Sebastian becomes a big boy!

August was a big month for Sebastian – he turned 2 years old and started school!

Just like all of my recent “catch up” blog postings, the events that took place in this post all happened a while ago and I don’t remember all of the details unfortunately.

The highlights from August were:

(1) Sebastian started school on August 10th, when he joined Logan at her school.  Sebastian continued there at Jolly Seedlings until the school year ended in November.  He LOVED it!  Being around the other kids was fun, he liked his teachers, but mostly he was so happy to not be contained to his playpen where he spent the bulk of his days up to that point.  I was thrilled for him and like his sisters, he never wanted to leave school in the afternoons.  He would use so much energy running around like crazy at school that he would almost always fall asleep on the car ride home when Carolyn would pick him up in the afternoons around 2pm.

(2) Sebastian and Logan went on a field trip with their school to Hello Kitty on August 25th.  Logan rode with one of her teachers, and Carolyn took Sebastian and met up there together with her friend Elizabeth and her daughter “Little Alex”.  They all had a blast — check out one of the group photos below and see how happy Sebbie is while being held by Teacher Mei – huge smile!

(3) The clerk who worked for me, Syifa, got a back injury one weekend while working OT.  Syifa is such a sweetheart and my family adores her because when I was in the US with all my medical issues she was the main person from Malaysia who kept checking on me and wishing me well.  I visited her in the hospital one evening with Zoe and Logan, and several of the guys who work for me visited her there too.  In on of the photos you can see a pulley at the end of her hospital bed, with a small rope running across it to a jug of water.  This was the hospital’s treatment for a slipped disc — tying the rope to her legs and letting the weight of the water stretch her spine out.  Seemed a little bit like medieval torture to me, and Syifa is a legend for surviving that place.

(4) On Monday, August 28th, we celebrated Sebastian’s second birthday at home with a dinosaur cake (Land Before Time) and several presents.  He loved the cake and made many “roars” from his new dinosaur toys at his sisters to scare them away.  He grew up so much in just a month!  Turning 2 and starting school…

Here are the photos from August:

The big 4.0 for Loggie Goggie

At the end of July Logan turned 4.  Times flies!

Carolyn got her two cakes because we planned two parties for her, one at school and one at home.  We also couldn’t decide on a theme because ever since we were in the US in March and all went and saw the live action Beauty and the Beast movie, Logan was crazy about all thing Belle, but between that time and her fourth birthday she also became infatuated with Trolls.  We split it evenly – school cake was Belle and home cake was Trolls.  Moonlight, a local bakery, made both cakes and they did a fantastic job.

The school birthday party was on July 28th, then we had a slumber party with the two girls who always hang out with Zoe and Logan, Jolisha and Jowita.  In the middle of the slumber party we had cake and Logan opened all her presents, including some Beauty and the Beast Barbie dolls (thanks, mom!).  The next morning the kids all went to TESCO to play in their huge play area for a while, then we dropped Jolisha and Jowita off at home.  To finish off the celebration weekend we went to NHK for dim sum brunch on that Sunday and Logan brought her dolls with her.

Logan has grown up so quickly that it is amazing.  Carol and I contribute quite a bit of that growth to her school, where some amazing teachers have given Logan so much loving instruction that her confidence has soared and her language skills have improved dramatically.  Carolyn and I are both so proud of the little lady she has become!

Here are the photos of Logan’s fourth birthday weekend:

Farewell to Papaw & a big decision

After we returned from Bali, Papaw stayed with us for another week before heading back home to the US.  Zoe, Logan and Sebastian had gotten used to him being there to drop them off at school in the mornings and to pick them up from school in the afternoons, and more so, they had gotten used to him helping them with their homework and reading them stories each evening.  My father is a lifelong educator and has infinite patience with my children when he’s teaching them something, and his teaching methods are what a professional would do, which is completely different than Carolyn and I because we try to explain a concept and then get flustered when a 6 year old or 4 year old doesn’t pick it up immediately.  I need to work on my patience a lot, and take time when I help the girls with their school work, but I’ve spent 17 years involved with Engineering, not Education, so it doesn’t come naturally to me.

After Papaw left we got back into our normal routine.  My health had somewhat stabilized except that I hated my C-PAP machine because it was very difficult to get used to having air smashed into your nose at increasingly higher pressure as you try to sleep.  Eventually we went to Singapore and my ENT got me a full face mask, so air getting pushed into my mouth and nose simultaneously made things a bit more comfortable than when it was the nose only.

The biggest thing that happened shortly after my father left was that my company asked me if I would consider extending my contract to stay in Malaysia for 1 more year (through 2018).  This was odd because normally they ask in November/December, but it was good because Carolyn and I had a lot of time to plan either way, which was a first compared to the previous years.

Carol and I discussed the pros and cons of staying for another year for several weeks, with my company asking many times what my plan was, and finally we decided that we were definitely ready to return to the US.  We originally thought we would be here for 2 years, then we had a 2 year extension and after that a 1 year extension.  After 5 years we were ready to leave.  Living in Malaysia has been a wonderful experience and I have seen the company where I work grow in leaps and bounds during that time, and in fact the entire area around Johor Bahru building up at a frantic rate, but we decided it was enough.  Enough being away from family, enough being aware from our own culture, enough not understanding half of what’s said every day, enough dealing with constant heat and humidity, enough craziness with the driving, just enough.

We were ready for our children to be able to see their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents more frequently than a couple of days a year, and most importantly to us we were ready to see our own parents more frequently.  Time has flown by and none of us are getting any younger, so we decided not to let more time pass where we live a world away.  We want to see our family more frequently.  If we have medical issues we like having the support of family without having to make an emergency 35hr trip across the world.  We hope Logan will know just as much about Easter as she does about Chinese New year.  We just miss home I suppose…

All that said, we loved our time in Malaysia.  Mostly we have enjoyed meeting the great people we have spent time with and gotten to know well.  Carolyn will miss Elizabeth, Joann, Kas, Nancy and several other friends.  I will miss the people I worked closely with every day, like Herman, Aidil, Zul, Azmie, Kumar and Syifa.  Our girls have close friends at school too.

We will miss Sunday dim sum brunch at New Hong Kong.  We will miss the fantastic teachers that have worked so closely with our children, like Teacher Lisa, Teacher Mary and Teach Mei.  We will miss the superb doctors in Singapore, especially Dr. Phuah and Dr. Chee.  We will miss KL – in my opinion, the second best major city in Asia after Tokyo (Singapore is great, but KL is great too and has an edginess to it you don’t feel in Singapore).  We will miss our housekeepers and nannies, especially Jean!  We will miss chili crab buns.  We will miss monkey sightings and giant monitor lizards sprinting across the roads.  We will miss the acceptance and lack of (outward) vitriol that foreigners receive here, which seems much better than how foreigners (or those with differences) are treated in the US.

In the end, I told my company we did not want to accept the 1 year extension and that we were ready to go.  It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders after that decision was finalized.  I care about my company and the guys I have worked closely with, and I want to help my boss as much as possible, but there was a point where everything would be turned over and I would be free to move on to the next adventure and challenge.

The other thing that happened in July was that Carolyn and I decided that with our departure from Malaysia coming up we should have professional photos of the kids taken while we are still here, to remind us of this time in our lives, and we thought the best way to commemorate it would be by having them dress up in traditional costumes from the three main ethnic groups that make up Malaysia – Malay, Chinese and Indian.

Here are the photos from July, including some of the Indian costumes that were bought for the photo shoot and the girls posing at a nearby Hindu temple in those colorful costumes:

Hanging out with Papaw

Papaw stayed with us for May, June and the beginning of July.  May and June were very relaxed compared to the chaos we went through in February and March with all of my health issues.

I worked, Carol took the girls to school each day, Papaw helped with Zoe’s homework and the kids enjoyed several different activities throughout those months whenever there was free time.  Carol and I took the girls bowling at the Tanjong Puteri in Pasir Gudang one weekend afternoon, and Papaw joined Carolyn and the kids on various trips to the TESCO playground and Hello Kitty.

We made it to New Hong Kong for our traditional Sunday brunch several times, and Carol joined the kids when they went to get their teeth cleaned here in Taman Molek (and Logan didn’t freak out at all).  The kids also had a couple of afternoons where they swam in their tiny pool in our yard.

I don’t really have many specific stories from those two months (May and June) because they were so long ago, but looking back at the photos reminded me of why the kids love their Papaw so much — at 68 years old he rides bumper cars with Zobug even though it was a struggle to get the safety belt over his head, and she had an absolute blast on that bumper car.  Papaw also crawled inside the children’s play area to help Sebastian get around and play.  Most parents don’t do that, and hardly any grandparents do.  It is December now and we are packing to return for good to the US and the main thing Zoe and Logan say they want to do is “see Papaw” when we get back to the US…

Here are the photos:

Papaw strolls into town

At the very end of April (4/29) my dad arrived at Changi airport.

He had not ever apologized for yelling at me for his mistake of arriving far too early on the morning of my surgery in Nashville, nor had he ever apologized for skipping town because of his mistake and leaving me to go through that ordeal without him.

Regardless, I was happy he was coming to visit because he’s my dad, flaws and all.  I’ve done many stupid things in my life that I’m sure I never apologized to him for and he has always forgiven me, so it was my turn to return the favor.

I drove everyone over to Singapore on the evening of his arrival, and Carolyn joined Zoe as they waited at the arrivals hall to welcome him.  I circled around the airport in our van with Sebastian and Logan both asleep as they waited, and eventually he came through and we headed back to Malaysia.

My dad would be staying with us for a little longer than 2 months, May and June, with a trip to Bali planned at the end of June just before his departure in early July.

While he was visiting we celebrated Mother’s Day with brunch at NHK, and all the kids were dressed up in new clothes for that celebration.  My dad spent many hours reading to the girls, playing with Sebastian, helping Zoe with her homework and being a great grandfather.  The kids absolutely adore their grandfather, primarily because he spends so much time with them and doing the things they want to do.

Here are a few photos from the time while he was here in Malaysia, including several of the kids shopping for clothes and going to Mother’s Day brunch:

Old sites were new for Sebbie!

We took a long weekend trip up to KL over the weekend just before my dad arrived in April.  The weekend was long because Malaysia was observing a public holiday for the Agong’s birthday.  The “Agong” is Malaysia’s “King of Kings”, which rotates every few years between the Sultans of each of the states making up Malaysia.

Rose joined us on the trip to KL and Carolyn took Sebastian to see several of the sites we had enjoyed over the previous 4 years with Zoe and Logan, like the Petronas Towers and the KL Bird Park.  Sebastian enjoyed it and so did the girls!

Here are some photos from that trip to KL (4/23):

Finally get back into a routine, for a little bit

We arrived back in Malaysia in early April.  My heart had a clean bill of health, so I returned to work and the kids went back to school after being in the US for a few weeks.

We had 4 weeks before my dad was supposed to come visit for a couple of months.  During those 4 weeks we did several things, like dying Easter eggs, shopping at the outlet mall for a gift for my clerk at work (who was very sweet and checked on my several times while we were in the US), Zoe had sports day with her school and we started back to our ritual of Sunday brunch at New Hong Kong.

Here are some photos from the 4 weeks between our return to Malaysia from the US (4/3) and my dad’s arrival in Singapore (4/29):

Falling apart

Now to pickup where I left off in February.  If you skip my previous post about the passing of Gregg Allman, my last update covered the end of January and the first couple of days of February.  The girls were out of school, celebrating Chinese New Year, and enjoying different outings that Carol setup — Hello Kitty Land, LegoLand and a local water park.  In the couple of weeks leading up to that point we had managed to apply for our new passports and I had been to the ER in Singapore when I woke up in the wee hours suffering from a kidney stone.

So February ended up being crazy, and not in a good way…  We did manage to get our new passports but my HR department continued to flounder in their effort to get our new visas, giving lots of excuses for starting the process so late.  In the end we got our updated visas and then all got new MACS passes so we can avoid additional stamps when just traveling back and forth to Singapore from JB.  That’s about as far as the good news went – we got our new passports and finally were issued updated Malaysian visas.

Unfortunately the bad news overshadowed that little bit of good news…  When I was in the ER for the kidney stones I was told that my blood pressure was very high and I needed to see a general practitioner about controlling it but perhaps it was only elevated because of the kidney stone and all the pain I was in that morning.

I took the recommendation seriously, and for the first time since leaving California in 2011 I setup an appointment to see a general practitioner.  I’ve seen far too many specialists since living in Malaysia; respiratory doctors for lung infections, ENT’s for bad allergies and clogged ears that needed to be cut open, and so on.

Carolyn found a doctor that accepts our insurance and setup an appointment for me to see Dr. Lim the next weekend.

We all made yet another trip to Singapore that Saturday morning in early February and I met with Dr. Lim for what seemed like forever.  She was excellent!  It seems like quite often doctors try to see you too quickly and don’t give you much time and fail to answer all your questions, but Dr. Lim had a full discussion with me about my health for more than an hour.  I told her the whole story about hardly ever seeing a doctor in California or Kentucky, but ever since moving to Malaysia I’ve suffered from several problems — mostly related to allergies that lead to lung, sinus and ear infections, but also rashes and feet problems which I attribute to the tropical (humid) conditions here.

She did a full physical and planned additional tests to determine whether or not I had any other conditions from a list of things I may likely have – diabetes, high cholesterol, other heart conditions, etc.  She verified that my blood pressure was indeed still high and now I’m on diovan, which after almost 4 months has controlled my blood pressure wonderfully, keeping it much lower than it has been for years.

After blood samples were taken we left Singapore and headed home, where things were more of ok for a week or two until I needed to return back to my new General Practitioner for a blood glucose test, urine samples to see if the bleeding from the kidney stones was gone, and further discussions on what else I need to do.

I saw my new GP doctor early in the morning on a Saturday, February 25th, and after they took blood and I drank this sugary drink I went down the hall to give the urine sample, but while I was filling the cup I had the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt, right in my abdomen.  It felt like someone was jabbing a sharp hot poker through my guts, and it was so intense that I lost my balance, felt like I was going to vomit and started seeing black all at once.  I almost passed out and hit the floor, but luckily I caught myself.  It took me about a minute or two to get stable, but I was shaking and not sure what the hell just happened.  I went back into the lobby of my doctor’s office and asked a nurse if I could see my doctor because I had a really sharp pain and almost passed out in the restroom.  She said I didn’t look so good – I’d lost all my color and was pale white and starting to sweat.  Another doctor in the same office agreed to see me immediately, so I went back and met this doctor from the UK.

The British doctor told me that it was likely another kidney stone and I explained that the pain in my lower left back was there again but the sharp pain was in the front right.  He said that if the stone blocks the kidney it is considered a medical emergency that needs immediate attention and that I should go directly to an Emergency Room.  He suggested that I go to the NUH, National University Hospital of Singapore, because they’re equipped to handle emergencies like this.  I told him I needed to go to Raffles, Gleneagles or Mt Elizabeth, all private hospitals, because those were the ones my insurance covered.  He elaborated – NUH is a public hospital and even foreigners only pay a token fee, like S$150 per visit, but their ER is much better than those in the private hospitals because they regularly see medical emergencies.  He did say the specialists at the private hospitals are some of the best in the world, but that’s not who you see in their Emergency Rooms.

I gathered up Carolyn and the kids and off we went to Raffles.  I brought to the back fairly quickly and they started prepping me for an IV.  For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve always had a fear of needles.  I ran away from doctors trying to immunize me when I was a kid, requiring multiple adults to hold me down, and I almost passed out and fell onto the floor when blood was being drawn once in California.  I hate needles.

Obviously I wasn’t looking forward to my first IV, so I pleaded with the nurse, asking over and over if it was necessary.  I have never been hospitalized for anything in my 39 years, and never had an IV, so I was persistent.  She went back and forth to the doctor and finally said it was required because they needed to do a CT scan to look for any kindey stones.  She told me several times that it only hurts when it’s going in, then they secure it with tape and you don’t feel it at all.  Well, it took her 3 jabs before she got it in there, and it hurt like hell.  After she taped it up it still hurt, but when I complained she just ignored me and said “no, it doesn’t hurt after it’s in place”, even though I said over and over, “yes it does hurt!”.

They left me there in the ER bed for a couple of hours before we walked upstairs to the CT room.  It’s a narrow table that slides in and out of a big circular machine.  It wasn’t like the ones I’ve seen in movies where your body is completely inside, but the circle was only about 2-3 feet deep, so your legs would be out of it on one side while your head and shoulders were out of it on the other side.

It was only me and the technician in the room, so I was told to strip down and put on a gown, then lay on the table with my arms over my head so she could access my IV and I could hold the fluid tubes.  Apparently when you have a CT scan they inject dye into you for contrast in order to better see whatever they’re looking for, and they inject it through an IV in your arm.  The technician first hooked up my IV to saline in order to flush it out, but when she was connecting it there was a lot of pain in my hand and I complained to her.  She was just like the nurse in the ER, telling my that it doesn’t hurt.  I told her that it absolutely did hurt and so she called in a male nurse to take a look at my IV.  He said that if it hurt for the saline it would really hurt for the dye because it’s “hot and much thicker” than the saline.  He removed all the tape, re-positioned the IV a few times until it was hurting a little less (but still hurting) and then taped it back.  By this time I had purple bruises on my head around the IV.

They hooked up the dye and told me not to move, saying that the only thing I should feel was a warm sensation from the dye, mostly in my groin.  Well, that wasn’t the only thing I felt as the table I was laying on crept into the spinning and whirring circle while I held my dye tubes over my head.  I could feel the dye pushing into my veins and my hand was hurting immensely, but I didn’t move at all because I didn’t want to repeat this.  I was worried that it would damage my veins but the nurse had said it was ok because there would be a big lump underneath my skin if the dye wasn’t going into the veins properly.  As I moved into the circle and back out again there was indeed a warm sensation, especially hot in my groin.

Once it was over I got dressed and headed back down to the ER to await the results.  I asked several times over the next 2-3 hours if they could take my IV out because it was still hurting, but they wouldn’t eventually the results came back that they couldn’t find a stone so it was either obscured by my pelvis (meaning in my bladder) or I had already passed it and it was gone.  They were about ready to send me home with some antibiotics.

While the nurse removed my IV she had a crazy looking expression on her face, one that would indicate surprise, but surprise in a bad way, like “oh, my, God!”.  I asked what the problem was and she said “oh, nothing”, but I asked her a couple more times and finally she held up the IV and it was bent like 60 degrees.  That was why it had been hurting all along…  When the first ER nurse was sticking me over and over to get the vein she apparently bent it underneath my skin and then they ignored me all day long when I told them it hurt, until they removed it about 8 hours later and found it bent.

We got my medications and went home, arriving in Malaysia around 8pm.  I was exhausted.  From getting up at 5am to get ready and drive to Singapore so we could be at my doctor’s office at 9am, to unbelievable pain from another kidney stone, to an entire day in the ER with my first (and very painful) IV, and then fighting traffic back into Malaysia.  I went straight to bed.

Unfortunately I didn’t sleep for too long, and the problems continued…

I will pickup in the next blog entry to mention how this problem continued into Saturday night and Sunday morning (Feb 25/26), but here are some photos from February and my time in various hospital rooms:

Holidays in JB

Both girls were out of school for holidays following the Chinese New Year weekend.  I was still working, so we stayed in JB.  With all the kids free for the week Carol decided to hit some of their favorite spots to get them out of the house so they could enjoy their holiday.

Since I was at work that entire week I don’t have much to write about the 3 outings they did, but there are a bunch of photos below that show what was going on.  The 3 outings were:

  1. Hello Kitty on January 31st
  2. LegoLand on February 1st
  3. Mount Austin Water Park on February 2nd

Here are the photos:

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Year of the Rooster

Our third week back in Malaysia after our trip to the US (Jan 22-28) was much better than those first two weeks back.  No Emergency Room trips and our passports and visas were all in a wait-and-see phase.  It was actually that time of year again when things started being decorated in red and gold for Chinese New Year.  We’ve gotten to where we enjoy most of Chinese New Year – it’s actually our favorite of the Malaysian public holidays.  The red lanterns were hung all over the place, including on almost all the homes in our neighborhood as well as throughout our neighborhood park.  You could also find roosters everywhere; not live roosters (although you can definitely find some running around on the sides of the roads of Taman Molek at most times).  This is the year of the rooster, so they’re all over the place.

Carol had already picked up Sebastian’s CNY outfit at a street market in Shanghai back in December, but the girls still needed new cheongsams so Carol took them shopping at Aeon Bukit Indah.  Logan picked a lovely blue cheongsam and Zoe went with a red and white cheongsam that has peacocks on it.

That week was uneventful really, but the weekend (January 27, 28 and 29) were full CNY festivities.  The fireworks were crazy on Friday night.  Even though we’ve been through it for several years it isn’t something a foreigner ever gets used to.  At midnight on Friday it felt like we were in the middle of a war zone.  The Chinese Malays don’t specifically go for the beautiful fireworks that Americans prefer on the Fourth of July, instead they go for the loudest.  It doesn’t have to shoot way up into the air and blast a sparkling array of colors that trickle back down to Earth.  Inside, the prefer quarter sticks of dynamite that rattle your home’s windows and doors.

On Saturday (Jan 28) Carol and the kids went over to our friend Nancy’s home and celebrated CNY with her and some of her friends for most of the day.  Sebbie found a girlfriend and the girls had fun running around in their cheongsam.  I stayed at home but enjoyed hearing all about it when they all returned in the late afternoon.

Here are some photos, mostly of the kids at Nancy’s home on CNY, but also some from cheongsam shopping and a few from a local Chinese temple that was all decked out:

Passports and stones

When we arrived back in Malaysia after the holiday trip to the US, I had hoped for a quiet, uneventful but enjoyable final year in Malaysia.  Unfortunately 2017 started with all sorts of insanity…

I won’t go through all the details, our first two weeks back in Malaysia (January 7-21) had some highlights, or at least some notable points.  Two main things happened; first, we had to figure out how to get new passports for Carol, me and Logan while also getting new Malaysian visas for 2017, and second, my health has continued to deteriorate with a new complication.

Back in November 2016, when it was absolutely clear that we would be staying in 2017, I asked my HR department about visa renewals because our holiday vacation was already set and our visas that allow me to work and the family to live in Malaysia all expired on January 20th.  I was told “it can wait, we have plenty of time”.  I asked again twice in December before we left for the US on December 16th, and both times I was again told not to worry because there was plenty of time.  I even mentioned that 3 of us needed new passports when we returned in January because we were almost completely out of empty visa pages, and I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem.

January 9th, my first day back to work in 2017, rolls around and I’m panicking because there’s still no sense of urgency.  Carolyn sets up appointments for us to go to the US Embassy in Singapore to apply for new passports on January 20th (Friday), the day our visas are to expire.  My company’s HR had recommended we just go across the border before midnight on the 20th and cross back into Malaysia after midnight.  I explained that immigration may have a problem with this since we clearly left on the day my work visa expired and we returned back just a few hours later, not to mention that middle-of-the-night visa runs wasn’t something we planned to do with 3 small children just because they failed to take renewal of our visas seriously.  I told them we would spend the night in Singapore, they must pay for the hotel, and I was given an official company letter stating that they were in the process of applying for our visas in case immigration had any issues when we returned.

Unfortunately for me, those two main things happened to cross paths starting around 3am on January 19th.  I woke up with a throbbing pain in my lower left back, which I thought was probably from sleeping some funny way.  Carol and I were sleeping in the spare bedroom because of work going on in our master bedroom, so I wasn’t used to that mattress and after getting a drink of water I tried to go back to sleep by 3:15am.

It wasn’t meant to be…  I tossed and turned and that throbbing pain in my lower back was alternating to pains in my lower abdomen.  It got worse and worse no matter how I flipped and tried to position myself in bed.  By 5:30am I was in serious pain, so I woke up Carolyn and told her what was going on.  I went into our master bedroom and tried to lay on or mattress but the intensity of the pain just continued to increase.  I started to get worried that maybe my hernia was trapped because when I had my hernia diagnosed they had told me that could be a serious problem and it would need to be taken care of immediately in an Emergency Room.

I laid in our bed for maybe 15 minutes and then I started sweating even though it was cold in our room.  I told Carolyn that something was seriously wrong with me.  It was obvious that this wasn’t some normal cramped muscle or something like that.  I told her I wanted to go to the emergency room immediately, so she got the kids dressed and off we went to the ER at Gleneagles in Singapore.  Having been to ER’s in JB multiple times I knew I didn’t want to possibly end up in surgery here, so there was never any doubt that we had to cross the border into Singapore, but in retrospect it may not have been so sensible because we sat in traffic in immigration and going across the bridge for almost 2.5 hours.  The pain was indescribable.  It was so bad that it was taking my breath away.

I was the driver, with our 3 tired and hungry children all complaining in the back seat, as I was in excruciating pain, inching across the causeway bridge while Carolyn tried to keep everything somewhat contained.  By this point I felt like I was about to pee in my pants — I had to go worse than I’ve ever had to go in my entire life and I was stuck in the middle of the bridge.  I won’t go into the details any further, but I felt like I was dying there on that bridge.  It was the worst 2.5 hours of my life.

Amazingly, as soon as we crossed the border into Singapore it was like a switch was thrown and the pain went away almost instantly, the sweat stopped pouring and I was able to breathe normally.  We continued on to the ER, where I was seen and after a urine sample and a long wait for the analysis it was determined that I had likely passed a kidney stone in the car on the causeway bridge.  The pain was from the kidney stone and there was blood in my urine, which they advised me to check in another week in case there are other stones and further action is needed to make them smaller or to remove them surgically.  I was told by the doctor that “kidney stones are the worst pain a man can experience – it’s like childbirth for men”.  I heard that repeated about 50 times over the next two weeks by everyone I told the story to.  I don’t know what childbirth feels like, but passing a kidney stone feels like you’re about to die.  I can’t recommend driving a family of 5 across an international border while stuck in traffic for hours during this episode either — it only made the experience worse, much worse.

Since we had to go to the US Embassy for passports the following day, we decided to just stay in a hotel since it was already around 2pm by the time we left the ER.  We spent the night and had a room with a great view of Marina Bay, then the following day we applied for our 3 new passports at the US Embassy before spending a second night in Singapore.  I was too miserable to do anything, so I basically slept the entire time except for while applying for the passports.  I was also on yet another round of antibiotics to ensure no UTI…

On Sunday, January 21st, when we finally came back into Malaysia, the immigration agent at the Malaysian border had a problem with giving us a stamp, just as I had imagined he would and just as I’d told my HR department he would.  My HR manager had said “you can call me if there are any concerns at all, and I’ll speak to them”.  Well, they had us pull over and took me into the office where a group of 5 senior officials went over all of our passports while I waited.  I tried to call my HR manager over 10 times while I waited there for nearly an hour that Sunday morning, but he never answered.  Eventually they gave us all “special visas” that needed to be taken to the immigration office immediately on Monday for a fine payment and endorsement.  Phew!  The only problem now was that we needed to go back into Singapore within 10 days to collect our new passports and we still didn’t have or new visas!

Here are some photos from that first two weeks back in Malaysia after our holiday trip to the US:

Jabs, myringotomy and dusky leaf monkeys!

I haven’t posted a blog entry in over 30 days and the last entry was about things that happened back in mid-November.  I haven’t been on the ball.  At all.

Quite a bit has happened since mid-November…  We’ve taken a vacation to the US for Christmas and New Year’s, Logan and Zoe have both started a new grade in school, Sebbie started officially talking the other night (Jan 22nd) when he clearly said “night night”, I’ve continued to have health problems and Carol has been trying to keep up with all that stuff and more.

I plan to update this blog in 4 parts – (1) mid-November to mid-December recap, (2) US Trip before Florida, (3) US Trip in Florida and (4) What’s been going on in January since our return to Malaysia.

Mid-November to Mid-December was a long time ago, but I’ll hit the highlights, and since this is written by me I’ll start with what was going on with me personally.  I couldn’t hear out of my left ear at all and it had been that way for a while due to it filling up with fluid from my allergies.  I’ve been battling allergies and their side effects (respiratory and ear issues) ever since arriving in Malaysia, but 2016 was the worst.  I spent the majority of the year feeling miserable and made way more trips to see doctors than anyone under 40 should ever have to.  I had chest x-rays, dozens of courses of antibiotics, constant coughing and couldn’t hear for months.

We had been planning a holiday trip in December so we could go to the US and visit family and let everyone see Sebastian since he’s only spent a couple of weeks in the US since birth.  As we got closer and closer to the planned departure on December 16th I was worried we may have to actually cancel the trip because I was making weekly trips to Singapore for literally MONTHS due to my ear problems and the ENT just kept trying to halfass treat it and “wait to see what happens”.  It just continued to get worse until one evening I got home from work around 7pm and went straight to bed because I left work feeling ok but started getting a headache on the drive home and that turned into a pain in my left jaw, neck and ear.

I wasn’t able to sleep and the pain got more and more intense until I told Carolyn that it was beyond normal pain and that I needed to go to the Emergency Room.  I know when something isn’t right with me, and this was definitely a time when something abnormal was going on because the pain came on immediately and got so bad that I was writhing in pain in the bed and couldn’t barely open my eyes normally as we packed the kids into our van and drove over to Raffles Hospital.  We made our way to the ER and the doctor had a look into my left ear and said “your eardrum is being pushed out of the ear canal – I will call our on-call ENT to come in and check this”.  The on-call ENT was the guy I’d been seeing who had been playing “let’s wait and see” for 2+ months.

He jokingly said “the doctor thinks your eardrum is coming out of the ear canal – haha – let’s have a look and see what’s actually happening…  oh.  well… he’s right, it is bulging because there’s a large blister on your eardrum that is about to rupture.  you have a bad ear infection.”  Lovely…

They asked me about the pain level and I told them it was excruciating.  I was given some pain killer injections and then they wiped some antibiotics in my ear and gave me some medications and sent me on my way.  We drove back home and I was in bed around 3am after taking a few more pain pills.  I woke up at 7am to blinding pain and wet pillow, covered in blood and pus from where the blister had finally ruptured.  Carol called the hospital for me and they told me it would continue to leak for several days and to rest and take all the meds.  The pain pills did nothing and what was almost as bad was that because a layer of skin on my eardrum had exploded and made it thinner I was now able to perfectly hear blood rushing through the capillaries in my eardrum with each heartbeat but couldn’t hear anything else because all that fluid was still trapped in my middle ear!

The ENT I’d been seeing for a while had finally met the end of his usefulness – my condition had progressively worsened the entire time I’d been his patient.  It was time to find someone else, quickly.  I needed to have another myringotomy, like I had back in March 2014 when my symptoms were exactly the same – persistent cough and clogged up ears.  Carolyn checked to see which ENT I’d visited nearly 3 years earlier for this procedure and she made me an appointment to see him.  Unfortunately he wouldn’t perform the procedure on the first visit and he didn’t want to on the second visit either due to the condition of my ear still healing from the infection with the bursting blister, so we literally came down to the weekend before we were supposed to leave for the US without knowing if we’d go or not.  If I couldn’t have the procedure done there was no way I was flying and taking a chance of the pressure causing that fluid to completely rupture my eardrum.

In the end he did the procedure but it wasn’t quite as thorough as 2014 – he only used the little vacuum for a couple of moments to get the fluid out instead of thoroughly clearing it out like he did previously.  The good news was that I was finally able to hear again – instantly.  They did a hearing test and said that I’d lost some of my hearing because of this illness, which wasn’t exactly good news.

At least we knew now that we’d be able to go to the US!

I wasn’t the only one during that time (mid-November to mid-December) who had to see a doctor.  Zobug was due for some jabs and she wasn’t really that excited about it until I told her she could go to Toys R Us and pick 1 toy if she got her jabs without crying.  I couldn’t take another episode like the last time where Carol had me take Zoe for her jabs and she was crying and looking at me with those big teary eyes pleading, “Why are you letting him do this to me, daddy?!”  It broke my heart and made me want to punch the nicest pediatrician on the planet in the mouth, so I needed another approach that worked for everyone.  Zoe took the jabs like a champ!  She was really brave and when he finished she said “that’s all?  it’s over? that wasn’t so bad!”  I took some photos that are included in the gallery below, showing her progression before-during-after the jabs.  Happiness, fear, relief.

Other than tons of medical visit trips to Singapore we also had a period where the kids were finally out of school on break, so Carolyn took them to the large play area at TESCO Plentong a few times.  Sebastian loved the balls and Zoe climbed all over everything.

The best thing about that period for me was that late one Sunday afternoon (11/27 around 5pm) I took the girls and our housekeeper, Rose, to Permas seafood for an early dinner while Jean and Sebastian slept.  As we left the restaurant we saw about 6-8 dusky leaf monkeys!!  This is literally across the street from the condos we lived in last year in Permas Jaya, and there’s development everywhere so they’ve obviously been there.  We’ve seen the normal long tailed macaques in that exact same area a couple of times over the past 4 years when leaving Permas Seafood, but we haven’t seen dusky leaf monkeys at all in Malaysia.  We’ve even been to wildlife refuges where they supposedly live and never saw them, so it was awesome.  Unfortunately all I had was my iPhone so the photos aren’t so good, but you can see that they have the white faces and definitely are the macaques that are all over Malaysia.  I just wish Carol had been there to see them too.  Hopefully we will run into them again before moving back to the US.

Here are some photos taken from mid-November to mid-December:

The Helper became an Artist!

Last year in mid-November we went to a place in downtown JB to celebrate the end of the school year for Zoe and all of her classmates.  The ceremony last year marked Zoe’s graduation from the Nursery and she won a trophy for being the Most Helpful Student in the Nursery.  This year Zoe moved up to K1 (Kindergarten, year 1) and spent many hours learning to spell words and then how to read.  Zobug can now read and do addition and subtraction, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

When the middle of November came again this year it was time to celebrate another school year’s end and the accomplishments of all the children.  We went back to the same auditorium and watched several presentations, including a couple of dances by the Lower School – particularly by K1 and K2.  Zoe recited a memory verse on stage (Proverbs 3:5) while sporting an American Indian costume.  Her class was doing a presentation (dancing and singing) about children from “around the world”.  Each student was tasked to come dressed up in a traditional costume from some culture other than their own (Malaysian).

Just like last year it was obvious that Zoe was the best dancer on stage (maybe I’m biased), and she did a fantastic job.  Carol charged down to the front of the crowd to get photos but she somehow broke her zoom lens and couldn’t figure out how to focus properly with her normal lens so we ended up with only a handful of photos, but it was a great experience to see our little girl performing on stage.

After the performance there were a few more, then they did the award ceremony for the Lower School before moving on the the Upper School presentations and award ceremony.  We had already been tipped off a couple of weeks earlier that Zoe would again be receiving a trophy this year, but instead of being the Best Helper she was the Best in Creative Arts.  I was surprised by this award because early in the year Carol had a run-in with Zoe’s teacher about grades on some of her artwork.  Zoe is actually a good artist in my opinion; I don’t know many 5 year olds that use shading techniques.  After the run-in I heard a story later in the year that Zoe’s teacher was actually impressed with her artwork when the teacher relayed a story to Carolyn that she was walking around the classroom one day while the students were coloring a drawing of a dog and the teacher asked why Zoe had drawn circles on her dog.  All the other students were coloring their dogs a solid black or solid brown.  Zoe explained that she likes Dalmatians and those circles were its spots.

We were happy Zoe was recognized for her artistic abilities and we hope the award inspires her to continue drawing and coloring.  She loves art and spends countless hours coloring and drawing at home.  I have colored pictures of Elsa and Anna taped up in my office at work, as well as one of my favorite drawings of our family that Zoe ever made — it’s just a house standing in the middle of a green field.  I asked Zoe “where are you and Logan, and where are mommy, me and Sebastian?” and she said “it was hot so we all went inside that house”.  Of course!

After the ceremony we went back home, where Rose was watching Logan and Sebbie, and we picked the 3 of them up and all 6 went for celebratory ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

The following week was Zoe’s last week of school this year, and then she went to school with Logan for a week before Logan’s school year also came to an end.  The girls will both start new school years in January once we return from our trip to the US.

Here are the photos from Zoe’s graduation and awards ceremony, together with some shots from her last day of school and some from Logan’s school as well:

Catboy & our Witch take over LegoLand

Way back in October we received a packed from my mom that had the Halloween costumes that Logan and Zoe had requested, setting them up for a series of Halloween celebrations in Malaysia.

We were mostly concerned that the girls be given an opportunity to enjoy Halloween in some way because it was such a fun holiday for Carol and I when we were growing up in the US.  Our kids know a lot more about Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali than they do about Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas since all of their lives has been spent in Southeast Asia so far.

We tried to go back to StraitsView Condominiums in Permas Jaya for their yearly Halloween party, which the girls and their friends had a blast at last year, but since we no longer live there we were unable to get it arranged because Carol’s friend who still lives over there was traveling back home during that time.

Carol looked around at other options, including an American School in Singapore that was supposed to have a Halloween event where kids could come dressed up and trick or treat around the school.  None of the options worked out.  Eventually we heard that the LegoLand amusement park in Johor Bahru was having a special event for Halloween where there were different attractions, candy would be given away and ticket discounts could be had when you came with your kids dressed up in Halloween costumes.  Perfect!

On Halloween Carolyn took Zoe and Logan, together with Rose, over to LegoLand.  Zoe absolutely loved it, Logan — not so much.  Zoe enjoyed seeing all the other costumes, getting candy and riding rides.  Logan wanted to come back home and was “scared” by the other kids who were dressed up.  I was glad they had an opportunity to celebrate Halloween, but it was nothing close to walking all around a neighborhood in your costume with friends, going door-to-door and collecting candy, then heading back home at the end and pouring out your haul and going through it.

Halloween wasn’t a complete disappointment for Logan, even though LegoLand wasn’t a hit for her.  She absolutely LOVED her Catboy costume, which comes from the cartoon called PJ Masks.  She wanted to wear it every single day.  Carol let her put it on several times after she’d get home from school in the afternoons, but Logan wanted to wear to school too.  Carol asked Teacher Mei (Logan calls her “Tee-Tee May”) if Logan could wear it in once since the school year was almost over and not only was she allowed to wear it, but she was encouraged to wear it because that very week her school was planning a “Children’s Day” where the children were all told they could wear whatever they liked instead of their regular uniform — perfect!

Logan went to school on Children’s Day dressed up as Catboy.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Loggie quite as excited as she was to go to school dressed as her favorite crime fighting hero, Catboy.  She had a blast and was given an award for “Most Creative Dress”, which she was very proud of.

I’ve looked at the class photo from that day probably 200 times and it has the same emotional effect almost every time – a mixture of pride and sadness.  I’m so proud that my little princess is coming out of her shell and no longer nervous about being around other children.  I’m proud to see that she feels free to be herself without fear of what others will think or say, more confidence than her old man even.  I’m sad because I know she’ll have 15-20 more years of school where other children will say and do unkind things to her that may negatively impact her psyche.  I hope those difficult times don’t destroy the joy and happiness I see in this amazing little girl, and I find satisfaction in that hope that at some point, maybe sooner than later, she will hopefully realize that those people don’t matter and her happiness should never suffer due to the opinions of others.  Each time I see this class photo of Logan in her Catboy costume it reminds me of a Theodor Geisel qoute that I’ve had posted in my office for the past 4 years: “Be who you are and drive what you will, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  I find it difficult to think that way myself, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see that strength in my Loggie at 3 years old…

Here are the photos from the week surrounding Halloween:

Back into a routine

The past 3 weeks have been spent getting back into our normal routine or work for me, school for the girls, and running around like crazy for Carol and Sebastian.

Since returning from Penang we went to Singapore on two separate Saturdays so that I could see a specialist about my continued coughing.  I’ve been basically cough free since about October 6th.  The doctor gave me two further courses of antibiotics, plus a bunch of other medications, but in the end it seems to have worked.  My left ear is blocked but I refuse to take the steriods he prescribed because it gave me thrush, but I’d prefer a blocked ear to nonstop coughing for another 12-14 weeks.

Speaking of 12-14 weeks, I’ve been smoke free for 13 weeks now.  I haven’t smoked a single cigarette in 13 weeks and I don’t plan on ever smoking again.  I’m glad to be done with it…

Besides the two trips to Singapore for my doctor visits, we have luckily been able to stay put in JB for the past 3 weekends, which is nice.  I get really tired of the non-stop traffic and driving when we go to Singapore every single weekend.  Instead of doctor appointments we’ve been able to do other things, like Zoe and Logan had some friends over for a slumber party one recent Friday night, and they all went to Hello Kitty Land the following day.

We received a care package from my mom (thanks, mom!) and the girls loved their Halloween costumes, especially Logan.  Logan had said she wanted to be Catboy from PJ Masks and Zoe said she wanted to be a witch, and that’s what they got.  Sebastian is a tiny pirate and doesn’t seem to mind the little cap on his head as long as he’s free to run around, but if you stick him in his playpen with it on he gets super pissed off and will tank the cap off his head and throw it as far as he can.

The other recent happenings are that Carol has taken several more cooking classes and she’s now nearly mastered multiple dim sum dishes, primarily har gaos, do miaos and 1 or 2 others.  She’s taking a break on that for a while now to see if she can make it on her own, but so far she hasn’t even attempted it so hopefully she’ll find some time in the next week or so to give it a go.

I was busy as hell the past 2 weeks because I had some visitors from the US at my job and I was with them constantly, so I worked 80+ hours two weeks ago and then around 70 hours last week between all driving around with the visitors, picking up urgent parts for work myself, conference calls and so forth.  Anyhow, it has felt good to see some improvements in areas I’ve been recently asked to focus on that are new for me.

Also new for me is a new vehicle.  Tomorrow I will be bringing home a Toyota minivan to give it a try and see if that’ll be the new family vehicle or not.  We shall see; I have mixed feelings on the Civic.  I’ve had the Civic for 3+ years now and I’m used to it, but it’s a squeeze fitting a family of 5, with two carseats, into a Honda Civic.  The minivan will give us more space I believe, but I hate not having a trunk and now allowing everyone to look into the back of our vehicle; there are a lot of smash and grabs in JB where people will smash your car window while it’s parked in a car park, in order to steal whatever valuables they see.

Anyhow, here are some photos from the past 3-4 weeks: