Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Skinny Shaming

Snack Time
My friend's pantry cupboards are less than full because most of her food is fresh and kept in the refrigerator. She serves her kids fruit, smoothies, or popcorn rather than fatty and salty prepackaged snacks from big box stores that fill the cupboards of most families. And in all fairness it was also the end of the week and she was due to go shopping. But while hosting ladies for lunch and showing off her newly remodeled kitchen one woman made a comment about the contents of the cupboards. 

"No wonder everyone is so skinny." The friend said, "You don't eat anything." 

There were six other ladies in the kitchen and the comment embarrassed my friend. It made her feel as though she wasn't taking care of her family. Both my friend and I wondered why this woman would think it was appropriate to criticize how she took care of her family, but it was use of the work "skinny" that made it sound like a criticism rather than an observation. Most of the time skinny is a desired goal, at least when applied to an individual. But when that label is attributed to a family it takes on a different meaning that makes it sound as though the family is deprived for the sake of vanity. 

Skinny used to be normal. My grandparents are dead so I don't have an example but if you were to look at the way the silent generation ate, you would see why they are not fat. They ate vegetables and had vegetable gardens, ate food not food products, and they ate less food. Eating this way today is seen as healthy in the extreme instead of normal. 

People may be skinny for a variety of reasons--they have trouble putting on weight and are naturally thin, they like the way skinny looks on them and choose to maintain low body fat, they are going through a temporary difficult period in their lives that has caused weight loss due to a reduced appetite. The skinny I am talking about is not underweight. It's unfat. But people may also be skinny because they are eating a balanced diet and getting adequate exercise or active enough throughout the day that they don't get fat. It's not magic and it's not an aberration. 

Skinny isn't shallow, it's healthy. I love the word skinny--skinny jeans, skinny latte, skinny bitch. I can't get enough. It always sounds fresh to my ears, but perhaps skinny can be a pejorative term sometimes so maybe lean is a better description. But maybe to my friend skinny sounded shallow because it was about her family. Had the friend described her family as "lean" the connotation would have been more healthy or athletic. After all this is an active family whose photo streams are dominated with pictures of kids at parks, bike rides, nature hikes, ski and snowboarding trips. Lean would sound as more like a level of fitness and less like deprivation for the sake of appearances. 

Why does a word that sounds like a compliment in so many circumstances (You look skinny in those jeans!) sound like a criticism when directed toward shopping and eating habits of the family? It's because in this case skinny sounds more like a judgement against parenting rather than an observation about how somebody looks? What about using the word "lean" to describe a family who is not chubby?

People feel justified criticizing skinny. This isn't exactly skinny shaming because nobody is pointing to a skinny person and suggesting they eat a burger. But there is a prevailing belief that people who are skinny are this way because they come by it naturally and there is no struggle involved. Whether it's struggling with the effort of a menu of healthy meals for your family or committing to the effort of cooking and preparing food and snacks instead of getting takeout and buying prepackaged foods there is a tremendous amount of discipline involved in creating healthy habits for your family. Criticism of that effort feels bad just as it would if someone critiqued a pantry for being too full of Costco ingredients. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Being an Expat is lonely

Green Corridor in Singapore

It's lonely being overseas when friends and family are at home. People told me this before I left for Singapore but I didn't really believe it would bother me. Making friends has always been easy for me and I am kind of a loner anyway, enjoying a lot of solo time or time just with my husband. But once work has been removed from my day and I am not interacting with colleagues, I realize how little interaction with friends I had prior to moving. Mostly because of both our jobs we didn't see each other all that often. And so I am in the habit of not planning activities to make friends and meet the friends I have made for additional activities. It makes me realize how little I did plan with friends at home and that other than the occasional dinner plan we didn't spend as much time together as I would probably have liked and that I will do better when I return home. I feel the loneliness when those that I've known for years are only accessible during a certain window of my day and only for a brief text or planned 

Social Media only helps a little with the feeling of isolation. Facebook is good for sharing pictures that you want everyone to see but because we all know most people share only the good stuff on Facebook or stuff they only want the whole world to see, it's not all that personal. It's pretty well documented that Facebook makes people feel lonely because our friends on Facebook are not all that close and that it provides a false sense of friendship. And while I am seeing what my friends are doing it's only a portion of those same people that I am having other meaningful exchanges with other than viewing their posts and exchanging comments. Besides, Girls called out Facebook messaging as being the lowest form of communication it's hard to get meaningful and personal via Facebook. I know I have a hierarchy of sharing information that starts with Instagram and being the most public, to Facebook friends, to an iPhoto stream that is invite only. This is me sharing my adventures and allows people to view and then comment, so the interaction is somewhat one sided and not conversational.

The 21 century apps only do so much. I have some ongoing dialogs via WhatsApp but it's still not the same as seeing people in person and being able to chat in real time or even scheduling lunch or a movie with those same connections. Also the time factor makes the WhatsApp message less urgent if I am sending a message while someone is sleeping.  

Skype is no substitute for a dinner party. We can't share a meal and a glass of wine and the spottiness that sometimes occurs do to bandwidth issues means we lose parts of the conversation. In Singapore we are sixteen hours ahead of California where my friends and family live so if I want to talk to them I need to plan a Skype date in advance, which entails figuring out what time they can do talk after their work day or coordinating an evening and afternoon time for them on the weekend that corresponds to our morning, which is usually 5 pm for them and 9 am for us. So right after drinking my coffee I am swapping out the grey tee that I wore to bed for something blue or pink that looks better on camera and putting on lip gloss, then practicing with the Photobooth app to make sure the angle of my Mac is so that nobody is looking up my nose or that the angle is so distorted it looks like I have a double chin.  

Emails help a little but they're not ongoing. I take time to send emails to people about what I am doing because I get so few emails that aren't marketing newsletters that when they reply with their own news it's enjoyable to read. A three or four paragraph email that someone has taken the time to craft is an enjoyable oasis when I find it in my inbox. If you write people emails they really do write back! It's an investment that is well worth the time it takes to write an email. 

Making connections is difficult. I have met a few very nice women with whom I enjoy having coffee and I have joined some meetups so that I can attend book clubs or walks around the island. Although having coffee and meeting for book clubs is a nice treat it doesn't add up to the volume of connections I am used to such as running into neighbors in my neighborhood or making plans to have dinner with friends. Friendships through meetup groups tend to flourish during weekday afternoons when our spouses are occupied with work making coffee and short outings a welcome distraction for a few hours. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Good Host

I am fortunate enough to have a guest room and guest bathroom for company. If this were not the case I don't think I would have guests. When I asked my friends what makes a good host one said that the guest bathroom they were using wasn't clean enough. So that's the first rule of having guests--clean your house if you want guests to return. 

Lion at Merlion Park in Singapore

Have a coffee pot. If you use a press because only one or two people in your house drink coffee, then have a coffee pot for company. You don't want to jump up every time someone wants a refill. Coffee pots are cheap and you can store yours in the garage like we have done, only taking it out when we have guests. 

My husband and I get up early in the morning and guests tend to sleep later so we get some quiet time alone before everybody wakes up. I am not one for talking in the morning for the most part. I just want to read Penelope Trunk and Gretchin Rubin, drink my coffee, and enjoy the lack of conversation. I worry that this makes me seem grumpy or unwelcoming, but I have to remind myself that I have no idea what my guests thinks about my being silent in the morning and they may like it. Is three hours of near silence too long? Don't think I just ignore everyone. I don't. I respond to questions but I am not offering up any new topics until after breakfast around 9 am or so. Until then my Mac gets all my love. 

Have a loose meal plan. Breakfast is always easy because we buy cereal, have homemade granola and fruit. I put all possible cereal and fruit options on the counter and let my guests prepare their bowls to help themselves unless we're making something like homemade pancakes or fruity broatmeal (oatmeal and barley). So that's taken care of. And then in the morning my husband and I have a discussion about what we'll do for lunch and dinner. We go day-by-day depending on what we're doing. But you have to decide if you're the kind of host who will prepare every meal for your guests or show them where everything is and let them prepare it. Usually I only have guests for 2-3 days so I prepare everything, buy all the groceries, and plan meals down to each snack. For longer stays I have learned that this isn't possible and it's better enable ([shudder] almost wrote empower) guests by showing them where everything is so they can eat breakfast when they want and eat what they want. 

Provide basic information. Lifehacker covers some of these things. Give guests your wifi password almost immediately when they walk in the door and show them where they can charge their devices. It seems to obvious to talk about clean towels so make sure there is air freshener in the bathroom they will use. We have a switch for the bathrooms that turns on the hot water, but we forgot to tell my mom so she took cold showers for three days. 

Explain your home's quirks. Luckily we live in a hot and humid environment so this wasn't horrible, but she's a trooper. Are their locks or handles in your house that are weird? If you are in a different country are you providing electrical converters? Does your shower work in an unconventional manner that will force your guests to use a million gallons of water waiting for water to get hot? Is there a step in your home where everyone trips? Did you provide a nightlight? Don't forget these little things. If you're doing airbnb check out liability coverage. 

Decide how much of your house your guests should see. Growing up I had a friend whose mom had not a junk drawer or junk closet but a junk room, The Office, used for holding gifts, wrapping paper, and everything else that didn't have a home. She was ashamed at having such a room and yelled whenever she found us searching for craft supplies in The Office. I am somewhat minimalist and I followed the KonMarie method a couple of months back for folding, purging and organizing, though I am still slacking on thanking my handbag as I put it in my closet at the end of the day. My guests can look in any drawer or closet because they are tidy. Not alphabetized soup can neat and tidy but organized. So I will say "look in the middle drawer of the console" for scissors because I don't care if they see the inside of any drawers or cupboards. 

But maybe they don't want to search. In that case leave the air freshener out on the bathroom sink. My friend provides sample sizes of shampoos, lotions, and razors in a guest basket so guests don't feel like they are opening private closets and medicine cabinets to find something. She is such good host she provides slippers so guests don't have to be barefoot. She has reading lamps on the nightstand that you don't have to get up and turn off from the main switch, which is especially useful for guests still reading books and not using the Kindle app for reading books and as a nightlight in a pinch.

Don't forget down time. Our guest room bed is also incredibly comfortable, which I think is a good start. Guests not getting a good night's sleep is a recipe for disaster. With a separate guest room and a comfortable bed it makes nap time a no-brainer and gives the host and guests some time to rest. If my guests are not nappers then my naps allows them time to read, take a walk, check email or social media or just be. My guests like to read on our deck and enjoy the afternoon breezes, maybe sipping a glass of wine or researching something they would like to see another day. It's a good time to catch up on conversation or just be together without talking. It's important to not schedule everything so tightly that there is no down time. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Faking a Schedule to Combat Boredom

I don't have enough things to fill my day yet and I am starting to get bored after living here in Singapore for six months and not working. I have identified a few things that have helped me fill my days somewhat, but I need to add more activities. I think the most important thing is to create somewhat of a schedule so that each day I know something about what I am going to do. 

I work out daily and that hasn't changed from day one. It's a good habit I have maintained that automatically fills an hour in my day. I am either walking somewhere around the island or doing my barre workout on our deck that I memorized from when I did Pop Sculpt because there are no barre classes here in Singapore yet. Still I wish there were other interests I had cultivated in my life other than exercise so I would have more things to be interested in. But here are some things I have learned about moving to a new country and filling my day. 

Homemade granola
Have a food strategy. One of my coping mechanisms for handling workers in the house is to eat a couple of chocolate chips, but luckily workers aren't in my house too often. This is an example of eating when I am anxious or bored, my head hunger gone awry. 

I took this picture of my homemade granola sprinkled on top of muesli with cut up apples as I was getting ready to eat breakfast. I have time to make homemade granola every week because I am not working in and office. I like the pretty bowl. The white dots are coconut cream, the coconut version of creme fresh which is delicious and filling. This small, pretty bowl is only 5 inches in diameter because if I put my cereal into the 8 inch bowl my husband eats from I would eat too many calories. This is only one of a series roadblocks and rules for eating to make sure I don't get fat because I am near the fridge all day. 

It's the difference between head hungry and stomach hungry I manage. Head hungry is when I cannot tell when I'm full because my head is telling me to eat more and eat bigger when my stomach doesn't know it's full. Stomach hungry is the gnawing feeling that I need to eat and is followed by moodiness and a headache and some questionable food choices. It may sound like a lot of work because it is. Waiting until I am hungry to eat results in feeling bad because by the time I know I am hungry it's too late and then I am ravenous and will eat anything. So instead I manage eat at 9 am, 1 pm, 6 pm plus a piece of fruit or low calorie snack at 3 pm. And I let myself have chocolate after dinner. 

Don't wait too long to begin joining groups. The loneliness hits like a wall when you realize you have nobody to talk to. Here in Singapore you can't start a conversation with anyone because even though all the signs are in English the locals my age and older really don't speak English that well. It's a really shallow understanding of English that works when you say " NETS please" to pay at Fair Price, but once you need something that's not on the shelf you see how poor the understanding of English really is. I waited three weeks to join Meetup groups and start going on walks but joined Meetup two months before I arrived. It took another two weeks after that to begin meeting some of those people for coffee. Now I have regular coffee dates and have coffee with a different person every week, which is fine for me because I am somewhat of an introvert, but I don't even know if that's true because I didn't want to feel overscheduled when I used to work 40 hours a week. 

I am still learning if overscheduled is even something that exists now that I don't work. I know that I need to have something to do every day, preferably something that keeps me busy before lunch and after breakfast, and then another thing to keep me busy between lunch and dinner. So the meetup groups are good because I have a three hour walk around the island every fortnight and from there I meet new people to have coffee with. My evenings are generally free but that's because I can't stay awake much later than 8 so I am no good socially after dinner. 

Start scoping out the groups you want to join early, join them, and then see what the meetings are like and if they are the type you want to going. Some have heavy fees because they're instruction led, some have nominal fees to ensure against no-shows, and many are free or just meeting for dinners. But you can get an idea of the focus of the Meetup long before you arrive. I signed up for a Tarot Card meetup only to realize it was a guy selling readings when the group originally sounded like a bunch of people meeting to share information about Tarot Cards and how they work. 

Set a schedule for housework or get a helper. Don't let your life get bogged down in house work. The women I met through meetup all scheduled housework for two days a week instead of doing a little bit each day. This works because not only do you have a schedule that you can plan other things around but it keeps you from obsessing about it 24/7. I didn't do this and ended up spending hours tidying up, which kind of blew up on me because I was following my husband around the house and wiping up every drop and fingerprint until I learned that I was being so annoying that we had an argument over it. I was trying to be useful and keep the apartment perfect because I wasn't earning a living. But I'm not a maid and my husband didn't marry a maid, so we ended up getting someone to come about twice a month and I do some light cleaning during the week but leave the mopping and shower glass cleaning to the maid. 

A big component to my housework was reading the tidying up book so I was also organizing and purging like a mad woman. The good thing about this is we don't have a lot of extra clutter and my drawers fit all of my clothes, the bad thing about this is that anyone who hasn't read the book still has to live with you and gets swept up in the maniacal folding of laundry or the need for everything to have a home. I learned that some things I just have to live with, like the pile of receipts or credit cards emptied from pockets at the end of the day because you just can't put a money clip in a drawer every time you come in the door. Either that or I just have to accept that the home for things that come from pockets is the dining room table because it's close to the door. 

Keep Your Hand in it Professionally. I still try to keep my hand eyes on what is going on in my industry. I comment on discussions in LinkedIn discussion groups, I have joined Meetups that are focused on software development, Kanban, and Agile, and I have set a goal to subscribe to  and read newsletters in my professional field. I think about the question I will be asked in an interview about being out of the workforce for two years as well as what my response will be. This is the one I am the worst at so far because the meetings are for people working and they're from 7-10 at night. I am a morning person so this type of thing is hard for me. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Observations in Singapore ...

No Jumping Jax

I've been here nearly six months and the shine of Singapore has worn off so there are some things I am noticing that I had not noticed prior. 

No cars broken down on the freeways. Mostly the cars on the freeways are relatively new. Owning a car in Singapore rise costly and requires a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which represents a right to vehicle ownership and use of the limited road space for 10 years. Anyone able to afford a car is certainly going to make sure it's clean.

No dirty or old cars. With the exception of work trucks all the cars are clean. My guess is that the PDWs are washing the cars in the driveways because I also don't see commercial car washes.

Filipino Domestic Workers (FDW) have a uniform. It's shorts or capri, thongs, and an irreverent or nonsensical tee shirt that says something sassy, like "I like [picture of a banana] because it has no [picture of a bone]."

No mailboxes. I can never find them. How do you mail a letter here?

English as the spoken language is kind of a lie. If you are in the grocery store and doing check out that's the level of English is okay. "NETS or Visa?" when you hand them your card. Even if you ask for something like where the coffee is they can help you. But as soon as you ask for something new, like a 10 dollar gift certificate when they only have 20 and 5 dollar gift certificates the level of English isn't there. It's a very broad shallow level of English. They teach English in the schools so I am not sure why this is the case. It must be a generational thing because I hear the children on the trains speaking English. 

It's a mantra here of how hard everybody works. The taxi drivers preach this the most but everyone says it. I think it's because there is no such thing as social security here so citizens must plan for their retirement. Not that social security in the US takes care of us by any stretch in the US, so maybe Singaporeans are comparing their retirement to Europeans. But at 5 o'clock the streets of Orchard are packed on a weekday with people not at the office. 

Nonsense is cool. There are not only a lot of nonsense tee shirts, but there are nonsense bags and coffee cups with sayings that make no sense, Asian phrases translated poorly into English.