Saturday, December 25, 2010

Season's Greetings

Our Christmas tree this year

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Borrowing the words of my primary school days idols,  Donny and Marie Osmond: May tomorrow (and everyday) be a perfect day, may you find love and laughter along the way, may God keep you in His tender care.....

Happy New Year 2011 and very soon, Happy Chinese New Year of the Rabbit!

ACE

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Story

This is very cute and original.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Speechless

I know of a boy who is probably 19 or 20 years old. He is a medical student. From what I can tell, his parents are successful career people whom I believe pampered their son (only son and younger of two children) too much. He is the main tenant of my apartment. For the past 15 months of living in my apartment, I don't see him showing any responsibility for himself let alone his fellow housemates. 

I gave him a brand new mattress (queen-sized one for the queen-sized bed he requested) but he complained to his mum who then informed me that her son is complaining of backache from sleeping on the mattress, and she requested me to provide a better mattress. Sheesh....

There's a leak in the ceiling and a broken toilet flush in the common bathroom (which his housemates share while he has one to himself since he occupies the master bedroom) but he did not report to me or get it fixed, although I was told the others had reminded and requested him numerous times to contact me. I found out months later from another boy when I visited the place, and only after that, this spoilt kid's mother informs me about it, saying her son had told her about the problem, obviously asking mummy dearest to solve it for him. So she requested me to get it fixed quickly for the other boys, who have been 'inconveniencing' her son by borrowing his bathroom.

The fridge I supplied them is an old but functioning one which requires defrosting regularly. Despite instructions and reminders, it's not defrosted so one day the ice got so thick in the freezer compartment that the door was stuck shut....

Today, I find out from another boy who lives there that the washing machine I provided them has broken down. Last week I had tried contacting this main tenant pampered kid but he did not reply my SMS or answer my call. For a particular reason, I wanted to find out if he had coordinated application of some new security passes the building management is implementing soon, since he and his housemates would need the passes to enter the apartment block. I find out today that he hasn't done so. Is he taking it for granted that his mummy or I will do it?

Why I'm venting here is because I question what his parents have done or not done to produce a child like this, who has no notion of what he needs to do for himself and others. It's basic living skills for goodness sake! It sure looks like he's been pampered and spoonfed all his life.

His parents are Malaysians but work in Singapore. He got his education in Singapore. They've had a maid (or maids?) all their lives. His parents sent him first to Australia for medical studies but due to some technicalities, brought him back to Malaysia to a private medical college in KL,  and were the ones who checked out my apartment to rent for him. They bought him a brand new car (with a single-digit plate number!) although college is five minutes' walk away, and at our first meeting, his mum voiced her concern if her son knew how to take care of himself. She told me she might have to bring her maid from Singapore to KL to help him clean the apartment....gosh...

One day about six months ago, the immediate neighbour of the apartment called me complaining that someone was keeping a puppy caged up all day and left out in the sunny balcony without food and water. And the condition of the cage was anything but hygienic for the dog. And the dog was yelping all day, out of distress for sure. So I called the boy and he admits he's the one who adopted the dog from a pet adoption service. Great, adopt or so call 'rescue' a  puppy only to torture it while you attend medical school all day long. What kind of professional adult do think he'll turn out to be -- one that probably knows how to diagnose, treat and prescribe (I hope at least), and earn tons of money so that he'll continue to live a life of comfort and luxury, paying maids, drivers, secretaries and personal assistants to do even the simplest things for him simply because he can afford it and does not  know how to do anything other than eat, sleep, and enjoy life!

Since pets, especially dogs, are not allowed in apartment living, I told him to fix the situation but he lingered and I got another call from the neighbour. After that episode, he left the balcony still in some awful state and ventured into 'caring' for a pet rabbit which eventually died (hmm, what was the cause of death?)

I call his mother and she expressed surprise and agreed that he's not capable of taking care of anything else other than himself (yeah, right) but adds that he 'reaally' loves dogs....ooo, loving and understanding mummy...

Aaargh! I blame his parents for how this boy has turned out. I'm not to judge other parents on their parenting skills but I just wonder .......I shall reserve my other comments and feelings....Sigh....

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Exotic

This is yet another one about Caitlin and her cheekiness.

I was driving, she was seated at the back. We were both silent listening to the car radio and probably our own thoughts as well.

She says: I think I smell a fart. (She usually is the first one to point it out in such a manner if she were the culprit, thinking that it would throw suspicion off her)

I hadn't smelt anything (yet) so I said: Really? It's not me.

C: It's not me. (of course, she was lying)

Me (smelling it now ): Yuks, it's sooo smelly...

C: No, it's exotic.

Me: What?!

C: It's like an exotic perfume, a nice exotic perfume...

I almost cracked up. What an adjective to use......

Despite us having taught her to say 'excuse me' in such instances, she only does it when she passes wind audibly and sometimes when she can't escape being obvious during silent ones...tsk, tsk, tsk!

Nobody

South Korean girls popgroup Wonder Girls have been making some waves globally. One of their most popular hits is 'Nobody', a very lively and catchy song. Caitlin learnt of this song when her drum teacher played it for her to drum along.

It's funny how some songs stick in your mind and they just pop up at rather appropriate moments at times. I've had many such experiences when I had said or thought of something and a song related to it just surfaced. And it's been some time since I last encountered other people who share this 'phenomena' until yesterday when I had a casual conversation with C.

Me: Why don't you like (a person)?
C: I just don't like (that's her usual answer when she's not interested to give reasons or details)
Me: Then who do you like?
C: Nobody...nobody...and she broke into the Wonder Girls' chorus "Nobody, nobody, but you..."

I found it quite amusing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're back


We have returned from a rollercoaster trip to Hong Kong! It was truly 'rollercoaster' in more ways than one with some ups and downs - we rode the rollercoaster at Disneyland, we had loads of fun (C had the most fun since the main features of the holiday were Disneyland and Ocean Park), C got exhausted and slept almost the entire day after Disneyland and couldn't keep much food down. We wondered if it was a delayed effect of the rollercoaster ride since she insisted on riding the Space Mountain rollercoaster a second time!

I declined the second ride after emerging from the first one with a slight headache so E went with her. I didn't want to risk getting sick or dizzy and not enjoying the rest of the day. I didn't remember feeling that 'old' when I rode it the very first time in Disneyland Anaheim 10 years ago. Oh well, I guess I'm really older now since that was 10 years ago. Even altitude drops when the aircraft is descending to land gives me headaches what more rollercoasters....

Last Thursday, we arrived home at KLIA to face delayed baggage claim, rainy outdoors and rather disorganised taxi system compared to great weather, orderly transportation system and smooth check in/out at the HK International Airport during arrival and departure.

We spent two whole days at Disneyland and Ocean Park but had to sacrifice our free half-day city tour (harbour, peak, fishing village and jewellery factory) which came with our flight-accommodation package. One day was spent transferring from the Disney hotel to another in Kowloon while dragging a groggy, slightly sick kid along, afterwhich she continued to sleep in the Kowloon hotel for the entire evening.

We had wished to extend our stay for another day but the available return flight was limited to only one in the early morning, making it not worthy of another night's hotel cost and little extra time for the other things we had wanted to do.

The next day after returning we made a day trip back to my parents' place to pick up Rusty boy. Since we didn't have the opportunity to eat any nice HK food, I satisfied my cravings with the famous Seremban beef noodle at Yee Kee, and later some down-to-earth yet tasty Chinese food in a restaurant in Rahang for dinner.

Saturday saw us combing the crowded mall in search of suitable Christmas presents for family. The highlight of Sunday was dinner at a newfound place in USJ Subang. Roasted pork knuckle with black pepper Mongolian-styled sauce and steamed 'loong dan' fish were the features. They served tempting 'sauna prawns' too. This dish is one with fresh (live?) prawns thrown into a pot with hot rocks and Carlsberg beer poured over them and covered for a while, and went the lid is lifted, an aromatic beer-tinged cloud of steam is released, permeating the restaurant. Other diners had ordered that dish but we didn't -- next opportunity when we have more seafood lovers eating with us perhaps.

Monday was back to work for E while I tried to get C to practise her piano for her lesson that evening. Tuesday (yesterday) was a public hol so we did some more Christmas shopping but still couldn't complete it (sigh...).

Today, E is at work while C and I are unproductively lazing about at home - me with the computer and C with books and tv. I'm wondering if the heavy rain and thunderstorm right now will delay E's return from work. We plan to put up the Christmas tree after dinner tonight.

Caitlin is attending a fun workshop tomorrow entitled Jurassic Adventure that includes 'fossil' artwork, learning about dinosaurs, making a diorama, games and camping overnight in the compound of a kindergarten where the activity is held. They'll be involved in setting up tents, campfire, cooking and setting up tables outdoors.

Before bedtime, they'll have story telling, treasure hunt, singing and toasting marshmallows. The next morning they'll have some exercise, discover 'fossils', make popcorn and end with a movie. All these are on paper and I hope the weather will hold up for them.

And this weekend, I guess we'll do more shopping and I just hope we'll complete it. I don't like shopping, especially in crowded malls and not knowing exactly what to buy due to several factors such as suitability for the recipient, availability, choices or the lack of it and budget...

That pretty much sums up how ACE spent last week and this.

Here are some of the 450 shots I took with my camera over the four days in HK. These are the ones of Disneyland.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Green School

I've read various articles about this before but was not as inspired as after I watched this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Neglect

My blogs have been neglected quite a bit lately. Somehow my time and thoughts have been distracted and taken up by other things, mainly those concerning C. It started in mid October with her school exams, then her birthday party, then other school activities like Children's Day and Speech Day and last Friday, her drum exam. In between there were the routine things like household chores, errands, writing assignments, sending her to various classes and playing catch-up with her Yamaha JXC homework/practice (this seems never ending, not until March next year at least when she sits for the Grade 9 exam).

Since blogging is of low priority, my blogs have been on the backburner. So too has my Cooking Thurdays adventures. In fact my daily cooking of meals have also reduced significantly the past month. Dashing in and out of the house leaves me little time to plan and cook meals. So most times, it's been a mish mash of cooking one or two dishes myself and buying the rest from outside to make up complete meals.

The school hols have just started and this means less personal time again to blog.

Coming up will be a short trip to Hong Kong for ACE. The decision was a spontaneous one. I had saved up over a few years and decided that it'd be a 'now or never' deal if I didn't use whatever little that's been accumulated for a holiday. Being the year-end and school holidays to boot, the flight times and dates were limited but nevertheless, we managed to get dates, times and accommodation that are acceptable.

So the rest of this week will see ACE tying up some loose ends before going on holiday.

I wonder when Cooking Thursdays can resume. The year is coming to an end. Next year, C will be in Year 3 at school (yikes!).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Educating our children

I read a fellow mummy's post here. It's a short post so if you can, please read it to follow my thoughts below.

So why is everyone still adamant about sending their kids to Chinese school? It's no better than the kebangsaan schools or any school that does not teach English or any other subject correctly the way I see it. What's the big deal about 'good to learn Mandarin', and 'Mandarin is a must because China is the future'?. You can learn Mandarin without going to a Chinese school.

"But one can only speak and write well if you're immersed in a Chinese-speaking environment," they say. Yes, of course, that goes for other languages too but is it worth the detriment of losing one's identity, confidence, ability to explore and think independently, and ability to speak/write good English, the lingua franca of the world, which Chinese schools often do not provide?

For parents like the writer of this blog, she has to 'supplement' so much more on her own to develop a more well-rounded child in terms of character, personality and academic ability, especially in the English Language subject.

While it's a given that parents should supplement by putting in personal effort to develop their kids in all areas of life - morals/values, life skills, talents, etc, regardless of what schools their kids go to - Chinese, Tamil, Kebangsaan, private, international - I would think starting right from the very beginning would make the work easier for parents compared to starting wrong and then having to correct and change them later. Our education system is way behind and just so very wrong in everything that's been done so far. I'm no education expert and what I write here are simply my feelings and thoughts. I could be biased or narrow in perspective.

Whatever the choice of school is, since there's no 'perfect' one especially in this country, parents should be aware of what is lacking and do as much as possible to curb the negatives and build the positives. Based on this premise, I believe the homeschooling concept is a good one where you start on a clean slate and the world is yours to explore. You are not dictated by what the school syllabus limits you to, and you can progress as fast as you wish or go slower if you need to. Teachers don't brush you off when you ask a question and don't treat and turn you into a robot. Education should be holistic (it's cliched by now but seriously, it should) and not just academic...

And if socialisation is a concern, I think there are ways around it. Some kids still don't get proper socialisation even if they go to school. It starts with the parents. If parents don't teach their children how to relate to the world outside, are you sure they will be able to learn good socialisation skills from their teachers and peers? If parents don't take their children out and expose them to the world around them and arouse their curiosity and interest in things, how will the kids come to know, discover, explore?

We may say it's too hard to do all these, it's just too much work, or my plate is already so full being a working parent, I have three active kids and they're such a handful, etc etc...I can't even take them out to a restaurant because they just can't keep still, I'd rather stay at home than take them to a mall, otherwise they'll want to buy this toy and that toy....I'm not good at Math or Science to homeschool, I don't have the patience, I want to avoid additional hassles so that life is easier for me. I've been guilty of these myself.

I need to look into the mirror and ask "What do I want my child to learn and what kind of person do I want my child to be now and in the future? What can I do about it?" Will you look into your mirror too?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

DIY or pay others to DIFY (do it for you)?

This question refers to children's school holiday activities. The school holiday's are coming and all the children enrichment centres around town have started peddling their programmes. Some parents sign up their kids for not only one but many various programmes. Some go for one or two while some don't at all. Some parents prefer to plan and conduct the activities for their kids by themselves while some say they don't have the time, are not knowledgeable or skilled enough, or 'just can't teach' their own children.

Paying others to DIFY is convenient but you must consider what you want to expose your child to, what you want them to learn, whether time and money permits, whether the programme you sign up for is suited to your child's ability and interest. We know our kids best so we should have an idea of what is suitable or good for them. A 'good' programme may be effective for one child but not another, even if they are of the same age and go to the same school etc. Don't look at the programme's objectives and contents in isolation but consider it with your child in mind.

Some questions I would ask when evaluating a programme:
Can I draw up a programme that is similar myself, since lots of information and resources are available from the Internet and books nowadays?
What value-added benefits can the instructors and the programme give my child?
What non-tangible side-effect benefits can the programme give my child, such as independence, socialisation, values, character development?
What is my budget?
What are the reasons for signing up my child for the programme?
Is it going to be fun? The last thing you want for your child is to attend yet another 'tuition' class when their minds and bodies need a rest and in their minds, 'holiday' equals 'fun'.
Would my child be interested in it?

Aah, parenting is hard work right? Pregnancy, labour and delivery seem like a breeze now compared to a lifetime of caring, nurturing, guiding and teaching.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Can't wait

Wow, it's November today. I can't wait for the school holidays. The last day of school is November 19. That's also the day of C's drum exam. October has been an extremely busy month for us. E had to travel more than usual. C had her year-end exams at school and needs to really buck up with her drum practice for the exam. Then last week, I had to organise a Halloween-themed birthday party for C.  This Wednesday, I need to go to school to offer moral and probably physical support for Children's Day celebration. Of course, as the 'home manager', everything that affects them affects me. Plus I had additional writing jobs (read deadlines) and they're still ongoing while the rest of the daily routine stuff like household matters, errands, and Caitlin's school and extra-curricular activities need the usual time and attention.

Needless to say, I am stretched mentally and physcally. We hope to go on a holiday during the holidays but even that needs work. It's quite an irony, that you need to work (to earn money and work on planning) for a holiday, but that's reality. Nothing can appear with just a wave of a wand or a snap of a finger.  But I do wish I have a magic lamp and a nice capable genie right now who can:

cook tasty delicious meals
clean and tidy up the house
do laundry and ironing
go grocery shopping
drive the kid around everywhere
supervise school work, piano and drum practice
run errands
write amazing articles that pay tons of money
feed and care for Rusty our pet dog (it's his second birthday today!)
and give me nice spas and massages all in the comfort of home....

Okay, I have to get back to writing stuff that pay and not stuff that ramble nonsense, like this blogpost.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three years of drumming

At 4+ years old, Caitlin started drumming because she pestered us like mad for it. Before we found her a child-friendly teacher, my pots and pans suffered a lot of dents and the neighbours above and below our apartment probably had to wear ear plugs with all the clanging she made. This is what she looked like then at her first drum lesson with Teacher Andrew.



Three years later, which is now, she will be taking her Grade 2 exam next month. She has so far been able to learn quite easily but the problem is getting her to be more diligent in practising.

I'm worried if she can pass the exam. She did last year in Grade 1, learning the pieces six months ahead and practising hard only two weeks before the exam. This year she started learning nine months ahead and exam is three weeks away. Still no hard practice in sight. Teacher Andrew says she should be able to pass but she can do better if she practises more....

She enjoys playing (when she feels like it) and going for lessons but does not like practising. For me, it's a challenge to draw the line between allowing freedom of enjoyment and encouraging/enforcing compulsory practice. I don't want to make learning and practising a chore because I've been down that road myself as a music student. And I'm disturbed when I see other parents pushing their kids hard to do well in everything.

Caitlin now:

My toddler's gone!! Oh no....

Where's my cute, sweet, adorable toddler gone? I've been missing her for a number of years now. Gone are the days when I used to be the centre of her universe, when she clung to me and came to me for everything, wth her cute babyish voice calling "mummy, mummy..." I do miss those toddler years.

Caitlin is eight years old today. "I'm eight years old! I'm a big girl now!" she declared this morning as she came downstairs for breakfast before heading off to school. I thought to myself, "yeah, yeah, big girl....if only...then I'd be free of headaches and stress in nagging her to eat, do her homework, practise her music, sending her for classes..."

She is still cute, sweet and adorable but not as much as before. The 'not as much' part is when she is mischievous, cheeky, defiant, talks back and prefers to do her own thing. Books and toys are the centre of her universe. She'll only use her cute babyish voice calling "mummy, mummy" when she wants something badly. Ha ha ha.

Happy Birthday, my princess. I pray you will always be the clever, fun-loving and sensitive person you are. Keep your inquiring mind and depth of thought, and learn to be more focused, independent and not give up when things get tough.

Caitlin at 15 months, Jan 2004:

Friday, October 22, 2010

True story of Kal Raman : CEO who studied under streetlights

When we complain that we don't have enough and that life is hard, we need to be reminded that there are others who have less and their lives are more difficult. I received this via email and thought it's a good story to share.


From studying under the streetlights to CEO of a US firm!

























Here is the rags-to-riches story of an extremely talented boy from a small village in Tamil Nadu who has risen to be the chief executive officer of a company in Seattle , USA . It is also the story of how Kalyana Raman Srinivasan, who was so indigent that he had to study under a streetlight, but then managed to score excellent marks, rose in life and became today's Kal Raman.


At every turn in his life, he took the difficult path and it turned out to be the right one and in the right direction. His rise to the top is more dramatic than a thriller. Today, he is a very successful entrepreneur and the founder-CEO of GlobalScholar.


Read his extraordinary story of triumph and determination . . .


Difficult childhood


Kal Raman was born and brought up in a small village called Mannarakoil in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. It was a comfortable normal middle class life for him and his siblings as his father was a Tahasildar there.


But the sudden death of his father at the age of 45 changed everything overnight.


Kal was 15 then. "My mother got a pension of Rs 420 a month and you can imagine how tough it is to educate four children and feed five mouths with Rs 420?"


Hi life changed dramatically after his father's death. The family moved from the rented house to a hut that had no proper water supply or electricity. Kal Raman remembers, "All of us used to study under the streetlight and, thank god, the streetlights used to work those days! MGR (M G Ramachandran) was the chief minister then. We had to sell the plates to buy rice to eat and my mother used to give us rice in our hands. That bad was our situation."


But his mother, who had studied till the 8th standard, was very particular that her children studied. "All our relatives wanted my elder brother to stop studying and take up the small job offered by the government but my mother wanted him to continue studying."


"Then they wanted me to learn typewriting and shorthand so that I could get some job after the 10th standard. But mother said, 'My children are going to get the best education I can offer. Education is our salvation.' She was my hero for her vision and she still is my hero."


What kept the family going? "We were sad but because we accepted our fate, we were at peace with whatever that happened to us. We knew our father would not come back to lift us up from poverty. We also knew our salvation was a long way away."


He didn't know why he used to tell his mother, "One day I will give you so much money that you will not know what to do with it!" Years later, he did exactly that!


First turning point in life


Kal Raman believes that God played a hand in all the major turning points in his life. The first turning point in life was after his 12th standard. He got good marks in both the engineering and medicine entrance exams, and for engineering, he got admission at the Anna University in Chennai while for medicine, it was in the Tirunelveli Medical College .


"While going in the bus with my mother to join the medical college, I told her, "If I join for medicine here, the high probability is that my life may begin and end in Tirunelveli. I really want to see the world.' She agreed with my decision to go to Chennai and join Anna University and study Electrical Engineering and Electronics."


So, he stepped into a new world outside Tirunelveli, and that was Chennai. Though he had got merit scholarship and a lot of good people helped him pay the initial fee, the scholarship amount never used to reach him regularly or on time.


"The mess fee was Rs 250 a month and I used to be a defaulter in the mess at least six months in a year. Till you pay the mess fee, you cannot eat in the mess. So, I used to live on day scholars' lunch boxes and also use to fast. That is when I learnt to fast ! I must say a lot of friends helped me with money and food."


Scarcity of money was so bad that he had no money to buy food just before the final semester exams. When he gave his final semester exams, he had not eaten for a day-and-a-half. "After finishing the exam, I almost fainted."


The day after the exams came all the scholarship money that was due and it was around Rs 5,000. "So, I went home a rich man and that helped us repay some loans."

First job


Like opting for Chennai and joining Anna University instead of a college in Tirunelveli, Kal Raman took another risk with his first job also. His first job was with Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE), and he had a choice of joining either Chennai or Mumbai.


Although he knew nobody in Mumbai, he chose the capital of Maharashtra .


He remembered the first day. "It was interesting. With bag and baggage, I went to the TCE office after taking a shower at the railway station as I had no money to go to any hotel. After the first introduction at the office, the manager noticed that I was wearing slippers to the office. He called me and said, "I don't care which college you are coming from but this is not acceptable. You should come in shoes tomorrow."


I said I couldn't come in shoes the next day and this the manager construed as arrogance. "How could you talk like this?" he asked me. I said, "Sir, it is not that I don't want to, but I can't afford to buy shoes. Only after I get my first pay cheque, can I buy shoes. Sir, I request you not to terminate my job because of this. I and my family need this job."


Shocked to hear the explanation, the manager asked, "Where are you staying?" and the reply was, "Dadar Railway Station."


So distressed was the manager to hear Kal speak that he immediately released a month's salary in advance and also arranged for him to be at his friend's place till he could find a place to stay.


"He bought me a pair of shoes and those were my first shoes. The next day, I sent Rs 1,500 from the advance to my mother."


From electrical engineering to programming


Kal's rise in career was meteoric in a short span of time. Within a month, he got a chance to move to Bengaluru (then Bangalore ) and also to programming.


Soon, he was in Chennai with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Within a few months, he was sent to Edinburgh , UK .


From Edinburgh , his next stop was the United States . In 1992, he went to the US as an entry level contractor with Wal-Mart. In two years, he was a director running a division.


When he left Wal-Mart after six years, he was a man running the information systems for the International Division of the retail giant.


In 1998, he joined drugstore.com Online Pharmacy as the chief information officer and in 2001 at the age of 30, he was the CEO of the company.


He was at the right place at the right time. "God was there at every step guiding me to take the right decisions. I was also willing to take risks and tread new paths," Kal says.


Starting GlobalScholar


Philanthropist Mike Milken who had donated more than a billion dollars to education, wanted to use technology so that high quality education was accessible to ordinary people.


Milken convinced Kal to join him. That was the time Kal was building schools in his village for poor students.


In October 2007, GlobalScholar was launched targetting both teachers and students by acquiring four companies -- National Scholar (USA), Classof1 ( India ), Excelsior (USA), and Ex-Logica (USA) -- that were into education.


"Three months after the launch, I travelled all over the US , India , Singapore and China talking to teachers and companies and the public. I found that the only way to impact education was by impressing teachers. The biggest scarcity in the world is good teachers. We decided to help teachers with teaching practices and kids, learning practices."

Kal Raman decided to concentrate on the US market as the US is more advanced in using technology. "They are also willing to pay money for technology. At present, schools buy the material which can be used by teachers, students and parents."


Today, they have 200 people working for GlobalScholar in Chennai and 150 in the US . The study material is prepared in the Chennai office.


The company that was started with $50 million will have in excess of $32 million and will generate $5 million of profits. In 2008, the turnover of the company was Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million) and in 2009, it was Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million). In the current year it will be 150-160 crore (Rs 1.5-1.6 billion).


"GlobalScholar is growing at 200 per cent every year. We have 1,000 schools and 10 million students, which is one out of 10 kids in the US , using our study material. This is almost 18 per cent of the US population. We are the fastest growing education company in the US ."


GlobalScholar will soon introduce a pilot project in India and China . In the course of all this, Kalyana Raman became Kal Raman. "The country gave me everything and took half my name."


Giving back to society

Kal Raman is in India now for the Kumbhabhishekam of the temple at his village Mannarkoil. "It is taking place after 500 years. It is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work. I have spent more than one and a half crore rupees (Rs 15 million) to renovate the temple and do the Kumbhabhishekam. More than anything else, I have given jobs to all my friends in the village who are masons and carpenters."


Other than this, he has also adopted all the orphanages around his village and he takes care of around 2,000 kids, some of whom are physically handicapped.


"I feel if I can educate these children, eventually we can make a difference in the society. We also help 100 children in their higher education. Around my village, everyone knows that if a kid who studies well cannot afford to pay fees, he has to only come to my house; his education will be taken care of."


"I do not do this as charity; its my responsibility. I am giving something back to the society that fed me, taught me, and took care of me and gave me hope. "

Monday, October 18, 2010

School story of the day

Early in the morning, someone naughty wrote using crayon on the class white board "All the 2 Aman (name of class) teachers are stu**d. From: I won't tell you my name."

A CSI-like investigation is about to be launched among a few classmates despite the fact that tomorrow, the year-end exam starts. The class teacher happens to be absent today. The 'reporter' suspects that she has gone on another date with her boyfriend as they are getting married next month.

When the teacher for the first period for the day arrived, all the boys posed in a dramatic posture and drew the teacher's attention to the board by making the sound effects of "ten, ten, ten, ten..." (5th of Beethoven intro). The disciplinary teacher came to the class and took photos of the crime scene and asked who did it. Of course no one owned up.


To be continued....



.

Inhale, exhale

I shall be very busy this week again. I guess it's an understatement since I'm busy every week, every day, and almost every hour. It's just that I'll be busier than usual. On top of the usual daily stuff, I'll be single parenting again this week. That means covering E's job of sending C to school in the morning, and walking Rusty.

Caitlin's school year-end exam starts tomorrow till Friday while her other extra classes still go on as usual. She's hardly studied for the exam, but I'm the one who is worrying like I'm taking the exam.

I've a 3,500-word report to write, due in three weeks' time which requires me to start ASAP while my memory is still fresh. Don't know where or how to start. Nine speakers' half-hour presentation each to consolidate...

Then, on Saturday, we're celebrating C's 8th birthday at home with family. That means planning the decor, games and food, plus it's a costume party so I need to make a costume for her and I guess mine will be a last-minute one. No time to bother what costume E will wear.

And the house is a mess and getting dustier by the day. My weekly hired cleaners will not come this week as I'll be out in the morning sending C to school (because E who sends her daily will not be around) and they are in such demand that they cannot reschedule if I am not available during the time allocated for me.

I must remember to stay calm and breathe.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Age matters

When you are a young child, you think you have a long, long time more ahead of you. And when you look at adults, you think they have lived for a very long time and imagine their past as so very long ago before you were born. And then, you always wish you could grow up faster to become an adult, mainly so that no one can tell you what to do and you can do as you please. At least that's what I remember of myself during my days as a kid.

When I was in primary school in the 70s, my classmates and I were hooked to these sci-fi TV series called Lost in Space and Space 1999. We would run about the grass lawn near our classroom aka the netball field during recess time, acting out the latest episode, each of us assuming a character in the show that we think we resemble in terms of looks (LOL!). The year 1999 seemed so futuristic at that time.

The cast of Space 1999

Now, I'm living in the 21st century. The year 1999 came and went 11 years ago. I was actively climbing the corporate ladder then. I had visited my brother in the United States (or was that in 1998?) and conquered Mt. Kinabalu. I was in love with this guy who is now my husband. There were no space ships or aliens in my midst like the TV series  in 1999, not even now. Bummer. How unexciting! 

When I look back, it really feels like so very long ago. It is what Caitlin refers to as 'the olden days'. Yes, it's her turn now as a young child, to have the notion that I've lived for a long time. And she views her grandparents as having lived even much longer, saying that I'm old but they are "eeeeven older" with emphasis of voice and facial expression on the word 'older'.

It's funny to get a glimpse of myself as a young child in my own child. Age-wise, she's one year short of the time when I was crazy about Space 1999. Maturity-wise, she's further ahead compared to when I was eight, growing up in a different era and being more exposed. But for an eight-year-old, or for me when I was a Space 1999 fan, nothing is impossible, and you go where your imagination takes you. I was Sandra (Benes), a data analyst because we both had the same hairstyle. We live in the here and now. Tomorrow has no worries, only dreams. I don't remember what I dreamed of becoming as an adult when I was eight or nine. I think I wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian. Caitlin dreams of becoming a lead singer and musician in a Christian rock band. Before this, she wanted to be a veterinarian or zoologist. When she was four or five, she wanted to be an astronaut. I wonder what's next.

But she definitely views the past, the time before she was born, as a long, long time ago. She views Mummy and Daddy as 'old'. Just last night, we were chatting over a supper of 'char siew pau' and she asked me something about my past. Before I could answer, she said "You can't remember right, cos you are so old, 40-something already!"

I was amused. I told her 'no' and I could remember, and answered her question.

As they say, time flies. Ageing is a natural thing. You're only as old as you feel and think. We must continue to have the child-like characteristic of living in the here and now. Live in the moment, dream more, worry less.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another busy week

These two weeks will see me burning the midnight oil as a number of writing jobs came in unexpectedly. I have an Oct 10th deadline for two long pieces and four short ones. I completed the two long ones on  Friday and yesterday. The next four should be done this week! On top of that, I have to catch up on stockpiling for my regular bi-weekly column in the local daily that I've been writing for since 2.5 years ago. I've really fallen behind for some time already and have just been giving one before every deadline. Then there's another one-day event next weekend to turn into words....that's a rather long piece with a one-month deadline...oh gosh....all for the much-needed money, of course.

It sure looks like my writing jobs are just like the current weather. When it rains, it pours, but in a positive way. That means I get to earn some extra money. Good timing for the year-end when expenses double or triple due to all the presents we have to get for Christmas, Caitlin's birthday in three weeks' time and maybe a trip that would be nice to go on during the school holidays.

C came home from school with a stuffy nose on Friday. It carried on till yesterday afternoon with the post-nasal drip giving her a cough. I think it's partly due to her not drinking enough water at school. So I've kept her home today hoping that by tomorrow the cough will reduce or be gone so that she can go back to school. Right now, she is enjoying breakfast in front of the tv....

It's hard to work with one talkative kid around the house, and one who doesn't do as I say nine out of ten times. I can't write with someone interrupting my thoughts all the time. And it's also hard when I have distracting thoughts on what to cook for dinner, what needs to be done around the house, and watching the clock on getting C from school, to her music lessons etc....I'm amazed at those who can write anytime, anywhere. For me, I need the mood, the inspiration, peace and quiet and sometimes the 'lightbulb' moment.

I have to remind myself to live moment by moment, one day at a time. That's what I've been doing ever since I became a stay-at-home mother. It's hard to plan way, way ahead when you have other lives to be responsible for. It could be possible if one's responsibilities are more focused and not 'all over the place' , having to juggle almost everything form A-Z. Many SAHMs are like that, especially those who don't have anyone to help.  That's the norm in most western countries where labour is expensive and househelpers are only for the rich. But in the Malaysian context, most SAHMs would have some form of help from either extended family or paid help like maid or maids.

When I compare myself to other SAHMs who don't have outside help like me, and have more than one kid and even more amazingly, homeschool all of them, I'm thankful that at least I have part-time cleaners who come once a week and spend two hours cleaning my house. They don't do the perfect job but what can one expect when I only get them for two hours a week.

So, the mantra so to speak will continue to be 'cross the bridge when I come to it'!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Roti Jala and Chicken Curry



As I was going to be busy on Thursday, Cooking Thursdays took place on Wednesday this week instead. Although I had earlier planned to try out new recipes on Thursdays, it has turned out that I was doing it on non-Thursdays instead lately, like last week when I made strawberry cheesecake on Saturday.

I'd been meaning to try making roti jala for some time now. I had planned to make it earlier on Malaysia Day two weeks ago but that didn't materialise and since I had time on Wednesday, I took the opportunity.

The recipe for roti jala is very simple, but you need the roti jala making utensil to produce the net-like pancake. 'Jala' means 'net', 'roti' refers to 'bread' usually but is used here although it's more like a pancake.

The utensil can be bought from most super/hypermarkets or shops that cater to cooking/baking needs. I bought mine for around RM1.50 more than a year ago. Yes, that long ago and only now I'm using it! This is what it looks like.


Alternatively, a good substitute would be a mayonnaise dispenser with a row of nozzles which looks like this. I saw it at the Daiso shop here which sells every item for RM5.

After using the utensil I have, I'm thinking that maybe the mayo dispenser bottle could work better, unless it's my inexperienced hands that's the problem. When I dripped the batter onto the pan with the utensil, somehow the 'strips' that were created tend to spread and join up, filling up the gaps between each line. Not sure how to describe it actually but the end result gives you a pancake that looks like the regular pancake you make with too few netting-like holes. Maybe the batter was not thick enough thus making it 'run' around the pan?

Anyway, they improved a bit after the initial pieces and looked closer to the professionally-made ones after I folded them into triangles. You can also roll them up like in the recipe and video of the mayo bottle (click on the two links above).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stating the obvious

This morning, Caitlin was seen juggling a number of things as she was getting out the door to the car for school -- Archie comicbook in one hand, her favourite gaudy pink stuffed cat in the crook of the other arm, while dragging her trolley bag with water tumbler strapped around her neck.

Obviously, she was going to read while eating breakfast in the car (which is a routine), and today, take Lulubelle the cat for a ride to school.

Seeing her in her juggling act, I asked, "What are you doing?!"

And she replied, "I'm multi-tasking!" with a hint of eye-rolling in her voice.

Mummy has to learn to be sharper in asking questions or at least not ask, but comment appropriately next time!

On the Web, Children Face Intensive Tracking

E found this article in the 20 Sept 2010 print version of the Wall Street Journal. I found it online here. It is a long article with quite a lot of other links to related articles but it is worth reading. I think it is a must-read for parents with young children and teenagers who use the Internet.

It is a good and eye-opening article about what takes place when our kids visit websites to play games, network socially or even to study.  We are more ''exposed' than we realise when it comes to how much information on personal details and internet activity websites can get with the tracking devices they install.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This week

Wow, it's already a week since my last post here. It felt like only a few days. E is returning from a working trip to Jakarta this evening. Since Sunday afternoon, C and I have been a twosome. She was very sad Daddy was going away. She expressed fears of earthquakes and tsunamis when E mentioned his Jakarta trip a couple of weeks back. She cried pleading him not to go because of the danger. It's times like these I sometimes wish she wasn't such an avid reader as her knowledge of earthquakes and related events worked against us. She soon forgot about it until the day before he left, and then it started again..."I don't want you to go....there's earthquakes and tsunamis....it's dangerous....no, don't go, pleeease..."

For the past four nights, I have a new sleep partner. She occupies almost the entire king-size bed and uses me as a bolster sometimes. I also have to drive her to school in the mornings since her usual going-to-school buddy who drives her and himself to work is not around. Poor Rusty is also not spared from E's absence. Instead of daddy, he gets me to walk him, and after the walk, he only gets water, no extra treats. I'm stricter and try not to let him pull me along. In defence of her little 'brother', C asked, "Why are you so strict with Rusty? He's not joining the army or anything!"

Ties between Malaysia and Indonesia have been strained since last year. A spate of Indonesian maid abuse cases here have gotten Indonesia putting a halt to 'exporting' their maids to Malaysia. Then our navy detained some Indonesian fisherman causing increased tension and demonstrations in both countries, then two days ago, another maid abuse case in Penang....

E said security was tight in Jakarta, even in the hotels. I heard over the news this morning that the Indons demonstrated at the Malaysian embassy there yesterday evening. E stayed in his room and watched tv and didn't go out after work. Luckily he's returning today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaysian holiday season

Last Friday was Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, the Muslim celebration after a month-long fasting in the month of Ramadan the previous month. The school term took a break for a week last week too. And two weeks before that, Malaysia celebrated her 53rd year of independence, or Merdeka Day, on 31 August.

In two days' time, on 16 September, the country will have another national holiday called Malaysia Day. It's the day in 1963 when Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, and the island of Singapore joined Peninsular Malaya to become Malaysia. (However, on 9 August 1965, the Parliament voted with a majority for the removal of Singapore from Malaysia.)

I'm wondering if I'll have the energy and time to make Malaysia Day a Cooking Thursday. C has a two-hour replacement class for her Yamaha Junior Extension Course in the morning. Parents sit in for these group lessons and by default, since I'm the one with music knowledge, it's become my 'duty', although it's not necessary for parents to have music knowledge to sit in).

Thinking aloud, I'd like to try making roti jala, or a simple cheesecake, or some kind of Malaysian 'kuih' since it's Malaysia Day. But I wonder if I'd have to cook a more elaborate dinner, especially when Thursday is also the day when E's parents come over for a visit and dinner. Since I'm not an expert cook, cooking for four adults and one adult wannabe is already more challenging than just cooking for ACE alone....

I guess I'll find out what I will really do when Thursday arrives and unfolds itself......

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Baby

My chubby cheeker, adorable and innocent cutie pie is growing up so fast....it's been only five years since this picture but it feels so much longer. She has long hair now, is very vain, talks back, makes her case like a pro lawyer with comebacks that leave us either speechless or in fits of laughter. Her life revolves around wanting longer hair, beauty accessories and developing her own fashion sense, daydreaming about boyfriends and getting married, as well as whatever her current fancies are that relate to the books and movies she has been reading or watching. If she isn't only one month shy of being eight years old, I would have thought that I was just describing a teenager.


Caitlin (3 yrs old) and me, 2005

Yet in many ways, my drama queen cum princess is still an innocent little girl. She still has her favourite security bolster she can't leave home without. She still whines, folds her arms and pouts when she doesn't get her way. She complains incessantly that it's 'unfair' when she loses a board game that we played fairly although she knows it's only a game and we win some, we lose some. She is generous at times without any conditions but can be stingy too when it's to her advantage.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Home-cooked ABC Soup

Caitlin and I will be having a one-pot dinner tonight. This week, E has a slew of 'buka puasa' dinners to attend. It's hard cooking for so few people so one-pot dishes are the best way to go. Today, it's a variation of the famous Malaysian Chinese ABC soup. Caitlin loves to eat porridge, or what some people refer to as congee. She's been choosing that over rice for lunch at the school canteen these two weeks. She also likes 'flooded' rice i.e. rice drenched with lots of clear soup, or what some people refer to as broth. Terms differ for locals and westerners, a case of tomayto, tomahto, potayto, potahto.


ABC soup is so easy to make, so delicious and nutritious; good comfort food, and best of all, one of Caitlin's favourites. That means she will eat with more enthusiasm, less dawdling, until her tummy bulges!

The basic ABC usually contains potatoes, carrots, onions and tomatoes, all diced or if you wish, cut into large chunks. They are then boiled and simmered with stock of chicken or pork. Alternatively, you could use chunky soup bones, chicken carcass, or pork spare ribs. I usually like to use pork because it renders a sweeter tasting stock compared to chicken. I guess you could use beef too but of course that will give a rather beefy flavour to the soup, masking the clear sweetness from the carrots, potatoes and onions.

My version today contains a few more ingredients, namely cabbage and fresh shitake mushrooms, another two of C's favourites. Instead of pork bones or ribs, I used pork fillet which I cut into bite-size chunks, marinated with a little salt. Once all the vegetables come to a boil in the pot, I add the pork, let it boil and then simmer until the meat, carrots, potatoes and cabbages are soft. Add some salt to taste and that's it. Steam some rice and serve.

Other ingredients in addition to the basic ones (carrot, potato, tomato, onion) that you can add are winter melon, other mushrooms like button, golden or oyster, baby or sweet corn and red dates. You could also add some fish balls as long as they are of good quality to avoid giving the soup a fishy taste. You could add a dash of white pepper if you like, but for Caitlin, she can taste the slightest bit of pepper and complain that it's spicy.

Caitlin will definitely flood her rice with this ABC soup. I can be assured this evening that she'll have a balanced meal as this is one dish where she will definitely eat all the veges (except the tomato) while the pork will be boneless and tender enough for her picky palate to accept.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bread Pudding Recipe



Ingredients

Bread:

9 - 10 cups of bread cubes, (crusts left on or removed) cut into bite sized pieces

Custard:

4 large eggs

1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar

1 1 /2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

4 cups (960 ml) half & half, milk, light cream or a combination thereof

Variation: Can replace 2 tablespoons of the milk/cream with 2 tablespoons of brandy or rum.

Note: Use breads (or a combination thereof) like French, Brioche, Challah, Croissant, Italian, or Panettone. The bread can be fresh or stale and crusts can be left on or removed. You can also use day old scones.

Fruit: (Optional)

- 1 large peeled and cored tart apple, diced

- about 1 - 2 cups of fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)

- one large diced bananas and 2 ounces of chopped white or dark chocolate

- 1 cup sultanas (raisins)

- 1 cup of chocolate chips

Method

Bread Pudding: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Lightly grease with butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 x 13 x 2 inch (23 x 33 x 5 cm) heatproof baking dish. Place the baking dish into a larger roasting pan that has enough room to fill with water.

For Custard: In an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until thick and lemon colored (about 4-5 minutes) (when beater is raised the batter will fall back into bowl in a slow ribbon). Beat in the vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Then beat in the melted and cooled butter and half and half (light cream).

Assemble: Place the bread cubes and fruit (if using) in the baking dish. Carefully pour (or ladle) the prepared custard over the bread cubes until completely covered. Press down the bread cubes so they are covered with the custard.

Prepare a water bath. (A water bath is used to provide temperature protection for the egg custard.) Carefully pour in enough hot water so that the water is halfway up sides of the 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake about 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Another way to judge whether the pudding is fully baked, is to gently press down on the center of the pudding. If any custard comes up to the top, the pudding needs to be baked a little longer. Remove the bread pudding from the water bath and cool slightly before serving.

Can be served warm or cold with a dusting of confectioners' sugar and a dollop of softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This recipe is from Joy of Baking.

Makes one 9 x 13 bread pudding (serves about 8 - 10 people)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bugs

I've been stricken by several bugs lately. That's the main reason why this blog has not been updated as frequently as it used to be. Don't worry, I'm still healthy physically but the bugs are pretty stubborn. I'm talking about the Lazy Bug, Procrastinator Bug, Lethargy Bug and Moody Bug. I wonder if there are any other bugs I have that have yet to be diagnosed.

It's hard to get my fat bottom off the chair and away from the computer, surfing the net and reading online stuff and being a nosey-poke on Facebook. In this day and age of advance technology, it's so easy to get drawn and lost in the the computer and internet world without realising the time passing.

Last week, I got busy putting old (and I mean, really old) photographs into proper photo albums. There was a bag of these small albums of photos lying around, those that you get from the photo processing shops when you send your films to be developed. If you're from my generation or before, you'll know what I'm talking about. Those were the days when cameras used film and once the 12, 24 or 36 exposures are used up, you send the roll to the shop. Then, when they're ready, you collect them and eagerly pore over every single photo to see how your pictures turned out. And you hold up the negatives to the light (most of us amateurs would not own lightboxes) to check the number and jot them down if you want to make extra copies of the photos.

People in this new generation like Caitlin only know of digital cameras. Right after taking a picture, they are instantly gratified. They get to check if the picture is great and if otherwise, they can just delete it on the spot, select modes like close-up, portrait, landscape, night or day, flash or without flash, reduce red-eye effect etc. Unlike those days when a picture is taken, no matter how badly, they will be there on the film/negative forever, unless you throw the negative away.

So back to the old photos I was talking about. I bought proper new albums and tried my best to sort and group them according to the 'era' to create a semblance of chronology. Then I ran out of albums. I've yet to get more to complete the job -- the Procrastinator and Lazy Bugs at work here.

I've a stack of books I so greedily bought during book sales and at BookAxcess that I've yet to read. They are books I like, I want to own, I think I should read....but I've YET to read - again, the Procrastinator Bug attack. Also the Moody Bug I think. There are some activities I need to have the 'mood' for in order for me to indulge in them. Reading and cooking are among them.

This week, I've selected two books to read. I've covered one-third of Money Doesn't Grow on Trees by Neale S. Godfrey so far, while Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is still patiently waiting for me to pick it up.

As for my 'Cooking Thursdays' projects, I actually did try out some recipes two Thursdays ago. I revisited Banana Bread since I had too many bananas lying around. Then I also made some milk buns. The earlier batch of dried yeast I had were 'dead' so I bought a new batch. It turned out that they were not any more alive than the earlier one although slightly better. The dough rose but not super-actively I guess. So the buns turned out not as fluffy as I hoped they would. Ate the buns with mushroom soup, dipping and spooning with slightly aching wrists and fingers from all the kneading!

I also baked some chicken thighs in satay marinade for dinner two Thursdays ago.  The marinade powder had been sitting in my larder for a long time. I once had lofty dreams of grilling my own satay but never got around to buying skewers and the thought of having to thread the chicken fillet bit by bit onto those sticks just put me off -- there you go, Lethargy Bug.

Last Friday, I made lasagna. It was my own version. I cheated by using bottled spaghetti gravy, mixed it with a concoction of pureed brinjals, tomatoes and frozen corn, carrot, peas (great way to hide the vege from the kid) before cooking it with minced pork (didn't have enough beef in the freezer). I layered the lasagna sheets with this gravy and lots of shredded cheddar and tossed it into the oven.  The end result was yummy luckily, and the kid gobbled up more than her usual dinner portion.

I had grand plans to make roti jala over the weekend but the stars were not aligned for me to do so. Yes, I'm blaming the cosmic powers and the Lethargy Bug. On Friday morning, Rusty chanced upon an escape for the big wide wonderful world beyond our gates. This time, he ran harder and faster as soon as  I caught up with him. He also broke the record of going past our neighbourhood security post, out yonder into the 'wild' but luckily low-traffic main road. Thankfully, the guard got onto his bicycle and gave chase, blocked his galloping advance using the bike while I trailed behind panting and jogging in my flip flops, leash in hand. Gosh, I must have looked comical.

Having felt cornered, Rusty finally decided it was better to run towards me than face off with the two-wheeled stranger. With a 'smiley' look and pink tongue sticking out, he simply thought it was great fun until I admonished and smacked him for giving me a 1km jog I didn't plan for. He certainly forced the Lethargy Bug out of me then, but because of my poor fitness level, I felt the effects later that day with some aching knees and calves. This brings to the Great Procrastinator Bug problem I've been facing when it comes to training Rusty to 'stay' when my auto-gate beeps open....

Finally, there's always stuff to clear up and organise around the house. And this is the part that all the aforementioned bugs have ganged up on me. Can someone please invent some sort of vaccine to immunise me from these bugs?



Monday, August 16, 2010

A True Duck Story from San Antonio, Texas

I got this via email and it's a nice story to share:

Something really cute happened in downtown San Antonio this week. Michael R. is an accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works there in a second story office. Several weeks ago, he watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning outside his window as the unlikely place to build a nest above the sidewalk.

The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10 feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon all of her ten ducklings hatched.


Michael worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching. Tuesday morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off. Office work came to a standstill as everyone gathered to watch.


The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above. In disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy newborn trustingly toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below. Michael couldn't stand to watch this risky effort nine more times! He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk where the first obedient duckling, near its mother, was resting in a stupor after the near-fatal fall. Michael stood out of sight under the awning-planter, ready to help.


As the second one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the concrete. Safe and sound, he set it down it by its momma and the other stunned sibling, still recovering from that painful leap. (The momma must have sensed that Michael was trying to help her babies.)


One by one the babies continued to jump.. Each time Michael hid under the awning just to reach out in the nick of time as the duckling made its free fall. At the scene the busy downtown sidewalk traffic came to a standstill.. Time after time, Michael was able to catch the remaining eight and set them by their approving mother.


At this point Michael realized the duck family had only made part of its dangerous journey. They had two full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs and past pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the San Antonio River , site of the famed "River Walk." The onlooking office secretaries and several San Antonio police officers joined in. An empty copy-paper box was brought to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother's approval, and loaded them in the container.. Michael held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the San Antonio River . The mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight, all the way.


As they reached the river, the mother took over and passed him, jumping in the river and quacking loudly. At the water's edge, Michael tipped the box and helped shepherd the babies toward the water and to the waiting mother after their adventurous ride.


All ten darling ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and proudly quacking.


At last, all present and accounted for: "We're all together again. We're here! We're here!"


And here's a family portrait before they head outward to further adventures...


Like all of us in the big times of our life, they never could have made it alone without lots of helping hands. I think it gives the name of San Antonio 's famous "River Walk" a whole new meaning!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Music benefits the brain, research reveals

Here's another article that reiterates the benefits of music, particularly learning to play music.

Northwestern University scientists have pulled together a review of research into what music -- specifically, learning to play music -- does to humans. The result shows music training does far more than allow us to entertain ourselves and others by playing an instrument or singing. Instead, it actually changes our brains.

The paper, just published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, is a compilation of research findings from scientists all over the world who used all kinds of research methods. The bottom line to all these studies: musical training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention, and even the ability to convey emotions vocally.

So what is it that musical training does?


Read on here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Abok abok sago

Today I attempted abok abok sago. I remember learning how to make it when I was in Form One or Two for my Home Economics class. That version required banana leaves where you wrap the sago in a pyramid-like shape with the leaves. The recipe I used today simply requires you to steam it in a tray.

Here's a picture of the final result. It didn't turn out perfect as there were some grains of sago that didn't cook through. I increased the steaming time a little to try getting the grains cooked, and what turned out was a slightly tough, chewy 'kuih' instead of a soft, moist one.

Oh well, as long as it still can be eaten!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Perseverance

It's strange how children tend to listen to other adults like their aunts, uncles or teachers more willingly than their own parents. It's like God made them our children to test us parents more so that we can be better people/parents (looking at the positive side!).

It's always been an uphill battle daily for me to get Caitlin to practise her musical instruments. While she enjoys the lessons, practising is another thing. She finds it hard to put in extra effort to learn something new as she is impatient and wants to get it right at the first time itself.

However, it was surprisingly different yesterday. That's where the part about listening to other adults instead of parents comes in. At chapel session in school, they were taught the lesson of perseverance. The teacher showed them Horton Hears A Who. It's a movie she's watched before. We took her to the theatre to see it and she enjoyed it. I remember sharing with her the moral of the story too; even with the other Horton story we read together - Horton Hatches The Egg. But I guess it somehow didn't hit home when it was me telling her.


After she told me about her lesson about perseverance with Horton, I took the opportunity to remind her about it while we were practising the piano. It hit home this time and on her own accord, she just kept practising one piece repeatedly. She could tell she was improving slowly with more practice and was happy about the outcome. Later at night, she did the same with her drums. She was happy. So was I.

This morning, she said "I'm going to have perseverance again today." It was a heartwarming moment. I hope this attitude can continue forever!

P.S.  I'm reminded to have perseverance too, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Upside down Thursday

It's Thursday again today. Last week, I missed my Cooking Thursday. I can't remember why. I must have been occupied with something else. I've been meaning to try my hand at making the old classic pineapple upside down cake for some time and had scoured the internet to look for an easy recipe.

Believe me, when I Googled 'pineapple upside down cake', it presented me with tons of recipes. Some called for unsalted butter and brown sugar, some said I had to use a skillet, and uncommon ingredients, etc etc. All that put me off. I'm the lazy type when it comes to cooking -- the recipes must be simple to follow, the ingredients easy to find, and the dish is something that fussy eaters here will eat or at least try.

I happened to be at a bookstore a few weeks ago and chanced upon a handy pocket-sized recipe booklet with the cover photo of  pineapple upside down cake! It was like it was calling out to me. Although I have more than enough cookbooks that I read and hardly use their recipes, I couldn't resist getting just another one for my collection. It was only RM9.90 so I didn't feel too guilty. It's by Betty Saw, a well-known local 'celebrity' cook and cookbook author.



Well, enough of my longwinded intro.  Here's the result of today's Cooking Thursday, out from the oven not too long ago (pardon the poor quality pic again, just too lazy to climb upstairs to get the proper camera!).

It's without the maraschino cherries and pineapple cream. Although the touch of red could have made it look more attractive, I was being practical. I didn't want to purposely go out to get the cherries which will end up being dug out and dumped into the dustbin because people here don't like the taste of it -- it's like a combi of cough medicine and cockroach (it's usually flavoured with oil of bitter almond). Plus, I don't think it's healthy food due to the preservatives and food colouring used. The same goes for the pineapple cream. I already used a whole block (250g) of butter and 250g of sugar for the cake. I think we can do without the additional 250g of butter and 150g for the decorative cream (as shown in the picture above). 

Now, what shall I do with this nine-inch square cake? There's only three of us at home. Gotta taste it first and see if it's 'passable' to be shared with 'outsiders'! Haha....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rollercoaster-ing

It's been a rather tiring few weeks lately. The demands of supervising a school-going child's academic and co-curricular (music education only in fact) progress can be quite draining if you have an eight-year-old who behaves like an 18-year-old! Plus the man of the house has been 'missing' quite a lot lately due to demands of his work during the just-over World Cup season, travelling outstation over weekends and returning late on weekdays.

After five years of being a SAHM, it's getting rather dull and boring for me more frequently lately as I chug along semi robot-like with the daily routines of home, school, childminding, cooking and blah, blah, blah (yeah, that does indicate my present state! LOL!)

I've toyed with a number of ideas and stuff that's been up in the air or on the backburner all this five years' long while, even some grandiose plans when I was all excited at the start of my new career as SAHM in 2005.

Some include getting more exercise, upgrading my writing skills by going for some writing courses (gosh, the choices are rather limited here and track record of those offering them don't seem greatly enticing to be honest), going for cooking classes, writing my great big novel, starting an hourly childcare service (on second thought, I must be crazy to have thought of this!), reading more 'serious' books, rekindling my on-off affair with music and the piano or even a new instrument....

Then last week, an old friend called and asked me to join in her idea of FUN in starting a blog (oh yes, yet another one which makes it seven in total for me...) that gives the "skinny on where to eat, stay and play" which is the tagline for the blog, appropriately named Two Skinny Moms. We've so far contributed one post each. Check it out here. Thanks, IC!

Last week, C's school organised Bahasa Malaysia Week and among the activities was a show-and-tell. In two weeks' time, it will be English Week and there'll be show-and-tell too.  Her English teacher has asked the class to start preparing for it and to present it to her today. Although the teacher told the class about it last week, this dear girl, as usual has to leave it to the last minute. She, and me and daddy of course(!), had to crack heads to come up with an interesting topic to show and tell. Gosh, this girl is super picky and turned down many of our suggestions until I suggested football, World Cup, and her favourite player. Then only, she got excited.

So she wrote her script last night, mostly about Kaka, the Brazilian football star she recently read about in a kid's magazine. We learnt that Kaka's full name is Ricardo Izeczon dos Santos Leite. No wonder why he's called Kaka! And he started his football career at age 8 with a local football club. What amazing talent!