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.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Climate questions

Some of our good friends just left for Oregon for the month. We were discussing whether or not they would be close to the ocean during that time, when Megan chimed in, "But it doesn't matter if they're near the ocean. They can't swim in it because it's SNOWING there!!" Said with authority. Since we are going back to the States for Christmas, she seems to think that it's now snowing in America.

This followed a conversation from the previous day, when she insisted that, "America is warm, China is cold, and Singapore is hot." This is because in the last 4 years of her life, she has only visited those places when those things are true. So I tried to explain that when we go to America this year it will be colder than she has ever experienced in her memory. And that right now China is hotter than Singapore.

When we get back from Langkawi on Saturday, we're starting a weather comparison chart between the three places, so our kids can see how the weather in other places changes, but the weather here stays the same. Hopefully one of these days it will sink in.

The 10 Mile Mark

I ran 10 miles yesterday. On my Facebook page I said 16K because it sounds longer, and also because I live in a metric country. But either way you say it, 10 miles is a long way to run. I ran up to a place called Bishan Park. If you live in Singapore and you haven't been to Bishan park, you need to go. It's beautiful, and I'm not even an outdoor person. I mean, I seriously could live in a bunker and it wouldn't bother me. But running the length of it (1 mile) and back was the most enjoyable part of any run I've done so far, aside from the fact that people kept passing me running. I told myself they were just running around the park and surely not training for a half-marathon. But who am I kidding? I'm a novice - accept it Gina!

On the website where I found my training schedule, this should be my last long run before the race. I'm a week ahead in my training, so I plan to do one more next week since I'm not used to running long distances. And also because I don't quite believe Hal Higdon when he says, "Don't worry about making the final jump from 10 miles in practice to 13.1 miles in the race. Inspiration will carry you to the finish line."

Now I know how I felt those last 2 miles yesterday. And I'm telling you that I'd have been hard pressed to find the amount of inspiration that would have carried me yet another 3 miles after I was done. I had my GPS in hand the last 1/2 kilometer watching it slowly tick up, going, "One more tenth Gina, come on! One more tenth of a kilometer!"

Three weeks until the race. Pray that I finish strong.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Series of Notes

I am sitting here amidst a pile of pale yellow post it notes written by my daughter. It seems they were written while Ethan was playing a computer game, because they contain the following admonitions and encouragements:
"Don't Die Ethan"
"this is your werst nite mere Ethan"
"Work on it Ethan"
"is this the nite mere you had you were in your underwere?"
"Don't Die and Don't cry"

Oh, and my favorite, "Bomvoyosh Ethan" which I think is supposed to mean "Bon voyage."