The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Live the life you have always dreamed of

I have a friend who is about to embark on a wonderful new adventure, albeit an unexpected one. In a few weeks all her worldly possessions will be packed up and shipped over to Hong Kong for a new beginning that will be both familiar, because she’s lived there before, and wildly different, because she’s no longer the late night party loving free spirit of ten years ago. In saying that, she was out until 3am last night!

I call it an unexpected adventure because neither she nor I envisaged this move a mere 3 months ago. Now, I know that living in an Expat world this is what happens. Most people are based in Singapore for only a few years and in my almost 5 years here I have waved off over 30 friends to new countries (some have even moved back to Singapore for round two which of course is a Yay!) and saying Goodbye is always a wrench but it has dramatically boosted the number of Facebook Friends I have. Being far away from home and sharing some unique experiences like becoming parents for the first time and not fully being able to integrate into the local community is quite bonding. I feel very honoured to say that I would count many of these people as proper friends and not just Facebook Friends.

If you were to believe in fate then I would say my friendship with Unexpected Adventure friend reinforces the existence of it. We first met over 22 years ago, both of us grew up in the North East of England, she is a refined Geordie. At the age of 16/17, I met a group of similar aged Chinese people, I guess like all adolescents you’re keen to feel a sense of community and want to share with others interests that are culturally relevant to them too. So we hung out in the same crowd for a couple of years before we went off to University and then pathways become more diverse for everyone and you just end up losing touch.

However, with the power of social media, a mutual friend got in contact a couple of years before I moved out to Singapore and when I told this friend that I was heading this way, she told me that Unexpected Adventure friend was living here too with her husband and young son. So a couple of months after landing in Singapore, we met up and of course after a break of 15 years it takes some time to find common ground, catch up and build a new friendship based on our current lives and not one built on ‘Do you remember when..’. Although that does creep in every now and then and we have a good giggle about things like what we wore, what we did for social activities (going for walks in the woods at night, BBQs on South Shields beach on Christmas Eve) and what seemed important.

Since we reconnected, our friendship slowly simmered away at a steady pace. As I found my feet with becoming a Mum to #1 and navigating a way through my own adventure in Singapore, we always kept in touch and met up occasionally and as #1 grew older it started being about the boys getting to know one another too. Then along came #2, a girl whom Unexpected Adventure dotes on and then #3, whom Unexpected Adventure would probably bundle up to Hong Kong with her if she had the space. So Unexpected Adventure has been present for the arrival of all three of my children and been one of the first people to see them newly pushed out. Only one of two people (I might call the other one Mad Cat Woman) outside of Husband who can claim that role. I think living in an Expat world that is quite a rare thing to have.

She is more like family now and the children have bonded so well together. If I am honest I had envisaged myself being the one to leave her behind in Singapore but not for a while yet and with plenty of notice and plans to meet up in the UK every year and being safe in the knowledge that she would be here for our trips back with the children.

She was also meant to be here throughout my year to 40 as well! I was going to prop her up first and then she was going to help me. But plans change don’t they. I know why she has to go and it is selfish of me to want her to stay when eventually I would leave Singapore myself. It’s just that I will miss her. She is so unlike me. Much more calm, resourceful, patient and the children love her and she loves them. She always thinks of them and knows what sort of treats would cheer them up. Which is why I am also angry that all this in her hasn’t been recognised and appreciated like it should and why it helps me accept the changes ahead because I want for her the life that she has always dreamed of and nothing less.

As friends, we can choose to be as visible as we like and for me she is always wearing a flourescent safety vest. I am sad now to say Goodbye but I know she has a new future ahead of her that will bring happiness and exciting possibilities with someone who is deserving of this truly amazing, warm and kind hearted woman. Besides, she’s only moving to a new country that’s still in the same time zone and one that I’m very likely to visit seeing as half my family live there.

This time, though our paths may have to diverge again, you can be sure it won’t be 15 years before I see her again. Can I just say again, publicly, and whilst she can’t see the tears rolling down my face, that I am so grateful for having met her in the first place and for finding such a wonderful friend again. I never would have imagined we would be such good friends, 22 years ago but look at us today.

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Friends are what pull a party plan together

I’ve spent today exhausted from all day partying yesterday. I fear my stamina is nothing like it once was. Except I haven’t been slumped on the settee watching crap TV and lying very still in a cool, dark room until the fogginess of a hangover clears as would be the inevitable outcome of all day partying from yesteryear. Actually, if I’m honest, I was never very good at the all day drinking marathons because the hangover would kick in by 5pm and then I wouldn’t feel so good carrying on but then neither could I slouch off home to bed. Who goes to bed at 6pm? Though sometimes you could sneak in a nap and be fresh again for round two but then risk being branded a cheat.

Anyway, yesterday was all about two very special young people turning 5 and 3. Living in Singapore, where you have Groundhog Day weather nearly all year round, it is more or less safe to say you can throw a pool party and be fine and the weather was indeed glorious. Not that these things matter to young people of 5 and 3. All the guests at both parties had a ball splashing around in the pool and then sitting down for the Birthday sing song and cake afterwards. Even without a pool, I’ve seen kids happy as pigs in mud chasing each other around a room and then sitting down for the Birthday sing song and cake afterwards. This seems to be the bare backbone for contented kids at a children’s party. Though I really don’t think I could risk that incase one child does say out loud it’s a rubbish party in the honest way children blurt things out. The parties I throw don’t have to be the best but I want people to have enjoyed themselves and for the children’s parties then I want their guests to feel it’s a bit about them too because there is no party without your friends.

As my Birthday always fell in school and University holidays, I never really celebrated it with friends until after we left University. In my early twenties that would consist of frequenting the same establishments as we did whilst still at University, it’s take a while to shake off old habits. If I think about previous Birthday celebrations then one of the years that stands out is my 28th. It was a cocktail party at home. Don’t imagine sophistication. By cocktail party it was bring a bottle to be randomly mixed together and form anything to drink. There was also this yellow plastic gallon bottle that someone had the idea of putting in a bit of everything and was the obligatory party drink for all guests. Incidentally my cousin met her husband at this party, an old Uni friend, and they were married a few years later on my 31st Birthday so that was that year’s celebration sorted out for me! What I enjoyed most about this party was definitely the people who were there. I know that’s what everyone says about good times, it’s the people who were there that counts and it really was. At 28, we had no restrictions on our time or energy and you were in that buzz of mingling with familiar faces and getting to know some new ones. A time of few responsibilities, lots of possibilities and much freedom.

The unexpected good time party is a real bonus and I have some really fond memories of this party. Especially the after party with the staying over guests. There’s the guest who pretended to be asleep with cigarette hanging out of his mouth in order to bagsy the couch. I think he credits this performance for the getting together of the couple who later got married. Then there’s the guest who built a ‘duvet barrier’ around herself so that she wouldn’t get a fright when she woke up in the morning and come face to face with the other stay overs. Then there’s the shared bleary, foggy start to the next day with each other, solace that it’s not just you who feels so bad. Good times. Although it’s been 5 years since I’ve celebrated a Birthday with anyone present at that party (apart from Husband), I know I would still have a great time with them when I do next.

So back to today. Yesterday was our very own #2’s Birthday party. Even though I think I’m going to organise a simple affair, it never really is. There’s always something I’ve forgotten to do at the last minute like I’ve mentioned in a previous post. Anyway, I wish I could say I was the host who swanned around greeting guests and what not but I was too busy doing the last minute stuff. #2 was happy because her very own friend from school was able to come, L who is not friends with #1 or #3 but just #2 alone. She was equally happy to see everyone else because they make up her everyday world. Except, I’m not sure this was apparent when it came to the Birthday sing song where #2 refused to blow out the candles and instead blew raspberries at the guests doing a 180 degree raspberry blow out circle to make clear her feelings to everyone! Of course I was mortified! Then again, all present are more than familiar with such outbursts from young people but you do hope it’s not done so publicly. This will be a memory for #2 to be reminded of at all future landmark Birthdays. She later explained it was because the singing was too loud, so next year I must remind myself that the Birthday sing song will be done as a Birthday sing song whisper.

Friends are the important element of any party, no matter what you do beforehand or how meticulous your planning. Yesterday proved this to us in new ways as we couldn’t have done it without the help of some really good friends looking after #3 and taking charge of the entire BBQ, leaving us free to get on with the last minute stuff. Thank you.

So a rather long one today but I’ll finish now with a photo of the Birthday cake. Some improvement since the green icing train cake I hope you’ll agree?

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From heels to there and back again

It has been a day of 12 hour celebrations for #2 who has only just turned three which in her book is a very big number, little does she know. In all probability the 12 hour celebrations were perhaps a bit too much as even Husband and I are exhausted but I think #2 and #1 both had a great time. What is there not to love when you get to eat cake, ice cream, crepes and pizza all in one day? That’s almost a whole week’s worth of treats in a very short space of time so as #1 put it quite aptly, tomorrow will be a day of eating carrots.

I do admire the certainty of a two year old’s mind though because of course there would be presents and of course the presents would include Princess shoes and this jumbo Barbie car she had been eyeing up for some months. Ever since she came upon her Big Girl friend’s Princess shoes last October, she has been coveting them ever since and it was a promise of ours that she would be allowed a pair when she turned three. So the day has come and she is tottering around in a pair of blue Disney Cinderella Princess shoes. Her most favourite gift of all. Asides from the jumbo Barbie car which she opened just before bedtime.

I don’t even know where this obsession with Cinderella comes from as we have never read the story or watched the film but every time she came across a toy shop, she would sit and look at the shoes and sigh. I know that feeling though, looking on line at Net-a-Porter and seeing a pair of beautiful impractical and grossly overpriced shoes that even if I could afford would be a bit like #2’s Princess shoes and only ever be worn indoors. I love shoes. Typical of most females I know. At the moment I miss shoes. There seems little point indulging in a mass shoe wardrobe with small people to hoist around in tropical heat. However, as part of my ‘Important Things to Bring to Singapore’ are most of my good shoes collection, barely worn in almost 5 years. I do believe shoes play an important part of our history and symbolise a particular stage of our lives. There’s something about buying your first pair of ‘smart’ shoes’ which are a departure from your norm. Especially if they are for your first proper job, it’s a sign of moving on, gaining some responsilbity and most importantly having to look respectable for gainful employment which didn’t come naturally at first. I felt almost like #2 and her Princess shoes, playing at dressing up, at being a grown up but then you get used to them and your shoes become a reflection of your alter egos without delving too deep and they allow you to experiment without looking out of place.

So the good shoes collection are pleasing to look at but a pain to navigate in. Look at me walking in 4 inch heels because I work in an office and go out to smart drinking establishments. Before that the whole University era and slightly beyond consisted of navy Adidas campus trainers or shell toes. The need for practicality to get to places by walking and also for going out to the grungey, gunky floor drinking and bopping establishments. Slightly before that I think I may have owned three pairs of shoes before I went into freefall. One pair for school, one pair for going out, one pair of trainers and then a pair of winter boots. I think my brother still lives by this rule you know. Right now, I’m in a flat shoe, flip flops stage, mostly due to the hoisting of small people around but also because I have no need for other types of shoe and that made me feel a bit sad and missing my old self a bit. So earlier this year, I went out and bought a new pair of 4 inch shoes, black and white with a big red flower to the side. To me they are beautiful. I’ve worn them three times but every time I do, they make me smile because they remind me that I still can wear them and I feel good in them. So people may mock someone’s love of shoes but actually I think the shoes we walk in everyday are a huge reflection of where we are in our lives and I like to look at my shoe collection and remember why and where I’ve worn them before and also to think of when I may wear them again.

 

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It’s all in the lack of planning…

One big aspect of parenting seems to be Event Planner. For everyone in the family to cover all occasions from Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Chinese New Year, Mid Autumn festival and the Queen’s Jubilee. That’s on average some form of celebration every six weeks. I never had to organise that many events when I was in paid employment, I wonder whether I can put this down as a valid strength for future job interviews? It’s all about transferable skills and making relevant your experience.

Next week is the Birthday of #2. Three years ago I was hoping their arrival wouldn’t land on the day after my own Birthday, rather because it is for the best that I never have to organise or host a small person’s birthday party with a hangover for years to come. I live optimistically. Otherwise it would be a half finished party with half a cake turned finished side forwards for the photos. One Mum friend once said ‘So long as there’s a photo of the child with a cake what else really matters?’.

I have been to some fabulous children’s parties. Imaginative themes, beautiful decorations, yummy party food with soft drinks and beer and not forgetting AMAZING cakes. I’ve seen pirate ships, treasure chests, mermaids, princesses and castles, ladybirds, penguins and a whole host more all made by Mum of Birthday child. Now, if I asked #1 do you remember what kind of birthday cake you had when you were 2? I know he can’t really but will dutifully tell me it was a train cake which it was. It was a lopsided green train cake with bright green buttercream icing slowly melting in the Singapore heat. His favourite part? The Oreo cookie wheels. The following year he moved on from trains and wanted a Lightening McQueen cake. Good job I had taken a cake decorating course in between and so there was a cake which he recognised as Lightening so that’s what counts. This year I decided to sway #1’s decision and persuaded him a robot cake would be a very good idea. It was square and flat and only needed a few sweets on top for decoration. Good choice.

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#2 says she wants a tall Princess castle cake with horses and Minions. She could have a cake like that because her good friend recently had an A380 Singapore Airlines cake complete with edible air steward and Minions figurines, but she’s not going to. What she will have is something within my capabilities that will have elements of what makes her happy. I will definitely try my best, I’m still learning how to decorate cakes properly but either way she will be so excited about it being her Special Day that I don’t think she’ll notice there are no horses or Minions present.

Rewind 20 odd years ago and I decided that our D ought to have his first birthday party that included some of his friends from school. A party involving outside people was unheard of in our family back then. How difficult could it be? So invitations were sent to about 10 of his friends to come to ours after school. There was a cake (sponge with fruit in the middle and fresh cream not buttercream from Peter’s the Cathedral Bakers where all our childhood cakes were from) and everyone was going to have chicken and chips. Simple. Until one small person said ‘I don’t like chicken, I only like sausages’. Really? No one said you had a choice! Our D’s Mum blankly said ‘But you said they would eat chicken’. There were no sausages in the house either. Luckily we lived five minutes away from the local Co-Op so that was a minor mishap and at least it wasn’t a dairy, gluten free, soya bean only kind of request. Then again, the local Co-Op probably could cater for that nowadays.

Any good event is all in the planning and a stress free host is all about planning as far ahead as you can. I always want to be that host. I do plan and I know now what a party entails and there is always sausages. Yet I have literally made myself go crossed eyed with what seems like a good idea at the time but comes a bit too late really and ought not to be pursued. For nights before #1’s 2nd Birthday, I was hand sewing drawstring bags to fill with party favours and had to rope in a good friend to help out with her sewing machine and my Mother in law who was over for a holiday. For #2’s Birthday, I have had another last minute good idea but this time I have a helper too.

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364

So with my 39th Birthday out of the way with, it’s time to get on with business. As I sit and write this I’m filled with a bit of apprehension and nerves because what exactly is a blog and what is it meant to achieve? It seems very ‘look at me’ or rather ‘listen to me’ and the British side of me feels a bit ‘do you honestly want to do this?’ and when I tell people about this blog I feel like cringing but overall I think I do want to do this. I haven’t particularly done any amount of research into how to write a great blog that people will read because that’s not my main purpose. Neither is it therapy to ‘find myself’, although if I dig out something that I thought was long forgotten then I won’t mind that at all. I guess I just want to share some stories of how I got to here. A blog is hugely personal, however it’s not all just about me, because my history involves other people and that could be you. Assuming the you I’m talking about is a friend and not some random stranger who happened to come across this by accident. So you could help me along the way too. Perhaps I’ve missed out some detail or you’ve remembered something too and can add to something I’ve said. Or perhaps with the cloudiness of booze fogged nights and too many years gone by, I’ve completely made something up and it never happened like that at all!

As I’ve mentioned before, right now I’m sort of non descriptive about turning 40, to some it’s no big deal anyway, but that may change because there’s a lot of emphasis and expectation about this big milestone. Turning 30 was great and definitely no big deal, it was all about a party and getting drunk with your friends, I’ll talk about this another time. It’s also not like I’m heading towards this step alone either, I’m sort of in the middle. I know plenty of people who have turned 40 and appear exactly the same as before and still smile every day (Husband included). Amongst some friends, like the old University group, I’m one of the first to go overboard but the others are not far behind. Then there are the odd few who are still in their early 30s and will view this spectacle with a distant superiority.

If like me, you find your days are flowing by and yet you feel you can hardly remember what has filled it, then it sort of explains how I feel and why I want to do an audit now. To build an archive of memories that I can refer back to but not so that I remain in the past, I’m very happy with the present and looking forward to the future. I just want to have a laugh at the me of past and remember you too. You the friend not the random stranger who is reading this by accident. I’m not going to write every day as that would be tedious but do check in once in a while and see if you make an appearance, I’m quite sure you will.

Today’s title 364 is dedicated to my wonderful friend Uncle Monkey, who is looking forward to this next year with relish and so am I because the escapades he has gotten us into requires a whole blog of it’s own.

Goodnight from me in Singapore.
Aged 39 and 1 day

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Happy 39th Birthday to me!

My 39th Birthday is drawing to a close and I’m all partied out! Of course Birthdays these days are far different to what they once were but I believe a Birthday should be celebrated with gusto no matter what your number and never should be treated as ‘just another day’.

So how have I spent today? A long leisurely lie in, breakfast in bed, carelessly getting ready for a day of boozy lunching and lounging around. Hang on, which Birthday is this? Birthdays before the arrival of the kids perhaps. There are three young people in the house, my Birthday is no longer my own. They rushed in this morning brandishing their cards and whooping ‘Happy Birthday Mummy!’ before immediately asking if they could open them. The same goes for presents and the blowing out of candles on the cake too. As I watched them rip open the wrapping, it really didn’t matter what was inside but just the act of unwrapping something excited them enough. Long may it last.

I can’t remember all my Birthdays and how they were celebrated but I think my earliest memory must have been when I was 4 or even 5. My Dad, Mr Li, gave a £5 note to our Jenn to take me to the local toy shop to buy anything I wanted. The toy shop wasn’t big and I think these days it’s a newsagents but I remember walking out of the shop with a box of Lego and a big plastic shopping basket. Now how much would £5 convert to in real money these days and what would I spend it on? There’s just too much choice everywhere you turn and new things appear daily, it would actually be very difficult to make one choice because no sooner done then something new comes along.

After dropping off #1 at school, #2, 3 and I went over to our lovely friend Lee’s house for a catch up playdate and the lovely Lee had gone to the trouble of putting together a Birthday Party for me. What a surprise! Now I know why the kids gets so excited! There was Dora the Explorer table cloth, paper napkins and plates and the party food comprised of cupcakes, sweets, biscuits sushi (sophisticated) and sausage rolls (traditional), all washed down with a mug of tea. It was great! #2 loved it and probably sees it as a dress rehearsal for her own Birthday next week! There was more cake when Husband came home from work and some soulful renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and many many rounds of blowing out of candles by them not me.

So although it was my Birthday, I felt it was ‘our’ day and it was fun to see the kids get excited about it but I did save a couple of presents to open myself after all three had gone to bed. The thrill of unwrapping a well wrapped present to discover what lies inside never grows old, even if we do.

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Birthday Eve

Tomorrow is my 39th Birthday. My last year of being a 30 something, which means this time next year my Life Is About To Begin!

We all know that phrase, Life Begins at 40 but I have never given it much thought. Why would I when I was nowhere near it! Today is different though when in one year and one days time that will apply to me. Yet I find myself objecting to the whole idea because what about all the years I have done so far? Surely they account for something and so lately I have been thinking about it all and after much deliberation in my own head, I thought I would very much like to delve into my own memory archives and see what memories I can find from yesteryear. I may as well meet 40 with open arms because I know some friends (including Husband) will be counting down with me as I did with them, rather supportively I thought.

I guess you could say I feel like taking a year long trip down memory lane so I can say to 40, ‘Look here what came before you’. I also feel like writing something more than the odd email, letter and Facebook status update. One of the pitfalls of not having worked in almost 5 years is that I miss writing and I am also becoming less creative in coming up with alternatives to the word ‘No’ as the Universal Parenting Guide says we should avoid saying a direct ‘No’ to our children and use many more words instead to convey the same meaning.

I also should point out that I am not very tech savvy these days. I hope at some stage I can jazz up this blog with some colours and photos and creative stuff as a diversion to make it look more interesting. Mostly though, I hope I can keep up writing these posts.

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