Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good tidings for 2010

Here we are on 31 December, at the turn of yet another year. Every year, I marvel at how quickly time has flown by and this year is no exception. If you're like me, this is probably the day you do some reflection over what you have achieved, cringe a little over the mistakes you've made and hope that the clean slate for the following year brings something better.

As we ring in 2010, I pondered over what I would wish my readers and I came up with two.

For parents, I wish you wisdom. Wisdom to:
  • know when to reign in and when to let go
  • discern the difference between sufficient and excess
  • know that the measure of a child is character, not exam scores
  • realise that perfection is as bland (and fake) as a Stepford wife
  • differentiate between your child's glory and your own glory
  • see all things in perspective, and if not, friends who can show you the light
For children, I wish you a genuine heart. A heart that:
  • is compassionate towards others and kind to self
  • understands the value of diligence
  • is upright without being uptight
  • covets little and is grateful for much
  • values the wisdom of parents... and overlooks the slips
    A very happy New Year to all of you and may your cup of blessings runneth over in 2010!

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    We're on the pages of Young Parents magazine!

    Hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas! I know we did... and it's over again all too soon.

    We did have a special Christmas present this year, in the form of Young Parents magazine. You see, I was interviewed a couple of months ago for an article on mums who blog about education. Yup, Of Kids and Education made it to the newstands, how about that!

    Lilian asked me to scan the article and post it here but several problems presented themselves, the biggest one was that I do not own a scanner. Secondly, even if I did, I don't think I would know how to post it here, the tech novice that I am.

    So, if you want to read the article, do get a copy of Young Parents magazine, January 2010 issue. The article is on pages 50-54. The writer Tracy was really nice and accommodating, and I'm very grateful to her for writing about my blog in such a positive way.

    Instead of blogging about the article, I'm going to chat about our experience. The interview was quite straightforward and uneventful, the highlight for my kids was definitely the photo shoot. It was a full studio shoot where wardrobe and makeup were provided.

    The wardrobe was the tricky bit. While they were spot on with my kids' styles (gorgeous Gap tops and jeans), they were completely off the mark with me. It was completely my fault, I made it a point to tell them in advance not to put Lesley-Anne in a dress or anything with frills so that she wouldn't be uncomfortable, and forgot all about myself. So when they showed me a green sleeveless dress that I was to wear, I'm sure my expression must have been priceless. I'm not fussy but there were three things wrong with that outfit for me - Green. Sleeveless. And dress. Apparently it was a mistake not to have mentioned to them that I am almost exclusively a jeans and t-shirt gal, and that I can't remember the last time I wore a dress.

    After some feeble protests, the wardrobe folks very obligingly agreed to change my outfit. It was another dress with a striking spiderweb print. It's still totally not me but at least it's not sleeveless and it's not green (one of the sure colours to make me look like I'm on my deathbed, apart from beige). So, not wanting to appear like a prima donna, I agreed.

    Then the next surprise - they presented me with a pair of three-inch heels. My kids had hysterics - I'm sure my startled expression is permanently seared into their memories. Andre gallantly offered me his arm and asked with a straight face, "Can you stand up, Mummy? Here, take my arm." As I wobbled to take my place in front of the camera, I kept thinking, "Thank God it's a still photo."

    And here we are. Let it be recorded that I also had false eyelashes on. Ah well, we should all be glamorised at least once in our lives!

    The photos taken are property of SPH and so we were not able to receive copies, which is a pity. The photographer generously offered to take this pic of us using my handphone so we could at least have something to remember the session by.

    After the group session, the photographer was so taken by Andre's typical animated self that she requested to take a few solo shots of him for her portfolio. Needless to say, Andre LOVED the attention - everything from the makeup and waxed hair to the Gap outfit. He posed, he hammed it up, he basked in the limelight.

    Here are some shots I took on my crummy phone. Too bad we couldn't have copies of the actual photos, some of them were really nice.

    He loved the checked shirt so much I bought a similar one for him for Chinese New Year. If by some miracle, he ever makes it as a model, let it be known that he got his start here!

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Reporting day

    23rd December 2009 - a momentous day. Bright and early, Lesley-Anne joined hundreds of other students in a variety of uniforms, to report to her secondary school.

    As we sat with other parents in the hall, watching our young 'uns with pride, it seemed like there was an invisible thread binding us together in our shared circumstances. Lilian wrote about feeling a great sense of school spirit when she was with Brian at his secondary school and I totally understand what she meant.

    Everything was hustle and bustle today, the school had obviously gotten the system down pat through years of experience. Registration was efficient and orderly, followed by the massive rush to buy uniforms, books and stationery. The stiff crispness of unworn fabric and the woody scent of new books - they all added to the excitement in the air. Eager faces unjaded by familiarity, a brand new campus waiting to be discovered and fresh routines to be carved out. I'd forgotten how exhilarating it was to embark on a new chapter in school.

    What wondrous adventures lie ahead? Nobody knows... but we can't wait.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    An evening in December

    We love Christmas parties but this one held at our place is always one that is extra special to us and our kids. We started holding a Christmas party for a few close friends to celebrate together even before we had kids, and since then, it has become somewhat of a tradition. Some years, the guests vary, depending on whether friends are away and last year, we skipped the annual celebration since we made a last-minute trip to Beijing.

    So our kids were doubly excited this year, even more so because for the first time since 2005, we managed to get the core group of friends back together again. I must say it's really wonderful to be close to families and see the children grow up together. I didn't quite realise this until I was browsing through old Christmas party photos - this fellowship brings not just us adult friends close together but also our kids, which is pretty special.

    Although the kids haven't met each other for at least a year, they were so at ease with each other and got along like a house on fire in no time. Here are a few "see how they've grown!" comparison photos:

    Daenia, my friend Hooi Ming's elder daughter, and Lesley-Anne have always been great pals. Christmas 2006 (left) and 2009 (right)

    Typical of boys, Andre and my friend Lim Nah's son Martin, bonded over trucks and Lego. Some things don't change even with time. Christmas 2005 (left) and 2009 (right)

    Here I am with my dear girl friends. No comparison pics. We don't like to be reminded of how young we used to look, thank you.

    And of course, no food, no party! Christmas parties at my place is always Christmas fare - that's half the fun of celebrating the season!

    Appetizers courtesy of David and Hooi Ming. A super duper cheese and pate platter, with dips, apricots and walnuts. These were wolfed down so quickly the adults had to physically restrain their kids with unheeded cautions of "Leave some room for dinner!"

    Dinner was roast turkey, crispy roast pork, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes and salad contributed by Lim Nah and Remy. Before you assume that I'm Jamie Oliver in disguise, let me confess outright that the roast items were ordered from NTUC's festive menu. So all I can lay claim to is that I'm adept at heating up food, which is a whole lot less glamorous.

    Here's Martin (who incidentally is an aspiring chef) tossing his mum's famous salad. I say famous because Lim Nah's salad, a recipe passed down from her mum and improved through the years, is a much requested dish in our circle. This is coming from a family which generally looks unfavourably on greens.

    The salad filled two of those gigantic green salad bowls and by the end of the meal, there was NONE left.

    Don't let the quiet demeanors of the kids feasting fool you. They were like bottomless pits. We were taken by surprise when we found that there were hardly any leftovers, even though we had provided about the same amount of food as previous years. We then realised that we now had to cater for pre-teen appetites, which is waaaaay different from feeding little kids.

    After dinner, we had a little musical session. This is also a tradition in our parties. Kids who play the piano are invited to play something. It's an initiative to give the kids a mini platform for performance, something that's very lacking in Singapore, unlike in the US where music students often have the opportunity to play at recitals.

    Lesley-Anne, Andre and Martin did the honours and it was very enjoyable. I took videos of the performances but the sound quality didn't turn out to be great. So instead, here's a video of an earlier session I took of Lesley-Anne and Andre practising the piece they performed. It's a jazzed up version of O Come All Ye Faithful. The score was provided by Andre's teacher, Uncle Peter. I thought it was a terrific idea of his to make them play a duet. Christmas lah - time for peace, even among siblings!

    Followed by dessert! Log cake thanks to Molly.

    And home-made Christmas cookies by Hooi Ming. Nigella Lawson recipe some more, don't pray pray. Lovely touch with the decoration. As you can see, the jar was already half empty by the time I remembered to take the picture!

    Then the kids' absolute favourite part - getting presents!

    Only noticed this when I was going through the pictures... the blue jeans brigade.

    A time to remember, to celebrate friendship.

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Message from Santa

    A quick post for those with young kids.

    Here is a link where you can create a personalised video message for your little one from Santa Claus and it's pretty neat. I did it for Andre and he sure got a kick out of it!

    The only kink is that if you click "Other country" in the form, the video seems to hang for some people, so just choose "Australia", "New Zealand" or "United Kingdom" if that happens.

    Actually, it's not just fun for kids but for adults too (the sender as well as the receiver!) You can send it to your friends - I know a friend (who shall remain nameless) who spent the past two days in the office customising the video for her colleagues. I created one for Lilian and was chuckling away while keying in the options.

    Ho ho ho!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Conversational Malay

    I know I've been rather slack in blogging. It's the holidays lah, I've got the festive bug - the one that causes my brain cells to seize up and go into hibernation, probably in preparation for the coming year.

    There was one incident just before the school vacation started, one of those Doh! moments which I thought I'd write about.

    According to a school flyer, Andre had been undergoing a Conversational Malay enrichment programme in class throughout the year. This course is by the Ministry of Education to reinforce the multi-racial environment in Singapore. So Chinese and Indian pupils have to learn Mandarin while Chinese kids learn Malay.

    Honestly, I didn't pay much attention to it until the end of the school year when I was clearing old flyers and realised that he had completed the beginners module of 20 hours. My assumption was that after 20 hours, you should have garnered some basic Malay. Afterall, Malay isn't that hard, right?

    Me: So what have you learnt from the class?

    Andre: Err...

    Me: You had so many sessions, you must have learnt something!

    Andre: I can say 'My name is Andre'.

    Me: How?

    Andre (slowly): Nama saya Andre.

    Me: Ok, what else? Can you count to 10?

    Andre (looks blank): Umm...

    Me: Aiyoh...

    Andre (protesting): It's not my fault! I didn't have the textbook.

    Me: Huh? What textbook? (reads flyer carefully again... urrrggh, he's right, they were supposed to buy a textbook. Why didn't they print that part in bold??) Aiyah, you could have asked me for the money right, you mean you went one whole year without the textbook and didn't say anything?

    Andre: The teacher said those who don't have can share...

    Me: Ok, but 20 sessions, surely you must have learnt something.

    Andre (thinks hard): I can say 'Good morning teacher'.

    Me: That doesn't count! You use that all the time to greet your Malay teachers. I want to know what you learnt from the class.

    Andre (brightens up): I know what is 'class' in Malay.

    Me: What?

    Andre: Kelas.

    All I can say is, thank goodness Conversational Malay is not an examinable course.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Let the celebrations begin!

    It's the Christmas season and our partying has started!

    We had our first Christmas dinner this year when our good friends Isabelle, Joon and baby Maxime came over for dinner last night.

    Lesley-Anne drew a picture for Isabelle just for the occasion. Isabelle is an avid fan of sting ray collectibles, hence the water theme.

    The last time we saw Maxime was probably about five months ago, now he's walking on his own and cute as a button. He speaks his own Maxime language, gives smiles and high-fives all around - he's the darling of the infant care centre he goes to and I'm sure you can see why:

    Awwwww!! He has the perfect blend of his father's Asian eyes and his mummy's European colouring. This one is going to be a total heartbreaker when he grows up, mark my words!

    Dinner was Christmas champagne ham with apple sauce, quiche and an apple salad. A quick note on the apple salad: we're not big on greens so this salad sits well with us. I learned the recipe from my sister - basically, it's two apples diced, 1 can of garbanzo beans, 1 can of sweet corn kernels, 1 head of butterhead lettuce. You can also add some cashew nuts if you like. Squeeze a lemon over the combi, toss and you have a tasty salad that even kids will eat.

    You can find the quiche recipe here.

    And to show you how seriously Maxime takes his food, his devoted parents even towed his high chair along! (What's a feast if you can't share it with baby, right?)

    Isabelle and Joon contributed a fab French red wine and apple strudel, which ended the meal on a sweet note.

    Wonderful dinner, wonderful company, as always.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    PSLE results and the great thanksgiving

    Ok, I'm all done with my holiday posting and as promised, I'm going to share Lesley-Anne's PSLE results.

    This is one of those posts where I had to think long and hard about how to write it because it's such a personal matter. I pondered over whether it was necessary to advertise my daughter's results to all and sundry on a public blog. At the same time, many parents have been faithfully following Lesley-Anne's education journey on this blog over a year and cheering her on. For this reason, I felt a sense of obligation to my readers, to provide a proper closing to this chapter in her life.

    As I reflected on it further, I became convinced that I should share her results, the reason which will be revealed at the end.

    That Friday before the results, Lesley-Anne's piano teacher told her, "All the best! But no matter what you get, give thanks." That was clue no.1.

    In the school hall before they released the results, the teacher in charge led in the singing of two hymns, one of them was "Give thanks." Clue no.2.

    The principal exhorted parents to accept whatever results their kids got as God gives everything purposefully. Clue no.3.

    The atmosphere was so tense I could practically feel the anxiety of both the parents and the students. Finally, Lesley-Anne got her results - 252 for her T-score, 3 A* (English, Maths, Science) and 1 A (Chinese).

    When she first showed it to me, my mind was a jumble of mixed emotions. On one hand, I was truly pleased with the 3 A*, I honestly didn't expect her to get A* for Maths and Science. On the other hand, 252 sounded like a lower score than what GEP kids would typically get.

    So there I was trying to digest the news, not really sure how to react. Then I saw Lesley-Anne among some of her friends who'd scored 260+ and 270+ - she was genuinely happy for them without any tinge of envy, and more importantly, she was happy with her own score. And the thought flashed across my mind, "if she's not comparing with others, why am I?"

    That night when she was saying her prayers, she said "Thank you God for my results" with such honest and simple gratitude that I was moved. I don't want to be overly dramatic and say that I had an epiphany there and then, but I think I finally understood what true thanksgiving was all about. On hindsight, the three clues were probably God's prompting for me.

    Too often, we give thanks with conditions attached - only when God gives us exactly what we want. But we are told to give thanks in ALL circumstances. How do we do this? By understanding and acknowledging that God gives us everything for a reason, there is no accidental gift. Every gift is designed to build us, mould us or serve a larger purpose.

    This is not rationalisation, as some cynics might believe. As I reflected on how far Lesley-Anne has come, I realised that we were seeing God's long-term plan for her in action. Back when she was just 9 years old, He led her into the GEP which provided the kind of education she needed. Through the GEP, she was led towards applying for DSA to the secondary school that she loves - one that we didn't even consider a year ago.

    During her time in GEP, Lesley-Anne had never been among the top rung of high achieving students. While some GEP kids cruised their way through the programme, she has always had to work extra hard just to keep up. What she lacked in pure brilliance, she made up with hard work. Throughout this year, I have seen Lesley-Anne dedicate immense effort, initiating extra revision time on top of what the teachers doled out. From seeing the effort she put in, I know this was the best score she could manage, and therefore, there was nothing to be sorry for and everything to be proud of.

    And once again, God had everything in place - since she has already been successful in her DSA, her PSLE score is in fact, inconsequential.

    So to cut a long story short, I decided to share Lesley-Anne's results not simply to satisfy the curiosity of readers. Truth be told, the T-score is just a number, a child is so much more than that. But what I have gained as a result of this whole exercise is a lesson in the true spirit of thanksgiving. It is something that Lesley-Anne understood better than I did, and it's a message I feel compelled to share, especially in the light of the Christmas season.

    We are richly blessed, and by giving thanks, we know this more.

    "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." - Proverbs 19:21

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    An explanatory note

    Dear friends and readers,

    I am back from my far-too-short holiday.

    I realise that before I left, I may have inadvertently left some of you hanging at the edge of your seats - those who have been following Lesley-Anne's PSLE journey faithfully, and when the day of PSLE results came and left with nary a word from me (except to say I'm going on vacation), may have asked in bewilderment, "So? How did she do??"

    Phew. That was a long sentence.

    I imagine you must feel like Andre does when he's watching a suspenseful episode of Teen Titans and sees the three dreaded words: "To be continued".

    Well, I'm going to be mean and prolong the suspense further. The reason is not that I have a bloodthirsty streak, it's just that I need to blog about my holiday first, otherwise when time passes, I might very well become less motivated. Plus the post on Lesley-Anne's results warrants some thought as I want it to be more meaningful than a "She got xxx".

    So over the next week or so, I'll be posting about our family vacation on my travel blog. The first post is already up. Please do check it out!

    And when I'm done with that, I'll get around to posting about Lesley-Anne's results. Scout's honour!
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