Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fun Things To Do With Kids in Singapore

"Are we having fun yet?"

As promised, here is a list of 10 fun things to do in Singapore with your kids during the holidays.
If you, like me, hate crafts, long car trips, and anything involving a roller coaster, then this is the list for you.

1) Swimming's Singapore, after all. (Tip: take a book and large hat...just so they realize you're not actually jumping in the pool with them.)

2) Go to the bookstore Kinokuniya in Takashimaya. Hours of fabulous browsing and reading.
You may or may not want to avoid stationery area-depending on your disposable income.

3) Have a yummy breakfast of masala dhosai in Little India. Good way to assess your kids' spicy index.

4) Go to the movies. Just remember to check the rating first. Les Miserables was rated NC16-go figure.

5) Ice skating at the new olympic rink (@JCube Jurong). Allow some time beforehand to buy matching hat and gloves. At least an hour if you have Italian kids.

6) Dumplings at Din Tai Fung-what's not to love?

7) Watching Mythbusters with your kids on TV.

8) Grocery shopping followed by a stop at the local food court for kimchi fried rice and Korean Bbq. (Yes, I do realize most of my activities involve eating...blame my kids and wide array of choices in Singapore.)

9) Legoland in Malaysia (full disclosure: we still need to go). But it is on my kids' wish list and is just a forty minute drive away.

10) And finally, take them to visit their Dad's office for a surprise visit. (Tip: Accidentally leave one of them there.)

What do you like to do with your kids during the holidays? Please add...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

10 Questions To An Expat: Dazzling Donnaya

Introducing Donnaya Antao, gorgeous wife and mother of two adorable children, Joshua and Katerina. When she's not cooking up a veritable storm of Thai delicacies in the kitchen, you may find her strumming away at the piano.

1) So Donnaya, how long have you lived in Singapore?
Two and a half years.

2) Where are you from originally?
Bangkok, Thailand.

3) What brought you here?
My husband Peter is an engineer in the oil business. We moved here from Houston, Texas.

4) What do you do in your spare time?
I do a lot of cooking, but if I have free time I practice the piano-trying to catch up with my kids!

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
The convenience and the safety. It is so easy to live here.

6) What do you like least?
The size of the condo apartments. I wish they were bigger.

7) Never leave the house without?
Umbrella and a comb.

8) Best weekend trip?
Phuket, Thailand. The beaches are beautiful and I love Thai food.

9) Interesting fact people don't know about you?
In my 20's, I was one of the college students selected to represent Thailand in 11 different countries in South East Asia-I ended up meeting 11 prime ministers! It was awesome!

10) What advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
Bring a lot of money with you as housing, schools, and groceries are all very expensive! Also, do your shopping during the week because on the weekends malls are very crowded!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Stuff Expats in Singapore Like

"Tastes like heaven."

1. Starbucks
2. Chinese tutors
3. Forcing their kids to speak Mandarin to taxi drivers
3. Comparing Malaysian beaches to those in Thailand
4. Organic food
5. Buying cheerios in bulk
6. Travelling to Bhutan
7. Describing yam butter eaten in Nepal
8. Singapore Airlines
9. Frequent flier miles
10. Skiing in Japan
11. India
12. Barbecues
13. Having a car
14. Discussing the humidity factor
15. Champagne brunches
16. Boot camp
17. Rugby
18. Montessori schools
19. Chinese coffee tables
20. Watching their kids eat with chopsticks (see photo above).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Eliot's new best friend...

Hat and gloves in Singapore...who knew?
Day 3 of the kids' 3 wk school holiday and I'm utterly knackered (a word I picked up during my years in Dublin that perfectly illustrates my state of mental exhaustion). There are only so many times I can edit a letter to Santa. A puppy under the tree? I don't think so, more like a dictionary.
I promise my next post will be a list of fun things to do if you are having a staycation (sounds so much better than 'we're not going anywhere' ) in the meantime, stay warm.
Just kidding, it is Singapore, after all!
Anyway, wanted to post a photo from our very first ice skating escapade. Well,  really theirs....but somebody had to sip the hot chocolate on the sidelines.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do's and Don'ts When You're a Kid in the Maldives

"One day kid, this will all be yours..."

It's your parents' fifteenth anniversary and they've decided to take you along with them on their dream vacation (as if they really had a choice).  At four hours away, the Maldives, are a mere skip and a hop from Singapore. And, if your Mom lets you watch TED on the plane, they seem even closer.

Here are a few tips which might come in handy:

DO pack snacks. Your parents may have bought the 'breakfast only' deal.

DON'T assume you'll be having lunch (see above)

DO take the seaplane from the airport to the resort.

DON'T drink juice right before you do.

DO try canoeing with your little sister.

DON'T rely on her to paddle.

DO remember sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and oreos (those are for your Mom).

DON'T expect to buy them on the island. They only sell sarongs and expensive jewellery.

DO expect the baby pizza to be indeed meant for a baby. And yet, still cost $20 (US not Singaporean).

DON'T assume that just because water costs as much as coke you'll be getting coke.

DO try snorkeling. Just not with your mother.

DON'T bring your homework. They'll really expect you to do it.

DO look for dolphins.

DON'T expect to see any.

DO try a fast ride on the banana boat. Even if you fall in, the Indian Ocean water is warm.

But, most importantly, DON'T get lost on the island. You could get heatstroke before they even realize you're gone.

(Published in Expat Living, May 2013)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Questions To An Expat: Amazing Asya

Introducing Asya Margaryan, ballerina extraordinaire. When this lovely Armenian expat is not gracing the stages of Singapore, you'll find her moulding mini-dancers at The Ballet and Dance Company or directing island-wide ballet productions.

1) So Asya, how long have you lived in Singapore?
Six years.

2) Where are you from originally?

3) What brought you here?
I came here to study dance.

4) What do you do in your spare time?
I like to go to the movies and hang out at Siloso beach.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
It is a very safe city.

6) What do you like least?
It's a bit crowded.

7 Never leave the house without?
An umbrella!

8) Best weekend trip?
Well, on the weekends I'm working. But, if I had the time, I would got to Thailand. It's nearby and has beautiful beaches.

9) Interesting fact people don't know about you?
In the six years I've been in Singapore I have never been back to my home country. Also, I like to dress up! Being a ballerina, I guess that comes with the territory.

10) What advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
That's a hard one...maybe, find a house or apartment before you get here. They say it's easy but I found it very difficult.

Monday, December 3, 2012


How was school today, Eliot? What was the best part of your day? English, Chinese?

" new shoes."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

10 Questions To An Expat: Alluring Alison

It's been awhile, but "10 Questions To An Expat," is back! This edition features long-term British expat, Alison Urbina, who enjoys playing with daughter Miah, a night out with the girls, and jetting off to gorgeous beaches in Indonesia.

1) So Alison, how long have you lived in Singapore?
19 years!

2) Where are you from originally?
The UK...Wimbledon.

3) What brought you here?
My job from Sydney in the events industry.

4) What do you do in your spare time?
As founder of a new business I don't really have spare time. When I do, I'm traveling to Indonesia, finding land, or islands to sell. It's great fun.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
The government has a vision and sees it through, the city is constantly evolving...taxes are very encouraging for entrepeneurs.

6) What do you like least?
Driving: nobody signals.

7 Never leave the house without?
An umbrella.

8) Best weekend trip?
South Lombok Coast in Indonesia. There is a direct flight to Lombok. 20 minutes from there and you're on unspoiled white sand beaches.

9) Interesting fact people don't know about you?
I almost died from malaria.

10) What advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
Well, there are definitely ups and downs to being an I guess, just go with the flow.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In The Book Lover's Corner: Author Meghan Daum

What better way to start the week (after my 5 day bout with a nasty flu) than by introducing a new series: "In The Book Lover's Corner," in which I interview my favorite contemporary authors (Thomas Hardy would have also been nice).

I am so excited to have Meghan Daum as the first author featured. And it's not just because we went to the same school (Vassar), or because she wrote one of my all time favorite essays My Misspent Youth, but because if I told her that on a rainy Sunday in Singapore there is nothing I like better than checking out houses for sale on Martha's Vineyard (or in Tuscany...does it really matter?) I have a feeling she would understand. In fact, the obsession with real estate is the subject of her most recent book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House. A book that, needless to say, I completely identified with and devoured in two days. And yes, Mom, a copy is in the mail.

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from even before I could write. When I was about three or four, I would obsessively draw pictures that told stories. I'd make them into books and then make my mother write the words according to my dictation. As I got older I realized my two big talents were playing the oboe and writing. And given that choice writing seemed like the more pragmatic path

How much of what you write is autobiographical?

It depends on the nature of the project. Much of my efforts center around my weekly newspaper column, which I guess is autobiographical in that I'm drumming up my own ideas and expressing them. But ultimately it's much more about society in general and the world at large. I wrote a novel, The Quality of Life Report, that a lot of people thought was autobiographical. I used to say it was "32.9 percent autobiographical" (or something like that). But really the parts that were most me were the ruminations and observations of the main character, who was actually quite different from me in many ways. As for personal essays, obviously they're autobiographical, though my rule is that they must transcend the merely personal and talk about larger ideas. The way I think of autobiography is that I use myself and my experiences as a tool for talking about more general phenomena. In other words, I'm a tool.

What is your writing routine?

My writing routine is, basically, avoid work until I'm right up against my deadline and then kill myself to get it done. I will then tell myself I'll never, ever let that happen again and will instead begin well ahead of the deadline and work steadily and sanely to render a perfect product. But that has never once happened.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I'm working on a book of new essays, loosely based around the theme of American sentimentality. It will be a bit in the same vein as my previous collection, My Misspent Youth, but whereas many of these essays had been published previously in magazines these will be almost entirely original. Some of the topics include death, patriotism, food, animals, and children.

What is on your night table?

On my night table right now is the inevitable stack of New York Review of Books that I have not and perhaps will never get around to reading. On top of that is David Rakoff's Half Empty, which I read much of long ago but am really enjoying revisiting, a galley of a new essay collection called This Is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange, the David Foster Wallace biography by D.T. Max, and a bunch of tissues and errant earplugs. Probably also a section of the New York York Times from, like, three months ago.

You can also catch Meghan at
For now, that's all from the book lover's corner: happy reading! 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dreaming of An Irish Bookshop

My Happy Place: Hodges Figgis in Dublin

I was walking down Bukit Timah this morning in a dismal downpour when it hit me. Not that I was going to get wet...well maybe that too. I had an umbrella but in Singapore that's irrelevant. If it rains, umbrella or no umbrella, you're going to get wet. My aha moment was simply this: there are no bookshops here like the one pictured above. When I lived in Dublin, Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street was hands down my favorite haunt. My Irish expat friends here think I'm joking when I tell them I'm half-Irish. But my affinity with the poetry, literature, sense of humor, can't be a fluke. I was just born in Italy but really I'm Irish. I can vividly recall the creamy top of a guinness with soup and soda bread in a pub on a rainy day after classes...but I digress.
I sometimes worry that there just aren't enough bookshops in Singapore. That's what's missing. Or better, there are bookstores but not bookshops and there is a difference. Maybe I should just open one. My imaginary bookshop would be awesome. As cozy and inviting as Hodges Figgis. Poetry readings, free coffee, comfortable armchairs. Maybe even fresh muffins. Helpful assistants with an Irish accent-too much? Would I make a lot of money? Probably not. But I knew that from the get-go. Majoring in philosophy at Vassar was kind of a clue. On the first day of class, our professor told us: "I guess you already know there's no money in Philosophy. If you were interested in that you'd be down the hall studying Economics."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Read Any Good Books, Lately?

As an avid reader, the question I love to answer most is: "Do you have any good books to recommend?" The question I love least being: "Is your hair naturally curly?" But that's another blog. Why yes, of course. I love recommending, discussing, and lending books (one of the main reasons I don't love my kindle). I can seriously do this for a long time. An almost pathologically long time.  Here in Singapore, one of my biggest joys is when an Amazon package arrives. Fingers crossed that it's when my minimalist husband is on a business trip so he doesn't see all the books I've ordered.
I love reading bedtime stories to the kids and need to read at least an hour before falling asleep. I grew up in a house full of books so spent most of my time after school reading. In college, I tried reading one hundred pages per night and got through my entire philosophy reading list that way in about two weeks! Some people might say you should read slowly so you can enjoy it, but I feel the opposite. If the book is good it's going to be done in three days tops. If it's very good, it could be one day. Anyway, have a look at my new feature: booklover's corner (it's over there on the right). It should have something for everyone: including favorite bedtime stories, Alexander's library (my 11 yr old), Eliot's library (my 6 yr old), books currently on my night table, and recently read and loved books. Hope you enjoy it-happy reading!
And, fellow bookworms, please let me know what your favorites are! I would love to add them to my list.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Life Lessons I Learned From Fairy Tales

Do not touch a spindle (Sleeping Beauty).

When planning a party don't leave anybody out (again Sleeping Beauty).

If you don't feel like eating an apple, by all means, do not eat one (Snow White).

It's okay to let your hair grow long (Rapunzel).

 Pebbles are better than crumbs (Hansel and Gretel).

 Pick up the shoe. It's right behind you, just pick it up (Cinderella).

 If an old witch steals your beautiful voice just use a pen and paper (The Little Mermaid).

And finally, if your grandmother looks like a wolf it's probably time to see an optometrist (Red Riding Hood).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Move Over "Hunger Games"

"Not another fairy tale..."

A few months ago, I debated (briefly) whether Hunger Games was an appropriate book for my ten year old son. Then I remembered the fairy tales I had read him as a child. Even now I feel a little guilty.
That's some seriously scary stuff. So, if you are just starting out as a parent, I thought maybe I should warn you. 

Let's see, Beatrix Potter. Sure it's a classic, the illustrations are gorgeous, and you're fully intentioned on visiting the Lake District at some point but- beware- this series is not for the faint hearted. Examples:

1) Jemima Puddle Duck Innocent duck held prisoner by a crafty fox intent on cooking her...scary.

2) The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies  Farmer McGregor tying up the cute, adorable, sleeping flopsy bunnies in a sack so that the skins can line his wife's cloak...even scarier.

3) Tom Kitten Cute little kitty falls into the clutches of a greedy rat. The rat rolls him up in some dough with a rolling pin to enjoy some Kitten Dumpling...scariest.

Now. let's check out the Grimms Fairy Tales. Take your pick. And, unlike Beatrix Potter, you know this is some seriously scary stuff. But you just can't help yourself. You probably read this as a child. I know I did. Why deprive your child of all those witches, evil stepmothers, and catastrophic chain of events unleashed when an unsuspecting orphan child walks alone into the woods at night?

4) Snow White The witch? Need I say more? I had to cover the illustration where she's holding the poisoned apple with my hand while reading the story to not terrorize my daughter. 

5) Sleeping Beauty A witch called Maleficent who holds a grudge because she wasn't invited to the party. Seriously scary (on the plus side can be used as a lesson on why it's nice to include everybody).

6) Rapunzel  Probably the very last princess in your daughter's princess phase before she moves on to fairies, unicorns, and barbie dolls- all way less scary than a little girl getting locked up in a high tower for years by an evil witch with a high pitched laughter.

7) Hansel and Gretel  Two little children left in a forest to starve to death by their evil stepmother but then lured into a candy house owned by a witch who wants to fatten them up so she them?!

8) The Enormous Crocodile  Roald Dahl's delightful tale about a sneaky crocodile who disguises himself as a picnic table or a see saw so he can (you guessed it) eat the children who sit on him. Years of fun for the entire family (when your child wakes up with crocodile-themed nightmares).

9)  Little Red Riding Hood Where do I start? A wolf disguised as a sick grandmother, really?

10) Peter Pan Notwithstanding the double whammy: Captain Hook and a crocodile this was hands down my daughter's favorite. So, what story scared you most as a kid? Fess up. Personally,  I'm no longer scared the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz is hiding under my bed.
I just check because I want to.

(Caveat: Do not automatically discard these titles, in an ironic twist of fate, the scariest story might turn out to be your kid's favorite.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Tropical Childhood

I was kind of surprised last night when Eliot offhandedly mentioned she had been told to not drink from the water fountain outside the girls' bathroom at school because there may be a tiny cobra in there. "We have to use the boys' one...just in case." Huh?!
This from the girl who is afraid of ants.
I'm thinking she's not clear on what a cobra is. I'm also thinking I don't want to be the one who tells her.
It seems fitting somehow that I am reading Alexandra Fuller's memoir about her African childhood. Maybe Eliot will one day write her memoir about growing up on the tropical island of Singapore.
Eliot is scared of crocodiles. I feel kind of guilty about that. When she was about five one of her bedtime stories was The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl (her request). It's a children's story but the illustrations of a crocodile disguising himself as a park bench or a see saw for unsuspecting children is amusing in a disturbing way. That reading choice made over two years ago may be the reason she still occasionally comes into my bed at 2 am reasoning: "I know crocodiles are in swamps but they could still crawl to our house because they do like children." Can't blame anybody but myself.

Monday, September 17, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog...

Hey, tooth fairy!
Overthinking what is blogworthy (is that even a word?) has kept me away from writing. Things have happened, really. I've just not written about them.
So here's my Top Ten Things I Could Have Blogged About but just didn't.

1) Five days after leaving Singapore to travel home to Verona for the summer holidays, Eliot gets pneumonia. What are the odds? Actually pretty good considering that this time last year she got salmonella and needed to be hospitalized.

2) About a week after Eliot recovers, I too get pneumonia and need to be hospitalized for 4 days. My fever is so persistent that Italian doctors contemplate putting me in isolation because I have just come from Singapore. Good times.

3) Pneumonia-related topics: why antibiotics cost so much more in Singapore than they do in Italy, how food in Italian hospitals looks very tasty (though I am not well enough to eat it)...

4) The copious amount of reading done while recuperating from said pneumonia on a terrace with my two kids reading next to me (ironically the best part of my holiday).

5) My compulsive reading of Bill Bryson, Anna Quindlen, Kingsley Amis, David Foster Wallace, and Hilary Mantel. Alexander's choice of Bill Bryson and Dan Brown, Eliot's of Winx and Pop Pixie.

6) Once back in Singapore, the school nurse at Alexander's school desperately trying to contact me, on the very day I lose my phone in a taxi, because she suspects Alexander has broken his shoulder in PE. Luckily no fracture but on the day he's supposed to return to school, after recovery, he wakes up with 40 degree fever and tonsillitis!

7) Eliot's first day of school. Interesting.

8) Alexander's first day of school. Even more interesting.

9) On how amazing the essay: "Why I write," by Simon Schama in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section of the Financial Times. And why reading it makes me want to never write another word.

10) Or my personal favorite: on Eliot losing a tooth. Not because it is her first (though as far as topics in this blog go it certainly would qualify), but because of her decision to not put it immediately under the pillow but to hide it from the tooth fairy because "Alexander hasn't seen it yet."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Things I Learned From a Couple of 85 yr olds

I probably won't be riding a bike.

When writing about my recent trip back home to Verona, it would be remiss of me to not mention my stay at the hospital for bronchial pneumonia. Along with the high fever and chills, 
I got to share a room with some delightful old ladies in beautiful linen nightgowns. Kind of like the movie Ladies in Lavender only in Italian and without Judy Dench. The meals were great but was it a highlight? Not really. Was it enlightening? Definitely. 
This is just a taste of what I learned about old age by spending a week with octogenarians:

1. You may not get there with your own teeth.
2. You can never have enough tissues.
3. You will probably be wearing a sweater even if it's 100-degrees.
4. You will be drinking a lot of soup.
5. A draft from the window is dangerous.
6. You can never say the words: "We're old, now," enough.

As I wrote out a semi-serious bucket list the night I could not sleep a wink ("eat all the chips dipped in Greek Style yoghurt I want," really?) the gist of what I was feeling was get out there and do everything you want to do. See everything you want to see. Right now. 
I could end this post by quoting Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night," but I prefer leaving you with the question my great aunt Milly used to ask, when looking in the mirror: "Jennifer, how come I look so much older than I feel?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Singapore Bestseller

What a great start to a morning...finding out my book is a Singapore best seller...I love this city!!

Friday, June 22, 2012


My big news of the day is that I finally published my book!!! It tells the story of Jamie Carter, a 9 yr old boy growing up in Singapore, who desperately wants a dog. The book is primarily aimed at the 8-12 yr old crowd but I hope you all like it!! Available now to order on Amazon:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends...

Eliot and her buddies

Unicorns, bears, and puppies...the world of a six year old (at least mine). Time is passing so fast I decided to write down the words Eliot mispronounces (and that I haven't had the heart to correct). That's not including the 'th' which she pronounces 'f' just like her brother. Strangely enough, I was totally unaware of this fact, until his second grade teacher mentioned it offhandedly.
"Alexander has a great flair for story telling, great imagination, great speaker except for that tiny 'speech impediment.'
"He has a speech impediment?!"
"Yes, didn't you notice? He says: 'firsty' instead of 'thirsty'."

Anyway, here goes:
1) Tatter tale (instead of tattle tale)
2) Aminal (animal)
3) Fravorite (favorite)
4) Alezander (Alexander)
5) Alvin and the Chickmunks (Chipmunks)
6) Emeny (enemy)
7) South Eats Asia (South East Asia)
8) Bolleyball (volleyball)
9) Washington, CD
10) Nuffing (nothing)

Did you mispronounce any words as a kid?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The "Whatever Works" Parenting Style

Eliot and Alexander surprising me with a Mother's Day dinner

In the past few days, there has been a controversy fueled by a Time magazine cover showing a Mom breastfeeding a three year old with the provocative caption: "Are You Mom Enough?"
Portrait of the so-called attachment parenting technique or guilt-inducing title?
If I had to label the technique I used during the first year with my first child, the only word that comes to mind is survival. My husband and I quickly became huge believers of the "Whatever Works" technique. Alexander was a baby who cried the minute you tried to put him down in a crib or in our bed (believe me, we quickly threw the towel in there), he would wake up repeatedly during the night and would only fall back to sleep drinking one of the MANY bottles (milk, chamomile, water...) on the couch while I watched some middle-of-the- night show on the Discovery Channel (this is how I found out that catching lobsters is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, so not a total waste of time).
I wondered if it was my fault, after all, I had plenty of baby books which I read religiously. Although, my sleep deprived husband, pointed out: "These are not novels! What does it say about sleeping?" He was referring to his sleeping.
But when I reached the words: "Let him cry it out," I knew I just couldn't follow through.

Today his sister Eliot's first grade teacher wrote to say how impressed she is that Eliot brought in a book to read to the class (the duty of the leader) just in case the designated leader, who is right before her on the alphabetical list, was absent. Well, it turned out that girl was sick and so Eliot was ready to be the leader. She had even prepared a Q+A session. What most marvelled the teacher was that she had thought ahead like that. That's Eliot at six. So little and yet so determined.
Alexander may (I said may) not have been as proactive. After all, he has been known to claim: "We have homework but we don't really need to do it..." Huh?
On the other hand, Alexander still worries about whether a new boy at his old school (where Eliot goes) has made friends yet. Nobody beats him in the empathy department. Both great kids but very different. This is why I can't take credit for either of them. Nature over Moms and Dads, my humble advice is to not listen to anybody's advice and to just do....well, whatever works.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alexander's 10 Things I Could Be Doing Instead of Being in a Pool at 7am on a Saturday...

Alexander at the UWC Swimming Championships

1) Watching Top Gear on TV
2) Playing race car games on the Ipad
3) Watching the magician speak at the TED conferences
4) Starting a rare coin collection
5) Checking out new stationery at Smiggle
6) Keeping a balloon up in the air with my little sister
7) Reading the latest Rick Riordan book
8) Convincing my Mom to take me to see the Hunger Games movie
9) Eating waffles
10) Sleeping...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten Things My Mom Told the Kids (that she didn't really need to)

Now this is ragu'...

1. You don't have to go to school if you don't want to. I used to let your Mom stay home all the time.
2. The thunder was so loud last night I thought it was going to break that window right over your bed.
3. Do you want to crack your head open?
4. Who wants to watch Key Largo?
5. Your parents throw everything out.
6. That shelf your Dad put up in the guest room nearly broke my head.
7. If your mother had brought you to Verona for Christmas you would have seen the snow.
8. Of course, you can stay up late and watch TV.
9. Don't forget I'm in touch with the Easter bunny.
10. When I was your age I had a dog.

Friday, March 23, 2012

6 Sure Signs Your Kid Needs a Chinese Tutor

1) She doesn't like characters.
2) She no longer sings the cute songs in Mandarin she sang last year.
3) She cries because she doesn't understand what's going on in class.
4) You dread asking if she has any Chinese homework.
5) All the kids in her class have a Chinese tutor or a Chinese parent.
6) She looks at you and says: "I wish you were Chinese." She's not joking.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Transit: Julian Has Landed!

Yeah, my little bro, Julian is back in town. He's been playing in concert halls all over the world and finally he's arrived in the Lion City. Free wifi and dumplings are just some of the perks he's been promised. Wake-up call at 6 am by his overzealous niece and nephew was not one of them! He'll be playing a benefit concert for Room to Read this Sunday at 3:30 pm at Alliance Francaise off Bukit Timah Rd. I caught up with Julian over a cup of coffee (full disclosure: he is staying in my guest room so it was just down the hall), and even though it's not his first time in Singapore (he played a benefit last year at the Botanic Gardens for 4,000 people), I still figured he'd be a great candidate for my newly started, "In Transit," series.

1) So Julian, what had you heard about Singapore before coming?
Bring your own gum.

2) What was your first impression when you got here?
I was a bit parched (wasn't aware of Tiger Airways' new slogan: Not Even Water).

3) What is the first thing you ate?
Pizza, I am Italian after all.

4) How is Singapore different from New York City?
No police sirens, come to think of it, no police.

5) What do you want to do while you're here?
Well, besides my concert, I need to give a piano lesson to the silent auction winner who bid $2,700 for an hour of my time. Which begs the question, how does one dress for such an occasion?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Transit: Carefree Clare

Launching today, In Transit, a new series dedicated to friends who are just visiting the Lion City (for business or pleasure). Jetlagged but still witty and athletic (she asks about hiking trails...I look evasive),  is Clare Bundy, an old college friend from Vassar. Hailing from Los Angeles, she has left behind her two darlings Harry and Rosie and her husband James Haygood (the guy who does all the cool superbowl ads). In Singapore on business, Clare is staying at the Marina Bay Sands (pictured above), the iconic hotel and not, as our dear friend Hilary suggested, an attempt by the Italian navy to dock a ship.

1) So Clare, what had you heard about about Singapore before coming?
That it was very clean. A friend may have joked that it is the office park in Asia.

2) What was your first impression when you got here?
I noticed the sign inviting passengers arriving at Changi airport to come visit the butterfly pavilion in Terminal 3. I found that...interesting.

3) What is the first thing you ate here?
Shrimp shumai (dumplings), delicious.

4) How is Singapore different from Los Angeles?
Well, L.A. is spread out and has mountains. You never get a vista's kind of like New York City but greener.

5) What do you want to do while you are here?
Leave the hotel. Which I just did by coming to your house! Oh, and see something older than 30 years.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Special Edition: Interview to General James Dozier

December 17th, 1981.
Most Italians remember this day for the kidnapping of NATO head, General James Lee Dozier, by the terrorist group Red Brigades in Verona, Italy. Exactly thirty years ago, masked men, pretending to be plumbers, gained entry to his house and apprehended him. It would take his wife Judy, gagged and tied, four hours of banging her head against a washing machine to alert the neighbors. At that moment, I was at the theater with my father (I had just turned twelve and this was a birthday present). Shortly after the play had started, carabinieri (Italian police) came into the theater and indicated we needed to follow them (no cell phones then). My father was the NATO liason officer between the Italian and American general. I wouldn't be seeing much of him in the next few weeks.
After a nation-wide search that lasted 42 days, Dozier was freed on January 28th, 1982. The brilliant operation rescue by the NOCS (Italian Special Forces) was over in 90 seconds and miraculously nobody was killed.

General, it's a real pleasure to speak to you. Were you aware at the time you were kidnapped the extent of the search going on for you?

Yes, I was. The guards would bring me international newspapers. They tore out any articles about the kidnapping but they forgot about the table of contents. I was definitely aware of the big manhunt!

You went to West Point Academy and you were in Vietnam. Do you think this equipped you to deal with the ordeal? What strategies did you use?

Well, West Point helped me from a discipline standpoint. I don't think Vietnam helped. What did help was having been sent to the Creative Leadership Center in North Carolina. They have you look at yourself through the eyes of another and put yourself in their shoes. So I did that and made myself a very reliable hostage. That helped a lot. I had had no training at all for a situation like this. I acted by instinct.

What was your first thought when you realized you were being kidnapped?

I wasn't sure what was happening. I was jumped from behind and then got into a fight. My first thought was to get this person off my back. I heard them say: "Sono Brigate Rosse." But after knocking me to the ground, they felt my breath and pulse so I knew they didn't want me dead.

When you relive the moment, would you have reacted differently?

The obvious answer is I wouldn't have opened the door but they had plans for that scenario. They would have thrown down the door. It was a 14 men team with security and back up downstairs.

What was your biggest concern when they apprehended you?

That they would make a mistake and I would die. They had me handcuffed and thrown in the trunk of the car. There were no holes so it got very difficult to breathe. They stopped on the car trip to Padova to open the trunk and let me breathe. My hand were tied and anytime I moved they got tighter. The circulations was cut off. My arms were numb for months.

Have you kept in touch with the NOCS who freed you?

Yes, very closely. I've been back several times. Six years ago,  I re-enacted with them the entire operation at the same apartment for Italian TV.

It has been rumored recently that there may have been 'waterboarding' to find out where you were being held. Any thoughts on that?

I have read the reports but I don't think this is true. I asked extensively how they found out where I was being held and the answer is they found out where the driver was, captured him in bed with his girlfriend. They interrogated them close to each other. When the girlfriend became unglued, the individual who was quite unstable and scared of repercussions, started talking.

I told my son that the first thing you wanted to eat when you were freed was a hamburger. So he wanted me to ask you what type of food you had during your captivity?

I was pretty well fed. Mostly canned food, some pasta. A salad once. One night, I believe it was New Year's, they gave me a glass of wine. You can tell your son that by far the most disagreeable thing was the music they forced me to listen to all day with headphones. It was Acid Rock. I hope he doesn't listen to that.

I don't think so, maybe Johnny Cash. Last question, do you still like Verona?
Are you kidding? I love it!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Julian Is Back!

Yeah, my little bro is coming back to Singapore! Because of his busy touring schedule we don't get to see as much of him as we'd like. Last time he was in Singapore he played at the Botanic Gardens for 4,000 people. Amazing, and to think he's the same little boy who had trouble tying his shoelaces as a kid.
(So he was fourteen, who's counting?)
Finally, he's on his way back to Singapore. After Detroit but before Cambodia. The glamourous life of the concert pianist. (Now let's see, where have I been this past week? Pretty sure I left the house to buy groceries.)

For his one day only performance here in Singapore (Sunday, March 18th), he's promised to have all the kids in the audience come up on stage and sit around the piano. I've warned him but the boy has no fear.

If you would like to see him in action, book your tickets (follow the link below) because seats are going fast. All proceeds of the ticket sales will be going to the charity Room-to-Read.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


(Alexander and Eliot)

This morning, Eliot decides she needs to sit on the one chair (out of the possible six) where Alexander's school project is. After a blood curdling yell...
Alexander: "Can't you use your common sense?"
Eliot: "I don't even know what that means."

On a brighter note, when I ask my kids who their hero is....
Alexander answers: "I know you want me to say you."
No, I don't. I mean unless you want to.
But Eliot responds without hesitation: "Alezander."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ten Sure Signs You Are At A Hair Salon in Singapore

1. They offer you a cup of hot water.
2. Marie Claire is in Chinese.
3. You're the client with the most challenging hair.
4. You can't understand any of the gossip.
5. You bring in your (reluctant) son, who studies Mandarin, so he can tell you if they're talking about you. They are.
6. It's freezing.
7. They give you two oranges for good luck on Chinese New Year.
8. When they say: "Your hair is so curly, lah" it's not in a good way.
9. Describing your desired color as "Copper, you know, like the color of the sun setting on kitchen pots in  Provencal farmhouse," is not a foolproof plan.
10. Those straightened locks smiling back at you from the mirror may stay behind at the hair salon.
I guess you forgot the 100 degree humidity outside.

(Published in Expat Living, April 2012)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10 Questions To An Expat: Eclectic Ellen

Back by popular demand, "10 Questions To An Expat," featuring the lovely Ellen Cholmeley. This British expat likes travelling, hanging out with her daughters (the two angels pictured above), and bringing home stray dogs. Lucky dogs.

1) How long have you lived in Singapore?
Almost six years.

2) Where are you from originally?

3) What brought you here?
We moved here from Hong Kong for my husband Simon's job at Reader's Digest. He has since started his own company Novus Media Solutions (

4) What do you do in your spare time?
When I'm not working at my husband's company, I'm either walking the dogs, helping the charity Room to Read, or carting the girls (Jessica and Maddie) around.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
The food, the wide open green spaces, the weather, home help.

6) What do you like least?
Driving. Nobody signals.

7) Never leave the house without?
A sense of humor...

8) Best weekend trip?

9) Interesting fact most people don't know about you?
I got married in Bali.

10) What advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
Make sure you've got enough money!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Stuff Fifth Graders Say

(My own fifth grader, Alexander)
1) Awesome!
3) Double jinx
4) I don't have any homework.
5) Can we have a double sleepover?
6) Can I bring my skateboard?
7) I wish I were in a dojo.
8) Oh, I didn't know that was a bad word.
9) I just turned on the TV this second.
10) I'm really into technology...can I get an iphone?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stuff First Graders Say

(My own first grader Eliot)
1) You are my second best friend. No, wait, actually you are my third best friend.
2) Let's pretend we're puppies.
3) Wow, you have such a big book bag.
4) I really like him, his hair is so smooth.
5) I missed you with all of my heart.
6) I don't like the holidays because they took away my friends.
7) I can't wait to be six and a half.
8) I wish I could fly.
9) I shouldn't even call you, Daddy, I should call you 'good job.'
10) How tall do I have to be to have a sleepover?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stuff Expat Moms in Singapore Say

It doesn't rain that much...
1. I love the weather here.
2. I hate the weather here.
3. I miss the seasons.
4. Do you have a maid?
5. Should I get my hair rebonded?
6. I'm thinking of getting a car.
7. Don't even think about getting a car.
8. My husband is in China right now.
9. My husband is in India right now.
10. Are you going home for the summer?
11. I'm definitely not going home for the summer.
12. Isn't Singapore Airlines great?
13. I love Bali.
14. Lombok is the way Bali used to be.
15. I read it in the Straits Times.
16. Singapore is so safe.
17. I read the New York Times on line.
18. Where do your kids go to school?
19. Is that fee per year
20. My kids have mycoplasma.
21. My kids need more Mandarin.
22. If I lived in a house I would definitely get a dog.
23. When did you get back?
24. Are you jetlagged?
25. My husband is learning Mandarin...please, let this not mean we're moving to China.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Swimming in an outdoor pool on Christmas day...only in Singapore. As I watch my kids frolicking in the water, I make a mental list of all the other things that make Singapore unique and differentiate it from Verona, Italy (my hometown, but also from most other places).
I came up with 20...can you think of any others?!

1) Parental Guidance No need. Profanity on television is bleeped and there is no nudity. I mean, none. My kids are totally shocked when they watch TV in Italy. And, that's just the commercials.

2) Air Conditioning You may be in a tropical land but... if you are going to the movies, a restaurant, or shopping, prepare to freeze. Bring a sweater.

3) Live-in Maids Cheap labor from Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar. Here, even the maids have maids.

4) School Etiquette Currently there is a debate as to whether teachers have the right to cut off their student's hair. Conclusion being yes if it's longer than the standard allowed or if the student has already been given prior warning. Students wear uniforms, no jewellery, no make-up. No bullying over sneakers.

5) Construction Work Ubiquitous working sites, trees being cut down, and consequent loud just don't hear this in Verona. As my kids see it: "That's because everything is already done in Italy."

6) Food Courts Fantastic culinary oases, open all day and late into the night, where you can eat all sorts of delicious, inexpensive meals. Indian curries, Korean kimchi, chicken rice...all for $5 (less than a coffee at Starbucks). In some courts, you can use a special debit card that can be topped up at the entrance. BYON (Bring your own napkins; actually, an ingenious way to cut down on waste.)

7) Tuition...for kindergarteners? Do you remember when you were little and couldn't wait for school to be over so you could go out and play? At first, I wondered where all the Singaporean kids were and then I was told they have tuition after class. In kindergarten? How far behind are they?

8) Cheap Taxis Very, very cheap. The price of an espresso at a bar in Italy. Albeit, one where you pay extra to sit down.

9) No Seasons This is actually a stereotype. It's not always very hot and humid. Sometimes, it's just hot and humid.

10) Singlish So, is the national language English or Chinese? Nobody really knows. The government can't make up it's mind and there are too many dialects to consider. No bother, most Singaporeans speak Singlish. Not always clear as certain answers sound like questions and vice-versa. "Can I have some coffee?" Can. Can. (So, is that a yes or an invitation to break into a French dance routine?)

11) Racial Harmony Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, know, any excuse for a party. Seriously, it's great.

12) Unemployed Immigrants Nonexistent. Unlike Italy, where this is huge problem, there are no unemployed foreign workers here. You can only come into the country if you have a job and if you lose it you have exactly two weeks to find another one. If you don't, your visa expires and you need to leave the country.

13) Chewing Gum Banned, although rumor has it you can now buy generic gum at the pharmacies for medical purposes. But for the kind that tastes delicious and makes big bubbles you'll have to go abroad. Oh, and if you are caught importing it into the country you will be fined.

14) Caning Used to be widely accepted form of punishment in schools and homes, now it's mostly just used in prison...and my house. (But that's just when Alexander forgets his homework at school.) Anyway, if you're thinking of indulging in graffitti or scratching up somebody's car with a key you can expect to be caned. And, the law is really the same for everybody (i.e. President Clinton was unable to get American teenager, Michael Fay, pardoned).

15) Expat Haven Thanks to the strong multicultural and international presence it's very easy to make friends.

16) Very High Car Tax Levies Annoying for most expats, but actually a great way to fight pollution and traffic. And, encourage people to use public bus and metro lines.

17) EZ-Link Very cool card that everybody carries. It can be used to pay for bus fares, metros...and even McDonalds (think carefully before revealing this to your kids).

18) Swimming Pools They are ubiquitous in condos but you won't see many local kids swimming in them. They're at tuition.

19) Good Manners Remember to take your shoes off before entering a house, give your business card with two hands, and distribute oranges at Chinese New Year. You will be asked back.

20) Swimming in December Jump in the pool...where else can you do that?

(Photo: Alexander and Eliot taking advantage of living in sunny Singapore)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

10 Questions To Alexander, age 10

I don't have anything to read
Besides watching Mythbusters on TV and tracking his Razor Ultra Pro scooter on its way via Amazon, Alexander enjoys fencing, reading and tickling his sister.

1) Alexander, what is your favorite food?

2) What is your favorite drink?
Root beer.

3) What do you like best about Singapore?
All the expats have private pools. I also like how quickly you can make a friend.

4) What is the worst thing about Singapore?
The unpredictable weather.

5) What do you like to do most in Singapore?
Swim and hang out with my friends.

6) Do you like the weather in Singapore?
No, definitely not.

7) What do you like best about Italy?
Why Italy? Oh... the beach by the seaside and the weather.

8) What do you like to do in Verona?
Play basketball with Ale.

9) Have you ever actually seen snow?
Yes, in New Zealand and in Germany.

10) Where would you rather live? Verona or Singapore?
That depends. Singapore because of how quickly you can make friends. Verona because of the weather.

(Image above chosen by interviewee.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

10 Questions To Eliot, Age 6

Alexander started school yesterday but Eliot's school doesn't start until after the Chinese New Year holidays, on February 1st. That's another 3 weeks. But who's counting?
Besides watching episodes of "Puppy in My Pocket" (the Italian show: "Cuccioli cerca amici") she enjoys reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," (with her Mom), and playing hide and seek with her brother.

1) Eliot, what is your favorite food?
Curry noodles.

2) What is your favorite drink?

3) What do you like best about Singapore?
Every single thing.

4) What is the worst thing about Singapore?
Nothing. Bad guys, like thieves.

5) What do you like to do most in Singapore?

6) Do you like the weather in Singapore?
No, because it never snows.

7) What do you like best about Italy?
The merry-go-round. And, it snows.

8) What do you like to do in Verona?
When it's snowing play with snowballs. Have brioches.

9) Have you ever actually seen snow?

10) Where would you rather live? Verona or Singapore?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Random Things I Learned in 2011...

Plant with a view

My students assumed the term 'teenager' was more of a mental than a numeric reference. Not completely wrong.

Thomas Hardy...where have you been all my life?

If you eat even one single oreo, right before you fall down from a slide and need stitches, you will have to wait five hours before getting the general anesthesia for surgery (Eliot).

Kindergarteners cooking in class: it's all fun and games until someone gets salmonella. And needs to be hospitalized with severe dehydration (Eliot, again).

My husband is a better cook than I am (just wondering why he waited 14 years to prove it...)

After a life-long rejection of fantasy books, I finally succumbed and read one of Alexander's Christmas presents: Eragon...who knew?

Eliot prefaces most of her questions with: "In real life?" which leads me to suspect she's living in a parallel universe.

Changing schools has in no way influenced the amount of time Alexander dedicates to homework.

Gardening is possible even in a high rise Singapore condo (see photo).