Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gardening

My attempts at creating a lovely flourishing 8 ft X 12 ft 'green lung' at the front portion of my house has been a start-stop affair for the past one year. I was all enthusiastic at first to have my very own garden after moving in, dreaming of how my garden would look like with lush green bushes and flowering plants.

A beautiful, or at least satisfactory-looking garden with mature plants takes lots of hard work, TLC, patience and time for the plants to grow and flourish. Nowadays, you can also have a beautiful, artistically landscaped garden with mature plants in about 24 hours too - instant gardens! All you need to do is get a landscaper or go to a plant/flower nursery and get them to plan your garden, supply and plant the trees, bushes etc for you. You can have rocks, water features like fountains, mini waterfalls, ponds. Anything is possible. Where there is demand, and of course money, there will be supply.

While these instant gardens are nice, they seem to look too artificial and sterile for my liking, especially if it's an outdoor garden. I guess it also depends on the choice of plants, shrubs or trees one chooses. Those that I see around my neighbourhood tend to look too 'clean' somehow.

Anyway, back to my garden. It certainly does not have the 'clean' look. The grass is uneven and unkempt. We've trimmed it a few times only so far. There are some plants in the ground and the grass around those plants are overgrown. After mowing the open sections, we didn't complete the job by trimming by hand around the plants...

Rusty is also a regular contributor to the 'crazy garden' look. He's made a row of flowering bushes his play pen (just like how kids love tumbling and rolling about in a pen filled with colourful plastic balls). He's chewed off the tips of some plants. He's 'plucked' some flowers and decorated himself with them. He's uprooted small flowering plants too. Sigh. We tried fencing up the plants, only to make them look 'imprisoned' but they are still not safe from Rusty lifting his leg and watering them with urea-based 'fertiliser'. Sigh...

A garden planted by your own hands, with your own sweat and toil is more satisfying and rewarding in the long run in my opinion. It is a labour of love, a hobby, a pastime that teaches you new things. These past few days, I've started to work on the garden again. I guess if I'm hardworking and patient enough, the garden should look the way I want it to someday.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

The Chinese New Year is into its second half now as today is already the tenth day. So before it reaches its 15th (last) day, I'd better wish those of you who visit my blog "Gong Xi Fa Cai" for this year of the Tiger. Everyone seems to be using the word 'roaring' in all their wishes -- roaring success, prosperity, health etc etc etc.

The first few days of CNY for ACE this year was the usual routine. I believe I had mentioned it in the previous pre-CNY post below. We spent the first few days travelling between Klang, Seremban, Melaka and KL spending time with family. This week, with the CNY-related activity slowing down and E and C going back to work and school, we're back to our daily routine. I'm back to household chores, errands, cooking, chauffeuring, homework supervision and writing, and everything else in between.

This year also, it appears that a number of my old friends from schooldays who now live overseas have come back to spend CNY with their family. I still keep in touch with many 'old' friends, even more the past year as we managed to find one another via one infamous social networking site. Unfortunately, we're not able to meet up as our schedules are tight.

February is a short month and very soon it'll be March. Before you know it, the first quarter of 2010 will be over. When I think of all I plan and desire to do this year, it looks like time is not on my side. I'll either have to be very hardworking and use up every minute with no lazing about or just do what I can without getting too ambitious and stressing myself out. Hmmm, which path to follow?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tomorrow is CNY eve

It was an ad hoc decision for my family i.e. parents and brother's family to come over to my place for a Chinese New Year reunion lunch. Since ACE has to go to E's parents' home for dinner, we will do lunch instead. This is the first time my parents will come to KL for CNY eve reunion with my brother's and my family. This is because this year, my brother is not able to take extra days off. So he will travel up north to visit his wife's family on the first day itself. Travelling down south to my parents' on the eve for dinner and then going up north the next day will be too tiring so my parents decided to come to KL instead.

My parents will be left to their own devices on the first day of CNY and I guess we'll all meet again on the second day when I go back to my parents' home.

I shall be cooking lunch tomorrow for six adults and two kids. Then, I shall have to start cooking one dish to bring to my in-law's place as my contribution for the reunion dinner. I was expecting enough time in between but E dropped a last-minute notice. My MIL has summoned us to be back at their place earlier tomorrow. There's church to attend before dinner. And we've been asked to also spend the night there as there's church to attend again at 8am the next day i.e. Sunday, the first day of CNY. This means we gotta pack our clothes and stuff, I gotta cook the dish earlier, right after lunch, and make sure Rusty will have enough food and water put out for him to last him 24 hours all by himself. Aah, then there's a pile of laundry to do first thing in the morning too...

I've got the soup for lunch tomorrow done in the slow cooker. I have just chopped the garlic and shallots for all the relevant dishes requiring them tomorrow. By the way, if you chew gum while peeling/chopping shallots/onions, you won't tear. I read it somewhere and when I started tearing, I remembered and found some of Caitlin's gum and chewed it. It works.

Tomorrow morning, I'll have to thaw the fish and prawns, rinse and cut the vegetables for two dishes that require them, prepare all the other ingredients, collect the roast pork and chicken from the shop I ordered from two days ago and then cook all the dishes. I still haven't figured out what's for dessert.

I think I'd better go to bed now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuition - to send or not?

Being a parent with school-going children seems tougher these days. I'm referring to this never-ending dilemma of whether to send your child for tuition or not. Is it only me who faces this dilemma?

It sure looks like many parents out there don't give a second thought to tuition for their children, like it's a norm and you're strange if you don't. They say their children, some even as young as pre-school age, are sent for tuition to help them improve, develop, learn more, interact...

For some working parents, tuition or homework guidance centres are their 'saviours' that not only care for their children after school but also help them with their studies since parents are at work and return too late to help their kids themselves. I understand that not all families have the luxury of having grandparents or one parent or a trusted caregiver or househelp at home to care for the kids after they return from school. Something is not quite right somewhere then in the overall system, the education system, the workforce system, our lifestyle, work-life balance system, that leaves parents no choice but to send their kids to such places.

Imagine the kids waking up at 6.00am (some even earlier) to start school at 7.30am or so and after a long day at school, they get dropped off by a transporter at their daycare/tuition/homework guidance centre, have lunch and start on their homework and revision and only get picked up by their parents and reach home around 7.00pm. Some are even still wearing their school uniform until then.

I read this piece written by a teacher and she has taken the words out of my mouth pertaining to this issue.

"Tuition seems to be a major concern for parents these days. If school teachers offer tuition classes, you can bet that the students will be scrambling to fill up the classes, especially if he or she is known to be a great teacher. Someone who is a ‘Guru Cemerlang’ (Excellent Teacher) or has been teaching for a long time usually can, and will charge more. Their classes would be much sought after and if the students produce great results, which in Malaysian context means a long string of As, then you can bet your top Ringgit that more students will register for the next school term."

She had previously given tuition but as she is now teaching in the afternoon session, she has stopped. Yet, she still gets requests from some parents, and says:

"But since tuition to parents is like water to the thirsty, they usually will keep asking, hoping I would change my mind and maybe reconsider. They want it, they yearn for it, and they will try their best to have me agree to give their child tuition. Some even want me to give tuition to their Year 1 child, which I said no to, because I think a seven old year should be allowed to play and just be a kid and should not be made to work hard.

Of course, parents always want the best for their child, and since they have more resources now, they would pay top dollar to give their child the best. Even if it means paying RM200 per month just for six hours of one-to-one English (like one of my neighbours do), they would do it. And mind you, that is just for one subject. Factoring in all the four subjects they have to sit for in the UPSR exam, imagine how much parents actually pay for their child’s monthly tuition fees alone.

There is another side to the argument: that too much tuition is not good for the child because they work from morning to night and barely have time to rest and play like children should. It also means that maybe they thought my teaching might be so bad that these kids would need extra help with their English!

To some extent, I agree that rather than being at home doing nothing, they could go for extra classes, so they would be doing something worthwhile with their time. But maybe, perhaps, we should allow our children a moment to just rest, to take in the day as it comes, so they could relax and focus on being still for a little while?"


During my schoolgoing days, tuition was only for those who were really weak in their studies. Now, tuition is not only for the weak students. Some have the idea that the smart ones should go for tuition so that they can be smarter. Those days, after returning from school and doing the necessary homework by myself, I'd be doing other stuff, like playing the piano, singing, meeting up with friends, chatting over the phone, playing outside or cycling, just like what the writer says:

"I remember my childhood as being rather carefree. I was allowed space to run around, ride with my bike and play with my friends in the evenings, and still had time to do my homework. Kids these days seem to not like physical activities so much. They would rather do something sitting down which to me seems unnatural. Kids are supposed to love running around and they should not hate sports and physical activities. It is just mind-baffling to me."

What happened between then and now? Those days, our parents' first job was also their last, working for their employer for years. Now, everyone tries to find greener pastures every year or two years. Some even leave after two months. Those days, everyone clocks out at 5.00pm and has time to spend with the family in the evenings. Now, they just go pick up the kids from the daycare/tuition centre, have dinner and go to bed. Things and times have changed, and not necessarily for the better despite all the advancements humankind have achieved. Life has become more demanding and fast-paced, and to my mind, it is not all good. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, everyone wants to be first, everyone wants to be one-up, run faster in the rat race, kiasu, kiasi....

"One thing is for sure, things have definitely changed. A long string of As can no longer guarantee a place at the university or a scholarship. The society demands so much more from the younger generation that they now have to equip themselves with a lot of skills just to get ahead.

We want our future leaders to be excellent leaders, to have great soft skills, to be smart and eloquent and to be civic-minded enough to know what the society wants and needs, and to carry out their duties with responsibility and integrity. The society glorifies those with long string of As and so at a very young age, we prepare our kids for the work, so they will someday end up with those long string of As.

Whatever their reasons, I feel for the parents. They are the ones who have to make the choice, whether to send their children for extra classes or not. They are the ones who have to pay the tuition fees each month and make sure their child gets to their tuition classes on time.

Parents do an awful lot for their kids and I do salute them for caring and wanting their kids to have the best, to be the best and to shine in academics, but maybe we should give them some room to breathe and just be kids. After all, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy."


I agree. So, tuition - how? To send or not? Caitlin's Malay language is weak. I worry. It's sad that to do well in school here (and I'm not even dreaming of a string of A's), you must, must, must be reasonably strong in this country's language, never mind if it is not the lingua franca globally...(see what I mean about something wrong with the system?) But no, I shall not succumb to pressure, and use the fact that her Bahasa needs brushing up as an excuse to send her for tuition. I shall hold on for now.

I shall still allow her when she wishes, to plonk herself down on the sofa immediately upon returning from school and watch Ben 10, although it's something I get frustrated with. I'd rather she go take a shower and get out of her school uniform and get down to doing her homework so that she has the rest of the afternoon free to play the piano or drums or her toys. I may never stop nagging at her to stop watching after one hour. And she will still get her homework done. She will shower in the end. I have to remind myself that she is only seven after all. She is not like me when I was seven and she will never be like me. She is her own special self, warts and all, just like me, I have my warts too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

No title

Today begins the week that leads up to the much-celebrated and hyped festival among ethnic Chinese all over the world. I have yet to feel the festive mood. I've somehow been rather busy the past week, with unexpected freelance writing jobs cropping up and appointments and errands to run. I had to skip/postpone my pre-CNY shopping plans and attendance at C's school PTA AGM.

I had postponed grooming Rusty for a few weekends already and today, I couldn't bear any longer to see him so scruffy. With the long fur and heavy rain in the afternoons, he tends to get dirty and smelly rather quickly so I bit the bullet and gave him a trim and bath this morning. It took up a good two hours which included sweeping and washing the entire car porch to rid the place of all his fur. Then I had to do a quick rush job revising a piece I did over the weekend. In between, I cooked dinner and gobbled down lunch, then rushed to school to fetch C.

As in past years, the Chinese New Year has been celebrated on a simple scale with our extended families, especially since my paternal and maternal grandparents have passed on. They were the ones whose generation celebrated the CNY in a big way.

Both E's and my side of the family are small families. We both have two siblings each, unlike our parents who came from the generation where seven, eight, nine, ten or the 'teens of siblings were common. Furthermore, E's family celebrate Christmas on a bigger scale compared to CNY while my parents do not celebrate Christmas and have kept CNY to a relatively small circle of immediate family only, compared to those days when my grandparents were around. Moreover, with my older brother living overseas and me considered 'married out' already, it's only my younger brother and his small family of one child who will be around for the reunion dinner and first day of CNY.

Traditionally, married women have to return with their husbands to his family to celebrate the CNY, and only on the second day (or for some later depending on the distance they have to travel), they go home to their own parents to pay their respect.

Since I now have an oven, I had plans to make some simple cookies just for fun to get into the festive mood, but it has yet to materialise, and CNY is just a few days away....And I only managed to put up a few miserable decor items on our side entrance door. And the traditional pre-CNY spring cleaning? What spring cleaning? Since moving into this house last March, we still have boxes lying around, and even more boxes turned up when E returned from his parents home prior to Christmas with loads of his childhood stuff. His parents were re-painting the house and had asked him to clear out all the stuff he had hoarded over the years in what used to be his room. It sure looks like I won't be throwing a party or 'open house' anytime soon as our home is not a page out of Martha Stewart Living (is it still in publication?)

I had experimented on two types of cookies a few weeks ago and they turned out ok, but the recipes were rather small portions and did not produce enough to be shared with 'guinea pigs' outside of ACE. And I found making cookies such a tedious affair, having to measure out and pre-prepare certain ingredients, and shaping each cookie individually. And then they're gobbled up in one mouthful within seconds. I think cooking is more worth the effort as you can savour the dish more slowly over a sit-down meal.

This year, CNY falls on Sunday. We get two days of public holiday plus one extra since the first day falls on Sunday. C's school has declared the whole week off while I guess E will be taking the week off too (some communication is lacking somewhere as usual when we're so busy). What are we going to do for the entire week?

Of course, the eve, first and second days will be spent doing the obligatory family stuff but after that? Hmmm.....

Friday, February 5, 2010

'Housewife' ramblings :D

I had mentioned in an earlier post that come March, it wil be five years since I left my career to be a housewife (and yes, what's wrong with using "housewife"? But that's another discussion).

Thoughts of going back to work i.e. as an employee (and yucks, I wonder who invented that word!) have cropped up ever so often, especially in the past year since Caitlin is away from home at school for half a day. What do I do in the first half of a weekday besides tidying up the house and cooking and looking after Rusty and blogging and facebooking? Surely there must be stuff that I can do to keep me sane and hopefully put some coins in the cookie jar.

Well actually, all those are enough to keep me really busy for the first half of the day while the later half will be filled with chauffeur duties, childminding and homework supervision. So why should I want 'work' when I'm already working, albeit at home and without remuneration, days off, medical leave (etc etc if I go on complaining)?

For self-esteem? Nah, I'm past that. Hence, no qualms about calling myself a housewife. Somehow along the way, we've been subconsciously influenced that "housewife" comes with the image of a housecoat- and apron-wearing, curlers-in-the-hair frazzled mother with baby on the hip, dirty laundry on the floor and something burning on the stove, right? Ha ha, I'm not like that.

I wear Tshirt and shorts, no curlers in my short hair, no snot-smeared baby, or floor strewn with dirty laundry. I do have dishpan hands, a computer on the table, and floor strewn with books and other stuff the other two persons in my family hoard (big time unorganised hoarders they are, much to my frustration because I'm a neat freak).

Occasionally, I do have something burning on the stove because I get carried away on the computer! Of course, some housewives these days are more 'hip', with their stay-at-home mom lifestyle of Twittering, grocery shopping in high heels with maid carrying designer-clothed baby. Oh, and some have two maids, one to push the shopping cart and one to carry baby. Aren't they lucky? Ha ha, the grass is not always greener.


'Work' outside of the household stuff is to add variety to the routine, but then it'll become a routine too in the end if it's not the creative type. I'm not the type to do the same stuff day in, day out.

Tried my hand at a couple of things over the past few years in fact. But one that has 'stuck' is writing. And strangely, in the past month, I've got more calls than usual from people asking me if I'd be interested in 'working' for them. However, none other than writing jobs, have really gotten me interested or were really feasible (I'm not giving up my family/home responsibilities to go back to slaving 9 to 5 for a salary although I'm 24/7 minus salaray currently!).

Home and family is still priority, despite the reduced income, despite oft frustrations of a strong-willed child and the challenges of juggling housework, parenting and writing, despite many people wondering why a qualified person like me chooses to be a "housewife" instead of earning more money in a senior position I used to have. So, only if you have been there, done that, i.e. sacrifice your well-paying job for family, not rich, don't have a maid, I'd say you'd know what I'm talking about here. Am I fair by saying this? Do I care? This is, after all, my space-lah...

On a related matter, it'd however be great if I can land myself something that gives me freedom to write, express (sing?), work flexible hours, and still allow me time with family, time to do what I like, travel, spa hop, eat...and earn tons of $...Sounds like the path of a bestselling novelist or artiste? It's a dream but aah, as they say, dreams can come true.