Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's on my nightstand now?

What's On Your Nightstand

I had to wait to write this post until I got to the library yesterday. I have broken down and started reserving the books I really want to read while I still have access to a library. That might sound strange if you live in the States, but here in the land of "We'll Take Your Money However We Can" we have to reserve library books at $1.55 a pop. I often can find books I want if I just go to the library, but these titles weren't available at my branch. So here they are:

1. The Fifth Mountain, Paulo Coelho
I finally got around to reading The Alchemist and enjoyed it, so when I saw this title on the shelf last week I snatched it up. It's a fictional account based on the life of Elijah the prophet, from the Old Testament. I love seeing what it might have been like for Elijah as he struggled to do what God asked in the face of great danger. It's easy to see from the Bible how he could have been emotionally wild in light of the circumstances of his life, but this paints an even more vivid picture.

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale
I'll be honest - this is one of those books I feel like it would be good to read just because of all the hype around it. I've heard great things about it and I've heard it's a waste of time. I haven't opened it yet since I just got it last night, but I'll see how it goes.

3. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Another book with wildly mixed reviews, this I've most often heard described as "great, but difficult to read." I suspect from the description that it may be difficult to read in the way that the Poisonwood Bible was difficult, being in a similar setting. It's funny that I chose two books based in Africa this time around, but it just happened that way.

So in a few days I may be deep into one of these books, or I may be heading back to the internet to reserve more. We'll see.

I don't know what that means

The kids are working on short presentations for a little homeschool gathering we're having on Friday. Megan wrote about Sacagawea. Ethan chose hippos.

Yesterday, after Ethan finished typing his, he asked me if Megan had written hers by hand. When I said yes, he said, "Hmm . . . I prefer to use labor saving devices."

Later, he told me, "I don't really know what that means."

Surprising then that he used it in the right context!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Search is ON

We are in the midst of trying to find tickets back to the States from China this summer. Our dates are somewhat flexible, but our budget is limited, and it's a bit of a challenge.

An initial glance at Northwest and United puts us at $1,900+ per adult. Seriously?? Oy.

But! I found a site called AirGorilla that has flights on United for $1,300+. This is looking a little better. For only $856+ per adult we could make the trip if we are willing to fly three separate legs on three airlines, including Hainan Airlines. Nothing against the Chinese, but I'm guessing the in flight entertainment on the overseas flight to Seattle would be less than ideal. We could also fly Air Canada for $1,100+ if we don't mind a 14 hour layover in Toronto. I mind.

So the search continues. I keep switching our dates around, hoping for some magical combination that will allow us to fly at a reasonable rate. Isn't there a recession right now? Shouldn't air travel be cheap? Let me know if you've heard of a good way to get from here to there without shelling out too much green.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another toe injury

I heard the scream from up in my bedroom. The "I'm in pain, prepare yourself for blood" scream. Megan and Ethan were playing with neighbor kids down on the playground. I looked out the window and saw Megan high tailing it toward the elevator.

I couldn't go down before she got to the elevator, so I just waited on our floor, listening as her scream grew more intense with each floor. When the doors opened, my eyes scanned her body thinking, "Where's the blood?" It was her big toe.

I scooped her up and took her to the bathroom, suspecting it was not as worse as the blood made it appear. I sat her down on the counter and she asked me, "Can you see all the way to my bone?"

Only a little girl who has been through the toe trauma she's experienced would even think to ask a question like that. My heart just broke for her and the fear she must have been feeling. She thought she'd done it all over again.

While I bandaged her toe, she said, "If only I had been wearing shoes, it wouldn't have happened. I should have been wearing shoes." She said a similar thing to me a few weeks at night. She said, "Mommy, if I'd paid attention to the sign that said to be careful, my magic toe would curl." For those of you new to reading my blog, she's referring to the great Croc vs. escalator incident of '08. It's hard to see her feel regret over choices that anyone would make. But a great opportunity to teach her how to extend grace to herself.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Drop Kick Me Jesus

Remember when Shine Jesus Shine was the coolest worship song EVER? Well, I do. I think it was my sophomore year of college. I thought I would never tire of singing it. And then I did.

Fast forward 15 years, and this afternoon my kids are singing it. They learned it today during the worship time, with actions included. Megan sang a little for me, and when I filled in with the rest of the words, she exclaimed, "Ethan! Mommy knows it!" For a new generation, it's once again a great and awesome worship song.

This reminds me of a short term trip I took to Trindad in 1996. I brought my guitar and my measly playing skills, and each night the girls and I would have "happy hour." We thumbed through a book I had and played whatever seemed interesting (we were greatly self-amused by singing Edelweiss complete with the choked up moment when the dad can't sing anymore, and the rest of the family joins in). One of the songs we found was called "Drop Kick Me Jesus." I kid you not. We had no idea how the tune went, but we made something up. Here are the lyrics:

Drop kick me Jesus
through the goal posts of life
End over end
Neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

There just aren't words for how great that is. Anyway . . .

When my parents picked me up from the airport and I regaled them with stories from our trip as we drove home, I mentioned this song. I thought they would be as surprised and amused as I was that someone would actually make up a song with that title. But my dad replied with, "Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life?" So it seems at one point, Drop Kick Me Jesus was to another generation a great and awesome worship song.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Finishing this chapter

The last semester we were in China, previous to this Singapore chapter, I remember feeling that a change was coming. I thought it meant we would move back to the States, so when Erik called me and said we'd been asked to move to Singapore, I was floored. It wasn't that I didn't want to come. I just didn't want to leave.

Thankfully, when I first had that feeling that we were going to leave (months before we knew) I thought, "What would I wish we had done if we did leave?" I made a list, and we chose something each week to do on our family nights. They were simple things like, "Watch the fan dances at night" and "eat more street food." I also took pictures of the things you might take for granted - our building, the market, the places our kids liked to play. I think we managed to finish with no regrets, if not without tears and longing to stay.

So here we are about 2 months out from leaving Singapore, and we are once again looking to finish well. This morning we hit the Tiong Bahru park, a.k.a. "Wobbly train park." We haven't gone for awhile. It's one of the places we went when the kids were younger and our days weren't so full. It was an incredibly hot day so we didn't stay too long, but as we were there, and then driving home, I had a feeling I know I will have more and more frequently in the next few months: sadness. As much as this wasn't the place we chose, God chose it for us, and it has been good. God knew we needed to be here for so many reasons, and He has grown us greatly through it. This is where our kids started school, learned to swim like fish, discovered another culture and biome (yes, we're studying the rain forest biome right now!), and traveled to places we never dreamed we'd see. As much as we are thrilled about this next chapter, we are going to miss this one.

I told Erik on the way home that part of me wishes I didn't have mixed feelings. I know people who have left places without looking back, glad to leave and be done with that chapter. I don't feel that way, but I guess I'm glad, because it means this place has been good for us. To quote from Shadowlands, "the pain then is part of the joy now." The more joy an experience gives us, the more pain there will be in leaving it. But would you really want to miss the joy just to not have the pain?

So you can pray that we finish this chapter well, with no regrets, but not without tears. We have loved Singapore and want to enjoy it fully til the end.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh the scheming! The mandatory schemes!

One thing I've learned in ten years of living overseas is that the same words have different meanings in different countries. For example, did you know that in Australia swimmers and jumpers are items of clothing? For Americans, they are athletes. Or cute names we give to gym classes for children.

Sometimes the words have negative meaning, like this one: scheme. What comes to mind? Pyramids? Ponzi? Of the nine definitions given by, only one of them has a negative connotation. Yet I'm guessing most people would be more likely to use a word like, "plan" or strategy" than "scheme." For example, I'd rather put my child in a school that advertises an "educational strategy" rather than an "educational scheme." The latter sounds like my kids might be involved in some sort of social experiment or plot to overthrow the government.

But here in Singapore, schemes abound. There is a great deal of scheming. Like this pamphlet I have in hand, which says, "Mandatory Give-Way to Buses Scheme." Inside, it describes, "How the scheme works" and "the LTA will monitor the effectiveness of the scheme . . . before implementing the scheme at more locations." So much scheming! The funny thing is, I already thought I had to give way to buses. Or rather, give-way.

By the way, Singaporeans like the word mandatory too, which Americans generally abhore. We're the freedom people, don't tell us what we HAVE to do! Strongly suggest or encourage it please. One day at Long John Silver, a friend of ours was subjected to "mandatory upsize." This, when translated, meant they had run out of medium cups and were forcing everyone to pay 50c more for large cups. Why it didn't occur to them to simply fill the cups by pushing the medium button is beyond me.

Mandatory schemes: being forced to participate in underhanded plots.

Made from scratch

I remember the day I realized that it was possible to make a cake from scratch. I was living in China, and didn't feel like going to buy an overpriced cake mix. And there, in my Betty Crocker cookbook, was a recipe for yellow cake. Fantastic! Who knew? After that I began discovering that before we started drying up ingredients and boxing them so that people could reconstitute them later at home, people just skipped the whole store deal and made it themselves.

I realize the point of this is to save time, and that a lot of times the store ones just taste better (brownies, for example). But there's something so satisfying about making it yourself. And, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Well, I need to find ways to eat healthy while not unloading my wallet on a bunch of overpriced imports. In the end, I guess for me it's a combination of (usually) saving money, knowing exactly what went into my food, and being able to claim ownership over the finished product.

So lately I've been having this thought more and more often, "I bet I could make that myself. And it would be healthier." In recent years I've tried my hand at hummus, pita bread, tortillas (still not very good at those) granola (SO good!), granola bars, marshmallow cream, salad dressing, pizza dough, and a wide variety of whole wheat bread.

Still on my list to try is making my own vanilla (I bought the vodka and the vanilla beans - now I need a jar) and yogurt. And perfecting a whole grain bread that my kids will actually eat that I can make regularly. I'm off to try another recipe right now.

So have you made something from scratch that most people don't? How did it turn out? Can I have the recipe?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thoughts before bedtime

The other night, Megan asked me a question about God. I can't remember what it was, but it was one of those, "How can God do that?" kind of questions. This conversation followed:

Megan, "Sometimes God is a little confusing."

Gina, "Yeah. I guess cause He's so much bigger than we are."

Megan, "And so much weirder!"

Gina, "Megan, you're so funny."

Megan, "I'm ridiculous!!*"

*If you read my previous post, in which I told Megan she was funny, you'll remember she said she was, "DELICIOUS!" I think this is actually what she meant.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Owning my introvert

I talk a lot. When I go to parties, I leave wired. If I know that people are getting together without me, I'm bothered. These facts have led me to think that I am somewhat extroverted. Yet I have never been able to identify myself in that way because in other ways (for example, I'm really never all that excited to meet new people) I seem introverted. I've always said, "I'm on the line" even though according to Myers-Briggs you're one or the other.

Well, today let me declare that I am an introvert. Several things have made me realized this lately. They say it's really how you're energized right? Well, when I leave a group of people and I feel wired, it's not because I'm energized. I'm unsettled. I need at least an hour before I can go to sleep, during which I want to just settle back into myself. In the morning, I wake up early not just because I am a morning person, but because I need an hour of silence before I have to interact with others. If I don't, I'm unsettled all day long. The talking? I'm a communicator. It's not about being energized, it's about expression. And in recent years, I've discovered that part of my need to be included in social times stemmed from a fear of being unloved or unaccepted. The more I've sunk into my belovedness as a child of God, the more I'm fine being by myself. I feel, in the words of Brennan Manning, "safe with myself."

So last week, when Erik left, and the busyness of the previous month faded away, I found myself energized in a way I haven't for a long time by periods of silence and solitude. It was glorious. This week, I'm missing my husband, but what kind of wife would I be if I didn't?

I think a lot of people mistake me for an extrovert too, and then don't understand why I turn down invitations to social events. Now you know. Also, if you ever ask me to run with you and I say no, don't take it personally. It's just the way I'm energized.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Running in a sauna

One of my desires before leaving Singapore is to run in a good rain. This might be hard to accomplish, as there's not much between the "light rain" and the "thunder and lightning" variety. I went out this afternoon when it started to rain, thinking, "This could be it."

It wasn't. It felt refreshing for the first, oh, 4 minutes or so. Then it started to let up instead of get stronger, which left me running in conditions nearing a sauna. When I got home and checked the weather, it was "86 and 74% humidity. Feel like 96."

That's the second time I've made that mistake. One other time I went right after a downpour, thinking, "That should have cooled things off." No. No it didn't.

Hopefully one of these days . . .

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How a dead battery interrupted our day

How long have you owned your car? And how many times during that time have you charged your battery? How many times did it die a death that no amount of shocking would revive? We've had our Hyundai Matrix for 4 years, and during that time we have only had the battery charged once. We've had the actual battery changed four times. We found out after the first and only charging that the batteries here are weak. Seriously weak. Like "Charging is useless. Expect to change it once a year" weak. And so we have.

It used to be that our battery would warn us that it was dying in a round about way by freaking out the key faab. Over time, it would become less and less effective at locking and unlocking the doors, until I had to resort to using the actual key. The car would interpret this as an intruder, and since the key faab was broken, I couldn't stop the alarm. I just had to sit there sighing, "I'm not stealing you, you idiot. I OWN YOU!"

Well, this time I had no such warning. True, in recent days it hesitated to start immediately, and I was having to point the key directly at the car for it to respond. But nothing prepared me for going out to the carpark at the office today and having it be completely unresponsive.

It's hard to express the level of my frustration. I had just been dropping off some documents on my way to take the kids to a friend's house. I was going to go home and work on a writing project that I rarely have time to work on. My heart response was, "Seriously God? Today?" I muttered, "What am I going to do?"
And a little voice from the back of the car said, "Pray?"

Uh, yeah. We should . . . pray. Wow - I have to admit that though it had crossed my mind to pray, I wasn't too happy with the Almighty at that moment and I was tempted to keep wallowing. But what do you say to your son who suggests you pray? "NO, I don't want to!" is maybe not the best example. So I prayed.

An hour and a half later, after making a 3 a.m. wake up call to my husband for the car repairman's number (sorry sweetie!), the battery was switched out and our car was alive once again. The blessing of this time was that my allergies had been terrible in the morning, but the hour in the office cleared them up!

What's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. Maybe it's "pray." Maybe it's "don't buy cars in Singapore." You decide.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The great Lego project

Since we are getting ready to leave Singapore, I told Ethan he needed to assemble all his Lego sets, determine which pieces are missing, and which sets he may want to sell or give away. He rose to the challenge and decided to start with Sentai Fortress, which is his largest set.

His Legos used to be organized, but over time, because he tends to make creations from his imagination rather than following instructions, they were completely mixed up. Megan and I put ourselves to the task of sorting the larger pieces by color, and the smaller ones by type.

Here's our final project. After a week of sorting an hour or so every day, he's at least able to know where to start looking. He says it won't stay this way. We've told him we won't sort them again (although Megan might cave. She really enjoyed it).

Pita Time

When I was a poor post college student, my daily lunch was usually a pita stuffed with mayo, stir fried mushrooms, and alfalfa sprouts. I know, not too appealing, but it was cheap!

I haven't had many pitas since coming to Asia, because they're not that easy to find. Usually here I find the "pocketless pita." Hello? That's like a pocketless kangaroo. You're missing the whole point.

So when I found a recipe here for homemade pitas, I thought, "I have to try this." One of the interesting things I've discovered about living overseas is that you can make almost anything from scratch. I even found a recipe recently for homemade vanilla, but you need vanilla beans and vodka, and I have neither.

I didn't have high hopes because it seems a bit tricky to get something to poof up in your oven. I was forewarned that not all of the pitas would puff up. They didn't, but some of them did! Three in fact, out of eight, which is a good statistic if you're say, a major league baseball player. Not so good if you're a doctor and you're counting "lives saved today." But this is pitas, so I say "good." It was really fun to watch them puff up! I felt like a mad scientist, "It's working!!" The ones that didn't puff up I brushed with olive oil and sea salt, baked a little longer, and made into pita chips to eat with the hummus I made (I heart hummus).

The rest I froze for later consumption, like today at lunch. Here's my yummy tuna and lettuce pita sandwich. It was so good I wanted another, but I was out of tuna. And mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts as well.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So you're saying it's me

Despite having a dad with a dark green thumb, I do not have one that's even tinged green. In all fairness, in the past 10 years of my life there hasn't been much green to thumb in my urban world. But it seems like all the plants I have adopted have come to my house simply to die. I suspect that down at the nursery, there are signs up warning plants not to come with us or they will face a certain death. The only two plants I have managed to keep alive have been a bamboo plant in China, and an unidentified species here in Singapore. It must have been a cactus, because it objected to being watered more than once every 1-2 months. The less the better. In the end though, it too made a slow and steady decline.

My conclusion was that we just don't have good conditions in our house for growing plants. We get some direct light, but we have no outside place to put plants where they could get sun, rain, etc. I enjoyed this, "See, it's not me, it's my house!" position.

Then a week or so ago, Lisa was making something with peppers. She took a handful of pepper seeds and dropped them in an old pot full of leftover dirt (and the remains of some previous failed plant). Within a few days, sitting on top of our dishwasher, they had sprouted.

They are now about four inches tall. We're aware that they are too crowded in their little pot, but we are amazed that they are growing. And I have had to acknowledge that possibly, it's me.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

If You Give a Mom a Muffin

I hadn't seen this before and found it amusing.

If You Give A Mom A Muffin

Original Author Unknown

If you give a mom a muffin,
She'll want a cup of coffee to go with it.
She'll pour herself some.
Her three-year-old will spill the coffee.
She'll wipe it up.
Wiping the floor, she'll find dirty socks.
She'll remember she has to do laundry.
When she puts the laundry in the washer,
She'll trip over boots and bump into the freezer.
Bumping into the freezer will remind her she has to plan for supper.
She will get out a pound of hamburger.
She'll look for her cookbook ("101 Things To Do With a Pound of Hamburger").
The cookbook is sitting under a pile of mail.
She will see the phone bill, which is due tomorrow.
She will look for her checkbook.
The check book is in her purse that is being dumped out by her two-year-old.
She'll smell something funny.
She'll change the two year old's diaper.
While she is changing the diaper, the phone will ring.
Her five-year-old will answer and hang up.
She'll remember she wants to phone a friend for coffee.
Thinking of coffee will remind her that she was going to have a cup.
And chances are...
If she has a cup of coffee,
Her kids will have eaten the muffin that went with it.

But wait, there's more!

No, not more about the race. I think I talked about that far more than necessary, but what can I say? I am a compulsive communicator.

I was just going to say that there are lots more pictures of Ethan's birthday if you're curious to see them. Just go to our flickr site and see how kids in Singapore spent their birthdays in February. Slightly different than if we lived in Minnesota.

Newton Active Run 2009

After a night disturbed by the adrenaline coursing through my veins, my first thought upon waking this morning was, "Not that many people know I signed up for the 10K this morning. If I don't go, it's not that big of a deal." But knowing that I would know, I got up, spent an hour hydrating, fueling, and limbering, and set off for the MRT station.

There, I was encouraged to see other runners also waiting the 14 minutes for the train to Punggol (they don't come so frequently at 6:23 a.m.!). At each stop, a few more runners would trickle on. Making eye contact with them gave me the same feeling I get when I am in a foreign country and see another foreigner. It's that feeling of, "I don't know you, but we're in this together."

When I reached the race at Sengkang, I scanned the crowds for other foreigners. I counted maybe 40 out of the thousands there. One of them was kind enough to lend me $2 for a 100 Plus (think less drastic version of Gatorade) because I was feeling hungry again, and I had only brought my MRT card and my POSB card.

The race began at 7:30 for the open competitive runners, and 7:45 for the veteran runners, which I knew meant that at some point those people would be blowing past us, blinding us with the sweat flying off their more conditioned bodies. No matter. I was ready.

Or was I? I determined not to look at my watch for the first part of the race, nor to think about the fact that I would be running for the next hour. I spent the first five minutes thinking, "Why am I doing this?" But when I glanced at it by the 2km sign, I was surprised to find I'd been keeping just over a 5 min/km pace. I doubted I could maintain that the whole time, but decided to press on rather than slow down.

Sure enough, around the 6-7km mark, the first of the veteran runners loped past me like a gazelle, causing me to glance at my watch and see that I was still doing well. But I know from recent history that I am good for about 7 km and then I want to be doing anything else. And as I suspected, when I entered my last three kilometers I started to drag. Thankfully, at that point my strategic placement of "I'm Taking You With Me" by Relient K and "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray, as well as a few others, helped me pick up the pace.

The last block was brutal - I could see the finish line the whole time, but I could also see the giant square I had to run around to get to it. When I hit the last stretch I had hoped to give a last minute push, but found it was all I could do to just maintain what I was doing. My goal for this race was to make it under 60 minutes, which I thought would be tough since I had only trained 5 weeks and the only time I timed myself in training I ran it in 62 minutes. But to my great joy, I finished in 56:08! The only downside of this is that I told Erik and the kids it would be an hour, so they showed up 5 minutes after I finished.

But I did it. It was nice to run a shorter distance after that brutal 1/2 marathon. Of course I was quick to think, "Now, next time . . . "