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I admit it has never crossed my mind to ever visit Taiwan. If you asked me before which places I would want to go to, I’d automatically name several countries in Europe and maybe a couple in Asia. But Taiwan? Never! That is until I went to Musafir.com’s event #TaipeiNowBoarding last month where they opened my eyes to this amazing country and made me want to book my next vacation there.
So why should you visit this country in the heart of Asia? I give you 7 reasons:

1) Home to the Taipei 101 skyscraper that’s shaped like a bamboo at 509m tall, Taipei (the capital) is a modern multicultural city that buzzes with night life, shopping, night markets, cultural activities, and so much more. You definitely won’t run out of things to do and see.
Tapei 101
image source
2) Taiwan is rich in tourism resources, full of lush mountains and pristine beaches. With 9 national parks and 13 national scenic areas, this country is the exotic hidden gem of East Asia. Being a nature lover, I would really love to visit Alishan, the Sun Moon Lake, and Kenting National Park when I’m there.
Sun Moon Lake
image source
3) Cherry blossoms. Honestly, this is the first thing that caught my interest because I’ve always wanted to see cherry blossoms up close, and I thought Japan and South Korea were the only countries in Asia that had them (don’t judge me! ☺). Admit it, you’d also love to walk under these trees with the flowers falling gently around you, right?
Cherry Blossoms
image source
4) Stunning beaches. For the beach bums out there, Taiwan boasts of having some of the finest beaches and sparkling waters, with all sorts of activities for people of all ages. Baishawan, Fulong, and Kenting are just some of the beaches you can visit.
Kenting Beach
image source
5) Hot springs. Offering hot, cold, mud, and seabed hot springs, this country formerly known as Formosa, is ranked among the top 15 hot spring sites. And if you think these are only for the “bold and daring” visitors, think again. Conservative and modest tourists won’t be left out because there are also private sections that are separated from the public one.
Hot Springs
image source
6) Festivals. Lots of them! There’s the Sky Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Art Festival, Ghost Festival, International Firework Festival, Cycling Festival, Beehive Rockets Festival, Woodcarving Hotel Art Festival…well, you get the picture ☺
Sky Lantern Festival
image source
7) Delicious food. Of course you just have to try the country’s food specialties like Tangyuan, Bu Meat, Iron Egg, and Taro Ball. And you’ll definitely not go hungry because there are snack shops and restaurants just minutes away from each other. With more than 100 Halal certified restaurants, this also makes it very easy and convenient for Muslim travellers.
image source
I can think of many more reasons, but these are the ones that made me really excited to visit Taiwan. Hopefully this trip will happen one day. Meanwhile, I’ll just check out Musafir.com’s promotions on their Taiwan holiday packages so I can start making my plan into a reality. You should too!
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Since Hubby works in the construction industry, he often proudly points out the projects he worked/is working on whenever we pass by them. I’ve only entered a couple, but most of them we just admire from afar.

For our 10th wedding anniversary this year, Hubby booked us in Il Ristorante – Niko Romito which is located at one of his past projects. I remember the countless days he had stressing over almost everything when he was working on The Bvlgari Resort. Well, he always stresses over all the projects he works on ☺ But what probably made this different was it’s a luxury property and the demands were great, so the stress level was really high. Which is also the reason why he was particularly proud of this one.

Walking into the restaurant that night, we were immediately greeted by one of the waitstaff who asked if we preferred to sit inside or outside. Although summer had already arrived, the weather that day in late May was still a bit cool, so we chose to dine on the balcony where we enjoyed a view of the water, yachts and residences.
We gave our orders to Caterina who, soon after, served us their complimentary amouse bouche (appetizer) soup called Assoluto Vegetale, and a selection of breads to nibble on while we waited: Grissini (homemade thin and crispy honey breadsticks), Sfoglie (homemade crispy sesame chips with chilli flakes and rosemary), and Pane (their signature bread which was crispy outside but very soft inside).
We had requested our order of Linguine with Basil Pesto and Hazelnuts to be served in 2 separate portions. Not sure if it was a mistake on our part, but our servings looked pretty small. Tasty, but small.
Next to be served was the Grilled Wagyu Sirloin Steak with side dishes of Roasted Baby Potatoes & Sauteed Mushrooms. Now this was delicious! The steak was cooked perfectly and tasted really juicy, so it’s no wonder we finished the entire dish.
We were quite full by the time Hubby and I were done with our mains, but since we were celebrating, we ordered dessert: Chocolate & Raspberry Cake, served on a plate with a greeting. Well, you know I like chocolate, so you can bet I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And to our surprise, once we were done, we were served more dessert, compliments from the chef: Bombe (like a doughnut filled with vanilla custard), Infuso di Limone (lemon infusion made of a cold extraction of lemons and sugar), and Grapes on Ice.
Needless to say, our tummies were very happy that night. And the service by Caterina and Andreas was great too. They were very prompt and attentive, always smiling, and eagerly answered our questions.  Definitely a restaurant we would recommend for a nice evening with your significant other.

Il Ristorante – Niko Romito 
The Bvlgari Resort Dubai 
Jumeira Bay Island, Jumeira 2, Dubai 
Phone: 04-7775555

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I can just picture some of you raising your eyebrows upon reading the title of this post (“Perfect?” Really?!). Well, even I’m a bit doubtful because this is the only banana bread recipe I’ve tried. But since I’d like to believe my eldest daughter and colleague when they both raved to me how great it was, I’ll keep my stand and say this recipe makes the Perfect Moist and Delicious Banana Bread
The original recipe is from Genius Kitchen; however, after going over some of the comments, I tweaked it a bit which resulted to a tasty loaf that Caila finished four slices of in one sitting…and to think she had just finished her dinner!

Here’s how to make this amazing loaf:

Ingredients:
½ cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar + a bit more for sprinkling on top
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Baking spray

Directions:
1) Pre-heat oven to 325ºF.
2) Mix together the oil, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, and bananas in a bowl.
3) In a separate bowl, mix the baking soda, salt, cinnamon and flour.
4) Fold the flour mix into the wet mixture. Mix in the chocolate chips.
5) Spray the loaf pan with baking spray, pour the batter in, and sprinkle the top with brown sugar.
6) Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
7) Cool, slice, and enjoy!

Just a few notes:
• If you prefer your bread to be a bit sweeter, just add some more sugar in the mix (up to ¼ cup) to adjust to your taste.
• Instead of chocolate chips, you can add walnuts. Or you can skip this altogether for a plain (but still perfect moist and delicious) banana bread.
Easy peasy, right?

And now that a new school year is about to begin, this is a winner recipe to use for the children’s snacks and lunch boxes.
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Last month, I had to undergo a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. For those of you who don’t know what these are, a colonoscopy is a procedure where a doctor (usually a Gastroenterologist) inserts a long, thin tube inside the patient’s rectum. The tube has a tiny video camera which is connected to a screen where it shows the live images, and this is used to look at the colon (aka large intestine) for any abnormalities. An endoscopy is pretty much the same thing, but this time the tube is inserted down the patient’s throat to look at his or her digestive tract.

Why did I have both procedures? Well, it started late last year. From what I remember, I was feeling fine when suddenly, one day I felt sick: high fever, colds, chilling, vomiting, loss of appetite, mild diarrhea. I figured it was simply the normal flu or virus because it was the winter season; and the doctor thought so too because he just prescribed me some medicines for URTI and to take a couple of days rest. That was in December.

Fast forward to the end of February, I fell sick again. Same symptoms, and again the General Practitioner didn't think it was anything different, so we just passed it off as another regular illness because the weather was changing.

In April it happened again. Just like the past two instances, I simply thought that maybe I caught it from my daughters who fell sick at the same time. But after realizing it was my third time in a span of four months, I became worried. So leaving work early that day, I went to the hospital and asked to see a doctor. When the nurse who took my vitals asked what was wrong, I told him my symptoms and explained why I was worried. After a few minutes, he directed me to their Internal Specialist. The doctor then asked me several questions about my health history, after which, she recommended me to have some tests (blood, urine, stool, and ultrasound) so they could check what exactly was wrong with me.

A few days later, the results came out, and although everything was generally normal, my calprotectin level was off the charts. The normal range is less than 50, borderline is 55-99, but mine was a whopping 1,807. Yikes! Of course I googled about it, which we all know is usually not a good idea because it just makes you worry more, but well, that’s what normal people do, right? Anyway, the doctor then scheduled me for an appointment with the Gastroenterologist, who then recommended me to have a colonoscopy. I was hesitant because hello! a long tube was going to be inserted up my butt. That isn’t exactly a walk in the park! But after checking with my brother and his wife (they’re both in the medical field) and after more googling (because I just can’t help it), I figured it would be better to go through with it now than prolonging it until it's too late to cure whatever it is I may have.

So after we got the approval from my insurance, we scheduled the colonoscopy for the 23rd of May at 8pm (night time because of Ramadan). Unfortunately, the preparation for that was not pretty.

Since my colon had to be clear for the procedure, I had to take Klean-Prep, which is a medicine of 4 sachets, to poop out everything I had eaten and drank. 1 sachet had to be dissolved in 1 liter of water and I was supposed to consume a glass of the mixture every 15 minutes. Except for this medicine and clear liquids, I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything else 24 hours before my colonoscopy.  And the very last drink should be 8 hours prior.
The night before my procedure, I drank only one sachet. It wasn’t as easy as I thought because after just half of my first glass, I wanted to throw up; that’s how disgusting it tasted! And to think I had to finish the rest of the mixture. Ugh! The good thing was it started working after less than 2 hours (by then I had consumed a little more than half), and I had to rush to the bathroom several times. By 1am, I finally managed to finish the entire 1 liter...and already lost count of the time I had spent in the bathroom. 

The next morning, I continued drinking the Klean-Prep. I had taken a leave off work because no way did I want to spend the entire day in the office bathroom. Maybe my taste buds had become accustomed to it, or it helped that I used cold water, or the medicine really wasn’t all that bad (which I doubt), I managed to down the liquid easily and without any problems this time. However, I left over a little more than half of the 4th mixture when I saw that my stool had become yellow and clear like urine.  Sorry, TMI.

Finally, Hubby and I were at the hospital and the time of my colonoscopy arrived. After signing the necessary papers, I was led to the room where I had to change into a pair of pants that had a slit and cover at the back. I told the nurses and doctor that I wanted to be asleep during the procedure; but even though they gave me a sedative, I was awake the entire time and I could see what the colonoscope was showing on the screen, including the times when a few polyps and biopsies were being taken out.  Initially, I had to lie on my left side, then after a while I was asked to lay down on my chest, then finally on my back. There were times when I experienced stomach cramps (some of them even made me cry out in pain), but thankfully it didn’t last long. The entire procedure took 20 minutes, and after the tube was removed, that's when I went to sleep. As soon as I woke, the nurse asked me how I was feeling. My answer? “Hungry!” She immediately ordered a toasted chicken sandwich and apple juice which I consumed right away as soon as they were brought in.
post-colonoscopy selfie with Hubby
I was told that it would take 7 to 10 days for the results to come out, so two hours after we had entered the hospital, Hubby and I were on our way home.

I didn't feel weak or anything like that the next day so I went back to work.  In the afternoon, I received a call from the hospital saying that the insurance had approved my endoscopy; so wanting to get it over with as soon as possible, I asked to schedule it the following Saturday afternoon.

Fortunately, there were no disgusting preparations needed for that procedure.  I just had to fast from food and water 8 hours prior.  After my experience in prepping for the colonoscopy, this was easy peasy.
signing the papers before my endoscopy
However, since a tube would be inserted down my throat (and no way did I want to be awake during this procedure!) I repeatedly told all the nurses and doctor that I wanted to sleep.  I said the sedative they gave during my colonoscopy didn't work, so this time they had to make sure I would be unconscious during the endoscopy.  I practically insisted that they shouldn't start until I was fully asleep.

Once the doctor gave the signal, a nurse gave me the sedative through the IV, sprayed something in my mouth to numb my throat (it tasted a bit like banana flavour), attached a rubber device to my mouth between my teeth where they would put the endoscope through, and the last thing I remembered was trying to swallow.  Hurray, I conked out! ☺

I think I woke up 30 minutes later and my bed was pushed to a recovery room where I went back to sleep.  Finally waking up a few more minutes later, I felt a kind of discomfort in my throat.  It didn't hurt and it was bearable, but it did last until the next day.
post-endoscopy selfie with Hubby
The entire time we spent at the hospital this time was 2.5 hours (just 30 minutes more than my colonoscopy), probably because I took more time to sleep...and since I still felt sleepy because of the sedative, I continued my snooze at home.

As for the results of these procedures, I'm happy to say that both were ok and there's nothing to worry about the polyps and biopsies that were taken out.  However, the doctor did prescribe Pentasa which I need to drink twice a day for a month.  It's granules that need to be dissolved in water and tastes bitter like aspirin, but that's alright.  I'm just thankful that what I have is curable.
So if you're going to have a colonoscopy or endoscopy (or both) soon, don't worry.  If I was able to handle it (and believe me, I have a low pain tolerance), you can too.  I do recommend, though, that you ask to be asleep during the endoscopy, just to be sure ☺
feeling silly after my endoscopy
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Just like all her past birthdays, Caila had to have a theme when she turned 9 this year. And since she and her little sister had been spending their free time playing with Lego sets that their Oma and Opa gave last year, it was practically a no-brainer that she would choose that to be her theme. The good thing about it was we only had to spend on the giveaways and the family dinner to celebrate because she agreed not to have a party again. Whew! ☺

I didn’t think my regular supplies store near Al Ras metro station would have Lego themed items so we opted to buy keychains instead. Luckily for us, Lego had an ongoing sale that time so we managed to buy the mini-figure keychains at half the usual price. These were for her classmates and friends. For her teachers and bus nannies, she gave KitKat bars that had Lego-themed wrappers I DIY'd.
It's not fun for kids to celebrate a birthday without a cake, so I stayed up the night before to bake one. This time, she specifically requested for a funfetti cake and even gave me several Lego pieces to decorate it with. I’ve never made this type of cake before, and although it would have been easier to just use a boxed cake mix, I chose to make it entirely from scratch with the help of recipes from the internet, sprinkled it with hundreds and thousands of love, and hoped for the best.
On the day of Caila’s birthday, she took a shower and got ready for school as usual, then she sat down to her traditional birthday number pancake in front of the banner I prepared while we waited for her greeting on E-Junior to flash on the screen.
Unfortunately, this is the third consecutive year E-Junior has been using the same picture even though I always
send an updated one. Now I'm trying to decide whether to continue with this tradition or not next year when
she turns 10.
I had taken the day off work because aside from it being her birthday, it was also her school’s Annual Sports Day. She was participating in only one activity, but of course being a mom, I had to be there to cheer her on and show my support. Fortunately, she and her teammates were declared the overall winners in their level for the Tug of War so the gold medal she received was a nice reward on her special day.
The event ended at around 1pm, and by then she was tired and hungry, so we headed to McDonald’s for a quick lunch date for some bonding time and to celebrate her victory.
Back home, it was time for Caila to cut the cake; but not before she and Sophie added more Lego toys on top because apparently the ones I had used earlier were not enough. That probably explains why she wasn’t smiling as much in the morning. Hahaha!
To my relief the cake was delicious. My girls were delighted with the colourful sprinkles they saw before enjoying each bite of the moist cake. Yaaaaay!
For dinner, we all headed to Hard Rock Café which was the birthday girl’s restaurant of choice. Not because of the food, music, or band…but because she wanted to have her face splattered with a plate of cream. Kids, go figure ☺
I honestly thought Caila was going to cry from embarrassment because she immediately covered her face with tissue and it took a while before she removed it, but she was actually thrilled and couldn’t stop laughing! Well, as long as she’s happy with how we celebrated her 9th birthday ☺

Happy birthday, anak! I will always love you more than you'll ever know.  It may not be too obvious at times, but know in your heart that no matter what, I love you sobra, too much, super, to the max!
For Caila's 8th birthday, you can read about it here.
For Caila's 7th birthday, you can read about it here.
For Caila's 6th birthday, you can read about it here and here.
For Caila's 5th birthday, you can read about it here.
For Caila's 4th birthday, you can read about it here.
For Caila's 3rd birthday, you can read about it here and here.
For Caila's 2nd birthday, you can read about it here.
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Years ago, I told Hubby that I wanted us to have a renewal of vows for our tenth wedding anniversary.  I wanted to have another wedding, complete with an entourage, with me wearing a beautiful wedding gown and hubby wearing a tux, and reception dinner, Unfortunately, we never set aside any budget for it nor did we actually sit down and plan anything, and since our anniversary is in three months, you can be sure that that idea won't be pushing through.

We still haven't planned on what we're going to do to celebrate this year, but I didn't want this marriage milestone to pass without us having anything special to remember it by.  So I thought and thought, checked the internet, did whatever I needed to do, and sooner than I expected, received this from the Vatican!
It's a Papal Blessing!

Looking at it and knowing how significant it is makes me realize this is much better than spending our money on a party that will only last a day.  This is a blessing from Pope Francis!  For our marriage! How cool is that?!

And if you'll be celebrating a similar milestone soon, you can get one too because it's soooo easy! 

Here are the occasions you can request for parchment Papal Blessings:
• Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation
• Marriage
• Priestly Ordination
• Religious Profession
• Secular Consecration
• Ordinations of Permanent Deacons
• Marriage Anniversaries (10, 25, 40, 50 , 60 years)*, Priestly Ordination, Religious Profession
• Birthdays (18, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100)*
• Catholic individuals* or families* (with name and surname of the spouses united in a religious marriage).
The asterisk (*) indicates the need for the Nihil Obstat or approval of Ecclesiastical Authority.

And here's how we got ours:

1) I downloaded the Request Form here, completed the information, and saved the form.

2) Since it was for our Marriage Anniversary, I had to get the Nihil Obstat of the church where our wedding took place.  Fortunately, when I sent an email with the form attached, they replied after a few days with the document stamped and signed by the Parish Priest.
3) Requests can be sent via courier or regular post to Elemosineria Apostolica - Office of Papal Charities, 00120 Vatican City, but I chose the faster way and sent the form via fax to +3906-69883132. Unfortunately, the Parchment Office does not receive e-mail or phone requests.

4) Their website states that it takes approximately one month, but we received our Benediction Papalis just one week after I sent the form.  So fast!
5)  With the parchment was a paper stating how much it was (ours was €38, which also included the courier charges) and the steps on how to make the payment, which I immediately followed.  Yup, the payment is made after you receive the Papal Blessing.  That's how much faith they have in people!

And that's it!

You (or the person/couple/family who will receive this parchment) will be very grateful to get this.  It's definitely a blessing that will be treasured.

Of course Hubby and I are going to have ours framed and displayed in our home, because something unique and special as this (and big at 40cm x 32cm!) shouldn't be kept hidden.

As for our renewal of vows with my dream wedding ceremony and reception, I'm still hoping that one day it will become a reality.  I guess it can wait until our silver wedding anniversary and our kids can shoulder the expenses ☺

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