Thursday, December 25, 2008


Along the way in Singapore I have deluded myself into thinking that the prices I pay for imported items aren't THAT much more than what I would pay here. Oh how great is my self-deception.

I'd think things like, "Hmm . . . Pop Tarts for S$5. Those are what - $3 in the US? Maybe $2.50. That's about right." Pop Tarts are $1. That means about three times more. Fortunately I've decided Pop Tarts don't make the healthy cut in our house and we don't buy them.

Cranberries! Once a year in Singapore I spring for a bag of cranberries. They're usually about S$8. But they're probably expensive in the States because who but the people in New England grows cranberries? Apparently enough to make the US$1.49 at Walmart. Oy.

Oh, and dark chocolate Hersey kisses, my biggest vice in Singapore. They are S$6.95 at Mustafa. They were on sale the other day here 2/$4. Think of how many more bags of chocolate I could have bought by now! Is this not tragic?!?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The up side of this dilemma is that it makes me more willing to spring for something better here. Sure, the yogurt I bought yesterday was one of the more expensive ones, but it was a bargain compared to what it is in Singapore. I'll enjoy it while I'm here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back in the Saddle

When we woke up yesterday morning we'd had four inches or so of new snow overnight, and the snow machines had worked overtime so there was about a foot of fresh powder. I decided I couldn't let that hill lick me. Well, at least I couldn't let hills in general lick me. I could let Sterling lick me. This time.

We dropped the kids off in ski camp again and Erik, his aunt Barb, and I headed up Lower Morse. I like calling it Lower Morse because otherwise I'd have to call it the bunny hill which sounds wimpy. So we headed up Lower Morse and slowly made our way down. I've never skied in that much powder before (I've skied a total of about 10 days in my life so I don't have much to draw from) and it was both fun and more challenging. It felt a bit like going over the wake when you water ski - not sure how it will affect you. The first run down was tough because I was concentrating hard on not going too fast, which meant my legs were dying by the bottom. We did about 5 or 6 runs before I said I'd had enough, but by the end I felt my confidence coming back and was actually starting to enjoy it. As much as someone who really isn't a fan of downhill skiing can enjoy it.

Aside from blistery winds, it was a decent morning. At one point we went straight for the main lodge instead of left toward the chair lift. I came to a point where the snow was untouched and about two feet deep, right next to the snow machine. I'm not sure what happened but my assessment is that I lost power and got blown over by the snow machine while I was at a dead stop. I managed to look like an idiot by myself this time, as I tried in vain to push myself back to standing (my arm went all the way into the snow up to my armpit).

My knee still feels weird if I straighten my leg completely but I'm thankful I was able to get back up and not come away with a renewed injury. We'd back on level ground in Minnesota again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Morning After (and the day too)

I awoke this morning to light rain and a bum knee. Just as well - it meant my family couldn't go off and have fun without me. Instead they would have to stay and have fun with me, on level ground. I've forgotten how weather can be so variable in the U.S. Saturday it was about 10 degrees and clear skies. Yesterday it was 30 degrees and cloudy. Today it got up near 50 degrees and drizzled a great deal of the snow away. Tomorrow's forecast: 25 degrees.

In light of rain and limping people, we went to the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory and got a tour, which of course ended with a sample of what they were making today: Mint Chocolate Chunk. Good stuff. It's been so very long since I've had really good ice cream. Asia just doesn't do dairy. Did you know Ben and Jerry's employees get 3 free pints of ice cream a DAY? I thought that was just the stuff of legends.

After the ice cream tour, we went to a glass shop and watched two men blow and shape glass into beautiful, ridiculously expensive pieces. I kept thinking, "I wish I had a specialized skill like that." But I couldn't think of anything I'd really want to devote my life to learning, so I guess I'll just get over it.

Then into Burlington for lunch and a quick walk down Church Street, which is a pedestrian shopping street, and back home in the rain. The sun going down between 4-5 means we always have this feeling like, "Shouldn't we be sleeping by now? Why haven't we eaten yet? Something's wrong."

Tomorrow it's back to the slopes. There's a chance of snow tonight that will hopefully make everything pretty again, and the hills will be groomed and ready for everyone but me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ski Catastrophe

Here's what you need to do right now - go to Youtube and find the most spectacular ski wipeout possible. Preferably it should be one on a medium slope, and the skiier should be on your left, gaining speed in a uncontrolled way. He (or she) should trip to the right, get the right leg trapped underneath his (or her) body, slide across the hill to your right, maybe flipping once or twice, and glide to a stop several feet before plunging over the edge of the mountain to his (or her) death. Oh, and all the while you should hear a strange "I'm out of control!" kind of scream coming from that person. Did you find it? No? Oh, maybe that's because no one on top of Sterling at Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, had their camera going this morning. If they had, they would have caught that exact scenario, starring me.

Thankfully I was in the best of hands - the president and the public relations director of the resort (read: excellent skiers) were right behind me, as was my former ski patrol husband. While small children swooped past me, chuckling under their breath, my family untangled me and helped me down to an easier place, from which I could navigate the rest of the way down. It wasn't pleasant, as I had to strike a balance between staying in control and not putting too much pressure on my knee. But I made it without incident.

Where did I go wrong? Well, I should have insisted on listening to the voice inside me that said, "I need to start at the bunny hill again." But I didn't, and the rest of my party was confident that I could join them on the bigger slopes. That confidence is now shattered, at least until I've refreshed myself on an easier hill.

But there will be no more hills today. Not sure if there will be tomorrow either, as my knee is officially tweaked. I thought it might be broken at first but the ski patrol said I'm good. But there's plenty to do at Smugg's that doesn't involve embarassing falls. If not for Erik, I would never attempt to downhill ski anyway. I much prefer cross country or snow shoeing. Anything with less potential for speed and injury.

The kids on the other hand will be surpassing me in skill within the next 24 hours. We caught up with them at lunch where they informed me that their ski instructor, Eric, would be taking them up the hill after lunch because they are now "experts." If only I could have started so young, I might have avoided today's debacle.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What to do with snow

When it started snowing and turned cold here, I mentally panicked a bit and thought I might end up spending the rest of our time inside. How could I go outside when it was so cold?! But the arrival of several inches of snow, and the possibility of cute "kids in the snow" pictures drew me out with the kids, Erik, and my brother this morning. Turns out it's really not all that cold. You just have to dress for it (which I am now able to do again thanks to Old Navy).

We tromped down to a hill by my parent's house that was blanketed with untouched snow about 6 inches deep. We brought four sleds and a shovel (shovels actually make decent sleds). After I'd taken a few pictures and returned the camera to the house, I joined in on doing what we did when we were kids. It all comes back to you - when faced with chilly temps and loads of the white stuff, you keep warm by configuring the snow into various play devices. In our case, we built jumps for sledding.

After building what we thought was a great jump, we sent Christopher and Ethan down for the inaugural run. We think the weight of the two of them together somewhat destroyed the jump, but that's part of the fun - you rebuild better. After a few runs, it had had enough but not before watching various family members launch themselves over it.

At that point I'd had enough, but it was a fun trip down memory lane. Forts, people, tracks, angels, jumps - there's no limit to what kids will make from snow. And it looks like we have enough of it to try every one.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Magic Kingdom

My first trip to Disney World was when I was six, so it seems fitting that Megan's first trip would be at the same age. I think six and up is the perfect time to take kids to Disney. Our kids were wired with excitement as we parked, took the tram to the "transportation center," hopped on the monorail, and entered the Magic Kingdom.

We thought it might be better to hop on the train to the back side of Disney and make our way forward to avoid crowds. Turns out the train's pretty slow, so I don't think we beat anyone, but it was a fun ride nonetheless. The first ride we hit was Goofy's Barnstormer, which is a mini-roller coaster. Ethan and I went together with Megan, Nonna and Erik soon to follow. Ethan laughed the whole way, and we had barely slowed down when he exclaimed, "Let's do it again!" I think he might have been happy just staying there the whole day. But we moved on.

I have some strong memories from my first trip which kept cropping up as we moved through the park - the Mad Tea Hatter's Ride which, as it turns out, is more fun when you're six; Snow White's Scary Adventures, which we avoided after we scared the pants off Megan in the Haunted Mansion; Pirates of the Carribean, where you can tell which animatronic people were created more recently than 1980; and the Jungle Boat Cruise, which was on a much larger river when I was 4 feet tall. Or so I remember. It was fun to relive my own memories while watching the kids make their own. And thank God for fast passes, though this time of year isn't a busy time at Disney. We hardly had any wait time for any rides.

The only part of the day I really didn't enjoy was Space Mountain. I know - it's one of the best rides, and it was Megan's favorite. But having my petite six year old, who barely made the height requirement, be flung back and forth in her seat in front of me in almost total darkness terrified me. Especially since by that point of the day she was all into the "raise your arms like this, it's more fun!" kind of coaster riding. I reached as far around the seat as I could and clung to the hood of her sweatshirt, like that would help if she launched from the car. I know, irrational of me, but I couldn't help it.

What surprised me about Disney was the amount of crying I observed. There's no crying at Disney World! C'mon - it's a magical place where dreams come true! Can I offer an explanation and perhaps a warning? The children who were crying were the little ones - the ones who were scared of the rides and the giant characters, tired from missing naps, and from being dragged around a huge amusement park. They're just too young. Save your money. They won't remember it anyway. Unless you know that your kids are troopers who love new experiences, take them to the county fair until they're old enough to appreciate it.

Wait until they're five or six, then have a great day with them, like we did.

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.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oh for nasty

Imagine you're having a nice conversation with your maid (ok, or just someone) in your kitchen about Halloween. You're idly handling an orange, wondering if its rind is thick enough to make into a little tiny Jack O' Lantern since the pumpkins in this foreign country are so expensive you want to cry.

Then, you feel a little tickle on your forearm. You look down to see something big and brown scuttle back behind your elbow and it strikes you that it's a giant coackroach which is crawling on your body so you start screaming horrid little non-human sounding screams because NOW YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE IT IS OH FOR THE LOVE GET IT OFF!!!!! You finally manage to brush it off. It tries to make its escape on the counter, but it's no match for Lisa the Maid.

Now imagine how long it will take for you to lose the feeling that there is still something nasty on your arm. Keep imagining . . . .

There's No Word for This Kind of Rain

I thought since it was raining it would be a good time to hit the library and get some new books. Aside from being thwarted by Deepavali (see the post below) we were almost turned back by the intensity of the rain. As we waited in a long line to get into the carpark, the thunder and lightning clapped simultaneously above us over and over. We were in the eye of the storm. I said, "So Ethan, what word would you use for this kind of rain?" He said he didn't think there was one. It was more than buckets. It was like being in a car wash. Even with the wipers on full blast, I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of me, and that was when I wasn't moving.

So I'd say it's officially the rainy season here. This comes around in November or so and hangs out til late January. It means we have to get out in the morning for play and exercise because most afternoons are filled with raining, pouring, sprinkling, drizzling, plopping, buckets, sheets, you name it. Hopefully not plooping though.

Not Another One

"Is today a public holiday?" I thought as we stared into the darkness of the library. Sure enough, it's Deepavali today (known also as Diwali). That explained the huge number of people braving the rain to get into the carpark at the Bishan Mall.

This happens so often - I go out to a public place, only to find it closed because someone in Singapore is celebrating a holiday of which I am unaware. There are just too many of them! I read recently that there is a debate about letting Muslims have some of their holy days considered public holidays in America (or at least for them to be off on those days to celebrate). This is apparently quite threatening to many people, but my opinion on that is not part of this post. Let me just say that here we do celebrate everyone's religious holidays and it gets a little tiring after awhile. Especially when it means we can't check out any more library books.

And So It Begins

I'm excited to be going home for Thanksgiving for the first time since 1998 this year. My enjoyment of it was a little confused though yesterday when the elevator doors opened into the United Square mall and there was a jazzy version of a Christmas song playing. You thought it was bad in America - here they have no Thanksgiving to deter them, so they jump right in as soon as they can. I momentarily had a thought of, "Wait, are we doing this yet? I thought we had a couple more holidays to go before then."

Where's Home?

I made the mistake recently of saying something about, "When we go home" in front of the kids. Megan looked at me and said, "What home?"

I have tried to refer to Minnesota as simply, "back in America" to avoid this confusion. The reality is, as many times as my kids have been there, as much as they love it, it is not home to them. Really, it's not "home" to me like it was before. This is yet another aspect of being third culture people - a sense of displacement. This isn't really my home, but that isn't anymore either.

As a Christian, this doesn't bother me much. As I quote from C.S. Lewis the other day on my homeschool blog, "Our Father will refresh us with many pleasant inns on the journey, but he would not encourage us to mistake them for home." We are citizens of heaven, and if my home on this earth is less than ideal, well that's fine with me. I'll get a better one later.

In the meantime, I watch what I say and direct my kids toward their real home.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

Ok, so the global economy may be about to crumble and we'll all have to live in cardboard boxes or something, but the dollar's up to S$1.50 buying power and gas dropped again down to S$1.71 per liter. I'm a happy girl.

The Cost of Peace of Mind

When your daughter has had a fever for three days and suddenly starts complaining that her neck hurts a lot, the wise doctors on the web say "Go to the hospital immediately!" So I did.

I suspected it might just have been stiffness from lack of activity, or too much movie watching (she's been a pretty tired little girl) but it was 7 p.m. and I didn't want to wait until midnight, realize I really should have taken her in, and then spent a miserable night in the ER, or worse yet, have a really sick little girl.

Thankfully Lisa the maid could stay with Ethan, so Megan grabbed her pink bear for comfort and we went. The ER at the KK Children's Hospital here is a slick operation. S$80 will cover everything you do during your visit. We got in to see the doctor quickly, and she ordered a blood test to rule out meningitis. We had to wait what they said would be 40-60 minutes but which turned into more like 90 for the results. You know what's cute for about 5 seconds? Those squeaky shoes people put on their toddlers. You know what's not cute after 90 minutes? Yeah.

I did get a chance to be entertained by watching I Survived a Japanese Game Show for the first and hopefully only time. Don't get me wrong - I laughed, but watching that level of shame and pettiness is something I can skip. Where do they get the people for reality shows? One of the great mysteries of life.

Before the blood test, the doctor said she didn't suspect it was meningitis, but wanted to be sure. I called Ethan because I knew he would be worried. Somewhere in his life he developed a deep fear of illness - is it post traumatic syndrome from living through SARS? I don't know. He told me he'd been very worried, and Lisa told him to read his Bible. Man, I love this woman. He said, "So I went to Lego Bible and then played a few games and felt better."
One of these days I need to convince my son that Lego Bible is not the same as the other Bible.

After all was said and done, the doctor said she just has a viral fever and it can run its course. I have to say, a Singaporean accent is sometimes hard for me to understand. But a Singaporean accent in a hospital full of screaming babies, when spoken through a surgical mask, might as well be another language. But she got the job done and we were back home by 9:30 p.m.

Going to an emergency room at 7 p.m. in Singapore: S$80. Finding out that your daughter just has yet another tropical mystery illness and NOT meningitis: Priceless.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's raining . . . or something

Ethan is our logical boy, and he often shares with us processes he's considered such as "The Eight Stages of Learning to Swallow Pills" (which he and Megan have both recently mastered) or, "The Four Stages of an Ant Bite." They're usually a series of stages. Sometimes they're just a list though. Tonight he gave us a list, which was, "The Words for Rain." It went like this,

"There are lots of words for rain. There's raining, and there's drizzling. There's sprinkling. There's pouring. And also there's plooping and plopping."

"Really? And what is plooping and plopping?"

"Plopping is when there are big drops that come down. And plooping is when birds poop on you. A lot of birds pooping at the same time is called plooping."

"Have you ever experienced this Ethan?"


"But that's what you'd call it if it did happen?"


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Photos

Since it's SO much easier to upload photos to flickr than to blogger, I'm directing you to our flickr site rather than putting all our new photos on here. I posted photos from our two recent adventures - the Forest Adventure and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Check them out!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Righteous Anger?

I just gave my management guy a verbal lashing. This is uncharacteristic of me. For one thing, I'm not a confrontational person. I didn't grow up learning to yell when I'm angry, or even be all that direct with my words. But I have to say that just now I raised my voice at him and spoke in no uncertain terms.

The situation is this: there is an electrical box not 10 feet outside our door (actually about 2 feet from our kitchen door) from which there has been a steady leak for the past three weeks. The water is actually running down the side of the electrical box and the encased wiring. I can't begin to say how dangerous this is. The management has been up to see it, and about a week ago they decided it was coming from our house. They shut off the water in our kitchen for a total of 4 days, but the leak kept coming.

Several days passed, then after pressure from the people on our floor the management came and shut off the water on the 7th floor. No change. This morning when I went out for a walk, there was a puddle 3 inches deep, and I snapped. I left a note on the management office door for Mr. Poon to come see me as soon as possible.

When I heard him out in the hallway, I went out and told him that this has gone on long enough. I am concerned for the safety of my family, as there could be a fire or other catastrophe at any moment. The man he hired previously to look at it was not actually a plumber, so I said that if he didn't hire a real plumber today, I would call one myself and send him the bill. At first he tried to give me the classic Asian brush off, with nods and mumbling about how he was taking care of it. By the end of my rant, he was insisting, "Ok, ok, I will call a plumber today."

I walked back into my house a bit shaken and surprised at my own emotion. I asked myself, "Is this righteous anger that I'm feeling? Does that make the fact that I just reduced a man to apologetic promises ok?" I think there was an element of it. It's a strange thing for me, exploring this idea of expressing anger in right and just ways. I think there are times for it - Jesus made that clear when he overturned the tables in the temple. I'm always hesitant to express it that way myself, but in this circumstance with this man I felt it was the only way something would be done. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Never Would Have Thought

Growing up in southern Minnesota, the thought never passed through my mind that one day I would live in Singapore. Or that I would be concerned about the value of the US dollar. Or about the cost of gas. But today these things are all quite relevant to my life, and I'm rejoicing to see that the dollar is back up to $1.46 buying power, and that gas slipped another 4 cents. Kids, good news - you might still get to go to college!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sad Megan

Instead of writing about the book she finished today, Megan and I decided it would be good for her to write about how she was feeling since daddy left on another trip today. Here's what she wrote:

"Today my daddy went on a trip. and I'm sad that daddy left. I didn't want daddy to leave. But he had to leave. I wanted daddy to never go to other countrys (sic) unless he brought me with him. But he has to go because he has meetings in that country."

It was a very emotional time. I anticipate a repeat at bedtime.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I heart RSS feeds

Erik introduced me to this new (well, probably not that new, but new to me) concept called RSS feed. If you don't know, it's a way for you to see all the updated posts on your favorite blogs at the same place. I do mine in google reader. Every day I just open up one page and it tells me if the blogs I visit have a new post. That way I don't have to waste time opening up a bunch of pages only to find that my friends have nothing new to say. That's such a let down.

It's a dangerous hobby, though. Today my google reader offered to show me a bunch of pages that I don't already subscribe to which obviously were chosen for me because they either involved Asia, homeschooling or Christianity, or some combination of the three. Well, I found the blog of a woman in China from which I found three homeschool blogs which I also put on my reader. I mocked Erik at first because he'll open up his reader and find over 400 unread items (how does this save him time?) but I fear I could get there soon. It's a new addiction.

But all this to say that we have the option for you to RSS feed us, so if you don't already you should try it. It's fun! You just need to have a web email address and add our address to your reader page.

In other news, I had a phenomenally bad allergy week this week - Wednesday was the only day I felt normal. This was probably compounded by the fact that I also caught a cold, and when your immune system's down, you're more likely to feel your allergies. On Friday I went to my allergist who I think moonlights as a Singapore rockstar, and dropped an unspecified truckload of money to obtain more and stronger drugs, including steroids. That's right, steroids. Just for a week. He says there will be no side effects, but I'm kind of hoping that if I go for a run (which I haven't done all week!) I'll shave off some time. So far I don't feel any bursts of energy, but I do feel quite dry in my nasal passages which is a new and welcome feeling.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Megan's latest

Wednesday is dessert night in our house, which usually means either a trip down to McDonald's for sundaes, or brownies. This week the kids opted for a movie instead, and Megan asked for popcorn. At first she asked politely, but after waiting too long, she escalated to this,
"Mommy, could you please make me some popcorn? Right now? At once?! Immediately?!?!?!"

If she weren't so cute . . .

(she told me later that this is a direct quote from the Geronimo Stilton book she's reading)

Fishing for dinner

Erik took Ethan fishing today at Pasir Ris, where they caught large prawns. Yeah, they call them prawns here. We've succumbed. They caught eight of them and brought them home.

Now, this could have been a really awkward situation if we didn't have a fantastic maid who cooks like mad. We showed her the prawns and said, "Can you do something with these?" and she calmly and competently whipped up grilled garlic butter prawns with rice and green beans. The green beans, I should mention, were amazing. I do not understand how she makes these incredible dishes with items that I could just as easily find in my house. It's not like she pulls out some secret ingredient from her room to make all our food taste better. She just knows how to cook so much better than I do. And that's ok. That's why she cooks, and I don't. I bake.

But how cool is it that we caught our food for dinner? Ethan was incredibly proud. Lisa got a kick out of how often he came into the kitchen to check on her progress. Pictures to come as soon as my computer is fully functional, which is entirely dependent on Erik and not me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Get Your House Clean on Your Maid's Day Off

When we came back from church yesterday I realized that though the house wasn't dirty, there was clutter. I actually appreciate that our maid doesn't try to put away every item that is left out. She usually collects things and puts them in a pile for me to deal with. And then they just sit there. No, I do put them away. Eventually.

Well, that had been happening too much, especially in the kid's room and the playroom. So I told the kids, "For every five things you put away in the right place, you can have a star." We have "star jars" which have those little Chinese paper stars in them. The kids get stars for rewards, and when the jars are full they're going to get a big treat. Haven't decided what yet but it's going to be fantastic.

I haven't seen my kids move so fast in a long time. I sat on the couch working on the computer while they raced around, every once in awhile announcing how many things they'd put away. When all was done, they'd both put away 85 things. Gosh, I didn't think it was that cluttered!

So there you have it - an easy way to clean your house for free.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I don't know why, but I feel the need to confess tonight that the lovely picture to the right of this post is not one taken in Singapore. It's actually a shot of Freedom Bay in Phuket, Thailand. But I didn't have a good picture of Singapore so I faked it. Singapore has beaches, it's true, but none so beautifully framed as this one. Forgive me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What to do

Megan just handed me this note:

I need more to do today. and one thing is play with friends. and another thing is read paws off cheder (sic) face. or play junior monopoly with mommy.

So I'm off to play Junior Monopoly.

Brain Teaser

I just found this on someone else's blog. You have to find the names of 30 books of the Bible in this paragraph. It's one of those crazy makers that will make you not want to give up until you've found every one of them. And if you can't, I can give you the answers, but you know you'll be disappointed if you have to go that route:

There are 30 books of the Bible in the following paragraph. Can you find them?

This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket, on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That’s a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam, especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalised. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph. During a recent fund raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new sales record. The local paper, the Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, “the books are all right here in plain view hidden from sight.” Those able to find all of them will hear great lamentations from those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember, there is no need for a mad exodus, there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found.

Holiday mix-up

In the pool yesterday I said to Megan, "Hey, you've never been back in the U.S. for Thanksgiving. That'll be so much fun! We'll have to decorate the table with leaves."

Megan: "Or maybe hearts!"

Me: "Ok . . . why hearts? Are you thinking of Valentines Day?"

Megan: "Um, yeah." She seemed a little disappointed that there would not be hearts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Comparison Shopping

I've always wanted to do a comparison between Mustafa (my shopping venue of choice) and some other grocery store in town. There are several other popular chains, including Cold Storage, Giant and Fairprice. Of those, Cold Storage is generally the most expensive, but also the most likely to carry imported products. So I decided to start my comparison there.

I had a notebook with me at Cold Storage, so I just wrote down 20 or so random items that I typically buy, and their prices. Then this morning I wrote down the prices for the same products at Mustafa. I found that on these 20 items, I would save $17.65 by buying them at Mustafa. Hello! The price differences ranged from 15 cents less to $4.70 less (for maple syrup). There was only one thing that cost more at Mustafa (light cottage cheese - 15 cents more). 6 of the products were more than $1 less at Mustafa. Can you imagine over the long haul how much money I've saved by shopping at Mustafa?

I swear, I'm ready to be their international spokesperson. If you live in Singapore, and you don't shop at Mustafa, you might want to rethink that, at least once in awhile.

No, Just Singapore

A friend of mine received a wedding invitation recently addressed to her in "Singapore, China." I'm not surprised. When I was changing my address at US Bank on the phone, the girl hesitated when I told her Singapore. She said, "Now that's in Japan, right?"

Perfectly understandable mistakes. It's difficult to understand the concept of a single island with a single name, not large enough that it needs to be divided by cities.

This difficulty is most pronounced when attempting to do things online. Websites aren't made for this possibility, so I usually have to enter in
City: Singapore
State: Singapore
Country: Singapore

And then I've had things come to me in "Singapore, Singapore, Singapore."

On Facebook, when I tried to enter in my current location, and I said simply "Singapore" it wanted to place me in Singapore, South Africa. So I'm in Singapore, Singapore.

Sometimes if it's not something that will be mailed to me, I get creative by entering in the neighborhood I live in, like this, "Serangoon, Singapore."

Is there no where else in the world with this problem? And why can't places that ship internationally account for this?

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Smell of Dirt

I smelled dirt recently. It was a good dirt smell - that smell that makes you think of spring and new flowers and life. And also, it made me think of my dad.

I feel badly saying that because I in no way want to imply that my dad smells like dirt. Well, he kind of does, sometimes. But it's just because he has these amazing gardens that really should be featured in some magazine, and spending all that time in them sometimes rubs off on him (at least until he showers).

I bring this up just to point out how strong our associations with certain smells can be. And it's funny how sometimes you don't even realize it until you smell them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't Take it Personally

You may notice that I do not have a blog roll, or whatever they call that list on the side of your blog that links to everyone else you know in cyberspace. I think there's a good reason for this: I don't want to leave anyone out. But I visit a lot of blogs on occasion, and I don't want to have a list a mile long of all those people. I could be really honest and only include the people whose blogs I really do read on a regular basis. But that feels exclusionary. So if you've put a link to me on your blog, thank you so much. I really do appreciate it. I don't plan to return the gesture, but it's nothing personal, ok? Just wanted to clear that up.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Controlled change

I don't much like change, unless I have complete control over it. But when the controlled change involves creative pursuits, like rearranging my house or decorating it, I am all about change.

So I'm changing my blog template. Thanks to visiting another homeschool blogger's page (one of the many new activities I find time for now that I have a maid) I found this great website with tons of free blog templates. There are so many fun ones that you shouldn't be surprised if both my blogs change on a weekly basis.

Now, right now you might be staring at a light pink screen with barely readable print. That is not my ultimate goal. Because I am so computer un-savvy, even though I am following the directions as best as I can see, sometimes the new template shows up and sometimes it doesn't. This is true of my homeschool blog as well. If you don't see the cool new template, just wait - once Erik (the computer whisperer) gets home, all will be well and we'll all be enjoying the new look. Until I change it again. Probably sometime next week.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Conversation with Megan

Megan and I were sitting on the couch together yesterday with shorts on. I commented that our skin was the same color (she actually disagreed)

"But you have hair on your legs and I don't," I said.

"You can make the hair on your legs go away for up to three weeks," she told me.

"How do you know that?"

"There's something you can use to make it go away," she replied.

"Where did you find out about that?"

"Starhub." (the local cable channel)

Absent-minded ballot

I have tried and failed to vote by absentee ballot in the last two presidential elections. In 2000 I opened my ballot to find I had only a state ballot, not a national one. I don't know how that's possible, but since I hadn't been in the U.S. for a year and had no idea who was running, I couldn't in good conscious vote for any of the people on it.

In 2004, we had just moved to Singapore, so I had my dad go to the court house and request an absentee ballot on my behalf. Something didn't go through, so I requested another one online. It showed up in my post box on the day of the election. I still have it. It will make a good social studies lesson one of these days.

This year, I will not fail. I have just gone online to request a ballot, and I was confronted with this interesting question:

Last Residential Address
a. I know my exact address
b. I will describe my former address
c. My last address was a rural route.

I was tempted to click on the second option, just to see how they wanted me to proceed. How do you describe your former address? Do you say, "Well, it was this kind of slate blue craftsman style house about a block past the Blockbuster downtown"? Or describe like, "We lived in this suburb outside of Minneapolis. I want to say it started with a P. Does that help?" And the person on the other end of cyberspace goes, "Oh, ok, yeah, I know just the house you're talking about!"

And how cluttered does your mind have to be that you don't remember your last known address?

Well, I do know my last known address, so I'm right now ensuring that my husband will also be permitted to vote this year. Speaking of the presidential elections, you have to watch this funny clip from David Letterman.

Monday, September 01, 2008

House Elves

Here is a question on the online orientation class you must take in order to employ a full time maid:

If your maid is not doing a job the way you asked, should you:
a. scream at her until she does it right
b. beat her
c. calmly show her again how you want her to do it

Ok, so it was worded in a more polite way, but that's the gist of it. I don't know, maybe if you answered a or b you get red flagged as a jerk and they send someone to your house regularly to make sure you aren't doing them. Unfortunately, it still happens all too often. There are stories in the Singapore Straits Times frequently about maid abuse. Despite the regulations about how you are to treat these women regarding what you provide for them, time off, etc., you hear about women who have to sleep on the floor of the kid's room, or in a chair in the kitchen. I interviewed a girl who got one Sunday off a month, and the man of the house made advances toward her all the time. We're "required" to give them eight hours of sleep a day and a few breaks during the day. But I have heard of maids who are up at 5 a.m. and work until midnight (none of them work for my friends). And all this on measly pay.

Basically, these women are like the house elves in Harry Potter. So I feel a bit like Hermione, wanting reform, though I won't be organizing any clubs to make that happen. It's so ingrained in the culture, and so many of these women come to expect it, there's little hope for change. Plus I have bigger fish to fry. But I can at least provide a good environment for my maid. It's hard though - I have to keep telling her to slow down, take a rest, eat, don't work on her day off. I took her with me to Mustafa yesterday because she wanted to come (and eventually then I'll be able to send her by herself once she's able to navigate that gargantuan place) and she insisted on pushing the cart while walking 10 steps behind me. That felt bizarre and I don't really want to do it again.

It's a whole new world we've entered, where human nature (and by that I mean sin) finds a way to rear its ugly head. And another opportunity for us to live in a way that is contrary to the world.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Easy Side of Life

I am able to sit at this computer right now because of this glorious gift of Lisa, my maid. It's been a week and a half, and I feel like I can breathe again, like a great burden has been lifted. I've had four bad allergy days since she came, and if she hadn't been here, I know that the minute Erik walked in the door I would have shoved the kids at him, taken two drowsy allergy pills, and hit the sack. Instead, we hung out as a family after dinner, albeit with a subdued mommy. Life is manageable again.

I have moments when I can sit down and have nothing that must be done. I can't tell you how long it's been since I felt that. I can call friends, plan ahead, go out with my husband, attend Bible study, and best of all, spend uninterrupted time with my kids.

Some of my friends who have maids don't like it in some ways because they feel like something has been taken from them. They feel like they aren't doing the role they were called to do, which is to serve their families. I don't have this feeling, and I think I've figured out a possible reason why. I think it has to do with love languages. Mine is quality time, so to me I am suddenly free to really love my kids in a way that I couldn't before. The first day Lisa was here, we listed out on our homeschool board what we were going to do for activities (both school and non-school) and Megan joyfully wrote, "Play with mommy!" Maybe if your love language is acts of service, you feel like you are hindered in loving your family if someone else is doing the service tasks in the house.

I also think that sometimes we unconsciously embrace a very American value of independence and self-sufficiency. It wasn't long ago that it took a village to raise a child, and in many places (including Asia) that's still true. People in the States used to live in small towns where family members were close by to help. People knew each other better and watched out for each other more. That's just not the case anymore, and along the way we've developed this mentality that good moms do it alone.

Can I be honest? I think there's a lot of room for pride in that attitude. I don't see much in the Bible that tells me I should go it alone, or that my worth comes from how well I serve my family. Certainly I want to serve them wholeheartedly with the Lord's strength, trusting Him to give me what I need for each day. But being a mom and keeping a peaceful, ordered home is a tough task, and I'm finding there is great benefit for my family by having someone come alongside to help carry the load. I think I'll be able to be a better wife and mom because of Lisa's presence.

So why didn't we do this four years ago when we came? Oh, so many reasons. Mostly money - it's not cheap. Up until this last year, we had a neighborhood community that was incredibly supportive. Our new house is big enough to accommodate another person (just). My health got too bad. Erik travels too much. And the list goes on.

But bottom line because I think is what God led us to for this season. I think there are things He wants to do in us and through us by providing her. I think He's chosen to bless us with her at this time, and we want to bless her in return. It's a win win, and so far it's great.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Price is . . . . Somewhat Skewed

We were enjoying Jeff Corwin on Animal Planet tonight when Megan protested and said she wanted to watch something else. To prove to her there was nothing else worth watching, I started to flip through our few channels, and found that The Price is Right was playing.

My kids have never seen this show, and I felt that I owed it to their American citizenship to expose them to at least one episode. As with the Olympics, the barrage of questions about the show was almost too much, "Why is he running down there mommy? Does she get all three cars? How much is that one? Why is she shaking? What's so funny? What does that mean? How do they play this game?"

What really got me though was how completely OFF I was on guessing prices. I think it's a combination of seeing everything at import prices for years, plus the absence of generic or less expensive brands. One woman had to guess a fondu pot, a cheeseburger phone, and a blender. I thought, "At least $40 for the fondu pot, but maybe it's nice. It could be $80. How much does a cheeseburger phone sell for? Would people pay $100 for it? That blender looks sweet. I just priced a blender recently. I bet that one goes for $150." She guessed $29, $25, and $40 respectively. She wasn't off by more than $10 on any of them. Wow, I stink at this.

This gives me hope that someday when I move back to the States, there will still be things I can afford. This gives me NO hope, on the other hand, that I could ever win on The Price is Right.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thoughts from Miles 10-12

This is not fun.
Why am I doing this?
My feet hurt.
I can't believe I paid S$48 to do this to myself.
I should have worn my hydration pack.
Didn't that girl pass me earlier?
Don't walk - if you walk, you'll never start running again.
Ok, walk. Save it for the last kilometer.
I can't believe I'm still running. I've done 17K!
Oh good, there's another foreign man walking. I don't feel so bad now.
I'll be glad I did this. Think how good you'll feel crossing the finish line.
What if I just drop out of the race and lose my tracking chip in a trash bin?
Think positive Gina! You can do this!
Slow and steady wins the race right?
I'm never doing this again.

And on it went. I started out my race not far from the starting line. I thought this would be good - help me avoid the crush of people. Well, it did, but it's pretty demotivating when you take off and everyone around you (who has pushed their way to the front because they are actually fast) takes off and leaves you in their dust. I thought, "All 75,000 people are going to pass me." This of course wasn't true - many of those people I passed later in the race once they'd given it all out. My only regret was that I had use a bathroom at the 5K mark and there was only one! That took all of five minutes, but it was necessary.

The run itself was beautiful, taking us along the east coast of Singapore. It was never too hot as even after the sun came up it was cloudy. Still, I didn't appreciate the misting machines. I was already quite misted with my own sweat!

I had heard the last few miles were easier to bear because that's where people have lined the streets and are cheering for you. Yeah, the only people watching until the last 500 meters were Pakistani construction workers. They didn't cheer. Erik and the kids came to meet me at the finish line, but somehow they missed me. No matter - once I came around that last corner and saw the finish line, I gave an extra burst of power, crossed it, and then went and hung on a fence so that the blood could drain from my head and I wouldn't pass out.

On the way home, I reflected that this felt a bit like labor - in the midst of it you wonder why you ever chose this, but the pain is quickly forgotten and the anticipation of another is not far behind. I've been pretty subdued since we came home - on top of being exhausted, my allergies flared up, and my body has decided to retaliate for the inflicted torture in a gastro-intestinal party.

Am I glad I did it? I am. It was a good first effort. I think I'll probably do it again someday, but before then I might drop down to a few 10K's. They say a half marathon is half the distance, twice the fun. Well then, a 10K must be a virtual fiesta.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


No, I didn't just make up a funny word. But now that I think of it, I just may start using that word in my every day speech. Maybe as an adjective, like, "That Oomphatico's restaurant is oomphatic!" That's how I'm going to use it today. Erik and I went out on our first night of freedom since hiring our full time housekeeper/cook/babysitter. We were going to eat out with friends, but the food Lisa made looked so good we decided we'd eat that and just sit with our friends. Then our friends bailed. So we went in search of dessert.

We found it in the form of Oomphatico's, a new restaurant at Tanglin Mall. Well, it's new to me because I never go to Tanglin Mall except on the rare occasion I need an overpriced imported item not available at Mustafa. (such was the case last night).

I could never be a restaurant critic, because I don't like new food. Normally I don't want to try new places, or be adventurous in my eating. But the ambiance of this place and the interesting options on the menu sucked us in. We sat in oversized chairs by the door, and shared berry yogurt mousse and chocolate and white mousse.

This place would be the perfect girl's lunch out spot, and I fully intend to round up my girlfriends and make a date in the near future. If you live in Singapore and haven't been, you need to go!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The culture of play

I caught Megan pulling a large amount of kleenex out of the box today, but she said there was a good reason. Later, she came into my room and pulled out a piece of square note paper from my desk. She does this on a daily basis - she's my writer, and she's always making notes about things around the house. Then she came in and asked me how to spell "massage." At that point my curiosity got the better of my, and I went into the playroom to discover a makeshift bed with a stuff monkey laying on a pile of kleenex. At his feet was a note that read, "Feet Massage for Animals." There was a line of other animals who had either already received treatment or were awaiting it.

I asked Megan to show me how she did the massage (this was after I had asked and been denied my own feet massage. I was told it was only for animals). She giggled a bit, put her foot on a long flat Lego piece next to the little bed, and pushed down on the monkey's belly. She said it was more of a full body massage. She rolled up his legs and unrolled them, pushed on various body parts, flipped him over and rubbed him with a stray Batman action figure cape.

This is just another example to me of the interesting life our kids lead. We just spent three weeks in Thailand, where there are signs for foot massage and Thai massage on every corner. (The lego foot pedal and the body pushing I realized is her imitation of my friend Fiona the chiropractor correcting my often misaligned body). She's just imitating what she sees.

Since they were little, these evidences of another culture have shown up in our kid's play times. They make fried rice and take their bikes to the bike repair man. They pretend to fly places, but make sure they have their visas and passports first. To them it's totally normal. To me it's fascinating.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A NewWay of Living

I woke up yesterday morning at 6 a.m. to find a little woman mopping my floors. Don't be alarmed - I invited her in Monday night at midnight. She's our new full time maid from the Philippines, and it seems she has a good work ethic. She cleaned the entire house yesterday. She's going to have some time on her hands soon.

Erik and I have held out on getting a maid in Singapore - it's common among expats here to have one. In fact, we have been quite in the minority our four years here. I had a part time maid in China, and while it was a HUGE blessing, I never completely grew accustomed to having someone in my house. And that was only 25 hours a week. Here, full time maids must live with you, so it's like having another member of the family, except she has the lion's share of the work. On the upside, explaining what I want done in my house in my own language is quite refreshing.

Erik isn't here to enjoy this lifestyle change, but he'll be back tomorrow. I think he might faint at the sight of how clean everything is here. Things are being cleaned that have NEVER been cleaned in my house. By the end of the week there will be nothing left for her to do and I'll have to invent things.

Ready to Run

I just came back from a glorious run. I felt like I was on autopilot, running my 4 mile loop. It felt so good that at one point while listening to "Walkin' on Sunshine" I crossed paths with a little school boy and had to hold myself back from high five-ing him. It was like the whole world was on my side - birds singing, sun shining, cool breeze at my back. Except it was dark, I was wearing my ipod so I couldn't hear if birds were singing, and it was 94% humidity. A little like running in the shower.

It's a good thing it went well. I had another one of those "why am I running?" days last Saturday. My intention was to run down to my friend Wendy's house - about seven miles if I ran north a bit first - but forgot that when you leave at 8:40 in the morning it's indecently hot and humid. I wilted by mile 6 and walked the rest of the way.

Today, it was as though my body wanted redemption. I have five days until the big race, which starts at 6:30 a.m. This week I have to taper down - 4 miles today, 3 miles tomorrow, 2 miles Thursday, then rest until Sunday. It's amazing that 4 miles feels easy now.

We get to be the first people to run across the Singapore Marina Barrage. Hopefully Erik will snap a few photos - he and the kids hope to get a spot on the Barrage to see me.

So I'm going to dedicate my first half marathon (look at me all hopeful about future runs) to my husband Erik, who makes me believe I can do anything, and gives me the freedom to do it, and to my good friend Lindsey, who inspired me to run in the first place.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Fever

We've been watching the Olympics here in Singapore, and while our kids are having a hard time deciding who they should cheer for (China? USA? Singapore?) I am surprised at my resurgence of patriotism. This week I am a pure American, searching random events like steeple chase for my American to cheer on, screaming for the fantastic American swimmers, tears streaming down my face as I watch the American flag rise.

Homeschool has been bumped around a bit to make room for men's and women's gymnastics, and watching Michael Phelps rack up the golds. I've been worn a bit thin by all the questions the kids have - it's hard to explain the scoring system of Olympic gymnastics to six and eight year olds. Or the rules of soccer (football to the rest of the world). Or why I'm crying because a 16 year old just got a medal. Especially while I'm trying not to miss what's happening. But it's fun to see them discover sports they've never seen before, and be inspired by these athletes. Megan keeps setting up our furniture to mimic gymnastic apparatus. Ethan's made up a sport using a tennis ball in a sock, tied to a string, being thrown against a tall thin box. Not sure if he has a name for it, but it's him versus the box and he keeps winning. Big surprise.

I miss the American commentators, because they tend to give more interesting background on the athletes, and are more informative about the sports. But here we get to enjoy British commentary and I have to say that the gymnastics commentators are particularly fun. They rarely say anything negative like, "Oooh, that's going to cost him!" Instead they say things like, "Bit of a wobble there, but that just shows his great strength to hold on!" while the reality is the guy almost fell off the apparatus. You just enjoy the routines for what they are though when they end with someone saying, "Well done young man! Good show!"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Langkawi Diary #4 - Cable Cars

The prospect of seeing Langkawi from up high seemed like a good one. And our kids love the cable cars in Singapore. What could be bad about this outing?

I feel like I should share some statistics about the cable cars - maybe how high they were, distance traveled. I got nothing. Just imagine going high and being able to see a forest covered island surrounded by ocean. Really we couldn't see the whole island - just the western part. It's not that small. But the cable cars are at the western tip, so we could see ocean on three sides. Unfortunately it was a pretty hazy day, so the view wasn't breath-taking, but it was enjoyable. At least it was enjoyable to the adults. To the kids, the ride in the cable car was cool. The climbing out and staring off into space was cause for whining, complaining, and at some points downright refusal to move. Ethan's default setting to new situations is "resistance." If he doesn't know what something will be like, even if it sounds fantastic, he will insist he doesn't want to go and will have no fun at all. That's how he was by the time we reached the second stop on the cable car. There was no way he was going on the tree top walk - it was down steps, he was tired, he was bored, pick your excuse. The crazy thing is that even when he does have a good time (say when we found The Loaf and he had such a fantastic meal) it doesn't reinforce the idea that new can be good. In fact, when we went to The Loaf the next day, he didn't want to go. I think this disproves Pavlov's experiments.

We, on the other hand, were enjoying ourselves, and then it got even better. It's hard to see in the pictures, but literally this cloud starting creeping up the mountains, seeping between trees and appearing in front and then soon all around us. Before long we were actually in the cloud itself. We enjoyed that as long as it took for the park people to shoo everyone back into the cable cars and down the hill. I've never experienced anything like that, literally being consumed by a cloud. It was the highlight of the cable car for me.
Here comes the cloud, peering around the corner at us.

You can't see the end of this walkway, where we were just a few minutes before. Not five minutes before this, you could see the ocean looking this direction.

A Little Bit of Hope

When we first bought our car three years ago, the dollar was buying $1.64 Sing dollars, and gas (or petrol if you're here) was selling for $1.42 a liter. If this is the first "the price of gas in Singapore" post you're reading, remember to convert liters to gallons, then Sing dollars to US dollars. I know - too much work. Let me do it for you and say it was roughly $3.40 US a gallon.

Fast forward three years. The US dollar has fallen like the kid who burst out of the starting blocks at the beginning of the 800 meter race and is now stumbling along, heaving, while other kids cruise past him laughing. It reached a buying low of only $1.30 Sing this summer, while gas shot up to $2.10 a liter. You don't have to do the math to know this hurts, but let's do it anyway. That's $6.46 a gallon. Thankfully there are discount cards, but they still wind up making us pay at least $5.80.

But there is a ray of hope. Yesterday the posted exchange rate at Mustafa was $1.40. I saw gas at $1.86 a liter. Erik saw it for less. And the peasants rejoiced.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Langkawi Diary #3 - Beware of Monkeys

As we traveled around Langkawi, we noticed that monkeys were everywhere. Our first close sighting came at the waterfall, where several of them came for lunch at the local garbage can. Next, we were fascinated to see them on the road in our hotel complex - two mommies with their babies. So cute! As we tiptoed nearer, another monkey - presumably the daddy - came scurrying down a tree and made it clear that we were not to get an inch closer. I think he may even have sworn at us in monkey. He seemed pretty angry. Not so cute anymore.

That night we made the mistake of leaving a bag of rambutans and a bag of raisins on our porch. While we slept a gang of monkeys came and mauled them. We began to think maybe the monkeys weren't our friends.

From then on, we were a little edgy around the monkeys. On Friday, we rented fishing gear and parked next to the road across from the marina. As I stepped from the car, bag of dead fish in one hand, bag of rambutans in the other, I glanced at the trees near us and said, "Erik, I think I'm going to leave the rambutans in the car," and in the time it took me to do that, two jumped down into the tree next to me. That was when we switched into slightly panicked mode and instructed the kids to get out of the car and get behind us while we backed across the street, keeping our eyes on the monkeys. Soon there were four or five - a few of them staring at us across the road, waiting for a break in traffic to follow us, one climbing all over our car looking for a way to those rambutans.

I threw a warning rock across the street toward the one big monkey who was about to follow us. We walked down a path through the woods and spent about 30 seconds at the shore before we decided we'd rather fish from the other side of the marina where the people were and the monkeys weren't. We fully expected to find our car covered with monkeys like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They were still there, but in fewer numbers. We threw more rocks, Erik ran for the car (way to take one for the team honey!) and we drove away to a safer, monkey-less spot.

Langkawi Diary #2 - On Finding and Consuming at The Loaf

Vacation eating is an adventure in itself. Thankfully, we have children who aren't that picky. But they are kids, and on any given day in a restaurant, their desire is to eat fried chicken and french fries. Hopefully followed by dessert. So we knew we had to strike a balance between the adventurous and the known.

Langkawi is not without western eating places, but we were on the far side of the island. We ate our first meal at the Sheraton and while it was beyond fabulous, the price was beyond our budget, so we decided to see what we could find.

At lunch we braved a little Arabic place, where our server's English was not superb. We got a lot more french fries than we ordered, and a little more hummus too. That evening for dinner we drove into town, thinking we'd find the big mall and something we recognized. We found the little mall and a place called Merry Brown's, or something like that. Imagine the worst KFC you've even eaten in, and you're probably imagining this place. That includes KFC in other foreign countries. I told Erik after those two meals I felt like I'd sucker punched myself. Our culinary future looked bleak. We bought cereal and milk, and headed home.

The next day, fueled by Honey Graham Life with just a hint of "I've been shipped a long way from home and have sat on a shelf a tad too long" we decided to try a restaurant we'd seen advertised called The Loaf. Situated on the marina across from our Arabic disaster the day before, we found this little gem. Everything on the menu looked good, and bonus of all bonuses, we hit it during the 2nd anniversary sale, so everything was 1/2 off. Suddenly not only was it appealing, but also affordable!

All our food was spectacular, but Ethan ordered the club sandwich and it won grand prize. I've only eaten club sandwiches at hotels in Thailand, which are made with white bread, iceberg lettuce, questionable chicken, and other bits. Never again will I treat my stomach so unkindly, now that I have tasted The Loaf's Superior Club Sandwich. And this is coming from an "I eat so I won't die" girl. We vowed that The Loaf would become our new cafeteria.

And so it did. We ate there that night. The next day we got sandwiches there for take out. That evening we ate there again. Yesterday we got sandwiches again for dinner, and some pastries from their bakery.

What can I say? It was the best restaurant I've ever found on vacation. I would go back to Langkawi I think, just to eat at The Loaf. Definite highlight of the trip.

Langkawi Diary #1 - 5 Days on a Malaysian Island

For the first time in a great while, our family went on vacation alone. Usually we bring friends. Or they bring us. But this time it was just the Butz four, off to Langkawi, Malaysia. It's a small island off the west side of northern Malaysia. It takes less than 2 hours by plane. It may sound exotic, but imagine all the places you could travel to within two hours of you. We can't help it if everything within a 2 hour radius of us is another country.

We stayed at the Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort because of some fabulous hotel point system Erik has going with the credit card. Otherwise we'd have stayed in someone's kampong. Or probably just in Singapore.

We did some online searching before we went and armed ourselves with a list of ideas, a hazy schedule, but mostly just a willingness to explore and see what we found. And with that introduction, I'm going to share a few highlights from our trip. Go to our flickr to see all the pictures.