Friday, July 31, 2009

A Distinction in whaaaaat??

Two days ago, I received a very pleasant surprise. Actually, that's a lie. My jaw literally dropped. Why? Because Lesley-Anne presented me with this:

Why was I so stunned, you ask? Well, I would have been "pleasantly surprised" if it was a Distinction for music or ballet or English or even for her CCA (library, by the way. Do they give out Distinctions for wrapping and shelving books?)

But here's what she actually got a Distinction for:

SCIENCE!! She got a Distinction in a science competition?? Before you dismiss me as a pretending-to-be-modest mum, let me qualify that this is a girl who has been called up for every single science remedial session in the last three years. Science has never been her strong suit, although she has progressed somewhat this year, thanks to a very dedicated teacher.

In fact, the only news that would have astounded me more is if she'd scored a Distinction in a Chinese 相声 competition (giggling just thinking about it). Or maybe dirt bike racing. Or yodelling, while we're at it.

Anyway, we're awfully pleased. The University of New South Wales administers this science competition yearly for students in various countries. According to the report, this puts Lesley-Anne in the top 4% of p6 participants in Singapore.

Too bad it didn't come in time for the DSA application (still pending, don't ask!) but it's definitely still cause for celebration.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dance in pictures

To me, there are few subjects as captivating for photography as dance. There's something about the explosion of movement on the lens, the ability to capture such expressive motion on film that wows me.

For Movie O La!, the photographer was this incredible guy who also happens to be the main pianist for the ballet classes. He usually volunteers his photography services for such events and his talent is amazing - his intuitive eye for art (and obviously music) is always evident in his glorious pictures.

For this production, he took hundreds of shots and has very generously allowed parents to download them at no charge. Some of them are so gorgeous I couldn't resist sharing them here.

These are some pictures taken during the actual concert:

He also snapped numerous pictures during the rehearsals and backstage.

Aren't they absolutely enchanting?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie O La - Bravissimo!

Earlier this month, the dance teachers at the CC where Lesley-Anne takes ballet lessons put on a full-scale concert at the Victoria Theatre. It involved every dance student at the CC, covering ballet, tap and modern. Featuring the theme "Movie O La!", it showcased music from movies and Broadway.

It was a real visual treat, from the cutesy babies to the breath-takingly elegant older girls. Lesley-Anne's item was "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. The performance was a little personal epiphany for me. Lesley-Anne has always enjoyed ballet and it's not that I doubt her word, but I still sometimes find it difficult to reconcile the reticent introvert with the physical expression of dance. When I saw her dance that night with so much enthusiasm and heart, I almost didn’t recognise her - it’s like she’s a whole different person on stage and her passion for dance shines through. Needless to say, we're very proud of her :)

Here are some pictures of her item, by a professional photographer. In the first pic, she's the one furthest right:

We managed to take a video of her item but be prepared that the girls look like little miniatures as we were sitting far back at the Circle. She enters after the solo part under the group of four girls, left back.

The clip below is of the finale set to Jai Ho, the popular song from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It's not really a dance item per se although it's nicely choreographed, it's for all the dancers to take their bows. I wanted to show the sheer number of students involved in this production - I was quite astounded to learn how many dance students are enrolled at just one CC!

Lesley-Anne is part of the fifth group to emerge, she's third from the right. Towards the end, you'll see a few men dressed as Robin Hood, they are actually fathers of a few of the girls and they performed a hilarious item Men in Tights that brought down the house. Very sporting and supportive, I thought! Right at the end, the three ladies in black t-shirts are the teachers at the CC.

This entire concert was put together in the space of three months. I think it's an amazing feat and you can tell from the last item how much the kids enjoyed performing for their family and friends. It wasn't perfect, there were little glitches like kids not in line or forgetting their bits, as you would expect from students. But the concert really drove home the message of what dance means to them and this is what the performing arts is all about.

Here's the ballerina with her supportive family (Kenneth behind the camera).

Friday, July 24, 2009

The story of three seeds

Once, a boy brought home three seeds: a soy bean, a kidney bean and a maple seed.

They were tenderly buried in a moist, fluffy cloud of cotton wool. And then the boy waited.

Within a few days, the maple started to sprout. Eager and impatient.

But what happened to the other two seeds? The kidney bean marked its presence with a rust-coloured stain. The soy bean truculently refused to emerge.

"Maybe I put too much water," the boy mused. Methinks they drowned.

But the maple continued its journey. It was time for an upgrade of accommodation. No more sharing a room with two other renegade seeds.

"I need soil!" it screamed silently.

And so it received. It didn't seem to mind its unscenic surroundings of wash tubs and water hoses.

It grew.

And grew.

The boy is charmed. Meanwhile, the boy's mother is thinking we can't possibly have a maple tree in the house.

The end (sort of).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An inconvenient Truth... borrow a phrase by Al Gore. I'm no theologian. But recently, I've had reason to pause and think about the whole concept of faith and what it means to me.

The bible says it's hard for the rich man to enter kingdom of heaven because he is so focused on his material wealth that he doesn't feel that he needs God. Through my own experiences, I've discovered that there is another group of people who is resistant to God. These are the intellects - the ones who rely on their own intellectual prowess to rationalise behaviour and thought, so they tend to scoff religion as an emotional crutch devised for the simple-minded or the weak.

The problem I find is that religious arguments sometimes go in circles. I understand why some non-believers roll their eyes when Christians shout "hallelujah!" for blessings that come their way and spout "it's God's will" when calamity strikes. It appears more rationalisation than rational.

When believers speak to non-believers about the gospel, the focus tends to be on God's love and the redemption of sin. Which is perfectly appropriate because the entire gospel revolves around love and I'm not taking anything away from the multitude of people who have come to know God through this.

However, for a particular group of intellectuals, this argument as a starting point is not satisfactory because they are not convinced that God (or at least our God) is real to begin with. I say this because I'm very much one of those people who over-analyse everything and value logic. If I weren't a Christian in the first place, that viewpoint would probably be close to mine.

So why am I a Christian then? To me, it all boils down to one thing: Truth. (With a capital T). I didn't grow up in a Christian household but I have encountered God in a very real and personal way. No, He didn't exactly tap me on the shoulder or speak to me in a booming voice but I've experienced first-hand several significant events where the only plausible explanation is divine intervention. And remember, I'm a cynic at heart.

Let me give an analogy: One day, you step on your scale and you see with horror that the needle points to 5kg heavier than when you were last on it. You try on your fat jeans and they're tight. You uncomfortably remember that you had skipped gym workouts for the past 2 months. All these events point to one truth - that you have put on weight, just as many events in our lives point to God's existence. But like many people in denial, we sometimes dismiss them, pointing to other possible explanations: "The scale is faulty." "It's only water retention." "My jeans shrunk in the wash."

The thing is, we can always make excuses for not believing even when the truth is staring us in the face. I suspect it's because faith can be rather inconvenient. Faith means we have to give up our independence and surrender completely to God. Faith means there is a code of conduct God expects us to abide by. Faith means servitude, humility, love, putting others before self - all the values that are in total opposite to the modern world's. So in the end, it really is simpler just to deny that God exists.

The reason why so many people come to know Christ in times of adversity is not because of weakness but because hearts tend to be more open when they are troubled. Why consider the possibility of God when you don't need Him? I believe if the intellects of this world will quieten their hearts, be open to the possibility that God is real and let God speak to them, they will see that the truth cannot be denied. And once we accept this premise, we have to accept all that comes with it. It's only logical.

Religion is not like shopping for a car, you don’t choose the one that best matches your lifestyle or suits your needs. Using this as a basis for believing is precarious because the faith has no roots. The minute the religion stops doing what you want, you will be tempted to renounce it, just as you would give up a non-functioning car. God is not Santa Claus or a fairy godfather. He’s not there just to grant us our earthly wishes. He never promised that Christians will not undergo hardship or suffering.

Being a Christian is about accepting truth. Even though you may hate the idea of having put on weight, denying it doesn't change the truth. So then, what next? We let Him lead the way, to grow in our relationship with Him and to empower us to become blessings to others. Of course it's not easy. In fact, sometimes I think the fastest way to become disillusioned is to look at the behaviour of Christians! Some at least. But the beauty of the Christian faith is that God is forgiving, God is patient.

We often describe God as the Father but we don't often ponder about what it means. Imagine the most loving, perfect parent and you have described God. God loves us regardless, just as we love our kids even when they’re at their naughtiest. He doesn’t love based on how much we do (although that’s a great way of showing our love for Him), He just does... unconditionally. This means that God ultimately has our well-being in mind, even if it entails putting us through difficult times. In fact, a friend just pointed this verse out to me:
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" - Jeremiah 29:11
Isn't that reassuring? If I have to accept God as Truth, then I'm very glad I have one who loves me more than I can imagine.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Can you spell that for me?

So Lilian wrote a post about this South Australian spelling test which tests the spelling abilities of children aged 6 to 16. My immediate reaction was nooooooo, not gonna let my kids try it cos as far as I know, spelling has never been my kids' strong trait.

But after a while, couldn't tahan any more. I'm the type who can never pass up a quiz no matter how inane. I think those pointless Facebook quizzes are designed with people like me in mind. "Which Lord of the Rings character are you?" I mean, who cares, right? (It's Eowyn, by the way.)

A little about the spelling test - adapted from an earlier UK test, it's designed to measure the spelling ability of students, aimed at helping teachers identify kids who might need extra help. The test comprises 2 different forms of 70 words each. Each form may be used interchangeably but each has its own score table. You can find it here.

So I made Lesley-Anne and Andre take Form A. At first, both were quite reluctant but to my surprise, after that, they volunteered to take Form B as well. I think they were curious to see how they matched up.

I'll be perfectly honest, if their scores had been embarrassingly low, this post wouldn't have happened! See lah, so ai bin... As it turned out, Lesley-Anne did better than I expected. For Form A, she scored 65/70 and for Form B, 63/70. This exceeds the maximum limit for both tables which are 54 words (Form A) and 58 words (Form B) for age 16 years. This was quite a pleasant surprise as I've been nagging Lesley-Anne over her spelling for years. Looks like the school drills for PSLE are paying off!

Andre didn't do as badly as I feared either, although he was stumped by most of the longer words, scoring 41 (Form A) and 46 (Form B). This puts his approximate spelling age at 10.11 and 11.2 years respectively. Ok lah, not too bad for his actual 8.9 years. I was quite amused by the way he attacked the words without hesitation, even when he hadn't a clue what some of them meant, let alone how they were spelt. Like:

efishion (efficient)
matirialy (materially)
semmitery (cemetery)
modgadge (mortgage)
subbteranient (subterranean)
pollitecen (politician)
propyatere (proprietor)
exxergerate (exaggerate)
geranty (guarantee)

and two of my favourites:

adour lessons (adolescence)
vexination (vaccination)

I know in Singapore, lots of kids will be able to spell better than mine, since so many of them seem to be advanced readers at a very young age. Like when Lesley-Anne read Lilian's post, she said in mock horror, "I'm only spelling as well as a 6-year-old!" Yes, if that 6-year-old is brainy Sean Leong.

For me, I'm content with their scores. Afterall, spelling can be quite a vexination.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Creamy mini quiches

Since the weekend is around the corner, thought it was time to share another recipe. This one is a recent addition, inspired by Ai Lei's contribution of a quiche at Ad's bakeoff, which I was unable to attend *sniff sniff*!

Ai Lei kindly shared her recipe and I looked up a few recipes for quiche lorraine on the internet. My first attempt was ok but the process was quite a hassle as the recipe called for flash baking. The filling turned out fine but unlike Ai Lei's, the crust was hard and having it in a large pie dish made it messy to serve and store leftovers.

So I made some adjustments for my second attempt this week, the major one being that I used my trusty six-dish pie pan, the same one I use for my chicken pies. I also dispensed with the flash baking. They turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself!

Ok, enough talk, here's the recipe.

Ingredients: (pastry)

250g plain flour, sifted
100g butter
milk or water as needed
pinch of salt

Ingredients (filling):

2 or 3 slices back bacon
4 large eggs
150g canned button mushrooms, diced (optional)
300ml thickened cream
50ml milk
200g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp parsley
½ tsp black pepper

  1. Fry bacon until brown. Chop finely and set aside.
  2. Make pastry. Rub butter into flour until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add salt.
  3. Add milk or water as needed, combine into a firm dough.
  4. Knead until smooth.
  5. Shape pastry into base of mini pie moulds. Crimp sides.
  6. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, cream, milk, pepper and parsley.
  8. Sprinkle bacon and mushrooms evenly in each pie mould.
  9. Top up with grated cheese.
  10. Fill each pie mould to the brim with cream mixture.
  11. Bake for 27-32 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.

Here are a few extra tips:

  • There's originally salt in the recipe but the bacon is already so salty that I feel you don't need it.
  • The beauty of a quiche is that you can add any ingredients you like. We added mushrooms but you can also include onions, spinach or whatever you prefer.
  • Finally, you can change the proportion of cream and milk to suit your preference.

This is what it looks like inside. Lesley-Anne walloped 1½ mini pies for dinner, Andre had 2. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oui, s'il vous plait!

Every now and then, I mention my pal Isabelle, whom I first met when I was working in SMU and has become one of my dearest friends. Her boss used to love introducing her to foreign delegates as the "French lady with a Korean boyfriend (now her husband) who worked in Australia, rides an Italian motor bike and is now living in Singapore." A truly international individual!

Isabelle and Joon are two of the most generous, vibrant and genuine people I know. Since September last year, their joy was multiplied when they had a new addition to the family - little Maxime Park. He's such a gorgeous, sweet-natured and easy-going baby - just look at him!

We meet up regularly for dinner, sometimes at our respective homes and sometimes at restaurants. My kids look forward especially to meals at Isabelle's place because those occasions often turn out to be gastronomic adventures. Isabelle is the one who introduced us to the world of French cuisine and we've tasted many firsts thanks to her. Last weekend was no exception.

First, we started with foie gras and warm bread rolls. This is a perennial favourite with us and Isabelle knows it. This is the way the French like it, not the mushy style popular in posh restaurants. This one comes in a block from a jar, it's in a pate form, encrusted in solidified oil. You remove the oil (to kid yourself that it's not that sinful), then spread the silky smooth foie gras on toast or warm bread. Mmmmmm...

This is what the foie gras looks like when it's sliced.

Next, we had cassoulet for the first time, which is a hearty French stew of white beans, sausage and duck. This, Isabelle brought all the way from France, it also had some sort of salami in it. It's very rich and very tasty, with a side serving of salad. Isabelle always jokes that you should never make an appointment for a blood test the day after a French meal. Sure fail...

Here are the three "boys", after an obviously satisfying meal.

And here's mother and son.

I really am so happy to see her basking in the glow of motherhood. This was no mean transformation. Nine years ago when I first knew Isabelle, she was independent and happily single and she told me in no uncertain terms that she didn't want to get married. Or have babies. Ever. Then she met Joon and as the saying goes, nothing was ever the same again!

When she was preggers, she thought she would be a strict disciplinarian. Now Maxime is not even 10 months old and he already has her wrapped around his teeny little finger. According to Joon, when Maxime sees mummy, he'll instantly clammer for attention because he knows he'll get it. As Isabelle says, "I know he's manipulating me but I don't mind! Because I loooooove him so much." Awww...

What a lovely family! Now how about a little sister for Maxime, eh? *wink wink*

Monday, July 13, 2009

The beginnings of a future cyber addict

It's hard keeping up with the speed of IT - just when we figure out Facebook, we've got to contend with twitter. And even as I write this, twitter has already made way for something else but I wouldn't know cos I'm a tortoise in the age of the nuclear-powered hare.

We don't even give email a second thought now. How did we ever communicate before? Phone? Memos?? Yes, when I first started work, we typed out memos! And cc actually meant giving someone a physical copy!

It was only when I helped Andre open his first email account that I remembered how momentous email was, like getting a key to your very own personal letter box. He was very excited about it and kept wanting to compose and check his email. At first, he didn't quite understand that he's unlikely to get any new mail if he doesn't tell people what his email address is... which he kept confusing with his password. Told him he had to keep his password a secret from everyone (except me, the sole guardian) and he would whisper conspiratorially to me, "Mummy, I typed xxx but cannot."

"Aiyah, that's your user id lah, silly."

Didn't help that his user id was so long he kept typing it wrongly, thanks to his keyboard-challenged typing and spelling skills.

This was the first email I received from him:

Dear mummy

Did you play alot of computer games today ?

Love andre

This was my reply:

Dearest Andre

Yes I did! I broke a high score too. But I think I need to get back to work now… just like you!



Since email is now such an integral part of my life, I kept missing out on teaching him basic functions which I assumed he knew. Cautioned him at length about internet-safety practices but forgot to teach him how to reply to email.

So instead of clicking reply, he clicked "Compose message" and typed "reply" in the subject. Which was:

Dear mummy

Good luck on your work.

Love andre

My reply:

Dearest Andre

Thank you. Now can you please go and do your work instead of writing emails? :)

Love, Mummy

I think I'll wait a bit before opening a Facebook account for him...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Les Choristes - must-watch family movie

A blog reader Veronica previously suggested that Lesley-Anne might enjoy watching the movie Les Choristes. It's a 2004 French film about a failed composer Mathieu who became a supervisor at a boys' school for delinquents. In spite of the unsympathetic headmaster, Mathieu found a way to reach out to the boys by teaching them to sing. The movie became a sleeper hit.

It was a great suggestion, somehow it's just the type of story that's right up Lesley-Anne's alley. We arranged a family movie night and all sat down to watch the dvd. That she loved the movie was no surprise but what caught me off-guard was the discovery that Andre too enjoyed it tremendously. There are some hilarious moments in the movie and somehow, foreign language films are better able to take a sentimental script and make it moving, not sappy, like so many American movies. The singing is ethereal, especially the soloist's, and will touch a heart of stone. Les Choristes was nominated for and won a string of international awards.

Les Choristes became such a big hit that a live concert was organised featuring the same 13-year-old boy soprano who starred as the protagonist in the movie - Jean Baptiste Maunier. In the movie, he played Morhange, the bad boy. A teacher described him as "the face of an angel but spawn of the devil". Face of an angel is spot on - chiselled features, dimples and piercing eyes. With a pure, haunting voice.

Here's a video of one of my favourite songs in the show, Caresse sur l'océan (Caress of the ocean). Tell me your heart doesn't melt when Maunier sings!

This is another memorable song - Cerf-volant (The kite).

The songs are beautiful but even more meaningful if you've watched the movie. If you and your kids haven't caught it, go get the dvd - totally worthwhile! At last count, my kids have already re-watched it more than five times, that's how much they enjoy it. Thanks Veronica for the recommendation!

Need more persuasion? To end my shameless plug of the movie, here's a trailer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Back to school blues

The new school term has begun and not without commotion, what with the exacerbating H1N1 situation. Thermometers and masks have been flying around classrooms and kids are being sent home due to fever. I don't think there's any way to stop the spread of this flu though, it's already too widespread. The best solution is to keep healthy and practise reasonable caution like washing hands and staying away from visibly sick people.

Aware of the grave situation, the night before school re-opened, Andre asked God in his prayers: "Please God, stop the H1N1 from spreading and even if people catch it, help them get better quickly so it can't get me."

For me, the most upsetting news since term start was not the flu issue but the fact that Andre is getting a new form teacher for the rest of the year. His wonderful form teacher Miss H is going for further training at NIE. I previously posted about how for the first time, he got a teacher who really understands him and is willing to accept him as he is.

This may not sound like much but trust me, it's no picnic teaching Andre. He may seem adorable to many who read my blog but I know he can be very trying as a student. At the parent-teacher conference last term, I was mortified to learn that occasionally during a science lesson, Andre would declare, “I know this already, my daddy taught me up to magnets” and deliberately switch off, either play with his pencil or put his head on his arm and sleep @!&%*@!! And sometimes, when Miss H gives the class instructions, Mr Yaya will ignore her and not move a muscle. He claims he doesn't hear her.

Despite all this, Miss H had very nice things to say about Andre in his report book and gave him a Very Good for Conduct. She has consistently showered him an abundance of patience although she admits that it's sometimes severely tested! But what really shines through is her love for kids and that is possibly the most important trait in a teacher. I'm convinced that she has been instrumental in motivating Andre to do better.

So I'm really, really sorry that she won't continue her good work for the rest of the year. I know Andre is too, he's been looking a little forlorn. I know I need to give the new teacher a chance, maybe she'll be just as good. In the meantime, I've messaged my regret to Miss H and her reply? She has enjoyed teaching Andre and maybe when she returns next year, she might end up being Andre's teacher again. That's a happy thought to hold on to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reminiscing - Lesley-Anne

It would probably surprise many people to know that Lesley-Anne was a very expressive baby. Although she appeared shy, she loved hamming it up in front of the camera and she had this very hearty laugh that belied her demure demeanour.

Some of my favourite shots of her showed her very funny expressions. Like this one!

And this!

Here she is, laughing uncontrollably. I must have been doing something really silly behind the camera...

This was in Sydney, the same trip as the Canberra one in 2002. She's carrying a bear haversack that accompanied her on most of her early travels.
Before she insisted on growing her hair long, she had this thick bob. And a gorgeous smile!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reminiscing - Andre

I'm always lamenting the fact that all of Lesley-Anne and some of Andre's baby photos are not in the digital format, which makes storing and preserving difficult. Well, thanks to the super macro function on my new Canon A480, I can now take digital photos of these photos.

Looking back at Andre's old pictures, I was reminded of just how cute he was (shamelessly declared by his mother). One of Andre's signature traits as an infant was his big afro crop of hair. It was so thick it would poof up in all directions. Like this!

This was in 2002 when we were in Canberra, Australia. We were picking apples at a fruit orchard and Andre was so enamoured by all the bright red, readily available apples that he would pluck an over-sized one and plonk himself right down on the ground to eat it. Still a greedy gut eh?

Andre has always been a happy child, from a very young age. He'd usually be smiling or laughing and charming the socks off everyone.

Here he is, this is probably Christmas 2002. I think that guitar is still around somewhere.

I find that Andre was cutest at around age 2 and 3. He attracted attention whenever we went out, especially from heartland aunties. They would point out how adorable he was and give him sweets that they magically produced from their pockets. Where did my baby go???

Looking at all these old photos brought back tons of memories. Ah, the good ole days! Pics of Lesley-Anne coming up tomorrow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Affordable Japanese grub

Another food post! Weekend lah.

Last evening, I met a friend at Marina Square for dinner and I opted to try out this place called Ryoichi Sushi mainly because they had an $8.60 set dinner and I'm always game for a good deal. A Japanese meal for $8.60? That's unheard of!

The menu had quite an extensive selection, at least 9 different sets, if I recall. I chose the chirashi wazen, which came with pickles, a side dish and a salad. Here's a closeup of the rice portion.

My friend went with the Unagi Tori Tamago Suimono, which is essentially an egg/meat hotpot with two smallish slices of unagi.

DBS/POSB card members receive a free helping of salmon sashimi. It was 3 pieces sliced so thin that you could see through them but free lah, still ai hiam meh??

Furthermore, there is a National Day promotion for July and August where DBS card members can order a seafood special for only $4.40 (can't remember the name, sorry). Or if you're 44 years old this year, it's free! Nope, neither of us are quite as old as Singapore.

We decided to try it - it's 2 mini stuffed crab shells and two scallop skewers in teriyaki sauce.

My verdict? Quality and taste-wise, ok lah. I would put it on par with Sakae Sushi's standard. The sashimi is not the freshest I've tasted, the side dishes are nothing to shout about. My friend says the hotpot is good though. I enjoyed the scallop skewer but the crab was rather strange - my friend felt it tasted more like fish cake! But really, the price is very attractive - our total bill came up to only about $28 and we were stuffed. How to complain?

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