When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace. – Hyrum Smith


Making Singapore Home

Attention grandparents: Don't have a heart attack when you read the title of this blog post!  I'm not talking about residing here indefinitely.  I'm talking about really living here now.

It's taken me a long while to allow myself to live here.  Though a counselor who came to talk to our MOPS group strongly encouraged us to "make Singapore your home" about a year ago, I sat in my chair, tears steaming, shaking my head.  It certainly didn't feel like home last Christmas.  "Home" didn't fit, and I wasn't convinced it ever would.

Having lived here for nearly a year and a half, I am content to call it home.  Home is where my family sleeps.  It is where we get ready for school in the morning.  It is where our stinky van sits, unwashed, in the shade of the tree.  Home is where toys are spilled across the floor and milk across the table.  It is where we read books in the big green chair and build pillow forts in the living room.  It is where we eat, and pray, and live together.  

The external changes that were so hard to swallow in the beginning, have slowly become our new normal.  For one, we walk more than ever [I am a Fitbit queen!].  The weather is gorgeous  - 80 and sunny nearly every day - so why not?  Public transportation is incredibly efficient here, so my child is more comfortable on a subway at age 2 than I was at 20.  We share a car.  So, Aaron enjoys walking and riding the bus to work.  Often, the little boys and I will drive him, so we can get a morning coffee together on the way (and so he's not sweating out of his suit by the time he arrives!).

When we do drive, it's not nearly as stressful as it was in the beginning.  I have gotten used to driving on the wrong side of the road (sorry to offend my British and Singaporean friends, but it will always be the "wrong side" to me).  There are not a lot of two way streets, so if you got lost, it's not a simple matter of turning around.  Google Maps has become my best friend.  I can also find parking now (lots are few and far between, but giant carparks are in nearly every building if you can find the entrance).  When I do need to park on the street, I have mastered the arcane ticket system which must be displayed on the dash and have a huge stash of them in my glove box.  I don't even mind the fact that the spaces are so tiny that everyone (even a child) has turn sideways to exit the car in order to get out.  We just do it now.

We can access our money now.  Banking was one of our biggest challenges when we arrived.  For some reason, though the funds were in the account, we could not find an ATM (you have to use the ones specific to your bank), and when we could, we couldn't get money out.  Because Aaron was the primary account holder, I would have to meet him at a branch during inconvenient banking hours in order to get any cash (and many places only accept cash - like the PTA office at school where you have to buy the uniforms).  Now that we can use ATMs and actually know where to find them,  we're golden.

We have learned to expect a certain amount of bureaucracy in any given situation.  Getting a driving license takes 3 separate trips to the licensing office?  No surprise.  The management office has to inspect our leaky roof, then send three separate contractors on different days to put in bids, and then a committee has to approve the repairs?  Okay.  The saying here is: "TIA" (this is Asia).  I often wonder what foreigners in the U.S. think of our systems there.  What seems so simple and straightforward to a native, can confound the uninitiated.

I wish I could adequately describe what it's like to live in Singapore.  Imagine trying to explain to someone from another country what it's like living in your country.  It's challenging, right?  It's so complex, and depending on where you live, your job situation, your family situation, etc., there could be a million different answers.

Living internationally has been a huge rollercoaster ride for me.  I love it, love it, love it.  Then, I don't.  I soak in the Botanic Garden (less than a mile from our home - filled with shady, winding paths, ponds, waterfalls, and flowers), then I gripe about wilting in the heat and humidity (which is unrelenting).  I bemoan the fact the kids have to ride the bus 45 minutes to school one way, then I go visit their international fair day and am blown away by the awesome education they are receiving.  Every Monday I drag the two little boys, kicking and screaming, to the wholesale center at the docks where we dodge forklifts and semitrailers to save money on our produce, but I come home with a bounty of the freshest (and cheapest) fruits and vegetables we've ever eaten.  I cry and complain that Aaron travels more than he ever has, but because of that (and my own fears we could have some type of emergency) we have an amazing, live-in helper.  I struggle to adjust to having another adult living in our home, but I have more dates (after the kids have been put to bed) with Aaron than we have had in our 15 years of marriage.

I find that I tend to talk to communicate more with friends and family back home when things are at their worst.  When I have had it with the unfamiliar.  I forget that just because things are different, it doesn't mean they are worse.  I tell the kids all the time, "It's not better.  It's not worse.  It's just different."

Am I homesick?  Absolutely!  Am I looking forward to going home this Christmas?  Heck yeah!  I can't wait to wear sweaters and boots and park in a big ole spot right in front of Target - oh who am I kidding? -  the Dollar Tree, and stand in those aisles that are wide enough for a standard sized shopping cart, and buy cheap stuff.  I want to wear clothes that aren't labelled XL, and eat food whose ingredients I recognize, and hear some southern accents.  I want to hug my family.  I miss it.  All of it.

Am I sorry we moved here?  No way!  This has been one of the most transformational experiences I have ever had in my life.  This move has stretched me in ways I didn't even realize were possible.  It has challenged and strengthened my faith, forced me to confront prejudices in myself I didn't know I carried, caused me to be more assertive than I ever have been, and provided me with absolutely beautiful friendships.  It's allowed our family to see parts of the world we would have never in a million years been able to visit together.  It has deepened my appreciation for Aaron and the sacrifices he makes for our family.  It has made me appreciate family bonds - near and far.

I don't know how long God will keep us here, but while we are here, I hope and pray we choose to really live here every day and embrace our new home.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.                                                                                                                                                  Philippians 4:8


No problem

I feel like I've written about this before.  Maybe I stole the idea from another blog.  Who knows?  Anyway, I feel the need to write about it again...two little words that can save a lot of heartache in a home: "No problem."

Today I was strolling the boys along in the double stroller after we'd stopped in an ice-cream shop.  We needed to get back to the car so I could get Caleb home for nap.  I allowed the boys to take their ice cream cups in the stroller.  In case you missed the significance of that last statement, please humor me while I repeat it italicizing the guilty party: I allowed the boys to take their ice cream cups in the stroller.

I know better.  My eldest is 8 for Pete's sake.  But we were in a bit of a hurry.  Not five minutes into our walk, I hear the dreaded, "Uh oh."  Then the tiny voice, "Um, Mommy, I dropped my ice-cream, and it's on my shirt...Is that okay?"

Jack was covered in strawberry ice cream.  Face, hands, shorts, shirt, and stroller seat.  Deep breath.  "No problem."  "Fanks, mom."

It kind of breaks my heart that he even asked the question, "Is that okay?"  It was an accident.  It wasn't his fault.  Of course, it's okay.  But Jack is a product of my ranting days.  The days when a cup of spilled milk meant a mommy meltdown.  "Will we ever have a meal without someone spilling their drink???"  Would you like a little cheese to go with that whine, drama-momma?

Here's the thing.  I know how overwhelming it can be to have multiple small children making endless messes.  I am not minimizing that difficulty.  What I am saying is that I tended to take accidents rather personally.  They felt personal.  I was the one who had to clean them up.  But yelling at the kids was not an effective way to prevent accidents.  It only made the kids walk on eggshells.  And sadly, they did that for years.

What I'm slowly starting to learn is that accidents happen.  Many are preventable.  Don't use your nice, breakable stuff.  Don't give kids chocolate milk on a white chair.  Don't let them wear anything light-colored without a bib, eat watermelon, and then cry about their ruined clothes.  Don't allow them to stay up too late.  Don't let them wear socks on the hardwood.  Don't put your kids in the stroller while they are eating ice cream [duh].

Moms are always told to stop beating themselves up.  I agree.  Give yourself some grace.  At the same time, a little self-reflection is not a bad thing.  If your kids are having lots of accidents and you are yelling a lot, think about what you can do to prevent these accidents.

Try as you might, you can't stop every accident.  What you can stop is the emotional damage caused by your dramatic reaction.  Deep breath.  Don't take it personally.  Repeat after me: "No problem."


Better Things

The other evening the kids and I had an adventure, or perhaps more accurately, a misadventure.  It was late when I piled them into the car.  Though we'd had a busy day, and Aaron was in Japan, I was in high spirits.

I had found it!  My juicer.  The one I'd used in Texas.  I knew the voltage wouldn't be right when we moved here, so I had given it away before we'd left the States.  And now I'd found it.  On Gumtree (like Craigslist).  For a great price!

As we drove to the pick-up point, I regaled the kids with stories of "Juicing Thursdays" we'd had in our home in Texas.  "Remember when Ms. Lana and Ms. Helene would come over, and we'd juice?  And we'd save some for you to try after school?  And sometimes you liked it and sometimes you hated it?"  I was a bit misty-eyed talking about my friends.  What fond memories!

This silly juicer had already been an emotional roller coaster.  First, I saw the listing [woohoo!].  Then, I contacted them to see if it was still available [anxiety with a hint of hopefulness].   Then came the text saying it had already been sold [intense disappointment].  Then, miraculously, another text saying they were mistaken; another item had been sold, but the juicer was available [elation!].  The owner even agreed to meet me in the car park so I wouldn't have to take all the kids out the car, ride the elevator, find the unit, pick up the juicer, etc. [gratitude] and could meet me that evening [joy].

So there we were, joyfully riding toward our juicer with promises of ice-cream when our mission was complete.  We arrived at the complex.  I called the number and informed the woman on the line we had come to pick up the juicer.  We entered the car park and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  I tried to call her again.  No service.

*Sigh*  "Well, everybody out.  I guess we'll have to go up after all."  No worries.  We were going to get our happy juicer - the thing memories were made of, right?  We piled into the elevator and headed upstairs.

When we arrived, the door was open, and there was a woman sitting in a chair against a far wall.  Strange.  Whatever, I was just gonna get my juicer and go.  "Um, I'm here for the juicer."  "The juicer?"  "Yes..."  "Who told you a juicer was available?"  "The person in the email," I replied uncertainly.  Was I in an alternate universe?  Hadn't I just spoken to this person on the phone?  "What was their email address?" she demanded, looking suspiciously at me and the crew as I scrolled through the emails on my cell phone.  "Um, I think it's encrypted somehow to protect the sender."  "No!  The juicer was sold already."

Then she dialed her phone and began yelling at someone.  The kids were wide-eyed.  We started to back away.  "It's no problem.  I understand," I said, backing away.  She thrust her phone at me, "You talk to him!  You talk to him!"

An intensely apologetic man was on the phone repeatedly saying how sorry he was and how he didn't know.  "It's fine.  Really.  I understand."  I just wanted out of there!  I hurriedly handed her phone back, and as the kids and I ran, not walked, ran back to the elevator, we could hear the man was still getting an earful.

We got back into the car.  After the last child was buckled, I slipped into my own seat, and sat for a few moments with my hands resting on the wheel, tears slipping down my cheeks.

"What's wrong, mommy?!"  "I'm sorry you didn't get your juicer, Mommy."  "Are we still getting ice cream?"

"Nothing.  It's okay.  Yes, let's get the ice cream."

But I didn't want to leave it at that.  I didn't want to lie to the kids.

"Kids, you asked what was wrong.  I said 'nothing,' but that wasn't true.  Something is wrong.  It's not just the juicer..."

Maddie chimed in, "It's your friends, isn't it?  You miss your friends."  Wise little girl.

"Yes.  Yes, I do.  I miss my friends in Texas and in the States.  I miss our old house in Texas and the way everything worked.  I am disappointed about not getting that juicer, but I'm not mad.  I'm not even mad they said they had it, and they didn't.  Just a little sad."

"Well, I'm gonna punch person who took it."  Jack insisted.

"No, Jack.  It's okay.  God had a reason for us coming all the way here and it not being here.  Maybe now, Parker, I'll have a little more compassion for you when there's a toy you really wanted but didn't get."

"Yeah, and maybe God has a better juicer in mind for you," Parker chimed in.

"Maybe He does.  Or maybe He doesn't.  But whatever He does, we can trust He's got a perfect plan.  And you know what else?  We have a pretty great house here.  It's different from our old house, but it's pretty neat.  And friends!  We have lots of great friends here, too.  Don't we?"  Yeses all around.

"Alright, gang.  Let's go get some ice cream!"

There was a tremendous peace on our family that night.  Usually, when Aaron's out of town, nighttime sucks.  Hate to be crude, but it does.  Our routines get out of whack, the kids cry, it's messy.  But that night, as we prayed together and thanked God for our blessings, we were blanketed in peace.  It was beautiful.

By the way, God did have something better in mind.  A week later, an industrial [read: nicer] version of my juicer showed up on Gumtree for a great price.  We got it today.      


Siem Reap, Cambodia Part 3 - Bayon Temple & Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei Temple

While in Siem Reap we visited Banteay Srei Temple which was built in 967.  It's name means citadel of women or citadel of beauty, likely because of all of the intricate carvings of minor female deities that grace its red sandstone walls.   The buildings were much smaller in scale than any of the other temples we saw, and therefore archaeologists were able to restore larger portions.  There were many sections including libraries and a sanctuary guarded by statues of humans with animal heads.  It was a fascinating place!

Jack in a doorway (to give you an indication of size)

Ancient sanskrit writing

Bayon Temple

Next we were off to my favorite temple ever...When I first heard about Angkor Wat, lo those many years ago, I had no idea there were other amazing temples a stone's throw (or rather a few miles through the jungle) away.  In fact, I'd never heard of Bayon Temple.  What a treausre!

Look closely...Do you see the faces?
When we first arrived, we came to some very tall libraries (which looked like temples to me) with some of the steepest stone steps I'd ever seen in my life.  Parker asked if he could climb them.  Of course!  I couldn't wait to get a picture of him at the top.

Then I decided I wanted a picture of both of us at the top.  So, heart racing, I began to scale the stairs myself.  Either the people who designed them had teeny tiny feet, or the stairs had undergone some serious erosion through the years, or both because my giant American feet could only just fit on each step if they were completely sideways.  I got to the top and had Aaron snap a picture from below.  

I walked over to the other set of steps to exit and realized to my horror that the our guide climbing up with Caleb in her arms!  What?!  NOOO!  Visions of his blond head bouncing down the hard stone flew through my mind.  Is it appropriate to scream at a temple site?  I tried waving my arms to discourage her, but they were already halfway up.

Me reaching for Caleb

I laid on my stomach and reached my arms down as far as I could, snatching him up as soon as I was able.  What was she thinking?!  And how on God's green earth were we getting down?  I certainly wasn't going to let her hold him. Ever again.

There we are at the top at the right...planning our descent.

I tried descending on my own.  Where the heck was Aaron??  (Apparently he was now behind the library taking the picture above.)  I was starting to hyperventilate and my vision blurred from my tears.  We were both going to die up here, or rather down below atop a heap of jumbled stones.  Suddenly a small local man who had been watching our ordeal from below bounded up the steps on his impossibly tiny feet with the ease of a mountain goat.  He held out his hands.  Was I seriously going to hand my beautiful blond haired baby boy off to a complete stranger?  Um.  Yup.  I watched the man turn outward and skip down the stairs with Caleb in tow.  Just then, Aaron arrived to snap this great shot.  Thanks, babe.

As quickly as possible, I made my own awkward descent, snatched Caleb into my arms for the second time that morning, thanking the kind stranger profusely.

One would think that at that point we would simply cut our losses and head home.  Not the Lampoons Rausches!  Heck no!  There were more life-threatening adventures to be had!  (Not really, everything else was pretty smooth sailing after that.)

What awaited us was nothing short of amazing.  It was like something out of a story book or dream.  After passing through a series of hallways with shrines and giant phalluses, we came to the most incredible place...

Yup.  It's a phallus alright.  Why don't you touch it to be sure?  

Hundreds of giant faces (216 to be exact) were carved onto multiple towering temples.  Each structure had four faces, each facing a different direction - north, south, east, west.

While at first I assumed they represented Buddha, given their slight smiles and serene expressions, our guide explained they also strongly represented the king of the time and were likely a combination of the king, Buddha, and the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara.  Wow!


They were everywhere!

Pucker up!

I was sad to go, but we'd had a great time.  We spent our last night downtown.  We rode a tuk tuk (a kind of carriage attached to the back of a motorcycle) into town and strolled around for a bit.

We decided to forgo the crocodile pizza and ate a place called Genevieve's instead.  All in all, an amazing trip!

One last note...Parker lost a tooth on the van ride to the temple.  Below is the letter he dictated to the tooth fairy.  She still gave him a buck.

Happy birthday little big girl

Dear Maddie,

Just recently you tried to convince me you were a "young adult."  Say what?!  Where had you even heard that term?  You just giggled and insisted, "I am, mom!"  I have to remind you constantly you that you are still a girl, and a fairly little one at that.  Still, I find you and your friends talking with valley girl accents, "practicing being teenagers."  [Cue my rapid white hair growth.]

I used to fear your teenage years.  If I thought you'd turn out like the catty and/or clueless teenagers on television, I would still be concerned.  When I think about my own teenage misadventures, I cringe.  Then I remember two very important things: 1. You are not me.  2. You are in God's hands.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  So, sweet girl, I am trying my best to train you in the way you should go.  I am giving you the guidelines.  I know you will make mistakes and bad choices, but I am doing my darndest to let you know that you are and always will be loved by your parents and by God.  I am trusting that knowledge will sink way down into your very soul and provide you with the courage you need to live a good life.

You and Jack in Boracay
And little sister, you are well on your way.  You are a dear.  A sassy dear, but a dear all the same.  You are the sweetest big sister a boy could ask for.  Tonight I came home to find you closing the boys' door, whispering, "Goodnight Caleb, Ya-ya [Maddie] is going to sleep now.  Stay in bed."  When I asked her what she'd been doing, she replied, "Oh, we were playing cars, then I scratched his back, then I read him some books and sang him his goodnight song."

You continue to be a great little sister to Parker.  You are often completely selfless when it comes to him.  If you have candy, it's offered to him.  If you have money, and he wants it, you shrug and pass it over (until we stop him, of course).  You are not a pushover by any means.  You are just extremely generous.  If there is something you want, you will fight for it [literally], but generally, what's yours is his.

You absolutely crave affection.  We've figured out a way to make sure you get all the kisses and snuggles you need.  You tell us if your "love tank" is empty or low.  Now instead of pouting for no apparent reason, you are able to use your words to tell us what you need.  And once we hear the "love tank" status, let the hugging begin!  Sometimes you even use the whiteboard in your room to leave us love notes.  You are an excellent storyteller, illustrator, and communicator!

You are also quite the world traveller.  It is nothing to take you on a 4, 5, even 6 hour plane ride.  You know just how to stay in line at immigration.  You don't ever complain.  You climb aboard a tuk tuk with absolutely no hesitation.  You never cease to amaze me!

On the jetty to Boracay

On a tuk tuk in Cambodia

First hospital visit

Peanut challenge
This year brought many exciting changes.  Among them were the nut challenges you bravely completed at the hospital.  You had blood tests, and skin tests, and finally monitored nut consumption.  We learned you can eat many types of nuts safely, and we can even introduce peanuts into your diet.  I'm so proud of how brave and patient you have been through the entire process.  My favorite part was spending hours on end alone with you in the hospital where we read books, made bracelets, created a secret handshake, and watched movies.

This was a huge year for you.  You learned to ride a bike, you lost baby teeth, you mastered your school's ridiculously complicated uniform schedule.  But the most exciting development (in my opinion) was in the friendship department.  In years past, my mean mommy rule of only allowing as many birthday guests as you were years old was not a problem.  You were relatively shy and had a few close friends.  This year, however, you had so many sweet friendships, I nearly amended my rule.  Nearly, but not quite.  In the end, you chose seven of your closet friends from the neighborhood and from school.  And you had a ball!  My heart sang as I watched you parade around the house, directing the games, hostessing the stuffed animal tea party, opening your presents, all the while, surrounded by true friends.  My shy little girl is blossoming!  My prayer is that you will continue to develop real friendships, wherever we go.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.

I love you so much, and I'm so proud of the girl [not yet young adult] you are becoming.  I can't wait to watch you grow this year.  May God bless you, sweet girl!


Maddie as Mary Poppins