By parents, for parents

One of the reasons I like Shannon’s preschool is how the kids know the names of all the adults in the school, even the non-teaching staff. They cheerfully greet Aunty Teoh, the cook, whose food they love; Aunty Eileen, the cleaner who has recently left, whom we would sometimes offer a ride home; and Uncle Jaffar, the gardener, who tends to the beautiful greenery and compound the children enjoy daily. The joy on the faces of these non-teaching staff when the children call out to them, is unmistakeable. Two years ago, Jason, the foodie, urged me to recreate Aunty Teoh’s long bean fried rice at home, and she generously gave me a quick lesson on the recipe.

I had presumed such close-knit relations could only be found in a small preschool whose total enrolment numbers less than 80? So I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I was at MOE’s Excel Festival – an event to showcase innovative practices in schools – and I saw what Swiss Cottage Secondary had done. Here are some pictures of their combined efforts:

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A close-up in case the words are too small:

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As part of Values-in-Action, a programme to teach values, the Sec 1 students had given handwritten notes to the non-teaching staff in the school, in the process getting to know them by name. As student Lim Jia Jia told me, the cleaner or canteen vendors are no longer a generic aunty or uncle. They can now put a name to the face of the support staff who has been helping them or selling them food. I wish I could see the reactions of these aunties and uncles when presented with these notes! This is but a small way for the children to appreciate and thank people who have helped them but something that I feel is so often taken for granted today.

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Taking a picture with Jia Jia, the student who shared with me.

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A group photo with the other Compass members, students and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

I attended the event as a Compass member. Compass stands for Community and Parents in Support of Schools, which is basically an advisory council to the Education Ministry. I joined as a media representative last year and even though I’ve left ST, MOE has asked that I stay on until the end of my two-year term. One of the reasons I’m thankful to have joined Compass is how much I’ve learnt from the Parent Support Group(PSG) parent volunteers I’ve met. I find myself constantly humbled and impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of the parent volunteers. When I had a full time job, I’ve always felt I was far too busy to be a parent volunteer. And then I met father of two, Edwin Cheng, 44, who works in the hotel line, who is in not one, not two, but THREE PSGs! He remains in the PSG of Ai Tong school even though his children have long graduated from the school. As his kids are in two different secondary schools, he has joined the PSGs of both their schools! I asked him why, and he said simply that it is one way of paying back all that his children have gained from the schools; it helps that the other volunteers have become his friends; and his kids are proud of him for being in the PSGs. Wow.

Happening alongside the Excel Festival was the inaugural PSG Conference, a collaboration between PSG members, COMPASS and MOE.

 

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The most impressive thing was that the event was organised by the parent volunteers, many of whom have day jobs, several kids to tend to and a household to run. Among the sharing sessions, two touched me the most. One was from a Primary 5 pupil from South View Primary, Caitlin Khoo, who spoke about how proud she was of her dad, Mr Khoo Kar Tiong, because he volunteered at her school. She spoke about how touched she was to find out he was in a mascot costume for a school event –  he perspires easily and yet still did the job for the kids. 

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Caitlin on stage.

The second session was from fellow Compass member Jason Wong, the founder of the Dads for Life movement and Yellow Ribbon Project, who told the audience about his journey to becoming a PV.

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Jason, too, was a busy working dad who said he had no time when he was approached by his child’s primary school. He was eventually persuaded by the school’s PSG chairman and principal to join. He has since gone on to encourage hundreds more dads to volunteer. He worked with the school to produce this video some seven years ago. It’s a must-watch. Especially for fathers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asmoRl4gxLo

And here is a final group shot before I rushed off to spend the weekend with my family.

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Have a great weekend!





 

 

I can’t chop a chicken… but I can steam it in a slow cooker!

I can’t, don’t know, don’t want to, don’t dare to… chop a chicken even though I’ve cooked chicken many times. I either get the lovely aunties in NTUC to help me chop it up in whatever permutations I want, or I buy chicken parts. But I recently ordered a whole Sakura chicken from their website not realising that it would come frozen, with legs, backside (and maybe neck?!) all intact. I don’t know and I don’t really want to know.

I meant to cook it for dinner one Saturday when my mum and sisters came over. Only thing was I was home alone with the two kids and husband was in reservist and would not be home until before dinner. My mum who can chop a chicken, would only come near dinner time. I scrapped plans to cook the chicken and came up with something else instead. Dinner was good and everyone had a good time. I even told my mum I’d give her a whole chicken which I couldn’t chop, so she could bring it home to cook. But she forgot to bring it back and it remained in my fridge, thawing.

The next day, I casually asked for hubby’s help to chop the chicken. Yes, he can chop a chicken. To make the job easier for him, I said just remove the legs, backside and neck(if any). I didn’t check back on him until the job was done. Thankfully, he didn’t ask why me (the housewife) couldn’t chop a chicken.

Fed up with the hassle the chicken had put me through, I decided to plonk the whole thing in the slow cooker and steam it. It was my first time steaming a chicken in the slow cooker and it worked. Just add the whole chicken, a little water, some seasoning, mushrooms and wolf berries, and let the steam do the job.

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Four to five hours later, we had fall-apart tender chicken for dinner, served with rice. No issues about chopping it up as it gave way before I could cut it. All was forgiven.


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We had a lovely dinner that evening with plenty of leftovers.

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I decided to shred the leftover chicken and portion it into two bags for subsequent meals. We’re not big meat-eaters so one portion is usually enough for a meal. Happiness is when the next day’s dinner is partially ready!

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The next day, I left dinner to the last minute as I was busy. And busy days usually mean pasta for dinner. After I picked Shannon from school, we dropped by the supermarket to see what I could make to use up the shredded chicken. I decided to buy some shredded cheese, thin-sliced ham and dou miao before heading home to cook dinner. (We used more veg and cheese than what’s pictured below)

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I left the pasta to cook in the rice-cooker so I wouldn’t have to watch it. I don’t measure the pasta nor water. Just pour in slightly less than half a pack of pasta, make sure it’s covered with water and then add slightly more, and then shut the lid, checking it from time to time when there’s steam.

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Meanwhile, my little helper got busy helping me to pound cornflakes to top the baked pasta. They love the tops of the pasta crispy, but I don’t usually have breadcrumbs at home. So we use whatever we have at home, from crackers to cornflakes. It works!


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I steamed the dou miao in the rice cooker along with the pasta, using the steamer attachment, and poured all the prepared ingredients into the rice cooker when the pasta was done, just to mix it up. It looked a little dry so I added a pack of low sodium cream of chicken soup and some milk.


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Here it is, in individual portions (to reduce washing), getting ready to be baked.

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Top it off with shredded cheese and corn flakes! Ideally the conflakes should be more fine, but who am I to complain when I had cheerful help to do the job.

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Bake it for 15 minutes or so until the cheese is melted. And have additional cornflakes on the side for serving!

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I realise the chicken was steamed Chinese-style (sesame oil, Hua Tiao wine, soy sauce), but I used the shredded meat in a western pasta. Nevermind, no one complained, everyone said it was delicious. :)

 

Cook once, eat twice

Nope, I’m not talking about eating leftovers, but rather cooking once, but intending it to be for two meals. I’ve done this several times now, and it’s been a huge time-saver. The hubby’s on reservist, so it’s just the kids and I having dinners at home these two weeks. While I would have simply packed food from the coffeeshop in the past when hubby travelled or went on reservist, we’ve been having most meals at home even while he was away last week. Cooking is slowly but surely becoming second nature to me!

But even if I can now throw together a simple dinner that pleases my kids in less time than before, I’m still on my quest to find recipes that enable me to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. To me, the simplest meal would actually be porridge, cooked with pork, fish or chicken. And I did that last week. But when the kids saw porridge for dinner for the second day in a row, they rebelled. Ok, so they still ate up their dinner, but they said not so politely: “Porridge again?!” and “Can you cook something else tomorrow, Mummy?”. Oh well.

With what I had in the fridge, I cooked their favourite pasta for lunch today. Ingredients: garlic, onion, minced meat, mushroom, cherry tomatoes cut in half and pasta sauce. Fry up the ingredients with olive oil, adding each in the order listed, add water if needed, and let sauce simmer.

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We had it with some macaroni (boiled in a rice cooker so I don’t have to watch the fire). Since I had spent all that time cutting up the onions and tomatoes (mushroom was pre-sliced and garlic minced in bulk), I decided to make enough for two meals. So yes, half of the sauce has been scooped into a casserole, cooled and is now in the freezer, ready for a quick dinner later in the week. Probably much later in the week so they won’t remember we just had something similar over the weekend!

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It means one weekday dinner is about settled, I just have to boil some pasta to go with it. Or if I really want to make a different meal, I might cook some rice, portion out the rice and sauce in individual casseroles, top it with cheese and bread crumbs (I usually just use some mashed crackers), and serve up some baked rice. Also a hot favourite around here.

Now I just have to figure out how to cook once and maybe, eat thrice?!

 

Tips Jar

I’ve taken over laundry duties from my husband and am loving our new washing machine that can wash and dry. More on that another time. But one little pesky thing about doing laundry for a school-going boy who does not use a wallet (because he forgets to bring it more often than he remembers), is the change that is in the bermudas pocket when he returns from school. Jason is in the afternoon session and usually returns home ravenous. After a quick dinner, he heads to the shower, clothes strewn outside the toilet floor. He only picks them up later, usually after reminders. To be fair, he does remember to remove the coins from his pocket these days, but where he puts them is another matter. He has so far left coins on the counter outside the kitchen toilet, in my bathroom, or everywhere else but where it is supposed to go – his money box maybe? This is despite numerous reminders.

I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and own the change. Using materials I have at home – an old jar, some cloth tape, label and letter stickers – I’ve come up with a Tips Jar located on the counter outside the kitchen toilet, to collect all the loose change that I find. After all, it’s not too much to leave some tips for the laundry lady, right? Of course, after Jason saw the jar and discovered what I was up to, he vowed to keep his change off the counter. We’ll see… :)

Step 1: Gather materials: old jar and tape.

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Step 2: Use tape to cover up original label. I did something similar for another jar here and with a milk tin here.

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Step 3: Add plain white label and alphabet stickers. Here is the jar on the kitchen counter beside my jars of millet and buckwheat.

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Done! Get ready to start collecting all the loose change from generous family members!

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Yup, the collection has started. :)
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My daily routine

Someone asked me the other day if it was traumatic to make the move from working full-time to being a housewife.

I thought about it and realised the transition was far from traumatic for me. While I left my job only last month, my move to stay at home was a gradual one as I had already been working from home for the last two years, only going to office once a week even though I did go out for interviews on some days. So I have already adjusted to being at home for long stretches in the day without feeling cooped up. In fact, I relish the several hours of solitude before the kids come home from school each day.

Even when I was working full time, I was doing the job of a housewife, albeit in a harried way. So hey, the amount of housework remains constant but I’ve now got more time on my hands, what’s there not to like? :)

But really, my daily routine for now is not much different from when I was working from home, except that the stress levels have dipped. Yay!

My mornings are still spent one-on-one with Jason, having breakfast after we drop Shannon off in school. We now have more time to talk over breakfast, revise Chinese, do fun things together in the morning, without me having to reply emails or do interviews at the same time. And if he does get in half an hour of TV before he goes to school, it’s not because I shooed him to do so to keep him occupied while I do an interview. It’s because he’s completed whatever he needs to do for the morning and feels like watching a programme. While he’s watching TV or reading, I get some housework done, sweeping (and occasionally mopping) the floors and putting the clothes to wash before I send him to school.

After he goes to school, I start on some work. I’m still involved in Compass, and while I’m no longer working full-time for ST, I’ve started doing some freelance writing. I’m thankful there has been some work offers in the last few weeks. It’s not news-reporting, but other forms of writing. I’ve been trying out some corporate writing, coming up with press releases and sponsor proposals, editing the text for corporate materials like brochures, as well as working on advertorials. It’s not what I’m used to doing, but it’s been an interesting challenge to try different forms of writing. And hey, there’s money to be made too.

Also, I pick Shannon earlier than when I was working full time. So it’s been a smooth transition overall but it also means I’ve been keeping very busy. Now my plan is to expand the range of “activities” I do with my time. Think a regular exercise routine, more time for crafts, and more time to organise my home!

Here’s something non-routine. We had a fun gathering over the weekend, of education reporters, past and present!

 education reporters gathering