Posted in ex-pat confidential, Idle Chatter

life in point form

I've come down with a case of list-itis again, undoubtedly brought on by having our passports out for visa approval. It's the final contingency to clear before our one-way flights are booked and our pack-out is scheduled. We won't get much warning; maybe six weeks after our visas are granted if we're lucky, though I feel like we need to prepare for only three or four. 

Hence, the to-do list (in progress):

  • figure out our tax issues around non-residency
  • sell our house
  • sell our car (maybe)
  • notify the schools, home security company, my gym, my mobile phone provider
  • buy suitcases or boxes for the stuff we'll take on the plane
  • close-out our safety deposit boxes at the bank
  • find a storage facility for the stuff we're leaving in Canada
  • paint the basement 
  • take the e-waste and hazardous waste items to their proper disposal facilities
  • schedule tuberculosis tests for the kids
  • give away a bunch of stuff???
  • set up bank account at HSBC

The to-buy list:

  • back-to-school clothes for a summery climate (this mainly affects our oldest kid)
  • everyday dishes
  • back-to-school supplies for the next school
  • new mattress for us

The packing lists (details to follow)

  • suitcase stuff 
  • air shipment stuff
  • sea shipment stuff
  • store-in-Canada stuff

There's a lot of stuff that we won't know for sure until we're in the company housing. Our new home may be wired for 110V electricity but it might be 220V. We'll take our 110V stuff and our heavy transformers, and I won't dwell on the fact that I gave away an awesome 220V food processor/blender only eighteen short months ago. We might be in a place with temporary furniture, or we may have permanent stuff and then most of our shipment will go into storage until we are able to move into different company housing. 

I'm supporting this overseas move because the big picture is that we'll have a better quality of life than we do here in Calgary, but the short term is looking pretty crazy.

Posted in Idle Chatter, school daze

what i did in kindergarten

One of the new nightly traditions around here for my six year-old is the "let me tell you what I did at kindergarten today". Sadie snuggles down into her bed with a stuffed animal (usually a bunny, more recently a pony) and Boo, and usually leads off with, "You know what we do all the time so I don't need to tell you!" to cover the part of her morning that includes hanging up her coat and backpack, changing into her inside sneakers, and finding a spot on the rug in her classroom. And then I hear about what her class might have played in the gym, what letter of the alphabet they're working on, who logged some minutes in the "time-out chair" and whether or not it was a day that they met with the fabulous music teacher. 

And sometimes Sadie asks me what I did when I was in kindergarten.

I think that my kindergarten teacher was pretty fresh out of university, and that sometimes her boyfriend would join our class to play guitar while we sang.

I don't remember much about what I learned about numeracy in kindergarten, but I do recall going through worksheets to practice uppercase and lowercase letters. Neat penmanship earned a sticker, and one of my goals was to end the year with more of these stickers than my friend Eric (I don't think that I did).

There was a sticker chart on the wall, and I know that I had a gold star stuck on it when I learned how to tie my own sneakers (velcro wasn't yet an option!). I'm pretty sure that only reason why I was mastering shoelace tying was to get that gold start and keep up with my classmates. 

My classroom had a sand table, a water table, a nicely-sized "house" with the usual kitchen stuff, table, and doll cradle inside it. There was book nook with a carpet, and the tiny little tables and chairs, of course.

I wanted to wear dresses everyday (obviously, I hadn't yet had the experience about walking across the massive school field in -25C weather!), but I think that I only had two dresses (one yellow with tiny white dots, the other a rose-coloured floral with ruffles), so my mom made me alternate those with pairs of polyester pants in red, blue, and possibly green. When it was cold outside, I wore tights with a small diamond pattern underneath them. I'm not sure how much of my kindergarten waredrobe was bought at a store beyond those polyester pants – I do know that my mom made my dresses and a lot of blouses. My school shoes were brown t-straps like these, which I didn't even consider fashionable in 1980.

I wore a homemode princess costume for Halloween. I think that my crown was cardboard covered with aluminum foil, and my cape was a lovely organza printed with flowers! We also sang a song about yellow pumpkins, and my teacher had hid little tissue ghosts all around the classroom. I was especially good at finding them!

I don't recall how many field trips my class went on, but I know that there was one that was to see a performance, possibly a play or opera version of Cinderella, and we got to go backstage at the theatre and see a dressing room. And there was one that was to a warehouse or factory full of stuffed animals, which kind of blows my mind now, because what were all of those stuffed animals doing in Edmonton? Was it possible that all toys weren't made in China in the 1980's???


Posted in Idle Chatter, repatriation rant

isn’t summer supposed to be lazy?

On paper, this week looks pretty good in terms of free time for me, because both of my kids are in day camps. In practice, it's kind of crazy, because one kid gets dropped off at nine, one kid gets dropped off at ten, and then I do pick-ups at noon and three. Working in travel time, the net result is that I'm home for a period no longer than two hours. This isn't exactly the best week for me to undertake a big project like un-wallpapering the tv room in the basement or deep clean the closets. 

The camps, however, are being thoroughly enjoyed by the kids. 

I do have enough time between chauffeur stints to contemplate our big decision for the month – whether to move again later this year or stay here in Calgary for another 12-24 months. I have reasons for not wanting to move again right now – we just moved into our current home about six months ago. I'm very fond of it – we renovated much of this place and the gorgeous and functional lockers and cupboards in the mudroom? They weren't there before; we put them in for us. The double sinks and separate shower in the main floor bath? Again, we put that in especially for our family. I might even cry a little when I think of abandoning the kitchen because I love the tile and the dishwasher and the big apron front sink. 

It doesn't make much sense to be that attached to material objects, and in the big scheme of things, this house doesn't rank that highly, anyways. I think that it's just affecting me so because we just moved in a few months ago and our personal investment still feels high. 

There are some compelling arguments for moving overseas again. The school that me kids would attend does not have the sort of budgetary issues that the schools in Calgary have, so more specials, full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes. International schools take cool field trips to places like China, instead of less-cool field trips to the Spyhill Landfill (as Madeline did with her fourth grade class). The location is rather ideal for future family vacations in Europe, Africa, and Asia, which is probably the most exciting element for me. And based on our previous time overseas, our lives were a little less rushed, and it would be lovely to have more downtime together again.

It's weird, but this decision feels like has more variables to consider than it did when we voted affirmative for Thailand back in 2007. 

Whatever we decide, that ugly wallpaper in the basement still needs to be taken down, so we'll be rather busy no matter what we decide to do 🙂

Posted in ex-pat confidential, Idle Chatter

my dad was usually right, as it turns out

Case in Point: Watch batteries.

Sometime last fall, I was bragging that inexpensive watch batteries were another of the nice perks about living in SE Asia, and my dad totally laughed at me and explained that I'd probably been putting totally crappy batteries in my wristwatch, no matter that they have "Energizer" or whatever etched onto the top. 

And then last weekend, my watch abruptly stopped at 7:35 on Saturday morning. There wasn't the sad ticking sound that foretells a low battery, either. It just stopped. And I'd just had it changed in Bangkok this past June when I was there for a check-up. 

So, yeah, my dad was probably correct that my cheap watch batteries are probably truly cheap watch batteries. 

Posted in a-spoiling we will go, Idle Chatter

there is a seven year-old girl inside of me

I am pleased to say that the first thing that springs into my mind when I remember 1984 is an incredible dystopian tome by George Orwell that I read in twelfth grade, but some people may remember that year as the one when our parents battled in the toy section of Sears to score one of these:

IMG_1259These are Alphonsine Clarissa and Glen Reuben, the two survivors of the 2010 Cabbage Patch Kid purge at my parents' house (four of their "siblings", as it were, didn't make the cut). Each of my kids brought one of my old dolls back to Saigon with us after our summer holiday. 

Over the last quarter-century, this pair has undergone a couple of changes. Alphonsine has been nicknamed "Nell" after the daughter of a friend of mine, and Glen, as it turns out, is gender-fluid. He's wearing cute hand-sewn coveralls in this pic, but I often find him lounging about in a frilly dress. This is probably because the majority of our extra outfits are traditional girl clothes. Still, the kids and I support his lifestyle choices whole-heartedly, and I've been advised that "fashion has no gender."

It's actually really fun for me to see Madeline and Sadie playing with my old dolls. The Cabbage Patch Kids and my collection of My Little Ponies are the toys that I remember playing with the most when I was little. My birthday and Christmas wish lists must have been crammed with CPK items because I know that I had a good collection of accesories: the knock-off Snuggli, a highchair that attached to a table, a playpen, a CPK diaper bag … 

Nearly three decades later, my fondest memories of my Cabbage Patch Kid obsession are about these:

Somehow, somewhere in the mid-80s, my mom found to time to sew tons of tiny little outfits for the dolls that my sister and I had. Our dolls had fuzzy winter parkas. There was even a tiny pair of turquoise stirrup pants that matched a pair that I owned! Anyway, I think that I have to record "sewing little outfits for my Cabbage Patch dolls" as one of the awesome things that my mom has done. And they still look good on Alphonsine/Nell and Glen. 

Posted in ex-pat confidential, Idle Chatter

could have been worse

When I was a child in the 1980's, one of the things making the world a scary place was the television series Little House on the Prairie.  For all of it's touted wholesomeness, I don't remember much about plotlines featuring the Ingalls sisters frolicking in the countryside or down by creek. I don't even remember a single reason why Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson went at each other's throats over and over again. No, I remember the scary tragic things, like Mary and Adam's baby perishing in a fire at the School for the Blind and the really bizarre episode arc about rapist in a mime costume lurking in the woods. And the one that creeps me out the most: the episode where Caroline very nearly almost amputates her own leg when her husband is out of town and there is no one around to take care of her.

Whenever Chris is traveling for business (which he does often),  I think of tv-series Caroline Ingalls and her infected leg wound, pondering her shiny knife. Because I so do not want to have to deal with any sort of medical emergency while I've been abandoned in a geographical location that does not currently have much more to offer by way of emergency medical services than Walnut Grove did in the 1800's.

So, as I was sprawled on the floor of the bottom level of my house on Wednesday night last week (the very same day that Chris flew out to Hanoi for meeting), having missed the last step on the stairs on my way down to see who on earth had rang our doorbell at 6 pm at night, I thought of poor, home-alone Caroline Ingalls.  And I hoped that the only price I'd have to pay for my carelessness was a sprained ankle. I could deal with sprained ankles, right?

I came home from the medical clinic the next day with an x-ray to forever comemmorate my small ankle fracture and a cast that stops just shy of my left knee. The nurse-practitioner called it a "walking cast" but I am not really sure how it would differ from a non-walking cast because there is nothing special about it as far as I can see. It's slippery on the polished stone floors in this house. It's really inconvenient here, too, because my kids' schools have stairs instead of elevators (or ramps, to be honest), and there is no such thing as handicapped parking near the entrance. I haven't been leaving my home much; I'm walking like Frankenstein's monster, and frankly this city is just too dirty to walk around in without a shoe on both of my feet and the ability to thoroughly wash both my feet. (And now I am very aware of how everyone stares at me as I lurch around).

I'm not used to being forced to slow down, but this first full week with the cast has gone by faster than I expected. It turns out that orders from a doctor to keep my foot elevated is a good incentive to crack open my new book on Adobe Lightroom and start editing all of our photos from last year. There's just a few more months to process, and I have another week in the cast. I think it will be enough time, on both counts.

Posted in Idle Chatter, Serious Reading


Back in December while we were on our Christmas holiday, one of my friends on Facebook linked to "One Teacher's Approach to Preventing Gender Bullying in the Classroom", and I quickly scanned it, liked it, and bookmarked it to get back to later, when I was back home. It took me about six weeks to get back to it. I shouldn't have ignored it for so long, though – it's really thoughtful and the best thing I've read about children and the gender spectrum. I'm not sure that anyone was paying much attention to this stuff when I was the same age as the kids in the article. 

I was thinking out the article again, the next day as I was drying our dinner dished, and all of a sudden, I remembered Anita.

Anita's grandfather lived next door to my grandparents (who always called him "The Dutchman", which I never understood and always felt a little uncomfortable about; they were all friendly and had a shared interest in vegetable gardening). Sometimes, when I'd be spending a Saturday afternoon at my grandparents' house, Anita would be doing the same thing, and we'd play together. 

Anita and I made mudpies and played on the aluminum swingset in my grandparents' backyard. We raced up the sidewalk in front of the houses, me on an ancient green tricycle and Anita on a Big Wheel (which I secretly coveted). And Anita would always say to me, "I'm actually a boy, you know. Even if I have a girl's name."

Anita wasn't like the girls that I played with at school, at all. I remember Anita showing off some impressive climbing skills by reaching the top of the posts supporting the awning over the concrete patio.

I was six years old and didn't think that girls were supposed to climb that high (or pedal a Big Wheel that fast), but I would still argue with Anita, babbling things like, "Of course you're a girl, Anita. Why do you say that you're not?" I was six years old and confused, so I echoed what the adults in my life told me about my friend. And I remember the calmness about Anita, repeating "I'm actually a boy, you know" with certainty like it was something that had been practiced a lot.

It's thirty years later, and after reading that article, I remembered my old friend, and I wonder if Anita is still saying "I"m actually a boy, you know."