Sunday, January 25, 2015

Love and Loss

When my son Jack was born, one of the first introductions we had to make was to his furry brother and sister, Milo and Pepper.

Both Milo and Pepper have been in our lives for over 15 years.  Of the two, Pepper has always been the owner of the title, "the crazy one."  Definitely the dominant dog in the house and always a bit hyper, Pepper quickly earned the nick-name, "Pepper-down!" I'm not sure what it was about that dog, but she earned herself a number of silly nicknames through the years. Officially, her name is Pepper Roni Tremblay, but she has also been called on many occasions: CrazyGirl, Pickleberry & Little Terror.

Three moves ago, we lived in a house that had a doggy door.  With free access to the fenced back yard, she was the self-proclaimed queen of the neighborhood.  I know that this is the house that everyone in the neighborhood hates, but ours was the one with the dog that would wake up and proclaim to the world each morning, "I am awake!  You are all my loyal subjects, and you should be awake too!  Everyone come and tell me how spectacular I am!"  At least, that's what I thought the barking sounded like it meant.

Anyone who has a dog for a period of time has a few stories to tell.  The time she got bit by a cottonmouth snake...the time she ate an entire 1 lb block of cheddar cheese...the time (ok, many times) that she ran away and we were so relieved when we found her. It's not the details of the stories that matter so much after all of these years.  It is the way remembering them makes you feel.

Through the years, Pepper began to slow down just like any one of us.  At our place in Texas, one of her favorite things in the world was to lay on the concrete patio in the sun next to the pool.

Over time, slowing down turned into getting old. It happens to all of us, but somehow it was harder to believe when it was the dog that was the crazy queen of the neighborhood.  We started to worry more as she started sleeping more.  As the lethargic days went by, we knew that we would have to say good-bye at some point, but no one really wanted to think about that.

Two weeks ago, with Pepper fighting illness and very uncomfortable, we knew the time had come.  After 15 years of love, we lost our crazy little Pickleberry.
We will miss so many parts of you...the sound of your announcements in the back yard, the tug-of-war with your stuffed animals, the cuddles on the couch.  Goodbye sweetheart. We will always love you.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Settled in

We've been in the new place for about 6 weeks and I still haven't posted the photos.  These pictures are a few weeks old, but at least they are from before we started making a mess.

Here's a few pictures to give you an idea of the apartment.

Entry Hallway
Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom
Jack's Room
Game Room in the hallway
Utility Room
Melissa's Craft Room
We love our patio
Having a drink after work 
We've got a great view from the 41st floor
That's McRitchie Reservoir in the distance
We can even (barely) see the ocean on a clear day

We are getting used to apartment living again.  After living in our great house in Texas, it is a big change to be living on the 41st story of a huge building.  We even park on the 4th floor of the garage.  Of course, the best part of apartment living is the crazy neighbors.  As you can see from the sculpture on the porch downstairs.

I don't get it either.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boy Scouts and the Blue Mountain Kelong

One of the ways that you maintain a bit of normalcy in your life after moving to the other side of the world is by participating in activities that you are familiar with. For Melissa, that is her scrapbooking group, for me....mostly work.  For Jack, it has been getting involved with the BSA Scout Troop in Singapore.

By the end of his first troop meeting, he had been elected to be the troop librarian and an assistant patrol leader.  Talk about jumping right into things.  Scouting is something Jack knows and it is something he and I can do together that doesn't include video games and such.  As much as I travel for work, when I am home, I like to spend as much time as I can doing this kind of thing with Jack.

The first troop camp-out of the year was a big one.  One of the older boys was doing his Eagle Award service project.  He had organized a big project to paint a small school at a kampung (small village) in Indonesia.

As you can tell by the pictures, this little village isn't exactly well funded.  Most of the people who live there work as local fishermen scraping out just enough to survive.  It turns out that the little school in the village was built by a Singaporean doctor who wanted to give something back to a nearby community.

Through a few tenuous connections, one of the scouts in our troop knew this school was here and needed some help.  He arranged for a group of scouts to come from Singapore with all of the supplies needed to re-paint the entire school.  

The trip to Indonesia was more of an adventure than I had expected.  From Singapore, we took a large ferry to Batam Centre on Batam Island.  Batam is a pretty big island that is only about a 45 minute ferry ride from Singapore.  From there, it was about an hour in a van to where we met our second boat of the trip.

While it wasn't the most sturdy vessel on the sea, it did the trick and we made if to our destination on one piece (and mostly dry).

While in Indonesia, the boys stayed at the Blue Mountain Kelong. A kelong is essentially a house or platform built on stilts, primarily for fishing. The Blue Mountain kelong has added a number of guest rooms that they use mostly for eco-tourists and other who just want to get away from the city life for a while.

While simple and bare, it really was a beautiful place with a lot of charm and very wonderful people. The rooms were neat and clean the the food (served family style) was local and delicious.  Aside from fishing, the kelong had about 200 acres of land that was used primarily for farming papayas.

One of the special memories of the trip was that the troop essentially adopted the young son of the family that ran the kelong.  While he spoke very little English, Artie spent most of his time that weekend hanging out with the boys and enjoying the rare company of a group of kids.  The troop liked Artie so much that he was made an honorary member of Troop 07 on the morning of our departure.

Overall, this was a great experience that we would only have the opportunity to attend living here in southeast Asia.  While the scout camping is very different and a bit more difficult to organize, it is worth the it for the experiences that we would never get in Texas.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A little fun before the finish line

The end is in sight!

We are almost finished with the move that feels like it is lasting forever.  Tomorrow at 2pm, Melissa and I will take over the keys for our new (to us) condo in Singapore.  We've been cooped up in this little serviced apartment for about a month now and we're very ready to move into our permanent place.

We've got about a week of overlap between the two places so that we can take all of our deliveries and move in.  Our sea shipment as well as the furniture we are leasing locally arrive on Friday.  I will unfortunately be in Japan on a business trip that day, so Melissa will be handling that full day on her own. (I can see this trip to Japan becoming it's own story a mile away. I've already been asked to come up with a speech for an authentic Shinto ceremony. Stay tuned.)

We still have to set up internet, cable and a few other details, but we're planning to spend next weekend unpacking and getting completely out of the temp apartment.

As a way to have some fun before all of the heavy lifting starts, Melissa, Jack and I spent the day at Universal Studios Singapore today.

The park itself is very nice and in pretty good shape.  The biggest drawbacks are that it is quite small (compared to American parks) and the signature roller coaster has been out of commission for over a year after having a number of technical problems since it's debut.

There are about seven or eight sections to visit, ranging from Shrek to Sci Fi to Egyptian Pyramids.  Each section usually has a signature ride as well as one smaller ride for the kiddos.  For the most part, the rides are pretty short and tame based on US standards.  




We made it around the whole park in about four hours. That includes going on most of the rides.  The lines were pretty much nonexistent though because we elected to go with the annual pass with the "express" (cut the line) option.  The lines today didn't look to bad compared to Disneyworld, but after riding the little, short rides, I'd have been frustrated about waiting for more than 30 minutes to ride most of them.

Without a doubt, the best two rides were "The Mummy" and the "Transformers 3D" rides.  The Mummy was very similar to the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom, but a lot darker and faster.  The Transformers ride was similar to the Star Wars ride at Disney Studios (ex. MGM Studios) but the car you were in drove around from screen to screen.  Pretty cool.  That was the only ride Jack and I went on twice.

One last story before I call it a day.  

After riding the obligatory river raft  ride that is at every amusement park in the world (here it has a Jurassic Park theme), we got nice and wet but didn't mind too much because of the usual Singapore heat.  As we came out of the ride exit, we saw this:

That's right, it's a big blow dryer dryer for your whole body! S$5 to get blasted with hot air in a town drowning in hot air!  They think of everything in this town.  If someone ever figures out outdoor air-conditioning, it will be a Singaporean.

That's it for now.  Hopefully the next post will be pictures our our new condo.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A week goes by quickly/slowly


Sometimes a week can feel like it has gone by in a blink, other times it feels like it drags on forever.  I guess I feel somewhere between the two right now.  We've been here in Singapore for about 10 days now. When I think about everything we've done since we arrived, I'm impressed with all we've accomplished.  When I think about how much longer we will be stuck in the serviced apartment until we move into our permanent place, a week feels like a year.

The two biggest stories of the week are that we went to the open house at Jack's school and we made an offer on a condo.

The school was great, just like we remembered it.  Judging from the picture above and the picture below, Jack is what has changed the most over the last 4 years.

We met most of Jack's teachers and were thoroughly impressed by everyone.  From English to band to science, all of his teachers seem great so we're hoping for a smooth transition to 7th grade.  We even ran into Jack's 2nd grade teacher who is his favorite teacher ever.  She recognized him right away and came right at him with the biggest smile and a hug.

One big change from the public school in Texas is that every student in the Middle School gets issued their own computer. Homework, classwork, tests, etc. are all done on the laptop.  I agree with the school that this will help the kids learn the computer skills necessary in today's world, I just can't imagine that Jack can make it through the rest of his life without his penmanship improving.  Tuesday is the first day of school, so wish us luck.

House hunting was the other big activity of the week.  The day after we arrived, we met our real estate agent, Heleen.  Heleen is from The Netherlands, but has lived in Singapore for about 20 years.  It was nice to be able to work with someone who knew the island like a local, but could understand your perspective like a Westerner.  We spent a lot of time looking over the span of a week and saw about 20 different places in locations all over Singapore.  We were having a hard time deciding where to live while balancing distance from work, school, the subway and other local amenities like the grocery store.  You have to plan a bit differently than you do in the US when you only have one car and it's too hot to walk very far to the store.

While we never found a place we all thought was "perfect," we are pretty happy with the decision we made.  On Friday, we put an offer on a condo at Sky @ Eleven.  It's pretty much dead center in the middle of the island, and while the subway is not directly out the front door, it's only a few bus stops away.  We are going to be on the 41st out of 42 floors, so I hope the elevators aren't to busy.

We should hopefully confirm the contract this week and the place is move-in ready. If all goes well, we'll be able to move in right when our sea freight arrives during the first week of September.  Once we settle in, I'll get some pictures posted online.

I was also able to move into my new office this week.

Melissa took this picture before I received my boxes and unpacked, but you get the idea.  It's an office.  However, one of the best perks of this job is the view.

We did try to take a break from all of the work, errands and house hunting too.  Jack and I went last weekend to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jack and I both really enjoyed it.  There were plenty of laughs, the action scenes were the usual Marvel goodness and the story was just good enough the keep it all together. Just right for a 12 year old boy and his dad looking to blow off some steam.

I'm now sitting on the couch with a full belly on a Sunday night after going to the hawker center to eat Singapore style with the family.  If you haven't seen one before, a hawker center is essentially an outdoor food court with dozens and dozens of stalls.  In Singapore, each stall has a local specialty, such as roti prata, satay, grilled chicken wings (Jack's favorite), seafood or noodles.

Our back door is less than a 5 minute walk to the most famous hawker center in Singapore, Newton Circus. Because it is so large and well known, it tends to cater a bit more to tourists and expats.  As I'm an expat, you'd think that would be a good thing, but not really.  The prices are a bit higher then most places (but still pretty cheap...maybe a $5 plate instead of $4) and the stall owners are a bit pushy trying to talk clueless tourists toward their stall.

Regardless, we had a great meal and would not hesitate to go back.  We're hoping there is another great hawker center near our new place after we move in. (And also hoping that the weeks start speeding along.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Day in Singapore

Well...we made it.

That was a long flight my friends.  Melissa said it best; flying to the other side of the world is like childbirth, if you haven't done it in a few years, you forget how painful the experience is and you're willing to do it again.

Honestly, we have very little to complain about.  The flights were long, but they went just fine.  Everything was on time and aside from one crying baby, there were no troubles on the plane. We had about a three hour layover in Tokyo-Narita.  The whole time we were in the terminal, we were staring at the plane that was taking us to Singapore.  Lucky Jack was able to sleep on that entire flight.

We landed a bit after midnight and (after a quick stop at the duty free) our driver was waiting to take us and our 7 suitcases to our temporary apartment in the Newton neighborhood.  The apartment is a bit small, but it's very nice.  It has a great pool, gym and continental breakfast on weekdays.  It is also only a 5 minute walk to the subway station.

Today (Thursday) we were able to take a somewhat easy day.  We went to Starbuck's for breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning unpacking. We went back out around 2:00 to get lunch and pick up some groceries.  We were pleasantly surprised to find out that our MRT (subway) cards from four years ago still worked just fine and still had about S$20 on each of them. For lunch, there was only one choice.  Melissa has been dreaming about dumplings at Din Tai Fung since we left Singapore 4 years ago.

Jack was even able to practice his chop stick skills.

After lunch, we went to the grocery store and quickly remembered how expensive it is to shop here.  That is going to take some getting used to.

We made our way back to the apartment and went for a quick swim.  We've been talking about making dinner, but I really don't think it's going to happen.  Jet lag seems to be getting the best of us and it looks like we are going to crash.  A quick peanut butter sandwich may be all that happens for dinner tonight.

We've got a big day tomorrow.  I'm going to run into the office in the morning, and then we are going to spend the afternoon looking for a permanent place to live. I think we've got seven different apartments and condos on the agenda for the afternoon.  Wish us luck!

Friday, July 25, 2014


We are getting toward the end of our first day of packing up our stuff for the move. The moving company has a team of 5 people that plan to be here for two days packing up all of our things that are heading to Singapore with us.

While two days seems like a pretty short amount of time to pack for this kind of move, the packing really started months ago.  Since June, we (ok, mostly Melissa) have been cleaning and sorting trying to plan for what we want to go with us and what we want to stay in the house in Texas. It has been a different experience this time trying to plan what to bring. We want to have our favorite things with us while leaving enough in the Texas house so that it is comfortable for anyone staying there.

The word is that the sea freight containers are only taking about 5 weeks to make it from Houston to Singapore, including the time to get through customs.  That's pretty good time.  Hopefully, we will sort out a permanent place to live in Singapore within about a month and the delivery timing should be just right.