Sep 29 2016

Talking About Throwbacks

Published by under This Week

Talking about everything

Yeap, that’s me in blue, trying to check up on my friends in my usual inelegant fashion.

Sometimes I’m not sure if talking helps at all. As I recall telling someone else, I prefer to work through issues on my own, and talk about them when they’re somewhat resolved.

And then there are things that I almost never talk about, like matters of the heart. These days I let an emotion or two slip into the one-sentence journal that Ron bought me, but I’m also guilty of getting so annoyed by my own whinging that I’ve taken to self-censorship–by blacking out selected statements with a permanent marker, so that no one else will ever have to suffer through reading them.

I do occasionally tell Ron about these things though. It is a relief to have someone that you can talk to without having to overexplain everything or provide a heavily sanitised version of the truth. I’m much more emotionally stable now than back when we were confiding and confessing a ton of stuff to each other a decade ago, but I’ll always be thankful for us.

And speaking of throwbacks, this post from 2012 still makes me smile–those Instagram filters are so 10 years ago! Also, I have not succeeded in using fewer exclamation marks, but I’m trying. Continue Reading »

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Sep 28 2016

The Little Executive: Astronaut Training Camp

Published by under Reviews + Sponsored Posts

The Little Executive

The term “growth mindset” has been around for a while, but my first real encounter with it was through a blog post written by my friend June. After reading her post, I got curious and did a little more digging in order to write this for work. Having a growth mindset is about not seeing your potential as finite, and instead, believing that you are capable of anything that you hope to achieve, if you’re willing to work for it. Note that this doesn’t refer to blind hard work; it’s better to work smart by not fearing failure and being open to trying new strategies and approaches when you hit a roadblock. Of course, this doesn’t all come naturally.

June is currently an educational therapist-in-training at an enrichment school called The Little Executive, and one of their primary aims is helping students develop a growth mindset. That alone was intriguing enough to me, so when June offered to link me up with the school for a review opportunity, I was glad to accept.

That’s how Z found himself at a three-day astronaut camp focused on sensory exposure and problem solving during the September school holidays. At the time, Layla had just gone for a three-day adventure camp run by her school, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to sell the camp to Z as his own “big boy” experience, minus the sleepover. Here’s what happened:

The Little Executive

Everyone received a “passport,” which contained writing and drawing exercises relating to each day’s activities. According to Michelle, co-founder of The Little Executive, the objective of providing the passport (or log) was to let kids record what happened sequentially, so they could practise organising their thoughts. The kids were guided to recap the activities in detail, using logical, coherent sentences–the “building blocks” for conversation and writing.

Z’s book is mostly blank as he’s just picking up writing, as well as reading. Also, his other drop-off class only has one other kid, so this group was larger than what he’s used to. He was in freeze mode during the camp, i.e. not talking to anyone or giving much clue that he understood what was going on, although he’s curious, observant, and astute when he’s on home turf. I’m just proud that he went through the camp without any clinginess or objections–on all three days, I was able to wave goodbye and leave, even though he didn’t know what to expect at all.

The Little Executive

I appreciated that the passport outlined the skills they were trying to develop with each activity, as well as provided additional information and suggestions for parents. It showed that they weren’t choosing activities just to fit a theme, which some enrichment centres do–each activity had a purpose that was in line with the skills and attitudes that they hope to build in kids, so that they can be better learners in school.

The warm-up activities were designed to develop the kids’ ability to listen to–and follow–instructions, and to build their awareness about their own levels of arousal and alertness. For “Crossing The Midline,” kids were asked to invent an action following a demonstration.

The Little Executive

“Being gradually more able to control their alertness, attention, and readiness to participate may help kids in situations where no warm-up time is available,” says Michelle. “For instance, warm-up or circle time is something that gets omitted once kids enter Primary 1.” Continue Reading »

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Aug 30 2016

5

Published by under Celebrate

Z turns 5 in September and my girlfriend Stephii invited us to crash her family party to celebrate her son Matt’s birthday. Z and Matt are best buds now, and they were born a day apart, in the same hospital. You can read the history here.

I can’t imagine that five years ago, I didn’t even know Stephii. She is such a big part of my life now.

5

A joint birthday sign! Such a sweet surprise! And yes, that is Z’s name. We really do call him Z (as in “zee” and not “zed”) so I haven’t been omitting his name on purpose.

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Matt also got his own astro-themed wall.

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Cake decorating in progress. There is no place where I feel more useless than in the kitchen! As always, I watched. That, is the ocean.

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Hello seaweed.

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Now we’ve got backdrop. I say “we” but it was all Stephii.

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The blocks were planned. Matt built the ships, mostly, because Z was too busy being self-conscious. The fish were a last-minute addition by Layla.

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All done! It’s perfect!

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Getting ready for candle blowing. I don’t think we mentioned wish making.

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Together and friends forever, I hope. We’ve already imagined them fighting over the same girl…

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Yay us! Alf isn’t hiding in a corner or taking our picture. He’s been stressed out at work so we gave him some alone time to recharge and meet his deadlines. And yes, Matt’s dad (Pat) is “the guy who sang ‘So Happy.'” I was asked twice after I posted this picture! Maybe we should’ve used that song in place of Happy Birthday.

So that’s the second celebration this year where I didn’t do anything at all, except soak in the warmth and love. Oh wait, make that the third, because Stephii orchestrated my surprise birthday party this year too.

To birthdays, and friendship.

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Aug 25 2016

A Very Belated Wedding Anniversary Post

Published by under This Week

Us

Our 11th wedding anniversary was in mid-June, and I started writing this way in advance. It was stored in a Notepad file and never made its way out. I did feel that this year in particular, I’ve been talking about love a lot, and reading about it even more. There’ve been so many feelings and ideas articulated so well by everyone else that I wondered if there was any point to posting my story at all.

But wait, what’s a personal blog for, right? I do miss blogging regularly. So, here goes, a couple of months late but better than never. Continue Reading »

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Aug 24 2016

Hey It’s Weezer!

Published by under This Week

Weezer in Singapore

Last week, I went out twice–at night–which almost never happens. Seriously, I’ve been out fewer than 10 times without the kids this year, and most nights are spent working. But several months ago, someone I’ve never hung out with before, but happened to be Facebook friends with, asked if I wanted to go to the Weezer concert. And I thought, why not?

Alf says I’ve abandoned my 20s self, where I dreaded meeting new people and was constantly worried that I’d have nothing to say, or nothing in common with someone. I think that wasn’t me–thanks depression and insecurity, for robbing me of a decade’s worth of new friendships! The real me likes being around people even if I’m not always chatty. I’m comfortable with silences and I don’t notice them; sometimes I’m lost in my own thoughts or appreciating being “free” and out of mom mode.

And that’s how Maryann and I became gig mates last week. Some of you might recognise her as one of the best-known family photographers locally, but it was great getting to know her while she was off duty. She’s a friend’s friend, and I first met her many years ago when I adopted a Persian cat from her. I was a terrible owner, the sort that was never home, but when Zorro ran away he still broke my heart. After marriage and the baby carriage happened, I met Maryann again during one of her promo shoots and she took pictures of Layla and me, one of which is up on my fridge. Weezer was our third or fourth meeting ever, and it was lovely! We talked the entire time and she did this very nice thing: Every time she ran into a friend, she would pull me over, introduce me, and include me in the conversation. I’ve never made an effort to do that with my friends, but I will now.

As for Weezer, they’re not the loudest people around, in terms of personality. The show was set against a video backdrop that helped them come across as more energetic than they were. I definitely found the tickets pricey, perhaps much of it went towards funding the setup! Like many bands from the grunge/alternative era, Weezer doesn’t fit the rock star mould; they’re more of regular guys with sweet-catchy melodies and interesting-funny lyrics. In fact when lead singer Rivers Cuomo made a surprise venture into the audience, he wasn’t mobbed immediately. Most of us early Weezer listeners would be in the 35–45 age bracket by now, a little too old to go star crazy. Perhaps some of us weren’t even sure what was happening! But I recovered my senses enough to take a video, and we did find ourselves next to him as he was being escorted back on stage, which was pretty amusing.

On the whole, I enjoyed the experience but also felt like an imposter, being one of those annoying “fans” who only liked the very first album and knew the words to a handful of songs. Not even full songs at that! Thank goodness there were true fans in the crowd.

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Aug 23 2016

10

Published by under Celebrate

10

Layla turned 10 a week ago, and I think we’ve finally put the birthday party tradition to rest; it was fun while it lasted and I love that we made special effort every year to get creative, but I also think some of it was extravagant. It didn’t necessarily celebrate our daughter and who she is, and focusing on themes took away from the party spirit of just spending time with people and getting to know them better.

Ten is pretty grown up. We didn’t have a “party,” but we did have a low-key gathering where we invited a few girls from the neighbourhood, and together with Layla, they impressed me with their manners and maturity. For one, they included Z in everything, even Pokemon Go, never once saying he was too little to get it. Dinner was delivered to us from McD’s and one of the girls said her burger was so yummy and thanked me for it. Someone threw up after her McChicken dinner, quietly in our bathroom, and another watched over her just like a sister would, checking on her and nagging at her for not remembering she was lactose intolerant.

There were no goody bags at our celebration and I don’t think it was expected either. The cake was the off-the-shelf variety from Polar, and after making sure everyone had a slice, I brought some over to our next-door neighbour’s home too. One girl realised I hadn’t had any cake yet and stopped eating midway to ask if I wanted some. When I was dishing out ice cream, and finally got around to serving myself, a spoon magically appeared in front of me, courtesy of another guest. Everyone disposed of their trash without being asked.

There were a few phones in sight but for several hours, the kids played old school games like Telephone (pass the message), A E I O U, and some sort of murder mystery game. As they entertained themselves, Alf and I chatted, I did the dishes and laundry, and when everything was in order, at slightly after 9PM, we dropped our guests off at their respective homes. This ranks up there as one of my favourite parties, pure joy and no stress.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to write about my 10 year old anymore that doesn’t infringe on her privacy, and she’s almost at the age where she’ll be crafting her own digital identity, according to new rules that I probably won’t understand. To give her a fairly clean slate, I’ve spring cleaned this blog yet again and removed a good portion of school-related posts, along with anything that might cause strangers to judge her unfairly. I’m conscious about photo taking when it comes to her and her friends; I do share pictures with a smaller audience on Facebook, and even those are deleted after a brief spell.

There’s still Z of course, but I should find a new blogging focus that I can commit to, which isn’t tagged with an expiry date.

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Aug 19 2016

Esperanza Rising (Scholastic)

Published by under Read

Esperanza Rising

The cool thing about YA (young adult) fiction is being able to get through a story in a couple of hours; it’s a sense of accomplishment that I don’t often get with my own books, some of which are left hanging for years!

Layla and I read Scholastic’s “Esperanza Rising” during the June holiday break. We didn’t discuss it much. I’m a big believer in reading for pleasure and not everyone fancies a bookclub-style conversation, well at least not my daughter at this point in her life. I do feel the book is pitched above her level of understanding (as many YA books would be), not in terms of vocabulary but context—it’s a riches-to-rags story about a Mexican family forced into forging a new way of life in the US during the Great Depression. Homelessness, poverty, and discrimination are some of the major themes of the book, and I trust Layla will build up her awareness about such issues as she grows up. I’m still reading and learning about these every day.

The YA books from Scholastic often feature a back section with trivia and related information. There’s usually a glossary, but for this book there was a Q&A with the author, a recipe, instructions for a yarn doll craft, and a section on cultural proverbs. I found the Q&A particularly enlightening; it even highlighted something that I’d missed, that the chapters were all named after fruit and veggies! From the author, Pam Munoz Ryan:

That wasn’t something that came about early in the planning of the book. It came about later. I started to feel that Esperanza’s life was taking on the rhythm of the harvest, so I called my editor and said, “What if I named the chapters after the harvest that she’s experiencing in each chapter?” She said I should give it a try, and it worked. Then I went back and reworked the chapters a little to pull that thread a little tighter and to make those chapter headings more symbolic.

Reading about this made me want to reread the book and hunt for those symbolic connections, which I’d missed in my first reading. But if we’re talking about harvest themes, here are some quick thoughts on the novel.

Life: This is the theme of the prologue, where Esperanza’s father helps her understand that nature is alive. “This whole valley lives and breathes,” he says, before asking her to lie on the ground and “feel the earth’s heartbeat.” It’s a significant memory in the book.

Death: Tragedy strikes early in the novel: A loved one is lost, life-threatening situations ensue, and Esperanza is forced to leave her home (a ranch in Mexico) and her entire existence behind. This chain of events is inspired by the author’s own family history, and you can read more about it here.

Rebirth: In a new environment (California), Esperanza struggles to find her identity and, stripped of her wealth, discovers that her true value is her strength and ability to be a team player.

Growth: Much of the book centres on Esperanza’s character development, culminating in an episode where she risks her own safety to help a farm striker Marta, barely older than her, escape arrest and deportation. Her memories of Marta taunting her while they were living in the same labour camp (for Mexican farm workers) are fresh, but her desire to help Marta reunite with her mother overrides the hurt and resentment. It’s a sign of how much Esperanza has matured; at the beginning of the story, she refuses to let a little girl touch her doll because she is “poor and dirty.”

Life comes full circle: One of the takeaways from this story is that nothing lasts forever: Happiness is fragile, and tragedy is temporary. There is a happy ending, and it’s one of reunions and renewed hope. The final words of the story are suitably uplifting, with Esperanza imparting words of well-earned wisdom to a younger girl: “Do not ever be afraid to start over.”

If you’d like to find out more about Esperanza Rising, Scholastic has a wonderful resource site.

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Jul 28 2016

If Kids Ran The World (Scholastic)

Published by under Read

If Kids Ran The World

These days, I wake up every morning to yet another horror story about some grown-up or other trying to ruin the world, so yes, I wish we could hand the reins over to the kids.

If Kids Ran The World

And I’m sure that’s exactly what they would do.

Note the racial diversity in the opening pages of “If Kids Ran The World” by Leo and Diane Dillon; it’s a running theme throughout the book.

We’re a biracial family–in fact our extended family is a rainbow by now, so integration is built into our network and it’s not something I think about much anymore. But I’m reminded of an article I read, claiming that kids “who make friends with kids of other races tend to be more socially well-adjusted, more academically ambitious and better at interacting with people who are different from them.”

I’m not sure about the first two outcomes; as for the third, I’ve always made friends across racial lines, even as a kid, and I don’t think it’s because I’m better at navigating differences. Differences are interesting, but ultimately I search for commonalities such as similar tastes or values, and I truly believe that as people, we’re much more alike than we think.

If Kids Ran The World

If Kids Ran The World

If Kids Ran The World

In this idealised world, children do tangible things to fix our brokenness, and if you look closely, you’ll see that every child on every page is smiling. We can all be the bearers of joy for someone else, but first, we must find it in ourselves.

There’s another valuable message in the book, and it’s this:

[The] most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.

The book closes with a note for kids, giving them ideas for making a difference–apart from volunteerism, it addresses attitudes such as acceptance (“not saying hurtful things about our differences”) and inclusiveness (“in our playground, everybody is included, and everybody gets a turn”). The note acknowledges that our world’s problems are staggering, yet there is always hope. This is what we want our children to believe, especially in these times.

But even the smallest things we do make a difference. As the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time.”

See more of the book and download free material on Scholastic’s Story Corner page.

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May 09 2016

Coding Classes In Singapore: Tink Tank

Published by under Reviews + Sponsored Posts

A science educator that I’ve been following said last year that all children should learn to code, because one day, it’ll be as important as English. (Update: She may have said “mother tongue” instead, but my friends don’t call me The Embellisher for nothing!) That got my attention, and I started to realise that yes, there was indeed a buzz around coding. But how relevant is it unless you’re planning for a career in computer science?

And then, quite coincidentally, a school called Tink Tank contacted me inviting Layla to attend an introductory coding workshop. It was a full-day session, very well planned (for our review purposes) as parents were allowed to sit in halfway to observe the class, and even participate in a board game that would ease us into understanding coding language. The trainers also gave a mini-presentation where they showed us the video above (a must-watch!), and talked about why they set up their school–to show kids that they’re not limited to consuming technology, but that they’re able to be technology creators themselves, inventing solutions for real-life problems. Continue Reading »

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Apr 26 2016

Work

Published by under This Week

Work

First, read this quote.

The year didn’t start out that well for me, in terms of work. The lull was too long (maybe three weeks, plus the break I took in December to bond with family), and as much as I relished my 80s movie binge, there were only so many times I could watch The Terminator and Aliens. I also felt guilty for not being more productive, considering our expenses are higher this year—Layla’s gym fees have risen, and we’ve started Z on one-on-one Chinese lessons and a weekly science workshop.

I had several meetings for potential retainer projects; for a freelancer, a retainer project is like putting a ring on it, where someone likes your work enough to commit to you. How it works for writers on retainers is that we would deliver a set number of articles—or some form of writing—each month, indefinitely, and get paid a fixed monthly salary. I’ve had two small retainer deals for some time, and several enquiries for larger-scale retainers, which I didn’t hear back about. For last year at least, I was too busy to follow up on retainer leads. I did hit my earnings target last year, but thinking about finances on a month-to-month basis is draining.

And my work routine. I’ve given up on working early in the morning. I tried but I was too dazed to write anything that made sense, and I decided that those two hours before Z gets up are better spent on sleep. So it’s back to working nights. My official hours are 10PM-2AM but I’ve definitely stretched it. Sometimes Z thinks he can keep grown-up hours, which pushes work to 11PM or later. Other times, I’m so… bored from playing mom and keeping house all day that I want a break to inject some levity into my life. So I spend time listening to songs where people cuss and talk dirty, reading gossip, hanging out on Facebook, and crushing on TV/movie heroes, and that eats into work time—but I swear I haven’t clicked on a TV series or movie in the last two months, no time! And then I’m up at 5.30AM to braid Layla’s hair, fetch her socks, and fill her water bottle, and again at 7-ish or 8 for Z’s breakfast. No afternoon naps, although I do have a lie-in if I’m flat-out exhausted.

But I’m in a good place currently. The last two months have been filled with new projects—everyone needs change and I do too, perhaps more than most. Also I firmed up a new retainer deal. It’s with an educational site that seems out of character for me as I’m known for being a chill parent (and I am, generally), but I do read it, and I have a fair number of hits coming in from their forum as well. I’ve just started with them and I’ve been given freedom in the planning and writing process. I’ve already learned a few things that are useful for me, as a parent, and they’ve been happy with my submissions so far. The articles I’ve written aren’t too different from the learning tips I might’ve posted on this blog; if you’d like to read them, leave me a comment and I’ll mail you the links.

I’m not sure how long this will go on. Like any partnership there will be ups and downs, and I’ve freelanced long enough (10 years) to not expect anything to last forever. I don’t expect anything in life to last forever! But I have a healthy work attitude—I always try to find something to enjoy about work, I’ve never missed a deadline, I’m open to feedback, willing to make changes, and I know when to exercise restraint or let go and not push a point, for my own sanity and to preserve relationships. Ok I procrastinate and I’m easily distracted. But the client doesn’t get to see that!

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