Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A change is coming . . .

In light of the fact that we will be moving out of the tropics in the very near future, I have been pondering a change to my blog address and title. Disappointing. I like my title. Not such a fan of the address - honestly, if I had made the ever so simple connection that what I was entering in as my address was what people would have to type, I would have gone with something like "" Because monkey is one of my favorite words.

SO . . . I need a new title and address. For those of you know don't know, we are moving to the large Asian country located north east of here. So I was thinking something along the lines of "crouching tiger, hidden blogger," but you know, I'm not locked into that one. I thought of "bicycles, bamboo and the Butz family." Also something with "lotus flower" because it sounds exotic. Gosh, this suddenly feels like it does when you're pregnant and you tell people names you like for the baby. And they say things like, "Oh, I know three kids with that name and they're all stupid." From this you should make the logical jump that your child will also be stupid if you give them that name. So maybe I should do what we did in the end, which was decide what we were going to name our kids and then not tell anyone until they're born. Then people can't argue. They can only awkwardly pause and say, "Is that a family name?"

By this time next month I'll have a new look, a new address, and a new title (not to mention a vastly new location). Here's hoping for no awkward cyber-pauses when you see the changes.

Tree Update

A few weeks ago I posted about this tree that fell in the park across from us. I've been watching to see if they would come gather it. Instead, they decided to cut off the top part and put it back in the ground. Seriously? That's like Ethan today trying to reinstall the tooth he lost yesterday. Granted, there's no tree coming up from under it to take its place, but do they really think it will just take root and grow again?

When I was running yesterday I was trying to think of how to carry the spiritual analogy I began in my first post. So if falling over because you have shallow roots in Christ was the first lesson, I guess this would be like someone coming along and saying, "Hey, you're ok" and slapping a spiritual bandaid on you. I don't know - what do you think? The sad thing is this will only hold up til the next storm. Poor tree.

Sing that again?

After listening to a CD of kid's worship songs which included a song with the lyrics, "Trust in the Lord forever, for The Lord, the Lord is the rock eternal, the rock eternal" I caught Megan singing it. Only her version went, "Trust in the Lord forever, for The Lord, the Lord is the rocky turtle, the rocky turtle." When I asked her about it, she said she knew how it really went, but there was a hesitancy in her voice that made me doubt her.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What I'll Miss

I just checked the weather report, and it's already "86 degrees, feels like 101." It's 9 a.m. That feels wrong to me. It's been like this for several days. Even the Singaporeans I meet have commented, "Very hot today." Funny how you can feel the difference of a few degrees here. This kind of oppressive heat I will not miss (though as I say that I think of my friend Lindsey who is heading into a Phoenix summer - sorry girl! Hope it's a dry heat!). But in saying that I won't miss it, I am reminded of all that I will miss. Here are a few things that come to mind:

1. Thunderstorms - they are amazing here. I mean the best I've ever experienced. And along with that . . .
2. Clouds. I sat at the Science Centre the other day while the kids were playing in the water exihibit and just watched the clouds pass over. They were fascinating. I've never seen anything like it elsewhere in the world.
3. Libraries. China doesn't really have libraries. It has been such a blessing for our homeschooling, and I've finally been able to read fiction again after those 5 years we previously had in China. I'm trying to burn through as many books as I can while I'm here (just finished Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons - awesome book!)
4. Running down the most beautiful paths imaginable. I mean, just running down a random street is pretty with all the trees, but then running through parks, along the ocean, through the woods, along a canal - gorgeous!
5. Speaking English. Or at least mostly.
6. Mustafa! We were just there last night, and I was reminded that you really can get just about everything there. I'm sure I've saved hundreds of dollars by shopping there in our five years in Singapore.
7. Parks, parks, parks! We are never short of fun places to go with the family here, if we are so inclined (although the kids are at the point where they don't want to go without friends).
8. Leading Bible study at IBC
9. Despite blazing days like this, I will miss the ability to do outdoor activities almost every day of the year!
10. Greenhouse - I'm saving the best for last. Greenhouse is the name of our small group, started back in 2005. It's gone through a lot of transition as people have come and gone, but we've been blessed by everyone. We wish we could take all of them with us! We love you all and will miss you terribly.

Of course there are more than 10 things we'll miss - Megan and I were just looking at pictures from my phone that were taken all over the island, and now she's crying on my shoulder. Singapore's been good to us!

Friday, April 24, 2009

This I will not miss

If you have a conversation with me in the next four weeks before we leave Singapore, don't be surprised if I burst into tears. I feel like I'm just on the edge a lot of time as it hits me out of nowhere, "I'm really going to miss this!"

But here's something I won't miss: rules without logic. They abound in Singapore, and the general public is highly committed to maintaining them. Take this for example: yesterday I was at a friend's condo. She was standing in the pool to keep an eye on her 3 and 1 year olds while our older kids played. I was sitting on a ledge with my feet in the pool because I didn't bring my suit.

A man who worked for the condo came over and said, "I'm sorry miss, but you can't have your feet in the pool because you are not wearing proper swimming attire."

I stared at him for a second and then asked, "If I were wearing a swimsuit could I sit here?" and he replied, "Yes, but you're not, so you didn't take a shower, and your feet are dirty."

I was on the verge of asking him if I could sit there if I went over and washed my feet in the shower, but I knew the answer would be no. I also wanted to point out to him that if I had my swimsuit on, I would be sitting there without having taken a shower. but I looked at my friend and she gave me the head shake that says, "Don't bother, not worth it, can't fight it." So I took my feet out of the pool.

I'm not a rebellious person by nature, but times like that make me want to disobey all their rules.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Kilometers that is. 43,810 happy kilometers on our trusty Hyundai Matrix that we sold today to a used car dealership. We received in payment less than half of what we paid for it, yet enough to purchase a wide variety of cars in the U.S. I'll leave you guessing at the actual amount.

When we bought the car four years ago, it was at the encouragement of our boss, a Singaporean, who told us the C.O.E. (Certificate of Entitlement - the license to own the car, required for any car in Singapore) would never be lower. At the time it was $16,000 Sing. Last fall it hit $2. So much for that prediction (I think it's back up to $12,000 now).

On our maiden voyage to pick up Erik at the airport, I managed to get stuck against a post in the car park in such a way I had to ask someone else to drive it around the corner for me. Months later, I did the same thing again, on the other side. The night after we put it on auction last week, Erik did it a third time. I blame Singapore and its tiny car parks.

Despite the book ends of tragedy, those 43,810 km have meant countless cross-island trips to Jurong, the Woodlands, Changi, and Sentosa (aka west, north, east, and south), and even several trips to Malaysia (once all the way to Kuala Lumpur). Some of those miles have been added by friends who borrowed the car. Some were driven in torrential downpours, some down highways so beautiful you can't believe you live on this tropical island. I can't tell you how many times during those kilometers I've thought, "I'm SO glad we have a car!" It's saved us hours of waiting and walking, and given us freedom to go places we wouldn't have gone otherwise.

When I drove away today, Megan cried. That's not unusual - she's our emotive one. But after I turned in the keys and walked away to get a taxi home, I got a little emotional too. We're so thankful we had it! Now we're back to taking public transport like everyone else. It was good while it lasted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Facebook guilt

I will admit that I am a converted fan of Facebook. When people first started trying to be my friend, I just ignored it (note: this is not how I approach my social life in reality). I couldn't see the point. Now, I have oodles of Facebook friends (we get around) and I check it more than once on most days. I like it because it's fun to reconnect with people I haven't seen in literally decades (wow that makes me sound old) and because I have many good friends who live around the world, and seeing their updates makes me feel like I got to talk to them a little today. Even though I didn't really.

I even like some of the applications - I use the books page to keep track of books I want to read, and once in awhile I sharpen my geography skills by playing the travel quiz. I like pieces of flair too. I don't usually say no to a piece of flair.

But here's what I will say no to - becoming a fan of something. One day in a moment of weakness and probably homesickness, I became a fan of lefse. Later I realized it really wasn't important to me to have people know that I like lefse (I'm sure half of the people reading this are thinking, "What's lefse?"). So I un-fanned myself. De-fanned?

Still, every day it seems I am presented with the option of becoming a fan of something - God, Jesus, the Bible, sleep, rainbows, puppies, Air Supply, the smell of gasoline, you name it. Here's the thing - I am not opposed to any of those things. All good. Great, in fact. I love God. And Jesus. But I just don't feel compelled to publicly labely myself a fan. This is nothing against those of you who are fans of something on Facebook. More power to ya, especially if you're a fan of Petra (notice how I slipped that 80's Christian rock band reference in there).

Unfortunately, it leaves me with that sense of guilt, like how I feel when I don't forward emails that admittedly "touched my heart." It's like I'm some kind of cold hearted grinch. Hitting the ignore button when people invite me to be a fan of "hugs" feels like slamming the door in the face of Girl Scouts selling cookies. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Kind of Cook

Ethan: "Mom, where's my Darth Vader mask?"

Me: "Boy, I don't know buddy. Why?"

Ethan holds up tongs, "Because I'm cooking bacon and I want to protect my face because a little bit just splattered me right here on my chin."

Now I really want to go find his mask because there's nothing better than bacon that's been cooked for you by Darth Vader.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Know You're In China When . . .

All eyes are unabashedly on you.

Taxi drivers consistently pull over to pick you up while you are out on a run. Do they not notice the difference between someone in a hurry and someone who is exercising? What makes this more strange is the fact that there are many people exercising in street clothes and dress shoes. They must really get hit on.

Cotton blossoms float in the air like giant snowflakes that can't land. Note to self: keep your mouth shut while you walk.

There is a huge urn in the middle of the new apartment you're trying to rent, and the landlady insists that it is good to have it because the winters are dry, and this could be filled with water.

You can stare directly at the sun through the haze.

You head toward a group of people in a park because they are white people, only to realize they are not YOUR white people.

People videotape you and your friends at your picnic just because you are foreigners.

You eat out with nine other people and the divided bill comes to $3 a person.

You figure out that when the land lady said the water damage on the wall of your apartment was from a dog, it didn't come from his mouth.

You eat kung pao chicken five times in three days.

You throw random Chinese words into conversation with other foreigners and it doesn't phase them.

You can't make your room colder because the hotel isn't going to turn the air conditioners on until April 15th no matter how hot it is.

Stop him! He has scissors and hand cream!

On my way to China I witnessed a man arguing with security. This man apparently had not attempted to fly since before 9/11. They had pulled out his four large bottles of lotion and cologne and were insisting that he couldn't bring them on the flight. He was insisting harder that he should be allowed to take them. He asked what I thought was a valid question, "What do you think I'm going to do with them?" This interchange continued for some time before the security woman finally went back to helping other passengers who had obediently put their tiny hand lotions in clear plastic bags.

In the end, he put the offensive items back in his bag and went to decompress in the waiting area with the rest of us. I thought, "if that guy tries to kill me with his hand lotion, I'm gonna sue the Singapore airport." Also, note to all potential international terrorists: the "wear them down" approach works in Singapore.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What's happening in this picture?

Ok so here's the story. Megan has an American Girl doll named Nellie. Nellie's best friend is Samatha, who is being phased out. Megan really wanted her for her birthday, but she knew of the "phasing out" and believed it was too late. Little did she know that fast acting Nonna bought Samatha ages ago and saved her for her birthday. We brought her back in January and surprised Megan with her on Monday night at our family birthday celebration (I'm going to be gone over Megan's birthday next week).

After the intial shock (she looked at me like, "Really? Is it really her?!") Samatha was welcomed into the community of Megan's room, which is over populated by a plethora of stuffed animals.

Another of her birthday presents was a new toy oven - a pink one that she had seen online, which we also managed to pack in our luggage (before assembly of course). For some reason, Megan decided to combine these two gifts and put her American Girl dolls in the oven. Both girls were cooked at once as this is a dual oven. Nothing but the best for our daughter.

This morning Megan assessed that Samantha had died in the oven over night and proceeded to gather flowers for a funeral. This is the funeral assembly. Quite a variety of mourners. Samantha's life was short, but she was obviously well loved. Either that or it's just general curiosity which brought such a crowd of onlookers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lessons from Trees

We've had a few monster thunderstorms recently. On Sunday, I pulled a chair up to the living room window and just watched and listened to one in silence. It was awe-inspiring.

The downside of these awe-inspiring storms is that trees don't always live through them. Down the hill and across Serangoon from our place, there is a large open field dotted with trees. We were amazed that they have left this huge piece of land open without building on it, but we found out that it was previously a cemetery. Chinese are superstitious about living in anything that used to house dead people, so they are waiting until people forget what it was before they build. We think that in order for that to happen, they're going to have to dig up the "I obviously used to be a cemetery" roads. But I digress.

Last night we walked over there to look at two large trees that had fallen. When I say large, I mean large in a way that you don't see back in Minnesota. Huge. And yet toppled by the storm.

Why did they fall? Well, our recent study of the rainforest biome tells us these are canopy layer trees, meant to be protected by emergent trees 30-60 feet taller. Those emergent trees would have buttress roots that spread out on the ground, giving them a solid foundation. Because rainforest soil is so nutrient poor, the roots also must go out instead of down. But instead these trees were standing alone, at least 50 feet from any neighboring tree.

Erik wanted to teach the kids a few object lessons. I'd love to say they looked at him with admiring, innocent eyes, soaked in his wisdom, and afterwards said, "Daddy, thank you for taking the time to share your abundant spiritual insights with us," but I think there was more focus on chasing frogs and complaining about long wet grass rubbing their ankles.

So since they might have let the lessons pass them by, here they are. I thought they were pretty profound.

Lesson #1: These trees were in isolation. These trees were never meant to stand alone in a field by themselves. Canopy trees need the shelter of taller emergent trees that have solid buttress foundations, as well as other trees around them during heavy storms.

Lesson #2: They didn't have deep roots. The hole left by the larger tree couldn't have been more than 2-3 feet deep and at least 6-7 feet wide. It doesn't matter how big you are if you don't go deep.

I don't think I really need to unpack those for you. Here's hoping we aren't being like these trees today.

You never know what you'll see

I see a lot of strange things on morning runs. Asian people do many interesting exercises that involve walking backwards and slapping themselves. I see people attempting to run in flip flops. I see maids taking grandmas for walks. Sometimes I see an old woman bouncing a basketball. And sometimes she's carrying the basketball in a pink plastic bag.

Today was the best though. I ran past an old man riding his bicycle. He had a branch strapped to the handlebars, and a green parrot was sitting on the branch. I'm tempted to say, "Now I've seen it all" but since I will continue to live in Asia for awhile I know that's just not true.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A First and a Last (maybe)

Erik has asked me a number of times to go running with him. We've run together exactly twice before. Once, we lived in Minneapolis and I thought since I was exercising daily I was in much better shape than Erik. So I invited him to go out running with me and he literally (quite literally) ran circles around me because I was so slow.

Then about a year and a half ago, while on a getaway to Stillwater, MN, he suggested we go out running together. We made it about 5 minutes before I decided I couldn't keep up with his pace.

The problem is that I run a 9 1/2 minute mile, and Erik runs an 8 minute mile. I'm going to say it's because his legs are a foot longer than mine. So now when he suggests that we run together, I remind him of our vast pace difference. He, being naturally the most optimistic person I know, thinks it's still feasible.

So last Thursday I gave in. I had wanted to run the East Coast Park trail one more time before leaving Singapore. The only other time I ran it was during the half marathon, and at that point in the race I was concentrating on not tripping into the person in front of me, or stopping altogether. I completely missed the beautiful ocean to my left. It seemed like a good place to make our maiden voyage together. Leaving the kids with our trusty maid, we set off around 6 p.m.

Our goal was 20 minutes out and 20 back. And you know, it wasn't so bad! Granted, Erik had to run quite slowly to match me, but pushed me enough that I was running probably closer to a 9 minute mile. I could still manage to hold something of a conversation so I wasn't over the edge of my limit. We stretched at the pier and headed back for a Berry'd Treasure at Coffee Bean (mmm . . . like melted raspberry ice cream), and hummus and chicken wraps from the kabob place next door.

It wasn't quite my first run with Erik, but let's call it the first successful run! And while it was supposed to be my last run at East Coast Park, it was enjoyable enough that I might do another.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

It's all coming back to me . . . well, some of it

With our move to China looming ever closer, I have started to be concerned about my rusty Chinese skills. Not so concerned that I actually might take time to study. Oh, I think about it now and then, but I know that an hour of practice by myself is equivalent to about 5 minutes of actually speaking while I'm there, so why waste all that time?

This morning I had an opportunity to bring a little back. I'm on a quest for a friend in China to find "wind cure oil" for her back. In Chinese it is called "qu feng you." When I asked for it at the pharmacy the other day, he gave me many choices, but not the one I wanted. Today I went to a different market. Not knowing where a pharmacy was, I thought about asking, and thought, "How do you say pharmacy?" (we live in a part of town where Chinese will get you further than English). Suddenly I thought, "Yao ji shi!" Technically, that's "pharmacist" or "chemist" to be more precious. I know that because that's what my dad does. As I walked, I imagined a conversation about this "qu feng you" with a "yao ji shi" and I realized I remembered how to ask for a specific name brand. I never got to use this restored information because there wasn't a yao ji shi to be found. But at least I found some of my Chinese!

Friday, April 03, 2009

My Step of Faith for the Day

For most of my life, I operated under the erroneous knowledge that I had A- blood like my mom. It wasn't until I was pregnant with Ethan that I discovered I am in fact O-. Maybe this news is not earth shattering, but in Asia I am like gold. Whereas in the States 15% of the population is Rh negative, in Asia it's less than 1%. Not only am I Rh-, but O is the universal donor. That means that when a negative person (Rh negative, not just negative in general) needs blood, they need mine.

The only problem? I hate needles with a passion. When I had a cavity filled two weeks ago, all I could think about was that tiny needle they were going to use. When I had kids, the thought of pushing them out didn't phase me - it was the IV I didn't want. I have passed out from shots more times than I remember. When I've had blood taken, my body freaks out so much my blood literally stops flowing. So voluntarily giving my arm to someone so they can shove a needle the size of a straw into it is the last thing I want to do.

But of course today I got another email with a plea for Rh negative blood. Technically they want B-. This happened about two years ago when someone wanted A-. I waited several days before finally calling and offering my fluids, but the need was gone (I have to confess I had hoped it would be).

When I got the email, I thought, "Well, technically, they need B, not O," and deleted it. 15 minutes later I was convicted, and messaged the woman. It's a big step of faith for me - I've never actually given blood! I always used that "I'm too small and weak" excuse. But I kept thinking, "What if this were my five year old son with cancer. Wouldn't I want even the small, weak, irrationally afraid of needles people to give?" Having just watched The Changeling, there's not much I wouldn't do for my kids these days.

I just got a message back from the woman, saying the blood bank will contact me today. So there's my step of faith for the day, and I'm going to need all the strength and grace God can give me to do it.