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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2010

December 2010: 
Home: One of the main distractions in Brittany was the sea. The Ruler_of_spike and I loved it. Back in the summer, we had few opportunities to take the boys out as their feeding regime meant that we did not have much time between meals to prepare and to take them out. This time round, we managed to visit a couple of our favorite place along the coast of the Gulfe du Morbihan. We visited Sept Iles, but the boys did not see much of that as we used the baby carriers. At least it was a good little outing for the boys. It was a nice clear day and we had an excellent time. We were hoping to have a walk on Ile de Berder, but the tide was high and crossing was submerged. Instead we had a nice walk around the port of Larmor Baden. This time, the boys were in their buggy, so they had an excellent view throughout the walk and they stayed awake the duration of the walk. They were truly fully immersed in the sea air!
Home: After of nearly a week of ready meals, it was time to give the boys some of Ruler_of_spike's home cooking. We were trying to give some variety to the boys' meals, so we decided to make some food with potatoes. The steamed potatoes was actually quite thick, so we added some courgettes and then a small amount chicken cooked in olive oil to give some substance. However, even though the boys were not choosy eaters, they have eaten everything we have put in front of them up until now, they were not keen on potato. The showed the usual enthusiasm at the start of the meal, but their faces began to turn after the first spoonful. Some of the faces they pulled were priceless. Master Cheeky, in particular, was unhappy with the potato-rich food, eventually stopped eating the stuff. On the other hand, Master Chill was just too keen to be overly bothered by the staple crop and he bravely went through most of the meals until his enthusiasm waned. The thought that the boys had lost interest in the more simple home-made food after the delights of the ready meals did cross our minds. However, once we replaced the potato content with something else they had no trouble with the home-made stuff. It just showed that even at such young age, the boys had good ideas which food they liked.
Home: Merry Christmas!
Home: Finally, it was the date for us to leave for France! The boys were going to spend their first Christmas in Brittany. I managed to take off from work just after lunchtime. The roof box was already installed the previous weekend, so all we had to do was to load the car and the box. The drive down from our house to Portsmouth was uneventful, just as we would have wanted it to be. The embarking time was rather inconvenient from the perspective of feeding the boys and they showed their displeasure while we were waiting for our turn to get on the boat. Luckily we were put on the part of the boat which was just one level below our cabin and we found it without trouble. The rest of the journey was comparatively easy and we arrived less than eighteen hours after we left our house in London. The Ruler_of_spike got on to the urgent task of decorating the Christmas tree once we settled down. We only had to do some very small amount of food shopping as my father-in-law was cooking for us on Christmas Day. As you might imagine, shopping at supermarkets on Christmas Eve was not for the faint hearted. In less than twenty four hours, we left one house in one country and completely settled down in another in a different country. We were truly seasoned international travelers!
Home: With all the cold weather, it was rather ironic that our fridge/freezer was causing us problems. The Ruler_of_spike first noticed that it was making some strange noises back in the beginning of December. However, it really became problematical when the freezer kept failing to maintain its temperature. Fortunately, we had insurance cover which was still valid. At the time when we made the call, the fridge/freezer was only making some unusual noises and it appeared to be still working fine. Therefore we arranged a visit by the engineer to come to inspect the appliance a week from the time we called. However, by the date of the appointment, the freezer compartment had been failing to maintain the temperature several times and we were concerned. The engineer showed up late on the appointed dated and claimed that he wasn't sure what the problem was but did a bit of work that he claimed might solve this unknown problem. Less than half hour after he left, the alarm for the freezer compartment went off again. By that time, the service center office was closed, so I had to contact them the next day. When I called, the "customer service representative" claimed that they could not arrange for another visit for two days, which was no good for we were leaving for France the next day. I literally had to beg her to arrange for an earlier appointment. Then the same engineer showed up and this time he identified that there was a problem with the compressor fan, which had to be ordered and that would be done until after we return to the country. This was despite the fact that they told me over the phone that the engineers carried most of the parts in their vans. So we left the house with the knowledge we might lose the content of the freezer and without a date of when the problem might be fixed. How about that for service!
Home: Here we go again... Just as the last bit snow from the end of November / beginning of December has melted away, there was more snow. Luckily, most of the snow fell in areas north of the Thames and we received a comparatively light dusting - only 10cm was accumulated. Nevertheless, it was trouble enough for us. Again, the temperature was well below freezing for the most of the day for several days and none of the smaller roads nor any sidewalks were gritted. As such, my walk to and from the train station in the mornings and evenings were like a journey across an ice rink. I could not believe that, in a first-world country, in the 21st century, such condition should be considered acceptable. The scary thing was that there were other places elsewhere in the country which was actually worse than what we had been experiencing - some of these places had been cut off for weeks. All the responsible authorities could come up with was to establish some inquiries (a further giant waste of public money) so that some experts could, if we were lucky, inform the overpaid bureaucrats and politicians the blindingly obvious - start doing your jobs and stop wasting our time and money. Fortunately, the freezing conditions did not stay for long and we experienced no further significant snowfall in the second half of December, so we were less concerned about the drive down to Portsmouth in a few days' time.
Home: Babies develop and change so quickly! Sometimes, as I spent my week working in an office, I did not really have the time to catch up all the developments of the boys. The Ruler_of_spike tried her best recalled the happenings of the day when I got home. However, since her days were already long and tiring, I did not get to find out what the boys were up to until the weekends when I noticed they did something differently or altogether new. Then, the Ruler_of_spike would say something along the lines of: "Oh, he was doing that last week." in times like that, I felt like I was really missing out on a lot of the boys' days. So, I was particularly happy when the Ruler_of_spike text me during the day to let me know something new and exciting they boys were doing or attempting. Of course, sometimes it was not necessarily anything new that made me laugh. One day, I received a message that read: "X is reading a book, T is destroying one." That really made my day.
Work: Being in a new job meant that there were plenty of things to learn. Of course, there were the responsibilities which came with the job, but, being in a new institution, there were lots of new knowledge about the organization which has to be acquired over months and years. In the past, when I was a credit risk analyst, the portfolios which I looked after allowed me to shape my calendar so that by December of each year I would have largely completed all of the annual reviews and I would only be dealing with outstanding new requests. By this kind of time of the year, these requests were of a non-urgent nature as the clients were readying themselves for the year-end. Also, activities were usually slowing down, so there would be fewer 'special' one-off requests to deal with. In short, if planned carefully and if luck was with me, Decembers could be comparatively leisurely, against the backdrop of a hectic time the rest of the year. Now, as a client onboarding facilitator, the pattern was much changed. While there was still a slow down, it did not happen until the third week of December, and even then there was plenty of activities to keep me fully occupied. Documentation negotiations were ongoing until the last minute and credit committees were still taking place. All these thing we had to keep track of. Moreover, there were the meeting that our team organize and chair which required a great deal of time to prepare and, once the meetings were over, to update and to follow up with various parties. All in all, it was full steam ahead until the week before Christmas before we had time to catch our breath. So not only did our working days flew by, but the year also. It was refreshing to have this change of pace.
Home: As we we're planning to travel to France to spend Christmas and New Year with my in-laws, we needed to make sure that the boys were fed during the trip. We have taken the same trip during the summer with the boys, but feeding them back then was comparatively easy. Their diet consisted of milk entirely. So while the feeding schedule was punishing, the ingredients were simple, just hot water and milk powders. Now the boys have moved on to consuming solid food and they have been fed entirely on the Ruler_of_spike's home cooking, they have not had the opportunity to sample the delights of real meals for infants. As it was impossible to bring all the food they needed and keeping it fresh for the duration of the trip and beyond, we had to experiment with bottles of ready meals prior to the trip to ensure that they would consume them. We chose a small sample from a couple of brands and gave them to the boys at meal times and watched their faces. Man, these boys were choosy eaters! The Ruler_of_spike's home cooking has truly spoiled them! Master Cheeky's face was worth a million dollars when he sampled the first spoonful of ready meal. Master Chill did not exactly take to the new food either. However, several spoonfuls later, Master Chill was consuming the food with gusto, while Master Cheeky was slowly taking it on. It took a couple of days for the boys to get used to the new food, but they were real champions. And thanks to the Ruler_of_spike's patience, they were fully taken to bottled food. Thankfully. So now we knew we could feed the boys in times when we did not have time to make food for them.
Home: A good friend of ours invited us over for lunch at a weekend. Of course, the invitation was extended to the boys as well. So we were on the move. Problem with lunch time, or any meal time, for that matter, was that we have been moving our meal time to suit the needs of the boys. So we have been having our lunches either very early or very late, as it took roughly an hour and half to feed them. For lunch at our friend's place, we bought with us the boys' high chairs, their rockers, play mat, their food (enough for two meals) and, of course, the boys in their car seats. It was nothing short of an expedition. The drive over was surprisingly smooth and we were there earlier than expected. After the initial chat, the first order was to feed the boys. After they finished their meals, we settled them down in their rockers and we started our meal. However, no meals were simple with the boys around. No long after the main course was served, Master Chill decided that the rocker was not a comfortable place to sleep - he liked to turn to his sides and the strap of the rocker was stopping from do that. We first tried rocking him back to sleep, but I ended up sitting him on my lap when I was finishing the main course. It must have been the build up of tiredness from a full working week and the concentration needed for the drive, I was falling asleep after that. I honestly could not remember what went on after that. I vaguely remembered desert being served and I consumed that. I also had some recollection of moving on to my friend's living room. I also remember asking for a coffee. Until we started putting the boys back in their car seats, I remembered very little of the rest of the meal. It was not until the next day when the Ruler_of_spike showed me the unfinished portion of the desert that I finally remembered what I had. It must have been terribly embarrassing for the Ruler_of_spike to have her husband falling sleep at the table...
Home: It was very cold... The snow just won't go away. Owing the conditions outside and Master Cheeky's slow recovery from his cold, there was little point in getting them out. Being indoors all day for days on end, the boys could easily became bored. However, the Ruler_of_spike pretty much spent whole days looking after them: cooking, feeding, playing, entertaining and cleaning up after them. That was an unbelievable amount of work! We worked out that for the twelve to thirteen hours that I spent out of the house, she probably had roughly an hour to do her stuff, ie. something not immediately related to the boys. Otherwise, all her attention was focus on the boys. That required an incredible amount of concentration and used a huge amount of energy. While the boys generally behaved very well, they had their moments. After all, they were just babies. And when they were difficult, it required even more patience from the Ruler_of_spike to entertain them and to calm them down. No wonder she was tired when I got back in the evening.
November 2010:
Home: Snow, again. Yes, this year, the snow has been even earlier than the last. We were still in November, there was enough snow to rival the worst of the weather from December last year and earlier on this year. What really complicated things was the bitter cold in the week leading up to the snow fall. Northern England and Scotland suffered the majority of the snowfall during that week. Throughout the week, there had been warnings that the snow was coming south. Therefore, you would have thought the authorities would have plenty of time to prepare themselves and have the roads and pavements gritted. Well, they didn't. Of course, our little bit of disruption was really nothing compared to those who were stuck for hours in traffic or stalled trains or the airports. However, given how much noise the authorities made prior to the snow arriving and how under-prepared they turned out to be, I was wonder what has happened to all the money they spent. We had roughly 30cm of snow dumped on us over 48 hours, which I was told was quite a lot, yet we had to endured ice-rink conditions on all but the major roads and town centers. No effort was made to improve the conditions on side streets and smaller roads. A week after the snow fall, there was still over 15cm of snow on the pavement. On our street and many nearby, this snow was compacted to nearly 3cm of ice. My morning walk to the train station, which took 15 minutes in normal conditions, took nearly 30. All the excuses which we heard back in the beginning of the year were back in the news - lessons would be learnt and the next time they would be better prepared. Yeah, right!
Home: Master Chill was getting more and more mobile and it was getting to the point that we could not be certain that it was safe to leave him in the rocker unsupervised. Of course the natural solution was a play-pan. However, we were struggling to find one that would accept two children with ease. In the end, we settled on a hexagonal one. While we were researching on the unit, we discovered that it was actually a 'travel cot'. As such all the sides were made out of mesh, except for the gate. You should see the regular version - it had bars all the way round - it looked like the cage for the Ultimate Fighting Championship! While the regular version appeared to be close to indestructible, particularly as it was intended for little toddlers, the mesh material on the 'travel' version at least gave it a softer appearance. An additional benefit, and we thought this was a major advantage, was, as the boys were still lacking precision in their movement and hence easily found themselves crashing into objects, the mesh sides afforded them a cushioned contact instead of the metal bars which were less forgiving. Well, we have made the investment and let's see how the boys liked it.
Home: Master Cheeky has a cold. We didn't know how got it. As the weather has been quite nasty the week prior to us first noticing his runny nose, the boys were not taken out at all to avoid the cold and rain. As such, we were convinced that he did not catch the cold directly from people he came to contact. For the second year running, I have taken the precaution of receiving the flu vaccine so that I stood a better chance of avoiding the flu. However, while the flu vaccine would mean I would not develop the symptoms of the flu, it would not stop me from carrying a strain of the virus. Our guess was that I had come into contact with someone who was suffering from a cold (that's not difficult as many people in our industry show up to work ill) and I picked the bug and passed it on to Master Cheeky without showing any signs of being unwell. The sight, and sound, of Master Cheeky suffering from his cold was not a pleasant one - he was all blocked up but thankfully he quickly figured out that he had to breath through his mouth. The cold took a good week to clear itself as there was no suitable medicine to give to such small babies. However, the cough, which developed not long after the cold started, took a lot longer than expected to clear.
Home: There were successive visits to see the dietitian and the paediatrician. It would be correct to have the impression that they were very impressed by their developments. The typical first comment from the health professionals was: "Wow, had you not told me they were seven weeks premature, I could never tell." That was largely thanks to the Ruler_of_spike's diligent feeding regime for the boys. I have said this many times before, but I'd keep repeating it until you are bored: I didn't know how she did it. The dietitian was helpful in that she gave us ideas on how to evolve the boys' diet as they took on more solids and grew less reliant on the milk bottles. The most revealing thing that came out of the visit to the paediatrician was that based on a blood test taken long ago, Master Chill was not intolerant to cow's protein. That has come as a big shock to us. In effect there was nothing wrong with him. However, we still wanted to be careful with Master Chill's diet and we looked to slowly reintroduce dairy back into his diet.
Home: The two Masters were continuing to make great strides on their solid food intake. They loved their food: carrots, courgettes, sweet potato, butternut squash... either on their own or in combination. These were just to start. They would then follow up with compote with yogurt and finally a full bottle milk each. That was a lot of food! And they were having this three times a day (they were having just rice porridge at breakfast). This was fine when I was around the house as the Ruler_of_spike and I fed the boys at the same time. Even if the boys were in their bad moods, it was manageable. However, during week days, when I was at work, the full workload fell on the Ruler_of_spike. I honestly didn't know how she managed at times, as the boys could be relentless when they were in their bad moods and they had the tendency to feed off each - one started to cry when the other was crying even though there was nothing wrong. Moreover, despite their young age, the boys had their very own eating habits, for example, Master Chill enjoyed having his thumb in his mouth between each spoonful of food (which, of course, made a right mess, but that was part of the fun). Given that they were fed three times a day, between all the different courses, the Ruler_of_spike spent over six hours every day preparing the food and feeding the boys - all between the time I left for work in the morning and when I came back! If she is not super-human, she is a saint!
Home: Around this kind of time of the year, it was possible to hear fireworks in our neighborhood every night of the week both leading and immediately after Bonfire Night (otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night). This (unhealthy?) fascination with cheap and, hence, not very impressive fireworks has led to the phenomenal which I have been calling the 'Battle of Sutton' - a constant stream of small fireworks going off both near and far, with the occasional loud bangs caused by explosion of bigger ones. Had I been a visitor to this area and had no idea what was going on, I would have made the assumption that I had landed in the middle of a war zone. That, in itself, was nothing new, as we have been living in the area for over four years by now. However, this year, we had the two Masters. The constant low level distant clatter did not really bother them. However, the explosions (and they were exactly that - explosions) that were close to our house really spooked them. Imagine, if you would, that you were woken up by a loud bang just when you were about to fall asleep. The boys were startled and were stressed out. Those explosions took place at all times during the nights, up to and beyond midnight at the weekends. It was a major task to calm the boys down. I was certain that they would come to love fireworks, but back in those couple of weeks, they were the boys' worst nightmare.
Home: So it was November... "Time flies when you're having fun", or so went the quote. Well, we have been having fun with the boys. They were now seven months old and it has been a very interesting journey for both the Ruler_of_spike and I. We were only at the beginning of the journey and we knew it - in the coming months, years and decades, even, there would be many more challenges ahead. However, we appeared to have crossed some kind of threshold - the boys were now beginning to consume some solid food. To begin with, the Ruler_of_spike has lovingly prepared some carrots, which the boys loved. Then they moved on to sweet potatoes and the boys could not get enough of. It was, in a strange way, lovely to see them making a mess when they consumed their food. However, it was even better to see them open their mouths wide when we held their spoons in front of them - they wanted their food! The boys have come a long way. While we were sure there would be difficulties ahead, watch them feed like that was a great reward for our hard work.
October 2010: 
Home: As the boys began weaning, we decided it was time to invest in a pair of high chairs. Although we have managed to feed them by sitting them on the sofa, it did not provide the boys with the right level of support and we ran the risk of having a dirty sofa. While we were doing our research, we found there was a sale in one of the internet-based companies. As we try hard to make sure that the boys had different high chairs, we found two that we liked. They had the same sale price, so we were quite happy about it. On the other hand, we discovered that they had different original retail prices. Aside from the color and different brand names, all the specifications and 'technologies' were identical. We were puzzled by this. When the chairs were delivered, the packaging of the two chairs were near identical and, for all intents and purposes, they were the same product. Even the instruction sheets were the same except for the brand names and logos. So what made one product commanded a higher price than the other? The only logical explanation we could think of was 'marketing' and 'brand name'. Now, I am no marketing man and I am totally confused. So can someone with a marketing background please explain the logic of this?
Home: The boys have been enjoying the bouncer for a while when I observed an usual behavior by Master Cheeky. The boys haven't been playing with the bouncer for a few days and I thought it would have been great to let them play with it so get them a little tired before putting them to bed. Master Cheeky was strapped into the seat of the bouncer and he was let loose. However, instead of going off and started bouncing around, he stood, tip toed, and looked around. Then he moved his legs and bounced around a little bit and stopped. He looked around again before bouncing around a few more times. He did this a few times before I figured out what he was doing - he was checking things out before doing something. This was totally unexpected. I didn't realize that six-month old babies could have such strong personality that it would show in such obvious way. Then, the Ruler_of_spike informed that during by my aunt and uncle, my uncle notice the same personality trait in Master Cheeky, whatever he was doing at the time and he told her about it. I was very impressed as in my opinion this was a very valuable trait to have.
Home: The boys were getting bigger and getting more and more hungry. They were showing signs that they were ready to start to have small amounts of solid food. Of course, we have been here before with Master Cheeky, when we tried, unsuccessfully, to make his diet more interesting as he was getting bored with milk. This time round though, we were trying to introduce solid food for real. This time, the boys were ready. The Ruler_of_spike did some research into rice porridge, the entry point of weaning. It amazing how much rubbish manufacturers put into their products. However, there was one stand-out product and we settled on that rather quickly. After a hesitant start in the first couple of days, when the boys were not sure what to do with this strange new thing that was put into their mouths using a spoon and not from the bottle, they were hooked. So much so that Master Chill was thumping the high chair if he needed to wait between the spoonfuls of porridge. Master Cheeky, on the other hand, seemed to preferred his porridge after his milk as when he was hungry he was too frustrated to deal with spoons and this 'eating business'. They both seemed to loved the new food and enjoyed making a mess eating it. 
Home: My extended family was fairly typical of those from Hong Kong - many of my aunts and uncles have found the conditions and lifestyles in English-speaking countries more suited to them than HK, as a result many of them have settled in different corners of the world. While they and their sons and daughters have planted their roots in North America and Australia, none of them have settled in Europe. Therefore, Europe has been considered as an 'exotic' holiday destination for them - not somewhere one would take off to on an impulsive mouse click on low-cost airline website. Over the years as I travel to Hong Kong less frequently, opportunities to see parts of the extended family diminished - in HK, at least there were the occasions when our visits coincided and we met up at family gatherings. Therefore it was a real pleasure to be contacted by one of my aunts that she and her husband were going to make a trip to France and then a special journey to London to us. They stayed in a small hotel near our house and spent nearly two full days with us. They were the first members of my extended family to have seen the boys in person. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement prior to their arrival. What was even better was how the boys where taken to them. They just loved to be around people. Although we had the problem of them being too excited to sleep, they were very well behaved in general. My aunt and uncle were very excited to them also. It have been many years since I last saw them, as we were seldom in Hong Kong at the same time. And it was also the first time they met the Ruler_of_spike. Thanks to the two Master being very cooperative and the Ruler_of_spike being very organized, we managed to go out to have lunches on both days of the weekend and went out for walks every day. Of course, a lot of photos were taken of the boys so that on their return, we would share them with the rest of the extended family. It was truly a wonderful weekend catching with each other and having them experiencing a small slice of our lives. I hoped they left London with a good impression.
Home: The boys were getting a little more active now. Master Chill was able to turn to his stomach with ease and Master Cheeky was getting restless and wanted to stretch his legs when being held up. So we decided to carry out some investigation on new activities to stimulate them. We eventually decided on a bouncer for them. The design was simplicity itself - the unit effectively cramp itself on the wall above a door frame and used the strength on the door frame to hold the unit and the baby up and there was a harness to secure the baby on place. We were speechless the first time we put them in the bouncer. They were a little unsure what was happening and what they were suppose to be doing. However, they soon figured out that they were in charge of the situation and they were in charge of what was going to happen next: the stay still or bounce around. May be it was the change in perspective or just doing something new, they faces were those of pure joy once the little initial uncertainty was overcome. On this first occasion, they did not say on the bouncer for long - no point in putting too much pressure on their little legs for too long. A reassuring sign that they really enjoyed their new toy and the exercise was that even after being taken off the bouncer, the boys were repeating the bouncing movements with their legs and those same big smiles on their faces. For a brief moment, we congratulated ourselves for investing in the bouncer.
Home: We went to a good friend's wedding. While that, under normal circumstances, should not have been noteworthy, it was when the two Masters were taken into consideration. We received the invites months ago, so we have had plenty of time to prepare ourselves. Although we thought we have left with plenty of time, we got there not long before the whole thing kicked off. The wedding took place in the historical offices of one of the many Royal Societies, located in central London. The weather wasn't great as there were rain showers and we were extreme lucky to have found a recently vacated parking space almost immediately outside their entrance. With this piece of luck, we didn't have to pay for an expensive car parking space. It was great to be there. There were so many friends who we haven't seen for such long time, partly owed to us being in London and they up in the north of England and partly owed to us spending all our time looking after the boys. The wedding ceremony was brief but very well done. In between the ceremony and the reception, we managed to feed the boys. However, while they fed well, they were difficult to settle, probably owing to be around a big crowd which they were not accustom to. Thankfully, we were amongst friends and there were plenty of help available. The boys were real champs! Once they settled down, they did not give us any more We even managed to get through most of the meal. They eventually woke up when we were about to have the desert and they would not get back to sleep again. There were just too many distraction and the place was getting hot. Not long after that, we noticed that there people leaving and we took our leave. The weather has turned ugly and it was pouring down rain. Thankfully the car was just outside the building and with the help of our friends, we loaded up the boys without them getting wet. So there it was, our first serious outing as a family and we even managed to get home in time for the last feed before putting them to bed at the normal time.
Home: The two Masters were now six months old and they were thriving! They were now each over 7kg. It did not feel it was over five months ago that we brought them home for the first time from the hospital. It felt like last week. All those weeks and months when we were feeding them once every three hours in order to boost their weight and made them catch up with other termed babies. They were now being fed four times a day and were consuming 240ml of milk per feed. That was four times the amount we fed them per feed when they first got home. How far have they come! Their strong developments were primarily owed to the Ruler_of_spike's daily hard work. Everyday, while I have been at work, she toiled to make sure that they were fed according the vigorous schedule, comforted them, entertained them and made sure they got the rest they required. It was reassuring to hear from the health professionals that the boys did not have the appearance of being born prematurely. That made all the hard work worthwhile.