Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celebrating Singapore style

I was kind of relieved that Ethan wanted to have a birthday party this year with just his friends who are homeschooled. It meant we could have the party during the week, and invite fewer kids! He decided he wanted to have it at the zoo, specifically in the water zone part of the zoo. The zoo has always had a water play area, but last year they up sized it and we had yet to experience it.

Erik took the afternoon off to come celebrate with us (after all it might be our last time to the Singapore Zoo!). As we drove up to the zoo, we noticed that the huge dark cloud, the darkest one around, was hanging right over it! We met our friends and ate a quick lunch while waiting for the drizzling to subside a bit. It did, just long enough for us to get to the north end of the zoo where the play area is. Once we got there, forget the animals! Every four minutes a huge bucket of water dropped down on the kids. There were water slides and fountains, plus a dry area where they could do a zip line or pull themselves across a pond on a raft.

Ethan's passion these days is Bakugans, which are a Korean toy. He and his friends have them, and regularly have Bakugan battles. His heart's desire was to get Castle Legos and Bakugans for his birthday. He also wanted a Bakugan cake. I ended up making cupcakes and coloring the frosting the six colors of Bakugans. What a mother won't do . . .

We stayed at the zoo for 5 hours! It rained off and on the whole time, but the kids didn't notice since they were wet already. They would have stayed there longer if we'd let them.

What's on my Nightstand this month?

What's On Your Nightstand

My nightstand is newly stocked after a trip to the library yesterday. Some time during the month I picked up A Mercy by Toni Morrison, Dissolution by C. J. Sansom, and The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. I started the first two and didn't like them. I always feel weird when I don't like books by an author as popular as Toni Morrison, but I'm sorry I just didn't. I'm notorious for starting books that people rave about and not liking them. You know that list that's going around on Facebook of the 100 books you should have read? I've read 25, but I've started at least 10-15 more and couldn't get into them. What does this say about me? Some might say, "Uncultured swine" but I prefer, "independent thinker."

Anyway, I kept The Double Bind and am enjoying it. The first book I read by Bohjalian was Midwives, which was fantastic. This is about a woman who becomes connected with a homeless man and his box of old photographs, which he claims to have taken himself. I'm not sure what kind of a plot will develop from it, but I'm a few chapters in and hooked already.

I also picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo which has been on my list for some time. In fact, such a long time that I forget how or why I put it on there in the first place. I think I just like the word "Alchemist" because it makes me think of "apothecary" which means pharmacist (and in Mandarin pharmacists are also called "chemists"), and that's what my dad is. How's that for a compelling reason to read something?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Ethan!

Nine years ago on the night of February 22nd, we had just finished watched The Truman Show with our co-workers and I started to wash the dishes when I felt my first contractions. Finally our little person had decided to come. An hour later some good friends came back from the States with their new son, 3 month old Jackson, and while we showed them around their apartment (which we'd found and had renovated for them) Jenny timed my contractions. I had worried that we might get stuck in traffic in the busy city we lived in, but when we left for the hospital at close to midnight, there were only empty taxis flying by.

Seven and a half hours after that first contraction Ethan John Butz came into the world at 4:33 a.m. on February 23rd, weighing 3.4 kg, which to this day I haven't converted to pounds. He spent his first few days in the NICU because he came out so fast there was fluid still in his lungs. During that time he was fed through an IV, though I came to feed him every three hours. Thankfully, that and his mellow personality meant he was on that schedule even after we took him home! For the first week and a half he woke up twice at night, then once a night for another 5 weeks, then he slept 10 hours a night. Go ahead, hate me, it's ok. God knew I needed an easy baby.

I was just looking back through a journal I've kept for Ethan since he was a baby, and it's fun to remember funny things he's said and done. I reminded him that when Megan was born, he would often spontaneously cry, "I love my Megan!" which he doesn't say anymore. He says it's because he likes babies (he really does!). He also went through a phase where he would ask me, "You so proud of me mama?" This included the time when I told him, "You have a fever."

But we are so proud of him. He's a fun, creative, sharp and friendly kid who has had a lot of experience in his nine years. We're excited to see where the next year takes him (aside from out of Singapore, of course).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Everything's amazing . . . nobody's happy

I don't seem to be tech savvy enough to put an actual video in my blog posts, but here's a link to a funny video I saw this morning. It reminded me of my Wii post and how I went on about "when I was a kid we didn't have technology and we liked it!" Check it out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My bad

Lisa astounds me with how well she can cook something I ask her to cook even when it's something unfamiliar to her. Tonight I left pizza dough ready to be rolled and made into pizza for her, with instructions for one cheese and one green pepper and mushroom pizza. She's never made pizza for us before.

When we came home from gymnastics, everything was ready. I sat down at the table, looked at the beautifully placed rings of green pepper on our pizza, then at the cheese pizza, then the salad, then the ketchup . . .

Wait, ketchup? Why was there ketchup on the table? Another glance at the cheese pizza told me that sauce had not been clearly stated as a necessary ingredient for the pizza. I went into the kitchen and, not wanting to embarrass Lisa, said, "I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you to put sauce on the pizza!" She said she wondered about it, but it wasn't in the instructions on the counter (which actually was the recipe for the pizza dough). We ended up heating up the sauce and dipping it, which was fine.

I had flashbacks to a trip in Trinidad, where they actually DID put ketchup on the pizza in lieu of sauce. Not a good idea. I'm glad we didn't have to go that route.

This girl needs to be on the stage

Megan had Ethan and I chuckling in the car on the way to gymnastics, so much so that I finally said, "Megan, you're so funny!"

She responded with, "I'm DELICIOUS!"

Highway Robbery

I try not to bring too many things back from the States which I can get here, unless they are much cheaper in the US (and bringing them will not result in extra baggage charges, thus negating our savings). One thing I brought back this time was just for fun - some toasted hazelnut scented hand soap from Target. Of course we can get hand soap here, but not this kind. Or so I thought.

I did see the exact same kind (Method brand) at a place called Brown Rice Paradise yesterday, which is a health food store. I was surprised and thought, "Gosh, I could just buy it here," until I saw the price, which was S$13.50 a bottle. I think I bought this bottle on sale for US$2.49. With the current exchange rate, I saved $7.51 by buying it in the States. As we say in Minnesota, "Heckuva deal."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's back to hot

Our re-entry into Singapore from the frozen tundra of sub-zero Minnesota was eased by the fact that we came during the best of time year in Singapore: the post-rainy-season-heavy-on-the-tropical-breezes time. I've talked about this before - we leave our windows open all the time, and save loads of money on air con (as long as they do that "actual reading" on the meter).

That time has now ended, and I'm reminded that Singapore is hot. Current conditions indicate it is 91, but "feels like 100" due to 55% humidity. So we're back to AC. The problem is, our maid really got used to us having the windows open. I'm sure that in the 13 years she worked for a Chinese family, she was encouraged to do what most Singaporean families do - leave the windows open all the time regardless of how blazing hot it is. They save a lot of money, those Singaporeans. But we are Minnesotans. We do cold. So when it's 91, we want to nudge it down a bit in here.

So a little battle has ensued. I come into a room, turn on the AC, and close the window. When I leave, I turn it off. When I come back in, I will find that the windows are open again. Now, I recognize that she's just trying to keep it cool in here, but 91 degree breezes just don't feel that good. I haven't said anything because it's just not worth saying, but I think she's a little confused by this change in our house.

Speaking of change, we woke up yesterday to a general haze over Singapore. Ethan said, "Hey mom - look at the moon! It's so red!" What followed was several minutes of our family debating whether it was the moon or the sun. Erik ended the debate by stating that the moon couldn't possibly shine that bright through so much haze. Good point. It then became frightening to realize we'd all been staring at the sun.

This used to happen all the time in China. I'd stare at what I thought was a lightpost, thinking, "Why'd they put a light right there?" only to realize it was the sun. You haven't seen haze til you've seen it in China, but this is surprising for Singapore. It's because of some fires in Indonesia, I believe. I'm kind of thankful for it though, because otherwise it would be even hotter.

To Wii or not to Wii . . .

that is the question. Erik and I many years ago established a "no game systems" policy in our house, when it became apparent from an early stage that Ethan carries the "attachment to electronic devices" gene. As kids, our family dipped into the electronic world with the TI994A, on which we played Munch Man (a version of Pac Man), Parsec (a space game) and Tombstone (a wild west game that to our knowledge was impossible to win. Our goal was simply to stay alive as long as we could). That computer had less memory than the average thumb drive now. We didn't have anything else. Unless you count our Speak and Spell.

Sorry to go all grandma on you, but I think our lives were probably better for it. Certainly not worse. But this is the debate raging in our house lately, as Erik has broken rank and engages me in frequent discussions on, "Why we should get a Wii."

It began because my brother has Rock Band on his playstation II, and Megan loves it. Not only does she love it, but she's good at it, and we even saw her improve while she was there. So Erik's logic is, "We could get a Wii and get Rock Band, and it will improve her guitar skills." I countered with, "Or we could buy her a REAL guitar and she could improve her guitar skills."

He came back with, "But it would give us lots of fun family time together. There's tennis, bowling, boxing, all kinds of fun and active games." And again I countered with, "Or we could actually go play tennis, bowling, board games, or any other host of things we already do which promote family togetherness."

My biggest argument against this is that I know I will be the one to have to enforce rules about the amount of time spent on the Wii. Erik insists he will help on this, but he is not here 10 hours of the day, during which there is ample time for little people to cajoul me into more Wii time.

I stand firm. Can anyone give me a good reason to relent? I'm open, but not very open. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another hot tip

I'm sure all of you rushed out and bought those frozen blueberries I told you about a few weeks ago. Well, here's another money saving opportunity: at Mustafa right now they have Raisin Mini-Wheats for $2 a box. That's right, $2. They were previously marked $8.80, but they expire March 31, so this is what the Cold Storage people call a "quick sale."

We bought three boxes last night. Erik had a bowl when we got back from the movie, and it was good. There were tons of boxes left so head on over there - level 2 straight ahead if you take the stairs over by the cosmetics on level 1.

Yours for inexpensive living in Singapore . . .

A conversation with Lisa

While we were enjoying Slumdog Millionaire (the best movie I've seen in YEARS), our maid Lisa was having this conversation with Megan:

Lisa, commenting on Megan getting rid of her baby doll, "Do you think I should keep this baby doll and when I have a baby I can give it to her to play with?"

Megan, "But what if you have a boy?"

Lisa, "I will ask God to give me a girl."

Megan, "You think he will just drop a girl down to you?"

Lisa, "No, I will ask him to put a baby in my tummy."

Megan, "You know you have an egg in your tummy right now."

Lisa, "I know. So do you."

Megan, "Yes, but I'm not going to use it."

Lisa, "Why not?"

Megan, "I'm not going to get married."

Lisa, "Maybe when you're 30, you'll tell your mom and dad that you want to get married."

Megan, "Nope, I'm never going to get married."

So Much for Child Proof

When I discovered that Ethan had helped himself to his gummy bear echinacea, I questioned how he could possibly have opened the "child proof" bottle.

"I read the instructions."

Ah, yes. We're in that place now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lost and Found

At the height of my allergy problems, I went all out in our house - bought dust mite covers for all our mattresses and pillows, had an air purifier shipped from the States (even with shipping we saved around US$200 over buying one here), started soaking our bedding in hot water before washing (no hot water in our washer), rolled up carpets, and even went so far as to take down some of our curtains.

Erik wasn't so down with the curtains being, well, down. After a few days we rehung them. However, it happened to be around the time that our maid, Lisa, came, which meant we were simultaneously cleaning out the small room off our kitchen to be her room. After we hauled a great deal of stuff off to Salvation Army, we looked around and realized that the curtains from the playroom (now Megan's room) were gone. We talked about it and came to the conclusion that we must have given them away.

I went to the Salvation Army with the intention of buying back our curtains, but was told that most of what is donated is sent out of the country. Makes sense. Singaporeans aren't big on used goods. So for months we had a curtainless window, until a few weeks ago, when I decided something must be done before everything in the room had faded to white from the tropical sun.

My first option was Spotlight (think Michael's or something other large fabric/craft store). I took the measurements in, found similar material, and got a quote on having them made (they are the kind with pleats so they are harder to find pre-made). I was told, "$391" unless I got a Spotlight card and got "less 20%" making them just over $300. You know that feeling where what someone has just told you makes you want to hurl, but you just smile and politely them you'll think about it? I have that feeling so often here.

My thoughts turned to pre-made curtains. A quick glance told me I'd be spending about $220, but I'd have to figure out a way to hem them because they were all too long. I needed better measurements, so I put it off.

Then today, I had to get a box of wrapping paper off the top of Ethan's wardrobe. That's when I noticed a box with the label, "Additional curtains (bathrooms, playroom)" and I thought, "Could it be?" Sure enough! There were the curtains! Now what's amazing to me about this situation is the number of times Erik and I lamented the loss of the curtains, and how much it was going to cost to replace them, but never once did those conversations trigger the memory of putting the curtains in a box and actually labelling it. He's not going to know me when we're 80, is he?

Here's my assessment of that: Erik is SO good at everything in his life, if he didn't have at least one area in which he didn't shine, he would be unbearably capable.

Can you imagine my chagrin if I had actually replaced them already?