24 Nov

Tortoise Girl and the lost weeks

I was moving very slowly last week. I had a cold and I don’t know if it’s worse to have a cold when it’s hot or that the medicine wasn’t working but it wiped me out. I spent several days flopped on the couch too weak to do anything. I was recovering by the weekend and now I’m full of my normal vim and vigour and back to flopping on the couch too lazy to do anything else.

Before that, on the Sunday, I was moving very slowly, because on the Saturday night I caught a hangover. We went out! With friends! And no kids! It was a friend’s birthday and we went for tapas and wine, and then sangria, and the sangria tasted like fruit punch and I’m not sure how much of it we had actually. B was at a friend’s house for a sleepover which was good because we didn’t get home until after 1am. I felt very seedy on Sunday and basically crawled around the whole day. But oh, how much fun it was to go out! When we were moving here I said the first thing I’d do was set up a regular babysitter, and I haven’t. I have to fix that.

I haven’t made a lot of friends here yet, which is fine because I go for quality over quantity, but there are a couple of people I really really like and this lady is one of them. We had so much fun.

And the week before that–are you following me? We are talking two weeks ago, now–we had a public holiday on the Tuesday for Deepavali (aka Diwali), which is not really a lost day, and I also spent two full days out of the house attempting to sort out our Singapore drivers licences. We have to switch over once we’ve been here a year, and the process is confusing and beaurocratic. Actually, once you know what’s going on it makes sense, but it is still a drawn out process and deserves a post of its own.

What have you been up to?

06 Nov

NaBloPoMo fail, and other updates

Look! Four posts in a week! I bet you’re so excited you don’t know yourself.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I signed up for NaBloPoMo this month. NaBloPoMo is the blogging equivalent of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where you’re supposed to write a novel during November. For NaBloPoMo you post every day. It used to be only in November but I see now it can be any month. Anyway, I signed up on Saturday when I was full of my plans for rebooting and then promptly forgot. When I wrote the last post on Wednesday it was in the back of my mind that I needed to date it for Tuesday, and then I thought, “don’t be crazy, you can miss a day,” completely forgetting why I was thinking that.

So there’s that.

Other than that, this week has gone fairly well. I have managed to achieve my basic level of competency every day, and I feel calm and in control. And competent! Yesterday was great, I was having coffee with a friend and whizzed through it all before I left. Shazam! Look at me!

On the other hand, I have also found myself at a loose end a lot. Not scheduling more than the basics has left me thinking “what now?” I am not good at choosing one thing to do out of many equal options. If there isn’t anything screaming urgent at me, then I get stuck. I still had times where I wasted a couple of hours playing on my phone, so it’s time to add a few more things in.

On a couple of days I tried meditating and resting before B comes home. What happens usually is I’m in the middle of something when the alarm goes off to meet the bus, or just basically knackered, and I’m not the best mum. So I took 10-15 minutes to lie down and relax (it probably doesn’t even count as meditating), and it’s helped me reset and focus on her, which she deserves.

Today I need to sort out what’s in the freezer and do some groceries, and then curl up with my book. We’re reading Amnesia by Peter Carey for bookclub, and I’m not enjoying it; maybe a couple of chocolate digestives will help.

How’s your week been? Any exciting plans for the weekend? Me neither.

04 Nov

achieving my basic level of competence

The first thing to do when working out the structure of my days is to work out which tasks I need to do to achieve my basic level of competence. My BLC is the minimum amount of work I need to do around here to keep the house and life ticking over. If something happens—I’m engrossed in a project, or out all day running errands, or (like yesterday) B is home sick—as long as I’ve done the things that make up my basic level of competence, I can feel like I’m still on top of things.

These are the things that I think make up my BLC:

  • Reset kitchen: deal with dishes (dishwasher or sink), wipe benches, take out rubbish, keep it nice
  • Pick up lounge
  • Reset bedroom: make the bed, put clothes away, clear rubbish
  • Pick up bathroom
  • Know what’s for dinner
  • Do one load of washing and hang it up afterwards

That last one’s a big one. There are many days where I put a lot of washing on and never quite get around to pulling it out so it sits in there getting moldy and I need to wash it again. If I put a load on, I have to get it out and hang it up to dry. Which reminds me, there’s stuff in the machine now; I better go deal with it.


Seriously, that’s all it took. Although it was mostly towels, so I cheated and put them in the dryer. Now I need to remember to get them out of the dryer later.

I don’t have to do a load every day, many people don’t, but I find if I leave it for a couple of days the pile gets too big with towels and bedding and I get daunted. Better instead to do a little every day. On Monday I did three loads, and that did make me feel fairly productive, until I ran out of room on the drying racks.


I’m finding the best time to do these is first thing in the morning after Dave and B leave. Well, first after I finish my coffee and watch the news and check facebook and blogs, so maybe 9am. It seems to give me a burst of energy that means I might keep being productive, and then I can concentrate on other things without this hanging over my head, so if I do get obsessed with a project at least the house isn’t falling apart. And if I don’t know what’s for dinner, it gives me time to get out to the shops.

Yesterday B stayed home from school with a tummyache and wanted to be glommed onto me, but I spent 15 minutes resetting the kitchen and another 15 on the bedroom/bathroom and throwing on washing, and I was pretty much done. It meant that when she was feeling better the kitchen was clean enough to make a batch of muffins together without me getting snappy. And it was easy to clean up too. I felt competent yesterday. It was nice. I feel competent today too.

Do you have a set of tasks for your basic level of competence? What are they?

02 Nov

where to begin?

The problem with having a lot of projects I want to do is working out which to start with. I can’t do all of them, obviously, so how do I choose? Seriously, how? And what happens to allt he ones I’m not choosing? They’re all important too. Won’t they feel neglected? If I can only do one then I’d better start with something I have to do. Something with a deadline, like finishing our tax returns. Except I don’t really want to do that one, so I need something else as well. Something that’s a treat. But which? And so it goes round and round until I’m paralyzed and anxious. Or, I get obsessed on whatever I choose, and everything else around me goes to hell.

After a lot of scribbling about this in my journal I realised I need to take a step back and look at my goals. What exactly are my goals, anyway? What do I want to achieve, how does the ideal look in my head? Brooke at Brooke: Not on a Diet recently posted about working out the best version of herself, so it was on my mind. More scribbling later I worked out that my goals could be roughly divided into three areas:

Things for my physical and mental health
Things about being organised and effective
Things about creativity and enrichment

And I quickly divided up my goals into those categories.

Me (physical, mental health and happiness)

  • Project Trophy Wife (this is a catch-all for things that make me feel attractive)
  • Up and Moving course
  • meditation and yoga
  • Investigate alternative therapies
  • losing weight, getting fit etc

Being effective

  • catch up all paperwork
  • decluttering and organising house
  • those damn tax returns
  • Aus money sorting
  • running house effectively
  • getting structure in day

Being creative and enriched (I sound like a yogurt)

  • writing – here, journal, fiction
  • sewing and craft
  • reading
  • cooking and baking
  • learning languages
  • taking courses
  • appreciating Singapore

Et cetera. Again, not an exhaustive or even very well expressed list. Have you tried doing this? It’s bloody hard! But I felt really excited once I’d done it, because it makes sense and I can choose something from each area to work on at a time.

For this month, I’m going to work on setting up the basics. This will give me a good foundation for the other work, and also allow me to procrastinate on actually doing any of them:

  • find a structure to my days that works
  • keep up with the basics of running the house and life
  • practice basic self-care: sleep better, drink water, stretch daily, try to be aware of emotions instead of eating them
  • write in my journal (I process thoughts a lot better when I pin them down on a page instead of letting them swirl in my head)
  • be mindful about how I’m spending time (do something fun instead of losing hours on phone)

That doesn’t sound like much, does it? There are whole hours in the day that are unaccounted for. That’s fine, I need to give myself a break while sorting out these basic habits. I’m sure I’ll find a way to fill them. If all else fails I can always work on the fucking tax.

01 Nov


I wrote started a post back in September, when I was supposed to be packing for our trip to England in the school hols, about how I’d started taking my antidepressants again because the lows were getting a bit too low and I was anxious all the time, but now I was feeling numb and didn’t give a toss about anything. I was pondering if it was better to be all deer-in-the-headlights about everything or as bothered as a sloth.

And then I never posted it (or any of the things I scribbled afterwards), which just proves my point.

I am in a bit of a slump, but I don’t really think it’s to do with taking (or not) my medicine. I think I’ve the same problem a lot of retired people have, in that I need more structure in my day. Once Dave and B have gone off earning and learning I have a wide open expanse of 6 or so hours to myself and whether I spend that time doing something useful or lying on the couch watching Mentalist reruns is anyone’s guess.

“You need a project,” Dave said to me after a bad day last week. “I was going to sign you up to something on Open University so you’ll have to do it.”

He’s right. But I’m not short of options of my own.


This was a quick list off the top of my head, and it doesn’t even get near to being complete. This is where I get frustrated. Everyone has one of these lists, right? Everyone thinks “one day when I have time I will do xxx” Well, this IS my one day. I HAVE the time. Why the fuck aren’t I doing something real about it instead of frittering it away?

I need to get some discipline back in my days and work out what I really want to achieve, so that is what I’m going to do. That is my goal for November.


14 Sep

Hazy shade of

…whatever season this is. We are currently experiencing a new to us phenomenon: Singapore haze. Haze is air pollution—we’ve all experienced it—and here it is made up of smoke particles blown in from Indonesia, where they are burning forests, presumably for fun and profit.

At first I pretty much ignored all the chatter about haze and air purifiers because it didn’t seem that different to normal. Every now and then I start feeling like I’ve got hayfever, so at first I figured there was just some new pollen floating around to annoy me. But in the past week it’s got much worse and then the school put the index information in the newsletter and I started seeing variations on this chart everywhere:

click to make bigger

click to make bigger

At our school if the index is over 150 the kids are kept indoors, and for over 300 school is closed. Someone told me 300 is the average index for Beijing; I’m not sure I believe them but if that is true, wow. It was at about 170 on the weekend, and you could see it. It is strange being able to see air. At the supermarket the shelves near the checkout have dust masks instead of magazines. David was supposed to do a cycling event in Indonesia but it was postponed, which I was thankful for. We were outside for about an hour on both Saturday and Sunday and when we came in my throat felt like it had chalk dust on it. Now I am back to coughing like crazy and staying inside sounds like a great idea.

We’re not the only ones having problems with our air, of course. There are sandstorms in Saudi Arabia and bushfires in California. And general crap in the air everywhere else.

Here is a widget which shows our current air quality. Pretty! Now it’s like you’re here with me. Pass the tissues, please.

01 Sep

Adult supervision required.

Dave came home last night after two weeks away and all is now as it should be. To celebrate his return I am spending the day in bed. Don’t get too excited; he had to head straight back out to work so I am alone.

Things fall apart when he’s not here. I do pretty well with the day to day stuff like keeping the child alive and fed, but once she’s in bed there’s no one here to regulate my behaviour. No one to tell me to go to bed or make sure I’m eating right. Consequently I drink all the wine and stay up way too late and now I am freaking exhausted.

So I gave myself a day off to sleep. No one will even notice; it’s really not like I do anything important between 8:30am and 3:30pm anyway. I told myself I deserve this, that it’s important to look after myself. Although, all morning I’ve been lying here watching TV and playing on my phone, so it’s a normal day only horizontal.

Hey! It’s a new month! The first day of spring in Australia (although here they will probably start pretending it’s “autumn” soon, as if that means anything), and my grownup is back. It’s a great time to reset.

05 Aug

I think the car is cursed

First there was the bee. It was when Dave took us to see it; Bianca was already dark about the car because (a) it is silver and she DOES NOT LIKE silver cars, (b) it wasn’t the BMW convertible she’d just spent 10 minutes putting the roof on and off, and (c) we were on our way home from a birthday party and all this car shopping was keeping her from stuffing her face with lolly bag contents. But Dave cajoled her into the back and me into the front and suddenly she started screaming THERE’S A BEE! THERE’S A BEE! and there it was on her tshirt. I tried to calm her and knock it off but she was frantic and it had already stung her. Her whole belly came up in a welt, the poor sod. Luckily she is not allergic to bees.

Last weekend we made pizzas for dinner and I drove off to forage for toppings (the biggest benefit of having a car is not having to be organized or think ahead for meals). I spent $8 apiece on jars of artichoke hearts, grilled eggplant and roasted capsicums, plus all the cheese and other fancy stuff. But as I pulled it all out of the boot one bag slipped and fell and the capsicums smashed all over the ground. I rushed home for our dustpan and brush to clean it up but even after I mopped there is still an oily smelly trail all the way from the car park to the lift and then into our apartment. And my pizza wasn’t as fancy as I wanted.

Yesterday I did groceries again, and when I opened the boot I saw a bag had fallen over and a mandarin had rolled out. Except I hadn’t bought any mandarins. Then I realized it was an egg. You guys, it was a yolkbath in there and this one had only survived by fleeing the scene. I’m telling you it is not fun trying to clean up broken eggs in the deepest part of a really freaking deep boot you have to crawl in to reach and then your arse blocks the light. So I gave it a wipe and went in for a medicinal glass of wine instead.

I have since discovered how to fold down the rear seats to clean it properly, but Bianca is home sick from school today so alas, I don’t have to can’t deal with it today. Hey, maybe they’ve cooked by now?

03 Aug

car talk

So, remember how I was complaining that it thundered every time I had to walk up to get Bianca after her after-school activities, and how that was what convinced me we needed a car? Well this term’s activities (pottery and drama) started on Tuesday, which was the same day the hire car we’d had for the past two months went back, and guess what it started doing thirty minutes before I had to leave?

Wait, did someone say thundering? Ladies and gentlemen, give that person a coconut. Fucking weather.

So we did decide to buy a car. My goal was something cheap and basic like a VW Golf but as usual Mr Scope Creep took my budget and doubled it, and then he dazzled me with a spreadsheet explaining why that was okay. Then he convinced me to just go look at something that I said was ridiculous and I would never have, and then the salesguy said, “why don’t you take it for a spin?” and it seemed rude to say no, and it was so pretty and lovely to drive and I do like shiny things and it was easier to say “oh okay then,” and that is how we ended up buying a Jaguar. An OLD Jaguar, mind you, it’s only got three years left on its certificate of entitlement, but a fucking Jag nonetheless.

(Incidentally this strategy worked very well in my Uni days to get me to sleep with you. I wish I’d never told Dave that. I thought it would mean he’d use that information for sex, but I didn’t really know him yet.)

“But cars are expensive in Singapore!” you’re probably saying right now. Yes they are. They are insanely expensive. But before you get all excited thinking we’re rich (which is definitely not the case now), let’s take a step back and look at how cars work in Singapore.

How cars work in Singapore

It’s true, cars are expensive here. The government wants to limit both the number and quality of the cars on the roads, and so every new car has to be purchased with a Certificate of Entitlement (COE). {Side note: Entitled is a good description of the people with cars.} The price varies according to demand – somewhere between $55,000 and $80,000, and it gets added to the cost of the vehicle.

So here, to put a new base-level VW Golf on the road will cost SGD$125,300, which today is equivalent to about $125,000 Aussie dollars, $91,000 US, £58,000 pounds, and 318 Bitcoins (?!) I was going to do a comparison shop in other countries but got quite confused so I leave that as an exercise for you if you’re interested (they seem to be around $25,000 in Melbourne).

Also, you can only borrow a maximum of 60% of the cost, and the loans go for a maximum of five years. So you have to be able to hand over 40-50% of the price in cash. The whole point of this is to make buying a car hard enough that you really need to think about it first.

So the COE lasts for ten years and after that, the car is deregistered. You can extend it, but you would only do that for your really fancy cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis (and you see a surprising number of those around). The government takes the car (and sells it on to Malaysia or China or the like), and gives you half the original market value (OMV) of the car – that is, the original import price not including the COE. So for that Golf, it’s about $30k, meaning you get about $15k back when it’s deregistered.

The beauty of this system is that depreciation of cars is basically linear. You don’t have a massive drop as soon as you drive it off the lot. Everyone is in the same boat, the cars are limited, they have a known value at the end of ten years, and if you are good with spreadsheets (coughDavecough) you can make this work for you.

In summary:

  • Cars cost a lot to buy
  • You can only borrow up to 60% of the price
  • They are handed back at 10 years
  • The government gives you a predetermined amount for the car.
  • Depreciation is linear.

So this is the trick

Most expats plan to stay in Singapore for two years. Condo leases and utilities contracts are 2 years long, so even if you end up staying for 4 or 6 or 10 (surprisingly common), you have an end point in view. So what you do is, you look for a car with two years left to go before it is deregistered. See why? Because when you’re ready to go you can hand the car in, for an amount you already know, with no hassle about having to sell it. And at that end of the depreciation graph the cost is not so bad, and remember you can get that 60% loan for it.

So for our Golf example, a 2008 Golf is around $60,000, but its residual payout is $16,426, so over the course of 3 years your outlay is only $43,574. Kind of make sense?

Dave’s justification

(Note, this justification only works if you’ve already accepted we’re buying a car. For normal use, it is still WAY cheaper to use public transport and cabs to get around. Hell, I could use a cab every day and it wouldn’t cost as much as owning a car. This is not wholly a financial decision.)

As I said, I wanted something like a VW Golf. I am still not that confident driving here or reversing into tiny parking spots, so I wanted something small and very cheap to run. Utilitarian. But when Dave began researching he found that a Golf costs $60,000, but an Audi A6 is $65,800, a BMW 5-series is $72,000 and a Mercedes is $79,500. Plus, because their OMV is much bigger, your outlay actually ends up being less. In fact, the BMW’s net price (purchase price minus residual value) is lower than the Golf!


click to enlarge

This is a portion of Dave’s spreadsheet (I will shield you from the true magnificence of the original; it will blind you.). It shows the net purchase price for each of his options (in yellow) and also a calculation of the monthly loan outlay (in blue). You can see it’s only a couple of hundred dollars difference from Utilitarian to Really Nice. And yes, a couple of hundred dollars isn’t to be sneezed at but when you’re in a place like Singapore where you get paid in play money, and you REALLY LIKE CARS… you can justify it.

(Dave really likes cars.)

The last line of the spreadsheet shows the net initial minus residual payment. Remember you get a loan for 60% of the purchase price (which is the monthly cost shown in blue), so you have to pay 40% yourself, which is the initial outlay. Then when you hand back the car, you get the residual payout from the government (the half of the OMV). This net initial takes into account the amount you’ll get back and shows how much you’ll be out of pocket for the deposit.

You do have other options to buying a car outright, of course. There is leasing, or having one as part of your employment package (if possible). Or, you can do a longterm rental, through companies like the one we rented month by month. We could have rented an older Toyota Corolla or VW Polo for around $1900 a month (Golfs were much more), and that includes all costs except petrol.

So this is Dave’s justification. The 40% cash deposit is a one-off cost which is greatly lessened by the handback at the end. The true cost of the car is the monthly loan amount, and is only a few hundred more than a Toyota, which he HATED, he is happy to pay the difference.

Am I happy to pay the difference? Hmm, well I would prefer not to have to, but I understand his logic and also his preferences, so I can accept that it’s his call to spend the money rather than save it. Also I have managed to reverse park the behemoth several times now without denting it, but I HAVE warned him he cannot get mad if I do run it into a wall or something by accident. After all, it’s not like we have to preserve resale value is it? And that at least is a good thing.

I’m never getting my Golf, am I?

it has a bloody start button.

it has a bloody start button, ffs.


27 Jul

now my holidays start

Ah blessed relief, Bianca went back to school last week. On Monday morning I said to her, “I’m so excited about you going back to school!” and Dave snorted into his coffee. “I DON’T MEAN LIKE THAT!” I said indignantly, except actually, I kind of did. The holidays were great fun but a month of all day every day is a lot of togetherness.

I actually had a pretty busy week. On Monday there was a coffee morning to welcome the new parents to the school (as an expat school there are people coming and going all the time) and somehow I got roped in to being secretary of the Parents’ Association so I went along as part of that. I met lots of nice people, most of whose names I forgot immediately. On Tuesday we had a workshop to introduce the Bounce Back program, which was devised by some educational psychologists to teach kids resilience and wellbeing, amongst other things. I would love to give you a spiel on it because I was so excited and emotional about it (I need this program for me!) but I suck at that so do have a look at their website. Then I had a lunch with one friend, a coffee/skype date with another… it’s not looking like much when I write it down but there wasn’t much time left over to lounge on the couch and watch TV, is what I’m saying…


I also went back to the Kenko Fish Spa for a reflexology treatment. My entire body is hurting at the moment and I’m keen to explore more traditional and alternative therapies to sort out my balance and wellbeing. And, well, treat myself! Reflexology is a massage of the pressure points of the feet and it sounds like it would be absolute agony of tickling but it’s actually divine. You do have to sort of not focus on it to avoid kicking the therapist in the face, but once you’ve mastered that you turn into a puddle of relaxation. She starts with tiny pinching massages of the joints in each toe then onto the base of the toot and heel, then calves and shins.

The theory behind it is that every part of the body has a corresponding pressure point on the foot and can be stimulated–the science is unproven but like acupuncture it does seem to work. Also, if you have tenderness or pain in any area it could indicate a problem with that body part. I had tenderness in my arches and also my right little toe, which could indicate problems with my sinuses or headaches (true) but also could just mean I’ve cracked it on furniture a few too many times and that going barefoot on marble tiles is not a good idea.

reflexology map



Then after the massage it was time for the fish spa! This uses little fish from Turkey called Doctor Fish to nibble dead skin off your feet. Honest. You wash your feet first then pop them in the tank and the little fish glom and and start to chew. It feels a bit like pins and needles but in a good way. You sit there on your bench watching them scurrying around and, if you’re me, talking to them… it’s very relaxing.

After that first time I went I did some research and found there were concerns about cleanliness and passing on foot infections, and also about cruelty to the fish — how hungry do they need to be to do this? Not going to lie, it put me off it a bit. But, the place I go to does a lot of cleaning of the water with UV light, plus the therapists check your feet thoroughly before you go in. As for the fish, I watched them and they typically hung around for a couple of minutes before swimming off again. Two other people came in just in the 30 minutes I was there, so I think they get enough business. Finally the fish are very expensive; I don’t think it’s in the company’s best interests to harm them. I feel okay about it.

When it was over I walked out like I was floating on clouds. My feet and legs worked again! And they looked pretty good too. I’m definitely going to have reflexology again. As for the pedicure, I think I want to try a regular person-with-nail-file-and-polish one. I have noticed that here everyone has very well groomed feet; you are in sandals most of the time and displaying gnarly toenails is not okay. Even no-makeup, ponytailed and tshirted people like me have pretty toes. It is The Rule.

Have you had reflexology or tried a fish spa? What therapy should I try next? I’m open to most things, so any suggestions are welcome.