Sunday, 19 February 2012

For Ellie

 I was sure my sister was having a baby boy.

For the last couple months of her pregnancy, she endured more painful swelling and discomfort than she ever had during her previous two pregnancies. Those both ended up being girls, so baby number three just HAD to be a boy! I was sure of it! He's tormenting his poor mother already, I would think to myself, hating the fact that my sister wasn't feeling well, but somehow smiling just the same as I pictured a highly energetic little guy rolling around in her belly, wreaking havoc on her poor legs. So typical of boys...

But what I mistook for a spry, mischievous little boy was actually a sweet and very sick little girl.

Baby Ellie was born eight weeks early, and even though the doctors and nurses did everything in their power to keep her alive—even though my family, friends, and people I had never even met prayed ceaselessly through the night and all the following day—Ellie was unable to overcome her illness, and passed away less than forty-eight hours after she was born.

There is really no way to describe—or in words to do justice toward—the feelings associated with the death of a child. I've lost other family members in the past, but they were my grandparents. When they passed away, I grieved, but I also took great comfort in knowing they left us with hundreds of wonderful stories to tell—stories that continue to keep them alive in our hearts, and several of which still make me laugh out loud to this day.

But what about Ellie? She passed away without any stories to tell. And that, for me, is the most tragic aspect to her death. It's something that claws at my chest and presses against my heart. It's what makes me suddenly burst into tears, usually at the strangest and most inopportune times (like while watching Dagny give high fives to an Indian couple seated next to us on the train).

I try not to ever ask, Why did this happen? Beyond the medical diagnosis (it turned out Ellie had Fifths Disease), I think this is a dangerous question to contemplate. The reason is as simple as the answer: We don't know why. The death of an innocent child never makes any sense. To ponder the question beyond that means risking a terrible fall into depression—the kind where a person can view God or even life in general with a sense of hostility. So even though I am devastated over the loss of my niece, I also make sure to take daily comfort in knowing that my sister is okay. Her health, as it turns out, was also in jeopardy during the time of Ellie's birth. And as strange as it may sound, I am so incredibly thankful that Ellie passed the way she did—surrounded by family, comfortable in my sister's arms, and lovingly adored by hundreds.

A lot has happened in the past six weeks... a trip to Thailand, a visit from my parents, Chinese New Year... but I'm not ready to write about any of it. Not yet. A few times I've tried, but my fingers always seem to fall limp on my keyboard before I even type one sentence. When I plug in my camera to download my photos, I immediately unplug it again. I honestly don't know when I'll be ready to post another blog entry. Maybe when it doesn't hurt so much to breathe. Maybe when my world doesn't feel quite so consumed by Ellie's absence from it. Maybe then... but not right now.

Right now is for Ellie, a tiny rose bud in her mother's arms, unable to bloom, but still breathtakingly beautiful in all our eyes. We will love you always, sweet Ellie.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
May angels carry me through the night,
And wake me up in Heaven's light.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy New Year

2011 will certainly go down as being one of my most adventure-packed years on record. It's difficult to wrap my head around all that has occurred in just twelve months... Sipping coffee while watching Charlie Sheen implode on the Today Show seems like ages ago! Ahhh... I do miss those mornings. Thank goodness we still have the Kardashians to make fun of.

The holidays this year were quite overwhelming for Brad and me. It all started with a trip back to the States for Thanksgiving, which included lots of food, lots of rain, and lots of catching up with friends and family. We were frequently asked if it felt strange to be back... and for the most part, it didn't.

Of course, there was the initial shock of seeing so many Caucasians when we first landed in Chicago. As I glanced pie-eyed around the terminal, the first words to leave my lips were: "Everyone's so big!" Yes, I do mean overweight, but I also mean tall, broad-shouldered, and, for lack of a better term, big-footed. I've grown accustomed to living in Singapore, where my 5'6" height could place me in a premier basketball league (even without any hand-eye coordination), clerks shake their heads when I tell them I wear a size 9 shoe, and my 128-lb. frame gets ushered to the XL and XXL racks in clothing stores. Even Dagny seemed a little overwhelmed by the Chicago crowd. While waiting for our flight to Cleveland, she looked cautiously around at everyone seated by the gate (not at all her usual, bubbly self), then after a minute or two, she let out a gleeful shriek and ran straight into the lap of the only Asian woman in the entire terminal. No joke. The look of shock on the woman's face was priceless, and Brad said it might be time to hang a mirror up in Dagny's room... Does she know she actually has blonde hair and blue eyes?

Other obvious differences: It felt odd to be in a car again (I waited almost two weeks before deciding to attempt driving... don't worry, everyone is still alive and my mom's car is un-dinged) and more specifically, it was a little unnerving to see so many SUVs on the road!

But all the daily aspects of Stateside life soon became routine. Sprawling suburban neighborhoods with backyards and barbeque pits were once again normal, walk-in pantries stocked with Fritos and Dr. Pepper no longer made my hands tremble, and I stopped drooling over the Jetsons-esque dishwasher in my parents' kitchen. After a couple of days, it started to feel like I'd only been in Singapore for a few weeks, instead of 8 months.

I didn't like this feeling. Not one bit.

Perhaps it was because it took me a long time to achieve a sense of place and belonging in Singapore—to find familiar "me" spots, friends, new comfort foods, and an understanding of the community around me—a time during which I actually felt the weight and drain of every passing week, day, hour, minute. There were times when Brad would say something like, "Can you believe we've already been here 3 months?" and I would burst into tears, certain it was closer to three years. But when I was back in the States, my life in Singapore suddenly felt like a distant and barely experienced dream. Everything I worked so hard to attain was gone in an instant. The "battles" I faced and pulled myself through were nothing more than foggy memories. And like I said, I didn't like it.

Our three weeks in Ohio passed in something of a blur. There was food. Lots of food. There were several trips to my personal Mecca (also known as Target). There were two failed trips to see Santa Claus... Dagny was seriously freaked out, mostly by his beard. Have I mentioned Asians don't have facial hair? I never really thought about that fact or noticed much until I witnessed Dagny's reaction to mustaches and beards over Thanksgiving.

When it came time to leave the States and head back home, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was ready to get back to Singapore. Believe it or not, some of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome have become some of my favorite aspects to living here. Like me not having a car. It actually bugged me that we had to drive everywhere in the States. I missed walking. I missed public transportation, eating outdoors, and interacting with people from all over the world. Whether waiting for the elevator in our apartment building, riding the train, or perusing the wet market, everyone in Singapore is always chatting, always smiling, always waving to Dagny or simply nodding hello to me as we pass one another on the footbridge. But back in the States, I felt a little hollow when it came to interacting with other people. Or rather, the lack of interaction with other people. The space between neighborhood houses seemed standoffish to me at times. At the grocery store, everyone arrived in their own car, with their heads bent over their own agendas, and no one stopped to speak with one another unless it was with someone they already knew. Granted, it was the holidays (we're all in a hurry, right?) and it was winter... in Ohio... which meant cold rain was falling about 80 percent of the time. Not exactly prime conditions to chat someone up in the parking lot.

I definitely missed the "people" quotient to life in Singapore. Though I'll admit, when the tenants above me are renovating their apartment and the ones below me use curry and garlic in EVERY meal they make, the idea of a house surrounded by a yard and a thicket of trees is certainly appealing.

Okay, now for the flip side to the excitement of going back to Singapore... I really didn't want to leave my family. My sisters each have two kids and are both pregnant with their third, and my sister-in-law has a boy who is just 8 months younger than Dagny. To see how much the kids grew while we were away was astounding. To hear them talk and play and laugh was magical. And to leave them felt truly, utterly selfish on my part. Not to mention our parents... I'm not sure I can accurately describe how wonderful it was to be with them again. The burdens I had to shoulder in raising a toddler this past year while trying to adjust to life in a different culture simply flew away when I was with them. Everything felt relaxed. I had no idea how magnificent it would feel to have someone cook for me and occasionally watch Dags while I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a book.

Dagny with four of her five cousins. I love the matching Christmas pj's tradition my sister started!

It was so much fun and also a little hard to see Roxy again! She tried to hug Brad and me the same way a person would when she saw us. It broke my heart all over again to leave her, though I know she's having a wonderful time living with Grandma and Grandpa.

Dagny and Grandma reading bedtime books. Dags doesn't wear footie pajamas in Singapore, so I took full advantage of the cuteness while in the States!

Christmas in Singapore was beautiful, though it felt a little odd to be experiencing it in a sundress. The lights and decorations were breathtaking, and one night we took Dagny to the Tanglin Mall "Blizzard." Every night at 7:30, the square outside the mall is filled with screaming and laughing kids (and adults) being covered in what looks like very pillowy snow, but is in fact soap bubbles. Dagny wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, but she loved looking at the Christmas trees and reindeer that lined the surrounding streets.

Dagny getting pumped up for the blizzard.

Giving daddy a big smooch under the mistletoe.

A blizzard on the equator... this is a first!

It may look like snow, but it definitely doesn't taste like snow.

This girl came prepared, goggles and a swimsuit!

Dagny's not thrilled with her "snow" hat.

Lights along Orchard Road.

On Christmas day, we had a wonderful potluck dinner with other expat friends in our apartment complex. And get this: we ate outdoors! I'm not sure I've ever had Christmas dinner outside before. Everyone brought traditional food that they grew up with, which gave the whole layout a new sense of both adventure and pride. I was so excited for people to eat the corn pudding and carrot soufflé that Brad and I grew up with. (Both were big hits) And I added in a little of our Southern living with a pumpkin pecan cheesecake. It was also delicious, but let me tell you, it is not easy finding pecans in Singapore!

As expected, Christmas day was both fun and depressing. It was difficult being so far away from our families, in an apartment without a stocking-lined chimney or abundantly lit tree. Our tree this year only stood a foot tall, and didn't have any lights or homemade (and WAY overly glittered) ornaments dating back to preschool. Still, I am incredibly grateful to our new friends and their children for making Christmas feel a little more like Christmas than it would have if it had just been Brad, Dagny and me.

A Christmas Eve stroll on the beach.

Dagny opening her Christmas presents. Of course, she was WAY more excited with the box than anything in it.

We hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and wish you all the best in the new year!

Sunday, 11 December 2011


"Hi. My name is Lauren, and I'm a sporadic blogger."

"Hi, Lauren."

"It's been six weeks (or so) since my last post and— wait, why are you all gasping and shaking your heads like that? ... I've been busy— I swear!!!"

Honestly, it HAS been a very busy couple of months, though not of the particularly "blog worthy" kind. I've been scouting out nursery schools for Dagny, getting her involved in play groups, and readying the family for our return trip the States. The past few Friday nights, I feel like I should be collapsing on the couch with the kind of triumphant exhaustion that comes with saying, "This week I saved the whales, found loving homes for 40 orphans, and solved the US debt crisis" ... when in actuality, I'm telling Brad, "I located a new place to hang the laundry so it doesn't get soaked by the afternoon monsoons, found a local nursery school where the tuition doesn't rival what I paid to attend Ohio State, and taught Dagny how to put on her own sunscreen." See? Aren't you all glad I decided NOT to blog for a while?

Okay, now take a sip of coffee, wipe that sleepy river of drool from the side of your mouth, and prepare yourself for a fun expedition to the Deepavali festival in Little India! (Yes, like so many of my blogs anymore, this one is being written retrospectively... very retrospectively... since Deepavali actually took place back in October)

Deepavali (also called Diwali, or the "Festival of Lights") is a celebration of the Hindu faith, the "lights" referring to displays of clay pot candles and fireworks. I'm told the fireworks are ignited in order to ward off evil spirits, but I'm beginning to think all Singaporeans, no matter their religion, just really love fireworks and will use any holiday as an excuse to set them off.

Celebrants of Deepavali wear colorful clothes and oodles of jewelry (mostly bangles). The dress alone made me feel like I'd stumbled onto a fantastical party located at the end of a rainbow. The air smells like fruit and flowers (which is nice, since sometimes the Little India crowds coupled with the heat can produce a far less pleasant fragrance) and locals are passing out lots and lots of sweets, which means Dagny (with her winning smile, huge blue eyes, and unusual copper-blonde hair) is on a sugar high within five minutes of our arrival, thanks to all the freebies the shopkeepers can't wait to push into her chubby little cheeks.

We actually made two separate trips to the festival, once in the afternoon, a week or so before Deepavali (Little India is decorated for most of the month) and another time in the evening, on the actual day of Deepavali, in hopes of watching the lighting of the candles and fireworks once the sun went down. The first visit was great. The second was a bit of a mistake.

The first time we went, Dagny and I didn't have too many crowds to deal with, and were able to peruse the shops without being jostled. I bought a few items for my family back in the States, but found I much preferred to just wander around while eyeing jewelry and fabrics from a distance. Why? Well, there's a funny thing about Little India... nothing is marked with a price tag. So when I ask the woman running a shop how much something costs, she has me wait while she hollers for her husband, who magically appears from behind a wall of fabric, glances me up and down, and tells her what to charge me. Which, as it turns out, was about three times more than the Indian woman beside me is being quoted for a nearly-identical item. I know, I know... I'm supposed to haggle. The shopkeepers expect it. But that doesn't mean I'll ever be comfortable with it. And each time I told a shop keeper that I would think the purchase over and maybe come back, they would immediately, without fail, lean toward me and whisper a new "special price," just for me. Wow, really? JUST for ME???

As you can see, I really don't like haggling. I don't respect the practice from either side of the shop keeper's table.

Once Dags and I were done exploring and perusing, Brad joined us for lunch, and I'm glad he did. Brad's been to India, and knew just what to order us to eat (I can be picky when it comes to curry). We had a pretty amazing spread, loaded with chickpeas and colorful pastes that I'm not sure I could have named even while I was eating them, never mind nearly a month later. There is no customary flatware at the table, which I'm used to here in Singapore, but there also are no chopsticks. There's just naan, an absolutely delicious kind of flatbread (we ordered garlic, cheese, and plain). To eat, you first dollop some food onto a banana leaf (this is also a popular way to eat fish in Katong, a Malay district near my apartment). Then you rip off a piece of naan and pinch the food with it. Clever. And also pretty fun! Brad challenged me to eat like a true Indian, which is with just one hand (the other hand is used for, ummm, sanitary purposes throughout the day, and therefore is not considered proper to handle food with). I didn't think this was going to be too difficult, until he informed me that I also had to tear my naan with just one hand. The Indians seated around us made it look so easy... but it's NOT! Give it a shot next time you're eating dinner and find yourself bored.

The second trip Dags and I made to Little India for the festival was on the actual day of Deepavali, and Brad was out of town. Well, this turned out to be a very short-lived adventure. The district was PACKED! I finally had to fold up Dagny's umbrella stroller (which is as tiny as they come) and carry it over my arm because there was no room in the streets for it. The crowds were pushy and the drivers of delivery trucks just honked and honked and honked at the immobilizing masses. It really wasn't much fun. I found us a couple of quieter side streets to wander, and one nice little perch where we hung out for a while to people watch, but within an hour, we were weaving our way back to the MRT station.

Dagny stopping to admire some pools on our way to the MRT station.

Little India at the start of Deepavali... stores and stalls setting out trinkets and flowers.

Anyone in the market for some replicas of Indian gods and goddesses?

I complain to Brad that I hate department stores because I find them to be overwhelming. There's so much to look at, I don't know where to begin hunting for, say, a dress. But, wow... Nordstrom's seems a whole lot more navigable to me now.

I was tempted to ask to see the strand of flowers at the very top... no, a little more to the left... now the right... oooh, or maybe that one ten feet over...

At one point, I got a neck cramp. Seriously. And believe it or not, I actually bought one of these for Dagny's bedroom. I have no idea how I picked it out. In the swirl of colors and bells and swinging tassels, I think I just pointed vaguely upward and said, "I'll take that one."

A very kind shop owner giving Dagny her first set of Deepavali bangles. She was in heaven.

Deepavali in the evening. Getting a little crowded.

Soon after ditching the stroller. "Mom, where did all these people come from?"

A SIDE NOTE: I actually wrote this blog back in November (believe it or not!), but my site was one of the many Blogger sites that was plagued with an inability to upload photos for a while. Brad, Dagny and I have since made our pilgrimage back to the US and are once again home, safe and sound (though still jet lagged) in Singapore. More about our trip later...

Monday, 24 October 2011

To The Ladybug!

"To the Ladybug!" is a relatively new phrase here in the Lodge household. I shout it every time we all three pile into the car to go somewhere (which is only once every few weeks, so I continue to say it with gusto). Brad would prefer I used a more manly name than "Ladybug," but when we're driving around town in a tiny, BRIGHT red Mazda with black trim, I'm not sure there's a more appropriate label to be found. And besides, Dagny giggles every time I say it, so of course the name is as good as etched in stone.

Brad had to be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last Monday, so we decided to turn his meeting into an excuse for a little family getaway. It's not always easy traveling with a toddler, but sometimes you have to throw headaches and dreams of "packing light" to the wind and (as Nike would say in all their infinite wisdom) just do it. 

So just do it we did... and in the Ladybug, no less! Some of our friends here thought we were a bit crazy for attempting such a venture, and warned us to take plenty of money to pay off the cops that were sure to pull us over for "undisclosed reasons," but nothing so scandalous took place and I'm really glad we decided to drive... it gave us a wonderful opportunity to see the Malaysian countryside, which is quite a bit different from Singapore. First, Malaysia is surprisingly mountainous in areas. Secondly, there were palm tree plantations stretching over rolling hills as far as the eye could see, which was pretty cool to look at (Malaysia is a major exporter of palm oil).

The traffic was a little different than in Singapore, as well. SO MANY MOTORCYCLES! I mean, seriously, they were EVERYWHERE... zipping up the medians, weaving between cars, buzzing and darting this way and that. And in closer to KL, several stretches of highway had no painted lane lines! Yikes! There were times when we were careening along at 120 km/hour with two cars to our right and two trucks to our left, all merging and angling without any clear idea of who belonged where and just praying all the way that we wouldn't hit any of the motorcycles flowing around us like red blood cells through a vein. 

But Brad did GREAT! In my best Rain Man impression: He's an excellent driver. The trip took about 5 hours in total, including an incredibly long wait at customs, a few scheduled rest areas and one unscheduled stop along the side of the highway to clean baby vomit out of the backseat of the car. Poor Dags-a-roo. Note to self: Never again buy milk from a Malaysian roadside rest stop.

Crossing the bridge from Singapore into Malaysia.

No laughing... I know these are pretty terrible! I kept trying to capture images of mountains, but every time I would try to take a picture with my phone, it would never actually register the shot until a massive tree entered the frame, totally blocking my scenic view!

Palm trees. Lots and LOTS of palm trees.

Palm oil plantation. At several spots, we could see where some of the plantations workers lived... very cool looking shanties on stilts, tucked in among the trees.

Our GPS decided to crap out on us once we reached Kuala Lumpur (which is a very modern and very cool city), so for the final leg of our journey, Brad and I had to set our sights on the impressive Petronas Towers near the heart of downtown, knowing only that our hotel was somewhere close to them, and simply tried to weave our way to their doorstep like a mouse in a maze. It's strange to say, but we actually had a lot of fun that last half hour. Even with a naked toddler in the backseat and trash bags full of vomit-soaked towels around my feet, we were all three laughing and screaming (in a good way) by the time we rolled up to our hotel.

Our hotel. Wow. As it turns out, things cost a whole lot less in Malaysia than Singapore, and Brad and I found ourselves welcomed into the lap of luxury for four days upon entering Traders Hotel (of the very posh line of Shangri-La hotels).

This was the view out our hotel room window. Those are the Petronas Towers... until 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Look familiar? They were in the movie Entrapment, with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The night view. 
"Thank you for staying at Traders Hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Lodge. Would you like a large slice of awesomeness with your stay?" Yes we would, thank you. 

And who could ever leave little Dagny Pie out of "the awesomeness?" That's a MASSIVE playground and splash pad just below us. Spent a good bit of time there.

Dags on the swings. This was just two hours after painting the backseat of the Ladybug a lovely shade of white and tangerine. What a trooper.

Outside of going to Indonesia (which doesn't really count, since Bintan is more or less just a resort island), I've never visited an Islamic country before. It's really quite amazing... I'm not accustomed to seeing religion dictate the everyday aspects of a person's life. Everywhere in KL, the women wore long skirts or pants, scarves and head coverings. Many were dressed in full burkas. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was watching Dagny run around with a little Malay girl on the playground, playing follow the leader up ladders and down slides. The girl's mother stood next to me, dressed head to toe in a black burka. I couldn't even see her eyes. We spoke no common verbal language, and neither did the girls, but we still all somehow found a way to communicate. The mom and I would point and laugh and gesture. The girls hugged a lot. I feel like there's a profound statement in there somewhere, wrapped up in a strange but beautiful moment that I can't really put into words. 

Another Islamic aspect to Malaysia is there is no pork (at least none that is served in any restaurants or local markets) because of the kosher lifestyle and belief that it can contaminate one's body via the air.

But the prayers to Mecca were by far the most amazing aspect of the Islamic culture. While we were playing on the swings our first night in KL, hidden loud speakers all over the city suddenly blared to life, and prayer chants filled the air. It was so amazing, listening to the beautiful sounds while the Petronas Towers glowed silver above us and the sky turned the most fairy tale shade of purple I've ever seen.

Brad noticed the goofy smile on my face, and said, "Enjoying yourself?"

"Totally. I love the prayer chants." He didn't say anything in reply, just nodded and kind of... smirked. 

"What?" I said. "You don't think they sound pretty?"

"No, I do," he replied, still smiling in that cryptic way. "Very pretty."

"Then what?"

"Nothing. I'm just glad you're having fun, that's all."

Well, at 5:00 the next morning (and every morning after), I was jolted awake by that very same, though far-less melodious sound. 

"What the—? What is that? The tv?"

"Prayer chants," says Brad, and even though it's pitch dark in our room, I can actually hear that same smile from the night before in his voice.

"You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"

"Yuuuuup." (smile... grin... ear to ear... Cheshire Cat style)

We spent Sunday at an incredibly fun place called Aquaria. Dagny's eyes about popped out of her head when we walked inside, and came face to face with a wall of piranha and thousands of other fish of all shapes and sizes.

Dagny and Daddy at the Touch Pools, petting a bamboo shark. Wow, go Dags!

This is actually NOT a beaver! It's a water rat... or for anyone who has seen the Princess Bride, an R.O.U.S. from the Fire Swamp.

Dagny and Daddy popping up inside the sea otter exhibit!

High fivein' a gecko.

"Hello, Mr. Coatamundi. Would you like to come back to Singapore and be my new bedtime snuggle buddy?"

Dagny very appropriately wore her new fish sundress from Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Kim and Uncle Geoff.

The underwater walk.

Dagny didn't say peep (nor did she blink) the entire way through.

Out to dinner outside the Petronas Towers.

Dagny konked out after a long and fun-filled day. She had a new friend from Aquaria to keep her company (and apparently still some ketchup on her cheeks for midnight snacking). How's that for a lady-like pose?

Hmmmm.... What else to say about KL? Not much. We actually spent a good bit of time around the hotel, eating free food and drinking delicious wine that was (gasp!) affordable! We don't have a bathtub in our apartment in Singapore, so Dagny enjoyed multiple bubble baths while we were there (ahhh, the simple pleasures in life). And Brad even treated me to an hour's massage, which was fantastic... nothing like my last massage. I'll admit, I was a little leery upon entering, when instead of asking about any medical conditions I may have, they asked what my astrological sign was so they could taylor a massage to my designated star chart. I actually paused before answering... Should I lie and say Gemini or Aquarius, in hopes that I receive a massage that is soothing, like air or water? Or do I tell them the truth, admit I'm a Capricorn, and hope to the heavens they don't do a "goat prance" on my spine?

I ended up telling them the truth, and the massage turned out just fine. At one point, I actually caught myself drooling and nodding off to sleep.

The drive back to Singapore was lazy and storm-ridden. And uneventful, which was nice. I'm so glad Dagny and I had the opportunity to accompany Brad on his little business trip, but like I said before, traveling with a toddler isn't always easy. And one generally uses the term "vacation" very liberally when doing so. We were all three pretty tired by the time we got home, and ready again for our own beds and, though beautiful, no prayer chants at 5:00am.