Merry (Fifth Day of) Christmas, and Happy New Year

Since there are 12 days of Christmas (according to the song, at least), I figured I'm not too late with Christmas greetings. I hope everyone had a great time on December 25.

My Christmas season was rather hectic up to Christmas Day, when I actually left some gifts at home and had to run back and get it. Normally, I would have shopped all year round and got all the presents with plenty of time to spare, but this year things were different. Due to a number of circumstances this year--some unforeseen and unfortunate, others inevitable--I didn't have much time for gift shopping. Consequently, I was fitting in shopping here and there after work on some days, resulting in multiple days of driving and frustration. I was literally running around town on Christmas Eve up until the stores closed around dinner time in an effort to get all the presents. I haven't done any online shopping this year because it would require me to know exactly what I want for people, whether it'll fit, whether it'll get here on time etc., but I think I will try to do more online shopping next year. Brick and mortar stores have limited hours, but I can shop online in the wee hours of the night and have more time to find what I'm looking for.

Frustrating logistics aside, it was a fairly good Christmas for me because things went back to basics. The current economic recession affects everyone, and it also had its effects on gift-giving. For the most part, most gifts that I've seen passed around were smaller and on the very practical side (i.e. socks, nail polish, bath products). How much to spend, whether something is nice enough to give as gifts, etc.--none of that mattered this year, and I really like that. The important focus this year was simply to spend time with those we care for, to help each other get through the hard times, and hold out hope that things will get better.

Tough times like these make me see more of a silver lining in the stormy clouds--"problems" are really just minor annoyances compared to the real problems and difficult choices that many people have to make every day. A lot of things happened in the last month or so, and it's been tough to make time to deal with everything, but I am thankful that I get to be busy and gainfully employed. Although I didn't have as much time to scope out super-deals this year when shopping for gifts, I'm glad the end result was splurging a little for loved ones who couldn't afford to get themselves a well-deserved year-end treat. Although I'm grumbling about the troubles of having to save up and replace a big hunk of motorized scrap metal (which is currently sitting idly on a street somewhere), I'm just very lucky it managed to protect me before its demise and I'm around and able to deal with the aftermath, not to mention that it happens to be a time when there are very good deals abound.

How have your holidays been, and what are your wishes for the next decade? I hope that the New Year will bring all of us inspirations, motivations, felicitations, and (at least in my case) perhaps a new set of wheels that will keep on going round and round for years and years to come. The cautious realist that I am, I tend to be weary of prognostications of "everything is going to be OK," but I do believe that things are starting to turn a corner and will get better.

Enjoy the celebrations, and stay safe!


This Old Home (in the city)

"Busy" is an understatement when it comes to describing my life right now. I don't have time to do the fashion-oriented shoots at the moment, but there are other topics of conversation. I took hundreds of pictures when I was in Hong Kong. What good are those pictures if they're not shared? Here's another installment in the series; hope you'll enjoy it.

Because Hong Kong is such a tiny place, there is nowhere to expand but up. Particularly with public housing, older buildings get torn down, replaced by even taller residential towers. Even though the newer buildings are gleaming and modern, I do miss the character and soul of the older buildings.

During my trip, I got to see a mix urban architecture. Here's a selection of pictures of residential buildings that fascinated me, a comparison of the old and new:

Urban sprawl

Pastel trim

The Makeover (you just don't see this age-old setup of bamboo scaffolding in the U.S.)

Junior Mints

Not to Scale

Mean Green

Fading away
[Edit: Oops...after zooming up close and seeing some of the signs, I just realized that these might be light manufacturing units. I thought they looked residential because the layout resembles American apartment complexes.]

[Edit: As an aside, the car in the third picture has one of those incredibly expensive and hard to get license plates that allow the car to be driven around both in Hong Kong and in Mainland China; such plates are primarily for people who do business on both sides of the border, so getting through customs won't be such a pain. Even though it's now the same country, it isn't like the U.S., where it's OK for the short term to drive with California plates into other states, and vice versa, without going through special procedures.

Oh, the things I discover by zooming up close...I didn't even spot these little things when I was actually there, because it was too far away for me to see the details.]

A bit Gaudi

Out to Dry


Skewered and Askewed

The first week back in the States after travelling overseas felt awkward. I thought that by thinking, "Jet lag, what's that?", I'd be able to ignore the issue and feel completely settled in. Alas, that was not to be. I felt completely upside down all week. I've been busy trying to get caught up with the hundreds of emails (work and personal) and stacks of papers that piled up in my absence, and in doing so, there was no time to buy groceries and fix up a proper meal. Now that I want to cook to start the week right, I have to be out of town again; there's no point in buying groceries, not have time or be around to do anything with them, and let things spoil for no good reason.

At least I feel committed to cooking. As long as I have a particular dish in mind, I'll get motivated to work on it. This is the same situation as what occurred before I left for my trip--I somehow got fixated on the idea of making kabobs because it was easy, filling, and delicious, so even though I was tired after getting home from work, I went ahead and did it. This recipe is great for working professionals because the labor can be split into different days, and if the portions are small, less prep time is needed. Also, if you know in advance that you need to feed a small army on the next day, kabobs look great and are generally crowdpleasers.

The concept is simple--cut up the meat one night, marinate it, put it on skewers on the next day along with some veggies, and grill or broil. The process really is that simple. However, it can be a bit time-consuming. The bamboo skewers had to soak for 30 minutes before use (so that they won't burn), and while that was being done, I washed and cut up a bunch of veggies. Since the value pack of sirloin I got was a bit short of 2 pounds of meat, it took a while to get them all skewered up. It was pretty fun to try and come up with different configurations so that no two skewers were exactly the same:

Cooking was very quick and easy--drizzle some olive oil on the kabobs, broil one side for 5 minutes, turn, and broil some more until the desired level of doneness (another 5-10 minutes). It was delicious, and I had enough food for lunch and dinner for almost a week.

Now I have to figure out what to cook next time...