Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The things we do...

On my way home from work today, I have to go forage for food to keep YK's caterpillar alive. His caterpillar is about to pupate in a day or two but until then, it needs to feed on fresh leaves. It has been rejecting the wilted ones picked over the weekend.
Apparently we have plenty of saga trees in our neighbourhood but the leaves are beyond my reach. With him away in camp, I have to deal with this mini crisis. When he returns this weekend, he wants to shoot, oh I mean photograph, the specimen and release it back to the jungle. If you're interested in what he does, you can check his album.
Now that I only see YK during the weekends, I try to spend more time together. This can only mean two things - hiking and eating. Thanks to him, I've practically visited all the nature reserves and parks in Singapore. A typical weekend would involve driving from one end of Singapore (eg Changi Coast) to the other (Jurong), stopping only for lunch. Sometimes we even take the bumboat to Pulau Ubin.
It's a good thing I enjoy being outdoors and find the forest fascinating. Last weekend, we came across an off-trail flanked by large tree ferns. With the morning light filtering through the tree canopy, it looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings.
I've resheduled my household chores like sweeping and mopping to Fridays so that I can enjoy my weekends. When he's shooting bugs (which can take hours), I read a book under the shade or simply sit back and enjoy nature.
One of his favourite haunts is the mangrove area around Pasir Ris Beach (below). It's funny now that I think about it. This park used to be their playground when they were little. It still is after all these years.
I treat the boys to a good lunch every weekend. Since YK is the one who is deprived, I try to satisfy his cravings. Lately we've been eating at Japanese restaurants. He always orders grilled saba (mackerel) which I think is so easy to cook at home. Now I buy fresh ones from the market and grill them myself.
One place that we all like is Skinny Pizza. The paper thin crust makes eating pizza a guilt-free exercise. I particularly like the generous serving of salad greens while the kids like the crispy texture of the pizza base. The squid ink pizza is their favourite.
We always order the smoked turkey swiss pizza which comes with heaps of turkey ham, swiss cheese, rocket and lashings of sweet blueberry jam.
 The fries that come with the fish and chips can be very addictive though I can't say the same about the halibut chunks which are just too bland and  meaty for my liking.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Learning styles

Yesterday I read a 1000-word essay done by YK which caused my jaw to drop. Over the weekend, the recruits were given an assignment to write about their experience in the army. YK wanted me to remind him after dinner in case he forgets. He said he should be able to complete it in 15 minutes.

I woke up the next morning to find the 2-page essay on the table and read it out of curiosity. Till now, I've never had a chance to read my son's work even though he contributes to some websites. What he had churned out in 15 minutes was really impressive. Even though he is a science student,  I'm now convinced that he can even pursue a career in writing if he wishes.

Unlike many children I know, YK has never liked reading even though he grew up with access to a big library of books. He has never read a novel in his life and cannot understand my love for reading. During his O Level exams, he surprised me by scoring a distinction in literature though he confessed that he did not even read the text book. In fact, I found it lying around the house and ended up reading it instead.

As his mom, I know that he is a fast learner and he speaks well but I've always wanted him to broaden his general knowledge. My attempts to make him read the newspapers have proven to be futile.  While he is getting news updates through his smart phone, I think it is inadequate. He only  reads reference books and prefers to glean knowledge through other mediums. He swears by Wikipedia and spends hours watching documentaries and videos on Youtube.

I probably worry too much. He has proven time and again that you don't have to be a bookworm to acquire knowledge. While I've always known about his audio/visual learning style, I'm finally able to embrace it after 20 years.

So parents out there, identify your children's learning style and instead of trying to change them, help them to flourish from there.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Marital problems

There have been so many cases of extramarital affairs in the news lately that I don't think they are scandalous anymore. This is not a new phenomenon, it's just that we're reading more about them because of the media.

Recently I also learned that some of my friends are having marital problems. One had divorced his wife only to remarry her again for the sake of the children. His son, now a teenager who had witnessed the tumultous relationship from young, even asked his father how long this marriage is going to last.

Another friend, a very respectable man and one of the nicest person I know is also in the midst of ending his marriage. The couple have been living apart for a number of years and the distance between them have reached a point of no return. While he has been a great father and provider, the kids are closer to the stay-at-home-mom. He's feeling so guilt-ridden that he intends to sign off all his assets to the wife and leave the business to the kids. Having built his business for years, he might end up with almost nothing. As his friends, we worry for him because he's getting on in his years and will need a nest egg for his old age.

One young friend I know is so tired of living under the same roof with his bickering parents. He gets so exasperated whenever they use him as a go-between, he wonders why they won't get divorced so everyone can be happier.

In a  recent survey, one in two married people in Singapore considered divorce at some point in their marriage. I am still surprised at the findings because I do know of many happily married couples too.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A smart nation?

When we were staying at Fairview Guesthouse in Kuching two months ago, I struck up a friendship with Annie who runs the guesthouse because she's so friendly and nice. She told me she'll look me up when she visits her daughter here in December, and hopes that I could bring her to my parent's orchid farm.

While I was looking forward to seeing her again, I wasn't quite sure if she meant what she said. To my surprise, she contacted me when she arrived and we had a great time yesterday. She brought along her husband, brother and sis-in-law.

I notice something about Malaysians that I find quite lacking in Singaporeans. It is something intangible yet quite visible when you're in their company. I've met many people in my life but when I'm with my Malaysian friends, I feel extremely comfortable and at ease. They exude warmth and sincerity and still have that Kampong spirit in them.

Spending an entire morning with them at the farm was so enjoyable. They weren't afraid of getting their shoes muddy nor were they bothered by mozzies and the heat. Our conversations revolved around plants, fruits and the good old kampong life instead of achievements, exam scores and possessions . Their knowledge and humility impressed me even more when I realised what high fliers they are when we've said our goodbyes.

In the course of our conversation, I lamented about the stressful environment the kids in Singapore grow up in and what they said was quite enlightening even though it shouldn't come as a surprise. "Singaporean kids are famous for scoring well in exams."

How true! It's front page news today:
Singapore students shine in international benchmarking tests - Singapore students remain world beaters in mathematics, science and reading, according to the results of two international benchmarking studies released on Tuesday with youngsters across the academic streams chalking up higher scores than their predecessors.

I don't know how to react to this. We are a nation of smart people but what about our EQ? Do we leave behind a favourable impression when we meet our foreign friends or are we smart but competitive and maybe even quite complacent?

Monday, 10 December 2012

The doggies

Harry was recently hospitalised for an injury in his back. We're not sure how he got himself injured at the farm (we suspect he got into a fight with the other farm dogs) but he's recovering well after treatment. After a close shave (pun intended), he looks nothing like a Japanese spitz.
 Rusty used to get into all kinds of mischief and skirmishes while living at the farm. Now that he's dwelling in the apartment, we have to keep him occupied.

Honing his survival skills.

Walking in the rain.

Chewing carrot.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A friend indeed

I am usually in bed by 10pm but last night, I was up chatting with a friend. She was fuming because someone she knows is constantly being beaten up by the husband.

My friend wants to help badly, so she sought my advice. I'm not one to advocate divorce but in a situation like this, it is obvious that this victim should leave asap.

If she has kids, it is even more important for her to remove the kids from the abusive environment. Kids are very sensitive. You can't hide the simmering tensions at home from them. And they remember more than you think they do.

While it is clear to us that she needs help, the victim is often in denial. Many women end up suffering in silence, thinking they're destined to live a life like that. According to my friend who has an understanding of the victimised psyche, there is a degree of learned helplessness that needs to be reversed. It's like the abused animal that is afraid of leaving the cage.

I agree with her because I've been there before. Amidst all the abuse, threats and harrassment, it actually took a lot of courage for me to walk out the door. What if the threats were real, what would happen to the kids?  Will we be safe? Will I be able to walk in the streets with my head held high? So many questions and fears kept clouding my mind.

Seeing that I needed help, a friend dragged me to her lawyer to start the divorce proceedings. I almost hated her for it but now I think it was the best thing she had done. She saved me and the kids from a life of misery and despair. Her one act gave me my life back.

Even then, I was reluctant to proceed. The paperwork was ready but I was not. I told my friend and  lawyer to hold on. They shook their heads in disbelief. I was mentally weak. I felt sorry for the one who was making my life a living hell. When the abuse got from bad to worse, I bit the bullet and gave the lawyer the green light. Finally I was on the right track.

That was just the beginning. The ex wouldn't let go. He put up a big fight. Several times, I almost lost my mind and gave up fighting for custody of the kids. Thankfully I had strong support from friends and family. Without them, my life would be in a mess.

All this is behind me now and I don't like to bring it up but I must because there are women out there who need help and support. It was hard for my friend to believe that I lacked courage. To her, I'm a brave, outspoken and capable woman who can handle anything that comes my way. Yes, I only flourished when I came out of that cage.

When you are in an abusive relationship, whether physical, mental or emotional, you lose your sense of identity. You live in fear. You're treading on eggshells because you never know what will trigger your partner off. You envy your friends and you grief in private.

Even dynamic and successful women at work could return home to abusive spouses. Not all marriages work and if it fails, there is no shame in ending it. Everyone deserves a better life.

And yes, there is life after divorce and you have to believe in it. Divorce is a process that will take you through  phases of grief, loss, pain and then stability. You don't have to look very far to see how many divorced women are thriving with a renewed sense of purpose and enjoyment.

I warned my friend to be prepared to face resistance and hostility. She's expecting that but she's willing to risk getting bitten first. I'm sure she will be appreciated later. What a true friend to have.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The call

I had the phone close by my side yesterday. It was on the kitchen counter when I cooked, then it was placed on the dining table while we ate. Even when I was bent over the kitchen sink washing the dishes, the phone was within my reach. I was waiting for that call.

I held on to the phone when I walked Rusty. It didn't ring during the walk. I came back, took a quick shower to find that I didn't have any missed calls. I began to wonder if field camp was indeed over.

Then the phone rang at 9.11pm. Yes, it was from YK! I tried to sound cool, not like the anxious mother. Despite the tough exercise, he sounded cheerful and well. They had just returned to the bunk. He hadn't showered but chose to call me first.

"The training was really siong (tough)! I read your letter and I cried buckets. Did you receive mine? Sorry if my letter is all muddy and dirty, I tried my best to keep it clean."

He doesn't get to come home until this weekend. He warned me that he will bring back a huge load of muddy and stinky clothes but I'm happy to help with the washing knowing that he's safe and well.

I hurried to the letterbox and found the letter. The one-page letter was the most touching thing I've received from my son. He wrote that he's thankful for all that I've done and that he'll love me forever. He promised that he will be strong and brave and protect me should the day come.

This is one area I'm grateful to the army for. I've heard some wonderful stories of army boys gone good. A friend's nephew stopped communicating with his parents when he became a teenager. After undergoing training in the army, he has grown close to his parents and grandparents.

Another friend's son gave part of his first army pay to his grandmother to show his love and appreciation for all she had done for him.

It is heartwarming to see such transformation in our young men. Now I feel quite sorry that the girls are missing out. There must be some ways to transform them too.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Field camp

For the whole week, I have been watching the weather like a hawk. There isn't much I can do about the weather, really, but YK is out doing 5-night field camp. Today is his final day!

The worst thing is I have no idea what he'll be doing except that he'll be eating combat ration and going without shower for 6 days. Desperate for information, I trawled the internet. This video called Every Singaporean Son is very telling but what I saw also depresses me.

During field camp, they push the recruits to the limit, challenge them and punish them until they reach their breaking point. When things can't get any better, they bring out letters from their families to boost their morale. This will leave the entire platoon of recruits crying openly in the jungle, tears streaming down their mud-caked faces. I cried along with them as I watched the video.

Knowing that they will be building and sleeping in a small basha (tent) during the first couple of days, my heart sank when there was a huge thunderstorm on his first day. What a horrible way to begin the exercise. The weather turned for the better after that. I hoped for light drizzle when he was digging the shellscrape as wet ground might be easier to dig. By the third day, his body must be itching like mad from the sweat and mud, so I hoped for some rain so they could get a quick shower.

A mom's job is to encourage them when they need support and rejoice at their accomplishments. Also, being a mom, we can't help but worry. When I saw YK's good friend Andrew that day, that poor guy looked visibly scrawny. Already a skinny guy by nature, he lost 5 kgs within 2 weeks of enlistment because he fell ill. According to YK, it's a cesspool of virus there. The boys live, eat and train together, and they infect each other too.

I think YK will come back looking scrawny today. I just hope he doesn't fall sick.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Tenzin the ex-Monk

In the last 20 years of my life, I've met lots of interesting people, so much so that best friend thinks my life is very colourful. Indeed, when I look back, I'm thankful for the rich tapestry of experience.

Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I shall introduce you to my Tibetan friend Tenzin. When I first met him 12 years ago, he was a monk. Rather, specifically, he was the monk attending to my Buddhist teacher Venerable Kangyurwa Khensur Lobsang Thubten Rinpoche.

Tenzin was born in India and grew up in the monastery in 'Little Lhasa' after his parents followed Dalai Lama into exile in India in1959 through the Himalayas.

It was his good karma to be selected as Rinpoche's attendant. Rinpoche is one of the most respected and eminent lamas in the Gelug tradition, of which His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the head. As his attendant, Tenzin was always by Rinpoche's side. They eventually reside at the Tibetan Buddhist Institude in South Australia.

I met Tenzin for tea during his brief stopover in Singapore last weekend. He is no longer a monk but I'm still not very used to seeing him without the deep maroon and yellow robe. About five years ago, he fell in love with a Tibetan woman. It isn't exactly the best thing for a monk to be in love. At first Rinpoche chided him, then conselled him. But love knows no bounderies. After waiting for several years, Tenzin finally received Rinpoche's blessings to leave monkhood.

He is excited about becoming a father soon. He looked at SK who is now as tall as him and said to me, "We may be the same age but you're 20 years ahead of me. My kid is not even born yet."

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Ama Keng Clinic

When I read that the shutters of Ama Keng Clinic will come down for the last time today, a whole lot of memories came flooding back.

See, Dr Tan Cheng Bock was then our family doctor. There was a lady Doctor Ong who operated a clinic nearby but most of the villagers prefered Dr Tan. In his facebook page, he talked about the village kids that he was so fond of. We were one of the village kids.

Even though conditions in the village weren't good, people were friendly and self sufficient. We led a simple but happy life. The name Ama Keng came about because of the Ama Keng Chinese Temple built in 1900 to worship the holy mother, a goddess of peace and happiness. Ama means "grandmother" and "keng" refers to temple.

Ama Keng Temple was the major landmark of the village. Even the primary school we went to was called Ama Keng Primary School. I remember the main Ama Keng Road as a bustling place with shops, a small market and a police station. On nights when the temple staged Teochew operas, Ama Keng Road became even livelier like a carnival ground.

By the time I got to secondary school in the city, Ama Keng became the butt of jokes amongst our more sophisticated schoolmates. As a teenager, I hated it and had always wished we could move to the city. My wish was finally granted. The day came when I was in my late teens. I couldn't understand why my parents were reluctant to leave. Now I wish I were living in the village again.

I've reproduced the story of Ama Keng Clinic written by Dr Tan Cheng Bock on his Facebook page. Sadly with the closure of Ama Keng Clinic, I'm afraid there isn't anything else that will help us cling on to any memories of our old village. Thank you Doctor Tan, for keeping our memories of Ama Keng alive.

The story of Ama Keng Clinic.
Today is my last day of medical practice in Ama Keng Clinic. It is indeed very sad to part with my clinic which I started in 1971, 41 years ago. I named my clinic after the village Ama Keng. This far away village was 28km from town, along Lim Chu Kang road. 

 My clinic was a run down shophouse made of wooden planks and zinc roof. Many thought l was crazy as there were so many other options in town. But I love medicine and practicing in the rural environment was my idea of doctoring. It was obviously challenging as you had to manage the cases all by yourself as the nearest hospital was 28km away from the village.

  My patients were generally poor farmers growing vegetables and other crops, tendering to the chickens and a few pigs. Their homes were attap huts and the roads to the huts were laterite mud tracks with numerous pot holes. Making house calls to the sick in their homes involved crisscrossing these narrow tracks. When it rained the tracks got flooded. Once the villagers lifted my car out of a flooded ditch. The village children were incredible, I love them, full of fun and loved playing in the rain. They all love to carry my doctor’s bag.

 Many homes did not have tap water. Water was from deep wells and water standpipes. So the villagers had to carry water buckets on their shoulders from these 2 sources. No flushing toilets, bucket system prevailed.

  My medical fees were low yet some still cannot afford, so they pay me in kind like eggs, vegetables, and chickens. For those who cannot pay l waived the fees. They were very grateful. Over the years the villagers and l developed a special bond that money cannot buy… a deep trust and respect.

 Then came resettlement. One day, we were told we had to move out because of comprehensive redevelopment of the area. It was devastating for many as they had no other skills except farming. Many villagers look to me for help for their resettlement problems. I obliged. I had to speak on their behalf on their housing problems and compensations. It was sad, seeing friends moving out of this village. We were one big family but we had to go separate ways. We were resettled to different parts of the island but primarily to Punggol, Bukit Panjang, Jurong West, Boon Lay and Chua Chu Kang.

 I was resettled to Teck Whye but continued to practice under the name Ama Keng Clinic. The HDB practice was different from old Ama Keng. I moved 2 more times before moving to my present clinic at Jurong West where l practiced for another 15 long years.
Many old patients from old Ama Keng and staying far away continue to see me. My oldest patient is more than 100years old. She appeared in my facebook before and 4 generations of her family sees me today.

 I have come to accept the fact that Ama Keng Clinic will finally close its door on 22nd Nov. 2012.
I want to thank all my patients for their faith in me.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Ever since YK told me about glycogen and how it works in our body, I have been running religiously every morning. When you run on an empty stomach in the morning, your body is in a semi-fast state and the carbo stores are depleted, so it is forced to burn fat tissues to fuel the workout instead. In other words, you'll get lean faster.

While it is nice to start the day slowly with a hot cuppa, I push myself out of the door soon as I am awake to run for at least 30 minutes. With every step I make, I visualise fat melting away. That keeps me going. And after a while, running becomes easy and painless,  I actually enjoy it. My waistline seems to have whittled down a little as well.

When I'm running, the heart is pumping, blood is circulating and my brain is working. Many thoughts run through my head. Sometimes I solve problems, other times, I develop new ideas.

Keeping fit is just one of the benefits of my morning runs. It puts me in a good mood and I return home feeling rejuvenated. I'll be lying if I say I love every single run. There are days when my body refuses to cooperate. If I feel sluggish, I cut short the run and head home early. On days when I'm bursting with energy, I run harder and faster.

I like to get my exercise done and over with first thing in the morning with so I don't have to worry about it for the rest of the day. I find 6.30am the best time to run. It's still quiet and the air is fresh and cool. Dawn is just breaking, so there is no fear of getting freckles and sunburn.  My attempts to run in the evening had proven to be quite futile. I'm usually tired from working and there's dinner and other chores waiting to be done. I also find the air polluted and warm, and the jogging tracks get crowded.

For now, I'll stick to my morning runs as long as I possibly can. It's easier said than done though. All it takes is a rainy spell to ruin the momentum, then it all goes downhill.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Dog walks

While walking Rusty early this morning, I stumbled upon a bird. This was no ordinary bird like a mynah or sparrow. It had black and striking red and green feathers. The only problem was, it was lying on its side, probably injured. There were several stray cats lurking nearby.

I stood and pondered what to do. Rusty didn't try to go near it but I did not have the courage to pick it up. Rusty was getting impatient and wanted to continue walking. I walked away feeling extremely guilt-ridden. How can I leave a dying bird there?

At this hour, the few bird shops nearby were not open for business yet. Then I spotted an old Malay man who looked like someone who knew what to do, so I tried my luck.

"Encik (uncle), there is a beautiful bird lying there but I dare not touch it."

Thank goodness, he asked me to show him the way. I led him there, he picked it up gently like an expert and said he'll take care of it.

I'm glad the bird is given a chance to live. It's really gorgeous, wish I had taken a photo.

Talking about photos, here are some pretty seed pods I found while walking Rusty one day. They belong to a large, fast growing, deciduous tree called Sterculia foetida or skunk tree which bears foul-smelling, purple-red blossoms . The name is derived from the Latin word Sterculius which means dung or manure and foetida which refers to the foul odour emitted by the tree when it is in bloom.
One more nice photo. I love clouds!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Field camp

YK will be undergoing the toughest part of his basic military training this week. It's the gruelling week long field camp where they learn to live in the field as a soldier. It is infamous for making even the fittest guys break down and cry.

To help the recruits cope emotionally, parents have been asked to send in a letter of encouragement so the boys can read it during one of the most trying periods of their lives. Many male friends laughed when I said my letter was 2 pages long. They say kids today are way too pampered.

See, these men think that our boys are so fortunate compared to 'those days' when they were in the army. They tend to forget that 'those days' was three decades ago when we had no airconditioning, computers and mobile phones. Back then, the army food was bad, training was tougher and the word welfare was unheard of.

None of these friends have sons who are going to the army, so they cannot emphatise with me enough. Kids today grow up in a different environment. They don't climb trees, wade in the longkang (drains) or play combat in the kampung (village) like we did. Most live in the city and have never been in direct contact with mud all their lives.

While most parents agree that the 2 year stint in the army is beneficial, how can we not worry whether our sons will be able to cope physically and emotionally? It's not reassuring to read about young lives being taken away while they are doing a service to the nation.

Anyway, back to the field camp. The rainy season is here which makes the exercise twice as gruelling. The boys will be wet, muddy, stinky and miserable. This guy's blog post about his own experience sums it up nicely.

The worst thing is, YK doesn't get to come home this weekend. He will be roughing it out in the jungle, sleeping in a sloshy hole while we snuggle under the covers.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Learning about teaching

As I sit in my patio, I hear my neighbour raising her voice at her 4-year old kid, "Write properly!"

She must be coaching her son again. Oh, how she reminds me of those days when my kids were young. Like me, she's a working mother who tries to teach the kids whenever she finds time.

On the day I moved into my apartment, she had just returned from the hospital cradling the newborn in her arms. Four years have passed and she has two sons now. Uncanningly the age gap and even their names are almost similar to my kids'. Each time I look at them, I think of myself 16 years ago.

Like all mothers, I was enthusiastic and wanted to give the kids a well-rounded and happy childhood. I gave them tons of books and toys to help broaden their general knowledge, develop motor skills and stimulate creativity and curiosity.

Back then, parents weren't that 'kiasu' yet. Sure, there were Montessori, Abacus and Phonics but I didn't feel pressured to send them to these classes. The only time I panicked was when SK still couldn't read in K2. I sent him for phonics lessons.

As a well-meaning and responsible mother, I tried to coach them when they were in primary school. Despite my good intentions, everyone always ended up frustrated. I just can't teach my own kids. I'm generally a patient and calm person but I turn into a monster when I'm sitting before them, trying to make them understand concepts and so forth. My temperature rises, no, soars when they give me that blank stare. The more I yell, the more lost they look.

It was a vicious cycle. They loved me as a mom but hated me as their teacher. In the end, I outsourced all the coaching to private tutors.

I've always marveled at how some mothers, especially Petunia, cope with this teaching thing. Petunia loves teaching her kids and enjoys every moment of it. "How is that possible? Don't you get angry at all?", I asked.

"Easy! I don't try to teach them. They teach me instead." she replied, giving me that trademark cheeky grin.

Now, this is reverse psychology at its best. Your kids think you don't understand what they're learning, so they have to teach you instead. In an instant, your little kid feels like he's smarter than you are and is motivated to learn well so that he can transfer all that knowledge to you. When he's teaching you, you size him up and if he's not getting all the facts right, you pretend to ask some silly questions which might stump him. He goes back, reads some more and comes back with the right answers. Then you thank him for being such a wonderful teacher (and for making you smarter). He'll be so eager to teach you again.

See, I should have learned this trick years ago! We would have saved so much tears.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Foreign Talent

At the recent gathering to celebrate Beverly's birthday, 10 out of the 14 present are foreigners.

When I asked these well-traveled professionals which city they enjoy working and living in the most, their answers surprised me. They all said "Singapore".

My curiosity was piqued. I turned to Julien, who grew up in one of the most popular cities in the world, "You pick Singapore over Paris?"

His reply was affirmative. According to him, Singapore is clean, vibrant and well run. It's a cinch to set up business (he owns a restaurant). While his rent has increased over the years, it is still reasonable and he is happy with our public transportation.

At this point, Desmond from Barbados chimed in with his two cents worth, " I can't understand why people here get so upset. Trains break down in Europe all the time and the stations are filthy, yet nobody complains. You've got one of the best subways that is clean and running efficiently."

I shared my findings with a fellow Singaporean and she was just as surprised. We both conclude that they must be making a decent living, so they are enjoying the good life here.

My condo is full of expatriates like them - young professionals with small kids who are enrolled in the kindergartens nearby. They do seem to fit in very well.

Just down the hill where we live is a HDB estate with a few dozen shops. In the last four years, I have seen more and more shops being taken over by foreigners.

There are at least 5 hairdressing salons run by Chinese women. I used to have my hair trimmed at a regular shop for $6.80. Recently I paid for a $4.50 haircut at another salon few doors away.

Yesterday, I sent in a pair of jeans for alteration. The lady owner of the shop charged me $4 and said I could collect the next day. When I asked about the opening hours, she said "7.30am to 9pm ".

Now 13.5 hours may not seem like a lot but this petite woman runs the shop crammed with jeans, dresses, evening gowns and sportswear singlehandedly. She sews and does alterations too. As if not enough, she sells prepaid phone cards. When I was there, people were coming in and out, buying phone cards and getting clothes altered. She never lost her cool. Imagine doing this daily all year round. I doubt many Singaporeans are willing to work that hard.

This is the same scenario in the provision shop next door run by a Chinese lady. When I found her speaking to her teenage daughters in Hokkien, I asked if she's from Taiwan. "No, I'm from Fujian."

I should have guessed. This new wave of immigrants are finding their niches here. They have taken over businesses that Singaporeans are no longer interested in.

Having said that, the Singaporean entrepreneurs are here in the same HDB estate too. The gleaming new ice creamery for example. And Yummy Soy that sells the kind of soy pudding that has taken the market by storm is run by a few young men. You can spot them a mile away because for them, it's all about the image.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

More than a happy meal

When I visit mom, she downloads a whole week's worth of conversation on me, then pauses and says, "I'll stop talking now because I'm so exhausted." before starting all over again. Talking tires her out because she's rather frail but I understand how she deprived she is because there is nobody else to talk to at home. My dad is the quietest man I know. He listens but doesn't reply.

I'm almost in the same boat. Working in a small office doesn't give me much opportunity to talk. It doesn't get any better at home.

So when there is an opportunity to meet up with friends, I feel like a bird that's freed from its cage. I unleash a whole load of words unto them and leave with a grin plastered on my face. My social calendar was rather full last week and I'm still feeling high from the lively chatter.

It is truly a privilege to have the company of such generous friends like Petunia and SL/K, all ladies I met through my blog. It is my good fortune to live near SL/K for every now and then, they would invite me over for a delicious dinner. We had turkey (so moist and yummy) served with Mediterranean salad and fresh berries over Greek Yoghurt. They seem to know what I like to eat!
Petunia treated me to lunch at Halia and I was so engrossed with chatting that I forgot to take photos except for this excellent beef carpaccio. I'm not a fan of beef but the slivers of raw beef, simply drizzled with flavoured oil and served with capers and parmesan are so good, I was surprised I enjoyed it very much.
We usually pick a restaurant for the food but there is a story behind how we ended up at Halia restaurant. Just a few weeks ago, Petunia was feeling so crappy that she fled the house and escaped to Halia where in her own words, "the food is good and the mood is good". And true enough, her mood was lifted particularly by Kenkar who made genteel conversations and brightened her day.
When we met that day, Petunia was in such a good mood, she was glowing with happiness. "I want to treat you to lunch today", she said. "To celebrate!" Indeed there are so many things to celebrate in our lives.
Just as we were seated, Kenkar came to greet us in her genteel manner. She turned bashful at the sight of Petunia. Even her boss had read all about her in Petunia's Blog. She's now a star at the restaurant!
The way she spoke fondly of her boss makes it easy for me to understand why Petunia warms up to her so easily. It's not easy to employ a good worker and even harder to find one who appreciates everything the employer has done for her. It really made me want to meet the lady boss herself!
Somehow, Petunia has that ability to draw people towards her - from kids and mothers to even village and boat folks.  It's that X-factor she possesses, amongst other things like being a genuinely nice person with a really smart mind yet a child-like sense of wonder. It's hard to explain in words but she leaves me mesmerised too.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


While I was having a blast at Beverly's birthday party last night, I was completely unaware that mom had been admitted to the hospital. I was only informed this morning.
When I last spoke to her yesterday morning, her voice was hoarse and she was on the way to the clinic to seek treatment. Apparently she had trouble breathing last night, my brother and sis-in-law rushed over to bring her to the hospital. Fearing she had pneumonia, the hospital kept her under observation all night.
The last time she was hospitalised was when I was still a teenager. I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion to see her in such a weakened state after the hysterectomy. She had always been my supermom and the sight of her lying there in unconscious state was traumatising for a teen.
Over the years, I've seen her health deteriorate with age, but the thought of her being admitted to hospital is very worrying. After the call from my brother, I sped to the hospital without any delay.
Thankfully the ECG results showed her lungs were clear. Even though she had not slept a wink for 2 nights, she was still in rather good spirits and was visibly pleased to see me. Whilst she hopes to be discharged quickly, the doctor wants to do another ECG in the late morning just to be sure all is clear. Then she can be discharged.
My friends laughed when I told them how mom insisted I wear a mask and sterilise the car before picking her up one day when I was recovering from a cold. At her age, even a simple flu can escalate into something serious. We usually avoid visiting when we are unwell because we are concerned about her well-being.
I told mom she's blessed to have compassionate sons and caring daughters in law. I certainly hope that my sons will be as dependable and caring when my time comes. Seeing how fragile life is, I've finally gotten round to meet a lawyer to draft my will. It's something I had procrastinated for 10 years and I'm glad it's finally getting done.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


The cake is done. Not the prettiest but done. In fact, I baked two so that SK can get to taste it too. Well, SK's one is a miniature version.

A supplier asked for a last minute meeting today (just before the birthday celebration) so I had to bring forward the baking to the night before. It turned out to be a good idea for the cakes were fully cooled and ready for frosting this morning.

As I left the cake to cool on the dining table last night, Rusty parked himself below and refused to sleep in the bedroom. For a moment, I had visions of him climbing up the chair, onto the table and gobbling up the birthday cake. CH said he's not that smart but I know he can be quite determined.

Anyway the cake survived the night. I got up early (had to forgo my morning run) to prepare the cheese cream frosting (delicious mix of cheese, butter, icing sugar, orange and lemon zest and lemon juice) and slapped it onto the cakes before leaving for work.

The next thing I did was to inform my friends who are going to the party that I'm going to surprise Beverly with a cake, so there is no need to go buy another one.

So yah, the cake is ready and I think Beverly will be surprised (at how hideous it looks)!
So much fuss over a cake.... typical Blur Ting.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Army boy

YK has been in the army for 2.5 months now and we're all quite used to the routine. He books out on Friday night and goes back in after dinner on Sunday. Now that weekends are so precious, we try to spend time together as a family.

The stint in the army has changed him already. He's slimmer, fitter and darker. I find that he has become more tolerant too. I supposed when you're forced to live with an entire company of young men and go through hardship together, you just have to put aside the differences and build camaraderie. He has adapted to the new lifestyle and his conversation is peppered with military jargon. He brings home funny stories about his camp mates which make us roar with laughter. He has even declared that the army bed is more comfy than the one back home. I choose to think that after a hard day of training, even lying down on concrete floor is bliss.

If there is anything that is less than desirable, it has got to be the cookhouse food. There are some hits and misses. Brought up on a simple diet of fresh seafood and vegetables, he finds the sloshy mystery minced meat revolting. The only vegetables that seem to make regular appearance are overcooked Chinese cabbage and cauliflower. His favourite is the green bean soup dessert which according to him, is cooked to perfection. Even bananas and ice cold drinks are such a treat. They like Tuesday dinners the most because they get ice cream for dessert, even if it is just a simple ice lolly.

Deprived of fresh leafy greens in camp, I give him plenty of vegetables and fruits when he's back home. The diet and training have taken a  toll on his skin and his limbs are covered with bruises which he waves off with nonchalance. I have learned that the only ones who feel pain are the mommies.

My friend who has 3 sons says it's always hardest (for the mom) when the first one goes into the army. By the time the second is enlisted, you're hardened already. I quite agree. When YK first went in, I was miserable and probably infected him with some of my despair. When I left his camp that day, other parents stood and waved merrily while I hid in a corner to cry.

Seeing how well-adjusted and happy he is in the company of new friends fills my heart with joy. The army has invited parents to visit the camp again this weekend and I'm looking forward. This time, I'll leave the tissue at home and bring my big smile instead.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The cake

We're celebrating Beverly's birthday this Thursday night and she hinted that she misses my carrot cake.
I was wondering why I haven't made a single carrot cake all year until I found this post in my own  blog. I was on a roll last year until people got tired of eating it. Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

After a year's hiatus, I wonder if I can get my groove back. I've forgotten how long it takes me to bake and apply all that frosting. The cake must be completely cooled before I can slap on the cream cheese, so it might take me at least half a day.

Maybe I should bake early in the morning before I leave for work and do the frosting in the evening? That means I'll have to prepare the ingredients the night before. See I'm already stressing myself out over these little things. I can't help it.

Now that she has planted this idea in my head, I can't get rid of it. Looks like Beverly will have her cake afterall. It's not going to be cakewalk for me but I'll manage.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A deserving lunch

When I received a call from mom last night, my heart skipped a beat. The last time she called late at night was when dad went to the hospital.Thankfully that was just a scare.

Back to yesterday's call. Sounding weak and worried over the phone, she revealed that dad hasn't been feeling too well lately. Due to her own ill health, she couldn't offer much help. Despite his discomfort, dad had driven himself to the clinic at night. Mom sighed, "We old folks need someone younger around the house".

I told her that my plan is to move back to live with them in the future. Well, I hope that the day isn't coming soon. It is every child's wish to see their parents live a long and healthy life.

Luckily dad's ailment is nothing serious but still it breaks my heart to see my parents' health deteriorate. I want to see them robust and well again. Am I asking for too much when just last night, I was brooding over my own loss of youth? As they say, you begin aging the day you are born, I just have to face the fact.

Anyway, to comfort myself, I went for a nice lunch today. It was at Parco Caffe, the same restaurant we celebrated CH's birthday in. I was running an errand nearby and instead of heading straight back to the office, I surprised myself by walking into the restaurant. I don't normally take lunch, let alone eat at a restaurant all by myself.

I picked the 2-course lunch special. The food was quite good but I enjoyed the dining experience much better the last time because I had CH for company.

For starter, I had the mesclun salad with asparagus and prosciutto. The heavy dose of butter over the asparagus was too rich and almost ruined the dish. I used the butter on the focaccia instead.
While I enjoyed the freshly baked focaccia bread with cherry tomatoes very much, I didn't eat up all as it would send me straight to bed after lunch.
The seabass was cooked simply and served over a bed of fruity sauce. At first I didn't think it would work but somehow the calamansi juice, fish and tangy sauce came together really well.

I ended lunch with a strong cup of coffee. Then I walked out of the restaurant with a happy smile on my face. I should treat myself well every once in a while. I deserve it. We all do.

Red and Ms Petunia

Some people think I spoil the kids by driving them around. I think the hours spent in the car are perfect for bonding and communicating.

Do you know how difficult it is to make your kids listen to you for hours without any chance of them tuning off or escaping out the door?

We have had some really interesting conversations in the car. SK surprised me this morning by asking if he should sign on in the army. He thinks it will provide him with a stable income. What if there is no future in architecture studies by the time he graduates? At this age, he is already worrying about his future.

For a start, he has not even been enlisted into the army yet, how would he even know if he likes it? Whilst it is wise of him to ponder about his future, my advice is for him to focus on his studies first and explore the options after that.

SK has an intrinsic talent for art which he is still unaware of. Given time and the right environment, I believe he will flourish. To inspire him, I pulled out some examples like this young talented lady called Red. I came to know about her massive talent because she is the daughter of one of my favourite bloggers. Only several years older than SK, she has already wowed the world with her artworks.

Then I spoke about my dear friend Dr Petunia. "Well, she's a Dr but not that kind of doctor you know, and her name is Petunia! Quite strange right?"

Hearing me getting all excited when I start to describe this person, his interest was piqued.
"Is she fat?", he asked.
Must be something to do with the name of course. Petunia Pig is an animated cartoon character in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.

"Oh, no no no no! She's small, pretty and slim, like a school girl. And she has a head of soft brown hair just like you, except that hers is long and slightly curly at the bottom.", I said, using my hand to emphasise how long it really is.

"Änd she speaks French fluently cos she studied in France. She lived in the USA too when her daughter was little. The point is, she's such a talented person, she turned her kids around from failing in school to motivating them to become top students. Her daughter scored 8 distinctions during her A levels and is in the university now."

"Eight distinctions?!"he exclaimed.

"Yup! Petunia writes so well too,  you should read her blog. Recently she published a book which became a big seller within weeks of release. Imagine that! It's because she has got all the credentials of course which is why education is important. If I were to write a book like that, I don't think I can even sell one copy! Her workshops are selling like hotcakes too."

Now he is sitting up. "What did she major in? Is she a teacher?"

" She specialises in psychology and human motivation. She's not really a teacher but wait! She lectures in the university..."

"Yet with all her qualifications, she's the most friendly and down to earth person you can ever find. She's lovable and cute, all her students love her. If you see her, you will like her too. When she talks, she goes like this... (I imitate her tone and how she describes her favourite chocolate cake with her tongue hanging out). You really should hear her getting all animated when she gushes about Milo, her big mongrel."  (I went into Petunia's gushing mode).

By now, SK is chortling with laughter. More importantly, I had shown him that we are all talented in our own ways and if he follows his heart, he too will find his forte.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The inevitable

When I was in my late twenties, we lived in a small condo development with only 28 apartments. Below us lived a family with a young kid. The Taiwanese wife was the prettiest in the entire block. She was like an actress or what you might call the trophy wife. You know... porcelain complexion, delicate features, svelte figure, well groomed and always in pretty dresses.

Each time I saw her, I would go 'wow' and suck in my tummy. We lived there for about 8 years, residents came and went but she remained the prettiest mommy in the block.

Then one morning I saw her at the foyer as usual and she seemed to have aged overnight. Maybe my rose-tinted glasses weren't working anymore but the glow on her face was no longer there. The radiant skin had turned rather saggy and sallow.

Then it dawned on me that she had merely aged. She was already in her forties and the signs were beginning to show. I knew the same will happen to me one day.

When I entered my forties, I braced myself for that day. I constantly check myself in my photos for the signs. When we see ourselves in the mirror, we see not the real self but what we want to see. The truth is in the photographs.

Last night, I had to get some photos done for my passport renewal. Instead of going to the photo booth, SK kindly set up his SLR camera on the tripod so we could get the portraits shot at home. So convenient of course but the results were rather shocking.

Now seeing yourself in hi-resolution takes some getting used to. Nothing escapes the camera's lens. Every single spot and line show up clearly on your face.

While SK's youthful features are captured perfectly, all I see in my photos are the facial lines and wrinkles. Too bad we had chosen to shoot late in the night when my face is tired and at the droopiest.

Feeling somewhat dejected, I went online and submitted the photos for the passport renewal. I could have done some touching up first but it was already late. Besides, other than the immigration officers, who cares how you look on the passport anyway.

I am ready to admit that the day has finally come. Ageing is inevitable, just embrace it and move on.
Not for the passport...

Monday, 29 October 2012

Only dreaming

I often wonder what my day will be like if I were a stay-at-home-mom. It will be so nice to be alone at home while everyone's at work or in school. It's just a dream of course (for now) but thinking about it makes me happy.

For once, instead of always rushing and dashing about, I will do everything at a leisurely pace. I'll wake up anytime I please and start the day with a run or long walk. Then I'll head to the market to pick the freshest seafood and vegetables. Once I get home,  I will settle down with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and read the papers from cover to cover (instead of scanning the headlines like now).

I might potter around in the garden and retreat indoors when the heat gets too intense. After tidying up the house, I'll make myself a simple chicken salad and homemade lemonade for lunch. The rest of the afternoon will be spent doing the things I enjoy - reading, writing, baking or cooking.

There will be days when I meet friends for lunch, travel or make myself useful to society. All this sound so wonderful and idyllic. Will it ever happen? Quite unlikely.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Our jungle

My garden is turning into a veritable jungle. It is messy, crowded and filled with wild jungle plants. The left corner is home to SK's collection of nepenthes (pitcher plants). They are not exactly the most attractive plants to have in a home garden but like I've said, ours is a jungle, so they look quite at home here.
YK's plants invade the rest of the garden. They're mainly categorised under 'host' or 'food' plants. Mind you, they are not food for feeding the family. Rather, these are plants grown to attract butterflies into the garden.
Every morning we wake up to the sight of butterflies fluttering about. Curently the most common ones are the Plain Tiger and Lime Butterfly.
The Plain Tiger is a gorgeous butterfly but according to YK, they're not very disciplined because they tend to lay too many eggs (no birth control) until the caterpillars run out of food quickly.
The milkweed plants in our garden have been completely stripped bare by the caterpillars within days. Now all we have are stumps.

Spot them if you can.

 It makes YK very happy to see wild jungle plants like the snake weed, Melastoma (above) and Passiflora foetida (stinking passion vine) flourishing in the garden.
I don't really mind that the wild vines crawl all over the boardwalk and creep up the palm fronds. Afterall the garden is for all to share but that also means that my share of space has diminished. I can only grow my own food plants in all the nooks and crannies.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Chip off the old block

As I spend more time with SK, I begin to see so much of myself in him. Firstly, he has soft brown hair that even his female classmates are so envious of.

I used to have a head full of natural brown hair accentuated by coppery highlights. They've all turned white now. Hair colouring wasn't in vogue then, so my unique hair colour made many heads turn. I was often mistaken for a school swimmer or a Eurasian. Once, I believe a boy in junior college had a crush, not on me but on my hair. In the lecture theatre one day, he suddenly blurted out, "I like you because of your hair." Well, he was seated behind me and must have spent the entire lesson observing my hair. Weirdo.

SK is one of the few people I know who admires trees and finds them fascinating. I appreciate the way tree branches arch dramatically over our heads and provide us with shade on a hot day. I can say I like everything about them, from the forms and shapes to the way the leaves rustle in the wind. Trees provide us with beauty and life. Even in death, a barren tree can be artistically aesthetic.
We're tree lovers.
I have not found anyone who appreciates trees as much as I do. SK takes them even more seriously and gets upset if he sees trees being cut down unnecessarily as it also means many animals and insects will lose their habitat. During trekking, he takes great care not to trample on delicate plants. His respect for trees and plants is quite commendable.
Water lilies by SK.
He is also an animal lover. While my love is restricted mainly to mammals, his spans across all kinds of living things, from reptiles to amphibians, crustaceans and arachnids. I bet if dinosaurs are still in existence, he will find them quite adorable too.
SK is able to capture the beauty of insects through his lens.
Our temperament can be alike in some ways. Like the typical Virgo, he's the dependable kind who takes his responsibilities seriously. That also means he likes to get things done quickly and will become antsy if his plans do not go according to schedule. Well, I'm like that too.

Is it in the genes or upbringing? Maybe both.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A lady called Sabine

I'm afraid I'm growing old because I'm turning into one of  these little old ladies with so many grandmother stories to tell. Things I see these days simply trigger old memories. Just like when My Sinfonia mentioned about her popular jewelry design called Sabine, my brain went into overdrive.

Now, Sabine has a very special place in my heart. This enigmatic lady kept me on my toes for months. I wanted to know all about her extraordinary romance with Griffin. I even read all her love letters written in perfect manuscript.

Maybe I should tell you that Sabine is not my friend. She is not even real, but she is not simply any character in a story book. To me, she is mysterious and so enchanting, I read their correspondence over and over again, trying to imagine myself in their shoes. After buying the first book, I waited impatiently for the release of the next one. When the final one came out, the unexpected ending left me puzzled and searching for answers.

I had completely forgotten about the books until I heard her name again. It took me down memory's lane, back to the early 1990s. We had just moved to our new design studio, a large bright and inspiring place for creative people to work in. The bookseller came lugging the latest titles, mostly hardcover graphic design books. Intrigued by the postcard design on the cover of Griffin & Sabine, I bought the book.

I'm easily inspired by good design and moved by stories. This book captured my heart completely. At that time, design was our business. We ate, lived and breathed design. In our daily brainstorming sessions, ideas and concepts were tossed around the office like frisbee. Looking back, I miss those adrenalin-charged days. But then we were young and idealistic. I don't have that kind of mental agility now.

As if reminiscing about the old days wasn't enough, I went straight to Amazon to look for the titles. The Trilogy was on sale and I refused to leave the site without placing an order. The books arrived soon after and after admiring them properly, I decided to give the entire set to someone else who will appreciate it as much as I do.
That person is EY. I hope she likes the birthday gift and enjoys the stories as much as I did.
Griffin: It's good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right -- the wine glass has more impact than the cup. --Sabine
But Griffin had never met a woman named Sabine. How did she know him? How did she know his artwork? Who is she? Thus begins the strange and intriguing correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. And since each letter must be pulled from its own envelope, the reader has the delightful, forbidden sensation of reading someone else's mail. Griffin & Sabine is like no other illustrated novel: appealing to the poet and artist in everyone and sure to inspire a renaissance in the fine art of letter-writing, it tells an extraordinary story in an extraordinary way

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Being a dog owner

If you tell me your dog sleeps on your bed every night, I will probably shake my head and go 'tsk tsk tsk'.

And if you go on and tell me that he loves to roll on your freshly laundered sheets and burrow under your pillows and blanket, sometimes right after his walk, my eyes might widen with digust.

When you get to the part about how he has even puked on your bed in the middle of the night, I will surely roll my eyes and tell you to get rid of the dog. That is not all, you say.

Your dog takes great satisfaction in indulging in a vigorous scratch which sends fur flying all over the place, settling on the couch, rug and clothes. He drools on the floor, on your feet and every damn place he pleases. He prefers to drink from the toilet bowl and needs his walk even if is storming on a cold Sunday morning. The worst part is, you pick his shit at least twice a day.

It sounds terrible to be a dog owner.

Well, Rusty does it all and then some. Call me bias if you must but only I can put up with all his antics.

Only a dog owner can experience the joy the pet brings. It's like having a child who is always grateful and contented; and who will never talk back or sulk. He's always at home waiting for your return, yet he doesn't demand for attention or affection. How can I not love him?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

This old house

Last weekend, the old cactus at my parent's place finally toppled and died. SK was visibly upset and kept saying what a pity.
SK is known for his love for plants and animals. Whenever we visit, the dogs would come running to him for cuddles. No matter how wet or muddy they are, SK would give them his undivided attention.
The cactus was planted by me when we were visiting one weekend about 15 years ago. The kids were very young then. They played and caught spiders while I toiled in the garden. I grew a tiny cactus on the rocky mound beside the big pond. The hard and stony terrain isn't the most ideal place to set up a garden. Over the years, the cactus grew into a giant thorny tree while the other plants perished.
It also survived all kinds of abuse. When the kids were young (and bored), they whacked the cactus with long sticks until white milky sap oozed out. Very often, huge container trucks turning into our cul-de-sac would accidently brush against the plant, causing the branches to snap like twigs. But nothing is more resilient than our cactus. It just kept growing.
I should be the one feeling sad over the demise of my huge cactus. Instead I am filled with nostalgia. Suddenly I remember the excitement of moving into our new house at the farm 20+ years ago. My parents were in their early fifties, still healthy and full of vitality. They had invested their life savings into the 12-acre farm and had no time to lose.
My older brother had just graduated while my younger brother had just entered university. I was single, independent and living my life without a care in the world. All I thought about was how to decorate my new room. It was an exicting time for all of us.
One by one, we got married and moved out. Then my parents became grandparents. They have aged and health problems is beginning to creep up on them. They no longer have the same energy and drive as before. Even my father who has always been very athletic is showing signs of wear and tear.
Now I recall one of mom's favourite sayings: "Time and tide wait for no man."
Sad, but very true.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Some time ago,  my customer who treated me to lunch said "At our age, we don't make new friends. We're lucky if we don't lose old ones."

His words stuck in my head because he's already in his 60s and has seen some good friends die of old age and ill health.

A solid friendship often take years to forge. I've known my best friend for four decades. By now she can read my mind and I can finish sentences for her. We're close like sisters.

At my age, I thought I have no more capacity to develop strong and close relationships with new friends but I was wrong. I've become friends with a group of ladies, all of whom were met through the blog.

Then there is my Korean friend EY who is very dear to me. It's funny how well we can get along considering she picked CH's best friend as her husband.
It's not easy to find such a lovely person with a good heart and I enjoy her company very much. Before she came along, I never thought it was possible to have more than one best friend. Well, the more BFF, the merrier.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Meet our dogs

My friend ML asked me a funny question that day. She wanted to know how dogs would react when the sky is getting dark and the owner isn't home yet.

I've always had dogs in and around the house, so I can only say that like humans, dogs have their own personalities. I have heard of dogs who wait by the main door in the evening until the owner returns from work. Some dogs like Rusty couldn't care less as long as he gets fed and walked. My neighbour's female jack russell terrier vents her anger and destroys things if she's kept waiting for too long.

Come to think of it, all our 3 dogs are very disciplined and well behaved. Rusty lives a pampered life but he has never thrown a tantrum. We've never sent him for training yet he doesn't pee or poop in the house, steal food or destroy things. In fact, he's such an important member of our family, we cannot imagine life without him.
 Bodhi was a stray pup who showed up near our condo one day. We couldn't bear to see him being captured and euthanised by AVA, so we brought him to my parents'farm. Read his story here.  From a shy and timid pup, he has grown into a big, handsome and faithful dog. He recognises the sound of my car engine and would come galloping (he gallops like a horse!) down the driveway to welcome me.
 Harry is a beautiful Japanese Spitz who was abandoned outside our farm. Read his story here. Other than the occasional skin problem, he is a healthy and energetic dog. He can be bossy towards Bodhi but is otherwise an affectionate dog with sweet temperament. He has found his way into my father's heart and that is quite an achievement.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Empty nest

Petunia talked about her feelings of lostness, and I understand completely how she feels. I'm in the same boat.

Ever since YK got enlisted in the army, the house has become empty and quiet. I miss those loud chuckles coming from his room. I even miss hearing that annoying song that he plays over and over again.

In our family, dinner doesn't start until everyone is home. It has always been the highlight of the day. Having one less person at the table now feels somewhat incomplete. Food doesn't taste as good without the lively conversations and commentaries by YK.

Luckily, the void has been filled by SK who is currently on school vacation. Things are going to change when his school term begins next Monday. Looks like I have to make do with Rusty for company.

When we first moved into this apartment, I longed for a bigger space and vowed to move out in three years. Four years on, I often find the house too empty and have lost the desire for a larger one. But secretly, I still harbour hopes of building a house that is large enough to accommodate three generations under one roof. How nice if we can all stay together till the end of time. I mustn't lose hope.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Chocolately and savoury muffins

I really need to reorganise my kitchen. I've acquired so much stuff in four years that I don't even know what I have anymore. One day, I found a brand new muffin pan stashed away behind some cooking pots.
It was the discovery of the year! I gave one away because it was too big to fit into my oven. I must have bought this smaller one later but really, I don't remember these things. If only I knew I had a muffin tin, I wouldn't be using the loaf pan to bake everything!
This pan came in so handy one day when I decided to whip up a batch of muffins for a party. My friend said the chocolate muffins tasted just like the famous 'Death by Chocolate'. Well, it sounded really flattering but I'm quite embarrased to say they were so easy to make. I didn't even pull out any fancy equipment.
I love recipes that call for just a whisk, measuring cup and a large bowl just like this Chocolate muffins  recipe. I made some modifications to it.
2/3 cup cocoa (I used Van Houten)
1 3/4 cups plain Flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon instant coffee
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs

1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 180 degree celcius. Line a standard muffin pan with paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, coffee powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and vinegar. Add melted butter.

Mix the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir to blend and add in chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin until it fills just over half the cup.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Since I was already baking, I also made some savoury muffins for the party. This was a first for me and I had no idea how they would turn out. Well, they were surprisingly good.

2 cups plain Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk ( I replaced with some plain yoghurt)
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 cup melted butter
1 red capsicum (chopped)
1/2 cup cheese (I used old cheddar, crumbled into small pieces)
1/2 cup caramelised onions (onion cooked in olive oil)
handful of herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives etc)
pinch of salt
Optional - you can add chopped ham, olives, sundried tomato etc.

Preheat oven to 180 degree celcius. Line a standard muffin pan with paper.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in flour and make a well in the centre. Pour in milk, butter and egg. Stir batter until almost combined.

Stir in rest of ingredients. Spoon mixture into the muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean.
They can be eaten plain or served with salsa.