'Tis the season

Even though I usually ease into the season quite slowly, Christmas certainly came early for me this year.

Coming out of "retirement" to sing at the Leisure Farm
residents' Christmas event
This was because in mid-December, my friends and I accepted an invitation to present Christmas songs at a residents’ Christmas event held at Leisure Farm in Gelang Patah.  I was told that space was limited in the recently renovated sales gallery, where the event would be held, so our group must be kept small.

As time was short, I roped in Florence as music director, to coordinate the voices and musicians, select the songs and arrange for practices.  With her vast experience in music presentations, we managed to put in two practices plus one warm-up session before the event.

Ours was an eclectic group of voices and guitarists, made up of a mother and son, two pairs of sisters and a brother and sister.  Getting together to sing again was a nostalgic experience, particularly for my eldest sister and I who had “retired” from song presentations some 30 years ago.  My sister is a grandmother now and it was therefore, very significant for us to come-out-of-retirement for this event.

Baby Vivienne's first birthday with her parents in Perth
Even though we sing regularly in church, it was different to sing to an audience in various parts including solo and duet pieces.  But in the spirit of the season, we put in our talents and experience, in a combined effort to do our best, within the given time.

Talking about the audience, I noted with interest, that the residents who sat down to enjoy our presentation at the event, were a mixed group with a noticeable number of Malays.  I must admit that the presentation was worth every bit of our effort especially when I saw the audience singing along to the familiar songs!

Annual celebration with  [R to L] Wei Leng, Jennifer,
myself and Phoebe
The festive feeling was also ushered in early with December birthdays, particularly that of our grand-niece, Vivienne, who turned one on Dec 22.  Through the use of modern technology, we joined in the celebration with our nephew and his family and friends in Perth on the weekend before her birthdate.

Another birthday that my friends and I keep as an annual celebration was for Wei Leng, whose birthday on Dec 21, was also an opportunity to get together before the year ended.  The double celebration always included a Christmas gift exchange and this year, Jennifer joined us for a lovely lunch party.

Our Christmas celebrations kicked off as usual, with carolers visiting our home to sing carols on the eve of Christmas.  The lyrics of the carols reminded us afresh about the true meaning of Christmas and while it was good to see and hear dad singing along, this time he was holding a magnifying glass over the hymnal and I had to shine a torch to help him read with his deteriorating eyesight.

Dad, playing Bananagrams with us in the Cinta Suite
With each passing year, we see our parents deteriorating in health, generally slow down and cease to be able to do the things we used to do together.  This makes every family gathering extra precious and meaningful as we treasure our traditions and continue to make memories with our seniors.

As we planned the family celebration this year, my siblings and I agreed that we must have a senior-friendly retreat where they do nothing while we organise activities that match with their tastes and abilities.

Dad with my brother and his son, three generations of
Loh men, in this my favourite photo for this season!
On Christmas morning, we met with our church family for the Christmas service followed by a sumptuous buffet spread, complete with roast turkey.  Even though the church premises was undergoing renovation and facilities were limited, it was good to see friends and family gathered to share warm fellowship in our annual celebration.

As I snapped photos of the song and skit presentation in the Christmas service, it crossed my mind that this would be the last time we were meeting in this hall for Christmas.  The long-awaited building renovation was in progress and next year, we will have a renovated building!

Christmas day dinner at Qing Palace, Pulai Springs Resort
It was Christmas Day with a difference for us because that afternoon, we set out for Pulai Springs Resort (PSR) to check into the Cinta Ayu Suites for an overnight stay.  This stay-cation was a gift from our eldest sister and late brother-in-law, Matthew.

I have a long relationship with PSR since its media launch while I was with the agency that executed their campaign.  Some 30 years ago, when Matthew became a member for golf, we were at the club countless time for swims and many meals at the Qing Palace. 

I’ve been back to PSR regularly for media events and this Christmas, my sister and I agreed that it was an opportunity to revisit PSR for a stay-cation, get pampered with spa treatments, a suite stay and sumptuous meal in a private room of the Qing Palace.

A lovingly home-cooked meal with Uncle Charles and family
We checked into our 2-room suites smoothly, delighted with the goodwill from my friends in PSR who had arranged the best suite in the building, the Cinta Suite, for me!

One of the family activities that we always enjoyed with dad was playing Scrabble, in the traditional way with the board game on the table.  Very often dad would win the game with high scores and this time, when we played Bananagrams, a speedy word game also played with tiles in a mix of Boggle and Scrabble, dad won in his very first round of play!

There was a great deal of stressful fun as we played this highly addictive game, punctuated by yells of “Split!” “Peel!” and “Dump!” along with sips of hot tea and slices of delicious Christmas cake.

Lunch with the Cheong's 
Another family activity that dad taught us to enjoy was swimming.  In fact, dad taught us to swim in the beautiful beach at Kampung Pasir Gudang, long before Johor Port was built at the same site.  One of my fondest memories of our times together at this beach is captured in the photograph used for my Memories category, seen on the Right side of the blog page, where I’m seen standing up on dad’s shoulders!

This picture is an illustration of how my dad remains my strongest supporter and encouragement throughout my career.  He made sure that we were nurtured in a loving environment where there was a balance of fun and family activities with serious commitment to work and studies.  Almost every year, dad planned road trips with the family and now, while he may not be as agile, he still enjoys a change of scenery so we often take him for drives and sight-seeing.

After hours of fun with Bananagrams, dad had a dip in the pool, swimming albeit slower and in shorter laps, but it was certainly amazing and heartwarming to see our 93-year old slice through the water so elegantly!

At the entrance to the Star Wars exhibit
at Legoland Malaysia Resort
Our Christmas Day dinner was with extended family members at two tables set within a private room in Qing Palace.  At first, my sister and I thought that we had ordered too much food but surprisingly, we managed to do justice to the portions and there was no leftovers.  Everyone agreed that the food quality and service is reminiscent of those days when we dined regularly at Qing Palace.

Christmas celebrations continued the next day over a lovingly home-cooked lunch with Uncle Charles and his family.  It was a glimpse of the warm fellowship we shared years ago when their children were babies and now they have grandchildren joining us too!

Our missionary friends, the Cheong’s, dropped by for an annual Christmas catch-up and it was always encouraging to see them again and to share a meal together.  While everyone was busy with their work and lives throughout the year, it was a tradition to meet at least once a year for a face-to-face fellowship instead of just through our electronic devices.

Wet end to our day at Legoland!
I saw Legoland Malaysia Resort develop from a brown field at the ground-breaking ceremony, into an international attraction and felt that the time was ripe to share my experience with the family.  So I arranged for a day trip particularly for mum and dad to see what was happening within those walls.  Dad, who used to work in Gelang Patah, probably roamed the very site where the park was built, not for work but for hunting!

The weather was bright and sunny all day at the park until mid-afternoon when dark clouds loomed and the monsoon threatened.  By that time, we had toured most of the park with dad comfortably seated on a wheelchair, and we were in an indoor café for afternoon tea when it stormed.  [More about this outing in a separate story.]

Exchanging presents is a lovely tradition during the Christmas season but one of the most meaningful gifts for me must be the privilege to spend quality time together as a family.  On the eve of the new year, we continue to make more family memories from now into 2016 and beyond.

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