Recently in family first Category

in eating and drinking , family first |

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For gis’ birthday this year she picked lunch at jamie’s italian at the weekend. She even sent the email to all of us with the details.

I’ve only been to jamie’s italian in the UK, so was wondering if the menu ported over well. First of, the restaurant was huge, must have cost a pretty penny in rent. We started with cauliflower fritters and arancini to share. Everyone ordered pasta for mains. Mine was supposed to be the daily special of mussel spaghetti (I think it’s spaghetti, we had problems understanding the waitress’ english). Definitely in the can do better category. The entire dish was bland, as if no salt or pepper had been added. The shells of the mussels were broken and the greatest sin of all, the pasta was overcooked. An italian restaurant that doesn’t know how to serve al dente pasta, argh. Everyone’s pasta was overcooked too, and we had to ask for olive oil to loosen the pasta.

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The dessert redeemed them a little. Gis had pavlova, parents had cheesecake and I had gelato: vanilla, chocolate and sea salt caramel. Gave most of the chocolate to parents and they really liked it.

Originally I was going to look for a camera with gis but she was tired and wanted to go home. Mum and I did some food shopping then went home too.


in eating and drinking , family first |

Went to lunch with sis for her birthday. She wanted to take me to this restaurant where robert is an investor; it’s fine dining but there is a relatively reasonable set lunch. The restaurant is on the 28 and 29/F of one of the entertainment buildings in the central district. Fancy decoration, the upper floor is a bar with an open terrace; the lower floor has an open kitchen. The manager is a French guy who is knowledgeable and friendly. Apparently the head chef is a big shot, award winning or Michelin star or something like that. Many business people as well as ladies who lunch. Uh oh, we were two ladies lunching there too, does that make us one of them? eeeeek.

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For starters sis had duck foie gras terrine with citrus cranberry chutney and I had marinated quail salad with summer truffles. The terrine was full of flavour and smooth in texture. The quail was tender if a little salty. There was a lot of shaved truffles on my plate.

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We both opted for beef tartare for mains. It was fabulous. Fantastic cut of meat. Perfectly chopped, perfectly seasoned with subtle onion and capers. Topped with a runny poached egg. To finish we had the cheese board. Lovely cheese too, all from France, some not readily available here. We ordered a bottle of Fleurie—their wines are a bit expensive so I tried to get one that was good for a hot summer’s day that won’t break the bank.

Overall, a great meal. Definitely fine dining, and I’d probably feel uncomfortable at the prices at dinner. We plan to take our dad for for his birthday coming up in August.


in family first |

champagne

We had our pre-father’s day lunch a day early. My dad picked the restaurant (german pub buffet) and made the reservation himself. Sis and I paid though. Nice buffet, with salad, seafood, a really delicious poached salmon, pork knuckle, roast beef, sausages, sauerkraut and a small beer included. Dessert wasn’t as exciting, they had mango and blueberry dreyer’s ice cream which was more than enough.

Parents went off to the market and library. I was supposed to teenager-sit my niece in the evening because sis and Robert had a dinner. Most of the afternoon was spent sitting on sis’ armchair and reading. For dinner I made salmon and broccoli. Quite a late night, didn’t get home till 11pm.

in eating and drinking , family first , techtalk |

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Spent most of the day setting up mum’s new ipad. Her old ipad (my original gen 1 ipad) didn’t have that many apps on it, so I thought it’s simpler to download new apps fresh from the app store. Ended up getting her new apps like bbc news, travel, tv guide, games, dictionary and the new flickr app. Since she uses yahoo, I got her the yahoo mail app instead of the native mail app. And since she thinks the google.com page is a browser (and I’ve given up trying to explain the difference between browser and webpage) I replaced safari with google app.

After setup, we went to the computer place to get a cover and screen protector. She took a liking to the girl who sold us the screen protector and after browsing around other stores, went back to the girl’s shop to get a cover.

While we were at it, I got her a mifit step/sleep tracker, it’s now even cheaper, more like USD15. I set up the mifit app for her on her phone, and told her to wear the band to bed. Let’s see how it tracks her sleep.

One good thing about all this setting up, I’m a little bit more familiar with android than before.

We met up with my dad at the food court near the computer place for dinner. For all my efforts today, I thought I deserved a little reward. There’s this ice cream stall that sells 5 scoops of ice cream for USD1.50, so the 3 of us got 5 scoops to share. Chocolate, chocolate banana, mint choc chip, tofu, sesame. The scoops are small, which we liked. In terms of taste not stunning but not bad either. Definitely good value and worth trying again.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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For mum’s birthday this year, we had dinner at an italian restaurant near a) sis’ place, b) my old office. We stayed home for lunch cos it was so hot. Mum had her regular physiotherapy session which she didn’t want to reschedule. I went earlier to stop by the apple store to get her a new ipad—she said it was fine to get it later but I wanted her to have her present on her birthday.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded, mostly people at the bar out front taking advantage of happy hour. Mum had salmon, Papa had lasagna, sis had veal, my niece had spag bol and I had spaghetti aglio e olio. I asked mum over the weekend what sort of cake she wanted and she said cheesecake, so I made blueberry cheesecake. I asked the restaurant when I made the reservation if they would let us bring a cake and they said sure thing, no charge. Very nice of them! When we arrived, the manager took the cake to keep in the fridge, after our mains he brought it out and the staff had decorated the plate and put a few strawberries as decoration. I scattered more blueberries on top. It was well received, it’s one of the lightest cheesecakes I’ve ever made. We gave the restaurant a big tip.

I think Mum was very happy at her birthday celebration. She seemed to have a good meal and she complimented me on the cheesecake. She was happy, of course, with her ipad. Yay!! If she’s happy, we are all happy.


in family first |

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It’s International Women’s Day. There are articles where writers talk about the women who have most influenced their lives. Top of the list, their mums and grandmothers.

I must say I don’t feel influenced by Mum or either of my Grandmas. [Caveat: I don’t feel terribly influenced by anyone specifically so it’s nothing against Mum or Grandmothers.] I don’t think there’s any legacy they will pass to me. People who are chefs or go on cookery competition shows always say that their greatest cooking influence is their family. “I cooked at my grandmother’s knees” is a common sentiment.

I don’t have any family recipes passed down from the older generation. None of my grandparents cooked. Mum is an okay cook, but she is a better appreciater of food. My dad is the best cook in this group, and like me, he’s not the best at presentation.

I learned cooking from tv and reading recipes. Now I cook so I can share with my family. I wish I had a chance to cook for my grandmothers.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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Family lunch at middle island. We got there early, my niece and I even ran on ahead to catch the small boat whilst sis walked slower with parents. Sat outside on a day that was hotter than it’s been all winter. Should have worn short sleeves.

Ordered a mixed bag of food—calamari, pizza, fried rice, steamed veg. The main course was BBQ steak, prawns, salmon, sausage and chicken satay. The great thing about middle island is the big BBQ pit that the staff start and tend for us. I was put in charge of the cooking, and luckily I got everything cooked properly.

Went down to hang out at the beach for a while after lunch. My niece and I scrambled around the rocks (or rather, she scrambled around nimbly and I carefully negotiated the rocks), threw stones and she made a zen rock formation. Took a family selfie too, but no selfie stick, heh.

Was really tired, so it was a good thing we got home by 3pm. Took a nap even.


in family first , how the day went |

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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.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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Since we went out on Christmas Day, the traditional turkey and presents was on Boxing Day. Parents opted for a pre-cooked turkey, around 10 pounds. I thought it was more like a large chicken. They’ve always gotten the pre-cooked, and it’s butterball from Marketplace, which is pretty good quality. If it were up to me, I’d roast the turkey myself, but I do appreciate the convenience.

The turkey was good, even the white meat was tender and not dry. The biggest issue was that it didn’t come with giblets or gravy. And since it only got an hour’s reheating in a low oven, there was no possibility of making gravy from it. I learned this lesson from last year. This year, I was prepared. I made chicken stock (roasted bones, mirepoix) a couple of days ago and continued working on the gravy all morning. I cooked the vegetables in the stock so they exchanged flavour with each other and it also meant the veg was healthy, not cooked in oil but tastier than steamed. I added about half a glass of red wine and reduced the stock to 50%. I then made a roux to thicken it to the desired consistency. It seemed a lot of trouble for gravy, but from watching so many cookery competition programs, I know that sauce/gravy is as important as the main ingredients on the plate.

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Side dishes were carrots and green beans cooked in the aforementioned gravy. The potato element was bubble & squeak, which is kinda traditional Boxing Day fare made from leftover potatoes, cabbage and sprouts. True to the spirit, I actually made mashed potatoes and cooked a head of cabbage yesterday to use today as “leftovers” hahaha.

All in all, we were very pleased with the meal. Didin’t really have any dessert, just some small mince pies Sis brought over. Exchanged presents and facetimed G and R, who apparently are hoping that it’d snow in the UK. Let’s see if they get their wish, snow is predicted in parts of the UK but may be not as far south as West Sussex.


in family first |

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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.


in family first |

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Went with sis to midnight mass. Well, 10pm Christmas Eve mass to be exact, at the small church within walking distance of her place. More than the normal number of attendees of course, but not like the huge crowds at the main cathedrals. From The First Noel with the procession, to Silent Night at Communion and Joy to the World at the end, it was a really nice service. The gospel was from Luke and the homily told the story of a Danish king who gave up his throne to marry a peasant girl. The story hasn’t ended yet so we don’t know if they live happily ever after; much like the story of Jesus coming to live amongst us—the story is ongoing.

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When the Father got to the part in the gospel where Jesus was born, he took the baby Jesus doll from the crib in front of the lectern and we all sang out “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” It was quite moving. I had a flashback to when Mum and I visited the Star Grotto in Bethlehem, and touched the spot where He was born, and it seems a very fitting bookend to my 2014.


in 101.1001 , challenges , family first |

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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.

in challenges , family first |

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Task #20 of 30in30 is to scan 10 family pics.

Both my grandfather and father had cameras when we were small; my dad still has his camera and my grandfather even took 8mm videos. Before the age of digital cameras and social media, photographs were carefully composed on 35mm film, developed at a shop and stored in photo albums. We have a lot of family albums. A couple of shelves in their cabinet and I have 2 boxes myself. It’ll take a long time to organise and scan them all, I want to make a start somehow.

These are small 3.5”x2.5” pics of me and sis. I love the small format, these are firm favourites. There are 16 double-sided pages in this album, each page holds 8 pics so 256 total. Scanned the first 24, all b/w, I was about 4 or 5 years old. Still good quality albeit a little yellowed, adds to the charm.

p.s. image is deliberately small and blurred, I don’t want our faces to be recognisable.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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We had father’s day lunch a day early to avoid the crowds. Went to a German restaurant that had recently moved a few doors down; I like the new place, it’s about the same size but brighter and more airy. Weekends they have a lunch buffet: seafood, salad, cold meats, soup, pork knuckle, roast beef, sausages, curry, vegetables, dessert. Plus a small beer is included. Everybody enjoyed it.

It was too hot to do anything else so we all went home afterwards. I went running or rather, slow plodding runwalking.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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Mum’s birthday coincides with US Mother’s Day quite often, and this year for added bonus it’s on a Sunday. The disadvantage is that many restaurants bump up their prices or force people to order set meals so traditionally we never go out on Mother’s Day.

For lunch I made some of Mum’s favourites: rack of lamb with carrot, parsnips and sautéed potatoes and mushroom. This particular rack wasn’t trimmed, which is fine because I can French trim it; but for some reason untrimmed racks still have the central bone which makes it very hard to cut when done. I was struggling with it and the presentation suffered. I got it nice and pink though.

For dinner we did find a restaurant that didn’t have any mother’s day special. It’s the yakitori place we go to regularly for happy hour. We reserved a private room last time I was there with sis and we all had loads of yakitori and sake. For dessert I brought the cake I made earlier—the restaurant didn’t charge us extra for plates and forks.

I saw a pretty picture of pancake cake and it reminded me of the cake we had in Hokkaido which was cream cake wrapped in a pancake. There’s a different taste and texture with the addition of the pancake. Instead of doing layers of pancake, I made a standard victoria sponge and alternated layers of cake with pancake. The filling is melted chocolate mixed with hazelnuts and whipped cream. Topped with shaved chocolate and strawberries. Looking at the picture I guess I should have sliced it in three instead of two so it doesn’t loook so uneven. Tasted good, everybody seemed to enjoy it.

in challenges , family first |

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Task #21 in 30 in 30 is family activity.

Most of our family activity is around food. Yesterday we had an outing to a small diner for…egg and beef sandwich, which seems too mundane for an outing, but really, it was very, very good. Softly scrambled eggs with juicy beef and toasted bread. Yum.

Today we went to the lunch buffet at one of the crowne plaza hotels. I’d heard that they had a birthday month discount offer, where during the month of someone’s birthday, they get age decade % discount. So someone who celebrates their 60-69th birthday this month gets 60% off. Someone who is 100 eats free (if I had a restaurant, I’d let every 100 year old eat free year round). Parents get senior discount anyway so it’s great that all 3 of us had a discount.

Food was okay. Typical buffet food of salad, oysters, sashimi, roast, pasta, noodles, dessert, ice cream. Not a great deal of choice and fairly mediocre in taste. The best were the oysters, I had 9, but I had to yell at the chef to not rinse mine in water before serving. I mean, gee.

They had a chocolate fountain with the usual cake and marshmallow and fruit for dipping. I took the ice cream mochi and made my own chocolate coated ice cream mochi, it was one of the better food.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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Hung out with sis and niece in the afternoon while little one had her drum lesson. Had dinner at this place called king ludwig restaurant that serves, surprise surprise, german food. More people and better quality food than we expected. Shared a ginormous wiener schnitzel and cheesy spaetzle, followed by baked cheesecake. I didn’t have much of an appetite after all the food on the cruise, and I’m jetlagged. Still cold enough for mulled wine, which was what we had with our meal. Good to be back with family and a place we’d go back especially since it’s within walking distance from sis’ place.

in 101.1001 , challenges , family first |



Task #81 in 101 in 1001 challenge is to try a new activity with family.

I’ve never made gingerbread houses, never ever. No special reason, just never had the chance. Sis bought a couple of kits but we never got round to making them over Christmas; doesn’t matter, we can still play with them in January.

Pretty fiddly actually, especially since the walls of my house were broken and had to be repaired with icing. The icing bag also broke so instead of piping, I was using a knife to spread it on — not as delicate and my fingers were soon covered with icing. I picked quite small sprinkles also, and arranged some all around the seams, the windows, the roof and scattered some marshmallows around the house for effect.

All in all, a lot of fun. Sis decorated hers with savoury snacks and mine (the last one on the right) was voted most colourful.

in family first |



Everyone’s mood seemed to have improved, so it looked like it would be a nice day. There was still quite a lot to do in terms of cooking, so I made a rough schedule and banned my parents from the kitchen. Too many cooks and all that. Sis arrived at around 10.30am so she helped with a lot of prepping and was in charge of the salad and gravies. With 2 out of 8 being vegetarians, plus limited hob and oven space, I had to be careful food didn’t get cross contaminated, were cooked properly and all ready at around the same time. Didn’t help with hob space that I decided to make the mulled wine early so Sis and I could drink it while cooking, heehee!

 

I was aiming for 12pm, and everyone was sat and eating by 12.15pm. Happy and proud of that. Turkey and bratwurst were cooked and heated in the small oven. Potatoes dominated the large oven for most of the morning — chopping, parboiling and roasting 12 potatoes to crunchiness was important. Made a large pan of mixed mushrooms, white bamboo asparagus and cabbage. Two types of gravy, cranbery sauce and a greek salad. For the veggies there was vegetarian sausage and a nut loaf. For ease of washing up we used paper plates and plastic utensils.



My plate looked like a mess but everything was GOOD! Had second helpings too.

In the end, we decided against steaming the pudding for 2hrs and microwaved it instead. Took around 10mins, perfect time for me to make the custard. Lots of leftovers, which I’m actually looking forward to.

Opened presents, we all kept mainly to food this year: chocolate, biscuits, nuts, crisps. Sis gave me a bottle of chocolate wine and I got a multi-purpose wine opener from T&D, there’s a theme here! Played the wii with my niece for a bit, then they went home mid-afternoon. Too full for dinner, I just had some fruit.

in family first , how the day went |



Turkey is traditionally eaten at Christmas. My parents prefer to buy ready cooked, so…okay. It’s quite small, in the US it’d be a large chicken. Rather than carve it the traditional (and according to many chefs the wrong) way I broke it down into manageable pieces — drumstick, thigh, wing, back, breast so it’s easier to carve. I even managed to keep the wishbone intact. Laid the pieces on a baking tray ready for carving and serving tomorrow when we will have our family gathering proper. Could have used the carcass for gravy but I used some roast chicken bones I had in the freezer instead. Made normal gravy and vegetarian gravy for the nut roast they are bringing tomorrow.

Turkey is also a colloquial term for failure, a dud, something that was unsuccessful. And that sums up my christmas day. All I’ll say is that it only takes one person to ruin the entire day for everybody. Makes me wish again that I can spend christmas alone, away from unnecessary drama. Poor mm, I spent half an hour on line complaining to her, at least she had a better day with her mum.

in about me , family first |

 

Two years ago, I had one of the best christmas day ever. I started cooking early in the morning, put the guinea fowl, duck & pheasant ballotine from m&s in the oven together with my vegs. Dessert was stollen from Prague with sparkling cranberries and a dollop of marmalade. Aside from skyping with the family and a visit to my downstairs neighbour for tea, I had no other human contact for the entire long weekend.

Bliss.

Whenever I’m on assignment people always say to me, “don’t spend Christmas on your own” before proceeding to invite me to their christmas do (like my downstairs neighbour). Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I want nothing more than to be able to plan the day, make the food, enjoy the day, all on my own. It’s a quiet time of year, and I want to make full use of that quietude.

I’m also aware that not everyone share my sentiment. It is important not to forget family, friends, neighbours and strangers at this time of year, and it can be particularly hard on people who are lonely, away from home, sad or need the positivity that the spirit of Christmas brings.

I’m just comparing that London Christmas to the Christmas this year with family. No one seemed to be able to make a coherent decision and I’m not even sure our parents want us to have the gathering at their place. Some people live in delusion about the Christmas card picture of a family gathering in front of a fireplace with a huge tree and mountains of presents; others don’t offer any opinion, still others want something to happen but only if everyone else do the work and organisation. I guess it’ll be a pleasant gathering on boxing day. I’m hoping people can tone down their sense of entitlement or constant moaning. Boy, do I sound like the Grinch today.

in arts and media , family first |

Christmas fair at my niece’s school. Very very crowded with lots of kids, parents and friends. The main courtyard area was all food. It being the german swiss school there were bratwurst, pretzels, ham with sauerkraut, potato salad, raclette, 3 types of beer, Austrian prosecco, Swiss wine (yay!!!) as well as other food like sandwiches, waffles and asian food.

The gym had stalls selling christmas ornaments, handmade crafts and lots and lots of food. Chocolate, stollen, biscuits, homemade cakes, brownies, jams. Business was good, I scored the last 2 bottles of gluhwein and mum bought the non-alcoholic version. Sis worked the chocolate stall and by the time she finished they were almost out of everything.

The sports hall was full of games managed by kids from each year. There were flip the rubber chicken into the basin, shoot santa with a dart gun, net the duckies from the inflatable pool and many others. Lots of kids running around, lots of noise and energy.

I had some video fun again with instagram, this was at the stalls before they ran out of stuff to sell. Edited in iMovie, and added a music track — up on the housetop via uncle dave’s free christmas tunes. I think I prefer editing and saving to flickr rather than sharing from instagram directly. Gives me more control, although I lose some of the frame due to sizing.



in family first |

chocolate cake

This rich chocolate cake from a hotel bakery reminded me of a few things.

parents love you unconditionally
I’m back at parents’ place and mum saved me a piece for tea. She buys a lot of good food for me, and my dad is responsible for cooking all our meals. I’m like a princess when I stay here, and they make it clear they want me to stay as long as I can.

my feelings for mm
We’ve been together, in a weird sense of the word, for 21 years. I’m not sure what lies ahead for us; she’s quite happy about us being a couple of steps up from friends, I want things to go back to how they were in the beginning. The first thing I thought of when mum gave me the cake was I needed to take a picture and send to mm to cheer her up. In return she sent me lots of happy smiley face stickers.

need to keep healthy
This chocolate cake packs something like 300-400 calories. I haven’t been exercising enough, and mm’s recent health scare reminds me that I need to get back to a better level of health.

chocolate isn’t my first choice
Even though it was professionally baked and parents really liked it, I found the cake too sweet, too dry and too rich. I finished it, but it took me a long time (remembering that I’m a very fast eater.) Given a choice between different flavours, I won’t pick chocolate. I like making desserts, and a lot of my recipes are chocolate, but I just don’t go crazy about it like most people.

in being healthy , family first |

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5.21km 41.03min 7.52min/km (12.40min/mi)

Dragged mum out to the park with the jog/walk trail for a bit of exercise. She was a trooper, she walked the entire time I ran. Together with walking to the park and back home it was almost an hour. It’s important we all remain active.


in evidence of my insanity , family first |

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Mum decided to clean out her place. It’ll be a gargantuan task because I don’t think she’s ever thrown anything away. She started with the storeroom and uncovered loads of clothes, decorations and stuff that needed to be trashed. There was also a box that appear to contain my stuff. Wow, things I wasn’t able to take with me to Chicago and have forgotten about — mostly small electronics like kettle, iron, stick blender. Plus a 3-pack of Persil. Yes, washing powder. Since the packaging is in German, it must have been from Switzerland, which means it dates back to 2001. Yes, 12 year old washing powder that my old-old company paid to ship across continents and sitting in a box at my parents’ place for 5 years.

It’s not money or action figures but hey, I was just running out and needed to get washing powder next time I’m at the supermarket so I save a buck or two.

in family first |

Met up with sis, my niece, parents for breakfast at the yacht club. Hot day, little one was going to go practice long jump but some people were occupying the track and pit. Decamped to the library next to the track. They went home to rest, I went with mum to the market to buy vegetables. We don’t seem to do a lot as a family, or may be it’s because there is absolutely nowhere to go in this stupid city.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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Escaping to parents’ aka holiday home again. Mum’s ipad isn’t charging so we went over to the Apple Store to get a new charger but the salesperson suggested that we came back tomorrow morning to see if we can get help at the genius bar first.

Headed over to the residental estate nearby and had dinner at a family restaurant. Ordered this beef curry that came in an extremely hot stone pot, a bit like Korean bibambap. The curry was good, it was still bubbling away when we finished eating and was packing it away to take home.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Papa’s birthday lunch with sis and my niece was supposed to have been Wednesday at the Yacht Club when they have their Indian buffet, but we postponed it because of bad weather. Went to a Malaysian restaurant instead today. Good value set lunch, most of us had chicken rice, sis had lamb satay and papa had seafood laksa.

We took the cheesecake all the way to sis’ place. Little one and I decorated with strawberries and blueberries. A tablespoon of jam diluted with water provided the glaze. The cheesecake tasted great, adding the canned passion fruit purée was a great idea. But it was a bit too wobbly and was very hard to cut. I guess I didn’t add enough gelatin.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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It’s my dad’s birthday. I went over for lunch, then in the afternoon made a chilled cheesecake. It used to be a signature dish of mine, I need to make it more.

Dinner was at an all-you-can-eat Japanese place that my parents came across. They eat half price, so it’s a good deal. Quite a bit of a trek, long bus ride followed by more walking. To order, there is a huge stack of different coloured order slips, each with a different type of food like sashimi, tempura, yakitori, noodles. We ordered lots of sashimi and Japanese salad: crab roe, seaweed, whelks. Skewers, vegetables and a little tempura. Drinks are included, not only soft drinks but beer and sake. We polished off a couple of servings of warm sake.

in family first |

Still at parents’ place. Hiding out for the day, it’s too hot to go anywhere but I guess I’ll head home tonight after dinner. It’s really nice to stay with them once in a while.


in family first |

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Parents’ anniversary today, we all went to the Indian buffet at Jojo club. No okra today, but there were 2 paneer dishes. Everything quite spicy though. I’m still not feeling very well so I didn’t have much appetite. Mango lassi all round, pretty artificial, but necessary to fight the heat. The best thing, buy 4 get one free so we only paid for 5 lunches.

in family first |

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Went over to the new place in the afternoon to help with unpacking. Movers had gone by then. Put books on shelves, moved furniture and the like. Dinner at the Scottish pub, a nice set dinner — pumpkin soup, roast lamb with trimmings, ice cream and a glass of house wine.

Went with sis to a birthday party of her friend’s son. Irish pub this time. Met some old friends. May be found a business venture. To be continued.

in family first |

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Sis moving day 1. I went over to her new place to help her clean. Lunch at a sushi place — sushi salad, spicy salmon roll, chirashi and we ordered additional uni sushi and a sake. Back to her old place to meet with parents and watch the movers. To the new place for unpacking. Dinner with mum at a Vietnamese place.

in family first |

Long day hanging out with Sis. Took her to see my financial adviser so she can get an idea of what investments she can do if she wanted to. Then to the bank for her errands. Steak lunch at the pub near her place, more errands. Finally ended up at another pub for wine and dinner with her old college friend. Just as we were walking out from the restaurant, it started absolutely pouring. She managed to go home quickly, I stood at the minibus stop for a while trying to stay out of the rain before one came by. Tiring day, but nice.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Met up with sis for lunch, she took me to sushi. Had a set that included appetiser, chopped fish chirashi, small bowl of udon, steamed egg, fruit and coffee/tea. Hung out at her flat in the afternoon, trying not to be too tired.

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Dinner with parents and sis for late birthday dinner for sis. Went to the restaurant at the market that we had to get there before 6pm. Had golden prawns, steamed clams, chicken and vegetables. Got a bottle of wine at the wine shop nearby, only HKD30 corkage. Nice meal. Long day, quite tired because I woke up early.

in family first |

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I didn’t have water all day (maintenance) so I camped out at Sis’ place. We went for salad bar lunch, picked up my niece then just relaxed. I guess this is what I’ve missed, having family and a support system around me.

in family first |

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Mum’s birthday was during the trip so we had a proper celebration today. Went for shabu shabu lunch — 90mins all you can eat. Parents and Gis get discounted price too. The beef was too fatty but the rest of the veg was good.

Ice cream cake back at Sis’ place. Small one, perfect for everyone to have a slice and none left over.

in eating and drinking , family first , on the relationship front |

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Met up with mm, she came to pick me up in her car and I directed her to a new area she’s never been to. Just simple lunch of rib-eye and vegetables. Went to the library, window shopped at estate agents and went to a small store. Went over to the church so she can get a spare copy of her baptism certificate. I wanted to get my confirmation certificate filled out too, but apparently I have to return to the church I was baptised in, not the one I was confirmed. Strange.

Met with family at a pub near Sis’ place so we can have a family dinner for early celebration of Mum’s birthday. Nice pub, not too crowded and it was okay for my niece. I had smoked duck breast with mash and a big floret of broccoli. A couple of glasses of Hoegaarten too.


in being healthy , family first , how the day went |

Boxing Gloves

Sis dragged me to thai boxing class. I’m not very keen on classes, I’ve tried yoga, aerobics and dancing and didn’t really enjoy them. This thai boxing was quite okay, long warm up with stretching, squats, crunches and the like then it was punching, jabbing and kicking against the punching bag or the trainer. It was good, I wasn’t all that winded. But I don’t think I’ll go again.

Did some work on her book, then it was mad rush to take my niece to enopi class then taikwondo class. Grilled some fish back at Sis’ home for dinner. Quite a full day.

in family first |

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I went over to Sis’ to help her work on her book, a parent-family guide. Reading and sorting and typing. We worked for a while in the morning, had sushi lunch, picked up my niece from school then worked pretty solidly for 3hrs in the afternoon. By the time I looked at the clock it was almost 5pm. Made a dent in the pile of material in her large plastic container. Steak dinner, and a glass of wine. A good day.

in family first |

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I’m babysitting my niece tonight. Sis bought rib-eye which I cooked together with some green veg. It was good, little one ate most of the pretty large steak. We watched Masterchef and American Idol, then she played on my kindle. I wasn’t sure what her regular bedtime was, so I started nagging her at 9pm. She made it to bed at around 9.45pm, spending a little time reading in bed. Turns out, between 9 and 10p, is a good average for an 11 year old, especially since it’s not a school night.

in about me , family first , on the relationship front |

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In the past, I’d be asked what I wanted for my birthday and I’d say something like “no need, don’t waste money, I’m too old for presents.” I’d end up getting cute gadgets that are cute but useless, or something else I don’t want, or at best, amazon vouchers. This year, since it’s the first I’ve spent with family (and mm) in person for a while, I reckon they’d want to get me something. So I decided to be specific instead of wishy-washy.

And I got what I wanted.

Mum got me a backpack, since my old one’s falling apart. Parents gave me a red packet of cash, exactly what I need. Sis and family were on holiday, so I asked them to get me a whisky from the duty free. She was creative and got me a oddly named anCnoc as well as a Nikka from the Barrel in its perfume bottle like packaging. A cocktail shaker too. Seriously, I’m not that heavy a drinker!

From mm I got a nice selection of diffusers, I picked the flavours myself. All in all, I’m pleased with my presents.

in about me , family first , on the relationship front |

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Low key sort of birthday. Had lunch with family at Enoteca, a restaurant that can’t decide if it’s Italian or Spanish. They served pizza, pasta and small dishes. But the small dishes weren’t Venetian cicheti or Spanish tapas. Baked brie with toast, garlic mushrooms, risotto balls. Hmm. The Spanish influence came in the selection of sangria and chorizo pizza. Hmm.

Between us, we had mushroom pasta, lamb salad, fish & chips, the aforementioned baked brie with toast, risotto balls and parma ham pizza. A jug of sangria too. Okay, with the food confusion, it was still pretty good.

Sis brought a chocolate cheesecake which we all shared afterwards. Then she and mum went off to look for material so I took my niece back to her place and we played on my kindle for a while.

Rang mm, she picked me up and we went for a bit of a drive to one of the beaches. Little walk, then to a hotel near her home for a glass of wine. She’s been eating a lot and I was full from lunch so we just ordered a snack of crispy fried prawns. That was it for the day.

in family first |

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It’s UK Mother’s Day. Went for buffet lunch with the family. Quite nice meal: salad, salmon, prime rib, yorkshire pudding, curry, all day breakfast. Plus a bread pudding made from pancakes, and the usual chocolate cake, fruit, mousse desserts. Shared the bill with my niece. I think Mum enjoyed it.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Compared with the enormous christmas feast I cooked for myself last year, this year’s christmas was very simple in comparison. Mum ordered a whole turkey and I got a container of already shredded white and dark meat. I had that with some failed sparkling cranberries (didn’t dry sufficiently, good as accompaniment though), courgettes and cherry tomatoes I had in the fridge. Finished with a slice of panettone, some chestnuts from the yacht club yesterday and a wee dram of Ardbeg.

Met up with the family for dinner at a curry restaurant. Parents had laksa, Sis and Robert and Gis had gado gado and stuffed tofu. I had green curry chicken with roti canai. Enough to take home for another meal.

in family first |

presents

We all gathered at Sis’ place to open presents. Sis gave me a whisky, a cool survival tool and hand warmers. My niece gave me a water bottle. Parents gave me turkey and a panettone.

Every Christmas Eve at the yacht club they have carols and mulled wine. The mulled wine was more like warm grape juice, which went down well in the chilly evening. Carols was fun, they even had the traditional yacht club version of the 12 days of Christmas.


in family first |

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My niece’s school christmas concert, at a converted church near her school. Very talented kids, singing, playing music, dancing. There was a small orchestra, and the Year 5 program was a bunch of them doing a great xylophone relay. Primary school kids, so it was a little chaotic, kudos to the teachers for controlling and organising them.

in family first |



We all went to see my niece’s taekwondo exam today. She’s at red-black belt and today’s exam will bring her from one to two stripes — she can’t get the black belt and dans till she’s 15. There were about 30 kids altogether taking the exam, ranging from around 4 years old to older kids who look 15-16. The test consisted of some set moves, self defence, plank kicks, plank punches and two spectacular moves — high jump kick (plank at tip of outstretched hand height) and obstacle jump kick. She got a few A grades, really spectacular. Both sis and I got pics and videos, but I’m not posting them. Instead, this is a video of a couple of really really cute tiny kids sparring.

in family first |

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Had dinner at mm’s brother’s place, so he can show me his new home’s renovation and give me his contractor’s number. By the time we left, it was raining very heavily. I didn’t have an umbrella, so I got off at a near-enough station and changed to taxi. As we were getting close to the gates, Mum was already out there with an umbrella. The taxi driver said, “the greatest unconditional love.”

in easily amused , family first |



I went over to Sis’ for lunch, and my niece asked if I could go to see the amazing bubbleman with her tonight. How could I refuse? So I took Sis’ place so she and R can go have dinner alone.

The Amazing Bubbleman is Louis Pearl, and he’s been playing with bubbles for over 30 years. It’s very much a show for kids, and there was a lot of audience participation. Some of the kids were quite loud and not so well behaved, not unexpected really given how excited they were. My niece put her hand up a few times but wasn’t picked. Pretty amazing skills, I enjoyed the show too. Especially liked the part where the bubble travelled up a piece of string, and when he blew 10 bubbles within each other. Needless to say, we bought the bubble trumpet at a huge “show special” markup. It’s part and parcel of the experience, I think.

in family first |

Sis and her family came up to London today. I met them at Victoria station and we had lunch at Yo!Sushi, lucking out on it being their Blue Monday and many dishes at £2.40. Then we went to the science museum and mostly spent the time at the hands on area. We were all tired, so we got a taxi back home to rest. Dinner was at Hawksmoor — Sis and I had the D-rump and sirloin while little one had mac’n’cheese and mash potato. Again, we lucked out on it being Monday, with BYO at £5 corkage. We bought a Malbec at my local wine shop for the surprising price of £6.99, it was a bargain. R came after his drinks. Sis and little one stayed in the spare room and R slept in the living room, I’m happy that my flat is large enough for all of them.


in family first |

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So far (well, it’s only been a couple of days) I’ve had to go to work so Mum had to fend for herself. She’s been to Oxford and Regent Streets, her free bus pass giving her the freedom to go shopping to her heart’s content. I’ve done the cooking when I got home from work — I don’t like people messing in my kitchen and I’m the better cook. Things I’m planning to do with her:

  • Stockholm this coming long weekend
  • Edinburgh and Orkney with RM weekend of the 19th
  • Borough and Brixton markets
  • steak restaurants
  • I have a reservation at The Ledbury next week
  • she wants to go on the Eurostar, so Paris or Brussels (again for me)
  • may be the WB Harry Potter tour, not sure


mum

in family first |

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Woke up at 4am, got the zipcar, drove to heathrow, picked up my mum. She’s visiting me for a month. Yay!

in eating and drinking , family first |

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My niece was already up when I woke up. We had lunch at home (ahhhh, so great to eat some simple home cooked food) and then spent the afternoon playing on the wii. Mostly, she played and I joined in a little, in between uploading pics.

They had to go home for dinner so it was just me and my parents. We went to another all-you-can-eat Japanese place. Sat at the sushi bar and ordered our little hearts out. Soft drinks and beer were free. We ended up having a ton of sashimi, a handroll each, some beef sushi, tempura, grilled vegetables, salad and ice cream. My favourites were sashimi and the whole sweet beef tomato. Not a lot of meat, just fish and vegetables.

After dinner, Mum and I went to the computer centre to get some flashdrives. We also went to the “sneaker street” but I was so disappointed. Nike Free 2.0 and Lunarglide 3 were more expensive than if I used a coupon at runningwarehouse. No Sauconys in sight whatsoever. Of course it means I have to be in the US to pick up the delivered shoes.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Lunch with my own family, vietnamese food: beef pho for me, and we shared some crab rolls, prawns on sugar cane and pork chop. Then it was up to Sis’ home, I played on the wii with my niece while the adults watched tv, went for a walk or did their own thing. Dinner was pizza which we heated at home. I had a godfather’s pizza, which was pepperoni, ham and sausage. A little bit too meaty for me, but still good. Nice chat, a little bit of wine and lots of chocolate that I brought back.

in family first , on the relationship front |

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Dragged Mum to the glasses shop to get a replacement sunglasses attachment for the one I lost during the chicago marathon. Ended up ordering two, just in case, and getting a new pair of glasses with polarising lenses.

Met mm for drinks. We’re luckier than a lot of people who live in different countries that we don’t have to worry about long distance call charges so we do talk on the phone a lot. Plus whatsapp and we play words with friends. But it’s nothing, absolutely nothing like seeing her in person. I miss her so much. She suggested going to one of the hotel bars, but I saw that the French bistro place had 2-for-1 happy hour so we went there and had a couple of glasses of wine. Oh how we’ve grown up from those early days when we were trying out wine — this was a pic from December 2005 during our trip to New Zealand, at this fabulous winery we found. Time flies.

Dinner with her family was great, as usual. Played with her niece and nephew, rather, they played on our iphones. A four year old playing angry birds is no longer an unusual sight. I came away with goodies that her Mum ordered from the restaurant, all my favourites. Sigh.

I miss having family around. I miss mm. It has been lonely in London, where I really only have 2 friends (3, including SM’s wife I guess). And as much as I like hanging with them, it’s different from family, and mm’s family is as much mine, after all these years. By the time I come back, probably around Q3 this year, I would have been away almost 4 years. Time flies.

in family first , going places |

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Breakfast was, at all places, the sausage stall in the square. We had the whole morning and part of the afternoon, and wanted to go back to the market square we saw yesterday. We were looking for small souvenirs and found some nice simple fridge magnets. Bought some sweets and fruit too.

Watched the not very exciting hourly chime of the old astronomical watch and had lunch at a restaurant on the square. Mum had ham and I had boar goulash with hash browns. Walked to an Aldi’s to get sausage. Then back to the hotel to collect our luggage, but not before getting more of those yummy minicakes from the supermarket. I like our hotel location, it’s perfect.

There was a line for the shuttlebus so we thought we’d get on the next one and get to the airport early. I had some money left over and we bought more sausages at the airport for Mum to take back to Papa. We both enjoyed the trip and the plenty of good food. By the time we got home it was quite late but not too tired. Took 250+ pics: full set at flickr.


in family first , going places |

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I’d brought tea bags so we had tea and bread for breakfast in our room. Then we braved the metro and the #22 tram to the top of the hill to Prague Castle. The castle grounds is huge, with many buildings. Most of them were on a ticket, and we opted not to purchase it. The only building that didn’t charge is St Vitus Cathedral but the queue to get inside was too long. It was nice enough to walk around the castle and enjoy the architecture.

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The view, once we got to the other side, and looking down into the city, was spectacular. The day was a bit hazy, otherwise it would have been postcard perfect. The walk downhill was nice too, at the foot we came across a hot dog stand that had this huge delicious sausage. Mum loved it. There was an outcrop underneath the bridge with a really nice view of the river, great photo ops.

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A slow walk back to town and we ended up at a small pizzeria “V Laznich” where Mum had sausage again, and I had the goulash with dumplings. There were only a few tables, but the service was very slow. Ah well, plenty of rest for the rest of the day walking. Crossed Charles bridge again, this time able to see clearly the religious statues and the crosses. Very symbolic. By the time it was almost 5pm and we reached a street market by accident. Bought fruit, and then yogurt and bread from the supermaket as a light dinner. Another good day.

in family first , going places |



I took Mum to Prague, 3 days 2 nights. Investigated package deals, and easily settled on BA holidays, since I didn’t fancy flying easyjet. More research on tripadvisor and I decided on staying at the Marriott. Booked a minicab from home, £30 to T5. Had breakfast at, of all places, wagamama. Flight was uneventful and fast. For probably the first time in my flying career we only took hand luggage. My research showed that aside from taxis the best way into town is by minibus. It’s been something like 10 years since I’ve visited Prague and it is much, much more advanced now. English is spoken everywhere. The bus stop was clearly marked and when we got into town we discovered, to our delight, that the Marriott is literally across the road!

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It was in the afternoon, so we had time to explore. The first place we found was a Billa supermarket just a few doors down from the hotel. Talk about convenience. We bought these minicakes, which completely filled the spot for further exploration. A few more minutes and we were at Republic Square. More food awaits, this time a street stall that had huge whole ham joints smoking over real wooden fire. Had to try, had to try. Delicious.

Energised from the food, we explored around town. Managed to see the Opera House, Old Town Square, the astronomical clock and the narrow streets that radiated out from the old town square. I even bought a hard rock café polo shirt.

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Lots of new sights and shops to explore. These vintage cars were part of an offering for tourists to be driven around town on the open top vehicles, very cool. There were small craft shops, lots of touristy souvenir shops and we came across an absinthe bar that looked positively bohemian. Very fitting, since the word bohemia was originally used to describe this region. Much as I would have liked to sample the absinthe bar, I was with Mum, so that was out of the question.

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I did reward myself with a large beer at dinner, which would prove to be my default mealtime drink here. Dinner was at a restaurant in the old town called “U Kocku” where the menus came in 6 language and had pictures. We had the set dinner of tomato soup and a choice of meat for mains. Mum had the pork knee and I had the pork ribs. The picture suggested that the knee would be served, knuckle style, on metal swords. Alas, the swords were missing and it was just a rather large roasted meat. Tasted nice, but a lot of meat. The ribs were good too, but needed some sauce.

Utterly full now, we walked towards Charles Bridge, intending to walk off a little of the dinner. We ended up crossing the bridge to the other side and then slowly walking back to the hotel. I bought another beer at the supermarket and Mum bought scads of cereal bar and yogurt. We also got bread for breakfast — with a supermarket nearby there is no need for expensive hotel breakfasts. An excellent, excellent day.

in family first |

Took half a day off to run errands with Mum. Got her registered at the surgery; got a couple of Prague guidebooks for the weekend; changed our addresses at the bank. The second aim was to go to Whole Foods. Somehow it didn’t excite her as much as the Chicago Whole Foods, may be because it’s smaller and with different products. We had an early dinner there of pizza, tostada and gelato.

in family first |

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Mum and I both woke up early, don’t know why. We made good use of the unexpected couple of hours by going to the post office to get some errands done. Then I got a zipcar and we went to brent cross. Had a late lunch of surprisingly good grilled chicken at nando’s. We had a whole chicken, garlic bread, chips and unlimited soft drinks for £18.95. I drank 4-5 glasses of coke zero and the chicken was a decent size. We’d go back again.

Bought some stuff at Boot’s. Hopped over to Lakeland and walked through the whole shop. Walked up and down every aisle at Tesco too. Very satisfing day of errands and semi-essentials shopping.

in family first |

Took the same zipcar out tonight, to take Sis and niece to Heathrow. It was 7pm and the traffic was horrendous, there was something going on at the A40 so I had to detour down to Hammersmith and to the A4. There was still plenty of time, they checked in without any problems and went through the gate quickly. Sniff. I’ll miss having family around.

in family first , going places |

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One of the places my niece really wanted to visit is legoland, so I got a zipcar over there. Only 1hr’s drive to Windsor, we got there mid-morning.

There are a lot of lego there, although we expected even more. The rides weren’t really lego, and neither were tables and chairs and everyday stuff. The park itself is geared towards kids, there are rides that are for the under-13s only, so my niece had a great time. She was a great driver in driving school and took us up on the balloon. The newest ride, Atlantis, is a yellow submarine that took a circuit around a giant aquarium that contained fish, sharks, stingrays and lego mermaids. The centrepiece legocity has replica miniature cities — London, English countryside with cricket team, Paris, Italy, and even the space shuttle in a NASA compound.

If only the weather held up. Dry, sunny spells were interrupted by heavy thunderstorms. During the storms we managed to hole up at the building stations and built a windmill and a racing car. All in all, a good day out especially with young children.


in eating and drinking , family first , in the news |

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Met Sis’ friend C and his partner for dinner at Strada. Pretty okay food, nothing special. The best was the garlic pizza bread starter. I had risotto. First time I’ve met them together (can’t remember C that well), but we had a great time and good conversation.

In other news, after a week of outlandish and outrageous revelations, the announcement came in the afternoon that the news of the world will close after sunday. I’ve been following the story all week, and I can truly say good riddance. There are no words to describe what they did, the invasion of privacy of ordinary folks at their most vulnerable is just…inhuman.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Met Sis after work and went to Brick Lane. Had a nice Indian meal — chicken bhuna, paneer mattar, lamb biryani. Then walked to the famous 24hr authentic bagel shop and got some plain bagels. Ah memories.

in family first |

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At first we wanted to go strawberry picking, but the PYO farm was closed. We ended up at Stansted Park. Didn’t go inside the house, just explored the grounds. Rode on the miniature railway, had lunch at the garden centre and did the maze with my niece. Then it was home to play in the garden for a while. We kicked a ball around, blew bubbles and ate gooseberries.

Sis came back to London with me. She’ll stay for a week for shopping and to go to the places she used to visit. The train journey was pretty long, almost 2 hrs. We had luggage and were tired so we got a cab. We thought we’d get kebab but the place was closed so we got ham and bread and stuff for a sandwich instead. She has the guest room, she’s all set up with the internet, hopefully she’ll be fine.

in family first |

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Sis, my niece and I went to Chichester to explore this morning. The big lakeland store of course. While Sis did more shopping, I took my niece to Chichester cathedral. There was a sculpture exhibition where she could photograph to her heart’s content. I remember little one being good with a camera from when she was only 3 years old. The Red Arrows were also lurking, and we were able to catch very brief glimpses.

Lunch at a pub, then it was back to Bosham for the church fair. Very small, but well attended community affair. We won a nice wedgewood vase and a jar of honey at the tombola. I bought a jar of homemade chutney at what was probably the WI (or equivalent) stall. Dinner at home, then more relaxation. It’s so quiet, the air is good, the garden is lovely, I’m with family.

in family first |

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Sis’ family are on their annual UK visit to see my niece’s grandparents. I took the train from Victoria, and 1.5hrs later arrived at Bosham. It’s just a short walk to their house. It’s also sis’ birthday, so I bought her a red velvet cupcake cake from hummingbird bakery. They say it can serve 8 people, ha!! It was so rich and tall we all only had a small slice, and the whole cake could have served 20.

I have the sofa bed in the front room. It’s very pleasant and full of curios, they’ve lived there for many many years.


in family first |

Two weeks ago, I lost my cousin H to a car accident. We’re a small family, only 6 grandchildren on this side — five of us, then a cousin a lot younger whom I’ve never met, so H gets treated like the youngest. Despite growing up and living in different countries, we are close. It’s been a few years since I saw H, but it’s not the years apart that matters, the bond is there and it’s strong.

His family appealed to friends and family not to contact them during their period of mourning. I ordered flowers for the service on behalf of my family, but none of us could attend. If I were still in Chicago I would have gone, LA is only 4 hrs away. From London, there simply wasn’t enough time. I wouldn’t have wanted them to have to take care of another relative who didn’t know the way round anyway.

Most people’s first reaction upon hearing about such tragedy is to call the surviving family. I can see why my uncle and aunt didn’t want any contact. They would have had to deal with other people’s grief at a time when they most needed to be left in peace to try to deal with their own. H’s brother A does general updates on fb and email whenever he can. I want nothing more than to hug them and never let go. I don’t think words are necessary.

I’ve been going about my life with as much normalcy as much as I can. Running a little, posting about macs and sports and pictures, playing mw. But the truth is, I feel so sad. He is never far from my thoughts. Sis is trying to be strong too, and our other cousin in NY says the same. I try not to let regrets dwell — that we didn’t keep in touch closely enough, that I never made it out to visit, that I won’t have new memories of him anymore. The suddenness is a big shock, and then add on the rest. The air is so quiet lately.


in family first , on the relationship front |

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Lunch with mm took on more of a last supper feel than I liked. She took me to nha trang vietnamese restaurant and we had a feast — soft shell crab soft rice roll, prawns on sugar cane stick, roast suckling pig and beef mung noodles. Afterwards we just walked around the area aimlessly, knowing that I need to go home and she needed to go to work. It’s tough, although in a public place too near the office it’s difficult (perhaps a good thing) to let the sadness show.

Everyone had gone out so I had a couple of hours on my own. Then sis and my niece came for dinner. They brought homemade pasta bolongese and baked cheesecake. We took some family pictures and then they had to go home. My flight wasn’t till 1am, but my parents came with me to the taxi anyway. Found an empty desk at the lounge, hooked up the mbp, called mm, and just watched the time go by.

in family first |

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Lunch was at Spring Deer, for shark’s fin. Not politically correct nowadays, but we enjoy it. There was too much for the 3 of us, but Mum was prepared with thermos flasks to take the extra home. We also had dumplings and crispy fried beef strips which went very well in these flatbread pockets.

Bought some sweets for office people and dinner was at home. I’d bought some pig sow’s vegetable very cheaply when I was mm, and we had it with black bean sauce. It’s called pig sow’s vegetable cos it grows so abundantly that the extra is used in pig food. Nice taste, I like it.

Packing is all done. Don’t really want to leave, although I do look forward to sleeping in my own bed.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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Originally we were going to a Japanese restaurant at the Peak, but sis called when we were waiting for the bus to say there’s a change of plan and we were going to saikou at LKF. It’s a new place, and we all ordered the mini rice set — choice of 2 small bowls from a selection of 6-8. I had uni fried rice and one with uni and salmon roe, it’s a uni type of day.

Afternoon was spent as Sis’ place sorting out her mbp. She says it’s old but it’s newer than mine, but she upgraded to 10.6 and it’s been slow. I was thinking it’s to do with all the files she has, I did disk utility, fixed some permissions and showed her how to organise her iphotos. She also wanted me to set up a fb account for her so she can try it out.

Dinner was with mm’s family, her mum’s birthday. At the usual restaurant and everything specially made by the master chef. I had a couple of bottles of tsingdao, heehee. I’m at mm’s tonight.


in family first |

I was booking my ticket back for the half marathon, and was looking at my airmiles which expires end Jan. I must be mad because I never connected the two. It was mm who said I should use my miles to book the ticket. Duh!!! I have enough, ahem, for a first class ticket but I got the economy instead, cos I can use the other miles for another trip.


in family first |

Sis emailed me this morning. She and her helper went over with food and to help do some cleaning. They’re jet-lagged and tired after the epic flight. Mum called me, but I missed her call cos I was outside watching Bones. I called her back — may be I need to put the nokia outside, hmm.


in family first |

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Took my parents to the airport yesterday morning, sorted out check-in for them, watched them get through security and inside. Tracked their flight all afternoon, from the 1hr delay cos of thunderstorms, then finally en route.

At around 8-ish, the status changed to redirected. WTF. I did more digging and then it started showing diverted. It was difficult to interpret what was going on with the various flight tracking websites. The united site wasn’t any help. The 800-number was just voice recording.

Called my sis to see if she can get more info over there, cos it’s during office hours. She wasn’t able to get much more info than me. Then it showed 9.21pm landed at ORD and take off rescheduled to 11am. All signs pointed to the flight having turned back. Most importantly, for my peace of mind, it had landed. On the ground. Safely.

I was tempted to go to the airport to find out what was happening. I didn’t just in case my parents got in a taxi and they gave me back the keys. Finally almost 10pm Mum called. She didn’t have a US mobile or coins but was able to borrow someone’s cellphone. Turned out there were bathroom malfunctions and the flight couldn’t have continued without toilets. One of the sites tracked the flight to the middle of nowhere in Manitoba, so it was prudent to come back to Chicago as opposed to landing at a “nearby” airport.

They were waiting for the shuttle to take them to an airport overnight. To which I answered No Way. It’s only half an hour for me to go pick them up. Papa joked that it was the longest flight from Chicago to Chicago. Back to square one.

I think about this as being given more hours to spend with them. It was the right decision, to have them stay with me overnight. More comfortable, they could have breakfast. I took them back to the airport this morning and yes, I was crying as I drove away.

in family first |

Papa and Mum’s last day in Chicago. Sniff. Part of me wants, and is desperately guilty, my space and routine back. But a bigger part doesn’t want them to leave. They seem so comfortable here. They managed to go to quite a number of places, and yet it was never rushed. I find I can live with them, after living on my own for so many years.

Went to Weed Street area. Went to the Container Store, Crate & Barrel, CB2 and Whole Foods again. Bought crab legs and rich chocolate cake. Another lovely meal at home.


in family first |

In a way, I’m a little guilty I hadn’t taken parents out to eat very often. But whenever I raise the topic they say they prefer to eat at home. Example, I made lamb shanks last night and we had it today. It was good, if I say so myself. Compared with a restaurant meal, it’s much much cheaper and more relaxing. I keep wanting to take them out for steak, and they keep saying stay home. Honestly, between me and Papa, we can make a good steak. I’m convinced.


in 101.1001 , family first , going places |

mpngra282postcard

This is a great idea — postcards with pre-paid postage. Yes, more expensive than regular postcards+regular postage but for tourists who don’t have time or knowledge to go to a post office to get stamps, it’s oh so convenient.

I hope she likes it. We emailed her some pictures and her reaction to the falls “bigger than I thought” heehee.


in family first , going places |

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We crossed over to the US side early to avoid the crowds. Found a nice parking spot at the Niagara State Park and spent a few hours enjoying the falls from another perspective. It was still awesome to see how the river torrents tumbled over the sides. Have to be there to truly appreciate how big the falls are.

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I queued up for 2 hours to go on the cave of the winds trip. Only one functioning lift carried 12 people down to almost river level and it’s a short walk to the bottom of the American Falls. And by bottom I mean bottom. That’s me there with my arms waving while being plummelled by the force of the water. This is absolutely the wettest experience of the whole trip, and the one I most want to repeat. They give us sandals to change into, and I should also have changed into shorts. It’s like coming out of a washing machine.

Very unforgettable.

We got to BUF very early so we sat ourselves down at the food court watching the world cup. Our flight was delayed cos ORD was under “ground stop”. Eventually we were airborne but ended up circling over some point, and when we ran out of fuel had to stop at grand rapids to refuel. A flight that is supposed to take only 1.5hours took almost 5. It was past 9pm when we got home.

Didn’t dampen our mood. It was a great trip.


in family first , going places |

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Mum and I got up early to go on the first maid of the mist boat tour. We saw how far the line snaked on saturday and decided that the early bird really does kill the line. There was minimum waiting and we got a good spot on the upper deck.

The boat tour is probably the quintessential niagara experience. It brings you inside the mist and almost right up to the bottom of the horseshoe falls. As soon as we hit the mist it was like taking a rainforest shower. It was wet. I blindly pointed my S90 in the general direction of the falls, and in the photostream the path from clean to soaked lens was clear to see. It was also a lot of fun. I wanted to do it again as soon as we got off.

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The plan today was to drive up to niagara-on-the-lake, touted as one of the prettiest towns/villages in Canada. It is quaint, but I feel like it’s purposely quaint, in a fake tourist trap sort of way. We found parking immediately next to the central clock tower, had lunch at a french-speaking-greek-pub, then drove down to where the lake was. I liked the peaceful park atmosphere by the lake, shame that it was too hot to linger for long.

On the way back, we stopped at a fruit farm. There are a lot of wineries on the way, and the area is famous for its wine route. But a) I was driving and b) my parents don’t drink that much, so we gave them a miss. The farm was a great stop though. We bought brownies and cheesecake for breakfast tomorrow, and I introduced my parents to the joy of rainier cherries. Oh, I think they’re addicted. What perfect timing. We also got ice cream and sat at the benches outside just enjoying everything.



After we got back to the hotel, we relaxed for a bit. Well, they relaxed while I fell asleep for an hour. It was still light so we ventured out again. Mum and I went behind the falls. Oh, we got even wetter than on the boat. This was a different view, on a ledge just meters from the bottom of the horseshoe falls. There are also a couple of portals in the rock that bring us to behind the falls. The video doesn’t show the true power of the water, I was trying to capture the rush and sound of the spray hitting the rocks.

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Walked up past the skylon tower in search of an ihop for dinner. It was closed, so we settled for applebee’s. Walked back to the hotel via the shore, took in the night scene. Both falls are illuminated by spotlights that regularly change colours. It’s another amazing sight.


in family first |

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We have family in several places in north america. In toronto there’s mum’s aunt and uncle (grandma’s sister and brother), plus their families. We met with great-aunt’s family last week in chicago, but I hadn’t seen great-uncle’s family for many many years.

It was a little over an hour’s drive to great-uncle’s house in Mississauga, south of toronto. Lovely house, their deck and back garden goes straight to a creek. They go for daily walks at the nearby, and oddly named, credit river. (is there a debit river nearby?)

After lunch, we headed past toronto city center to great-aunt’s house in scarborough. They are about a 15min walk to lake ontario. Beautiful, beautiful.

They took us for dinner at the imperial buffet restaurant. That’s the next post. Suffice it to say: king.crab.legs.


in 101.1001 , family first , going places |

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Mum has always, always wanted to go to niagara falls. So early this morning, we got into the taxi and off we went to ORD. It’s the first time I’d flown on American Eagle, that part of the terminal is nice. I got all of us into the admiral’s lounge, so we could relax for a bit. The plane was small, the flight short, and it took far too long for the luggage to come out at BUF. Still, it was fine. We got our rental car, a subaru impreza, and despite an early hiccup, found our route to niagara quickly.

An hour or so later we were crossing over the rainbow bridge. A short wait at Canadian immigration and we checked into Sheraton-on-the-Falls before 3pm. They offered us an upgrade to a partial view room, which we gladly took. Only 3/F but we had a full view of the American Falls.

It was still afternoon so we went out for our first experience of the falls. All I can say. Wow. Fantastic. Impressive. No wonder people flock to see them. The American Falls are more square and immediate; the Horseshoe Falls shrouded by mist but its shape is awe-inspiring. The walk all the way to the Horseshoe Falls was probably an hour, it was hot and I was really thirsty by then.

The town itself is way too commercialised for my taste. Then again, they have to make money off the falls somehow, right? Fast food restaurants, hotels, amusement arcades, souvenir shops all along the Clifton Hill area. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday, after nixing hard rock café and rainforest café. Ribs, steak & lobster plus salad bar. Good for sharing.

Papa went back to the hotel and Mum and I explored the souvenir shops. Mum bought a stack of small calendars and I bought a couple of pre-stamped postcards. Back at the hotel we were surprised at 9.30pm by the sound of fireworks coming from over the US side. It was a nice 30-minute display, a huge bonus to end the day.

Internet is extra in the room so I used the free machines in the lobby. Despite being in Canada I was able to pick up at&t so could do a little on the iphone. That’s enough for me.


in family first |

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Took my parents out around town. Millennium park, the bean, bp bridge. So happy to see them excited and interested, Mum was taking pictures all the time. Quick and simple lunch at corner bakery then walked up towards Michigan. Decided against the boat cruises and took some time exploring the rocks at the Tribune Tower.

By then we were all tired so we retired to a café place in one of the malls with juice and smoothies and sat till we felt better. May be a little too long cos when we came out it started pouring. Got a bit wet waiting for the bus but it was okay once we went back to the car.

I’m so happy they are here.

in family first |

Managed to cram a lot into one day. First thing, did laundry and bedsheet laundry. The downstairs neighbour was having a party so there was a lot of in and out activity. I decided not to use the dryer, just my drying racks.

Ran 10.5km (6.5miles) down the lake and back up. Pretty good run. Quick lunch of noodles and I was out the door at 1pm on my way to the airport to pick up my parents. Yay!!! They’re here to visit me. Long wait. Their flight landed around 2.40pm and it took them till almost 5pm to get out. I was getting worried…although I could see it was wicked busy and people from their flight was trickling out. Turned out there was a huge queue at immigration. I feel sorry for people needing to transit. We managed to squeeze their suitcases into my little car and we were home.

The midsommarfest was on so we walked over for a looksee. Had street food — sausages, sliders from hamburger mary’s and chocolate dipped cheesecake. Shopping at jewel and we were home. It’s so nice to have them here.


in eating and drinking , family first |

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The eating continues. I’ve been over my calorie goal, and no exercising, for more than 2 weeks. But, I’m on holiday, right?

Went with parents to the café marco for lunch buffet. Seniors get a discount so there were quite a few there taking advantage. It was well worth even the full price. Everything was so well done — salad, seafood, sashimi, 3 hot dish stations, extensive desserts, chocolate fountain, movenpick ice cream. Amazing.

After all the gorging, Mum and I spent our energy hunting for a wii. Went to the golden arcade, but the ones on offer there were too “fixed” — she couldn’t use regular disks, had to download into a flashdrive — I didn’t know where to do that. So we went back to 188 and got the proper version for a higher price. I got a couple of games myself too — lego star wars and sports resort.

Dinner with sis and my niece at tokio joe. I was stuffed from lunch but couldn’t pass up more fresh delicious japanese food.

in family first |



Went up to Sis’ place for lunch. She had an errand to run up to the Peak so I went with her — wow it’s so touristy. My niece wanted to play lego star wars with me, she’s soooo good. Kept telling me to “relax” and “I’ll take care of it”. I think I’ll need to buy that game too.

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For dinner, went with parents all the way to the other side of town, to tai po, for clay pot rice. It’s just a small chachantang, but the variety was impressive and the food was good.

in family first |

Sometimes it’s good to stay home. Mum and I went to a noodle place famous for its pork liver noodles. And that’s what they sold almost exclusively. I worked out that the profit margins are huge, no wonder there’s like 3 branches on the same stretch of the street. We went to the electronics street and got small stuff like manually charging torches, it’s cute.


in family first , going places |

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We were travelling with our bags today. Lunch at the Dragon’s restaurant where we had dim sum on the first day. There were a lot of people, so mm got us a private room — had to order a la carte, and a bit more expensive. Still good value.

More snack shopping — biscuits, sponge cake and all sorts. Bus was on time and today it was more a hassle, had to get off and on the bus twice for customs cos they weren’t in the same building.

Quick dinner of hainanese chicken rice and I was glad to be home.



in family first , going places |

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I can’t remember the last time I was in the mainland. Shanghai may be? That was over 6 years ago. Sounds just about right.

Basically, mm bought a flat and spent a lot of effort decorating it. So we went there, and my parents came along too. It was pretty straightforward to go — a 45min coach journey to the border, get our bags, go through 2 sets of immigration, get back on the coach for the remainder 2-3hr trip. Her place is nice, in her style.

We had a dim sum lunch, then visited the Qing Hui gardens right in the city centre. It’s not very big, surrounded by buildings and streets but once inside, there’s surprisingly a lot hidden. Turn a corner and there’s something new, another pond, another doorway leading to another exhibit. Pics: whole set

Dinner was the most scrumptious lamb hot pot ever. We had lamb, blood, skin, and all sorts of interesting parts, all in a hot pot. Plus rice cooked in coconut that was perfect. I didn’t charge my S90, so no pictures. Sigh.

Went to the supermarket nearby, got some snacks and sweets and milk and stuff. Got parents home, then we went for massage. It was late when we finished, and cold outside, after a quick (and not hot enough) shower there wasn’t much to do except crawl into bed.


in family first , how the day went |

Lunch with mm’s family at the usual restaurant, with the usual food. Always so predictable. I didn’t have a lot of time last week to shop for the kids (I knew about the lunch late) so I made do with Jewel chicago shopping bags. heehee.

Met up with Mum to go shopping for one of the main items on my shopping list, the drool-worthy canon s90. It’s not that much cheaper, I bought it anyway. I’m bummed that the mbp doesn’t have connectivity, so I wasn’t in a hurry to try it out by going crazy with taking pictures. First impressions:

  • sharp looking, fast shutter, clear screen
  • familiar P, TV, AV settings
  • low light, f2
  • good zoom
  • lots more function than the common point-and-shoot
  • I keep missing the zoom, hitting the notch underneath the wheel instead
  • didn’t come with a case


in family first , going places , on the relationship front |

Flight arrived early at 6.45am, I was one of the first off and was out through Immigration quicker than the bags. My duffel came out first (as in the first off the belt) but the suitcase only came with the non-priority bags, brrrr. Got on the train, called home, off the train straight to the taxi and I was home by something like 7.30am. It’s cold. No heating. Took a while to unpack all the food I’d brought back. Showered and got online. Very frustrated that I can’t seem to connect my mbp to the modem, Mum doesn’t have wifi. So now I’m stuck with the 2004 PC that runs like a run/walk marathoner at mile 22. Sigh.

The good thing was, I had steamed fish for lunch and everything my parents cooked was great. It is nice to see them.

Went out in the afternoon to meet up with mm. It is valentine’s day after all. She was tired and asleep. What else could I do but join her? I was jetlagged too. Eventually we pulled ourselves up, cos otherwise we’d sleep through the night. She took me to a conveyor belt sushi place that was very yummy. The plan was to walk around but my energy level was fading so I called it a day.


in family first |

I talked to Mum for about an hour last night, nothing much, just telling her about the snow, ice, work. And the veggie bread pudding and pork soup I made. It’s good to talk.

mm was out with her family, so we didn’t get much of a chance to talk. She called me later after my midnight, but not for long cos she was on the street. She’ll be away the rest of the weekend so we’ll talk again during the work week. I talk to her more now, it’s good.

Christmas day was spent visiting at Car’s family. We went over to her aunt’s house yesterday for a big dinner, and again today after mass for another big dinner. Today’s menu was meatballs and lasagna. It’s a change for me, but very welcome. The food and company were good. I ended up playing a bit with the kids. And yes, I’m a whole lot older than them but in terms of mental age and size, not that much different. Heehee.

in being healthy , family first |

First product demo today, so I couldn’t stay home. Of all the weeks to be sick, this is the worst week ever. I dare not take the cough medicine cos of drowsiness, but the inhaler seems to be working a little.

We were invited to our vendor’s office at Sears Tower for the demo, only a 5 min walk. When we walked in, we were greeted by a room full of suits! Scary. The demo was as expected, that’s what you get from the industry leader.

Bought a flower basket and drove down to Gram’s wake. The minute I walked in I knew I’d be told off, cos I’d been told to stay home and rest. But in all honesty, most people would have made the effort. It was a horrid drive down in heavy traffic and even more horrid drive home in the torrential rain. But I made it.

in family first |

It’s Car’s grandmother’s 95th birthday party today. And what a party for an amazing lady! There were many family and friends, and I’m no longer surprised that I know quite a few and get greeted as a family member. On the flipside I get treated as a family member meaning I’m not immune to the jokes and jibes, heehee. I’m honoured and privileged to be accepted as a “cousin”. I helped as much as I could with the food prep, though there were plenty of willing helping hands. Cold cuts, cheese, bread, Italian beef sandwich, sausage, potato salad, macaroni salad, cake, jelly, brownies, rice crispies treat and I made chocolate mousse. Sometimes when there were too many people and I felt overwhelmed I retreated into “my” bedroom to watch the food network / play on the netbook and nobody bothered me. It was a late night, I had a good time. Considering everything that’s happened recently, people were genuinely happy to be gathered together for a celebration.

in family first |

I went to a wake tonight, for the uncle of my adopted Chicago family. It was a very well attended event with lots of family and friends — it’s obvious that he was well liked and respected. I learned that he was a retired police captain, which I had sort of known before but not all the details.

It was almost 9pm when we left, and we got something to eat. Then after dinner, we were winding down — Car went to check email, I was getting ready for a shower. Then I heard a desperate scream. And it all happened at once. I’ll leave Car to update first in her blog, but the long and short of it was — ER, family support, we got home at 3.30am.

in arts and media , family first |

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I did flat stanley for my niece this week. flat stanley is inspired by the children’s book by Jeff Brown. Poor Stanley got squashed and became flat as pancake. Undeterred, Stanley takes advantage of his flat state to go on many adventures around the world and even to space.

Many schools initiate Flat Stanley Projects in which children make their own Flat Stanleys, and take him to activities with them for a few days. They record the activities in a journal. Then the fun part starts:

Flat Stanley and the journal are mailed to other people who are asked to treat the figure as a visiting guest and add to his journal, then return them both after a period of time.


So my niece’s flat doll, whom she named Flat Neena, has been making the journeys. She’s been to her grandparents in West Sussex, and our cousin in New York so far. And this week she was with me. I took her to Sears Tower, the Arts Institute, the Bean, downtown, and on a ride on the brown line. She’s now on her way back to my niece. It’s been really fun.

Full set: 17 (15 public) on flickr

in family first , how the day went |

Woke up at 3am-ish and took a melatonin, still woke up at 7am. When I’m this jetlagged I give up trying to sleep. Crawled out of bed, played on the computer, had some tea, and went running for 5 miles, just cos I was really really really cold.

Tired enough that by lunchtime I was fading, so I crawled back into bed and slept.

Till 4pm.

Dinner with my family at a nearby Japanese place, got some carrots for soup, then took the bus home.

I won’t have trouble sleeping.

in family first |
flickr photo
The Presswallah, originally uploaded by Antarix.


mum came over to help me iron my mountain of clothes piled on top of the armchair. I think it’s been weeks and dozens of loads of laundry since the last time anything got ironed. Hee. Mum claims she likes ironing, which i actually believe, cos she irons a lot when we were young. She definitely takes much more care (and longer) than when i do it.

Looking around online brought me to this wonderful photo of a presswallah in India, who basically irons clothes for people. It’s a noble occupation, and so fascinating to me culturally. There’s also a youtube video of another presswallah.

in eating and drinking , family first |

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mm’s parents invited me for dinner tonight, they’ve been including me in family gatherings lately, even though technically they don’t know they’re my in-laws. Interesting conundrum.

I didn’t want to go empty handed, and it being so close to Christmas. So I made chocolate chip cookies. I’m useless at picking out gifts for people and if I have time, I prefer to make food items. As the LA Times said in its article 50 ways to make your holiday gifts homemade,

Not only are homemade gifts less expensive, they also capture the spirit of holiday giving in a way that purchased gifts simply can’t.

These were real easy, I can’t remember where I got the recipe, but I’ve always had it on the old html version of my website. Cream 8oz butter with 4oz sugar, add 2 large (or 3 small) eggs, fold in 10oz SR flour and 12oz chocolate chips. Spoon onto a lined baking tray and bake for 15-20mins until golden. Makes 24 large cookies.

I wrapped them up in clingfilm and put them in pretty Christmas-y gift bags. Freshly made, I could still smell them when I gave them out at the restaurant, and my apartment now has that warm homely baking smell that will last till the morning.


in 101.1001 , family first | | comments (1)

My great-aunt and aunt are visiting — I hadn’t seen them in years and years. When Mum told me they are visiting, and that they plan to go to the cemetery, I made sure I booked my flight back from Chicago to ensure I’m home today.

My grandfather passed away in 1992 and my grandmother in 2002. I can still remember how I found out. I was in London in 1992, fresh out of college and newly with mm. We’d been at Margate on Sunday and I got the call early Monday morning from my dad. I felt guilty that while everyone was at the hospital I was out having fun at the beach, though being 8000 miles away and unaware of the situation there was nothing to be guilty about. I got a ticket that day and it was a long, lonely plane ride to the funeral.

I was home in 2002, fresh back from Zurich. My grandmother had had a stroke a couple of years prior and was being cared for by Mum and my uncle. Mum called on Saturday morning, I dressed quickly and was lucky that the first taxi I flagged down knew the way to the hospital, even directing me to where the entrance was when we got there.

I don’t consider it morbid to visit my grandparents and great-grandparents in the cemetery. I suppose it could be a scary place at night but in the light of day all I feel is respect and a sense of purpose. How can there possibly be malignant forces present at such an overwhelmingly Catholic place?


in family first |

It’s my dad’s birthday today. :D We actually celebrated last saturday at the Spring Deer Restaurant. It’s one of those really old traditional restaurants that people return to cos they went there when they were young. Mum tried to book for today and they were full!!!

We started with shark’s fin soup. Very nice. Lots of shark’s fin, not like some places where there are only a few strands. Moved on to the famous Peking duck. It’s different from some Peking duck in that they include quite a lot of meat with the skin, just the way we like it. The duck meat is especially juicy too.

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The rest of the duck meat they minced up and combined with diced vegetables. It’s served with iceberg lettuce, the idea is to wrap the minced in the lettuce leaves. This was followed by small steamed dumplings. For dessert we had deep fried “doughnuts” with red bean filling

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in arts and media , family first |

It’s a family tradition, that we all go to the yacht club to enjoy mulled wine and minced pies, then watch the choir sing the christmas carols before sitting down for christmas eve buffet. This year sis invited her friends Win, Po and their son Josh. I had something like 4 glasses of mulled wine but only a few bites of the minced pies. Mum put probably 20 of them in a ziploc bag for home.

I do enjoy Christmas Carols very much. I don’t broadcast this all over the place but deep down I’m a fairly religious person and I like the meaning that carols bring. Ignoring how commercialised Christmas is, step back and think about the origins of the day, and listen to the words in the hymns. I’m not so keen on the overly jovial ones like Joy to the World or Jingle Bells. My favourites are Once in Royal David’s City and Silent Night sung very slowly. This year, I have O Holy Night on my mind pretty constantly the last couple of days. I mean, how can anyone not be moved by the chorus.

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born

There are literally dozens of versions available online. I’ve listened to pop stars and opera singers on youtube but this one is absolutely stunning! Michael Crawford with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Don’t let this Christmas pass without listening to this at least once.


in family first , on the relationship front |

Went with mm to see her one week old niece today. As it happened her parents were also there at her brother’s house and it was a nice, albeit short, visit. The baby is very cute and well behaved — even though she was passed around all the adults as well as her almost 4 year old brother — to be coo’ed and held, she slept all the way through.

We took the minibus back to mm’s place and went to a nearby seafood restaurant. Where we promptly had an extremely big meal, hee hee. A whole box of food to doggie bag home.

During showertime (um, please. no one track mind. We were chatting and separated by the shower curtain) we talked about my niece and how not only will she not have any siblings, she won’t have any cousins either. I mean, the only chance she’ll have cousins would be if I had any children. And that is a big no. I don’t mind other people’s kids but I’m too set in my comfy life and routine to change. I don’t even know if I can get used to not living alone. If I were to have any kids, I said, it’ll have to be mm’s. And she has too much on her plate, between family, work, church — to have any sort of time for that.

Isn’t it strange, that when you were like 5 or 6 you tended to think of your future as the typical one, like your parents — marriage, children and all that. But how life doesn’t turn out that way. The only regret is there won’t be anyone genetically descended from me, but that’s not a big deal.

in family first , going places |

I’m in Japan this week for meetings. It’s been 2.5 years since I was here last. Lots of changes since then.

I brought Mum. She’s never visited and wanted to. I upgraded my room to a twin and got her an air ticket; this way she saves on hotel. I had some airmiles expiring next January, and it was just enough to get her airport lounge access. We had breakfast and I set up the mbp while she read a magazine. It was relaxing pre-flight; much better than fighting with the masses at the public food court. The flight was too full to upgrade her to business class, but I checked her in early and got her a front-of-plane window seat.

Uneventful but long bus ride on the bus to the TCAT station, then we took a taxi to our hotel — the Royal Park Shiodome Tower. Shiodome is a new developed area, full of modern office buildings, post restaurants. It used to be a derelict railway terminal and now it’s like Docklands.

Met Sis’ family for dinner. My colleague took us to an area with a bunch of restaurants. I had chirashi and we shared a mixed sushi. ¥12,000 (US$100) for 5 adults and 1 child — we’re talking about fresh fish here. That’s really good.

Tomorrow is a long day for me. I’m still enjoying NewJob but it’s been quite draining.

in family first |

It’s Mum’s birthday today, it’s always either on or close to Mother’s Day so double celebration. We took her to a traditional (and noisy!) restaurant for dinner. Well, Papa paid. We ordered enough food for 8 people when it’s only the 4 of us and my niece. Lots to take home though. Good food.

Then we went back to Sis’ place for cake. She cleverly bought slices of a variety of cakes — 3 different cheesecakes, apple crumble cake, lemon cake — and arranged in a circle. Much better than just one choice of cake.

Parents came back and took my old Delsey suitcase. Hee, one fewer clutter item from the apartment, but I still need a bigger place.

in family first |

I took my Sis to look at macbooks today, she wanted to get one for my 4 year old niece. I mean, yes, nowadays kids get computers early. My niece has been playing with computers since she was 1.5 years old, she used to sit on my lap or Mum’s lap, and use a paintbrush to point at the screen while we used the mouse to click on whatever she pointed at. Mainly she played on the Sesame Street or Barney websites.

Today she sat on my lap playing on an iMac. But that was all she needed me to be, a glorified high chair. She used the mouse like it was the most natural thing in the world, colouring small parts like individual flower petals and Barney’s toes perfectly well.

My brother in law was worried that if they got her a mac that she’d be confused with the 2 systems. I don’t think it’ll be a problem at all. Kids her age will grow up with computers and it’ll be instinctive for her.

I’m so glad I registered her domain name when she was only 2.

in eating and drinking , family first |

Since I’ll be traveling next week, my parents and sis took me for early birthday lunch today. It was at a Japanese restaurant about 20 mins walk from where I live. It’s a conveyor belt sushi place, more posh than some of the others, on Sunday brunch they do a AYCE buffet. I had mainly sashimi, didn’t want to stuff myself with rice though their sushi rice was of very high quality. Had some dumplings and tempura and cold soba too. Quite nice though I’d prefer more choices and definitely more hot food.

Sis and baby had a painting birthday party but Mum and I did some food shopping for dinner and went back to sis’ apartment. I played with her laptop all afternoon, doing the same stuff I’d be doing at home. I also downloaded firefox, an anti-virus and an anti-spyware program for her. Ran the virus check, it was fine; the spyware program unearthed the usual list of squatters.

They came back around 5.30pm and we had dinner at their place. After dinner we had the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cake that they bought me, very nice.

I haven’t been eating a lot recently and now I’m very full.

in family first | | comments (1)

Lunar New Year today. Went to my parents’ for lunch — we had a mix of all sorts of our favourite foods, though nothing “cohesive” that would be considered a proper menu. I mean, we mixed steak with abalone and vegetable stew and carrot cake and the yu sheng salad from Singapore. Who cares, it’s only the three of us.

I spent most of the time before and after lunch fixing Mum’s PC. Sigh. Stupid PC. She had a ton of spyware that was crippling her IE. Hee, I half considered not fixing it so she could use firefox instead, but she plays some games off msn. I showed her how much faster and safer firefox is. Tidied up her start menu, got rid of redundant icons, general cleanup, downloaded a bunch of security software, that sort of stuff.

By the time I got back to mm’s it was almost 5pm. I stopped by the market and bought 4 giant tiger prawns — “big head prawns.” I made surf & turf for dinner - sirloin steak, prawns, potato cubes, mange tout beans and mini corn. A big plate each. Hee.

in family first | | comments (1)

mm and I had dinner with her mum tonight, just the three of us. It was really nice. I loved being there, even though I tend not to say a lot when I’m in the company of her family. Her family is very different from mine, meals are boisterous affairs and they joke around and talk at the top of their voices. My family is the complete opposite, we rarely talk and tend to eat quickly. Hence the difference in our personalities: I’m already a lot better now, at least I talk and socialise a bit. It’s fun, whenever she sees me, especially on a friday when we haven’t seen each other for a week, it’s like a dam opens and she pours out everything she wants to tell me. It’s so sweet.

in family first |

Today it’s her family’s turn. Heh. Lunch with her parents at their local restaurant. They have a new helper who was very quiet and didn’t eat a lot.

Then back to their place to pack and stuff. She taught her dad how to use a CD player. Her brother drove over to bring us to his place, and we played mahjong for the rest of the afternoon. Normally I don’t play, in fact the last time I played was so long ago I can’t remember — usually I’d team up with her and play a couple of rounds when she needs to help cook or something. This time I’m a team of one and I got a little bored and frustrated cos I can’t get out of the game.

Everyone else came and we had hotpot dinner, which her mom prepared already. Her mom is so great when it comes to cooking and all things food. I was very full.

Her dad welcomes me a lot, he’s so sweet. He always says things like how glad he is that I can join, cos it’s the whole family now. Have I taken sis’ place? or will I ever be accepted as being “with” her? shrug

in family first |

Early start today, it was her sis’ birthday and we went to 7.15am mass as remembrance.

I left at 6.40am and caught the first bus out. The streets are so different at that time of day, much quieter and peaceful of course. But people already stirring. Trucks making deliveries, early shift people getting to work, older folks exercising in the park. The view and atmosphere was different, the people out and about were different too.

Can’t imagine having to be up that early everyday. I’m not a morning person though I’m waking up earlier nowadays, it’s the ageing.

The service was held in the loft of the church. I got there pretty early and the main hall was empty, I was surprised.

The theme today was how Mother Mary found out she was pregnant and she didn’t know what to do. And even when Jesus was suffering at the end, she visited him again and again and how painful that would have been. The Father told us that she was just living day by day, but she had no worries, cos God was in her heart. He gave an example of kids taking RE class, they can probably recite the Bible better than us, but do they know the meaning of those words and stories?

Do I consider myself a good Catholic? If I’m talking whether I go to mass, or pray and all the activites, I’m sorely lacking. But I do believe, even though I’m classified as a sinner. I took communion and I didn’t feel it was wrong, I was glad I did.

After the service I went to breakfast with her family. By the time I got on the minibus home it was 9am. The streets were very different from merely 7 hours before. Full of people getting to work, all faceless, all busy.

in family first |

It’s father’s day today and I’m so glad that we as a family can go out for a meal, all 4 of us, plus my niece. We went to a French restaurant, the “usual” one in the dingy alleyway and where there is a secret knock to get in the door. Nice menu, I asked especially for the chocolate pudding dessert and my dad loved it. Mum was her usual “negative comments only” mood, but my niece made lots of cute drawings on the paper-covered table.

Mum asked her to go draw with her and she says “I’m too busy drawing me”. She’s 3 1/2.

in family first |

Mum’s birthday today. We all went out for lunch on Saturday already, at a buffet sort of place. But Sis and I thought we’d take her out on her proper day.

I booked the French private restaurant I booked for the dept Christmas dinner. Our menu was:

  • Small appetizers - asparagus & prawn sauté, ox tongue terrine, baked escargot tart, stuffed duck breast w/ peach, spinach nuts roll
  • Salmon & dill tropical salad
  • Crab Chowder w/ pumpkin
  • Pan-fried Goose liver with red wine jus
  • Choice of main course - Stuffed pork loin roulade w/ Balsamic mushrooms or Scallop & Fish roulade in light curry sauce
  • Lemon Soufflé Cake
  • Herbal tea or Coffee

I wasn’t feeling 100% as far as my stomach was concerned that day, so I was terribly full by the main course and could only manage a bite or two. I had the pork, Mum and Sis the fish. I totally forgot Sis doesn’t eat pork so she’s only limited to one choice. The fish was nicer I thought.

I brought a bottle of châteauneuf-du-Pape, originally I was going to take a Henckell Trocken, but somehow having champagne with a meal doesn’t appeal to me that much.

Baby was also there, she’d had dinner at home already and behaved very well in the restaurant, playing with crayons, toys or hide and seek around the tables. There were only our table and another party of 5 so enough room for her to run around.

This is a good restaurant, no corkage, no service charge, menu changes everyday. Of course being a “private” restaurant it’s hidden away and won’t entertain walk-in customers.

in family first |

Had lunch with my family yesterday, supposedly cos today’s Mother’s Day and it’ll be crowded and so many people so we have it early. Had buffet lunch at a supposedly posh restaurant, food’s okay, not fantastic, a lot of the price is probably location and décor.

Then it gradually dawned on me that it’s not just Saturday, it’s Sunday as well, and there’s some expectations that we’re going out again. I don’t know what my problem is nowadays but I simply have no incentive to go out, my preference is to stay home, stay indoors, and not have any contact with humans (except one, of course).

I really shouldn’t feel this way, cos Mother’s Day comes only once and year and Mum puts a great deal of importance on events like these. But as soon as I knew it’s Sunday too, all I thought about was, have to get home stat. I want to go home, now! Didn’t even offer to go with Mum walking around the (crowded and boring) shops. We arranged to go walking today.

Now today, it rained cats and dogs. So it’s confusion and miscommunications and the normal no one wanting to take the lead, Mum ended up sulking, and the half-baked plans turned out to be for nought.

It’s a bit sad really. Though not surprising. Bottom line is, I don’t like going out, my Dad doesn’t like going out, my Sis just wants to go where it’s suitable for Baby and Baby’s schedule, and Mum was waiting for someone to plan her big day. It was never gonna work out.

in family first , on the relationship front |

We had lunch with my family today, and dinner with hers. A truly “meet the parents” kind of day. Of course she knows my folks well, and I’m almost part of her family. But … there’s always the but.

Lunch we went to the club at the small island by the beach. My niece had a great time and we ordered food for the bbq the club set up outside. It was really hot and I wasn’t prepared, had only a vegetable-like T-shirt on and must have looked like a vegetable. Food was good though.

Foot massage in the afternoon, then dinner with her family. Proper served meal and private room. Very nice food, good company. Needless to say, I’m extremely full. Her Mum gave me some herbal tea, cos I was breaking out in spots and she boiled it specially for me.

Just to show how different our respective families are. Mine is more serious, have a more simple view of the world. Hers is more worldly, knows about relationships and in general more noisy, but in an endearing kind of way.

Don’t think they’ll mix terribly well though.

in family first |

Pictures for slide show.

Edited:
That was kind of an emergency placeholder for getting pictures to an outside party. I've taken the links out now.

I could have emailed, put in a yahoo album or made a plain webpage in Dreamweaver (actually I should have enough knowledge to handcode that). But this was the quickest. All the power to MT then ...

in family first |

Visited the graveside of my grandparents and 2 great-grandmothers. My sis brought her daughter so we were telling her that she was visiting her great-great-grandmother.

I feel privileged to have the oppurtunity to pay my respects to them. The cemetary is getting bigger and the last few times we've visited, they play soothing music / hymns over the loudspeaker. It's got a nice atmosphere.

I "gave permission" mm to spend the day with her friends, so we didn't see each other. I'd like to think we don't have the sort of relationship where one needs permission from the other to spend time outside the relationship. We both want us to have an open relationship and we have our own free time.

I'm glad she has other friends and keeps in touch with them. Imagine having to be with me 24/7, enough to make her blechy, hee.

in family first |

It's my sis' birthday today, and conveniently it's a public holiday. Always has been, though I never figured out what for.

We all met up in a family style Italian restaurant. Ordered a couple of salads, a linguine with clams and a mushroom pizza. The salads and pasta came quickly then we had to wait a long time for the pizza. I asked the waitress about its progress and she answered "it has to be baked." I mean, duh, of course it has to be baked. My dad said, what, they serve raw pizzas here?

It was a nice crispy pizza though. Afterwards my sis and brother-in-law went shopping while my parents took my niece back to their place for afternoon nap. I wanted to go home, but then relented and went along home. It was far too hot to do anything else.

Tested out the website on Mum's machine. Yeah it's a stupid Wintel contraption. But now 3 browsers richer -- I downloaded firefox, opera and netscape onto her machine. Yeah you guessed it again, she only had explorer. How utterly predictable. I love firefox I can't stop using it. Now it has me thinking so seriously about finally switching to OS X. Sigh. How much longer can I resist? May be I'll try booting up the old iMac on OS X first.

Anyway I was happily browsering, my niece woke up and I played with her on Sesame Street for a while, she even has her own little computer hooked up to the TV. She sits on my lap and uses a paintbrush to "click" her choices on the screen (while I did the real clicking on the mouse), I think she'll know how to use a mouse very very soon. We had dinner and went home early cos they want to go swimming in their pool before it closes.

Baby goes to my parents' a lot, they call it going to boarding school or day school depending on whether she stays overnight. Their place is now full of toys and children stuff. I'm so glad to see my parents so happy with her, they argue less and give more attention to taking care of the little one. She has always followed my Dad, he was the last one to see her, only when she was about a year old, but she took to him straight away and always follows him. Even if she's throwing tantrums we'd say go and walkabout with granddad and she'd go with him, just like that.

Sometimes I feel guilty that it's taken my parents such a long time to reap the joys of having a grandchild. If sis doesn't have another little one, she's going to be the only one. Sigh. That's the one regret I have about how my life's turned out.

in family first |

Yesterday we visited her sis. We went to the flower market on Saturday to get the flowers. I bought yellow tulips accompanied by small white flowers, I never know the names of flowers, I know I should. Apparently tulips mean love and passion, but yellow tulips mean "There's sunshine in your smile".

The area is concreted down and some of the neighbouring spaces already have headstones. We were able to find her place because her father sprayed a little green paint over it, as marker. It felt strange to walk on the concrete, I tried not to step directly on the ground right above the body, out of respect, and because I feel so weird about it. There were no containers yet so we laid the bouquets out on the ground.

Her parents are deciding on the wording on her headstone. I looked around on the net and found this:

Not gone from memory
Not gone from love
But gone to her Father's
Home above

Is it disrespectful to look for epitaphs on the internet? I hope she will smile and say of course not. I like the simplicity and meaning of this inscription, I always wonder how people can be so eloquent and profound with just a few words.

As for the difficulty of expressing one's feelings after loss, I wrote this when I was still in college. It's not from personal experience, I have no idea where it came from.

Departure I : Silent Breeze

I was trying to write a song for you
Trying to write some words just for you
Trying to preserve in my mind's eye
One special image of you

But all the words I wrote
Well none of them would do
These words
Words wrung from my heart
Words to tear me apart
Just weren't the words for you

As I sat alone at my desk
For hours from dawn through dusk
I could only remember your last day
And the moments we had before you went away

Suddenly on my book I wept
And all the pain and hurt I'd kept
Deep inside the void in my heart
Came up and shook my spirit apart

And all the words I wrote
Well what good are they now
These words
Words wrung from my heart
Words to tear me apart
Will never be heard by you
Are you happy there
In that other place
Are you lonely there
In that other place
Please save some love for me
Please dream a little of me
Wait and I will come
To that other place
Some day

And though I tried my best
I could not let my grief rest
Though I know that none of the words here
Can bring you back to me

All the words I wrote
Do they matter at all
These words
Words wrung from my heart
Words to tear me apart
Just slow how fragile life is

And still ...
Your memory ..
I am missing you ...

in family first |

I was on the phone with my sis talking about Christmas plans and stuff like that. Her mobile rang and she went to pick it up but was too late. It was Mum.

"Probably at the market with a slipper crisis. Open toed or closed? Oh no! It's a huge dilemma," she did a good imitation of Mum.

Snerk. We're baaaad. What? We love our parents. Really.

in family first |

According to tradition, the spirit of the departed returns home a certain date after their passing. To ensure a peaceful return a meal of favourite foods should be prepared and offered, and a white candle burning outside the door to guide the way. Though the Catholic part of me screams out against such paganistic rituals, the spiritual part of me hits back with why not? Respecting from afar and participating in different practices may not be the same, but they have the same starting point. The underlying theme is basically, it's good to have beliefs. And if the beliefs bring even a small smidgen of joy and comfort in times of mourning, then they are beliefs worth having.

So I had dinner with mm's family last night. And it was a veritable feast. Her mother picked out the best morsels and laid them out. I brought dessert from that little shop at the other side of town, because that's what her sis and I did the last time we had dinner, just the two of us, back before she went into hospital, when she felt fine enough to go to work, eat out and enjoy a semblance of normal life. We had a steak dinner and took the #10 bus to this shop and she told me about their famous sponge cake. So yesterday I went there and bought the special sponge cake and also the almond tea she likes. Liked. Her father kept talking to her during dinner, "do you have enough to eat?", "finished?", "want some fruit?".

Poignant moments.

in family first |

It's been 2 weeks yet it feels so much like it only happened yesterday. 13 November we lost the one of us, who was the best of us.

mm's sister passed away after a long illness.

Though she was ill for a long time and at the back of our minds there was always the possibility that she would not pull though, no one can ever be prepared when it happens. Death is always sudden, however inevitable it is. The weekend before when we visited she was so weak and tired and, now that I know more, in so much pain. But how brave was she that she never complained. That she chose to suffer alone and not add to the worry and burden that was already upon her family. So we carried on with our lives, we knew the situation was dire but there was always hope.

A hundred and forty-six "if-only's" flash through my mind. If only I'd visited more often, if only the doctors were more aggressive, if only she talked about it. But none of it matters. This is how it is. It's the will of God, or whichever deity one believes in. Having a faith matters. But still, this is the reality.

I can't remember our last words, our last touch, I know I should be grief-stricken by these lost moments but all I feel are non-feelings. How many times in the past months have I held my girl while she despaired and tried not to think of the worst case scenario. My heart is heavy but there is no grief. My grandmother passed away last year and still I haven't been able to cry for her. I haven't cried for my friend. I've attended family gatherings where emotions ran high. I was there the whole time during the funeral. I saw people I cared about in their weakest, darkest moments. But me? I feel like a robot, going through the motions. Eating. Breathing. Sleeping. But not grieving. Which stage of grief is this fugue state? Did I skip denial, anger, bargaining, depression and go straight to acceptance? Or did I skip acceptance also and didn't even start on the emotions?

I don't want to feel.