Jan 17 2017

Just Another Tuesday Morning

Published by under Life

The strangest thing happened to me the other night: I fell asleep listening to a political science lecture (that’s me trying to embrace the 5-hour rule) and I was briefly roused by my husband throwing a blanket over me. Then I fell right back to sleep and dreamt we were moving out and having a huge fight over our different packing styles, which so inflamed me that I woke up ready to throw something at him. It’s fascinating to me that the dream felt so real, while I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t imagined the blanket incident. Who needs augmented reality to mess with boundaries?

Anyway, the 5-hour rule is about taking five hours in a week (an hour a day) to learn, experiment, reflect, and grow. I’m not quite ready to plunge into a book that will be emotionally or intellectually taxing, but I’ve been bringing light reads out with me, such as this late Christmas present from Alf, which I really like. It makes even the most casual things that Warhol did seem intentional–for instance if he wore shades for photobooth snaps, it was to deny the audience intimacy. Yet it quotes Warhol as saying:

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.

There were other familiar names in the book, like the Velvet Underground and Roland Barthes, whom I had to read back in grad school. Apparently Barthes said that a great photo includes detail that seems out of place, an “accident” which “pricks” but also “bruises.” This quote was introduced in relation to Warhol’s Marilyn portraits, the focus being her act of gritting her teeth, which I’d never noticed before. It also cited an art critic saying that the Marilyn portraits revealed “what is truly human and pathetic in one of the exemplary myths of our time.”

Since this is the age where we’ve all gained some measure of fame, reading the book also led me to think about the way we portray ourselves to the world, or at least, to our social media contacts. I do find myself interpreting what people post, which is why I delete my own so quickly! I’m guilty of over-sharing, but my saving grace is that I don’t take any of it seriously. I don’t believe social media posts deserve a long lifespan, often for me, a couple of hours, or even minutes is sufficient, just for me to get it out there. I like the idea that my Facebook friends see different snippets from my life entirely by chance, and no one will ever get to compare notes because my timeline is almost empty. If I’ve left something there, it’s because I feel it hasn’t outgrown its usefulness.

I read an article over the weekend that I found amusing, it’s about Trump’s articulacy, or lack of it, and how it draws people to him:

Trump uses a pretty small working vocabulary. This doesn’t seem to be a conscious strategy, though it works as well as if it had been. Much was made during primary season of the way in which reading-level algorithms (unreliable though they are) found his speeches pitched at fourth-grade level, ie the comprehension of an average nine-year-old.

It reminds me of my girlfriend’s observation that her dad has the online persona of a 13-year-old girl, complete with heart emojis. I don’t think I have a better working vocabulary, to be honest! And when I’m sharing I keep it simple–I have just slightly over 100 friends on Facebook and I’m not trying to impress anyone, there are enough people doing that, and doing it well. I think of it as first and second level; if a friend engages me in the comments, I’m more likely to think before I type. Such interactions are meaningful to me, and I’ve had friends tell me they read the comments on my posts too, or that they recognise the main players in my life, which I think is sweet. See, it pays to use small words!

p.s. The article also mentions malapropisms. Those are the sneaky errors that every proofreader hates having to weed out. I’m glad that season of my life is over.

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Jan 15 2017

Camp Chartwell: An Arts Holiday Programme For Kids

Published by under Reviews/Sponsored

We let Layla take a break from everything during the Nov/Dec school holidays. No tuition, no classes, no gymnastics training. But she did spend three days in December at Camp Chartwell, an initiative run by young arts enthusiasts to bring the arts to kids.

Layla hasn’t had much exposure to the arts. We’re not theatre fans, we seldom visit museums now that they’re not within walking distance, and we no longer make music, only Spotify playlists. Sure, Layla’s a school gymnast but to me, rhythmic gymnastics is more about discipline than art, because every move is tied to a precise scoring system with deductions for the slightest infraction. Even if there were room for self-expression, I’m not sure my daughter would know what to do with it, as she finds it hard to… let go. I’m sure I did at her age, and having been up on stage as an adult, it’s not easy to do it in front of a crowd. I wouldn’t say I did it well.

When I received the invitation from Camp Chartwell, I gave it some thought before accepting, especially because the holidays were coming to an end. I’ve had my parenting blog up for a decade and I’ve never jumped at invites. Now, with limited time on our hands, if I accept a review opportunity it’s because I hope it’ll contribute to the personal growth of my children. So yes, I thought Layla would benefit from being at a camp that provided a safe space for self-discovery. I also liked the idea of her exploring performance arts. I don’t think she’s interested in drama yet, but I’ve always wondered if she might fancy modern dance. However, I must say that the biggest draw, for me, was that students were helming the camp, from conceptualisation to execution. When children can see that the young people around them are able to bring meaningful projects to fruition, the message is clear that they can do it too. Continue Reading »

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Jan 12 2017

Park School

Published by under Life

I secretly dread watching my son climb play structures. Layla was very surefooted from a young age, but we’ve always thought of Z as a bit of a klutz. Blame it on his mother. In New Zealand we stopped by several playgrounds, and we saw kids younger than Z making it all the way to the top of spiderweb structures like this one, with parents nowhere to be seen. My sister-in-law tells me kids in casts are a common sight too.

Not having spent much time at playgrounds growing up, I’m not of much help at these things. But I’ve noticed Alf giving Z good pointers–guiding him up and down, showing him how to make decisions about his next move. Today it was just me though. The hands-off version of me–two days ago at Forest School, I met a mom who was letting her three year old take some risks, and she said to me, “I’m fine with anything. As long as he doesn’t die.”

So Z did get stuck and I did the best thing I could: I averted my eyes and said with the most confidence I could muster, “You can do it, just hold on and look for a place to put your feet.” Which he did, and he was pretty happy about it.

Oh, and Forest School? I enjoyed the hike into the woods; the highlight was a stream for kids to play in. Z wasn’t too crazy about getting wet like some of the other kids were, but he had good rapport with the assistant coach, a young psychology student. It’s at a location where we would likely cab both ways, so it’s not the most convenient, and if I can replicate the learning opportunities at our nearby park that would suit us too. I think Z learned a fair bit in our morning at the park today–how to knock pinecones out of trees, for one.

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Jan 10 2017

The Love Update

Published by under Life

I haven’t shared a behind-the-scenes story in a while, so here’s one. But first I’d like to reiterate that my husband and I are grateful for everything we have, including each other, and we’re always optimistic about the future. We’re happy people. But if anyone thinks our story is a cut-and-dried case of “things were rocky and now it’s back on track to happily ever after,” they’re sorely mistaken. I believe no relationship is ever that straightforward and work is required at every stage, whether it’s towards maintaining cohesion or ensuring a peaceful dissolution. Continue Reading »

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Jan 08 2017

My Year So Far

Published by under Life

This time last year I was watching Terminator and Aliens repeatedly as well as cyber-stalking my childhood hero Michael Biehn until my work kicked in mid-month. I still swear by both movies but I definitely overdid it–I should’ve capped it at a single viewing. No such luck this year, which is good news. There’s regularity and rhythm to work now, with the longer-term projects that I secured last year. I got back from New Zealand with just a few days of ’16 to spare, submitted a story the very next day, and the work mails started trickling in. Netflix will have to wait.

I didn’t get as much reflection time in NZ as I’d hoped. Much of it was connection time, which I’m grateful for. But my goals for ’17 are intention and direction; there’s nothing I regret about my life and most of my accidental encounters and opportunities have turned out to be blessings, but now that I’m hitting another milestone age (4-0), I want to integrate planning and hard work into something that I can be proud of. The first steps for me are being intentional about the work I take on as a freelancer and moving away from the “I’m just lucky to have work” mentality that plagues many freelancer moms–I have already rejected projects that I want to move away from because they didn’t present any growth or learning opportunities, and there was no pull factor in terms of pay either. I’ve also been more conscious about time spent on work–I’ve made some guidelines for myself, such as a $200 job should take no more than four hours to complete, but my target is two. I bought myself a new-old model MacBook and that helps too–my old one was eight years old and most of the apps were no longer supported. Clearing caches, waiting out loading lags, and running optimisation programmes were daily affairs that I don’t have to deal with anymore.

That’s not to say that I’m not open to new experiences and surprises in ’17. I am! Z’s school plans didn’t work out as hoped, yet, but we’ll be checking out Forest School next week. Ron and I are attending a brand storytelling workshop together in February; I’m hoping it’ll flip a switch and help me connect the dots and plot a better path ahead. There’s also that 80,000-strong sweaty sing-along party that I’m looking forward to, which happens at end-Feb. I’ve got my girlfriend crew and we’re ready to roll. Alf is reminding me to plan my first-ever solo trip, targeted for June. I’ve brought some NZ habits home with me, like saying hello to fellow park walkers and thanking bus drivers, and being more open to chatting with strangers. I still need to tweak some habits, but all in I’d say it’s been a promising start.

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Nov 22 2016

School Holiday Coding Workshops: Tink Tank

Published by under Reviews/Sponsored

Tink Tank

Layla attended a workshop with coding school Tink Tank in May this year–I was able to sit in and observe the class for over two hours, and I was impressed with the trainers and the way they displayed understanding and sensitivity when interacting with kids. (Read my review here.)

So I’m happy to let you know that they’re once again running workshops for the holidays. The November workshops are over, but December dates are still available. Continue Reading »

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Jul 28 2016

If Kids Ran The World (Scholastic)

Published by under Books

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

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 21 2016

The Everybody Feels… Series (Scholastic)

Published by under Books

The Everybody Feels series, Scholastic

Cindy from Scholastic Asia got in touch with me earlier in the year about doing a series of book reviews for Scholastic, and I was so impressed with her as she took the trouble to find out what Layla and Z are reading now, and to make a list of recommendations that fitted our needs, as well as my preferences. Our books arrived about a month ago and I’ll be sharing our thoughts on these books here as well as on Instagram.

We’ve been reading the Everybody Feels… series. Dealing with feelings isn’t something I’m great at–writing provides some release, but I think I’ve always believed that certain feelings are best kept under wraps until they can’t be contained, which most times spells trouble. I’m glad both my kids are a lot more open about their emotions; they may not know how to process their feelings, but they are willing to reveal how they feel. Still, Layla’s on the brink of teenhood and Z’s not over the tantrum phase yet, which means we have our fair share of explosive episodes at home–there are healthier ways of dealing with feelings, and that’s why books that can teach these strategies are valuable at any stage of life.

The Everybody Feels… books are suitable for kids aged 4 and up. They’re pitched at Z’s level of understanding, but I see sections that might come in handy for Layla too. The first book Z and I read was Everybody Feels… Anger. It’s the most relevant title for us because I have a short fuse and my son takes after me. Like the other books in the series, it does some important things:

First, it gives kids the vocabulary they need to describe their feelings, and the reasons behind those emotions: “something you own got messed up,” “I felt like a balloon about to burst.” Second, by showing examples of a little girl and boy blowing up, kids realise they’re not alone and that their feelings and reactions are normal. Finally, the book discusses resolution, where the other parties apologise and reconciliation takes place in time for a happy ending. Real life is never as straightforward and kids eventually have to learn that peace is best sought internally, instead of depending on someone else’s actions to feel better. But that’s a tough one, even when we’re all grown up.

What I loved about all the books in the series was that they provided examples of little girls and boys going through similar emotions. Girls do get angry and boys do get scared, and sometimes we’ve been so conditioned by stereotypes that we forget people are entitled to their feelings, regardless of sex. I liked that they provided a model for dealing with feelings that is relevant for adulthood too, for instance talking to a friend to feel less scared or angry, or trying to recall happy moments when one is sad. There’s also a glossary that is helpful for Z, who probably doesn’t know as many words as some of his peers. And there is a guide for grown-ups to suggest next steps, be it discussions, role playing, or using storytelling and art to reinforce the themes and messages of each book. Essentially, all bases covered.

If you’d like to find out more about the books, you can download samples and activity sheets from from Scholastic Asia’s website.

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Feb 17 2016

What Do Primary 4 Kids/10 Year Olds Read?

Published by under Books

Farrer Park: Rhyming Verses From A Singapore Childhood

I remember reading books with grown-up themes by about 9. Part of it was accidental–my mom brought home some bargain-bin Mills and Boon romances that landed in my hands instead. (If I remember correctly, she handed them to me!) I also found a YA stash in my class’s library corner, which covered dating, rape, and teen pregnancy. I suspect I was the only kid in the class who brought those books home.

Unfortunately, that early awareness didn’t mean I was ready or eager for proper literature, and I only stopped reading trash in my 20s.

Compared to me, Layla’s a much more balanced individual–she likes a little of everything, and even though she’s super athletic, she also enjoys lounging around with a book. It’s the same for her reading diet; she’s easygoing so she’s happy to let me pick out her books, and open to trying new titles.

Before I list her reads for 2016, here’s a recap of what she read over the November-December holiday:

* The Mysterious Benedict Society (she started with one book early last year, and I got her the rest of the series just before her final exams–they were her stress busters!)
* How To Train Your Dragon (we got her three books for Christmas; she finished them within days and is happily re-reading them)
* Harriet The Spy (I picked this up at the library because it seemed like something she might like, and she did.)
* The Hobbit (We have the illustrated edition, a beautiful gift from a friend! Layla said this was “too long,” so I gather she’s not ready for it although she finished it.)
* When You Reach Me, Liar And Spy (I haven’t read Liar And Spy, but I’ve read When You Reach Me and felt there were certain things Layla wouldn’t understand at this point, such as divorce and race/class issues. But she can revisit these books when she’s more mature.)
* A Wrinkle In Time (I bought this because it was the inspiration for When You Reach Me. Layla said this was just “OK,” am glad I didn’t get her the trilogy.)
* The Phantom Tollbooth (a friend recommended this, I liked it although I haven’t finished it yet! I bought the hardcover annotated version for myself.)

So, 2016. These are some titles that I hope to pick up for Layla. It’s a short list because there’s not a lot of free time during the school term:
* Wonder
* El Deafo
* Inside Out And Back Again
* Where The Mountain Meets The Moon
* Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl
* I Am Malala

I’ll continue to look out for Newbery winners–the few she’s tried have worked out. Apart from the Newbery list, Brainpickings has been a treasure trove for book recommendations.

I should mention that I’m still buying picture books for Layla because I think they do a wonderful job of making topics accessible and interesting for any age group. These are some picture books from our collection that she hasn’t read yet:

* Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space
* Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings
* My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, And Giant Bugs (Hoping she can read The Metamorphosis soon!)
* Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff In Simple Words (another lovely gift from a friend!)

We’ve also received some books from local publisher Epigram to review, and pictured above is a poem from “Farrer Park: Rhyming Verses From A Singapore Childhood” by Ann Peters.

I’m a poetry-lite person (i.e. I love Lang Leav, while Paradise Lost is best remembered as a grad school nightmare), so I liked this as soon as I opened it. The illustrations are tasteful, the colours pleasing, and the stories sweet and funny, like this one about Dollah’s father who worked as a cleaner:

His wife, the women all would say
Was so much luckier than they
Getting husbands like this to sweep
Would be enough to make them weep!

But they didn’t know what she knew
And she wasn’t about to drop a clue
She hated all his cleaning sprees
In fact, she’d thought he’d gone loopy!

She wished that he just wouldn’t clean
Where her cloth had already been
And if he really wanted to help
Why hadn’t he fixed that kitchen shelf?

Ann Peters uses words that I haven’t heard in years–“washerwoman,” for one–and she recreates sights that we don’t see anymore, like 7 or 8 people piled into a tiny car. Those were the days where no one cared about seatbelts! She’s probably about my mother’s age because some of her memories are from before I was born, back in the day of “tick tock” noodle sellers and ice balls. But others, I can relate to–we have a few Uncle Govans (see pictured poem) in the family!

I’ve mentioned “strewing” on my Instagram account, where I occasionally post book photos and book-related thoughts. Strewing is something I read about on The Artful Parent, it’s about leaving invitations for discovery around the home, and my version of that is to leave random picture books on the dinner table for Layla to enjoy with her lunch. “Farrer Park” is perfect for that purpose, and it’ll be appearing on our dinner table soon.

Click here to view Layla’s reading lists from previous years.

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