Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

perspective

We view our children through the critical parents’ lens.

But what do their peers think of them?

I had the fortune (or misfortune) of having to attend one of Day’s birthday parties from 2-11pm because the girls wanted to see the boys, and I cannot unfairly saddle his friend’s mum with two extra little girls.

His garrulous little primary school friends said:

Auntie, your son is the daredevil of the class!

Ya ya, he dares to do anything!

You know, last time he stapled his hand? And another time, he used a piece of paper and sliced his hand until there was blood? Wa!

Which was all very surprising to me.

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* "Waaaa!" (Skinny Day in orange and yellow shorts)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

better cooking, dammit

This year I determined that I would cook better.

(Every year I make one or two silent resolutions which I keep)

Well this one’s not silent anymore, but it’s still going.

The background: I don’t hate cooking anymore, but I still dislike it.

There are people in the world who like being fed, and those who like to feed others.

I definitely, surely, inexorably belong to the latter category.

It could be the way I’m wired, or that I was brought up being fed like a baby bird in a nest. All I ever had to do was open my mouth and delicacies were dropped in.

But today, as long as I cook, I cannot enjoy my food. It’s not that it’s not good because some dishes actually merit praise, but I just can’t.

After all that slaving away I’m just not in the mood, you know?

It’s a good way to lose weight, not that I want to. I know for a fact I eat a lot less from Mondays to Thursdays when I cook through the four days, but I really pig out from Fridays to Sundays.

Another possibility is that once I knew what went into food to make it tasty, I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. Oh I’d eat it outside. But I couldn’t with good conscience prepare the same at home meaning home food is boring.

For instance, I have never and will never deep fry anything and it was only in the last few months that I could bring myself to add small bits of sugar into meals (apparently for flavor…?).

Back to the beginning of this year.

I decided that since I am forced to practise cooking four, five days a week, I might as well try to be better at it. You know, be diligent, stop moaning and try to get excited about what I have to do instead of just making do. And have everyone in the household be a bit happier with better food.

(Grief, I could have mastered a new instrument in the time I have spent on cooking over the years)

How?

ONE, I started planning the entire week’s meals including Jo's lunchbox contents – simple as it is – on Sundays when I am happy and rested. So even when I feel like dropping dead with fatigue at 5pm on a weekday, I’d stay the course and produce the damned thing. (It used to be I’d jump into the supermarket at 4pm to buy bacon and mushrooms for another boring pasta meal)

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TWO, Try new things. Like fried fish. I did try it again but it still looked like shit.

THREE, I take inspiration from library recipe books (free mah). I try to introduce approximately one (or two if I’m feeling preppy on Planning Sunday) new dishes a week, or practise dishes tried before. This is hard because it’s tough finding recipes that fit me. Sylvia Lim was too challenging. Some Popular recipe books turned out crappy dishes. Forget Jamie and Gordon and their impossible list of ingredients. My pantry consists of a one-metre shelf. So far I’ve found Kylie Kwong a bit of a godsend.

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* My pantry

FOUR, Ask people who cook food I really like, how they do it. I have since learnt how to cook our beloved Zha Cai, and gotten another stewed pork recipe from a relative.

FIVE, Forget eating like a monk and liberally use things which I had thought of as ‘unhealthy’ before. Oil, sugar, wine. (When we first moved in, I bought a packet of sugar which I threw out after five years, wet, clumpy and half-used)

(Of course the above only applies when I am not swamped but I have not been swamped this entire year to date)

It’s a journey. I think I’ll be cooking for a l-o-n-g time more.

I don’t think I’ll EVER enjoy it. But I hope KK and the kids have nice food memories years down the line.

To end off, my novice response to a few ingredients used in Kylie Kwong’s fried rice which earned an unsolicited very very rare food compliment from KK. I know some people are very amused by my Stupid Cook responses.

1/3 cup (80ml) peanut oil for frying eggs (So much oil!?? She has got to be kidding! Whoever uses so much oil? But eh, the eggs are looking good man. They’re not even sticking to the wok! So fluffy and soft!)
Finely chopped ginger (Ugh. I’ve never used ginger in cooking before. I hate ginger. But eh, I don’t taste it in the rice at all! Its a miracle!)
Brown onion (What the hell does a brown onion look like? Aren’t they all brown?)
Chinese sausage (Where do I buy lap cheong from? The wet market people look at me like I’m an idiot but I finally find it)
White sugar (Eeeks. I have never used sugar in a savoury dish. Doesn’t it feed cancer or something? Never mind. Kylie Kwong says dishes need to be sweet/salty/sour for balance and the objective here is better-tasting food)
Shaohsing wine (Eeeks what the hell is this? $9 a bottle?? So expensive and it stinks. And will I use it again? But eh, I don’t taste it in the rice at all!  Its another miracle!)

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* The result, in foreground

Thursday, April 10, 2014

lu's tooth drops

For the record, her first tooth finally dropped a week ago during swimming as she was bounding around the pool in a snatched moment of joy before Desmond arrived.

She had no idea. I spotted the gap. She gasped: But it wasn’t painful at all! Where is my tooth, mama?

Whereupon ensued the search for a tiny milk tooth which was lost somewhere – but no idea precisely where - around a swimming pool.

Incredibly, we hit the jackpot when KK spotted it on the ground.

Lu who still faithfully believes in the tooth fairy (because Jo still does and bats off Day’s attempts to shatter the illusion) tucks the tooth in an envelope under her pillow.

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She gets a dollar, the tooth fairy’s standard rate.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

save the oats!

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Weevil attack!

The bugs climb out and drown in the water which the oat jar is sitting in.

Kids shiver in horror at the seething, living, pulsing sea of oats.

Nobody wants to eat oats anymore.

Monday, April 07, 2014

sick magnet

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Lu is sick.

The trio have all been sleeping in our room at night because it’s the only room with the aircon and its hot these days.

I order Day and Jo out of the room.

Lulu is sick, I say.

They both chime in unison, But we WANT to get sick.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

fearing desmond

Sundays Lu comes to me and quietly asks: Mama is there swim class with Uncle Desmond next week?

(she asks six days in advance)

Yes there is, I say.

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* Paralyzed with fear

The little explodes with a passion. Quivering with rage, tears threatening to spill over, she spits out: I HATE Uncle Desmond! STOOOPID Uncle Desmond! Uncle Desmond is a F-WORD!

(being a F-word is the worst label she can dredge up)

As it turns out, KK loves Desmond’s no-nonsense, my-way-or-the-highway approach.

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Desmond's coached the kids for nearly a year now. He pushes them. Not very hard, but probably harder than any of their other very nice, friendly teachers do. Like he makes Day and Jo flop madly, lap after lap, for their very feeble but energy-sapping butterfly.

Of the three Day is the most bo-chop about Desmond because he can take the iron fist. Jo hates it but she sucks it up for Lulu’s sake. They can swim for sure and don't need classes anymore, but we keep them in it so Lu has some company.

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* Jo and Day

Lulu unfortunately still swims like a puppy, arms and legs cycling madly in the water.

She will forever remember her childhood Saturdays as dreadful ones.

Over the past year, KK has typically doled out one of the following three stock responses to desperate Lu:

ONE: Lulu, as long as you can swim one lap, everybody will stop swim class, OK? Gor gor, jae jae and you can all stop. (he means it. Lulu learning how to swim tops his priority list of things the kids must learn. In haze and in rain, he drags the kids to the sometimes freezing-cold pool every Saturday. I have never seen him so serious about any other class including school. But no, she still can’t swim one lap without gripping the wall at some point)

TWO: Lulu, do you want Uncle Desmond or Papa to teach you? If you want Papa we can stop classes with Uncle Desmond. But Papa will be even harder on you. (he means it. Lulu never picks Papa)

THREE: Lulu, if we’re all on a boat which capsizes, we’ll all probably be able to survive except you…

To which Jo interjects: If I have to attend some more swim class with Uncle Desmond I’d rather die.

(but she can still smile for Desmond's camera)

swim

Thursday, April 03, 2014

girls' reading faves

These two are six and eight year-old girls with a taste for the macabre.

Fairies, rainbows and butterflies have given way to murders, ghouls and blood.

They lap it all up. These are their favourites:

Did You Know? Professor Chao Tzee Cheng

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A Popular bookstore pick-up for Day a few years ago, the girls recently discovered the 100-page anthology of forensic pathologist Chao Tzee Cheng’s most interesting cases on Day’s bookshelf.

(Jo or I read it to Lu)

Dedicated to how the amazing Prof Chao accurately determines the true cause of death by examining corpses, it is filled with tales of wives chopped up and stuffed in suitcases, four-year-olds who drown in pails of water, maids who die with elastic cords wrapped around their neck.

I don’t think too much about whether I am doing the right thing by opening their minds to such savagery, but its all incredibly interesting and they clamour for more.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – collected by Alvin Schwartz

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A library book which proved a hit (I had to read them one or two tales a night), I ended up ordering the three-book set for the girls.

There’s a lot of eating of body parts (liver in particular), heads which roll off and bounce, malevolent dead people and one particularly horrific one where the undertaker mixes up the clothes for two corpses and rectifies his mistake by switching the heads.

There’s even a catchy hearse song which they sing now and then: Don’t you ever laugh as the hearse goes by for you may be the next to die…

They love it.

Young Scientist

Nothing macabre about this one but they read this school magazine ALL THE TIME.

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It’s the comic format. Plus they use characters which look like small round balls (Lulu’s fav!).

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

detachment

These kids don’t form attachments.

As babies, they never had favourite soft toys or objects which if you snatched away they would bawl till kingdom come.

Other kids had smelly bolsters, soft toys, dirty blankets. My kids had none. They played with their toys and attachments if any were temporary – usually when a sibling snatched it away. When I clear out the toy cache, telling them that I’m donating their toys to other kids, they have no issues with whatever I put on the Donate pile.

I wondered why. I wondered if they were weird. Back in the days when I was a hyper young mother, I wondered if it signaled some psychological deficiency or lack of warmth.

Today, they are older.

I don’t know if there is any relation. But none of them have close friends.

I hear of boys hanging out with buddies they had an immediate connection with, boys who call each other on the phone, who make arrangements to hang out even at age seven or eight. Till this day, Day has never called a friend on the phone. Once he’s out of school, he’s out and his friends are completely out of mind.

(Well there is a boy who calls him to ask about homework but that doesn’t count because every time the boy calls, Day rolls his eyes.)

I hear of seven-year-old girls with Besties, inviting whole girl gangs over to the house for sleepovers, gossiping and chatting on the phone. Till now, Jo has never called or received a call from a classmate. There have been no outings or even invitations to birthday parties. There is no one she is close to or talks to. For girls who value social interaction, it’s a bit unusual, no?

(Well apart from the boy who is trying to be her Best Friend Forever and who tries to reach her through my mobile, but that doesn’t count because its unwelcome)

Lu is perhaps too young. But like her siblings, she never talks about her friends or wants to hangs out with them. Like her brother and sister, once she is out of school, her friends are completely out of mind.

It’s like they are all going to work and all their friends are Hi-Bye colleagues.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

a surprising weekend

This weekend we saw things we didn’t expect to see.

SATURDAY

Trying out the new Concetto restaurant (we stumbled on it) at The Cathay, the kids suddenly hissed: Look! Look!

A girl with silver-blue waist-length hair and thigh-high boots had just strode into the 7-11 opposite the restaurant and was tucking into what looked to be the instant noodles she just bought. (That particular 7-11 is the only one I’ve seen which features tables and chairs)

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* The ordinary and the extra-ordinary

The stream of fantasy characters had thickened into a full flood by the time we were done with our (incredibly value-for-money) meal. Throughout our entire lunch, our entertainment lay in watching a group of young men applying facepaint and eye makeup on the floor outside the 7-11, trying to fend off pudgy security guards from the mall.

Jo and Lu went to toilet and returned an eternity later, breathless and starry-eyed: Mummy, there are so many girls in the toilet changing and painting their faces!

Turns out we had stumbled on what is probably the biggest assembly of cosplayers in Singapore. Organized by The Cathay for the fifth year, J-Obsession saw over 400 cosplayers (short for costume players) deck themselves out in mostly manga-inspired outfits to show off, perform and be photographed.

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They were everywhere. Lu was intimidated, Jo was fascinated, Day went into hiding.

We saw fangs...

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... a lot of wigs...

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... coloured eyebrows...

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... and some pink. This was Jo's favourite cosplayer. Everyone also seemed to be wearing those eerie contact lenses which enlarge your pupils.

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Underneath the wrapping I saw a lot of acne and smelt a lot of sweat, from the mostly teen crowd.

But I am utterly fascinated by the spectacle. What a show.

SUNDAY

While my folks and I and the kids pay respects to their Tai Ma (great-grandmother), in lieu of the upcoming Qingming Festival, a fiery blaze is eating up a shop house we just drove past.

Because when we drive back out to eat the famous bak chor mee at Jalan Datoh (Noh’s Mee Poh Tar), we confront an unmoving wall of cars where, as we inch along, it becomes clear that there is a charred building in front of us. It’s number 567, Balestier Road.

The fire is fresh and smoke is still spiraling out one of the windows.

The girls hold their noses as the smell of burnt plastic seats and whatnot permeate the air, and they merrily skip across the thick water hoses which litter the closed-off road.

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