Friday, February 26, 2010

My Village

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child may not be true, but it is certainly a gift if you have it. After 11 years overseas, we have finally found our village. Our condo Dairy Farm Estate (sometimes called the "Farm") has a great blend of local and expat families. Lots of teachers and just good people. Over the last 3 years here I have forged friendships that I know will last a lifetime, they just will. Tonight I am off to attend a "book club" which is really an excuse to pretend we read, but I really did read this book and have a few laughs food and drink with these friends. One of the kids buddies just left after spending the afternoon playing at our house.

"Farm" Kids at the Lion Dance

I have been lucky enough to befriend Lisa and Sara-Jane. Karen, is our Julie McCoy planning activities for us as a group,. I could name them all, but they are just all part of this big huge group of people that I have come to appreciate more than I can say. This a group of loosely connected people, around 10 families, that do things together on a semi-regular basis. Our kids all hang out together and it is not unusual to find a group of us at the pool on a Sunday morning.
The Lions and kids trying to "steal" the Oranges in their mouths.
This group is wonderful, I feel comfortable leaving the kids with any of them, I feel like their kids are an extended family. None of us feels shy about bringing a kid in line if needed, or bandage a skinned knee and offer a hug when needed. The houses are almost always open, with kids running in and out. Sleep overs are common and even the young teens like to hang out with the littler kids (7-8). There is never an issue if SJ needs to have us watch her kids for a few hours, or if my kids are up at Lisa's while we run errands. Sure we gossip a bit, but we worry too. We miss those who move away and enjoy it when they return. This is really my village.
Last weekend the Farm's management committee had scheduled a lion dance for the Chinese New Year holiday and it was a great gathering of Farmies (my newly coined name for the group). Probably around 100 people gathered to watch the dance and enjoy the celebration, despite the 38 degree heat (that's 100 to those metrically challenged) and 99% humidity.
The next day we all piled into cars and set off for Sentosa beach for a relaxing morning by the Sea. All organized by our resident cruise director Karen "Julie McCoy" McD as part of her "birthday" weekend. There were about 7 families all in attendance.

There were so many kids and parents that it made the beach a real joy for all of us. Cara and I were able to walk and get a cup of coffee, leaving the kids in the care of our spouses. Karen needed to run a kid to the bathroom and was able to leave the other with us while we watched. Lisa brought her cousin "Vinnie" and we all played in the water, ate snacks and enjoyed the morning.

One of the hardest parts of returning back to the States (which we are not planning on doing soon, but will someday) will be leaving this village, but that is sometimes part and parcel of the Expat life. Leaving and moving come with the territory, knowing that makes this group even more special as we all recognize the fact that we all may leave soon. While it may not take a village, having this one has enriched my life in so many ways.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Money,Housing and Success.

I was thinking yesterday about what I defined as success. Success for me, when I was younger was knowing that I could walk into a store and purchase something without worrying that I was going to go without food or shelter. Success was a happy family. Success to me at the time was not so much keeping up with the Joneses (we didn't even have any Joneses in my circle) it was really more about being happy, healthy and having a few nice things. I always wanted to keep my own sense of style and a certain bit of quirkiness as well. Of course there were times in my life that I wanted to have the "big house". I used to go to the Street of Dreams in Oregon and think those houses were what I wanted, but then again those houses were a huge 3000 square feet. The average "Street of Dreams" home now is something like 5000 square feet with no yard. (Or this house, while it is beautiful in many ways, and professionally decorated it is 6500 square feet) I say no thank you. Success was going to be a moderate house, a career I liked the annual two week vacation and the ability to pay for items (no not a Louis Vuitton, but maybe a $100 necklace) without stress. I never dreamed of yachts or private jets. I never dreamed of luxury cars. Maybe I was raised thinking that the trappings of wealth were really just that, trappings.

Now at the age of 44 I think my original dreams have come pretty true. I don't dream of big huge marble bathrooms. I would like a bathtub I could soak in however. I don't dream of a luxury car. We have lived for over 11 years without owning a car. Mass transport and taxis have been enough for us. We consider purchasing a small car as the kids are getting busy at school and our taxi fairs have increased. A nice small Honda would do me just fine.

I don't dream of a 5000 square foot home, we own our 1100 square foot home back in the States and it has been rented to the same tenant for 11 years. While it will be smaller than what we want should we move home, I can't imagine ever living with more than 2200 square feet. Our current space is 1900 square feet and is almost perfect but the lack of storage is a bit off putting.

I certainly don't dream of 40 foot ceilings. Pretty, but how do you dust the brickabrack on the top shelf? If you are sitting in the chair next to it, do you even notice. What about the heating bill of that home? (I do like the view however out those windows... just keeping it real!)

I no longer dream of 2 week vacations. I work from home and travel extensively for work. When the kids are able, they come with us. Budget travel in Asia allows us to fly for cheap and using points I accumulate through work we stay in excellent hotels at pennies on the dollar. When we don't stay at 5 Star Hotels using points, we search the internet and find perfectly acceptable hotels for US$40-50 per night. As a result my children have traveled to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. While they don't get to hang out at the Oregon Coast as much as I did as a child, i think they are doing just fine in the tropics.

I don't dream of showing my wealth by having the biggest or the best. I do have an excellent job. One that pays better than most. It allows Jeff to have the flexibility to find his dream job while we are still paying for our kids to attend a world class private school. We are able to pay for holidays if we want and we are able to pay for health care for those we love. We cut corners where we can to save for the future, we don't have big TVs or lots of gadgets. We don't spend on the latest fact I just went shopping for clothes for myself for the first time in over 8 years. Sometimes it is hard to not see beautiful houses like this and say, wow, I wish.... Sometimes it is hard looking at ex-pats (a whole post in itself) and think wow I wish I could have that car, or that dress or that house, or that XYorZ. But, after a moment I think back again about what I really wanted as a child. My definition of success.

In those moments when I start thinking I need to keep up with the Joneses, the Smiths or the Chens... I think back. What is it that I really want.

What do I have:
A happy family. Check
A job that pays for my lifestyle, gives me satisfaction and allows me to travel. Check
A husband that I love and that loves me. Check.
Travel all over the world to learn and see new things. Check.
Live overseas and expose my family to second cultures. Check
Have a group/a circle of amazing friends. Check
A roof over my head. Check
Good food on the table. Check

What I still want:
A backyard with a garden..OK Condo living kind of makes that hard...But I really do like our place.
A sense of financial security. Working on that
Wealth in Spirit- Working on that....

So, have I met my definition of success. Pretty damn close if I do say so myself.

All images from

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a bit of prettiness today

A small corner of my home that I love. I need to get more corners that make me happy. There are so many that are left "unfilled". And, as I have just purged way too many magazines and things sitting around my house I don't need to necessarily fill them with "things", but I want to clean them- set them in order and make them beautiful.

Mao memorabilia finds from throughout Asia.

I would love to fill my home with more corners like this

And have dinner parties using candles and seashells like this (Images are both from my new "blog crush" 52Flea.

Simple quiet corners of my house. That is what I am trying to establish. A place to relax, a place to be.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Too Much/Too Many? CDs and Music

My beloved and I have quite a CD collection, one that rivals our DVD collection. While I am overall pretty happy with the way our DVD "database works" I have still not found a similar free or moderately priced music organizer to create a database of my albums. I started to organize, pulled all of the CDs out of the jewel boxes, put them in alphabetical order and then, the project died out. I just wasn't happy with my options.

I have always wanted to go ahead and rip my music and put it on iTunes to have the music digitally available so I started to rip a few CDs on my husbands computer. Now, by way of disclaimer, while I think we have quite a music collection, I understand that others have many many more, so what may end up working for me, may not work for others. Just so you know where I am at, so far I have over 3700 songs on my 'work' computer and on Jeff's I have only put a few...2000 or so heehee... That is mostly just songs, not albums. Many of these MP3s were gifts from friends, rips of music we all knew and loved. Some downloaded-most recently with a little gifty card I bought myself while home in the US.
As a side note, one of the pains of living in Singapore is that we are not
allowed to open an iTunes account using a Singapore credit card or
Singapore address, so i have to do it with my US debit card and my parents in
law's address.
But, I digress, as I am wont to do. Back to the tally, my rough count of CD's has us at well over 300 disks. So, how to organize them? I wonder if I was over thinking it? Could I simply use what I already had? Well, I started by again alphabetizing them (had to take a second stab at this due to additions over the holidays) just like I did with the DVD's. Anyway, back to the original point of this post. I need to get back on this project. So as I started to burn the CDs I noticed that the computer, handy little tool that it is, started to sort the albums for me.

I started to burn the CDs in MP3 for compatibility reasons, although I do think Apple will end up being the only music player out there in the end, starting with the MP3 allows me to use iTunes, or other MP3 players. Ripping with iTunes limits me to the Apple format. As I ripped them using Windows Media, the computer started to put them into Artist/Band folders with each album separately listed. The grace notes appear to be transferred as well so art work will show up when you put it onto the player. iTunes shows me the album, the artist, the track listing and the artwork. I can sort by genre and by date. What I can't do is read the liner notes... but that is a story for another time.

The real reason for this post? Well, it goes not only to organization and to clutter, but to the crux of voluntary simplicity for me. Last weekend we were getting haircuts with the kids and Jeff found a great CD sale. He came up with a US$ 5.00 copy of Forty Licks by the Stones. I told him we already owned it. I know this because I bought it and I organized it. He didn't believe me, but when we got home, I got into the alphabetical stack and found our copy. We now will be gifting our second copy to someone.

As the great band has said " You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

I just hope once I get a list done there are less of these duplicate purchases. What do you all do to organize your music collections?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


When I first found myself pregnant with Declan, I knew what kind of parent I wanted to be. I still want to be that kind of parent. I don't get there all the time, I try, but I have some of my own issues that keep butting into my goal to be kind and gentle. I tend to be grumpy, short, quick to anger and patience, well it may be a virtue, but one I really struggle with. I look at all of the blogs were it seems that every one is a perfect parent, the kids are creative and do all sorts of artsy things. The kids eat 100% organic foods and would never touch a packet of Kraft mac and cheese, even if offered. Coke and cookies are unheard of in the home, it is organic arrowroot crackers and homemade lemon water. And the kids are perfect.

But, they aren't. The mothers aren't. While the blogs are lovely, they don't always reflect real life (which is one reason I love the Pioneer Woman, her kids seem to be pretty real life to me as the wallow in muck and mud, just look at her fridge in this post and you will see what I mean). I have friends who throw down terms like active parenting and organic lifestyles. They ban all processed food from their homes, but I know as soon as those kids hit the neighbors the first thing into the mouth is an oreo or a glass of rootbeer. I know these mom's get upset and angry, I have even seen some of them lose their temper. I guess when it happens I have to sit back and smile, a bit of schadenfreude I know, but I already told you I have issues! But the point here is that I know that as much as I do have work to become a better parent, I need to temper myself and my emotions, I have done Okay so far.

My basic philosophy is first and foremost to raise gentle and kind kids. Kids that appreciate the things that they have to share with others, to take note of what they see, to eat well and healthful. To be thankful for the world and the opportunities they have been given. To understand that by the grace of God, or the luck of the karmic draw, they have been born into an upper middle class family that is educated and has opportunities as a result of that status. Elitist, no, just realistic. I know that the kids have a better chance statistically of being educated and upper middle class because we are.

So, week before last in a situation of a very bad, horrible no good day, I flew to KL for a business meeting that unbeknownst to me was cancelled (or I wasn't registered) what ever. I was tired, cranky, suffering from Jet Lag. I called home to bitch at the situation with Jeff and talk to the kids to just get some touchstone back home. I was told by Delcan, that he had purchased me a gift while on a school field trip. He bought his sister one too. Not because he was told to, but because he is a kind, gentle and giving boy, minus those times he is on Wii.
I came home to this boy and this gift. Guess while my house may be a mess, I travel too much and I lose my temper way too fast, I must have done something right. All parents question the ability to parent. we all question if we are doing it right, if you have kids that love you, you are doing something right too!

Beauty- In the home

Four posts-in a week. Wow... almost an all time record.

So, a few thoughts about making my home beautiful (Wednesday I am now calling Beauty Day)- on a budget (or being frugal if you prefer) and being green. I am currently working on a project for my daughter's grade 1 contribution to the Singapore American School County Fair (an annual fundraiser for the school). I was looking through one of my favorite magazines Somerset Life- Oh yeah, not so frugal the purchase of these magazines, but I digress I happened across some of Mindy Carpenter's art work. Mindy created some amazing collages using papers and ephemera she has collected and stored in her studio. I thought what a great idea for getting some of the kids' school stuff off the kitchen table and somewhere we can appreciate it. Along came the idea of creating a canvas for the whole class. The canvas will be 36X40 inches and will contain bits and bobs of the kids work.

By way of a sample and to hang on my kids' wall next week, here is the first collage I did using some of the school work they have done this year. This was a fun, fast project and one that I will be doing more of (maybe with some of the collected ephemera from my trips around the world!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food and Organizing

Update on mission organization:

So, the desk is 90% clean. I recycled probably 30 magazines keeping only my Backwoods and Mother Earth News. I also got quite a bit of the craft desk done. Not all, but a fair amount.

Today (Generally Tuesdays are going to be food days on the blog), I am looking at food. I am doing a mini-detox and over the last few days I have been very conscious of what I am eating. I have eaten only veggies save 3 cheese tortellinis and only had one cup of coffee in the last 3 days.

One of the goals today is to go through my cabinets and start planning a stock up and use campaign.

Another thing I want to do is to start looking at labels and cutting out as much of this evil product as possible. Key areas that I think I can get are some of the few "prepared" foods that we use like Syrup and Ketchup. I will let you know what I find after I organize the pantry.

I am fascinated by this post over on New Dream about living HFCS free for a month. Looks much harder than most people think....

Also, I am setting up a delicious list for all of my simplicity/homesteading/frugal sites. I was inspired by Down-to Earth's post on organizing. I realized that many of my ideas are on the web in one form or another and I continue to lose track. This is my start of organization on that front. Check it out if you are interested. Homesteading/Simplicity links.

Peas and carrots~


Sunday, February 14, 2010

working towards some goals

First, a few pictures from Newport Beach California, from January. It was just shear luck that this is the lifeguard tower that we parked near and I couldn't help but take this picture. Pretty much representative of my current stage in life, I would have to say. And in part the renewed interest in getting my "shi.."I mean stuff together.

I guess it is time to set down and get to work on some of the goals I posted the other day. I have a long weekend and have spent some time resting, some time playing at the pool and sometime hanging on the back porch doing not much of anything. I have started to go through a bunch of my library and print outs on Simplicity and homesteading and I am reviewing what I can and should keep. The rest will be clipped and stored or recyled.

Tomorrow is the start of a new week. A week where I get a few days off from the "real" job to attend to the real life. I start tomorrow with a three day jump start to healthy eating. I am going all veggie on a "detox" for three days. The goal is not to crash diet, not to lose weight, but to identify some of the food triggers I know have upset my digestive system. I plan on cutting out all caffenine (today I have only had a cup of tea)...all animal protein, all glutens, all refined sugars and all soy. I then will reintroduce them one at a time to see what happens and if I can find out what bothers me. I also will start my yoga again tomorrow -and with the kids not in school for two days- I can do it before their day starts.

So, Monday is organization day ( I think it is a great idea to start picking days for certain goals)

I hope to get my office cleaned up-
1) magazines sorted and those that are no longer applicable thrown out.
2) papers sorted and recycled were appropriate, filed where needed to be
3) craft desk cleared and stuff put away (and I will not fall prey to the "reorganize the craft stuff call (not just yet!)
4) I hope to finish going through my closets and giving away clothes that either don't fit me or don't fit well.
5) Organize the CHA stuff. Send out reminders and track leads
6) finalize accounting stuff for both businesses including completion of two bills
7) and if time permits start working again on my photo organization. I have over 15,000 images that need to be reviewed, pared down and many duplicates and poor copies deleted. This is an ongoing goal.
Finally, a few trips to plan. While March will be a month filled with travel, we are considering a quick getaway with the kids for spring break to either Yogyakarta or Lombok using SPG points that I have been gathering from all my work travels. It is possible for us to stay in Sheraton hotels for a combination of points and only $25.00 per day.

Tuesday will be Kitchen/food storage updates (I think Tuesday may be health day)

Hope you are all having a prosperous start to the year of the Tiger. Xin Nien Kuai Le.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Space and Perspective

This image is from the "egg" in Beijing. An amazing bit of modern architecture if I do say so myself (cause I am such a critic, but no expert). I am sitting today in Kuala Lumpur and thinking about the month and a half that have just past.

I have traveled to Malaysia 2 times. I have been to Beijing, I have been to LA and Dallas. Total miles logged around 20,000 miles. That is one hell of a huge carbon footprint. It also means that the one thing I love the most-being with my family- was totally a wash. I was with the family 15 days of January.

Good news is February is looking better. After this trip I intend to be home until March 1st, but March will be just as bad. While awesome trips are planned, including my first trip to India, it again stresses my family.

So, what does space and perspective mean, what types of changes am I making this year to slow down and be more deliberate. A few goals I think are in order.

1. Be Financially Independent (save $). I just spent a ton of $ on clothes for myself. I suppose it was needed. I work in a professional environment and tend to have clothes that fit poorly or make me look short and drab. So, now that a shopping spree has taken place, it is time to cut back and save. Jeff and I figure that to retire early we would need enough to survive in a manner that we could be comfortable, plan for un-anticipated expenses and cover the kids college. We are a long way off.

2. Be Present- When i am home, be there, be with the family, not be distracted and give my whole to the kids. Last week it was easy. I just got home from travel so the 2 days I was home it was easy to sit down and do homework, be patient and be there. I hope I can keep it up.

3. Be healthy. A few health issues have been circling around the family. We all need to take better care of ourselves and be well.

4. Be Grateful. Appreciate the blessings I have in life and share them with those I love.

5. Be Proactive. Take things in order and take action when needed rather than procrastinate.

6. Be Organized. Home, Business, Finances, Lifestyle.

7. Be Beautiful. Again, my home, myself, my family, my surroundings.

8. Be at Peace (my word of the year) and if the above come to fruition (or don't) be at peace with what happens and enjoy this life.

More about what I plan and how I plan to reach these goals soon.
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Friday, February 05, 2010

Food Food Food

Lots and Lots of it~

I have been eating like crazy...

In California I ate all types and lots of it... iHop, Bubba Gumps, PF Changs, Mamma Cozza's, Zov's Bistro and lots of crap convention center food.

Played at Disney and ate at Downtown Disney.

Flew to Dallas, ate lots of great food, including some Brazilian food, Greek, Mexican, "fusion" and molecular gastronomy... Wow, I am too stuffed to move. Time to go home and slow down. Can't wait to see my kids soon!
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