Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Summary of 2013

It's that time of the year again!

The year has just flown by and I can't quite believe I've left it to the very last day to be writing my last post of the year.

Little N and I spent a couple of weeks almost alone together in January after the Mother-in-law went back to Hong Kong. After that, I started transitioning her to my mum's place during the day so that she could get used to the arrangement when I went back to work. 

I still can't quite believe how blessed I am that my mum and dad would offer to take care of Little N during the day. It certainly isn't easy for both of them. Baby caring is hard work... and an active baby (who is a toddler now) is even harder. But I can see them bonding really well and I'm just so grateful to my parents, especially mum!

It took me quite a while this year before I got confident going out with Nicole. I was just at home a lot during my maternity leave. In the beginning, it seemed like every trip meant her daily routine got thrown off balance and resulted in a nervous mum and a cranky baby. It took a lot of pushing (Em.. I should say encouragement) from The Husband before I became more confident with bringing her out. I still prefer to ensure she gets at least 1 good nap at home in the day though.. And I still prefer going home earlier at night so that she can be in bed before 9pm.. because I think a well rested baby is a happy one.

I started work just before Chinese New Year and it isn't long before I settled into a rather fixed routine of work, breastfeeding and baby caring. My days are fully packed and it sometimes feel like I am running a race with no pit stops. Thanks to good suggestions from friends and colleagues who have young children, I started making sure I leave work by around 630pm everyday and then restart only at 9-930pm. This helps me get some time in the evenings with Little N.. I get to play a little with her and put her to bed. Driving to work helps me get a little bit more time and I used that time for some precious me-time in the morning during breakfast.

Things are a lot better now that I am quite used to the routine and night wakings, but I still really wish for the day that Little N would start sleeping through the night.

In April, I went for a business trip and training session in the UK for about a week. It was the first time I was away for Little N for so long! The main purpose of the trip was to attend this training session at the UK's Royal Marine's headquarters in Exeter. It was an extremely interesting training on leadership and team work.. but I missed my girl a lot. I insisted on freezing and transporting back most of my breastmilk for Little N so it was also a logistically challenging trip - with 3 hotel moves and lugging bags of frozen breastmilk all between London and Exeter. I was quite pleased with myself for doing it though.. because in a way the complexity and challenge of this trip kept me going and I managed to breastfeed Little N exclusively for the first 13 months of her life.

A meal at my favourite restaurant near the London office

In the middle of the year, I had some bad news at work (some of my key staff members resigned) and some really awful news at home (my dear grandmother was diagnosed with last stage liver cancer). These 2 events really make me look at my work quite differently. I realise that I need to live out the fact that health and family is priority and not work. It's really not easy. Especially the health part.

It was also around this time that Singapore got hit with one of the worst smog in recent history, with pollution levels hitting record high. There was a mad scramble amongst Singaporeans to buy air purifiers and I was no exception. I got my sister and my sister-in-law to lug air purifiers from Indonesia and Hong Kong because they were all sold out in Singapore. Again, it was another reminder that we cannot take things for granted.

The usual view out of the window from my office

 The view when the pollution index hit record levels

I managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to Beijing on my own. 2013 is the year that one of my main projects whilst I was working in Beijing ended. It was a 6 years project that started in 2008. The team organised a couple of special dinners - one with the client and one with all previous members of the project. I got the opportunity to meet old friends and dine at some of my favourite restaurants in Beijing. I also had a couple of hours by myself to visit some of the places The Husband and I used to visit in Beijing. I enjoyed myself a lot and it was a good break from my daily routine.

2 of my favourite restaurants - Dadong and Hai di lao
I didn't have enough time to visit the others.
This was a market that The Husband and I frequented. 
We visited it almost every weekend whilst we were in Beijing. 
I went there to buy some peaches home this trip.

In September, Little N celebrated her first birthday. The Husband and I had a big row that day. I cannot for the life of me remember what the row was about. But I still have evidence of his unhappy face in the photos. Being tired most of the time makes me more irritable and makes rows with The Husband a lot more frequent than they used to be. We probably had more rows in 2013 than our previous years combined. I do feel strongly the need to do something about this perpetual tiredness.. but I don't have a good solution yet. I'm still amazed at how some other mothers seem to have so much energy.. and why they seem to have so little need for me-time.

Little N seemed to be blissfully unaware of our big row on her birthday. We went to the river safari that day and she saw pandas for the first time. Around her first birthday, she also started speaking quite a bit.. which is good, especially since it helps us understand her at times.

Little N feeling happy after seeing the pandas at River Safari

In October, we went for a trip to Taiwan. This was our first family trip overseas with Little N. Travelling with Little N meant we weren't able to travel light! There were just so many things we had to lug along! But Little N was fairly co-operative and though it was tiring, I did enjoy all the food and sights we got to see.

Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan

Highlight of the trip - Taiwanese food and drinks!

Another highlight this trip - onsen!

We also got our keys to the new home in the west in October. We have been looking around for an interior designer and going furniture shopping quite a bit since then. We've just recently confirmed our interior designer so things will be getting really busy and exciting soon. To be very honest, I am very worried about moving to the west, so far away from my parents, our main support system at the moment. I am also worried about how I'd cope with a house that's more than twice the size of our current place. The thought of all the endless housework kind of freaks me out. Though I do look forward to the space we'd have as I do feel with Little N, our current apartment is spilling over with her books and toys.

We'd be doing some renovations and then this place should be ready by April! 
Too fast.. I don't feel prepared to move!

New view in 2014..

So there you have it. 2013 seemed rather uneventful... but it did seem to have just flown by.

I am excited, yet fearful of what 2014 will bring. To be honest, I am not approaching the new year with confidence that I'd do well in all my roles - as a mother, a wife, an employee and a boss. I somehow feel I'm just barely juggling everything at the moment and everything will fall apart with the renovations, move (gosh!), new home, new childcare arrangements and possibly new office next year.

May God carry me through the new year as He always have and grant me strength and wisdom. And may he do the same for you as well.

Have a happy new year and a good year ahead.

Photos of Little N through 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Waffles and Coffee

There's something about Melange Cafe that makes me want to visit it each time I go Taipei.

The strawberry waffles are very nice.

It comes with a generous helping of sweet strawberries, custard, strawberry ice-cream and strawberry sauce.. but it's somewhat cake-ish and far from being the best-ever waffles.

They have a great selection of coffee. Exotic, interesting and extensive, you can check their menu here. And oh yes, expensive.

The cafe is also set up beautifully and comes with quaint details like small pots of flowers here and there.

Mostly, I think it's the crowd that attracts me to Melange.

Predominantly female, you see small groups of friends, mothers and daughters... and couples where the guy accommodates the lady's choice of restaurant (yes, The Husband included).

Melange Cafe

Monday, December 23, 2013

Interesting Places to go in Taipei

I have been to Taipei for quite a number of times now for holidays.

After the first 3 times, I get a bit tired of the usual spots - Taipei 101, Shilin night market, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

This trip, I discovered a few nice places to go in Taipei.

1. Song Shan Cultural Park 松山文創園區

There are many reasons to visit this cultural park.

1. There is a modern museum of sorts in this old cigarette factory
2. They tend to have interesting temporary exhibits there. There was a futuristic Hello Kitty one when we visited
3. There is a very nice Eslite Store there with a lot of good food
4. The famous Wu Bao Chun Bread store (吳寶春麵包店) has a branch there. This is the guy whose bread won first place in a bread baking competition, leaving all the French and European bakers speechless.

2. Yangmingshan National Park

I can't believe it took me so long to visit Yangmingshan National Park but it really is a huge and beautiful place.

We visited it on a day where the weather wasn't exactly the greatest. It was drizzling and rather cold that day.. too cold for Little N. But it was a beautiful park and we did have a nice walk while it lasted.. so, I'd definitely be back.

3. Addiction Fish Market 上引水產

The Husband didn't like this place but I quite did.

Addiction is an interesting fish market located near a traditional market. So you can visit the fish market, have some freshly prepared seafood there and then visit the traditional market nearby.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Time to Cook

This year, I haven't had much time to cook.

So much so that I don't think I've used the kitchen for more than 10 times in the second half of the year.

We have been either packing home (most of the time) or else eating out (on weekends).
That's really terrible!

I do miss cooking and eating home cooked food.. Actually, my mum does cook and pack tingkats for us once or twice every week.. so it isn't right to say I miss home cooked food. I actually miss "own cooked food"..

I don't think it'd get any easier in the new year with my hours at work and having to put Little N to bed when I get home.. but I can try being creative - like making stew in the morning before I go off to work and keeping them in a thermal pot.. preparing a roast chicken and throwing it into the oven when I get home.

I made a roasted chicken with thyme recently and it was nice to be eating something I made for a change.

A pretty effortless roasted chicken. Just season and cut and throw into the oven!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Leftover Pasta

Little N is selective when it comes to her food.

Her selection criteria is based on her mood... and textures.

I find myself often finishing things she does not like.

She did not like these cute little star pastas I bought her and flatly refused them. She takes a mouthful, then opens her mouth and takes the little starts out of her mouth (*FAINT*) and then plays with them (*DOUBLE FAINT*).

I've only cooked her these pasta once so what was I to do with all these little star pastas?

I started adding them to my tomato and beef stew but I don't cook often enough nowadays to use these up.

So, I decided to add them to my salad.

It's really easy as well.

Open a bag of salad leaves, boil and shell an egg, add in cherry tomatoes and grapes, shred in some carrots and any other vegetables you can get (broccoli, corn, whatever) and add in the pastas and top off with a light vinaigrette dressing or wafu dressing. I added some cilantro and pumpkin seeds to add some punch and crunch.

This is a useful way to do something with leftover pasta.

See those tiny little star-shaped pastas? These were meant for The Baby

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Almost 15 Months Old

Little N examining my camera lens cover

Little N will be turning 15 months by the end of this week.

When I look at her, I'm amazed at how time can pass so slowly yet so fast.

She seems to be growing up so quickly... so time does seem to fly by.. Yet, at times when I'm tired (and she is cranky), time seem to creep by and the day seems too long.

She isn't really able to walk independently yet. She can stand on her own.. (her proud look when she does this is priceless and brightens my day).. she can take a couple of steps on her own and walks pretty well when you hold one of her hands.. but this little girl isn't ready to venture out on her own 2 feet quite yet. Many people ask me about it.. but I'm pretty cool about her not walking yet. She'd have lots of opportunities for that for the rest of her life! For now, she's an extremely quick crawler and I'm pretty happy to be carrying her about otherwise.

She does talk quite a bit though. Mostly, it sounds like some blabber to me but there are certain words that are extremely clear.

So that I can remember them, here's the list.

"Ah-mama" (My mum)
"Ah-gonggong" (My dad)
"Ah-ple" (Apple)
"Milk" (for milk, or milk bottle. She says this when her milk is overdue and I'm glad she can communicate her feelings instead of just being plain cranky)
"More more" (no more.. She'd hold her hand up and sign no more. She says this after finishing her milk.. and also, ahem.. after she poos..)
"Call" (When she picks up the phone, she'd say "call"... pause... "ah mama")
"Car car" (cable car)
"Beck" (as in put it back)
"Ah-per" (diaper)
"Bah" (bus)
"Aaachew" (sneeze)
"Sh-tool" (stool)
"Hah" (or hahah.. for heart)
"Umbaba" (umbrella)
"Bird" (ladybird and bird)
"Booka booka" (book)
"Mole" (mole)
"Bear bear" (bear)
"Da" (panda)
"Grrr" (lion or tiger)
"Baa" (for sheep)
"Bra" (for zebra)
"Moo" (for cow)
"Pig" (also for pig)
"Onk" (for oink)
"Mao" (for cat)
"Brrrrrrr" (for balloon and moon, strangely)
"Noooo" (When I ask her "Do you wear diapers?" She'd say "Noooooo"... one of her books say so.. she obviously still does wear a diaper. She says "No.." when she does something she knows inside right as well)
"Orhhhh" (Similar to "No".. used when she does something wrong)
"Oc-ca" (Octopus)"Ac-ca" (Abacus)
"Mei mei" (Pretty in Chinese. She said this once when my mum wore a dress and my mum was delighted)
"Nie" (Pinch in Chinese. Ouch. Enough said. She says "Noooo" after pinching)"Pa" (Scared in Chinese. She's recently scared of almost everything)
"Zhe-ge" (This in Chinese. She goes "zhege zhege zhege" and then laughs and say "Ah gong gong". We suspect it's because my dad says this often)

There are also "half words" that she seem to use.. "ffskkkk" for Mickey mouse and mouse.. "Sssss" for sun and a clicking sound for clock.

There are some words she have only blurted out once of twice.. like "man", "jar", "girl" that I'm just not quite sure if I'm just hearing things... :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Things to do in Taichung

Here is a list of some of the things I think you can do in Taichung.

1. Visit the night markets

Fengjia night market is very good.. It's very big.. the biggest night market in Taiwan and there are some very famous food stalls there.

Personally, I prefer Yizhong Street night market. It is smaller but the food is very good.. and there are also some pretty good restaurants there. I don't usually shop at night markets.. but the shops looked interesting at Yizhong Street and there are a lot of shops selling sports shoes at reasonable prices.

There is a very famous "Barbequed Chicken Chop" stall in the night market. The chicken chop is first deep fried and then dipped into a very light barbeque sauce. It's crispy, salty, sinful and totally addictive.

2. Take a walk along Calligraphy Greenway

Take a walk along the "Calligraphy Greenway". This is a belt of greenery in the middle of the city. There is an outdoor museum (勤美術館 CMP Block Museum of Arts) that is interesting.. It's right behind the 勤美诚品 (Eslite bookstore), which itself is (as all Eslite stores are) a nice place to visit - for books and interesting shops. There is a coffee place within the outdoor museum where you can have a nice cup of coffee and cheesecake if you get tired.

Sometimes, there is also some sort of flea market near the outdoor museum on weekends.

Do note the opening hours though. The place is only open from 2pm onwards. For more details, visit their facebook page.

3. Have lots of bubble tea

Bubble tea originated, after all, from Taiwan. This drink was supposedly created by Chun Shui Tang Teahouse. I find the bubble tea at Chun Shui Tang really quite good. The "pearls" used are medium sized ones and you can drink the tea using a standard straw and not a big straw like most other places. The noodles and snacks at Chun Shui Tang are pretty good too. Taichung is pretty famous for its beancurd so do try out some at Chun Shui Tang. Their Oolong beancurd with Blood Ricecake (烏龍豆干米血) is really good, if you dare to eat blood ricecake.. It's a ricecake that is made with pigs' blood added to it. It sounds totally gross but it taste okay actually. I also like their mixed shao mai (綜合燒賣) and Burdock tempura (山根甜不辣).

There are a lot of good takeaway bubble tea shops that originated from Taichung as well. Recent popular ones are those that sell bubble tea with fresh fruits and juices added.

When I was in Taichung, I made sure I had bubble tea every day.

The bubble milk tea is fragrant, frothy and has chewy bubbles

I like the burdock tempura (more like a fishcake than "tempura")

The noodles are good too. Little N love the chewy noodles

4. Buy some Sun Cakes (太陽餅)

Sun cakes, or Sun biscuits, are from Taichung and there are lots of shops selling these in Taichung. Everyone has a view of which shop is the best. I think in general there are 2 types - the traditional type which is made with animal fat and the modern type which is made without. I like the modern ones from Gong Yuan Yan Ke.

This shop is an over-the-top pastry shop - selling pastries at top prices in a beautiful shop. It's like the Tiffany's version of a Taiwanese pastry shop. The shop itself is quite worth a visit, even if you don't like their prices. Apparently they have really good ice-cream as well so be sure to try some if you visit.

5. Take a day trip to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)

The Sun Moon Lake is a beautiful lake that is about an hour's drive from Taichung city. It is actually the largest body of water in Taiwan. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name. It's a nice place to visit - you can take a boat trip around the lake, ride a cable car to the top of a nearby hill for some gorgeous view.

Little N loved the cable car ride and goes "car car" ever since that day whenever she seems a picture of a cable car

6. Visit a lavender farm

I really wanted to do this but we didn't have time. I've read quite a lot of good reviews of this place.. so it's on my to do list for my next visit to Taichung!

I didn't get to visit the farm but we did see some lovely flowers at Sun Moon Lake