A Weekend in Singapore

When I considered how to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, the one thing that came to mind was a weekend away. And when I discovered that my sister had to make a visa run the weekend after my birthday, and that Singapore was one of the possible destinations, it all fell into place. So this weekend we bundled up Baby Engineer for her first plane ride, and jetted off.

Anyone who has travelled to Singapore before will probably know that the accommodation there is ridiculously expensive.  And if a room is not ridiculously expensive, it’s probably ridiculously small!  And when your baby goes to bed at 6:30 pm, and ties you to the room for the rest of the night, ridiculously small is suddenly not really an option any more.  So we ended up booking a whole apartment through AirBNB, which was pretty much our best decision ever.

The apartment was walking distance from an MRT (subway/metro/whatever you like to call it) station, which meant we could catch the MRT to and from the airport and not worry about taxis or car seats.  We had two rooms, so we could leave Baby Engineer in the bedroom sleeping while we enjoyed our evening.  And this was the view from our bedroom.  Yes, that is a private roof top pool, and yes, it was amazing.

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The apartment owner was nice enough to leave some restaurant recommendations, so while we waited for my sister, we wandered down for some Chicken Rice and explored the mall a little.  We even found Cotton On Kids (aka best children’s clothes shop ever).  The food was amazing.  The mall had good shops.  The public transport was quick and easy.  Until that point, I hadn’t really realised how much I missed while living in Kuala Belait. When you’re in the thick of a place or situation, it’s easy to forget that other places are not like that.  There is so much we love about our lives here, but there are also times I miss living somewhere a bit more modern.

When my sister arrived from Yangon, Myanmar, we rambled about how modern and fancy and green and functional Singapore was for a while.  The baby met her aunty for the first time, and we hung around the apartment.  We went out for food.  We realised that going out for food was not such a good idea when the baby was supposed to be sleeping.  We stopped in at the supermarket.  We chatted and chilled.  It was lovely.

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The next day we started with prata (delicious) and coffee/tea, and filled the day with shopping, in true Singapore style (actually, not really in full Singapore style – we favoured IKEA and Uniqlo over Louis Vuitton and Armani).  We were delighted about the feeding and baby care rooms in all the malls.  We were surprised at how quickly the day disappeared.  We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at the apartment.

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The next day we aimed to be a bit more historic and a bit less capitalistic, but we kinda failed.  We walked to Sentosa Island, and had a look around Chinatown and Little India.  But really, we hardly did anything.  Time flew, The Engineer started to feel pretty ill (I passed the bug that I got on the afternoon of my birthday onto him, apparently), my sister had a flight to catch.

We definitely didn’t leave Singapore feeling like we had done everything we wanted.  Far from it.  But I did leave with some pants that fit me (after the baby, I am unfortunately no longer catered for in most Asian stores), some rad Christmas presents, and some new and amazingly cute pyjamas for Baby Engineer.  We also left knowing that Baby Engineer can handle the plane, even if it requires a LOT of aisle pacing, and can handle a lot of walking around and non baby-centred activity.  And the best thing about Singapore being so nearby?  When we need a dose of modern life, we can always go back!

On Baby Sleep

I have hinted before (or maybe outright stated – I can’t remember) that sleep is a little bit challenging in the Engineer house.  Today it is very challenging.  The Engineer’s Baby is in the middle of a huge development, and she is struggling to sleep.  She has decided that 30 minutes is quite long enough to sleep (even though she’s clearly still exhausted after 30 minutes).  She has also decided that a good way to wind down is by arching back and screaming full volume.

We have had these days before.  I know that it will pass.  But when in the middle of it, it really doesn’t feel like it.  It feels more like I am doing everything wrong and have ruined her ability to sleep for ever.  It feels like I am doomed to rock and carry her until she drops day naps (by which point she will probably be way too heavy).  It feels like I am missing something and not understanding my baby.

I don’t quite know why sleep pulls so strongly on new parents.  It could be the number of times you are asked “How does she sleep?”.  It could be the fact that sleep deprivation makes you low level insane (possibly not just low level, actually).  It could be the prevalence of sleep advice out there.  It is probably a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, the result is that many new parents feel like the true measure of their success or otherwise is how many hours and how easily the baby sleeps.

(The other measures that seem to get the same response are feeding and weight gain, and possibly physical milestones – we have never had an issue with any of those though, so sleep is where all my guilt falls)

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The thing is, though, that a baby is so much more than her sleep habits and a parent is so much more than his/her ability to shape those habits.  In fact, if you were to ask me what I most wanted my daughter to be, a good sleeper would almost certainly not make the cut. Kind, resilient, loving, motivated, curious, independent.  These are things I want for my daughter.  I want her to be her, and to not be worried if she doesn’t fit the box.  And I also think that I have to model that.  I have to be me, and not be worried if I don’t fit the box. And “me” is a baby-carrying, co-sleeping, non-sleep-training mother who believes that sleep will come with time.

It’s really hard to remember sometimes, but this parenting choice actually didn’t happen entirely by accident.  She doesn’t sleep on me because it’s the only place she will sleep (although that’s true).  She sleeps on me because I think it is natural and healthy for her to be held close as much as possible.  She sleeps on me because it (usually) works, and maximises her sleep with a minimum of effort.  She sleeps on me because this way we almost always get four naps per day, and without it I have no idea what kind of mess her sleep would be.

In the face of endless advice about self-settling and putting babies down drowsy-but-awake, it can be quite difficult to stick to my guns and to realise that we’re doing okay.  But the thing is, if those things work they are great.  If they don’t, they are not so great.  And on the very worst days, they are downright stress-inducing.

So today I am reminding myself that The Engineer’s Baby is big and happy and gorgeous and curious. She is getting enough sleep, and I am getting nearly enough most nights. She is fairly portable, since we are her bed.  She loves people, and gives the most amazing smiles and laughs.  And all of these things are more important to me than her being easy to put down for a nap.

With this reminder, I am pledging to stick to my guns and remember why we have chosen to parent the way we have.  I am also pledging to stress a little less about her sleep, to go with the flow a little more, and to remind myself regularly that this too shall pass.  Because I know deep down that we are doing fine, and that I will look back on this time fondly. But some days I certainly need a reminder (or several) of that!


Thirty thoughts as I turn thirty

  1. My Mum turned thirty when I was four months old.  I am thirty the same day as The Engineer’s Baby turns four months.  I like the pattern, even though it’s not perfect.
  2. I have pretty much thought I was thirty for the last two or three years, so I don’t feel any huge shock about being here.  But the realisation that I was twenty ten years ago is a bit of a surprise.
  3. In some ways I am pretty much where I hoped to be in life by this point.  Married to a rad dude, mother to a rad baby, doing some interesting travel.  But I always thought I would have a PhD by now, and until a couple of years ago, I never would have predicted that I would turn thirty in Brunei.
  4. The list of things that turn thirty in 2014 includes Tetris and the Cosby Show.  I am proud to share a birth year with them both.
  5. I have done twenty-six of the thirty things on this list of things to do before you turn thirty.  I am surprised and kinda proud of that.  I probably don’t have time to bungee jump, test drive a dream car, learn to bartend, and go whitewater rafting before the end of the day, unfortunately.
  6. I thought I would dress a little classier by the age of thirty.  But I’m pretty happy living in denim shorts and jandals (flip flops, thongs, slippers, whatever you like to call them).
  7. I made my own birthday cake.  It’s carrot cake.  The carrots remained weirdly orange, but it smells great.
  8. Ten years ago, we had one of the messiest parties in the history of parties for my twentieth.  This year there were three small babies at my party, and it was an entirely different affair.
  9. In the last thirty years, I have called twenty different houses “home”.
  10. As of now, The Engineer and I have been together for more than a third of my life.
  11. I am pretty sure that my predictions for my thirty year old self would have been completely different at five, ten, fifteen, twenty, even twenty-five.  I may be older, but I certainly haven’t stopped changing, not even close.
  12. I have made mistakes and bad choices in the last thirty years, quite a few actually.  But I can’t quite regret any of them, because they all brought me here, and here is pretty good.
  13.  When I was born, floppy disks were new and fancy.
  14. One of my favourite gifts has been pictures of the cake my amazing three year old nephew built me out of blocks.
  15. In the next thirty years, I would like to: write more, train as a yoga teacher, have fun raising Baby Engineer, travel to some new places, complete a Masters or PhD, and do a whole lot more tramping and mountain biking.
  16. In the last thirty years, I have visited twenty-two different countries.  I would love to return to most of them, and there are so many more I’d like to add to the list.  I don’t think I’ll ever get everywhere I want to go.
  17. Sometimes I think I am quite young and modern.  Then I see a teenager…
  18. I have never really been a late sleeper.  But I still know that the fact that I now think of 6:30 as a bit of a sleep in is pretty ridiculous.
  19. My phone company just sent me $10 credit as a birthday present.  It only lasts a week, so I might need to make some expensive phone calls!
  20. Most lists like this seem to have some wise advice for younger selves or deep life lessons.  I don’t really have anything to offer in that vein.  I’ve learned some lessons, but they don’t seem any more relevant today than every other day.
  21. Twelve years ago, on my eighteenth (golden birthday), I sat my first end-of-schooling exam and had a mini bottle of bubbles with my lunch with Mum and a friend.
  22. I feel like I’m not supposed to celebrate or enjoy my birthday as I get older, but I still love it.  I love the breakfast in bed and the gifts and the chance to celebrate life.
  23. I added this sweatshirt to my wish list three or four birthdays ago, and I still love it and still don’t have it.  Moose in snowshoes!
  24. I need to wear my glasses more often.  I’m getting frown lines!
  25. We went out for lunch to celebrate and The Engineer’s Baby sat in a high chair for the first time.  It was revolutionary to eat without using one hand to wrangle the baby (even if it only lasted part of the meal)
  26. Tonight I will celebrate again with burgers and Vanilla Coffee Porter from Mike’s Brewery in Taranaki.  Yum!
  27. In my thirtieth year on the planet the only alcohol I have had is two small glasses of beer. In my twenty-ninth, I didn’t have much more.  I now get tipsy extremely easily.
  28. The next birthday in our family will be a new niece or nephew.  I can’t wait to meet him/her at Christmas time!
  29. I live in a town where the firemen catch 5+ metre pythons at least somewhat regularly.  This is not really birthday related, but seemed worthy of comment.
  30. This is what I look like today:
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Hitting our stride

The Engineer’s Baby is nearly four months old (!) and we definitely feel like we are coming into our own as parents.  This doesn’t mean we always get it right (far from it!), or that there won’t be times when we feel like we absolutely suck.  But it does mean that we no longer feel like those new parents with no idea what to do with the little creature who has suddenly appeared in our lives.  (Because despite the nine months of preparation time, and the years of trying before that, it really does feel sudden!)  We have a little bit more confidence, the wee one is more robust and independent, life is just a little bit easier.

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I think this recent confidence is the culprit behind my recent boredom.  I no longer feel completely overwhelmed with the baby, and have a bit of space in my brain to do something else, for pretty much the first time since I found out I was pregnant just over a year ago.  But I am pleased to report that thus far the writing is helping greatly, along with some lovely play dates and fun activities.  This week was better than last, despite the fact that I spent two full days at home, one of those with a stinking cold…

This confidence might also be the reason I decided to invite a group of people over for a dinner to celebrate my birthday.  A group of eight people, when we’ve never had more than two or three in the past.  It was a decision made on a bit of a whim, and without much forward planning.  So Saturday was pretty much committed to preparing for a dinner party. This wouldn’t have been too complicated if we were at home, with all of our home kitchen. But until Saturday, our Brunei kitchen didn’t even have knives to eat with (which was usually fine, but not ideal when serving a roast!), so it was a little bit more of a challenge.  I always like a challenge though, and I really enjoyed myself.

In the end we had a slightly smaller group, and a slightly different dessert, than we had planned, but it was a lovely evening.  The Engineer’s Baby even slept through the whole thing, after waking three times between going to bed and guests arriving.  We were prepared for a night of distractions, but instead we could focus just on food and guests and fun.

It was a great way to celebrate the end of my third decade on the planet. And this weekend we are headed to Singapore to celebrate a bit more, and to give Baby Engineer the first of three aunty-meetings (the next one visits in early December, and the last one will be when we are at home for Christmas).

It’s been a busy time, and we have even more busy times ahead, so it’s pretty lucky that we have this surge of parenting confidence to carry us through!


When it’s close to thirty degrees during the day all year round, and rains fairly often, it’s easy to think a place like Brunei doesn’t have seasons.  Our first year here was quite wet during the dry season, which made the distinction even harder to spot.  But now that we’re on our second time around the sun, it’s getting easier to spot some of the differences.  And the fact that a sniffly annoying cold seems to be making its way around the house lets me know that we are in the middle of a season change right now. We have also noticed:

  • Ant season runs from August to November.  After taking over our kitchen for months, they seem to have abandoned ship fairly rapidly in the last couple of days (yay!)
  • December and January are for rain, and lots of it.  A perfect time to escape to a lovely New Zealand summer (I am getting just a little bit excited.
  • Durian season is at its peak during July.  The market can be fairly overpowering when they’re around (although with all the dried fish, the markets are never without smells)
  • Mango season seems to come around about October, and there are still quite a few in the markets now.  Mangoes are not very popular in The Engineer’s Household though, so I could easily be wrong on this one.

When you’re used to four pretty distinct seasons – warm, sometimes even hot, summer and the wonderful berries and veges; cool and crisp autumn when the apples are at their best; grey and dreary winter perfect for soup and roasts; rainy spring full of lambs and daffodils and asparagus – the seemingly seasonless year can feel very strange.  And since I’m not really a summer person, I find it quite relentless.

I think, though, that I romanticise New Zealand’s seasons.  I sit here in the muggy heat wishing for morning frosts and boot weather and big snuggly jerseys.  But my mind manages to eliminate the feeling of sitting at a desk all day drinking hot water just to try and warm up my hands.  I forget the mad rush too and from the shower in the morning, and snuggling back into bed afterwards to recover from the journey to the un-warmed sections of the house.  My skin wishes for a breeze, but not for the biting wind and rain that winter can bring.

Wasai Kadir Recreational Park, Labi, Brunei, March 2013.

Wasai Kadir Recreational Park, Labi, Brunei, March 2013.

So today I am grateful for some of the things that an endless summer can bring:

  • We can go for a walk most days without wrapping up warm (even if it can only be morning or evening)
  • I don’t have to think about layering baby clothes, unless we go to the supermarket. I also don’t have to think about what size she might be in different seasons and buy appropriately.  As little as possible, all year round, pretty much does the trick!
  • It’s never too cold to get out of bed and go to the loo in the middle of the night
  • We can get wonderful fresh watermelon all year round
  • I can swim outdoors all year round, and there’s not even that slow-adjustment time before you get used to the water temperature.  It’s warm from the start

And I’m also excited to visit the slightly less endless New Zealand summer in just five weeks.

Lyall Bay Beach, Wellington, NZ,  January 2012.

Lyall Bay Beach, Wellington, NZ, January 2013.

Learning on the job

I have always been a bit of a reader, and that is generally the way I learn best.  Of course it depends on the task – I tried to work out knitting once through reading and pictures and got all tangled up.  A few short sessions with my Mum and I was off and away!  So when I was pregnant, I read more than my fair share of baby books and blogs and forums, trying to figure out what we would need, and how the new addition would fit into the family.

One thing I often came across were lists titled things like “The Things No-One Told Me About Having a Baby”.  Some of the lists were great.  But one thing surprised me: they were often pretty much the same.  Since these lists have been floating around for years, I am pretty sure people have heard many of the common items (e.g. breastfeeding hurts, babies sometimes want to feed very often, you will feel crazy sometimes).  But still, I don’t think the lists are wrong.  I think they are just slightly mistitled, and would more accurately be called “The Things I Was Told, But Didn’t Truly Understand Until I Had a Baby”. Because here’s the thing.  Parenting a newborn is crazy, and no matter how much I knew that I would be tired, that I’d never get a day off, that babies are unpredictable and hard to understand, I think these are things that I really only fully grasped once I was on the job.

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I don’t say this to dismiss the experience of non-parents, not at all.  I fully believe that anyone can have valuable insights and good advice on parenting.  In fact, some of the worst advice I’ve had is from parents, and some of the best is from non-parents.  Everyone’s experiences are so different, which might actually be another reason that some of the lists out there fell a bit flat for me.  So here’s my version:
Five Things I Was Told, But Didn’t Truly Understand Until I Had a Baby

  1. You will feel their cries more deeply than you can imagine.
    I am generally fairly good at coping with babies crying.  I don’t love the sound, of course, but I know that babies cry, and can generally tune it out a bit.  But my baby? That’s a whole different story.  Once she hits a particular cry, even a short time listening leaves me exhausted and emotionally drained.
  2. You will understand their cries.
    When I was around new parents before I had a baby, they would say things like “oh, he’s hungry” or “she’s ready for a sleep”.  From time to time I got it, but mostly I just figured they were making it all up.  Don’t get me wrong, a good portion of the time they probably were making it up (I certainly was, and still am), but sometimes they probably really did know. Turns out when you spend so much time trying to figure a small person out, you do get to understand them!  It’s not always instant or instinctive, but it comes with time.
  3. Baby sleep can feel all consuming.
    I have known for a long time that babies don’t always sleep as long or as easily as you would like.  But until I was in the thick of a baby who preferred to sleep near (preferably on) a parent, and who went through periods of thinking day sleep was not really for her, I really didn’t understand just how much it could rule my life.  I remember planning all excursions carefully around her sleeps (we still do a bit), and being terrified that she would wake up.  I cancelled visits because she wasn’t sleeping well, and I spent way too much time worrying about it.  Sleep is still a challenge sometimes, but rarely does it feel so important and overwhelming as it did in the early days.  (And yes, I am aware we have a long way to go, and that we could return to that all consuming stage!)
  4. You forget the pain of labour.
    I’ve done painful things before.  I walked 100km in 30 hours.  I sat for my tattoo for 5.5 hours.  With both of these, it took several weeks or months to even consider doing them again.  Labour was more painful (or at least quite different) than either of them. But before I left the hospital, I was ready to think about doing it again.  Hormones are a magical thing, and they kicked in pretty instantaneously.  I remember pushing as a relief, not a pain.  I hardly even remember what happened after that.  All I remember is the relief that she was finally here.
  5. The days are long but the years are short.
    On the very worst of the newborn days, I was convinced that my baby would be the one who never stopped the screaming, who never slept through the night, who never grew out of the spewing.  Some days were pretty rough and seemed never ending.  But sure enough, here we are with a baby who rarely screams (she shouts instead), who spews a lot less, and who sleeps a lot more.  It just takes time. And that time will fly. Before you know it, instead of that screamy squishy wee thing you’ve got a baby who’s smiling and giggling and getting pretty close to crawling. I listen to a podcast called The Longest Shortest Time, which is about early parenthood.  Until I’d experienced it, I couldn’t have understood just how apt that title is.

“Weekly” Challenge 20: Cheese Icecream

We are up to our 20th challenge, which shows just how far away from weekly they have been (I have been in Brunei for 87 weeks, if my maths is correct).  I probably should have aimed for monthly from the start, but I am actually fairly happy with occasionally, even if it doesn’t match my initial promise.

This particular challenge has been a long time in the making.  We had the idea right near the start, but didn’t want it to be too close to the Yam and Corn Icecream or the Cheese Cake.  That obviously isn’t a problem now!  We bought the ice cream before Baby Engineer was born.  Then we tasted it and took photos when she was just a little squish (probably about three weeks old).  Now I am finally writing about it when she is three months and three weeks old!


So, the question is… what is Cheese Icecream really like?

To be honest, I don’t even totally remember.  It wasn’t as creamy or as sweet as yam or sweet corn.  It tasted a little bit like cheese, but not overpoweringly so.

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We definitely didn’t like it, or go back for seconds.  But as with most things, it wasn’t spit-it-out disgusting or anything.  The pictures suggest that I wasn’t a huge fan.  But it definitely was more palatable than the Cheese Cake.


The biggest question we were left with at the end was “Why?”  Why would you have cheese ice cream when you could have chocolate or vanilla or other wonderful flavours? Who decided this was something the world needed? What do you pair it with? I have been known to have a big chunk of cheddar with my apple pie, so maybe I should have tried it with that.

At the end of the day, I am just not convinced that it fills a gap for me.  I like cheese.  I like Ice Cream.  I see no need to combine the two!



I’m a bit early for Thanksgiving (not that we really celebrate it), but I think every day is a good day to think about what you’re thankful for.  It’s one of the strategies I used to get through fertility treatments (probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life so far) and those early newborn crying jags, and it’s something I don’t think you can do too often.  So today I’m talking about five things I have been grateful for as a new mother.

  • The Engineer
    I can absolutely 100% say that I don’t know how I would do this without him.  He’s a hands on Dad, always willing to help, and he totally understands that being at home is hard sometimes.  He gives me breaks to go get pedicures in the weekend, does all the nappies when he’s home (even at night), and doesn’t complain if I do nothing but keep the baby alive for the whole day.  I’ve read some horror stories about other people’s partners, and I don’t quite know how I got so lucky!1-2014-07-27 15.09.39
  • Breastfeeding
    I have been ridiculously lucky in this area, because The Engineer’s Baby seems to be a natural.  She was wriggling around to improve her latch at two days old, and has only improved as she has grown.  I considered adding bottles of expressed milk a while ago, but it just all seemed so much more complicated with the sterilising and storing and getting things the right temperature.  And that’s not even considering needing them in the night.  Breastfeeding is often seen as the more difficult option, but for me that has not been the case, and (once again) I don’t quite know how I got so lucky!
  • Our cleaner
    Since a month before Baby Engineer was born, we have had someone come in three times a week to clean for us.  She cleans, washes dishes, does laundry, the whole nine yards, and it is amazing.  Particularly because she doesn’t have to ask – she just does what needs doing with no input from me.  I know we are very lucky to be in the position where this is possible.  But it has seriously made my life a thousand times easier.  Well worth it.
  • Modern technology
    With being so far away from friends and family, video calling is pretty much an essential.  When I lost my phone, I was so sad to think I might have lost all the pictures of her first couple of months, and was ridiculously grateful when Dropbox backup came through for me.  Having TV that I watch on my schedule (or more like her schedule!) is a lifesaver some days.  And you don’t even want to know how many things I’ve Googled since she has been born.  Sometimes I just don’t know how people raised babies in the days before the Internet!
  • My social and smiley wee girl
    I don’t like classing babies as good/bad, easy/difficult, etc. and I really don’t even know where Baby Engineer would fall.  But one thing I do know is that when she was just a few weeks old, and started up with the intense evening scream sessions, her smiles made it so much easier to deal with.  She really is lovely.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a new parent.  Sometimes it’s very hard indeed.  But remembering the positives is such a boost on the days where everything just seems to be going haywire.  With a baby who is going through a huge development stage and seems to be starting teething, I think I might need to come back and re-read this list a fair few times in the coming weeks!

It’s hard with posts like these for me not to feel a little bit gloaty (probably something I need to work on). So I want to emphasize that I take no credit for any of the above; I am just very grateful for the good things that have come my way.  I do not in any way intend to “show off”, and I really hope it hasn’t come across that way…