Monday, January 28, 2013

Boy can cook

So far, quite fantastically, Andre's favourite subject in sec 1 is... Home Econs!

It came as quite a surprise to me as Andre has never shown any inclination towards the culinary arts. In his own words, "I don't like to cook, I only like to eat."

I think this development is partly because of the terrific home econs textbook.  It has lots of full colour pictures and interesting topics on health and food, reminiscent of the health education textbooks in primary school, which Andre loved too.

But mostly, I suspect it's because home econs doesn't involve studying - it's hands on and for active kids, that beats sitting down in a classroom anytime.

So far, Andre has learnt how to to make agar agar with fruit cocktail, tea and raisin cupcakes.  For a beginner, I think his efforts turned out pretty credible. He says his group's cupcakes scored one of the highest in class.

Taste-wise though, both items didn't quite make the mark but that was more the fault of the recipes than the cooks.  The agar agar was tasteless as the recipe called for much less sugar than was actually needed and the cupcakes weren't moist enough as the kids could only add a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil and no butter.

I don't quite understand this. Why teach kids how to cook something that they wouldn't want to repeat? Surely the home econs teachers would have perfected the recipes by now.  Apparently, Lesley-Anne's experience with home econs was even more dubious as she and her friends would usually dump the food they had made without even tasting them.  As she explained, they were only allowed to wash the utensils and appliances AFTER the cooking is done, not before. To her, this meant that you had to trust the hygiene levels of the class that had used the stuff before them... and she knows better. "I once found dried up dough in the mixing bowl!" Yuck.

Maybe the point is simply to get the kids into the kitchen and learn the basics of cooking. Well, if so, then Andre's home econs class actually succeeded because he whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cupcakes (with butter this time) on the sly and presented them to me for my birthday! Awww... sweetness ♥

At the end of this year, Andre has to take part in a group project which will involve coming up with a dish that is a fusion of two different cuisines. "I'm the one who's going to do the cooking!" he revealed. "Whaaaat?" I asked, astonished. "Do your group mates know you've never cooked?"

He then explained that he volunteered for the role cos he didn't want to do the research (too much work) or the tasting (he didn't want to get food poisoning).  The latter shows you how much faith he has in his team-mates. "Easy lah, I just follow the instructions." Oooookay.

The two cuisines that his group drew were Chinese and French. "Oh, oh, I know!" I said, being the ever helpful mum. "You just cook some fried rice and throw in a few garden snails."

Guess no one will be trying out that recipe anytime soon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Back on the book wagon

Sec 3 was a very hectic year for Lesley-Anne. With such a punishing schedule, she barely did any leisure reading throughout the year, which I thought was a pity. So after her exams, I asked her to make a conscious effort to do some reading, to nurture this important habit.

I find that often, reading needs to gain momentum. If I stop for a while or am stuck in an uninspiring book, I usually find myself unmotivated to read for a long time. To get Lesley-Anne's reading juices going, I recommended some books that I personally enjoyed. We don't always like the same types of books but those here turned out to be great hits with her. Considering she barely had any free time in the December holidays, what with the school trip to Shanghai, church camp and our family holiday, I think she covered quite a lot of ground.

I'm sharing the list of books she read during the holidays here, in case you're looking for recommendations for your kids. Do note that some some of them have mature themes like love stories, so I would probably recommend them only for 15-year-olds and above.

I won't bother to write the blurbs, just a short commentary of each. I've provided the Amazon links so you can check the books out in greater detail. 

Jeannette Walls - Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle.

Both books are memoirs (you'll find that I have loads of memoirs - the kaypoh in me loves reading about people's lives).  After finishing the two books, Lesley-Anne declared Jeannette Walls to be her new favourite author.

Anchee Min - Pearl of China

This is based on the life of legendary writer, Pearl S. Buck. A fascinating read, interweaving fiction with historical events.

Ruth Reichl - Tender to the Bone

Another memoir, this time of the childhood of a famous food critic. It's the quirky parents who always capture Lesley-Anne's imagination.

Frank McCourt - Angela's Ashes

The Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. Lesley-Anne didn't manage to finish this before the holidays ended.

Vikas Swarup - Slumdog Millionaire

An easy and fun read. We never watched the movie but the book is highly entertaining.

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

This book totally captivated Lesley-Anne, she couldn't put it down. When she finished it, however, she wailed, "How come all your books so sad? Everybody dies!"  That's me - lover of the dramatic and the melancholic.

These books were an awakening of sorts for her. They're different from what is typical of teenage or young adult fiction and I think they opened her eyes to the standard of writing that's out there.

For me, that's the biggest takeaway you can get from reading - to expand your mind and to see beyond the world you know.  In a way, it's a little like travelling... but without having to pack your bags or spend a bomb. A truly 5-star activity.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tooth or dare

Three years ago after Lesley-Anne's PSLE, we brought her to have her braces done. It was the ideal time as she had practically three months of holiday before secondary school, without any major event happening - ample time to get used to braces.

As luck would have it, both my kids ended up needing braces. Andre has a pretty bad overbite, meaning his top teeth extend too far outwards over his bottom teeth. According to the orthodontist, a normal person's top front teeth are 2mm from the bottom teeth. Andre's gap is a whopping 8mm, which has implications on his gum health and jaw growth.

We were hoping to bring Andre to the orthodontist after his PSLE, as with Lesley-Anne but he still had a baby molar that had not erupted, so we thought braces couldn't be done. This was a mistake on our part. When we finally brought him in end December, we were told that he could have fitted the braces earlier, even with that baby tooth intact.

Never mind. We consoled ourselves that he had at least enjoyed all the holiday feasting without pain.

Also unlike Lesley-Anne, Andre needed extractions. His jaw was too small to contain his massive teeth and this led to them growing like weeds in haphazard fashion, occupying whatever gaps they could find.  Instead of prolonging the pain, he chose to have all the extractions done in one sitting, to get them over and done with. So on 31 December 2012, he had five teeth removed altogether - 4 permanent and the last baby tooth.

It was incredibly brave of him - I couldn't have done it myself. I was squeamish enough watching the extractions. After the extractions, he had the brackets and wire fitted before returning home with a mouth full of gauze and metal.

Despite being in a lot of pain and discomfort for the next two days, Andre barely complained. What a trooper!

I did get a scolding from my friend though who called me a bad mummy for making Andre go through the misery of braces just when he had to adjust to a new school and new routine. "Obviously you've never had braces!" Alright, guilty as charged.

Despite the inopportune timing, Andre seems to have adjusted remarkably well so far. Perhaps it's early days yet but he hasn't felt the agonising ache Lesley-Anne experienced with each tightening of the wires. After about a week of liquids and soft foods, he is back to his usual fare, albeit taking a longer time for each meal.

Fingers crossed! Meanwhile, Andre's smile has become especially cheeky - broad and blue-tinged. Love it ♥

Monday, January 7, 2013

New beginnings, new blessings

It's the start of another school year. For Lesley-Anne, moving to sec 4 doesn't signify much change as she won't be doing her O levels. Don't take it to mean there will be less stress though, she's already bracing herself for another whirlwind year.

For Andre though, 2013 meant making the eventful transition from primary to secondary school and in his case, it was even more suspenseful as the school he would attend was up in the air all through to the very last day of 2012.

What happened was this:

Andre was posted to School A which he was very comfortable with, as many of his friends were there. We like the environment there, so it would seem like an open and shut case. However, we had one issue with School A - it had a rather lackadaisical badminton CCA.

For many parents, this would not be a big deal but for us, it was a niggling concern. While we're not claiming that badminton is something that has to take centrestage in Andre's life, we have found that it gives him focus. The structure and rigour of badminton training, and being part of a team with similar sporting goals go a long way towards keeping Andre grounded. We felt that this was especially important for the critical teen years and if Andre had stayed at School A, he might end up coasting aimlessly.

Even before the school posting results, Andre's badminton coach had recommended that he tried appealing to School B, which has a decent badminton programme. We had previously attended School B's open house and were pretty impressed by the school ethos and the principal. We had also spoken to parents who had kids in the school and the general feedback was that it has dedicated teachers who take a real interest in the students.

Andre's coach made her recommendation to School B's teacher in charge of badminton, Mr L, who incidentally is very invested in promoting the sport and building up his school team. Andre went for a trial where he enjoyed playing with the school team tremendously. He must have made an impression on Mr L because the teacher told me later that he would love to have Andre and pulled out all the stops with his recommendation to the principal.

However, by the last week of December, Andre's chances of appeal began to fade when Mr L revealed that there were few vacancies in the school this year and the principal had told him the answer was likely to be no. We were mentally preparing ourselves to settle Andre in School A when Mr L updated me on Friday, 28 December that he made one last attempt to convince the principal of Andre's worth. He even told her, "you don't know what you're missing out on" which touched me - he had so much faith in a boy he barely knew.

Finally, on the morning of 31 December, I received a call from School B's general office saying that Andre's appeal was successful. He was the only badminton student the school took in via appeals this year. It was the best New Year's gift we could have asked for. When I sms-ed Mr L to tell him the good news, he was delighted and said he would try his best to help Andre thrive in the school, not just in badminton but academically as well.

As usual, God's timing was impeccable. True, He kept us in suspense right to the end but the message was clear - He will provide. In fact, God didn't just provide a school for Andre, He gave him one which looks to suit him well. It seems to have a nurturing culture, and it will give Andre the discipline and joy of the sport he loves, with a team that he feels very comfortable with. On top of all that, He sent a mentor who believes in Andre and is prepared to watch over him.

Such provision, way beyond our expectations. I write this as a reminder to myself as well, as I tend to get discouraged too often and too easily. I remember how Lesley-Anne's secondary school choice was also God-led and how it has been a blessing to her. When God gives, He gives generously. I can't wait to see what's in store! 

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