Monday, December 28, 2015

Writer's Block

"Writer's block is just an excuse people use when they can't write but they still want to be writers." 
Alexander keeping it real.
On the flip side, the house is clean, I learned how to cook lasagna, and I've read a gazillion books. If only writing books were as easy as reading them. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Twas the Night Before Christmas

(Eliot has been writing her letter to Santa for an hour. It's like Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle" with foam stickers.)

Some questions in the letter: 
Am I on the naughty list? If yes, how do I get back on the nice list?
Are my parents on the naughty list? Because they don't get a lot of presents.
What's your phone number?
Can you wake me up when you come so I can see you?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Wishes

I see you put a reindeer on your Christmas list, Eliot. 
"Do you think Santa will leave me one when he comes?" 
Hard to say. 
"Maybe, I should have put down a polar bear as well." 
Don't you think it would be hard for a polar bear to live in Singapore? 
"We could always move to Antarctica..."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Off the Grid (aka Sentosa)

Off the Grid: A Day in Sentosa. As my friend Anna joked when I told her: "You left the island? Wild day for you then." But it had been a couple of years, so I decided to give it another try. Delicious seafood buffet, peacocks, and most importantly no sunstroke...I may be a convert. Just 20 minutes from the city and you don't have to pack, my idea of a vacation (or staycation). It's like being in Bali without the plane trip. Bintan without the ferry ride. No airport immigration lines, you get the picture. The only downside of a fancy hotel buffet: watching your kid eat rice instead of roast beef and the Christmas themed cupcakes you are forced to smuggle in your handbag. (Photos by Eliot)

Not the Sentosa I remember.

Prawns anyone?

Peacock in Singapore by Eliot

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advice My Parents Gave Me...When I Was a Kid

Some habits are harder to quit than others.

From my mother, the idealist:

1) Never tell someone you hate them...only that you are disappointed in them.

2) Never give two presents, it minimizes both.

3) A hand made card is preferable to a store bought one.

4) Shoulders back when you walk.

5) If you're invited to someone's house always bring something.

6) Remember to send a thank you card after a dinner or party.

7) You get more flies with honey than vinegar.

8) If a friend talks badly to you about another friend behind their back, chances are they are talking behind your back as well.

9) When complaining at a shop or restaurant, don't start out with the complaint but with telling them how much you have always loved coming there and what a loyal customer you are (see point 7).

From my father, the practical one:

1) Always wear a scarf in a cold climate. It's the most important piece of clothing.

2) Always shake off all the drops after a shower as it makes drying with a towel much easier.

3) Make sure you have good light when you are reading.

4) Always bring something to read when you go out.

5) When possible, avoid calling. Writing is always best.

6) Go to the gym. Every day and early as possible.

7) Eat a healthy breakfast.

8) Never talk about politics with friends.

9) Don't always walk the same route to school.

10) Don't complain, don't explain.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Some Considerations at the Gym

1) Based on the type of exercises I do at the gym, it is entirely possible people think I am recovering from some sort of sports injury. Should someone actually ask if that is indeed the case, I am prepared to answer that question with a question. "Have you heard of bobsledding?" or "Who would have thought water skiing could be dangerous?"

2) My son claims that now that I started going to the gym, I work that bit of information into every possible conversation. "You want a snack? Why just this morning at the gym..." It's just that as a conversation opener, it sounds more credible than: "Over a second helping of pecan pie..."

3) In Singapore, the gym is either freezing (somebody just left) or feels like a sauna (you're the first person there).

4) From the windows of the gym (never to be opened), you can see everything that's going on in the condo. You can spot the residents who wade in the pool fully dressed, leave the garbage right next to the bin, keep school buses waiting, car motors idling, smoke in the no smoking area, use the common condo showers instead of their own to save on hot water. You're like a human CCTV only on a treadmill.

5) The gym equipment indicating heart rate is very likely faulty. It's either that or I am having a heart attack.

6) Exercise induced allergic reaction is a real thing. Google it. This explains so much.

7) Fully dressed guy in blue jeans and long shirt working out next to me. One question. Why?

8) It's always a pleasant surprise to see the treadmill workout summary say "Good job" and not: "Are you crazy? Does your doctor know you're doing this?"

Sunday, December 6, 2015

No Love Lost...for the Ballet

"What's happening?"
Twenty minutes into Swan Lake, Alexander leans over and whispers: "Will there be any talking at all?" Eh no, it's a ballet, remember?
A few minutes later, Eliot chimes in: "I don't get what they're talking about...because they are not talking."
What exactly were you expecting when I said we were going to the ballet?
"The theater. Like Matilda." That was a musical.

(Note to self: when bringing kids to the ballet for the first time possibly mention the lack of dialogue.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Toughest Crowd

Don't forget to read the small print.
I was looking forward to speaking to Eliot's class today...then she handed me these notes (see photo). The kind of rules and regulations you might see when signing a rental contract...only more detailed and with smaller handwriting. I guess winging it was no longer an option. These were tough guidelines to follow and point n.5 to 'make jokes along the way,' wasn't as comforting as you might think. And just in case I was feeling overly buoyant, at bedtime she added in a sweet, conspiratorial tone: "I really don't get your book."
Still, I arrived at her school fairly confident, after all I had gotten this book past the entire editorial team of Marshall Cavendish, a reputable publishing house. Surely a couple of fourth graders couldn't scare me. Since I was a little early, I checked out the lost and found which according to my children is strictly off limits to kids. Retrieving the many assorted plastic food containers lost in the past few months further boosted my spirits.
Ms. Roxanne Walker, the teacher was very welcoming and the kids were engaged, although we were off to a bit of a rough start when I showed them the cover of my book: "Diary of an Expat in Singapore," and they asked me what an expat was. Telling them that they were all expats surprisingly came as a revelation. "We are?!" After some debate, it was agreed that expat kids like air conditioning, long plane trips, roti prata, and wearing sweaters, but most importantly have passports from other countries. I then asked them to reveal one true thing about themselves as a way of differentiating fiction from non-fiction. One kid noted that in Singapore only people at airports wear jeans. Another that people wear shorts, while back home they wear long pants. Another that when you leave an air conditioned building, it feels like hot air envelopes your entire body. Another that he really liked cold air....I was starting to notice a pattern. And somewhat predictably, when I asked about zodiac signs their answers were all animals. Yep, expat kids.
Afterwards, outside the classroom, Eliot confided that she had been a little worried but that her classmates liked me. I guess sharing the chapter about Eliot as a five year old was a good idea. It's incredible how funny a five year old can appear to a ten year old. It's all about perspective. Especially, the revelation that she had once said to a host: "My name is Eliot and my Daddy ate a rabbit," brought a huge laugh from the class. Disturbingly true, yet clearly still a crowd pleaser.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Past

My first pecan pie*
When I was a kid, growing up in Verona and attending the local Italian school, Thanksgiving was just another Thursday for my classmates. But for my brother Stephen and me it was special. We would race home after school in the cold November fog, climbing the marble stairs of our old apartment building two at a time, into a house already full of delicious smells from my mother's cooking. My two great aunts, Josie and Milly, would be cheerfully setting the table and helping out on what was indisputably their favorite holiday of the year. My uncle Brother (that's what my Mom called him so that's what we ended up calling him) would be there, having just arrived by train for the long weekend and there would be the usual discussion about whether it made any sense to cook lasagna since there was already so much food. "We won't enjoy the turkey." "Oh, we definitely will," Josie and Milly would reassure everybody. They were very much pro pasta regardless of what food the occasion might warrant. Milly had once confided in me, on one of my visits home from college, that my mother was getting away with murder (she had my full attention until I realized she was referring to the fact that my mother no longer cooked first and second course meals but just one or the other, and sometimes skipped pasta altogether).
Before Josie and Milly moved in with us (allegedly just for Christmas as my father was quick to point out), they lived with Uncle Brother. But things didn't go quite so smoothly. And they definitely came to a head on the Thanksgiving he woke up to discover that at 10 am they had already eaten the entire dinner without him. "Don't worry," they reassured him, "We'll eat a second dinner with you later." In fairness, they did wake up early. Like 4:00 am early. Milly used to take Penny out for a walk at that hour (Penny was a doberman pincher) occasionally shocking the neighbors who were certainly not expecting a doberman to come bounding down the stairs just as they were coming home from a late night out.
Sometimes, we invited an Italian friend over for Thanksgiving. An interesting cultural exchange often ensued, as the guest politely noted: "Corn on the cob? Interesting. We usually give that to livestock. And this is pumpkin pie? I guess you need an acquired taste for that. Root beer? Smells like the medicine my grandmother uses for back pain."
As I make my very first pecan pie today, with kids of my own about to come home from school (and probably marvel at the fact that I have made a pie from scratch and not just bought one from a shop), I think of Josie and Milly. And wish I could share it with them. Perhaps, with some whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or the way they liked it served best, after a pasta dish.

* Yes, you can get pecans in Singapore. In fact, since it rained all day yesterday, I had all necessary ingredients delivered by this wonderful family owned local grocery I just discovered

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Letting Go

My son says he doesn't want me to come to his swim meet this Saturday. "Absolutely not." On the one hand, this means not spending 7 hours (at the very least) on a bleacher in the Singapore sun, on the other hand, this is my fourteen year old who doesn't need me to watch him any longer. That can't be right. Is this the same kid who used to ask me to watch him play in the playground? I remember that clearly because I really wanted to read my book. "I'm going to play but you have to watch me, ok?" Or the little boy who used to sit on my lap while we watched The Jungle Book every single day after preschool? Surely not the same child who used to ask to hold my hair scrunchie, when we were visiting my parents and I had to momentarily leave the room, "So I know you will come back." I did have an unhealthy attachment to my scrunchie, the boy was observant like that.
Today parents were invited to attend an art class at my daughter's school. It's her last period, so naturally I assume she will ditch the school bus afterwards and just come home with me. But no, I am wrong. "I'm going to take the school bus home, is that ok?" Of course, it is ok. It's better than ok because this is the single thing I was most worried about when she started this new school: the 40 minute school bus ride. In fact, this is really great news. And it's also wonderful that my son is confident and independent enough to go to swim meets on his own now. But there's something else I can't put my finger on. Somewhere, deep down it also hurts a little. I guess that's what being a parent is about: being happy, even when it hurts a little.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Musings of a Ten Year Old

"Last night I dreamt we lived in an RV."

Yesterday morning at the US embassy, as we hand over all our phones, watches, and bags to the security guards, Eliot asks: "Are we being robbed?"

"Was that a good cartwheel? Don't tell me as a Mom, just as a normal person."

"Mom, this is the best dinner I ever had... but that could also be because I am starving."

"Now I'm as tall as Alexander is when he's sitting down."

"Mom, we're building a parkour course in the living room."

Climbing Mount Everest, swimming across the English channel, running the Boston marathon... "What about being a movie star and having your name in lights on your door, Alexander?...Is that also on your budget list?" 

"What is a trick question?" (Wait, is that a trick question?)

"If we were both in heaven, could I find you?"

"Does Santa Claus come when you're in college? " Yes Eliot, it's called tuition.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ceci n'est pas une pipe...

A little Magritte to brighten up the day.

Don't look've got some fans.

Good chance for Mom to enjoy a cappuccino and catch up on some reading.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stoked in Singapore

The haze is lifting and barbecue season is alive and kicking. Last night I was invited to the launch of a new gourmet bbq catering aptly called Stoke The professional chef explained how the only seasoning needed is some salt and pepper because the meats (hailing from Australia) are that savory on their own. An understatement-the food was delicious! I would love them to cater any party of mine. And it's a comfort to know that if you're having a party, the chef will be the one doing all the cooking. All you need to do is relax, sip a cold beer (perhaps draft on demand), and watch the guests enjoy the food.

Delicious grass fed organic meats

Barbecue catered al fresco

Relax by the pool while private chef cooks up a feast

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hazy Nights

Forgot my glasses, again.
Even as the haze wreaks havoc on Singapore, it's business as usual for those who like to go out and about. That wouldn't be me, but occasionally I make an exception for some cultural interaction or what I like to call: wine with a view. And from the tallest building in Singapore, the view is definitely assured even with a PSI level in the unhealthy range. It helps to pretend it's winter in Verona when the entire city is cloaked in a thick fog.
Expat Living Magazine was celebrating the launch of a cooking series hosted by Altitude-1's Chef Chris Millar. I really can't wait to see the videos and hopefully add to my simple (very simple) dinner repertoire. And as my eldest son Alexander will attest, I need all the help I can get in that department. In fact, I almost suspect he masterminded the whole event. The boy is always hungry.
Just the other night, as I thoughtfully offered him a piece of cheese after swimming practice, he asked: "What is this House on the Prairie?"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Young Expats Grow Up

Alexander on his way to represent Turkey at Model United Nations at his school UWC

Defining Turkey's position on the Syrian refugee crisis (photo by Kit Ling)

One of the greatest things (and biggest challenges) about growing up as an expat is the daily contact with people from all over the world. The Model United Nations conference held at Alexander's school this past weekend, merely reiterated on a diplomatic scale what he gets to experience on a social level every day. He shared the early morning rides to the conference with a friend from Aberdeen, met students from Cambodia and the Philippines, ate yummy samosas during break with kids from Australia and Thailand. Together, they tackled the complex issues dominating the news, passed notes to the cutest delegates (this is High School after all), and came away with a better understanding of just how very connected we all really are. And hopefully, their world just got a little bit smaller.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ten Things I Did This Morning On My Daughter's First Day at a New School

"You can get off the bus now, Mom."

1) I marvelled at how quickly she jumped up from her bed and got dressed like a serious little soldier, her grandfather Nonno Mario would have been proud. When she asked me if she had put her skirt on backwards-she had- I said yes, helped her straighten it and didn't make a joke.

2) I prepared breakfast which she didn't eat. I said that was fine since I wasn't usually hungry at 6:00 am either. I put it all in baggies and placed it in her bag so she could eat it when she got to school.

3) I tied her hair in a pony tail because it looked neater that way. After all, she was on her way to school not a fashion show. I didn't tell her that.

4) I put the double band aids on the back of her feet so her new shoes wouldn't hurt.

5) I prepared her lunch box and enough snacks to last the entire day of school, possibly week: fruit salad, pretzels, cookies, kale chips (bought on request of her older brother who keeps us up to date on nutritious snacks). I remembered to include a napkin and a fork.

6) I slipped a little note in her lunch box wishing her good luck on her first day of school.

7) I purposedly didn't fill up her water bottle. I wouldn't want her to drink on the bus and then feel nauseous. She can fill it at school like her brother does.

8) I accompanied her downstairs for her bus in the darkness that is Singapore at 6:50 am all year round, even in the middle of August. I thought about how, thank God, we would no longer have to wait, scheme, and beg for a taxi to pick us up on the side of the road this year. I kind of missed it already.

9) I took the obligatory photo which she smiled for and her brother, a brand new high schooler, merely tolerated. Actually getting on the bus to take it may have been a bit much, but that won't be happening again, I promise.

10) I came back upstairs to a very quiet house, made coffee, and then realized I had forgotten to give her a hug goodbye.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You Can Take The Girl Out of Singapore...

... but you can't take Singapore out of the girl!

Eliot on the Amalfi Coast, mecca of foodies everywhere, eating the curry noodles she packed in her valise to use for emergencies; such as feeling poorly because of an ear infection. Some choose macaroni and cheese as a comfort food...others choose curry noodles.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Beware: Crocodiles in Singapore

My kind of crocodile! (photo creds to Andrew Pearce)

"Crocodiles can't jump out of the water, can they?" 
No Eliot, they prefer staying in the water. 
"And they don't like eating people?" 
No, they don't like eating people. 
"Because they did eat Captain Hook's hand." 
That's just a movie. 
"I know that's just a movie. But, what if you fall into the water, and your hand is close to their mouth...then they will eat it, right?"
Ah, the class trip to the Singapore Wetland Reserve.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Worst Parenting Moment

Sure, some nudity. It's Italy after all.
Last night after dinner.
Alexander, would you say my worst parenting moment was letting you and your sister have slingshots or watch La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) last summer?
Eliot: "Oh yeah, I remember when that naked woman runs into the wall."
You remember that? I was really counting on the jetlag to kick in...
Alexander: "No, probably that other movie was worse with all the naked men jumping into the pond."
A Room with a View? I last saw that in college. All I remembered was the girl with the curly hair and the beautiful countryside.
Eliot: "That was so funny."
Okay, so that was my worst parenting moment? Letting you and your little sister watch A Room with a View. We can all agree on that?
Alexander: "No. Right now is your worst parenting moment. I'm trying to do my homework and you keep asking me questions."
You're right...anybody want to watch The Bicycle Thief?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Verona

"Did you remember your ticket?"

Yesterday after school, Alexander went on his own to buy a snorkel and new goggles. The shop is pretty far from our house but since I was staying home with Eliot and a friend of hers, he assured me that he would be fine getting there alone. Before leaving the house, we mapped out exactly which bus he would need to take. Bus 124 in the direction of St. Andrew's Cathedral alighting at Colemant St. I reminded him that on the way back he would need to cross the street before getting bus 124, in order to get the 124 going in the opposite direction (back to our house). I imagine that in his joy at holding his much desired snorkel and goggles, he completely forgot this tiny detail.
As soon as he texted me: "This bus is traveling in the strangest places," I realized he was on the wrong bus. Or more specifically, on the right bus but in the wrong direction. I quickly texted back: "Get off at the next stop and cross the street, then board the same number bus. And you will reach home." By the time he got home, it was dark outside but he wasn't overly perturbed. Nor was I, since he had texted me again from the correct bus saying he was on his way.

This brought me back to when I was 11 and the same thing happened to me. The 'only' difference was that, of course, I didn't have a phone and so couldn't receive that vital piece of advice from my mom of getting off the bus and crossing the street. I decided, instead, that the best course of action was to stay on the bus; figuring that eventually the bus would do some sort of loop and go all the way back to the original stop I had boarded at. But that's not what happened.
The bus drove further away into the countryside until the streets were completely unrecognizable. One by one, the passengers got off until, to my utter dismay, I was the only one left. I was a little scared but completely froze when the bus came to a complete halt in the middle of an open field. I remember thinking this can't be happening to me. I was a precocious child who read a lot, so worse case scenarios flooded my brain, I crouched under the seat. To this day, I have never felt that scared and helpless. Eventually, I mustered enough courage to ask the bus driver (in a shaky voice) why the bus had stopped.
The driver nonchalantly pulled out a sandwich and said he was on his break. No other details. In retrospect, he could have reassured a little girl, who was obviously lost and scared that we would soon be on our way, but I guess he wasn't the chatty, comforting type.
Finally, the bus started its engine and slowly passengers started boarding again. After getting off at my stop, I ran all the way home straight into my mother's arms. I guess this means I'll stop grumbling about his having a phone. Snapchat? Now, that's another story...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

All Things Considered

A Chair with a View (photo creds to Alexander)

So Alexander, what do you remember best about last summer?
"That night when I dipped those cantucci biscuits in Vin Santo while we were watching "La Grande Bellezza," in that farmhouse in Tuscany."
Seriously? And I thought he was going to say when I bought him a slingshot...
It's like the boy is living in a Bertolucci film.
I feel like my work here is done.

When the Cat is Away...

A sure sign your (Italian) Dad is away: dinner at 5 pm. In fairness, when there are dumplings this good to be had, any time is a good eat.

Can we have more?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dear Diary...of An Expat in Singapore

Over the years, this blog has received countless emails asking for advice on the disparate topics concerning life as an expat. And even though I am not an advice columnist, I have always enjoyed hearing from readers, recognizing many of their concerns as the ones I faced before starting my own expat journey, and trying to answer them to the best of my ability. I wanted to share some of the most poignant, right here on the blog, in the hope that other readers might find the words useful as well.

Dear Diary of An Expat in Singapore,

I am very worried about moving to Singapore with my husband and toddler. My husband says this is the chance of a lifetime. (We would be coming for his career.) But I'm not so sure. I will be leaving behind my family, friends, and my job. Basically everything I know and I will be alone with my two year old son. I've been reading your blog and it sounds like you have a wonderful life there. What do you think I should do?
Signed Jitters

Dear Jitters,

When I was ten, my parents took me out of the international school I had been attending and put me in a local Italian one. I went from being a straight A student to feeling like the dumbest student in the class because I didn't know how to read or write in Italian. All the things I loved about my old school, the amazing library where I would lose myself in books during lunchtime, the spelling bees, the poetry classes I loved, didn't exist in the new school. I felt like a misfit. I was miserable and started having headaches. The feeling of being thrown in the deep end and sense of insecurity stayed with me a long time. The only thing that made it bearable were my new classmates, intrigued by the new student, they rallied around me and helped me. That, and the feeling that I absolutely didn't want to fail at this new endeavor.

Jitters, I'm not going to lie, moving halfway across the world is not going to be easy.You are leaving behind a lot, almost everything that defines you. Some people would jump at the chance to re-invent themselves, but you are not one of them. You didn't say much about your job but I'm going to assume it's one that doesn't pay anywhere near your husband's but is something you love doing. Possibly something you got after a long, expensive liberal arts education. You are probably feeling something akin to bitterness at being 'asked' to give it all up but are having a hard time putting it into words without sounding petty or like a major downer.
Jitters, there is nothing more destabilizing to a marriage than having one spouse completely gung-ho about a decision that concerns the family, while the other spouse has grave misgivings. Except for maybe not saying anything at all until the resentment builds up to a boiling point. You need to talk to your husband before that point and share your doubts. Get him to promise he will be supportive and helpful and all that mumbo jumbo. Appreciate his best intentions but then realize that in reality there's not a lot he is actually going to do. And that's not because he doesn't love you but it's because he is going to be knee deep in a new job with new colleagues which most likely involves a lot of travel and long hours. The bottom line is you are going to be on your own...a lot, with a toddler.  Oh, he might bring his single, male colleague home for dinner on a Saturday night because that's what he thought you meant when you told him you wanted to see more people. (Try not to hold that one against him too much) but really your happiness and serenity is going to be up to you.
My best piece of advice is for you to travel light, come with an open mind, and a sense of humor. Surround yourself with people who are in a similar position as you: newly arrived expats with small children. Do not splurge on a babysitter to go out for late night drinks with that young, childless couple you just met by the pool. These are not your people. At least, not for the time being. Spend time getting to know that other frazzled looking mom at the playground. She may not be the one you envisioned being your bff but right now one hour with her will be more comforting and relaxing than ten with someone without children. And if her kid is slightly older than yours, that's a bonus. You'll get concrete tips on how to get your kid potty trained or how to eat veggies. Form a playgroup. Possibly over strong coffee. Next, get somebody to help you clean the house. Just because you left your low-paying job back at home editing articles, does not mean you want to suddenly start cleaning toilets. Find a nice preschool where you can drop your child off for a few hours a day, explore the city, look into volunteering, sign up to become a museum docent, maybe learn Mandarin. Slowly but surely, those jitters will disappear and one day, you will realize that your biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with's the discovery of your own self-reliance. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Man is his own star."

Best of luck, Diary of An Expat in Singapore

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thank You, Random Construction Site.

Thank you, random construction site for almost totally obstructing the view from our balcony. All that gorgeous greenery had actually gotten to be a drag. Who needs to see tropical vegetation outside when you can just switch on the National Geographic Channel. And it's so much more interesting to see another high rise condo. Not to mention, the added bonus of non stop drilling and hammering this past year...Let's just hope the neighbors are friendly.

"We remembered the elevator, right?"

Monday, January 12, 2015

There's No Place Like Carnegie...

Sometimes, it would be nice to close my eyes and just tap my heels, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to get to a place that is faraway. A place, for example, like New York City. I heard there was a sold out concert last night at Carnegie Hall. Well done, Julian!
"How do you get to Carnegie?" (photo creds Carolyn Youri)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Breakdown in Communication

When you have no idea what your child is saying... And they're not even a teenager.

"So basically, what you're saying have a great mom?"