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

2018 Year End Reflections

Wow, it’s New Year’s Eve again. I seem to have lost track of those days between Christmas and New Year and it feels like New Year’s Eve has just sprung out in front of me. Once a big occasion in the social calendar, now I wonder whether I’ll make it up past midnight and how soon after is it acceptable to go to bed. Which is quite odd seeing as on a regular day, I’m frequently up past midnight trying to squeeze in a bit of Grown Up time after the children have gone to bed and relish all that is peaceful and quiet.

So how has this year been for you? I hope 2018 has brought some great times for you to take into 2019. A new year, a fresh start. It’s always good to have that. The opportunity to have a chat with yourself about all the things you would like to do.

Truth be told, I haven’t done half the things that I thought I might do. Like downsize stuff and maintain a tidy home. Still a lot of stuff around in unwieldy heaps here and there. I haven’t properly looked at returning to Gainful Employment either. It’s a juggling act that I haven’t quite felt ready for and among the needing to be here and there, I wonder where Gainful Employment would fit in. I imagine it will fit in, I just haven’t had the capacity to think about it yet.

This year was perhaps always about getting through it. So soon after the passing of my Dad, Mr Li and the solo parenting situation for nine months. I should allow myself that I have had a lot of other things on my mind. But at the start, I guess I had to give myself a list of other things to think of. Tasks to complete. Goals to achieve. I miss my Dad, Mr Li every day but I have to concede that today I can live alongside it better than a year ago. Though it was very hard to imagine that would ever be so. I don’t cry every day like I did for the first three months but it still doesn’t take much.

I’d like to think that in every year, you will find something good to take with you into the next one, even if you have had some of the most challenging of times. I suppose I started thinking this way back in January as I desperately needed to look out for something good to take from each day that would help provide a bit of peace in my heart.

It was a particularly bracing first winter to come back to but with it came real snow that fell from the sky and not packed from a machine like what the children had been exposed to in Snow City. Quite lucky considering there hadn’t been a heavy snowfall like this for the past four years or so. The fresh winds and crunch of boots along pathways as I went on many a solitary walk helped me manage my grief. That feeling of deep loss and sadness in my heart would abate a little with each step. And I found that when you look for it, you will see that there is plenty to feel a bit cheerier about. Perhaps not in the same way as you would like but lighter of spirit all the same. If I couldn’t see something good in each day then what else could I fill this empty void with. I hadn’t seen snowdrops and crocuses dot the landscape with colour for over a decade. How they sprung back again after being covered in snow and flattened by sledgers. You have got to marvel at the resilience of nature. And even at your own resilience.

I’m not sure how I got through the start of this year. I still feel emotional thinking about it.  It wasn’t just me who was in this great period of change and upheaval. It was not the start to this new life that we had in mind for the children but they too are incredibly resilient. So you keep on moving as they help you keep moving. And it’s too hard to see their worry and sadness and so you keep paving the way to see the good things of our new life. They have been a great comfort and support and one thing I’m looking forward to for next year is that we are all moving forward together as a complete family.

Whilst I may have been quietly preoccupied with my own thoughts, loss and ‘what ifs’, I think I have still managed to seize a great many opportunities too.  As I look back upon the year, it brings a smile to recall that I have seen a great number of friends in my new home town, in theirs and even overseas to new places. I’ve reconnected with an old friend of over 30 years that I hadn’t seen for almost 15 years and found that our ability to step into conversation hasn’t changed. I feel completely blessed to have seen so many familiar faces this year who have gone out of their way to catch up during a time where I could not have appreciated their love and support more.

And I have at least achieved some of the things on my to do list. The decluttering can wait. Back in March I took my first knitting lesson and since then I’ve been bobble hat knitting for quite a few people whether they need a new hat or not. There is definitely something rewarding with creating something yourself. I was inspired by the creations I’d seen a good friend made. They were these gorgeous blankets she’d made for her children. A true labour of love. And what’s not to love about weaving a ball of wool into something else. It’s been wholly satisfying. As has my other new love of jam making. Boiling fruit and sugar together into dainty pots of deliciousness. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of that too. And then I wonder why the Dentist asks me if I have a high sugar diet…

As bracing as the first winter has been, summer could practically be described as tropical. There is so much beautiful countryside around us that it is hard to wish to be anywhere else. Even when it’s grey and drizzly, you know that there will be sunnier days ahead. So when I am asked how are we settling into our new home town, I can honestly say we have settled in with great aplomb.

The last few months has been a whirlwind of activity as is the norm with three young children of school age. I’m a bit more prepared than I was last year and I’m a lot better supported by a local network of new friends who aren’t just the parents of children from school. I have been fortunate with the people I have met and who have been kind enough to reach out and listen and help.

It’s funny to think that a decade ago, I thought that my social networks were more or less likely to stay as they were back then. And perhaps they would have done if we hadn’t moved abroad. Life is enriched by the friendships you make and even by the friendships that fall by the wayside for reasons known only to them.

As I end this year reflecting on all that 2018 has brought our way, it is yet another trying year that has brought deep sadness and tears but also laughter and joy too. There have great highs with family unions and news that we will meet more new additions in 2019. In our hearts we may feel a shadow of sadness that is ours alone but all this wonderful news lifts us up and willingly along.

I probably will have the same sort of to do list for 2019 as I did ending last year. But I think that’s perfectly ok because there will always be stuff to do. And there is always stuff you can find to do that is infinitely more fun.

So, tonight we’re off to celebrate New Year’s Eve with other Grown Ups too, albeit with the children in tow. However you may be celebrating, I wish you peace, happiness and good health for the new year ahead. Embrace it with an open mind and see what fresh hope it brings.

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Birthday Eve so soon again?

So it seems that Birthday Eve is upon me again. And not just any ordinary Birthday Eve. It’s been five years since I wrote my first post on this blog just before I turned 39 and started the countdown to that significant 40th Birthday, which also means that in another five years time I’ll be starting the countdown to that next significant number! Along with most of you too.

I remember last Birthday Eve my thoughts were on new beginnings that were yet to start. It was both exciting and daunting, the prospect of starting a new life in a new town. There was so much I had absolutely no idea about. Even the seemingly simple stuff like when do the rubbish bins and recycling get collected. One week rubbish, next week recycling. You’d think from the same spot for both right? But no, rubbish from the back of the house, recycling from the front. Who knew sorting out your utilities would be more complex than your tax return.

I have found that it takes just a handful of people who are kind enough to reach out and make a newcomer feel welcome to help you on your way. I did notice though that it was mainly #3 starting in Reception year that made the most difference in opening doors to a new social network. I discovered that for #1 and #2, their peer group was a lot more established with friendships having been formed some years ago as early as when they were in Nursery. I guess for the parents too, most parent friendships were formed back then. Still, it takes time to slowly get to know people and on that note, I’ve been very lucky in having made several new friends that I look forward to seeing more often.

After the bright lights and convenience of city living for so long, at first it felt restrictive to find myself back somewhere that shut shop at 6pm latest. So that town centres became quickly deserted and empty of people. Then I realised what did it actually matter when it’s not like I have the freedom to just pop out once the children were back from school! There is also something comforting about that too, to just be at home. I particularly liked that feeling in the long evenings of late autumn and winter where you could take time to slow down, draw the curtains and hibernate.

After a year of settling back in the UK, I get asked what is it that I miss most about Expat living, I miss the diversity of culture and the food. I miss the adventures and exotic locations. I miss home help in the fact that it afforded me so much freedom and spontaneity. Most of all I miss the friends that I have out there. The diversity of those friendships and the mix of interests, passion and inspiration they give.

A year in, I have a varied life here, perhaps not as glamorous (on the surface) as before but one that I have enjoyed pursuing. I have been trying out new things like knitting and jam making. I know it sounds so quaint but the jam making in particular has been highly satisfying. I have this lovely big jam making pot and in it I’ve boiled many bags of sugar with a mix of seasonal local fruits and you end up with lovely jars of yumminess. I can leave bowls of strawberries seeped in sugar overnight without fretting about a trail of ants overtaking my kitchen in seconds. There’s something very soothing about creating something yourself. The action of changing this into that, mixing a bit of this with a bit of that is very good for the soul.

Most of all though, I have really enjoyed getting back together with family and friends. And it doesn’t take long to fall back into step with family like you haven’t been away at all. Exactly like you haven’t been away at all…

The children in particular have loved getting to know cousins and old friends that they’ve met on previous trips back. It gives me great joy to see these children having fun together and forming new childhood memories of their own. I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with an old childhood friend I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. It was quite some catch up, not just to hear about how she was doing but also about some old friends I hadn’t heard about since we were 16 years old. I’m sure we all know people that we have lost touch with over the years and from time to time wonder how they are doing.

I’m not surprised really that this past year seems to have passed by so quickly. So much has happened. So much change. So much to process. So many things to get used to whether I like it or not. It has been my most challenging year so far but also one that has probably given me the most strength and reflection too. I guess this is what sets us apart from our 25 year old selves and what ultimately makes us better able to support and empathise with those around us.

So tomorrow I’ll be firmly in that new category of middle 40s. Ooof. And as a new Birthday dawns, I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to think about the next big goal yet.  I’m content enough with the small things, I’ve got a woolly hat to finish by November for #3, some more varieties of jam to make, crafts to finish, a home to declutter (snort, I mean one can think about it) and this blog to keep going.


That for me, is enough to think about for now.

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The first of many

Dear Mr Li,

I miss you. I miss you every day and all of the day. As if you could ever doubt that.

That’s probably the sum of what I need to say to you.

And oh my goodness, how I miss talking to you. The hardest part of each day is that moment between busy and calm when we would talk and you would have a garbled jumble of voices from your grandchildren before they got ready for bed. You took great delight in figuring out which child was speaking to you until each became more proficient in the art of telephone conversations and announced themselves properly.

The landline doesn’t ring anymore. It was always only you who called me on it. And the really terrible telesales calls. We never transitioned with the times. Our preferred mode of communication was the old fashioned way. Postcards from my travels. Birthday cards you sent with a few handwritten characters. I never told you I used to carry one of those notes in your shaky writing in my wallet whilst I was in Singapore until one too many accidents with a water bottle made me put the notes in a safer place.

It’s been over a month now. So much has taken place even though at times I feel like I’ve stood still. I realised last night that the book on my bedside table hasn’t been picked up in weeks. I’ll be ready for such simple pastimes again soon. It was a surprise to realise that whilst I’m busy all the time, I’ve been going through the motions of the day and some point soon I’d like to get back to the things I used to do and those that I planned on doing.

The other thing I really miss is sending you all these photos I take. Sharing with you our life in pictures. What’s the point in taking all these photos if not to share them with someone who looked forward to receiving them. I came across an old Facebook memory of you showing your youngest grandchild photos of herself on your phone. And I took a photo of you showing her those photos. I haven’t felt able to look up more photos of you, us and you and them together. To do so right now just heightens the loss but the photos I already have in frames smile down on me.

Sometimes I can’t believe you left so soon. I haven’t even had chance to sort out the pictures on my wall or declutter all the stuff I won’t be needing here. I have at times felt so cross by this. Until I remember you saying how tired you were. It’s funny how I look back at photos from the summer and see this more clearly, underneath the smiles. And even if I disagree with this turn of events, what can I do.

I still marvel at the complexities of grief. My logic telling me this is the natural order of things. And with all due balance, we were lucky. You were 80. A lovely rounded figure. A big Birthday. Many people told me not to be sad. You were old. But 85, 90, 95 would have been even better don’t you think. And even though you know this will happen to us all at some point, there is just no telling grief to behave.

I know my sadness would make you upset. But isn’t it just testimony to how much you were loved and valued. So I think it’s ok to allow me this.

Time will heal. I’m sure you know that too from your own experiences. Memories could fade but equally some forgotten ones can resurface to make us smile some more. The things you used to do and say will be recounted with affection.

I wish you could have lived to be here today. The day we would have marked your 81st Birthday, whether it be the true date or not it’s the one we’ve always gone by. When you turned 80 last year, I thought we could have celebrated when I was back in April but your body had other plans. Today, other plans took place too. But Birthdays never bothered you. It was a wonderful sign you were still living and were here with us. I will embrace all my Birthdays.

We had a tea party earlier today. Not to celebrate your Birthday. That would be too weird. No, we had a lovely boisterous Christmas tea party with 11 children in the house. I think we’ll do it again next year. You would have loved it. The sound of children playing and having fun brought you the most laughter. In all my years as a child and with your grandchildren never did you tell us to keep the noise down. The party food definitely wouldn’t have been your thing though. Nor the Prosecco.

Keeping busy helped me through today. Today is the first time I haven’t called you to wish you Happy Birthday. That has been hard. But your grandchildren still insisted on singing Happy Birthday to you all the same. Your granddaughter wrote a note about you in her special book for your Birthday. She writes Gung Gung in Chinese characters now. She also asked me how will you receive our messages. I told her when you have someone in your heart and you think of them then any message you want to send with go straight to them. Your younger granddaughter said ‘I sent my message this morning.’ I’m sure you got them all.

To my Dad, Mr Li, Happy Birthday.

With love always. xxx

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The gift of memories

The children have had a wonderful weekend. They’ve spent it with friends (the parents included) who are not just good friends but who are their best friends and this came from my eldest. If I’m not jumping too far ahead, in years to come I hope these are the friends they’ll be talking about as having known all their lives.

Among the sadness and challenges of this past month, my three children have rolled with it all. In fact they’ve been rolling amazingly well for the past six months with all the changes that have upheaved them from home, school and away from their Daddy. Finding themselves in a new country and starting over again. In my heart, I worried about them. But oh my goodness, haven’t they been bold and brave getting out there and I am so proud of them.

Many people assured me that they would be fine because children are resilient and they adapt so much easier than us grown ups. This is true and as parents we ensure that we do all we can to support them with love, strength and encouragement. We try to protect them as much as we can but there are some realities that we just can’t deny.

As early as the age of four, all three of them went through a phase of questioning the concept that things do not live forever. A curious preschooler’s mind can obsess about the notion of death and talk about it incessantly. Sometimes with fear and upset and seeking reassurances that it wasn’t something that would happen imminently to anyone or anything they knew. The fear and questions subsided over time and death became a semi accepted fact of life.

Not one that is yet fully understood but what they do know now is that death brings great sadness.

Many people also advised that children shouldn’t be shielded from the grief that I am feeling. It’s ok for them to see that I am sad. In an age where there is more encouragement for everyone to express themselves and talk about emotions for better mental health well being. We are actively advised to share with children that we all have a range of emotions and to help them articulate and process the confusing and unknown new feelings. Luckily, the school the children attend have on site counsellors and a drop in room where children can stop by and talk to someone about anything that is bothering them. They are encouraged to say what they are feeling in class with their class friends and most importantly their feelings are valid.

Among all that has happened this past month and longer, I want to acknowledge just how brilliant and surprising they have been. I have lost a parent but they have lost a Grandparent too. Maybe some day they will read this post and I imagine much of what I would like to say to them now, they will have forgotten about by then.

As time goes by, my children’s memory of my Dad, their Gung Gung will fade. But whilst their memories and their stories are still vivid, I just want to capture them as they recall him.

That morning, I had no real plan on how to tell the children that their Gung Gung had passed away. But there was nothing I could do to delay breaking the news to them. As it happened, the opportunity presented itself quite naturally. The older two woke up first and clambered into our bed, one on either side of me. They were chattering about plans for the day before I then made the decision to tell them something that would shatter some part of their hearts too. With my arms around them, I said I had something to tell them. My eldest instantly knew what it was. He had already asked me the week before whether Gung Gung would die and I broke his big heart by saying that if I didn’t tell him the truth then he probably wouldn’t believe me again if I said he wasn’t and then he did quite soon later. He already told me that he loved Gung Gung so much and wished he could live with us forever. I knew exactly how he felt. There was nothing I could say to take away his pain except for how much Gung Gung loved him and loved us all.

So when I said I had something to tell them, he knew and asked me not to say it but I had to. Tears followed from all of us. My eldest Daughter cried and declared how unfair it was that this should happen when she was only seven. Indeed it was my darling. A short while later, my youngest enters into the fray and with all the upset knows something not good has happened. But being still only just five, it’s enough for her to know that we won’t be able to see Gung Gung in person but he will always be with us in our hearts and we will always have the memories of the times we spent together.

It is something to hold onto that, even though it was brief, we have new memories recently created. Like how he just took the girls off into town for ice cream by himself. I imagine he loved that. Just pottering into town with my granddaughters. My eldest was busy playing Pokemon Go with his Aunt J before I called my Dad to see where he was with the girls.

“Where are you Dad?”

“I’ve taken the girls for ice cream”

“But where are you?”

“In the shopping centre. Just past the watch shop.”

I had to ask my eldest Daughter to name the shops she could see to work out where they were. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ice cream shop now. My eldest and I went after them and they were allowed any flavour ice cream they wanted. Followed by coins for those machines you see around that give out little toys. Small gifts, simple gestures.

And just a month later, we went out for dim sum lunch to celebrate my youngest’s Birthday. My Dad looked so happy to be surrounded by 11 people who all known him as Gung Gung. Some grown up with children of their own. These memories are all the more precious because we have so few of them.

It seems unfair that we only just arrived back to have more of these outings. I think a lot of my sorrow stems from not having enough. Not enough time together. Not enough memories. Not enough for the children to hold onto. I may be wrong on this point. The older two have excellent memories. When they choose. They seem to forget every morning the getting ready for school routine. My youngest was worried over how she was very forgetful. When we talk about remembering my Dad in our hearts, she worried she would forget too soon. When I asked her what does she remember right now, she replied, “Gung Gung always gets my elephant and pretend to hide it from me”. I think that’s a pretty good one because elephant is her most precious belonging of all.

And during this time, what I will remember is how these three children looked after me too. Not just because they keep me busy with the daily stuff. That carries on regardless of everything else. No. Children have huge capacity for love, kindness and empathy. They talk about him and how they wish he was still alive. They give me hugs and tell jokes to make me laugh. They give me a share of their advent chocolate.

There’s no hiding the fact that at times there is a visible air of sadness around me. Just at times an overpowering wave of emotion floors me. Like when the children and I were looking at their school portraits and how smart they looked. I could feel the tears flow from nowhere and suddenly two arms are around me. “It’s ok Mummy.” I explained why this was making me sad. How proud Gung Gung would be to see these photos. I can picture his face. “It’s ok Mummy, we can still give them to our Por Pors.”

These tiny arms and gentle voices that coax you back to the present. Their grand ideas of where they think their Gung Gung has gone. My eldest is convinced he’s living it up in a 5 star hotel. No make that a 7 star hotel Mummy! In other words, he’s in a good place having fun.

My eldest daughter put pen to paper and crafted a book of memories that she worked on for over a week to send him off with. She took the book to school, stood in front of the whole class and shared her memories out loud. My youngest made Christmas decorations to give him and my eldest chose socks that said ‘The greatest Dad in the galaxy”, I thought you’d like these for Gung Gung, Mummy. A bundle of notes from the children were given to my Dad.

“I loved you and I still do.”

“You will be in my heart every day and all the time.”

“I will miss you.”

“I will always remember you.”

I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

The other day we were talking about the state of the world. How did they feel about living in the UK? What did they miss about Singapore? Are they enjoying themselves at school?

They all answered they were happy to live in the UK as there is so much more to do. Though they missed some friends in Singapore but were glad their best family were living close by. They were excited to see more of their family. I can see that they are happy.

Then we talked about their Gung Gung for a while. Here’s where they surprised me again. My Dad and I would speak on a weekly basis. He would insist on calling me back as he had an international phone card that practically made the calls free so he would say. As well as the usual parenting advice, the not to worry about hims, he would ask about the children and have a brief chat with them. Not at all the time did the children feel up to chatting but most of the time they were. He would ask them about what they’d been doing and they would ask him if he’d been out or had a cup of tea. But there were also times he would call and I wouldn’t be home from work yet. The children told me he would call any day he felt like and not just on a weekend.

“We spoke to Gung Gung a lot Mummy. You weren’t always there.”

It turns out they had their own shared moments too.

I haven’t quite been able to look at my huge library of photos yet. To seek out the ones of my Dad with the children. But I have looked back at the photos I sent to my Dad. My nephew getting my Dad a smartphone brought my Dad up to speed on his grandchildren. All the photos I would send him of them celebrating special occasions to the everyday normal. I know he would look at them often. I know this because he wasn’t that tech savvy and would accidentally call in the middle of the night!

I have felt a lot of sadness over the children being so young and my Dad passing away before they got to know him. But my children think the opposite. “We did know him Mummy.” All the conversations they had. The times I spoke about him. They knew the things he liked to eat. Photos of the children with my Dad. They’ve all helped to build a picture in their mind of him. I’m sure over time I’ll add to this picture.

But most of all, it was something my Dad did all by himself. The feeling he gave them that he loved them, he was interested in them and that he was kind.

I can’t think of any better reasons to be remembered for than these.

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In one week…

Since I started writing my blog to embrace turning forty it has become something I enjoy doing very much. Just for myself. Sometimes it can be a struggle finding time to write and what to write about but it is always there, gently ticking along. 

And I have given this much thought. If I want to continue writing then I need to talk about this too. Right now. As I journey through this time that I can’t stop happening, yet which feels like it’s not happening. Or like it’s happening someplace over there in my periphery vision. 

So forgive me that I talk about this. Feel free to come back another time, I do understand. 

So here goes.

Grief, whilst intensely private, is also widely public too. There is no keeping it to yourself. It is news that has to be shared, even if you don’t want to share it. Even if you don’t share it yourself. Each new person that knows, only compounds what you don’t want to believe has happened. It is quite true that people know what you have to say before the words have even been spoken. The very first person I had to break the news to, spared me the pain of having to say it out loud. I only had to answer ‘yes’. The second person, unable to digest fast enough the look on my face, before realisation hit them. 

And then, like how people describe ripping off a bandaid, you want to get the news out there quickly to your people. Before you lose the nerve to talk about it again. Can I whisper to you my most painful secret. Will you listen to me as I tell you how my whole world has changed forever. Placing upon you the burden of my tears, my sorrow, your heart breaking for me too. 

I’m still not ready for this. I still don’t feel it is real. I’ve been saying this for a week now. All of a sudden a week has passed us by. I’m shaking my head as I write this. Weird I know.  

And yet, I’ve known this day would come. But somehow I also forgot too. That’s what I remember thinking in the hospital. Since I got that voicemail from the nurse looking after my Dad. Could I call them directly on the ward. They were concerned. So I did. Can you come into the hospital as soon as possible. So I did. Asking for a huge favour from someone I barely knew but remain forever grateful to. Going into school and having to tell my children that Mummy has to go and see Gung Gung and they will be staying with school friends overnight and what an exciting and unexpected adventure that was going to be. 

Driving up to the hospital in disbelief. Shock even. Messages from my cousin to hurry but also drive carefully. Seeing my Dad. How was this change even possible. I just spoke to you the evening before. You were you. Telling me not to worry. You were on antibiotics and felt fine. You sounded fine. Like normal. Giving me parenting advice. Like normal. Everything was like normal. Except for the hospital part. And that was far from normal. 

Is it possible to forget something as monumentally important as being told your Dad may not have long to live. This was back in April this year. My Dad was critically ill in hospital then. I had already sat in the same small Nurses office before. Being told exactly the same news. It wasn’t any easier the second time. Twice I did not tell my Dad what I knew. And he didn’t need to know. But I knew and carried it in my heart, devastated back then with this knowledge. Clearly remembering asking myself whether I would feel truly happy again. I thought I had started feeling my loss then but as the Dr told us again and again, when the time comes it will hit you afresh and to go easy on yourself.  

So how did I forget? Well, after five weeks in hospital he gradually got better. With the help from many others, my Uncle who cooked daily for him and my cousin who was there to look after him when I wasn’t. You could also hear it in his voice day by day in our phone calls. Then the phone calls were no longer daily as normal life resumed. It was at this time that our plans to relocate back to the UK were underway. And whilst of course it was sad to leave Singapore and all that was held there, and hard work to set up a new home over here in a new town knowing no one, I knew what else was there to be gained. 

I’ve only heard my Dad cry twice. Once at my Grandma’s funeral. The second time at the end of April when I called him from Heathrow Airport before my flight to Singapore. I said to him I would be back in three months. His voice broke at that point.

Even if it has only been for a few months. I would have preferred more. Just one more day I kept asking for. More time to see each other. More things to say. More photos to show you of what we have been up to. More of everything. And the terrible thing of knowing there will be no more, is that you start silently playing a warped game of ‘Have you ever…’ Which changes to ‘I will never…’

I will never be able to talk to you again. I will never be able to share this moment of your grandchildren’s day with you. I will never be making plans to see you. 

I will just never.

And understanding that is the hardest part of this journey. Because I am not ready for this. But who is. 

My Dad though, surprised the medical and nursing team. Several times they thought it wouldn’t be long. Including that day over two weeks ago. The Dr predicted just hours. So all the family came to see him. And just as they were about to leave, my Dad decides no one tells him when it is time. He came back to full consciousness. We had good conversations that night. With him asking me who had come to see him that day. So I listed everyone who came. He asked again several times that night. Almost incredulous that he missed it all. Just recalling this makes me smile. 

My Dad smiled a lot. He liked his photo taken. He smiled a lot for photos. 

That next day when his Consultant came to do the rounds, they told me that they were surprised to see the change in him because of his blood test results. They were not good. That part was not reversible. They made it very clear. I think back and wonder if I accepted this information too easily. But what else could I do. My whole focus was my Dad being comfortable. Making him aware that he was not alone. That he was loved. That he was safe and I would help him as much as I could. But on the ward he did feel safe and he did trust his Consultant. It was evident in the exchange they had that morning. And it was good to see this between them.

Doctors and Nurses must care for so many people day in and day out. But when they say they remember my Dad from his stay back in April, I believe them. And it comes as no surprise that they remember how polite he always was and how he liked to drink warm water and tea, no sugar. And he in turn appreciated the fact the staff looked after him so well. That the support staff remembered to fill his flask with hot water and cleaned his false teeth for him. 

My Dad always said thank you to everything with a smile. He is one of those rare types of gentlemen. 

We all underestimated him. Mistaking his small frame for a frail man. I mean he was physically quite frail from illness. Weak lungs and a few other things. Hence another chest infection could go either way. But the way he hung on for all those extra days. Showed a man of great strength. To the point where the Dr said they were giving up on predicting when, as he played to his own rules. Quite right. And he did. Choosing his moment exactly so. 

And even though I wasn’t there, I would like to believe that my Dad knew I was where he wanted me to be. With my own Husband and children. I had told my Dad all week that I had to go home and look after the children because my Husband had to return to Singapore for work. We were already lucky enough with how generous his work had been allowing me this time to spend with my Dad. So I left the hospital that afternoon, said Goodbye to my Dad and I’d see him tomorrow as I was coming  back up with the children so they could see their Uncle. But I knew any visit thereafter would be brief. Perhaps he knew it too. 

That Friday I got home and we took the children to our first proper Christmas market. Fairground rides. Mulled wine. Hot chocolate. I called my brother to say I was back safe.

In April and a few times before, my Dad had said if it was his time to go, it would be ok because my Brother and I were grown up with lives and families of our own. He worried most about leaving us too soon when we were children. Probably because that’s what happened to him and his siblings, but that’s another story. He was content. His job fulfilled. 

Even so Dad. I’m still not ready. A week on, I feel so sad but a little less like I can’t breath without crying. I still cry of course. I easily cry. Even before this. Let alone after this. But this is different. 

Right now I feel like the world and the way I move around in it has changed forever. I asked others if they felt that way too. 

Someone suggested I write through this. I can now see why it would be cathartic. By writing this down, it allows room to remember other parts that are not altogether sad. Some parts are even funny. Other parts poignant. Some parts belonged to the memories of others who have generously shared them with me so that I can collect double memories.

My Dad, my beloved Dad, Mr Li passed away peacefully a week ago Friday with my brother by his side. 

Saying it out loud here doesn’t make it feel any more real but it has helped. In the coming days and weeks perhaps there’s more I would like to say. But for now it’s enough. 

To my much loved Dad. I know you were tired. I could see it. And in that moment when I said to you it was ok to go because my heart knows one day I will see you again. Not just yet though but I definitely will. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made through this justgiving page to Ward 29, Freeman Hospital Newcastle.


The end of summer

Perhaps not quite the end of summer. Who knows. There may even be an optimistic few days of balmy weather towards the end of September to send us into a frenzy after our summer/holiday/Singapore standard wardrobe has been relegated to the backs of cupboards and wardrobes. 

I have never known The Weather to feature so prominently in daily life. It’s rather exciting how utterly unpredictable it’s going to be. Rather like the temperament of #1, 2 and 3 all at once. One moment it’s cloudy and grey, the wind picks up a bit and you consider putting on another layer. No sooner have you done this then brilliant sunshine breaks through the clouds and your legs feel on fire, protesting indignantly at being covered up.

My Birthday Treat this year was an outing to York Maze complete with pig racing (put it on your bucket list) and an international corn eating competition no less. (To think a couple of years ago I spent it sipping posh BOGOF martinis at the glossy hotel bar in the Hyatt.) You can just tell the out of towners, the rookies to a British summer by the way they react to the whim of the Weather. Both Mrs Cake Pops and I were like this:

Grey clouds overhead.

She: It’s getting a bit chilly now isn’t it. I’ll go get us coffees.

Me: Ok, go get us coffees. I’m going to put my jacket on.

Sun peeps out.

She: It’s getting a bit warm now isn’t it. I’ll go get us ice creams.

Me: Ok, go get us ice creams. I’m going to take my jacket off. 

This activity is not just reserved for the Grown Ups. I have become a walking wardrobe for #1, 2 and 3. I’m expected to produce raincoats, cardigans, scarves, gloves, wooly hats at their request. And at their change of body temperature, I am equally expected to be a walking coat stand. 

If ever you relocate back to the UK, summer is the season to do so, even Spring if you can. Summer fills people full of cheery optimism and this is what you need when starting a brand new life. Winter receives unfair bad press I think. Why waste a quarter of your life complaining. But from a practical perspective, I’m glad we haven’t waited until December because the last few weeks of getting out and seeing all that is glorious about the UK has definitely softened the edges of transition. 

I’m pretty sure there will be days quite soon where the reality of the change of seasons is less romantic than I remembered. This makes it immensely important to store those days in the outdoors, it doesn’t have to even be sunny,  for the days indoors. But of course by then, I will be excellent at creating indoor entertainment.   

This last day of August marks the end of my first month back to the UK. It’s gone by fast hasn’t it. I can hardly believe it myself. I’ve been very busy looking at what’s around me. Exploring new ground, introducing #1, 2 and 3 to amazing new adventures. Mostly play grounds, parks, woodland walks. We’ve travelled several times to our soon to be new stomping ground and looked at houses and cars together. Involving them in the process of putting together their new life. It’s been a month, only a month, and if you ask them what would they like for lunch or dinner, the answer is still chicken rice. 

I have been so impressed with how much the UK outdoors is putting into getting people outdoors. Farms, parks and country houses that offer amazing days out with really fun activities and not everywhere charges an entry fee. This makes me look forward to other events in other seasons.


But to be fair, it hasn’t all been green fields and rolling hills. There have been clouds of confusion, blank space in my brain space, a lot of noise from #1, 2 and 3 and juggling a massive to do list in my head. 

You see, I haven’t had to do All The Stuff on my own for a long time. I’ve always had an extra pair of hands which takes the edge off  things in so many ways. Now all of a sudden and even if it’s not going to be like this forever, I am the person getting us from A to B about 90%, maybe a bit more, of the time. I think I’m getting better at it. I have to be but I’ll let you know in another post in a month’s time when we’ve got a new routine on the go. 

Humans, as #3 often likes to refer to us people, are a resilient species. We can draw immense strength when we need it but we also need to soften our hearts and let others in to help us along the way. This process of repatriation is a slow and long one. Quite frankly I am losing patience and I am weary of living out of a suitcase for six weeks with another three weeks to go. I completely understand why #1, 2 and 3 lose their rag and they have done amazingly well. They miss Husband to a heartbreaking degree and I can only provide big hugs and kisses and to wipe away their tears. They have been distracted with amazing outings and lots of fun and they have received warm welcomes from so many close to us who are very happy to see them, as we are them. But it is time they had their own space and familiar things around them. It is time to create and implement a new normal. One that welds both their Singapore and UK sides together before chicken rice is replaced by chicken nuggets forever.

The lazy days of summer are drawing to a close. August has been a wonderful welcome back. I’ve just returned from a week road trip with #1, 2 and 3 visiting family, godparents and friends. I could not say just how fabulous it has been to see the people of England who have helped us recharge for the next few weeks. 

As I turn my thoughts to the start of a new home, new school year, new school and new school system for #1, 2 and 3, here is where the real steps towards ‘settling in’ begin. I’m almost out of the waiting room and I’ve decided to start a new blog about it too documenting whether repatriation is as difficult as I’ve heard others say.

Until then, there’s still time for a last few glasses of Pimms. 

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A very lazy Mother’s Day 

Usually Sundays start early with rugby training for #1 and 2, followed by homework, grocery shopping and other households jobs. 

Today there was none of that. Just as it nicely coincides with Mother’s Day. A morning of lazy starts and breakfast in bed. Followed by high tea with fairly impeccable behaviour from #1, 2 and 3.  

I received three more thoughtfully decorated cards. #1 has continued with the Tie Fighter theme this year. #2 worked hard on hers for two days. #3 could barely contain her excitement yesterday as she informed me she was doing something secret that she wasn’t go to tell me about for Mother’s Day…

This was exactly about as much as I could cope with today. I am so tired right now I should be in bed. In fact I already gave myself another gift of an afternoon nap. No, I’m not hungover. That was last weekend. 

Last night I was doing something wholly virtuous. I was in fact running a 10km race. Which flagged off at 9.35pm. I know! It’s only since running in Singapore that I have come across these running events that take place at all hours. Literally all hours. Think 9.35pm is late, the full marathon flagged off at midnight! 

So anyways, I thought 10km would be ok. It would take about an hour or just over. I can that distance fairly comfortably if I practice and I’ve often ran that far in the early evening so how different could this be? It’s been a long while since I’ve ran in an organised event and I’ve missed it. The sight of seeing other runners heading to the event, soaking up the atmosphere and waiting at the start line. Then of course seeing the Finish line. 

What I hadn’t accounted for is all that adrenaline takes quite a few hours to wear off. Like a good five hours or so after the race. I should have organised the spare room instead of trying to sleep. Hence today felt like a non starter, I wonder how all those marathon runners have spent the day.

So today’s very lazy Mother’s Day has been just the ideal way to spend it and now I need to go to bed. 

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Regaining a bit of ‘We’ time

By regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I don’t mean ‘wee’ time in that I can now go and do my business without an audience.  I cannot recall a time that involved sitting on a toilet behind a closed door in my own home. To the point that when you come and visit, you should probably remind me to do.

No, by regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I mean the ‘We’ of Husband and I on our own. Without #1, 2 and 3 in tow. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. That we haven’t been out on our ownsome or with other Responsible Grown Ups since becoming parents. It’s just those times have usually been after a full day with #1, 2 and 3 and then rushing to get out elsewhere. Having a shower but not enough time to do your hair. Those kinds of outings.


But a special occasion calls for a bit of proper ‘We’ time. Especially if you know that someone has spent much of the past few weeks getting up in the middle of the night tending to sick children whilst you sleep off your own illness. Husband has been quite the star doing all these things whilst I’ve been down with flu and sleeping in as much as I can in the mornings. So for Husband’s birthday this year, as a break from the norm, I booked us into a fancy pants place for lunch. Why not dinner you may say? Seeing as it’s a special occasion. I said regaining just a BIT of ‘We’ time. The other night when I went out for dinner with a friend, #3 sat by the front door and very softly said ‘Don’t go out Mummy, please stay at home.’ Whereas when you go out in daylight, it’s quite acceptable. Perhaps, I should try just going out for lunch and staying out. I know people who do that. Yes, you.


But anyways, going out for lunch is a start. Especially to a fancy pants restaurant where the cutlery isn’t one style fits all dishes and you get a knife. You’d be surprised how many restaurants in Singapore don’t have knives. Like, why would you need a knife to cut up your pork chop? What’s wrong with the fork and spoon combo? Admittedly, the fork and spoon combo is a rather efficient way of shoveling food in at speed. So fancy pants was this restaurant that for my starter, I was presented with chopsticks, knife and fork. Two ways to eat. Imagine that.

 Fancy pants restaurants no longer scare me. They once did in my twenties when Husband and I went to a fancy pants restaurant for the first time and we were the youngest by far. It felt almost like playing at Responsible Grown Ups. Everyone else was wearing black and I had on a sparkly silver top. Having just thought of this, I realise I was wearing black today. Oh no! I’ve mastered the art of blending in.


Husband and I arrive at the fancy pants restaurant towards the end of the lunch sitting and I could have gotten away with saying that I had hired the whole restaurant just for him on his Birthday. We sit at a neat table for two rather than the usual picnic bench for five. There’s a policy that no under 12’s are allowed in and for a moment we look around and imagine the terror and uproar #1, 2 and 3 would be causing at the moment. Do you know what a luxury it is to be able to sit still and not have to be retrieving a child from under the dinner table? Yesterday, #3 for reasons known only to herself, decided she would only eat her dinner if I pretended she was a stray dog we were taking home with us. I kid you not. And we did take her home and she woofed in appreciation.


As far as Birthdays have gone for Husband these past few years, he’s celebrated with a trip to the Bird Park, Universal Studios and a five year old’s Birthday party. I think this is the year to make him feel he’s not living the life of Tom Hanks in Big.


In previous years, I’ve talked about your own Birthday not being quite your own with small people around who seem to adopt it as an extension of celebrating something for themselves. Present opening, cake eating, special Birthday outing. Today though, there was an Assistant Director on the scene. #1 helped me to wrap the presents, he wrote on each present who it was from and then he hid them under a cover and got #2 and 3 to do a bit reveal in front of Husband who was naturally amazed and had no idea there was a pile of presents under a cloth in the middle of the room. He even wrote on an old wrapping paper tube a special Birthday message. Significant for several reasons that he had creativity, he did it all on his own and he wrote something without being prompted. #1 is not a fan of writing.


Husband could really see that #1 had put in the effort to make it special for him with these simple gestures. I hope it made #1 feel good to make someone else happy. I hope there are many more of these moments over the years.


#3 made us laugh as all Birthdays come with cake, presents,  party and games. When it came to bedtime, #3 said to Husband ‘but we haven’t played any games Daddy.’ So I invented a new game called Musical Sleep. When the music stops, you lie down and go to sleep.


Happy Birthday Husband, who declared that he is going to buy a Porsche and get the mid life crisis out of the way…











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Another place that’s home

I was eight years old the first time I went to Hong Kong. I remember the experience vividly for many reasons. 

In those days, and I am sounding like my Dad, Mr Li, people just didn’t go on holiday much in my family. They didn’t even take a day off and even now when they do take a day off, it’s considerately early on in the week when you can still be bothered to cook for yourselves. 

Yes they are a hard working lot but times have changed and they’re a little more restful and a lot more adventurous with their choice of holiday destinations these days. I can honestly say, that according to my Dad, Mr Li, if you have to go on holiday then there’s no point in going anywhere else but Hong Kong. Like you can’t be full if there’s no rice attached to every meal. ‘What’s the point?’, he says. ‘To see new things Mr. Li.’ ‘What is there to see?’, says my Dad, Mr Li and that is what makes him such a steadfast man.


As a child I can distinctly remember being asked ‘What’s China like?’ Not in any mean way I should add. It was a time way before the World Wide Web. The truth would be, I don’t know. I still don’t. Nana Moon can tell you more about China than I can. ‘But you’re Chinese!’, they would cry. I know. ‘And you’ve never been to China before?’, ‘No, my parents are from Hong Kong.’ ‘What’s Hong Kong like?’ ‘Erm, I also don’t know….’ ‘But you’re Chinese!’


I know I’m Chinese! I’ve always known it. Even when people have helpfully pointed it out on the street, I was aware. But finally, when I was eight years old, I went to Hong Kong where I had this whole other ‘home’.  My Dad, Mr Li and a long line of Li/Lee/Lei’s hail from our ancestral village Tai Po Mei in the New Territories on your way to the China border. 


When you think of Hong Kong, you may think of the beautiful skyline adorned with skyscrapers across the harbour with a few ferries or junk boats passing by. The bright lights, the haggling for cheap knock off replicas, the noise, the smell the frenetic pace. The Hong Kong that I’m more familiar with is one that moves slightly slower, more green, more rustic. The one where I remember my Grandma. My Por Por. Living in our village that bustled with so much activity. 


The first time I went back to Hong Kong there was so much family I was meeting for the first time. I think that’s what really struck me. To suddenly have so many Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles all in one place. They knew me as daughter of my Dad, Mr Li and sister of Big Brother Li. The reason for this visit was for a special occasion. To celebrate a new house. A house with indoor toilets. I mean, for you and me, we’ve always known that toilets are indoors, it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be! Or that toilets could be anything but the ones that you sit on. And flush. Then suddenly toilets were outdoors and around the corner. Or indoors but nothing to sit on. Or something to sit on that you then push under the bed. It has obviously left a lasting impression.


I’m eight years old and I’m in Hong Kong for the first time.  Hanging out for three long weeks with cousins I hadn’t even met before. What is there not to love. Is it time that makes me view that first holiday with such nostalgia or how times have changed since? I haven’t stayed in our village since I was 16. In fact I’ve lived in our village for a total of 16 weeks in all my years. It’s not long at all to feel such strong associations but never underestimate the power of association. All my life it was embedded in me that this was our village. And that sense of belonging, no matter where you choose to live in the world, is reassuring. The village belongs to many of us. My cousins, my Aunts and Uncles, my nephews. I think this is also what makes it special. To feel this connected. 


So every time I go back to Hong Kong, I feel I have to visit the village. And every time it changes. I’m walking down a path that leads down the mountain to the start of the village where you then wind your way past houses that have been modernised and family members of a certain generation pop their heads out to greet you. It’s a lot quieter these days. Most people migrated out to the suburbs or to other countries a long time ago. But at the other side of the village there’s a new road that has been built on reclaimed land that could change all that and bring back families to the villages. There was a time that you looked out straight to sea but now the sea is just a bit further away.  
The path that we’re following is at once familiar and then not so. Where once there was just jungle, there’s a lot more concrete and then we reach the start of the row of terraces that led to our old house. Somehow, it looks a lot smaller. As nearly everything does when you revisit places with Grown Up eyes. I’m hit with unexpected emotion. I think of my Grandma, my Por Por. I think of my Dad, Mr Li having left this home over 50 years ago. I think of Big Brother Li looking on and wonder what kind of memories he has, especially on that particular day being his 50th Birthday. I look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder when they will understand just how important this place is and what it will mean to them. 


Since then I’ve been back to Hong Kong six times. Not that often to be honest. Before you could buy all things Asian at the click of a mouse, a trip to Hong Kong was an opportunity to eat amazing food, buy the latest gadgets and get yourself a Hello Kitty/Ding Dong now called Doreamon fix. I would still say it’s the best place for amazing food. But living in tropical Singapore, some of the other things that you once couldn’t get enough of, is now quite accessible. So what does Hong Kong hold for me now. Well, it’s still great for shopping but the shopping with #1, 2 and 3 renders that objective impossible as demonstrated on our visit last month. Brilliant New Adventure had high hopes of us hitting the shops together but we sadly only got a measley half an hour in. Pah.


Brilliant New Adventure. That’s what Hong Kong holds. And Big Brother Li. And Nephews #1 and 2. And all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins that is the other half to my family. Having lived in tropical Singapore for seven and a half years with it’s own fair share of high rises and beautiful skylines, you always will miss a good mountain. Hong Kong is so mountainous and I had never appreciated that before. You can even climb these mountains but we’ll leave that for another time. 


I always imagine ‘home’ as being the UK. The place where we will grativate towards in due course. It’s where I was born and grew up. Where all our family and friends are. We have amazing times each trip back to the UK and it’s hard having to leave it behind. To look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder if it’s fair that they don’t get to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, close family friends all the time. 


And yet, what about this other ‘home’ that I have? One that forms part of their identity too living a blended cultural upbringing. You know, it had never occured to #1 to question why he didn’t have a Chinese name before this visit to Hong Kong. So Big Brother Li is working on that for him right now and most likely that’s how #1, 2 and 3 will proudly introduce themselves on their next stay in Hong Kong.

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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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