Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Odyssey

So even though Natalie's adoption is final in the eyes of the Malaysian government, the U.S. government is still not convinced. So we had to travel to the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (capitol of Malaysia) to file a bazillion documents and get fingerprinted and what-not so we can get U.S. citizenship for Natalie. We had a 4 day weekend so we decided it was a good time to go and we would just make it a mini-vacation since there is so much to do in KL.

Since Natalie has no passport we could not fly there and no one in their right mind drives there (the traffic makes New York look deserted and it costs more in gas and tolls then it would to fly!), and the train takes way too long so people here suggested we take their "double-decker luxury liner bus" system. I was skeptical to say the least. But I am here to recant. It was fabulous. Air-conditoned, reclining seats, movies, lunch served, the works. Very impressive and very inexpensive in comparison.

The boys brought a bag of treats to eat on the 4 hour trip and proceeded to consume them all in the first 15 minutes. John read, and me and the baby slept.

We stayed at the KL Flamingo hotel, which is NOT as nice as it looks in pictures...sigh. It was nice enough I suppose but I also learned a new lesson about hotels in Malaysia... they come with one king bed OR two twin beds. That's it. I assumed (silly me) that they would have the option of two queens but "no can la". So we got a roll away bed put in the room. John slept on that and I slept in the king with all 3 kids...and I use the term "slept" lightly as you can only get so much sleep with 3 kids rolling all over you.

That night we had a wonderful time as we got to go to OUTBACK Steakhouse. Doesn't seem like a big deal, I know. But when you live in a country where a third of the population considers cows too holy to eat, getting a good steak dinner is next to impossible. And seeing as how we are carnivores, we were excited (although it took 40 minutes in a taxi to go 3 miles with a taxi driver who sounded like he was choking on a fur ball the whole time and apparently lives in his taxi as Kyle had to move the guy's laundry out of the way in order to sit down).

The next morning we decided to go see the KL Tower since our embassy appointment wasn't until 2pm. The KL Tower is the 6th tallest building in the world at nearly 1300 ft. We went to the observation deck on the 85th floor and we got a breathtaking view of all of KL including the famous Petronas Towers and all of the SMOG.

We went to their "Animal Zone" and saw some really wild looking animals and Kyle and I both got to hold a boa constrictor and Alex got a pony ride.

Natalie looked so beautiful that morning...all dressed  up for her big day at the embassy...but by the time they finally saw us she was fed up.... pulled her hair bow out, yanked off her frilly socks and tried to eat them and filled her diaper in such a way that it CLEARED the waiting room in protest for having been stuck in a stroller for hours. Yikes.

The embassy trip was a disaster. They were so unorganized. At first they said they couldn't see us and we would have to come back. I threw a fit of course so they ended up seeing us. But the lady doing our fingerprints had no idea what she was doing and I had ink all over me that needed a belt sander to get it off. But in the end we got all the paperwork filed so now we wait.....

On day three we took the kids to the science center in KLCC. It was nice to go do something fun and put the embassy fiasco behind us. Even Natalie was in a good mood!

The place had a great dinosaur exhibit although as young earth creationists it gave us lots of things to discuss with our kids ...

And a great space station simulation....

Houston we have a problem...

This is how the astronauts sleep!

And they had fun playing with the virtual art exhibits...

We had a fabulous lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen inside this beautiful, enormous mall called the Suria KLCC Then we did some shopping. It was a great day. The next morning we headed back to Penang. We were all exhausted...

I have learned that I could NEVER live in KL. It is overwhelming. The traffic, the towers, the people...way too much. It was a fun place to visit but give me the mountains of North Carolina any day of the week!

Friday, September 24, 2010

David and ummm….Goliath?

Soccer season is under way! Dalat has never had a team at the elementary level so we are all pretty excited. Last week we just did a scrimmage and Alex scored the only goal. That’s my boy.

This week was our first game against another school, St Christopher. I’m not sure exactly where the communication gap occurred but when they showed up I was surprised to say the least. Our lower elementary team full of 1st and 2nd graders was paired against their girl team from 5th and 6th grade! So we had all these little 6yo boys playing against these amazon-ish girls. We were not sure what to do at first but they were already there and so were we so we went ahead with it.  Well, as expected, they kicked our butts but we gave them a run for their money!

They were expecting it to be not only an easy win but they were going to crush us. Well imagine their surprise when a bunch of little kids scored on them (Alex got the assist..woo hoo!).

What I also realized is that I am one of those obnoxious soccer moms who stomps around and yells and shakes her head in disgust. I am officially a poor loser. LOL  Next week we play Uplands and those snotty British kids are going DOWN…oops, there I go again!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Let the Music Play

So I am driving in the car the other day and I turn on the radio. I tune it to the ONLY station here that plays songs in English. What followed was a hilarious display of cultural mish-mash. :)

The DJ, in his best Wolf-Man-Jack-with-a-Malaysian-accent voice, introduces the next song as a "hot one" and puts on "Play that Funky Music" (the one by Wild Cherry from 1976 NOT the stupid version by Vanilla Ice). I am digging's a cool song...and I am thinking they must be doing a "flashback" kind of show, you know?

But the next song that follows is the latest song by Taylor Swift (who knows what it is it me or do all of her songs sound exactly the same?). But Wild Cherry then Taylor Swift? My brain was having a difficult time trying to reconcile the two when the third song came on...

Suspicious Minds by Elvis. Ummm...huh??? Wild Cherry, Taylor Swift, then Elvis? What kind of radio station is this? Then the DJ pops back on to call a commercial break and says something about "Playing all the latest hits..."

How can you not love this place? It keeps me laughing all the time!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mi Vida Loca- A Day in the Life

So yesterday was Merdeka Day here in Malaysia. It is the equivalent of 4th of July for the USA so that means we got the day off of work! We were excited to get to sleep in and hang out and maybe get some errands done. I was looking forward to getting a pedicure and new highlights!

What I found out is that "merdeka" in English means" everyone get in your car and drive to where Heather is". It seemed that everyone on the island decided to go to the mall at the exact moment I did. It took 30 minutes to find a parking spot! So I finally get parked 5 minutes before my pedicure appointment (parking on the 7th floor of the parking garage...the Siberia of parking), then had to travel down 7 escalators to get to the bottom floor where the ATM machine was only to find out that it was out of order!

I travel back up a floor to get a coffee with some gift certificates I received for my birthday. The man in front of me is asking the cashier the ingredients of each and every coffee drink on the menu. I am already late and tapping my foot impatiently as he says "Ooooh, A caramel latte! What's in that?" Finally he decides, tries to pay with a credit card and the machine stops working. The cashier gives the machine several puzzled looks as if trying to will it back to life, shakes it, smacks it like she is Fonzi or something then finally calls the manager over. He gives it more stern looks (because he is the manager so of course it will work for him!), shakes it harder, smacks it twice, then says to the customer "no can la" (they say la at the end of everything here).

Finally my turn, one small frozen coffee and one muffin = 17.25! Welcome to Malaysia... so I hand the cashier two gift certificates worth 10 each. She stares at me for a moment. Smiles. Stares more. Giggles uncomfortably. Then says "We cannot give change. You must use entire amount. You can pick another item if you wish." Which is a hilarious if ANYTHING in that store costs 2.75? So I rolled my eyes and told her to keep it (which is, I am sure, the plan behind their "policy" anyways).

I finally get to my pedicure and begin to relax and read a book. DIGRESSION.... I was reading "Wrapped in Rain" by Charles Martin. It is a fabulous book. Read it. Especially if you are a man. And even more especially if you are a man with a son. Unfortunately for me, I was at the end of the book and it is a tear-jerker. So I am sitting there, tears running down my face as I finish the last page and the nail tech says "You no like color?" I was completely befuddled then I realized she thought I was crying about the pedicure! Mental note: do not read sad books in public.

Time to check out. I had been given another gift certificate for a manicure and a pedicure so I handed the GC to the cashier girl. Here we go again. Stares, smiles, stares. To save her the trouble I said "I only used the pedicure today. I'll come back for a manicure some other time". She says "Oh no. No can la. You must use together." I was not having it this time. So I said "No, no I don't. There is nothing on this that says that is true so you just go ahead and cross off pedicure since I used that, initial it, stamp it, or whatever, and give it back to me." More staring. But I think she was a little afraid of the crazy American woman so she went along with it.

Now off for adventures in highlights. The salon that I go to looks like it is from the future. Everything is glass and chrome and fancy machines. There is one woman who owns it and she employs an army of Asian guys who look like clones of one another...young, gaunt little creatures in skinny jeans and tight black t-shirts, black-rimmed glasses and metro-sexual haircuts. As soon as you arrive the flurry of activity begins. You are treated like a is bringing me a steaming cup of green tea...the other removes my shoes and puts comfy slippers on me. There were no less than three of these waif-ish slaves working on my hair at any one time. They worked quickly, without words and I wasn't entirely sure what they were doing to my hair.

Then came the dryer. Instead of the half-bubble thing pushed down over your head like I am used to, they bring in this metallic circle a halo with a red glow and it is rotating in circles above my hot air blowing...just the red glow. I sat there wondering if they were sucking out what was left of my brain cells (after college partying and motherhood) with this machine. All very high-tech!

Rinsing involves a 15 minute head massage that was so heavenly I was embarrassed to find myself thinking things like "If I were not married, and you were not so obviously gay (and perhaps a robot)...." When it was all over, the activity had ceased and the dust settled... I had gorgeous, shining blonde highlights. Wow.

Now I could tell you all about how I had to drive 20 minutes out of my way to get home because traffic was so congested but I think I will end on a high note instead. The moral of the story is: nothing in Malaysia is easy but those Asian guys sure do know how to wash your hair!

Friday, August 27, 2010

40 Reasons Why 40 is Fabulous

I know all the jokes about turning 40…you are over the hill, your life is half over, etc. And when I was 20, heck, when I was 30, I thought 40 was OLD. But I gotta tell ya…I think 40 is great so far. So I asked around to my friends and colleagues and some members of my favorite chat board who have all hit the 40 mark and had them tell me why they think 40 is great too. Some of the answers below are mine and some are from them:

1. It is a great time to take on a new interest…I just started photography classes! (ME)

2. It is a great time to get more educated…I will finish my second master’s degree this year! (ME)

3. It’s a great time to travel…Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia are a few of the places I will be this year. (ME)

4. It’s a great time to start over… a new baby has kept me feeling 25! (ME)

5. It’s a great time to improve your health, lose weight, run a marathon, whatever…just do something! (ME)

6. At 40 I feel more confident, stronger and happier than I have ever been. (ME)

7. At 40 I have learned that what hasn’t killed me actually HAS made me stronger. (ME)

8. You have finally reached the age where you really don't care what others think about the way you parent, school your children, run your life, etc. You KNOW that what you are doing is right for you and your family and you have the confidence to not let others sway you. (mama 2005)

9. You're right in the middle of life- young enough to remember what is was like to be 20 with boundless energy and excitement, and old enough to know that life is short and that you'd better take advantage of every day! (Lynne)

10. I'm much wiser. (Peela)

11. I'm much more accepting of the things I can't change and less likely to waste energy trying to change it. (Peela)

12. I know myself better- my likes, my dislikes, what will upset my digestion, what will make me happy, what will pi** me off. (Peela)

13. I know how to take care of myself and care enough to. (Peela)

14. I am more able to implement good habits and stick with them. (Peela)

15. I am less self obsessed, and much happier because of it. (Peela)

16. My priorities are healthier. (Peela)

17. I've now lived through a complete cycle of fashion trends and know that everything in my closet will be "in" again (Anissa)

18. DON'T WAIT TILL YOU'RE FORTY! THIS IS NOT DRESS REHEARSAL! THIS IS YOUR LIFE! Which is one of the reasons why I admire Heather and her family......their heart for travel and new experiences. (Mariann)

19. Because you are experienced enough and are confident enough that little things don't rattle you. I've now seen really bad days. I know when a day is not the greatest but still far, far away from the worst that we've survived. And I can look at someone and say that I'm not satisfied with their answer and I need to talk to someone else. Calmly, without antagonism. But also with no intention of backing down. (Sebastian)

20. I know myself well; I no longer try to do or be what others want me to be (Danielle)

21. I have been through a couple of tragedies; a stain on the carpet isn't one of them. (Danielle)

22. I'm happy to be at a point where we have a nice home and property, more stability than we had when we were in our 20's and are no longer struggling to cover the basics. (Kathy)

23. I feel that people take me more seriously than they did in my 20s. I have enough life experience now to "know something." I also have the wisdom now to know that what I *don't* know, and I'm okay with it. (Lisa)

24. I now understand that true love is not an eternal honeymoon, but rather, finding someone for whom you are willing to sacrifice self and who is willing to sacrifice his self for you. (Cindy)

25. At the age of 42 I've learned that time passes very quickly (especially as you watch your children grow). I savor every minute I have with my son. He'll be out of the house before I know it! (Isabelle)

26. I sometimes now get the feeling that I'm kind of at the top of the roller coaster of life. I'm near the half-way point. It's downhill all the way now which, I guess could be depressing, but I love that exhilarating free fall feeling of water slides & so I'm looking forward to another 43 or so years of screaming down the slides with my hands in the air until I land in the big pool at the bottom. (hornblower)

27. After 20+ years in the same career field, I'm considered an 'expert,' with something of a good reputation among co-workers, customers, and even competitors...not worried much about staying employed, or finding employment if my current employer annoys me too much.(Barry)

28. I like the feeling of being old enough to be considered wise yet young enough to be considered "with it". (Justgin)

29. I'm still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy life with gusto, but old enough to know, it's also okay to sit down and put m' feet up and watch life go by now and then. (Justgin)

30. I like the feeling of having enough life behind me to give me sense and enough life ahead to give me dreams. (Justgin)

31. I like it that I'm automatically respected as an adult, but I'm still not that far away from understanding what it was like to a kid. (Justgin)

32. Being over 40 puts you at the stage of life in which you have enough knowledge and experience to be helpful to others but have not lost touch of how humbling it was to reach that place. (Texas mama)

33. I wake up grateful for the blessings I've been given instead of feeling unhappy about the things that I don't have.(Cat)

34. I know what I will tolerate and the things that I will walk the streets naked before I tolerate.(MommyofThree)

35. I am more aware of mortality, and how quickly it can come. (Dobela)

36. I am glad to see that some friends from my teens have chosen similar paths and that we still have common interests despite not seeing each other for 20 years. But I am not upset that other friendships have gone away because I have learned that sometimes a friend is a gift from God for that season alone. I believe that he will provide the friends I need or the next seasons of my life. (Dobela)

37. I learned money isn't everything. (Dobela)

38. I’ve learned to take chances…lots of them. (ME)

39. I am not too old to make mistakes …or to learn from them. (ME)

40. I have learned to always do what scares me most… there is something to be said for facing down your fears. (ME)

So how about you? Are you 40 yet? If so, what do YOU think is great about being 40? Have you stopped and thought about it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grace under fire or Jail?

So yesterday we decided to go car shopping. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the rumors are true... the motorcycle is no longer welcome in this family.

Now car shopping in Penang is sort of a depressing little task because all the cars here look exactly the same. So it's like "Would you like THIS small, square-shaped, boring car with a lawn-mower engine? or THAT small, square-shaped, boring car with a lawn-mower engine? And I'm like, really? What's the difference? It certainly makes me miss the variety we have in America.

At any rate, yesterday's car shopping was even more frustrating than usual because I also got to experience my first real dose of racism here. It went like this:

We walk into a small dealership. A young Chinese salesman comes over to assist us. He has great English which is helpful. I am looking at a car that seems to be exactly what I want... only two years old, very low mileage, good price, excellent condition and then he says...

him- And you will be happy to know the previous owner is Chinese.

me- why would that make me happy?

him- well here on the island we have Chinese, Indian and Malay people (he obviously thought I just moved here)

me- yes, I am aware of that

him- well, (and he gives me this little smirk like he is about to share some secret knowledge with me) you only want to buy cars owned by Chinese...don't buy a car owned by an Indian (and he punctuates this sentence with a look of he just drank spoiled milk)

So I am standing there picturing my beautiful daughter's face sitting in the back of that beautiful INDIAN daughter...and I had the sudden urge to take a Louisville slugger to this guy's head. But because I have class that he obviously lacks (and because I don't want to end up locked in a Malaysian jail cell)...I simply say...

"Thank you for your time. I think we will look elsewhere."

You could call it grace under fire.
You could call it wanting to avoid jail time.
I call it "stupid racist idiot...I wouldn't buy a car from you if you were the last dealer on the island"

racist people suck

the end.

Monday, August 23, 2010


It seems that no matter what I tell people back home, we still get those who think we are living in the middle of the desert with islamic radicals or on the beach in a hut. People...please...Penang is just as civilized as the U.S. They may do things a little differently here (and somtimes it is really annoying) but we have all the modern conveniences and then some.

Our big mall is called Gurney Plaza (hence the "g") and as of Sept 1, they are banning smoking inside the mall which is HUGE since people smoke EVERYWHERE here. It will be a huge change for Malaysians but a welcome one for us.

One thing I thought I would never get used to is driving in the other side of the road. But I did!

Malaysians LOVE to shop. There are stores, malls, plazas, etc. everywhere. This is Island Plaza. It has a huge gym similar to Powerhouse in it, tons of stores, a big department store called "MetroJaya" which is a lot like Macy's. It also has Cold Storage which is our grocery store chain on the Island and my favorite nail salon.

Of course we have a Starbucks!!

And a Chili's!

And what would civilization be without McDonalds?

So I promise, we have electricity, indoor plumbing, internet access and everything else you have in America...except Target. Man, do I miss Target.

The Big 4-0

Well, despite my best efforts...I turned 40. Seriously, though, I had such a wonderful birthday. The morning started out with a surprise serenade. All 100 of my elementary students gathered in the courtyard and sang happy birthday to me. I was so suprised that I cried. They gave me flowers and birthday cards they had made for me.

All day long my colleagues and friends stopped by my office to wish me a happy birthday, drop off presents and cards, etc.

Then about 20 of my girlfriends took me to my favorite restaurant ...Ferringhi Gardens...for dinner and drinks. It is such a beautiful restaurant. We had a great time and they showered me with gift certificates to all my favorite places. I have made so many new friends from all over the world!

The restaurant is filled with plants and flowers
Inside the restaurant

Sonia (from Grenada) and Valerie (from Montana)

Tracey and Jodi (both from Canada)

Ailee (Malaysia) and Bronwyn (South Africa)

Annami (South Africa), Lisa (USA), Karen (USA)

Robin (Canada), Lydia (Australia), Debbie (England)

Akiko (Japan), Brandi (USA)

Lori H., Sharla and Lori D. (all USA)

The best story of the evening had to do with  my friend, Ailee. As she was getting ready to come to the dinner she got her round brush horribly tangled into her thick, long, black hair. She tried for 20 minutes to untangle it with no success. But she was determined not to miss my birthday celebration so what did she do? She left it in and came to the restaurant anyways! That is true friendship!! The next day it took a hairdresser two hours to untangle it.

Finally, on Sunday, my husband and kids took me out to dinner. My presents from him are an iPhone and a trip to BALI!!! It was a really magnificent weekend and I think 40 will be the best year ever.

You Just Never Really Know

Yes, of course we all know that one day we will die. But really, how often do we ACTUALLY contemplate that? We don't really think it's going to happen any time soon do we? Even if we know someone who has suddenly and unexpectedly died we still think it only happens to other people.

Well this summer we had an opportunity to really contemplate the topic of death. On July 14, John was in a serious motorcycle accident.  He was driving down the road, obeying all the laws, and a guy in a white car blew through a stop sign and plowed right into him. John flew over the car and landed on his head/neck.

When he hit the ground he was instantly paralyzed. He could talk but that was it. Witnesses came running to his aid. Coincidentally, he was on his way to where our boys were hanging out and was only a block from there so one of the witnesses went and grabbed the boys and brought them to the scene. Kyle got John's cell phone out of his pocket and started calling our friends. Within minutes, about 10 people we work with were at the scene helping him while he waited for the "ambulance" to arrive. Keep in mind that this is Malaysia and we do not have paramedics or EMTs. What we have are essentially vans with a gurney in the back and two guys who are hired to drive you to the  hospital.

Meanwhile, I am in Michigan visiting family. Because of the 12 hour time difference, it was about 6 hours later before I found out. Needless to say, hearing that your husband has just been in a serious accident while you are on the other side of the world is a tough phone call to get.

At first we were not sure of the extent of his injuries due to the severe swelling. Eventually we found out that his neck was broken in two places and he had over 40 stitches in his head. But God is GOOD because he was not permanently paralyzed and would recover.

It has been a tough time for him since then. He has been in this huge neck brace for 6 weeks and has still not regained all the strength in his right arm due to nerve damage. In addition, we recently found out that he will need surgery soon to fuse together 4 vertebrae in his neck. But we still feel very grateful and fortunate that God chose not to take him from this world just yet. The motorcycle, however, is for sale. :)

If you have a weak stomach...don't go any further....

                                This is before (just after he got the stitches)

This is after (his new scar...his hair has since grown over it)

                                 Week 6 wearing the neck brace...he is really, really over it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Day of School

Wow, what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I had just arrived in Malaysia and I wandered around the campus looking like a deer caught in clue what I was doing.

This year, though, I actually know a little more about what to do and I can even answer questions people have! The start to this school year has been so much fun, especially now that I know what I am doing.

This year, because I feel more confident in my position, I am able to notice how excited all the teachers were to get started and how happy all the kids were to be back and see their friends. There was this kind of electricity in the air. The campus looked great, the rooms were all decorated, the bell rang...and it was game time!

Alex was so excited to be in first grade...

Even the big kids were excited to get back at it....

The Elementary School Wing: My own personal fifedom

Two new teachers give each other a pep talk before the bell rings...

You could tell the parents were REALLY excited to send the kids back to school!

My friend Bethany LOVES when I take her picture.

Alex's first grade classroom.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cannibals, Woodstoves, and Airplanes...Oh My!

Meet Scott and Heidi Wisely....

One of the great things about living and working here in Malaysia is the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting people. We met Scott and Heidi this summer when they came to Penang to renew their visas and showed up at our church. They are missionaries in Indonesia on the island of Papua New Guinea in a tiny village called Bokondini.

This village is located up in the mountains and can only be reached by plane (and I am not talking a 747) as there are no highways or waterways to get you there from any of the main cities.

This couple is amazing. They are hysterically funny and they have two beautiful children. They have been living and working in these mountains for several years. Their electricity, what there is of it, is powered by the river behind their home. Heidi cooks on a wood-burning stove (a la Caroline Ingall's AFTER the episode when they bought her the wood-burning stove for Christmas).

The villagers they work with are only one generation removed from cannibalism... seriously.  The mission dearest to the Wiselys is their dream of creating schools for the local villages that offer "american" curriculum. There are a few International Schools on the island but they are primarily for missionary kids, expats, etc. and the local villagers have no hope of ever being able to afford a good education for their kids, one that would allow them to go to college and make a better life for themselves.

They are on their way as they recently started the first local school with a few dozen students but their vision is for much greater than that. That's where we come in. At this moment we are planning a trip over Christmas break to Bokondini. I will be helping with training local teachers and working on their curriculum and John will be helping with all the construction needs. Our kids will just be running around barefoot and playing with the village kids.

It should prove to be very interesting as I am not well-known for my ability to "rough it". People back home think I am crazy for moving to Malaysia but let's face it, I am not exactly living in poverty. I live in a gated community full of luxury condos. So staying in a home where you cook on a wood stove? Yeah, that should offer up many photo ops!

But I am so excited. It seems like every time I turn around another opportunity to use my skills to help people in this area opens up and I am really grateful to have this chance to make a difference.