A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Toilet Training Talk #6

The 3 year old has turned a corner... sort of...
She's made a few excursions to the toilet on her own and is probably getting the hang of it.
Except that she had a major accident yesterday on the bedroom rug in 2 places-- luckily for us we had the miracle orange upholstery/carpet cleaning liquid managing the seemingly impossible.
She really is getting it though... longer intervals between trips to the bathroom.
Except that she... erm... had an accident this afternoon, 10 cm off the spot marked X. *Sigh*
Very inconsiderate, I tell ya.

I've seen a few "dos and don'ts" for toilet training out there and I think they're helpful as long as you take them as a guide rather than the Ten Commandments. The magical 1 week solution hasn't worked for me which doesn't mean it won't work for someone else. I'm oddly awful at toilet training... especially when you hear those happily ever after stories from other toilet trainers. Actually, not that odd when I think about it. I try too hard, expect too much and freak out when accidents happen. I don't think there's ever going to be a manual for the likes of me. What I would really like though is a robot type thingamy that cleans up after accidents thoroughly (wipe, mop and mop again) ... that would make me extremely happy. Very happy. Better than any toilet training manual. Far, far better.

It would be nice to be able to blame the toilet trainees. But when they're mostly under the age of 4, one hasn't a hope. Not at least without tearing one's dignity to shreds.

Meanwhile, there's no magic pill or formula... just vigilance and patience. Plenty of patience. But at least the second time around, I know there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toilet Training Talk #5

Toilet training is an odd sort of event in an adult's life. This adult, in particular, finds it humbling, chaotic and bewildering. It's no wonder the great poets haven't spilt much ink over it as there's not much aesthetic quality to cleaning up after infants, toddlers or adults-in-training.

Nonetheless, as a survivor of this journey, I am curiously keen to pontificate on this most earthy of subjects. While it is not a topic I would eagerly raise in polite company ... it is, however, a part of the parental repertoir. Over time, when the mothering instincts have been much taxed, lingering suspicion emerges about who is being trained here. Some days it's all quite perplexing. On the one hand,  we are training a child to do something most of us do as a matter of second nature. On the other, we are delving deep into inner resources to cope with new emergencies or sending sound bytes to heaven for more grace to deal with one trying situation after another.

Are our children part of some cosmic conspiracy to drag us back to down to earth... so that every single time we change a nappy or wipe a bottom or wash down a pair of soiled underwear, we see the wisdom of many a home truth?
It is a rhetorical question, surely.

I've taken two children through this process and I can't say I received much enjoyment from it. There's nothing really technically difficult or exacting about it but when training involves another human being, techiniques are seldom the issue. Unlike Mozart, I am no student human excrement. However, I can say that I've seen it all... and I've gleaned all I want to know to last me a lifetime and more.

Remember that well-worn cliche that our elders used to hurl at us with regularity? "There are many things in life you don't like doing but you have to do it." Well, apparently it's true... and the truth of it becomes more stark as one lives longer. Toilet training is one of those things in life one does through gritted teeth... at least for me, that's been my experience.

Clearly, I don't enjoy toilet training... I'm sure there are some who relish being at close quarters with their children even to that extent but... they must be a rare breed. Still, I get it... I get the cosmic conspiracy.
It's part of that whole bonding thing... the parent and the child both needing to be toilet trained in concert thereby achieving a lifelong connection unattainable by any other means.

And when you've been at for a while, it finally hits you. Parenting is about getting one's hands dirty... constantly and in many situations... but the difficult truth is that we need to, in order to have a long-lasting emotional stake in the lives of our children. This is possibly why every parent spends the first five years of every child's life cleaning up after them and then spend the rest of their parenting lives getting their children to clean up after themselves.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Toilet Training Talk #4

I have a theory... yes indeed... and that is... unless you're courting disaster, never, ever have a tv on when you're trying to toilet train a child.

Nope. It's a mistake. An accident waiting in the wings. Quite simply because he or she will stay completely glued to the screen despite the persistent urgings of the o'l bladder. To the inscrutable toddler mind, it matters little if the internal workings of the urinary system is clamouring for immediate attention or even whether it has reached the place of no return.
The child in question or at least my child anyway... has an internal logic, which is age appropriate, believing that she can beat the odds somehow... to get away with ignoring the call of nature. To the 3 year old mind, who has not fully grasped the concept of wetting shame, the choice of staying rather than going is all too clear.

And then, before anyone can say, "God bless you please Mrs Robinson."... a great big puddle emerges from under the child.

When the television set remains a dark, pictureless box... all kinds of toilet wonders occur and better still there's no mess to mop up afterwards.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Inconceivable! God is Good.

Habakkuk 3 

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
       and there are no grapes on the vines,
       though the olive crop fails
       and the fields produce no food,
       though there are no sheep in the pen
       and no cattle in the stalls,
 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
       I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
       he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
       he enables me to go on the heights.
       For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

The Princess Bride is a film brimming with goodness. It is tongue-in-cheek, funny, clever and chock full of memorable punchlines.

Those who know the film well will remember a vertically challenged individual named Vizzini. Vizzini, who has a tendency to speechify, has convinced himself that he is something of a great intellect ("Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons!"). And yet, on every occasion where there is an unexpected turn of events, he bellows a bewildered, "Inconceivable!"
At the third or fourth "inconceivable", one of his henchmen, a Spaniard sword-for-hire, Inigo Montoya says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In vs.17, Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, foretells a time when Israel will become a barren land and the Hebrews will become exiled from their own country. And yet in the next verse, he says... “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord”. How can he say that? How can he "rejoice in the Lord" when the world that he knows will at some stage no longer be? It is inconceivable... impossible to comprehend or grasp fully. It goes against the grain.

An excellent piece in Our Daily Bread last Wednesday got me thinking along these lines:
When my brother-in-law was a missionary in Mali, West Africa, he was involved in a traffic accident. A man had wandered into the road in front of Chuck’s motorcycle. The cycle struck the man and sent Chuck and the bike sliding along the ground for more than 200 feet. Shortly after Chuck regained consciousness in the hospital, his doctor told him he had been “really lucky.” Chuck smiled and replied, “God is good.”
As I was reading the first paragraph, something occurred to me... “Is God only good because he escaped injury? What if he didn't? Would God not be good then... or would he be less good."
As I read on, I realised the writer and I were, by divine appointment, on the same page. It was as if his thinking and my thinking were being aligned to intersect.
Later he thought about the day’s events. The man who was struck hadn’t received any permanent injuries, and Chuck would also recover from his injuries. But what if one of them had been killed? He thought, God would be no less good.
When we experience tragedy, we may wonder about God’s goodness. Is God always good? Yes, He is. He doesn’t promise that bad things will never happen to us, but He does promise to be “our refuge and strength” (Ps. 46:1). He doesn’t promise that we will never walk through heart-wrenching circumstances, but He promises that we won’t be alone (Ps 23:4).
The day after I had read that devotional piece, I noticed that a Facebook friend was expressing his joy over finding his wallet and had declared that "God is good". This led me back to thinking again that if he had not found his wallet, would he have thought that God is good? Is God good only when good things happen to us?
It's a question that I have to pose to my inner person. None of us like suffering and pain but the truth is, suffering and pain are realities of life. So can we honestly say then that when terrible things happen, we can afffirm with joy in our soul... “God is good.” In our natural state, that thought would be inconceivable.

So what is it that makes the difference? Nothing more and nothing less than the truth, as Habakkuk discovers, that God is our Saviour. That we don't look to things or circumstances around us for our bearings... and for our security. But our ultimate hope is in the Lord who entered human history 2000 years ago to redeem humanity.

Someone asked me the other day after our Christianity Explored bible study, why is it that God allows bad things like cancer or suffering to happen to Christians? At the top of my head, I gave her 4 reasons. One is so that we can help others; Two, because this is a sinful world; Three, so that we can grow and become stronger and Fourthly, so as to test our faith – so that we know that what we say we have is real.
If we think of suffering in those terms, they can help us understand why it is the Bible writers can say with complete certainty that, “God is good” in all situations.

(This was adapted from a devotion that I gave at my church on Sunday, 21 March 2010)

Toilet Training Talk #3

Pardon my jubilation... Don't mind if I brag a little but the 3 year old just went to the toilet on her own bat... without urging or nagging... and voluntarily expelled her bowel movements. It's only her second time... Yesssssss!

Earlier, she went into the toilet without telling anyone and then declared in her shrill, small voice, reverberating down the corridor, that she had done "something". As is my custom, I followed her to follow up (if you get my meaning)... and was greeted with some cheery news:
"There's no pooh in my undies, mum."
"There's no pooh on my bottom."
Pointing into the toilet proudly, she declared, "Look in there mum."
"I'm very clever..."

Minutes Later...
So the news spreads around the house.
The father hears about it and says, "Good job, S... Well done. That's really good."
The big sister adds her two cents and says, "I'm very proud of you, S..."
The little one nods her head and looks sagely.
"I'm very proud, Dad."

I'm going off to do a little dance, now.

The husband makes an announcement at lunch time, "The happiest day in my life will be..."
The almost-9 year old chimes in, "You mean when we go to heaven?"
The husband thinks for a bit and changes tact, "The second happiest day of my life will be when I won't have to take out the nappy bin anymore."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mealtime Musings: My Most Favourite Slow Cooker Recipe EVAH

Well... at least until I find another one that's just as good or BETTAH.

Prior to purchasing Year Round Recipes for Crockpots and Slowcookers by Simon and Alison Holst, my use of the slow cooker was fairly simple -- pot roast, beef stews and Chinese soups. It was all good and I was almost always happy with the results. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, it was a very limited vision of what the slow cooker was capable of. As I'm an avid food experimenter... I like trying new things and after taking a quick glance at the pretty pictures, I was pretty intrigued by this one:

Bacon-Wrapped Fruited Chicken Roll

This dish, according to the authors, "require some dexterity and cooking experience". It does... but if I can do it, anybody can. They suggest you do a trial run first before you attempt to serve it at a dinner party, for instance... which I did and it helped me to work out how much time I needed to prepare the dish. I've now attempted it four times and can't be considered an expert by any stretch of the imagination especially with widening the thigh pieces and the placement of the dried fruit. Nonetheless, the end result is quite impressive. Although I did blunder the bacon wrapping the first time, it didn't seem to affect the taste of the final product. 
The best thing about this dish is that it sits in the slow cooker for 3 hours on HIGH and you don't have to worry about it for 3 hours and can give your attention to something else.

For 4-8 Servings

2 tsp canola or other oil
1 medium onion
1/4 - 1/2 cup dried cranberries (sometimes called craisins)
about 1/2 cup white wine
4-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 100-125g each
8-16 dried apricots
8-16 prunes
salt and pepper
4-8 streaky bacon
[Don't forget to buy some bamboo skewers if you don't already have some]

Turn a medium or large slow cooker to LOW and coat with non-stick spray

Heat the oil in a non-stick frypan with a lid. peel the onion, then halve it, from top to bottom, before placing it flat-side down and cutting it into 1 cm squares. Lightly brown the onion in the pan, stirring often, covering between times, then transfer them to the slow cooker. Add the cranberries and the wine.
Working with one boneless chicken thigh at a time, place it so the uncut side of the thigh side is on the cutting board. Open the cavity where the bone was removed adn make a number of small cuts part way through the flesh, parallel to where the thigh bone was, taking care not to cut right through. When finished, the thigh should lie flat and look much wider.

Cut two prunes and two apricots almost in half lengthwise, and then open them out so the uncut part forms a hinge. Arrange the fruit lengthwise on a chicken thigh, season lightly, then roll up from one side to the other enclosing the fruit.

Wrap a bacon strip round the rolled thigh, both crosswise and lengthwise, as if it was string round a parcel, securing it with a bamboo skewer pushed right through the package and out the otherside. Cut or break off the half with the sharp point, and push it through the chicken at right angles to the other half of the skewer. Do not break off the ends. Brown the bacon-wrapped chicken package on all sides, pushing the skewers backwards and forwards so they are not in the way, but do not remove them.

Repeat, using the remaining ingredients, to make the rest of the packages. As each is browned, put it in the slow cooker, on top of the onion mixture, leaving the skewers in place. (I've also been known to grill the parcels after cooking it in the slow cooker)

Cover and cook for 5-6 hours on LOW or about 3 hours on HIGH, until the chicken feels tender when tested, then remove the skewers. Thicken the sauce with a little cornflour paste, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Slice each parcel crosswise into 4 slices [don't worry if you have to do 3] and overlap them, best side up, on a puddle of sauce when serving. (For best results, use a sharp serrated knife.)


Taken from: Year-round Recipes for Crockpots and Slow Cookers, Simon and Alison Holst, Hyndman Publishing.


So I settle down to read "25 Paths to an Insanely Popular Blog", when the 3 year old violently foists a large picture book in my line of sight. "Read Snuffle and the Sunflower, Mummy," she demands, flashing an adorable but deadly grin. I sigh... and think... ah well, at least it'll keep her out of mischief for 5 minutes.

Snuffle and the Flower is a one of two picture books that the 3 year old recieved from an aunty two birthdays ago. The other, Snuffle and the Egg, follows a similar track. Snuffle is an elephant, not an entirely bright one but I don't think this endearing picture book intends to provide its readers with any great insight into the psyche of the Elephantidae species.
Snuffle, as the story goes, is a rather lonely infant elephant always on the prowl for someone to play with. In desperation, he settles for seedlings and eggs as playmates and discovers to his great surprise... that seedlings and eggs turn into other things.
As a read-out-loud book, Snuffle works very well. Accompanying the great pictorials are short and sharp statements which allows for (this is really important for the preschoolers) easy to mimic sound effects.

Although published in Australia by Five Mile Press, Snuffle came up with zero result when I did a search on its online search engine. However, after doing a bit of googling, it does appear that the books can be sourced from certain locally-based independent online bookstores.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Busy for God

As I get older, I must admit to an increasing fondness for the biblical story of Mary and Martha. Two sisters, who were great friends of Jesus, offered him hospitality enroute when he journeyed to and from Jerusalem. Martha, in particular, seems to me to be quite a character... possibly because between the two of them, I feel the greater affinity with her. A little bossy and just a tad impatient. Perhaps not even one to suffer fools gladly. Clearly, Martha is the sort of task oriented, take charge women that grace many of our churches. They like to keep busy... do stuff and feel useful. They are practical people who organize church events and make sure things get done. God bless them, we need them.
For those of us who are, in varying degrees, Martha clones, Jesus' admonishment to her applies more than ever in this fast-paced world in which we live. Like her, we need to slow down, take time to listen and build relationships. I need to build relationships as I'm forever rushing from one activity or task to the next or cocooning myself in the safety of my little world of books and films.
Jesus did not denigrate Martha's abilities or skills. He did not say that her skills weren't important or needed in the overall scheme of things. Neither did he question her motives. But what he did say, in modern parlance, was that she needed to prioritize. Being a doer or accomplishing things would be no substitutes for spending time with him, the Emmanuel -- Creator God who had broken into human history.
The world needs Martha clones... women who are able to make things happen, to serve others above and beyond that of others. But in our busyness we must not forget to sit in quietness and stillness, to meditate on God's Word and to hear him speak into our strengths and our weaknesses.

Mealtime Musings: Yummy Tuna Mornay

While I wouldn't consider tuna mornay a 20 minute meal... I still think it's an easy thing to do. It's probably one of those things that get easier with each attempt when one gets the knack of the thing. This is one recipe I tried out last night from my Cooking: A Commonsense Guide book.

1/2 (375ml) cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 slice of onion
5 whole black peppercorns
60g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped (or 1 can of corn kernel)
1/4 cup plain flour
425g can tuna in brine, drained, flaked, brine reserved
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup cream
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Paprika to taste

1. Heat the milk, bay leaf, onion slice and peppercorns in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the milk.

2. Preheat the oven to moderate 180 degrees C. Heat the butter in the pan and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the flour and stir for 1 minute or until the mixture is bubbly. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the combined reserved milk and tuna brine. Stir until smooth. Return to the heat and stir until the mixture almost boils. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened.

3. Add the nutmeg, cream, parsley and half of the cheese. Stir for 2 minutes, oruntil the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat, add the flaked tuna and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine.

4. Spoon the mixture into a 3 cup (750ml) greased ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the top with the combined breadcrumbs, paprika and remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, then place the dish under a hot grill for 2 minutes to brown the breadcrumb topping.

The kids really liked this because of the crunchy top and cheesy texture. I think corns and peas would be good substitutes if one doesn't feel like chopping up celery. I didn't follow the recipe to the T... I used tuna in springwater (it's what I had in the pantry) rather than tuna in brine, which meant that I had to add a lot more salt later.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living in Boxes

I had such big plans for today... half a day to spend on my MOPS group's newsletter and to finally get it done. But with certain issues coming to light in the last couple of days, it seemed more important to set my house in order... literally... I felt compelled to go through the house, one segment at a time, tidying, making beds, picking up junk, bits of paper, vaccuuming, mopping, cleaning... pulling cushions off the sofa (a sight almost as frightening as Silence of the Lambs), cooking, washing...
You get the idea.
I hope to sleep well tonight. It'll be a nice change.

Not that my work is done... it isn't... That'll take more time than the number of waking hours I have in a day. Nonetheless, the entire exercise was cathartic. It was as if all that chaos around me was also residing in me. Making order out of chaos created a certain peace of mind within me.

But it occurred to me that during this rare exhibition of homemaking industry, that I have a lot of boxes. Lots. You know the ones: the big plasticky things from the cheap shops.
It's as if my entire life is organized into boxes and bags (oh yeah... I have a lot of those too). But then when one has the Leaning Tower of Pisa in one's lounge, it's clear that a more permanent location is needed... out of sight...
This led me, strangely enough, to hum of that song/band from the late eighties, "Living in a Box". Eponymous one hit wonder. Good looking, swanky fellers too. But it's been a very long time since I've heard it or anything about them.
The song reflected a certain kind of social claustrophobia that comes from a mundane existence... and their popularity was probably indicative of how listeners felt about their own condition. Plus it did have a danceable beat to it.
Some days I do feel claustrophobic -- locked in with kids but other days, being in the box can be a place of security... safety
But I don't just live in a box... I live in boxes too... Not just about the things I own... or the memories they contain... But I compartmentalize myself... At times I pull out the "Wife" box, at other times, the "Mother" box, still there's the "Teacher" box, the "Friend", the "Writer"... But at times, one can get so busy with filling these boxes, one forgets that the one that contains them all is the "Child of God" box. It's the one that keeps them all together.

Mealtime Musings: Slow Cookers

One thing that struck me about a recent MOPS meeting that I emceed (we were discussing stress-free cooking at the time) was the number of ladies who said that they had never used a slow cooker before. Equally surprising were the handful that claimed to have one in storage... collecting more dust than gravy stains.
In this day and age, where everyone with or without paid work is super busy, the slow cooker is the ideal kitchen companion. I'm not sure what it says about me but I have had a long, satisfying relationship my slow cooker throughout the years and it has given me and hundreds of people a great deal of joy over the years. I have often toyed with the idea of getting a more capacious, oval one but as it is with life, there's always something more urgent requiring immediate use of one's limited funds. But my opinion is that once you start getting into the slow cooker frame of mind, you'll wonder why it took you so long...

I've been using a slow cooker since I got one for a wedding present, almost 14 years ago. But there has always been one in my life for as long as I can remember. All those bitter herbal concoctions and chicken ginseng soups that well-meaning relatives brewed during stressful periods in my young life were supposed to give me greater alertness and better memory recall... except that I don't think they worked on me at all. My mother, who was a great cook, had one of those twin cooker crock pots for years and years... and that was pretty handy for cooking two different dishes simultaneously.  A pity that those, to my knowledge aren't on the market anymore.

There are a number of reasons why slow cookers are great kitchen tools:
  • Dishes can be cooked overnight on Low heat
  • It gives the cook a bit of freedom to do other things while the dish is cooking in the slow cooker
  • Good for working mums and dads who cannot spend a lot of time in the kitchen
  • The food tastes good
  • There's no need to brown food before stewing (although personally I like to)
  • Ingredients can all go in at the same time but stacked according to the cooking time required. Meat at the bottom and vegetables on top etc.
  • There are a whole range of things that can be cooked in the slow cooker

Recently, I tumbled onto a terrific slow cooker recipe book by Alison and Simon Holst which helped me expand my horizons and think beyond stews and roasts. Alison Holst is the Julia Child of New Zealand culinary excellence and something of a national icon.

So... what do I do with my slow cooker?
  • Roasts
  • Stews, curries, tagine
  • Soups
  • Cakes
  • Meat rolls
  • Braised chicken
What do other people do with their slow cooker?

  • Chili Con Carne
  • Jams, Chutneys, Purees
  • Desserts
  • Pasta Dishes
  • Vegetarian Casseroles
  • Sushi
    Generally speaking, what I usually do is prepare the meat and vegies in the morning and let it cook throughout the day. But if you're a bit nervous about leaving it on all day with no human beings in the house, you can always cook it overnight and turn it off first thing in the morning. Don't forget to let your dish cool down before freezing or refrigerating.

    If you're on the hunt for recipes, a recipe book is usually included with the unit. If not, just google it! There must be thousands of recipes out there.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Narnia in 3D

    Since the success of Avatar, Hollywood seems desperate to jump on the 3D bandwagon, much to the chagrin of well-known directors like James Cameron (who directed Avatar) and Michael Bay (Transformers).  Cameron and Bay are concerned (not without justification) that the results will diminish the visual quality of the films and they may end up being more expensive than the studios have been led to believe.

    A whole list of visual effects dependent films are now undergoing 3D conversion.
    Hard conversion conversations are being had now at studios on films that include Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Gulliver’s Travels and The Hobbit.

    (Hmm... I had no idea anyone was doing another Gulliver's Travels adaptation.)

    Now it seems that the third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although filmed in 2D, will also be offered in 3D.

    To 3D or not to 3D. Personally I have no issue with the 3D side of things... but 3D is the new cinematic gimmick. No amount of gimmickry is going to save a film if the writing is mediocre, the performances are shabby and the overall execution is poor. Also, 3D films also tend to be more expensive so speaking for myself, I won't be seeing too many of those. What is more, there could be a glut of 3D films in time to come and when the novelty wears out, Hollywood could be left holding a very large bill.


    For as long as I can remember, I've been told that parenting is hard. Dr James Dobson knew that only too well when he entitled one of his books, Parenting Isn't for Cowards. But unless one treads the water, one has no notion whatsoever about the depth except in some esoteric or intellectual way. Certainly I never imagined that it would be this hard.
    Today was one of those days when it hit me that there's a dark side to parenting... not necessarily in the Star Wars sort of way but perhaps in the sense that parenting has a way of forcing one to confront one's own greatest demons. The anger... the disappointment... the shame of not being able to rise above the occasion with exemplary patience.

    Is it wrong to be disappointed in one's child? Simmering with frustration to see them underachieving, unmotivated when you know that they are capable of so much better. Perhaps that is how my own parents felt about me as I put them through the whole rollercoaster experience during my school years. Perhaps I expect too much of her and of myself to do it all perfectly when perfection doesn't exist for us in this life.

    I am a great believer in the absolute sovereignty of God. It is the great truth that has carried me through so much in the last ten years. On a good day, I believe also that we are given the kind of children that we are given for a reason. On a bad one, I fall facedown acknowledging my own inadequacies and needs to a gracious and merciful God.

    Mealtime Musings: 10 Must Haves in My Pantry

    Once upon a time in the not too distant past, I did something radical called "meal planning". You disbelieve me? I have note books to prove it. Alright, alright... A notebook... That high-minded, grandiose scheme came to a screeching halt for a couple of weeks in the summer when I came down with a bad cold. Organization doesn't seem to be a priority when you're breathing heavily through tissues. Since then, I've been struck by meal planning ennui haven't been able to restart the scheme. In my current state of disorganization, I leave everything to the worst possible time of the day... Aggravation Hour... the time between 4:30 and 5:30 while I'm tap dancing between two children, food preparation and making sure homework plus extra maths plus Chinese gets done. I used to do some of my dinner cooking at lunch time but that's the good o'l days when the 3 year old actually slept in the afternoons without my interference. And on nights, when I have 4 or 5 hours of broken sleep, I feel completely knackered after lunch the next day.

    It's 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Officially it's homework time but the almost nine-year old is stalling for time by munching very slowly on her afternoon tea and sneaking peeks at the open book beside her. I deliver my usual admonishments about time wasting and am rewarded with sheepish looks. I make way to the kitchen and open the cupboard... I have a vague notion that I'm doing chicken today 'cos I've defrosted some but what kind of chicken, there's the rub.

    As much as I love cooking, there are days when I just don't feel like fussing. Since I've been bashed over the head with the realities of raising children, I don't have an overdeveloped sense of snobbery about using shortcuts. Just so my blog can contributed practically to the life of those who follow it, I'm going to include, in this post, 10 things I use and stock up regularly in my tiny pantry.

    1. Canned Tomatoes: Great for soups and tomato-based pasta sauces. I see that Jamie Oliver uses a couple of cans to throw together a decent homemade tomato sauce.
    2. Can of Tomato Soup: An inexpensive base for pasta sauces. Goes well with cream, milk, bacon and cheese. A nice trick I learnt from my parenting mentor, Helen.
    3. Canned Chickpeas/Cannellini Beans. Chickpeas can be used to buff up bolognaise sauces, stir-fries, soups
    4. Packets of assorted pasta. Handy substitute for bread or rice. I make some up for the kiddies to take to school or kindy
    5. Canned Tuna: For tuna bakes, tuna sandwiches, tuna salads and tuna mornays
    6. Canned Fruit Salad: For cereals, quick desserts and snacks for hungry children
    7. Baked Beans: Not just on toast but with sausages, eggs, bacon omelettes and quesidillas
    8. Bread crumbs. They're cheap and can be used in mince patties, meatballs, meatloaf to give the meat some body. 
    9. Stock and stock cubes. I do make my own... occasionally... when there's space in the freezer but I can't indulge in culinary snobbery when I'm being hijacked by hungry horrors in the background clamouring for attention.
    10. Spam or its equivalent (although I don't think there's any): It's really flexible. I use it chopped up in fried rice, omelettes, noodles.
    I'm sure you have other things you use as your favourite short-cuts on those I-can't-be-bothered days. I would love to pick your brains (you can have them back, promise) and expand my repertoire.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Now Showing: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

    There are certain books/stories, it seems to me, that don't really lend themselves to film adaptations, no matter how many attempts are made. Alice in Wonderland, as it is becoming more apparent, is probably one of them. This is why, I have come to the paradoxical conclusion that The Matrix, in the guise of cyberpunk science fiction is arguably the best Alice in Wonderland film ever made. That said, Tim Burton's latest attempt to recreate Lewis Carroll's transdimensional travel piece is a bold effort, a wonderful visual feast even in 2D, let down mainly by a rather pedestrian script.

    My first taste of cinematic Wonderland was the 1951 Disney. I loved the soundtrack and could sing the songs for years before I had actually seen the film in its entirety. When I actually saw it for the first time, I thought the animation approach was probably the best thing we would get from Hollywood for a very long time. But at least the film (if you could get past the American accents) captured some of the lunacy of the original tale. I've only ever seen another adaptation -- possibly a made for tv movie and all I remember from it was that it was entirely dull and forgettable.

    These days with movie magic becoming progressively more sophisticated, Disney must have felt that it was time to take another stab at it. Who better than the quirky and imaginative Tim Burton, who also directed with great flair, the 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Personally I enjoyed his version of Chocolate Factory... which was darker and much more like the book than the Gene Wilder romp. Nonetheless, it was also surprisingly sweet and moving without becoming schmaltzy.  So when I saw the trailers for Alice, I had high hopes for Burton's recreation of Wonderland and Lewis Carroll's time honoured tale.

    In hindsight, the biggest problem with trying to adapt Alice into an ambitious film like this is the temptation to focus on the visuals and techinical wizardry to the detriment of the story. I suspect it's the temptation that George Lucas succumbed to when he made the Star Wars prequels. (Don't get me started on the dialogue!) My theory is that certain directors are attracted to such projects because of the visual effects  possibilities that the story brings and as a result the storytelling is subjugated to the technical wizardry. At least that's the impression one gets from many of these visually rich flicks.

    The second biggest problem with trying to adapt Alice in Wonderland is the usual thing with novels that encompass a wide range of themes. Furthermore, as in this case, the book is a thinly veiled epistemological discussion,  peppered with linguistic mind games and over-the-top encounters in improbable situations. Great in print but how does one create a coherent story out of all that madness without losing control of the spirit of what Carroll was trying to convey in the original?

    You could do what scriptwriter, Linda Woolverton, has done and turn it, in a clumsy fashion, into some kind of Return to Oz-Narnia story with a proto-feminist track. Alice is now grown up, disgruntled with her rigid Victorian upbringing and at the right age for a marriage that she has little enthusiasm for. In comes the White Rabbit and away she goes. Down, down, down the rabbit hole and quite literally, she lets her hair down. This time, sadly, she tumbles back into Wonderland or Underland... which is looking rather more like Bleakland. The unscrupulous Red Queen has usurped the throne from her sister, the White Queen and a champion is needed to oust her evilness from the throne. All in all, a fairly prosaic fantasy plot that has been done better elsewhere.

    Generally, I felt the performances were rather uneven. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, I loved as well as the voice acting talents of Stephen Fry (Absalom the Caterpillar) and Alan Rickman (Cheshire Cat). However, throughout the film I could not be but struck by the stilted nature of the performances, many actors projecting a kind of awkward self-awareness that they are in an Alice in Wonderland film, engaging in absurd situations and activities. Consequently, the film is rendered powerless to deliver any genuine emotional punches.

    As a whole, I found Alice watchable with nice nods to Lewis Carroll's original stories. The visual effects were captivating and used to good effect. However, in the end, the writing lacked imagination and conviction which diminished the film's wow factor considerably. Leaving the cinema I felt that I had seen a decent film but not a great one.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    On Video: Up

    The genius of Pixar, it seems to me, lies in their ability to take ordinary, everyday features of life and turn them into extraordinary tales of adventure with great flair and humour. The fact that they have been able to consistently create stories that resonate with so many, speaks to the immense powerhouse of creativity within the studio. To be able to breathe life into computer generated images and transform them into sympathetic characters time and time again can be quite a gamble. And yet, since the release of Toy Story in 1995, the animation house has shown itself capable of successfully capturing the hearts and minds of audiences again and again.

    Up works largely because it is the kind of film that taps into the basic core of what it means to be human. It plays on our deeply entrenched instincts that life is short and for that reason, it should not be lived alone. Furthermore, the story also buys into the notion that the spirit of adventure lurks within each soul no matter how timid or embittered. Here, Carl Friedricksen is the everyman -- in an skillful piece of cinematic storytelling we see him live, love and age within a short space of time. Sadly, however, in his sunset years, Friedricksen exists in self-imposed isolation while the world outside of him changes without recourse to him. He has become, in the place he was born, a stranger.
    In a last ditch effort to find some meaning to the end of his life, he returns to a childhood dream, to embark on an adventure that will take him, not to the end of the world, but to the end of himself. At that point, Friedricksen embraces the most important lesson of all -- that it is not good that a man should be alone. In Up, as it is clearly demonstrated, all too often loneliness leads to bitterness, despair or obsession.

    Adventures may be good for the soul but for the experience to be complete, adventures must be shared. Here, Friedricksen finds an unlikely travelling companion: Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer working towards an "Assisting the Elderly" merit badge. Seemingly oblivious, Russell blusters into Friedricksen's self-erected stronghold and challenges the man's seclusion.

    Belying the film's many themes is a wonderful emotional journey of one man's need to let go. Apart from everything else that goes on around him, Friedricksen is a man weighed down with baggage and blind to his own stagnation. In a life and death moment when he experiences his paradigm shift, only then is he able to find a new lease on life.

    Up is a delightful, moving piece of storytelling. It is sometimes quirky and often humorous but it never loses sight of its emotional centre. In my opinion it's the best thing from Pixar since Finding Nemo.

    Toilet Training Talk #2

    There appears to be a particular law at work in my universe... and it goes like this -- the moment I sit down at the computer or take time out to relax, an accident occurs somewhere in the house. A piercing scream... a sharp yelp followed by weeping and wailing. The collision of two wills perhaps, the end result of defying gravity or rough play that don't tend to end up well for one or both participants.
    If I didn't know better, I'd think there was a cosmic conspiracy to do me out of free time. But I do know better... and it doesn't make me less grumpy.
    There is also the other kind of accident which occurs, mostly in the afternoons... a child who still hasn't quite grasped the importance of not wetting her undies as a matter of habit and necessity. Sometimes, I suspect, she does it so she can wear her entire wardrobe of underwear in one afternoon.
    Two hours at the shops this morning and no accident. I was beginning to believe in the power of suggestion. "You're a big girl now... use the toilet." I even used my gentlest, most persuasive tone of voice.

    But after lunch... there's where the "fun and games" began. Except that it wasn't that much fun for me. There's no scream, no cry, no wail. Just an understated "Mummy, I did a blank blank in my undies."

    All I can say is... "Thank God for the washing machine."

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Dora the Explorer

    Of all the egregiously commercial commodities that pass off as children's television, the one I object to least is DOOOOORA, the EXPLOR-A.

    This is why I cope remarkably well when DD#2 has a DOORRA marathon and does the whole interactive I-know-what's-coming-next routine. At least it lives up to its claims of being educational -- a few multiple choice questions here and a little singing there, all the while enticing young minds toward the dark side of merchandising. And if that isn't enough to convince wavering parents of the show's educational credentials, DOORRA is also bilingual.

    With the perennial non-descript bob that DOORRA spots, the young latin american export even bears a passing resemblance to my offspring. So what's not to like. Furthermore, unlike Barbie, she has a healthy body size and there's no chance my girls would ever descend into an eating disorder watching DOORRA and her pet monkey exploring and chanting "Swiper no swiping", true?

    I have a friend, a fellow mother, who claims not to care for DOORRA because she has a tendency to SHOUT... I shrug my weary shoulders and think... isn't that what girls do as a matter of course? Hey, I have to pick my battles. There are days, admittedly, when it's tedious, bordering on embarrassing, when DD#2 goes into a gleeful fit the moment DOORRA merchandising comes into full view of her watchful eyes. This is almost always followed by a well-timed cry, "Mummy, it's Backpack!"

    Only in the world of a 3 year old, can a purple bag be a media superstar.

    Johnny vs Sean

    I came upon this little gem during my regular wanderings in blogosphere and it amused me heartily. But really, nobody can possibly take this seriously.  It does beggar belief though that this  is the kind of stuff that masquerades as scientific research these days:

    British women now prefer feminine looking men over their more rugged counterparts because they no longer need to worry about the survival of the fittest, new research suggests.

    And people think creationists are loony.

    Now researchers believe that improvements in health care in wealthy western countries mean women do not have to worry about so much about the quality of their offspring – and so are picking more feminine looking men.
    The researchers at the University of Aberdeen came to the conclusion after studying the preferences of 4500 women from 30 different countries.
    They found a direct correlation between the quality of health care and the choice of male.
    In countries with better health care, the more likely women would pick a feminine looking man and visa [sic] versa.

    It doesn't, however, explain why Sandra Bullock picked Jesse James as her mate for life.

    A pity she wasn’t apprised of the results of this piece of scientific quackery 6 years ago.

    Basic arithmetic informs me that 4500 women from 30 countries works out to be an average of 150 per country. That doesn't seem to be a particularly large sample from which to be making such grandiose universal  generaliziations. Mostly it sounds like someone drawing a rather long bow from what boils down to a bit of picture waving. Furthermore, I doubt very much that what a woman picks from a line up of photos ends up to be her idea of a long-term relationship when other factors come into play. Perhaps it’s just my layman reading of the piece but the whole thing sounds woefully simplistic.

    So what does this have to do with Johnny Depp or Sean Connery? Depp, it seems epitomizes the feminine- faced males and Connery is the ruggedly masculine archetype. According to the research the likes of Depp are in and the ruggedly masculine archetype has seen better days.

    While the research itself sounds as dodgy as Jesse James' cryptic apology for exercising poor judgement, the assumptions behind the research are even more suspect -- a kind of biological determinism gone mad, while making the mistake of implying that women choose their mates purely on the basis of physical attributes. This kind of thing is nothing new, incidentally. Another over-the-top hypothesis, with slightly more credibility, is the notion that women choose their mates based on their smell... something to do with a T-shirt experiment, immune systems and pheromones. A quick trip to the "Relationships" section of the local bookstore could have saved British taxpayers a ton of dosh.

    But where are fellers in all this? The other half of the procreation equation seems to have gone AWOL in this head prodding exercise. Have they been reduced to becoming experimental props or a passing “visa versa” comment? In this politically correct age, surely researchers must still give lip service to being inclusive. Are we to infer from this entire undertaking that evolution is an unequal opportunity match-maker?

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    The Dangerous Things People Do

    DD#1 goes to a reasonably good state school but if there's one thing I dislike about the school it's the afterschool traffic... it's horrendous on a good day and a disaster area on a rainy one. I'm fortunate to be able to walk my daughter to school so I only attempt to drive when the weather is less than ideal or when I'm feeling under the weather.If one doesn't have a well-thought out exit strategy, one must be prepared to wait or do some tricky maneouvering. I'm sure I'm not imagining things when I say that it seems like the situation is getting worse. The school and the P&C, are I'm sure, doing their best with a bad situation outside of providing a shuttle service. Witnessing for 4 years now how things have become day in day out, I can't see any solution bar taking cars out of the equation. This is not likely to go down very well with residents of a city very dependent on cars. When I went to school in Singapore, the options were either a privately run school bus or the public transportation system. Only rich children were dropped off at school.

    So it boggles the mind that anyone would attempt to make a death charge across a busy road with their children. Everyone seems to be in a hurry these days and so accustomed to taking shortcuts but to take chances with one's children (whatever age) seems irresponsible. It's very worrying, in my opinion, that the school has had to send out reminders every year to chastise parents, albeit a small number, about what is basically commonsensical matter.

    Speaking of commonsense, lately I've become interested in the doings of Sandra Bullock. I saw The Blind Side last week and then The Proposal earlier this week. As is my custom, I went to IMDB to dig up some of the latest on her. Considering that she's done so many rom coms, I was curious about the sort of man she has married.
    Lo, and behold, I observed that she was married to some fellow called Jesse James which probably should have sounded off some alarm bells. But of course I had to check his profile too, not quite believing that any sane parent would inflict such a name on a child. As unbelievable as it sounds, Jesse James is his real name and Sandra Bullock is wife #3. Even better, James is apparently related to the notorious outlaw figure.

    Uncannily, news has broken in the last 36 hours that Bullock and her husband of 6 years have gone where many Hollywood marriages end up. It seems now that James has now been caught (quite literally) with his pants down and the details are proving to be lurid. With nowhere to run, he has attributed the affair to "poor judgement"on his part and made a leap for the public apology bandwagon. Possibly because of her girl-next-door persona, all public sympathy seems to be with her.

    Reading the many news stories out there now, there is little doubt that Bullock is a very popular and genuinely well-liked public figure. Still, you have to wonder though, who else has been afflicted with poor judgement. There's been a lot of talk about James' bad boy days in the usual quarters. To those looking on, he appeared set for a lifetime of domestic blissfulness when he married Bullock but it seems now that the leopard has trouble changing its spots. Glancing at comments around the internet, many have questioned why a wealthy, desirable woman like Bullock would go for someone with James' reputation in the first instance. I'm no psychologist but there are a few theories floating around... one being that many women are attracted to bad boys for the danger element, another suggests that nice girls often go for the wild "uns" with naive, idealistic notions that they can be the ones to change the man.

    The truth is none of us have the real inside story on this but we, even in this cynical age, still believe in some shape and form in the "happily ever after" narrative. The issue with the "happily ever after" narrative is not that it's an impossible dream but that few are willing to take the trouble to identify the realities of what that entails. People, even the Hollywood elite, love the ideal of marriage but aren't willing to make the choices that will take them there. Admittedly Hollywood is awashed with temptation in the way that most of us aren't exposed to with regularity. But our temptation as plebs is that we focus our eyes on the fantasy to the detriment of the reality. I know this because I know that much about myself, I know me far too well. I am, afterall, a sinner saved by grace.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Bringing God Back

    Andrew Bolt, who writes for the Herald Sun in Melbourne had a few things to say about the recent Global Atheists Convention:

    The Global Atheists Convention in Melbourne last weekend worked a miracle on me.
    I’ve never felt more like believing in God. Especially the Christian one.
    My near conversion occurred because the convention’s speakers managed to confirm my worst fear.
    No, it’s not that God may actually exist, and be cross that I doubted. It’s that if the Christian God really is dead, then there’s not much to stop people here from being barbarians.
    I’d have hoped that the Atheists Convention’s speakers would have reassured me not just by fine words but finer example that a godless society will nevertheless be a good one

    Bolt, who is an agnostic, expressed his dismay and disgust at many of the comments made by well-known international and local atheists (Richard Dawkins, Robyn Williams, Ian Robinson, and Catherine Deveny) at this event.
    Dawkins, who is known world-wide for his vitriol against Christianity, called Joseph Ratzinger “Pope Nazi” and mocked Family First Senator Steve Fielding as dumber than an “earthworm”. Robyn Williams, host of the ABC's Science Show took the insult further and cited Senator Fielding as the "most devastating" reason for why no one should ever adopt any kind of faith.
    With all its flaws, I believe democracy is the best political system we have and for a democracy to sruvive, we need to have free speech. With the recent collapse of the global warming concensus, I feel more than ever that we need to protect free speech especially in the new media. But it seems to me pathetic for grown men (and women) to get up in what appears to be a time of learning to not just insult but demean their fellow human beings.
    Personally, I don't have enough faith to be an atheist. I accept that we all see the world in different ways but I'm not convinced that atheism is a logical conclusion from observing the world and for providing a strong foundation for morality. Ironically, to be sure about one's atheism, one needs to know everything to know for a fact that there's no God. Because no human being has absolute knowledge, atheism is really a faith... a belief system without God. So like all other faiths, atheism has its fanatics, zealots and militants.

    Bolt's underlying point I think, is an important one. It is hard to talk about morality without reference to God. While I would agree that religion itself is no guarantee that human beings will not descend into immorality or anarchy, societies with a strong theistic basis tend to have a stronger moral compass.

    Update: Apparently, Dawkins wasn't villifying Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) but Pope Pius XII, who signed a concordat with Hitler apparently to protect the place of the Catholic church in Europe. The situation, as it is usually the case, was more complex than Dawkins' comment would have us believe.

    Affirmative Action Barbie?

    Mattel has recently released a Computer Engineering Barbie in the hope of doing their bit to encourage girls to get out of more traditional occupations. In doing this, it is likely that the powers that be at Mattel believe that their favourite money spinner has just enough political clout to influence young impressionable minds.

    Much as I hate to admit this, Barbie, unlike most other commercially driven playthings, is also a kind of cultural icon. Furthermore, as a kind of cultural icon, her various incarnations is a reflection of the times. Computer Engineering Barbie may not set the world on fire but she informs us of shifting attitudes in the public square. Not surprisingly, this particular version is a logical consequence of political correctness which is now so pervasive in our culture. However, because she emerges from the same mould as the Barbie Princesses (for example), she is still fundamentally the same physically curvaceous fantasy figure. The geek part is merely the window dressing. Even if Mattel is trying to promote the idea that geek is a new kind of sexy, ultimately the buxom torso and skinny waist is still the underlying fantasy... except that it's also okay to add-on a pair of groovy glasses.

    On a personal note, I'm ambivalent about Barbie as a toy mainly because I was never really into Barbie growing up. (I was more the books and music sort of girl) But I knew many girls who were and they haven't turned into depressed adults who have unhealthy self-image issues. The truth is, I have never had to spend hard-earned money on any of her incarnations despite being harangued and harrassed by the 8 year old over the years. Fortunately for me, other people have spent their hard-earned money instead which makes Barbie less objectionable in my eyes.

    I suppose women's rights activists and their ilk object to Barbie because of her near-anorexic figure and that could have long-term repercussions on a young person's view of herself or of the feminine ideal. Okay, that I get and even have some sympathy for. I agree that we shouldn't encourage our children to obsess over their outward appearance but the truth is, they will anyway... whether they play with dollies or not. I say that from experience of myself and DD#1. I didn't play with Barbie much even though my sister had one and I doubt she played with Barbie much either. DD#1 was preoccupied with getting compliments about her looks way before she even knew anything about Barbie. She pretty much only wanted a Barbie because everyone else had them and then when she actually had one, she took off all of Barbie's clothes and promptly went on to wrap the doll in tissue or ribbons, making her the star attraction of her version of The Mummy or whatever else her imagination led her to. As for me, I was a very self-conscious child, particularly because of my short hair and propensity to be clumsy but for some bizarre reason I thought brains was more important than beauty.

    I also agree that Barbie should not be elevated as our vision of what the feminine ideal should be. The truth is, dolls have zero personality and a buxom figure with a stick figure waist does not a personality make.
    (Oooh, ooh... I love trashing Barbie... all the cool kids are doing it right?) Dolls are imputed with personality by the child playing with it so it is up to us as parents to teach our girls and boys what feminity should look like. It's a sad day really when parents rely on inanimate figurines to teach their children what real people should be about. As a Christian, I want my girls to fulfill their potential and to become women that God made them to be. If they want to be housewives, so be it... if they have ambitions to design rockets, that's okay too. But that doesn't make them more or less feminine.

    Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful... (I Peter 3:3-5, NIV)

    Of course, we can't depend on Mattel for help here. They are afterall a business and their first priority is the bottom line. But as a parent, I need to affirm my children and remind them that they are made in the image of God and ultimately their value as people come from him.

    (HT: SquiggleMum)

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    On Video: The Proposal

    I cannot remember which Sandra Bullock film it was that I saw first: While You Were Sleeping or Speed. I'm inclined to think it was Speed but I can't be sure because I do remember watching both films at the cinema and they came out roughly about the same time. Since then, I've enjoyed many of her films especially The Lake House and Miss Congeniality (the first one). There is plenty of appeal in Bullock's girl-next-door-persona and as she proved in Miss Congeniality, she does have great comedic timing. Nevertheless, when I first saw the trailers for The Proposal, I wasn't very impressed... it seemed overly slapstick for my tastes but some friends managed to convince me that it was hilarious and that I should see it.

    The Proposal is a strange sort of romantic comedy to my conservative, Christian way of thinking. Certainly it is a romantic comedy to the T and it follows all the rules from beginning to end: Two people who hate each others' guts spend a weekend at his parents' home. They conspire to bring about a marriage of convenience to help further one another's ambitions. Stuck with the other in various confined spaces, they find out that they don't really hate each other that much... Following a series of misadventures, they fall in love and hopefully live happily ever after. All fairly predictable stuff. So predictable that it looks to have plagirized pages from the script for While You Were Sleeping.

    One doesn't need to be a French philosopher to see that romantic comedies are in actual fact, modern day fairy tales. It's one of the rare occasions when Hollywood pretends to root for certain traditional values. All this occurs within a fictional narrative in which marriage is elevated to the stature of the holy grail and the couple in question are thrown into a quest to attain the ultimate prize. Of course, Hollywood can't give in lock, stock and barrel so they feel the need to throw in a bit puerile slapstick nudity and jokes about pre-marital sex just so no one misunderstands that this is a chaste 1950s comedy with Doris Day in the lead. That Sandra Bullock plays a catty, ambitious professional takes a bit of swallowing initially but she does it reasonably convincingly. However, underneath that spiteful veneer is a vulnerable orphan just waiting to be adopted by the first willing family.
    Romantic comedies are a guilty pleasure for me, I don't mind saying. But the ones that drag in the families as the backup singers, have even greater appeal. It's a wise man or woman who knows that when he/she marries someone, they are marrying into a tribe. I say that with more than a tinge of irony because it is one of the biggest bones of contention for many families.
    Like While You Were Sleeping, the protagonist becomes enamoured with her non-love interest through interactions with his family. As she spends more time with "the family", she becomes increasingly guilt-ridden at her duplicity, confesses and then makes her escape from the confused groom at the shamfest wedding day. There's even a subplot that deals with the father-son conflict over the future of the family business to complete the list of parallels to Sleeping.

    And then, there's that moment that we all wait for. The penny drops and Boy finally gets his act together and makes his declaration of love. Girl tries to be evasive. He tells her to shut up and stop talking and she, cowed, falls silent. Then comes my favourite line in the entire film... "Marry me... I want to date you." and we all cheer. But why do we cheer? Well, it's the payoff for sitting through 2 hours of wondering when these two will realize what we knew from their first scene together. There's that. But I cheer, because there's something fundamentally upside downish about that statement... in a world that is short on commitment and long on quick romances.
    Then comes my second favourite line of the film. The couple kiss and one can hear in the distance, "Yeah... you show her who's boss, Andrew" -- a mischievous shout out from one of their onlooking colleagues. Mischievous or not, it highlights a significant development. Now, their roles are reversed. At the beginning, she's the boss, she calls the shots, intimidates all her co-workers, coerces him into the marriage of convenience. But now, he takes the intitiative, pursues her back to New York, makes a genuine proposal and takes charge of the situation when she expresses her fear of commtiment. He leans over to meet her lips... And so we sigh... all is well with the world.
    All in all The Proposal is an odd mixture of notions. A tough, independent publishing exec turns gooey in the end surrendering to the arms of lurve and marriage, without first bringing sex into the equation. Wow... isn't that a bit... erm... traditional?

    Well, yes and no. Romantic comedies play to certain female fantasies of finding "true love" and "happily ever after" and in our age there's also the other great fantasy of "being able to have it all". The third fantasy is, in my opinion, the most dangerous one... because the reality is far more exhausting.... and disappointing and devastating. No one can have it all... because being in a relationship means making choices about how one spends one's time, the kind of people one can spend time with and where one can go. Married people know this, parents know this. Life forces us to choose whether we want to or not... and these choices have immediate and long-term consequences.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Mission Impossible Star, Peter Graves, Dies

    I noticed last night that Peter Graves, who played Jim Phelps in the hit tv series, "Mission Impossible" is no longer with us. Graves, who was 83, collapsed in his driveway but could not be resuscitated. I can't say that I knew much about Graves but I enjoyed "Mission Impossible" immensely. My first memories of "Mission Impossible" were the re-runs on afternoon television as a child and then when we came to live in Australia, we saw the series enjoy a brief revival in the late eighties. Interestingly enough, it's the theme song that has captured the imagination of the public for the past 4 decades, being the subject of tributes, ads and spoofs.

    The first MI film produced by and starring Tom Cruise was entertaining in a James Bond sort of way and then it continued to go down that way with the one after that. I can't comment about the third one as I haven't seen it. Nonetheless, the MI that I grew up on and loved was much more team effort than a one man show. It didn't feel obliged to be angsty and was bucketloads of fun. Really, the fact that these men and women were government agents didn't make them any less scam artists even if they were scamming the bad guys.

    The relatively recent series, "Leverage", share many similarities to the old school "Mission Impossible" (and another popular tv series, "The A-Team"). The action revolves around a group of modern day Robin Hood types and they are entirely self-referential about being con-artists and thieves. The leader of this unlikely band of merry men and women, an ex-insurance investigator is a brilliant planner/strategist. The poor man, as it is normally the case, has seen tragedy in his life and is haunted by the loss of his son. There's plenty of touching moments throughout that particular arc but it doesn't stop the show from being uproariously hilarious as the team scrambles out of numerous impossibly difficult situations.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Homework Blues or How I Found a New Appreciation for What I Put My Parents Through...

    Parenting is unquestionably character building and character revealing. It's often embarrassing to realize that many of the things that you inflicted on your parents come back to haunt you in the shape of your children. Things like the selective hearing, procrastination, dwadling, general laziness...and...

    Ah... the  joys of homework... from the other side of the cluttered desk...

    I'm not one of those parents that think that there's too much homework in the Aussie state school system. Hardly. I was, afterall, brought up in the Singapore education system (from primary to secondary school) and was under the watchful eye of a school teacher for 10 years. Hence, I like to think I have some idea of what HOMEWORK might entail.

    The real trouble, however, is in trying to get an eight year old to take a long term view on the importance of homework without resorting some form of "bribery" or "extortion".

    Children think, not without some justification, that they've been at school for much of the day dutifully doing their kiddy duties. Therefore, when the bell rings and they are dismissed for the day, they leave the classroom with an air of anticipation that "work" is behind them and the good stuff awaits them at home. That they are eager to be home is heartening to parents who unfortunately must be the rule of law in their households to ensure that learning does not end in cardboard classrooms. Children who lack the necessary motivation to imbibe more information, well, fundamentally take a short-term view of things. Who can blame them? The Flintstones, The Jetsons and interplanetary head-butting superheroes are a far more pleasant afternoon diversion to times tables and algorithims.

    It is one of those thankless aspects of parenting that we take the long term view of things and pull out all the stops to make sure that they get the best start to life. By that, I don't mean bombarding them with extracurricular activities. I mean getting into good habits like taking responsibility for their own things, self-discipline, taking the initiative, pick up after themselves... you know, the REALLY HARD STUFF. The stuff that matters when the big, bad realities of adult life hit them between the eyes. Unfortunately for us, the eight-year old doesn't have all that stuff hard-wired from birth so I guess it is up to us to make sure it she doesn't reach adulthood without having first heard it from us. Loudly and clearly.

    I will be the first to say... I'm not the most hard-working person in the world. But thanks to growing up in an extended family with people far more diligent than I could ever dream of being nagging me at every turn, something managed to penetrate the denseness of my skull. But mostly, I am certain it's heavenly grace...

    Now I only ask for bucketloads of this same grace as I meander my way through this maze called parenting...
    These days I wonder more and more how my parents survived this phase of our lives.

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Toilet Training Talk

    "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." -- Thomas Jefferson

    When Thomas Jefferson penned those lofty words, he was likely not thinking of the nitty gritty of toilet training. As one of the founding fathers and the third president of the United States, his mind was probably on weightier matters of state. A man of his stature, in his time, would scarcely have concerned himself with the routine micturations of his 6 plus 4 children which were probably left to the women of his household..

    200 years later, it is still largely the province of women to civilize our young in such delicate matters. To put our hands to things with an odd willingness, that is entirely discriminatory. I think some would call it "parenting".
    I seek freedom, not from political tyranny...  but from nappies, cleaning up "accidents" and the washing up that accompanies the "accidents". Hence, it is a given that I need to be eternally vigilant... or at least until... the proverbial penny drops in the little preschooler's noggin.

    Toilet training is abominably hard... at least that has been my experience. I have heard numerous stories of children trained at two or two-and-a-half and in 3 days, accomplishments I can only fantasize about. While I don't really lose sleep over this, I wonder in my waking hours how much is it the parent (me), and how much is it the toilet training candidate.

    You've probably all seen the tips... Watch for readiness, interest etc etc... My first one did neither for over three years and screamed in terror every time she was put on the toilet. She would rather get a nappy rash than sit on the toilet or potty. No #2 was interested from age 2 but the enthusiasm did not make up for the lack of maturity within the internal plumbing system. In all probability she thought all the cool kids sat on toilets and if she wanted to be cool, she would follow suit.
    In most ways, No #2 is a lot more amenable a subject, thereby less painful. She likes the concept of toilet but it doesn't always translate into action. And while she can hold at longer stretches and do "her thing' when sent to the toilet, it is still up to me to be vigilant. The moment I let my guard down, I hear a "Mummy... I did a wee in my pants." And she is still at the stage where she prefers to do the hard stuff in her pull-ups.
    Truly, the road to toilet training nirvana is a rocky one.

    I suppose there is a lesson in all of this for all of us. I suppose we are meant to bond with our child through the fundamentals and I suppose there is nothing more fundamental than teaching a child to answer the call of nature in hygenically appropriate ways..

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Shopping at Aldi

    So I'm a kind of El Cheapo... which is why I make my weekly 4 km plus pilgrimage to do a significant portion of my shopping at Aldi. I am still waiting... waiting... waiting (hopefully not before I run out of oxygen) for one to pop up nearer to home. Why do I make the effort, you ask. It's simple... fruit, vegetables and meat are a fair bit cheaper there (when it all adds up) and occasionally they sell the odd variety item that you didn't know you needed, at an irresistible price
    For a myriad of reasons, I would prefer not to shop at Aldi with children. As much as it pains me to say it, it's not particularly child friendly place to shop. Aldi and children... rather like water and oil. Like me, Aldi is cheap (or if you indulge in euphemisms, budget conscious). Management obviously doesn't believe at all in enhancing the shopping experience with the barest creature comforts. Everything in the store screams out to patrons that they are to whizz in and out in a space of 20 minutes or less which is quite doable if they bother to service more checkouts, and if there aren't half a dozen trolleys in front of you all trying to get to the edible-looking bananas. At my local Aldi, the shopping trolleys are ridiculously high and discriminates against those of us who have the misfortune of being under 175 cm tall. How they expect some one that doesn't meet their height requirement to lift a child over 12 kg onto the child seat without getting a hernia is beyond me.
    Then of course, when the Aldi "experience" is all but over, one is expected to return the aforementioned trolley to it's inconveniently placed resting place, child in tow... or the $2 trolley fee becomes a gold coin donation for the skeleton crew that minds the store. To make things more interesting for customers, just in case they're hankering for an obstacle race while maneouvering precariously around the store, floor staff insist on parking these motorized pallette jacks in the middle of dem  uncomfortably narrow aisles.
    Oh yeah... erm.... did I mention the reverberating screams of young malcontents in the narrow confines of an Aldi store?

    There's a carthatic feeling about other people's screaming children. It makes you feel that little bit better that yours aren't there to embarrass you instead although (if you have any shred of decency) you will feel an unspoken comaraderie with the poor woman who's trying desperately to keep her head while trying to keep the noise level down and getting the shopping done while avoiding the the murderous looks of her fellow customers in closest proximity.
    Child-free shopping is another day in paradise.

    Today, I made the mistake of going back in a second time for some zucchinis. I could have sworn that they weren't there during my first run. Noticing that the couple in front of me had a bag of them gliding down the conveyor belt, I chided myself for being as blind as a bat and then had the bright idea of returning to grab some while being in the vicinity instead of having to do it at another place at another time. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Have you noticed that the checkout you pick is always the slowest? There must be some mathemtical algorithim (waiting to be made into an iPhone App) that one can use a la Numb3rs to work out which one gets you through the fastest. How that would work, I have no idea. This time, I managed to pick the aisle where a newbie with card problems decides to spend roughly $400 on groceries and variety goods. Experiencing a Sherlock Holmes moment, I deduced from her initial (slow) movements and the way the groceries were arranged that she was new to the whole Aldi "experience" which was quickly confirmed when I noticed among her purchases 15 cent cooler bags and a couple of the enviro bags being waved through. (Hey, I was bored and there's not much to do at an Aldi checkout. Bah, not even a gossip rag for diversion.)

    But I'm cheap... so I wait patiently, mentally chanting to myself that this is Aldi afterall. I heave a sigh a relief when my turn comes and hand my last $10 bill to the check out chick and collect my change, making for the exit without further ado. Outside, I take in a deep breath of carbon dioxide and jump into my car. Probably didn't do much to reduce my "carbon footprint" but at least I contributed plant food to the sparse number of trees in the car park. "Sparse" being the operative word.
    Doing my routine inspection of the car park, I tell myself that my local Aldi desperately needs trees... lots and lots of trees. On a hot day, it steams forever...

    About Me

    I'm Lilian and I live in Queensland, Australia. I'm married to Randall and we are parents of two girls with plenty of personality.
    I'm back teaching adult ESL and love being in the classroom. Presently I specialize in English for Academic Purposes.

    This is a newsy personal blog of sorts, with movie and book reviews thrown in from time to time. Mostly it contains rambles about my journey with God and children.

    Thanks for popping by. And please comment... if you feel so inclined.

    Now Showing: The Blind Side

    Several days ago I caught a rambling conversation on PJTV (A subsidiary of Pajamas Media for those who aren’t up with the times) by two Hollywood insiders nattering about a movie called The Blind Side. Previous to this, I hadn’t even heard about The Blind Side so to hear that it was up for a couple of Oscars, surprised me (and apparently everyone else on the planet). Anyhow, what really piqued my interest in the film was a passing comment from one of the duo about how surprised he was that this movie actually got made within the largely non-conservative nebula known as Hollywood, mainly because, (shock horror!) the lead character was a woman motivated to do good deeds out of her Christian faith.

    To say that Hollywood doesn’t understand Christians or people of faith is to understate the issue. It is more likely that those who make and green light films in Tinseltown exist in another one of the alternate universes they regularly make films about. Clueless about how some of us live, Hollywood often defaults to portraying God believers as repressed fanatics or raging lunatics and/or child molesters. This is not to say, however, that The Blind Side is a decidedly Christian film , in the same way Fireproof set out to be but it tells the tale (with great discretion) of ordinary Christian people going about their business when they happen to encounter a life changing moment.

    The first thing that struck me about The Blind Side was its innate niceness which often translates to disarming humour. It is a rare thing to watch a film where the family in focus is not a steaming pile of dysfunctional mess which seems to be the fashion these days. You know what I mean... an overused, clich├ęd plot recycled with weary familiarity: In this oft repeated scenario the father is having an affair with the neighbour or a co-worker, the mother, a bored housewife, hankers for an old flame and the children are either depressed delinquents or have curiously managed to defy genetics to become more worldly wise than their parents. No doubt the nuclear family has taken quite a beating of late, nowhere more than in Hollywood. Here, however, we note that the Tuohys are a wealthy, conservative Christian family. Sean and Leigh Ann are happily married and their children from all appearance well-adjusted, with not much teenage angst in the offing. All in all, a strange beast for the Hollywood machine to comprehend.

    Still, if there’s anything Hollywood understands, it’s money. This film cost a mere US$35 million to make and has already made over US$250 million. It’s an oddity in an age where spectacular effects and the shock factor abound in contemporary movie making. While there’s a suggestion of darkness that haunts the characters, it is never allowed to overwhelm the sanguine tone of this inspiring tale of human kindness.

    In short, it’s an understated fare, an un-Hollywood flick that feels no need to posture. One can’t help but feel a certain suburban solidarity with these people. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks meets decent, rich family and is offered an opportunity of a lifetime. Michael Oher’s past is undoubtedly wretched and the temptation for him to fall back on to familiar patterns of behaviour is never too far away. But the director is never tempted to overdo anything as there’s no over acting or an overlong bombastic moment. Although Sandra Bullock is the star, the film insists that ultimately the success of Michael Oher lies in (to use an appropriate sporting metaphor) a concerted team effort, starting from a self-serving coach, remarkably patient teachers to a big-hearted adoptive family. The marvellous thing about human beings is that we are capable of change even while we’re influencing others, as they can in turn, influence us.

    There is little need to say more. A film like this generally falls within predictable lines. In this case, that’s not a bad thing. There’s no pretense to be anything mindblowingly original but when I’m having a bad day or scratching around for something to feel good about, I’m not averse to watching something that ends happily ever after.