21 January 2018

My Strange Pregnancy Habits

It just occurred to me recently that pretty soon, some of the behaviors that feel so "normal" right now won't be so normal any more within a few weeks, because the reasoning behind them will be gone!

Here are a few of the odd habits I've developed during this pregnancy.

{let's play: spot the hairbands}

Wearing two hairbands on my right wrist at all times. Now, for some people, this is a normal, everyday sort of habit. But I've never been the hairband-on-wrist type. I usually wear my hair short and I prefer not to have it up in a ponytail. However, I decided that pregnancy was a good few months to try out longer hair and at the same time, having hair touching my neck suddenly gained the power to make me feel nauseated or overheated at a moment's notice. I need to always be able to throw my hair up if necessary. Hence, the two hairbands--the second one is in case the first disappears. It happens to us all. Must be prepared.

Waking up between 4 and 5 to eat first breakfast and then falling asleep again. In the first few months this was a vomit-prevention technique...that didn't work very well, but hey. Lately, it's more of a reaction to the fact that I wake up starving by that time in the morning, but yet, not really awake enough to start my day that early. I wake up again, usually before 7, and eat again. Actually, last night I woke up at midnight to eat, and the night before that it was 2 a.m.

Side hugs. Granted, I'm not much of a hugger at all. But usually, someone as close to me as, say, Angel, warrants the occasional real hug. No more. All side hugs.

Walking to the front of our apartment complex to be picked up instead of walking to our car. This route means I have to endure 5 fewer speedbumps than I would otherwise have to deal with. There's still speedbumps all over this island, but I can't avoid them all--at least I can avoid the ones in our parking lot. The walk from our apartment to the front is probably about equal to the walk from our apartment to the car in distance. It dawned on me recently that I'll stop doing this pretty soon and just walk to the car with my husband like a normal person.

Taking a thermos of cold water and snacks with me whenever I leave the house. I don't like to carry things around with me. Up until I started driving, I never even carried a purse, I'd just put cash or keys or whatever I needed in my pockets. In adult life, I've given in to the need for a small purse, but lately, it's more like a whole bag with my cold water and a green apple and chips or sunflower seeds or whatever snacks I think I may need to have on hand. Cold water is my magic cure-all if I ever start feeling bad, and avoiding hunger is my goal, so I try never to be caught without either my drink or my snacks! At church, at the hospital, on any errands--I have these necessities with me.

Not going to Angel's races. I look forward to cheering at his races again soon! I hadn't missed a race in our entire marriage up until this pregnancy...and I haven't been to a single race since June. I feel like I've coped well with the physical discomforts of long as I'm at home or in a comfortable environment. Angel's races require early wake-up calls, and are often starting well before sunrise in muddy parks. Parking is always limited so there's usually a long, dark walk, crossing streets and making sure you don't stumble on drains or broken cement to get from the car to the starting line. There won't be any chairs for spectators, and if there are bathrooms they will be overcrowded, muddy, and more than likely they will be squat toilets. In my healthy state, I can deal. But lately...sorry honey, you're on your own. He even got 8th place and a trophy in his most recent 10k, which according to his fancy watch was actually an 11.2k, but I wasn't there to see it.


Funny to consider how "normal" will look so very different in a few short weeks, and a whole new set of everyday habits will be established!
16 January 2018

The Cost of Living in Malaysia {Expat Perspective}

This post is not meant to be a scientific analysis of the economy or of financial trends, merely the observations of an American living long-term in Malaysia and loving it. I have often found that visitors are surprised by the cost of living here--either because it's much higher or much lower than they expected it to be. All of us have expectations for cost that are informed by our own countries--my own expectations are informed by normal life in Midwest America, and so I thought I'd write some observations about what is surprisingly expensive and surprisingly inexpensive in our adopted home. 

>>Less expensive than you might imagine:


Utility bills are a big deal in the USA. They're the reason that so many "how to slash your budget" posts include tips like turning down the heat, turning off the a/c, and not using unnecessary lights. They're the reason that some put time limits on their showers. matter how many lights I turn off, it's simply not going to affect my budget all that much. This past month, the water bill Angel and I received was under $2 USD and the electric bill was about $12 USD. The electric bills penalize higher electricity usage by charging higher rates for the amount of electricity used over a certain level, which can make your bill go much higher quickly if you own and use more electric appliances. Angel and I don't have a dryer or electric oven and only infrequently use our aircon unit, so the bill stays fairly low. Coming from Michigan, gas bills are the one to worry about this time of year. Like most homes here, we have a gas-powered stove, but no gas line coming into the home, simply a blue bottle hooked up to the stove that needs to be replaced when empty. 

Medical Care:

When you come from the land of extremely expensive medical care, everything about medicine in Malaysia seems amazingly affordable. Like responsible, law-abiding adults, we buy our own health insurance (ours is an international insurance specifically for American expatriates), but haven't used it ever since moving abroad, because our insurance doesn't cover any wellness care, preventative care, prenatal care, or anything like that. All of those costs must be paid in full to the hospital, but that's much less intimidating given that prices are much less expensive here. My doctor's appointments over the past seven months have ranged in price from about $25 USD to nearly $200 USD, and that's just depended on what tests or prescriptions have been required at different visits.


There's still a mad rush to get to the gas station whenever prices are expected to come up, but considering that most of the time I lived in Michigan, the cost of gas was well over $3 per gallon, gas prices seem low to us.

Car Repairs:

In the USA, we tried never to bring our cars to mechanics--it was well worth it to have Angel do the work of changing struts and O2 sensors and alternators at home. Here, the labor costs for mechanic work are very low, and parts aren't expensive either IF you have a locally-built car (parts for foreign cars are a bit of a different story), so the value of knowing how to fix your own car drops tremendously.

>>More Expensive than you might imagine:

Real Estate:

This will vary greatly depending on where you are in Malaysia. In a city like this one, we've found that a 1000 sq. ft. apartment in dire need of renovations in a slightly older mid-range apartment building could run 130K USD. Apartments in newer buildings will be a little bit more expensive, and in luxury apartment complexes, a lot more expensive. A house standing on its own with a postage-stamp yard will be more in the 250K+ range. If it's a reasonably nice house or a bit larger, you're looking at 300-500K, and going up from there. Housing money does not go nearly as far here as it would in, say, rural Midwest USA, where we're from. In addition, foreigners on work visas are only permitted to purchase homes at a cost of 250k+.


Much has been said about Malaysia's inexpensive night markets. In reality, though, even night market prices have been steadily creeping up, and sit-down restaurants are not as inexpensive as they once were. Eating out is still generally far less expensive than it is in the USA, but where I think people will get the most sticker stock about the price of food is when they go grocery shopping. Particularly for healthy foods or for foods imported from the USA. Organic fruits and veggies, or even any fruits and veggies that have to be imported from abroad will majorly boost the cost of your grocery bill. We think long and hard before investing in an avocado or two. Imported foods, like cans of refried beans, will easily run $3-$4 dollars a can. Any canned beans are expensive, and dried pinto beans (a staple for us in our USA days!) don't exist. A Christmas ham we would expect to be $6 a pound, minimum. A normal box of a brand of cereal you might recognize will be $4-$7 each. Anything like sales or coupons for foods are very rare indeed, so full price is just about the only way to eat.


Any foreign brand of car will be more expensive than you would expect, largely due to the hefty import taxed levied on cars that are not made in Malaysia. Used cars hold their value at a rate which astounds those of us from the USA, and that's a primary reason why we opted to buy a brand-new Malaysian car, as it was still significantly less money than something like a 7-year-old compact Toyota or Honda.

Beauty Services

I probably notice these costs a little more than others because of my background in the beauty industry! When I lived in China, I got a pedicure once a month because they were inexpensive, around $6. Here, that is not the case. Nail care services are still not quite what they cost in the USA, but higher than you might expect for southeast Asia. Nice salons here are also much pricier than a good salon was in ShenZhen--reasons I'm glad I can do colors and cuts at home! Massages also fall somewhere in the middle between USA prices and prices in other countries of Southeast Asia--where a foot massage may be only a couple dollars in Cambodia, or just slightly more expensive in Thailand, you can't expect those prices in Malaysian cities.

Brand Name Products:

We're not brand-name snobs by any means! However, there are some products that we prefer to buy a certain brand of because we know the quality, the fit, or the style. Angel swears by Asics GEL-Kayanos for his running shoes, and wears through about a pair a year (not surprising, given how much he runs). He hasn't found them here for less than $150 USD, but bought a new pair for $85 while we were in the USA in May. I was looking for a new pair of Keens, but passed when I could only find them in Malaysian shoe stores for about $100 USD, and then bought a pair for $60 when I was in the USA last year. I don't know if it's purely due to the phenomenon of sales and coupons in the US, which does not exist to nearly the same extent here, but we have often found that when we want something specific, we can likely find it much cheaper in the USA. For example, right now I'm interested in the Ergobaby 360 carrier...I found one on Amazon this morning for $130, but in my local baby store, it's over $200. 


When you move to a new place, you have to adapt your budgeting strategies to what makes the most sense for your new home! It would be a bit silly of me to run around turning off all unnecessary ceiling fans in order to save electricity (especially silly, since the air circulation helps prevent mold and mildew from forming on all surfaces), but strategically planning meals that won't rely on expensive ingredients makes a big difference in our budget, as does avoiding shopping and buying brand-name items in America when possible. What's surprisingly expensive or inexpensive where you live? What are your best budget strategies for handling those costs?
14 January 2018

Baby Shower for Our Boy!

If there's one thing that remains consistent in my life, it's a fascination with islands, the sea, ships, and perhaps some occasional piracy.

Because of this, a light "nautical" theme seemed like the obvious choice for my baby shower. Because I'm the usual party planner in the family, I was told, "How about you tell us exactly what you would do if you were planning a baby shower for someone else, and then we'll do it." So, yes, I helped plan and coordinate my baby shower. You can't simply take away all the fun of party planning simply because I'm the one with the baby on the way!

We kept decor minimal, because we held the party at a friend's house instead of our own. Mostly because of the need for seating. We usually have kids' parties and we can have a lot of guests because kids can sit on the floor...but grown-ups need actual seats, right? It turned out to be a wise idea to have the shower at a friend's home because 29 ladies were in attendance--I don't think we would have all fit in our usual living room! :)

The theming mostly showed up in our food--watermelon ships sailing a watermelon sea, and we had blue "seawater" punch (from the same recipe we used for Sarah's mermaid birthday party).

Otherwise we just went with sea-blue accents on our foods of choice--like rice krispie treats, my Mom's favorite dessert!

These pinwheel wraps were just about the best thing I've ever eaten. I ate a good six pieces during "taste-testing" during party prep and then at least 10 little rolls during the party.

Even the deviled eggs had little sails in order to turn them into ships. Yeah...I have a thing for ships. In fact, one of these extremely vivid "pregnancy dreams" recently involved me discovering that my family owned not one but two boats and we were going out sailing off of the beach here. Awesome!

We had a wide variety on the guest list--those in attendance at the party ranged from 80+ years of age to kindergarten age, and came from a number of different countries. Some guests  pulled me aside to excitedly tell me that this was their very first baby shower they've ever attended, and others joked that the first time they heard the term, "baby shower," they couldn't understand why the baby needed a shower when he hadn't even been born yet! A baby shower is definitely a Western tradition that we've brought with us to Southeast Asia--yet another example of the blending of cultures that becomes a matter-of-fact part of life when you live long-term in a country that's not your own! One East-meets-West aspect of this baby shower was that we didn't actually end up opening any gifts at the shower itself. While opening gifts is a very traditional part of American baby showers, we've found that gifts are not usually opened during parties here in Malaysia, so we filled our time with other activities, like games! My favorite sort of games are those that require more in the way of brain exercise than anything else, so those are the kinds of games we played:

Who Was It, Mom or Dad?

In this game, the leader read off facts about either Angel or I as babies or young children, and guests had to all vote at once whether they thought that the fact was true about me, about Angel, or whether it was true for both of us. They voted by holding up little red or blue babies on sticks. We included various kinds of facts, such as birth statistics ("Which one was born at 3:31 a.m.?" "Which one had more hair at birth?") and milestone ages ("Which one walked at 8 months?") and a few anecdotes of early childhood. Some were pretty easy to guess, others were harder. The guests mostly know me much better than they know Angel, so we threw in some tricky questions answered with "both", like "Which one is the firstborn in their family?"--everyone knows I'm the firstborn, but since most here haven't met Angel's family, they might not also know that he's also an oldest kid. The winners of this game tied at getting 15 out of 19 answers correct!

The Price is Right

My Mom bought 5 baby items at the local grocery store, noted the exact prices, and then guests had to guess the price of the item. We used the traditional rules--closest answer without going above the actual price wins! This game was definitely the most competitive! The ladies got really into guessing the price of diapers and wipes and baby lotion and alternately expressed shock if the actual price was less than they thought it would be or much more than they thought it would be. Before guessing, they would question exactly what brand each product was, and what country it was produced in, in order to better inform their guesses. Each person who won received chocolate as a prize, so the stakes were high!

Advice Circle

We had a time for everyone to share their best advice on parenting--no need to actually be a parent to offer advice. In fact, some of the pre-teens and teens gave some pretty wise advice, like, "Patience is a virtue" and "Remember to take lots of pictures" and "Never ask your kid: 'Why did you do that?' because they probably have no idea why they did whatever they did." My Mom gave some suspiciously specific advice, which was, "Make sure to share your baby...with grandma." Other ladies advised that early potty training will save money on diapers, and continuing to invest in your marriage relationship is good for the whole family.

I felt so loved and humbled by this beautiful afternoon spent with friends and family, many who have known me half of my life! (In fact, one lady brought up a story about when I was playing the lead in a high school play and was too frustrated with the rest of the cast because on dress rehearsal night, none of them knew their lines! I feel like I would not be surprised by this sort of behavior from high schoolers nowadays, but when I was 15, I thought it was nigh unforgivable, ha!).

The day after the shower, Angel and I were both a bit in shock about the baby things we now own. Angel was hanging up baby clothes to dry and he was like, "I can't believe I'm hanging up all of these tiny clothes!" And I was like, "I know! Just now I was thinking: I can't believe that we now own toys! Who would have ever thought? Toys? In our house?" Just the beginnings of a new adventure...
09 January 2018

My Favorite Date Night Question

Lately, the most regular date tradition that we've tried to implement is Friday morning breakfast at a local restaurant. It's practically perfect: neither of us work on Friday mornings, breakfast for two is about 15 RM (about $4 US) so it's an affordable date option, and very tasty. We look forward to these mornings.

Of course, "traditions" are always taken rather loosely in my world, and there's plenty of Fridays that we don't manage to squeeze a date in. I don't think we went at all the entire first trimester because the prospect of eating curry was way too much for me to contemplate. But we look forward to going out for our breakfast together.

The one tradition that Angel has come to count on from me when we're on a date is that, after we sit down to a meal and order our food, I'm guaranteed to ask him my trademark date question:

"How are you doing: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?"

And he always takes the time to answer thoughtfully in each of the four categories. Physically - How he's slept recently or if he thinks he's in good enough shape for his next race, or if he's planning to play basketball on the weekend. Mentally - What's going on with work, or if he's been contemplating a book he read recently, or if he has an idea for one of our ongoing projects. Emotionally - What he's most excited about and looking forward to, or what he misses from home, or what's been disappointing lately. Spiritually - What he's heard from God or what he's been learning lately in this area of life.

It should be noted that Angel never asks me back the same question. That's because...I naturally answer all of these questions in the course of normal conversation. Communication of what's inside my head and heart comes naturally to me (possibly why I ended up a writer), so there's less need for him to ask for this information when it comes naturally to me to divulge the information to him before he finds a need to ask. Angel isn't quite as naturally communicative, which makes this question more valuable when asked in his direction.

We've really learned to look forward to these conversations, these check-ins in the middle of a full life. I would say that the dates I remember most are the more exciting, adrenaline-filled, adventurous sorts of dates--more lively outings that don't involve sitting in a chair and eating food. But there's certainly a place for sitting down to curry and bread for breakfast and chatting about how life is going in these 4 crucial areas.

What are your favorite date traditions?
07 January 2018

Baby Update: 32 Weeks

Officially less than two months till this little one is due...which is practically incomprehensible.

Weight Gain: 14.5 lbs. Baby is estimated to be 4 lbs.

Symptoms: Not much. Just that I have a lot less energy than I normally expect of myself. The few times I've started to feel bad/dizzy/overheated, I've realized, have most likely been caused by me getting too distracted with something that's going on and gone without eating or drinking for too long. I sleep great, never had a bit of heartburn (does this mean, that against all odds, we'll have a baldy little baby?). I suspected I had a couple random contractions one night when I couldn't sleep well due to random sudden-onset lower back pain that left as suddenly as it came on. Weird. And yes, I'm a clueless first-timer and I like it that way--no need to delve into researching horror stories of how bad third trimester can get. Just grateful for each new day! The shortness of breath and kicks in the ribs that I hear about from other moms at this stage has not at all been a part of this experience for me...probably because this baby is nowhere near my ribs. But mostly I feel great, just a slower-moving, less high-energy version of great.

Wearing: I haven't bought any maternity clothes, and at this point, I think I've given up on that. I did not set out to never buy maternity clothes, but I've only found two little maternity boutiques here and I hated everything the minute I walked that's how well clothes shopping went. Then, when I attempted to order online from an international retailer...I couldn't get any method of payment to work with the website. Over the course of this pregnancy, I have bought 4 normal tunic dresses that are straight-cut rather than fitted at the waist, and those are serving me well, along with other loose dresses, my trusty leggings, one pair of capris and one pair of jeans that are stretchier than most, and elastic waist skirts and longer shirts. I'm definitely only wearing a fraction of my actual wardrobe, but so far, it really is plenty. It's a great thing to be pregnant in the age of leggings and stretchy materials. I actually favor woven cotton fabrics and dresses that are fitted at the waist, but those are NOT convenient preferences to have during pregnancy and all of those dresses have been relegated to the back of the wardrobe for months.

Memory: I've heard of pregnancy brain, but I've joked with Angel that my version of pregnancy brain is that my photographic memory has gotten better than usual. The other day, we were doing some paperwork related to our college and I rattled off my college student ID number to Angel without even having to stop and search for it in the recesses of my memory (I graduated in '12). Later the same day, Angel was looking for a receipt he'd gotten the day before because he needed to go to the URL listed at the bottom of the receipt. I'd looked at the receipt the day before, so I spelled the URL out to him so that he didn't have to find the receipt, because I could still remember exactly what it was, even though it was a weird one, containing a dash in the middle and a .net instead of .com.

Eating: Angel and my family will tell you my most consistent request is a glass of cold water. Cold water all the time, I can't go to sleep without a glass by my bedside. Still loving grapefruit as part of breakfast every morning. I'm able to eat chicken more consistently these days. I ate plenty of Christmas cookies over Christmas break but even that didn't help the weight come on any faster, which has led to Googling, "How to gain weight while pregnant" since I know I'm on the low side, but I haven't figured out any magic tricks other than constant snacking and not trying to burn too many calories...which is what I've been doing this whole time.

Favorite Things: Angel loves listening to the baby's heartbeat at least once a day, either just with his ear or with his stethoscope. He also talks to the baby and tells him all sorts of plans, and the baby almost always starts hiccoughing when Angel starts talking to him, which cracks me up. We saw a quick glimpse of the baby's face in our most recent ultrasound and afterwards both Angel and I were like, "Um, did you notice how...grumpy...our baby looks?" Really looked like an angry little baby in there. This made me laugh and also made me suspect that we may have a mini-Angel on our hands. I look happy nearly all the time, but if Angel isn't smiling, his natural expression is quite fierce-looking, enough that people have been known to ask, "Hey, is everything all right?" when everything is perfectly fine, that's just the way Angel looks. ha!

Emotions: So happy and so thankful for each new week and each new milestone we pass! The doctor was concerned about him wanting to come too soon at our 30 week appointment, but I felt completely calm and not anxious about that, for which I'm grateful. She prescribed some medication that I'm supposed to take till week 34 as a preventative, but we learned another lesson about vigilance at the hospital pharmacy, where the pharmacist gave us a totally different medication than what had been prescribed. The medication we were given is one that does the opposite of the medication that we were supposed to receive. Very thankful for Angel and his awareness and medical knowledge to make sure we were given the right stuff! It would be all too easy to just trust what the hospital pharmacist gives you, but this experience reaffirms to us that our routine of questioning everything is a wise one. Doctor called baby "skinny" because his head and legs measure at a higher percentile than his belly, which has led to my new concern over weight gain. It's easy to get scared, and a daily choice to cling to peace over fear that something will hurt my precious boy.

Preparations: I told you we bought the crib, right? And I painted some watercolors for his room, and sewed a curtain. That's about it. My baby shower is on Saturday, after that I think I'll settle down and see what else might need to be prepared in advance. Apparently you're supposed to pack for the hospital in advance, but we only live half an hour from the hospital--less if the traffic weren't bad, so I'm not worried about rushing. I doubt we'll install the carseat early because we're often needing to give rides to others in our little 5-seater, so no sense taking up an extra seat until it actually needs to be used.

 In the days before 2018 began, we especially celebrated the fact that Angel's only resolution for 2017 was: "Get a baby." We're getting really close to our baby, now!