Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nails: the imperfect black tip

My nails were totally ruined on the Seattle trip.

Struggling with the brolly in cold, wet weather. Uncapping the camera lens at the most inappropriate times. Wiping off snow from the windshield.

Another story, another blog post.

So even though I was dead tired from the trip (which turned out to be awesome despite the weather) I stayed up last night to re-do the manicure. I need something simple, something fast before I doze off face down on the LED lamp.

It would take me longer to do a full coat or a nice round tip, so I decided to draw some thick black lines near the tip and make some scratches across them instead. Fast, easy and mess-free. Perfectly imperfect. No one would know I did it with one eye closed, literally.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Giving my first to Boreal!

I stood at the edge.

My heart is thumping and I don't know if I should do it. Behind me, the sun has started its slow descend towards the tip of the mountain. I can feel the air getting colder.

To go or not to go. Which one would I regret more?

I have already given up once, walking away with a deep sense of disappointment, chiding myself for the lack of courage. Do I want to live with this regret forever?

Just do it! Say a prayer and go!

God must have heard me, because suddenly a Japanese family appeared. Grandma, Mom, Dad and Child. The child couldn't have been more than 5 years old.

Like me, the child stood on the edge, waiting for the green signal.

"Kocchi, kocchi!" the mom yelled.

The child followed.

So did I.

And down the steep slope I went.

Unfortunately, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. I lost them as I reached the toughest part of the slope.

I am on my own.

Breathe... breathe... plan a mental route... look where you are going... don't hit the trees... don't run off the cliff... remember what the instructor said about tucking in the butt... now go!

Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom... and WRAGHHHHH.

I made it down the steep incline but lost control at the bend. Suffered a mouthful of snow as I tumbled and skidded to a stop on my back.

I sat up, took a deep breathe, dusted off snow from my face, and unlocked that one ski left on my foot. 

My back seemed to be pierced with a thousand needles. I don't know if it's because I have scratched my raw skin on snow, or because snow has found its way inside my clothes. Maybe both.

A guy I didn't noticed before was staring at me some feet away. I must have looked pretty dumb when I fell.

Or is it because I'm grinning silly to myself?

I looked up the steep path where I came from again.

I DID IT! I went down a BLUE SLOPE all by myself! No way!!!

I feel like I'm on the top of the world, not down on some slope retrieving my other ski.

I dialled Panda's number.

"Dear, are you still at the bar? Can you spare me another 30 minutes? I want to redo one of the slopes. Oh, it's nothing." I will tell you about it later because if you know you won't let me.

That euphoric sense of taking a leap of faith. Achieving something you have only dreamt of.

I skied away from the fallen spot, still grinning, more than eager to rejoin the queue at the ski lift.


WE DID IT! We had a one-day ski trip to Boreal Mountain Resort over the President's Day long weekend.

Actually, Panda was the hero. He took up the impossible task of waking me up at 5am, driving us to Mac to have breakfast, then continuing on for more than 3 hours to Truckee.

All because I really love to ski.

He would sit patiently at the bar, watch movies on his Nexus, look after my shoes. OMLH.

Oh my lovely husband.

Anyway, we were blessed with fantastic weather on Monday. It snowed two nights before, so we were able to see fresh snow along the road as we drove. Something that I missed on previous trips.

Greetings from the sunny blue skies

The runs at Boreal

When we got to Boreal, I was admittedly a little disappointed. Compared to the more established ski resorts like Northstar and Squaw Valley, Boreal seemed a little rundown.

The signage wasn't clear, the staff didn't look friendly, and it appeared like they weren't ready to handle the crowd that had suddenly descended upon them.

By the time I got through the chaos and collected my skis, it was more than 2 hours later. I barely had time to warm up before the 12.15pm lesson.

Waiting to get to the payment counter

Still waiting...

Finally saw snow light at the end of the line tunnel

Just one more photo! I got to go!!!

I got a little grumpy over the long wait and thought to myself, this place needs Marcus Lemonis, the guy from CNBC's The Profit, to turn it around!

Then I met Darcy, the spirited ski instructor, whom I'd always remember as the one who asked me to watch out for my jutting butt. ("You gotta watch out for that butt, Grace!")

Darcy not only corrected my ski posture, she also turned my impression of Boreal around. It was impossible not to warm up to her antics.

As I whipped out my phone to snap a photo of the snow on the trees, Darcy told us she never had to buy sunscreen because people kept dropping stuff off the ski lifts.

When summer comes around and the snow melts, they would find phones, wallets, rings, sunglasses, gloves, tubes of sunscreen, bottles of beer (seriously?)... Like a scavenger hunt.

Love taking ski lifts
Up on the mountain as we got off the Cedar Ridge ski lift, Darcy gave us a geography lesson.
"Over there, you have the Sugar Bowl. That's the back of Northstar," she pointed. "Right over there is Castle Peak. And this is East towards Nevada, West towards California."
What an awesome view we have up here!
That's Darcy in the centre.

We went down the green slopes again and again to practise our parallel turns. At the end of the 90-min lesson, I was given a registration card for the Take 3, Ride FREE programme.

That means I get a big discount when I return for the 2nd and 3rd lesson - only $45 for Level 4 and up. After that, they will issue me with a free 2013-2014 season pass. How awesome is that!

I am so excited. I can hardly wait to come back.

Please, season, don't end so quickly!

Take 3, Ride FREE - do not lose this card!

Me on solo after the ski lesson
My unexpected souvenir. Guess my bag collected some snow when I fell! 

Arts & Craft: Ocean Deep

It's been such a long time since I last created something for Etsy. I thought I should start again with something simple.
It's like exercising. If you haven't been doing it for some time, start with gentle stretching and a slow jog first.
So I doodled on a few pieces of paper, played around with the fabric, and got a really painful backache (the dining table is so not made for working/crafting). An hour or so later, I came up with... *drums rolling...* 
Ocean Deep!
Can you see the rolling, rolling waves?

Am happy to see the stark contrast of neon blue felt against army green suede. Rather pleased that I did an asymmetrical design for this too. Because having too much symmetry is kind of boring.

Sometimes we need a pinch of inconsistency, irregularity to spice up life.

And that's me, the conformist, talking?

Only when it comes to accessories.

On a separate note, I used the tripod to take product photos for the first time. I didn't realise how difficult it was to get the camera to focus properly. You can only estimate where to run and stand, and then you hope to get a nice, clear picture of the product.

There were several over-zealous photos of me puffing out my chest, hoping the camera could capture the pendant. Needless to say, they all came out looking very, very wrong.

I'm lucky there were a few usable ones.
After the umpteenth try
As usual, editing photos took another eternity. When I finally put up the item, it was already night time. My sore throat had worsen, and poor Panda had to cook dinner for the both of us because I just wasn't up for it.
Behind every successful woman, there's a man who does all the stuff.
So thank you.

Your love runs ocean deep. So is my gratitude.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Half Moon Bay & Sam's Chowder House

I will make this a short one, because we are going to attempt a one-day ski trip to Boreal Mountain Resort at Truckee tomorrow.

A trip we planned to do last Saturday but got postponed.

Why? Because I couldn't sleep well the night before, due to somebody's thunderous snoring. Was found curled up on the sofa, cold and bleary-eyed, at 5am in the morning. That guilty somebody then promised we would try again the coming Monday. Yaaaaay.

Anyway, it may be a good thing we didn't make the trip because the weather was really gloomy. Grey skies that threatened to break anytime with rainfall.

Not a good time to drive up the mountains. 

Still, we didn't want to waste the Saturday, so we took a 45-min drive to Half Moon Bay. We have heard of Sam's Chowder House but haven't had the chance to try it. We figured it would be less crowded by the time we reached.

Wind and waves along Cabrillo Highway

Little houses against fog-covered hilltops. Mysteriously pretty.

Arriving at Sam's Chowder House. We got lucky and found parking shortly.

An in-house gift shop for those waiting in line 

The lunch crowd was just beginning to clear when we got there around 2.30pm. We opted for whichever table comes first and thought we would be seated inside. After 30 minutes' wait, however, we were surprised with a table at the patio.

What a refreshing beach view!

The ocean air was chilly but the view was worth it!

A rather casual and relaxed atmosphere

Hoot! Hoot! Chase the birds away!
Care to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view?
The hamson husband

Since we weren't very hungry, we ordered spicy popcorn shrimp, fish and chips, and a bowl of New England Clam Chowder to share. All 'basic stuff', which tasted pretty good. 

What blew us away, however, was the portion of the chowder.

It was HUGE!!!  


The bill came up to around $45. A deal considering the amazing view, the ample portions, and the above average quality of food. We couldn't finish everything, so we boxed the rest for dinner.

 After lunch, we took a stroll along the seaside.

The flight of stairs leading down to the beach

Furry friends having fun on the sand

A couple were also walking, ahem, their goats. Can you spot them?

I used to think there's nothing much to do or see at Half Moon Bay, other than major events like the Pumpkin Festival. It's just a pretty name for a boring place.

But I think I've officially changed my opinion.

Would love to come back and try the little cafes. Experience the quaintness of this seaside town. Enjoy the crisp sea breeze on the quiet beach. 

It could possibly be a hangout place on weekends, or the next time we missed a road trip.

DIY hair and nails: a milestone?

Sometimes I don't know who's braver: Is it I, for cutting my husband's hair? Or is it the husband, for letting me cut his hair? 

I figured the husband is braver.

And he has a great sense of humour too. 

Check out what I did to him over the past year:

Jan 2013 - I need an onion for my fried rice.

Feb 2013 - Too soon to be celebrating the passing out parade, recruit!

Jul 2013 - Which farm were you from again, and how many cows you were looking after?

You can say that his patience finally paid off after a year of putting up with my (lack of) hairdressing skills. We got some tips from my hair stylist friend - pin up the top and shave the sides! - and eventually came up with a look that MAY pass off as a salon-cut:

Feb 2014 - hello Oppa!

I think that's by far the best I've done, and I'm tempted to celebrate this as a milestone in our DIY home salon.

But then again, I always feel accomplished as long as there's no bleeding involved and his ears are intact. Safety above all else, right?

On a related front, I did my nails again. This time round, Panda agreed to help with the nail art bit. See the black dotted lines? His work.

Not too bad for a first.

Giving my now wrinkly, housework-battered hands some colour

I think there's something sweet, something fun about doing frivolous stuff for each other.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Low budget V-day rocks

I have no recollection of how we spent Valentine's Day last year. I think we ate Costco chicken at home. They're huge, they're cheap and they're yums. All that goodness in a $4.99 pack. They might be the only reason for signing up for Costco membership. Honest.

This year, I decided we should continue with our low budget tradition. I mean, we have everything we need and we have nth more V-days to celebrate. There's no need to overspend on presents, so says the currently jobless one.

So I came up with something creative.

Write down 4 wishes, drop them in a shoebox, then get the other to pick one. It must be something special that the other can do, or if it's a gift, it has to be below $10. No peeping!

And the results...
My wishes for him:
- Vacuum the floor and change the bed sheets once
- Buy me a new nail colour
- Make banana + chocolate muffins all by yourself
- 30-min moisturiser massage
His wishes for me:
- Prepare a picnic & go Half Moon Bay
- Sze to get another wish
- Sze to sew names on my new boxers
- Full body massage (min 1 hour)
I had an indignant 'hey!' moment when I compared our body massage request - his minimum 1-hr vs. my 30-min!? But he had the 'Sze to get another wish' card, so he escaped some serious beating.
He also said he was lucky not to pick the housekeeping or muffin-making card.
Last night, I honoured my end of the bargain by personalising his new boxers. I first gave him Massimo Dutti boxers, with initials sewn, on our 5th dating anniversary. I didn't know he liked them so much.
Since we are now in the Silicon Valley, I added '@' in front of his initials, just for fun. Hahaha.

I'm not sure if we will be eating out tonight as an early celebration. I won't mind another Costco chicken dinner actually. Even Mac is fine. I think it'll be fun to munch on nuggets while watching old movies. And I still have Ben & Jerry's ice-cream in the freezer.

(Note: I shall refrain from saying "Save that dining out money and give it to me to buy groceries!" because that's tantamount to admitting I've morphed into an supermarket auntie. Quelle horreur.)

I shall, instead, wait patiently for dear hubs to decide.

With any luck, I will be able to claim my prize of a 30-min moisturiser massage tonight too. Maybe I will set the clock a little slower, so that I can get an extra 15 minutes?

Yes. What an awesome idea.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My first WWE Live experience

I applaud Panda's continuing efforts to expose me to new stuff. This time, it's WWE Live at SAP Centre, San Jose. 
That is, even though I told him I won't understand and I would only be there for the hot dogs. (There's something amazing about hot dogs at sports games. Ooh, I love.) 
We got tickets at $41 per pax the week before, thanks to the Leow family. Because parking was at a whopping $20, we decided to go there early to explore the area and to see if we could find cheaper alternatives. We were rewarded for our 'effort' - secured street side parking along West St John Street for only one fifth of the cost. Yay! (I secretly love our budget life - cheap thrills of saving money here and there.) 
The rest of the money went into our dinner fund. There were a handful of restaurants and cafes along West Santa Clara Street and we settled for a grilled chicken sandwich between the two of us. We are not fussy eaters; simple food is the best. 
And then it was time to join the Leows, including little L, for a night of sweaty meaty action!
I must say the atmosphere was awesome. When we opened the door to get down to our seats, I had a WOAH! moment because the place was teeming with neon lights and the crowd was wild. It was basically what you see on TV, with the men thrash talking on stage and the 'diva' at the side, pounding her hands and trying to move the crowd.   
The friendly Intercontinental match at the start

Slam! Slam! Slam!

There was a diva match in the middle but it was more like a cat fight than wrestling. I loved the 6-men tag match which followed because there's more drama! Got introduced to Alberto Del Rio (check out his dimples!), Rey Mysterio (he's small but he's fast) and Cody Rhodes (just cute!). I think Panda somewhat regretted taking me to go watch wrestling.

The night culminated in the steel cage fight between Randy Orton and John Cena:

Cena! Cena!

Not done with you yet!

The crowd went crazy. There were two boys sitting behind us screaming their heads off. For a moment I wondered if we should impose age limit. I sure hope they don't practice the moves on their sisters or brothers!
Too bad for us, Cena lost in the end. Orton tried to finish him off with a chair after the bell rang (boo!) but he managed to crawl up and chased him off the stage (yay!).
Ok, I know. All these are scripted. But I still enjoyed myself.
That is, even though I didn't get to eat my hot dogs.
I wish I could take more close-up photos but my long lens got checked in by the security at the entrance. What a bummer. A tip to note for future, hide the lens in a make-up pouch or something! They are not that strict in checking but if there's a camera lens staring at them right in their eyes, they will take it!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tax filing in US

I have always taken for granted how easy it is to file income tax in Singapore. Most employers would do that for their staff, and all we have to do is to go online and click on a button. Done!

Here is US, there's state tax and then there's federal tax. Employers will generate your W-2 form and then you are expected to file your own returns. And you better learn, because hiring a tax adviser could cost as high as a few grand. 

So why should I, a non-working person, be concerned about all these? Because the husband said we could save a sum if we file joint returns this year. And to do that, I need to apply for Individual Taxpayers Identification Number (ITIN).

Argh. Visions of filling up endless forms.

We tried our best to understand the online information and prepare all the forms and documents. Then I marched down to the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centre at Golden Gate Ave (SF city) to submit my application.

A word of caution to anyone who's entering that building. Just take off everything before you pass through the walk-through metal detector. The instructions weren't clear and I ended up going through the detector 4 times. "Go back and take off your jacket." "Take off your shoes too, Miss." "Have you emptied your pockets? Did you take off your watch?" The person behind me had to go back and take off his glasses too.

That tall building at Civic Centre
Address as stated
My turn came after an hour's wait. The good news is, the officer told me I have filled up most of my W-7 form correctly. The bad news? I was sent back because "you have to follow the correct procedure." 
See, Panda and I had thought I should apply for ITIN before the tax filing period. Then he could insert my ITIN in the joint tax form when the filing period comes. Right? Wrong. 
Turns out, I have to first answer a series of questions to find out if I am eligible for ITIN. The kind lady said I could do it online, but since I was already there, she read the full list of questions to me. One of it was the substantial presence test to see if I'm a resident-alien for tax purposes (you have to pass 183 days). 
After being satisfied with my eligibility, she told me that I have to come back with my passport, my W-7 form, the husband's W-2 and the joint tax filing form 1040EZ. And I can only go back during the filing period, because my ITIN application will be processed together with the joint tax returns.
(Tip from her: Under 1040EZ's ITIN section, write 'Applied For'. On computer, the trick is to put zeros so that the computer allows it to be submitted.)
W-7 form. Read the instructions, which is also available online.
Sample of W-2

Sample of 1040EZ

Boy, I was so glad I met this helpful lady. Because her instructions were clear, my second visit was a breeze. I was able to get my documents certified and application submitted within two hours. That's pretty short considering the place could get swarmed during the filing period. I got there slightly after 8am, as the lady said the queue could get so bad that they wouldn't even issue queue numbers.

Phew! So here ends my post on that tax filing experience. I hope it can be of use to people with a similar situation. For those who wish to know more, go to Another great tool is TurboTax.

Good luck!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yeehar! Ushering in the Year of the Horse!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyBARDY!

Today is 初五 and I still can't believe we are celebrating our second lunar new year here. Take a look at us last year. Vic and Jo had just arrived and it was the first time I invited anyone home for dinner, due to my limited culinary skills. Now, hosting dinners is a regular thing among the FC housewives!

This year, Panda invited his new colleague to have reunion dinner with us. We had planned on having a small dinner between us two, but I couldn't bear the thought of someone eating alone on the eve of Chinese New Year! I was also glad that we did, because I could cook more and it was pure joy watching the food being gobbled up!

And meeting new friends is always exciting. Now I know there's another place to visit before I die: Yellowknife in Canada. I want to see the Northern Lights, and Yellowknife seems to be less of a hassle than Norway!

Baked salmon filet, sambal chicken wings, mama's pork chop, black pepper prawns, curried vegetables and chicken soup. 

Homemade 黑芝麻雷沙汤圆

On the first day of CNY, the Lows also invited us over for steamboat dinner. I can't say this enough - I love, love, love steamboat! I love eating it at home too because if the food is not cooked well enough, you can always run to the toilet and let it all out. Ok, just kidding.

The dinner's highlight had to be the homemade fruits yu sheng by Wendy! Lo hei is a CNY tradition in Singapore and while I'm not a die-hard fan, I've grown to love it because it's fun. Each ingredient has its meaning, and you got to say all sorts of wishes for the new year while you lo them as high as you can, often resulting in a big happy mess after that.  

We ate so much during steamboat that I could barely carry my tummy home. It was a miracle that I could fit into my cheongsam the next day.

Why did I dress up? Because we had visitors!!

It was the first time we had so many people in our house. I thought (and still think) that our house is too small to host anything more than a party of four. But with a little bit of shifting here and there, we managed to squeeze in 8 adults and 2 bouncy kids.

Special thanks to Yiru for bringing her own chairs too. I was grateful because my pink plastic ones from Ranch99 would be too ugly and uncomfortable!

In the mood for CNY snacking and chatting!

We went to four other houses to bai nian over that weekend, going as near as Wendy's place down the road to as far as Mountain View. It's fun because each house has its speciality - bak gwa, nian gao, cookies, coffee... I made lo pak gou and siew mai earlier that week but we finished them before CNY, so I replaced them with cinnamon and chocolate banana muffins instead. Not Asian but still homemade! Heh.

On a separate note, stepping into my cheongsam again made me realised how much I have grown. Metaphorically, and ahem, literally. I first wore it on my wedding day and I bought it purely as a substitute for my kua. (I wasn't able to wear my kua for my Singapore wedding, but that's a story on its own.)

Four years on, I felt more womanly and prouder of my Asian heritage as I wore it. Maybe because I have taken on the full role of a wife the past one year. Maybe because I'm living in a country where people are obviously different, yet they are so receptive and there's no outward barrier to making friends. Whatever the reason, I have grown as a person. 

Panda must have sensed it too, because he kept saying that he will lose the present me once I get back to work in Singapore. He's been enjoying my full attention until now - daily home cooked food, endless chit-chatting, exploring new places together. Life here is almost like a dream for the both of us... we shall enjoy it while it last!

At our wedding dinner at Pan Pacific Hotel

After 4 years of marriage

And now, to work on those butts which almost caused the cheongsam seams to split...