The Good ‘ol U.S. of A!

Well we are finally settled back into our life here in Kuala Lumpur since taking a long and even longer than expected trip back to the States to visit with our wonderful family and friends.  I clearly took an extended leave from blogging so I could soak up as much time as possible with those we spend so much of our time away from. Our initial plan was to be in the States from mid-November to early January, but 4 days into our visit we learned that we were PREGNANT and expecting Baby #2!  YES, we were very open to becoming pregnant and NO, we did not expect for it to happen this soon, BUT we are very excited to grow our family and feel extremely blessed that we are able to do so. Baby BOY Wade will be making his debut into the world in July 2017!  As excited as we were, this news changed things a bit because we felt that it was important to begin seeing a doctor immediately and having real discussions about whether or not it was in our best interest for us to return to Kuala Lumpur for the remainder of the pregnancy.  We needed to have serious conversations about medical care in KL, the risk levels of Zika virus and Dengue fever and the fact that I was a high risk pregnancy right out the gate due to our daughter’s medical conditions related to her heart and spine.  Unfortunately that does increase the risk of future pregnancies by a bit of also having those same conditions.  We had ruled out that her condition was genetic related, but increased risk is still enough concern to handle things carefully and take the necessary steps to keep a close eye on the anatomy of our growing baby.  So instead of heading back for Kuala Lumpur in January as initially planned Ariane and I actually extended our stay until mid-February. It was great to enjoy more time with family, knock out the necessary doctor appointments, and have the right conversations about our potential return to KL.  Ultimately it was decided that moving forward with the pregnancy in KL was just fine, with limited precautions. That was great news and so it was then time for us to head back to KL.  My husband with his work schedule couldn’t be with us during a lot of our time in the States, so being able to finally be together as a family again was so important and just always feels so right!

Anyways,  I decided for this blog that I wanted to write about the people, places and things that I realized I missed since moving from the States back in June 2016. Call it a List of What I Missed from the good ‘ol U. S. of A!  Don’t worry this isn’t a sappy blog full of heartache and tears, but rather one that I personally think depicts a lot of the differences that exist from the states to a lot of other countries and also helps those who live in the States and will always live in the States perhaps realize some of the things that you are very fortunate to have and take for granted from time to time. Nothing mind blowing here, but hopefully slightly informative & entertaining!

Miss #1 – Our Family & Friends

Okay this might be the only part that does include a little bit of emotion, because well we just love our family & friends so much.  It is without a doubt very difficult at times to be living so far away from family.  When we lived in Atlanta, GA I still thought that the majority of my family was so far from me.  I mean really a 2 hour flight to see family that lived in WI seemed like such a big deal at the time.  The packing and traveling and distance we were about to go seemed like a lot…..UNTIL we moved to KL.  Seeing family now because of where we live is quite the adventure.  It is a 20+ hour travel day WITH a 2 year old!  Thank goodness Ari is a rock star on flights now. This girl just waltzes on the plane, takes her seat and enjoys the ride! This past November was our first flight home since moving here in June so we were very excited to see everyone.  I was not only excited to see everyone, but I was thrilled to just be in the same or relatively the same time zone as those we love!  In KL, we are anywhere from 12-14 hours ahead of the time in the States so our Good Night is y’all’s Good Morning and vice versa.  It is a bit strange and I am not sure I will ever get used to it, but it certainly makes connecting with loved ones a challenge and one that we think about and face just about every single day.

During our stay in the States it was simply important to us to spend quality time with our family and friends.  And so that is what we did!  Ari was able to spend so much time with her Grandmas, and Grandpa, and Aunts and Uncles and cousins!  She loves them all so much and it just melted my heart to see the interactions she had and the closeness that she felt to each and everyone of them.  The things that most people take for granted were the moments that we were treasuring.  Dinners as a family, birthdays, the holidays, visits with family & friends in Atlanta, running errands and shopping, going to my nephew’s soccer games and my niece’s basketball games, dinner and coffee with friends, doctor appointments or simply sitting around and watching TV together were all so important because we were together.  We had a wonderful time and always hold close the memories and despite the distance and the time in between we know that it is never goodbye, but always see you soon.

Family fun in Brookfield, WI with Grandma, Grandpa & some of Ariane’s cousins!

Family fun in Madison, WI with Grandma, Auntie Tamara & Auntie Tiffany!

Celebrating Thanksgiving & Christmas 2016! And a trip to the Georgia Aquarium!

Tear, tear….okay let’s keep it moving!

Miss #2 – Wine

If you know me well, you aren’t surprised that ‘wine’ comes directly after ‘friends and family’.  Ha Ha!  One of the first things I did the day after our arrival is take a trip to Total Wine & More in Brookfield, WI.  It was new to the area but we were very familiar with it, because it was our liquor store of choice when we lived in Atlanta.  I was in wine heaven!  Not only were there so many bottles to choose from, but the prices were so incredibly reasonable!  I was ecstatic that I only spent $48 on 6 bottles of wine.  $8 a bottle is amazing, especially when you are now accustomed to wine prices being on average RM 80 or $18 USD.  Let’s just say my husband is not very happy with my wine habit while living in Malaysia. Malaysia has the 3rd highest tax on alcohol worldwide at 15%. Also known as a ‘sin tax’ which is a tax on items considered harmful or undesirable, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Well Lord, forgive me for my sins!

So here I am enjoying a couple (okay few) glasses of this savory Cabernet.  We are 4 days into our trip to the States, I take a pregnancy test and just like that the bottles of wine I just bought are now aging in my parents basement.  My husband was thrilled for 2 reasons…we were having a BABY!  And Mommy wouldn’t be buying anymore wine for the duration of her stay in the States.  But never fear, I will be back with lots to celebrate!

Just a few of the wine bottles that taunted me during our visit…there were definitely more!

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Miss #3 – Grocery Stores

I enjoyed myself immensely at the grocery stores when we were in the States for our visit. It may have even bordered on enjoying them too much as I wanted to go just about everyday.  I am not kidding. Sometimes even just by myself to stroll slowly through the aisles in awe of everything that was there at my fingertips.  Pretty much anything that you need and want to buy is there and not just one brand or flavor of it, but a ton of different brands and flavors.  I remember being in the snack aisle and looking at all of the Doritos and Cheetos and Fritos OH MY!  There were snack bag sizes and normal sizes and family sizes and this flavor and that flavor and I just couldn’t believe anymore how many options there were just for a bag of chips! In KL, you pick your preferred grocery store, you have chips on your grocery list (don’t be specific or it will result in major disappointment), you stroll past the small part of the aisle that has snacks and you stare.  Do I recognize any of these?  Okay I see a bag of Cheetos. Yummy!  Oh dang they only have the Flaming Hot Cheetos.  Okay let’s go with Doritos.  Shoot they only have the BBQ flavored Doritos, okay how about some chips, oh look they have Lay’s Potato Chips (with ridges, SCORE!). Okay well those look yummy.  I will take those. What size?  The only size they got like somewhere between a snack size and a US normal size.  Oh geez and the cost is RM 26.  Okay perfect $5.86 for this beautifully small bag of imported Ruffles Potato Chips.  You know what, never mind I’ll take the strange bag of chips next to it that looks pretty good that is 1/3 of the cost.

Tostitos available in the States: Original Tostitos, Hint of Lime Tostitos, Hint of Jalapeno Tostitos, Crispy Rounds Tostitos, Tostitos Scoops, Tostitos Fajita Scoops, Multigrain Scoops, Tostitos Dipping Rolls, Multigrain Tostitos, Salsa Verde Tostitos, Tostitos Cantina Originals, Tostitos Cantina Thin & Crispy, Tostitos Cantina Chipotle Thins, Tostitos Bite Size and I’m over here in Malaysia like can I just get a bag of Tostitos?!

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So for 2 weeks straight I searched this grocery store in Kuala Lumpur (and every other grocery store that I go to for that matter) for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and there was literally nothing. And then BAM just like that, one day there is a pyramid of quite the variety of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese…if I go back a week from now there may or may not be a box left.

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Y’all import pricing here is crazy!  The Malaysian Ringgit continues to weaken to the U.S. Dollar, which drives the cost of imported goods up significantly.  A container of cottage cheese here costs around $10 USD, a 2 cup bag of Kraft cheese costs around $7 USD, a normal size box of Trix or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios or Lucky Charms (of course Ari’s favorite) costs around $6 USD, Ore Ida Tater Tots (when you can find them) costs around $6-7 USD, Stonyfield Yo Baby Yogurt costs around $10 USD (sorry Ari, you don’t eat that anymore).   So yes the grocery stores in the States were very enjoyable.  If I went in for 1 thing I came out with 20 because there was just so much to choose from and well the prices were just mind blowing!  Mind blowing until you are there for awhile and then you too start complaining about the prices or not having a coupon or why isn’t this Buy 1, Get 1 Free (here they say ‘Buy 1, Free 1’).

Oh and I also need to comment quick on the size of the grocery carts in the States. They are gigantic!  You know the grocery stores in the States that have the little grocery carts for kids to push around? Well that is about the size of the carts you get in KL for all of your shopping.  Ha ha!  Well they aren’t that small, but pretty close to it.  To put it in perspective, when Baby #2 comes along there is absolutely NO way that his car seat will be fitting in that thing like it does in the States.  I mean seriously a Costco cart here would be the Mac Daddy of grocery carts in KL and absolutely wouldn’t be fitting down any aisles. So people, enjoy your palatial grocery stores, the many choices that you have and the U.S. brands at a non-imported cost!

Proof that we spent way too much time in the grocery stores….poor baby!

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Miss #4 The Coveted Drive-Thru & My Personal Food Obsessions

It is extremely rare to come across a drive-thru in Malaysia.  In fact, I have only seen one.  It is a Starbucks that is actually only like 5 minutes from where we live. I even came across an article titled, “Are Drive-Thrus Advancing Thru Asia?”  And NO I am not obsessed with fast food, although during this pregnancy the occasional drive-thru would have been nice, BUT I did thoroughly enjoy just about a daily visit to the Starbucks drive-thru when we were in the States.  Let’s just say I am officially a Gold Member through March 2018.  My point is that it was nice to be around some of the conveniences that I was used to when we lived in the States. I will say though that since living in Kuala Lumpur we, like just about everyone that lives here, are so much more active and you walk a lot more than you drive so I guess drive-thrus would be kind of pointless to have especially in the heart of KL.

Food.  There are an endless amount of food options in Malaysia. From Malaysian food to Indian food to Thai food to Chinese food to Korean food to Asian food to Italian food to Western food and this kind of food and that kind of food.  It is literally all here!  But I still managed to miss a few of my staple restaurants from the States.  Now some of you will probably not completely understand until you actually can’t have it, when it is not even an option.  So when we came back to the States I had my hit list of places that I needed to go.  My list included 1) Chick Fil-A for a delicious, juicy spicy chicken sandwich (NO PICKLE) and their chicken noodle soup 2) Panera Bread for their Frontega Chicken Panini and Chicken & Wild Rice soup 3) Noodles & Company for their Penne Rosa and the occasional Mac & Cheese bowl 4) Chipotle for their delicious chicken burrito bowl with guacamole 5) Starbucks for their skinny vanilla latte and bacon gouda breakfast sandwich (we do have Starbucks in KL but it tastes different to me and there are none of the same food options with the exception of maybe the muffins….spicy chicken puff anyone?) and 6) Jimmy John’s for their scrumptious #5, The Vito.  I definitely satisfied these cravings being that we were there for almost 3 months, with the exception of Jimmy John’s. When I found out that I was pregnant 4 days into our arrival, I never allowed myself to indulge in one of their sandwiches and I wanted one so very bad.  I am sure I would have been fine, but I chose to stay away from the so called ‘listeria infested’ cold cuts because webmd.com told me to. So our next trip back I will definitely need to make sure to hit up Jimmy John’s a few times to make up for lost time!

Ari loving some Noodles & Company Spaghetti & Meatballs!

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Ari slurping up some Panera Bread Creamy Tomato Soup!

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Miss #5 – The Weather

Strange right?  We were literally in Wisconsin for the majority of the dreadfully cold winter.  So why is ‘the weather’ on my miss list?  When you live in Malaysia it is either hot or really hot or dreadfully hot so I guess for a short while it was nice to have a change of the season so to speak.  Believe me I HATED the cold and it seemed pretty unbearable most of the days and there is just something depressing about not seeing the sun day after day after day or looking outside and literally just not wanting to go anywhere.  But I guess you have to try to find the positive in every situation so here is what I enjoyed about the freezing weather….First and foremost I really enjoyed being where temperatures were in good ‘ol Fahrenheit and not Celsius!  In Malaysia, I see the temperature reading in the car of 32 degrees and still have no idea how to convert that to Fahrenheit.  I just know that whatever the temperature is, it is just hot! In the States, seeing 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter is actually kind of pleasant!  When I say pleasant, I mean really cold, but not dreadfully cold like the 0 degrees or below 0 degrees that we experienced while we were there.  Don’t even bother googling Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions because you will see this: T(°F) = T(°C) × 9/5 + 32.  And ain’t nobody got time for that!

What I also enjoyed about the weather was being able to wear winter clothes! There is just something about being able to wear a cozy sweater and some boots.  I wasn’t sure how Ari was going to respond to it because she is so used to just wearing shorts and dresses every single day in KL, but she actually seemed to love it!  She refused to go anywhere without her hat and mittens on and definitely didn’t mind rocking her leggings, long sleeve tops and boots….she was quite the adorable snow bunny in my opinion.

And because it was winter it did end up snowing a few times.  It didn’t snow a ton, but it snowed enough where we were able to get outside together as a family and play in the snow.  Ari quickly adapted from being a sunbathing beauty to an ice princess and absolutely loved playing in the snow.  She liked to simply touch it and kick it and was even able to master her first snow angel.  We had a great time, but I am not going to lie…it is kind of nice to be back in our year round flip flops and swimsuits!

Miss #6 – Shopping, Shopping & more Shopping

Okay so we already discussed the luxurious grocery stores, but now I am talking about shopping.  In KL, malls are all the rage and they have so many stores here!  There are a lot of stores that you would be familiar with like Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Old Navy, H&M and Aldo and then high end stores like Gucci, Tory Burch, Prada and Coach. But brace yourself for this one….you might need to sit down.  They do not have a Target here. Clearly makes sense that when we were in the States I frequented Target.  I am pretty sure I was there just about every week at least once. No need to discuss this with my husband. The credit card proved this to him.  I have always had a love/hate relationship with Target.  You go in wanting to buy just a few things and you come out with a whole lot more. I seriously was loving me some Target. And they have Starbucks inside of them! Hello?!  Sipping on your latte while strolling through the aisles of Target….is there anything better?  And it wasn’t just Target that I enjoyed.  When I found out that I was pregnant I became very fearful of the maternity clothes that I would be subject to in Malaysia.  It is just a different style for the most part and a style that is not quite me.  So between Amazon, Target, Kohl’s, Motherhood Maternity & Old Navy, I quickly had me a maternity wardrobe! I also began doing research on baby products and stuff that would be available to me in Malaysia and quickly realized that any product or brand that I am familiar with that is sold here is going to cost 25-60% more.  So I did what any pregnant woman would do while in the States and ordered ‘a few things’ that didn’t quite fit in the 4 suitcases that we returned with. But fortunately between my husband traveling there this month, properly equipped with a large empty suitcase and family coming to visit us in April, I am hopeful that all of these items will make it back here and my checklist of things we need for his big arrival will have dwindled quite significantly!  If my husband is reading this right now, he is probably rolling his eyes and thinks I am ridiculous, but I would like to think that he will be thanking me in the months ahead for being so proactive and prepared, all while saving us some money along the way.

Ariane’s first time to a Build-A-Bear Workshop!  Wish they had them in Malaysia.  The closest one is in Singapore!

Miss #7 – The Metric System vs. Imperial System

If you actually do a bit of research you will learn very quickly that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system as its predominant system of measurement.  Why?  You will find that the main reason is that the cost to do so would be astronomical.  From manufacturer packaging changes, to actual product changes like tools and tape measures to just the everyday thinking while baking, cooking or trying to figure out the temperature.  I personally welcome the old school imperial system because it is simply what I am used to.  I already walked you through my Fahrenheit to Celsius confusion, well now on top of that try getting used to buying your meat in grams or kilograms vs. ounces and pounds.  Try buying your cheese in grams vs. cups.  Try figuring out the size of something in milometers or centimeters vs. inches and feet.  Try running on the treadmill and wanting to bust out 3 miles, but you only see kilometers.  Try driving and seeing a speed limit sign for 60 kph and having no idea how fast or slow that is in mph (just to note: it is 37.2823 mph).  Try baking or cooking while looking at a Pinterest recipe and having everything in cups, ounces, pounds and Fahrenheit, but every single product you are cooking with is labeled in grams, kilograms, milliliters and liters and your oven has Celsius temperatures.  What do you do?  I will tell you what I do.  I have tried to familiarize myself a bit with the metric system.  At least knowing how many grams to an ounce, kilograms to a pound and so on.  Other than that, my husband has blessed me in the kitchen with an Amazon Echo and I tell you what, Alexa is very helpful when cooking.  I just ask her and she tells me whatever it is that I need to know!  Alexa is my own personal sous chef.

Miss # 8 – Doctor APPOINTMENTS

When we were in the States we probably went to 15+ doctor appointments.  I obviously sought out prenatal care, went to the dentist, the eye doctor and a general physician. Antoine went to a general physician and an ENT doctor. Ariane comes with an arsenal of doctors and so we sought out all new doctors in WI so that when we visit she can knock out the majority of her appointments while in the States.  So she saw a pediatric cardiologist, a pediatric orthopedic doctor, an eye doctor, a pediatrician and a dentist.  So why did Doctor appointments make my wish list? Because when you make an appointment in the States YOUR appointment time is YOUR appointment time.  In KL, they typically have more of a first come, first serve approach and simply put, it sucks. It takes hours and when the appointment is for your 2 year old daughter, spending hours on end in a hospital waiting room just doesn’t work. You literally are in a check-in queue, and then a doctor waiting queue, and then a x-ray queue and then a billing queue and then I am simply in a bad mood queue.  It isn’t efficient, it wastes your entire day and entertaining a toddler for 2-3 hours before their appointment even begins is just ridiculous.  We were extremely pleased with the care we received while in the States during this visit and were fortunate enough to stumble upon wonderful doctors who took great care of our precious little girl and for that we plan to see them again upon our return.

Miss # 9 – Driving, Traffic & No Motorbikes!

If I had spent my time back in the States in Atlanta, I am doubtful that I would be writing about missing traffic, because the reality is that traffic in Atlanta can be downright awful. But I am always entertained by people in Wisconsin, specifically my wonderful parents, when they talk about the traffic and how maybe I would be better off not taking the highway ‘at this time’.  The highway in Milwaukee during ‘rush hour’ is quite enjoyable actually.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a bit of traffic, but it is never really at a complete standstill and so in my opinion it is just really not that bad. What is strange though is that I have a ridiculous amount of road rage when driving in the States.  It is like something literally takes over me and I instantaneously can’t stand how people drive.  In KL it is a bit different.  The traffic is insane, especially in the city and people just do what they want to do. Red light?  Looks kind of Green to me! Driving in a Turn Only lane? Doesn’t mean you HAVE to turn! Need to get over 3 lanes quickly?  It is not excuse me, but you better watch out and make room! Want to turn right against oncoming traffic? As long as people see you they will let you get over so you can continue on your merry way! You have to be an assertive driver in KL or you will never make it.  BUT people don’t really have road rage here at all.  There is some impatience and honking of the horn, but overall you just need to make your move and people will react accordingly.

Now motorbikes are a different story entirely.  They rule the streets of KL and are literally everywhere.  I appreciated the fact that there were absolutely NO motorbikes seen when we were in the States.  It was like a breath of fresh air on the roads.  I am not kidding you when I say that you could be stopped at a red light in KL and motorbikes will be zooming past both sides of your car and before you know it there are 30 in front of you at the same light.  It is insane.  In my time here in KL, I only had one very close ‘situation’ with a motorbike that may not have ended well for him.  I think Antoine had one as well where he was about to open his car door and if he had the man on motorbike more than likely would no longer have been on his motorbike.  Honestly though, I have gotten used to them.  What I can’t get used to is when a family of 3 or 4 are all on the same 1 motorbike.  I’m not joking….Mom, Dad, infant and toddler. It terrifies me.  Clearly there are no laws regarding car seats here….so this I also appreciated while back in the States. Our sweet babies are all locked in and buckled up.

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All in all, those were the things that I missed and truly do have more of an appreciation for. You always want what you can’t have, right? After our extended stay in the States, it was funny though because I realized that there were a lot of things that I missed about our new home in Kuala Lumpur.  First and foremost, I missed my husband and our life together there.  This is our journey as a family and it was time that we got settled back in under the same roof.  Speaking of roofs, we live on the 37th Floor of our condo and I was missing our view!  It is quite spectacular and not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate our current living situation.

Views from our living room & kitchen!

Views of our condo, backyard & park across the street!

I missed my family and our new, wonderful friends.  I missed the city of KL, both the simplicity and all of the chaos.  I missed being challenged to do something new or find something that I have no idea where to begin or where to go.  I missed being around so many different cultures and ways of life. I missed the unknown and the uncertainty. I was missing out on being there during this incredible opportunity that we have been blessed with, all of the new experiences, the unfamiliarity, the daily trials and new things learned along the way. During our time here in KL, we have come across many incredible people that all have a different story and yet there is often a parallel that connects us all together.  We all left the place we once called home. Some aren’t even sure where that home is anymore because they have been gone for so long.

We are all living here for the moment and whether we know where we are going next or not, we are all embracing this home because before we know it, our time here in KL will be a place we lived once, a place we had once in a lifetime experiences, a place that will forever have a mark in this journey we call life and a place that we will think back about and all have our own Malaysia Miss List.

I randomly stumbled across this article before posting this blog…It’s funny because a lot of the things I miss about the States are the same things I will miss about Malaysia but in a completely different way. And then there are those people, places and things that are truly unique to our life here in Malaysia that we will one day leave, but never forget.

http://www.expatgo.com/my/2017/03/25/7-things-youll-miss-leave-malaysia/
Big hugs & love to the States, you are always missed, always thought about and always in our hearts …XOXO

 

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