Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Native Soil

Took a walk in the woods today, and I felt very much at home. It's like the cold wind and the smell of dry leaves calls to distant memories buried deep within me, years of growing up with this kind of nature and weather. Even now as I look out the window and see black trees against a fading sunset (and it's only 5:02 p.m.) it feels so familiar. It's like finding something I lost a long time ago.

For the kids, it's all brand new. Like discovering what happens when you play in icy water with your mittens on. Despite our warnings, Ethan kept crawling back to the stream any chance he got to break apart the ice crystals and send them swirling through the water. He also kept picking up wet logs so he could carry them to the next part of the stream and use them as battering rams. Of course this made his mittens, boots, pants and jacket damp. We weren't too strict about it because it was relatively warm today, but part of me realized how much you learn as a kid growing up in Minnesota about the dangers of winter. This is knowledge our children of course completely lack.

They also continue to display an obliviousness to the cold. Ethan was out playing ball in his socks today. They constantly run outside without their coats. We keep bringing them back in, instructing them to put more on, but they insist they aren't cold. In fact, they've spent the better part of this day out doors - right now they are raking leaves and burning them in a bonfire. (Where there is fire, there is Ethan).

I have tried my hand, or rather, my feet, at running in temps other than 80 degrees for the first time. Well, the first time I can remember. It's much easier, though I find that I have dry wheezing when I'm done because I'm used to air that is filled with 80% humidity. I'm thinking of running with a medical mask on my face to hold in the moisture.

The fire is raging outside, so I think I'll go join them and make sure no one gets too close. Where fire is, there Ethan is, and he's not quite as fire safe as we'd like him to be yet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On Being in Minnesota

We're about 30 hours in, and so far the Great Minnesota Visit of 2008 is going well. I managed to make it through the entire 16 hours of flying without sleeping a wink, which led me to sleep from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. I'm hoping for the same tonight. I also hope the kids do a repeat, which was sleeping from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.! What's the trick? Dogs. They are obsessed with the two dogs. They walked them, played with them, fed them, and generally drove them crazy all day. Who needs toys?

Also of interest was the snow. What snow? You look outside here and see nothing but brown, it seems, yet the kids find any remaining remnants blown up against buildings or left in crevasses, and scrape them into snowballs.

I attempted to replenish my winter wardrobe in an afternoon at Old Navy. I did manage to come away with a sweater, three turtlenecks, a shirt, two pairs of pants, a shirt for Erik and two for Megan, all for just over $100. America is glorious.

What has surprised me is how the kids have reacted to the cold. When we've traveled to temperate climates in the spring, the kids whine, "Why is it so COLD?" and it's only 70 degrees. So when they walked into the house and stripped back down to their t-shirts (Ethan even unzipped the bottom half of his pants) I was shocked. Ethan even went outside briefly in his bare feet. What's going on here? I think the concept of wearing more clothes is just too foreign to them.

So that's the scoop so far. I'm thankful that the weather is atypically warm (in the mid-30's) - I'm hoping to go for a run, or at least a walk, tomorrow. If you're near Rochester, give me a call!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bras Brasah

I love finding new places in Singapore. The place I found yesterday came from a tip a woman in my Bible study gave me about where to find a book that's out of stock everywhere else. It's called Tec Man (the store, not the book) and it's a large Christian bookstore in Bras Brasah complex. Until now I thought the only Christian bookstores to hit were SKS (the monster) and the one our ministry runs (which is unfortunately shelved according to publisher so you can't find anything). And then there are also the chains of really tiny Christian bookstores that usually have nothing you need.

But this, this is big! And they had 30% off (or as they say here, "less 30%) storewide for members until Christmas. (Membership is only $6 a year) So if you can find what you need at SKS, or if you just want to buy something for Christmas and pay less, go to Tec Man, 4th floor.

And while you're there, go to Art Friend! I've always heard of this store, but never went, because my craft needs were mostly supplied by Spotlight, which is a Michael's kind of place in Plaza Singapura.

At Art Friend, you can find things you never knew you DID need! I walked around the store with my jaw on the floor. There was everything under the sun. Stuff I'd never imagined but now seems to beg, "Buy me, and do something crafty with me!" And yes, of course everything there is ridiculously price, but this is Singapore people.

So if you live in Singapore and haven't visited Bras Brasah complex (between Victoria and North Bridge streets downtown) check it out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We Don't Know What to Wear

Erik and I are staring into our closets with perplexed looks on our faces. Every once in awhile, we pull something out and say, "What do you think about this? Would I wear this there?"

What are we doing? We're trying to remember how to dress in a cold climate. We have no recollection of what is appropriate. For example - t-shirts? Do we need to bring any t-shirts? Because I could wear one under a hoodie, right? I have a feeling the answer is no, which means packing will be very easy because I have three sweaters, two hooded sweatshirts, two pairs of jeans, and two pairs of other pants. But I am going to bring my Little Miss Sunshine shirt because I would wear it 24/7 if it were socially acceptable. But what about Erik's long sleeve dress shirts? They aren't very thick, but they have long sleeves. Help us!

I think we'll be hitting some stores pretty quickly, because the amount of winter clothing our family possesses can fill one suitcase. Who would have ever thought two people raised in Minnesota could come to this?

Unexpected Motivation

After the half marathon in August, I wasn't sure what to do. With no pending race in sight, I didn't know how to keep running. At first I decided I wanted to learn to run faster, in part because then maybe Erik and I could run together (he can run a mile more than a minute faster than me, and that's when I'm pushing it). But at the same time, I wanted to track a good number of miles. I found I wasn't enjoying myself, and was wearing out too quickly. So I decided I should give myself the chance to just enjoy running for what it is.

That worked for about two days.

Then I started thinking, "Wait, why am I running? This isn't all that fun. I could be walking" etc. etc. Then my health started going up and down again so the long and short of it is that I haven't run much in the past few weeks.

This morning, I was all full of excuses why I shouldn't run. My stomach kind of hurts. My head too. I'm tired. One day won't make a difference. But then I gave myself the mental equivalent of a slap in the face and shoved myself out the door.

I took a different route, one that doesn't require me to start off running 1/2 mile uphill. I thought that might help. Once I got onto the "park connector" (aka a bike path) I realized that running later in the morning means more people are out. Which meant more people to pass (granted, most of them were walking, but then I feel SUPER FAST). I saw one man running ahead of me, and knew I'd pass him relatively soon. When I did though, he stuck with me. He was about 3 feet behind my right shoulder for the next mile. I tried increasing my speed to see if I could shake him, but to no avail.

I'm not by nature a competitive person, but I just didn't want him to pass me, nor did I want him hanging on me. So it kept me running at a pretty good pace until the 2.5 mile mark where I wanted to turn around. I slowed down at a bench and glanced at him. He turned toward me and made a motion as though to say, "C'mon!" not in a creepy way, but in a "this is great, are you sure you're done?" kind of way. He ran a bit further and then turned back the way we'd come, maybe thinking I'd catch up and we could do it again. I did go that way eventually, but saw him turn off the path before I caught him.

Although it was a bit strange, that was a great motivator for me. So I guess each morning I just need to find someone willing to trail me at a good clip so I keep running.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Waste Not

One of the things I appreciate about Lisa the Maid is that she is always helping us conserve. She turns off lights and outlets that have been left on (the outlets here all have an off switch if you're not using them). She's always opening the windows instead of turning on the air con. She doesn't use the fan we gave her for her room or the one in the kitchen. I appreciate all this, although we've yet to see any difference in our electricity bill.

But sometimes her focus on conservation is convicting. Like last week when the kids and I made American Indian pudding for fun in homeschool. We wanted to see what a traditional Wampanoag dessert was like. Turns out it's a good thing we weren't Wampanoag. It wasn't bad, but none of us wanted to try more than a few bites. Lisa came to me four times that day, asking me what to do with the leftovers. Each time I said, "We don't want it. You can throw it out." At the end of the day, it was still sitting on the stove, covered with a plate. I put it in a plastic bag and threw it down the garbage chute so she wouldn't know I'd thrown it. I get it - we're wasteful! And we probably should have eaten it given that there are starving people in the world who would love to eat a Wampanoag dessert even if it wasn't great. I am without excuse.

When we are back in the States, I'm going to ask her to wash our sheets once a week and run the air conditioners regularly. This is to keep the dust mite population at bay, or hopefully even diminish it. I suspect I will have to STRONGLY communicate the need for this and hope she doesn't ignore my request as she sometimes does with other things I ask her to do which are obviously wasteful. But it's been a good reminder that I should think twice about my consumerism.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye

One of the occupational hazards of being an expat is that people are always leaving. My first year in Singapore, I started to get to know a great girl named Wendy (no, not Wendy Wilson). I thought, "Hey, here's my new best friend! This is great!" only to have her say, "Oh, and we're leaving in April." So I had to start over.

Over the years we've said goodbye to way too many terrific people - Hausmans, Monsivaizs, Whites, Cochrums, Wallaces, Boeckers, Longs, Nobles, and the list goes on. Each of those names brings tears to my eyes. We did life with these people. We traveled with them, worked with them, had great fellowship through church and Bible study with them, we played with them. They have been what made Singapore great.

Next week when we board a plane to Minnesota, we'll be saying goodbye to two more families: the Wilsons and the Buttons. I first met Wendy in the fall of 2004 when we came here. I met her again when we joined the smal group at the Monsivaizs. I was thrilled to meet someone in Singapore who was homeschooling. In fact, those first few years, if she hadn't been my homeschool friend, who knows if I would have kept at it? Having another family we could play with and another mom I could talk to about how it was going made all the difference. Wendy has a real servant's heart and she has blessed me in countless ways - in particular by being an authentic person who shares her life freely with me.

I met Lindsey when she joined our study about a year later. My first impression was, "Wow, I like this girl. She's really fun!" Lindsey always has an encouraging word for me. She's the one who convinced me I could run a half marathon in August. Honestly, I never would have considered it without her saying I could! Lindsey's another great woman of God who is transparent with her life in a way that invites others in.

Last spring Wendy, Lindsey, and I, along with our friends Fiona and Jamie, had a Wednesday morning Bible study. It was one of the best things I've done in Singapore and now that they're leaving I consider that time precious. Last night we had our official farewell to both couples with lots of good food, some photo montage videos, and prayer. We all tried our best not to cry - I think once someone started we would have all lost it. This is the part of being an expat I hate, but thinking back on all the great times with these families, the pain of this time is worth it for the blessing I've experienced!

Thoughts on mothering

I'm going to do something I haven't done before and steal from someone else's blog. I hope she doesn't mind, as long as I'm not passing it off as my own. I want to share it because it was a great encouragement to this morning, as I slept in til 7 which means I didn't get time to myself before the kids were, "Hey mommy, guess what? Mommy? I have something to tell you! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!!!" On days like this I'm not so full of joy and happiness.

There's a blog I visit called Girl Talk which had a great series on marriage, and is now doing one on mothering. Here's the first entry:

What I Wish I’d Done

Many years after this fear-prompting meal, I was faced with another question. This time, CJ and I, along with Nicole and Janelle (Kristin was living in Chicago at the time) were being interviewed at a parents’ meeting at our church. The moderator asked CJ and me, “If you could parent your daughters all over again, what would you do differently?”

It was not a tough question. While I am aware of numerous ways I would want to be a better mom, one thing stands out far ahead of the rest.

I wish I had trusted God more.

For every fearful peek into the future, I wish I had looked to Christ instead. For each imaginary trouble conjured up, I wish I had recalled the specific, unfailing faithfulness of God. In place of dismay and dread, I wish I had exhibited hope and joy. I wish I had approached mothering like the preacher Charles Spurgeon approached his job: “forecasting victory, not foreboding defeat.”

What mothering failures have you predicted lately? What fears about your children lurk around the edges of your mind—or even dominate your thoughts? Do you assume things will only get worse? Are you anxious about the future and tempted to despair?

As women, we’re all vulnerable to fear, worry, and anxiety. And few areas tempt us more than mothering. But faith must dictate our mothering, not fear. Faith, as it says in Hebrews is the ‘assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’” (Heb 11.1).

Faith toward God is the foundation of effective mothering.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking Care of Miles

We had the opportunity last night to watch our friends Jamie and Jason's new son Miles, while they went away for the night. Miles was adopted when he was just a day old, and he's coming up on two months now. It was a fun way to see how our kids reacted to having a baby in the house. Here's the gist of it: for Megan, he was "Someone willing to receive all my extra love, hugs and kisses! I want a baby brother!!!" For Ethan, he was, "Someone who has brought a whole new set of things for me to worry about! When is he leaving?!?"

From the minute we picked him up it was obvious:
Megan wanted to sit next to him.
Ethan didn't want her to touch him.
Megan wanted to comfort him when he didn't enjoy the car ride.
Ethan wanted us to be done with the car ride because he was very concerned that Miles was whimpering.
Megan wanted to hold him immediately.
Ethan wanted to know why he was fussing.
Megan wanted to kiss him and feed him.
Ethan wanted to know if he was going to be woken up during the night.
Megan wanted to hold him even though he was crying.
Ethan really wanted mommy to hold him so he might stop crying.
Megan wanted to put the pacifier in his mouth.
Ethan wanted Megan to STOP trying to put the pacifier in his mouth.

And on it went.

You could get the idea that Ethan is a bit cold hearted, but he just has a high value on order and is quite protective. He was genuinely concerned that Megan might do some damage to Miles with all her touching and finagling. He also has been having a hard time sleeping lately, so he was worried about his night. Thankfully Miles didn't cry at all at night - I had to wake him to feed him (he's been having this reflux issue) and when I did he woke right up and gave me a smile like, "Hey lady. What's up? Milk? Yeah, sure, I'm cool with that."

The kids are at a movie with Erik right now and I'm about to take Miles to his next home stay - kind of like a progressive dinner, but with a baby. Hopefully Megan won't be too disappointed that he's gone when she gets home. I think Ethan will be relieved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where are they COMING from?!?!

It happened again. I was making a sandwich, and noticed an ant on the counter. While I was ending his life, I felt a prickle on my arm. I thought, "Gosh, I have one on my arm too." Yeah, no. It was, you guessed it, another cockroach.

Ok, seriously. My house has never been cleaner. There are places Lisa has cleaned which it has never crossed my MIND to clean. She's even cleaned the garbage chute, God love her. The same garbage chute which I will open and close which such speed that you'd think I'm super human. I do this because I am terrified that if it is open too long a huge cockroach will see this as an invitation into my kitchen. This is an extremely plausible scenario. The fact that she stood there with it gaping open actually putting her arm in the lion's mouth, so to speak, long enough to give it a thorough cleaning makes me stand in awe of her.

Yet despite the domination of my cleaning crusader, these giant cockroaches keep finding their way into my kitchen and ONTO MY ARM. Why? How? And how many more times will Lisa get to hear me scream like a freak?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Conversation in the car

Megan, "Ethan, are you going to buy the Millililum Falcon?"

Ethan, "It's not Millililum Megan, it's Millininum!"

Megan, "Millinilum?"

Ethan, "No, MillININUM!"

Me, "Ethan, do you mean the Millennium Falcon?"

Silence. Followed by several minutes of trying to get the kids to say it right.

Build a Bear

Megan's top favorite things to do in the world are: write notes, play with stuffed animals, dress and mother her dolls, and play kitchen. If she can combine these activities, say in hosting a restaurant complete with hand written menus for her dolls and animals, it's like a little slice of heaven.

So it's no surprise that when she found the Build a Bear store here several months ago, her primary objective became, "Save enough money to buy a build a bear." This week, mission accomplished. She tromped down there with her wallet bulging ($12 in bills and the rest in coins) and plopped down $25.90 for the brown sugar dog (sadly, it's only US$10 in the States!). She had been saving up for this white dog with pink and red hearts, but it's no longer available here.

If you aren't familiar, in this store you buy a deflated animal. They take you to a machine full of fluff, and the kid gets to push on a foot pedal which allows the fluff to fill up your animal. Then they let you put a little red silk heart inside before they sew it closed. Next, they put your animal in a little "shower" and let you brush it while it is subjected to air flow so strong it could potentially strip it clear of fur altogether. Then, if you so desire, you can choose from a hundred fun little outfits for your animal, including accessories like boxer shorts and roller skates. I told Megan I would buy her one outfit. She chose the super bear outfit. Then she was able to choose a name (Jack) and print out his birth certificate.

She's been having a great time flying Jack around the house, but she's already informed me that it will be more fun when Jack has friends and more clothes. Her next aim is the zebra, because she will be able to buy roller skates for it. So if you are close enough to us that you'd like to buy Megan a gift in the foreseeable future, Build a Bear gift certificates would be like gold to her.

I concede

I stated on my Facebook status today that I have succumbed to Erik's cold. It was unavoidable - if something can take down that rock solid immune system, do the rest of us even have a ghost of a chance? Never.

But I just realized I have succumbed to something else - the draw of the hand phone. Note this post from 2006. I was all supercilious and archaic in my attitude toward hand phones. Look at me now. It's sitting next to me like a faithful puppy, chirping at me at regular intervals with a new text message from my friends. I take it with me everywhere. Many days it's in my pocket. If I leave the house without it, I have the panicked feeling, "What if someone needs to get in touch with me? What will I DO?!?" At times like that, I remind myself that for the first 30 years of my life, I had no phone with me, and everything turned out just fine.

I will admit defeat and say that I love my hand phone. Since I am with my kids the majority of the day, I don't have time for long uninterrupted phone calls with friends. And since many of my friends here are in the same boat, they don't have time either. So we communicate primarily by text message. It gets comical when I see that I've texted a friend about 15 times within half an hour, and we start typing messages like, "Maybe I should just call you . . . " I love that I can even text my great friend Ginger in Turkey of all places. In fact, I think I'll do that right now. Oh wait, no it's 6 a.m. there. Well, you see my point. I heart my hand phone!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Scream if You're Dying

I've never appreciated the alarm system on our car. It's the classic combination of honking and beeping which continues until you find that little button on your key fob. Or in our case, for a full minute until it decides it's done screaming because that little button is useless. This is because the only time our alarm goes off is when the battery in our car is dying. In Singapore, this happens about once a year. Yes, the batteries are very, very weak.

Unfortunately, our battery appears to be dying again, because when we opened this car this morning the alarm went off. It went off again when I unlocked the car so Ethan could hop out and buy me a Coke Light (it's so nice to have kids at that level of independence!). We were blessed with it again when exiting the car at Plaza Singapura, and twice upon re-entry because it objects both to doors opening and the car being put into drive.

Last year when this happened I thought it was because my key fob was dying. I suffered through this for several days, each time screaming, "I'm not stealing you, you stupid car! I OWN YOU!" to no avail. When my car battery finally died, I mentioned to the service man that the key fob was acting up, and he told me it was related to the battery. He also showed me how to disable the alarm. I forgot that bit today. Thankfully, Erik remembered when I came home and told him we've got a screaming car again.

The men are coming tomorrow to fix it and change the oil. I love the car service in Singapore - they come pick up your car and return it serviced. It's a good thing they can come because the kids were refusing to go back in the car ever again.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We "Strongly Encourage"

There's a joke in our ministry that when we want people not to do something, but don't want to be too harsh, we don't forbid it, but we "strongly encourage" people not to do it. We Americans don't really like to be strict most of the time.

Not so the Singaporeans. Culturally they are much more comfortable with drawing lines. Here's my case in point: On the route I take running, I pass many bus stops. Most of these bus stops have a big sign with an ad on it. Two of the stops have had ads for TV shows which do not originate in Singapore. One is for a show which must air on HBO or something like that, called "Californication" starring David Ducovny of X Files fame. I think we can all guess at the content of this show. The other show is called "The Riches" and must be a British show because it had Minnie Driver and some other Brit on the ad. Minnie is dressed a bit skanky.

This morning when I ran, both of these ads had a huge white piece of paper taped over them, which read, "This programme conflicts with our values and therefore you are DISCOURAGED FROM VIEWING." It was an official looking sign from some Singaporean agency. Why not take the ads down? Is this a way to continue to get the revenue from the ad while still expressing disapproval? That seems so very Singaporean. But what struck me the most is the phrase, "Our values." I assume they means our as in "the whole of society." You could never say that in America. There would be a little picket line around these ads or something. From an American standpoint it seems so patronizing to tell your citizens what to watch, though from my perspective I think it's wise to caution people.

What I'm really wondering is - did they put up these ads to peak interest, then put up the disclaimer to shame people who have started watching?

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Did you go to AWANAS as a kid? I did, at the Baptist church across town. I don't have many memories of it, so I guess I must not have participated long. My brother did though, and I'm told he memorized ridiculous amounts of scripture.

Our kids have finally joined this year and they are HUGE fans. I suspect this is primarily because they get AWANA shares which are like money, which they can use to buy things at the AWANA store (although since they are both hoarders, they haven't spent any of it yet. They're gunning for the big ticket items).

Megan seems to have a knack for memorizing, so she's already onto her fourth "jewel." Ethan's book is a bit harder, so more is required of him at each level, but he's still plugging away and doesn't seem to mind that Megan's got twice as many shares as he does.

I'm doing my part as an AWANA volunteer which means I get to listen to the older red team boys and girls recite their verses. It's actually been really fun, since I get the same kids every week and I can encourage and celebrate their progress with them. What cracks me up is that I often have difficulty understanding their Singaporean accents (about half are Singaporean, half "others") so sometimes I'm not sure they said their verses right but I don't have the heart to tell them that. And sometimes they forget the verse entirely and stand there shooting out random Biblical words, "Jesus . . . Father . . . . prayer. . . " like if they keep doing this eventually the words will join together into coherent sentences.

Today was Biblical character day so Ethan went dressed as Moses and Megan went as Deborah. Megan got third place out of the younger kids (I think because she was one of the only girls who didn't choose to dress as Mary or Esther) so she scored 10 shares.

The best part is that they still give the kids those goofy little red vests that we wore. Some things never change.