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

2014 Year End Review

It’s New Year’s Eve again!

Time to wave off the old and ring in the new.

I’m not surprised this year seems to have whizzed by for me as two thirds of it was dominated by the lead up to Embracing 40 and then soon after it was all about my much long overdue trip to the UK.

Speaking for myself, I’ve really enjoyed nearly all of 2014. It didn’t start off so well with a couple of things that have since resolved themselves enough for me to feel happy about. But the rest of it has been pretty amazing.

In this year of Embracing 40, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I knew I would meet it head on, enjoy it and to celebrate it fully. I wasn’t expecting just how great my family and friends would make me feel about it all. I still feel incredibly touched by all the thoughtful gifts and gestures that came my way. I have been very lucky and spoilt.

The highlight of my year without question was going back to the UK for nearly seven weeks. To introduce #3 to my parents and many family and friends is something I was looking forward to doing since she arrived. Although I would have liked it to have been much sooner, I think heading back to the UK this year was good for us as a family as we could do much more and not have to work around the needs of a small baby. #1 especially loved being back in the UK, #2 isn’t so sure yet and #3 will still just go with the flow. For now.

And of course there was the chance to see you. The you being all the people I have missed so much since we’ve been away from the UK. Do you know how much it means to know that you’re still all there when we come back? Six years away when we thought it would be two or three and to still find we all get on like it was no time at all. I loved that very much.

Of course I’ve always known this but I’m surrounded by people who mean so very much to me. It’s been a great honour to share some of their special occasions too. From the weddings of Big D and Sister In Law to being part of the celebrations of Mrs Cake Pops and Nana Moon who also Embraced 40 this year.

Not forgetting the Birthday celebrations of #1, 2 and 3 this year. They turned five, four and two. It’s been a really good year with them as we watch the dynamics change so that #3 is very much an active member of the family. Sometimes it’s been a challenge, especially with the assault on the ears with the noise levels they generate but as we move away from the toddler stage, we can look forward to doing much more together. Even our holiday to Japan was less daunting than we thought it would be.

Then there’s the knowledge that Brilliant New Adventure is indeed enjoying her brilliant new adventure in Hong Kong. I like living vicariously through her with the fabulous new life she’s leading. I still miss her dreadfully but with all the mod cons we have these days, no one is truly that far away.

Even my Dad, Mr Li with his new smartphone is just a what’sapp away. That can be a good and a bad thing as I discovered earlier this year with the sharing of news between family members that I once could keep from them.

But amongst all the good things that have come my way, for some close to me it has not been such a celebratory year. For them, I give much time and thought.

Equally, in the world news this year the memory of some events will never leave me. So for these tragic events I will also give much time and thought and for the friends who have been affected by them too. Sometimes, it’s much less than six degrees of separation. More like two degrees.

But as New Year’s Eve symbolises, it is the end of another year. Whether it be good or less so. Whether you come away with great memories or not so great ones. Either way it’s almost done now. Tomorrow beckons a whole new one to fill and look forward to.

For tonight and for the first time since 2007, Husband and I are off out to a genuine party for Grown Ups only to see in the New Year. I’m looking forward to starting 2015 with another three day hangover.

Wherever you are and however you may be celebrating the end of 2014, I wish you a very good one. Cheers to you.

Thank you for sticking with me and my blog and I’ll see you in the New Year.

With much love.

Karen xx

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So that’s how you cook a turkey!

So the 3kg turkey, which incidentally weighed the same as #1, 2 and 3 at birth, wasn’t that difficult to cook after all! It was a bit of a disappointment really after hearing all these years about how people have to get up in the middle of the night to start cooking the turkey but apparently Mrs Cake Pops says that’s only if the turkey is double the size of the one we had. No wonder Christmas dinner is a stressful event if you’re cooking for that many people because that’s a lot of turkey going on there. Plus all the trimmings. You need another kitchen really.

Husband says our turkey was rather like a large chicken, except with huge wings, but I thought I better make more of an effort with it than just bunging it into the oven. Out of the twenty odd Christmas food magazines I’ve accumulated over the years illustrating the various ways you can cook Christmas dinner, I opted for the rub the turkey all over with butter and then decorate with rashers of streaky bacon option as advised by the Butcher. It was a bit weird rubbing the butter all over the turkey, I’m not sure I’d do that too often.

The real challenge though was how do you cook all the other things as well? Like the potatoes and parsnips that need roasting, the sausage meat stuffing and had there been room in the oven, the Yorkshire puddings which categorically should not be reserved solely for roast beef. Husband and Sister in Law like a spare Yorkshire pudding with golden syrup. Try it. Husband also likes a slice of Christmas cake with cheddar cheese on it. Try it too. These all require significantly higher temperatures than the 170 degrees the turkey needs to cook at. So suffice to say that Christmas lunch almost became Christmas afternoon tea by the time that everything was ready.

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Not that #1, 2 and 3 were concerned as they barely touched a morsel. So wrapped up were they in the visit of Father Christmas that had happened earlier that day.

Barely had I finished writing my last post and climbed into bed when a commotion erupted as #1 and 2 came charging into our room informing us very excitedly that Father Christmas HAD ALREADY BEEN!

Erm, that wasn’t the plan we had agreed on. #1 and 2 you were meant to sleep in until 7.30am.

NOT BE UP AT 3AM!

Then not only be up at 3am but #2 decides now is a good time to start freaking out at the fact she’s scared of Father Christmas. After he’s delivered the presents. She then insists that one of us has to sleep in their room in case he comes back. ‘But he’s not coming back #2’. ‘How do you know Mummy?’.

Quite so. How do I know?

#1 was beyond excited and kept getting out of bed several times before it was even dawn and then having to wait another hour before #2 and 3 were up. The anticipation was almost painful for him but he did really well.

And then everyone was up. Marvelling at the mess the reindeers had made on the balcony after eating the carrots and how Father Christmas had eaten all the snacks and drunk the whiskey and milk.

Now in each family, we all have our traditions and in ours the gift from Father Christmas can be opened after we’ve had breakfast. It worked well in previous years but as #1 and 2 join forces together and show no regard for patience it wasn’t really happening as before.

#2: ‘When can I open my Snow White dress from Santa, Mummy?’
Me: ‘How do you know that’s your gift?’
#2: ‘Because I asked him for it and he’s been now’

I can’t really argue with that can I. Where’s the surprise and amazing coincidence that Father Christmas delivers what you ask him for so long as you’ve been (mostly) good all year?

To #2 it was just fact. But joyful all the same as they excitedly opened their special present and it’s exactly what they’ve been coveting for some months.

I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from something you’ve been waiting for but I like a Christmas Day walk. Even if it’s just for an hour and we definitely had an hour to spare whilst the turkey cooked. #1 was a bit disgruntled at having to leave his new toys but in the end I think he enjoyed it. Along the way we passed by a temple that offers people who need it, a hot meal everyday of the year funded by the generosity of the public. It was a timely reminder.

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In the absence of family in Singapore, we do have good friends, great friends in fact, to spend a time of year usually reserved for close family. We ended Christmas Day with friends who opened their home to welcome so many of us who are a long way from Parents and Grandparents and plied us with lots of fizzy alcoholic pop.

Then on Boxing Day, which is fast becoming one of my favourite days too, we celebrated with a Boxing Day ham fest with Mrs Cake Pops and her family. Boxing Day ham is by far a much more relaxed affair. Just do the ham accompanied with left over cranberry and bread sauce, freshly sliced bread and copious amounts of cheese. What more could you ask for.

So the turkey is all done without a turkey curry to be had but a mashed potato topped turkey pie with shortcrust pastry grated on it before baking to a golden crunch. Absolute genius idea Mrs Imperturbable!

Christmas Day is over for this year and I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful one.

It’s time to prepare for the New Year and everything that it brings.

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So how do you cook a turkey?

No, seriously. How do you cook a turkey?

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Husband and I have never cooked a turkey before, except for a turkey crown. Partly due to him having been a vegetarian for the early part of our relationship. Then his principles left him. Or according to my family they thought it was for religious purposes so they probably think religion left him.

Anyways, we have never cooked a whole sized turkey. And we’ve seen them before. They’re big.

Really big.

And people talk about having to cook them overnight and getting up before dawn to baste it and all sorts. It sounds quite daunting.

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So tentatively I went to order the overpriced turkey from our local butchers last week. Naturally they couldn’t tell me the exact size it would but take your pick from small, medium or large.

Small please, considering it will be just for Husband and I as #1, 2 and 3 will most likely eat just the crispy bits of the roast potatoes and nothing else. So makes you wonder why we’re going to spend all morning in the kitchen for the full works.

Tradition of course. And because everyone in the UK will be doing the same (albeit some eight hours later and not in a hot, sweaty kitchen the size of a pea shell).

So I picked up the turkey this afternoon and asked the butcher to weigh it for me. It’s just over 3kg. Not as big as we were fearing thankfully. Then he showed me the Boxing Day ham I also ordered which we’re going to share with Mrs Cake Pops and family. That is also 3kg. With no bones or anything. Just 3kg of ham. That is a lot of ham.

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So, every year, Husband is adamant that we will not be spending Christmas Eve wrapping the presents of #1, 2 and 3 until the early hours.

It’s never going to happen because in the words of Mrs Imperturbable, ‘this year I am very disorganised’. And yet we were out having drinks together last night over looking Marina Bay Sands. We should have been wrapping presents instead but how could you pass up a view like this?

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So why am I disorganised this year? Well because I usually just am. Mitigating circumstances being the whole excitement of my almost seven week trip back to the UK used up all my excitement reserves that were left over from Embracing 40 this year. Plus the fog of jet lag took me almost into December so it feels like there has been no proper build up.

Until this last week or so when I’ve indulged in a flurry of Christmas outings.

The main shopping street in Singapore, Orchard Road, has a slew of shopping malls all with their own unique style of Christmas decor ranging from the tasteful to the tacky. But all when lit up at night look beautiful. There’s something quite magical about fairy lights twinkling in the dark.

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We took #1, 2 and 3 to the Winter Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay which was absolutely lovely. It really cheered me up to be there and I felt completely in the festive mood. We also took #1, 2 and 3 to see Father Christmas. Slightly less successful with #3 clinging onto me so fast that she could hold herself up with me hands free. Serves me right for laughing at the poor unfortunate families before us who had children who freaked out at having to be near the sleepy looking man with the fake beard and belly who clearly looks like he’s going to expire in his full on furry outfit.

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Today has been a whirlwind of last minute shopping, grocery shopping with #1, 2 and 3 that attracted a few dirty looks from other frantic shoppers, it wasn’t my most greatest Christmas experiences admittedly. We’ve watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Miracle on 34th Street and Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone whilst we’ve been wrapping.

We adopted quite a high risk strategy wrapping presents in the living room when #1 and 2 could have walked in at any time. But they didn’t fall asleep until gone 10pm because along with the excitement and anticipation, there was also a modicum of fear too.

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#3 has flatly refused to entertain the idea of Father Christmas coming at all. Not even the lure of presents will change her mind. ‘No Santa, No Santa. Ok Mummy. No Santa’.

I really enjoyed a massive bedtime hug from #1 tonight. A real big hug filled with happiness. I asked him how did he feel. He said excited and nervous at the same time. He really is so looking forward to Christmas Day.

I wish I could tell you all of them have behaved impeccably to merit a visit from Father Christmas but either way, he’ll be paying them a visit.

And tomorrow I can’t wait to hear their excited cries in the morning. I hope not too early as it really is the early hours now.

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One other thing is that those Elves can come down from those shelves for another year. As you know, I am not a fan but I follow my friend’s efforts closely and she is a creative genius. Here’s a round up of her fabulous creations this year.

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So, the advent windows are all open. The whiskey is out on the table together with the mince pie, almond tarts and gingerbread. The carrots and water are on the balcony. The presents are wrapped under the tree.

And yet we still haven’t got a clue how to cook the turkey!

Merry Christmas to you all. May you have a wonderful day with all the people you want to be with.

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I hope I see you next year

Yesterday was my Dad, Mr Li’s Birthday.

He’s 78. Or is he 79? Are we going English or Chinese years. Doesn’t matter really when you get to his age he says. It’s enough just to be here.

I don’t often re-read past posts I’ve written but I had forgotten what I had said about my Dad, Mr Li last year on his Birthday and I wanted to remind myself.

So at long last this October, after almost three years, I got to see my Dad, Mr Li again. I had missed him very much. I still do miss him. The nine days I spent in Newcastle Upon Tyne are full of great memories and plenty of photos of being with my family.

The most important ones of all are those of #1, 2 and 3 with my Dad, Mr Li and with my Mum.

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I was quite worried how #1, 2 and 3 would take to being around their Gung Gung and Por Por. It’s not like they’ve had time to get to know one another over the years and build a relationship up. We bring them back to the UK and meet all these people who are special to us and expect them to feel the same way too. It took some explaining to piece together who every family member is that they met but they were very accepting.

Of course over the years we talk about everyone we know in the UK, names and relationships are not entirely unfamiliar. But they are still too young to understand and remember.

I just don’t think it’s ever been explained to them that we too have Mums and Dads. And that we too would like to spend time with our Mums and Dads. Though I rather suspect my Dad, Mr Li would prefer to spend more time in the company of his grandchildren than mine.

Everything they did was hilarious. He is so proud of them. It’s very touching to see. It’s not the way of his generation nor really of Chinese culture, to be able to say much by way of praise for his own children but with grandchildren it’s different. Thank goodness it is.

What made me laugh a lot on our first day back is how he was showing #1, 2 and 3 photos of themselves that I had sent him. And they thought this was brilliant, for they love nothing better than seeing photos and videos of themselves.

Naturally he gave me lots of helpful parenting advice.

We were taking a walk along the Quayside one brisk, slightly windy afternoon. Not so windy the children were ever at risk of being blown off their feet into the River Tyne. All the same Mr Dad, Mr Li helpfully pointed out the risk just in case.

Other helpful advice; make sure they are full but not so full they will be sick. And always this thing about wrapping up against the cold. Need I refer you to the ALS/Motor Neurone Disease Ice Bucket Challenge episode again. Thankfully he seemed to have gotten over his angst about that by the time I got back to the UK.

These three grandchildren of his are Tropical Children, there is no way they won’t wrap up against the cold of their own accord. As #2 says, ‘Mummy, why is it always cold in England everywhere’, and this was during the days when everyone was telling me just how warm and balmy it was still.

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And yet, left to his own devices looking after #2 and 3 for a couple of hours whilst I spent some time with #1 was a whole different story. I was a bit concerned how they would all cope, neither speaks the other’s language very well, or at all. Plus you know, they’re just getting to know one another and when I left them all #2 and 3 had just woken up from a nap and were a bit confused. So I call up my Dad, Mr Li some 10 minutes later to see how they’re all settling and I can hear no tears. That’s good.

Me: How is everything Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: They’re very happy now that I’ve given them some ice-cream.

Ok….if that’s what will help then so be it.

But I can definitely tell you that when I was their age, there was no handing out of ice cream willy nilly. And shouldn’t ice cream be too cold? Shouldn’t he be feeding them bowls of hot soup instead? Actually no, that one is reserved just for me. There’s always hot soup when I’m back to cure all ills. Hot soup and rice. How can you survive without either as part of your daily diet is what my Dad, Mr Li will ask you.

So I call another hour later as #1 and I are eating doughnuts and coffee.

Me: Is everything alright Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: Yes, everything is very good. I’m just steaming some char siu buns for them to eat.
Me: But Dad, they’re having their dinner in 45 minutes time. They won’t want to eat their dinner if you give them buns now.
My Dad, Mr Li: I can’t talk to you right now, I’m very busy.

Thus the phone line cuts off.

I think when you need your parents to help you out a bit, sometimes you’ve just got to let them roll with it.

So, I was in a mad dash hurry to go out last night just at the time when it’s good to call him up and wish him a Happy Birthday. What ensued was a loud, chaotic few minutes of us all shouting ‘Happy Birthday Gung Gung’ down the phone at him.

I hope he liked it. I’m sure he did. I’m sure he didn’t even know it was his own Birthday so what a good way to be reminded of it.

When I was young, I was a part of his whole world. I know that. I know that his worries and concerns centred a lot on my well being. I know that he gradually relaxed over the years when I grew up to find gainful employment, got married and had a family of my own. He really felt like he could sit back and trust me to behave like a responsible Grown Up. Until That Ice Bucket incident that is. He has often said to me that his greatest fear was him not being around before I was a Grown Up. Now, you could say this fear stems from his own childhood experience. I get that but the thought never crossed my mind until I became a parent myself and now I understand.

Today, he sees his family expanding with his grandchildren and I know he misses them. How could you not miss these new, young people full of life, laughter and mischief.

He would never ask us when are we going to consider moving back to the UK but I know he’s waiting. And whilst he never would say to me outright, ‘Are you coming back to visit next year?’, he would mostly say the opposite as do all Chinese parents of that generation, ‘Don’t waste money coming back to visit, it’s so expensive/cold/far away’. Delete as appropriate. And it’s annoying when they do that. It really is. But they don’t mean it. It’s a cultural thing. Why can’t you just say what you mean? It’s so confusing and I end up doing the opposite of what you say just in case and then I’m not really sure that’s the right thing to do anyways.

By the way, because of this, I always say what I mean. I haven’t got the capacity to second guess anyone else with trying to second guess my own family all the time.

So, we headed up to Newcastle for lunch at my Mum’s for a last Goodbye for now with my family. I overhear my Dad, Mr Li talking to #1, 2 and 3 and he says, ‘I hope I see you next year’.

That stopped me in my tracks and broke me in two. Perhaps it’s the guilt of being an Expat that you feel you’re denying your parents the joy of their grandchildren.

He wasn’t saying it in a morbid he thinks he’s not going to be here sort of way but in a ‘I hope I see you next year’ sort of way because he’s my Dad, Mr Li but he’s also their Gung Gung, Mr Li and he’s got a very special job going on there he needs to carry on doing.

Happy Birthday to my Dad, Mr Li.

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What the Complete Residents’ Guide to Singapore didn’t say

I have the book but I didn’t quite get to the Orientation presentation on The Complete Residents’ Guide to Singapore.

It’s like your regular Lonely Planet Guide covering culture, shopping and places to eat but with additional information on ‘how to set up home’, places you could live, healthcare providers and schools for your children. I think I did read it or some of it (it’s really thick with very small sized font) but like your regular Lonely Planet Guide, you can’t really visualise the country you’re going to until you’re there and you become familiar with your surroundings.

I’m sure if I were to look at the Guide now, six years later, I may find it more useful and even find new things to do and places to go.

In fact, I have just had a quick flick through it and it makes for much better reading now that most of it makes sense. I can picture geographically where all these places are and what shopping centres are good for what and which bars and restaurants are worth a look at. The amount of information in these guides that are just for padding is quite ridiculous and can cause much anxiety and confusion.

Luckily the evolvement of social media provides a much more satisfying insight into the world of an Expat Resident living in Singapore. My newsfeed on Facebook gets clogged up with all manner of questions and advice people need or think they need.

But the one thing that I could have done with some forewarning on and advice on how to survive it is this.

How to prepare yourself when people you really like and children you held as a newborn baby move on from the transient hub of Singapore.

I’ve mentioned it before a couple of times because it’s the one area that really hits me. Every time it happens.

I like you, otherwise I wouldn’t spend time with you and because I like you, I spend a lot of time with you. Then you have to leave.

Or one day I will leave.

And I miss you. I miss you a lot. And your children. And my children miss your children. Not so much you. But you understand.

Then the things we do together, I don’t do anymore. There are certain parts of Singapore I haven’t been to in years because people who used to live there don’t live there anymore and I have no reason to venture that way. It’s quite weird.

Am I the only Expat who feels this way? I don’t think so but as much as I would like my circle of friends to remain the same, there’s been something incredibly enriching about living this Expat life.

I can barely imagine a life where I had never met these people at all. So many different nationalities and outlooks on life. Some amazing people and really lovely, kind, loyal friends who still remain somewhere in my life. Some of course, were not like that and it’s quite a relief.

I’ve had quite a lot of Goodbyes this year.

The latest one was last week. I thought I’d be ok with it because they’ve headed back to the UK and I’m pretty sure I’ll see her and the kids again. She’ll be rubbish at general updating and she leaves no trail on Facebook, which is a very helpful resource in keeping in touch with all these people. But I know she’ll be booking babysitters as soon as there’s a word of catching up with a glass of wine. Or, she’ll create a campsite in her new home so we can bundle all the children together and leave them to it.

No exit from Singapore has been as painful for me as when Brilliant New Adventure left last year. I still wish she was here all the time but those who are really true friends never let you go. Out of all the hundreds of people I’ve met here in six years, I’ve had some really wonderful times with so many of them.

We started off tentatively together, you know on your best behaviour and all. Getting confused and misreading cultural differences in our approach to things. I’m being all British and you’re being not British and I’m thinking I don’t really get you and am I ever going to get anyone ever again?

Then suddenly, through the fog of so many new things happening at once. New country, new employment status, new baby, new sleep patterns. I get you. I really do. Then I start becoming more myself, the non Expat version who isn’t (though really ought to be) on their best behaviour all the time.

I used to go out you know. I even would have a drink. I’d even have more than two or three too. How outrageous of me. Oh you did too? Really? Yes. I did. In a time before I met you with an 8 month gestation sized bump that replenished a couple more times afterwards.

I’ve obviously met all the friends I have made in Singapore through having had #1, 2 and 3. I couldn’t have asked for better support when we were new parents or when the chaos of multiple children hit us hard in the solar plexus. Or when the loneliness of missing family and distance from family during their time of need made us question what were we doing.

An Expat Circle provides you with a network of support when you have none to hand. We are all experienced at being the New Kid at School. That awkwardness of wondering whether you’ll ever fit in, all these other people seem to know what they’re doing and I am clueless. So were they once. So was I. And so that’s why you extend that hand of friendship. Many of us have the time of course but also will remember just how it does feel to be that new person. Even when we are confident, experienced Grown Ups.

So, as I was saying, I said Farewell for now to one friend I’ve known for six years. Nearly all the time we’ve been in Singapore. I know I’ll see her again but as we said Goodbye, it suddenly hit me that I won’t be seeing her next week. That the boys will have grown taller and more grown up the next time I do. That they will not hang out together with #1, 2 and 3 doing what they’ve been doing for six years. That there will be no more red wine and lethal cocktail nights out for some while.

Ah, that realisation was shit all over again. But one thing I do know now and that is we will remain in touch. Perhaps not all the time, but enough to keep things going. And having met up with one such lovely friend in the UK when I was back whom I met out here and it feeling like we just finished a conversation yesterday.

So perhaps no one needs to tell you that part about Expat living. Far better you figure it out yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t want to risk getting to know anyone at all and that would be a huge shame.

For me at least.

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The Great Christmas Tree Bun-fight!

There was a bit of a Christmas tree buying frenzy at the weekend in Singapore.

It didn’t bode well when we went to buy ours the weekend before and they were all SOLD OUT. In November at that. You know my views on Christmas trees up before December.

I’m all for Christmas build up but you have got to time it right so you can keep the momentum going at just the right level of enthusiasm.

This is our seventh tropical Christmas and we have been going back to the same garden centre each year to get our tree without experiencing any scarcity issues before. The excitement of there being no trees last weekend meant an early outing to the garden centre on Saturday morning. You can’t be complacent about these things.

So, despite the sudden tropical rain storm that caused drains to overflow a mere 10 minutes beforehand, there was already a queue of cars lined up outside the garden centres. There’s a whole row of them along one stretch. I’m still feeling quietly confident at this point though, especially when I’d already prepaid for one.

The garden centre staff are looking harassed and doing lots of deep sighing. What for? Where’s your Christmas spirit whilst we’re trying to choose our tree!

Considering the shipment only arrived the day before, there are surprisingly few trees around. I’m obviously not the only one who thinks this as more and more people start streaming into the garden centre carrying their stands from the Christmas before.

They have come prepared.

They know the drill.

They are not leaving without a tree attached to that stand.

Couples start pacing up and down the rows of trees, inspecting the potential of a Merry Christmas that tree will bring to their home. Another couple bypasses them, which causes a slight rise in tension of the first couple perusing the tree in front of them. You can tell they are thinking, ‘this tree is good but what if there’s a better tree up ahead that these late contenders might take before us?’ So they quickly abandon the first tree, but the gap between the rows of trees is not wide enough for any overtaking. They’ve missed their chance.

But wait, what happens if we back track the way we came and inspect the trees from the other side? Good idea and so the first couple do an abrupt u-turn causing a juddering in the line of Christmas tree hunter gatherers, who telepathically cotton on to their idea and steal it from the first couple.

Ah, the Christmas tension crackled in the air!

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I think I’m on the outskirts of all this activity, I’m barely paying much attention to the other Christmas tree hunter gatherers. As I stop in front of one, I turn to Husband and #1 and ask them what they think of this tree. Obscured from the other side I suddenly hear a disembodied voice coming from the lower depths of the tree, ‘I was interested in this tree first’.

Excuse me?

Where’s the tag with your invoice number that gives you the right to lay such a claim to this particular tree? No invoice, no baggsying the tree.

Husband can obviously see this thought process drifting across my face and doesn’t want #1 to witness a terrible scene of Mummy helping the lovely lady take a closer look at the trees. So, he quickly ushers me on before I can say anything. A few minutes later, we find the same tree unceremoniously dumped, so fickle some people. And of course I wasn’t going to take it now that she has dumped it, even though I couldn’t see anything wrong with it.

Actually the truth is, we opted for a tree that had a slightly less wide bushy bottom.

So you see the perils of Christmas already?

I love a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. One that has been put together with thought and style to add an elegant ambience to your living room. I once had such a tree. I aspired to having one again this year but found myself over-ruled by four small people who raided the decorations box and were industriously and happily placing all the Christmas decorations we own on the tree. Everything seems to be concentrated around the mid level/small people height. It looks like someone has vomited baubles and decorations onto it.

I did consider re-distributing and even removing some of the decorations entirely to balance it out a bit but then I figured, this is their Christmas too and they had worked so hard on the tree and were so proud of it and each other. If I could get them to tidy up after themselves in much the same way I’d be such a happy parent. So for this year, an elegant and sophisticated look will have to pass us by.

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Another potential area for awkward discussion with #1 and 2 is that not all cultures and so not all children celebrate Christmas. So Father Christmas will not be visiting all homes this Christmas Eve (technically Christmas morning) which is what they believe. Do you know, I think I’ve just solved the time travel continuum theory of how Father Christmas does it. How can he possibly get around all the children’s homes in one night. Quite simply, he doesn’t have to. Well done me.

For them to find out now that Father Christmas will not becoming to your home even though you haven’t been bad is just too complicated to explain. But why not? Have you been naughty? So what happens instead?

Well, perhaps more of a focus on the religious and true meaning of Christmas? You know, sweet baby Jesus and all.

But anyway, that will come in time. For now, it’s enough to get my head around that Father Christmas will not be visiting the Nederlands. I did not know this until an education in the tradition of Sinterklaas by Mrs Pancakes for Dinner (another Dutch tradition). I previously assumed that Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicolaus, gave the Dutch children a gift at the start of December as a warm up to the main event some weeks later.

Saint Nicolaus is a very real and much loved Dutch figure who lived in medieval times and was honourable and kind to children. Sinterklaas arrived in Singapore on Sunday, 16 November just by Marina Bay Sands. Children laid out snacks and treats for him and his horses and good behaviour whilst he’s around is imperative to whether or not you receive a present from him on the evening of 5 December. Mrs Pancakes for Dinner said they would be celebrating with a special dinner, which involves no turkeys, and without warning, Sinterklaas and his helper will leave a present for the children wherever he chooses. Apparently through the open back door. It seems a lot more fluid and relaxed the Dutch way than the where will Father Christmas park his sleigh and how will he get in and where will he leave the presents. How great, you don’t even have to try and get to sleep as you do on Christmas Eve despite the high levels of excitement.

So, we had all gone round to see Mrs Pancakes for Dinner the day before Sinterklaas was to hopefully pay a visit to their new home and naturally I wished the children a wonderful and happy time for the next day. #1 overhears this exchange and wants to know what’s happening that is so special, clearly concerned about what he’s missing out on.

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This year, it’s still easy to provide a diversion to avoid giving an answer to questions I have no idea how to answer but it’s not going to last long. And whilst not really culturally diverse of me, I just don’t want the children to find out just yet that not all children truly believe in Father Christmas and the magic of Christmas.

Perhaps it’s really more for my benefit though to keep this belief alive.

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The Elves are back in town! But not in this home.

It’s the first of December today. Really it is. How the f did that happen all of a sudden?

I know some of you have your Christmas trees and decorations up. Some of you have your Christmas cards written, sealed and ready to be sent out. And some of you even have all your Christmas shopping done.

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WHY ARE YOU SO BLOODY ORGANISED!

What is the point of Christmas if there is no last minute Christmas panic and subsequent Christmas guilt with a promise that next year, you will be different and more organised. If I even manage to send Christmas cards this year, it will be a Christmas miracle if they arrive before Christmas Day. I always forget it takes at least a week normally, let alone an extra week on top of that for Christmas post.

One year, Mrs Cor Blimey put her Christmas card to one side thinking it must be her Birthday card it arrived so far beyond Christmas.

So why do I feel that Christmas suddenly has crept up upon us when the shops started selling mince pies back in September, jostling for shelf space with all the Halloween treats and the London Christmas lights were switched on before I had even left the UK in mid November?

It’s precisely for the reason that Christmas preparation starts earlier and earlier each year that makes me want to ignore it. How many mince pies do you need to eat? As I’m sat here with Christmas Twiglets and pistachio nuts to the side of me which Husband has caned half of each already.

If our Christmas tree is up before December, it probably would lose all it’s needles by mid December in this heat. Though today was cooler at 29 degrees max and by the time I went for a run in the early evening, it was a pleasant 27 degrees. So for the first time in my six and a bit years in Singapore I managed to run beyond 10km. I’m quite pleased with that even if it took me just over an hour.

So, what else happens today? Ah, yes. The return of those Elves. You know the ones I mean.

The Elves on the Shelves.

As I mentioned last year, a good concept in principle but I am not prepared to live with the idea of some inanimate object pretending to be animate for the next 25 days. I’m just too scared of those eyes following me around. And again I refer to Our Jenn scaring the shit out of me with her stories of porcelain dolls and their creepy swivelling heads.

And yet, I’m perfectly happy with the concept of Father Christmas arriving at our place on Christmas Eve, technically Christmas morning for the pedants amongst you. And I’m shamelessly peddling the whole ‘What would Father Christmas say about that behaviour #1, 2 and even 3’.

If I don’t have the Elf on my Shelf then I need something. Anything.

And so I’m thankful that Mrs Cake Pops mentioned ‘The Hotline to Santa’. Mr Cake Pops has a Hotline to Santa. Do you?

in our household, it’s Nephew #1 who has a VIDEO Hotline to Santa. A moment of genius that sprung up when #1 and 2 were having a scuffle when we were in Newcastle and Nephew #1 had his phone out with the camera on and the record button flashing at us like Rudolph’s nose.

I want them to fully believe in Father Christmas. And I also want something that will stop, even if only momentarily, the endless scuffles and to dos that happen numerous times a day from #1, 2 and 3. So if I have to resort to threats of ‘If you continue that behaviour, I’m going to video it and sent it to Yo Ho Ho and he will hotline it to Father Christmas’.

It works. Temporarily.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas build up the most.

The beautifully decorated Christmas trees in the malls, the twinkling lights, the Christmas films, the Christmas carols, the Christmas parties and Christmas booze. The feel good factor of Christmas. The spirit of getting together and having a good time. That’s what I love the most.

I thought I might feel a bit out of sorts coming back to Singapore and having a tropical Christmas. Especially when just before leaving the UK, the Christmas markets, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and ice skating outside Somerset House and the Natural History Museum were just starting. I do miss Christmas in a cold climate but I figured we’ll have many of those in the years to come and travel to places like New York and see the massive Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree or a real winter Bavarian market in Germany. The year we spent Christmas on our own in Florence was amazing.

Christmas is what we make it. Especially when it comes to making it special for #1, 2 and 3. Who are mostly only interested in eating the sweets out of the Advent Calendar today.

This year, I only had time to make one Advent Calendar for a very special friend. You see, those organised people would have had ten sets made back in August but I was too busy Embracing Forty at the time.

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I’ve got our own Advent Calendar up and I want to show you one my cousin made herself because she is one of those organised people. The Christmas Tree will be done at the weekend with twinkling lights bringing a warm glow in the evenings.

We’re currently watching Elf which is THE start to the Christmas season in our home and that of Mrs Steamer. I’ve been messaging her with details of the bits I still find funny that she knows off by heart.

I’m really excited in getting organised for Christmas. Making decorations with the children, baking gingerbread men, getting Christmas cards in the post.

And not forgetting the Christmas port and whiskey for the evenings when the Christmas hysteria gets just a little bit too much.

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