Installation Art

A few months ago when the Chengdu rain was pouring incessantly, and probably around a full moon day, I bought a bunch of frames from Ikea. I picked a handful of my favorite paintings by R and L and created a colourful installation.

Me: Do you think these two work in here, in the black frames?

Maher: Yeah, why not. But what do you want to do with all of these frames?

I tore down my yoga-photo wall. After 7 years, a change was necessary.

Me: What do you think Maher? Does it all look fine like this? Too bad for that basket ball hoop.

Maher staring at his Ipad: Maybe you should put them up at a museum.

Me: Oh man, thanks for your help. But hey, what a great idea 😉

Leila's pink painting

Rahul's blue piece

Leila's colourful finger painting and more pink

Installation plus basket ball hoop



How November Whizzed By…

A Family of Scorpios and My Non-Existent Asana Practice

November 1: Happy Birthday Rahul and Leila


Birthday cakes at snack time

November 7: “He won,” Maher exclaims as I walk in. “Now I’m ready to move to America!” he winks.

“But I don’t want to go to America on the Mayflower,” Rahul says. “If we go to Plymouth, America, we will get sick. And then the small people will take care of the big ones.”

We laugh.

“Papa’s joking about moving to America Rahul, and we don’t have to go on a loooong boat ride like the pilgrims, we can take a plane.”

Rahul and Leila break into song: “The pilgrims went to America, America, America…”

November 11: Happy birthday tonton (uncle) Jalal

November 12: Welcome to the World and to Chengdu, cousin Mina XiaoYu Kassar

November 13: Happy Diwali

photo(6)We talk to my family in Zambia. We all wish each other a Happy Diwali. Maher and my Canadian, soon to be sister-in-law also exchange happy diwali’s on the phone.

Maher jokes with my parents that the children are learning all about Halloween and Thanksgiving at school, but they know nothing about Diwali.

“Hey, we did dress up, and take a photo!” I interject. “Maybe next time the diwas (oil lamps), sweets, and stories. I need to google it!”

November 15: Happy Birthday Nana (grandpa) Ravi

November 16: Happy Birthday Jiddo (grandpa) Kamal

November 18: Jiddo Kamal arrives in Chengdu to visit his three grandchildren.

November 22: Happy Thanksgiving


Leila’s Turkey

Rahul's Turkey

Rahul’s Turkey

Thechildren have turkey and cornbread muffins at school. They talk about corn husk dolls and symbiosis.

November 23: L cries and R whines when I meet them at school. They want to do a full day, eat and nap with their friends. Thankfully I’d just discussed this with their teacher.

The evening after their first full day Leila is sure that she wants to stay all day, everyday. Rahul is sure that he wants to come home, always, before lunch.

November 26: Thus begins my three trips a day to the school, one refuses to come home, the other refuses to stay beyond noon.

As a mum of twins this is a big step – the kids first clear decision to do something important and rather long-term independently of each other.


Thanks for sharing this crazy month with us teta Houda.

Thanks for sharing this month with us teta Houda. Finally not only one, but two people who can keep up with you!

Finally not only one, but two people who keep up with you!

"Papa and Teta" Photo by Rahul

“Papa and Teta” Photo by Rahul

Baby Newton

“Mum look kshhhhh, looook, kshhhh doing kshhhhh up kshhhhh down.” That’s what I heard this morning. Rahul was trying to tell me something. Something BIG of course.

I was focused on staying out of his and Leila’s hyper-excited way, working hard at Facebook.

I look at him as he’s throwing a toy into the air, about to move on to another game. I might still be able to listen this time. “What’s up love?”

“Look mum, when I throw it up, it falls down.”

I smile.

“Yeah! Amazing isn’t it.”

I tell Maher about it when he walks into the room.

Leila is a keen listener and vibe picker-upper. Half an hour later she tells me when she throws her doll up, it falls down. She looks me in the eye. She knows I caught her out. We smile.

The only requirement for preschool – which starts middle of next week – is that they’re potty-trained, well other than that they’re 3-years-old by November 1st. Now I don’t know how early Newton figured all that stuff out, we’re still working on it. Baby Leila’s pretty much got it. Our baby Newton might need a little longer.

Wemember Me

First day back in Chengdu after a month.

Leila hesitates before descending a slope.

Leila: Mum. [Re] Member me, I fall down here?

Me: How the hell did you remember that? I remember Leila!  A few months ago, you fell down this steep slope.

Leila: I cry mummy.

Me: You’re bigger now. You can do it this time.


Maher buys bread at a bakery / café. We wait outside, with Rahul asleep in the stroller.

Leila: [Re] Member me, yesterday, I eat cake with you here. Inside.

Me: Oh yes now I remember! You and I came here one afternoon.  Many months ago.  We shared a piece of cake.  You chose it.  We sat there. (I point at the corner table.)

Leila: Big cushion, mama.

Me: Yes that’s right! We put a big cushion on the chair so you could reach the plate.

Leila: No Wrahul, No papa.

Me: That’s right, it was just the two of us. You and me together.  Rahul was at home with papa.  And before we left, you chose a cake for them.  And the ayi
(aunt – lady behind the counter), packed it in a box.


As we walk by our favorite Japanese restaurant.

Leila: Hey mum! Wemember me, Wrahul, you, papa, Imad, Pascaline, Liu Yan, Marwan go here to eat. We sit down. We eat a lot.

Me: Yes my love, we ate here many times. We sat together and ate lots of noodles, fish, and spinach.

Leila: Many times.


Leila looks at the weighing scale.

Leila: Wemember me, I baby, I lie down here. And Rahul also.

Maher: Oui, bien sur mon bebe, je me rapelle!

Leila: Wrahul cwy, Leila cwy.

Maher: Oui c’est vrai, quand vous etiez tout petits vous pleuriez quand on vous pesait.


At a fountain in our housing complex.

Leila: You wemember me, Leila and Wrahul sitting here, on the step. Wrahul stick. Leila eating.

Me: Yes I remember baby girl. You were sitting next to each other. Rahul was playing with a stick.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: 40 Day Salute by Kalley Hoke

Kalley is a stay-at-home mom, trying to model a life well lived for her two wonderful daughters.

40 Day Salute

When I practice yoga regularly, life is better.

I first discovered this relationship while travelling in Kenya at age 20. After finding a basic (though oddly illustrated) book on yoga in Mombasa, I began to complete a simple series of postures on a daily basis. For the first time, I felt strong and capable in my body. The practice, along with the mind-opening experience of living in a different culture, gave me a sense of peace and power previously unknown. I found myself making better decisions and glowing in increased self-faith. It was a wonderful process that I wish for every 20-year old girl. Unfortunately, I quickly fell out of the practice after returning to the US.

The next time I practiced regularly was three years later after leaving my second Peace Corps assignment. Though not as consistent as my practice in Kenya, I once again found carving out time and space for yoga to be motivating and empowering. Yet, as before, as soon as my circumstances changed and I had a more demanding job, I dropped the yoga.

Thankfully, seven years later I met my fantastic teacher, Natasha, in Chengdu, China. Natasha introduced me to Ashtanga yoga, and I finally developed a consistent yoga practice. My body and mind responded accordingly. I felt more grounded, confident and creative. The practice was so motivating that I was able to wake up consistently before 5 in the morning to get it done – even with a couple of wakings each night to feed my young baby.

I was able to maintain my Ashtanga practice more or less regularly for about two years. However, I became pregnant with our second child immediately after moving to Switzerland and the first-trimester blahs took any motivation out of me. Although our second daughter is now nine months old and I am well settled into this new country, I cannot get my practice back on track. I know the multitude of benefits that consistent yoga provides, but when I have the space, I can’t find the time. When I have the time, I can’t find the motivation. When I have the motivation, I can’t find a space in our little apartment. It is a vicious drain on my well-being and I need to make a change.

With that in mind (and a little nudge in the back by Natasha’s request to write for her blog about parenting and yoga), I have decided to stop complaining and making excuses and reactivate my practice. My first step is to tackle my perception that I don’t have time. In order to make the leap, I am committing to 40 days of Sun Salutations. I am dedicated to completing five simple (Sun Salutation A) salutations a day with an open mind about where each salute will lead me. On the days I have more time and energy, I will do more. On days when those precious resources are scarce, I will be happy with the basic five (and remember that five is plenty with a 9-month old squawking in the corner and a 3-year old climbing under every downward dog).

Day 10- Lows and Highs

I managed to complete my minimum commitment of five sun salutations nine out of the past ten days. I could make up some pretty good excuses for why I missed that one day but when it comes down to it, I just didn’t get them done. I felt awful about it – like giving up the whole idea. I tend to be dogmatic that way. Thankfully I realized at the time, and the next day, how ridiculous the thought of giving up was.

That low point was balanced out by a substantially more extreme high today on the tenth day of my commitment. In the morning, I experienced a familiar disinclination to complete the salutations. However, this afternoon, amid a minefield of toys with both girls at my feet, I pulled out the mat. Immediately, D said she wanted to join me. She made it through two and a half salutations (without my guidance!) before calling it quits. Those were the best sun salutations I’ve ever experienced – brought on in part by my commitment to daily practice regardless of when and where.

In addition to occasionally blogging about my 40 day salute, I will be using a social networking website called SuperBetter for extra motivation. I have been fascinated by SuperBetter since hearing about it five months ago. The network was created to help those with traumatic injuries improve their healing processes by playing an imaginary game against barriers with the support of friends and family (“allies” in the SuperBetter world). It has taken some time for me to create my account because I felt like a fake without a traumatic or life-changing injury. However, five months after initially becoming interested in the site, I have made no changes to my routine even though I know how critical yoga is to my physical and mental well-being. Not traumatic, but definitely life-changing for me. If you’d like more information about SuperBetter, visit and contact me if you’d like to become an ally in my mission to reactivate my yoga practice.


Day 31
I intended to sit down every 10 days and reflect on my 40 day commitment.

Where did the time go?

I think my missing updates are indicative of the results of my commitment to 40 days of 5 sun salutations – I have experienced a range of changes physically, but far fewer emotionally and spiritually. My body feels stronger and is noticeably more flexible. I notice poor posture readily and my back occasionally feels tense and misaligned- a sign that it is leaning toward alignment and away from the couch. Because I have practiced a small range of postures, my hips and torso are itching for opening – telling me that the sun salutations are not much more than a teaser. My endurance has increased and I can complete far more than my minimum five without getting winded.

On the internal side, I continue to feel rushed and harried (especially during my kids’ “witching hour” – late-afternoon and early-evening), though perhaps not as intensely as before. I don’t look forward to the mental component of my practice and my mind doesn’t “itch” for it the way my body does. My breathing, while on target, is not deeper or more meditative. I have noticed few changes to my level of patience or compassion.

My results so far lead me to the conclusion that while five salutations is something, it is not enough to bring about deeper changes (at least not for me). I need to continue searching for time and space to complete more thorough practices.

Prematurity and School

Also posted at How Do You Do It? at this link.

When my babies and I returned to Chengdu from Hong Kong after their birth at 31 weeks of gestation, they were almost 6 months old. Many of our friends came over to visit; to meet the tiny babies.

One of those friends was a school principal. Since we’ve been considering schools, and when to start them – I’ve heard from friends that children start anywhere from 2 to 6 years old depending on where they come from and what their parents can manage and prefer to do – I remembered something she said to me.

For every week of prematurity, hold back the child from starting school by a month.

When we visited a school a few months ago, that principal also suggested that we hold them back and not push them into school early.

This all worked well with my thoughts on not sending my children in too early, on not pushing them.

Then more recently, yet another principal talked to us about some of her experiences in the past, with premature children having difficulties in music classes, for example.

I’ve felt that my children are in the average of their age group. I can’t say that on any scientific basis, but I’m not too bothered with what they can or can’t do, of course that is keeping in mind that they are highly energetic children with no major, obvious issues. They talk. A lot. They play and laugh.

Last month I sent my 2 year 3 month olds to school. They were the youngest in their class, by a few months. At this stage of extremely quick growth and change, I’d say they were the youngest by far. So after a week of battling with myself, after having done the exact opposite of what I believed in, and what I was advised – I pulled them out of school.

In terms of separation from me, interaction and focus in class, they did very well, but I wasn’t convinced that it was the best thing for them at that time. My son was crying in his sleep, and unusually quiet and forlorn. My daughter became even more clingy than usual. I saw obvious changes. Of course there will be an adaptation phase when they start school, but we didn’t have to have it at that time. I have the luxury of being a SAHM (Stay At Home Mum), and all the plans that I made of what I would with my free-time, can wait a few more months!

But mainly I am hoping that the extra six months at home with us, will give them more confidence and security, other than more words, the ability to better express their emotions, they’ll be potty trained. After speaking to a number of close mum friends, I realized that almost all had waited until their children were 2.5 or 3 before sending them to school, and even then, they only went 3 half days every week.

Now, we are doing many activities that include music, dance, and just simple play – and we are all happy with our decision. I’m sure that the 6 months I hold them back will give them time for growth, and confidence.

My question to parents, both of premature children and not, to teachers, educators, paediatricians, and anyone who has opinions on this: When did your children start school? Is there much change in a child between the ages of 2 and 3?

Have you read or heard of studies about prematurity and education, prematurity and its relation to holding back children from starting school?

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict by Pascaline Perdikas

Pascaline has been practicing yoga for almost 10 years but she doesn’t talk about yoga a lot, doesn’t think yoga, doesn’t wear yoga clothes, never was a vegetarian, and never did a workshop.   She moved from Paris to China in 2008 and since then a lot changed.
How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict

Yoga helped me get through my pregnancy with minimal discomfort.

Every time I am asked about my pregnancy, my answer turns a simple question into a long discussion about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy.

Let me say first, that I never took yoga seriously before my pregnancy. My practice through the years was quite scattered, sometimes it was once every 2 months and sometimes 3 times a week. I practiced with friends, or because I had found a good teacher, and at some point in my life it gave me something to focus on when everything else seemed out of control. I never took it seriously, never pushed myself to go to class – except, when I was pregnant.

During my pregnancy, yoga became a serious matter. I was already in my 8th week when I found out I was pregnant. A few weeks before that I felt my body & ligaments were more flexible; suddenly I was able to go deeper into postures and it made me feel good but I didn’t understand then why I was so dizzy and tired after each class.

Pregnancy caught up with me and I had to stop yoga almost immediately after that. Basically I stopped going out of the house until my first trimester was over. Being in bed with morning, afternoon and night-sickness, made me feel awful. I refused to accept the situation, I was almost angry at my body for making me so sick. I promised myself that as soon as I felt better I would do something about it.

So as soon as my first trimester ended, I started practicing yoga. Religiously.

Going to yoga classes was challenging: a 30 minute walk, a 7 storey trek without an elevator up to the studio, 1.5 hours of yoga and then 7 floors down (sounds easy but try doing that with a watermelon in your arms), and then of course, the 30 minute walk back home.

My teacher Judy. and friend Natasha both took the time to show me modified versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa postures, to work with me on a self-practice, advise me, correct me, inspire me. Next to Judy’s yoga studio there is a nice little farmer’s market. So on the days I lacked motivation to go to class, hunger and cravings for fresh fruits and vegetables (especially avocados, my special thing during pregnancy) pulled me out my door.

Yes, I did eat before classes, actually when you are pregnant you shouldn’t practice on an empty stomach; and you should drink small quantities of water during practice to prevent dehydration and uterine contractions.

Yoga was not a painful activity anymore; it had become something I desperately needed in order not to BE in pain. The benefits were amazing: Being healthy from yoga practice gave me self-confidence; I was at peace with my body going through all these changes.  Doing my pranayama almost every day made me feel calm, and relaxed. It helped me breath through back pain and deal with shortness of breath.

Two very common feelings during pregnancy are fear (the fear of something going wrong, the fear of pain for example) and stress. Meditation techniques helped me deal with this. Closing my eyes and putting my hands on my belly, breathing and emptying my thoughts, focusing, all this brought me awareness and helped me connect with my baby in a way that is impossible to explain.

I felt calm and confident.

The Triangle pose helped me build up strength and removed tension from the lower and upper back. The Cat and Cow Pose did wonders for my back. The Pigeon pose was my favorite hip opener; something in this posture was just wonderful. And of course, I loved Child’s pose. I used to spend several minutes just breathing in this posture.

I felt prepared for the birth.

Yoga helped me bring awareness to my breath and body, it reduced my worries and I felt like I could adapt quickly to a new situation. I managed to go through the contractions without drugs, just by using my breathing exercises. The conditioning gained from mula bandha (like Kegel exercises) and breathing techniques helped me a great deal when it was time to push the baby out.

Did I become a passionate and devoted yoga student after this positive experience? Well, to be honest, not exactly.

After birth, I just didn’t have the time between feeds, naps and diaper changes. The me time was barely enough to have a shower, brush my teeth and call a friend (or two if the nap was long enough).

Then 3 weeks ago, my baby turned 1 and showed me in her cute little way, she was actually OK with me not being around all the time. So, this week I’ve attended 2 classes. A small victory. A sort of declaration of independence on my side too.

I also found my way back to the farmer’s market, so once again, my baby and I enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.

For more info about yoga during pregnancy:


Some conversations from the last month:

Koh Samui, driving around the Southern parts of the island

Maher: Les gars, vous avez vu les vaches? Et il y a des chevaux aussi! (Hey guys, did you see the cows? There are horses as well!)

Me: Do you know what cows eat?

Leila: Gra-nola

On the beach one day:

Rahul picked up a strange white jelly-like fish egg (I think)

Me: What’s that Rahul?

Rahul: Mama, this lenses (as in contact lenses)


Chengdu –

One evening just before bed:

Leila: What dat Rahul?

Rahul rubs his body: Keam, body. (As in body cream / lotion),

Leila picked up a tube of zinc oxide used for nappy irritation: What dat Rahul?

Rahul pointing at it: Toos paste that.

Leila tapping her bottom: No Rahul, Keam bum-bum.

Rahul: No, toos paste.

Leila: No, keam kiki(cute way to say vagina in French).

Rahul: Afu zizi, Leila zizi (cute way to say penis).

Leila: No, Leila kiki

Rahul smiling: Leila zizi

Leila: Noooo, Leila kiki

Rahul really pushing her button: Leila zizi

I had to pull them apart. Stop them from shoving and pushing each other after that one.

In bed that night:

Leila: Mama, where papa?

Me: He’s in Hengyang. He’ll be back in two days.

Leila crying: Leila kiss papa.

Early, very early one morning:

Leila pointing at some soft boiled egg that she spilt on the table: Mum look. Fwog.

Me: Wow Leila, is the from jumping around in your egg?

Rahul walks into the kitchen, barely awake.

Leila: Rahul, look. Fwog. Egg.

Me: Hey Rahul, did you see the frog in Leila’s egg?

Leila: Fwog, water, jump ribbit ribbit.

A little later, still at the table that morning –

Rahul: Tomorrow xiao He ayi back. Some bady bump, went see doctor. Better now.

Me: Yes Rahul. She’s much better now, and she’s coming back tomorrow!

(He ayi, our dearly beloved nanny had a motorbike accident a week ago. A three-wheel-taxi driver bumped into her, watched her fall to the ground, and zoomed away.)

Still at breakfast-`

Leila: Banana mama

Me: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: nani nani chapatti chapatti

Me: Jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

L and R: jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

Rahul: Zazu Nanu, Zazu Nanu

Leila: Zazu D2, Zazu D2. D2 jiddo.

Me: D2 jiddo or Jiddo Kamal

Leila teasing: D2 Dubai

Rahul: Jiddo Kamal Dubai

Leila: Teta Houda Lebanon

One evening all of us in bed:

Me taling to Maher about something: D2 was talking to his girlfriend.

Leila: girl-fwend mama?

Me: Ummmmm, D2’s girlfriend Stephanie, do you remember her? She is his girlfriend.

Leila nodding her head: Member mum.

Me: Ummmmm Pasca is my girlfriend.

Leila: Leila mama dotter. Rahul mama son. Mama papa girlfwend. Liu yan Marwan girlfwend. Leila Rahul girlfwend.


The four of us together. Maher sings a song. I join in. After two years of “practicing”, I’m still out of tune!

Rahul says: Mama no sing!