Exams? What exams?

It’s exam week for eight-year-old Jason. They didn’t have exams in Primary 1 last year, so this is his first exam in primary school. As usual, I was more excited than him about it. I had grand plans to get him on a study schedule a month before. I drew up a calendar, telling him when his exam would be, started planning out which chapters(mainly Chinese) to revise when. He gave the calendar a cursory glance, said “ok, ok”. Nothing happened.

There were four weeks to go so I decided I’d leave it. I thought he would start to feel a sense of urgency nearer the date. I thought wrong, as it turned out. Exams start tomorrow. I’ve asked him the same question in various ways over the last few weeks: “Do you know your exams are coming soon?” I always get the same reply: “Yes, I know.” Still, nothing much happened.

In an attempt to motivate him, I told him stories about students I’ve interviewed, the ones who slog their way to As, the dark horses, the PRC students who come with a smattering of English but leave with an A1 for English in two years because they memorise the dictionary, and so on. He is captivated each time I tell a story but I’m not sure if there will be any lasting impact.

My academically high-achieving sister asked why I wasn’t upon him with a cane and more. I’m not sure if it would make a difference. After countless interviews with students and parents over the years, I’ve seen time and again that a child does better if he’s motivated, and works hard because he wants to do well, rather than works hard because his mum forces him to. I’m sure teachers would say the same based on their experience. So with that principle in mind, I’ve left him mostly to his own device, apart from occasional reminders and prodding. As it is, our weekly Chinese revision sometimes leave me wringing my hands in frustration.



My husband thinks the answers are hilarious. I suppose I might find them funnier if I wasn’t the one marking them.

When I do revise with him, I try to vary my teaching methods, customising to his learning style. A parent of a top student told me once that her daughter is an auditory learner, so she teaches her Spelling while sending her to school, by reading the words to her, rather than getting the girl to write it on pen and paper. So understanding how a child learns best would help both parent and child, she said.

Even as I remind myself that all kids are different, I marvel at some of Jason’s schoolmates. One parent tells me her daughter loves doing assessment books, and asks to do them each night. Another has a son who asks for tuition. Assessment books and tuition are like dirty words to Jason – if he knew what dirty words were. “Yucks, no thanks,” is his reply.

Reverse psychology works, to a certain extent, for him. Occasionally he asks what he should revise. I give him some pointers but leave him to work out when and how long he wants to spend on revision. He wants to do well, he says. But baulks at having to work hard to get to his goals. My mum thinks he will “wake up” one day and finally be motivated to do well. The trouble is he thinks he can get to his goals without having to put in real effort.

So exam week hasn’t really felt any different. He discovered the Disgusting Dave series recently and the humour is way up the alley of an eight-year-old boy. I’ve been hearing more about farts, vomit and maggots than I really care to hear. wpid-imag0831.jpg

We thought of putting off outings these two weekends, but decided it wouldn’t make much of a difference to his exam preparation. It’s not like he would use the extra time spent at home on revision. So with outings as a motivation, he did some revision, and we went swimming this evening.


I’m fairly sure he regretted asking me why the pool looked quite empty today. Because I couldn’t resist a dig: “You know, it’s exam period, most people are studying…” He quickly replied that the sky looked dark as well so that may be why people are staying away.


The lightning alert did sound later and we had to leave, but at least we got in an hour of fun and exercise.

And I suppose, if there is any time to take exams easy, it would be in Primary 2. Because, if not now, then when?

Old habits die hard


Old habits die hard. It is just past 12 midnight, early Friday morning. The family’s asleep and I find myself at the laptop tap tap tapping away to file a piece of work. It’s like my days in Sunday Times, where my self-imposed deadline to give my editor my story before Friday mornings, would see me rushing to file stories on late Thursday to early Friday mornings.

It’s a speech I’m writing this time. “It’s for someone important,” said the university contact when I agreed to do the job. I later realised just how important and am rather stressed out by it. “Just write it like you write one of your columns,” advised my husband. I bit back my reply that it is far from writing one of my columns. But I’m strangely more settled after his advice. Maybe it’s his faith in me, maybe it’s  his relaxed attitude. I’ll treat it like I’m filing a story. And it is rather like a story. Just that it’s a loong story, and will be delivered by someone.

Tomorrow will be another day. But before tomorrow comes, I’ll keep working at the story. And maybe, just maybe, not leave it until the last minute next time.

Friday’s dinner – Beef stew

This is the last post in the series to chronicle our weekday dinners.

On Monday, we had sliced fish soup, Tuesday, we had steamed chicken ladies’ fingers and tofu, Wednesday, we had grilled salmon, and Thursday, we had grilled chicken.

It’s slow cooker day today. Slow cooker days are good. It means I’ve got dinner more or less settled early in the day. It means I had time to plan what I need, buy what I need, prepare it and pop it in the crockpot.

I only do two types of stews – chicken and beef. But apart from stews, I also use my slow cooker for steaming chicken, preparing Chinese soups, and cream of mushroom soup. I like stews because they are a one dish meal. Meat, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, mushroom, even long beans, all go in and make for a tasty meal. Easy to cook, easy to clean.

But my favourite part of using a slow cooker, is that I can prepare everything, and move on with my day without needing to think about dinner again until dinner time. On usual weeks, I would be busy with work in the afternoon. But I’ve been taking a bit of a breather this week since Jason’s off school. Which explains why I’m able to post more frequently!

It’s the last day of PSLE marking today. While Shannon was in school, Jason and I went to the library to borrow some Berenstain Bears books for her. She loves the series, and I love the values it teaches. The funny bits are a bonus. Shannon has memorised her favourite parts and says them to us randomly throughout the day. :) Oh and while Jason has graduated to other books, he can’t resist rereading them when he sees them. One of my favourite things to do during the school holidays, is to bring him to the library or the secondhand bookshop. We both pick out our books, then settle somewhere with a drink to read. And read. And read, until it’s time to pick Shannon from school!

So while dinner was stewing, this was what we were up to:


Then we picked Shannon and went out for a treat after lunch. At this point I think the carrots and potatoes were softening.


Our plans to go to the stadium nearby were dashed when the rain came today. But ideal evenings would look something like below. Stadium or park connector for a bit of a run, before going home for dinner. After my helper left 2.5 years ago, it took a while before I figured out a way to do both exercise AND cook dinner. Both happen around the same time. If dinner is done in a hurry, I can only get in a walk after dinner while their papa watches them. If time permits, dinner would be cooking in the oven or crock pot while we’re out exercising. Some days I’m too tired to do either…

This was yesterday, on the way to the stadium. Ok I need to improve on my wefie skills…



Timing her korkor

And all the while, dinner was stewing in the crockpot. 

I love going home to the wafts of smells from the stew.


We had stew with rice today. Sometimes, for a change, we have pasta, or garlic bread instead of rice.

Beef Stew


500g beef cubes for stewing (I used less)

1 large onion, 2 carrots, 2 potatoes, celery (I didn’t have today), mushrooms, 1 tomato, all cut into chunks

2 cups beef broth (small pack Heinz brand)

1-2 cups water (You can use all beef broth but I prefer it less salty)

100g tomato paste

1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 bay leaves, pinch of dried rosemary and thyme

Red wine (I didn’t add and I don’t usually add because I don’t have it on hand at home)



Most recipes call for searing of the meat before placing in the slow cooker. I think apart from the fact that it’s supposed to taste better, it adds a brownish tinge to the stew which would otherwise look red from the tomato paste. I don’t do that because I would rather not have to wash another pan, or add oil to the dish.

Place all meat and vegetables into slow cooker

Add tomato paste, worcestershire sauce and broth

Top up with water or additional broth to cover all the ingredients

Add herbs

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.

Go enjoy your day and be back for dinner :)


Do share your recipes, or ways you cope with dinner. Drop me an email at kidsjoyhome@gmail.com if you have easy recipes I can try or share with other mums.  Am so looking forward to the weekend (where I don’t have to think about preparing dinners!).

Thursday’s dinner – Grilled chicken, sweet corn, long beans

This is the fourth post in the series to chronicle our weekday dinners. 

On Monday we had sliced fish soup, Tuesday we had steamed chicken, Wednesday grilled salmon.

Thursdays are special because we don’t have dinner at home. Instead we have a tiffin meal in Jason’s school. He has taekwando in school every Thursday from 7 to 8.30pm. He is in the afternoon session and school lets out at 6.30pm, which means he has just half an hour for dinner. So instead of rushing to and from school, I cook dinner, pack it and we go to school to have dinner with him. The school canteen is abuzz on Thursday evenings because of the night Taekwando and wushu lessons. The parents (or maids/grannies) of kids who are involved in these lessons pack food for the kids and we all gather in the canteen. It’s rather festive.


Most don’t eat with the kids though, they watch the kids eat and go home for dinner after that. But then again, most don’t lug their whole family along, like us. I figured it saves time and we get to eat as a family. So it’s what we have been doing since he started lessons in school this year. He likes that we all go to school to have dinner with him. He has been learning Taekwando outside since he was six, but we switched him to the school’s programme once he was eligible because it costs something like one tenth of the price in school!


I remind him not to eat too much, since he is going to be exercising soon after dinner. So he usually has a smaller portion, then drinks milk with a small snack after Taekwando. He tells me it’s not that vigorous since they do the “pattern” or strokes, more than sparring.


So because we have to pack dinner, Thursday dinners have to be dry. No soups or anything with gravy. The tiffin is not leak-proof and I would rather not add ‘cleaning car interior’ to my list of To-Dos. Fried rice or pasta works well for Thursday, or even dishes with rice. He does not have Taekwando this week because of PSLE marking, so I’ll share what we ate last Thursday.


I was planning to cook fried rice last Thursday, but eventually decided to do a deconstructed version. It just means I didn’t fry up all the ingredients but left them separate. ;)


Raw cherry tomatoes as an extra side dish for Shannon.


Grilled chicken breasts

(I used pre-marinated chicken last week because I was out for an interview, so all I had to do was pop it into the oven. But I sometimes do it from scratch. Or buy rotisserie chicken if they’re on sale – the ready-grilled ones sold in the supermarkets)

To do it from scratch -


2 chicken breasts

Dried rosemary (or other herbs), pepper and salt

olive oil



Drizzle chicken with olive oil

Coat with rosemary, pepper and salt

Grill for 20 minutes at 180 deg C


Stir-fried long beans

(For fried rice, I would chop them finely. But to save time, I would cut them to an inch long. Lack of time was the main reason I didn’t cook fried rice last week)


Long beans

ikan bilis and garlic

Seasoning if desired



Fry ikan bilis and garlic in oil

Add long beans and fry for 5 minutes

Add a splash of water and cover wok to speed up process

Season with light sauce if needed


Steamed corn

(This went in the steamer attachment of the rice cooker, and was done alongside the rice)


Frozen sweet corn

Knob of butter

Salt if needed (I didn’t add)



Rinse corn, add butter

Place in steamer attachment

Steam alongside rice



Wednesday’s dinner – Grilled salmon, sunny side up, broccoli

This is the third post in the series to chronicle our weekday dinners.

On Monday we had sliced fish soup, Tuesday we had steamed chicken ladies’ fingers and tofu.

Today, it’s salmon, eggs and broccoli. I love fish. So does Jason. We love it steamed or grilled. Shannon and her papa prefer their fish fried, which they don’t get from my kitchen. So they get their fix when we do eat out, either from the mixed veg stall or nasi lemak stall. Their favourite is the kuning fish, fried to perfection by the Malay stall near our place. I think we have not had fried fish at home since my helper Anna left 2.5 years ago. :) On the bright side, I don’t have to slog in the kitchen, mopping oily floors after cooking. So it means I have more time to spend with the kids. Count your blessings, I tell them.

Grilling is the next best thing to deep-frying. I love baking or grilling because everything happens inside the confined space of the oven. I don’t do anything elaborate (like cream sauces etc), so fish that tastes good with little seasoning suits us. All I add to the salmon, is dill or dry mixed herbs and a dash of teriyaki sauce. I pop the fish into the oven for 20 minutes or so. When I get the timing right, the skin is crispy and can almost pass off as being fried, almost. And the inside is tender.


Eggs are usually a crowd pleaser, except with Shannon. But she sometimes gives sunny-side ups a go, especially when the edges are crispy. She has an aversion to the yolk, disliking anything mushy. So she usually goes for the egg whites. I’m hopeful her tastebuds will change, so we’ll see. Snapped a picture of the eggs before they were fully cooked. I do cook the yolks thoroughly because I don’t like them runny.


Blanched veggies are an acquired taste, I tell my mum. She stayed at my place for a couple of weeks last year after a kneecap operation and had a taste of my cooking. She concluded after her stay that only my family will eat vegetables the way I cook them. And they do. But I was worried enough to ask my husband if I should start stir-frying them instead of blanching them. He says it’s ok, he’s used to it, no need to fry. Like Focus on the Family teaches, when men say it’s ok, they mean it’s ok, right? :) The kids do have it with a dip sometimes. Somehow, they eat more vegetables when they use their fingers to dip, then eat.


I try to include red capsicums or cherry tomatoes on the menu once a week because Shannon loves them. She only likes them raw though. So I try to buy organic where possible, wash it repeatedly, and add some distilled white vinegar as well when rinsing, just in case. While experts say we shouldn’t pander to kids’ preference too much, I give in when it’s healthy stuff she loves. There are worse things than golden kiwi and raw vegetables to crave. We’ve started eating more of these since Shannon came along!




Grilled Salmon




1 slab salmon

mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, long beans (optional – these were items I had in my fridge today)

Dill or mixed herbs

some lemon juice

Teriyaki sauce (diluted type, not the thick type)



Wash salmon and pat dry

Place long beans in dish, add salmon, mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, lemon juice and teriyaki sauce

Grill in oven for 25 minutes at 190 dec C



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