Winter break–> Almost over *Screams*

Oh my…winter break is almost over and I’ve done very little that I had set out to do. I had grand plans to revisit readings, consolidate the learning that I had experienced during the last quarter and to blog more. But all this lazy ass has done is bingewatched shows on Netflix.

Oh wait, I did read Purity by Jonathan Franzen and went on a road-trip so all was not lost…i guess. It’s a really good book, btw. I saw it at the Evanston library and picked it up, only because I read on NYT that President Obama is reading it. Yes…I read it because the president is reading it. I trusted that he had good taste in books. It was good. A little twisted. That is, almost all the relationships of the characters in the book are all twisted and dysfunctional.

Anyway. It’s almost the end of the break and I’ve learnt something about myself. I’m an all or nothing kinda gal. A person of extremes. I’m either working very very hard or i’m totally slacking off. There is no in between or at least it feels as if there is no in between. I’m either very stressed or totally chill.

I bet i’m in need of some mindfulness. yes… well…sighs…

Till later…

Pumpkin Season!

What else would we do in Fall and during Halloween season but go check out the pumpkin farms right?? 
OMG! We had such an awesome day!
First, it is always much more fun when you go with friends! We arranged to go with some friends. Fern and Stanley introduced us to a family with 3 lil kids and our kids get along real well. So we all, including auntie Fern and uncle Stanley, came along for a Saturday morning with pumpkins. So the boys really had a lot of fun running around together.
It’s funny that initially Irfan felt conflicted about his new friends. He told me he couldn’t play with these new friends because he already had his cousin Mik as a friend. He was afraid of betraying their frienship I think- everyone say awwwww….I explained to him that Mik wouldn’t mind if he made some new friends…Right Mik???

We had some options to choose from and we chose Krolls Farm, a small family owned farm about 40 mins from where we live. It’s known more for being a more traditional farm with a simpler fall festival. There are a lot of more commercialized farms with more activity, but you know *ka ching* everything needs $$$.

I was given the responsibility of where we would go and I decided that given this is my kid’s first experience at a pumpkin farm, that I should definitely not raise the bar too high. If we went to a flashy farm with bouncy castle, rides, etc. then they”ll expect ALL pumpkin farms to be like that right? So decided for cheaper option. Which really ended up to be a wonderful experience!

There was a small petting zoo, enough to get the boys excited but not too big that they go totally nuts! We also went on a tractor ride (not too expensive) and the tractor was driven by Mr Randy Kroll, the owner of the farm. He was quite amazing, telling us fun facts about pumpkins and gourds and he was funny and entertaining. It was nice to get driven around by the owner of the farm.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day? We were very lucky. The boys already miss the pumpkin farm, and we may go back this season just for fun. =)

Maggie Daley Park- More fun times!

” In 2012, the Chicago Park District began transforming the northeastern part of Grant Park into Maggie Daley Park. For many decades, an expansive surface parking lot occupied this site with a portion of the Illinois Central’s sunken rail yard extending along the northwestern edge. In the mid-1970s, the Chicago Park District replaced the old park lot with the Richard J. Daley Bicentennial Plaza, a complex that provided a new 3700-car underground garage with major recreational facilities. Dedicated to Chicago’s former Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902 – 1976), the facility included a new fieldhouse for indoor recreational programming as well as several outdoor amenities such as tennis courts, an ice skating rink, picnic areas, and Grant Park’s first playground.”

Oh boy, weren’t we happy to discover the Maggie Daley park. Free too, yo! (Although we paid a whopping $33 for parking- but it was worth it la! Must tell myself that right?)


The boys had such a great time at the park. There were several play areas and all very well-designed. My photos do such a poor job at showing how well designed this place is- adventurous, exciting but at the same time, very safe. I promise to take better pics the next time we go!


I was interested to learn when I checked out its website that they made the effort to do some public consultation during the design process– focus groups, meetings and surveys. I think it paid off.  I do hope we can make another trip there, while the weather is good.

So parents with kids, come to Chicago, and come visit us ok? =P

More pics from our day out at Millennium park, which is right next door!

Fishing!

When I saw that there was fishing for lil kiddos, I knew i had to sign us up. It was one activity that I knew hubs would jump at and get all excited about. The boys were excited too of course, although lil Irfan does actually prefer to sit with me with his book. Me with my homework to read and Irfan with his Pete the cat book.
What an awesome program, right by a lake a short drive from our place! It’s just an experience of fishing. You just come between 10-1pm, pick up a rod and some worms, that are provided free and just fish. There are some experts around to help guide you if you don’t know what to do, but we have hubs who loves nothing more than fishing- okay maybe fishing ranks as high as Man United and maybe MMA.

It was crazy weather that day. It would be nice warm and sunny for like 15 minutes before the clouds rolled by and it was freezing cold for another 15 minutes before the clouds rolled away. It was like that all day! I just watched the clouds hoping for them to roll away faster, while the boys fished!
I made the mistake of taking a picture of the first fish they caught, for purpose of this blog. And then Ihsan insisted that I take a picture of every little fish they caught. It was very disruptive. Between cloud watching and taking pics of the fish, I got very little reading done. =(

Ihsan trying to kiss the fish! sighs…

But they had a fab time, which is what matters most! I’m thinking as I’m loading this pics- that I’m going to miss the warm toasty sun…I’d better enjoy the weather while it lasts!

Tiny Trekkers…

It’s not been an easy last few weeks. Although we are quite settled and happy in our new home, I am still transitioning into my new role now as a student, a mother in-school and a home-schooling parent. And for some reason, I can’t stop cooking- so that, especially hunting down Asian ingredients, takes a lot of time too!
    
The beautiful building where the class is held.

Look, life at work in Singapore was definitely more stressful and more challenging. But it was familiar. I think what I’m struggling with now, is the ‘newness’ of being back in school, dense readings, concepts and having people grade my work. 

I also think that our decision to home-school the boys adds a different dimension of stress that I had not experienced before. I think i may have spent more time with my boys over the last few weeks we’ve been here than in the last 6 months we were in Singapore. I was always sneaking out before they woke up, that I spent very few hours of the day with them.

Ihsan was stoked that the
 first class was about fish!
Here, i take Mondays and Wed mornings when    we do Malay or Arabic (ngaji or quranic recitation). Iman takes Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings when they do English or Math (How we are progressing on this front, deserves it’s own blog post. Watch out for it!).

We spend Thursday mornings at Tiny Trekkers (but not before a round of spelling =P), a program run by the Evanston Ecology Centre
Since we’re home-schooling them, we looked for opportunities for the boys to interact with other children and we are very very lucky that there are so many educational activities, most at very reasonable prices, for our boys.

My kids loved the fishing activity!
Tiny Trekkers focuses on what we can learn about wild-life. It was very interesting that during the last class we learnt about the raccoon- it’s an animal that the boys are not at all familiar with.
The class is designed the usual way these classes are- some intro activity indoors, outdoor activity, snack time, craft, story time and songs. It’s like sending my kids to Julia Gabriel’s but at a fraction of the cost!
I’m loving this experience because I have never seen my kids in a classroom environment before. I usually sneak out of the house before they wake up in Singapore so I never really drop them off at school. Plus we never did sign them up for enrichment classes- we were too stingy to part with our money- so I’m fascinated to see how they interact with others, listen to the teacher, get excited over the activities, etc.

When I used to work as a teaching assistant at JGC, i did remember observing how excited and fascinated parents look about what their kid says and does. Now I know what it feels like to be on the other side. 
Taking the time to attend these activities with my kids, instead of heading to the library to read or tackle assignments, is really important, especially if I’m to meet my goal of nurturing the relationship between my children and I
Hidden forest animals, waiting for the children to discover then!

We’ve signed up for more one-off events with the centre, like a campfire experience. It is wonderful that we have this opportunity to experience a whole different part of the world, its beautiful flora and fauna! I’ll definitely keep you updated.

Irfan and his list, which included raccoons and beavers, animals we aren’t familiar with.

The boys spot a hawk in the tree (it is not real, this picture isn’t very clear)!

My two lil raccoons!

FISH, FISH and MORE FISH!

If you know my family well, you know that we get very excited about fish! To be honest, I never ever was excited about fish, but my hubby had a keen interest that infected my children. Especially Ihsan, who spends most of his time pouring over books about sea creatures. We’ve spent so many nights reading sea creature related books that I, myself, have learnt quite a fair bit about different types of fish, etc.

If you look very very closely, you can see a tiny lil Iran near Ihsan’s head.  Dunno what he was doing way back there!

So, obviously our first stop in Chicago, after Ikea, Target and Walmart (to set up home) was the Shedd Aquarium.

Ehsan’s ocean creatures book proved to be quite useful in the amazon section of the aquarium.

Ihsan was obviously very excited and even brought one of his books along. He was extremely excited to see the beluga whales that live at the Shedd. While I think our SEA aquarium at Sentosa is much grander, the Shedd has a great collection of aquatic life that you can’t find at the SEA Aquarium- there were several fish species from the Amazon that we had never seen.

We were very excited about the wolf fish and the spider-crabs there that we had never seen before. But the Belugas definitely stole the show!

They are much bigger than I thought they’d be!

The boys also enjoyed the kids play area. The submarine was definitely a hit. Ihsan already has plans to visit the submarine again, when we next visit.

Now, i just have to figure out when we can travel to Georgia, Atlanta to see the whale-shark. It’s an 11 hour drive from Evanston. I still haven’t decided whether we should fly or drive down to see the aquarium. Tough choices before us! =)

Us excited about the skyline. It was a gorgeous and sunny day!

In love with our apartment

It’s been about 2 weeks and a bit since we arrived here. I’m pleased to inform you that we’re settling in very well.

We’ve moved into our apartment and all the little hiccups we encountered have pretty much been resolved and we’re getting quite comfortable here. I must say that I am very much enjoying our new place and to be honest like it a fair bit more than our home back in Singapore. It’s definitely because we don’t face another flat and it’s really so much quieter here.

Although, it’s sad that as we were furnishing the place, I was always reminded that we would only be here temporarily. Our decisions were always to go cheaper, to question whether we really needed this or that, and whether it would be something we would be willing to ship back to Singapore? It’s almost as if, the journey had ended even before it had begun.

But such is the life of a practical person, i guess. One who does not have infinite resources.

Here’s a peek into our apartment, it’s quite spacious and we get lots of light and a wonderful view of the neighborhood. I expect it to get pretty cold too, as our windows face the direction of Lake Michigan and we are already experiencing some cool winds.

But today, it is warm and sunny. A day to be enjoyed. =)

The kitchen is much bigger than our AMK home one (i love that my sentences are very singlish one!).
 Very luxurious with marble top counters!

The living and dining. Pretty spacious and everything furnished by IKEA (of course, cheap mah?)

The boys bedroom. This is like double the space they used to enjoy.

Pretty prints gifted to us before we left Singapore. Lovely versus from the quran!

We also brought along the lil art-piece- Sayang (love), that i painted at one of my farewells. It reminds me of the gals i love back home and also whom I miss very much. The cushion travelled from Singapore too. It was also a farewell gift from a treasured colleague. 

A view of our dining area.

A piece of artwork that Iman’s friend drew up for us. Reminds us of home!

Our sunny bedroom.

The view from our bedroom balcony. I don’t think I’m going out here much!

Another view from our balcony.

Iman trying to teach Ihsan how to fold his blanket. Epic Fail i think! lol.

What I hope to achieve over the next 2 years…

I’ve been thinking long and hard about whether I want to share what I hope to achieve over this next two years with you. While I’m excited to share them, so that you can help me be accountable to the goals I’ve set, I’m also afraid of raising your expectations of me. I’m afraid I will disappoint you, my family and most of all, I’m afraid of letting myself down.

But I figure, starting off this journey fearing that I will not achieve all that i hope to, isn’t quite ideal. This is the beginning of a journey of possibilities for me and therefore I should be dreaming big, hoping for the best. Most of all, I intend to work towards achieving all my goals.

And I think you, and just this simple process of journaling, will help keep me on track. Hold me accountable to these, will you?

So, here goes.

I am here in Evanston, Illinois attending a 2 year Masters in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern University. I have 3 main goals I hope to achieve:

First, I intend to deepen my knowledge and practice of Organization Development (OD) in service of….

  • Myself… I wish to learn more about myself, to clarify my own philosophy and style of leadership. To learn how to work more effectively in teams. To be clear about what gifts I bring to a team and how I can contribute to the effectiveness of the team.
  • CSC and the public service… I want to equip myself with the knowledge and skills that will help me support the Civil Service College (CSC) and our mission and vision. As a (pretty) long-time member of the public service (a total of 12 years this October! Woot!), I also want to return to Singapore better able to support the public service in our organizational efforts to deliver good policies and services to citizens.
  • The community…I want to be able to help non-profit organizations, specifically Muslim organizations in Singapore that need OD support and interventions. Why? I think that the safety and security of my children’s future lies in the ability for Singapore to maintain, or even improve, the quality of racial and religious tolerance and understanding that currently exists. Given the way our social- programs are structured, Malay Muslim organizations, including the mosques, play a critical role in engaging Muslim youth, providing social, education and financial assistance. I would like to be able to support these organizations, so that they can be effective in what they do and hopefully reduce the likelihood of disenfranchised Muslim youths Singaporean.

Second, I hope to spend quality time with my husband and children in a way that will…

  • Strengthen our marital bonds. To discover how we can better support and love each other as we face new challenges. To renew our trust in each other, and to re-discover the comforts of companionship that led us towards each other in the very beginning.
  • Nurture the relationship between my children and I, in way that helps us better communicate,  share our experiences and seek comfort, support and help from each other.
  • Nurture my children’s independence, sense of adventure and curiosity for cultures, different from our own.

Finally, to seek and nurture friendships and community.

I’d like to make friends, not just from the US, but from around the world. I would also like to nurture
the friendships and kinship ties that we have in Singapore. I want my children to learn that family and friendship is a connection that transcends physical distance, that our family and friendship ties can be just as strong even though we are on the other side of the world. All it takes is an effort to stay connected.

There.

I know I can do it, I just have to return to this list to remind myself of what I have set out to do during my time here. Check in and recalibrate to ensure I’m on track. It’s important that I focus, because these 2 years will fly by. And if I’m not careful, the 2 years will end, I have a degree scroll in hand, but have I really made the most of the time and opportunity that has been gifted me here? I am not going to regret that I didn’t make the most of this privilege and opportunity I have been accorded.

Wish me luck, better yet- help me out and check in on me once in a while, will you?

The many things that didn’t go the way we had hoped…

#1- We took so long to get off the aircraft at Hong Kong that the ground-crew thought we forgot our twin-stroller and checked it into the cargo hold for our connecting flight. By the time the staff figured out what happened, it was too late. We were carrying sleeping 4-year olds out of the air-craft. Of course we’d take our time- Heavy mind you! And juggling hand-luggage too. Sighs…

#2- Secondary border control clearance when we arrived in O’hare. Need i say more?

#3- We left one of our luggage at the airport. We checked in 5 suitcases and 1 bag. We forgot the bag. The best part was that we only noticed it was missing several hours later. No worries, we emailed Cathay Pacific and they put aside the bag for us to pick up. We had to go back a few days later to pick it up.

#4- The night before we moved into our apartment. I ask my husband, “Have you set up the wireless router?” He goes… “Alamak!” He didn’t order one. He swore he thought he did. Wireless internet connection is like oxygen- we cannot live without it. He immediately left to go and find one.

#5- Hubs excitedly opened up his delivery of a Samsung 40-inch Smart TV. He fixes it up, switches it on and finds cracks running all across the LCD screen. *SCREEEAAAMMMM* Thank goodness we had our iPads to keep the boys entertained during tv time. We are returning it of-course, but the pick-up hasn’t been arranged, so this huge box is still sitting in the living room. I, of course, seized the opportunity to talk hubs into buying a smaller tv. “Do we really need a 40-inch tv?”

#6- We used Ikea’s pick and deliver service. We tell them what we want and they pick it up and deliver. And assemble, if you’d like. We bought a sofa- the sofa and the sofa cover. Got an email from ikea a day later to say, “Hey, your sofa cover is out of stock. We will send it directly to you in about a week and a half”. Okay, we thought. Then when the delivery of the sofa (not sofa cover) came, the guys said, “If we assemble your sofa without the cover, you’d have to disassemble it to fix the sofa cover.” Ohhhhkaaayyyy…… Clincher- “You have to go back down to Schaumburg (40 min drive away) to tell them this and fix a new appointment”.  Ohhhhhkkkaaayyyy….

#7- Related to the above. The delivery/assembly guys said ,” You’re missing a piece of metal for the bed. You need it or the bed will sag in the middle. The folks at ikea that put in the order for you should have told you to get it. As it’s sold separately.” Ohhhhhkkkaaayyy…..

So we’re sleeping in the living room, right next to our yet-to-be-assembled sofa and the yet to be returned 40″ tv, while our bed-room looks like this.

While there were these things that kinda let us down or didn’t happen the way we had hoped, there are also many things to be grateful for. Most of all…kind, generous, giving friends who have gone out of the way to help us feel comfortable and to assist us in setting up home. They’ve fed us, drove us around, guided me through the process of getting ready for school, given us things and even watched over our children.

And hey, the kids travelled well and we got here in one piece. Also, the boy’s room has turned out quite nicely. =)

For all this and many more, I will be eternally grateful. 

Chronocling Our Adventures in Evanston.

This blog has been quiet for far too long. I’m reviving it, in an effort to stay connected with loved ones back home, but also to chronicle our adventures in Evanston. We are only going to be here for about 2 years ( a little less) and I want to be able to make the memories live on for as long as I can.

I also hope to blog about what i’m learning in my program here with the hopes that, well, it may help others learn more about the Learning and Organizational Change program i’m taking here and, i think it may help me in my own learning.

It’s been a little slow taking off simply because we’ve taken some time to settle down. I have one word- Jetlag. Actually no, one word doesn’t accurately capture it, it’s more like- A debilitating condition brought about by jetlag combined with 2 little humans who are also jet-lagged.

We’re settled into our new apartment now, not with some major misadventures. But generally we are getting into our groove. So look out for some upcoming posts!