Monday, August 30, 2010

10 months into braces

It's been about 10 months since Lesley-Anne was fitted with braces and I thought it was time for an update.

The progress has been slow and steady. Every two or three weeks, she'll go back for an adjustment - either to adjust the chain or tighten the wires. The day after these visits are the most uncomfortable for her, she'll usually go on a soup diet as biting puts too much tension on the teeth. We normally try to give her a wide berth on those days as she'll be about as congenial as a crocodile with a belly ache.

Having said that, the progress is clearly visible. She used to have a canine that was almost completely overlapped by an incisor, causing her not to be able to grind her teeth sideways. Today, that tooth is nicely positioned in the correct arch, meaning she can move her jaw freely.

For the past week, she's had to hook these tiny rubber bands on wires along the top and bottom molars on each side. They're supposed to align your top and bottom teeth but what these do is basically clamp your jaws shut. You take them off only for meals and wear them even when you're sleeping. Here's a picture I took to show the size of the bands in relation to a 10 ct coin.

This is the most uncomfortable part Lesley-Anne has experienced to date. Due to the prolonged tension, during the first hour or so when she puts them on, they sometimes give her a terrible ear ache. We're praying she won't have to wear them for more than two weeks!

There's still a long way to go, according to the dentist. Aligning the teeth is a slow and painstaking process and others have told me the last six months are the toughest to wait out as it seems like nothing is really happening. Well, with any luck, Lesley-Anne is almost halfway done. She just has to focus on the end results.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Science schmience

Today is the last day of Andre's CA2, hooray!! Actually, it feels more like CA582. I mark my calendar by my kids' exams which seem to go on for perpetuity.

Up to the middle of this year, Kenneth and I split up the supervision of our kids' school work - he takes Science and Chinese, I take Math and English. Since Lesley-Anne began secondary school this year however, she has been completely independent where studying and schoolwork are concerned, so I've been hands-off (in fact, I couldn't help even if I wanted to, just reading the math explanations in her textbook makes my head swim).

Since I had a little more time, I offered to take over Andre's science revisions from Kenneth, a gesture which I suspect was secretly welcomed by both of them. Since taking over science, I've confirmed my belief that science in the primary school syllabus is more about English than science. The questions often call for answers to be worded in a specific way and with pre-determined key words. Anything different is usually not acceptable.

Andre sometimes has trouble differentiating between questions like "describe the process", "infer the properties" and "name the conditions". Yesterday, I set him a science assessment paper in a last-ditch effort to revise before the science exam today. One of the questions was: "Draw two conclusions from the observations." To my chagrin, I noticed that Andre had left that portion blank.

"Why didn't you answer this?"

"Because I didn't know how to draw the answer."

To his credit, his boo-boo dawned on him even as he uttered those words.

Once, his Chinese tutor noticed his low science marks and tried to help with this well-intended advice: "Learning science is not hard, just take the assessment book, before you look at the questions, look at the answers first and memorise all of them." Well, now you know how the China kids ace science exams. I think I hear Albert Einstein turning in his grave.
"Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination." - Bertrand Russell

Monday, August 23, 2010

Homemade cheese baked rice

As mentioned, we attempted to make cheese baked rice over National Day and I said I would post the recipe if I could improve on it. Well, I'm happy to announce that our second attempt last week turned out significantly better than the inaugural try so here's the recipe!

It must appear that eat lots of dishes with a cheese topping. Guilty as charged - we do love our rich, sticky, gooey mozzarella crusts! Cheese baked rice is another one of those popular gratin dishes that you find in abundance at cafes these days. It's an easy, one-dish meal and although we use seafood, you can easily substitute it with chicken, sausage, mushrooms or whatever you like.


2 cups cooked white rice
30g butter
30g plain flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 fish stock cube (I use Knorr)
40g white fish fillet, diced
6 large prawns, peeled and de-veined, diced
6 tbps tomato pasta sauce (Prego works well)
½ cup parmesan or gouda cheese, greated
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated

Cheese Baked Rice

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
2. In a saucepan, melt butter, then add flour and stir to form a smooth paste.
3. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly with a whisk to form a smooth white sauce.
4. Add water and fish stock cube, stir well for about 8 mins, until mixture thickens.
5. Add rice, fish and prawns to the white sauce and mix well. Set aside.
6. Cover the base of a baking dish with the pasta sauce and spread evenly.
7. Transfer rice mixture to the baking dish
8. Sprinkle both cheeses evenly on top of rice mixture.
9. Bake for 30mins or until top is golden and mixture is bubbling.

I think I baked it a little too long, so the top was overly brown. It didn't affect the taste though, the inside was sufficiently creamy and the top crisp, just the way we like it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Youth Olympic Games up close

The current buzz about town is of course, the Youth Olympic Games. It's a historic event in both the Olympic and Singapore sporting annals although it seems to be plagued by unending controversy - a grossly escalating budget, non show of international athletes and the latest, food poisoning. I wouldn't be surprised if Vivian Balakrishnan and Teo Ser Luck age ten years when it's all over.

I'm not going to politicise the matter, you can probably read all the debate online anyway. For us, we're interested purely in the sports.

Andre has been following the coverage on tv judiciously. During the telecast of the opening ceremony, he lined up all his country erasers in alphabetical order to match the countries as they were announced. (We also enjoyed the side comedy of country reps walking haphazardly in all directions - the organisers probably forgot that not everyone in the world follows the leader automatically LOL).

As luck would have it, Andre's school managed to get tickets for all those in the badminton team to watch a couple of matches live at the Singapore Indoor Stadium which was a fantastic opportunity.

One of the matches he saw was between India and Laos in a preliminary round. Although he didn't manage to catch Singapore in action, it was still thrilling for him.

Watching the matches live has given Andre a renewed motivation to play competitively. Now he says he wants to represent Singapore in the YOG in the future. Well, it's just a pipe dream but every now and then, it's nice to view life through the eyes of an unjaded 9-year-old.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The curious case of creativity in a box

Exams are around the corner again and even as I try to help Andre with his revisions, I'm struck (once again) by how the way English is taught at the primary school level completely stifles creativity.

Ironically, this is contrary to what MOE claims they want to promote. For a few years now, the government has acknowledged that while Singaporean kids tend to be exam smart, they could do with a little more creative thinking. However, as we all know, wishing for something is different from actually making it happen.

The problem as I see it is that Singaporean authorities are stuck in the loop of needing everything to be definable and measurable (see my previous post on KPIs) and this clouds their vision. What happens is then they actually attempt to come up with a template for creativity which is so oxymoronic that it renders me speechless.

To cite an example, many teachers today are told to mark the language of a composition based on how many "good phrases" are used. In Andre's school, a commercial book of good phrases is part of the syllabus and the kids are told to learn these phrases, even for spelling. Let me give you some examples of the actual phrases from this book:

The satiny soft bedsheets enveloped me like a curtain of clouds the moment I lay on my bed.

I choked and coughed breathlessly on the carbon monoxide infused air as I stood at the zebra crossing.

Cars' and motorcycles' tyres tore away from the coarse surfaces of the asphalt roads at top speed.

The ball of tangy globe retired beyond the horizon as the sky faltered into a deep purplish shade.

Are you kidding me? Who in real life talks or writes like that? As a professional writer, I can tell you that if I ever pick up a book with such pretentious and stilted prose in every other sentence, I'll write it off (and the writer) instantly. Not to mention, the book had several sentences that were completely ungrammatical and wrong. I guess the writer herself got carried away by her own pomposity.

In term 1, Andre had to learn how to write a book review. Now, in my understanding, a book review talks about the story and how you feel about the book. That's the gist of it. But for Andre's assignment, he was given a very detailed and specific template - he had to give 3 reasons why he liked the book followed by accompanying details, name his favourite character and give 3 reasons why, name 3 favourite parts of the book and why, and so on. Each of these items gets a tick and marks are allocated accordingly. So if you gave only 2 reasons, then you only got 2 ticks. If you miss out one step, you're deducted marks.

Andre had an extremely hard time with this assignment. Not only did he find it very difficult to follow the template, he didn't even enjoy the story to begin with. However, since not liking the book was not an acceptable option, he still had to make up 3 reasons why he liked the book.

Here's an even better one: in open-ended comprehension, you frequently find a question (often the last one) which asks 'What do you think... ?' I find it totally ludicrous that an answer to a question which asks for your opinion can be marked WRONG. Honestly! As one of my friends astutely assessed, "They're not really asking 'What do you think...', they're really asking 'What do you think I think...'"

I know why they impose all this - it's to make marking simpler. This way, they don't have to depend on the arbitrary standards of each marker (which the authorities obviously distrust). This way, the marker just has to follow a matrix. It's certainly more orderly but don't mistake it for creativity. I don't know any other education system which designs its curriculum around the grading. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

During the parent-teacher conference earlier this year, I raised all these points to Andre's English teacher ("vented" is probably a more accurate word). To my utter surprise, she agreed with me. She said that once the school started imposing the memorising of good phrases for composition, she ended up with 44 scripts of almost identical introductions (mostly about the "fiery sun in the sapphire sky"). She knew that it was not ideal and had lodged feedback accordingly but her hands were tied. She tried to pacify me by saying that the kids didn't actually have to use the phrases from the book, as long as they could come up with their own. In translation, they still need to use bombastic language to score high marks, it just doesn't matter where it comes from.

I've said this before and I'll say it again - only in the Singapore system can you suck the creativity out of creative writing.

Once, as he was struggling to write his composition with the requisite good phrases that were so alien to him, Andre said sadly, "I think it's because I don't have imagination." I can't tell you how furious this made me feel because Andre is one of the most imaginative kids I know. If you've read the posts I've written about him, I'm sure you'll concur. This is a system that not only doesn't recognise or reward real creativity, it has kids wrongly associating rigid compliance with creativity. That's seriously warped.

I'm expressing my frustrations because I'm so torn. On one hand, I know this method kills creativity in the long-term, so I want to be able to give Andre a free hand in expression, to let him develop his own writing style naturally, to be able say what he truly feels, much like what Lesley-Anne has done. On the other hand, this will definitely jeapordise his exam scores, which has real repercussions.

It's the age-old dilemma of whether we are educating for the sake of knowledge or for the sake of exams. In this respect, it's disheartening to note that things have not changed much in the last 30 years.
"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

National Day celebrations

The National Day long weekend was a welcome break to the school term, especially for Lesley-Anne who had just completed her term tests. Kenneth happened to be away in Hong Kong over the weekend, so it was bonding time for the three of us.

Although I did make Andre fit in some time for work (CA2s coming up afterall), it was generally a weekend of fun and family time. As always, we make any excuse for food! First up was a trip to Botak Jones (our very first) for Sunday lunch to see what all the hype was about.

The food is reasonably priced, portions are generous and we like the sides. Funnily enough, we found that their signature item - the burger - tasted a little flat. The salmon was flaky, moist and came with a scrumptious garlicky sauce. Andre loved the fish burger which was more like fish and chips with a side of bun! We ended with a slice of oreo cheesecake. All in all, worth a repeat visit. We'll probably try their steak the next time and their cheesy baked potato which was sold out when we were there.

For Sunday dinner, we attempted a recipe for cheese-baked rice. The texture turned out really nice, creamy rice with a crusty cheese topping. However, we all felt it could do with more flavour. Might post the recipe for this one if our second attempt works out better.

On Tuesday night, we ordered Pizza Hut delivery. Always a favourite with the kids and there was a National Day special - 45% discount for online orders. Even as I'm writing this post, I'm thinking we've maxed out on our junk food quota. Maybe I should impose a fish soup diet for a while...

Ok, moving away from food and onto activities. We stayed home for the most part (I hate driving so when Kenneth isn't home, we tend to be self quarantined).

We watched movies and assembled a 500-piece jig-saw together. This is an old one we found in the store-room - it's such a hilarious picture entitled "Happy Mother's Day". You can see the mum balancing a whole acrobatic troop while performing household chores. A great imagery on what mums have to juggle!

We also found an old game called Jackpot. Well, that's probably not the actual name, it's just what I call it. I remember playing it with my sister from a very young age, maybe about 5 or 6 and kept it all this time. I think I became such a hoarder because I had so few gifts as a child, I just hung on to everything!

I've never seen the game sold anywhere on the market these days and I don't know if anyone else has played it. You basically try to match the picture on the sides and a jackpot happens when you can match 2 sides of a triangle at one go. The person with the most points wins. It's actually quite fun for such a simple game, the only hassle is having to record the points and add them up. I would love to know if anyone else has ever played this game.

So that was our National Day celebrations - what did you do?


Is it just me or was this year's National Day parade rather uninspiring? Only the backdrop and props were impressive, the rest of it - singing and dancing included - were meh. Lesley-Anne asked whether the organisers had blown the entire budget on the props and left nothing for the costumes cos some of them looked like they were pasted together using tracing paper and embellished with strips of coloured cellophane. Keke.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Making memories

It's already August and I wonder how more than half the year could have flown by without my realising it. Didn't we just celebrate Christmas not too long ago? I'm constantly reminded of how fast kids grow up, especially when I think about how I was so stressed out over Lesley-Anne's PSLE last year, and now, she's almost three-quarters through secondary 1.

This year, I've been more convinced than ever that we need to consciously make memories of our time with our children. What I mean is that often, we're so caught up with the hustle and bustle of life that we don't stop to punctuate it with something out of the ordinary.

When your kids become adults and look back at their childhood, what will they remember? I shudder when I hear of people who say they associate their childhood with dreary mugging and a series of exams. What a sad way to remember your youth!

I think part of the reason for this is that we don't create enough "moments" for our kids. What are moments? To me, they're like mental snapshots of the interesting bits of our lives. Going on holiday is usually a moment, a big one. These episodes, especially since they tend to be documented by lots of pictures, are what will make an impression or a memory.

However, holidays are usually occasional events, unless you're exceptionally well-off. The rest of the 350 odd days of the year when you're not on holiday tends to be unmemorable. When your kids are not doing homework, studying or busy with some CCA or other, chances are they're just in their rooms, reading or playing with their toys until the grind starts again. Not that there's anything wrong with reading or playing but it can get rather routine, forgettable and even aimless.

Sometime this year, I instituted a movie night on weekends. I just thought it would be nice to break the monotony and plan an event where the whole family could enjoy together. We'd fix a day and time, usually Saturday evening, pick a movie and gather some snacks (of course!)

Honestly, it turned out even better than I expected. It became a treat that the kids looked forward to during the weekend and it motivated them to finish their work faster. After that first movie night, Andre told me he'd had the "best weekend ever". It was so fun that I introduced another event - card night - where we'd play gin rummy (it's not gambling if no money is involved!) Some families prefer to go out but we're homebodies at heart so these activities work for us - they're simple, convenient and don't cost anything.

When my kids look back as adults, I want their childhood memories to be imprinted with our family table tennis and badminton games, movie nights, and bucketloads of laughter. It's brain-washing of sorts, but the good kind.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Women's work

At nine or ten years old, the two genders tend to sound the same over the phone. However, I always know whether it's a girl or boy calling for Andre. How? Let me see... here's what I encounter when I answer Andre's phone calls:

"Hello! I'm Andre's friend. I'm sorry to disturb you. I need to discuss a music project with him. Can I speak to him please?" - Definitely girl. And I'm not exaggerating.

"Uhh.... (pause) can I talk to Andre?" - Boy. Duh.

Last week, Andre brought home a sheet of instructions detailing a group project for music. It required extensive research on African percussion instruments and looked rather complex. One of his female classmates (the one above) called to discuss the project with him. After he'd hung up the phone, he was looking mighty pleased which surprised me as it didn't seem like the type of topic he would enjoy working on.

"I'm so lucky!" he declared with glee.

"Why?" I thought maybe he was assigned an interesting role. "What do you need to do?"

"There are 9 of us in the group and only 7 things to do, so I don't need to do anything."

"Whaaat?? How can you not do anything for a group project?"

"Oh, my job is to carry the CD."

You've got to give credit to the kids, they learn quickly. Boys learn that if you look blur or bungle it up often enough, you can get girls to do all the work. Girls learn that if you ever want anything done, it's easier to just do it yourself.

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