Santa Claus is coming to town

One of the things we do during the year end holidays each year, is to get the kids to make Christmas cards for our extended family. I pack a box of festive supplies and let them lose on them.


During one such session yesterday, I overheard the following conversation:

Shannon: I’m going to write Santa a letter. Maybe he will like my card and give me a present.

Jason: (rolling his eyes) There is no such thing as Santa. Silly baby!

Shannon: Who says? I will try and maybe I will get a present and you won’t.

Jason: How is Santa going to come to our house? The only way is from the windows. And if that happens, we will think he is a thief and call the police. So there is no way Santa can come!

Shannon: I will leave Santa some cookies and milk.

Jason: The food will rot and insects will come.

I have no idea where she gets such notions from, because we hardly discuss Santa or gifts from Santa. Maybe she gets ideas from books, or her friends.

Anyway she ignored her brother and happily wrote a letter for Santa.





I’m not particularly interested in ball games, but thankfully, Jason is. In this month’s column for ST, I write about the lessons both of us have learnt from him joining soccer as a CCA.

While I would have liked him to join other CCAs he was picked for, like String Ensemble or even badminton, he firmly stuck to his choice of soccer. So we let him be.

Lessons aside, there are lots more advantages that come from letting a child follow his passion. A love for soccer is the reason he clamours to read the newspaper every day, so as to follow the exploits of his favourite teams and players. He has since branched out to reading about other sports, both in the newspaper and online.

The thrice-weekly training also means he gets all the active time he needs, which especially important for this foodie. While he sometimes drives me up the wall with incessant kicking of balls and other items at home,  I would rather he be kicking a ball than playing online games (which he is very interested in as well!)


(Picture taken by his shushu)

Stuffed toys


Shannon loves her stuffed toys. Apart from her Friend, she has a handful of other toys out with her at any one point. She mothers them, cuddles them, makes them watch cartoons with her, ties their hair and so on.

Unfortunately, her brother has sensitive nose, so we limit the number of stuffed toys she plays with. Most of them are kept in the big ladybug below. It is an inflatable pillow from Ikea, but a few years ago, I bought just the cloth cover (without the inflatable bag), and her toys have been stuffed inside ever since. They come out on a rotation basis. The rest of the time, the ladybug serves as a step stool for her to reach her books, or as a pillow for her to lie on.


So when she asks for a toy to be out, I take the chance to put several back in. Below was snake’s turn to be out.


Much as I prefer otherwise, she has a continual stream of stuffed toys that come her way courtesy of doting extended family members. So during a recent fund-raising jumble sale her school organised, I persuaded her to donate a bag of toys. She did so, only to look longingly at her toys during the sale, and asked if she could buy them back.

So we let her come home with a $1 Eeyore, in the first picture.

She celebrated her birthday last week, and received many practical presents for use in Primary 1 – a schoolbag, pencil case, wallet and so on. She loved them all. But the one and only present that made her squeal in delight, was a My Little Pony stuffed toy that her Eryi hid in the schoolbag.


She has since been grooming her pony, combing and plaiting its hair, putting it to bed with her at night.


How we cope with hazy days

Unfortunately, hazy days look like they are here to stay for a couple more weeks. The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) hit an all time high on Sept 25, reaching the hazardous range of above 300, and schools were forced to closed for the first time, to the children’s delight. Most days, the PSI ranges from 100 to 200 plus, or in the unhealthy to very unhealthy range. We’ve been mostly holed up at home with windows shut. Our only air purifier, a two year old Novita, broke down last week, so we’ve been doing without one for now.

We’ve been forced to learn to cope with this new norm.


I was very tempted to keep Jason at home in the initial weeks each time the PSI soared above 200, because he has a history of asthmatic wheezing. I’ve learnt to keep calm and find other ways to cope with it since he can’t be skipping school for 2 months. So he has been going to school with a N95 mask and an inhaler, with instructions not to play catching during recess. PE lessons, if any, are held in an enclosed space. Lessons are still carried out in a non-aircon classroom, but he puts on his mask when needed. He takes it off from time to time “because it’s hot and uncomfortable”. Soccer training which was originally three times a week, has thankfully stopped because of upcoming exams. The school has measures to put high risk kids in air-conditioned rooms if the haze worsens – that has not happened yet.

Shannon’s preschool is fully airconditioned and her school teachers and principal are more cautious than I am because they are dealing with much younger children. So I have no qualms sending her to school every day. Since last week, I spotted a large air purifier near the entrance. It’s a reassurance to parents, if nothing.

We now live for days when the PSI drops below 100, when we can open the windows without smelling haze, when we can see the buildings in the distance.

Weekend breakfasts:

We used to head out to various coffeeshops on weekend mornings for our breakfasts. Now, I am better prepared for hazy mornings and cook a nice Western breakfast to cheer everyone up and start our day on a positive note. We each get our choice of egg(sunnyside up, cheese omelette, ham omelette or scrambled), and a portion of other side dishes.


Mid-Autumn Festival

This is the first year we did not bring out our lanterns and head downstairs for some after dinner fun. Instead, we spent the days leading up to the festival stuck at home where we made snowskin mooncakes! I found an easy recipe, bought ingredients while they were in school, and we got down to the job.

Preparing the dough (skin) – 150g of cooked glutinous flour, 130g of icing sugar, 70g of shortening and 150ml cold water plus colouring of your choice. I used a couple of teaspoons of dragonfruit juice to get a pale pink below. Just mesh the fruit using a strainer until you get juice.


I used store-bought lotus paste from a factory in Senoko (Kwong Cheong Thye), since Phoon Huat had run out of it by the time I decided to make mooncakes.


I added toasted melon seeds to the paste.


The kids helped with the shaping and moulding of the mooncakes for a while before they started fighting. I got the plastic mould from Phoon Huat.

End product:


We distributed them to their grandmothers, our neighbours, and left a couple at home for ourselves.



Shannon’s school has an annual lantern-making competition, and I relegated the task to her papa this year. He conscientiously went to Google for ideas, and this was what he found! He also found the link to last year’s lantern and we had a good chuckle over it.

This was what they came up with in the end.


Nope, she didn’t win this year.

Meeting with friends

We had a (nearly) haze-free day yesterday and had friends over for a lovely morning.



Counting down to the end of October, and the end of hazy days…

One-pot prawns and tuna pasta

I don’t always cook on weekends, so I make it a point to buy only enough groceries on weekdays to last us until Friday. So if I feel like cooking a meal on Saturday or Sunday, I have to rely on leftover groceries on weekdays, pantry staples or freezer options. So our weekend meals are nothing fancy (not that our weekday meals are much fancier.)
But last Saturday, I managed to cobble together enough ingredients to make for a presentable lunch.

I found in my freezer a pack of frozen, deshelled, cooked prawns (available from NTUC). I bought it months ago and had no idea what to do with it. I always have frozen corn kernels in my freezer because my kids love them steamed and they are an easy option for when I run out of vegetables. Together with a bunch of broccoli and very ripe cherry tomatoes from the week, I decided to try cooking a one-pot pasta.

I’m all for convenient cooking, so I’m embracing this latest way of cooking pasta – dump everything in one pot and cook it all together (including the dry pasta). It means less to wash up.

One pot prawns and tuna pasta
Prawns (Frozen)
Tuna (in mineral water, canned)
Sweet corn kernels (Frozen)
Cherry tomatoes
Penne pasta
2-3 cups Water/chicken stock
Pasta sauce


1) Boil water or chicken stock. I had some stock in the fridge and topped it up with water. When boiled, add pasta sauce and stir.
2) Add the rest of ingredients starting from ones that take longest to cook, in this order: pasta, tomatoes(we like them “mashy”), broccoli, corn, tuna and prawns. (In this case prawns are cooked already, so I just added them last to warm them up)


3) Add more liquid as needed, cook until pasta is al dente.

4) I turned off the fire when there was still lots of liquid (above), left it standing for 10 minutes and the sauce was mostly soaked up.


And lunch is served!

In other news, my column in ST today is on Primary 1 preparation, and a reminder to myself on mistakes not to repeat.

Hazy days

For the past few weeks, I’ve been devouring General Elections news daily. Having reduced the amount of work I’m currently doing, I’ve had the time to read up every last nugget of information on the candidates and parties. It’s a far cry from the last GE when I was on the ground chasing after candidates for interviews.

With the GE (and results) out of the way, the school term has restarted along with hazy days. We saw the worst of it last night (hopefully), when the PSI reached 249, and the view outside out window turned from (less hazy)


to very hazy. The yellow building in the distance was completely shrouded in thick smog. :(


Our windows have been mostly shut for a week now. Luckily we still have masks from previous hazy days, along with some cheerful ones we got from Ho Chi Minh City last year. (Not N95, just fabric ones)


And just to quickly recap our past month.


Singapore celebrated 50 years of independence on Aug 9. Instead of heading out to join the crowds, we spent time with the extended family and close friends.



Cake was baked by Weiwei and I cut out the moon and stars from glittery paper and stuck them on sticks.


The kids had fun with the SG50 Lego set that the Education Ministry generously gave. After they finished attempting the three landmarks – Changi Airport control tower, Cavenagh Bridge and the supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, Jason came up with an SG50 robot.



Counting my blessings

On days when I feel under the weather, tired or frustrated, I count my blessings. It doesn’t take a lot to make a mum happy.

With a picky eater at home, I constantly have to think of ways to whet her appetite. There are hits and misses. Sometimes crackers strewn on her rice makes dinner go down faster. Other times it takes some chilli sauce or pork floss. Today, several “fake” handrolls saved the day.

I found a package of unsalted seaweed sheets I bought a few months ago, and offered to wrap Shannon some handrolls. I rolled the seaweed into a cone and scooped her rice into it.


She lapped it all up and even enticed her korkor to ask for the same.


We do a best and worst of the day at dinner and Shannon proclaimed dinner her highlight of the day – which means a lot coming from a non-foodie. That made my day.

On the other hand, our resident foodie offered to make us breakfast on Sunday – baked oats. He found a recipe in a children’s cook book, but had to improvise because we didn’t have half the ingredients listed.

So he added rolled oats, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries(in place of raisins), cashew nuts(in place of almonds/walnuts), chocolate chips, and drizzled honey(in place of maple syrup) on top. It went into the 180 degC oven for 20 minutes and made for a delicious, healthy breakfast! We had it with cheese omelette and scrambled eggs. He rinsed the oats first, which made the end product a little soggy. He is planning to improve on it this weekend. Am looking forward to relinquishing breakfast duties!


So much to be thankful for.

Chinese tuition

I never had tuition in primary school. It wasn’t like I was topping the class or anything like that. In fact, there were times I did so poorly in some tests, my mother got a call from my teacher. Maybe things were much easier then. I did my homework, studied for my tests, and my parents were happy with whatever marks I brought home.

When Jason was in preschool, several of his classmates were attending tuition in preparation for Primary 1. I never felt pressured to do the same. Likewise, when I pick Shannon early from childcare these days, her teacher asks if she’s going for tuition (like a few of her friends). My reply? Nope, we’re going to the supermarket/zoo/playground etc. Even during the meet-the-parents session earlier this year, when her teacher said there is a marked difference in reading ability between those who attend tuition and those who don’t, I decided there is still no need for tuition at this point. She will eventually catch up, like her korkor did.

But things are different now that Jason is in Primary 3. Despite holding off on Chinese tuition previously, I caved in a few months ago, a decision I wrote about in a column in ST today. As much as I prefer he do without outside help, there was a niggling thought at the back of my mind telling me he needed it. It was only a matter of time before his Chinese compositions pulled down his scores. So even though I don’t like the idea of having an over-scheduled child, I signed him up for classes a few months ago.

It remains to be seen whether the help is useful or otherwise. So far it’s just Chinese tuition. If only he would read Chinese newspapers the way he reads English ones!


Family Yearbooks

One of the things I wanted to do when I left my job last year, was to organise our family pictures. We’ve taken lots of pictures over the years, especially after the kids came about. Some have been printed, some slipped into albums, others left largely forgotten in camera SD cards, computer hard disks, on Facebook or in handphones. Basically they are all over the place.

I like the idea of having a printed yearbook to summarise our year, but it would be too onerous a task to start from scratch and have one for each year. So I purchased five coupons from Photobook Singapore last year, with a six month deadline, to force myself to get started on it.


I’m sure there are many options out there for printed photobooks, but I didn’t spend too long researching. Since I had so many books to catch up on, I found one that fit my budget – $30 a book without delivery (they routinely have promotions so this was the best deal I saw then), for 40 pages, with pre-designed pages I could just add pictures to, Delivery costs $10per book, so it works out to $40 per yearbook. I figured it’s cheaper, neater and easier than getting photos printed, buying an album and having them laid out nicely. The price seems to have dropped $2 to $28 or so this year, but again, it fluctuates so wait for a good deal if you want to get one.


I did one year per book for 2011 to this year, but condensed three years into one book for the earlier years: 06 – 08 (after Jason was born), and 08 – 2010 (after Shannon was born).

I had some trouble finishing the books before the deadline, possibly because I did it too close to the deadline and the last minute frenzy caused uploading of pictures to take too long. The process left me endlessly frustrated, so I wrote in to ask for an extension which they were happy to oblige. The size I chose was the medium landscape (basically an A4 landscape), and I kept to it because I wanted all books to stack nicely.


It’s been a great way to look back on our years so far. We occasionally take them out and have a good chuckle reminiscing about Shannon’s botak head as a baby, Jason’s cherubic looks as a toddler (what happened to you now, we tease him), and our travels as a family. Relatives and friends who have come by also enjoyed flipping through the books.

I got another two coupons earlier this year, for a 2014 book as well as one for our travels before the kids came along. Again I nearly busted the deadline and had to write in for an extension.


This is what the inside looks like. The designs are different for each book, depending on which you choose. One can also design blank pages from scratch but I didn’t have the inclination to do so. Most yearbook designs start with a Year At A Glance summary page, with the rest of the pages spread out through the years.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 10.48.12 am

Below are the two pages for February 2014. The colours, design and layout are suggested but there is the flexibility to change them around as you wish. I included a page that marked my last day in ST.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 10.49.01 am

And a Mother’s Day card drawn by Jason.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 10.49.47 am

The books are too pretty to be left on a shelf, so they now sit in a basket as part of our home decoration.


Here’s to more years of memory-making!

When mum is busy

There are times our normal life gets thrown out of whack, like in the past few weeks. When I’m swamped with work and under the weather, the family has to find new ways to cope.

Outings – have been few and far between because I have been rushing interviews, transcripts and stories for a book project this month. So my husband has taken over ferrying duties and bringing Shannon for some after school fun while I get in that extra hour of working time.

Shannon’s Chinese name 橦 (tong2), means cotton tree. We chose it because it we liked the meaning – many uses, useful to society. Her papa had the great idea of bringing her to hunt down the tree she is named after. So after school one day, the two of them went on an “adventure”. Adventure because the said tree, tall and majestic, was located beside a busy expressway, across a large drain. Somehow, they made it to the tree, and Shannon had a picture taken while balancing precariously on a railing (on the side away from the road).


They found some soft, white cotton on the ground beside the tree, which made a comfortable bed for the bugs!


She still talks about the “adventure” she went on with Papa.

Entertainment – has been self-directed because I simply have no time or energy to think up ways to entertain them. There have been too many TV days. But there have also been moments they derived simple pleasure from staying at home. So forget things like “let’s do some painting on canvas”. Jason dug out some old art books and started drawing again. Simple pencil sketches I love.



Housework – only the bare minimum has been done, and on some days, not even the bare minimum. Shannon has had to wear the same uniform two days in a row a couple of times in the past weeks because her parents completely forgot to get in a load of laundry before they fell asleep. Not that she knows. She cannot know because she refuses to rewear what she thinks are soiled clothes…

My part-time helper remarked that I must have been busy because the home is dirtier than ever. I usually sweep every day (she mops once a week), but even sweeping has taken a backseat. I do make the kids sweep up crumbs they scatter and that’s how we’ve been managing.

Jason has taken it upon himself to pack his table without being asked, so that was a nice surprise!


Dinners – have been tiffin meals lovingly cooked and delivered piping hot by their grandma. We would otherwise be eating out most days. Now they get a say in the dishes they want from the “tiffin service” and get to provide unsolicited feedback on the meals to the cook. We’re blessed! (I only remembered to take pictures on one day)


We did manage to get out one evening over the weekend for a birthday meal at a vegan restaurant, Loving Hut. Their favourite aunt, my youngest sister, turned 19!


We had delicious vegan food that well, didn’t taste vegan!



Thankfully, I’m seeing the light at the end of the busy tunnel soon. :)

Goodbye, Lao ma (great-grandma)

Two years after my maternal grandmother (ah chor) passed away, we said goodbye to my paternal grandmother (ah ma) – the kids great-grandmother whom they called Lao ma.

wpid-imag0069.jpgLike ah chor, Lao ma lived a good, long life. She was 90, had 8 children, 11 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren. She died of a brain aneurysm leading to a stroke. She was in a coma for nine days before she succumbed.

She was lucky to have her full mental capacity right up to the day before her stroke. My uncle recalled discussing the buying and selling of shares with her just hours before she went to bed and never woke up. She had great fun dabbling in the stock markets in the last few decades of her life, often helping my parents monitor the stocks and shares on Teletext while they were at work. She did not read much English but could recognise the alphabets that formed the stocks she owned!

When my sister graduated, we went to the studio for her graduation photoshoot. Below, my parents, sisters, my husband and ah ma.


It was a couple of years after my grandfather passed on. So during the studio shoot, ah ma had her “funeral portrait” taken as well. As it turned out, she outlived ah gong by almost 20 years. My mother kept her portrait in the cupboard all this while.

wpid-img-20150704-wa0006.jpgShe lived with us during our school days, cooking lunches for my sister and I, and dinners for my family.


So I was grateful to have had the opportunity to cook her a meal on Mother’s Day just last month.

wpid-img_0021.jpgMy cousin, Kevin, was back from Switzerland with wife Steffi, and we had one of the best family reunions in a long while.

wpid-img_0013.jpgOf course we never expected it would be our last gathering with ah ma. She was full of life, enjoying the family, the food and our laughter, apart from dozing off towards the end of the evening on my sofa. She had some minor ailments and walked with the help of a walking stick. Apart from that, she was blessed with largely good health. For that, we’re thankful.


While we mourn her passing, we celebrate the good life she led. We will miss her signature cabbage duck dish cooked over the charcoal stove every Chinese New Year, but we will go on to continue to cook for our family, feeding them homecooked meals the way she fed us. Rest well, ah ma. You deserve it.

Brandname school or neighbourhood school?

I’ve never thought it really important that my kids attend a brandname school – even though I was from one myself. So Jason has been attending a neighbourhood school near home for the last few years. Shannon is due for Primary 1 next year, and the time has come for school registration. In a column in Straits Times published today, I wrote about the dilemma of selecting a school for her – my alma mater, or her korkor’s school. (ST has a new education section that comes out every Monday and I’ll be writing a monthly column there.)

If I didn’t feel so strongly about my alma mater, perhaps there wouldn’t be much of an issue. But I have fond memories of my primary school life, even though it’s been decades since I left the school. The most iconic person from my primary school was my principal, Mrs Hwang. She has since retired, but the last time I met her several years ago, she was working as a primary school counsellor. She is not one to rest on her laurels. I was delighted to meet her in the course of my work, during an interview in a primary school. I greeted her the only way I knew how: “校长!”(“Principal”, in mandarin) And the first thing she said? “来, 校长抱抱一下!” (Come, let me give you a hug)

Picture, taken by one of her pupils, is slightly blurred. wpid-screenshot_2015-07-06-10-54-02_1.jpg

I was not a high profile student in school, and I’m pretty sure she did not remember or recognise me since it had been more than 20 years since I left the school. But such is her warmth. She hugs all her students. All her ex-students still call her 校长, even though she has retired long ago. She set the tone for the school. Ask anyone from the school then and they remember her motherly reminders to drink water, her lengthy assembly talks and more.

I will always be grateful to Mrs Hwang, my teachers in primary school, and the friends I made there. They have contributed to who I am today. They made primary school enjoyable. All I hope is my children will also have fond memories of their school life. When they leave school, I hope it is not the brand of the school, the marks they get in tests and exams, or the homework they remember. I hope they remember the friends they played with during recess, the fun they had during CCA after school, and the antics they got up to with their friends during lessons. And such memories, can be made anywhere, whether the school is a brandname or neighbourhood one.

Happy Father’s Day!


He shrugged away attempts to celebrate Father’s Day. “No need, lah,” he said, when I suggested we go somewhere special for breakfast.

So we had breakfast at one of our usual haunts, I baked half a chicken for lunch, and we spent the day lazing at home, before going to my mother-in-law’s for dinner.

An ordinary Sunday, just the way he wanted. No fanfare, no extravagant meals, no presents.

Happy Father’s Day to the man who gave me the greatest gifts in life – our children, and the choice to stay home with them.


She’s been given the all clear – 13 days after she came down with chicken pox. There are just a couple of scabs which have “dried nicely”, said the doctor, who has declared her fit to return to school, to her dismay.


The past two weeks has been rather unusual for us, since we’re used to being out and about most days. Even if we were to spend a lazy day at home on a weekend, it’s by choice. But we didn’t have a choice the last two weeks. We couldn’t go out, more specifically, Shannon couldn’t go out, which meant I couldn’t go out most times. I think she took it better than me. At the same time, we couldn’t invite people over. And she had to be kept away from the neighbours she usually runs around with. What could have been a trying two weeks of cabin fever was made better by several factors:

1) SEA Games!

It’s the best diversion ever. The timing could not have been better. We have been cheering for Team Singapore from our couch, during the swimming heats in the morning, taking a break after that until one or two events in the afternoon. Then capping off each night cheering for the Singapore swimmers. The kids are now on first name basis with the TeamSG swimmers, nevermind if we’ve never met them before. Oh and a couple of regional ones too, for eg, the iron lady from Vietnam, who like Joseph, has the midas touch. “Not Anh Vien again,” they would groan, when they see her in the line-up. Her appearance often meant everyone else would have to settle for fighting for silver.


The competitive one at home kept his own scores, noted the records, so he could find out and announce who has the games record, before the TV commentator could say his piece.


2) Visits

While we couldn’t invite people over, I was very, very thankful for those who came by to spend time with the kids. Their ah ma, grandma, and their two yiyis – my sisters. One came by to spend the afternoon so my husband and I could have the time off, the other brought Jason out for a concert and yummy dinner.

eryi n jason

3) Cheerful Shannon

She was delighted about not having to go to school, so she dealt with everything else cheerfully.


Best of all, her extended time at home meant she left her mark everywhere.



wpid-imag2398.jpg :)


For some reason, I escaped the chicken pox virus when I was young. I worried about catching it when I was pregnant with Jason. I had a scare once when I saw some blisters on my body. It turned out to be an allergic reaction. I wasn’t so lucky the next time. I had a difficult pregnancy when I had Shannon, was on bed rest for four months because of constant spotting. When it finally let up in the fifth month, I came down with chicken pox – on the exact same day as Jason, on my birthday. The irony of it all.

After the initial panic, I read that the second trimester was probably the safest time to catch chicken pox while pregnant. Not that it was any comfort to me then. Jason’s blisters cleared in less than a week after he took a course of anti viral medicine, acyclovia. The doctor suggested I not take the mediciine. My high fever went on for two weeks, as did the blisters. I was finally admitted to KK Hospital and given the appropriate meds (I can’t remember if it’s acyclovia), before being discharged after two nights.

With all that I had to go through, we thought, and hoped, that Shannon might be immune to chicken pox. Well, we found out the answer this week. Nope, not at all. She came down with the pox last Friday, caught from a classmate, and let’s just say the June holidays did not start the way I had envisioned.

The moment I spotted a watery blister on her forehead, I warned her not to burst it. And in the next moment, she did exactly what I told her NOT to do. Oh well.

We brought her to the polyclinic the next day, where we were given ‘VIP” treatment: She was whisked to an isolation room, seen by the doctor within minutes, her papa got her medicine in an amazingly short time while we went back to the car to wait, and we were out of there in no time. All this while the polyclinic was packed to the brim as it usually is on a typical Saturday. #thankful


And while I said the June holidays did not get off to the start I had envisioned, it’s a different case from Shannon’s point of view. She attends childcare and does not usually have school holidays though we do take her out of school on many days. She’s wisened up to the fact that her korkor has school holidays. Last weekend was the start of the holidays. When the cheerful doctor announced that she would be given two week’s MC, the grin on Shannon’s face said it all.


So despite the fever, itch and discomfort, she has been having the time of her life at home.


wpid-imag2298.jpg wpid-imag2300.jpg wpid-imag2319.jpg wpid-imag2320.jpg wpid-imag2329.jpg


Check out that blister on her forehead…wpid-imag2321.jpg

We postponed holiday plans and cancelled a birthday dinner at a restaurant for their papa this week since Shannon is stuck at home.

Making a birthday card for papa.


We celebrated at home instead.



This picture sums it all up: Trying not to look too pleased about having chicken pox…


Corporate training

When I was seriously considering an offer to teach in a junior college several years ago, my family (of teachers) was against it. Said my mum, sister, husband, in no particular order:

“A new teacher will have to pull longer hours. You will have less flexibility than a reporting job.”

“The holidays are not worth it; you don’t get to enjoy the full holidays anyway.”

“Interaction with students is over-rated, many don’t appreciate what their teachers do for them.”

I took in their comments and remained as a reporter for several more years.

But since I left ST, I’ve taken on a couple of teaching stints. I’ve taught secondary/JC students short media courses, I’ve taken a class of journalism undergraduates for one semester, and I’ve also done some corporate training – teaching English to adults in a corporate setting.

The corporate training stint was something I thought long and hard about before taking up. I’ve not been formally trained to teach English but had to come up with my own training syllabus based on the organisation’s needs. I was most stressed out about this job before the lessons started and almost regretted taking it up. It has meant week after week of lesson preparation. It has meant I’ve blogged less in the last few months. But four months later, I can safely say, this has been my favourite stint so far.

This group of employees from the organisation’s quality management unit deal with complaints from the public. A LOT of complaints. On all sorts of issues. Their job is to reply emails and take calls politely. Some of them have been with the organisation for many years, and some do not have a good grasp of Grammar or know how to write succinct replies. So in the last four months, we have focused on Grammar rules, using Public Relations skills in replies, as well as going through each of the replies to see how they can be improved.

The group of them in their 30s to 50s, are down-to-earth, enthusiastic, and appreciative of the lessons. They had asked their management for lessons so as to better do their job. I found them very quiet in the first few lessons, and started to think of ways and topics to draw them out. I’m happy to say that by the last lesson, all would frequently volunteer their answers, argue cheerfully with one another about the correct use of Grammar, and confidently question me about things they did not quite understand.

I conducted the last lesson a week ago. I came away with a newfound respect for people who handle public complaints, some of which are rude or downright unreasonable. I admire how they stay calm on the phone with people shouting at them. I take my hat off how they politely reply to each email, even apologising for issues they are not directly responsible for. Their English may not be perfect but you can’t fault them on their professionalism.

Best of all, they’re appreciative of the lessons. I realise it takes very little to make a teacher’s day. A word of thanks, a note about how it is useful to their daily work, and a comment about how they have started using some templates we came up with together. These are all it takes to put a smile on my face. Thank you.

The over-scheduled child

For the last two weeks, Jason led the life of an over-scheduled child.

Ironically it happened after exams ended because of a post-exam activity we signed him up for – Conversational Malay lessons offered by the school, conducted after school every day for two weeks. It’s a new language to him, it’s free, it’s useful in Singapore and Malaysia, so why not?

So for the last fortnight, his schedule looked something like this:

Mon: School, Malay, Soccer (ends at 6pm)

Tue: School, Malay (ends at 4pm)

Wed: School, Malay, Soccer (ends at 6pm)

Thurs: School, Malay, Piano (ends at 5pm)

Friday: School, Malay (ends at 3.30pm)

The timing of the lessons vary but he generally ends at 4pm or 6pm most days, instead of 1.30pm or 12.30pm. It has meant that I have had a chance to finish up freelance work, arrange lunches with friends and had more me-time generally.

It has also meant that he is tired, cranky, has little to no time for homework, reading, soccer with the neighbours, playing, doing nothing at home, and so on. I felt sorry for him. The protected time he has to play is lost. So are our after school chats over lunch. He is so tired after Malay or soccer, I get mostly one-word replies. Yucks.

The good thing is there is no homework for this class. It’s purely learning the spoken language, and any work given is done within class time. He has also picked up and taught me several phrases which will come in useful when we travel to Malaysia.

Today is the last day of his Malay lessons. While I enjoyed the greater amount of “freedom” the last two weeks, I’m kind of looking forward to having lunch together and spending afternoons with him. I’m also glad we have managed to keep weekends free of classes for him.

While learning something new is a good reason to go for class, you can have too much of a good thing. Thankfully this is just a two-week programme. It is a good reminder not to over-schedule him. At least not now. I’m told such a timetable is the norm for a pupil in Primary 5 and 6. Sigh.

A Math Lesson

This mid-year exams hasn’t been much different from last year’s. In terms of enthusiasm, mine is still higher than Jason’s. So exam revision is still largely me prodding, him plodding. It has reached a point where I tell him what I think he should do to revise, and whether or not he does it, is up to him. There is only that much hand-holding I can and want to do. He’s already in Primary 3, he has to know the consequences of not studying at some point, and better now than later, I figure.

But because he understands his lessons fairly quickly, he is lazy, and thinks he can get away with it.

“Try some of these questions from the Math assessment book,” I tell him.

“I already know how to do them,” he claims.

I left him alone for math, and concentrated on getting him to revise Chinese and Science. Chinese being the subject he struggles with the most, and science being the new subject this year. English is left aside because there simply isn’t enough time to work on it. His love for reading will have to translate magically into decent scores in exams.

The result? Decent scores in English, Science and even Chinese. The shocker came in mathematics. He scored some 15 marks lower than his previous exams. I was surprised; he was shocked. He never expected to get those marks. It’s the first time since he started school that he broke down and cried over academics.

I was pragmatic rather than angry – and took the chance to repeat all I have said to him: You reap what you sow, hard work gets you everywhere etc. I thought if this lesson hit home hard enough, and became a wake-up call for him, it could well be a blessing in disguise.

Until I saw the exam paper, and saw how his carelessness(2069 became 2096 in his working), over-confidence (not drawing diagram which would have helped) and lack of practice (’nuff said) contributed to his scores. Then I got mad.

I wrangled a tearful agreement from him to work harder the next time round, do some work during the June holidays, and left it as that. That was two weeks ago.

His papa got him a math assessment book from Popular and I suggested he attempt some questions in there yesterday.

“Why must I do it?” was his immediate reply, although he did do the sums in the end.

So now I’m not sure if he’s really learnt his lesson.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t usually plan things way ahead, but three months ago, we planned for an extended family gathering at my place. We set the date on May 10 because my cousin, Kevin, who now lives in Switzerland, would be back with his wife, Steffi, for a week. I had been meaning to invite my grandma and other relatives over so it was a good chance for everyone to gather.


Only in recent weeks did I realise Mother’s Day falls on May 10!


As it turned out, Mother’s Day was perfect for a family gathering, where we honoured all the mothers in the family. (Photobombed by Shannon)


We had a lovely evening catching up over yummy food. I’m not sure how Shannon got herself in so many pictures when she spent a good part of the evening playing outside with our neighbours…


The kids wondered how our little flat could fit 20 relatives.


A good dessert by Jason capped off the evening – he made all (20!) of us baked pear, served with ice-cream. It went from the oven to our stomachs in 10 minutes and I have no pictures to show for it, unfortunately. Next time!

A group picture to remember the evening by!


It was a weekend of celebration. On Saturday, we celebrated at my Mother-in-law’s. Food was yummy and we forgot to take a picture! Kids with their Ah ma below.



On Sunday evening, my aunt said to me, “So sorry you had to spend Mother’s Day cooking for us!”

“It’s my pleasure,” I said. And it is. My sister helped to cook some food and we bought the rest. What is a day’s food preparation compared to the daily lunches and dinners that grandma cooked during my school days when she lived with us?

Or the hours grandma spent, bent over a charcoal stove to make her signature cabbage duck stew every Chinese New Year – which no one else in the family has been able to replicate as yet.


Hope you had a good Mother’s Day too!

Reconnecting with a teacher

I didn’t set out to be a journalist. When I was in the communications school in NTU, we had to decide which division to go to in our third year. We got a taste of the four divisions (then) in our first two years in school. I wasn’t interested in communications research or public relations. Between broadcast and journalism, broadcast seemed more fun. For some reason, the broadcast division was oversubscribed that year. The lecturers must have done such a great job, we all wanted to go in there.

Then I had a chat with Mr Tan Lai Kim who taught me a news writing module. I think the lecturers were asked to even out the spread of students. He spoke to me about considering journalism since I did well in the module. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he managed to persuade me to change my mind. I’ve not looked back since. I’ve never regretted not going into the broadcast division.  I went on to join the campus newspaper Nanyang Chronicle where I met my husband. Not long after graduation, I joined ST and spent 12 years there.

I lost touch with Mr Tan after graduation. In the last 16 years, I’ve thought about the man who steered me on the path of journalism. For some reason, I remembered him saying he would go back to the US to retire on a farm. He’s not of retirement age though. I thought that must be where he went. I thought wrong. An ex-colleague, Chin Hon, shared an article this week, by an editor with the Boston Globe – and there it was, written by L. Kim Tan.

I dropped him an email to say hi, to say a long overdue word of thanks. And he replied. It’s so nice to be reconnected, to finally be able to thank someone so instrumental in my choice of a career.


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