Monday, August 16, 2010

Back in the US

After our great trip to Australia, it was time to head back to real life in the US. There isn't really an easy way to fly to the east coast from Australia. We boarded our flight on Delta Airlines in Sydney and flew for half a day to get to LAX. From there, we couldn't get a direct flight to Norfolk, VA so we had to fly through Detroit and deal with another layover. Then, after 3 planes and about 24 hours of travel, we finally landed in Virginia. I'd spend time telling you about all of the interesting stories we lived through during this trip, but there weren't any. Get on a plane, sit, wait, get off the plane, look for the next plane. Not exactly an exciting tale.

It did feel good to be on the ground in Virginia. Melissa's mom Chris was waiting for us at the airport. Jack ran over and gave her a huge hug as soon as he saw her. We collected the bags we'd been living out of for the last 3 weeks from baggage claim and piled into the the old red truck we've owned since before Jack was born.

We had a great time staying at Melissa's parents place in Virginia. My favorite part of staying there is that the Bar & Grill they've been building for the last five years is finally open. I essentially had my own bar for watching the World Cup this summer.

The Old Firehouse is a great place on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to grab a beer and burger for lunch or have a nice dinner with a glass (or bottle) of wine. With 8 different beers on tap, I spent more than my share of time sitting at the bar every day.

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay there less than a week. We'd arrived on a Tuesday and I had to start work in Houston the following Monday. Melissa and Jack were able to spend some extra time there after I left, but for me, it was time to start packing again.

Melissa's mom had been keeping two things for us while we were in Singapore. One was the old red truck I'd previously mentioned. The other was our dogs, Milo and Pepper. My job was to take both the truck and the dogs back to Houston.

We took a trip over the bridge to the mall in Norfolk during the middle of the week to stock up on things I'd need for the trip as well as leave the truck at the Toyota dealer for the day for some much needed maintenance before the long drive. We were able to find a good travel kennel for the dogs while we were shopping. It fit perfectly in the back seat of the truck and would hold both of the dogs for the drive. I was also able to replace the charger I'd lost for my Blackberry and get Melissa and new phone for the US.

Of course, the truck wasn't ready when we got back to the dealer and we ended up sitting around for another two hours waiting for it to be finished. We should have just gotten an early dinner in Norfolk instead of just sitting around and staring at each other for two hours. At least ($1800 later) the truck was now in great shape. We headed back to Cape Charles and had a great dinner at the Firehouse. Always a better idea than Chili's.

On Friday afternoon, I kissed Melissa and Jack goodbye and started my drive to Houston with the dogs. I got about 6 hours in on Friday and called it a night around 10pm. Between walking the dogs every few hours and needing to stop for gas, I didn't feel like I was getting very far, but at least it was a start.

Saturday was my big day on the road and I got in a good 14 hours of driving. I made it all the way to Louisiana and left myself a short 5 hour drive for Sunday. Unfortunately, after checking into the hotel the night, I found out (from a sign near the entrance) that they didn't allow dogs. I thought that their website had said they did, but trusting Travelocity isn't always the best option. Regardless, I wasn't moving after I'd already checked in, so I snuck the dogs in through the back door and did my best to keep them quiet.

We were able to sneak our way out successfully in the morning and get back on the road. Finally, after 24 hours driving over three days, Milo, Pepper and I made it to our temporary apartment in Houston on April 20th. We've been staying there since and Melissa and Jack arrived in the middle of May after vacationing with family and friends in Virginia and Chicago. The house hunt started in earnest after Melissa arrived and we've finally got a place contracted to close at the end of August. But that's another post.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Australia Vacation

During the last week of May, the relocation company cleared out our apartment in Singapore and put all of our stuff in a container to ship back to the US. After all the work of getting ready for the packers and living at the Hilton hotel for our last week in Singapore, we were ready for a vacation. Australia, here we come!

We booked a 10 day vacation on the east coast of Australia as part of our trip back to the States. The first part of the trip was a 6 day bus tour of the "Gold Coast" area around Brisbane. From there, we would fly to Sydney on our own and spend 4 days exploring the city.

We booked our bus tour portion of the trip from a Singaporean travel agency. Upon arrival at the airport, we were greeted by the agency's local representative. "Oh, you're with the Dynasty group? Wow, I wasn't expecting any Caucasians!"

What a nice welcome! It turned out that we were the only non-Chinese family on the tour. This kind of turned out to be the theme of the week. In 6 days, we heard a version of that line 9 times. As we walked into places with our group, the people that worked there would try to stop us because they didn't think we were part of the Asian tour group. It became our running joke with our family to keep a tally.

Our first stop on the tour was Tangalooma Island Resort. This resort on Moreton Island is known for it's dolphin feeding experience. At night, wild dolphins come into the beach to be hand fed. (Unfortunately, no pictures of that because it was to dark.) We stood in water up to our waists and were able to hand feed fish to a dolphin.

The other great part of Tangalooma was the sand dunes. We all got a chance to go "sand tabogoning" down the dunes.

It was so fun to slide down the sand dunes just like a snowy hill. The only difference is that the sand doesn't melt when it gets all over your face.

The climb up the dune was a lot harder than it looks in the pictures. For every step you take, you slide backwards half a step in the sand. These old legs were pretty worn out after my 2nd climb. Jack was a crazy man and climbed the hill 4 times; the most of anyone there. At the end of the day, the staff presented Jack with an award for the best sand slider in the group of 50 people.

After eating our fair share of sand, we left Moreton Island and made our way to the "Gold Coast" which is a very popular vacation spot in Australia. It's very similar to Florida because people go there for two things; the great beaches and the amusement parks.

Unfortunately, it was June and that means winter in Australia. Our only visit to the beach was a short one but at least Melissa can say that she's been in the Australian ocean.

On three straight days, we went to Movie World, Sea World and Dream World.

After three days in a row of amusement parks, we were pretty burnt out on rides and looked forward to seeing more "Australian" sights.

One thing on the itinerary that we were unsure about was "pumping for yabbies on the crab hunt." I didn't even want to guess what that meant. It turns out "yabbies" are a kind of cross between a crawfish and shrimp that live in the rivers in Australia. They're smaller though and mainly used for bait.

Yabbies are caught by "pumping" them out of the mud in the river into strainers.

After pumping for yabbies, we also pulled up some crab pots and looking for snacks.

They actually cooked the crabs we caught on the boat and we all got to have a snack.

The next "Australian" adventure was a stop at "Honeyworld". This was a working honey farm complete with it's own bees. We got a very informative tour and were able to try all different flavors of honey. It was amazing how different each kind of honey could taste.

After spending the morning with the bees, we spent the afternoon on a fruit farm. This was a fully functioning farm and research facility that grew all kinds of different fruit for the market as well as tried to develop new breeds of fruit for other farmers to grow.

We got to pick our own oranges as well as taste all kinds of different things. Choices ranged from simple apples and bananas to exotic things like breadfruit and capote.

After the wonders of all the honey, fruit and Asian people we could stand for a whole week, it was time to break away from our group and head off to Sydney on our own. We took a quick flight to Sydney and checked into our hotel near downtown. We didn't really have any planned activities scheduled in Sydney, and that suited us just fine after 6 days of the precision of a Singaporean scheduled bus tour.

Sydney is a beautiful city that Melissa, Jack and I all really enjoyed. One the the tings we were happiest about was the weather. After 2 years in Singapore, the cool Australian winter was a wonderful weather. It was the first time I'd needed to put on a sweatshirt in over 2 years.

One of the places we visited in Sydney that I really enjoyed was the amazing maritime museum. They had a wonderful display about the relationship between the Australian and US navies. We were also able to go onboard the navy ship and submarine they had at the quayside.

We were also able to tour an amazing replica of the HMS Endeavour, the ship of the famous Captain Cook.

The other highlight of visiting Sydney was that we went to the zoo. By far, the highlight of the zoo visit getting to see the kangaroos and other animals.

That's more than enough for this post. I've gone on long enough. I'll be back in a day or two.

Where have you been???

This has easily been the longest I have been away from the blog. While I could try to come up with a few, I really have no good excuse. Even though I have been starting a new job and trying to buy a house, I can't say that I've had no free time at all to throw up a few posts. Over the next week or so, I'll try to get all caught up. Let's see: Australia, Virginia, drive to Houston, start new job, Disneyworld, buy a house. That covers most of it. Let's see if I can get the Australia post done tonight.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summertime Schedule

The whirlwind summer is about to begin. In two days, the packers will come to our apartment and start doing their thing. From then on, we are essentially nomads in search of a home. We'll be living in a hotel in Singapore for a week and a half until we fly away from Singapore and close this chapter of our lives. We've got a kind of crazy summer coming up. Here is the schedule:

25 May: Packers come, move to hotel
3 June: Last day of school
4 June: Fly to Australia for vacation
14 June: Fly to Virginia
18-20 June: Matt drives (with the dogs) to Houston
21 June: Matt's first day of work in Houston
23 June: Melissa and Jack fly to Chicago
30 June: Melissa and Jack fly back to Virginia
6 July: Melissa and Jack fly to Houston
7-22 July: Try to close on a new house
23-29 July: Disneyworld!!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

This Houston Thing

Here is the big news that many of you may have already heard...the company I work for has decided that it is time for my job to move back to Houston.

I've just been given one of those promotions that aren't optional. We've sort of re-structured a bit of our organization at headquarters and part of it is me taking more responsibility within the Americas part of the company. I just finished a one week visit to Houston this week to go over a few things, meet some clients and spend some time with the new boss. As far as work goes, this looks like a fun job that I will really enjoy. As far as family goes, we're really going to miss Singapore.

I can't say enough how much we enjoy living here now. It's funny. For two years, I've blogged about the difficulties and quirks of living this expat life in a foreign land. Now that it's ending, we're very disappointed that it's over so soon.

As a family, we've never felt that we've been such a part of a community before. The American expat community that we're a part of in Singapore is a wonderful group of friends that we really enjoy spending time with. Melissa spends a ton of time working with the PTA and the Cub Scouts. She's also very active with the American Woman's Association and the neighborhood scrap-booking group. I'm coaching Little League and Jack is involved in more extracurricular activities that you can count. Put all of this together with a wonderful neighborhood and a school that we love and it's very hard to believe we're giving it all up.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what else to say. I guess I really haven't come to terms with the fact that we're leaving yet. I better deal with it quickly though because our departure is less than a month away. On June 4th, Melissa, Jack and I will get on a plane and fly to Australia for a 10 day vacation. From there, we'll fly directly to the US and our new start in Houston.

I'll keep you up to date as things progress over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

$30 burger

This is what a S$30 burger looks like. I ordered it as a bit of a joke, but I had no idea it would be so big. It actually tasted pretty good, but the cost was definitely for the quantity, not the quality. There has got to be at least 4000 calories on that plate.

And no mater how big your lunch is, there's always room for ice cream.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Little League in Singapore

One of the great things about being part of the community that goes to the American School in Singapore is that there are always so many great activities for the kids. There are three "seasons" of sports that are run by the Singapore American Community Action Council (SACAC). Most of the activities occur at the school grounds, but they are all run by SACAC.

This spring, Jack was finally able to sign up for his first season of Little League Baseball. On top of that, the league was a bit short on coaches this year, so Jack’s dad (me, woohoo!) is lucky enough to be the coach of the 2nd and 3rd grade Pirates baseball team.

We’ve got 11 great kids on the team (when they all show up, which is rare), and everyone seems to be having a great time. Every Tuesday night, we get together at the school for a practice. We work mostly on our fundamentals, like how to throw and catch and how to swing a bat. One of the toughest parts of practice is that there is a heck of an athletic difference between a young 2nd grader and an older 3rd grader. Regardless, the kids do a pretty good job of being good teammates and working together as a team.

By far, the highlight of practice is that the kids get a chance to use “the machine.” This is a “machine pitch” league where all of the pitching is done by a pitching machine. It’s good that the kids get to see a “somewhat” consistent pitch speed so that they can improve their batting. Everyone loves getting a chance to get a few at-bats that are just like in the real game.

We’ve got a game almost every Saturday morning playing against one of the other 5 teams in the league. Please trust me when I say, “It’s hot out there.” The kids have a 1:15 hour time limit to play a 6 inning game, but they almost never last that long. After about 45 minutes in the 90deg heat, the kids are really dragging. Getting the kids to pay attention while they’re in the field is hard enough, but when they’re tired, it’s almost impossible. Most games, the coaches make a mutual decision to call it after 4 or 5 innings.

This Saturday, we played against the Athletics. We had a great first two innings scoring 9 runs and only letting up 1 run. Unfortunately, the next 3 innings weren’t as good, and we ended up losing 9 to 10.

All of the kids like to play catcher, and this game, Jack had his turn.

Jack says that he enjoys playing baseball more than any other sport he’s played this year. He’s doing extra practice on his own (if “with dad” is considered on you own) and he’s getting better every day. He went 2 for 3 against the A’s and scored a run.

Jack’s looking forward to continuing with baseball and we’re all glad he’s found a sport he enjoys.