Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The countdown begins...

I can't believe that we'll be flying to Barcelona in less than 3 weeks and despite booking our cruise 8 months ago I feel like I haven't had enough time to prepare. So to recap, we're heading to the Mediterranean for 11 days with Disney Cruise Lines on the Magic. Here's a summary of the itinerary.

SaturdayBarcelona, Spain4:00 p.m.
SundayAt Sea
MondayValletta, Malta8:30 a.m.6:00 p.m.
TuesdayTunis, Tunisia8:30 a.m.4:00 p.m.
WednesdayNaples, Italy (Pompeii)8:30 a.m.9:00 p.m.
ThursdayCivitavecchia, Italy (Rome)7:45 a.m.9:00 p.m.
FridayLa Spezia, Italy (Florence, Pisa)7:30 a.m.7:30 p.m.
SaturdayAt Sea
SundayAjaccio, Corsica7:30 a.m.5:00 p.m.
MondayVillefranche, France (Monte Carlo, Cannes, Nice)8:00 a.m.7:00 p.m.
TuesdayAt Sea
WednesdayBarcelona, Spain7:00 a.m.

We'll be heading to Barcelona three days before the cruise to meet up with my parents and explore the beautiful city. Most of our planning for each port is done but there seem to be a thousand and one things that I still haven't done. One of the few things that I have done is made travel journals for the children. A fellow cruiser on the DISboards kindly created and shared beautiful Disney themed journal pages for our cruise. After getting over my initial disbelief that the 5.5" by 8.5" binder for which the pages were designed for were not a standard size in Australia and there not available, I managed to (with the help of colleagues at work) bind them myself with a spiral binder. I found some nice textured black cardboard for the back and a plastic sheet for the front. I thought it looked mighty spiffy and thankfully so do the children. Now I only have to find where the little monkeys put them so I can take a photo and post a picture! (Addendum: I found them!)

In the meantime, tomorrow will be the children's last day of school. Dear Lord, please help me cope with the school holidays. My photography short course is on this Saturday which I'm really excited after browsing through so many beautiful travel shots online. After that, we'll have to organise ourselves to go to Canberra to visit dear friends. Upon our return, we'll have exactly 9 nine days to get ourselves sorted for Europe. No problems!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

General updates

Just in case anyone is interested in the mundane details of my life...

  • We're all over our viral gastro...finally!
  • I made it to see the oral surgeon and booked in to get my 2 wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic because I am too chicken to get it done under local anaesthetic
  • I sprained my ankle and was embarrassingly fed "lunch" by my GP, on top of receiving free crutches and a discount for an MRI if I should need one. Thanks Dr Marrett!
  • Elliot has joined the school band and so has started playing the trumpet. I am still trying to understand how one note can sound so different all the time.
  • Jonah can now say "hat"!
  • I have since found out that I am unable to renew my REP electronically after all. Luckily, I got in touch with the deputy at ICA and it looks like my parents can now do it on behalf. This may not be such a bad things as they are the ones who are keen for me to keep it anyway.
  • I discovered that I really enjoy listening to Disney and language podcasts. But perhaps subscribing to 4 different Disney ones may be a bit of an overkill.
  • We met up again with our fellow Disney Mediterranean cruisers, this time as a family at South Restaurant, and discovered American cuisine close to home. Now we know where to go for great pumpkin pie!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Au pair affairs II

Sadly, today we had to inform Marie that we would be ending our agreement early and that we would no longer require her help after we return from Europe. Unfortunately, things have not improved significantly and have in fact gotten worse. It was not an easy conversation to have and so I was relieved that Malcolm did it.

Fortunately, Alex is able to cover for 2 weeks until the arrival of our next au pair, an American girl studying biostatistics in Boston! Will update when the time comes...

Sunday, 28 March 2010

God is Great

We had an inspiring sermon not so long from our Pastor Mark Powell on prayer. We were moved to do something about our complacency with prayer in general but especially about family time, praying and learning about the Lord together.

We were fortunate enough to have wonderfully efficient elders who promptly supplied excellent resource materials and encouragement from our pastor. We are so grateful to the Lord for giving us the drive and persistence on our quest to be better role models for our children and to provide them with a rich and loving Christian environment.

We have been amazed at how receptive the children have been to our new ritual before bedtime with Elliot often reminding us that we have to do "prayer time". It is so humbling to listen to the children's prayers and to realise just how much they do absorb, but at the same time frightening to realise the responsibility that we have as parents to provide "good things" for them to absorb. We are still struggling a little with Lara's interest and concentration levels but we are hoping that this will gradually improve as she develops a better relationship with Jesus.

Our next challenge will be to include Jonah! One step at a time...

Friday, 26 March 2010

I can see clearly now! I think...

On the momentous 25th day of the month of March this year, Malcolm and I finally succumbed to our inner vanity and had laser eye surgery performed on our eyes. The lead up to the event conformed to the usual high drama that is not uncommon with all things related to the Albanys...we had the wrong date written in our diaries!

This was despite receiving paperwork given on the day that we made our appointment as well as paperwork sent to our home address. It took a phone call on the day before to jolt us into action. We had slated in the 26th to be OUR day. All the arrangements for a romantic bus ride into the city, babysitting and lifts home went down the drain. Not to mention having to cancel my appointment with the oral surgeon as well the children's piano lesson. To make matters worse, Malcolm was on urgents at Concord Hospital which usually takes up the whole day.

The eye clinic was thankfully understanding and told Malcolm that he could come anytime that he is available so long as it is before 3pm. I, of course, went ahead as planned. There was no way I was going to delay the procedure for Malcolm! As it was, I had a suspicion that this was retribution for him not allowing me to have the procedure done earlier without him. With the usual Albany good fortune, Malcolm managed to get himself out of Concord Hospital by 1pm and to the eye clinic by 2:45pm. By 4pm, he was in the car going home to sleep off the drastic effects of the 10mg of Valium that he was given. It was quite a sight seeing a petite elderly receptionist hanging on to support him on Macquarie St while waiting for his ride!

We are very pleased with the results and quite amazed at our 20/20 vision that we both had the morning after the surgery. Happy as well that we did get the romantic bus ride into the city together after all! How can anything bad happen now that we are so beautiful!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Lara the Lovely?!?!?

Today was parent teacher day. We had the day and time written down at multiple places throughout the house just in case we forgot. We really didn't want to miss hearing about how Lara is going at school.

Her teacher started off with a happy exclamation of how lovely and helpful Lara is. Followed by an account of how wonderfully she listens, concentrates, and applies herself at various tasks. She is also doing well in reading and maths. She never complains and gets on well with everyone in the class.

We must have looked like codfish with our mouths opened in shock. Is this the same Lara that we have at home who hates being told what to do, who gives up with a simple shrug and a "That's too hard for me" or "I can't do it", and who always whinges and complains with "Do I have to do it?". Wonders will never cease!

We had a discussion with Lara about the positive feedback given by her teacher. And she simply replied, "Oh you only have to listen at school". Silly us, how could we not have known that...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Why you like that one, lah?!?!

I had to chronicle my ridiculous adventure to obtain a Singaporean re-entry permit. It all began with the usual powerful propaganda machine that is government of Singapore convincing me that the way to go with extending my re-entry permit (hereby known as REP to ease the stress on my fingers) is online. "Try the new online service", they tell me, "All you need is a Singpass and you will be advised of the result of your application within 5 working days". "Convenient for those overseas...". So apply for the Singpass, renew my REP and have it ready for when I visit Singpore on May 6 (one day after my REP expires). Piece of cake!

The website appeared simple enough. It advised applicants not to apply until 3 months to the expiry of the REP. All I had to do was to enter a few details. Then I was advised that they will send the Singpass to the address that is held with the government within 4 working days. Unfortunately, nowhere during the process did it confirm with the applicant which address the Singpass was being sent to! And pity those who didn't have a Singaporean address as their main residence...Hmmm lets see now, it should make it easier for those overseas who can first come back to Singapore before they can start the application overseas. Yep, that makes sense.

When I contacted them to ask where it was being sent to, I was directed to sites that would tell me how to change my address. So contact them again I did, only to be told...

"In order to receive the SingPass, the address have to be the most updated one. The address is maintained with the relevant Government Agency. Please contact the relevant Government Agency up to enquire the current updated address maintained with them."

Another email later, I was finally offered some help.

"Alternatively, you may provide the following information for us to assist you further.
  1. SingPass ID
  2. Current Address
  3. Previous Address"

After 11 working days with no sight of the blasted Singpass, I emailed again sounding perhaps a tad too desperate. The response...

"We verified that your request submitted on .... was processed successfully by the system and mailed to your official local address maintained with the Government.

Please kindly update ICA with your updated address before submitting another request online for it to be sent to your Australia address.

Please refer to the following websites for more information on change of address.

· For Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents residing in overseas, http:...."

I had to specifically ask if they were sending the Singpass out again. To which I was basically informed that because they have verified that the address that I gave them was the one they sent it to, that it must have been someone else's fault that I didn't receive it. So to get a Singpass, I had to do another application online. ARGHHH!!!!

I thought I'd give the Singapore High Commission in Canberra a go, figuring the diplomats surely would be more responsive and competent. Boy was I wrong.

The conversation started off pleasantly enough. I explained my predicament with the abysmal Singpass application attempt and then asked about options for renewing my REP. I was told that they could help me. Mail them all my paperwork and they will forward it to Singapore for processing which would take between 6-8 weeks. They only send mail back to Singapore once a week. I explained again that that would not be quick enough as it would then take me past the expiry date. I requested if she could perhaps inquire directly with the department responsible for REP if other options are available, such as directly mailing it to them via express post which would cut down on the mailing time considerable. After all, seeing as it could be processed in one day if I were in Singapore in person and in 5 days if I used the online approach, surely if I could get it here quickly then it would be processed faster?!?! I was told that I would have to call them myself.

From here the conversation degenerated considerably. To cut a long story short, she essentially told me that couldn't possible call on my behalf. If she did, then she would spend the whole day on the phone because everyone has problems. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I asked her if they were here to represent Singapore and to assist the residents of Singapore to which she replied "NO"!!! I asked her again if there was an emergency, would Singaporeans be able to go to the High Commission for help to which she replied "NO" again!! I was seething.

So naturally, I made a formal complaint to the 1st Secretary. After looking into it, he advised to persist with the Singpass until Monday as that would appear to be fastest way. If nothing happens by Monday, he requested that I send the documents to him with a covering letter stating my case, and he would help argue for expedited processing of my REP renewal application.

Aiyah! Why cannot be like that from the start lah?