Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gina 1, Video Clerk 0

I scored a point today in the "Have it Your Way" game. I went to a local video store to use two coupons for free video rentals. I anticipated some obstacles, as it doesn't seem likely that I could get anything for free here.

When the clerk took my videos, he asked for my card. I had never been there before, so I informed him I had no card (figuring this was where the obstacle course began). He told me I had to fill out a form with my particulars and show him my green card. I didn't have my green card. (note to self: put green card back in wallet). Here's our ensuing conversation:

"I don't have my green card, but I do have my Singapore driver's license, which has my FIN number on it." (that's my ID # - what he needed to see on my green card)
"Uh , sorry, but I need to see your green card."
"Ah, but I couldn't have a Singapore driver's license if I didn't have a green card in the first place right?"

Faced with the obvious, he relented. Score! I wrote down my number and walked triumphantly from the store. Chalk one up for Gina. I may not win the war, but in this battle I was victorious.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas happenings

I am listening to the happy sounds of my children playing with new toys, which include a Rescue Heroes fire truck (and about 7 men and 1 girl - thank God for Ebay!), a My Little Pony hot air balloon, a hot wheels track, and a Dora dress up adventure doll, among other things. As my son informed me last night, "Mom, I think these toys will cheer me up during room time!" (room time, if you are ignorant, is the hour of the day when I make my kids play in their rooms so I can have some "save my sanity" time).

As much as we try to make Christmas about Christ, it is inevitably more thrilling to children to play with toys than to ponder the mystery of God incarnate. I've had inklings lately of throwing in the towel on decorating, stockings, gifts and the like and going non-Christmas, in the sense of moving away from everything else that secular society has done to make this not about the birth of Christ. I did have a moment earlier this week when I was grateful for how we have shaped our holiday. I read someone else's blog about how her 4 year old came to her a week ago begging for a FurReal Pony, which it seems can be fed carrots and then will poop - how this is fun I don't know - which costs $299 and of course at this point is unavailable. Her dilemma came in not being able to explain to her 4 year old that she couldn't have the pony because how can Santa not be able to produce a gift? So she ran herself ragged hunting down this pony. My kids know about Santa, but we've never tried to make them believe in him. I know by this point, if we had made a big deal about Santa, Ethan would be asking me great questions like, "How does he get down every chimney? How can he fit? How can his reindeer fly that fast? How can he carry all those toys? How does he know what everyone wants?" and I would have to be producing lie upon lie to perpetuate something that has nothing to do with Christ whatsoever.

But let's not get started on that. As time passes, my unpopular opinions about Santa become stronger and more vocal. We'll leave it at that, while I inform you that I am now officially a homeschool geek mom because I am the proud and excited owner of a laminator. It's all I wanted for Christmas and I can now laminate to my heart's content. Whoever would have thought this day would come.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Post Script

I found out the hard way, after my burst of creative energy all over my tile floor, that kids need to be told that Crayola window markers and black Sharpies are not interchangeable. For several minutes on Saturday morning I was sure I was going to be paying our landlady for the replacement of 16 tiles. Thank God for floor cleaner, hairspray, and Soft Scrub. Too bad I didn't talk to my mom before I tried all those, because she cleverly suggested Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Those are golden. I'll save those for the next time I hope never comes. I'm pretty sure Ethan learned his lesson after watching me scrub the floors for 1/2 hour.

Rain, rain, go away

Singapore almost hit a record yesterday. It had the 3rd highest rainfall in a 20 hour period - 34.5 cm. There was some good flooding within about a mile of our house - some low lying nurseries. I had planned on going there today. I'm wondering about the possibility of scoring a really cheap, albiet soggy, Christmas tree.

While the thunderstorms make for nice white noise at night, they're putting a damper on my husband's family's vacation here. His parents and brother came recently and have been trying to enjoy Singapore. It's been made a little more difficult due to the constant raining and some mild sickness on their part.

The up side is that this is creating cool weather of sorts. It's been downright chilly for this former Minnesotan who has lost her ability to stand cold. The high yesterday was 77 degrees (which feels colder when you're damp and sitting under a fan in a hawker center). Right now the UV index is 3 - it's normally 11 (above 7 you're not supposed to go outside). It's currently 77 degrees, although it's supposed to feel like 82. Maybe because of the 94% humidity.

So this is a nice preparation for Christmas. We won't have sub-zero temperatures, but if the rain continues as it is supposed to, we will have sub-Singapore temps.

Friday, December 15, 2006

My multicultural world

I have been acutely aware this week of my cross cultural experiences. It began at the park, where we were joined by three elderly Chinese people, two (presumably) grandchildren, and their Filipino maid. The maid was speaking Mandarin with them. Then, a western looking woman appeared with four children whose father obviously was Asian. I assumed two wrong things about her - first, that she was English speaking, second, that her children would speak Chinese. Instead, I heard her speak German to her children. Later, when the youngest child was careening down a rocky hill, one of the old people tried to tell the oldest child in Chinese. The kid stared at the woman until the woman said in Chinese, "She doesn't understand. " I responded in kind, "You're right, she doesn't understand," which made the woman start talking to me in Chinese about the baby. I thought, "This is really wild."

This morning I had an experience that reminded me of the language gap between Singaporeans and westerners. I was browsing a kiosk, looking at one shirt in particular, and the shopkeeper hurried up to tell me, "I have size." It was so on the tip of my tongue to say, "You mean you have different sizes?" I refrained. I tend to let the Singlish slide, but that's just too bad.

Yesterday, it wasn't a language gap but a usage gap I encountered at Mustafa. I was there, believe it or not, at 5:30 a.m. (long story) to change money and pick up a few things before Erik left on a trip. One of my purchases was a large bottle of lemon juice, the ReaLemon brand. The check out girl asked, (now imagine this with an Indian accent) "Would you like to drink this now?" before putting it in the bag. I just smiled and said, "No thank you." I can't imagine they drink it straight like that - more likely that she just doesn't have the faintest idea what I would do with it.

And I just spent time with a woman I've been getting to know at church. Originally from Denmark, she grew up in Africa but speaks English like she's from Minnesota, and here she is in Singapore. Life is interesting.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Homeschool games . . . or . . . I'm finally glad I have tile floors

As part of our Christmas activities, the kids and I made gingerbread bean bag people. Well, ok, they were out of brown felt at the craft store, so they're a greenish brown. So you wouldn't be tempted to eat them. But anyway, part of my purpose was to have little bean bags for all the homeschool games which seem to call for them.

One in particular was a math game which requires large squares of paper with numbers written on them, placed on the floor. Being creative and sometimes lazy, I thought, "I have tile and Crayola window markers," hence the game pictured below. We drew the numbers, and the kids took turns answering math questions - for Megan it was simple addition and "what comes before or after?" and for Ethan, it was subtracting from double numbers. Then they had to throw their people onto the answer. Megan loved it so much that when Erik and Ethan went to the Cub Scout pack meeting tonight, that's what she wanted to do for Megan/mommy time.

Having been fairly discouraged by homeschool lately, finding something they enjoyed which also teaches them something was like winning the lottery. And my tile floors combined with those window markers now look like a giant chalkboard.

Megan sitting on her math game

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Ethan asked me what confused means. I said, "It means you don't really know what to do" which I'll admit is not a great definition, but I was on the spot. And a bit weary of giving definitions to unknown words, to be totally honest.

"Mom, when Faith (Megan's best friend) comes over, I'm confused." I take this as a sign that I need to be a bit more clear in my definition giving. True, Ethan doesn't know what to do with himself when Faith is over and she and Megan close the door to her room and whisper and giggle as little girls should. But confused? Oops, my bad.

Oops, I did it again

Sorry to borrow that overused phrase from Britney Spears, but there's no other way to put it. I have done something, twice now in the last month, that I haven't done since high school. It is a stupid, preventable thing. And it has unwanted effects on my body.

What is it? I've slept on a muslin pillow case. Why so detrimental? I am allergic to muslin. Not musliMs. MusliN. Translation: cheap, coarse cotton fabric. I discovered this when I was young by noticing that I developed a rash all over my face after contact. Just my face though. How weird of an allergy is this? When I used to frequent random dorm rooms and camps for retreats and camps as a kid, I always brought an extra pillow case with me. Since I've moved on to better thread counts, I've lost the habit.

My first recent bout with this was in Thailand. I suspected that the pillow cases in our budget hotel were not the highest quality, but I have been training myself lately (thanks to encouragement from my chiropractor friend) to sleep on my back instead of my stomach, my preferred position. No problem then, but the last day I decided to indulge in a 10 minute stomach nap. I had the rash for a week.

This morning, I woke up on my stomach again. Quite unusual actually. I also found that the extra throw pillow I'd been using as a body pillow since my son has claimed mine as his own was under my head. And guess what? Cheap cotton fabric on it.

I can already feel the rash. I'm not looking forward to the next few days, when it will spread, itch and make me feel leprous. That's what I get for buying cheap pillow cases for my throw pillows just because I'm in love with the color.

So now you know one of those useless party facts about me - I'm allergic to muslin on my face. At least someone wins in this situation.

Friday, November 24, 2006


It has happened at last - I found something FREE in Singapore! The little boxes of funky instant coffee they insist on giving me at the convenience store across the street don't count, and not just because I don't drink coffee. No, what I found is infinitely better. In fact, it may have just made my holiday season. Erik and I stopped by the Thompson Road nurseries today in search of a Christmas wreath (knowing full well we couldn't afford the real trees). I saw a foreign woman pushing a cart full of pine branches. I stopped her and asked where she found them. She told me there was a big pile of them at the back, all for the taking.

I don't know if the Singaporeans there thought it was weird, but I piled a cart full as well and trotted off, happy to be smelling real pine for the first time in Asia. My house now has branches scattered wherever possible - I even gave half of them away to a friend because I ran out of space! I know they'll die quickly, but there's more where those came from, as long as word doesn't get out too fast. Merry Christmas to me!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Subtle Rebellion

I believe in the States, people say "cell phone" or "mobile phone" or maybe just "cell" when they refer to their phones. Here, in general, if you use any phrase other than "hand phone" with a local, you'll get a blank stare. This is a direct translation, as far as I can tell, from the Chinese, "shou ji" which means literally, "hand machine."

I think Singaporeans are probably even more apt to carry a hand phone and use it than people in the States. In fact, many people don't have a land line. If you are giving your "particulars" (personal information) to someone, they will insist on a hand phone number. They don't even want your home number.

Now, I homeschool my kids. I'm home most of the day. And when I'm out, I do like the convenience of having my phone, but I'm not attached to it. In fact, at the moment, I am unaware of the location of my hand phone. I'm started to get mildly concerned (and yes, I have tried calling it. It's turned off). But my point is that in part, I don't want to attached at the hip, no pun intended, to my phone. To me, the need to be able to call or message someone and have them always available or respond immediately, smacks of the need for instant gratification. Have we lost all patience? Have we forgotten what life was like before hand phones and email? Before answering machines even? Remember when we were kids and we called our friends and the line was busy? We had to call back. What if they weren't even home - my word, what did we do?! Oh yeah, we waited and called again. Yeah, convenience is great, my life is blessed because of it. But I don't want to let my life be run by it.

Now I'm off to hunt for that phone. I'm sure someone's tried to call or message me and they're annoyed that I haven't responded.

Holiday traditions

Now, I'm not the kind of person who is intent on making sure that my children have an American upbringing outside of the U.S. But when it comes to holidays, there is one tradition that I have instilled in our family that I consider classic American. Right now my kids are sitting with some friends on the couch watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. At Halloween they watched The Great Pumpkin, and you'd better believe they'll watch the Christmas one, most likely more than once. Some things you just can't let go.

The Singaporean Squirrel

It didn't occur to me until yesterday that I have never seen a squirrel here in Singapore. Geckos aplenty, but no squirrels. Instead, we have a replacement - the monkey. Now, I'm not saying that monkeys are as numerous here as they are in the States. But they aren't unusual, and they give you that same creepy feeling of, "I know this animal is smaller than me, but it could inflict damage if provoked." We saw some at the park - four of them on what seemed to be a family outing away from Upper Pierce Reservoir across the road. Since there were a number of us there with snacks and water bottles, they hovered with menacing looks, and were even cheeky enough to attack unwatched items. Someone tried to shoo them away and was hissed at. Yikes. I miss the squirrels.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pearl of the Andaman

Phuket Island is nicknamed "The Pearl of the Andaman." Let me first of all clarify that Phuket is pronounced Poo-ket. And Andaman refers to the Andaman Sea, off the west coast of Thailand. This area was hit hard by the Tsunami but has recovered well. It was our vacation spot for three days with my parents.

We arrived Wednesday morning. By the afternoon we'd mustered up enough energy to go to the beach, then to the Dino Park Mini-golf which was probably the coolest mini-golf place I've ever been. Thursday morning we hopped on some elephants for a quick ride, attempted some market shopping in the afternoon (markets and kids don't mix), and finished our evening at The Green Man. This is a great English style restaurant and pub owned by a British expat and his Thai wife. It was fantastic, and he told us some fascinating stories about what it was like to be on Phuket when the tsunami hit.

Friday morning we intended to go to a waterfall, but we were informed that they were low on water. Instead, we hired a long boat to take us to Freedom Beach, just north of where we were staying (Katon Beach). We spent a beautiful two hours there exploring and looking for crabs. Megan, as you can see, had a great time being carried around by the waves. I'm always amazed at how clear the water can be in the tropics.

Erik and I made another quick run to the market in the afternoon, and then we watched our children grow wild with pent up energy through the rest of the afternoon as we just hung around our hotel until it was time to leave. The Andaman sunset was a perfect way to end our short stay.

A rare shot of Ethan and me

How fast can you run?

Dino park mini golf

Butterflies at the elephant park

Dinner at The Green Man

You know you're not in Kansas anymore when . . .

We take to the open sea

Freedom beach

long boat

enjoying the ocean

blue eyed and sun kissed

Don't stare too hard kids!

Our last night in Phuket

Andaman sunset

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Necessary Skills

My dad told me that Lexus just came out with a car that parks itself. To me, this is the adult equivalent of velcro. There is a whole generation of children who do not need to know how to tie their shoes because they have velcro. Do we want to not know how to park our own cars anymore? This is frightening to me because both shoe tying and car parking are skills that you may be called upon to use, and do you want to have to admit that you can't do them?

This brings me to a running list in my head of "Skills Every Adult Should Have." Here they are, subject to change:
1. Change a diaper
2. Jump start a car
3. Drive a stick shift car
4. Swim
5. Operate a computer, including email and internet
6. Pump gas (most Singaporeans I'm guessing can't do this - it's all full serve)
7. Ride a bike
8. Do CPR

This is not an exhaustive list, but it's what I can remember off the top of my head. Feel free to add to it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Out with the old, In with the new

Coming up on two years since Ethan lost his first tooth, the replacement is just now coming in. That's what happens when you knock them out - they don't come in until they would have naturally. I was looking forward to my son having a full mouth of teeth again (although the other top one is still missing, has been for 18 months) but last night at dinner he held out his hand with a tooth in it and grinned a bloody grin. Now it will be a contest to see if that top tooth can get all the way in before this new bottom one does.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween/Fall Festival/Tail Gater/Any Excuse for a Party Party

This time of year we're always caught in that "do we or don't we" conundrum regarding Halloween. It's the kind of thing we could completely ignore and our kids might be none the wiser, although we have seen more and more Halloween paraphenalia out and about this year. I have friends here (Americans no less) whose kids don't even know what Halloween is.

I am not against Halloween, although I'm pretty sure I should be if I'm sticking to the Christian homeschool stereotype, but I'm not all that keen on celebrating it either. My kids don't really like to dress up much, and I'm not excited about them focusing on dark images like witches, ghosts and monsters while I saturate them with candy. Still, we hate for them to miss out on good times with friends. Last year we participated in our first and last trip to the Woodlands for real trick or treating. This year we wanted to do something a little more low key. Thank God for like minded friends! Our friend Carmen and her husband Trace did a stellar job of decorating their house like a frat house in the fall - college pennants hung all around, football and fall decor on tables. The kids dressed up (I finally hit on "cowgirl" as something Megan would like to be - she's not into being the princess!) and played the whole time while the adults were able to socialize around the feeding trough. That's my kind of party! Gerard took a picture of all the women together, so I'll post that when I get it. Below are the ones I took.

Pumpkin painting

A Power Ranger and Skywalkers ready to fight

Our little cowpoke

This reminds me of a Strawberry Shortcake commercial from when I was a kid

If he'd smile with his mouth open, you could see his top tooth coming in finally!

Power Ranger and Cowgirl

Monday, October 23, 2006

Go Slingers!

The names of professional sports teams are often quite creative, however, some of them need some explanation if you aren't local. For example, the Minnesota Twins. Twin what? The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I don't know how widely known it is that they are called that. Maybe that ends some mystery for someone.

So Singapore has a new (first!) professional basketball team called the Singapore Slingers. I have to think that anyone outside Southeast Asia, or who has never visited Singapore would think, "What on earth is a Slinger?" I, on the other hand, who know what a Slinger is, am asking, "Why would you name your basketball team after an alcholic beverage?"

That's right, they named their team after a drink. The Singapore Sling is one of the few completely unique things I have found in Singapore. If made well, it's kind of like cherry pineapple juice with a kick. I've only had two because they cost about US$10. The second one was free, part of the Colonial walking tour I took with my parents, and we only got a sip. So really just one, but the second was better than the first. The first reminded of that foul Hawaiian Punch drink from when I was a kid.

So now I'm trying to imagine the all important "decide the name of the team" meeting. What else was thrown out there as a possibility? Maybe Lions, as Singapura (the Malay name for Singapore) means "Lion City." I think. Don't quote me. Probably skipped that one because what the early settlers thought were lions were actually tigers. But I digress. My husband says maybe "The Finers" due to the constant threat of fines as a punishment, but you can see why that one got cut. What about The Islanders? That doesn't sound very tough. The Reclaimers? Seeing as something like 12% of Singapore is reclaimed land. Yeah, now that I think about it, Slingers is probably their best bet.

If you came to my blog today hoping for something of depth, sorry to disappoint. Some days it's just easier to ski the surface.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


My son is a hypochondriac. If it is suggested to him that there is a remote possibility that he could contract something from someone, he will avoid them like the plague. I suffer from chronic tension headaches, which flared up again recently. I explained to him that I have something wrong with my head that gives me headaches. He was afraid to drink my water.

So today when we intended to go outside for a little batting practice, I looked out the window to check the weather (highly scientific). I noticed that it looked particularly hazy, so I checked the PSI (air quality measurement). It was 107 - just into the unhealthy range. I mentioned that maybe we should wait a little to see if it went down. We read some books, then heard friends outside playing. The kids jumped up and ran for their swimsuits, but then Ethan asked about the current PSI. I told him I thought it looked better but he wanted to check. It had risen to 113. Under no conditions was Ethan going to go outside at that point. I went to check the mail, and he asked several times if I was planning on telling our friends to go back inside. I didn't.

Later when we went out to mail a few postcards, Ethan kept discouraging his sister from running, so as to not breathe in too much air. He plugged his nose. I pointed out that he was still breathing through his mouth. Amazingly, someone was also burning something in a trash can, adding to the poor air quality. What were they thinking?

Ethan decided we need to pray for rain, and proceeded to pray the sweetest, and quite well thought out prayer. I'm praying too - we haven't had rain for weeks. Enough already.

Another first

Just got an email from our Cub Scout Den leader regarding an all pack camp out coming up. We were informed that moms can't sleep in the same tents as boys due to a "Muslim camp policy." We also cannot consume pork or beef at the camp out, which may make the BBQ difficult.

This is odd. I have never had to do or not do something before because of someone else's religion. Granted, Mustafa's lack of pork and beef means it's not one stop shopping for me, but I've never had anything pointed at me being a woman.

I don't actually care about this rule because I wasn't planning on going to the camp out. Just another friendly reminder that this isn't where I grew up. My parents will be visiting us at the time (Shh! Don't tell the kids - it's a surprise!) so we'll have a girl's night at our house. That is, assuming my dad wants to go to the camp out. Dad, how about it?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cancelled due to haze

As one who grew up in Minnesota hoping for school cancellations due to snow and ice, I never dreamed of a day when some activity I'm involved in would be cancelled due to haze. Yet here I am on such a day. We usually trek up to BiShan park once a week when the homeschool soccer pratice is held. Although Ethan has stopped playing, they still enjoy playing with the younger siblings of the kids who do play, and I get some good time with my friend Krisi. Today, we had planned to go a little early for batting practice.

But I just got a call from a friend who said soccer is cancelled today due to the haze. I have to go back to my five years of life in China to protest. If that didn't kill me, this certainly won't! The PSI today in Singapore hasn't even hit 90. Over 100 is considered unacceptable. So now I debate - should we go out anyway? We did the Cub Scout wheel day when the PSI was something like 130 and we haven't come down with any respiratory problems. What to do . . .

I find it humorous that aside from heavy rains, this is the only weather related event that might keep me from enjoying every minute of every day outside in Singapore. That is, if you don't mind sweating profusely. I guess I can't complain too much!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The normal view off the Bedok Jetty, East Coast Park

The same view yesterday

A Strange Phenomenon

As fires rage across Indonesia's Sumatra island, just to our west, the excessive amounts of smoke have billowed their way over Singapore and Malaysia, causing the worse air quality Singapore has ever had. The air quality index hit 130 yesterday - 100 is a healthy limit. Singapore's government has offered its military to fly over the burning areas, seeding the clouds for rain, but it is too dry to produce enough clouds. I'm wondering why they aren't trying that here in Singapore though. It is supposed to rain tonight. If it does, we will have temporary relief. They expect the fires to continue to burn until the monsoon season begins next month, despite all their efforts to control the blaze.

I've never seen anything like it in Singapore. It's like being in any major city in China in terms of visibility. Our friends are complaining that they can't breathe, and they won't let their children go outside. For us, this just feels like living back in China. But I do hope it ends soon.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Going off script

I was confronted, upon exiting the elevator yesterday, by one of my retired female floormates. (there are four units on our floor - two retired couples and another couple with a young girl). She seems excited to see me, and began speaking and gesturing toward the plant outside the door of one of our neighbors. The plant was a mostly leafless, prickly thing. She was saying something about how gusts of wind could blow this over the ledge and hurt people below. I then realized she wasn't talking about the plant but a shallow glass bowl sitting on the ledge itself. That made a little more sense, but not much more.

Since people on our floor have been known to complain about actions of ours, I informed her that I did not live there, hoping it would end the tirade. She said, "No, I know you don't live there. But this is very dangerous! This can blow over, can hurt someone!" She was really getting agitated by that point.
"Did you tell the people who live there?" I asked.
"No," she replied and tried to continue her rant.
"Well, you shouldn't talk to me about it, talk to them," I insisted and walked away.

It was then that I realized I was completely off script with this woman culturally. It is quite common here for this to happen - complain about something that bothers you, but not to the person who could do something about it. That person will commiserate with you and justify your frustration. For me to not respond this way probably confused her. I imagine she walked away wondering what was wrong with me, why I wouldn't say my lines.

This is a struggle I find in living in another culture. As a foreigner, I want to be respectful, and even participate in, local customs and values. But there are times when, either by reason of my faith or other personal convictions, I won't follow the script that this culture gives me. It feels awkward, and gives me an acute reminder that I don't fit in here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Goggling and other mistakes

My son has coined a new term, "goggling." This is a result of his inability to remember the word, "gargling." It is his new favorite pastime. "Mommy, did you hear me goggling?"

Megan's fun moment of the day came when she was looking at a book on frogs. On the breeding page, she saw one frog on top of the other and declared, "Look mommy! The mommy is giving the baby a piggy back ride!" Ok, sure.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lego torture

I believe somewhere out there, someone is getting top secret information out of someone else by forcing them to step on individual pieces of legos barefooted, in the dark, so they don't know when they're coming. If they aren't, they should. It could be a very effective form of torture.

But don't you worry about socialization?

Last week at gymnastics, I overhead two Singaporean women discussing their children's schooling. One of them said, "You know, I've heard about people who teach their children at home!" to which the other replied, "Oh, so bad lah!" and they continued in that vein for a few minutes.

It seems in the last few weeks I have had numerous occasions for people to express their shock and disbelief that I homeschool my children in the form of various questions and statements such as, "You must be really brave!" (no, I'm not) or, "I don't have the patience for that" (neither do I) or "how do you do it?!" A common objection to homeschool seems to be that you're isolating your children from others and denying them socialization so that they will grow up to be academically competent yet socially inept. With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, let me just tell you what I did this week in homeschool in an attempt to "socialize" my children and avoid such pitfalls:
Monday: I picked on them for what they were wearing
Tuesday: I stole their backpacks and played keep away with them in the middle
Wednesday: I taught them dirty jokes and swear words
Thursday: I picked them last for kickball during recess, with a strong, "Aw, not them!" comment for emphasis
Friday: I ostracized them from me with no given explanation, so that they can go home and wonder all weekend what they did to lose my friendship.

Next week I plan to make up mean nicknames for them - should be easy with that last name. And I'll probably start a rumor about them.

Obviously my point is that not all socialization is good. Don't be mistaken that my childhood was flooded with this kind of painful interaction with my peers, nor do I think that's all that happens in public school, but I have to remind us that just because you put kids together doesn't mean they'll learn what you want them to learn from each other. Who would you rather have your children socializing with - a bunch of equally immature 6 year olds with values completely different than yours, or family members who love and accept them for who they are? My kids are quite blessed to have two other homeschool families in our complex, and several other good homeschooled friends around Singapore. We get together regularly, there are weekly field trips, and even a soccer team (although Ethan didn't enjoy it - we still go play there with the younger siblings). The soccer coach, after a few weeks, commented on how much more well behaved these kids are than others. Interesting . . .

I'm not trying to put down those who put their kids in public school. But I think one important thing I'm learning in homeschool is that we can't parent on auto-pilot. We have to be conscious of the things our children are learning and being exposed to, rather than just assuming that schools, clubs, friends, etc. will take care of it for us. We have to be intentional.

Cub Scouts

I was just informed by my six year old that he needs a safe, so that he can put his Cub Scout uniform in it. And right there you see the level of fanaticism with which our son has embarked on this new venture in his life.

He had some friends in Cub Scouts last year, which sparked his interest. This is the first year he could join here in Singapore, so we decided to try it, even though neither Erik nor I was in Scouts as a kid, although I did have a summer stint as a Girl Scout day camp counselor. But that's another story.

Ethan was so excited about scouts that when all he had for a uniform was a hat, scarf, sash and socks, he took them on and off repeatedly the first. Now that he has the rest, he's preening in front of the mirror with a silly grin on his face. We attended the first pack meeting last night. Aside from the fact that half the kids were Asian, you could tell yourself you were in the States. I wondered how all the non-Americans felt about pledging allegiance to our flag. Truth be told, I have a hard time saying the pledge of allegiance these days. I remember the pride with which I said it as a child. Now I have mixed feelings about "the republic for which it stands." Don't get me wrong - I'm immensely grateful for having been born an American. I just think a little of the gleen has been rubbed off. Still, saying it with a crowd of young boys who are being trained to believe it 6,000 miles away brought a feeling of unity back to me. Ethan? He's just itching to get some of those patches and pins for his uniform.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Megan's logic

Yesterday in home school, we were talking about Genesis. I told the kids that we were going to read about God changing Jacob's name. I asked them if they remembered how God changed Abram's name to Abraham. They did, so I said, "So do you remember what Jacob's new name was?"
Megan said, "Jacobham?"
Good guess.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where have all the pictures gone?

For those of you who are wondering why there haven't been many pictures on my blog lately (and I know that many of you spend significant portions of your day wondering things about my blog), Erik has been a busy beaver posting them at our website. I don't know how to add to it, but there are some photos from this summer, so take a look. When I figure it out (or rather, when my husband takes the time to sit down and explain it to me) I'll put some new pictures up of my own.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The ghosts are hungry again

It's that time of year again, when the ghosts of people past creep out of the ground, or wherever they are, and wander the earth hoping to be satiated by their living friends and relatives. Or so I'm told.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is evident in that many businesses and apartment complexes place a large rusted barrel out in front where people can worship. Hoards of little shops sell piles of paper money and effigies for burning purposes. To burn these in honor of your deceased loved ones is to "feed" their hungry ghosts so that they can rest in peace again for another year.

So it's common to see people standing near these barrels of fire, throwing in paper with pictures of money, cars, houses, anything that might allow your dead to live a more comfortable afterlife. What is interesting about seeing this is the complete disengagement with which people will perform this act. I saw a woman yesterday having a conversation with a nearby guard while she absently dropped her piles of thin paper into the fire without looking. If I have ever seen an empty ritual, this is it.

Why are Asians so superstitious? I'm curious to know the origin of this and other rituals. When I went for a haircut on the first working day after the New Year, my hairdresser told me it would have been very bad luck had I cancelled, being her first appointment of the New Year. She had already had two other people cancel that day. She felt certain there would be one more, because "these things always happen in threes." She sincerely believes that her life is directed by this ebb and flow of positive and negative luck.

As for me, I will not be purchasing any paper to burn. I don't believe in luck, or ghosts, for that matter. On this day I'm thankful that my hope is in something I believe to be much more real and life-giving.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Knowing enough to love for life

Tomorrow Erik and I will have been married for 9 years. When you think about it, even if you know someone for a long time before you get married, you know next to nothing about them when you consider everything that you will encounter about each other. People ask, "How did you know you were supposed to marry Erik?" and I could stammer out a bunch of different reasons, all valid, but in the end I think it amounted to faith that what I knew about him was enough. In fact, when I had known Erik all of about 6 months, a friend of mine, in teasing me about how much I liked him said, "If he asked you to marry him tomorrow, you'd say yes."
"No I wouldn't!" I retorted with feigned surprise, while thinking, "Yeah, I probably would." Because bottom line was, I knew enough.

What did I know? I knew that Erik was a man of God. I knew that his main ambition in life was to serve Him with everything he has. I knew he was someone who would challenge me to go beyond myself, but do it in such an encouraging way that I would really believe I could do it. I knew that I could trust him with my life. I knew that he was wise, intelligent, strong, patient, adventurous, and fun. I didn't know those things nearly to the degree I do know, but I saw enough of them to know I wanted to be with him.

Nine years later I know a lot more. I know that he has such amazing endurance that he can run circles around me, even though I exercise daily and he never did, up until he decided to do a triathlon. I know that he garners respect from his peers for his gentle and approachable demeanor. I know that he loves goofing around with the kids until it's way past their bedtime. I know that he'll fall asleep within two minutes of his head hitting the pillow while I lay awake for another 1/2 hour. I know that he can just get close to a computer and it will stop doing whatever thing has been frustrating you for the past 15 minutes (like he just did now). And a million other big and small, great and not so great things. And I know that in another 9 years, I will have learned even more. There's a comfort in knowing so much about a person, and being known just as well in return.

What hits me sometimes is knowing that God knew all these things about Erik, and He knew how much I would need them even more than I did.

When playing is just so much more important

I'm watching, as surreptiously as possible, my daughter running around with a small Chinese rice measure box filled with coins. She is asking imaginary people, "Do you need a coin? Yes?" and then giving them one. She is running around the living room doing this at a more and more frantic rate as her need to also use the bathroom grows. It's amazing to me that if I were to ask her, "Do you need to go potty?" she would insist with vehemence that no, she does not!

A 30 second bathroom break is just too long to fathom taking when such joy as this is possible. Or so it seems.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Book Tag

My brother cyber-tagged me. Somehow it was more fun when we were kids and we played tag in person, but there it is and I must respond, so here goes:

1. One book that changed your life:
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

2. One book you've read more than once:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:
This is such an unfair question, because it presumes there's some book you'll really want to read repeatedly, but if I'm stuck indefinitely on a desert island, isn't anything I read that many times going to become something I hate? In that case, I wouldn't want to choose something I currently like. I think I would choose the complete works of C.S. Lewis because I haven't read most of them.

4. One book that made you laugh:
I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

5. One book that made you cry:
Most recently, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

6. One book you wish had been written:
My own

7. One book you wish had never been written:
Many, but none that bothers me so much I care to name it

8. One book you're currently reading:
Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas

9. One book you've been meaning to read:
Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh

10. I'm meant at this point to tag 5 people. I tag Liz, Mandy, and whoever else might read my blog and have one of their own.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

National Library Book Sale

As a woman reared on good books, I jumped at the prospect of the National Library's Book Sale. Admission was free, and all English books S$2. I envisioned myself loaded with great information books to supplement our homeschool times. I even gave myself a spending limit. I needn't have bothered.

Doors opened at 9:30 on Saturday. I arrived shortly after 10 a.m. to find about 2,000 people in the queue in front of me. I seem to have been working off the erroneous assumption that out of 4,000,000 people, I was the only one with an interest in cheap books. Still deeply entrenched in the American disdain for long queues (though I have resorted to calling them "queue" instead of "line") I told myself that if I wasn't in the door by 10:30, I was ditching.

The queue moved with lightning speed actually, so I was in the door about 15 minutes later. Inside I was handed a large plastic bag and set loose on thousands of bins full of manhandled books. I worked my way down to the English kid's books and found that only about 10-20% remained. It seems the way to approach the book sale is to come early, indiscriminately grab piles of books to claim as your own, then find a spot on the open floor where you can flip through them and decide at your leisure which ones you want. I saw people with 3-4 stacks 2 feets high each of books. Fighting twinges of bitterness, I battled my way into viewing several bins until my tolerance for chaos reached the breaking point. Another queue to have someone count my books (7), and a second wait to pay for them, and I was out of there in about an hour. I saw people with what looked like hundreds of books - what time did they come? I learned that the queue began at 7:30 a.m. That's when you have to ask how truly important is the great deal?

There were just as many people waiting outside as there had been when I arrived. I wanted to scream, "It's not worth it! There's nothing left - turn back!!" Next year maybe I will try to be there early. I'll be sure to bring a good book and a partner to help me nab my own stacks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Majulah Singapura!

I have no idea what my subject line means, aside from the second word being Singapore in Malay. But it must mean something good because it's part of the national anthem. It's in fact the only part of the Singapore national anthem that I can sing, the rest being also in Malay. I have it running through my head right now because yesterday was Singapore National Day. We spent it at our friends, the Wilsons house, in part because they live right next to the stadium where all the festivities were (but mostly just because we really like them).

We were able to simultaneously watch the activities on TV while seeing some of it outside, like the skydivers who flew over and landed inside. And the fireworks. I don't know where the idea of fireworks for holidays originated (probably in China, since that's where they were invented, along with everything else) but my theory for the 4th of July had always been the "rockets red blare, the bombs bursting in air" bit from the national anthem. Maybe that's why Americans do it, but I guess Singaporeans just like the way they look.

Anyway, we ended up having to stay until 10 p.m. because half of Singapore was trying to leave the stadium. That was ok with us - more time with our friends celebrating a holiday that doesn't mean much to us except a day off from work.

Erik's addition: The title means Onward Singapore! Check out photos of our evening.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Side Trip

We interrupt the Brenna family tour of Singapore to bring you "Ethan's emergency room adventure." Yesterday (my birthday, by the way), Ethan started complaining of stomach pain. At first, I thought it was just a ploy to get out of going to soccer practice, because it seemed fine when he was there. Afterwards though, he started complaining again and looking peaked. He refused any dinner (and it was Subway sandwiches - this kid can put away a 6" by himself!) and wanted to go to bed at 7.

At about 10 p.m., Ethan came wimpering out of his bedroom. We took his temperature, and he had a slight fever. Now, this is where my medical upbringing and Erik's collide. My dad worked in a hospital (read "great insurance") when I grew up, so we felt the freedom to treat anything with a trip to the ER. Erik's family was more along the lines of "if the towel can't hold any more blood, maybe it's time to take you in." So Erik was inclined to let Ethan go back to sleep and wait it out, while I was reaching for my keys. I won, so my mom came with me to a close children's hospital emergency room.

We had to wait about an hour to see a doctor. She determined that he was simply quite constipated, which is what we thought (though the fever threw us off, especially as it had risen by the time we got there). So our boy got to experience his first, and hopefully last, enema. It went to work within a minute. Ethan and I were in hysterics in the bathroom because he kept trying to see what was coming out and every time he bent over, the toilet automatically flushed and made him jump about 3 feet.

With a pain free boy, we tried to leave by following some people through a door to the lifts. If we had used our powers of observation, we might have noticed the "staff only" sign on the door. We got to the basement car park and were unable to exit any of the doors. We went up and down several times, looking for alternative exits or signs of life, but found neither. We finally got someone's attention through the original door we entered, and he went in search of a staff. Meanwhile, a nurse came up the elevator. "We're trapped!" we cried to her, and she laughed and let us out. So that was a good way to spend 20 minutes at midnight when we were already beat.

Today we're pushing the fiber on Ethan. He's never had this problem before, but I'll admit we haven't been eating very well since we've been out and about every day with the family. We're just thankful it was nothing serious.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Living like tourists

Two days ago my whole family (meaning my parents, my older sister, and younger brother) all made the arduous trip to Singapore to visit us for the first time. Ethan is so excited to have his uncle here that he is bouncing off all the walls. We've set up a special blog for people to follow our adventures. Now that I think about it, we really could have just posted everything here, but this creates a good sense of solidarity and family bonding. You can read about the Brenna adventures here at the blog.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Specialized Skills

I was at a friend's house today who is a chiropractor by trade, though she isn't practicing right now due to the presence of two small people in her house. I did something screwy to my neck last week, so I asked her if she'd take a look at it. She found a little chiropractic tool and had me lie down on her son's foam interlocking alphabet squares (my chiropractor in the States doesn't have those) where she quickly fixed my problem. As she did this, I mentioned to her that, unlike her, I have no specialized skills like she does. It amazes me that she can touch my neck in various places and determine exactly what's wrong. I have a degree in communication, which means I know how to communicate well, though I don't always practice those skills. My communication abilities rarely wow anyone, to my knowledge. At any rate, they aren't skills others don't naturally possess to some degree. Mine might just be considered more fine tuned.

On the way home I thought, "No, wait, I can develop film! That's my specialized skill!" I used to work in a one hour photo studio developing pictures. I was elated by this thought until I remembered that since then, digital photos have come into being and I am not trained in developing those. Many moons ago, I even knew how to develop film and photos in a dark room, but I think I've forgotten all that by now. I also know how to pantomime, but that's a skill of mine that is generally mocked, rather than praised.

So here I am, feeling fairly unskilled, but that's ok. You don't need to comment on any skills you think I do have. This isn't a cry for validation, just an honest proclamation of myself.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Any suggestions?

Erik and I, quite by accident, watched National Treasure last night. Ok, it wasn't an accident that we watched it like, "Oops, how did that DVD get in there? Oh, well, guess we're stuck now." I mean that it coincided well with the celebration of American independence. So we thought, "We should watch some other patriotic feel good movie." But all the movies we could conjure - Glory, The Patriot, Born on the 4th of July - aren't exactly what you'd classify as "feel good." So does anyone have any suggestions for a movie involving American history that doesn't make you depressed? Are we asking too much?

Speaking of which, there's a quiz on msnbc right now about American citizenship. Erik and I took it. I am proud to say that I scored 95%. Erik squeaked in with 85%. I guessed better than he did. Take it - see how you do.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Story time

Our bedtime routine these days involves a wonderful little book called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. If you are a parent of young children, or even an adult with a need for a good book, I have to recommend it. It is a sweet story of how a little china rabbit learns how to love others as he is lost time and again over the course of many years. My son wasn't too excited about it at first, but now each night it's "Let's find out what happens to Edward!"

Also on our top picks for kid books these days (because I'm convinced that you're dying to know) are Pippi Longstocking, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, the Magic Tree House series (Ethan's determined to have every one, and will, thanks to his Nonna), and the Froggy books.

I'm re-reading a book called Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, which is really more about contentment than anxiety. I enjoy reading history, and I admit that history which involves tragedy is quite fascinating to me. While I was in the States, I read Hungry Ghosts (about the famine in China following the Great Leap Forward) and last week I finished Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which delves into Mormon Fundamentalism. What's on your shelf these days?

Celebrating American Style

For our first time celebrating the 4th of July in Singapore, we joined several other families at what I think was the naval base here. All I know is that we parked by some really cool "black and whites" (old, colonial style houses famous in Singapore) and walked to a field filled with what you'd expect - a big stage with someone singing American songs loud and not too well, vendors selling over-priced food guaranteed to kill you in the long run, and various blown up kids' jumping apparatus. Ah, America. Sorry to say, Ethan had messed something up on our camera, so I don't have any pictures besides the ones I took on my cell phone (not good enough to show, even if I could transfer them to my computer). You'll just have to imagine the fun.

Erik was still away on business, so I manned the lines for corndogs and fries myself, then waited with the kids in line for the blown up slide. They did it twice, and Ethan managed to frighten and awe most of the onlookers by rolling down the slide instead of sliding. He made it down in about 1.27 seconds. That's my boy!

Meanwhile, our friends had braved the line for the bungee jump, the kind where you start on the trampoline and they hold you down while the ropes tighten then let you go. Ethan debated for awhile before deciding he too wanted to go. It was then that we entered The Long Line. I told him it might take up to an hour before he got on the ride, but he was still determined to go. There comes a point in a line like that, say after the first 15 minutes, where you know that you have committed too much of your life to this activity and you must follow through. When we had moved 5 feet of the 20 foot line in 1/2 hour, I knew we were in for it. We got to where there were 8 kids in front of Ethan (three could jump at a time) and the man running the ride informed us they were shutting down until after the fireworks. At that time, it was 7:30. Fireworks were planned for 8. "So do we have to stand here for an hour?" I asked, trying hard to breathe spiritually.
"Ah, sorry. Yeah, must come back. No light now - cannot jump. Not safe." Murmuring began amidst the crowd. What? Why? With mounting tension, every ounce of American in us came out - we demand an explanation! We demand compensation for this lost hour of our lives! You are infringing on our right to the pursuit of happiness! Quick! Give us something for free!!
Instead, we got tokens, with numbers that indicated our place in line. When I broke the news to Ethan, he lost it for a moment, then resigned himself to his fate. We joined our friends again for those lighted rings kids like at this holiday, as well as for sparklers. The fireworks were short but good. Since I'd told Ethan the story behind The Star Spangled Banner, he asked, "Was it this loud all night for the man who wrote the song? Was it the same sounds?" I thought, "Wow, you were listening to me."

When they were done, we ran back to the bungee jump. After another 15 minutes of waiting for the lights to come on, the jumping resumed. Just as Ethan got strapped in, I realized I didn't have a camera, so there is no photographic evidence of his joy.

So, with lessons learned and friends enjoyed, a dirt and sweat covered crowd hiked back (is it 10 degrees warmer than when we came? we wondered) to our cars and headed home. Happy 4th - here's hoping yours is just as fun or more.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Art imitating life

Every morning when Megan wakes up, she also "wakes up" the people in her dollhouse. Usually, they begin their day in the living room, in front of the television. Despite the fact that I try not to let my kids do that, she obviously still wishes it was so. During the day, they imitate her activities - spending time in their rooms, eating dinner, etc. At night she puts them all to sleep again. I can't wait for her dolls to start doing things like cheerfully cleaning the house, bathing themselves unattended, playing quietly while mommy doll naps . . .

Work with me here

Last night some friends of mine and I started sharing our culture clash stories. I just have to share a few of them here:

One of our friends was in his doctor's office and wanted to make an appointment. He was informed that he could only make appointments on the phone. "But I'm right here now, so I can't I make an appointment?" Cannot. So he pulled out his cell phone and called them, and they had a conversation over the counter, on the phone, to make an appointment.

Another friend was in a restaurant and wanted tartar sauce to go with something - fries maybe? I can't remember. Anyway, they wouldn't give it to him. When pressed, they said it was because tartar sauce goes with fish, not fries. They finally brought the manager in and eventually my friend was able to get some, mostly because he made it obvious he wasn't walking away without tartar sauce.

The same friend was in the same restaurant another time and discovered he'd been charged for a larger drink than he wanted. When he pointed this out, he was informed, "Mandatory upsize." What? "Mandatory upsize."
"But I don't want the bigger one. I don't want to pay for the bigger one." It finally came out that they were out of the smaller cups, so they were upsizing everyone's drinks and making them pay for it.

We had other stories as well. They're all a blur, usually involving one of our friends getting comments like "company policy" without due explanation.

My brother comes in a few weeks (wahoo!) and he still wants to play the "Have it Your Way" game where, if you are able to conquer circumstances as some of my friends did in these stories, you garner a point. If at any time in the game you are caned for your actions, you lose your points. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hello from Singapore

Our time in Minnesota was spectacular, so much so that it was good Erik was here so we had enough of a pull to bring us back. We missed him terribly, and he was jealous that we got to enjoy the 60 degree weather those last few days.

We were reminded of our Minnesota roots this afternoon in the movie Cars. I'm sure we were the only two people who laughed at the midwestern minivan who talked about going to Shakopee with an accent that would have done the folks back home proud. Since one of my pipe dreams is to be the voice of an animated character, I thought, "Man, I could have done that one!"

I've included various photos from our trip in no particular order for your viewing pleasure.

Color me happy to be in Minnesota!

This boy loves to fish!

Ew yuck

Ryan captures Ethan goofing around in the car

I just love this one that Ryan took

Gotta love a fire on a cool Minnesota evening

Check out the sweet motor on that boat!

What you can't see is how incredibly COLD it was this day - we lasted about five minutes at the playground

Graduation day for my brother Christopher, known to my kids as Funny Uncle Christopher

Looks like Ethan has outgrown the little car, but it doesn't stop him

One of many fun pictures snapped by Erik's brother, Ryan

Me and my friend Ginger

Megan, "Did you see how fast I went mommy?"

Ethan scooting to his heart's content

A common sight during our trip

Enjoying the outdoors in Minnesota

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Coyote show at 10 a.m.

My long absence can be explained by the fact that I am now writing from the other side of the world. I didn't mention it earlier because it was supposed to be a surprise that the kids and I were flying back to witness my brother's graduation from seminary and my mom's retirement (a surprise for my siblings, not my parents). In the end, they all knew ahead of time. So much for that.

But being back is always a joy. I love the feeling of grass under my feet, especially grass that's been cared for by my father's very green thumb. It's like a big velvet carpet. I thought the kids would enjoy getting out into nature, so I took them to Quarry Hill, a local nature center. I started talking it up on the way, telling them that we could walk in the woods. They asked if there would be animals in the woods. I said maybe. What kind? Lions? Tigers? Elephants? Sorry kids, those aren't really native to Minnesota. They weren't very impressed with nature.

Later, I took them to Oxbow park, which has a small zoo of animals that someone wandered into the woods somewhere in Minnesota and captured. I thought they might like seeing some natives. We walked past the coyote cage, but it was empty. Ethan asked me where it was. I said I didn't know, to which he replied, "He's probably doing a show." That would be interesting. I wonder if you could get a coyote to do any tricks. At the Singapore zoo they have a farm animals show which must be fascinating to native people, but for those who grew up seeing those animals in our backyards, it's not that impressive. I guess it's all about where you're from.

We're only here for another week. Give me a call at my parents if you know the number. :)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Feeling Giddy

The first four months of 2004, I was sick. I had daily episodes of dizziness and headaches. Actually, they both lasted most of the day every day. I saw several doctors, none of whom seemed to know what was wrong with me. They all concluded with, "Well, I'm not sure what's wrong, but I don't think it's serious and it will probably go away on its own."

It did go away on its own, but I have always been fearful that it might return. Last week it did, along with the frustration of wondering how long it would last. I hated the thought of trying to describe my symptoms to a doctor, to once again get puzzled stares. Part of the problem with diagnosis is that doctors wanted me to classify my dizziness as either lightheadedness or vertigo, but it didn't feel like either. Now I know why.

On Wednesday, after a week of this, I went to a neurologist here. He did a serious of tests to determine the extent of my vertigo. In the end, he concluded that I didn't have vertigo. Actually, that I didn't have "giddiness" which is what they call it here. Or "vertEEgo." Can I help it if I wanted to giggle whenever he said I was giddy? Anyway, he called it "disequilibrium." It's caused by something affecting the inner ear.

He also determined that my headaches are chronic tension headaches. Having something deemed "chronic" makes me suddenly feel quite old. He put me on a muscle relaxant which seems to be doing its job. This morning, three days later, I can stare at a computer screen without feeling like it's rocking back and forth. My husband is now back in town, so hopefully the source of my tension will dissipate because I was tired of feeling giddy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Weekend Trip to Bangkok

I suppose if we lived in the States, we would take weekend trips to visit our parents or go up north to the lake. Since those options aren't available to us, we'll just have to be content to continue our weekend jaunts off the island. :) This past weekend we joined Erik in Bangkok, where he was in the middle of two back to back conferences that are keeping him away from us for 11 days.

I was a little nervous about my first flight alone with the kids, but they are stellar travelers so we were fine. I was even pleasantly surprised by my first taxi ride ever in Thailand where I didn't beg the Lord to spare our lives. Usually they drive like they're in the Indi 500.

We arrived Saturday, and my ever-gracious servant of a husband took the kids swimming so I could relax in the hotel, eat something claiming to be Mexican spring rolls, and watch Stars on Ice. Does it get any better than that?

Sunday we went to Safari Park, a drive through zoo recommended by friends and internet folk alike. It was raining, so we didn't want to buy the all-inclusive package that allowed us to wander the Marine Park, but the drive through was only 40 minutes. We had hoped this would be an all day activity. We didn't understand why they wouldn't let us just walk through the park on our own. Once we took the drive, we understood why - the animals are wandering freely, and probably would either eat or trample individuals roaming through their territory. We enjoyed the ride so much that when we were done and realized they hadn't taken our tickets, well, we'll admit it, we went again.

Since we still had half a day to spend and no immediate plans, we threw our taxi driver several curve balls. "Take us to the Center Pointe mall." Wait, I don't think he understands. "Ok, take us to the World Trade Center. Yes, this place on the map. No, use your meter. No! Meter! Ok, we'll pay highway, but use your meter!!" (They don't like to use their meters, prefering to charge you twice as much as it would be if you did use the meter). Then halfway there we decided to go back to our hotel instead. He vented his frustration on us by driving like a maniac.

After lunch and a rest, we discovered the "weekend market" which sounded promising. It was! It would have been even more fun if we'd had more time, more money, and fewer children. They were troopers though, since we did walk around for about 2 1/2 hours looking at everything from clothes to silverware to beads to Buddhist idols galore. (If you're in the market for idols, this is the place to go). I bought a bunch of used kids' books for about $7. We had two fruit shake breaks, and a unexpected "listen to what we suspect is the Thai national anthem" break. At 6 p.m., we were walking and chatting, and we realized that everyone around us had stopped talking and gone absolutely still. We did the same, not wanting to look like insensitive idiots. After the song was done, everything went back to normal. It was eery.

Monday morning we'd planned to go to the river and float around, but we decided the kids had endured enough of Thailand (Thai hands are magnetically attracted to Megan's hair) and would be happier just swimming. I got a wonderful Thai massage for mother's day. In the afternoon Erik had meetings, so I took the kids to a shopping mall with an indoor playground where mom and kids enjoyed themselves.

This morning we flew back to Singapore. My favorite quote from the weekend was when we were taking off for Thailand. Megan said, "Mommy, are we getting ready to blast off?" I love my life. What a blessing to experience so many cultures around us all the time. So how was your weekend?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sunway Lagoon Resort

May 1st is a holiday here, another in a long list of holidays that mean nothing to us but afford Erik a day off of work. Our friends, the Wilsons, invited us to join them at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the long weekend so we all piled into our cars and set off.

When leaving Singapore for Malaysia, you are required to have 3/4 tank gas. This is so that people won't drive to Malaysia on a daily basis to take advantage of really cheap gas. We had just under a half tank, so we thought if we put 10 liters in we'd be ok (we though it was 2/3 tank required). As we approached the border, we started seeing every 15 meters or so signs asking drivers to top up to 3/4 tanks. After about 5 of these signs, another sign announced that it would be a $500 fine if you don't comply. Of course there are no gas stations in sight, and let's be honest - those 10 liters just pushed us a fraction past 1/2 tank. I started to get quite nervous, but Erik, whose Indian name is Calm Waters, kept saying, "We'll be fine. They won't check it" even though they did the last time.

Sure enough, they didn't check it. Whew! So we were off. We did a driver and kid swap halfway through so Wendy and I could talk and keep the younger two kids. Since we all neglected to bring directions, we were at the mercy of signs for the resort (fortunately a well known one) but there were never warning signs, just signs we'd see 50 meters out and go, "Quick! Cross those 3 lanes and take the exit!" It took about 5 hours, but we made it!

We spent the rest of Saturday exploring the huge complex (several buildings of the same hotel connected to a waterpark and a mall). Sunday morning we hit the waterpark right when it opened at 10. Even though it was open until 6, we only made it til about 3 before we were all too waterlogged and sun weary. It also had become incredibly crowded!

Monday morning we went to the "dry park" within the water park where we discovered immediately that sunscreen and humidity are literally oil and water. I've never seen 9 people that wet from just walking around. Hitting the flume helped though! We only lasted until about 12:30, when we decided to get changed, eat lunch, and get a head start on the traffic out of Malaysia. We anticipated huge crowds at the checkpoints back to Singapore, but it was the traffic going to Johor Bahru that was worse. Once we passed that, there was no wait at the checkpoint at all. We almost got stuck without any ringget (Malay money) to pay the tolls, but some nice Singaporeans at a rest stop did a money exchange for us. Altogether it took closer to 6 hours to get home, but it was all well worth it.

Road trip! We set off for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Saturday morning with our good friends, the Wilsons.

Megan and me

Erik and Ethan, taken by Megan

Ethan and me

Can you see our little man in there?

Self-taken picture of Erik and me

The swimming pool of our hotel

Erik and Steve

Me and Wendy in the morning

You might be able to see Wendy watching the boys slide. She's the only white person in the picture.

Erik and Megan take a rest