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!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


My kids often bug me to play games with them and most board games, well, leave me bored. The problem is most of them require a pretty lengthy playing time, something I'm too impatient to sit through. So when we discovered the card version of Monopoly, it became popular in our household cos one game usually takes only a few minutes and you can play several rounds.

For Andre's birthday, Lesley-Anne bought him Pictureka by Hasbro, the card version of the board game.

There are 4 ways to play this game but we only like to play it one way.

You take a mission card which has a choice of 2 "missions" (see picture below) and try to complete either one by matching it with 3 cards. The first to complete 4 missions wins.

What's fun is that it is very open to interpretation and depends on whether the other players will accept your rationale. Andre, especially, will try to talk his way into having his mission accepted, no matter how absurd.

In fact, I can almost hear his brain ticking when I see him looking at his cards with a gleam in his eye and mischievous grin. "Get ready," I'd warn Lesley-Anne, "he's going to bedek his way out."

For example, when he got the mission "Something sporty", his choices were:

"A golfer..."

"A boxer..."

"... and a sporty guy who's sleeping!"

In another game, he drew "Something hot". He offered:

"The sun is hot..."

"This is a hot dog..."

"... and the caveman is HAWT!!"

Not to be outdone, Lesley-Anne got "Something with wings" and tried:

"The fairy has wings..."

"The parrot has wings..."

(Pause) "Red Bull gives you wings??"

We're tough opponents, we don't usually buy what the other is selling. But we always end up laughing a lot and really, can you ask for anything more in a simple card game? I also like that it's small and handy to cart around. We'll probably pack it along when we go on our year-end holiday.

Sold at most department stores and Popular bookstores for $9.90 each.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wallpaper nightmare

What's more painful than watching paint dry? Stripping wallpaper.

The plan was to start the paintwork on our house on Monday and I had envisioned a few freshly painted walls by the end of the day. Boy, was I wrong. The living room area was wallpapered, so before painting could start, the workers had to remove it. And what a time-consuming chore it is.

After 3 hours with only half a wall done (and earlier excitement rapidly draining), we realised it was a sloooooooooooow process. If you think you can easily rip off the wallpaper like a bandaid, think again. It's akin to peeling off a price tag from a non-price-tag-friendly surface. Except this price tag is the size of a cathedral window.

Kenneth discovered that adding water helped the process significantly and to speed things up, we rolled up our sleeves and got into the action. It can be rather therapeutic, especially when you manage to peel off a large piece at a go.

Actually, taking off the wallpaper was easy compared to getting rid of the dried glue. That, my friend, is a real b**** to take off.

When I surfed the Net in a desperate attempt to see if there were secret techniques to this task, I found many forums with large volumes of swear words (worse than mine) directed at wallpaper because of its immovability. Nice to know we're not alone.

That's not all. Andre's room had a full-sized wall mural which was stuck on wallpaper style.

It's pretty but no 11-year-old boy would be caught dead with a monster-sized Mickey Mouse on his wall, so we had to remove it. Apparently, this was some high quality laminate which left a thick impenetrable layer of dried plastic-like substance. Unlike the living room glue, it didn't soften in water and the only way to get rid of it was to chip at it painstakingly as it broke off into teeny pieces of plaster and dust. Enough to make anyone swear.

Finally, after 2½ days, the living room was wallpaper-free. The glue marks, however, were impervious to washing or scraping. Our contractor says he can successfully paint over the marks, so we'll see how that works out. Andre's room, on the other hand, has been half abandoned for now.

If there's ever a piece of advice I could give you with regards to home decor, DON'T USE WALLPAPER. It doesn't stand well to wear, it's unsightly when it starts to peel and as we've discovered, it's a real pain to remove. There are many other better alternatives to dress up your walls.

Meanwhile, we're not disheartened - it's just a little bump in the road. We're still having loads of fun and the kids love to see all the works. Due to the dust in the living room, we had to move our command post to the patio. Of course we have Internet.

And there's always something very special about having a meal in a brand new, empty home. Even if it's just Burger King and prata!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Keys to a new chapter

Back in July, I wrote in a post that we'd bought a new place and will be moving end of the year. Well, we finally got the keys last week and to say we're excited would be a gross understatement.

The place we bought is is pretty good condition and reasonably well maintained but still, there are 101 niggly things that need to be taken care of. I know there are many families who will just move in and take care of these details gradually... but we're not that sort of family. We want everything to be perfect (or near perfect) so that when we move in, we can say "Aaahhh, this is our new home".

Even if this means running around like post-hibernation squirrels, trying to see to every minute detail ("buy extension to Andre's fan cord so he can reach it without standing on his bed"). I suspect there's a little OCD coursing through our veins. There were days when I was so exhausted that I went to bed and was out like a light by 10.30pm, which is unheard of for a night owl like me.

I wanted to record this process for myself since moving house is not something we do often (not for us anyway), so be warned that in the next few weeks, the posts will be predominantly on home and decor issues.

Sorry if you want to read only about education. The only education bit that's happening in my life now is Andre's upcoming SA2, which makes me weary just thinking about it, let alone blog about it. Thankfully, Lesley-Anne's exams are over and anyway, she did all her revisions on her own. Thank God for secondary school!

Back to the house. The first week we spent primarily meeting up with various contractors/tradesmen getting quotes. We didn't want to get a general contractor since we're not doing major renovations so even though it was more of a hassle, we decided to go directly to specialist vendors. Because we tried to get 2 or 3 quotes for every job, I think we managed to get better value in the end.

Of course, the quality of work remains to be seen. Hopefully we made the right choices.

This is our command post aka living and dining area:

The first 3 days were a whirlwind. At one point, we were meeting so many contractors that we almost lost track of who was quoting for what. Hooray for Excel spreadsheets!

Painting starts today. I can't wait to see how it turns out - colour really changes the feel of a house/room. Will blog about the progress, err... progressively.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sec 2 poetry assignment - "The Cocoon of Change"

This is Lesley-Anne's third poem for her poetry assignment. It's in the style of "Sheltered Garden" by Hilda Doolittle and the theme is growing up.

The Cocoon of Change

I have had enough

I struggle to break free

I have had enough

Of people holding my hand
when I cross the street
Of people spoon-feeding me
answers that I know aren't true

I have had enough
Of fairy tales and bedtime stories

For I know that in life, an ending
is not always happy

I have had enough

Of this
that suffocates me
The darkness closes in

But I want to see the light of day

I'm a butterfly longing to stretch her wings

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sec 2 poetry assignment - "In the Attic"

This is the second poem Lesley-Anne wrote as part of the assignment mentioned in the previous post. It's based on the set poem "Under the Stairs" by Frank Ormsby. I couldn't find a link so I'm posting it here.

Under the Stairs

Look in the dark alcove under the stairs;
A paintbrush steeped in turpentine, its hairs

Softening for use; rat poison in a jar;
Bent spoons for prising lids; a spare fire-bar;

The shaft of a broom; a tyre; assorted nails;
A store of candles for when the light fails.

- Frank Ormsby

The theme is forgotten corners and here's what Lesley-Anne came up with:

In The Attic

Step in and hear the floorboards creak
Listen to the dripping water where the roof leaks
Breathe the mustiness of old rotting wood
Spot a box half-filled with cans of petrified cat food

The walls feel cool & damp to the touch
The creepers up the window block out much
Of the light that once used to shine through
While faint rays make cobwebs shimmer like dew

Old Christmas ornaments all stored away
Patiently wait to be seen on that special festive day

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sec 2 poetry assignment - "Good Morning"

One of Lesley-Anne's recent literature assignments was on poetry. The students had to study three poems and write their own rhyming poems following the same style and theme. Out of the three, the kids could choose the one they want to be graded as part of their final examination scores.

Lesley-Anne loves such assignments. I don't know how I managed to bear a daughter who adores poetry. When I was her age, I thought poetry was a blight on the literature landscape. Maybe it has something to do with my pragmatic heart - my daughter's probably more of a romantic soul than I am!

The poem Lesley-Anne chose to be graded was based on "The Armadillo" by Elizabeth Bishop. The theme is something harmless coming to harm.

It's as follows:

Good Morning

Morning has broken and I have broken
Down from your harsh words hurled at me
And humiliation from your torments in
Front of all who can see

But I can’t see, I’m blinded by the pain
Your words are knives cutting through flesh
Causing pain like the burning, scalding fires of Hell
A punishment worse than death

But why punishment? For I’ve done nothing wrong
I retreat to lick my wounds, praying that they’ll heal
But they don’t. They fester and they rot
And emit a pain I’ll forever feel

They say each morning brings a new beginning
A blank canvas to start again
A fresh start? Or a stale end?
Is it still a start if it brings pain?

But as I crumble under your insults
I refuse to show emotion
For I know you would love to see me break
But I won’t give you the satisfaction

With other kids it’s different
For it’s not words they fear
But we are all in the same boat
For when the morning sun starts to appear…

They are beaten, scratched and clawed at
Until they taste something all too familiar
— Blood, crimson and sweet, on the edge of their tongue
Combined with the bitter emotion, fear

Their haunting, piercing, painful screams
Echo throughout the walls
A symphony of desperation,
As eerie as an owl’s call

Their tormentors are like wolves tracking them down
Before going in for the kill
They can smell your blood, sweat and tears
And won't stop till they've had their fill

But those children's wounds are superficial
While mine are buried deep
And it takes a herculean effort
And lots of self-control to keep
Myself from crying, as I’m backed
Into a corner with nowhere to hide
For abuse need not be physical
To kill you on the inside

She scored 24/30 for this. I'll also be posting the other two poems that she wrote as part of the assignment.

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