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

Love is……a delivery of fried chicken

Soooo….it’s THAT day again. Love, romance, roses, balloons and heart shaped potato wedges.
But I bet none of you got a romantic delivery of fried chicken for St Valentine’s Day!

I am not kidding you! I really did get a delivery of fried chicken to my place of Gainful Employment today. Is that weird? Or is it love?

Either way, the gesture was such a surprise that it sparked a lot of joy. One of the most unexpected gifts I’ve ever received on St Valentine’s Day.

Not the only one today either. When I picked up #3 from school, she presented me with this wonderful heart shaped decoration she made. Sparked a lot of joy too. I love they way #1, 2 and 3 freely express their love. How easy it is to say I love you and to accept they are loved in return. I don’t want this to ever change for them. May the future people who are the focus of this affection appreciate it and treat it with the respect it deserves. Or I will hunt you down…

Love in its many varied forms is a wonderful thing don’t you think? Romantic love, friend love, family love. Expressed spontaneously through our actions. 

In my place of Gainful Employment there were questions of how will you spend St Valentine’s Day? What did you buy each other? Are you going out for dinner tonight? 

The young lad who is in a fairly new relationship that he doesn’t seem to particularly want to be in looked pained as he answered he had booked a restaurant some place and possibly was agonising inside over whether it’s romantic enough, whether he has made sufficient effort to show his feelings of love.  The pain of it all but I am now wise enough not to express any outward emotion on that front.

But my delivery of fried chicken from a dear friend today gave me that warm fuzzy feeling. I really appreciate the gesture and to think someone was thinking of you enough to bother. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Year End Review 2016

It is tempting to write off this year as being a terrible one. Indeed, that was my initial thought. It would be all too predictable even to go on about the things that would make 2016 memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

Truthfully, 2016 on the whole has not been my most favourite year and for those who know me well, you already know this. But to say that it was a complete shambles would do the whole year a huge disservice. It would be unfair to all those who celebrated a special occasion for instance to have it tarred with the same brush as the less favourable events that happened. All too often we can be led by the negative but this will only lead to the Dark Side. We all know how that ends. It is right now as we are about to welcome a fresh new year, that we need to lead with the positives.

How best to do this than with our very own positives from the year. 
So for my Year End Review, I am going to share some of my own personal highlights from 2016.

#1, 2 and 3

Everyday I feel thankful for #1, 2 and 3. Even if there are moments within those days when I forget to feel thankful. I am definitely thankful for them. 
They don’t know anything about what’s going on with the state of the global economy, everyone is friends and a good day is measured by what’s happened in the last five minutes. They enable me to live in the moment. Something we should all do more of.

There have been some challenges of course, there probably always will be. At the same time, it has been a joy to see #1, 2 and 3 achieve their own mini milestones at school and home, more so at school than home. I still don’t understand why they can’t just show us some of that same helpfulness at home. Just a little bit. 

#1 in particular has worked very hard this year. Some of the earlier challenges in the year around adapting to a Big School environment was hard work. There were some battles we had to overcome but hard work and perseverence has rewarded #1 with confidence and enjoyment of learning. Most of the time. I’ve also discovered that #1 likes to help out in the kitchen and can almost bake a banana loaf all by himself. And he has stuck to his goal of wearing a Star Wars t shirt everyday this year. 

 
When your children start Big School, you hope for a good teacher and that your child makes friends. We have been lucky on both counts with good teachers but friendships have to be navigated themselves. I know one source of worry for #2 was whether she would find friends this school year. Within three weeks of the new school year starting, #2 had been sent to see the Head of Year twice. For boisterous behaviour with her friends. Whilst I’m not condoning the behaviour at all and #2 has solemnly sworn not to find herself in that situation again (we’ll see), I’m also glad to know that she has found a group of partners in crime that she talks about all the time. I like how she’s enjoying her hobbies of judo, gymnastics and has a creative streak in her. For Christmas, she gave us books of drawings of our favourite things as presents. 
#3 has heart and generosity. As well as a loud yell. Sharing comes naturally to her. She will offer you whatever she’s eating even before she’s had enough of eating it.  That is saying something. Mostly I get offered leftovers. Or mushed up food spat into my hand. Yum. 


Catching my first ever moonset

I wonder whether, like me, you even thought about the moonset. Though it’s so obvious isn’t it? If there’s a sunrise and sunset, there should be a moonrise and moonset. I’ve often chased a sunrise and settled down with a sunset but never a moonset. For one thing, you have to be a really early morning person. Like super early. 4.45am early. I am not a 4.45am morning person. But for this occasion I was. 

The setting could not have been more idyllic. In the resort of El Nido,  Philippines which I was lucky enough to have travelled to for Gainful Employment. The waters there were so clear and the amount of marine life you could see just a 30 metre snorkel away from shore. The furthest way from the hustle and bustle of city life you could imagine. There are few opportunities to be really still and I will always remember the calm of sitting there, watching the moon slowly dip further towards the horizon as the light all around became brighter and you were caught between that moment where night ends and day begins. 


  

My Dad, Mr Li turned 80


Just a few days before Christmas, my Dad Mr Li turned 80. I’m very thankful for that. I’m sure he is too even though he often tells me his job is done. But I have news for you my Dad, Mr Li. Your job is not yet done. Who’s to say without your watchful eye on things that I won’t be feeding your grandchildren food from dented cans. Or allow them to go out with wet hair. Or allow them to be so daring as eat two bags of crisps in a 24 hour period. 
No my Dad, Mr Li. Your job is not yet done.
Travelled to new places sans kids

I know! I actually travelled sans kids three times this year. Twice was with Gainful Employment and whilst a great experience, it wasn’t actually a holiday and shouldn’t really count. 
This year Nana Moon came to stay en route to somewhere else. As seems to be the new tradition, whenever Nana Moon comes to stay, she and I must travel to someplace new. At first we thought about Taipei but it’s actually quite far from Singapore and with just three days to spare, you want to make sure you make the most of every moment.  There are plenty of places yet to be explored nearby and so we went to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I bet you’re pronouncing it Yog-ya-karta. That’s because you’ve never been. For us it’s Jogja now. Though Nana Moon will still insist it’s Yogi.

I don’t know about you but an opportunity to travel sans kids for me is to explore and do things that I’ve never done before or would do if I wasn’t sans kids. Any notion of long lie ins and leisurely breakfasts never happen. These mini sojourns are to remember all the things that you should do because you can do them. 

In saying that, there was a moment whilst being suspended 60metres over a cliff when I wondered what on earth was I doing putting my life in the hands of a harness with three kids and Husband at home. The experience was worth it though.


Celebrating Big Brother Li turning 50

I think it’s fair to say that decades have passed since we celebrated any of our Birthday’s together. So it was particularly special to be able to celebrate Big Brother Li turning 50 this year. To him, these milestone Birthdays are no big deal. Indeed, even if it weren’t a big Birthday, it was still a special occasion to be together as a family for it.

Getting right up close to Take That, Kylie, Ronan Keating, Madonna, Queen and Imagine Dragons


In my former London and Manchester life, going to see live bands was a regular occurence. I’ve seen some of my favourite over the years and I’ve even been fortunate enough to be at Live8 just five rows from the the front. Strangely enough, I’ve had some of the best live band experiences in Singapore. 

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Going to a live gig is uplifting for the soul and one of my top five favourite things to do. You can’t fail but smile and feel your spirits rise when you are in the presence of real drums banging and guitars twanging. Perhaps the list of popstrels I’ve been to see this year are not exactly to your liking, but for me they make me happy and therefore seeing them live makes me double happy. 


I was a bit concerned that finally getting to see Take That live for the first time (even with just three of them) would be a disappointment. Would they be too middle aged I wondered and whilst I was so close I could see wrinkles, when they played songs from the 90s we were all transported to this other time. Whilst in the 20 years or so since they first were dear to my heart, much has changed and we have all aged but in those years those same songs have seen us through and brought back feeling of happiness. 

Time with family and my closest friends  


This counts for both friends in Singapore and the ones I’ve known much longer. Time in your company is always a pleasure and thank you for all the invites to many a social occasion this year.

We are very fortunate to live in times when international air travel is so possible and affordable. I think back to when my Dad, Mr Li left Hong Kong for the UK over 50 years ago with no idea of when he would next see any of his family and friends. Whilst we may struggle at times in this privileged Expat life of ours, we have the luxury of modern technology that makes distance a little easier to bear.

However, nothing can compare to having them here with you. This year we have had the joy of my In Laws come to stay in the summer. As #1, 2 and 3 get older, we can see that they need more than Husband and I around. We are of course very important and much loved by them but there are others who are much loved too, who can give them something else in addition to what we can. People who love very much and tell them all the positive things that small people delight in hearing about themselves. 


As you know, I don’t just think Brilliant New Adventure as my friend, she is family and I often do wish she was here in Singapore. But equally, when we go now to go Hong Kong we have an extra reason to visit. It can be bittersweet because you imagine what fun times the children would have altogether. But I wouldn’t miss these times for the world. Nor the opportunities to catch up with friends you haven’t seen for many years and for it to be like no time has passed at all.


It’s funny how Nana Moon tells me that when siblings are together, you all revert to type. I think the same can be said about friends who have known each other a long time. We are all of a certain personality and the core of us perhaps doesn’t change as much as we think over the years. I still rely on Nana Moon to tell that jumping across a beam, kayaking in deep waters or being hoisted over a cliff is going to be alright. I have no idea what reassurances I give her. Let’s not ask that question.

Learning new things

This year I took Mandarin Chinese lessons, picked up new skills in Gainful Employment and made my own chutney.


Husband

One constant this year, through the ups and downs, has been Husband. He who does not complain (too much) about my intention to master the use of the sewing machine he bought me several years or the bike he got me for my Birthday which he has made more use of than me so far. He who gets up early in the mornings on school days. Who enables the travelling sans kids and much more.

We celebrated Birthdays, weddings and the arrival of new family members. And we saw otters.

 So really, 2016 gave us some good memories. We just needed to think about it. 
May we all end this year thinking of what 2016 did right. Husband and I are not going out tonight because #1 has been unwell but tomorrow, we’re going to start the year fresh, with friends and new hope for a bright 2017. 

Whatever you do, do it in style. Do everything in style. 

Happy New Year’s Eve to you. xx

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Eight years and more

In the melee of daily life, it can be difficult keeping track of the small things. Like the dry cleaning that needed dropping off a few weeks ago, the button on a top that needs sewing back on or the writing of the list to remind you of all the small things that need doing.

But what happens when you forget to keep track of the big things? The costumes for the school celebration, Birthdays of people scattered all over the globe. Your own Wedding Anniversary.

Yes, it has come to that. Well almost. It’s not that I forgot it was our Wedding Anniversary. I always know when and what day it falls on. I however couldn’t say the same for Husband. I asked him, in the midst of a conversation about someone else’s wedding, if he knew when our Wedding Anniversary was to which he replied with a random day of the week. Note to Husband as he reads this, set an annual reminder in your calendar to look at the engraving on the only piece of jewellery you’re wearing. 

When you’re all in the throes of wedding planning and doing the fun stuff like choosing your wedding bands and discussing with the Jeweller the fit and width of the band and then the Jeweller suggests how about getting an inscription engraved inside the bands, it’s complimentary after all. Ooh that sounds good! What should we get inscribed. Our names? I’d like to think you’d remember who you were married to. I love you? I kind of think that was a given considering we were getting married. The Jeweller helpfully suggests how about your Wedding date.

They know something all nearly newlyweds don’t. That if suggested to them would cause feelings of outrage and scoff at the mere thought. How could you EVER forget your own Wedding Anniversary! Especially when you’ve just spent months building up to this one day. There is no way you will forget. Absolutely not.

But then suddenly, it almost happens. Too busy with Gainful Employment, commitments to other engagements, with #1, 2 and 3, sourcing costumes for school events to take the time to make this day a special celebration. 

It doesn’t have to be anything big or extravagant. Just a moment to remember that this day eight years ago we were in the midst of one of the happiest celebrations we’ve had together. A gathering of all the people who mattered most to us to share something good. 

A time before being pulled in so many different directions that leaves you having to factor in time together. Actual time together for just us two. There are occasions where that means sneaking off to the supermarket together. Then adding on a daring coffee to it. I know. 

A Wedding Anniversary should symbolise all the things that were true on your wedding day but also acknowledgement of all that you have gained since then. Lessons of growth and compromise you experience because you have committed to a life together. 

I love attending a wedding. I love to take in the detail, wait in anticipation to see the Bride, watch with high emotion as the Groom sees her walking towards him to begin a whole new chapter of their relationship together. I even feel this way when I’ve been at weddings where I don’t even know the couple well, or at all. I don’t mean I lurk at the back of churches with my wedding best on, it’s been when I’ve been Husband’s plus one. 

I can definitely say that #1, 2 and 3 like a good wedding too and so far they have been to four weddings in Singapore, Japan and England (thankfully no funerals.) All culturally very different too. You’d think they’d be pros at being good wedding guests by now.

So when asked recently to be flower girls and ring bearer at the wedding of friend of Husband’s, we sort of thought it would be ok. How chaotic can it be for them to don pretty dresses and smart outfit to begin the celebrations of this couple’s most important and memorable day they’ve spent a lot of time getting just right for them. 
How indeed.
  

I’m not actually sure whether the Bride has seen this footage yet but the serene image of #2 and 3 throwing rose petals as they paved the way for the Bridesmaids didn’t quite go to plan. In fact as you can see here they are about to break free from Husband and had to be duly rounded up like sheep gambolling in a field. I’m happy to report the Bride still considers us her friends and regular Flower Girl activity resumed once the man with the camera disappeared. 

Often when you go to a wedding as the plus one, you feel wrapped up in the warmth of occasion whether you know the couple well or not. But for this wedding I really felt like they were sharing the whole journey of their story so far. The thought and effort that had gone into the videos that were played describing how they met and the surprise of the proposal added to the day for me as a guest.

At the same time, with the experience of a few more big life events these newly weds have yet to encounter, I appreciated the timely reminder of the buzz and fun and optimism going to every wedding gives you.

And so just a few days later, quite unexpectedly, I arrive home to a beautiful bunch of flowers from Husband, a rare occurrence after I once rebuffed his romantic gesture when ill and I said it would only make my hay fever worse. It was the message inside that made the day about us again even though there was no opportunity to go for dinner or similar appropriate celebration.

Today will also begin a new chapter and journey for my Nearly Nephew Dazzler and his gorgeous wife. I’m so sorry to be missing out on what will no doubt be an amazing family occasion. I’m eagerly waiting for photos as I speak to you now!
There are no words of advice I can give or guarantees I can make but today will be one special day at the start of many more yet to come. 

  

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For all Mums on all days

It is Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day today in the UK. The benefits of celebrating this occasion in Singapore when everyone else will be celebrating in May, is that you can go out for lunch without places being fully booked. Luckily for Husband, there are shops savvy enough to realise they can make good use of their stock of Mother’s Day cards twice a year.

Overall today is a Sunday like any other. #1 still has rugby practice first thing in the morning, #2 and 3 have eggs for breakfast without #1 around complaining about the smell (and yet he finds smelly farts hilarious). They all have endless appetites outside of mealtimes, require entertainment and meltdowns can happen at any time.

But they do try and remember that today is a ‘special day’. However if that special day doesn’t involve presents and surprises for them then the good behaviour can be short lived. But I do love the enthusiasm and excitement that small children adore when they are involved in a conspiracy. Even if they don’t quite understand the full meaning of that conspiracy as Husband is still leading Operation Mother’s Day Appreciation Plan.

They love the surprise presentation of cards and gifts with a flourish that elicits exclamations of joy and gratitude. The knowledge that they have made you happy. This doesn’t just extend to me on Mother’s Day but on all occasions where they share something with someone that makes the other person happy. And who doesn’t feel good when they’ve made someone else feel good. It’s part of who we are. I have a purple painting of me done by #2 as my special gift. #1 and 3 went for a more abstract take on things.

But this year, a lot more than previous years on Mother’s Day, I really miss my Mum. There’s still an eight hour time difference between us and I couldn’t wait to give her a call and hear her voice and wish her Happy Mother’s Day.

Perhaps it’s because my last trip to the UK my Mum did a lot of home cooking for us that reminded me of my youth. For what can be more comforting than your Mum’s (or Dad’s) cooking. I try to cook the same way my Mum does but it never will be as good. And whilst I have eaten in some really fabulous places and tasted food that can only be described as exquisite, nothing can really compare to dinner at my Mum’s with my Mum.

I find one of the most challenging aspects of living an expat life is the absence of family. Especially with having a family of my own without my Mum being around to guide me through the days when I didn’t know what was going on. Still don’t to be honest. Perhaps living near or around London would also mean I wouldn’t see my Mum as often as what my ‘if I wasn’t living an expat life’ imagination leads me to believe. But I would be able to call her more often without having to calculate the seven or eight hours behind. Sometimes you just want to be able to call now and not have to wait until later. As much as we have amazing stay in touch technology that has helped keep many of my relationships going without missing a beat, there’s something quite special about talking on the telephone that feels much more personal.

All I know is that I miss my Mum and now, more than ever as I get older, do I appreciate just how much she is. Just how much comfort she gives me in something so ordinary like the meals she still cooks in the same way she has done all my life. That level of consistency. Just like my Mum.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mum’s near and far. But especially to my Mum for many reasons that keep coming to me every day.



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What’s that? You can hear Forty calling me!

If I wasn’t already aware, I can definitely rely on family to remind me that FORTY is just a blink away. My Lil Sis posted on my Facebook page alerting me and everyone that I’ve now got less than two weeks of my Thirties left to go. Thanks Lil Sis! I’m looking forward to opening my present which I’ve been very good about not shaking or prodding for the last two months.

I think it’s about time to start planning how I’m going to celebrate TURNING FORTY! I can feel a wave of excitement as I write this because I’m not really sure exactly how I’m going to celebrate.

Husband has said he has taken time off for Birthday Eve and Birthday. Perhaps on Birthday Eve, he and I can have a few hours to ourselves over lunch because Birthday will be spent with #1, 2 and 3 who will undoubtedly be even more excited than me. The evening after I’m going on my first Over Forties Girl’s Night Out which means Thursday will be spent in a cool, darkened room and then Friday I’m doing Ladies What Lunch with some lovely friends.

Am I forgetting The Big Night Out part? Of course not! But I’m going to have to do that in September because it’s not going to be a celebration if certain people are not around to share it with me like Mrs Cake Pops and a few other people who are summering in the UK right now. I haven’t gotten around to organising that yet either but vaguely thinking about having it Fancy Dress in a pub somewhere. My friend Little Red, who is perhaps the most enthusiastic person I’ve met about fancy dress, suggested a Couples theme. Where people can just choose amongst themselves what to come as so long as they complement each other and not that other form of Couples theme where people wear matching outfits. That will get you banned from entry.

Besides, #2 celebrates turning the much more modest FOUR the week after and I’d like to put all my efforts into making her Birthday all that she’d like it to be. She’s set on having a ‘Frozen’ theme, surprisingly, and this year I’ve decided that a little help from my friends won’t go amiss especially when they can do a job far better than I ever could. So look out for a very special cake design from my fabulous friend Great Singapore Bake Off.

I just can’t believe how quickly a decade has gone by. Ten years ago, I was planning on celebrating Turning Thirty and it’s a cliche but it feels like no time has passed at all (but of course it has, ten years in fact.)

So how did I spend that milestone Birthday? Well, hungover. Severely hungover in fact. Accidently of course, like most hangovers tend to be. Amongst the Voluntary Sector in London there is a Charity Softball League, it’s still going strong I believe, but at the time it had just been set up a few years. The Charity Softball League is a great summertime social event, quite competitive though the charities I worked for didn’t quite fall into that category but soon became well known for being the last ones standing at the designated pub right by Nobu (where we once saw Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow and who signed a softball I have tucked away somewhere).

Suffice to say, I was highly encouraged to celebrate the official last day of my twenties.

I rather enjoy spending a Birthday at place of gainful employment and have friends and colleagues around to wish you well and share cake with. Unlike Husband’s place of gainful employment where you have to buy your own cakes to share with friends and colleagues. My lovely former colleague but forever friend, Mrs Pink organised my work celebration with a cake created by her own fair hands and a pizza lunch (good for severe hangover). My gift from all my Muscular Dystrophy Campaign colleagues (www.muscular-dystrophy.org.uk) was a beautiful necklace/bracelet which I still love to wear.

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Then laden down with all my gifts, flowers and 30th Birthday balloon from Mrs Cor Blimey, I met Husband (who wasn’t Husband then) for posh Grown Up dinner. Is it just me or you too, when you go to a proper posh restaurant for dinner when you previously thought TGI Fridays was something special, that you feel like you’re just playing at being a Grown Up? I’m much better at such things now incase you’re wanting to take me out to more proper posh Grown Up restaurants.

Turning Thirty was quite the occasion. I was in London, surrounded by friends I made from University and work, all living a lifestyle quite like each other. We were young and having a great time.

I still remember telling Nana Moon to make sure I didn’t chunder in the cab home for I am not good with travelling on a full stomach of beer. When you give someone such responsibility on your 30th Birthday, they have no choice but to accept their mission. Like a true friend she equipped her bag with Polo mints. And like a true friend she was the one who came back and found me propped against a low wall where I was ‘resting’ after the bar had closed whilst everyone was rambling on about how to get home.

Undoubtedly a drunken night! And like most drunken nights I’ve had, I can tell you I had a great time but I can’t recall specifics except someone, I think Elbear, coming with temporary tattoos we all seemed to be sporting by the end of the night. I just know that I was with all the people I wanted to be with at that time in my life.

Ah! I miss you all! I can feel it in my heart as I write this. Times have changed. Families have grown and people have moved out of London too but perhaps when I’m back in the autumn there will be a chance for a belated celebration because as it turns out, Turning Forty goes on indefinitely.

So although when I come round to celebrate Turning Forty, it won’t quite be the same crowd in Singapore, the people who will hopefully be there, are all the people I want to be with at this time in my life.

Here it comes. I can clearly hear FORTY calling me.

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For my Dad and yours and for Husband too

We missed Father’s Day this year! No long lie in or leisurely breakfast in bed for Husband. No big presentation of cards. No big day out just for Dad. I only really remembered when at the very end of a long day Husband says to me, ‘Do you know what day it is?’.

This seemingly innocuous question is a powerhouse of hidden meaning. It’s a question that tells you you’ve already committed a crime. This is just to prompt you to figure out what it is and then voice your shame out loud.

It’s not that I forgot. I never do. It’s just that we had such a busy day in Tokyo that Father’s Day wasn’t the main focus. Neither was Husband the main man as we celebrated the wedding of two friends in a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

Our concerns for the day were to get ourselves and #1, 2 and 3 ready for a wedding and get to the wedding venue, Meiji Shrine, and somehow hope #1, 2 and 3 will sit obediently silent and therefore totally out of character for the whole proceedings. What I always promise myself before events requiring #1, 2 and 3 to be out on public display is to read this book, French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman.

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But I haven’t yet and it’s joined that pile of unread books now used to measure how tall #1, 2 and 3 are. However, never mind the French, what I want to know is how the Japanese do it? Their children can sit quietly and appropriately and their children don’t feel the need to whoop and yell at the sight of every train, police car, ambulance, motorbike that looks a bigger version of the Tomica models we have at home. They walk in linear lines and not like they’re being chased by invisible wasps. How indeed do Japanese parents do it? Maybe the next week or so will transform #1, 2 and 3 by osmosis.

I think most of the fear comes from ourselves as parents and our expectations of what is appropriate behaviour. #1 and 2 did marvellously well at their first major formal event with #1 taking part in all the respectful bowing and clapping and even having his first taste of sake following what everyone else was doing. #3 is just #3, there’s no telling any 20 month old what to do. It’s far easier to let her go rogue quietly in a corner.

It was hard on #3 though because a couple of hours into our seven hour flight, she started a burning fever of nearly 40 degrees. Good job I packed up that mini medicine cabinet and changes of clothing as she then vomited for the last hour of the flight and after landing. The staff at Tokyo Haneda Airport were excellent in fast tracking us through passport control. She’s still unwell but is doing a great job of trooping on and so I can’t blame her at all for getting annoyed when all she wants is her comfy bed.

So that’s how we missed Father’s Day today. Though he has enjoyed a great day out with us and we’re in Japan where he has always wanted to go.

Although I may have needed some prompting on what day it was. Husband said that he was most impressed with #1 remembering all by himself that it was Father’s Day. He wished him ‘Happy Father’s Day Daddy. I made you something but I left it in Singapore.’

Actually you haven’t #1, because I didn’t forget completely and packed up the gifts for Husband they made at school last week. So both children and Husband were able to celebrate Father’s Day after all.

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As for my Dad, Mr Li, he long ago said he had enough socks to measure himself by but that’s not as many socks as you might think as my Dad, Mr Li is quite wee. But every year he likes his card and a phone call and this year all the more with us being away on holiday and he wasn’t expecting it.

So I hope you all enjoyed remembering the Dad’s in your life this Father’s Day.

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My name is Running Wolf

650,000 spectators lined the streets of London on Sunday to cheer on the 36,000 runners taking part in the 2014 London Marathon.

If you have ever been one of those spectators, there’s probably a chance that the thought of giving it a go next year has crossed your mind. There are probably just as many who would never want to give it a go. But if you are one that has thought about it, then I urge you to.

When Husband and I moved to Singapore, I also packed up my three London Marathon medals too. All your worldly possessions and all. In five and a half years they’ve sat in a box in a cupboard and have gone a funny colour.

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Still, they give me no less pride than the days I got handed them.

I’m no sporting person and I don’t possess a natural ability for any one sport which is a shame. I can’t even follow a step aerobics class. After leaving school and to my mid twenties, I can honestly say I barely did any exercise apart from the odd swim.

It was Ms Beefy who sowed the idea of running into my mind. She and I and Nana Moon took part in the Women’s Light Flora Run back in 2001. It was a 5km distance, a warm up jog for people like Big Brother Li. It felt like a long way at the time having put all that kind of nonsense behind me at school.

Then 10km felt like a long way.

Then I decided to jump straight in for 26.2 miles because I was one of those spectators cheering on a team of people running the London Marathon to raise money for people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease affecting over 30,000 people in the UK. Many young men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy that only affects boys, barely live beyond their mid twenties and lose mobility by the age of ten. It can be a very powerful emotion watching people take on such a physical challenge for a cause that you are committed to.

In one moment, I thought perhaps I could do this too. Of course it’s about personal achievement but I definitely wouldn’t go through such a gruelling training programme for almost four months if I didn’t feel like there was something else to achieve too. In fact £53 million was raised for charity through the London Marathon in 2013 alone. Often charities come under fire for stipulating a minimum sponsorship level of around £1,000 if you want to take one of their places when you don’t get through in the ballot. On one hand it’s much needed income and on the other it determines your commitment.

Running for a charity is the best support you will ever get to accompany you on what can be a rather lonely 16 weeks of training. There is always someone keen to hear how you are doing and understands the effort and energy that goes before the final 26.2miles. It’s also good to be reminded of who you’re actually doing it all for. Then there’s the extra support you get along the route.

I’ve heard people say that running is dull and boring and bad for you. Sometimes getting the motivation to get out is dull. Sometimes where you’re running it is boring. Sometimes it can be bad for you because you’ve not prepared yourself properly.

Who would have thought running isn’t as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. You need to wear the right shoes, eat the right food and strengthen other parts of your body that never crossed my mind were vital to running well. Then you need to have the right frame of mind.

I followed a basic 16 week training plan and by the end of week 5, the weekend run was already half marathon distance. Plus fitting in three or four runs during the week. In the days before an app existed for everything you could possibly need was available, I became obsessed with my London A-Z and a piece of string. Diligently working out a route that fitted in with the required distance of my training run.

Running isn’t dull but I certainly became it.

I became acquainted with carboloading, energy bars or energy gels, cold baths, the pain of deep tissue massages, PBs, micropore taping up body parts at risk of continuous chafing and constantly smelling of Deep Heat. I gave up alcohol the third time just as another challenge, good practice for being preggers I guess. I ate so many oat cakes and porridge, I never really yearn to eat them now.

But I’m so glad I did start this thing called running. As part of training and sometimes just because, I’ve ran along some beautiful country lanes in Buckinghamshire and a good bit of dual carriageway in Reading. I realised Clapham Common isn’t that far from Muswell Hill. I got to spend more time with friends like Ms Beefy who became my partner on many a run around Hampstead Heath and along the Thames.

I’m glad I discovered I have the focus to do something physically challenging being fearful of most other sporting activities.

Since having #1, 2 and 3, I haven’t the inclination or energy to want to run any great distance. Plus living in the tropics, it’s quite difficult to run, or I should correct myself, to plod in 30 degrees heat is like wading through treacle. I went out for a 30 minute run earlier and I barely covered 5km. I understand now why Big Brother Li gets so excited running in ‘cold weather’. When he came to stay with us in London in 2004, it coincided with the St Albans half marathon which he decides to run just for fun. For fun I tell you!

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In my heart, I would have liked to finish any of my marathon attempts in under 4 hours 30 minutes. Even 4 hours 45 minutes. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

The first time, you have no idea how it will go and just finishing is a bonus. I worried about the 5.30am start having a negative impact on my performance but the adrenaline coursing through you the days before and the morning itself more than compensates. It’s no doubt a thrill to be part of the crowd surging towards Blackheath. For one morning to be part of something with 36,000 other people.

It’s not so much of a thrill worrying about when that pre-run poo is going to come. Think Paula Radcliffe.

The second time did become more of a personal challenge with the intention of bettering the first attempt. Did it happen? Sadly not. I felt like I was doing ok the first half but then I hit the dreaded proverbial Wall. I knew all about it having read about in my Runner’s World magazine and on running forums. Oh gosh, I forgot about the forums. Forums are weird places. Good for lots of things and support and advice but when you start treating it like your best friends are there then that’s just weird. Running is solitary but not that solitary.

The Wall is when your muscles and liver become depleted of glycogen and you suddenly feel fatigued and weak with no energy. I took every step of training so seriously that I had never had it before. I was at mile 14 and unprepared for this sudden loss of interest, slight disorientation and feeling of nausea. Mile bloody 14.

There’s a stretch of the London Marathon where you’ve not yet reached halfway but you can see those passing mile 22 on the way out. On a good day, it could buoy you up with renewed determination or on a bad day like I was having, it just seemed impossible. I have no idea how I managed to get round to mile 20. A few episodes of throwing up by the roadside, a few stops in the St John’s Ambulance tents and bucket loads of goodwill from the spectators at the side. I mostly walked that latter half but made sure I could at least run across the finish line.

Did I feel disappointed? A little because I had started off so well. But at the same time not really. I finished it and therefore fulfilled the commitment to all the people who had sponsored me.

So I tried again a third time in 2007, the year we got married. I suppose it was to provide some distraction against the wedding planning. To make me appreciate lots of big events in one year. I injured my left knee nine weeks into training, it will never be fixed and apparently I now run lopsided. So starting that time was such a big unknown and to finish again became my only goal.

Long distance running on any level is about mind over matter. Once you lose the will, it can be so difficult to motivate yourself again. During the last stretch along Embankment, when you know it’s just not possible to stop and give up now but feeling like you’re barely clinging on, I bumped into Big D quite by accident. We were both pretty tired at that point, it was quite a hot day. Great for spectators, not so great for running. It was good to see a friend at that point, I can say.

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I will always remember feeling overwhelmed at the amount of good will there is along the whole way. Children high fiving, jelly babies in abundance, families setting up their own drinks stations outside their homes. Everyone is willing you to carry on. Even at mile 26 with just point two to go, there are calls of ‘keep running’.

Husband is my greatest support and whilst I got all the glory for doing the running. I am grateful for his support during the days of extreme tiredness (read grumpiness), for coming to out of town events and waiting hours for me to finish and for battling against all the other spectators along the way to wait patiently to cheer me on at various points as I pass by in seconds.

I think my marathon training days are over. I think they are. Right now, I haven’t the energy or commitment to even consider a half marathon, which is quite a good distance. Not far enough to make you cry but not short enough you have to sprint. But one day I’ll be ready for it and if there’s a running partner I would like to have, then it would be Big Brother Li. I would like to run a race with him because if there’s anyone who would have to carry me round should my knees give way then it’s my brother.

In the meantime I’ll take my half hour plods around Singapore in the 30 degrees heat. But when your route takes in views like this, then it does make it all worthwhile.

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If you’re wondering why my name is Running Wolf, well it’s because the night before I ran the London Marathon for the first time, I had this dream that I was raised in a tribe and my name was Running Wolf. Look what my friend Sprinty Otter got engraved for me.

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Love is……..a heart shaped potato wedge

So it’s Saint Valentine’s Day. That one day of the year where red roses, chocolates and love hearts reign supreme and at a premium.

Yesterday I asked Husband what big, romantic plan did he have in store for me on Valentine’s Day. He replied with ‘I’m going out to get drunk’.

Valentine’s Day has come to mean different things to me over the years. As a young child and adolescent, there was the frisson of hope and anticipation over whether the school ‘postman’ would deliver a Valentine’s Day card to your desk from a Secret Admirer with the cryptic inscription of ‘Will you be my Valentine, love from ?’ Maybe your Secret Admirer wooed you with romantic poems. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you. Perhaps the envelope was S.W.A.L.K.

How easy it can be to forget those days of innocence. Where Valentine’s Day was simple and not some expected grand gesture.

At what point did I become slightly jaded about the day. Perhaps when you become slightly jaded about many things like paying taxes and extortionate rent. When you feel coerced into something rather than acting on free will.

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I remember quite clearly being sixteen and a rather large gooseberry I now realise, with Big Brother Li and my now sister in law walking along Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Hong Kong which looks across the harbour to Hong Kong island’s beautiful skyline. This is a prime spot for courting couples and naturally there are flower sellers peddling their wares. On spotting a young couple and gooseberry in tow, one such flower seller tried to persuade Big Brother Li to give his belle a single stem rose but he was having none of it. I was so mortified at what a tightwad he was and so embarrassed for my now sister in law and quite convinced that was to be the end of that budding romance. Big Brother Li is rather a stubborn one and quite forthright in his convictions and his refusal was because he quite simply didn’t want to be told when to be romantic. To mitigate his tightwadness, he did go to an actual florist the day after to buy a proper bouquet which is a huge deal for him and obviously worked.

I guess that’s what it comes down to. Love, spontaneous romance, acts of kindness to each other should happen at any time and it should have meaning to you and not to symbolise to the wider world that we are very much in love. Although I fully advocate effort to be made on Valentine’s Day in any new budding romance because it would be quite tragic not to have that before you stop finding each other’s farts endearing. But as relationships develop into years you need to count on more than one hand, there is something else you want to know. That you are both able to remind each other of that fresh excitement and rush of endorphins you once had when your relationship was new and unhindered by the hum drum daily grind of work, children, money and just stuff.

Yes, it is easy to mock the whole of Valentine’s Day being some commercial crap and therefore not to buy into it out of principle. Roses are so overrated and overpriced on this day when tomorrow you could buy double the quantity for the same price. Why stress out over booking Valentine’s Day dinner at the perfect restaurant when next weekend would still be ok. Why should romance be limited to one day out of 365 (or 366)?

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Mrs Calamari posted this photo of a heart shaped potato on Facebook a little while back and it reminded me of a painful Valentine’s Day incident some 10 or 11 years ago with a work colleague. I happened to walk past her desk and noticed one of those Sainsbury’s recipe cards. In my defence I can only claim to be possessed by the Anti-Cupid to have said out loud, ‘How sad.’ I’m not sure what exactly I was feeling sad about but I’m quite convinced it was the idea that there could be a recipe card explaining how to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that I thought she was sad for wanting to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges.

Which obviously is how she took my meaning. Oh it was awful. The office was open plan, it was after lunch and everyone was back at their desks and I was left trying to dig myself out of a bottomless hole. The conversation that I hadn’t been privy to, just a mere five minutes earlier, was how this work colleague had excitedly been telling everyone that her and her boyfriend were not to be taken in by the commercial pressure of a fine meal out in some romantic restaurant so they were going to cook their first romantic Valentine’s Day meal at home together. Valentine’s Day principles I fully support! She was going to do the starter and pudding and her boyfriend the main course and she was very excited at having found some recipe cards in Sainsbury’s to give her just the ideas she needed. Until I came along with my ‘How sad’ which sent everything crashing down. Colleagues around us went silent. She screeched at me in a very vexed high pitch to explain exactly what did I mean by that. Oh, it’s still awful thinking about it now. She was very gracious when I did explain it was the idea of needing a recipe to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that to make them would be sad. But then that was rubbishing her culinary skills too. I should stop.

Romance and expressing your love and appreciation of someone is, of course, not limited to one day. But sometimes it can be a timely reminder that love and romance is very much alive and well in your relationship and even if you choose to do nothing special today, you may at least think of some romantic plan for another day. I may eschew any public display of Valentine’s Day affection but it is still a good reason to have a glass of red wine and steak and chips on a weekday. Husband has not gone out to get drunk as he declared but neither have we enjoyed a candlelit meal pour deux, lingering over wine and the warm glow of coupledom. Instead, we had #1 and 2 at the table stealing our chips and yabbering on about anything they can think of at high volume.

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Today, I was reminded that Valentine’s Day is still a simple affair. It’s just a day to let someone know you love them. #1 and 2 came back from school proffering homemade Valentine’s Day gifts for Husband and myself. Far be it for me to foist any ‘it’s a day of commercial crap’ onto them so young. I want them to grow up feeling free to express their feelings and I want them for as long as possible to enjoy the thrill that someone finds them interesting and will today pluck up the courage to let them know.

I hope someone broke off from the hum drum daily grind to let you know they love you. Better yet, I hope someone is still making Heart Shaped Potato Wedges for their someone special because it’s so easy to let go of these small acts of romantic gesture that can remind you of so much.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Let me tell you about……..My Lil Bro

When you are little, it’s hard to imagine things. For example for #1 and 2, what is real is what they see day to day. Try to explain the existence of other places when Singapore friends move countries or when we talk about our friends and family who live all around the world or something that happened before their time, it’s very difficult for them to grasp. Then it all falls into place and becomes part of their consciousness when they meet that person or go to that place.

Until Nana Moon came to stay, she was just a name but now she is Nana Moon who has a brother called This who lives in New Zealand and a sister called That who lives in England. She likes Star Wars and #1 points out everything Stars Wars related. She also lives in space whilst Uncle Monkey lives in the jungle. One of those statements is true. It’s a first step towards establishing the importance of these relationships and that seeing is believing.

When I was very little, My Dad Mr Li had talked about an Uncle and Aunt that came with a Lil Bro and Lil Sis in Scotland but what exactly did that mean? (Another Lil Bro and Lil Sis came along a few years later). I should explain that in Chinese culture they are Lil Bro and Lil Sis and not cousins because the children of brothers are considered as close as siblings. Until that point, I had mostly been around relatives who were older and quite a bit older than me. So it was an exciting and whole new world to discover relatives the same age and be around them too.

I was eight years old when several important things happened all at once. I went to Hong Kong for the very first time in a jumbo jet and subsequently thought all aeroplanes were that big. It was quite an occasion we were going back for – the celebration of a brand new Li Clan house had been built in our ancestral village of Tai Po Mei complete with indoor flushing toilet. (I couldn’t quite see the significance of this until I saw the squatting toilets and bucket under the bed alternatives a short while later.)

Lil Bro but not Lil Sis came to Hong Kong for the celebration and also Cousin T who lived next door. Our house was in the furthest part of the village away from the main entrance as you could get but in the early 80s it was still a thriving community. Full of people who all shared the same ancestry and Lee/Li/Lei name. There was a banquet and fire crackers to mark the occasion of a new home to bring good luck and good health for a brand new start.

I have only ever experienced this kind of close knit community for the three short weeks I was in Hong Kong at the age of eight. By the time I went back again seven years later much had changed. But back in 1982, we were free to wander around our stretch of village and wander up to the small shop for ice lollies. We were around our beloved Grandma, Por Por, in her element and we were cocooned by so many family members who went back years and years. Lil Bro was familiar with them having lived in our village a few years earlier. He’s still close to many of them now and will mention a Brother Seven of Uncle Two or something and I will just stare at him blankly. I guess it’s a village male thing.

The experience of this first trip to Hong Kong though remains with me vividly even now. It was about finding out about my heritage, being with my Dad, Mr Li and having family like Lil Bro to share it with. We’ve had a couple more shared trips back to Hong Kong since then for other rather big occasions. Each time he feels the need to point out that Chinese doesn’t appear to be my strongest language which makes me want to brush up on my Mandarin and speak only that at high speed so he can’t follow and then tell him the same but regrettably I haven’t quite mastered that yet and so will have to put up with him being annoying.

It’s his birthday today and I’m not allowed to tell you he’s just five months and two days younger than me. I think he says I have to say he’s at least eight years younger. I’m not sure what he’s up to by way of celebration. Most likely staying up late and chasing girls like he says he’s always up to, to which I roll my eyes and say Pah.

When we were young, he was easy going, sociable and fun to be with. Even my quite a bit older relatives say this and they are super hard to please. He’s still the same now you know, although with a few more responsibilities to shoulder. It’s good to have someone that understands where you are coming from without feeling the need to explain yourself all the time.

It’s not often we express appreciation of our family as much as we do our friends. Perhaps we expect a lot more from family than friends when we need them as family are usually always there. But he is incredibly good at being there and a credit to his parents. He checks in on my Dad Mr Li and I’m grateful there’s another person looking out for him.

As I think about it now, I realise just how glad I am that we do get along and how he was there for my Graduation and when I got married, which was no easy task for him for reasons I’m not going to say. Though I guess a real sign of effort is the fact he will get up before noon to drive from Lincoln to Newcastle or London to see us on our trips back to the UK.

So today he’s celebrating his birthday and I just want to wish him a very Happy Birthday and to say I’m thinking of him too. And that I haven’t forgotten to tell everyone he’s my much younger Lil Bro like he’s asked me to.

Happy Birthday Lil Bro.

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I also want to include this photo too because he looks constipated and it makes me laugh.

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A solemn day

We have all been told before that amongst friends (and strangers) we should never debate politics and religion. I can claim no authority on either matter and so it’s not something I am likely to say much about. Besides on a blog it’s just a one sided opinion.

I know that September 11 will hold it’s own significance for you and I don’t wish to talk about the events that led to the loss of nearly 3,000 lives that day in New York and Washington but in my mind I will be quietly paying my own respects.

Before the tragic events of that day unfolded, it was already going to be an important date for me as I was flying to Hong Kong after an 11 year absence. It was meant to be a day of anticipation; a 13 hour long haul flight lay ahead of me with the thrill of flying Virgin Airways (very good in those days) and going all that way by myself to see family I hadn’t seen for years and best of all, to meet my eight year old nephew #1 for the first time.

When news broke that day of what was happening, shock and disbelief reverberated around the office, like it did everywhere else I imagine. Nobody was able to concentrate on work and speculation and fear was rife that the same would happen to Canary Wharf. With a flight to catch myself that night, I was naturally scared but I don’t recall thinking I ought to cancel. Just before I finished work to go to the airport and some colleagues were wishing me a safe flight and good holiday, I remember one colleague helpfully reassuring me that with a bit of luck nothing would happen to my flight because I was going the other way.

That evening at Heathrow airport, security was fierce as it ought to be but the atmosphere was very solemn unlike how an airport should be. #1 and 2 love going to the airport because we are either going somewhere exciting or picking up someone special. I am fairly nervous of flying as it is, a trait inherited from Mr Li, and it was hard boarding that flight after all that had happened on that day. Two years later, I again boarded another flight on September 11 and again it was a very solemn flight for the reason I told you about in my last post.

If I’m going to wander down this ‘where were you when’ path, I think of the day the Manchester city centre bombing happened on 15 June 1996 ( I actually didn’t remember the exact date and looked it up). I was still at University and it was just before summer break and the Graduation of many friends. At the time I was working part time for Ath-Leisure, a designer men’s clothing shop that played Oasis and Stone Roses on loop all day. The store was located right in the centre, just metre’s from the Arndale Shopping Centre and very near to the location of the bombing. By chance, I had decided to quit that job the Saturday before because I wanted to spend more time with my friends. The company policy was that you leave the same day otherwise I would have been working that day but I wasn’t. I was in the communal bathroom in our halls. Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment the shockwaves reached us and it felt like being inside a balloon when the air is suddenly let out and blown back in again.

We were unaware of the devastation until the photos appeared in the newspapers the next day. Then gradually as life resumed, we heard of friends who had been in town when it happened. I remember a boy telling me that he was walking past a shop window when the explosion happened and he saw the glass shatter just as he was passed it and had never felt so lucky. Perhaps being so much younger then, the impact of this event has left less of a mark. Perhaps it was because there were thankfully no fatalities.

Then there are the July 7 2005 London bombings. Whilst I was on my way to work and ought to have been on the Underground travelling from north to south London, the bombings had already taken place and I was evacuated from the train about five or six stops into my journey. There was a lot of confusion going on and no one seemed to know what had happened. Many people were attempting to get into work still. Mobile phone lines were jammed so it took a while to contact some at work and my colleague just said, don’t try to come in and go home. So that’s what I did.

I don’t have much else I want to say on this matter, you can probably hear the reluctance as you read but I did say that this blog is to remind me of what has come before and these sad events are significant in my history and this is what I remember of those very solemn days. On the other hand, whilst we won’t forget, there are and will be lots of other years that share part of these same dates bringing lots of good things and happier events like Birthdays and anniversaries and that is something to be thankful for.

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