Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trust Your Gut

I had a horrible job last fall and I so regretted taking it. All I kept thinking was that I had a bad feeling from the start, but everyone said, "take it! It sounds perfect for you!" so I took it. I walked away thinking that I should have trusted my gut. That has been my advice to lots of people since then. The pay can be great, the job sounds perfect, but if something doesn't seem right to you, it's probably not.

Then I started interviewing "helpers." This would be the person who would live with us, take care of the house and most importantly, take care of our baby (we still thought it was a boy when we interviewed, so I can't really say Samara!) when I returned to work. We wanted someone to come live with us before I gave birth so we could all get used to the idea (it's really messed up for me and Matt, so we needed practice) and sort out the kinks. We wanted someone to be around for the baby's birth so she would be attached. We also knew that we didn't want to interview people when we had a newborn at home.

We/I interviewed lots of people, and I got some good feelings and some bad. Mostly, people couldn't really answer my questions or gave me the wrong answers (i.e. "Do you have any questions?" "How much will I get paid" or "Can I use my mobile phone during the day" etc.) Very few people had the experience that we were looking for. I wanted to hire someone who had worked with an ex-pat baby (which I now know is irrelevant). Finally, I interviewed a woman that I felt great about. She communicated well. She gave all of the right answers (i.e. "What is most important to you in your next job?" "Clear communication"). I liked her her. Okay - she was a little too hot and a little too young, but she had two kids back in the Philippines and she had the perfect experience. I really felt good, and I trusted her. Matt met her and we talked to other people. Many people said no - she's too cute, or she's too young. You want someone older. My gut said that she was great - what did they know? I learned to trust my gut! We hired her.

She came to live with us in September, and from the beginning it was mixed. I felt that she was fine at home, but my expectations are low (I don't really see when things are dirty - it's a constant problem between me and Matt. He does.). Matt wasn't so satisfied. She cooked like a trained chef. She was competent and sometimes (most of the time?) seemed to respond when we gave feedback. However...she was constantly late coming home. She seemed to lie about little things, she did not seem like a hard worker and we had a hard time reaching her during the day, even though we gave her a mobile phone. Our feeling got worse. Then we caught her in a bunch of lies and we told her we don't trust her and she needs to earn our trust back. Then she lied again (a stupid lie!). When I thought about it, I decided I didn't want to leave my baby with her. While she was so good with Samara, I knew that if something happened, I would never get the real story, and poor Samara can't talk (though I think SHE thinks she can, but that's another story). We had to let her go. So, after all of the effort to have someone in our home before the baby was born and take the stress off when I go back to work (in a month and a week), we're back to the beginning. Interviewing people. Stressful.

The hard thing for me is that I don't trust the women (she lied a lot in her interview) and I don't trust my gut! It makes it difficult to make a decision. This time I will get lots of input from other people.

In other news, I think that Kitty must know something is different in the house, or something weird is going on with her. She has been eating the beautiful flowers that our friends brought on Friday, so we had to put them high up. She has jumped on the dining table and coffee table at least three times each in the last few days. She was even interested in the orchids. We always have orchids and she NEVER does this. It's super weird. Sam must also know something is up, since last night, starting at 2:30 she woke up every hour and then wasn't really interested in napping today (or going to sleep tonight...). Hopefully our home will return to normal quickly. I'm not a fan.

And, while I'm busy not being a fan, I get to get the REAL experience of having a baby and being at home. Now I get to clean my house, shop, cook, do laundry and all of the other fun stuff that I haven't touched in the last four months. We'll see how it goes. So far so good. It's been one day (and we're eating leftovers for dinner). Hey - I have to be able to do it, or we may never move back to the US!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chinese Food and a Movie

In America the Jews have Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Nothing else is open - it's sort of a religious (and porky, sometimes!) experience. Everyone does it.

I blogged about this last year, but in Singapore, everything is open. It feels like a regular Saturday or Sunday. Most people here are Chinese anyway, but definitely the Chinese food is open...and so is the Indian food and all of the rest of the food. The movies are open too and so is all other forms of entertainment. (Unfortunately the one thing that wasn't open is my amazing coffee guy, Ben, and he's not even Christian! But his kids were in town and he wanted to spend time with them...fine...I get it, but I missed the coffee!)

The mall is open too. In fact, here, they have extended Christmas shopping hours on Christmas.

I only find this all surprising (each year apparently...) because Christmas appears to be a big deal in the lead up to it. There are Christmas decorations and music EVERYWHERE, and it seems like people will really care when it finally comes. Then it comes...and goes...and you don't really feel anything. Again - I wrote this last year, but the one time we do feel a difference is on Chinese New Year. Then everything is closed and it really feels like something is different.

We celebrated Christmas eve this year with a few Jews, a Christian and a Hindu...and a nice Shabbat dinner (with good food but a fabulous Julia cake). We spent the day itself getting things done around the house. We put up some fish and coral on the walls in Samara's room (she was getting bored), we packed up the pack and play, we did other random is so different when you have a kid. We even enjoyed doing nothing! (I NEVER used to enjoy doing nothing! Now I could just look at Samara pretty much all day, and it's totally exciting - so lame, I know).

Yesterday was also my first day running since last JANUARY (it got painful to run right when I got pregnant...I switched to yoga only, mostly). I had this not-so-secret fear that my body would never go back to normal after the yuck that it went through with Samara's birth. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to run or hike or expend lots of energy again. Between Australia and yesterday, though, I'm pretty confident that I'm almost there, and I'm not worried at all anymore. Now I just have to find the time to run once I go back to work...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Her Own Room

Samara slept in five different beds between our trip to Australia, our home and our trip to Jakarta. She had no problem in any of them. We just swaddled her up, she shook her head back and forth and got excited and then (ultimately...) fell asleep.

At home, she has been sleeping in a pack and play next to our bed. It's been fantastic for me, because I don't even have to wake up to feed her in the middle of the night. I sort of pull her out (while still swaddled, so I just have to be sure I have her head and a leg and the rest comes along), unwrap her, feed her, swaddle her again and plop her back in. I don't even know what time it is, and I certainly don't stay awake while feeding her. I felt like a new woman every morning (never mind that we sleep in until 9 everyday...).

After sleeping in so many beds and sleeping a bit longer (at least the first stretch of sleep per night), I realised that we probably make it harder for her by keeping her in our room. She sort of wakes up when we shower and go to bed, and anytime we move, or the kitty meows, she sort of stirs. I thought she would sleep better if she were in her own room. Silly me, I thought I would sleep better too, because I wouldn't hear all of her little squeaky cute noises.

We moved her into her own bed in her own room on Tuesday night (that makes it six beds...). She is sleeping okay - her first stretch has gone from five or six hours to more like four, but that could be because she has been waking up from her last nap of the day around 5:30 pm...But I, on the other hand, cannot sleep! I hate that she's so far away, and I'm sort of just waiting for her to wake up. I think it just takes time to get used to, but, pathetically, this is the farthest we have ever been since her creation! She definitely naps better in her bed.

It is super interesting that she knows that after her bath and last feeding, she should sleep for a long while. The whole day she takes an hour or two nap here and there, but once she's in for the night she sleeps for longer. It's the same bed, the same swaddle blanket, and the first time she goes to sleep it's even light out. How does she know that THIS time she's REALLY going to bed and it's not just a nap? Pretty cool.

In other news, she is grabbing at things and is super social - talking so much that she sometimes can't find air in between her thoughts. She ends up coughing. Pretty cute. She's definitely her parents' child!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh, How I Miss Thee, Indonesia

Until July, we have travelled just about every month that we have lived in Singapore (three and a half years!). I think the longest I had ever been here was six weeks. And that was painful. I was terrified that I would have to spend from mid-July until December in Singapore, but as it turned out, I had just about no interest to go anywhere. I had other things on my mind. When December finally came around, it was slightly terrifying to actually leave! Perth/Margaret River was really easy. Sam did great, and I didn't worry too much (though I did have a stiff neck for almost the entire trip, and I don't think it's unrelated!).

My guess is that at least half of our trips from the last three and a half years have been in Indonesia. We have been diving all over, to Bali six times, to Lombok, Medan, Malang, Yogya, Manado, etc. I think that Indonesia is one of the most underrated places in the world - it's fabulously beautiful and has SO much to offer. We love it there. Going with a baby, however, was a whole different ballgame.

We took a local airline. They gave us an infant seat belt which attaches to mine. We strapped her in, though I was pretty sure it wouldn't do us any good. Then, RIGHT when we landed, we were still taxiing and nowhere near a gate, and they came and asked for it back. Um - if we're in the air, and we crash, that seat belt will do us no good. Just about the ONLY time that it MIGHT be useful is on the runway and driving to the gate. Really? I glanced up at the "fasten seat belts" sign that was illuminated above my head, I unstrapped my baby, and I gave it back.

We then got in a taxi. We took only the most reputable taxi company - Blue Bird. As (slightly) responsible parents we brought a car seat with us. We strapped in Samara to the car seat, and oops, there are no seat belts! Hmmm...

We arrived at the hotel, and there was a whole security system. Hotels in Jakarta have been bombed multiple times, so it's not a joke. I have seen this with cars (in Bali), but I haven't before seen a hotel where they put all of your luggage through a scanner before you go in. I had a backpack on my back, and I was carrying Samara in her car seat. I did not understand that my backpack needed to be scanned. They directed me in one direction and grabbed by baby and took her inside. They tried to get me to walk around the corner while she just sat inside the hotel door. REALLY? Just take my baby away from me? Since I didn't understand what was going on, I was trying to follow Samara (or the person who had taken her from me and was walking away), but because of my backpack, they were all freaking out. Finally, Matt explained that I could go with Samara, but I had to leave the backpack to be scanned. No problem - just tell me and do NOT take my baby away! Scary!

Our hotel is the number one hotel on trip advisor in Jakarta - the Mulia Senayan. It's hilarious in general (like everything is gold and very fancy looking), but it's actually a really nice hotel. We took the elevator to the 20somethingth floor, and we got off and saw the "thank you for not smoking on this floor" sign. It really smelled of smoke. Okay - we'll see what our room smells like. We got into the room that had another non-smoking sign, and we saw the ashtray and matches. Huh? We got a new room. Luckily it smelled a lot less of smoke (though it was definitely there...).

We were in Jakarta for Vinny and Jason's wedding celebration. They got married this summer in DC and we weren't able to make it, so we were happy to be able to go to the mass and dinner in their honour in Jakarta. Vinny is from Jakarta. After arriving at the mass 15 minutes late (I was SURE it would start late - it's Indonesia!), the baby started SCREAMING when we walked in. Oops. A highlight of the service was when they sang "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem." It wasn't in Hebrew, but it was definitely those words and that tune - probably a mix of Bahasa and Arabic. It was so cool! They played that when you greeted everyone sitting around you. "Peace Be Upon You." The photo is a bad one - we have shadows on our heads - but it's one of our only family shots!

Another highlight was the Indonesia versus Philippines football match at the stadium opposite our hotel. We saw in the paper on Sunday that there had been a "scuffle" when tickets went on sale, right at the stadium, on Saturday. We then got caught in tons of traffic heading to the wedding dinner. Finally, on the way back, Indonesia had won at least one of the matches (they were playing two, but we didn't get if they had already played both...), and the streets were CRAZY with happy Indonesians flying their flag and playing drums and horns. It was really exciting and fun (until we could hear it until 11pm on the 32nd floor of our hotel). See the video.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moving back to normal clothes

I'm happy to say that I can fit into my normal clothes again. I am not happy to say goodbye to elastic and hello to buttons.

Maternity clothes were incredibly comfortable but looked horrible on me. I had very few options - a bunch of terribly ugly work outfits and a couple of tank tops and two ugly pair of shorts and a few dresses that made me look like a house. I never felt pretty or felt like I looked nice when I was pregnant. The good thing was that after about 20 weeks, I totally didn't care. As long as it covered me, it was fine with me. I never looked in the mirror, and I just tried to get through it without spending more money on clothes. Moving back to normal life, though, I need to try to care again about what I look like and what I'm wearing.

Let's be clear, I have never REALLY cared too much about how I look - not enough to actually buy nice clothes, jewelry, learn how to put on make-up or accessorise. But now I find that I'm happy wearing elastic shorts or skirts and any t-shirt that is easy enough to nurse in. My priorities are comfort (no pressure on the c-section wound/that whole area which is surprisingly STILL sore) and nurse-ability. Luckily I still have almost two months before I have to REALLY look nice when I go back to work...but I'll start trying before then.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Margaret River and Perth Area

Samara just got back from her first trip. It was her first (and second) plane ride, her first (and second and third) hotels, and her first passport stamp. Her second continent. She's a world traveller. She slept, ate and pooed her way through the Margaret River area as well as Perth and Fremantle. She seemed to love it. Okay - she didn't seem to really notice anything, but she seemed happy enough, and Matt and I had a fabulous time.

The trip started a bit rough when we got to the airport and the guy checking us in asked where our visas to Australia were. Who knew you needed a visa to go to Australia? Oops. Luckily you can buy them at the airport (but it was EXPENSIVE!). Then, we got to Perth at about 1:30am, and the company that we had reserved a car through had no one at the counter and no one answering any of their lines. After a half hour of trying, we went to our hotel and went back in the morning (taxi rides in Perth are no joke - this country is EXPENSIVE too!). So...we were down a few hundred bucks, but after that all was smooth (other than an hour and a half or so of being lost in the woods on day seven or so).

We spent seven days exploring the area around Margaret River, which is about four hours south of Perth, and it's all up and down the coast line. The town itself reminded me of Moab, Utah - people look really healthy and happy, it's really slow, there's healthy food, and people are just busy doing things they enjoy all day. There is BEAUTIFUL hiking and exploring to be done along the coast, and a few kilometers inland there are amazing wineries and breweries. There are also great TALL Karri and Marri forests to walk through, inland. All in all, we tasted beers at four breweries and visited five wineries, including three fabulous meals (two in particular - Cullen Wines and Leeuwin Estates). I wouldn't mind going back when I'm not breastfeeding...We visited a place where they make great chocolate another where they make good ice cream, and a few other random places. We got moving pretty late each day, drove around (on the left - Matt was a champ) and hiked and ate and drank, and then everything closed by about 4pm, so we were home by 5 or 6 each day. We ate dinner in most nights, watched movies and relaxed. It was our first time alone as a family in a super long time, and it was so nice to just be and have very little to do.

We did FREEZE, though. It was in the upper 60s (which is not cold for those of you who haven't lived in Singapore for four years...) and low 70s during the day and colder at night. Poor Sam slept with her long pajamas, her swaddling blanket, a Stephanie and Brad swaddle blanket, a quilt and a knitted blanket by Janice the hygienist. She was still cold, but we cuddled with her as much as we could without suffocating her.

Some highlights included a bunch of hikes along the coast (we can't decide which was best), the lunch at Cullen Wines, and a day trip to Donnelly. We drove the car for an hour and a half (fast - we covered LOTS of kms!), passing about three towns and NOTHING else in between and we ended up in this old timbre mill village. It was opened in 1951 and closed in 1978, so it's super bizarre. The mill workers' homes are now "holiday cabins" so they're not totally run-down, but there is basically just the old mill, the houses and a store in the village. They have been feeding the kangaroos, emus and chickens there for the last 30 years, so they're ally really tame. They come up to the car and people - and it's REALLY crazy.

We also stayed in Perth for two days. We spent one day in Fremantle where we ate fish and chips and walked around in the cute streets (though Sam was a bit tired and not the most fun she's ever been that day...). We found Fremantle great, and we found Perth to be okay. Didn't seem like too much in Perth, but it seemed nice and cute enough. The park on top of the city, King's Park, was fabulous.

We really recommend traveling in the area - the wine and beer was really good and fun to try (though only sips - poor Melanie), the food is REALLY good, and the area is GORGEOUS in general. There is just so much to do there. You just need to be prepared to spend a lot of money. Mind you, this is compared to our usual trips in SE Asia, so probably it's not actually that expensive.

Click here for our photos and a few videos.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Coffee in a Bag

In SE Asia (and possibly other parts of the world - I just don't know about it), you get your drinks in a bag. If you say "take away" (never "to go"), then they start pouring your drink into a plastic bag with lanyard/boondoggle handles. You can get your soda in a bag with ice, you can get hot coffee in a bag, with a straw, obviously, as well as any other drinks. You may recall this photo from a posting when we first moved here (though the photo is in Bangkok) and I have also posted another photo below. The photo below is of, ice milk tea, ice coffee not-so-sweet, and hot coffee, from left to right. Let's discuss...

Yes - they hang, so in this hot weather, your cold drinks don't get warmer by the touch of your hand. The drink sweat can just drip away and you don't have to bother with the mess. You don't get a cup, so this is definitely cheaper for the vendor. You can conveniently hang your drink on the hook you have on your wall at work or at home.

Wait a minute...I don't have a hook on the wall at home or at work. Where the hell am I supposed to put this down? I have devised a system to hang it from the kitchen faucet (luckily the boondoggle provides grip and it usually doesn't slide), but this has caused an accident or two. Otherwise, I have NO idea where I can put my coffee if I'm not drinking it.

This leads me to think that we are meant to pour these drinks into cups when we get home. Hmmm - the holes on the top of the bag to allow for the boondoggle ties mean that liquid leaks all over and you waste at least 1/5 of your drink. I thought about cutting off the bottom, but then you don't transfer the ice. In addition, the packet holds more than any of our cups, so once we cut it, we would have overflow and no way to stop it (that gravity thing...). solution (which I have not practiced) is to get a bigger cup at home so I can cut the bottom and pour it in (there is definitely no way to pour it from the top without spilling - I have even watched my local friends do it, and they spill everywhere). Better yet, I can just bring my bigger cup to Ben the coffee man and have him (or Rong, his lovely assistant) put the coffee directly in the cup. Until I get the bigger cup, though, I don't want to sacrifice those gorgeous sips of coffee that make my day so wonderful by 1) bringing a smaller cup and only getting the coffee that fits in there or 2) spilling the coffee during the transfer. So...I get the coffee and walk around until I finish it. (The drink sweat drips on Samara's head in the baby bjorn, but she doesn't seem to care. It's probably refreshing.)

There just has to be a better way. I estimate that 1/10 of all of Singapore's coffee and tea is wasted in bag-to-cup transfers over sinks willing to suck up the excess. We could change the economy here if we could just retain that liquid!

In other news, Matt was in Vietnam and Sri Lanka for work this week. We missed him a lot (and he missed Sam a lot), but it was nice to not have to be quiet in the middle of the night! We had a bunch of great conversations in the middle of the night. He had good trips, good meetings, and now he's not traveling for work for a while, which makes me and Sam happy.

I have been stressed about Samara taking a bottle. She must take a bottle when I go back to work, and the lactation consultants say that you really need to start around 6 weeks and consistently give it to her until I go back to work. Otherwise she "forgets" how to take it. We give her a bit of milk from a bottle everyday - and whenever she doesn't take it, I have a mini-freak-out in my head. "Oh no! She won't take a bottle! I will have to quit my job, and she'll cry all day, and everything will be horrible!!!" I need to learn, though, that each time she doesn't take it, it's because she's tired and not hungry. Today I learned that again as she got hungry and she was sitting in her bouncy chair, and I tried to give her the bottle that she wouldn't take earlier. Babies who are fussy about this stuff DEFINITELY won't take a bottle from their mom. She had no problem at all. She sucked it down in no time. She's an eating champion. I need to relax.

I have also received the "all clear" (literally) from the doctor, so I am completely healed/healing and should have no more problems. That is fabulous news, since it's only been nine weeks since the birth...oy.

Off to Western Australia for Samara's first trip!!