Monday, September 29, 2014

We ♥ badminton

A couple of weeks ago, Kenneth brought Andre to try out the badminton courts in the OCBC Arena at the new Sports Hub.

Andre loves the hall. It has wooden flooring overlaid with green mats, giving the surface the right amount of friction and bounce that you don't get with community centre courts (those tend to have cement floors, which can be tough on the knees).

Andre's love for badminton has steadily grown over the years, which makes us happy. We think it's a fantastic lifelong skill and will keep him active and healthy. School training takes place three times a week and there is a tremendous emphasis on fitness. Sometimes, after a three-hour training stint, the students have to run 6km. That sounds impossible to me but apparently it's quite the norm for school training.

Ever since Andre started secondary school, he no longer has private coaching due to lack of time but quite fortunately, that was when Uncle Arthur entered the picture. Arthur is actually a client of mine and when I found out that he was a badminton buff, I asked if he would like to play with Andre. That triggered an almost weekly routine of badminton games between the two, for about two years now. Arthur is a wonderful mentor, patient and generous with advice. Andre totally looks up to Arthur as his role model: "When I grow up, I want to be just like Uncle Arthur!"

Just a bit of trivia - Andre's favourite badminton player is Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei. Such grace on the court - both physically and in personality.

I used to be able to take videos of Andre's school matches but now that he's older, he has banned me from attending his games :( But he has allowed us to record his Saturday game with Arthur so here are a couple of recent ones.

The second clip is spliced from a few videos to capture some of the longer rallies, otherwise the clips can be boring with many starts and stops. So here are the more exciting bits and obviously, I picked segments where Andre played well so even though it may not be apparent from the videos, I need to state upfront that Arthur is a MUCH better player than Andre, haha. If Andre can take one set from Arthur, he considers it a good day for him.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Keeping an eye on the ball

As you probably know, Andre loves sports, especially when it entails leaving the books behind for a while. For the first time last year, the students who were admitted to his school at sec 1 via sports DSA or appeals were placed in the same class. Being in a sports class means that Andre is surrounded by kids who reinforce his love of all things active. PE is where his classmates are the most competitive, even in a casual game. When a PE period is cancelled, it is met with the most vehement and indignant outcry.

His school organises sabbaticals for the students at the end of each year and this year, every single one of Andre's classmates went for a sports activity - from fencing to golf. No hip hop or K-pop dancing for them, thank you very much. Last year, Andre picked up air rifle which he enjoyed very much. This year, he's going for archery.

The situation couldn't be more different with Lesley-Anne. Lesley-Anne dislikes sports and PE is her most hated period, especially when it involves running the dreaded 2.4km. She claims that she passes her NAPFA only through sheer will power, as failing the 2.4km run means you'll have to do it again.

Lesley-Anne has another handicap and that is, she's petite. Very petite. This means that the only sports she is any good at are table tennis (because it's played on a small table) and floorball (because the ball is on the ground). Any sport that involves the ball flying through the air is a dead sport to her. Netball. Volleyball. Basketball. Captain's ball. To add to the challenge, she's sometimes assigned as a defender against a tall, sporty guy. She said despairingly, "What do they expect me to do? Tickle him?" Game over.

During one PE session, the class had to play frisbee. A friend called out to Lesley-Anne to pass him the frisbee. Instead of throwing it, she WALKED over and handed him the frisbee. Her reasoning? "If I'd thrown it, it would have flown somewhere else."

If it's any consolation, being in a humanities class means she's in good company. Many of her classmates veer towards the performing arts and more creative activities, meaning that apart from the handful of sports kids, the rest of them can't run/jump/catch a ball to save their lives. From what Lesley-Anne tells me, PE is often a comedy of errors, with kids tripping over their own two feet, throwing balls backwards or hurling balls randomly to the wrong teammate. When the school organised a cross-country run, the class groaned. Then on the day of the run, it rained so heavily it flooded and the run had to be postponed. A classmate mused, "I think we prayed too hard for rain."

They say dancers have good hand-eye coordination but this doesn't seem to bear out in sports. Lesley-Anne's class has three dancers (her included) and regardless of gender, keeping the ball in play remains an elusive dream for them. During a PE lesson, a volleyball match was arranged and before the game, the teacher announced that the losing team would have to do pushups. The hapless members in Lesley-Anne's team looked at each other and asked the teacher, "Can we just do the pushups now?"

Lesley-Anne's sports anecdotes sometimes make me laugh until I cry. So maybe that's the silver lining - even though sports is not fun for her, at least it's funny (for me). 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Danger Dan and the Runaway Readers!

We had a crazy day today. First, the big news: Danger Dan book 4 is out! Wahoo! Well, when I say "out", I mean it's fresh from the printers and we've gotten our hands on it. Unfortunately, it will take at least 2 weeks for bookstores to stock them on shelves... just a leetle longer, DD fans!

I think this is our favourite cover yet - both the colour and the design. Here's the lovely Aqilah from Epigram Books with the giant poster.

Don't the book covers look wonderful as a series? Such gorgeous shades!

Earlier this morning, we were at Holy Innocents Primary School to conduct a special Runaway Readers workshop for a class of p3 kids. This workshop was organised by the Singapore Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) as part of an initiative to promote Singapore literature in local schools.

We always enjoy ourselves most when the kids are participative and I have to say, this bunch was the most enthusiastic we've met so far! They were like eager little hamsters and bombarded us with lots of questions ("How did you come up with the name Danger Dan?" "What was your inspiration for the books?" "Which part of the book did you like best?")

As part of the programme, the kids had read Danger Dan books 1 and 2 and had done some activities before the workshop eg. they thought up alternative ways Danger Dan could time-travel and the different gadgets and costumes the characters could have. We were completely FLOORED by the level of imagination shown. (One boy wrote that if Danger Dan went into a lift and pressed every button, he would time-travel. Just so you know why kids do that!)

Who says local kids aren't creative?

We gave out prizes to some of the best entries (it was incredibly difficult to choose!) and the kids were really, oh so sweet.

As mentioned earlier, our Runaway Readers Workshop is organised by Singapore ASCD and the best part is, schools that are members of ASCD will have our visit and Danger Dan books for the students sponsored. So if you would like us to visit your child's school, do ask the school to contact ASCD directly and request for the workshop.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gooey, fudgy brownies

Ever since the start of this year, Andre's appetite has exploded. He now eats the equivalent of two persons, so it can be quite a costly affair bringing him out for meals! At a recent trip to Sushi Express, our family of four chalked up a total of 32 plates of sushi, half of which was wolfed down by Andre. That's 32 pieces of sushi.

I didn't grow up around teenage boys so this voracious appetite is new territory for me. In fact, I was a little sceptical at first. Is Andre really going through a growth spurt or just a fat phase? Anecdotes from other parents have convinced me that it's most likely the former. Phew! Otherwise, I'd seriously have something to worry about. Eg. this was Andre's lunch yesterday:

Two pork chops with mashed potatoes and a heaped plate of spaghetti, followed by fruit and a glass of milk. A friend who's worried about her "tek-kor" son asked me how to cultivate such an appetite. I told her in all honesty, no need to cultivate. Just wait till he's 13 or 14, then boom! Bottomless pit!

Anyway, this isn't a post about my son's gastronomic habits, as you can probably tell from the title. It's been a long time since I posted a recipe. You might have guessed that cooking isn't exactly my thing. But since it's the school holidays and I now have an eating monster at home, I decided to bake brownies.

In the past, I thought the best brownies had to be made with chocolate, which put me off a little because it's expensive and I don't keep baking chocolate bars at home. Then I came across a recipe that said the best fudgy brownies with a chewy top are actually made with cocoa powder, not chocolate. Well! That's easy then. I usually have cocoa powder somewhere. So I tried it out and lo and behold, it was really good. So good that the first batch was walloped by me and the kids in one sitting. So the next time, I made another batch - this time a double. At least it lasted a couple of days.

The best part about making brownies is its simplicity. The ingredients are straightforward and it's a mix-everything-into-one-bowl (well, almost) kind of recipe. You don't even need to use a beater.

So here's my version of the recipe. It's a double portion and I tweaked it to reduce the sweetness. I also added chocolate chips cos I have this strange belief that everything tastes better with chocolate chips:

  • 290g unsalted butter, melted
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 160ml unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, cold
  • 140g plain flour, sifted
  • chocolate chips or nuts (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 165 degrees C.  Grease the bottom and sides of 13"x8" baking pan.
2. Combine melted butter, sugar, cocoa and salt. Stir until mixture is smooth. Don't worry if it looks gritty.

3. Stir in vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. 
4. When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and stir until well mixed. Then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with a wooden spoon or spatula. 
5. Stir in the chocolate chips or nuts.  

6. Spread evenly in pan. 

7. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a skewer in centre emerges slightly moist with batter.

It really does have that chewy, candy-like crust and a gooey centre. When warm, it's quite light so if you like your brownies dense, you might prefer it cold. My kids love eating this straight from the fridge.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Popular Reader's Choice Awards 2014

More news on the Danger Dan front. First up: Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate has been shortlisted for the Popular Reader's Choice Awards 2014!

This is a really nice surprise for us. We're so thrilled that kids have been enjoying our books! And now, it's over to our readers - do support us by voting for Danger Dan (you stand to win $50 popular vouchers too!) You may fill in the voting form found in the latest issue of Pop Club magazine or vote online here. You don't need to have a Popular card to vote. Closing date is 31 October 2014.

And if you haven't read Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate yet, now's the time to do so! From now till 30 November, you can buy the book at a 20% discount from all Popular Bookstores.

In other Danger Dan news, Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison is almost ready to go to print. We were at Epigram Books last week to do the last round of proof-reading. See the McDonald's bag? Since Lesley-Anne always has to rush over after school, inevitably it's McD's for lunch. Not her favourite but Danger Dan would approve!

Book 4 was the one we enjoyed writing the most. We love the storyline and had lots of fun with the action sequences and dialogue. But for some strange reason, it was an editing nightmare. Even at this late stage, we found many basic errors that had somehow eluded us and our editor in the previous rounds of edits. This makes us terribly nervous! Hopefully we've caught all the errors.

Meanwhile, here's a sneak peek at the cover. We adore the vibrant shade of lime!

Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison is scheduled to hit the printers this week and expected to be available early October. Stay tuned for updates!

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