Apr 19 2015

Conversations With Family

Published by under Life

Courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo

I wrote about our cousin Serene recently. She’s the one who got married and will be away from Singapore for a while? Before she left, she said to me, “Check on my brother for me, OK?” Of course I agreed.

It’s been interesting talking to her brother Shaun–he’s been a guest here before, click here to see what he wrote. I’ve always had this feeling that he knows us inside out, and guess what, maybe he does. Back story: Many years ago, when Shaun was a kid, Alf left his diary in Shaun’s room and… the rest is history. At the time Alf and I were both mortified, but we got over it and I even forgot about it. I’m a blogger and a fairly open book after all, so I have very few secrets left to spill. But since Shaun and I are talking, we’ve unearthed this age-old memory and we can joke about it now, as well as reference THE DIARY–which we’ve both read (sorry Alf!)–and discuss its events with zero awkwardness. Life is strange.

Shaun was really young when Alf first started dragging me to family events, like primary school young. It was during the time of ICQ, where nobody I knew had a smartphone, and maybe the word “selfie” hadn’t been invented yet. My first distinct memory of us spending any time together at all was up on stage performing for my sister-in-law Jac’s wedding. Shaun was supposed to sing and rap Shaggy’s “Angel” with me accompanying him on my kiddy Yamaha keyboards. My keyboards already had some riffs pre-programmed into it; there was one that was perfect for the song, so all I had to do was press certain keys to trigger the notes. I managed to mangle it and he was none the wiser, and I still wish I could track down the DVD to see that performance again.

What I don’t remember is when we started bantering like old friends, but I know that Facebook helped. Most of Alf’s cousins are similar to Alf in that they don’t give two hoots about social media. In contrast, Shaun’s got all his networks up and running, so it’s easier to link up. Now that he’s in his 20s, talking to him reminds me of the camaraderie I used to share with my male buddies. It’s nice to have that again and I can feel my 20-something self resurfacing (minus the angst), which is a precious thing now that I’m inching closer to the big 4-0. There’s a lot of funny and random chitchat with the odd confession or deep thought thrown in. But mostly, I appreciate getting to know a family member better on a friendship level. That doesn’t happen too often.

By the way, I’ve been dying to use the word “meta” after hearing it in “Gone Girl.” Well this is so meta, it cracks me up:

Click to show/hide the full post!

Top photo courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo; it’s supposed to represent Alf’s diary!

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Apr 18 2015

Sunday Garden Party, Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa

Published by under Reviews

Sunday Garden Party, Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa

Some weeks ago, we were invited to Atmosphere By The Sea, a restaurant at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa resort, to try their family-friendly Sunday Garden Party seafood buffet. I usually turn down restaurant review invitations, first, because I find food hard to photograph and describe, and second, because the timings aren’t right for us. In this case, I decided to make an exception; it was a chance for the family to try foods that we wouldn’t normally eat, the beach setting was enticing, and there would be activities to entertain the kids with.

It must be our luck, but our last visit to Sentosa island was plagued by rain, and unfortunately this visit was no different. Grey skies and yellow lights don’t lend themselves well to a “garden party” theme and my pictures turned out poorly, so please hop over to The J Babies for some lovely food photos, as well as to see what everything looks like when the weather is perfect. (The J Babies is a blog run by mom Klessis, and among other things, I’ve always admired her photography.)

The highlight of the Sunday Garden Party buffet is its seafood spread featuring oysters, prawns, lobsters, king crabs, and more. But secretly, I was more excited by the prospect of getting to know their cheese station, which has gourmet selections from France.

As we entered the restaurant, it was immediately apparent that the strength of this buffet is in its variety, beginning with the appetiser spread. I’m not an adventurous or seasoned diner so many of the appetisers were unfamiliar to me, and these were some of the labels I had to google:

Tabbouleh Salad: The wiki definition is here, but this article calls it a “global salad” that is “all about parsley.”

Poached Egg On Cold Ratatouille: This is embarrassing but I don’t even know what it means to poach an egg. Well now I do. And to me, Ratatouille is a French “cartoon dish.”

Greek Salad: A simple classic with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta cheese–but some have called it a cliche too. Here’s what the “perfect” version looks like.

Crab Remoulade: Here’s what it is and how it’s served–the Sunday Garden Party version comes in patties.

Ham Prosciutto: I know it has to be on the label for clarity, but the word “ham” is redundant because “prosciutto” is the Italian word for ham. Here’s a good write-up on it.

Smoked Salmon: Just one of the million things that I’d never bothered to find out about before–here’s a video on how smoked salmon is made. Continue Reading »

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Apr 12 2015

Review: Joe Labero, A Night Of Magic At Raffles

Published by under Reviews

Joe Labero, A Night Of Magic At Raffles

Layla and I were invited to review award-winning illusionist Joe Lebero’s current show in Singapore, playing at Raffles Hotel’s Jubilee Theatre. Neither of us knew what to expect because our only experience with magic shows so far has been with the small-scale private-party variety. I’m not even sure if it’s OK to use the word “magician” anymore. Is “illusionist” preferable these days?

The evening got off to a good start because we were lucky with our seats; we’d been assigned to middle-row seats but there was a mix-up and we got bumped up to the front row! It was a bit creepy at first–we entered the dimmed theatre early and there were these men in hoods and painted faces walking around. Also, one of them gave Layla a playing card, so she thought “Uh oh, I’m going to be part of the act later!”

When the show started, I was struck by how versatile a modern-day magician needs to be. Joe Labero was an all-round entertainer–he would tell personal stories, usually with a punchline, and gently tease the crowd before performing a small trick with an audience member’s help. Then his expression would change, the industrial rock music would start up, and you’d know something dramatic involving elaborate props was about to happen. There was levitation, fitting people in boxes where they’d disappear and appear again, walking through mirrors, and much more. Speed and distraction are essential to an illusionist’s work, so everything happened very quickly and there was hardly any time to analyse how all of it was done.

The last time I watched a magic show, it was at a teachers’ party with Alf and his ex-colleagues. I remember getting to assist the magician then, and this time, I got picked again! Magicians make me uneasy because they’re always doing scary stuff like slicing people in half, so walking up to the front felt a bit like I was walking straight into a trap. I unconsciously kept inching away from Joe and he had to remind me several times to get closer to him. Still, I was very happy I got to assist because I’ve always wondered if the helpers in these big shows were planted. In the case of my trick, I can vouch that I’ve never seen Joe before the show, and I certainly wasn’t given any instructions beforehand. Continue Reading »

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Apr 07 2015

So Happy: 50 Years Of Singapore Rock

Published by under Life

So Happy: 50 Years Of Singapore Rock

It’s all happening! This is what I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks. I was roped in by my rather famous musician friend Pat; discussions and some preliminary work began in January, but it was only in March that it was crunch time for me.

“So Happy” is primarily a photo exhibition featuring 100 local rock bands from the 1960s to the present day. A team of writers worked on the photo captions–these captions don’t just describe the photos, but also tell a little story about each band. My job was to edit the captions and make them easy to read, interesting, and accessible to a general audience, as well as to standardise certain things like how dates are mentioned or what gets italicised or put in quotation marks, which is great fun for an anal person like me.

I haven’t worked with a group of people in ages; usually I’m dealing with just one other person, be it an editor or an account manager who conveys instructions from the client. All the people on the “So Happy” writing team have day jobs, but they also live and breathe music. Even though I’ve worked as a music writer before, I’ll have to admit that music hasn’t been a big part of my life for a while, and this was like a local music crash course for me. It was awesome and I wish I could get paid for doing work like this all the time!

Some of the interesting things that happened during this project:
* Getting to know a whole bunch of creative people that I’ve never met before, including Little (yes that’s his real name), who heads the project and made all of this happen.
* I texted Pat every day instead of his wife Stephii, who happens to be one of my favourite people.
* Getting requests like, “Hey, you gonna be up at 4AM? I don’t think I can submit the text any earlier.”
* A late-night FB chat and a subsequent phone conversation with a writer who wanted to make sure I understood some basics about our local scene, because things could turn ugly if the captions were factually inaccurate.
* Me, wondering if it was OK to list a song like “Masturbating With Missiles” in an SG50 exhibition.
* Getting private messages from some of the writers at the end of the project, thanking me and telling me I did a good job with the edits, which was the sweetest thing ever. This team is mostly made up of guys, so it’s a stereotype that men aren’t thoughtful.

I did end up doing quite a bit of work late at night, and to keep awake, I would take short breaks by checking out some of the bands that were being featured in the exhibition. Here’s a selection:

* The Oddfellows (“So Happy”): This is Pat’s band from back when I was in secondary school! I’ve never asked him about it, but I remember reading that he’s over this period in his life and wants to move on, but this song has grown on me over the years and I love it now. I met Pat in real life at work over a decade ago–I’d just joined a new company and I saw this familiar-looking guy. Before I could stop myself, the words were out of my mouth, “Are you Patrick Chng!?”
* Padres (“Radio Station”): Another track from my secondary school days. I thought it was catchy before and I still hum it now. Pat is in the video too, with more hair, and on drums.
* Force Vomit (“Siti”): I think I went to school with these guys! This song must’ve been around during my Ngee Ann Polytechnic days. Back then, I lived for the school’s Radio Heatwave gigs, which showcased lots of local bands and were very action packed.
* Serenaide (“The Girl From Katong”): This one features Mimi, a mom that I met through blogging, on bass.
* Pastelpower (“Allergies”): This is something more recent, and I think the video’s super cute and so well done.
* Obedient Wives Club (“Requiem For A Lover”): My long-time friend and one-time bandmate Lennat plays drums with them. I’ve never really checked them out before this project, but I liked this song on first listen.
* Shirley Nair & The Silver Strings (“You’re The Boy”): I love her voice, it’s so strong and clear! I was also moved by this SG50 video, featuring the same song.
* Riot !n Magenta (“Told You So”): Another track that I liked on first listen. I googled them after hearing others rave about them, and have followed them on Spotify!

I hope you’ll visit the exhibition if you’re free. It runs from April 8-17, admission is free, and details are in the poster above, as well as here and here.

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Mar 31 2015

Notes On The Kids

Published by under Life,Sponsored

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

Melijoe.com, Singapore blog feature

It’s been a busy period for me lately, with work. Not crazy busy but nicely busy, where I get little blocks of work time during the day, and a longer, more peaceful stretch after the kids sleep. I think I like my life best when it’s all mixed up; I wake up to an editing assignment, run off to a playdate with the neighbours, have lunch with Z, work again if my mom-in-law comes by in the afternoon, and take a breather on the hour-long bus rides to pick Layla up after her gym practices. I’ll write more about work in another post, as well as share an upcoming project that opens to the public next week!

Things with Z are good. This is the no-expectations stage, where Z’s only responsibility involves taking his Lego City cars apart and putting them together again. He can count to 10 because of hide and seek, but things get a little messy after that. I started reading with him earlier than with Layla, and his current favourite titles are Karen Katz’s The Colors Of Us, and this Chinese story that borrows heavily from Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar. He’s better at mimicking sounds (he may have an easier start with Chinese) and repeating long words although he doesn’t talk like a grown up, unlike how his sister was at this age. But he asks A LOT of questions and is always trying to figure out ways to get what he wants, and he usually succeeds.

Layla’s on the right track in school–she did well for her first round of tests despite all the gym training. I’ve given her some high targets to meet this year, in exchange for a reward. Her science test fell below the targeted score so we didn’t buy her anything this time but we did give her lots of praise for her other grades. Alf isn’t keen on rewards as he feels it impedes learning, and I’m thinking of a different way to motivate her for the upcoming exams. At home, I have to confess that it’s challenging to parent a child who will soon be considered a preteen. The difference between a younger kid and an older one: A 3-year-old will give you a hug for no good reason at all, but a 9-year-old will demand one to soothe her own hurt feelings, anger, and resentment in an already tense atmosphere. It’s more complicated, emotionally, and I’m not doing enough to be closer to Layla, but since some time ago, I’ve started to follow this site called Aha! Parenting to help myself in setting some new goals and directions for reconnecting with her. As a first step, I’ve rescheduled one of her gym training sessions to be on a Saturday morning, so she can spend two weekday afternoons at home instead of just one. And I think that’s about all I should reveal, without compromising her privacy too much.

The kids’ tops in this post are sponsored by Parisian online clothing store Melijoe.com, which now ships to Singapore. Melijoe was started by a mom of 5 (!), who wanted to create a store that would stock international designer brands along with practical and everyday casual styles. You can read her story here. I really enjoyed browsing their style guides for kids, and that’s a good place to start when shopping on the site, unless you already have a specific idea of what you’re looking for or want to focus on bargain buys.

As I’ve mentioned in some of my posts before, my mom buys almost all of Layla’s clothes and we’ve been dressing Z in mostly hand-me-downs. But as they get older and move away from kiddy designs, I can see us doing some of our shopping on stores like Melijoe, if our budget allows for it.

Layla is dressed in a grey fleece dress from Troizenfants; this is something I would’ve chosen for myself! (Half the sizes are currently sold out so I’m glad Layla’s size was still available.) Z, who has a mind of his own when it comes to clothes–as with everything else–refuses to wear anything out of the ordinary right now. No long sleeves, no traditional outfits, no polo shirts. He’s a t-shirt guy through and through, so I wanted to pick out something he’d definitely get excited over and this Stella McCartney Kids superhero tee did the trick.

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Mar 21 2015

Notes From Layla’s First Competition

Published by under School

Layla

Layla

Layla

Layla participated in her first competition yesterday; it’s the first of many as she journeys with her school’s gymnastics team. Being completely new to school sports and competitive events in general, this was an eye opener for me! Some of my thoughts and experiences:

* The cost of gym has been higher than we’d ever anticipated, for something that’s a school sport. I first raised my eyebrows at a gym ball that cost $40, but now I realise that by gym standards, that was a paltry sum. In any case, the ball went unused after a few weeks because the coach had new plans. Layla spent her entire year-end holiday last year on additional gym training sessions because she was considered a “late” joiner to the team, and those sessions were not subsidised by the school. Till today, she continues to train on an additional day per week. Then came the hoop, hoop case, and clubs, but we took it all in our stride. I wasn’t alone in balking at the costume expenses, which comes up to over $200 per girl, but this is part and parcel of being in a team that’s brand new. This is part of the reason that I’m taking more work projects this year, to help pay for all this.

* The coach is wonderfully passionate and you can tell she loves the girls and has a plan for them, but she’s also the creative sort, which means there are often new plans with little advance notice. In practical terms, that means we have to adjust our expense budgets and schedules with very little time to prepare for the change. Or it may mean that we run errands that are ultimately fruitless. I’m not a highly involved gym mom, so I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and dealing with things like training times being changed at the last minute, or a session being extended without warning. I really appreciate the efforts of the mothers who’ve taken it upon themselves to assist the coach and the team, helping us file registrations, disseminating messages from the coach and teachers in charge, running study groups, bringing snacks for the girls to enjoy after training, and basically doing everything they can to keep spirits high, which includes not sharing with the rest of the mothers the difficulties they’ve encountered. For instance, I only found out recently that getting the girls measured for costumes was a tedious process involving the coach and three mothers, who spent hours helping to measure the girls and double check the numbers.

* I learned a few things about sportsmanship and generosity in this period. A friend sent her two daughters to support Layla yesterday, and a few moms whose daughters weren’t competing bought tickets to attend to support her as well, and helped me with the two things I’m most clueless about–hair (it needs to be in a bun) and makeup! I’m a low-initiative, slow-to-action sort of person and I don’t offer help or support unless a need is blatantly staring me in the face, but these moms were so quick in their generosity and it’s something I’m trying to learn from.

* Layla is competing in a category where she’s among the youngest. The coach has her own plans and we trust her judgement, but some of us moms were concerned about sending our kids into competition where they were obviously disadvantaged–age aside, they’ve been practising their routine for a little over a month, compared to others who’ve been training all year. But the coach felt it necessary to give the girls exposure early on. It was a bit rattling to see the experienced gymnasts come on and perform their routines, but I thought the way this particular competition was set up was wonderful for the young girls–there was walled-off section for the girls to practise in while the competition was going on, and the coaches used it to the max, keeping the girls busy all the way until it was their turn! They hardly spent any time watching their competitors, and they weren’t told their scores until the end. Layla’s scores were on the lower end and it was as we’d anticipated, but she was so confident during the competition and handled the unexpected with great calm. For instance, her foot somehow got caught under one of the mats as she was sliding into a split, but she managed to free herself and complete the routine.

* There were certain things that I didn’t anticipate either, like Layla’s usually in a single ponytail for school and gym practice, and she had her hair in a bun for the first time yesterday, as per competition requirements. What we didn’t know, was that her bun would hinder her routine because her hoop got caught in it twice. So she either needs a flatter bun in future, which is hard with her thick hair, or she needs to practise with a bun on regular days too. Another thing was her shoes! Ballet shoes are pretty easy to clean, at least the tops are, if not the soles. I forgot that gym shoes aren’t made of the same waxy material; we did have a spare brand new pair, but the coach reminded us on the day before the competition that we were not to use new shoes–and Layla’s training shoes looked pretty beat up even after I tried using a wet wipe on them and I didn’t dare to chuck them in the machine for a quick rinse. Gymnastics judges can be particular about grooming too, but it was too late to do anything about that so I just left it.

* And finally, for the competition itself–the best part for me was asking Layla how she found the experience and hearing her say it was mostly fun, and just a bit scary. As I mentioned before, the girls trained all the way leading up to their events, and after all their events were over, they compared grades, joked about getting “failing” scores, and proceeded to do their routines again, just for the fun of it! We watched a few more events and the coach told us we could leave early if we wanted to, so we went off with another teammate’s family to enjoy a well-deserved dinner together.

In all, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for Layla’s first competition, and I’m very proud of her and so glad to see her doing something where she’s in her element, and unafraid.

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Feb 27 2015

Review & Giveaway: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Published by under Reviews

I posted on FB last year that I’ve thought about making photobooks countless times but I’m always put off by the process. Having to download software is a drag, and sometimes the online interface is slow–perhaps it’s partly because I’m using an old laptop, along with a version of Firefox that hardly anyone uses anymore. I’ve signed up several times with photobook service providers only to find that I’ll lose steam after about 10 minutes. I’ve only successfully made one complete photobook, but I left it in storage instead of clicking on the “purchase” button because the shipping cost put me off.

So when Photolane invited me to try their no-fuss iPhone photobook app last month, I was happy to agree. Simple as it was, it took me a while to get used to the interface.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

The beginning bit was easy, and the Classic mode was exactly what I wanted.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Here, you’ll select the photos you want in your book, and the app will auto-arrange it for you. It’s not a function that I needed, as I want control over what picture goes where. I would’ve preferred to start with blank templates.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

The page numbers indicate whether it’s a left or right page you’re looking at, and even though they’ve arranged the photos for you, you can always drag and drop something else in there or change the layout. You can also drag and drop to change the order of the pages. Once I figured out how to work everything, I was glued to my screen for about two hours. Here’s the result:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

I’m pleasantly surprised and very pleased with the paper and print quality of my book! The look and feel is clean and tasteful, just the way I like it. But do note that these are photos taken with a digital camera and not a phone camera. (The photos are from Layla’s birthday celebration last year.) Also, initially I wasn’t sure how the rectangular borders around certain pictures would turn out–there wasn’t an option to remove them–but I like them now. Photolane definitely works for me as a relatively quick and easy way to make a photobook. There are only four styles to choose from right now and I hope they add more soon, along with more layout options, but if I made a new book I would probably choose the Classic mode again. (Update 3/3: I have already made a new Photolane book for my wedding pictures, and I did use Classic mode again! This time, I paid for my book.)

And now for the good news, if you’d like to try Photolane too: I’ve got TWO 8×8 photobooks to give away! (Each book has a satin matte hardcover and 32 layflat pages.) Please note that Photolane is an iPhone app so only iPhone users are eligible. Also, to be fair, one entry per family please.

Here’s what you’ll have to do:

1. Leave a comment, with a valid e-mail address and at least a first name (not initials or nicks), telling me what sort of photobook you’d like to make.
2. Confirm that you own an iPhone, or will pass the prize to someone else who does.
3. “Like” my FB page if you find that the links I’m sharing are useful to you.

That’s it! This contest will run till next Friday, which is 6 March 2015.

And finally, if you want to go ahead to make a Photolane photobook on your iPhone right away, the code “BTMUP” will entitle you to a US$8 discount. The code is also valid till next Friday (6 March 2015). It’s free to download the Photolane app. The price of each photobook is US$32, and shipping is a flat rate of US$8 regardless of where you’re based. Happy weekend!

Update: This contest is closed and the winners have been picked. There were 21 entries in all–one person left two comments. I asked Layla to give me two numbers and she chose 8 and 17; it’s her register number in class, along with her favourite friend’s register number. So, the winners are Tynny and Adeline. Congratulations, and I’ll be getting in touch with you soon!

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Feb 26 2015

Marriage, Love, Life

Published by under Life

Marriage, Love, Life

Last Saturday, I attended our cousin Serene’s wedding. Every wedding is unique, and in Serene’s case, she pushed boundaries by holding a civil wedding–in Alf’s staunchly Catholic family, that’s a big deal. She also chose to restrict the crowd size to about 100, which is small by Singapore standards. For the first time, the family got to appreciate an intimate outdoor solemnization, and many of them were swooning over the “Hollywood” effect. I heard at least two people say, “It’s just like the movies!” (Note: If you’re planning a traditional Catholic wedding in Singapore, you can pretty much forget about having a beach or park ceremony because the priests will not hold the ceremony anywhere but in a church, and even the chapel is an unacceptable alternative. I disagree, of course, but who am I to judge?)

Serene also surprised family members with her post-wedding plans; both she and her husband Lie have left their jobs and are taking time off to travel, beginning with a stop in India. The younger ones in the family have been trying to explain to the older ones why such a trip is life changing and essential, and best done now before they have kids, if ever.

Anyway, everything turned out beautifully at Serene’s wedding. Her husband Lie is Finnish-Chinese, so the crowd was colourful! The food didn’t disappoint, and Serene has a soft spot for me and Alf, so she gave us some of the best seats in the house, front and centre, although I wonder if she’ll regret it when she hears Z whining all the way through dinner and the speeches and performances in her recap videos!

What I liked most, as always, was witnessing the heart of the wedding, especially the speeches that the couple made for each other. Serene called Lie her “greatest love and greatest challenge,” which got me thinking about my own life and marriage.

It’s been 10 years since Alf and I pushed boundaries of our own with our wedding ceremony, by insisting on keeping things simple–a wedding lunch instead of dinner, no champagne pouring, and no spending on things we considered useless, like corsages, the decorative wedding cake, and the bouquet, all of which we borrowed from my wedding planner. Back then, Alf’s mom actually broke down when she found out we intended to hire one of those decorated London cabs for the wedding, and begged us to give her some “face.” We relented by letting her friends drive us, except she must’ve passed on the “simple” directive to them too, so Alf and I took off from the same destination (as we were already living together) and arrived at church one after the other in two beat-up cars driven by very nice people.

That seems like such a long time ago, and with the benefit of being older and emotionally lighter, I can say one thing with clarity: Alf and I should never have gotten married at that point in our lives, even though we’d been dating for seven years prior. Note that this is NOT the same as saying I regret our marriage, which I don’t. I may have felt that way once, but not anymore.

Back in ’05, I was really in a bad place. There was very little I liked about myself, and unfortunately for Alf, I liked him even less. He’s naturally upbeat, and he coped by telling himself that this is the reality of all relationships, that perfection could be found only in the movies and books. But, neither of us could deny that the reality was awful. We weren’t a newly married couple eager to experience the world as a unit, instead we were tearing into each other and trying not to drown in a daily influx of drama and tears, mostly mine.

I can see now that I got married mostly out of fear. Fear of not being able to afford a new rental home when my eviction notice arrived, fear that the alternative to “moving forward” was being “out there” again without a partner by my side, fear of having to live my life alone, and mostly, fear of making a tough decision and sticking to it. The only thing I did right was picking a good guy to make a mistake with–one with values and heart, and an ever-willingness to forget a bad day and start over.

Some of what followed has been blogged about, but I would say we spent five years learning how not to kill each other, and the next five learning to thrive and be better people ourselves. Of course, 10 years of marriage is nothing compared to couples who’ve spent many decades together, but I think we’ve earned the right to call ourselves a successful couple too.

We’ve got another wedding to attend in June; it’s going to be another multicultural party because our cousin Gary is marrying a Romanian girl, Diana, whom I’ve become very fond of. To me, Serene’s relationship represents adventure and leading life without fear, while Diana’s relationship is about lightness. She tells me about the easygoing rapport between her and Gary, and their motto is “We’ll see where the flow takes us.” No pressure, no expectations, but trusting that because both parties are in sync, they will always be where they’re supposed to be at any given time.

Perhaps it’s Diana’s influence but I’ve also been struck by that same feeling of late, i.e. the certainty that today and every day, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. In fact, I’ve been carrying that feeling in my heart for a while, and two recent incidents stood out for me as literal signs–one, Z fell while climbing on a familiar playground structure and I was in the right place at the right time to catch him, if not he would’ve fallen backwards from a height, head first. The second was while we were at the park and Z started acting up, and just as I was thinking of calling Alf to come get him, I turned around and saw Alf jogging towards us.

And like Serene, I’m learning every day to not let fear govern my life. I’m inspired by her strength to leave her comfort zone now, and to walk away from not one, but two toxic relationships that she gave her all for in the past. In the end, she found Lie at a point when she wasn’t looking anymore.

I’m committed to my husband and I’m guarding my heart and my actions against anything that could sully that commitment, but at the same time, I’ve been letting go. I realised recently that I’m no longer attached to the idea of the perfect outcome for our marriage–it would be wonderful if we could spend the rest of our lives together and die holding hands like that old couple in Titanic, but for any number of reasons, that might not happen. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve narrowed the alternatives down to living my life alone, with kids, or starting afresh with a new partner. They’re just paths, all of which can be equally fulfilling. As long as I’m guided by my values and faith in a higher power, I’ll never be restless again because I’ll always have faith that I’m in the right place, in romance and in life.

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Feb 01 2015

The School Update: Primary 3, Month #1

Published by under School

Coping With Primary 3

It’s a new path that I’m navigating, where I’m figuring out how to tell my parenthood stories without embarrassing Layla or compromising her privacy, so bear with me while I’m making that transition.

Layla doesn’t read my blog and hasn’t asked to either. She likes being photographed and is happy to know it’s for the blog or Facebook, but I’m considering whether to stop posting photos of her altogether. On my personal Facebook account, I’ve used the friendship categories to separate general shares and updates from more personal posts. No pictures of the kids on my public Facebook page (other than the profile picture), although I do mention them. For the blog, I’ve always thought of it as something temporary to be deleted away someday, but I would want to have a new project in place by then.

We’re also in new territory when it comes to Layla’s development. It’s sad but I’ve witnessed Layla’s love for school slowly being chipped away–I had a little girl who used to count down to the end of the holidays in K2 because she was so eager to get back to school. P1 was still fun, P2 was OK. This year, school has been reduced to a necessary evil, made tolerable by friends, PE, and gym. Alf and I are toying with the idea of him taking up a teaching post in another country for a year; this again depends on the opportunities available for Layla here, and whether we feel an adventure abroad would benefit her more.

In the meantime, I wanted to write about what I’m doing differently as a parent for 2015. Here goes!

Being proactive to spot new opportunities for Layla. Before, I was the sort of parent who wouldn’t have asked my child to try out for any school team. I assumed that teachers and coaches would identify talent and inform us if needed. Now, I figure there’s no harm in asking or trying. Lately, I’ve read some discussions where parents are wondering why kids have to try out for school activities rather than being able to participate in whatever they’re interested in. I can’t speak for other schools or even other activities within Layla’s school as I’ve only seen what happens for the gymnastics school team. There, it seems most of the kids who’ve tried out have been accepted. I heard that a child who was turned away couldn’t jump with two feet off the ground at the same time, and I thought, well, fair enough. (There is a regular gym training programme that is open to everyone.) Layla was accepted at a time when she couldn’t do a full split, so they weren’t looking for perfection or experience. The other thing was that some parents whose kids were accepted into the team declined the opportunity eventually. I don’t blame them as it wasn’t too long ago that I would’ve done the same, especially if it was Layla’s first year in school. It was only towards the middle of last year that I realised she needed something more than free time, and due to our own failings as parents, we weren’t able to encourage her and make her feel as if she could do anything she wanted, if only she tried. My next best option was to get her involved in something that I felt she would be good at.

Realising that all-fun experiences don’t necessarily build character. In the school team setting, there’s no time for patting yourself on the back and being complacent. You master a skill and you’re praised a little, and you move on to learn something new, which you may struggle with again. Layla’s facing new challenges with every session, and she’s learning that with practice comes mastery. Now that the initial hurdle of gaining flexibility has been crossed–which took about four months–she loves training. The other moms have told me that my daughter smiles through the three-hour training sessions, and I’ve sat in myself and seen that it’s true. I have to be careful not to push this as a point for every parent I know, because their kids are not Layla. I can only say for sure that Layla needed this opportunity to grow. The great thing is that now, if she talks about not being “talented” enough in any area, I’ll remind her of how her balance and flexibility have improved so much in just a few months, and how she could put in the same time and effort for something else and see results too.

From being hands off, to being more involved. I’m the parent who’ll forget the principal’s name or not know who key figures in the school are, and not care either. But sometimes, knowing who to contact and bringing up an issue can change the learning experience for your child, as I found out last year. Some of the other gym moms have devoted time to watching the training sessions and getting to know the coaches and teachers in charge, as well as gathering the kids to study together before training, and even bringing treats for them to enjoy after. I appreciate that. Thoughtfulness doesn’t come naturally to me; for me, being “involved” means reorganising my life around Layla’s training schedule and saying “yes” to every new request from the coaches, whether it’s to add an extra training session or to buy new gear. I don’t look at hours spent on buses, being stuck in traffic, or having to wait around as dead time. It’s time to read a book, work, or talk to someone. Since I’m a freelancer and I have help from my mom-in-law, I can support Layla’s gym involvement without too much difficulty, but I can see how hard it could be for parents who work full time.

From expecting little, to expecting more. I re-read an article that I’d saved about raising smarter kids, and one of the tips was this: Believing your kid is capable makes a difference. In real life, I saw this played out recently on Humans Of New York. I think that I’ve misinterpreted Layla’s agreeableness as a lack of intelligence, and I should stop thinking that way. There haven’t been any tests so far, so my expectations for the moment are all do with with time rather than scores, and I find that when I say “This piece of work is easy, it can be done in 20 minutes,” set the timer, and leave the room, the work gets done before the buzzer goes off.

From demanding total independence, to providing support. We sometimes have just a little over an hour to work with before bedtime, where we have to fit in dinner, a shower, homework, and getting ready for the next day. My daughter’s been up since 5.20 in the morning and it shows by evening, so I will help her with the packing of her schoolbag, or tell her she doesn’t have to wash her plate or pick her clothes up off the floor. And I’ll plan the hour for her with the timer set for each task, so that if all goes well, she’ll get to enjoy a bit of reading in bed. Our original deal was for her to get her homework done after school, where there’s a long gap between school dismissal and training, but sometimes she meets a friend and they run off to play. I’ve decided it will be her choice to use the spare time for work or play, with the knowledge that pleasure first has its consequences.

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Jan 25 2015

Life In January

Published by under Life

Layla

It’s funny, but the love-and-parenting essay that most resonated with me last year was written by someone named Kayden Kross. If you know who she is, you probably wouldn’t admit it to me, but that’s OK. Her essay was about how she landed in her profession, and this got to me:

Growing up, I was constantly aware of my mother’s penny-pinching anxiety: the quiet calculations as she added up the cost of our school supplies, the flashes of anger each time we outgrew clothes.

She also gave an interview that I read, where she said this:

There are other things—like, I was lucky enough to get in, do porn, do it right, put money aside, and I have set up a nice future for this child. There’s not going to be some point where I have to choose between buying her a Christmas present and buying her lunch. You know? I always knew that I wanted one [child], and I always knew that when I had one it would be at a time when I could afford to, forever.

In the third quarter of last year, Alf and I sat down and talked, and he decided to return to school as a full-timer in 2015. He doesn’t teach, which is good because he still hates the local school environment. What he does is to fill in as a sub, and handle discipline and other matters that will free up teachers to do what’s important. It sounds like a dream deal, especially to other teachers, but I know he’s sacrificing his time and freedom–as well as his career as a real estate agent–for us, and I don’t want to downplay that.

As for me, I am the mom who sometimes chooses between lunch and a present, and I think I could do much better for my kids. For the first time since I’ve been home, I’ve set myself a financial target to help Alf clear his outstanding debts and for us to start saving aggressively, for travel, for education, for rainy days. A potential work-from-home arrangement with a regular paycheck didn’t pan out, but I’m already in the midst of new opportunities: Being part of a local rock music exhibition for SG50, and a new and unexpected regular assignment where I get to do for a fee what I’m already doing for fun–reading and sharing parenting-related articles. So far so good!

While I’m waiting to firm up other work arrangements, I’ve decided to put some things in place. Z and I take almost daily walks now, with him in the stroller because the walk is really for me to get some exercise in my day, minimal as it is. The timing still needs tweaking; I’d like to start the walk at 7am for that perfect morning chill, but I’ve been over-snoozing and we head out closer to 9 sometimes.

And because I discovered late last year through a health check that my cholesterol levels are borderline high, I’ve made some new food rules for myself this year. Breakfast is a must now, and it’s lucky I’ve developed a taste for plain oatmeal because it’s quick, cheap, easy, and also great for the heart. If I need a treat, it’s soya beancurd; I’ve found that it helps so much with digestion and acid reflux. I drain off most of the sugar syrup so I’m not worried about the sweetness factor.

The first half of January was also about adjusting to Layla’s P3 schedule, where gym training was bumped up to 12 hours a week, from 6 last year. I heard that national gymnasts train for over 20 hours a week, but 12 hours is already threatening to consume us. Time is scarce for Layla now–training ends at 6PM sometimes, we don’t live near the school, and there was a day last week where it rained and we got home at nearly 8PM (her bedtime). The timer has become our indispensable parenting tool; with so little time to waste, every minute is precious and I’ve had to step in and help Layla get organised by telling her she has 15 minutes to shower, 5 minutes to pack her schoolbag, that she shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes on this piece of work, and so on.

And yes, about Layla. Yesterday, she said to me, “I didn’t like it when you told Aunty S that about me.” It was something tiny and innocent, or so I thought. But I suppose in some way, it was the sign I’d been waiting for, the indication that her stories aren’t mine to broadcast anymore.

And so I won’t.

My blogging agent asked me a few days ago what I’ll be writing about this year. No plans yet! It’s a question I’ve been asking myself too. In the meantime, these life updates will have to do.

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