Saturday, December 31, 2011


31 December 2011, New Year's Eve

Dearest Lesley-Anne

Often, I marvel at how I managed to have a daughter like you. I thank God for your selflessness, how you're always putting others ahead of you. Sometimes I worry it will allow others to take advantage of you but I have to trust that God will bless you with the accompanying wisdom to discern good from bad, and continue to guide your path.

You're mature beyond your years, thoughtful and bright, tempered with a dollop of level-headedness. I'm constantly amazed by your discipline, sensitivity, and most of all, your godliness. At the same time, your feistiness (I know I often call it pig-headedness) keeps you from being bland.

My wish for you this New Year is that you will delight in new experiences, not to be afraid to try something different, even if you risk making a fool of yourself. I know the world seems like a scary place and people can be mean, but choosing what is safe because it's familiar is no way to live your life.

I pray that you will let go of your defence mechanism, move out of your comfort zone and open up more to others. Expect more of yourself - you'll be surprised at what you can achieve. It's not about getting to know yourself better because who you are is not carved in stone. You are a work in progress and it is only by embracing life and whatever is thrown at you, that you will grow in depth as a human being.

You are an incredible young lady and I'm truly grateful to have a daughter like you.




Dearest Andre

Where do I begin? You are such a (big) bundle of joy. I thank God for your spontaneity, your big heart and your eagerness to please. I live for all your hugs and kisses, given with such unadulterated affection.

Sometimes I worry about your innocence, how you're so unaware of the ways of the world and how you wear your heart on your sleeve. But I know it's this quality that makes you so genuine and lovable, and it's what draws people to you. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You keep me young because you keep me laughing! Without even trying.

For 2012, I wish for you patience - something we will both need in the PSLE year. I know that for someone who's always living for the moment, it will be an incredibly difficult lesson for you - to work towards a goal that seems so far away, and a reward that beckons only with hope, not promises.

But I pray that in this process, you will learn that diligence builds character (ugh, I know, I sound like the father in Calvin & Hobbes) and that you will come to understand it's the journey, not the end result, that will enrich your life.

May your generous spirit never diminish. When people around you judge you or try to make you feel less of a person, I hope you will always be secure in the knowledge that you are a champ in every sense of the word.

You are a blessing to many and I thank God that you have been entrusted to me.



Sunday, December 25, 2011

'Tis the season to be jolly

We've lived in our new home for about a month now (after discounting the 2 weeks we were away in NZ) and it's only about now that I finally feel this is home.

It may sound strange but for the first couple of weeks, a part of me felt like I was living in a show flat. I would get very flustered when I saw newspapers carelessly strewn on the coffee table or half eaten bags of potato chips lying around. This is extremely uncharacteristic behaviour as I am a slob at heart. Tidying up, to me, is as fun as having a root canal. So it was very disconcerting indeed.

Thankfully, I'm back to my normal, messy self now. This house, however, is turning our entire family into couch potatoes. We've never had cable before (I know, we're stone age) and since my mother-in-law watches Korean dramas, we subscribed to Starhub.

My conclusion is that cable is EVIIIIL. Why? Cos now, no matter whether it's 10 o'clock in the morning or 4.30 in the afternoon, there's always something interesting on. Either Nigella is cooking up something decadently delicious or the folks at CSI are wading through the mandatory 100 red herrings to solve yet another murder, neatly within 50 minutes. Whatever. It's incredibly addictive.

These photos show only Andre but truthfully, all of us spend an extended amount of time in front of the telly.

It's official - I live in the house of sloth. I'm praying that we will OD on food and forensics soon so we can get them out of our systems and get on with our lives.

But after the hustle and bustle in the last quarter of the year, it's kinda nice to just zone out. It's also the first Christmas in our new home and I've found that playing the Glee Christmas album while doing absolutely nothing makes me happy. (It's a very campy album but infectiously jolly).

We've only a few more days to the end of 2011 and we've been celebrating the season with family and friends. Family, friends, food and gifts - all enveloped in the warmth of love and home. There really isn't anything more one can wish for. Looking back at the momentous year we've had, I can only say I'm unspeakable grateful for the journey God has led us on and His tremendous, unbridled blessings.

Blessed Christmas to all of you, my dear friends.

"One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly." ~Andy Rooney

Monday, December 19, 2011

Andre's belated birthday sleepover

Andre's birthday is in October and he wanted another sleepover like he did last year. However, since we were in the midst of moving house and a million other things, I told him he could have his party belated, after we'd returned from NZ.

So last Wed, a few of his friends came over for the first (and maybe last?) sleepover in our new home.

I really didn't have the time or energy to plan anything elaborate so I left them pretty much to their own devices. Pre-teen boys are actually reasonably easy to please. Eg, just plonk them in front of the tv and screen an action movie (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull).

In case you're wondering, the pile of snacks was not provided by me, it was brought by a chip-o-holic boy whose mum generously catered enough for the whole group.

Of course, there's the computer. You can't pry boys away from pc games with a crowbar.

From experience, when you coop hyperactive boys indoors for too long, they start to go a little manic, so we brought them to the pool.

Not much swimming occurred, it was more a water brawl.

Dinner was simple fare al fresco - spaghetti and fried chicken wings. When I took this picture, one of the boys called out in alarm, "no, no, must delete the picture!" When I asked why, he replied, "If not, my mother will see that I ate too many chicken wings." LOL!

Cake time! My little boy is now 11 (well, for 2 months now).

I sent the boys to bed at 11pm, thinking that the chatting will continue for another hour. However, by midnight, we were still hearing laughter and loud thuds, prompting a tired Kenneth to ask me, "what on earth are they doing??"

We found out the next morning that at midnight, they decided it would be a good idea to stage a WWE match. Go figure! They finally fell asleep only at 1am but that didn't stop them from jumping up at the crack of dawn to play more computer games.

Kenneth was hoping to get a shot of them asleep but no chance. This was the scene that greeted him at 7am.

After breakfast, the boys made the most of the remaining time by having a game of table tennis and yet another dip in the pool.

You know the party was a success when the boys complain that their parents came to fetch them too soon.

I know it's very belated but I hope you had a very Happy Birthday, my dear kumara chip!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Aotearoa the Beautiful

I am back!!!! And exhausted. And have a million emails to reply to, clients to reconnect with, and of course, preparations for Christmas.

It's always a bummer to come home from holidays. Especially this one because we really enjoyed ourselves to the fullest. This holiday to New Zealand (Aotearoa is the Maori name) truly was an over-achiever - busted all expectations. I don't foresee being able to top this one, at least not for a long time.

So this short post is just to say I haven't forgotten about you, my dear readers, but I probably won't be posting here much for the next couple of weeks. Instead, I'll finishing up my holiday posts on the Travel Bug.

If you haven't been following my journey there, please do! NZ is a terrific destination for a family holiday, I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone.

Meanwhile, here are a few snapshots of the stunning country that is NZ.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Schools, national exams... and unconditional love

As academic year 2011 came to a close, we received good news: Andre managed to get 3rd in class!

For those of you who have been following my blog, you will probably understand why this is such a happy surprise for us. Academics has never been Andre's strength and this prize was all the more unexpected because we've been so busy moving house that I haven't been breathing down his throat as much for the final SA2. My friend Lilian pointed out that Andre seems to perform better when he's left to his own devices. Not sure if that's true but it certainly reduces the stress for both of us!

I'm unspeakably grateful for this prize, more so because I'm hoping it will motivate Andre to work harder next year - the dreaded PSLE year. I'm so not looking forward to it. If I could take a pill and fast forward time till after the exam, I would.

Recently, I ran into a friend, who's the father of Lesley-Anne's p6 classmate, Ryan. His younger son just finished the PSLE this year and he said it was probably the worst time in his life. Everyday leading up to the exam, the boy would bring home a thick wad of exam papers to be completed and both father and son would stare despairingly at the stack (father is expected to mark the papers - brings a sadistic twist to the phrase "partnering parents in education").

He said it was a nightmare, especially since his younger son is not half as motivated as his elder brother. In fact, he thought both Ryan and Lesley-Anne spoilt the market with their work ethic. As he was tearing his hair out, pleading with his second child, it dawned on him, "So THAT'S what PSLE preparation is really like!"

I sympathised with him and when he heard that Andre would be doing his PSLE next year, I'm sure he's sending sympathies my way.

We've all heard it before - the PSLE has become such a high stakes exam that the pressure to do well overwhelms everything else. No one can escape - the kids, the teachers, the parents. So intensive is the preparation for the PSLE that it leaves an indelible scar on everyone. I suspect part of the reason why IP schools are so popular is because we all remember vividly the horrors of the PSLE and want to avoid another national exam.

Ryan's dad told me that after the PSLE, he just had 2 goals for his son: to retain his self-esteem and love for learning. Coming from a school teacher, I appreciate the wisdom. It's so easy to lose both in our education system.

We were discussing how even some of the kids in the best schools, who are probably the top 2% of the cohort, still feel insecure about their own abilities. Eg, I've heard how kids from the Raffles schools feel inferior because they couldn't get into the Raffles Academy.

This is seriously screwed up. It seems like our education system constantly tells our kids that they're not good enough. I've said this before - some schools, particularly the branded ones, appear more interested in what the kids can do for the school, than vice versa. Consider this and ask yourself if this is what you really want for your child.

For a long time now, I've understood God's wisdom in giving me 2 kids with such contrasting abilities. If both my kids were intellectually gifted, I would never know what it's like to parent a child who can't always understand concepts immediately or remember things he'd just learnt. It's a lesson in humility - that our kids' giftedness is a blessing, not results of our own doing.

Please don't be mistaken, I know Andre is bright. But when you have another child who learns and absorbs ideas at the drop of a hat, it's easy to use that as a benchmark and forget that not everyone is the same.

I always take advice from parents with all gifted kids with a pinch of salt. I know they're well meaning but what works for gifted kids often doesn't work for regular kids. It's not just a simple case of reading more to improve their language, or teaching a certain method to improve their maths. It's a lot of repetition, a lot of simplification and a huge bucketload of patience - something I'm short of.

As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I don't quite agree with the everybody is a genius bit but I concur with the second sentence. Sometimes, I feel that Singapore and Singaporeans have such a narrow definition of success that anyone who can't climb a tree or climb it fast enough is made to feel stupid or inadequate.

Each child's needs are different - I can't emphasise this enough. I speak from experience (and mistakes) parenting 2 kids who are complete opposites of each other. While everyone else's kid may be aiming for the top 3 schools, yours may rejoice at getting into a tier 3 school.

What's important is not to let society or teachers or other parents bully you into thinking it's not ok. Because at the end of the day, some kids are fish. By constantly trying to teach them how to climb trees and scolding them for failing, we may be missing out on the fact that they are fantastic, natural-born swimmers.

I wonder about kids who say, "I must study hard so I don't let my parents down." I understand the sentiment but I think it smells of the implication that they are studying out of a sense of responsibility towards someone else and not because it is something valuable to be enjoyed. Are we a blessing to our kids or have we become a burden?

I don't know what I will be like next year. I keep telling myself that God has a place prepared somewhere for Andre, that I should not be overly kancheong. But I also know how easy it is to lose perspective when you're in the eye of the storm. If that happens, somebody nudge me, ok?

Even as we push our kids to achieve more, we need to show that we love them for who they are, not who we want them to be.

"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." - Psalm 127:3

PS We will be going on our family vacation so I won't be blogging here during that time. I will, however, try to blog about my holiday at my travel blog so do check in there!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No more metal mouth

In the midst of moving, Lesley-Anne commented, "We're having so many highs, I'm too busy to feel excited anymore."

I knew exactly what she meant. These past couple of months, we have so much going on that we feel like we're in the eye of a tornado. Lesley-Anne, in particular, had a lot happening in her life. In addition to the family stuff, ie moving house and preparing for our upcoming holiday, she went through her year-end exams and rushed to embark on a three-day school trip to Malacca. So much so that another monumental event in her life became almost an afterthought... the removal of her braces!

Yes, folks. After 2 long years of enduring metal in her mouth, pain and inability to chew tough food, the braces came off last week! When I blogged about it 2 years ago, its removal seemed like a remote event far, far in the future.

She has to wear a plastic retainer for 6 months, but compared to wearing braces, she feels like a prisoner newly released from her metal cage.

I love looking at the lovely flash of perfectly straight pearly whites every time she smiles. Makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Movin' on

When we first found out that a neighbour moved out with 100 boxes, I laughed. "How can one accumulate so much stuff?" I wondered. Well, the joke's on me because when we called the movers, they estimated that we would need 120 boxes. "WHAAAT!!!" was my disbelieving response.

As it turned out, we didn't have to use 120 boxes... we used 114 (and this is after throwing out lots of things). All I can say is, when you've lived in one place for 11 years, you amass a frightening amount of stuff. So much stuff that nobody really needs or uses, yet we kept buying and hoarding. I kept thinking: we truly live in a world of excess.

We consciously decided to bring most of our existing furniture to the new place because we didn't want to add to the waste and growing landfills. What we didn't bring along, we gave away. Doing our little bit for the planet.

We started packing in a very systematic fashion:

Then as it became apparent that we were running out of time and space, all order went out the window. Amidst all the dust and exhaustion, Lesley-Anne and I succumbed to fever and a bothersome, hacking cough. I really thank God for my maid, she's a gem. Without her, we would never have finished packing, what with us trying to get the new house ready for moving in at the same time.

We had our very own Great Wall in our living room. This was the night before the move - to get to and from the living room, you practically had to jump over a series of obstacles.

The move itself was surprisingly smooth. I totally credit the movers. We used Soon Seng Transport Service and these are by far, the most professional movers I've ever used. Very punctual, no last minute haggling, no grumbles, about 8 guys did the job swiftly and to my amazement, cheerfully.

The furniture was wrapped very well and my piano survived the transit without so much as a scratch. They're not the cheapest in town (slightly lower than Shalom, the other folks we got a quote from) but very reliable. I think it's worth it for stress-free moving.

The last time our old place was so uncluttered was 11 years ago, before we moved in!

Andre in his old room.

Lesley-Anne in hers.

This was the only home my kids ever knew and they both grew up there so we have many lovely memories of the place. It's nostalgic and a little hard to say good-bye but it helps to know we're moving to another great place. I'm sure in time, we will be as comfortable here as we were in our old place.

All we need to do now is to create fantastic new memories :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Splish splash!

One of the advantages of this house was that the bathrooms were remodelled, so we didn't have to redo them.

There were, however, a few things we didn't like. The wash basins, for instance were made of glass and upon closer scrutiny, there were glue and sealer stains along the edges. Glass is extremely high maintenance.

So we decided to change all the wash basins back to good old ceramic. My brother-in-law advised us to go to Sim Siang Choon as they have lots to choose from. Lots is an understatement - Sim Siang Choon is like a giant Best Denki for bath products. I like that they display all their prices upfront and even have little paper measuring tapes and pencils ala Ikea for you to do your planning.

We chose two ceramic wash basins for the kids' and my mother-in-law's bathrooms, as well as other accessories such as toothbrush holders and toiletries wall stands. The original mixers (faucets) were in reasonably good condition so we retained them. The installation was done by our contractor. I think you can also engage Sim Siang Choon for the installation.

This is the kids' bathroom wash basin before:

And after:

Mum-in-law's wash basin before:

And after:

For her bathroom, we also installed grab bars for added safety, excellent advice by my friend.

For the master bathroom, we wanted a wash basin with a vanity so that we could store toiletries out of sight. Unfortunately, Sim Siang Choon doesn't carry many of these. So we decided to give Ikea a try, with their new Godmorgen bath series. It's very reasonably priced and like most Ikea goods, looks great. Whether it will last remains to be seen, am hoping for the best!

This is before:

And after:

The final change we made was the addition of a shower screen to the master bathroom. The previous owner used a shower curtain (right pic), which we thought was impractical and somewhat incongruous in an otherwise classy bathroom.

So we had a frameless shower door installed, to complete the look. This is what my bathroom looks like now:

My bathrooms before have always been purely functional and nothing much to look at. It's lovely to have one where I can unwind and wash my cares away. Taking a shower has never been so relaxing!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Window dressing

If there's one thing I learnt about dealing with contractors, it's what can go wrong will go wrong. But in the midst of all that went wrong, a couple of vendors came through with minimal hiccups. One of them was D'Zander, the curtains company.

I discovered D'Zander through the Internet when I was looking for recommendations. The name kept popping up with real users citing their quality, reliability and reasonable pricing. The lady I spoke to, Doris, provides excellent service and was able to give advice on what sort of fabric I should use, which I appreciated.

We wanted a neutral tone for the living/dining area. The walls are painted Barley White, which has a yellow tinge (it looks yellower in the picture than it actually is, due to the lighting). We used Nippon paint for the whole house. It's probably more expensive than the brand-less paint used by some contractors but we think it's worthwhile. We used Nippon paint at our current place and 11 years on, it still looks relatively fresh.

This is the living room:

And the dining room. We used sheer curtains as it leads out to the patio and wanted to extend the look of the area.

For the master bedroom, we also adopted a neutral tone. Doris was the one who suggested having the track all the way up to the false ceiling and tying the day and night curtains in opposite directions for the smaller window. I think the effect is pretty elegant, I would never have come up with this myself.

The wall colour is 8148 Peaceful (I'm noting down the colours for my own record, don't mind me).

We used the same fabric for my mother-in-law's room. Wall colour is 0012 Soft Sands.

For the kids' rooms, it was slightly more complicated. I find that most curtain companies stock very few fun fabrics, except for the very kiddy designs with cartoon characters. According to D'Zander, they're harder to sell, so not worth stocking up on.

For my kids, I couldn't find any design I liked so in the end, I turned to the quintessential fun company - Ikea. Ikea has many lovely fabric patterns - they're quirky and not too expensive. The downside is that they often run out of stock, especially for popular designs, and the quality tends to be inferior, eg. most of their fabrics shrink in the wash. So it's something you'll need to cater for.

Doris was very accommodating - she took the measurements of the windows and told me how much fabric to buy for each of the kids' rooms, then charged me only a minimal sum to sew the curtains for me.

Lesley-Anne wanted a room with blue accents so we picked out this rich blue fabric with white leaf patterns. Her walls are painted 8126 Comfort. It's a lovely creamy yellow, much nicer than it appears in the picture.

When I first asked Andre what colour he wanted his room to be, he told me "orange and fire engine red!" I'm not surprised - it shouts his personality - but I shuddered just thinking about such a gaudy room. So we compromised. I gave him one wall in orange and the others in yellow. The red would be accents in the form of his furniture. (His grandmother commented that she would need sunglasses just to enter his room, lol).

To contrast the orange wall, I chose a white cotton fabric with writing from Ikea for his curtains. It's very cute but it's a thin fabric so D'Zander had to line the curtains. The orange shade is 8117 Zing. Lesley-Anne commented that Andre's room looked delicious and was the "happy" room. It really is cheerful, which is great for a kid's room.

I recommend D'Zander whole-heartedly if you're thinking of making curtains. The number is 6276 9921. Ask for Doris.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lesley-Anne's sec 2 report card

Lesley-Anne's exams took place two weeks ago and just as she has done ever since she entered secondary school, she took on the planning and revisions entirely on her own. Which was a good thing, considering I was knee deep in house preparations and work, and had absolutely no time to watch over her (except to yell out "jia you!" whenever I remembered).

I always thank God that I have a motivated and sensible daughter whom I can trust to manage her own studies. Her year-end exam results are:

English & Lit - 81/100 (A1)
Higher Chinese - 130/200 (B3)
Maths - 90/120 (A1)
Science - 80/100 (A1)
Geography - 47.5/50 (A1, highest in class!)
History - 39/50 (A1, second highest in class!)

While she has generally been diligent, I sense that for this exam, she has finally found her groove in note-taking and study techniques, to optimise learning. That, I feel, is more important than the results themselves as it will put her in good stead moving forward.

Even though her Chinese results were the worst compared to her other subjects, we're actually pretty pleased with it. Over the past half a year, her Chinese has improve by leaps and bounds through sheer hard work and determination (and a very good Chinese tutor).

Recently, her tutor set her a mock exam paper without telling her it was actually an 'O' level Higher Chinese paper. Much to her own surprise, she scored A1 for it. A year ago, this result would simply have been unimaginable, when she was still identified by the school for Chinese remedial. Improvement is a great motivator.

PS Please don't ask me for the tutor's contact - I know her schedule is full and she already has kids on a waiting list.

We're very thankful and this marks a good end to Lesley-Anne's school year. By the end of this week, she would have completed sec 2. I know it's a cliche but gosh, time really does fly.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Floored by wood laminates

When we received the keys to our new place, the first thing we noticed was that the living/dining floor was not in as good condition as we'd initially thought. The granite had many deep cracks and looked worse for the wear.

Needing a quick solution and not wanting to go through the hassle of hacking the floor tiles, we decided on laminate flooring. Since it's laid over existing flooring, it's clean and easy to install. We also love the wooden slate floor look and ok, we know it's not really wood but it's much more affordable.

After some research on the Internet, we found that many recommended Inovar for its quality and lifetime warranty. It's a made-in-Malaysia brand and it even supplies to other recognised brands like Pergo and Supreme.

As luck would have it, there was a home decor exhibition at the Singapore Expo at the time and Inovar was offering their laminate wood flooring at the special price of $2.60 psf. It's truly a great deal, the regular price is $4 psf and Pergo's would probably go for at least $4.50 psf.

We wanted a light floor to make the room look bigger and we also didn't want anything too patterned in case it turned out too Little House on the Prairie (our furniture follows a contemporary theme). So in the end, we settled for Pearl Teak, a white stained shade.

Some preparation goes into the installation. First, you need to remove the skirting, then patch and paint it. This is a separate charge if you engage Inovar. We got our contractor to do it.

Next, since the floor panels are laid on top of existing flooring, the gap between the door and the floor needs to be widened. Inovar removed the entire door and sanded it down.

Finally, the installation! The floor panels come flat packed.

Polythene sheets are first underlaid as a moisture barrier.

Then the laying of floor boards begin. This is an amazingly quick process, the three Malaysian boys who did the job for us are seriously pros! Lay, align, hammer into place - speedy and with meticulous precision.

After that, they install the new skirting, which comes free of charge with the flooring. They select the skirting that's closest to the colour of your laminate floor.

Finally, they install the capping along floor edges.

The whole process took just half a day. Unfortunately, we discovered that one plank was chipped and changing that took more than an hour. It's complicated to change one plank, especially if it's right in the centre of your floor, because they'll need to remove all the interlocking planks from one side of your wall. It's something like a Lego system - you can't remove one middle brick without removing the surrounding ones.

This is before:

And after:

I love my Inovar floor!
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