Author Archives: kspoints

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Where we left off

I am declaring my blogging “maternity leave” officially over.  I’m ready to get back to it. By way of getting caught up, here’s a reasonably brief timeline of my life since the last post:

May. Micah and I finish up the traveling we had intended to do. Well, almost all of what we intended to do, anyway! We took a long weekend in Penang, which was great. It’s such a different city than KL, we were very pleasantly surprised with the contrast. We also took a day trip to Melaka. It was about an hour to an hour and a half by bus, so it was totally doable for a quick trip. I think there are always a few “I wish we had time for that” regrets when leaving any city, but I think we managed to milk everything we could out of those last trips. We ate some excellent food in both cities, hiked in an incredible national park and played with some monkeys on a beach in Penang, and learned more about Malaysia’s history and colonization in Melaka.

 

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Penang

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Melaka

End of May. Micah’s family comes to visit us in KL. We met them in Singapore and had one last adventure for the road. We loved visiting Singapore, what a contrast to KL and Malaysia even though they are so culturally similar! We brought The Family to some of the places that we had really loved in KL (Jalan Alor, Batu Caves, Merdeka Square, Petaling Street…). And we did some other new things with them (Royal Selangor Pewter Factory, Top of Petronas Towers). It was a really great way to revisit the places we loved one last time.

 

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Singapore

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KL Farewell

Beginning of June. I flew back to Texas to reestablish life in suburban Dallas before TK arrives. This was harder than I thought it might be. Thank goodness for family! My original plan was to find a house to rent starting in the beginning of July. I stayed with Micah’s cousin, the same one we lived with before leaving for KL.  She encouraged me to stay there as long as I needed to, which took a lot of pressure off. This turned out to be an even bigger blessing as, once I found a house, we couldn’t even move in until mid-July. On the other side of the family, my cousin let me borrow their car for as long as I needed to while I bought a “new” one. The plan was to get that wrapped up in the first week or two that I was back. As I shopped for cars, though, we re-prioritized our budget based on what was available and it took much longer to buy a car than I expected. It was the end of June before I ended up buying something.

All of June was taken up with house hunting, car shopping, and getting established with my doctors here. I had my first doctor’s appointment about 2 days after landing. I loved my doctor in KL, and I love my doctor here, and I wouldn’t change any of the health care decisions that we made. BUT. Prenatal care in KL was very different, and in some ways better, than prenatal care in Texas. More on this in a future post.

All of this “getting reestablished” stuff was happening while I was in my third trimester. The day I landed in Texas, I was 31 weeks and 6 days pregnant. Most people are heavily into nesting at this point. (And most commercial airlines “strongly prefer” you to finish traveling before 32 weeks!)  People kept asking me, “Are you ready for the baby? Do you have everything you need?” No! I don’t even have a place to live yet! (Well, we did, because we could have stayed with The Cousin for as long as we wanted, but you know what I mean…) Some aspects of this were really stressful, but most were not. Living in KL for 9 months really made it clear to me that a lot of what we “need” in daily life in the US are not truly needs. We had a cradle, and diapers are easy enough to come by, that’s all we truly Needed for TK’s arrival. Once we had confirmed a place to live, had utilities set up, and movers arranged, I felt much better.  The question of “need” vs NEED has become a guiding principle in our current life: Is this a Capital N Need? If not, can we do without it? It’s been a great lesson from a budget standpoint as well as a de-cluttering standpoint, even if it’s not always easy to follow.

Mid-July. Micah lands on a Sunday night. We move into our new place the next morning. We moved in two phases, and hired professional movers for both. It was the best decision we ever made. Day 1, we unloaded our storage POD. Day 2, we moved out of the storage shed. These were also the hottest days of the summer to that point. I felt a little guilty for not actually helping with lifting and carrying, but not that guilty.

We spent the next two weeks trying to get the house unpacked and organized. (Spoiler Alert: we still have two rooms that are mostly full of unopened boxes.) Micah went back to work at his new assignment within the same company. We were also officially on “any day now” alert starting about week 38 of my pregnancy.

Beginning of August. TK’s official due date! And then a week later he made his long awaited arrival. He’s healthy and perfect in every way. We couldn’t be happier.

 

 

The past 5 months have been a whirlwind of trying to figure out how to care for a baby. It still feels like we are flying by the seat of our pants and learning as we go. For two (overly-) educated people, this has been very disconcerting. We are used to being able to read and learn about something and more or less figure it out. But there is so much information about raising children, and so much of it is conflicting, it’s really overwhelming!  The dirty secret we have learned is that everyone is really flying by the seats of their pants, and we should do what works best for us. Figuring out what works for us changes weekly and sometimes daily, but we are over the moon thrilled and in love with TK.

At this point, 5 months in, I’m finally able to carve out a little bit of time for my own stuff. One thing that I have really missed is having a creative outlet. I really like writing and blogging, so I’m trying to cultivate that habit as best I can. I have a few more posts in my head that are relevant to this site, and then we will see what happens. I’m debating the merits of starting a new blog and just keeping this one as a travelogue type thing- we do intend to travel again at some point in the future! I think my future posts will be loosely related to “Things I Think About”…some parenting, some current events, some education. If you have thoughts/ideas/preferences about keeping posts on this site vs. starting a new one, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Coming soon, in no particular order, and likely updating on Tuesday evening (Dallas suburb time, which is Central Time Zone in US, or GMT -06:00):

Wedding in KL

Grocery store culture shock, backwards

Pre-natal care in KL vs US

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Long Distance Mourning

How do you mourn someone from half a world away?

In the U.S., mourning rituals tend to center around being with your family, or the family of the bereaved. In my experience, there’s often some generic cold cut trays and veggie platters. People are somber and sad, or feel like they should be, even though in very big families it might be the first time you’ve seen your cousins in months, if not longer, and it’s hard to resist the joy of just being together. People share memories of their loved one, or maybe look at old pictures together.  But what do you do when you can’t be there?

Before we moved here, Micah and I talked about what situations would justify a flight back to the States.  We are unfortunately missing some big events while we are here- a graduation, a wedding, and a new nephew’s birth- but a funeral felt different.  We had agreed that a funeral would be important enough to make the 30-hour trip back.  At least for one of us.  The cost would make it difficult for us both to go. But one of us would go. Probably. I imagine every expat has thought about these questions and made decisions in advance about what circumstances would require a trip home. It’s not easy. And it’s difficult when they are merely hypothetical questions and you don’t have the context to make the decision properly.

And then, it was suddenly a real question rather than a hypothetical for me. My grandmother passed away on 25 November, in Massachusetts.  She had lived in a nursing home the last several years, and the several years before that she was living with one of my aunts.  She had dementia and I think she thought was a teenager staying in a hotel, on vacation with her parents.  (Though I wouldn’t choose living with dementia for anyone’s grandmother, reliving happy years might not be a bad way to spend your last months.) She had been in declining health, and I knew it was likely she would pass away while we were here, but it still somehow snuck up on me.

We visited her last summer before moving to Malaysia.  She was holding a small nun doll, it looked like the nun from the Madeline children’s books.  She held it up to Micah and I and said, “How do you like my lady?”  Of course we recognized it as a nun, but since she introduced it to us as “her lady” we felt we should continue calling it that.  Micah said, “I like your lady.  Tell me about her, where did you get her?”  And, in typical Grandma fashion, she said, “Well, she’s a nun!  But of course you wouldn’t recognize that because you aren’t Catholic.”

Grandma grew up in Boston. She firmly believed that Irish Catholics (Boston Irish Catholics in particular) are morally superior to everyone else, and didn’t have a problem making her opinion known. Even with her devout faith, none of her children or grandchildren shared her religious fervor. (Perhaps that should read because of her devout faith…?) My family decided on a small, graveside memorial service, with no mass. As difficult as it has been to figure out how to mourn Grandma from half a world away, I am truly thankful to not have to rush back for a week’s worth of formal mourning.  This really helped make my decision about whether to return or not.

Thanks to the horrendous winter the Northeast experienced, my family wasn’t able to hold a memorial service until this week. In November, I was set to fly back. I even had a list of what clothes I needed to pack and what clothes I would need to borrow or acquire once I got to Massachusetts. But now that I’ve had some time to process and mourn on my own, I decided not to go. For one reason, it doesn’t feel quite so urgent to go back as it did several months ago. For another, our circumstances have changed quite dramatically and it’s much more complicated for me to fly back now.

I will admit that I feel a little guilty about not being there, but I know it’s the best choice for me, personally. So while my family gets together this week and no doubt shares their favorite Grandma memories, here is one of mine.

She loved the Celtics and the Red Sox, though I remember her following the Red Sox more.  She told me about going to the ballpark when she was little to see Ted Williams- the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.  (And his teammates, of course, but she always only talked about Ted.) I inherited my own love of the Red Sox through my grandmothers on both sides of my family.  She had retired to Florida while I was still a kid, and as an adult I had thought about taking her to Spring Training at some point.  In 2003, at my college graduation, I told her the outline of my plan:

Me:  Grandma, I’m thinking about going to Spring Training next year to see the Sox.
Grandma: And I suppose you want to stay at MY house?  (Typical Grandma!)
Me: No, I thought you and I could go together.  We’ll stay at a hotel close to where their games are and go to a couple of them.
Grandma: Oh, I would like that!
My mother: I want to go, too!

We both turned to look at her and said simultaneously, “But you don’t even like baseball.”  My mom said, “I’ll pay for the hotel and buy the tickets!”  So my mom, who didn’t even like baseball, was invited on the trip with us.  And she did pay for the hotel and buy the tickets!  (To my mom’s credit, she did follow the team that year, the year they won the 2004 World Series, reversing The Curse of the Bambino.)

That trip was the first time I had ever had true “adult” time with my grandmother, and it was really nice.  My mom was battling cancer and her energy levels ebbed and flowed.  We were having dinner at some generic chain restaurant after an afternoon at the ballpark, I think it was a Bennigan’s, and my mom’s energy hit the floor.  We had already ordered, and she didn’t want us to have to skip dinner, so she went out to the car to nap.  I had ordered a beer, and their happy hour promotion was “buy one get one free.”  I assumed my second beer would come after I finished the first one, but the waitress brought both of them at once!  So here I am with two beers, eating dinner with my grandmother, who, as far as I could remember, didn’t drink.  I don’t even remember her having wine with dinner. Ever. I felt really sheepish.

Then Grandma told me about a trip she and my grandfather had taken to the Jack Daniel’s distillery and how she really enjoyed their Lynchburg Lemonade!  And she had two of them while my grandfather was chatting with someone, and he didn’t know why she liked them so much!  I couldn’t believe it!  This was a side of Grandma I had never seen.  After we had paid the check, I asked if she was ready to go.  She said, “Did you finish both of those beers already?”  Again I felt sheepish and mumbled, “Yes.”  “That’s my girl!  OK, let’s go then.”  I remember thinking What just happened??

So there you have it.  A “typical Grandma” memory, about her jab for my inability to insist on a Catholic upbringing as a small child, and my favorite memory, about going to Spring Training with her and my mom.

SpringTrainingWM

A traditional Irish prayer for “times of sorrow”:
May you see God’s light on the path ahead
When the road you walk is dark.
May you always hear,
Even in your hour of sorrow,
The gentle singing of the lark.
When times are hard may hardness
Never turn your heart to stone,
May you always remember
When the shadows fall—
You do not walk alone.

Globalization, or Finding a Piece of Texas in Melaka

Melaka is about a 2 hour drive south of Kuala Lumpur.  It was the place where colonization of the Malay peninsula began (first from Sumatra, then from China, India and the Middle East, and then relatively late to the party was Europe- the Portuguese, the Dutch, then the English).  When the English came in, Melaka became part of their Straits settlement with Penang and Singapore.  I wanted to visit at some point because I am a sucker for historical stuff, so we took a quick day trip last weekend.

Melaka is easily accessible by bus, so that’s what we did- spending a whopping RM32.80 each way on a Super VIP bus for a more comfortable ride, for a round trip cost of about $20 USD.  For both of us.  On the cab ride into the historical area, Micah noticed a familiar sign.

DSCN5601WM

For the uninitiated, our adopted home state of Texas launched a very successful anti-litter campaign in the late 1980s.  Those signs look like this:

DMWT

We thought it was hilarious and really cool that Melaka adopted this now-iconic symbol of Texas, of all places.  Not only is the campaign slogan the same, but the two signs are practically identical!  The color blocking is the same, the font is the same, the iconography is basically the same but of course changed to be culturally relevant.  At the bottom, the outline of the state of Texas becomes the outline of the state of Melaka.  At the top, Texas’ Lone Star becomes the Crescent Moon and Star from Melaka’s state flag.  One would think this would be pretty clear grounds for a copyright infringement case, but it appears that Texas is in favor of the globalization of anti-litter.

I will say, from our single day in Melaka, they did seem to have their litter under much better control than what we’ve seen in KL.  Texas goes global for the win!