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

2013 Year End Review

It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow. Just in case you didn’t know. Sometimes the days get very jumbled up during the festive season and you can end up feeling a tad confused.

There was a time when the emphasis of New Year’s Eve would be to ‘have the most spectacular night out ever’. There can be a lot of pressure (and expense) involved in a New Year’s Eve celebration. Whilst Christmas is a time for family, New Year’s Eve seems definitely a time for friends. That might have something to do with the amount of alcohol usually involved and the need to shake one’s moves with wanton abandon.

Suffice to say a New Year’s Eve celebration involved a night of inebriation at some public house/club/private property with a combination of friends in a group of two to twenty two. I’ve had as much fun in the company of one friend (Elbear) to a big crowd of us dressed in James Bond themed attire to a mid crowd of us as Super Heroes and Villains.

Of course all this was a time Before Children. I’m in no way suggesting that those times shouldn’t continue or be had again but for Husband and I, the last few years has been a far less raucous affair. I’ve either been preggers or there’s been a brand new baby on the block that doesn’t quite make you want to shake one’s moves with wanton abandon.

I’ve since figured that the inevitable embarrassment we will cause our children when we get down and groove in their presence stems from lack of practice rather than an actual inability to shake one’s moves with any real rhythm. Unless of course you are Uncle Monkey, who is perhaps the only person I know who clicks his fingers with both hands high up in the air whilst shimmying his hips from side to side with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel (if on his person at all), as part of his hot dance repertoire. Occasionally an animalistic growl escapes from him to show he’s really in the zone.

The last few New Year’s Eve have been a more sedate dinner together or with a couple of friends affair. Still celebrated but almost a gamble whether we’ll still be up at midnight and in party mood or whether I’ll be in bed ready to say Happy New Year but then fall fast asleep!

One thing that has changed is my outlook on Time. Sadly for most of you not my actual ability to manage time but that is definitely on my Resolutions 2014 list. What I mean is spending some of today and tomorrow reflecting on the past year.

Husband and I started this year in a semi sleep deprived state that comes with having a new baby. As we adapted to becoming a family of five there was much to learn about how we were going to balance all aspects of our lives. We haven’t figured it all out yet but it involves getting more sleep and making time for ourselves as well as for each other. (These resolutions are building up fast!).

Sometimes my days pass by in a blur of activity and yet ask me about what I’ve done and nothing seems of note. Weeks can merge into months and furthermore, living in a country with no defined seasons it can be hard to recall what happened when. As I think of how much #1, 2 and 3 have grown this year, I’m filled with pride (like any parent) at what they have achieved. Sometimes I don’t stop to think about it enough because sometimes I’m just too tired from sorting out the day to day stuff which sometimes involves a lot of diffusing disputes between #1 and 2 and now 3.

So I don’t want to race to the next year without giving this year due thought and the consideration it deserves. I feel it important to reflect on events that have happened, are still happening. The good as well as the not so good. Otherwise how else can you really hope for the New Year to bring better things to those around you if you don’t already know what you have?

Whether tomorrow underlines the end of a year you’re happy to see the back of, I hope there are also plenty of happy memories to savour. A new one is on the horizon and so celebrate and make merry in any way you like.

These photos are from the Millennium New Year’s Eve.

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Tis still the season to be jolly

The first yells of excitement I heard on Christmas Day morning did not come from my own children but from the children in the flat above ours! It was around 6am and still dark outside but Father Christmas/Santa had evidently made his visit upstairs and so must have been to ours too. Not long later, two very excited children were bellowing for us to come and get them as they saw their stockings were full and couldn’t contain their joy that Christmas Day had finally arrived!

#1 and 2 raced around the living room whooping at the presents Father Christmas/Santa had delivered. They marvelled at the mess left by the reindeers eating their carrots on the balcony and how Father Christmas/Santa ate his snacks and drank his milk and whiskey and discussed how he most probably had a nap on the couch before setting off again!

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Goodness knows how high the levels of excitement will hit next year when #3 gets to join in. I think the people on the ground floor, (we live on the 10th) will be able to hear them!

Christmas Day has always been a rambunctious affair in our family even though we are not practising Christians. (Are we anything?) For all the years up until I was about 12/13, a Christmas Miracle would occur. The takeaways would be closed for that one day of the year. One day off a year! Can you imagine? We would have roast duck, sweet and sour pork (Cantonese style to you and not the popular alternative sweet and sour pork balls in batter with the sauce on the side), dried shiitake mushrooms and scallops and a few other special dishes. Then after that, the grown ups would have to content themselves with several hours of mahjong because the casinos also take a break.

Traditional turkey seemed so exotic back then. Roast potatoes were a rarity on our dinner table. In fact I forgot to tell you the other day that my Dad, Mr Li doesn’t believe you can be full without eating rice. Not pasta, nor potatoes, nor bread can convince him otherwise. But now my Uncle Eyes makes a huge effort to cook a full on Christmas dinner for at least 12 every year. I think he’s rather proud of his efforts. He stands hands on hips and properly likes you to admire his big bird.

This year we had a family Christmas dinner at home with just the five of us. A roast chicken instead of turkey but with all the festive trimmings. Half of which are still lurking in the fridge! The kids were only interested in the chicken and two roast potatoes with cranberry sauce sitting in a Yorkshire pudding.

The first Christmas Day we spent in Singapore was at the beautiful Fullerton Hotel. I’d never seen anything like it! Champagne Brunch on Christmas Day in a posh hotel? There was so much sumptuous food that looked amazingly inviting. But I was 8 and a half months preggers with #1 and regretfully couldn’t do it justice. There was no room around #1 to fit in much food, booze was off limits and so were many other food items. As Husband decrees at any Champagne Brunch, high value goods only which usually means seafood, wagyu beef roast, sashimi, sushi and cheese and definitely no filling up on bread products. It’s a highly defined art. You need a plan before you go in because you can’t possibly get through all the food stations which leaves you feeling slightly bereft. So you must reconcile yourself from the start to the areas you’re not going to get to and have no regrets.

Then children arrived and years two, three, four and five was spent with friends with small children too because in lieu of having family around us, it’s good to spend this special day with special people we know. If there is one thing I find missing at Christmas, it’s the presence of family. For them to share the joy of the excitement that fills a home when small children have been promised so much. Gingerbread man for breakfast? Yes of course! (Incidentally #1 asked for a gingerbread man this morning and was denied, ‘but we were allowed to the other day?’, yes, thankfully it’s just for one day.) The other reason to spend Christmas with family is for the extra pair of hands in the kitchen but I figured some of the children can take on some of the jobs next year using a round ended knife.

In saying that, the children have always had really good Christmas’ because their best part is being with their friends. They get gifts, eat ‘special treats’ all day long and then get to hang out with their mates. How brilliant a Christmas is that?

This year a very brave family invited another nine sugar infused three to five year olds for a Christmas gathering at their home, the day before doing a long haul, two part journey with three kids back to the UK! It was brilliantly raucous. For the kids that is. Not the adults. Though the beer and wine were flowing swiftly.

So I’m rather glad I managed to downsize the Boxing Day ham because I wouldn’t have had a pan big enough to boil it in! As the ham is always bigger than my head, it’s much better to share it with another family and this year we took it round to Mrs Cake Pops. She had a neighbour pop round who said they had the same sized ham to feed 15. Thankfully ham is very versatile. I think I enjoy Boxing Day ham far more than Christmas Day turkey. There’s a much more relaxed air about Boxing Day. You can have a plate of as many mismatched food items as you like. This too has to be done with care though because you don’t want any of your sauces mingling with the wrong sort of meat. Keep your coleslaw on the side of your cold cuts and far away from the turkey and gravy. If you find this a challenge, you are allowed a slice of bread to act as plate divider.

Christmas has always been a very favourite time of year for me. From when it was the only day off for my family to the delight it is for my own children now.

Sometimes though when the shops start displaying their Christmas wares a bit too early or you’ve heard Slade screeching ‘It’s Chriiistmas’ on the radio for the umpteenth time (though this never happens in Singapore I have to say, it’s usually ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus’), it can feel quite overwhelming. Then all of a sudden, it’s over for another year. There’s peace and quiet and no more lists to be made. In fact, it’s then that a glass of something extra cold should be enjoyed to celebrate the end of a good day.

I hope you all enjoyed yours the way Christmas should be enjoyed.

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The Elves are off the shelves!

It’s Christmas Eve! That magical day of relief and chaos. Relief because there’s no more pre-Christmas planning to be had and chaos because you’ve left the planning right down to the wire. Of course that could be just me.

Some of you have welcomed the Elves into your homes and hearts and they certainly have made themselves at home. I’m still not sure about them to be honest. Agalla Snowflake who resided with Mrs Cake Pops freaked me out a couple of times but apparently worked wonders with #1 eating his tea nicely.

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With small children there’s an extra frenzy of activity that goes into Christmas Eve. The Christmas baking for Father Christmas/Santa of gingerbread men and almond tarts. I wasn’t sure they’d get done but at the last minute I managed to squeeze them in. Eight carrots for the reindeer as prescribed by #1. Are there eight? I never know. Certainly couldn’t tell you their names. Then there’s the whiskey and milk for Father Christmas/Santa. Not sure what my Dad Mr Li would say to that mix up but quite possibly that it will give him the shits, I hope it doesn’t hinder the rest of the night’s deliveries! A dictated note for Father Christmas/Santa giving thanks and explaining who gets to eat what. In an effort to give a balance to all the receiving, #1 and 2 were given some sweets which they handed out to all the other excited children in the condo.

I love the simplicity and the certainty for #1 and 2. I can’t wait to see their faces tomorrow morning, I really hope it’s a day they enjoy themselves. Already they’ve been promised gingerbread men for breakfast and #1 has fulfilled a lifelong ambition of eating squirty cream squirted right into his mouth. Aim high son.

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Why is it only Christmas dinner that we must have certain food items? This morning #1 and I battled a shopping trolley in our main supermarket, filling it with delights such as Brussels sprouts and chestnuts. I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with them tomorrow! Plenty of cloves for bread sauce. You do know what bread sauce is don’t you? Lots of sausages for pigs in blankets and stuffing. We’re also having chocolate meringue nests and raspberries. Never done meringue before but they look ok. Then cheese and crackers.

Every year, it starts off promising with a gourmet selection of treats but with only two grown ups in the household, we’ll still be getting through much of it towards New Year’s Eve. Oh and I managed to downsize the Boxing Day ham to 2.9kg. Same weight as #1 when he arrived. Oh no! I forgot the oversized box, undersized pannetone!

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So I think #1 and 2 are firmly asleep now. #1 said he hoped to have Christmas dreams. I really hope he does. There’s just a few more jobs to do before Father Christmas/Santa puts in an appearance tonight. There’s gingerbread men, almond tarts and carrots to eat and washed down with whiskey, milk and an extra Christmas port!

I was feeling rather smug to not be frantically wrapping up presents at this hour. That is until we opened up the box from Uncle Monkey, the children’s godfather. THEY ARE NOT WRAPPED UP! All he can offer is a 😉.

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So I’m off to do some midnight wrapping before going off to bed and waiting to hear the excited yells from the children at a reasonable hour I hope!

I wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas, may it be filled with love and laughter and celebrated with joy and warmth with those who matter most to you.

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My Dad, Mr Li

According to my Dad Mr Li’s passport and all other legal documents, yesterday was his 77th Birthday. According to Mr Li, this is just an arbitrary date but it will do all the same to pass as his Birthday.

In fact he’ll probably say he’s actually 78 not 77. Whenever relatives and friends of Mr Li asked how old was Daughter of Mr Li, he would say, ‘She’s 9 but 10 in Chinese years’. I didn’t mind so much then, it was quite good to be a bit more grown up but if he starts saying I’m 40 already then I might have to put a stop to it. I suppose it’s far better than being referred to in dog years.

We just had a loud, manic Skype chat with him before bedtime where soulful renditions of Happy Birthday were sung in English and Mandarin, it made him very proud. But this is never a good time for any Skypeing and so chaos quickly ensues. There was a bit of unruly behaviour from #2 which then makes Mr Li question my parenting ability, ‘Why is she squeezing #3’s head like that?’. Not quite sure Mr Li. Then #3 totters past, ‘Make sure she doesn’t fall and hurt herself’. Yes Mr Li. Then #3 totters past again with the toothbrush of #1 in her hand, ‘Make sure she doesn’t put that in her mouth because if she falls she’ll have a terrible accident’. Yes Mr Li. How does he see so much when he complained the picture was very grainy!

Mr Li is full of helpful advice whether I invite it or not. As is the wont of all elderly Chinese people, they are allowed to pass on advice and judgement as they see fit to the young people. He sees this as being genuinely helpful, pointing out all conceivable danger alerts to every possible situation. Nana Moon has always found his pearls of wisdom highly amusing and frequently recounts all advice he’s ever given me on a regular basis.

Oddly, I still live by many of the things he’s told me. I may as well share some of them with you too.

1. Only ever eat one bag of crisps a day. But he never specified size of bag so feel free to go for the large jumbo family bags.

2. Never buy dented cans in the supermarket. True scientific fact.

3. Never eat too many instant noodles, they’re made of plastic. Actually there is a concern that instant ramen noodles are covered in a coating of wax.

4. Never get into a stranger’s car. Goes without saying but I was already 20 at the time.

5. When there are no other cars in the vicinity, it is allowed to drive following the white lines in the dark. Perhaps there were considerably less cars in the 60’s?

6. Never drink a mix of tea/coffee together commonly known as Yin Yang tea. It will give you the shits.

7. Ditto for cold coffee.

8. Never let a baby just starting to crawl, crawl for too long because their arms will grow tired and the baby will head butt the floor. Especially important for marble floor dwellings.

9. Don’t sit too close to the television, you’ll go blind. I thought doing something else was true for this?

10. Never swallow chewing gum it will stick to your sausages (Chinese medical term for intestines) and stop you from growing.

11. Never go to bed without brushing your teeth because the ants will come and get you. Highly plausible in Singapore and so I use this one on #1 and 2 now.

12. My all time fave and always adhered to, after you get married you must follow your Husband and listen to your mother in law.

Mr Li comes from an era of respect for your elders, care for your family and keep to yourself. Don’t drink too much, don’t smoke (although he did), don’t have piercings other than in your ears and only one hole in each at that and never get a tattoo. All characteristics of a person of ill repute.

In all truthfulness, I barely know much about his past. What was his childhood like in our village in Hong Kong, what did coming to England in 1960 mean, how is he doing now, actually this part I do know. Is it enough to say it’s not really the Chinese way to delve too much into the past? My Mum says the future is most important. Reminiscing is not something to indulge in. Yet gather a group of similar aged Chinese elderly together and they will natter away for hours about the past. Perhaps they feel we won’t understand.

My Gung Gung, Mr Li’s Dad, passed away when he was 11. Leaving him and his two younger sisters and a then one year old brother to be brought up by my Por Por. A tragic accident apparently involving my Gung Gung being hit by a vehicle but no one was ever brought to task for it. Growing up without a Dad has always made Mr Li highly empathetic towards other people who have grown up with absent fathers too whether it’s from loss or divorce. He often says having no Dad around to stand up for you is one of the hardest things a child can go through. I can only imagine this is a hint of how difficult times may have been. In many ways, perhaps the village environment made life easier because everyone is supposedly linked by blood somehow and that person should be respected like your Aunt, Uncle, Brother, Sister, Great Aunt, Great Uncle and so on. This is why I have so many nearly nieces and nephews. My Lil Bro and Lil Sis are actually my cousins but it’s just a title, it’s how you feel that matters.

Mr Li also has a Special Aunt. I’ve only heard this from Big Brother Li and my Mum but during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in the early 1940s, there was an incident whereby she saved his life by picking him up and carrying him with her as they ran for safety. I haven’t seen her for many years but she gave me a ring when I first met her at the age of eight years old. It’s not something I can part with. I wore it when we had our Chinese banquet wedding celebration, along with all my other ancestral jewellery. She also had a tall bucket she peed in that went under the bed.

His was not an affluent upbringing as you can imagine. He left school pretty early to help support his family. Ultimately this is what drove the selling of land to pay for his fare to England on a boat. Someone else went first and offered the opportunity to emigrate to England working in restaurants and takeaways for the money to be sent back home. He’s worked in many parts of the UK and eventually settled in the north east of England where there is quite a close knit Chinese community. He pops out to the local casino for a small flutter but mostly to socialise, although by nature Mr Li is not a gregarious man. Quite timid in fact but always smiling, polite and hospitable.

You’d think after 50 years in the UK he’d have a good grasp of the English language but always maintains he doesn’t. I was wondering whether he’d come up with an emotional, witty speech at my wedding but he didn’t. He smiled politely at everyone and Big Brother Li did it instead and made unfunny comments about me finally being off their hands which they never thought would happen. Pah. Yet Mr Li has been able to open businesses (to varying degrees of success) and surely that requires some English language? I’ll never know. He’s not very good at Chinese either, his Cantonese is rubbish and that’s why our Li is often mispronounced and not like Lee. He fully advocates the children learning Mandarin but what use is that when he can’t speak Mandarin either! So I have to teach them the Chinese dialect he does know which he finds hilarious.

I’m pretty sure some parts of his life have turned out differently to how he imagined it would but that’s the same for all of us. Some parts are not what I would expect either but it is what it is and there’s no point dwelling too much on what can’t be changed. His marriage to my mother spans more than 48 years, he’s a very loyal man to all his family. In particular my wayward Uncle (real one). It’s not for me to comment on some things but I figure you can’t help who you love and it’s as simple as that. Of course my life would have been much different with different choices made by Mr Li but the bottom line is this, I have never been uncertain over whether my Dad loves me and so there lies the security.

What it does make me feel is that he deserves to enjoy his role as Family Figurehead (in name only), Father, Father in law, Uncle, Great Uncle, Gung Gung. He’s worked hard and seen a lot. It’s important to me that #1, 2 and 3 know who he is even though we live half a world away. Difficult as it may be for them to grasp that we too have Mums and Dads. He loves his grandchildren openly and enjoys nothing more than retelling stories of what they’ve said and done. They could fart in a cup and he’d think it funny, actually so would I.

It’s not just these grandchildren though he’s so very proud of. The other young people who call him Gung Gung too. Our Strawberry Mousse, Emilo and Dazzler, he often talks about their achievements and recalls odd snippets from when they were young. Strawberry Mousse once stuck a bead up her nose (why do children do that?) and needed him to take her to A&E.

He’s not one to gush over my limited achievements but I can see when he’s feeling proud and most importantly content. If I was flitting from one thing to another, it would make him very uncomfortable. He wants for me stability, happiness and a family. It may sound terribly old fashioned and bland but it’s probably because he never had that himself and so these things are important.

Of course when I was much younger, I never fully appreciated lots of things he did. They just happened. But many years ago he once said in passing how he would drop whatever he was doing, wherever he was to come and pick me up from school when it rained. He would drop off all my friends too and that woke me up to seeing him and the way he conducts himself in a very different light.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned yesterday may have been his birthday. We’re quite sure it’s not. There’s a piece of paper Big Brother Li has that was only recently decoded with his real date of birth. Don’t ask me why but it’s something to do with old folklore and I’ve forgotten when it is. Something to do with the lunar calendar. I don’t think he really cares, he’ll be off recounting down at the casino how many times #1 and 2 sung Happy Birthday and that #3 can walk and wave at the same time.

If you are happy, then he is happy. You being the friends he knows of too. What more could you ask for.

Happy Birthday to my Dad, Mr Li.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

So at the start of this week I thought I was nearly all ready for Christmas. Just a few presents left to buy and Christmas lunch to plan which shouldn’t be that much different to a normal Sunday roast. Simple. Not quite feeling smug but manageable.

But I seem to have found myself making emergency shopping trips these last couple of days! Totally forgot about the end of term school Christmas party and presents for the teachers! What to get eight teachers? Toe socks. Gloves for feet. They’re a bit odd but the teachers seem to like them. Festive jelly for the school Christmas party contribution. I remember my contribution to the school Christmas party when I was in Infant school to be a festive battenburg cake.

It’s at this time of year that I’m thankful I’m not in gainful employment which allows me to rush to the shops during off peak hours and cram in all the Christmas preparations that most sensible people have done weeks ago. I’ve just made another dash this afternoon with #3 in tow to collect her Christmas present and some more wrapping paper.

How is it possible to run out of time getting ready for Christmas when the shops are reminding you all about it from mid September?

At least I’ve done a lot of the wrapping up already and not all will be left on Christmas Eve. Maybe this is the year I’ll be getting drunk on eggnog (still figuring out what that is or am I thinking of advocaat, what’s the difference anyways? Oh just stick with the Christmas port) and not frantically wrapping for everything to be unwrapped in a few short hours!

There’s five more days until Christmas Day and there’s so much left to do! There’s the Christmas films for a start. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Grinch that stole Christmas, Arthur Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas (although I’m always confused over whether that’s a Halloween or Christmas film), Miracle on 34th Street and (dare I say it) Love Actually. I’d watch Home Alone if I had it but I don’t and I do love that film along with Home Alone 2. Ooh and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

There was a time before Apple tv (again not quite sure how that works), Blu-ray, DVDs, CVDs and VHS when Christmas television really was something special. The eager anticipation of the double edition Christmas Radio Times, perhaps the only copy I, and everyone else, ever buys in the year. This is Mrs Mann Power From the Ceiling’s copy; bottle of wine is optional but highly recommended especially in the spirit of having yourself a Merry White Christmas. The pristine pages of the Christmas Radio Times are quickly scanned for all the films on television for the whole two weeks. Then using a ball point pen, carefully circling all the television shows that need watching. Christmas Top of the Pops. Who would take the prestigious title? The Snowman. All the Christmas Specials.

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But the films were something else. Do you remember the first time E.T. was shown on television? Star Wars. Mary Poppins. The Wizard of Oz. Gone with the Wind. Films were such a treat. I hardly ever went to the pictures when I was young and the thrill of watching a film on a massive screen is still no less enjoyable. In comparison #1 and 2 have been going since they were two years old. Their favourite part is the popcorn, me too.

Then there’s all the Christmas food. M&S mince pies still in the box and two small Christmas puddings with the custard in the cupboard. Then I need to buy an over priced, over packaged pannetone and prepare myself beforehand for the disappointment of how small it actually is compared to the big massive box it comes in. Every year it’s like Ms Beefy and the cheeseboard all over again but that story will have to wait another time. Finally, it’s a relief I’ve decided not to get the stollen because I’m not a fan of dried fruit and just because it’s there in the Christmas food section doesn’t mean you must listen to it calling to you. But I do need to make some almond tarts from a recipe my mother in law gave me, my father in law always puts at least five on my plate and it’s rude not to finish them all. I’ve got my Christmas gammon ordered from the butchers but as I only got round to ordering it this week, we’re having a 3.5kg one for four adults and four children. Apparently Mrs Cake Pops says this is the size she got for her Halloween party that had 40 revellers. Luckily ham is very versatile.

We’ve done a few festive activities with Nana Moon (some of you were rather surprised she turned out not to be a rather wizened old lady). Proper cold weather in Hanoi (it’s a whole other post), Christmas lights, Christmas foam blizzard, Christmas floral display, Christmas trees. Just a Christmas carol concert to find.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas indeed! I’ve tried not to let the focus be all about Father Christmas bringing gifts on Christmas Eve and Nana Moon did read #1 and 2 the Nativity Story but I’m not quite sure any of it went in. Today was the school’s Christmas concert, a delightful display of hearty Christmas singing in English and Mandarin. I’m never quite sure how #1 and 2 will fair at such events. They always promise so much during rehearsals and then stand stock still for the real show. I suppose I would too if that many people were staring at me. I don’t even like it when one person does staring. So the only way forward is to join in the hearty Christmas singing too. More Christmas port please.

I was wondering why the rest of the flat was looking rather devoid of Christmas decorations. Then I realised why. Putting Nana Moon in charge of decorating the tree with #1 and 2 meant all the decorations in the box went on the tree.

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So just five more sleeps to go! I hope you’re all ready. I’m just off to do a bit more wrapping, eat mince pies, drink Christmas port, watch It’s a Wonderful Life on DVD, The Grinch on the iPad, Harry Potter on my phone and perhaps this year I may just be ready in time for Christmas but if not there’s always next year.

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Embracing 40……..Life begins at 40 with a Brilliant New Adventure

If you have been following my blog for a while then you will know all about my wonderful friend, Brilliant New Adventure. If you are new then please refer to my older posts ‘Live the life you have always dreamed of’ and ‘So begins a Brilliant New Adventure’.

Today is her birthday and I’d like you to join me in wishing her a very Happy Birthday. If anyone is looking forward to what new horizons after forty will bring then I think Brilliant New Adventure is one of them.

At the start of this year, or even just six months ago, I wasn’t expecting to not be celebrating with Brilliant New Adventure this special day. In some ways it’s probably a blessing for her that I haven’t been there by her side counting down the days. She might not have wanted a constant reminder! Equally though, it’s a shame to have been unable to plan and speculate together on how this landmark birthday ought to be celebrated.

Should we go big with a party for 150 and cocktails from dusk until dawn on a roof top terrace bar overlooking the skyline of Singapore? Or should we go with a small intimate degustation menu at one of the latest on trend restaurants in town? Would there be all day pampering and relaxation at Spa Botanica at The Sentosa Hotel before a fancy dress party of everyone going as you in your various guises through the years?

What kind of birthday cake should it be? A Chanel handbag or Louboutin heels? How about both! So long as you can eat every inch of the cake, I say. What about balloons? Can we have the room decorated with ‘Fabulous at Forty’ balloons? I might have to throw in a few ‘You’re really, really old’ ones in too. Will she wear a ‘I’m 40’ badge? Or a sash? Or how about I make you a ginormous paper hat with 40 flashing off the top?

Forty. It’s the biggest number you’ve been to date and so it should be celebrated but then every birthday should be celebrated no matter what the number.

Forty seems to be the new coming of age. How many articles and interviews have you read about people saying their forties are the best years of their lives so far. To have reached a stage in life where you’re confident with your place in the world, where you know how to look after yourself, where you are more comfortable with your own company and the person you are than ever before. Perhaps you look in the mirror and you may not have the youthful bloom and anticipation of twenty years ago but knowledge and wisdom are far better replacements. Look all around you and the pace hasn’t exactly slowed down but you’re more able to navigate your way with a calm and deft manner. Making better choices than haphazard ones for fear of missing out on something else.

This year has brought a good deal of significant change for Brilliant New Adventure. Changes that were unexpected. Changes that were painful. Changes that were ultimately necessary.

So here we are. A brilliant new adventure has begun and turning forty can only add to the excitement of this brilliant new adventure. A new decade bringing with it a fresh start and brand new possibilities bringing brand new people to meet and get to know.

If you’re wondering how exactly is Brilliant New Adventure getting on in Hong Kong then I’m happy to say she’s doing very well, quite possibly still thinking she’s on holiday over there though. Missing us terribly of course, especially #1, 2 and 3. #1 is already asking to go to Hong Kong for his birthday treat because that’s where his good friend lives. Quite a step up from his last Birthday treat request which was a ride on the underground trains. Oh and karma really does exist you know. Good grace and dignity rules over cheap digs on social media and nobheadedness.

It’s been quite a change for me too not having her there down the road. To have an integral part of your daily life go topsy turvy is quite bewildering. It took a while to get used to the empty space in my weekly calendar. The coffee in the morning, the play dates in the afternoon. How that would have changed by now with #3 on the vertical move and wanting to participate in everything and climb onto anything in sight!

Yes of course I miss her and I miss being able to celebrate her birthday today too.

So how has she spent it in the end? Well it started off with a late night out with a really good friend of hers who shared many of her adventures in Singapore and is now planning many more with her in Hong Kong too. Then it continued with a full day of being showered with birthday treats in the heart of her family home because when it comes down to it, how any birthday should be celebrated is with the people you love and who love you too.

The glitz on top is just for fun and frivolity, it’s not what makes the occasion any more special or memorable. The good thing about 40th birthday celebrations is that they just seem to go on forever like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and so there’s ample time to celebrate again when we next meet.

Happy 40th Birthday to my dear friend, Brilliant New Adventure. May happiness be yours as well as that Korean actor you’re always going on about.

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Ich liebe dich

Nana Moon and I currently have a difference of opinion on what 20 degrees Celsius will feel like. She thinks it’s short sleeves weather just like a British summer’s day and I think it’s jumper, jeans and quite possibly a winter coat weather. We haven’t even started our mini trip yet and already a minor dispute.

We’re off to Hanoi, Vietnam tomorrow morning for three days SANS kids! What will that feel like? At the moment full of super excitement tinged with a modicum of guilt to be off on a jolly without the family so it seems only right that I fully maximise this opportunity to balance out the guilt. Late nights, long lie ins, leisurely breakfast, lunch and tea at child unfriendly restaurants, (actually why bother with restaurants let’s just hit the bars) and tourist activities that don’t need to accommodate a pushchair or have baby change facilities. No rucksack filled with endless snacks, wet wipes and nappies. No eating meals earlier than everyone else and lying very quietly in the dark whilst #1, 2 and 3 fall asleep before watching television on mute.

Even if it’s only for three days, it’s three days to remind me of Holidays Before Children. Before the resort based with Kid’s Club option we tried to resist but now find so appealing. It took a while to accept that holidays are not just about us, it’s about the children too and the fact they still need to eat and sleep on time. When we went on our first family of five holiday to Phuket in August this year, we were sometimes THAT family with the over tired, over hungry, angry baby trying to do a bit too much just because we’re on holiday. But what a shame it is to take the trouble of going all that way somewhere new by aeroplane and yet never leaving the resort.

Nana Moon is rather well travelled around south east Asia but Vietnam is a place neither of us have been to. I’d been fully reassured by Ms Beefy that Nana Moon is THE best travel companion because she produces fully illustrated travel itineraries that come laminated. So I waited. And waited. And nothing came. Eventually time was running short and I thought I best get something booked in. So we’re flying Tiger Airways and staying in a hotel with 55% discounted rates I found on Agoda and we’re only taking 10kg hand luggage which would be more than adequate until the question of packing winter clothes came in.

I take this faith in my holiday planning skills as a sign of trust because the last time I booked us a cheap mini break away in November 2004, the hotel was in Croatia, the airport we landed at was in northern Italy and the route from A to B in our hire car took us through Slovenia.

How did this happen? Well, have you ever wondered exactly what sort of people pay attention to those ads in the daily newspapers that say ‘£12 a night hotel deal’? Yep. Neither of us had a lot of spare cash at the time, £36 for three nights in a hotel plus £40 Ryanair flights seemed a bargain worth taking a risk on. Sort of assumed Trieste Airport would be nearish the hotel and most definitely in the same country at least!

Quite a surprise to discover it wasn’t and would involve driving a vehicle across two borders on the other side of the road in a car where the passenger usually sits. Until that point I’d never done either things with a car before and it was very weird and scary too plus Nana Moon was making me nervous with her fierce concentration. Our road trip didn’t start off well upon exiting the airport and looking in the wrong/right direction and narrowly avoiding some car on the wrong/right side of the road and constantly grabbing thin air with my left hand when going to change gears even though there wasn’t much room between hand and car door but 13 years of natural reflex is to blame.

I think I’d still rather drive than read the map though because the pressure would have been even greater and I certainly wouldn’t want to ire the wrath of Nana Moon in a confined space in a foreign country. So we’re driving out of Trieste, northern Italy on our way to Croatia trying to locate the toll road that was only meant to take us a few junctions into Slovenia before looping back out again. Except we somehow missed the exit. We’re driving along this near deserted motorway, higher and higher, the air is thinning out and there’s mist enshrouded mountains ahead. How did that happen? I don’t think we’re going the right way you know. Somehow though we manage to get out of scenic Slovenia and back on the road to Croatia.

I think I’m doing ok with the driving now after that detour added a bit more driving experience. Except I somehow manage to mount a curb at an empty junction. There’s silence in the car but I can feel it. The ‘you better not have damaged the car and cost us millions in the excess’ telepathic accusation coming from my right. Then it’s time to switch over the driving and guess who clips the wing mirror of a parked car? Yep but I’m not going to say anything about that.

Although we were in Croatia, it was the mostly Italian influenced Istria region. We didn’t see any war bunkers or discarded army tankers where we were, you had to be more on the mainland. It was out of season when we went and fairly quiet but I like it like that without much hustle and bustle. It was beautiful from the little we got chance to see and I would definitely go back to Croatia again.

Lots of German tourists come to Istria because apparently it’s a straight route down from Germany and so the language of most Croatian tour guides include Italian and German as well as English. I always feel it’s good manners to try out a few phrases of the country you’re visiting rather than shouting English very slowly and so when our Guide said he spoke German, which I understood Nana Moon to have some experience of, I thought it would be a good idea they had a happy conversation together about our trip away. Except it didn’t seem to be flowing very well. In fact it wasn’t flowing at all. What did you say Nana Moon? Well, apparently she told the Guide ‘Ich liebe dich’. I love you. Wow, that was fast work, I thought you were asking him where did he live?

So tomorrow when we arrive in Vietnam, Nana Moon won’t be asked to practice her Vietnamese I don’t think. And I certainly won’t be repeating any useful phrases she tells me too after her German faux pas, I’ve seen Full Metal Jacket.

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We’re ready for the landing of Nana Moon

We are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Nana Moon today! In just a few hours she’ll be landing upon these tropical shores. Though this week it’s been practically wintry with temperatures dropping below 25 and a lot of rain but just as quickly it changes back to 30 degrees and blue-ish skies today.

It’s been three years since Nana Moon was last in Singapore. This is her third visit in our five years here and each time she comes, there’s an additional family member to meet. We haven’t had any visitors since Grandma and Grandpa came to stay last year. Anything to do with the three kids you think? Hardly a holiday between the hours of 7am to 8pm with the whirlwind of activity that surrounds them I know.

#1 and 2 are super excited about another trip to Changi Airport. We’re going to set off early so they can have some fun looking at the decorations, the shops, the playground and huge slide and not forgetting the big Spongebob Squarepants Christmas pineapple. Yes, all this really is at the airport. You could spend a whole afternoon there and do your weekly big shop at the supermarket too.

I’m of course super excited too! I haven’t seen Nana Moon in two years and it’s just what I need in lieu of making a trip back to the UK ourselves. Unlike emigrating to another country where there is some semblance of permanency and laying down of roots. This transient expat lifestyle in Singapore can leave you rather groundless at times so I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar face.

It’s the start of Nana Moon’s month long holiday. She’ll be heading off to New Zealand after this stopover. We’ve been waiting for her arrival before fully immersing ourselves in the Christmas festivities. There’s the snow show and avalanche at Tanglin Mall I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, the beautiful Christmas lights, the Harbin ice show too. Then there’s a few new things that have opened up like the Singapore River Safari and Gardens by the Bay since her last visit. There’s a lot to pack in.

Most of all I’m looking forward to #1, 2 and 3 getting to know her better. She is after all a Godmother to them and I’ve reserved for her the important task of explaining the arrival of baby Jesus to the Virgin Mary and Joseph in a stable. Plus what exactly are Elves and whether they are little children and where do they come from. Plus the decorating of the Christmas tree. Such responsibility for Nana Moon.

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This will be the first time she’ll have seen me in action as slightly unhinged Mum of three. I wonder what she’ll make of that as I try and maintain order amongst the chaos. Will I worry when #1 flies off into a rage because I’m not allowing him more sweets/chocolate/cake? Or when #2 screams and yells because #1 has called her a smelly, custard, bum bum head? Or when #3 takes one look at Nana Moon and tries to clamber up high to safety and looking petrified.

Of course I’m hoping the children will behave impeccably and we’ll have days of harmonious outings full of ‘aint that just swell’ memories. Of course I don’t want to give the impression the children are difficult, unruly, out of control terrors. But sometimes they are and that’s just the way of things for small people. Most of the time they are funny, engaging, eager to please small people and soon they will have someone very important they will want to impress.

#1 is already wearing his Millenium Falcon t shirt because I said Nana Moon likes Star Wars. #2 has chosen her best pink Hello Kitty t shirt and tutu skirt. #3 will be in bed by the time she arrives so the petrified scream can wait until tomorrow.

I rather think though that she’ll take it all in her stride. She has that certain tone of no nonsense too that can freeze them in their tracks and indulge them in their sense of humour. Yes we’ll definitely be ok. Unless that is, #1 beats Nana Moon in that game of Frustration or Connect 4 and then it’ll be, ‘Come on Nana Moon, off the floor, you can always play again and maybe next time you might win. There you go, shake hands with #1 in a good sporting fashion.’

The other reason why I’m doubly excited about Nana Moon’s arrival is because she and I are off on a little sojourn to Hanoi, Vietnam next week! We’ve both never been there before and so I’m terribly excited at the prospect of a new stamp in the passport and a chance to catch up properly with Nana Moon.

In the words of Big Brother’s Davina McCall, we’re coming to get you Nana Moon!

And……Nana Moon has landed!

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Embracing 40……..Just blame it on the Special Brew

Yet another person I know hit 40 this week and it seems Las Vegas is the destination to begin your mid life. The thing about beginning your mid life in Vegas is that it all starts off as a bit of a blur. Neither Mr Cupping nor Mr Muffin can elaborate much further about their respective 40th birthday weekends beyond that it was a brilliantly, decadently drunk time.

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Hmmm…genuinely can’t remember? Or would rather not go into too much detail to spare one’s blushes? Mr Cupping has genuine memory loss issues beyond his tender years but Mr Muffin? Well he’s been blaming it on the Special Brew for nearly twenty years. Why stop now?

By the way, Mr Muffin is not a monika I’ve come up with. It’s all his own work. Like Paul Ince knows, you can’t give yourself your own nickname. I believe his preferred choice was Raga but by the time I came across him, Muffin was firmly in place and somehow suits him far better. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call him by his given name you know. I only remember it because it comes up on Facebook.

He’s a friend of my other friend Lank from school. Unbeknownst to us both, we were at the same University and bumped into each other on campus. You know, the University of Salford is set in the surprisingly picturesque Peel Park with the River Irwell running through it which is quite at odds with the image of Salford as a whole, especially if you ignore the pit bulls left to run amok.

We all lived in the same student village for a year at one point and contrary to popular belief, a house full of nine blokes didn’t smell as bad as what you may think. It’s quite good to mix up your social circle. Meet new people and see how you get on. Try out a few bars that you’ve never been to before. All friendships bring something different and it’s good to have those that are not always so serious and known to bring fun and laughs.

Just as well really because Mr Muffin has one of those faces that just makes you laugh! I think that’s what I did the whole evening the first time I ever met him. Not helped by his constant mimicking of the elongated Geordie way Lank says my name but in his own Bradford baritone. I think out of habit he still does that now.

As you know, sometimes I’m not very good at picking up when someone is being genuinely serious. Just the other week at dinner with Mrs Imperturbable and a few other friends, she says ‘I’m trying to think of a happy childhood memory’, I think it’s a test because of the inappropriate laughing at the never ever having had a birthday party ever memory. Failed of course. Laughed again.

Not surprising really when people like Muffin would come up with gems like, ‘I’m smoking Lambert and Butler because it’s the thinking man’s cigarette’. Are you sure? It’s not because it’s far cheaper than a packet of Marlborough? He also came out with something equally profound about Lilt but then admitted he just liked it’s totally tropical taste.

I suppose with such financially astute tendencies, it’s no surprise he’s now a qualified Financial Advisor. In fact, he gave me some brilliant financial advice for my final year at University. Befriend the bouncers at the door of the Student Union bar. Saved a packet, never had to queue at all to get in and was successfully smuggled out a back door with Elbear one time when she needed to escape the unwanted advances of a suitor.

Then after I moved to London and met my first ever London friend of my very own, Mrs Cor Blimey, who should be housemates with her friend? Why, Mr Muffin! Exactly! What a small world and a bit freaky. But then quite fun too actually to be in London in your mid 20s with new friends and old ones.

Sometimes he likes to be Mr T, at others he likes to be Carl Cox. I think he almost got away with it in a club once until someone pointed out, ‘Hang on, isn’t this Carl Cox’s set right now?’. Hmmm. Busted. How can you not laugh?

You don’t have to be in touch all the time to recognise the value of certain friendships. I think it’s how you get on when you do hear from people that matters. He’s still funny, still open and honest, still not that mysterious though tries to be….and probably would still like to blame all his misdemeanours on the Special Brew but can you really at 40? Hmmm.

Happy 40th Birthday Muffin!

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Elf on the Shelf

The last time I mentioned Christmas in ‘Have yourself a hot and sweaty Expat Christmas’, I hadn’t quite immersed myself into the festive spirit. But after a week of rain and gloomy days, I’m feeling a lot more wintry in my t shirt and jeans. JEANS you hear me? Admittedly I’ve been in freezing aircon most of the day. Plus a few Christmas ports have helped in lieu of Christmas sherry which is the favoured Christmas tipple of Mrs Steamer. She seems to have mistaken cooking sherry for sherry to be drunk whilst cooking.

Now that we have entered December I feel it is legitimately allowed to embrace Christmas with gusto. I’m not keen on Christmas decorations making an appearance in November, it’s a long stretch until Christmas Day and then an endurance test to get to Epiphany because by then my mind is already on the birthday decorations for #1.

So after fending off the incessant questioning by #1 and 2 about when is it going to be Christmas before Halloween had even spooked us by, I’ve got out not one but two lots of advent calendars to start the countdown.

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Now all I get is, ‘When can we eat another candy?’
‘Tomorrow.’
A short while later, ‘Is it time for another candy?’
‘Tomorrow.’
‘Now can we eat candy?’
‘Keep calling it candy instead of sweets and you won’t even be allowed to tomorrow.’

I suppose time still has no meaning for small children. Like most things I say to them. They do, however, have a very clear understanding that Christmas means Father Christmas/Santa will bring them presents. If they’re good. I know, I know. What about the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the donkey? The true meaning of Christmas? In all positions of responsibility we are told to delegate so it’s quite handy that Nana Moon will be landing very soon to fulfil her first proper duty as Godmother.

I wish I could say that I have a carefully honed parenting technique that resolves disputes between #1 and 2 rapidly and efficiently promotes discipline and good behaviour. I really wish I could. So whilst I’m only just getting into the spirit of Christmas, it hasn’t stopped me from using Father Christmas/Santa as the quick fixer upper of disputes, discipline and good behaviour.

In fact, I think he’s starting to lose his power I’ve used it so often.
‘Do you really want Father Christmas to hear about this?’
‘He’s watching you, you know.’
‘He knows everything you do. Good and bad.’
‘Remember that list he’s got? He’s checking it twice to find out who’s naughty or nice.’

Until recently, I used to say that the security camera in the lift of our condo was watching out for naughty behaviour. So if #1 and 2 were fighting in the lift, I’d tell them the security guards were watching and they had to stop it and apologise to the security camera. Now it’s Father Christmas/Santa is watching. As one friend pointed out, we seem to have got the presence of Father Christmas/Santa confused with God.

Mrs Cake Pops has diversified though. Apparently there’s this Elf on the Shelf. He has no name until the family grant him one which releases magical powers that enables the Elf to fly back every night to the North Pole to report back to Father Christmas/Santa about the children’s behaviour that day so Father Christmas/Santa will know who has been good or bad. You’re not allowed to touch the Elf otherwise his magic powers will be erased forever and Father Christmas/Santa will never know you have in fact been very, very good and wouldn’t that be a shame. Sounds ingenious doesn’t it?

Except this is the Elf.

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Excuse me but what the f is that? That’s not an Elf. Elves are kindly, cute and helpful looking with a tiny bit of mischief. This Elf is reminiscent of that puppet, Lord Charles manhandled by Ray Allan and not to be confused with Ray Charles as helpfully pointed out by Husband.

Elf on the Shelf is not for this household I’m afraid because quite frankly, Elf on the Shelf freaks me out. Fear is incredibly debilitating. It has more chance of making me behave nicely through fear than #1 and 2.

I’m not a fan of porcelain dolls either. It’s the face with the creepy eyes. Our Jenn once told me that a porcelain doll stood guard outside the gates of this factory in Chester-le-Street. The factory had a tall, thin chimney you could see from many spots in Chester-le-Street. She would tell me the doll would slowly rotate it’s head in the direction of anyone who said naughty words. I was five years old! Five! Do you remember that Our Jenn?

Anyways, the embers of Christmas is creating a warm glow all around us. What a wonderful time of year for children of the modern age. There’s not just one Christmas party to attend but a series of them. Today, Mrs Red from school organised the rest of us to help out with a class Christmas party at Polliwogs play gym. To socialise at school is fun but to continue afterwards? In a play gym that has slippery slopes, ball pools, zip slides and fish fingers and chips for tea? What is there not to love? And then you get cake pops and candy canes AND a present too! You should have seen the look on #1’s face though when he opened up his Secret Santa present and exclaimed ‘But it’s a girl present!’. Then #2 opened hers to find it was a boy present. Actually it was a Batmobile but in the interests of resolving a dispute efficiently, I let that one go and a happy exchange was made.

Mrs Cake Pops is not Mrs Cake Pops for nothing. She gave me a master class in the art of the cake pop this morning and I rather do admire her work. Don’t you?

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Of course, one who is this creative must be talented in other ways too. She’s created this hat for a traditional Christmas Mad Hatter’s Tea Party tomorrow morning. It looks marvellous and apparently just thrown together with odd bits to hand. I tried it on. My nose was propping up the rim. Not saying anything.

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So Christmas is truly on the way. The children are getting so excited and they are so sure Father Christmas/Santa will know exactly what they would like, if they’re good, that #1 has said there’s no need to write him a letter because he Knows. Yes, of course. He Knows Everything.

So I think I’m going to dig out the Christmas films now and the first one to truly mark the season is….Elf. Smiling’s my favourite.

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