Category Archives: Reflections

Preparing for Christmas: Be Still

Christmas is almost upon us. Whilst most of us look forward to this day, the period leading up to it can also be very stressful to some.   If you are from a large family, you may have lots of presents to buy.  For me, I had to start getting presents ready and cards made (card-making is one of the few creative outlets I have and is very therapeutic) a month ahead of time just so I can get to the post office and make sure everything is shipped to my overseas friends in time (at the time of writing, it would appear that three weeks before Christmas might still not be enough time!).

Usually this time of the year is also a time when many companies wind down and take a breather after a busy year.  For me, I have been working on a project that is scheduled to be implemented in early February, which means that, in fact, the majority of our work had to be completed just before Christmas.  So, instead of being able to take it easy, my team and I have been busier than ever, especially since most of the team will be on leave for the holiday season.

Whatever news reports may say of the retail sector suffering what with the economy being slow and people not being able to afford the indulgences of years pre-GFC, the shops are still busy and popular gifts are sold out.  Everywhere I go, there are still people rushing into the shops and lining up at the cash registers.  No doubt the madness will ramp up even more on Christmas Eve as people rush out to get those last-minute gifts for unexpected visitors or just because they had been too busy to do their shopping any earlier.

It reminds me of the very first record (yes, I am talking vinyl here) I owned – the Chipmunks’ Christmas.  On the record, there was a song where last-minute shoppers are rushing to buy toys for their kids and complaining that they didn’t come with batteries.  Amidst the madness was a poor mother who could not afford the harmonica that her sick son coveted. In the end, Alvin realised that he didn’t need the golden harmonica he so wanted and gave it to the sick boy instead.

Some call this the “silly season”.  As a practicing Catholic, this is quite contrary to the importance of the occasion – the birth of Christ, our Saviour.  Even if you are not Catholic or Christian, perhaps it is apt, in all your rush and madness, to take the time out and be still.  Reflect on the year past; reflect on all that you have and forget about all that you don’t.  On Christmas day, when it starts getting stressful about guests visiting or worrying about burning the turkey or not having enough food for all, or the dishwasher breaking down, take a deep breath and be still for a moment.  If you are lucky enough to be able to afford it, bask in the joy of gift-giving.  Be grateful for all the gifts that you receive.  Count your blessings and enjoy the day.

Merry Christmas xox

Hug Someone You Love

I published my last post just before my birthday.  I was as excited as anyone could possibly be – not only was I showered with great gifts from family and friends near and far, but it was capped off with a premiership win by my AFL team – a win that is the equivalent of the American Superbowl.  But just a week later, I found myself in a depression – feeling lonely and alone.

This, of course, I know, is not true. I have family and friends who care and love me.

And now we’re just over a week away from Christmas.  This is traditionally a happy time for everyone, with parties and gift-shopping and everyone winding down from their busy year.  I’ve attended three separate work Christmas parties within 8 days and ended the week on a high note and sore feet from hours of dancing.  Sadly, however, when I woke up yesterday morning and checked my Twitter feed, I saw nothing but sadness, for it was filled with breaking news updates about the latest massacre in the US.

48 hours ago I had never heard of Newtown, Connecticut.  Now, this small town has embedded itself into the hearts and minds of people all over the world.  My heart broke with every tweet and every news article I read of the lone gunman who arrived at an elementary school where his mother was a teacher and shot and killed 20 young first graders and six teachers who had tried to protect them.

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A Life Thirty Years In the Making, And May There Be Many Many More

I love meeting new people whenever I travel. As soon as I open my mouth, they recognise an “interesting” accent and the question inevitably follows: “Where do you come from?” I refrain from breaking out my Men At Work impression and I reply “I come from Australia.”  That is the answer I have been giving for the past thirty years. Yes, it hardly seems real that it has already been thirty years since my parents packed up the family and moved us halfway across the world from Hong Kong to a city in a country we had never been to.


I never fully grasped the enormity of such a move back in 1982. At the time, I knew nothing about Australia – not even about the koalas and kangaroos that people ask me about nowadays when I travel abroad.  The only people I knew who had even been to Australia were friends of my parents who had come here on a family holiday.  I remember going to their house for a slide night but taking very little interest in what was on screen.


The only thing I remember thinking was that they spoke English in Australia.  Having attended an English private school since kindergarten, I was not afraid of the language barrier, though if anyone had warned me about the accent, things might have been a little different!  If only I had read Nino Culotta’s They’re A Weird Mob back then, I may have had a better understanding of the Australian slang!


The prospect of leaving behind all my friends and my grandparents, who I was extremely close to, never truly hit me until we were at the airport on August 15th, 1982, when I saw my grandfather cry for the first time in my life as we bade our farewells at the departure gate.  Having always been an extremely sensitive and sentimental child, the sight of my grandparents and my parents in tears was the first sign that my life was about to change in a major way.

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12 Months On: For Mary

Dear Mary,

I can’t believe 12 months have passed now since your wedding day.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was a glorious, sunny day in Sydney.  It was also the last time I saw you, Mary, before you were taken away from us a month later.

For days before your much-anticipated big day, it had rained in Sydney, threatening to turn your garden wedding into a muddy affair, but even if the weather had stayed bad, I’m sure you would have started a mud-fight, because that’s the kind of mischief you could have got us started.  But of course, God was looking out for you (and for the sake of us girls wearing heels on the grass), the sun shone brightly on your wedding day.

It was a long drive to the park but we made it without getting lost (as I am prone to do – no, I still have no SatNav!).  A small crowd had already arrived and gathered around.  Rodney was looking very dashing in his suit, and yes, very relaxed too.  It didn’t take long before your car arrived.  You were waving at the crowds like the Queen, and yes, you were definitely our Queen that day.

Your girls, Mia and Kylan, looked absolutely adorable in their pretty fairy princess dresses.  And then you walked across the grass, escorted by your Dad.  Even from afar, I could tell you looked frail, but there was no doubt you were happy.  You were downright glowing and basking in the sunshine, your golden wig reflecting the sunshine as you squinted a little in the sunlight.  You looked around, surprised by the number of people who had turned up to see you get hitched and finally make an honest man of Rodney 🙂

Remember the music video montage I made from the photos I took at your wedding?  I’m proud to say I introduced Rodney and the girls to Bruno Mars, and every time I listen to that album, I think of you.

Today, 12 months on, your wedding anniversary has fallen on Easter Monday.  The weather is not unlike that of your wedding day here in Sydney – sunshine on a beautiful autumn day – and it reminds me so much of your wedding day.  Rodney and I had a long chat on the phone a few weeks ago and we talked about your wedding.  Your girls are getting bigger and they’re taking care of Daddy, just as he is taking good care of them.  You’d be proud of your family.

You are missed always but will never be forgotten.

With love,


Author’s note: Mary was a school friend of mine who lost her battle with cancer in May, 2011.  I had previously blogged about her wedding day and later reflected on her life and our friendship.  

My 2011 Blogging Performance In Review

I would like to thank all my readers, wherever you are (though most appear to be in the United States :)), for your continuing support and encouragement.  I love getting feedback (preferably good!) so keep the comments coming!  And if you have suggestions for future topics, drop me a comment or send me a tweet (@valshopaholic) and I will do my best to meet your needs 🙂

Happy 2012!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.