly had to say good-bye to our friends. Kaya, Ashwin and Tru were sad and tired from a long week of fun and late nights. Luckily we had a whole weekend to rest and an Easter Sunday to look forward too. Now we just need to plan our visit to England because they cannot wait to see Fiona, Mike and Olivia again!

Day two promised to start early and be full of adventure and it didn't hold back on either.

We set sail from Yichang at about 7am, about 30 minutes later than they had advertised the night before. Since I wanted to see us start, I got up early and then had some quiet time on the balcony. The ship to our port side had left around 6:15am and we were presented with our first early morning views of the river. It was quiet, cool and foggy - actually a welcome change from the dry and hot that we'd had through the last few months in Singapore.

The first such adventure started just before breakfast as we set sail into Nanjin Pass on the eastern end of the Xiling Gorge - the start of the journey through The Three Gorges.

It was pointed out to us as we headed into the pass that this area was one of the more dangerous waterways in The Gorges prior to the dam's construction. The currents were particularly strong and known to create rough rapids and whirlpools.

We were also told that in recent history this area was known for limiting Japan's march into Western China during WWII. They were unable to cross the sheer cliffs that rose from the water and unable to navigate supplies and troops through the challenging river - ancient and recent history for the kids - a good start to the day - except for the questions about why China and Japan were at fighting each other that inevitably followed - that seemed like a good time to break for breakfast.

We learned the night before that the ship would be offering optional additional excursions. Being that we were in the middle-ish of China and the likelihood of us being in the same place ever again was pretty slim, we opted to get away from the boat (and keep the kids moving) having a look around with each opportunity that was offered.

So, after morning grub, we disembarked our ship (through another ship) and to a ferry that took us about 10 minutes up the river to Longjinxi scenic area. Here we hiked up the stream and saw how the mountain people of the area (the Tujia people) traditionally lived. This group of people has been linked to the mountain area for some 2000 years.

This was an interesting outing, and in hindsight probably one of the more exciting excursions for the kids.

It was a bit like a recreation site similar to those that we find in the US where people go to find out about their heritage and/or how local people lived. It wasn't just us foreigners, there were a large number of Chinese folks there too (the majority) - probably mostly from the riverboats just like us, learning just like us.

We saw the stream, how people fished the stream and used water wheels, hiked to a waterfall, saw some monkeys (run of the mill for Asia) and spotted our first of what would be quite a few hanging coffins - coffins that were embedded in the cliff hundreds of feet in the air hundreds of years ago.

We also learned about the Crying Brides - a Tujia tradition. Brides cried prior to their marriage - for up to a month. It was told to us that the more the bride cried the more her in-laws knew she was sincere and respected her. There was even a show of the marriage ceremony where one of our group from the boat was "volunteered." The kids enjoyed seeing someone they knew getting called up on stage - and yes, we were only a few hours into the actual trip and the kids already knew everybody.

After the morning tour, we set sail from the Nangin Pass and headed west further into the Xiling Gorge - the longest of the Three Gorges at ~41 miles long - towards the Three Gorges Dam.

That afternoon, Ash and Tru were tuckered out and took a little cabin time so Kaya and I packed a bag and went out on one of the sponsored tours (exiting through no other ships). Here we boarded a bus in the town of Sandouping to visit the Three Gorges Dam project.

On our way, we rode on the nicest 6 lane roads with nary another vehicle and crossed the 32nd longest suspension bridge in the world (3000ft span). I'm amazed at how many of the top 100 longest suspension bridges are in China and even more so at how many are on the Yangtze River.

I took note of how bored the guards at either end of the bridge looked given the lack of action/traffic that was happening. Neither of them waived a friendly hello as we passed. It appeared to have gotten pretty quiet around there after the 40,000 workers moved on to other projects.

We had a very educational and long description of the details of the project at a dam exhibition center, where we learned:
  • how the dam was built (there was granite here making it stable and new engineering techniques were created for the largest concrete pouring project ever conceived and executed)
  • how much power it produces with its 32 turbines (22.5GW)
  • how collosally huge it is (1.5 miles wide, 545ft tall - take a look at the Itaipu Dam it's even bigger)
  • how it was "nothing like your Hoover Dam" (except that they both blocked rivers)
  • how they have the largest lock system in the world ("much larger than the Panama Canal" - raising/lowering ships 110m)
  • how they're completing a ship elevator to cover that height in a 45 minute ride (this part is what has kept the project at 99% completion for a while)
  • how Beijing is missing out on all that giga-juice (but Shanghai gets major loving)
  • how they can control the dam electronically from Beijing ("more technologically advanced than Western dams")
  • how they're building new rivers from the Chinese Tibetan mountains to build dams on to power Beijing (yes, building rivers)
  • how Taiwain is China's largest island (this is one of those crazy family tales but apparantly was important to talk about on this tour)
  • how the Chinese Sturgeon's migration pattern was interrupted by the dam and they are making efforts to breed the species (they are almost extinct)
  • how the Yangtze has been calmed from the destructive flooding (our tour guide in Yichang City had described the floods of 1998 destroying his grandparents home while they were at his house for dinner one evening)
  • how some people needed to be relocated but were happy to do so (~1.24M people - but no numbers actually provided on the tour - who's counting?)
Kaya was a real trooper. My feet were killing me from standing around listening to the lecture, but she stayed strong and snapped a lot of good photos.

Then back on the bus, back across the Xiling bridge to a park that exhibited pieces and parts that were used to make the dam. Large Caterpillar-esqe earth moving equipment, cranes, concrete blocks and generator parts.

Once we got back on board, we didn't have to wait long for the locks. After waiting about 2 hours for our turn we entered into the first of five in our 110m journey up the dam.

These things were massive and the kids were very impressed (ok, I was too). The majority of the time was spent positioning the 5 (or were there 6? 8? I couldn't see that far back - each section is 280m long) ships into the locks - port to starboard and bow to stern. Each captain navigated the tight space themselves with the aid of their crews and I'm sure the faceless voices behind the many cameras.

Once in position the ships were secured to floating anchors in the walls that rose with the water level. It was pretty amazing to watch the ships rise 20 meters in about 15 minutes. Then the gates open and we pulled forward into the next lock to do it all again, five times in total.

The whole journey through the locks took about 2.5 hours, but you hardly noticed it. We had a drink with the Captain, ate some dinner, stared out the window at the damp, dark wall that occasionally moved up or back and by the time we got everyone ready for bed, we were sailing into the reservoir for another quiet night on the Yangtze.