Monday, January 26, 2015

Homemade burgers

Our family, especially Andre, loves burgers. Some of our favourite haunts for burgers were Fat Boys, Two Blur Guys and New Zealand Bar and Grill.

That is, until I found this great recipe online for homemade burgers that's very simple but super delicious. Ever since we started making this, we've not gone to gourmet burger places. Much easier on the wallet!


Makes five burgers
  • 500g minced beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • choice of herbs eg. paprika or parsley (optional) 
5 burger buns
5 large portobello mushrooms, stalks removed
5 slices of cheddar cheese

1. Place all the burger ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Shape into five equal-sized patties.
2. Preheat the grill. Cook burgers and mushrooms under the grill for 15 minutes or until patties are cooked through, turning once.
You can add whatever garnish you like to the burgers eg. onions, lettuce or tomatoes. We serve our burgers with home-made sweet potato wedges.

They're very moist and flavourful.

Andre eats two of these at a go!

Afternote: A friend pointed out an error in my original recipe which strangely included 4 large eggs as part of the recipe. Yikes! Sorry, my mistake! Apologies to all who tried it and must have ended up with a soggy mess. I've corrected the recipe.

Monday, January 19, 2015

On scholarships and the school of life

Now that Lesley-Anne is in her final JC year, it's time to think about university education. I sometimes get asked: will she be studying overseas?

The answer is simple: only if she can get a scholarship.

There are two reasons for this. The main one is obviously financial. Have you seen overseas university fees these days? They're astronomical and I'm not about to take a second mortgage on my home just to pay for a fancy qualification. (Incidentally, I'm also one of those who don't believe in moving house to be close to my kid's school, so what do I know.)

Secondly, unlike many people, I'm not convinced that an overseas education is necessary to do well in life. I often hear people tell me their overseas experience was invaluable. I don't doubt that. However, when I see the people around me, including my peers, I honestly don't see a difference among those who studied locally and those who studied overseas, whether in intelligence, world view or even career success. There are wide variants in both camps. Which leads me to conclude that it's really what you make of your education that's important, and an overseas education is a nice-to-have, not a necessity. Meaning, we'll pay for our kids' university education locally but if they want to go overseas, they'll have to make it happen themselves.

Inevitably, the next question when I mention scholarship is: but scholarship usually means bond! I'm sure everyone would have read about Eng Kai Er's case, which caused a ruckus late last year when she protested against her six-year scholarship bond with A*STAR, citing disinterest in her work. Like many others, I thought her attitude smacked of entitlement. No interest then don't take up the scholarship lah! In this case, she didn't just accept one but TWO. I can believe she wasn't sure what she wanted at age 18 but you can't convince me that four years later, after completing a undergraduate degree, she still didn't know science isn't her cup of tea to not apply for a second scholarship.

The thing is, her case is not unique, just that it made headlines. I've heard cases where scholarship holders want to change course, want to change job when serving their bond, want to break bond, etc, without facing the penalties. These stories bug me even more when the individuals are from well-heeled families who accept scholarships purely for the prestige and then expect the sponsoring company to bend over backwards for them.

Look, I'm not saying only poor families deserve scholarships. I'm saying, a scholarship is a privilege...for you, not the company. And as a scholarship holder, you should at least have the grace to acknowledge and accept this. If the company is going to invest tens of thousands of dollars into you, they would naturally expect returns. What, you thought it was a free ride?

But what if you're serving out your bond and like Eng Kai Er, you hate your job? I think underlying this mentality is the growing attitude that 1) being happy is your right 2) it's your company's responsibility to make you happy. The problem arises when kids have been brought up to believe that their happiness is their sole purpose in life and that the companies "owe" them somehow. I've read forums where even interns complain they're paid too little and are being "ripped off" for their work. Really? If even as an intern, you have such grandiose ideas about yourself, then your starting point is already wrong. That's not how the world works. If your mentality is as such, then don't take on a scholarship. Get a father-mother loan.

I'm probably starting to sound like an ogre now but no, I'm not actually advocating that people need to work in misery. The thing is, a fresh graduate is different from a seasoned employee. For the latter, I hope people try to look for jobs where they can find fulfilment. For most fresh graduates, I'll go out on a limb and say that no matter how much you think you know, no matter whether you've done work internships etc, there are probably lots of things in the corporate world that you haven't the faintest clue about. And the first job is there for you to learn (even if it's to learn what you DON'T like doing!) and garner some work experience. The company that hires you is taking more of a chance than you.  

I'm not saying, do something you know you're going to hate. If you dislike teaching, for heaven's sake, don't take on a teaching scholarship! If you hate figures and business, don't accept a bank scholarship no matter how prestigious. Common sense. But chances are, there are many jobs out there that you won't know whether you'll enjoy.

So if you treat your first job as a testbed and learning platform of sorts, then what's the problem with a bond? Hearing the way some people talk, you would think a bond is a lifetime of slavery. It's not. Three or four years is the NOT the rest of your life. Really. Take it from someone who's been working for more than 20 years. Even if it turns out not to be your ideal job, or you don't like your boss or your colleagues, taking a few years to learn stuff is not a waste of your time (unless there's verbal abuse or something). Make the most of it. Trust me, you will learn something.

I was a scholarship student. I was bonded for three years to a statutory board upon graduation from NUS. What did I know about the work they did before I signed on the dotted line? Next to nothing. But it sounded interesting enough and I was extremely grateful to them - for paying for my education and for giving me a job. I worked hard and I learned lots. Till today, I practise certain skills and remember nuggets of wisdom that I learned from my first job.

Quite a while back, Lesley-Anne had expressed possibility that she might want to work with me in my writing business in the future. I told her, whoever said I would hire you? I only take on experienced writers. Work a few years in the corporate world, show me what you can do, then we talk.

Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little (just a wee bit!) If she's really keen to join me, I'll consider it for sure. But what's certain is that I won't take her on until I know she can cut it, and that definitely means having attained some work experience. Basically the message I want to send to my kids is: don't expect any handouts when it comes to work. Even from your mother.

Work hard, learn something, then you can talk about rewards. Show your mettle and after that, you'll have the cards to ask for what you want. Not before.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What Danger Dan has taught us

Last year this time, our Danger Dan journey began when the first book was published. It was a momentous event for Lesley-Anne and me, to say the least.

Exactly a year later, the final book of the series is out! Danger Dan Creates the Ultimate Utama Uproar will hit bookstores probably from mid-January. Since this is the fifth book, the excitement on seeing the printed work wasn't as exhilarating as the first time. In fact, Lesley-Anne was more expectant about starting the new school year. (Sometimes, I feel like our roles are reversed - me the giddy, heady schoolgirl and she, the pragmatic, no-nonsense one.) Still, seeing the final book out felt quite surreal to me. Did we really have a book series published?

So much has happened over the past year...and Danger Dan was a big part of it. Book launches, speaking engagements, etc - and more than just being part of an exciting project, I believe they have been invaluable in developing Lesley-Anne's psyche and confidence. How so? Well, quite by accident, the Danger Dan experience has given her a glimpse of the "real" world and shown her that the education journey is just one part of life. There is a whole different set of experiences waiting to be had outside of school. So even though this is her 'A' level year, she's not single-mindedly obsessed about the exams, as some kids might be.

I need to qualify that as parents, we have always stressed this point - that exams and results aren't everything and she already knows it. But knowing something in a superficial way can sometimes seem like a platitude aimed at quelling a fear of the unknown. Nothing beats the knowledge that comes from having your own experience reinforce what you know in theory. That sort of understanding comes from deep in your gut and is usually accompanied by a very comforting sense of security.

I think that's what has happened. Because of Danger Dan, Lesley-Anne's self-assurance has been boosted and we're happy and grateful for that. She still works crazy hard, of course, but whatever the results of the 'A' levels, she knows they will not define her, and that goes a long way towards relieving some of the pressure and anxiety.

And in a special commemoration of sorts, Andre has featured Danger Dan in a Minecraft roller coaster he built. Andre has always insisted that he's not creative (a mistaken self-belief I've tried to dispel for a long time). Then he created this roller coaster that completely blew me away, especially since he only started playing Minecraft three months ago.

Pardon a mother's bias but I thought it was a brilliant visual treat (even though in real life, nobody would ride such a coaster - there are free falls!) So much thought and details went into it. He also chose and added the music for the video. I hope you will take five minutes to view the video and if possible, like or leave an encouraging comment here (on the Youtube page) so Andre will finally believe what a creative little guy he is :)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Forget me not

I love the start of a new school year. It's always so full of hope and symbolises fresh beginnings: Since my kid is one year older, surely he will be wiser, pay more attention in class and score better grades in exams! This is the year he will transform into an A student! I just know it.

Lesley-Anne once told me that our minds tend to play tricks on us by brushing our bad memories with a rose-coloured tint. It's a defence mechanism to help us cope and protect us from re-living emotional trauma. Which is all well and good but I also believe it makes us slightly deluded.

When Andre was in primary school, one of the things about him that used to drive me bananas was his seeming inability to listen, a close second only to his memory which had more holes than a gopher colony's network. For instance, in p4, there was a question he had answered incorrectly in his science paper: "Plants photosynthesise in the daytime and respire at night". I told him that plants respired all the time, not just at night. I then diligently went through the lesson with him to make sure he understood it.

The next term, barely three months later, he came home with another science paper and I saw to my chagrin that in response to a similar question, he'd again written: "Plants respire only at night."

Me *exasperated*: "I already told you! Plants respire in the day AND at night!"

Andre: "Hah? They do? You never told me that!"

Me *staring at him in disbelief*: "We went through the lesson! Weren't you listening??"

Andre gave me an indignant look as if to say I was dreaming the whole thing up. So we went through the lesson once again. "You understand it now? Plants don't just respire at night, they respire all the time." He nodded.

A year later in p5, you wouldn't believe it but he got exactly the same question wrong AGAIN. The sentence that had come to plague me in my nightmares: "Plants respire at night." OMG! I blew my top. "What's wrong with you? Are you trying to kill me??"

He looked at me blankly. "Hah? Plants don't respire at night?"

Sometimes I wonder if aliens abduct my son at night and replace him with a look-alike model.

Trying to teach Andre anything was always frustrating because even if I'd succeeded in getting him to understand something, I knew there was a good chance he would have no recollection of it later. Yet every start of the school year, I would have this inexplicable hope that he would miraculously grow a beautiful mind overnight.

Now that he's in secondary school, the situation has improved somewhat but he still has a problem with listening. Whenever he tells me the teacher didn't say this or the other, my instinctive scepticism always surfaces. "She didn't say it or you didn't hear it?" Which if you think about it, is kinda a pointless question because if he didn't hear it, he certainly wouldn't know if she had said it.

Then of course, there's the "hear half the instructions" syndrome. If I'm at a mall and tell Andre to "go to BreadTalk and tell Daddy I'll be there in 15 minutes", he would hear only "go to BreadTalk." Then he'll call me five minutes later and ask, "I'm at BreadTalk. Where are you?"

A couple of weeks ago, Lesley-Anne was complaining how tired she was.

Lesley-Anne: "I'm sleepy and grumpy."

Me *teasing*: "So those are the two dwarfs you identify with?"

Lesley-Anne: "Yup. And in the morning, Sneezy."

Me: "Which one are you, Andre?"

Andre: "Me? I'm Blur."

Lesley-Anne: "Blur?? That's not a dwarf!"

Andre: "Huh? What dwarf?"

Me: "Never mind. I think Blur is right."

But that was 2014. It's a New Year. Surely this year, Andre will make the transformation. I can feel it in my bones. 

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