If you haven't read Part I and Part II, please do!

How can a 2019 review be complete without talking about the kids?!

Mommy/Daddy and Kid Dates
We have been asked whether with so many kids, the younger ones get less of our attention.  Answer is definitely a yes.  How could it not be so?  Am I worried about it?  Not really!  Think about it this way.  Sure, they get less attention from their parents, but they have so much more interaction with their siblings that I think their social skills are greatly improved as a result.  Imagine that you have 4 other siblings living with you...would your negotiation and communication skills not be much better? Would you not be much better in navigating through conflict?  I think that's a yes.

With the coronavirus lockdown, the benefit of having many siblings is obvious.  Our kids did not once complain that they were bored in the past 4 weeks of staying at home.  In fact, it's pretty much business as usual for them.  With 7 people in the house, there's never a quiet moment!

Now, having said that, we do recognize the need for attention from us parents.  So, last year, we started a new tradition of 1-on-1 Mommy/Daddy and kid dates.  Renee or I would take one kid out on a date and just spend some 1-on-1 time with them.  We use this time to let them know that they're unique, special and are deserving of our undivided attention.  Both of us actually really enjoy it because it's rare that we get to spend some quiet time with each of them.

We don't do anything too fancy.  Sometimes we got out to the mall.  At other times, we go and grab some food or spend an hour or so at Chuck E Cheese.  Some outings are more extravagant, like one time I got a couple of Leafs tickets from work and went with Athan.  The point is that we spend some quality time together.  Before the lockdown, we tried to do a date once every week or two.  It means each kid gets to go on a date with either of us every month or two.  I would recommend that you parents try something like this with your kids!


Adele


Adele turned 10 last year.  She continues to do well in all her endeavours and plays the role of big sister perfectly!  She requires very little attention from us and in fact, helps out with her little brother and sisters.  We're so grateful to have Adele's help as always.

Last year, I started to introduce some programming to Adele beyond what she got at school.  I first got her to take some online HTML/CSS courses, which she had completed, but I felt it was still a bit too advanced for a beginner at her level.  Eventually, in 2020, I found a really good program created by MIT called Scratch, which is very age appropriate and teaches programming fundamentals.  I recommend this to kids 8 or older.

Adele competed in her first triathlon in the summer.  She did very well and I'm so proud of her.  I hope one day, the two of us can run in a race together!  I'm too weak a swimmer so it'll have to be a run or a bike ride!  Sorry, Adele!  Lol!

Adele Running Past the Finish Line in Her First Triathlon

Daddy and Adele Date - Enjoying a Cold Drink at Starbucks


Athan

Athan had a great year last year!  He turned 8 and also had his First Communion this year.  He reminds me so much of myself when I was young.  I was a very playful kid and by that, I mean all I wanted to do was play!  I would moan and whine at the thought of doing homework or studying.  This certainly drove my parents insane, especially during my earlier years in Hong Kong where grades were everything.  I certainly didn't ask for this attribute and now know that's just part of how kids learn, through play.  As a result, I give Athan some leniency in this area.  I encourage play but try to direct him to productive playing (that's a term I just invented).  Instead of letting him just stare at the TV or play video games, I try to switch things up and encourage creativity in the things that he deems fun.

He has matured quite a bit in the past few years.  We no longer need to ask him if his homework is done; he just knows to complete it himself.  He is doing well in school and loves to play soccer.  He's been taking Karate lessons since he was 4, but his interest doesn't seem to be there 100%.  We will be re-evaluating whether to redirect his time and energy elsewhere once he completes his red belt (about half way to black belt).

He's also good help with his little sisters.  Although he loves to taunt them and make them scream, he is more than willing to read to them before going to bed.  He's a fun brother to have around and without Athan, things would just be a bit on the dull side.



Audrey 

Audrey entered Grade 1 this year and turned 6 years old.  Both Adele and Athan started reading fairly proficiently in SK, but Audrey had struggled a bit in SK.  Since she's an October baby, we weren't too concerned.  In September, I asked Adele to help Audrey with her reading.  I'm glad to report that at the moment, Audrey is reading at a Grade 2 level (thank you Adele)!  Her penmanship is also superb.  I look at her handwriting and am a bit ashamed that it looks much better than my own! In fact, she has the best penmanship out of all her siblings!

She took a year of ballet and had her first recital in June.  As you can see below, she was adorable in her little costume!  When September came around to re-enroll, she actually asked not to re-enroll in dance because she wanted to take up visual arts, which is where her real strength lies.  I think she gets it from mommy!  You can see a sample of her work below in Chinese Martyrs Catholic Church's calendar.  Thanks to Grandma for enrolling Adele and Audrey in the competition.  Adele's drawing also made it on the calendar!


Audrey's Drawing Featured on Chinese Martyrs Catholic Church Calendar

Anne
Anne turned 3 in 2019 and this will be her last year at home before she starts JK.  It turns out that the more fair-skinned kids in the family are more rascally than the others! Lol!  She has quite the character and is at the same time lovable and deserving of reprimand!  She's definitely the life of the party!


She started ballet lessons in September and is absolutely enjoying it.  Whenever we have some music playing at home, she would start dancing to the music.  It is really by nature and not nurture that she has this interest and talent.  Since we have more data points in the number of kids (lol), we can confidently say that their interests and talents are usually not due to what we want them to be, but rather, are gifted by God.

Anne also really knows how to tearjerk with her words.  There was one occasion where she was over tired during dinner and was not being cooperative.  I reprimanded her and after dinner when I was changing her into her PJs, she said, "Daddy, I miss you all day (when you are) at work!"  Upon hearing it, I suddenly choked up and was full of regret about how I had reprimanded her earlier.  She's a smart cookie, maybe a bit too smart with her words!



Amelia
Amelia turned 1 last year (2 years old now) and is growing really quickly!  She's running around and talking in full sentences.  Of all five kids, I think she looks like me the most!  She is always smiley and loves to participate in all family activities.  It is really easy to make her cry - just tell her it's nap time or bedtime and she will immediately start whining or be on the verge of crying, because she doesn't want to be left alone in her room; she wants to be part of whatever is happening.

Being the youngest, she's definitely the loudest with her screams and cries; she needs to get the attention!  She's not to be bullied and she uses her voice to ensure that.




We are so blessed to have our wonderful kids!  Is it tough to parent 5 kids at the same time?  You bet!  But boy, do we feel privileged to be their parents!  We hope we're doing an ok job!
Trip to Tobermory

Before we start...if you haven't read Part I of my 2019 review, go here.

A few years ago, I wrote about the perception of the acceleration of time, that is, that time seems to pass by more quickly as we age.  Since then, I read that this can be explained by our brain activity.  When we were young, everything that the brain experiences is new and the brain needs to process all of that incoming information.  As we age, things start to become mundane and the brain goes more on autopilot.  As a result, time seems to pass more quickly.  This seems like a pretty good explanation to me!

So, a way to slow down how we perceive time passes would be to create new experiences for ourselves.  A great way to do this is to travel.  It doesn't necessarily need to be far away, but just needs to be different from our ordinary lives.  Traveling is also a great way to create memories for ourselves and our kids.  I still remember so much of what we did when we were in Orlando in 2018.  I absolutely advocate going on a vacation each year with the family!  It's much better than spending the money on a certain gadget!


Blue Mountains - June
At the end of June, we went to Blue Mountains for several days.  I actually like Blue Mountains better in the summer than in the winter, probably because I'm a novice skier and can't justify the high cost of skiing at Blue.  In the summer, accommodations are much cheaper and a lot of the places provide access to a somewhat private pool.  The kids don't like swimming lessons much, but they love playing in the pool!

We didn't do much outside of swimming, hiking, and watching movies.  I guess this was a trip more for me than for everyone else! Lol!  I really being able to spend time with Renee and the kids, in a less stressful environment compared to our weekends!  Beavertails were also great!


 


Tobermory - July/August
I've always wanted to go to Tobermory.  For some reason, I'm really attracted to blue, turquoise water!  My parents, my brother Eric's family along with us stayed a week there.  It has recently become an annual family tradition to go somewhere together for a week in the summer.  I really enjoy this time because I get to spend time with Eric and my dad, whom I don't see as often.  You kids out there reading this now...someday, you will grow up and will start your own lives, and you will find that you miss seeing everyday the annoying sibling(s) that you have.  So, treasure the time you have now!

During our trip, we took a ferry to Flowerpot Island that is famous for its flowerpot-like rock formations.  They're pretty cool to look at.  Eric, his sons Nick and Ben, myself, Adele and Athan camped on the island for one night.  There are only a handful of sites on the island so it was quite an experience.

 Flowerpot Rock Formation at Flowerpot Island

Our campsite was close to a dock and we spent some time jumping into the cold water.  Check out the video of my nephew Ben below!

My Nephew, Ben, Jumping Off a Dock into the Cold Water

We also visited the Grotto near Tobermory.  It's one of the more popular attractions there.  The grotto is actually quite treacherous to get to.  To get there, one would need to climb down a rocky cliff.  Aside from a few signs telling you not to do stupid things since people have died here before, there are no stairs, railings, or any other safety measures.  After scoping out the path down, we decided that the grandparents and the younger kids should not go down.

Renee, Joanne (Eric's wife), and the older kids decided to do the climb down, while Eric and I helped get the younger kids settled down.  We brought them with the grandparents to a rocky beach on the other side of the grotto.  Once they were happily settled, Eric and I headed off to the grotto.  Instead of walking back to the cliff and climbing down, we thought it would be easier to swim there.

I wouldn't say it was the worst of ideas, but it definitely was a less than ideal exercise.  We walked along the rocks as far as we could before we had to jump into the water.  Once we jumped in, we realized the water was very cold!  A quick google tells me that the average water temperature in the summer at Tobermory is between 15 and 20°C.  It doesn't sound that cold, but at 25°C, one's breathing starts to be affected by the cold water temperature.  At 20°C, it's considered "dangerously cold" to swim in.  It took us about 3 to 5 minutes to get to the other side, where the grotto was.  By the time we got there, both of our arms and legs started getting numb and it began to be difficult to swim.  Given another 5 minutes in the water, we probably would have drowned.  Once we got there, we were happy to see the wives and kids already in the grotto.  We took some jumps from inside the grotto into the cold water before heading back to the beach.

Aside from these exciting adventures, we also enjoyed movies, whiskey and cigars (the latter two by the men only!).  Overall, this was a great trip and many good memories were made!

Rocky Beach at the Grotto (the Grotto is on the Other Side of the Rocks at the Back) 

The Grotto is at the Bottom


Cherry Beach Resort - August/September
Over the Labour Day long weekend, we, along with Renee's parents, siblings and, her best friend Melissa and husband Danny went to Cherry Beach Resort in Prince Edward County (near Sandbanks).  

The resort is a pretty neat place.  It has a number of different water sports, a swimming pool, basketball and tennis court, and other activities.  The kids got to go on a canoe which was a first for some of them.  Adele, while paddling, hit her own nose with the oar, causing it to bleed profusely in the middle of the lake!  We also spent quite a bit of time playing board and card games, and watching old movies on DVDs (poor internet there).  Adele and I also discovered Sim City on my phone, which we somewhat quickly got bored of.  To cap off the trip, the resort provided a free hot dog dinner along with nice fireworks!  All in all, a really fun trip spent with nice company!

As an aside, Melissa and Danny have a company called ComfyComfy that sells buckwheat pillows, among other things.  If you have neck pain or just need better support sleeping, try their pillows out!  Renee and I have a number of their pillows in our home.  You can also find them on Amazon.  (No, I don't get commissions. lol)

Melissa, Her Daughter Maddy, and Audrey





Finger Lakes, New York - November
For Renee's birthday, I surprised her with a trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  It was only the two of us who went, thanks to the grandparents who took care of all 5 kids!  I don't remember when our previous "us only" trip was; so this was quite a treat!

Our trip started with a stay at Harbour House in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Harbour House is one of our favourite hotels in Ontario.  It's super cozy and nice and never disappoints!  They had a packaged deal with a discount on dinner and spa, which was both very enjoyable.  Dinner was at HobNob and our couple's massage the next morning was at Secret Garden Spa, also in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

After our massage, we left for Aurora, NY and arrived at dusk.  We stayed at Wallcourt Hall, which is one of several hotels in the small town, that is owned by Pleasant Rowland, the founder of American Girl.  The town has been revived and has got a nice, small American town feel to it.  There's not much to do there, but it's very scenic and is a perfect getaway for Torontonians who have gotten bored of Muskoka.  The drive from Toronto is around 4 to 5 hours.

Renee Pretending to Read in Our Wallcourt Hall Room 

Our Room Was Really Nicely Decorated

I thought that every Hong Kong immigrant to Toronto has been to the Corning Museum of Glass, since it's one of the stops between Toronto and New York City on the 美東四日遊 (4-day Eastern US bus tour).  To my surprise, Renee has never been there, and since it's been 30 years since I've been there, we spent a day there.  It's a small but very neat museum, and one could easily spend a day there looking at the exhibits and watching the entertaining glass blowing demos.

Corning Museum of Glass

After the museum, we swung by Watkins Glen State Park, hoping to walk on the trails to see the waterfalls there.  Unfortunately, the trails were closed for the season.  We did snap a few pictures at the trailhead.  Maybe we'll be back with the kids in the future!

 Watkins Glen State Park

A few days quickly passed, which to be honest, was enough since we missed the kids.  We were also quite sure they were a handful for our parents.  Thanks again, Mom and Dad!  But before heading back to Toronto, we made a quick stop at Waterloo Premium Outlets which definitely won me some brownie points!  How can a birthday trip not include shopping, right?!

That sums up our travel in 2019.  Although we didn't do any big trips, these small trips were all very enjoyable and they made quite a few memorable moments for us to reminisce on  for years to come!

Stay tuned for my final post on an update on each of our 5 rascals!
I had tried starting this post before the coronavirus outbreak, but did not get any progress until now.  It's April 11, 2020 and I've been home since before March Break, which would make this the start of week #5.  Not sure if this is affecting anyone else, but I feel especially lethargic from a work perspective, having to stay home all the time.  But I will push through this lethargy and complete this post today!  If you see this on April 11, you'll know I succeeded!

In general, 2019 was somewhat eventful, but it really went by like a blur and nothing stuck out as a highlight.  Perhaps it wasn't the greatest of years as you'll soon read about.  Or maybe, it might be because I didn't have any newborn this year! ;)  But I'm glad I'm going through this exercise of looking back.  Otherwise, the year would have passed and I would not have reflected more upon it.  And isn't being conscious and being able to reflect on past events what separates us from other creatures in this world?

Annual Tradition - Gambling & Eating Steak

This has become a bit of an annual tradition.  It started way back in 2008 (?) when the Great Recession was running in high gear and it seemed like everything was on discount.  Hotels were not the least affected and had some pretty great deals that winter.  Kelvin (Lai Chuen), my cousin and I would enjoy the packaged deals from Four Points Fallsview to stay for a night, get some "free" chips from the casino and coupons from local restaurants (which lowered the cost of the highly priced food back to normal prices).

Isn't gambling not allowed for Catholics?  Well, no, that is not entirely accurate.  Gambling, in and of itself, is not a sin.  However, gambling definitely leads to sin; which is why gambling is often shunned.  I know this first hand.  Many years ago, I lost around $200 at a casino and I lost it and threw a fit like an uncontrollable toddler.  It was an ugly sight.  $200 is not a huge amount but it was enough to turn me into a different person.  "Know your limit" so goes the OLG saying.  Now, I know my limit!  So these days, I get the "free" chips from the casino and play enough so I can cash it out.

Anyway, back to our trip to Niagara.  Kelvin's birthday is in January.  So, we decided to take advantage of the hotel deals again.  But this time, I had a few surprises for him.  I picked up the tab for his stay and even organized a surprise for him.  He thought that it was only the 2 of us + family, but there ended up being around 20 people, including my parents, his in-laws, Jit team.  It was a fun trip...and to spoil next year's "2020 in Review" post, we did it again in January 2020!


Selling the Matrix

This section is quite inconsequential...but thought I'd document this for posterity.  Lol.  Just before Renee and I got married, we bought our first car together.  It was a used 2004 Toyota Matrix.  Over the years, it had served us well.  When we went down to one car after Adele was born, we gave it to my dad to drive.  He eventually got a BMW and passed the Matrix to my mom.  My mom then drove it for probably 6 or 7 years.  Finally, after 15 years of good service and almost 300,000 km, we decided to retire it.  I think we even sold it for $1200 (if I recall correctly).  It was such a practical and reliable car!  It had not broken down once and all repairs were of a minor nature.

For this, I love Toyotas so much!  They're just engineered and manufactured so well and last forever.  However, I'm terribly worried about the company.  They are like Blackberry in 2008...not quite sure what I mean?  Well, the iPhone was announced in 2007.  Everyone knew it was the future, but people like Steve Ballmer just mocked it (you gotta click on this link if you haven't seen the video).  I think you know where I'm going with this.  We know electric vehicles (EVs) are the future.  How can they not be?  But Toyota is just so obstinate!  I don't get it.  They practically started the EV revolution by pioneering hybrid technology.  Why do they have such a pathetic EV roadmap?  When they talk the game, what they mean by EVs are hybrids, and not zero-emissions EVs.  This would have been fine 20 years ago when they came out with the Prius.  They've gone from leader to laggard.  It's truly disappointing and sad.


Mom's Surgery
My mom, Susanna, has been my nanny, cook, educator, and Instacart shopper (lol, this last one is a joke) for the past 10 years.  I'm tremendously grateful for her help.  Without her, I don't think we could have gone past 2 kids!

Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was actually not her first diagnosis of this terrible disease.  10 years prior, she was diagnosed with the same and had her first mastectomy.  Her recovery back then was not great.  I recall it probably took her about a week before she was able to get out of bed.  Even then, she was not very mobile.  So, this time, we were very worried about what this would mean.  She was going to get another mastectomy, but she was now 10 years older.

To our surprise, while she had the same surgeon and had the surgery done at the same hospital, the surgery went exceptionally well.  She was also able to have a one-night stay at the hospital instead of a day surgery.  That helped tremendously as well.  By day 3, she was up and about and even cooked lunch (nobody can stop her when she's determined)!  We were really relieved!  She fully recovered in 2 to 3 months.  It's been over a year since the surgery and she's been back to her old self.  Thanks be to God!

We also thank you all for your prayers and kind thoughts during this time!

It is important to note...while mom was off on sick leave, Renee did a great job taking care of kids and myself.  She did lose about 5 pounds in this period though! :P


Grandma's Passing and Trip to Hong Kong
In mid April, mom called and told us that she was well enough to come back the following week.  We didn't mind that she took more time off to recuperate but knowing mom, she probably felt it was her responsibility to come back to help when she was able.  That's mom...always going above and beyond!

As fate would have it, on the following day, she got a call from my uncle in Hong Kong informing her that Grandma had been hospitalized.  The situation was not good and so, she booked her flight to go back.  I followed shortly after.  I was glad I did because Grandma passed while I was there and I got to spend her last few days with her.  I wrote about that last year when I was still in Hong Kong.

Not only was I able to spend time with Grandma, I also spent some time with my cousins, whom I had not seen in quite some time.  In fact, it was really my first time interacting on a less superficial basis with my younger cousins, Ka Yue and Ka Pong.  They were born after we had immigrated to Canada and I was glad I was able to get to know them a bit better.  Guys, if you're reading, thanks for your hospitality last year.  It was great connecting with you guys!  I was also fortunate to connect with a few other relatives and old friends, which is always great.  It was too bad I was only there for 1 week...








This trip was also the only time I spent any meaningful amount of time alone with mom.  The last time was probably in 1989 when again, the two of us went to Hong Kong together (wow, some 30 years ago)!  After grandma's passing, we did some touristy stuff in Hong Kong, went shopping, and enjoyed the rest of our time there.  I guess this was the silver lining of the trip.



Family's First Baseball Game

Ainsworth's (where I work) family event this year was a Blue Jays game.  It's been about 30 years since I've seen a live Jays game.  The last time, the Rogers Centre was still called the Skydome (which is what I still call it).  It was a superb game to watch with something like 7 home runs during the game!  Free game, free food - what a great day!  Thanks Ainsworth!


Enjoying Friends' Company
Honestly, God has blessed us with so many good friends that we're so grateful.  I have to say I'm terrible with keeping in touch.  It's never been my strength.  Thanks to all you kind souls; that hasn't kept you out of our lives!

One wintry day, we had a great time with Matt, Jessica, Sophia and Sam at the Science Centre!  They gifted us a membership many years ago and after losing it for a few years, we finally found it.  We gladly invited them to join us.  It was a bit of a hectic and chaotic day, with adults terribly outnumbered (mainly my fault), but we had a blast!

And for all those of you who don't know, the Science Centre has a great reciprocal membership program with other museums.  Within a 8 hour drive radius, you probably have free access to around 10 different museums in Canada and the US.  Definitely keep this in mind!



In 2019, I was also a godfather again!  I'm the proud godfather of everyone in John's family except Joanna!  Their second, Oliver, was baptized and I was so honoured to be godfather again!  Godfather Part III...lol!


In July, we threw Matt (Tsang) a surprise birthday lunch.  The surprise was so good...Matt Siu and I hid in Lai Chuen's pantry and when Matt came over, thinking he was putting up some furniture for Lai Chuen, we scared the heck out of him when he found 2 screaming dudes in the pantry!  We definitely had a good laugh at his expense!


Calvin, Aggie, and their girls Abbey and Alley visited from Hong Kong in December.  We had a great time reminiscing about old jokes like "I...I...I was just saying..."  It was a great way of celebrating Christmas with great, old friends!  Watching Dennis and Calvin shuck oysters was also amusing! :)



Other Highlights
Watching Canada Day Fireworks at the Local Park 

Renee's Grandma Visiting in the Summer 

Starting of a New Family Tradition: A Real Christmas Tree!

Thanks for dropping by!  Stay tuned for more!
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