cny dinner

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Family dinner tonight at the posh club where sis and Rob are members. A bit of fun beforehand, sis booked the bowling alley and the three of us (me, niece and rob) tried to bowl. My scores were abysmal, the highest round was 95, ugh.

The dinner was buffet at the garden lounge at the top floor of the club building. Unlike hotel buffets, it was very civilised and the atmosphere very pleasant. There were only around 20 tables, so that was an advantage already. Soup and a half lobster salad were served at the table. My niece doesn’t like lobsters so mum had a whole one!

Both sis and I opted to add-on free flow drinks, which included champagne, red and white wine, and sake. We mostly stuck to champagne, I tried the sake with dinner and it was really good. Not dry, and went well with food.

Food was the usual buffet fare. Cold seafood of oyster, crab leg, prawn, clams were alright. Sashimi was fresh and enjoyable. I had two huge plates of rocket and beetroot salad and a little bit of cold poached trout. Skipped most of the hot food although the others said it was good–steamed fish, beef checks, iberico pork chops, curry. There was a noodle station which had very little business. Outside on the patio was a bbq station with skewers, roast rib-eye and other bbq meat. The skewers was disappointing, either overcooked (chewy and dry) or undercooked (the scallops were almost raw and not charred outside).

Had a sorbet and some macarons for dessert. There was a cheesecake with chestnut topping, I only ate the topping. Half my plate was full of delicious blackberries.

cny day

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Most people spend CNY with family. All I did was stay home and cooked lunch and dinner. No difference from any other day.

Lots of greetings received on whatsapp groups. I looked and looked to find ones that didn’t have dogs, which was pretty difficult. These are from one of the priests mm follows on fb, he made them himself. I especially appreciate the explanation at the side, together with a pronounciation guide. With so much negativity around the use of fb (I deleted it from default tabs and check it once a day if I remember), it’s nice to see something that isn’t an ad, a stupid meme or spam.

cny eve market

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Traditionally people go to a flower market on CNY eve to buy flowers and to participate in the festive atmosphere. Last time I went was so many years ago and all I remember is the crowd.

We set off around 11.30pm on the tram, the slowest means of transport. It was nice to enjoy the view and the cool breeze and not have to hurry. Catch pokemons too, tram is slow enough.

When we got closer to the flower market park, we saw the beginnings of the hoard. The station was completely blocked and there was a queue along the pavement to cross the road. Lots of police officers there to direct traffic and keep it orderly. It was very crowded, but organised.

There was a one-way system in place at the market, so we had to go up one aisle of stalls and down the next. So crowded that progress was slow, may be a few steps every minute. The market split into roughly two sections; one for flowers and one where mostly school and college kids sold soft toys, cushions and other festive stuff. Cute at the time, but incredibly useless and tacky a few days later. This year, there were so many dog soft toys it was hard to find anything else.

We only managed half of the souvenir section, there was one part that was completely gridlocked. When we calculated that we’d moved may be 10 steps in 20mins, it was time to give up. The flower section was marginally less crowded, so we headed there. Many stalls had discounted flowers, the market had been in place for about a week and it was the last few hours. We left with a few bunches of flowers, mostly for mm’s mum. I got a pot of basil for the equivalent of £1.

By the time we left it was something like 3am. Amazingly there were still people heading into the market. These wise and persistent individuals were there for last minute bargains, good luck to them.

14-feb

brokenheart

My contribution towards Valentine’s Day? I cancelled lunch and a day out with mm. She’d booked an Indian buffet for lunch but I wasn’t feeling 100% when I woke up. Strange headache on the left side of my head behind my ear, sometimes it’d feel hot and sometimes it’d feel a bit numb. Occasionally there’d be a sharp pain. But not debilitating like a migraine. Thought it was best to stay home and rest. Headache persisted throughout the day, even with panadol. Drank a couple of large cups of green tea and took a 20-min walk to the small park to get some sun and fresh air. Slight improvement. Probably need a good night’s sleep or rather, a week of consecutive good nights’ sleep.

Anyway it wasn’t a proper v-day event, we were just talking about Indian food and how long it’s been since we had it. We usually don’t pay much attention to v-day. More importantly, it’s Ash Wednesday. Busy this week, between Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and CNY coming up on Friday. May be it’s the trying to keep track that’s giving me the headache.

winter solstice

solstice

Happy Winter Solstice! Supposed to be a traditional family day but it was just a normal day for us. I did make duck breast and a warm quinoa salad for dinner instead of eating leftovers.

It’s the shortest day of the year and the day that marks the beginning of winter. Here’s an oddly satisfying video of two people removing a huge amount of snow from a roof in Nagano prefecture. It’s more than winter in northern Japan, the Tateyama-Kurobe pass is closed and they’ve had winter weather for a while now.

pokémon go fest

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I was quite looking forward to the pokémon go fest event in chicago, having been lucky enough to get a ticket. Niantic was advertising all sorts of fun events: raids, global catch challenges, legendaries and special pokémons. The trainers at go fest were supposed to lead the world in catch events that were to take place in 30-minute windows.

So I got on the 9.12am train, stopped by 7-eleven to get water, and made my way towards grant park.

And that began a day that can only be described as a complete fail.

The event was supposed to start at 10am. I got to the entrance around 10.15am to see a long queue stretching down columbus. Walked to the end of the line to see an enormous mass of people snaking around buckingham fountain. Snaking like an intricate maze. I joined the queue and it took more than 2 hours to get to the entrance. They had one entry point for 20,000 people. There was nothing to do, the app took forever to open or crashed when I was trying to do anything. Someone mentioned we walked 7km just queuing up, she either was able to keep the app open or had a fitbit.

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Actually getting in was fast. Go through bag search then scan the wristband. Once inside, we were given an envelope that had a badge and a QR code. The idea was to spin at one of the official physical pokéstops and scan the QR code to get the event badge. Sounds easy enough? Ha! There was NO SIGNAL. If we could get in, the app crashed after a minute. It took mutiple tries to get the app open and 4 tries to get the QR code to scan and the badge to show up. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone at the park. It was supposed to be an event where 20,000 people worked together to catch or raid pokémons but it ended up being 20,000 people with their heads down staring at their phones trying to get connected to the network or load the app.

I was there for a bit over 2 hours. In total I spun 2 stops and caught 2 pokémons: onyx and magikarp. A grand total of 200m was registered. Hatched an egg (rhyhorn) but couldn’t start to incubate or spin at a stop to get a new one. At least I got the event badge.

Left around 2.30pm and went to get something to eat. I hadn’t eaten anything and only drank a bottle of water up to then. The people at the next table were also from go fest and everyone expressed disappointment. The worst was when I was walking out and I heard a dad said to his son,

I’m sorry this was such a bomb.

I tried the app while I was eating and saw to my amazement, a porygon and then a chansey. The app crashed when I was catching the porygon but I got the chansey, phew I needed the chansey more. I started walking slowly to the station because I had around an hour before the train. Saw a bunch of people outside an alley and it turned out to be unown.

Niantic CEO and CMO got booed when they went on stage in the park to greet the crown. Turned out, they hadn’t informed the cellular providers they were having an event where 20,000 people would try to get on the internet. They had “forgotten” to install wifi towers. The servers couldn’t take the strain (nothing new there, par for the course for Niantic).

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So they extended the catch radius to two miles outside grant park. Those of us who were finally able to get a signal saw the promised rare pokémons. In addition to the porygon and chansey I also got unown and heracross. My recents don’t look so bad.

As I was taking the train back to the house, I was reading about possible compensation. The official Niantic apology to registered attendees:

  • refund of the $20 ticket
  • $100 worth of pokécoins
  • radius of special pokémons and eggs extend 2 miles for 24hrs (only visible to registered attendees)
  • legendary pokémon lugia to be automatically added to the account

I haven’t received any notifications yet; the compensation seems to be just about enough to shut people up. Doesn’t take away the fact that they ruined many people’s day. People came in from all over the US or around the world to play and they couldn’t. Especially sorry for all the families who were there, the kids must have been gutted. Trainers around the world who had organised their day to coincide with the event were also left confused and with no information. A good rundown of the how the day went is at heavy.

Apparently within the 2 mile radius after the event it’s super fun. Lures and legendary raids everywhere. But most attendees have probably gone home or away from the area.

Anyway, I’m leaving on Monday and I still haven’t seen a single tauros shadow. That’s another complaint for another day.

conference day 05

The last day of the conference. Brief opening remarks then brunch and goodbyes. A was checking out today so I packed my bags and left them in the main room. I helped break down the vendor table, packing books in boxes. Then I went off with Car to look for a staples to get packing materials.

We were one of the last ones to leave. We packed up official boxes into 2 cars and returned to the storage place–the stuff will sit there until next year.

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Totally pooped so we just ordered pizza. Around 5.30pm my eyes couldn’t open so I took a nap. Turned out I was asleep for 2hrs. I was still able to sleep, just to show how tired I was.

conference day 04

Didn’t really go to any sessions in the morning. Saturday is always a stressful day for me and I spent the morning finishing up the awards presentation.

The keynote speaker was after lunch and we had Lesléa Newman this year, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies as well as a huge portfolio of books. She talked about how she stood on the shoulders of giants to influenced and guided her. She also read from some of her work. I don’t read poetry but I was so moved by her recital of several pieces of her poems. There was a beat, a rhythm, to her reading and I was tapping my fingers following her. I sat next to a friend T at an earlier author spotlight session and she said she always listened to people reading with her eyes closed and I spotted her tapping out a beat with her fingers at a reading too.

The very last session I went to at this conference was moderated by two authors who run a successful writing group. Our group exercise was to talk about setting up a writing group and we had a nice discussion. Our group focused on what we wanted from a group and we agreed that honesty and having common goals were important factors.

While the majority of the conference goers went off to rest and have dinner, our stress started. Rehearsal for presenters went well. I had about 30mins to eat dinner–I asked for a takeout box at lunch to grab some turkey salad I put in the fridge. A had a can of coke zero for me too, it was perfect. At 5pm it was setup time. The helpful staff at the hotel helped us set up computers, sound, video cameras, the stage, furniture and lots more. We had a small team–2 of us at the tech table, 2 at the awards table next to the stage, 3 videographers, 1 photographer and the MC. People tried to come in early but we sorted them out.

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The awards started and for the 4th year in a row, I was running the deck. Started off well until the first award that was announced. As soon as the presenter announced the winner my powerpoint crashed. Luckily the hotel AV person had set up a dump screen (static screen of our logo) for us so Car switched to it quickly while I restarted and found my place. Altogether we were down for about 20 seconds. People said to me afterwards they noticed the glitch but were amazed we got it back so quickly. It’s not about the glitch or error, it’s about how you recover.

The rest of the presentation was fine. I kept up with the presenters and followed the scripts for special awards. We did away with proxies coming on stage this year and the whole ceremony took only around 2hrs. We had lots of praises, about how smoothly it went and how they appreciated it finishing early.

As usual, I spent the dance in a perpetual state of drunkeness. On our table we had writers tears, port and wine. I wasn’t drinking that much, but it was the relief of getting the awards over with. Someone bought a beer for me late in the evening too. Went to bed at 2am.

conference day 03

ladder

Again, being good students, we woke up early to go to the 8.30am sessions. I was so glad I did. The one I went to, the presenter talked about the ladder of inference. We all do this, we take external data, filter and make decisions or perform actions based on our own experiences and belief system. The trick is to recognise we are doing this and learn how to expand our thinking and be open to unfamiliar experiences. It’s very interesting, so much so that I texted mm about it. We’ll need to discuss it more when I get back.

There was another great session on the intersection of identities, where the panel made up of authors from different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, nationality, ages. They talked about their personal experiences and how they incorporated their different backgrounds into their books.

At the break I got talking to a new friend and missed the session before lunch. Not sorry at all. My new friend S had lived and travelled all over the world and was in her previous life a tv and film producer. We bonded over our shared view of Cannes (a dump) and shared life stories. I would need to read her books asap as they sounded like they would be wonderful. She gave me a tip, to approach someone I looked up to and who had the closest style to mine (or what I aspire to) and ask for their help. I realised I may have been asking the wrong people or asking the wrong questions. I need to be more focused and targeted.

After lunch was our special speaker. The great thing about this conference is I learn about and meet people who I would never have the chance to. As ever, our special and keynote speakers talked extensively about their lives, their writing and impart great wisdom for us to take away. After the special speaker I went to a session about juggling romance with kids (real life and in books) and one where authors talked about how their faith influenced their lives and writing. I hadn’t planned on going to either of these, but I was glad I did. I also got to sit with my friend Jane who I haven’t had much chance to chat with this year.

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A and I decided to go to gibson’s for dinner. It’s in the hotel next door and a short walk. Yes, expensive but we both liked a good steak. We shared half a dozen oysters to start, they were good flavoured and balanced. Shared a bone-in ribeye for mains, which was really good. Not quite as good as hawksmoor because it wasn’t chargrilled enough. I also found it needed a tad more seasoning. For drinks I had a cinnamon infused makers mark 46. Wow, yummy.

The evening social event was karaoke. Good atmosphere this year. My name was even called out but it was because I got the group together to sing “I feel pretty” for our late friend Pam Butler. Stayed later than I expected.

conference day 02 | hamilton

To get up early for the 8.30am session or not, that was the question. We were good students, so we did. The day was full of educational sessions. One that touched on the current political climate, a masterclass on great openings, an update on the legacies project documentary, a discussion on swearing. The membership meeting highlighted the contributions made by volunteers and that the organisation was in good hands.

One of the most important meetings I went to was the one on awards changes. I had some input to this and we were excited with the improvements suggested. Seemed to be well received by the membership too, so the effort wasn’t wasted.

chi091hamilton

We finished early and met at the lobby for the drive into the city. The destination, Hamilton the musical. Car had gotten tickets as soon as the booking window opened and a group of us piled into her car. There were a number of our friends who were there also. I hadn’t had dinner so I bought some of their “pyes” ie small apple and cherry pies. The theatre was completely full and as soon as the house lights went off the audience cheered loudly. And the cheers didn’t stop. The show was really amazing. I know very little about Alexander Hamilton except he was one of the group that included George Washington, James Madison. I was able to follow the story easily. The music was a departure from usual musical style, I had listened to the soundtrack so I knew it was mostly hip hop. Simply put, very well done and a fantastic show. Up there with Les Miz.

conference day 01

tealiqueur

If I’d thought about it more, I would have bought croissants, yogurt, fruit for breakfast. But I forgot so breakfast was a bagel and cream cheese from the hotel café. Wednesday morning of the conference is usually setup and I found myself in the main room helping with the silent auction, moving stuff, introducing the official photographer to various people. This year’s silent auction has so much stuff. A and I each brought whisky. There were plenty of books, posters, gifts, food baskets. A member donated a lovely bowl she made herself; there was a set of 3 beautiful pics taken at venice; lots of doctor who and xena memorabilia too. Editors offered manuscript critique, writers offered characters in their books, a leathercraft company offered custom made gloves. I have my eyes on a set of miniature bottles of tea spirits from thomas and sons distillery that my friends J and H brought from portland. I wonder if they were one of the ones I could have visited when I was in portland in 2014.

A and I planned to go to one of the nearby steakhouses for lunch but we were invited to lunch at the hotel by the awards review committee. I had the burger and a glass of wine. I heard the burger was good, it was okay.

And so after lunch the conference officially started. Over 350 attendees, the biggest yet. After the opening remarks the sessions started and there were so many to choose from. I went to an open mic, a coffee chat and had some ice cream at the meet’n’greet in the evening. They also had hot dogs (we being in chicago and all) but I only had the sausage and some tomato slices; I was calling it sausage salad hahaha.

Had some official things to do afterwards, which didn’t take long.

In the evening, I and a group of others were invited to a dinner celebrating the wedding of our friends L and C. They had officially gotten married a few months ago and wanted to celebrate with us, it was very sweet. The event started with a lovely, loving movie and several people stood up to make short speeches. Very touched to have been invited and I wish the couple the best.

chicago trip day 08

Woke up at 5.30am because we had an early start. We loaded up my suitcase and muji bag of things for people and the silent auction and were off at 7am. It being a public holiday the roads were relatively clear. I took a chance and asked reception if the room was ready and it was. I dumped my bags and joined the group for breakfast and part of their meeting.

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Very interesting meeting but I and another meeting attendee had to leave at 11am to get a lyft to Wrigley to see the baseball game. A was at a downtown hotel and would meet me at our seats. I’m not sure why we needed to get to the park so early, we got there at 11.45am and they wandered off to their seats. I walked around the outside of the stadium, made my way inside and explored the concession stands. Lots of food–beer,hot dogs, snacks. Souvenir shops too. I got a goose island beer (had to look for it, it was mostly budweiser) and a giordano’s pizza–I asked for cheese and got pepperoni, sigh. Our seats were in the shade behind first base. The game started at 1.20pm, I had over an hour to wait. Again, not sure why the friends took that lyft so early.

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It being Independence Day, there was a parade of military personnel, a display of an American flag that covered most of the field, and we stood for the National Anthem.

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To be honest, I found the game boring. There’d be short bursts of action then long periods of waiting around for teams to get organised or change positions or talk strategy. It’s not continuous and makes the game very long, total I think this game was 3 hours.

The cubs were playing tampa bay rays. Cubs took a 1-0 lead but rays in one innings went up 1-6. It wasn’t till the end of the 9th innings that things got exciting. Cubs fought back to 5-6. Two out and two strikes there were people on bases. If the batter hit the ball far enough they’d have a chance to win. But in the end they didn’t so final score cubs 5 rays 6.

We took the red line to A’s hotel, stopping off to get some stuff at walgreens and visit cheesecake factory. Taxi to a blue line station, L to rosemont then taxi to the hotel.

chi113quesadilla

A little tired but hungry. Walked over to the retail park 5mins from the hotel. There was a band and food stalls as people celebrated the holiday. We found seats at a mexican place and I had blackened shrimp quesadilla which was quite good.

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Had a wine at the hotel bar and joined others to watch fireworks. Long day and tired.

chicago trip day 07

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Conference starts this week. Today we needed to move the boxes that are in storage to the hotel. We took a few larger boxes and drove over to the hotel, around 30mins away next to the airport. It’s my first time at the hotel.

Just a couple of steps into the lobby and I started seeing familiar faces. Lots of hellos and hugs. Couldn’t talk to someone for long because someone else would coma along and there would be a new round of hellos and hugs. It’s good.

Eventually we rounded enough people and cars to go to the storage place. Total 5 cars. I rode with Brenda since I know the way, BadgerBliss followed us. Good drivers, Brenda always knew where Karen was and Karen followed closely.

When we go to the storage place, we found that one of the cars had gone missing. Yikes!! Luckily everyone had mobile phones so no one is completely cut off or lost. We started loading and were so efficient that we were done within 10-15mins. The lost car arrived, and it turned out we didn’t need it. Clearly it’s a group who knew how to stuff and pack because we got everything into the 4 cars. Great teamwork.

The staff at the hotel met us at the loading dock and helped us unload the cars and bring the boxes to where they needed to be. We were quite tired at the end of the exercise, said goodbye to people and went home.

01.01.2017

After church we went to visit Papa. Lunch at the foodcourt and taxi up the hill.

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Instead of going home or going to the market, mum and I went to the coastal seafood area and walked around. Obviously it being new year’s day and a public holiday there were people everywhere. There were craft stalls, helpers singing and dancing, people playing with kites, a busker on electric violin and a huge dog meet & greet area which we avoided.

Mum queued up at a bakery for pineapple buns while I visited the wine shop next door. Bought a couple of craft beers: a chocolate stout and an oat stout. The chocolate stout was the last bottle.

Early dinner at one of the multitude of seafood restaurants lining the waterfront. Most offered a set meal depending on number of people. The portions were small, so they were able to fit in more variety. For two people we had razor clam, salt & chili scampi, lobster with noodles, steamed fish, bok choy and fried rice. They gave us seafood soup since mum asked for it. The quality is…just like mass produced food, not too bad. I liked the razor clam and scampi; the lobster portion was too small; the steamed fish was one of those with a very soft texture that I don’t like; the fried rice was way too salty. It’s a touristy area and the food reflects that.

family christmas

Christmas Day at middle island. Quite a long journey for mum and I, but the 260 bus came first and it turns out that it’s really, really quick–only 3 stops and no one got on at the intervening 2 stops. A long walk from the beach to the landing pier, we literally ran into Tony who was walking slowly on his own while R and D was out hiking. Everyone gathered at the small pier for the shuttle boat.

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Not very crowded at middle island. Mum and I ordered lobster roll and we all ordered stuff for the bbq: prawns, sausages, veggie sausages, potato, corn. The prawns were ginormous but the lobster roll was anemic. Since it’s something like double the price of lobster rolls I’ve had in the US, I won’t order it again.

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Sis and G didn’t come to lunch as G wasn’t feeling well. We went back to their place in the afternoon to rest. I helped sis cook dinner, mostly vegetarian–roast potato, carrot, parsnip, pumpkin, onion, garlic with vegetarian bacon. There was non-vegetarian fried rice from middle island too.

No turkey today, but we do have our traditional turkey. A whole cooked one from the gourmet supermarket. More like a large chicken, the label says 9 pounds. My parents always get this cooked one so I’m not going to go against tradition and make a roast one. I stripped it into several ziplac bags of meat and two bags of bones. Surprisingly not as much meat as I expected.

christmas eve at the yacht club

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Christmas Eve always means mince pies and Christmas carols at the yacht club. Sill as crowded as past years around the chairs set out for elderly guests. Still drank too many glasses of mulled wine. Still brought ziploc bags for mince pies and chestnuts. The choir was pretty inept, depending on one person who knew the lyrics and could sing. Ah well, it’s Christmas spirit that is important.

Went back to the brands expo since mum wanted to buy more vitamin E cream. Had frozen yogurt finally, enough for dinner after the mince pies.

mid-autumn festival

It’s mid-autumn festival but tomorrow is the public holiday. Very thoughtful, people will stay out late to look at the moon and play with lanterns, so the day after is a holiday.

Thursday so office day. About 75% finished writing my paper, with just one or two sections to go. It’s over my 4 page target so there will be some cropping. Went to pick up my tenancy agreement and bought chicken sandwich for lunch. Happy hour with mm before going home. This place’s happy hour is normal priced drinks but $10 oysters. Good quality, sometimes cheap oysters are no good but this being a seafood restaurant seems to have gotten it right.

Mum was out with her friends but she came back for dinner. I cooked ribs and sweet potatoes yesterday already so she just needed to reheat it. Hahaha, she still managed to burn them, which is why I do the cooking.

mooncakeicecream

Our mooncakes were ice cream, sis gave me a haagen-dazs voucher for 4 mini ice cream mooncakes. Perfect.

2016 olympics

2016olympics

The Olympics finished. Didn’t watch a lot because the tv channel only showed the big sports like swimming and athletics. Very happy and proud that Team GB finished second in the medals table. So many greats, Katherine Grainger, Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams, Giles Scott, Max Whitlock, Nick Skelton, the divers, the hockey team and the entire cycling team. 67 medals in total, 2 more than London 2012, an impressive achievement for an away games.

Another way of looking: 7th weighted medals by team size which is very good too.

Special shoutout to the 10 countries winning their first gold medals: Bahrain, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Kuwait (as Independent), Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Tajikistan, Vietnam. It’s easy to focus on the big countries and big crowd-pleasing sports, the achievements of the smaller countries and smaller teams is proportionately even larger. And what about Sakshi Malik, who won India’s first ever medal, a silver in wrestling. Imagine the difficulty she’s had to overcome.

sportsmanship

There are no better embodiment of the Olympic spirit than Nikki Hamblin and Abbey d’Agostino, who were awarded the prestigious Pierre de Coubertin medal for fair play. One of the best moments of these Games.

olympics is here, remembering london 2012

The 2016 Olympics is here! Whilst there are undoubtedly problems due to many factors such as weather, illness, incompetence, corruption, the fact is that it’s an event that is worth getting excited about. I hope I can get my once-every-four-years fix of sports hardly seen on tv like handball, rowing, dressage. I’m also hoping that there is more coverage of the Paralympics, the athletes deserve so much more exposure.

Nostalgia time. Four years ago I experienced London 2012 at first hand, having been lucky enough to be in London at the right time and getting lucky with tickets. Been looking through my pics and posts. Pics: olympica | paralympics

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Catching the torch on the last full day before it got to Olympic Park. So, so, so glad I decided to hop on the bus. Holland Park was a good spot to see the relay pass not once but twice. Was at the right spot to see one of the handovers too.

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Getting a last minute ticket to see beach volleyball at Horse Guards’. Got a nice seat, the atmosphere was carnival-like and for a change I didn’t mind the drunken loud people around me. Watched until the last game ended at almost midnight shivering in the summer chill. Saw two big US names: Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

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Another last minute ticket to see archery. Walking distance, at Lord’s. Even tried my hand at it in the play area.

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I had tickets for 3 diving events, gave one set to Sis’ FIL. The first one was women’s 3m springboard final. First time at Olympic Park too, went there with mm early so we could explore. It was super sunday and I remember someone shouting that Andy Murray had just won the tennis gold medal and there were cheers all round.

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Diving was quite spectacular but ended quite quickly. The second diving was women’s 10m platform final, I had 4 tickets so CC and M could join.

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What was really enjoyable and eye-opening was going to see the Paralympics. I got a last minute ticket to see athletics. I’d never been to a track and field event in person. It was absolutely wonderful. Highlight was definitely David Weir winning the T54 1500m final.

ldnpara097murder

I had a day pass at Olympic Park and managed to see tennis, football, wheelchair rugby (murderball) and goalball. All very different. Tennis was wheelchair players. Murderball was so exciting, I can’t believe it’s not shown more on tv. Football was 5-a-side and blindfolded. Goalball was played in absolute silence.

ldnpara146fencing

My last Olympics/Paralympics outing as at Excel. Saw boccia, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and sitting volleyball. Love the quiet dignity of boccia and the excitement of fencing.

nycdc trip day 07 | gcls con day 04

Time flies. It’s saturday already.

The main event in the morning was the keynote speech. To a packed house, Fay Jacobs again gave us a masterful lesson on her humourous observations.

Lunch was back to high standards with roast turkey and beef. Second helpings again.

The last session I attended this con was one where authors discussed books by other people that they wish they’d written. Came away with a nice list of books to add to the reading list.

And then the mayhem started. Rehearsal for awards presenters went very well, we’d sent out notes beforehand so the whole thing only took 20mins. The time after rehearsal and before we needed to start the ceremony was supposed to be hooking up the computers and doing sound check. Argh! Tech difficulties of all sorts. Finally we ended up having to use someone’s computer and I had to copy over the ppt and fonts and get to grips with someone else’s machine. Nice mbp, so it was okay.

There wasn’t time to shower, gobbled sandwiches and had to be back at the tech desk.

Fortunately the rest of the ceremony went fine. There were a couple of tech hiccups, which thankfully most people didn’t notice. Didn’t go near the dance floor, had a nice chat with friends and shared wine. Was there till they closed the room down at 1am.

nycdc trip day 06 | gcls con day 03

Wasn’t planning on going to any of the morning sessions but since I was up, I went to one about making apps and games from books. So glad I did! StoryStylus allows users to create games that are either a representation of their book’s story, or use characters in a standalone game. The UI seems straightforward and they are keen to come into our community. This should be a session for next year, especially since the company is in Toronto.

More learning at a session about writing what we know, or how we should develop knowledge that our characters know. Then time for our special speaker. Rachel Spangler did a fantastic job in dove-tailing her own experience and that of the past 10-20 years’ history to make a call for action. Build a bigger table, she said. Increase exposure, increase tolerance, build our history. What a great speech.

Lunch was buffet again but less good than yesterday’s. Mostly pasta which I found heavy. No second helpings.

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Skipped the afternoon sessions to go do laundry with JC. It was fantastic to spend time with her, she’s smart and thoughtful. I even got to try Mexican coke. Even though I missed the book club, it was time well spent.

I usually miss the author autograph session, spent the time chatting with another friend and sharing her huge bottle of Makers Mark. She asked a friend to buy what she thought was a regular bottle, but the one that showed up was supersized. So we will all try our best to make inroads.

Dinner with Carleen at Ruby Tuesday. I had the steak and lobster combo, with salad bar starter. Evening ended with karaoke.

nycdc trip day 05 | gcls con day 02

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First session of the day was already very interesting, worth waking up early for. Both Carleen and Brayden are seasoned communicators, and they shared insights on how to do author readings. Takeaways include: crossing out chunks of text that are less interesting when read out loud; memorising 70% of the reading; keeping a “readings only” book. And preparation, preparation, preparation.

Then it was a matter of hanging out with old and new friends. Lots of hugs.

The theme for this year’s conference is diversity and I went to a double session by again two seasoned communicators. The session did not feel long, there were discussions as well as guided lecturing by the leaders.

Lunch was buffet-style. Prior years were sandwiches that were not very value for money, which was why A and I did our own thing last year (yummy chicken salad). Hot food this year, and a huge difference. Braised chicken, pork loin, mash, veg, salad. So tasty I got a second helping. They even had grab-and-go sandwiches for those who didn’t sign up for the food option at reasonable prices, so the non-food option attendees can sit with everyone. One thing I missed out on last year was socialising at lunch, although we could have chosen to eat our salads at the main area rather than back in our room.

After lunch was the members’ meeting, where Mary formally took over from Liz as ED. Finance report was encouraging, the memories of being in the red is a distance, but not forgotten, memory. Went to the first half of the social media class and then it was our session on awards. Very fee attendees, but those who came had great questions. So great that we continued our discussion and I missed the next session.

Dinner with Carleen at the hotel restaurant. I had sea bass which was fabulous. I even recommended it to the new friends I made at last night’s dinner. Stuck around chatting with people at the bar, another regular event at the con.

nycdc trip day 04 | gcls con day 01

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Woke up early for 8am gathering at the hotel lobby. The destination was the Library of Congress, at an event hosted by the LC-Globe group. When they heard about us coming into town for the conference, they wanted to invite some of our authors for a reading. In addition, they offered us a tour of the LoC and I was one of the fortunate ones to have been able to secure a place on the tour.

The LoC is the American version of the British Library, housing a vast collection of books, papers, music, audio and all sorts of research material. Anything that is copyrighted has a copy at the LoC, and they do not limit by subject, format, or language.

We started at the lobby and the balcony, as the tour doesn’t go into the actual library itself. Really really impressive, opulent decoration. As our guide Nick said, the purpose was to

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The view from the balcony into the library was enough to show how wonderful it is.

We were able to see Thomas Jefferson’s library, a collection of books contributed by Jefferson from his personal library. Over 6,000 books that the LoC paid US$24,000 for. What was interesting was that he classified his books under 3 main categories: memory, reason, and imagination. For instance, a history book would fall under memory and a science book under reason.

Some of the books were lost in a fire, but the LoC has been diligently replacing what they could from the library’s own archives or by purchasing elsewhere. Again, impressive.

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There was also several exhibitions inside the LoC. The America Reads exhibition showed a selection favourite books chosen by the public. Lovingly preserved first editions of many popular classics. Another exhibition was of the personal papers and works of Jacob Riis. Then another one of maps. We also saw one of 3 copies of the Gutenburg Bible. All in all, lots to see.

We walked through one of the underground tunnels connecting the buildings to the reading. Felt like a member of the Secret Service. The author reading was attended by our group as well as LoC staff. Great authors reading their representative works. Afterwards when they had a signing session, I went over to the registration office and applied for a Library of Congress library card. They looked at my driver’s licence, took a picture and I had my own card in 5mins. Very cool!

Got back to the hotel with just enough time to get my registration badge before the conference started. After the introductions and acknowledgements, we went straight to sessions. I attended two vastly different sessions: one on how to overcome distractions when working from home and another one that touched on this year’s theme of diversity. I skipped the third session to get a breather and to explore the vendor room. I brought a few things for the silent auction so I took them down too.

The first evening is always the ice cream social. I’d only had some string cheese in the morning and a doughnut whilst at the LoC so I was hungry. The ice cream helped. Someone said there was beer tasting at the bar so a few of us went. The tasting was only a small sample of a locally brewed porter. It was nice, so we ordered a glass each.

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Dinner was from a food truck that was organised specially for us this year. They were late, but didn’t matter. A bunch of us went outside to the car park. Today it was barbeque. I had the platter: chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork and chose 2 sides of mac’n’cheese and collard greens. Came with a cornbread. Went really well with the porter.

Went over to the lounge and was “kidnapped” to join a dinner group. I was still hungry but it was the opportunity of joining this group that was the incentive. Learned a lot just from a couple of hours in their illustrious presence.

conference prep: silent auction, snacks

Everyone is getting ready for the conference in July. My research and reservations for the trip are done for the most part.

I haven’t decided what to bring for the silent auction. I usually bring alcohol of some sort: last year was Nikka from the Barrel and a few years ago Writers Tears. May be I’ll bring one of the ice wines from my box of 12, or umeshu brandy if I can find it again, or one of the cute Tussock Jumper wines I saw yesterday.

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I have a beautiful nib pen and letter opener set handmade from glass that I bought in Venice a long, long time ago. Even the boxes are pretty. I don’t have use for them, hopefully they can fetch a good price.

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And since the conference is in Washington DC, I may bring this old fashioned souvenir plate. Mum and I found it when we were tidying up and it was originally destined for the charity shop. It belonged to my grandparents, so they must have bought it in the 1960s or 1970s. Does it count as an antique? May be someone will like it for the nostalgia factor.

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As for snacks I bring to give out. Carleen wants picnic so that’s a trip to the supermarket. Should I bring wasabi peas (lower middle of collage) again? I saw genuine UK cadbury’s (lower right) at a snack shop, may be that will appeal to some. Or kinder eggs, since apparently they are banned in the US. Hmm, may be not the kinder eggs, don’t want to risk being fined $2500 per egg. How ridiculous.

new year’s eve

Went with Sis to the New Year’s Eve event at the FCC. They have unlimited food & drink from 7pm, so we got there early and found our table. Luckily it’s in the quiet room. The FCC is a narrow building so guests were seated in all the different restaurants and bars. The food was also spread out: cold buffet at the bistro on the ground floor, hot food in the main restaurant upstairs, dessert downstairs at the bar. The wait staff kept the prosecco and wine coming.

nyefcc03lobster

The food was a bit hit and miss. The cold seafood was great. Sashimi cut fresh and oysters shucked fresh too. It meant a long queue, but no one seemed to mind. Other seafood included prawns, crab legs and lobster. All very good. The hot food consisted of roast (a dry-looking beef, another dry-looking ham and lamb rack that was really rare), an entire row of deep fried food, an Indian station and pasta. There was no hot veg. Seriously, I got the lamb and was looking around for something simple like carrots but nope. I ended up snagging some sag paneer. Dessert was nothing to write home about either. But again, no one seemed to mind. Free flow alcohol and a good atmosphere made up for the mediocre food.

There was a band upstairs and a DJ on the ground floor. At close to midnight, everyone congregated in the main areas and there was a big cheer during the countdown.

A video posted by invisiblecompany (@mal088) on

True to tradition (it is the FCC after all), a real bagpiper played Auld Lang Syne.

We left around 12.30am. Sis got a taxi and I walked a mile uphill back home. I think I had 4 proseccos, 3 (or 4?) red wine, 1 whisky (glenfarclas 12) and a mint tea. Sounds like a lot but it was over 6 hours with food.

christmas day dinner

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Christmas Day dinner was traditional and fairly straightforward. Mum and I went to the market in the morning to get potatoes, carrots, salad and other veg for the week. We even found a chicken carcass for the gravy.

Menu was turkey, lamb rack, roast potato & carrot, salad. As per our family tradition, the turkey was bought pre-cooked. It’s actually really nice, juicy and not dry at all. The problem was because it doesn’t come with giblets and we can’t use the bones for this meal there is nothing to make gravy with. Hence the chicken carcass from the market which I used to make stock together with mirepoix and some herbs. Two hours at a simmer, then use it to deglaze the lamb rack roasing tray before reducing to the proper consistency. I made the lamb a tad on the rare side so it’ll warm up with the gravy and the leftovers isn’t overcooked.

Sis’ family is in the UK, so she came over. We facetimed them and shared our dinner plans.

No room for dessert, we finished off a bottle of really nice gewurtz from the US and some non-alcoholic mulled wine.

christmas eve at the yacht club

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The yacht club does this every year. Early evening on Christmas Eve means mulled wine, mince pies, hot chestnuts and carol singing.

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Didn’t feel like it’s Christmas Eve because it was 27ºC. Argh, I was sweating buckets. The mulled wine was of course hot, so made me even hotter. It was nice though, could do with more spices and fruit. The mince pies were great–not too sweet, flaky pastry, small enough to handle. The queue at the candyfloss station was too long and too many kids so we didn’t even try.

Sis got other snacks too–satay, sausage rolls, chicken nuggets and chips. The satay was their usual high standard.

Carol singing started at 6pm. The enthusiastic choir was mostly kids of all ages with a few adults. Started with Away in a Manger, went through the classics like Deck the Hall, Jingle Bells, The Holly and the Ivy and one of my favourites, Once in Royal David’s City. If only the crowd would have quietened down so there was less background noise.

a huge box of christmas presents

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The post office left me a card on Friday that I have something to be picked up. I went over today and was pleasantly surprised that it was a HUGE box! It fit perfectly inside my backpack, leaving space for nothing else.

I saw from the stamps that it was from A. Yay!!! Christmas presents.

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Everything inside was perfect. Dutch sweets and biscuits, as well as a packet to make the wonderful apple tart. Even the card was Dutch, a beautiful scene of bikes on the canal.

But wait, there’s more. British stuff!! PG Tips, jaffa cakes, a mini christmas pud and QUAVERS!!! I don’t care that I’m going overboard with the exclamation marks. My friend sent me QUAVERS!!! A is the most thoughtful, most considerate friend ever. Or, I’m so transparent about what I like and don’t like, teehee.

And there’s even a moleskin notebook for Washington DC. Moleskin is the sort of geeky stuff I’ve been hankering after, but never quite bringing myself to buy. Now look what she’s started. Then again, it reminds me that I won’t see her next year. I must remember to include her vicariously in everything I do in DC.

gcls day05

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mint pic credit Pol Robinson @polrobin

The last day of the conference, sad sad sad. I managed to say hi to a few more people before the closing remarks by our ED. Brunch followed, and more socialising. Saying goodbye is the hardest part, especially since we only get to see each other once a year and some friends may not be attending the next conference. Our group managed to plan pranks for one of us with a giant bag of mints and come up with panel ideas at the same time. I also talked to one of the winners R about LL, and she says she will motivate me into finishing it.

Finally we had to leave the room so the staff can clear up. Helped break down one of the vendor tables—lots of physical labour putting books into boxes. Went to the foodcourt for lunch (shared a 25-piece chicken finger bucket and got a hurricane daiquiri with tequila shot). After getting our sustenance, we convened at armchairs in the hotel lobby for a game of trivial pursuit. We only played two games, but we looked up towards the end of the second game and it was almost 7pm. Great game; I’m usually not too bad at trivial pursuit, but the US-centric decks we were playing were less familiar to me. I had great teammates though, I was blown away by their general knowledge. The most fun part was watching my teammates and the other team confer and discuss possible answers. The final result: 1 game each.

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Dinner was at the hotel restaurant. A few of us shared a dozen chargrilled oysters—the garlic butter was yummy. I had lobster with spinach risotto—the lobster was fresh and I added some of the garlic butter for additional flavour.

We planned to play another game after dinner. Ended up chatting and sharing stories into the wee hours.

I was looking forward to the conference with a mixture of dread and anticipation. I managed to go to most of the sessions I wanted, skipped a few because of award stuff and because I just wanted a little time at the gym. I don’t know why, but I get more sociable during the conference. This was the biggest conference so far, at 350 attendees. This meant I wasn’t able to meet as many new friends, spending most of my social time greeting old friends. Need to do correct that in future conferences.

Next year’s conference is at Washington DC and the following year in Chicago. I plan on going to both, but it had crossed my mind that I should go every other year because it’s expensive in terms of both time and money. What I spend coming to the con can be reallocated to another trip with mm. Then again, the conference experience is so unique that it’ll be a hard decision to make.

gcls day04

tl;dr: long day, great awards night, I got a huge surprise

gclstemp40dorothy

Too tired to go to the first session, and we had to convene to work through the presentation deck. We finished in time to go to the keynote speech by Dorothy Allison. I’d never heard of her before, although I understand she is a pioneer and very famous for both her body of work and her activism. Her speech was…there are no words to describe. Stunning, personal, mesmerising are the few that I can come up with. I started at the front then moved to the back to get pictures of the audience. At the end of her speech there was a tremendous standing ovation and I got regular pics and took a panorama of the room with the iphone too.

After lunch was a roundtable on reviewing. There were some very good discussions from the panelists and the audience. Not everybody agreed on every point, but that’s because we are not robots. The discussion was civil and passionate as it’s a topic we are all invested in. Interesting question, if there is absolute no redeeming qualities in a book whatsoever should the reviewer post a review? One camp says yes, to prevent other people from wasting their money; another camp says if there is nothing good to say, don’t say it.

We had awards run-through with the presenters at 3pm so we went over to the ballroom early to check it out. To our horror the hotel staff had only just begun to put out tables and equipment. They worked quickly and efficiently though, moved the tech table to where we wanted and worked out details of stage placement. Very professional. Carleen did a good job with the run-through, explaining the proceedings and expectations succinctly. Unlike last year we had more than 1hr to get ready. I’d grabbed spare lunch bags for dinner so I was prepared. A got me a diet coke too, so thoughtful. Had a sandwich, took a shower and went downstairs to set up. A bit of miscommunication with people coming in and out of the ballroom before official doors open was sorted quickly and we were ready to start the awards ceremony at 7pm.

The MCs this year were two of our own members and they planned funny sketches involving lost & found, tweets and cocktails in between announcement of winners in each category. We had planned theme songs for each category as well as each winner. As I ran the slides, Carleen ran the soundtrack. Everything ran smoothly.

The only part of the deck I didn’t have was the Director’s Award. This is the only non-writing award and is given to a volunteer for their contribution. When it was the category’s turn to be announced, I switched the main screen over to Carleen’s laptop and waited. It was nice to have a rest from tense pushing of the down arrow all night. Ha! Little did I know, I would have no rest, they gave the award to: me. My first thought was, what are you guys doing? Why me? What am I supposed to do now? Everybody had turned around and was cheering and clapping and standing up, Carleen had to tell them to sit back down to run the rest of the slides. I was still in shock and she had to tell me to go up to the stage to get the award. Easier said than done, it was like an obstacle course trying to negotiate tables. Apparently I said something like thank you to the board and told people to volunteer. Can’t remember. The only thing on my mind was to run back to the table to set up the slides for the next category, which was on my mba.

Deep breath. I’m incredibly honoured that the Directors think I deserve the award. I do a lot of running around during conferences—I take pictures, help move stuff, do the posters and this is my second year responsible for the award slides. But so do a lot of people. The entire organisation is staffed by volunteers and there are many others to put in as much, or even more than me. A big thank you to the Directors. Oh, the Exec Director gave me a bottle of Highland Park Dark Origins—if I had to buy a whisky right now, it’d be what I buy, perfect (okay, she actually asked me, under the guise of needing whisky adviceaas a gift for someone).

After my award, I had to focus again to get back to the tech table. The final awards are the big ones—two popular choice awards, one for cover design and one for a book. The Lee Lynch Classic award was presented by Lee herself to Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Rita Mae was there in person to accept it. Karin Kallmaker did the presentation for Trailblazer award to Joan Nestle which was accepted by Dorothy Allison.

Last year after the awards I packed up, stayed for a few minutes when the dance began then went back up to the room. This year I still packed up, but was too excited to go to bed so I stayed to chat with a bunch of people. There was copious consumption of wine, and someone bought me a Jameson 12. We closed out the dance floor, with the amazing Lee Lynch taking my hands and us doing a jaunty bouncy number together—can’t call it dancing, it was more like skipping.

gcls day03

Actually set the alarm to go to a 8.30am session, about the changing landscape of the industry, with so many authors taking the self-published route. The panelists are both traditional and self-published, a couple of them having published both ways. The pros for self-publication are control and money as they get a higher percentage; the cons are time-consuming and it’s not always more lucrative—without the machinery of a traditional publishing house, sales tend to drop off after a couple of months unless the author embarks on intensive marketing. Interesting. I had plans to go to the next session but spent it doing some work and chatting with a couple of friends.

The mid-morning session was on the judging process. Not as well attended as hoped, since we were up against a bigwig reading. Still, it’s the first time readers, authors and publishers were given an insight into the book judging process, and kudos for transparency. Lots of good questions from the audience too.

Immediately afterwards was the author auction, which took a different format this year. Much more low key, much more mature. An author may participate in either the silent or live part, and during the live auction there was no need to come up to the stage and be treated like a product on sale.

Ali Vali was the special speaker was after lunch. She is one of the membership and she talked about her own writing process. She was funny and her speech had no dull moments. It’s wonderful to hear all these experience and amazing authors speak with authority and yet so much humbleness.

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There were a couple more sessions and the author autograph. I skipped them in favour of going to the gym, although I only managed 5k on the treadmill. A and I went for an early dinner at Drago’s, the hotel restaurant. After hearing stories about the “sexy” alligator nuggets we shared one as a starter. Tasted like somewhere in-between tough chicken breast and a dense white fish. I had crocodile before and didn’t like it, alligator was better. For mains I had the oyster and shrimp platter, since I had wanted to try the one at Mother’s yesterday. Nice food, but expensive, $50 each including a beer for me. I think I’ve had enough fried food on this trip for the rest of the year.

Team meeting was followed by a great stand-up show by Fay Jacobs (she was actually sitting on a stool but whatever) which recounted anecdotes throughout her life culminating in her and her wife’s involvement in the fight for marriage equality in their home state of Delaware. I was quite tired and embarrassed to report that I nodded off in the middle of the show, it’s no reflection on the quality of the show. I was determined to stay till the end.

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Traditionally Friday night is karaoke night. Not as many attendees as usual, some regulars were missing. Most of the singers had great voices or sang with enthusiasm. We had the “I Feel Pretty” tribute to our friend Pam—the DJ didn’t have the music so we all got the lyrics on our phones and sang without music. I had been waiting for this one, I left immediately afterwards.

gcls day02

At breakfast we ran into a newbie conference attendee and we had a great chat. She is an experienced reader, runs a reading group, is well travelled and knowledgable about many things. Hopefully will be able to participate more in the organisation. I think I made a new friend.

The first panel I went to was about how to do research when writing about a foreign country and times. The panelists were divided into the method writing camp, who insisted that the only way is to visit the countries involved; and the practical camp, who said that it’s not always possible because of distance, cost and sometimes danger. One writer writes about an invented country, so the method method doesn’t work. I had things to do so didn’t stay for the entire panel.

The next session was an extremely fun one, where well-known authors told a story and we had to vote on whether they were telling the truth or not. We learned that KK may or may not have 19 pairs of shoes; Rach may or may not have sat on the lap of another panelist; KG may or may not have been married to a man; LL may or may not have taken acid and MKM may or may not have ridden on a Harley with a motorcycle gang. This session should be repeated every year.

After lunch I went to a masterclass about the history of our books from the 1920s until now. Great class, delivered professionally and, even though it was in lecture format and a subject I’m neither familiar nor usually interested in, not boring at all. I felt woefully inadequate as I had only read one of the books on the list, and everyone in the class was waxing lyrical about this or that classic that spoke to them.

Next panel was about research. Well moderated and less contentious than the morning’s session about foreign countries. Agreed with the authors that evernote and scrivener is great, as is mindmapping. It’s important to have a balance between information dump and not enough information. It’s also more respectful to the readers to state correct facts, even if they are uncomfortable; than to make mistakes in books.

The membership meeting was next. Opening remarks by the Director was followed by financial reports and updates on awards and the new website. I also received a volunteer award and my 5-year pin. Yay.

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Since I had a meeting, A and I went quickly over to mother’s for dinner. Real southern food in a no-frills setting. We lined up against a counter, gave our order and found seats. The wait staff took our receipt and brought our food. I had baked black ham, the glazed outer crust which is normally the bit that gets the marinade. Very nice. Served with a choice of 3 sides, I had turnip greens, green beans & tomato and red beans & rice. It’s never going to win any prize for presentation but it’s honest, simple food. The fried shrimp and oysters and seafood looked good. I hope I have another chance to try before I leave.

gcls day01

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The conference started in the morning with volunteers gathering to help with stuffing the swag bag, setting up tables, organising the silent auction. The venue in the hotel is based on a courtyard concept, with rooms radiating from the central courtyard. Of course it became the focal point and meeting place. There were hugs galore as we see friends and meet new friends.

I brought a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel for the silent auction. I found out that because it’s 500ml it’s not considered a regulation size for import into the US, which means it’s not available in the US. I also put some in a hip flask and told people to come find me for samples. The usual suspects came up to me, as well as a couple of new friends. I think at the end of the day the auction has reached $55.

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The conference proper started after lunch (we had chicken salad we made from stuff we bought at the supermarket) when the director made a welcome speech. The first session after that was a readers trivia session. I wasn’t planning in staying, but I ended up staying the whole session. I even won a book! (real physical book, which now I need to figure out how to take home, it’s one on my list to buy.)

Went running at the gym while the con virgin meeting was going on, took a quick shower and was back for the ice cream social. More hugging friends and meeting new friends.

Dinner was at M’s house, she invited a bunch of people to her place for bbq. We had cocktail, very juicy pork, dirty rice, boiled peanuts, bread pudding. She showed me how to make a mojito and let me make a couple. There were a lot of people, and I was getting a bit angsty because of the crowd. Took a taxi back with a few others just in time to catch JD in concert. Good attendence and she was absolutely fantastic. A long, event-filled day. Exhausting but fun.

new orleans day 02

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Moved hotels today, around 5-10mins walk from the Doubletree to the Hilton. Room wasn’t ready so left our stuff with our friends J&H, chatted a bit then went to lunch with them plus 2 other friends M&M. M is local so she took us to crabby jacks, a fried food casual hut dining place. A and I shared a shrimp & oyster po’ boy with fries. Even regular was a large portion. Basically fried food stuffed in a roll. Tasted very good, the seafood was fresh and the sandwich overstuffed. Freshly brewed iced tea too, the kind where the tea is still hot and melts the ice cubes. We were 6 people in the car, which was very cramped. I ended up in the boot (it’s an SUV so wasn’t like transporting a body.)

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By the time we got back to the hotel we were able to check in. Not the room A picked, but still on a high floor with a partial river view. We quickly unpacked and walked to the supermarket. Longer walk than expected, probbaly 20mins one way. Bought salad, hummous, roast chicken and soft drinks. Got caught in the heavy shower too so got soaked for the second time in as many days.

Rushed back to the hotel to change shirts then downstairs to meet with others who volunteered to help shift stuff. M (who took us to crabby jack’s) is the local liaison so a lot of boxes were shipped to her house. Took 4 cars and 9 volunteers to bring them all back to the hotel.

Dinner with Car and another friend L at the brewpub next to the hotel. I had a maibock and, since I’m all burgered and steaked out, a bourbon glazed salmon with kale quinoa pomegranate salad and grilled asparagus. Very nice, the vegetables especially. After dinner we had some official stuff to do, actually a lot; I didn’t get back to my room till 12.30am. Long day. Even longer tomorrow when the conference starts.

CNY year of the sheep

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The obligatory CNY greeting. Year of the sheep this year. Woke up, hugged parents, got red packet from them, sent greetings to sis and mm, spent the day reading and watching tv. Had a chuckle to see the previews of the Great British Sewing Bee; I don’t think it’ll be as popular as Bake-off. Yes we had the non-vegetarian version of the traditional vegetarian dish 齋 for lunch accompanied by abalone and turnip cake but that was it.

cny sheep decoration at landmark

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Met with my FA, and remember why I’m so glad I don’t need to brave the traffic jam and huge crowds every day to go to and from work. The flipside of not working is, of course, the need for money to pay the bills. I don’t spend a lot, so it’s an easy request for her to make a small withdrawal from the account. Hopefully by the time I need the next withdrawal, the portfolio will have regained that amount…and more. We’re switching out of Europe into UK, and exiting Latin America. There’s some in Energy that has gone down, but we’re not panic selling.

The CNY decorations are up. The Landmark mall has a display with clouds and sheep and a big tree in the atrium. Not sure why clouds, but they look quite cute.

farmfest with mum

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full set: flickr

Went with mum to an event called farmfest, an organic farming exhibition organised by the department of agriculture and fisheries. The event was split into roughly 3 sections: 1) organic vegetables as an exhibit and stalls selling them; 2) dried goods stalls selling mainly dried fish; 3) household goods stalls like kitchenware, tea and snacks.

We didn’t buy too many things. The organic veg looked good, but at double the price of the market, we weren’t tempted. Bought some dried fruit, dried vegetarian food (a bit like diced quorn) and some natural powder that can be used for cleaning or even shampooing. Everything was for mum or the household, I didn’t get anything for myself.

Walked through a park to the cheapest michelin-starred restaurant in the world. We got there before 6pm so there was no wait, although we had to share a table. This is a neighbourhood place after all. Eight baskets or plates of dim sum (we ordered extra pork buns to takeaway) for US$20, no service charge. 

family christmas day lunch

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It rained almost all day, but it didn’t dampen our mood. We trekked all the way out to middle island for lunch. Long bus ride, long walk along the seafront (so windy umbrellas were useless) then the rickety small boat came and picked us up.

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We had cheese fondue, calamari, satay, fried rice and for dessert shared an apple pie and a small pavlova. One bottle of wine. Not a typical Christmas meal, everything was enjoyable. It’s been a long, long time since I had fondue and this one was good.

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It was still raining but we decided to check out the bbq option. The staff there tended to the pits, and it was just a matter of ordering from the counter. We got a few giant tiger prawns and a set of cumberland sausages. Too full to eat, we wrapped everything up to take home.

Home by 4pm. Did prep for tomorrow’s turkey lunch. Quite tired, and with a sore ankle (sprained it yesterday, no running for a few days). No need for dinner, just had some fruit. A peaceful, quiet Christmas. 

Christmas ads

I just spent an hour or so voluntarily making myself cry (or weep silently) over a few ads. Of course they are heart-wrenching, they are the British Christmas ads, which are like the superbowl equivalent.

Top of the class is, as always, John Lewis. This year’s Monty the Penguin. John Lewis never, ever fails the GBP (great british public), they are as dependable as, well, John Lewis. Three tissues. (John Lewis is a well-respected, well-loved employee-owned department store. If I need something for the kitchen, or linens, or electronics, I will go to John Lewis first.)

Second is the gingerbread stall, a story of overcoming shyness, from Waitrose. One tissue, I think. BTW, Waitrose is a part of the John Lewis Group.

The Tesco, Boots and Mulberry ones are good too. I tried to like the Sainsbury’s one about the famous WW1 football match, but felt my emotions were too manipulated. Check out the rest at mashable.

Well, Happy Christmas anyway. I always say Happy Christmas rather tha Happy Holidays / Hannukah / Solstice / [other festive occasion in December]. Christmas is Christmas. It’s a time for families, food, presents, reflection and rest. The guardian had an article about new arrivals’ first Christmas in the UK and one of the interviewees, an Indonesian, said,

although I am a Muslim, I celebrate Christmas because it’s an important part of British culture and I feel it is respectful

Embrace the occasion. Forget unnecessary political correctness.  

antipasti buffet lunch

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For early family christmas lunch we opted for an italian restaurant near my place. We all chose the antipasti buffet which came with unlimited prosecco and soft drinks. Quite nice food: salmon, cold cuts, salad, grilled vegetables, stuffed tomatoes, bread. Worth it for the prosecco, not so value for money for mum and niece, I had niece’s portion of diet coke.  

#82 two family activities

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Tasks #81-83 of 101.1001 are to participate in 3 new family activities or go to 3 new places. This is 2 of 3 and task #82.

I went to 2 family events today, first with my own family then with mm’s family.

In the morning, I braved the long bus journey (that didn’t make sense geographically speaking) to go to my niece’s school’s christmas bazaar. The bazaar was split into 2 buildings and 2 main areas. One had stalls selling all sorts of stuff: christmas decorations, chocolate, gluhwein, stollen, jams, cards, clothing and bric-a-brac. The other area had food & wine stalls selling sparkling wine, wine, beer, bratwurst, raclette, asian food, cakes and waffles.

We wandered around the selling area and mum bought biscuits and chocolate while I bought a couple of stollen. In the food area we had bratwurst and waffles. I tried a couple of their beers.

Very tired. I conked out on sis’ sofabed for 45mins in the afternoon.

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The evening activity was mm’s niece’s birthday. Her parents organised a bbq at a large outdoor bbq establishment. The staff set up our pit and we had a set of the usual: pork chop, chicken wing, scallop, prawn, fish balls, sweet potato and the like. The main attraction was a whole suckling pig which we grilled ourselves on a rotisserie set up over the pit. The suckling pig had already been partially cooked so it was just a matter of browning the meat and crisping up the skin.

When the skin was crisp enough, the staff came and chopped it all up for us. Yes, definitealy crispy skin and juicy meat.

Ice cream birthday cake to follow. I had 2 portions. All in all, a family day and very tired.
 

gcls day 05 | two weddings

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The last day of the conference is pretty much wrap up by the exec director, brunch (bacon, eggs, muffin) and lots of hugging. Sad that I won’t see my friends for another year, but happy to have the opportunity to see them at all.

I did do something I’ve never done before, and likely never have the opportunitty to again. I was invited to two weddings!

The first one was at the hotel deck. The couple were both in white and the ceremony officiated by a great, great friend of everyone. It was lovely and warm and I could see the emotions clearly on the face of the couple. People cried good tears and I felt honoured to have attended. I don’t know the couple very well, a friend of theirs asked if I could help take pictures at the last minute.

The second wedding I had been invited to earlier, also to help take pictures. It was again, full of love, emotion, warmth and happiness. It was indoors, at a chapel across the way at Vancouver WA. Many family and friends attended, as did a group of us from the writing community.

A beautiful and very thoughtful ceremony. The couple (and their son) poured coloured sand, exchanged lighted candles and were bonded by a series of rainbow ribbons. So symbolic. We stayed for the reception, the dance and even got to try the wedding cake. Great day.

gcls day 04

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Lots of running around getting the award presentation done. First thing in the morning checking projection connection, then with the team to go through the presentation one last time.

Attended 2 sessions: one with food with writing and the second one the annual panel with new writers and their journey towards publication.

More awards meeting and by the time we broke off we had just over 30mins to get something to eat, have a shower and changed. A little bit disappointed at the lack of time and everyone else (including those in charge) seemed to have just gone off for their own happy dinner whilst abandoning the awards team. I mean, we also needed to eat and we had no time. I only had time to pop into taco bell across the road to get a burrito which I had to literally shove down my mouth.

The tech desk was at the back of the ballroom where the awards were to be held. I was nervous and stressed because the slide order had to be spot on. 237 slides total. I also had to be careful I didn’t hit the arrow button too early especially when the winners were announced. By the time the ceremony was finished I was knackered. I stayed to congratulate people and to watch a couple of dances. Needed quiet time.

gcls day 03

Attended two two-part master classes today. One on historical fiction research and one on what to include in a good manuscript. The historical fiction one included a hands-on exercise where we were split into small groups, given a scenario and told to research and write a passage. It was fun and I think my group did really well. Then again we had 3 editors who write, and a writer…and me.

Today was also special speaker day and our special speaker was Ann Bannon, a true pioneer and an icon.

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Lunch was chicken sandwich, potato salad, cookie and an apple. Dinner was at bj’s brewpub. Had a red jeremiah (quite dark but not hoppy), wedge salad and for mains seared scallop with rice and asparagus.

Evening activity was karaoke. Mainly sat around chatting and drinking the wine I got from Mt Hood winery out of a coffee paper cup. Took part in the annual “I feel pretty” group sing in honour of a lost sister. Stayed quite late.

gcls day 02

The conference proper started today. A welcome from the exec director then it was to sessions. I went to one called “I wish I’d written that” followed by one about different mystery genres. I learned the difference between cozy (American spelling) and hard-boiled mysteries and which one contains knitting. Lunch was roast beef sandwich, potato salad, cookie and an apple. After lunch it was the members’ meeting followed by a well attended panel with several illustrious editors.

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At the members’ meeting they were giving out awards and certificates for volunteers and I was honoured to be one of the recipients of an award.

Didn’t go to the next session. My friend, editor P, gave me some great advice about LL. I did manage to catch the board meeting and by then it was past 6pm.

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A and I went to dinner at the nearby boomers barbeque restaurant. Between the two of us, we ordered ribs, beef brisket, pulled chicken, pork loin and hot links. I had a beer and sides of corn and coleslaw. I liked the ribs and brisket best. $45 total with tips.

gcls day 01

Couldn’t sleep last night until 5am, so didn’t wake up till 9.30am. Finished some work then hung around the vendor area helping a little with set up. Lots of volunteers completed the task quickly.

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Spent the afternoon watching Holland vs Argentina world cup semi-finals. Disappointing result for us, as Argentina won on penalties. Ah well.

My stomach wasn’t feeling well, A and I went to Safeway and got some soup. Then it was time for the Meet and Greet at the vendor room. Not much to do, said hello to more people. Early escape back to the room to watch tv.

cny roast lamb

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Normally for CNY people eat certain traditional foods because they sound like certain lucky words, or with stuff like abalone is to show how prosperous they are, or with chicken because there’s always chicken in festive meals. These are good examples from Singapore, but don’t believe everything online: these are ridiculous and inaccurate examples.

For our CNY meal, we had…roast lamb, potatoes and carrots. Hahaha, definitely not traditional. But who cares, it’s cooking and eating food we like. It was a boneless leg of lamb that I roasted for 2hrs with the vegs. A little overdone, but still juicy. The gravy from the roasting tray and water that was used to parboil the vegs. There’s enough to serve 12 people, lots of yummy leftovers.