Coconut Date

Hello friends! I know it's been a long while since I've last written to you. Will you forgive me? Perhaps you will if I take you out on a coconut date. We can sip on lovely numbers like this at MacRitchie Reservoir Park - a popular spot for Singaporeans and expats alike to exercise and enjoy the lush scenery. In fact, this is my husband and I's favorite place to run.

The hardest part about jogging at MacRitchie is not so much the tropical heat or the occasional steep inclines out on the trails, but trying to resist the nearby cafe that serves up curry puffs, fried chicken wings, and other naughty, but yummy dishes. But I'll let you in on a little secret: slurping and scraping my way through a fresh coconut at the cafe helps me stave off the fried goods.

Would you like to join me? If so, sit back, relax, and grab yourself a coconut -- or a coffee, if you prefer -- and let's catch up after months apart!

1. The biggest news I have to share with you is that after a few years as a stay at home mama, I went back to work! It was a tough decision, as I love spending time with my kiddos. But, I knew it was time to return to the workforce when I started searching Google for jobs in Singapore and drooling over work clothes when I went shopping. ha ha. I ended up taking a job as a communications specialist at an international school with about 4,000 students. At the Singapore American School, I get to flex my skills as a reporter when I write and edit for their publications and blog. But I also get to try new things like planning an advertising campaign. As a mom, it's also been a treat to get insight into what it takes to provide an excellent education to kids. Overall, I'm happy that I made the leap to go back to work. Who else has gone back to work or made a career change this year? Let me know. I'd love to hear how it went!

2. Right before going back to work, my family went to Bali, Indonesia! Vacationing in Bali has been on my bucket list ever since reading Eat, Pray, Love, and the island didn't disappoint. What a beautiful and fun trip that was! I owe you all a few posts on our Bali vacation, so stay tuned!

3. I also took the kids back to the states for a few weeks this summer. I have to admit, I love living overseas and didn't think I missed anything about living in the states other than family and friends. But once we landed, I was quickly reminded of all the little things that I forgot made living in the states so great. Post on our American vacation coming soon too!

Enough about me! What have you been up to?



Singapore Brunch Spot: Spruce

One my favorite things to do on the weekend with my family is go to brunch. Unfortunately, we've been in a restaurant funk lately, frequenting the same brunch spot over and over again. Who can blame us? It's a miracle when we find a restaurant that the whole family enjoys.

That said, I am tired of visiting the same place each weekend. So, it's time to spread our restaurant wings and see what family-friendly brunch spots are out there in Singapore. Each time My Traveling Troop finds one we enjoy, I'll share our experience with you here.

I decided my family's first foray into the brunch dining scene here in Singapore should take place at Spruce.

The restaurant, which serves American cuisine, has two locations. We opted for the restaurant in Phoenix Park (off Tanglin Road), because online reviews mentioned the food was good and that the restaurant had a playground for little kids -- a winning combo in my opinion.

Once we arrived at Spruce on a late Sunday afternoon, I noticed that the restaurant was packed and secretly gave myself props for making a reservation.

We were seated in the covered outdoor section of the restaurant, protected from the unrelenting sun. Surrounded by trees and perched on top of a hill, I felt like I was in a tree house. I think my five year old daughter shared my sentiment as she happily played with leaves the wind blew onto our table.

With the bustling and woodsy atmosphere getting my approval, I decided to turn my attention to the drinks and food.

My husband and I ordered the Signature Spruce Bloody Mary to start. We've tasted the tomato-based cocktail at different brunch spots all over the world and have yet to encounter a recipe we didn't like. Unfortunately, we both thought our drinks at Spruce didn't taste right. To me, the Bloody Mary had an earthy after taste, but not in a good way. Did the drink taste off because of a bartender mistake or an unsavory ingredient? We didn't ask, but definitely should have.

Famished, we focused on the food menu. I was torn between ordering a brunch classic such as the Crab Cake Benny -- which features ciabatta bread, crab cake, poached egg, bacon and hollandaise -- or the Signature Spruce Ahi Tuna Tartar with toasted ciabatta and avocado. The waiter suggested the latter, and I agreed to order it, especially since I thought the dish would be refreshing on such a hot day. Thankfully, the ahi tuna tartar dish was good. I would definitely order it again.

Meanwhile, my husband ordered the tuna burger and my daughter chose the cheese burger off the kids menu. Both of them said they enjoyed their food. Of course, I had to take a bite out of each dish to make sure my husband and daughter were right in their assessment and they were. Being a taste tester is a tough job, but some one has to do it! :)

By the time we finished our meal, my daughter was antsy, especially after catching a peak at the playground and children playing below. Since we were sitting outside and had a view of the playground, we decided to let her join the other kids while us adults sipped on our respective coffee drinks. (The iced mocha is delicious, by the way).

The playground isn't big or impressive in design, but it was a treat for my daughter to have somewhere to play and run around before we drove all the way back home.

So, what is the final verdict? Would we recommend your family visit Spruce? Absolutely! The atmosphere, food, service, and playground are definitely worth a visit. Just promise us you'll skip the Bloody Mary.


The National In Singapore

Hello friends! How is your week going? I've been humming tunes from the American indie rock band The National for the past few days. I just can't get their songs out of my head, especially since my husband and I watched the band perform on Saturday. The National's performance blew us away. And the outdoor venue at Singapore's Fort Canning Park which is a green oasis in the bustling city-state — was the perfect place to throw down a blanket, lounge around, and enjoy the show!

One of several opening acts.
This lovely white building loomed in the background above concert goers.

My husband and I attended the concert with a group of friends. Here I am with the ladies!

I have no idea what this contraption is, but it flew above the crowd during most of the concert and had a video camera attached. Was it there for surveillance and crowd control, or just to shoot concert footage? Who knows?!

My husband was able to get close to the stage and take some great photos of the National playing. Thanks, hun!

Here is a photo of my husband and me. The concert was a great way for us to have fun with friends, but it also doubled as date night. We had so much fun. I can't wait to attend another show in Singapore!


Thaipusam: Body Piercings, Milk Pots & Faith

A Hindu man stood perfectly still as another man approached with a long, pointed rod.

The rod ended up being one of many sent plunging into the Hindu man's skin. As I joined a crowd of people surrounding the men, not one person did anything to stop the piercings. After all, we weren't witnessing an assault. Rather, we were viewing one of the key parts, or rituals, of Thaipusam.

During the festival held in honor of the Hindu deity Lord Murugan, devotees carry milk pots and spiked kavadis. In Singapore, where South Asian immigrants who practice the Hindu faith have lived for many generations, the devotees walk about 4 km to a temple on Tank Road from a temple on Serangoon Road.

Although the piercings and spiked kavadis may seem barbaric, I can tell you after watching the ritual that it is far from it. In fact, Thaipusam appeared to be a family affair.

While the man I described was being pierced, another man looked up at him in concern, constantly checking in to make sure he was alright. Nearby, a toddler dressed in a sari smiled at strangers who ventured down to the temple to witness the event. And, family members and friends gathered around their loved ones carrying kavadis, cheering them on through chants, songs, and music.

To the Hindus, this isn't a spectacle, but a spiritual journey and walk of faith.

I didn't have my camera on me when I witnessed Thaipusam in mid-January. But here are a few pictures I managed to snap with my iPhone.

I hope 2014 is filled with many more opportunities to learn about different religions and cultures. With Singapore's mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian communities, I have a feeling I will get my wish.

Would you like to learn more about Thaipusam? I found the video here and the descriptions herehere and here to be helpful.


Christmas Eve In Paris: Food Shop Like A Parisian

Once My Traveling Troop on Christmas Eve finished exploring the Hotel des Invalides, we walked towards Rue Cler  the market street where our apartment was located. The adults were eager to prop up their tired feet and lose themselves in a bottle of wine, while the wee ones wanted to dig into a jar of nutella.

As we passed the produce stand, cheese shop and seafood store on the Rue Cler, however, we noticed that they were filled to the brim with locals shopping for fresh ingredients that will be whipped up into Christmas feasts. 

Upon realizing that we also needed to stock up on food for Christmas Day, when most shops in Paris are closed, I ran up to the apartment, grabbed a shopping cart, and ventured back down to the market street to food shop like a Parisian. 

First, I stocked up on the necessities that would see our tummies through Christmas Day: flaky pastries, stinky cheeses, crusty breads, salty meats and bold wines. Then, it was time for me to find the stars of our family's Christmas dinner: shrimp and clams.

As it turns out, it was my visit with the seafood shop that ended up being one of my most memorable experiences in Paris. No one at the shop spoke English, but a kind man working there was determined to help and figure out my order. After a lot of miming, writing numbers in the ice and a few good chuckles, he finally presented me with what I was after: 12 shrimp and two handfuls worth of clams! "Merci, merci, merci!" I told the seafood man, happy that I knew at least one word in French.

With my shopping cart full, I hurried off to the apartment to present my yummy Rue Cler finds to my husband.

Exhausted from a day filled with sightseeing and food shopping, My Traveling Troop decided to call it a night and get some shut eye. Much to our delight, our friend Napolean agreed to keep a look out for Santa Claus and stand watch over any gifts Santa delivered as My Traveling Troop slept.

Thanks, Napolean!


Christmas Eve In Paris: Hunt For The Golden Dome

We woke up on our second day in Paris, took a peak out of our apartment window, and noticed a golden dome sparkling in the distance amid the gray rooftops of the city.

Like pirates attracted to shiny treasure, we got dressed, grabbed our coats, and navigated our way through the 7th arrondisement until we found the dome.

Located just a few blocks away from the apartment we were renting for our Paris stay, My Traveling Troop soon discovered that the dome is part of the Hotel des Invalides.

With a quick peak into the Lonely Planet Paris guidebook that I had on hand, I learned the complex of buildings was built in the 1670s at the request of Louis XIV to provide housing for 4,000 invalides, or disabled war veterans.

Today, the compound houses museums and monuments dedicated to the military history of France. Under the golden dome that drew us to the complex is the final resting place of Napolean Bonaparte - a French military leader and emperor.

Having spent the day learning about France's military history and paying our respects to Napolean, we couldn't leave the Hotel des Invalides without a little something to remember it all by: a Napolean Christmas ornament. Can you say best souvenir ever?! You'll see why in some of my upcoming Paris posts.

My family easily spent most of the day at the Hotel des Invalides, only leaving when hunger struck. We meandered back to the Rue Cler area, where our apartment was located, and found a bustling cafe where we could dine on some hearty French fare. My husband enjoyed the steak, while my daughter and I devoured French onion soup. As for my son? He tried to eat Napolean.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will give you a peak at how we spent the rest of our Christmas Eve. Au revoir!
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