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)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reversing the Homework Blues: The Almost 9 Year Old Turns 9

The 8 year old turned 9 yesterday and we decided this year that as a way to encourage her, we would buy her a camera for her birthday. I had been against her having electronic devices for some time but I felt that a camera would be an outlet for her creative energies and it won't be as addictive as a games device.
(Note: This is not a blanket statement about other people's children having electronic devices if parents deem them helpful. I once got into a minor argument with another mother about why I didn't want my 8 year old to own a DS Lite. Still not sure how that happened. But for me, it's a huge responsibility and some children don't appreciate their value and it becomes another thing that parents will have to exercise control over.)

Children are characters and personalities, hence, it's quite important to treat them as individuals... The whole one size fits all kind of parenting doesn't really work I don't think. It is easier no doubt just to do the exact same thing with every child but then you'd have one feeling resentful and the feeling superior. More and more as I observe my own girls, I think the whole love languages thesis is quite sound.

There's very little doubt in my mind that the 9 year old's love languages are receiving gifts and words of affirmation. Words of affirmation was easy to pick because the moment she could verbalize her thoughts (which was very early), she complimented herself repeatedly. As she got older, she became very popular with the mothers of our preschool dishing out compliments about their hair, dress and whatever else they had on at the time. She was a five year old that sounded like a 21 year old. As I often tell people, I have no idea where she gets it from.

I was brought up to think that it was wrong to expect gifts from people and while I do think there's a lot of truth to that, the reality, however, is there are people in this world who get a huge buzz when they get gifts and it isn't about being materialistic. They see the gift as an expression of love from the giver. It's something I've had to rethink because I come from a background and culture that puts much emphasis on being deserving of material gifts. If I wanted something, I had to earn it. Generally speaking, it's not a bad principle for motivating and encouraging achievement. But it's the opposite for my 9 year old. She seems far more motivated to act when she's been given something or when she's affirmed for accomplishing her tasks. And from what I've seen, it doesn't have to be anything expensive or big.

So anyway, she's been snap-happy the last two days, following in the footsteps of her grandpa.
Her are some samples of her work.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Grobag Sleeping Bag

I know I'd probably get into a lot of trouble saying this but I'm very uncomfortable with what I call the "baby" industry. I don't have problems with free enterprise, honest but there's a lot of stuff out there for sale that's nothing more than gimmicks, designed to part us with our money. And as my brother says, anything with "baby" in its label costs twice as much as its more generic equivalent.

BUT there a few things I think are real advances in baby care that are genuine must haves and one of them is the sleeping bag... or in my case, the Grobag which I bought for my second child. And really, it was worth every cent. My friend Jenny put me onto it and swore by it. And Jenny is a pretty down to earth sort of person not prone to fads. So I asked my parenting mentor about it and she said, rather dispassionately that "A sleeping bag is a good thing to have."
As you probably guessed I'm a bit of an El Cheapo when it comes to buying stuff particularly for children under the age of 5. I don't shop at Myers or David Jones except once a year at the post-Christmas sales and I don't buy Pumpkin Patch etc etc. I just can't bear the thought of my preschoolers soiling and abusing a good branded dress or shirt with food or paint stains... it just tortures me and drives me insane. And I use a good laundry detergent too. Personally, I just don't see the point. They don't know the value and it doesn't appear that they care much either. And if yours are like mine, they are generally attached to one or two outfits each season anyway.

The Grobag, however, I like... even if it's on the expensive side. It comes in varying thickness and sizes and provides a pretend thermometer guide to help you choose the right one for the right time of the year. The way I see it though is that you save money on heating and concerned parents can go to bed stress-free not having to worry if your child has kicked off his/her blanket for the tenth time or if the thermostat in their room working properly.
Truthfully though, you don't have to get the Grobag brand... I'm sure that there are other sleeping bags that are just as effective. But I strongly recommend that people get one especially when the weather gets cooler and if you're keen to stave off the winter bugs and ensure that (the most important reason IMO) your child gets a really good night's sleep.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On Video: 2012 and some God Talk

There's something about disaster films that keeps me coming back for more. Perhaps it's the sadistic thrill I get from watching world famous landmarks collapse and crumble into dust. Or perhaps it's the carthatic feeling I get from watching nature turn tables on humans and give them a good thrashing. Who knows. Quite likely there is a medical condition that explains all this but really, what can I say, I'm... complicated.

Generally speaking I don't take any secular end-of-the-world scenarios terribly seriously. And from what I've seen, I don't think the Hollywood types do so either. For them it's a wonderful excuse to blow really important buildings up and to churn out some eye-popping special effects for a good couple of hours. Nobody does it with more glee than Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow director, Roland Emmerich.
So what if they're unrealistic and a tady cartoony. Audiences today are far too sophisticated to embrace the silliness as realistic. So what if a limousine manages to outrun an earthquake. Of course it's absurd. But they know when they go into something like this, they are supposed to suspend all manner of disbelief. I do and I usually have a decent time at the multiplex, munching on my favourite snacks.

2012 follows a fairly predictable disaster film formula with a some degree of suspense thrown in. It's clear that catastrophe is imminent but behind closed doors, powerful forces around the world are at work to mitigate the effects... if that is at all possible. It is a race against time and nothing less than the survival of humanity is at stake.

As a Christian, I find it fascinating that the film makers have fallen back on a well-known Biblical narrative as the film's resolution. I don't think Emmerich and Co. are believers by any stretch of the imagination but even they I suspect struggle to frame the apocalypse outside of biblical terms.

Since Darwin, there has been fierce debate about how the first 11 chapters of Genesis should be interpreted. The plausibility of many events in those chapters have been called into question by those who argue against supernatural occurences or a literal understanding of the Creation record. In our scientific age, our elites assure us that science will be our guide to truth and technology, our saviour. However, I get the impression that while some would prefer that we abandon our religious impulses, the larger population hankers for something transcendental. Despite our modern trappings, in a liberal democratic society we are unable to abandon entirely the Judeo-Christian narratives that have influenced our societies for the last two millenia. We cannot build a society purely on science and technology -- wonderful  tools that they are. We are people of history. History tells us who we are and why we do the things that we do.

Jesus and the New Testament writers perceived the story of Noah as historical fact. 8 times, Noah is mentioned in the NT. Noah's age signalled a time of judgement in a morally corrupt world but in that situation we also see a means of salvation. But in those 8 occasions we are asked to remember history. The ark is more than a cute Sunday School story... it is a type (a prefiguring of something greater, more imporant)... of the Christ who sent to be the Saviour of the world.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God Talk: Authority

It is a familiar scenario... You mean well... mentally, you know that shouting isn't pretty. You start by asking in your gentlest, most motherly voice. There is no reaction, no movement. You try again. You are firm but gentle in your tone of voice. That doesn't work either. Then you raise it up a notch. But you may as well be speaking to a brick wall. By the fourth or fifth time, you utter words with barely concealed fury. And before you know it, you're shouting, yelling PG rated invectives... Hyperboles roll off your tongue.
"You never listen to what I say!"
"Why do you always have to be so stubborn?"
"Can't you do just what you're told evah..."
"Can't you just do what you're told the first time!"

A combination of rhetorical questions and angry rhetorts and you're sunk. Deep down you know your credibility is shot to pieces. All the stuff you learnt from Triple P and the latest bestselling parenting self-help book has come to naught. Establishing and exercising parental authority is only something that works for other people. It's just too hard. Those books, programmes etc just don't get how difficult my child is.

So we blow it... again and again...

I often think about this when I'm reading the gospel accounts of Jesus particularly where he does the mindblowing stuff like healing the sick, commanding demons to leave suffering souls and telling the weather to calm down. It's all very impressive but the thing that impresses me most is how he kind of does it with words. All he has to say to the demon or the sick individual or the storm is "come out" or "get up" or "peace be still" and they do exactly as he says, the first time that he says it. Talk about authority. There's no need for bribery, pleading, nagging and threats. They do it because he says so. Wouldn't you like to have that kind of power of your kids?

Well, I'm not the Son of God so that's not going to happen anytime soon. But I have been given stewardship over my children until they reach adulthood so I need to keep at it. I also know that I am a deeply flawed human being who "has issues" that can get in the way of effective parenting. In and of myself, I don't have authority to make demands but for my children to learn true authority I need to take them to Jesus... God in human flesh. As Jesus submitted to the Father's will on the cross, we can learn to do the same when we begin to submit to his authority over our lives.

I guess what I'm saying here is that we should look at our authority as parents as fundamentally a spiritual issue. Through Adam and Eve, we are all rebels at heart and our instinct is to do our own thng. I think we forget that when we parent. I know I do. I keep expecting my children to do what I say when I say it the first time I say it. But really, what I should be doing is saying to them as well as all the other behaviour modification stuff is that I love them and I want the best for them and this is why I am getting them to do this and that and the other thing. AND that God has allowed Mummy and Daddy a short time to look after them so that when they become adults they will know what to do with their lives.

I'm not great at this sort of thing, to be honest. Yelling seems to be a lot more effective some days... But yelling is short-term and the sobering truth is that parenting (I heard a wise man once say) is about raising adults.

The iPad and Other eBook Possibilities

I've been on the prowl for an ebook reader for a while now. While my iPod Touch has been serviceable so far, my eyesight is deterioriating and the screen is well... smallish. With genetics against me, I expect to be lumbered with bi-focals or graded lenses in a couple of years.
I've had my eye on different models the past year for something affordable and haven't been all that impressed with the prices of existing readers. It astounds me that a device that only allows a person to read and maybe listen to music should cost something like $800 or $1000. I expect that each book will come with some kind of DRM anyway so it's absurd to my mind that these gadgets are so poorly priced. My conclusion is that the manufacturers aren't serious about selling the hardware or that they are in collusion with hardcopy booksellers.

The iPad looks great (very droolworthy)... and since I already have an iTunes account, it makes sense to go that way. But the pricing and the size doesn't really impress me that much. And after reading this review, I'm even less enthused about getting one.

At this point, I'm inclined to consider the Kindle as a serious contender for what I want in the future. I can't afford anything right now but Amazon has a nice range of free and paid books at decent prices. In weighing up the pros and cons, the best thing about owning an ebook reader though, is that I won't have to fork out shipping costs in the long term.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Conniving Kids

I'm sitting in bed this morning because I can... Because... thankfully the husband is home and casting a watchful eye on the children... while my sinuses are working overtime. We've been having some odd weather lately and it's playing havoc with my allergies and making me rather sleepy. But strangely enough, it hasn't diminished my desire to blog.

The 3 year old is a kleptomaniac but a specific type dealing mainly in food. But there's no resale interest in her case. Everything goes into satisfying the hungry beast within. If not fed promptly to some internal schedule, she takes matters into her own hands. This has been going on since she discovered her legs. So we've had a gate put into the kitchen for some time now... which is only as good as the last person who remembers to lock it.

The opportunistic almost 9 year old has decided to use this dilemma to her own benefit. Whenever the 3 year old sneaks into the kitchen, raids the pantry for the odd goody and offers to share it with the big sister. The big sister, becomes unusually tongue-tied and doesn't question from whence such goodies come and feigns innocence when angry parents confront her with empty packets of rice crackers. Fortunately, I don't keep much junk food lying around the house but fruit tends to disappear very quickly from this house.

Now, even as I type this, the almost 9 year old is bargaining with her father about how much pocket money she should be getting for tidying her own room. The starting price is $50.

She's seen the recent Scholastic catalogues, you see and has ideas.
Nothing is more amusing or dangerous or persistent than a child with ideas...

Environmental Tokenism

So Earth Day has come and gone for the fortieth time... and pardon me while I do my best Ebenezer Scrooge imitation...

Once upon a time, I did think that there was something to global environmentalism and all its different manifestations but more and more, it seems to be nothing more than a token religious gesture for rich, atheistic types looking to unload their guilt into a cause that would redeem them from having more dollars than sense.

I have nothing against conservation or doing commonsensical things with pollution, waste products and resources. Goodness knows we can always do better in those areas. In my case I learnt everything about dealing with waste paper from spartan relatives who lived through the Japanese Occupation and postwar years. They didn't call it "being green" -- just good o'l common sense frugality learnt from belt-tightening days.

I'm all for using renewable energy within reason but I am really, really tired of rich and powerful people telling us plebs that we need to "reduce our carbon footprint" when they have no trouble flying around the world in their private jets under the guise of "raising awareness". That was one of my problems with the Copenhagen summit at the end of last year. Thousands of delegates descending on the Danish capital with aeroplanes and limousines adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- for a climate change talkfest that was doomed to fail.

Actually, I don't suffer from an overabundance of wealth envy nor do I have issues with private jets... My main beef is with a new kind of Pharasaical hypocrisy that claims a kind of moral high ground on environmental sins. A recent study by a couple of researchers at the University of Toronto has noted that environmental do-gooders does not equal ethically good people.

While I cringe at the silly antics of the rich and famous that grab the headlines, I don't have issues if they want to bow at the altar of environmentalism as many of them are deigned to do. But I do object to being dragged before their aforesaid altar just so that they can appease their consciences through some kind punitive carbon credits system that would probably end up filling the pockets of bankers and doing zip for the environment.

My feeling is that most of us, who live in so-called developed countries, do what we can within our means. We support recycling, we use "green" bags and we try our best to teach our children to be sensible about possessions and money.  Regulations and propaganda can only do so much... unless of course, we want to start dictating to people about how they should live which is dangerous territory to start sliding into.

I don't pretend to be good or consistent with the environmental stuff. But I know that I would rather not be spending all my time in the ensuite bemoaning the effects of poor quality drinking water or see hamburger wraps or drink cans lying on our front pavement. Even less attractive to me, is seeing a rat run across the room while I'm having dinner at a restaurant. Those are far more powerful motivators to act from than an airy fairy doctrine of "saving the planet" (whatever that means) that goes in one ear and out the other.

Just because some of us don't see the world through an environmental worldview it means that we don't care. We care because... "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1, NIV) ... particularly because of the people who live in it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Territorial Tots

Children are instinctively territorial... and those that reside in my house are always ready to wage war over ownership rights. And when the whole affair degenerates quickly into a battle royale, I'm sure the neighbours must think that we're the most contemptible excuse for parents ever to grace the planet. My 3 year old more than the almost 9 year old... most likely because of the birth order and having to protect what's hers, with every might and mane, from a much older sibling.

I'm no speech therapist but even I have observed that one of the first words that dominates their early vocabulary with great clarity is the shamelessly egotistical "Mine, mine!", reminiscent of a bratty Daffy Duck from days gone by or more recently, the mindless utterances of sea gulls from Finding Nemo. The 3 year old demands exactness, "Is this mine?" or "Is this yours, mummy?" or "That's [insert big sister's name]'s" even if no one else in the house can fit into the dress or the Size 3 undies. In her little mind, she must be sure that she has stuff to lay claim to and brag about. In a house littered with junk, it seems very important to her that she owns some it.

For a while there I wondered about this compulsion to stake claim and label. Clearly, some of it has to do with personal boundaries. I don't blame the 3 year old sometimes for getting cranky with the older sister who has a tendency to "take over" and "hijack" and generally, for playing fast and loose with territorial rights.

Lately I've noticed that the 3 year old taking an interest in identity politics.
"You a man, Daddy... You don't wear dresses." 
"Oh, that's the girl toilet... and that's the boy toilet."
"I a girl, [insert big sister's name]'s a girl, Mummy's a girl but Daddy's a man."
Conversation overheard between the green fork and a red spoon. "No, you're not green... you're red."
Response. "No, I'm red and you're green."

No doubt, children like to be sure.

Friday, April 23, 2010

On Video: Miss Potter (2006)

My mother-in-law is an artist... quite a good one as a matter of fact. While she hasn't reached the dizzy heights of fame, she has done potraits and participated in competitions. I mention this because it more or less explains why she owns a biopic of Beatrix Potter on DVD when her entire collection of movies can probably be counted on one hand. It also explains how I happened upon this film in recent weeks.

Because Helen Beatrix Potter has become synonymous with children picture books, it is easy to forget that she was an artist of some distinction. Deeply interested in the natural world, she was also a mycologist and a conservationist of some reknown. With the money she made from the sales of her books, she was able to purchase Hill Top farm in the Lake District in England. Later on, she bought surrounding farmland and extended her property gradually with the help of local solicitor, William Heelis, whom she later married.

Potter was the only daughter and older child of Edmund and Helen Potter, both of whom lived on inherited wealth. From all accounts, she had a lonely childhood, filled with pets. Among a host of other creatures, she had two rabbits, one of them was named Peter. With very little human companionship, Potter spent much of her time observing her pets and sketching them. Undoubtedly, providing the basis for her much loved anthropomorphic animal tales.

This film does well in providing a glimpse into the woman behind Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle Duck and Co. In fact, her relationship with her characters are key to the internal workings of Beatrix Potter. Her motherly admonishments of their exploits demonstrates in a poignant fashion how they became the children she never had. That aside, the highest praise that I can give the film is the way it projected authenticity -- in sensibility and story. I was impressed and amused to see the attention to detail given to Potter's life right down to a glum-faced chaperon that accompanied her everywhere especially while in the company of men. Renee Zellweger's Beatrix Potter is an eccentric Victorian negotiating the strictures of her society to gain the respect that she sought.

Much of the dramatic focus of this film is on Beatrix's volatile relationship with her parents. Warding off strong parental objections to her romance with a man not her social equal, Beatrix was briefly engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne. This engagement was cut short and ended tragically due to his untimely death. Depressed by his death, Beatrix moved to Hill Top, where she eventually became an integral figure in the Lake District farming community.
While it was a delightful film, my only quibble was how quickly everything seemed to happen and end. I would like to have seen more of her budding romance with Heelie, who seemed to me a much more interesting romantic interest than Warne.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deanna Durbin

It has been a while... Quite a while, actually... A blast from the past. Someone on Big Hollywood mentioned the name "Deanna Durbin". Churchill was a fan, Anne Frank had a photo of her pinned in the secret annexe. At the height of her career (1936-1948), she had the largest fan club in the world. Unfortunately for us but probably good for her, Durbin didn't care much for the studio system and retired from all manner of public life in 1949.

Until yesterday I hadn't heard anyone mention Deanna Durbin for years. So of course, I had to take a trip down memory lane and headed straight for You Tube. With the fidgety 3 year old on my lap, I tuned into listen to my favourite tracks from my favourite Durbin flick, Something in the Wind. The next best thing about that film is the wonderfully versatile Donald O'Connor. Within seconds, the non-napping toddler was mesmerized. Pity it didn't send her to sleep though.

Here's Durbin singing Ave Maria with the Vienna Boys Choir.
Durbin singing The Turntable Song from Something in the Wind.
Donald O'Connor does a comic turn in Something in the Wind.

I blame Bill Collins (remember him?) for turning me into a fan... the man adored Durbin and presented many, if not all her movies on Channel 10 back when the networks still showed classic Hollywood films during prime time on weekends.
Those were the days... and I miss 'em...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reversing the Homework Blues: Long vs Short

I speak to myself... thanks for looking in...

Some days you have to ask yourself if it is worth it. Afterall, it's just school... it's not the end of the world and I'm not trying to raise a nuclear physicist.
But as a parent (clueless as I  might be at times) I feel an instinctive obligation to give my children the best start to life according to the resources I have available to me. I am, afterall, laying a foundation for a future that will be built upon, God willing, for many years to come.
So I am determined to do my best for them even if at times they can't see that far ahead and even if their minds are geared only for the moment. To fight for them even when they are helpless or oblivious to the realities of the world out there.
I suppose one difference between an adult and a child is that the former is better equipped (with all the experiences of life under their belt) to see ahead.
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6, ESV)
So we are admonished to train our children... not just academically but in all aspects of life. Not only are we to be intentional, but proactive... taking the lead and guiding them until they are no longer children. There will come a time when they take the driver's seat and hopefully all the investment made over the years will see them through the bends, the crossroads, the sharp turns, the bumpy, windy roads, the pitch black, lonely lanes.

The short term view does what is easy. The long term view is to do what is right.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Random Thoughts about Lady Gaga, Celibacy and Motherhood

It's strange somedays how one thought leads to another and to another...

So the ridiculously dressed and flamboyant Lady Gaga claims to be embracing celibacy. Good for her, I suppose. The cynical side of me, on the other hand, wants to say with Inigo from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." But my problem with celebrities is their constant need to reinvent themselves to be relevant to a fickle public that it's hard to know if any change of heart is borne out of a sincerity to ground their lives in values or sell themselves as trendsetters.
Still, I return to my Inigo statement -- does Lady Gaga know what celibacy means? Is celibacy going to be the new cult led by Lady Gaga? Or is it, more likely the case, the state of being for a modern woman who is in-between relationships?
A couple of nights ago, I was reading the account of Anna from the tribe of Asher in Luke's gospel that this widow married for 7 years remained celibate until the age of 84 (assuming that meant till she died) and gave herself to prayer and fasting at the temple.
From the details that we're given here, it suggests that celibacy is the exception rather than the norm. Anna was called to lifelong celibacy after the death of her husband. That appears to be the case for a number of others in the Bible as well. The apostle Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians. The default position for the vast majority seems to be marriage with children.
Unfortunately, we live in an era where marriage and children are perceived to be lifestyle choices rather than facts of life, which goes some way into explaining why I was so poorly prepared for it. Just think of how many years we spend preparing for a vocation or a career but so little time being ready for motherhood or parenting. True, we do learn many of these things from our own parents growing up but I really don't remember much about breastfeeding babies or dealing with tantrumy toddlers. My mother was a working mother with help from relatives and she seemed to manage, so I thought it just sort of happened to people and they would eventually figure it all out when the time came.

I spent most of my growing years studying and trying to excel academically (not that I did anyway) but was clueless about the fundamentals of adult living. It many ways, life in Singapore where everyone's energies is directed towards academic excellence, it advertently fosters a culture of dependency. On the upside, I was grilled into becoming task oriented. On the downside, I led a fairly sheltered life that revolved around study and adults took care of everything else. In hindsight, I was fortunate to live with adults who believed that I should learn a few life skills at a young age but outside of home, the entire society was geared towards producing a highly efficient, professional workforce. To help young families achieve this, the government provided an underclass of domestic help from poorer, neighbouring countries so that this efficient workforce can go on unhindered and become competitive on the world stage. (I'm not against domestic help or providing people with job opportunities, by the way)
Although I left the country in my late adolescence, that sort of mindset has more or less stayed with me throughout the years. No doubt it hampered my ability to parent in many ways. I didn't have the confidence or the excitement that I should have had to deal with this apparently normal part of life. Ill-equipped to cope with the transition, I am fairly certain it contributed in no small way to my experiencing postnatal depression with my first child. (Probably a story for another day)

I often joke that I probably didn't become an adult until I had my first child. But truth be told, it isn't a joke. The Creator factored in marriage and child raising as a way to grow us. The problem is that many of us are doing it later and later when some of our habits and thinking become fairly fixed. By then, children seem to be intrusions or disruptions or hurdles to overcome.

I suppose there's an interesting sociological study in that... would probably end up being quite controversial. From the little I've read, I believe these days it's called the Peter Pan Syndrome. The Greeks apparently called it puer aeternus.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Toilet Training Talk #9

You know, sometimes I hate being right.  But I am a mummy afterall... and mummies aren't idealists, not after having two children, anyway.
She did mess up her undies today BUT to give credit where credit is due, she is making her own way into the real world of toilet albeit SSSSSSLOWWWWWWWLLLLY.
But not as slowly and painfully as DD#2... thank goodness...

You know what annoys me even more... is hearing that other people's children are toilet trained before they turn 3. It almost makes me think that I'm the problem...

But then I did have a 25+ hour labour the first time.

Toilet Training Talk #8

About time too. A major milestone in our struggle at last. But I am still a child of my ancestors and deep, deep down, there still lurks a superstitious gene casting doubt.
I will resolve to maintain some level of stoicism, lest the 3 year old makes a liar out of me in the morning,  reverting somewhat inconveniently to emptying her bowels into her undies.

A moment months in the making. It could have been the place... it could have been the time of the day... or it could have been that particular recepticle... finally... using the loo was no longer an optional extra to answer nature's call.

We were at Nana's earlier today. I was deep in conversation with Nana when I was informed by the hyperolfactory sensitive husband that the 3 year old had declared to him confidently that she had done "a poo" in the toilet.
Too cowardly to check up on the veracity of that statement himself, he rudely interrupted my conversation and nudged me to follow up. I went to inspect, prepared to be amazed.
And whaddaya know, she did do a "poo" in the toilet, independent of any adult supervision. She quietly went on her own and afterwards, possibly in urgent need to brag to someone (and for someone to clean up aftewards) about the whole event, she went and told someone.

Well, I'm in urgent need to brag to someone express my jubilation... so I'm... erm... blogging about it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reversing the Homework Blues: Understanding Multiple Intelligences

While googling for some information about the ins and outs of distractible children, I was directed to some fascinating and pertinent information regarding an area of cognitive theory popularly known as "multiple intelligences". This theory challenges conventional thinking that IQ tests can broadly quantify or qualify intelligence.
I'm a big fan of learners getting in touch their inner learning style and have used different kinds of questionnaires in my work with adult learners.
It is also becoming more apparent to me that when dealing with our children's overall learning issues, this idea of "multiple intelligences" should be taken into account.

The man behind this idea is Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor with interests in human cognition and education, posited this notion in his book, Frames of Mind (1983). In it
Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as 'the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting' (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). 
Howard Gardner initially formulated a list of seven intelligences. His listing was provisional. The first two have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what Howard Gardner called 'personal intelligences' (Gardner 1999: 41-43)
Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.
Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner's words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.
Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.
Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.
Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.
Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.
More about Gardner and multiple intelligences can be found here, here and here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mealtime Musings: 6 Tips for A Nice Home-made Fried Rice

There are days when it's far easier just to pick up a box or two of fried rice from your local Chinese takeaway. I've done it on many a weary day... especially those special ones with salted fish or chicken or prawns. *mouth waters* But making your own doesn't have to be hassle and can be achieved in a short space of time. I've done it on many a Sunday or busy weekday.

I've been making fried rice since my late teens and have always had good results. In fact, if you'll indulge a bit of bragging... one of the greatest compliments I had ever received from my mother was a comment that I had become a fried rice expert to the point of surpassing her. People who had the privilege of experiencing her culinary delights know what high praise that was.
The reality is that it's a quick and easy dish --  and best of all every member of my immediate and extended  family likes it. It's also the one time I will actually eat peas (okay "eat" might be an exaggeration... I tend to swallow them). In the old days, I used prawns, lup cheong (chinese sausage) and barbecue pork but these days for convenience I use a decent tasting luncheon meat or any kind of ham, chopped up. Generally, I am partial to Spam and stock up during specials. I can usually do everything in about 30-40 minutes.

  1. The trick to making a good fried rice is the liberal inclusion of garlic. Fresh garlic... thank you very much. None of that jar stuff. I usually mince about 4-5 cloves.
  2. Use a non-stick pan/wok if possible. If you're using stainless steel, you'll have to be supervigilant, stirring the rice constantly to keep it from sticking to the bottom or sides of the pan.
  3. I stir fry each ingredient separately with garlic. Tthe luncheon meat first -- it oozes oil that can be used for the next ingredient, which is usually the frozen baby peas and /or carrots. I also fry the rice separately with some fresh garlic before adding the meat and veggies in.
  4. Overnight cooked rice (hard and cold) is the best. But if you cook it in the morning and allow it to cool for a few hours, it should be fine. Freshly cooked rice can become soggy and more likely to turn into some kind of charred rice cake. More than 2 days old and the rice becomes beady. You can try adding a bit of water at a time if you're desperate.
  5. Use soya sauce to taste. I prefer soy sauce to salt because it adds another dimension to the flavour and it also gives the rice a nice brownish tinge. Becareful how you use the soy because the luncheon meat is already quite salty.
  6. Adding egg to the mix is also a nice touch as it gives a different colour. I don't like adding eggs directly. My preference is to fry omelettes and then chop them up or slice them finely. In that way, I'm much more likely to see and taste the eggs.

Friday, April 16, 2010


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Reversing the Homework Blues: Day Three

It's probably too early to break out the champagne or the cigars yet... (I don't imbibe alcohol or smoke, by the way... so a good meal in restaurant might be in the works) but we're seeing a cheering difference in the almost-9 year old. While I'm no New Ager, there's definitely a more positive energy emanating from her the last couple of days.
She still hyperventilates from frustration at not getting things right the first or second time but at least she's not giving up in despair. I used to think it was all a kind of theatrical statement on her part... posturing to get her way or to get out of doing stuff but it does seem, more and more that she is really a closet perfectionist.

We did have a hyperventilating, tantrumy moment while practising Chinese (pronunciation needs work) but I drew on my teaching experience, thank goodness and managed to still the beast.

Debbie, another mummy blogger, wrote this excellent post about being intentional about one's parenting. Many of us are involved in other areas of life -- paid job, volunteer work, church ministry and we're often planning programmes/activities as much as a year or two ahead and have set strategies for troubleshooting. It makes a lot of sense, therefore, that we also have plans and strategies in how we deal with our children. But if you're like me, parenting is something that sort of happens to you and you kind of try to survive one day at a time. On a bad day, you might even wonder why you put your life on hold for these little whining ingrates. Worse still when we're in the depths of despair (to quote Anne Shirley)... we wonder why the Almighty in his sovereignty deigned to entrust us with these precious souls.

The Sovereign Lord in his manifold wisdom is probably thinking of Romans 8:28 and Romans 12:1,2. He's doing his transforming work at different levels and ouch... does it hurt or what...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Was Showing: Avatar

As a novelty filmic experience, Avatar certainly lives up to the hype. It is aesthetically pleasing and visually arresting in 3D. Better still it was my first full length feature film in 3D and for two and a half hours, I was a child again, all agog at the visual effects. Like all first timers, I predictably did the whole hand-swatting-the screen routine in the first few minutes and took the o'l glasses off several times throughout to satisfy my scientific curiosity about the mechanics of 3D. But not being either scientifically or mechanically minded, everything was was a blur to me. Still, it was mostly good fun and the highlight of this roller coaster ride was watching these exhilarating flight scenes... which left me quite awestruck.

Prior to watching it myself, I had read all kinds of philosophical objections to the film -- Gaia worship,  a naive environmentalism, while many conservative commentators noted the the usual anti-corporate, anti-colonial, anti-military bashing rhetoric common to such films. Those elements were certainly present in small doses but I went away not completely convinced that Cameron told a sufficiently sophisticated story to  make any of those themes linger after the entire blue "noble savage" people in 3D experience is over.

My beef is with the rather commonplace story. Lately, I've been sounding like a broken record but I'm getting the feeling that there aren't too many compelling stories coming out of the Hollywood production line. Quite likely I'm turning into a jaded movie goer. In the case of Avatar, I'm not convinced that it services Cameron's environmentalist agenda to the extent that he would like. It reminds me of the annual Earth Hour campaign which to my mind is more a token gesture of environmental activism which has very little effect on how people actually live from day to day. Once you take away the pretty pictures, the all-too-familiar plot line fails to hammer home the film's so-called environmental message.
One early review I read labelled Avatar "Dances with Smurfs" which is not far off the money. It did remind me very much of Dances with Wolves, which was fun twenty years ago (gosh, has it been that long?) despite its heavy anti-colonial emphasis. Furthermore, it also reminded me of The Last Samurai which incidentally, when I saw it 7 years ago, thought it more or less a kind of Dances with Wolves with lots of Japanese and katanas. And even worse... distant echoes of Titanic... a film my husband was pleading for me to walk out on after the first 45 minutes.

While Cameron may claim to be engaging his audiences politically, my sense is that he found a well-used romantic, action adventure template to sell his 3D experience. Call me cynical. But it was clear from minute 10 how this was going to end up. Not least, the hackneyed romance between the local girl and the clumsy stranger turned hero. This is the stuff of Disney animated features. (I've read that somewhere on the internet there's a shot by shot comparison with Pocahontas)

Perhaps for young uns, that isn't such big a deal... many of them may not have seen  Dances or The Last Samurai...but I doubt that the 3D experience of Avatar is going to convince them that living in so-called idyllic primitive conditions without their iPods or X boxes is going to "save the planet".

The premise of cross cultural engagement in this film using avatars was an intriguing one and I think the film could have been so much more interesting... much more nuanced if Cameron wasn't itchying to turn this into a cowboys and Indians shoot out half way through the piece.

To give him his due, Cameron excels in science fiction thrillers. I loved his 2 Terminator films, The Abyss and the second Aliens film. The "Dark Angel" tv series, which he produced, was also good. Avatar is a well-made film but take away the visual gimmickry, one is left with the feeling that there's not a lot that hasn't be done before.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reversing the Homework Blues: Day Two

I've come to the conclusion that for my almost 9 year old... a cumulative reward system doesn't really work. For her, the reward must come immediately. It doesn't always have to be pocket money... but free time to do things that she's interested in doing... like Mathletics or a few rounds on the Wii. It seems to revitalize her... fills her emotional tank. And throwing lots of verbal encouragement is really important for her. More likely than not, it is her love language. That and gifts.
But I have come to the realization that for her to commit to this, I must also be committed to making it work. It means close supervision, encouragement when she's discouraged and positive reinforcement over and over again.
I've interspersed the hard stuff with the fun stuff, following the advice of several blogs I've read, to break up homework into 20 minute blocks and follow each block of work with short bursts of playtime. I think trying to make her sit for an hour was quite unrealistic, considering how distractible she is.

I wonder how long it'll last though. But two days in, and she hasn't asked to watch tv yet.

10 Reasons Why I Love my MP3 player

1. I walk to and from school with it.

2. I listen to hundreds of sermons and podcasts with it.

3. Helps me get through the dreariness of mopping, cleaning, tidying up and ironing... hmmm... Ironing? What's that...? I have vague memories...

4. Have used it to break monotony while trying to settle babies and preschoolers... Amazing how 25 minutes just flies by when you're listening to someone far more talented or far more intelligent than you are.

5. It can carry a ton of music and other cool audio stuff in a tiny bit of plastic and metal

6. Have started to listen to audio books on it

7. Helps me to drown out the noisy children in the background relax

8. I listen to some majorly inspiring music while bashing steaks and mincing vegies. I got rhythm and rhythm means keepin that cleaver rockin'.

9. I can use it while chilling out in bed (before I get pounced on by the 3 year old)

10. It  has a radio (with some crackin' static)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Audio Book: Murder on the Orient Express

Of the many actors that have taken on the role of Hercule Poirot, David Suchet has come to personify Agatha Christie's most famous literary sleuth. Widely acclaimed (for good reason) for his depiction of the character, he is unmatched in his speech patterns down to the physicality of the role. Suchet has truly captured with exquisite perfection the intelligence, vanity and compassionate nature of this much beloved character of crime fiction. I doubt that there will ever be another Hercule Poirot for me again.

So when I saw in Borders that he had read for several Christie audio books I knew immediately I had to branch out and embrace this newish media. The cheapest way, I soon discovered, was to purchase them from Audible.com (a subsidiary of Amazon) and download directly onto one's computer. In some cases, it's $10 to $20 cheaper than buying the CD.

The Murder on the Orient Express is the vehicle for one of the most ludicrous of Christie's plots boasting an unlikely gathering of international travellers on the welll-known passenger train but Suchet has so much fun with it that one almost forgives the contrivances. The actor doesn't just read the story verbatim in his mellifluous delivery but transforms the narrative into a radio play with David Suchet, a one-man show doing voices for every character with different national accents for different genders.

As a mummy, I'm finding audio books a really great way to get a lot of reading done on the go or while scrubbing toilets. Even if you're not into downloading things from the internet, there are CDs available from online stores and from local bookstores everywhere these days.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Daily Routine Magnets

A couple of weeks ago, Julie, a fellow mummy blogger, linked to this great little time management tool for kids. Sad isn't it... that in our day and age, our lives are such that we need all these duvalackeys to keep ourselves and our children organized.

Anyhow, I liked the look of it and thought about getting one for my almost 9 year old. It's a visual to-do list which is great for kids of varying ages.
In the end, however, I decided that we should make our own routine charts because I felt that the almost 9 year old would feel greater ownership of the system if she actually chose the clip art and help make it with her own hands.

It really isn't very difficult to do especially when so much clip art is available online and all you need is a decent colour printer and some magnet sheets or recyled magnets. I've also got a cheap laminator that I bought from Aldi a couple of years ago that I've used for all kinds of things now.

Each clip art represents a regular task/activity... (apologies for the quality)

Based on this list:

The final step would be to glue pieces of magnet behind the clip art. Let it dry for at least an hour.

After the completion of each activity, she can display the corresponding piece of clip art under her name on the bar freezer. Hopefully this will give her a sense of achievement on a daily basis.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homework Blues: My Own Distractible Child

Yesterday I experienced one of those light bulb moments... an important paradigm shift in my parenting woes.  In desperation, I had googled "How to help a distractible child" as one does in such situations to find answers. It really was time for me to take the proverbial bull by the horns. I needed simple, workable strategies.

We had strong suspicions from her earliest days in school that the almost 9 year old was prone to being distracted but never got to the root of it. In Grade 1, there was a new baby to think of and to take the blame for being unable to give the school-age child the attention she needed. In Grade 2, it was the change of teachers and then in Grade 3, we still believed that it was mostly an allergy to mathematics. We had an inkling that her issues with maths came from a complete lack of confidence or an irrational fear but it never really clicked with us that distractibility was a kind temperament/personality trait and that we had to work around it. Although it was a constant uphill battle to change her/modify her behaviour, it never occurred to me that there was something deeper at work. Laziness... tiredness... whatever it was... It's just always seemed easier to revert to what one has done in the past than get out of one's comfort zone. Come to think of it, there were things about her that always mystified me -- the hysterical outbursts, the over-the-top reactions to frustration and failure as well as the hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli. Just yesterday, she started hyperventilating because she couldn't do her usual thing in her favourite maths website.

It never occurred to me in the last 3 years that I had a problem or difficult child. Problem children, it seemed to me are unpleasant, unruly and uncontrollable. And the almost 9 year old is nothing like that. Verbally, she's very articulate and socially, she's an extrovert. Her literacy skills are above average... her numeracy skills... not so much. Sure, she has a tendency to be theatrical but we thought it was merely an attention grabbing tactic and her dramatic tantrums was just her quaint way of role playing and not symptomatic of something more fundamental. While I fully appreciate all the usual arguments against labelling children, I think it can be helpful to have categories just so that beleaguered parents can begin to get a handle on things and then go on from there.

I found this website tremendously helpful in helping me make sense of our battles over the last 3 years.

The distractible child notices every thing that is going on around her. Not only is she distracted by external stimuli, but she also will be distracted from a task by her own thoughts, daydreams, and internal stimuli. This is a delightful trait in many ways but definitely causes problems in a classroom with 20 other children.
Well, ain't that the truth. But there's more.

Although the stubborn child is more difficult to deal with at home, it is generally the non-persistent child who has the most trouble at school. This is the child who will stop all attempts at a task once he reaches the first stumbling block. He may elicit disapproval from the teacher because he is constantly asking her to explain things to him rather than attempting them on his own. Frequently, he will turn in an incomplete paper or fail to do his homework because he didn't understand it at first glance. The non-persistent child also finds it difficult to stay focused on a task for more than a few minutes. He needs to learn strategies for staying on task.

Hallelujah... sombody gets it!  This describes my almost 9 year old to the T and it was a relief to know that my child isn't abnormal, that I'm not paranoid or an abject failure as a parent and there are ways to parent a child of this temperament without feeling battle weary.
The article did not provide me with a lot of tips although it does suggest using a kitchen timer, which I am already doing, and teaching the child the LISTEN technique.

Learning to focus is the most important school task for this child. A good strategy for her to learn is the LISTEN technique. This technique is important to use when the teacher is giving instructions.Write the following acronym on a poster to learn and practice at home, and put it somewhere in the child's school materials where she will see it frequently at school.
L-ook at the teacher
I-dle your motor (stop thinking about other things)
S-it up straight
T-urn to the teacher
E-ngage your brain (think about what the teacher is saying)
Sounds good.
I'll be making this chart and few others and make them available on the blog as soon as I work out how to embed files here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Homework Blues: Motivating the Unmotivated Child

I've been having a tough time with the almost 9 year old with school stuff -- more so this year than in previous years. When she turned 1, I couldn't wait for her to get to school in the hope that things would become easier. Of course that was a myth. Somethings may change for the better but other things get harder... and depending on the child, it can get a lot harder before one sees a glimmer of hope.

I am wrestling with many issues because the world that I grew up in is a lot different from the one that she's in. While I would never suggest that I was a diligent child, I did usually get the job done. I grew up in Singapore where academic excellence was the holy grail for every single person and the ticket to vast employment opportunities in an extremely competitive environment. It is drummed into every child from the moment they are in kindergarten that academic achievement is EVERYTHING. Granted it's an extreme worldview and not one that I would recommend wholesale application of but in that kind of context, I did learn a thing or two about work habits and work ethics.
So the almost 9 year old is now in Grade 4 and I think she's really feeling the heat this year. Grade 4 is in many ways quite a jump from Grade 3 and for a child that wanders in a Dreamland 80% of the time, it is pure torture. So much so that she's been practising assignment avoidance to her own detriment, at home and in class. I don't expect homework time to be a barrel of laughs but neither the 2 hour root canal job it often turns out to be.
Yeah, it's pretty shocking. And it isn't just happening at home.

I had a long chat with the class teacher the day before the school holidays and it was like hearing reverberations from the other side of the mountain. While that was depressing on a certain level, I was also relieved that it wasn't me having unrealistic expectations.

I don't think she has ADD or ADHD or any other anagramic learning disorder but she has confessed to me that she's very easily distracted by objects around her (sharpener, eraser, little objects on her desk etc), the tiniest squeak or anything around her that's moving. So I've come up with a couple of things I'm hoping will work long term.

I've instituted a monetary reward system in place of pocket money. Initially, this was something I really didn't want to do for philosphical reasons but it's giving her some degree of motivation as I'm now able to get her to pick up after herself and help with vaccuuming. I have also used a kitchen timer in tandem with that strategy just so that she doesn't take one hour doing a 10 minute job. I'll probably end up giving her her own timer so I can keep mine in the kitchen.

I've been doing the rounds on Google just to get a few ideas. This, this and this looks immediately helpful. Apparently fish oil helps helps with brain functions as well.

But I need to change too. I've been really negative and I don't think that's helped.

Friday, April 9, 2010

God Talk: Too Good for God?

I'm preparing for my twice a month bible study and a thought strikes me while I peruse the story of the rich young man for the hundredth time... the problem with human beings is not that they don't think they sin but that they think that there's always someone else worse than they are.

The Pharisees, for good reasons, are seen as the baddies in the gospel accounts of Jesus life. And at the height of Jesus' popularity, they were busy plotting and scheming about how they would quell public enthusiasm for the miracle worker of Galilee and finally take him down altogether. If, perchance, someone were to call me a Pharisee these days, I'm almost certain that they aren't being complimentary.
So what were the crimes of the Pharisees? Although instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus, the root of their devilry was their hypocrisy. They were the religious leaders of their day-- they knew the Old Testament law back to front and were happy to extrapolate on every legal point till there was no room left to maneouvre. And yet Jesus, who had the divine point of view, saw into their hearts... that despite all their impressive grasp of Law and assiduous performance of religious duties, they were still wretched, evil human beings that didn't really understand the OT scriptures despite their knowledge of it.
That said, I wouldn't consider myself better than a Pharisee. None of us are. Hypocrisy may not be our modus operandi but we are still wretched people in need of a Saviour. Scratch the surface and perhaps I, too am a hypocrite. I say I love God but spend so little time with him. I say that I'm a mother but battle with my own desires and doing what's best for the children. I go to church, I claim to know the second most important commandment and yet look the other way when I know that someone needs my help.

So why are good people prone to hypocrisy? The irony is, they have an inkling that the standards are impossibly high and yet they are adamant that they can still achieve them on their own bat. They take one look at the Sermon on the Mount and think it is the most amazing treatise written (a la Gandhi) about how we are to live. We have a vague idea of what is good but sadly miss the essential point of the Sermon on the Mount -- the God life is an impossible life, unattainable by human effort except through the wonderful grace of God.

The rich young man who met with Jesus also thought he was good enough. I think he was hoping to hear what he wanted to hear -- a confirmation that he was a thoroughly good fellow and deserved a spot in heaven. But when he was confronted about his love for his wealth/possessions, he was crestfallen -- Jesus knew exactly what nerve to prod. The man might've been fairly moral and well-behaved throughout his life but there was still something standing in the way of his attaining eternal life. Money, although useful and important for life, was his idol and well, idolatry is worshipping something in place of God.

I know myself and what I am... but for the grace of God I could be more of a horror of a human being than I already am. I have always been fascinated by the Robert Louis Stevenson's study of evil -- Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Fascinating too, that Stevenson never really describes Hyde's features but only the sense of dread and horror he induces in others. Evil has many faces and no face but lurks within us, ready to overwhelm if given the right circumstances.

All this sounds depressing, I know... but that's why grace is so amazing. Because like John Newton, I must first see that I am a wretch before I can embrace the gift of eternal life that sets me free from the power of evil.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Now Showing: How To Train Your Dragon

It's the school holidays and so I'm usually obliged to take the 8 year old to see something at the movies. Not that I mind, of course, I'm always happy to take my oldest to the movies (not brave enough to let loose the 3 year old  in such places as yet) as long as they don't feature animals in the lead. Also, I'm not big on live action talking animals but over the years, with the grace given to me, I have managed to survive the horrors of sitting through schmaltzy and pedestrian animal flicks. The things one does for one's children.

Speaking of animals in films, Dreamwork's latest animation venture, How to Train Your Dragon is about a young viking misfit, Hiccup, who to the embarrassment and chagrin of his village, is an inept warrior, hence the appellation. No one, however, is more ashamed than his father and village chief, Stoick who is happy for his clumsy offspring to remain an apprentice with the local swordsmith and out of everyone's way.  Hiccup, however, is desperate to prove himself but his talent lies in design and engineering rather than wielding swords. He is, in short, a viking version of a geek (born several hundred years too early). Unfortunately for him,  no one in the village sees the potential in his weapon designs. Theirs is a fight for survival in the only way they know how, fending off swarms of deadly dragons that raid their food supplies after dark.

How To Train, is a typical fish-out-of-water story along the lines of Happy Feet (but not as dull)... so it's a no brainer as to how it all ends. Nonetheless, the journey is generally a lot of fun and even exhilarating in parts. There are an assortment of dragons, capable of different forms of attack and all hideously endearing. There's even a tiny bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

No doubt, in something like this, there are scary bits -- it is afterall a film that features monsters, great and small. My eight year old seemed especially nervous at one point (and covering her eyes) when man comes face to face with his bestial nemesis for the first time. But she recovered from it soon enough and assured me at the end that she enjoyed the movie very much.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Now Showing: Clash of the Titans

All you need to know is that Clash of the Titans is a big, silly, noisy, cheesy blockbuster (if that wasn't already obvious from the trailers). And really, what else can one expect from a Hollywood film based very, very loosely on Greek mythology. Still I was interested to see the original updated, considering the advances in visual effects since the 1980s. While I found it a mildly entertaining diversion after a long, tiring day, the paper-thin plot seemed to end far too quickly. (And not in a particularly satisfying way either) For my friend who was with me, the film didn't end soon enough. The best part of this film, IMO, were the monsters which in all probability was why my friend did not enjoy it as much as I did. Considering the the acting talent showcased here, the humans, gods and demi-gods were almost all rather woeful or dull except for a few down-to-earth Argosian soldiers, who show common decency and courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

The Greeks, it has always seemed to me, were genuises at contriving monsters but their gods were indecently self-indulgent -- a case of gods being created in the image of man. I suspect them of being secret atheists despite their polytheistic facade which was probably devised to explain away all the crazy, inexplicable things that happen in this world. The excesses of the Greek gods are truly the stuff of Hollywood celebrities and soap opera material. Titans, does capture something of that but at the end of the day it isn't bothered by adherence to details or waxing philosophical ... Afterall, why let canon get in the way of spilling guts and shedding blood?

Oh yes, the film is very demographic specific and the end result is a dumbing down of one of the great classical tales of heroism and leadership.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Toilet Training Talk #7

Can anyone tell me why a child who so pendantic about which way the bath towel is facing when she comes out of the shower is not so particular about performing her ablutions in her underwear?


I think I have it worked out. She's social toilet user (in the tradition of social smokers, social drinkers etc etc)... only using the toilet when she sees or hears of others ie. other children in action.

Just when you think it's safe to back into the water...


Monday, April 5, 2010

Mawwiage #2: 14 Years

Last week while saying goodbye to the 3 year old's kindy room leader, she mentioned that she was off work for 5 weeks and getting married in two weeks. I mentioned in passing that I too, was married in April 14 years ago and would be celebrating an anniversary this week. Miss S expressed her surprise and said 14 years is a long time and asked how we managed it. I replied with my most sagacious demeanour, "One day at a time."

Well after many "one days at a time", today we celebrate 14 years of married life together. It's probably not a huge deal deal for those who have stayed together for 30, 40, 50 even 60 years. In Hollywood years, however, it's probably the equivalent of 40 years. While it sounds like a cliche, the reality is that time has flown by very quickly, especially the last eight years with both of us groping in the dark, trying to raise children. Some of it is rather a blur... more for him than for me... Sleep deprivation doesn't seem to kill my memory cells the way it decimates his.
After 14 years, I can in all honesty say that I love being married and the truth is, all the credit goes to the husband for being incredibly supportive of all that I am and everything that I do. Believe me when I say I am not the easiest person to live with. Furthermore, we are best friends and we can talk about anything and everything... except, of course, I revert to stereotype and do most of the talking.
The thing I respect most about him is that he is not quick to judge others. Because he likes to chew things over carefully and doesn't feel the need to jump to conclusions, I have come to appreciate his insights about many things over the years.
I'm not saying that we have the perfect marriage -- pfftt... how can we, being extremely imperfect creatures. But we are, mostly, a good team, complementing one another -- giving one another much needed balance and perspective.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrating Death

Late this afternoon, I heard some sobering news pertaining to my mother-in-law's side of the family. Suffice to say, it's a cancer story but the good news is that this relative has trusted Christ to be his Saviour and is resting on that hope for his eternal rest.
My own mother died of cancer almost 2 years ago. In fact, next week will mark the second anniversary of her passing from this life to the next. She too, had great hope and great peace in her final months, believing that she was on her way to a better place.
At Easter time, we celebrate life... and so we should. Nonetheless at Easter, we also celebrate death because of Christ's death, we don't need to die for our own sins.
My pastor said something pertinent this morning that I believe is worth repeating. When we believe in the work of Christ on the cross, death is no longer something to be feared... it is a transition. Our bodies degenerate with time and one thing we can be sure of, death comes to all of us, whether we live till 20, 50 or 100. But when we become Christ followers, physical death allows us to shed our bodies, with the hope that we will receive the resurrection body in time to come.

However, the Bible also speaks of another kind of death -- a death to sin and a death to self.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20, NIV)
By dying to ourselves, our desires, our self-centredness, we can then enjoy the life that Christ promises -- the freedom to do what is right, while having the power to resist sin. Dying to self must be done every single day as an active decision of those name Jesus as their Lord.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?  (Luke 9:23-25, NIV)
I am excited about the resurrection because it demonstrates to us God's power to save. But before the resurrection was the crucifixion which demonstrated both God's justice and his mercy in his desire to save.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.                 
          (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)


I'm always amused when the mainstream media hold up celebrities --- particularly of the Hollywood variety as experts on a range of subjects, from politics to social issues. Nothing, however, tickles my sense of irony more than Hollywood types holding forth on the issue of marriage and the media thinks that they are transcribing pearls of wisdom.

Matt Damon was reported a couple of weeks ago as saying that "marriage is ridiculous."
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Damon claims that:
"I love being married to my wife - she's the best thing that ever happened to me, but if she ever left me, I wouldn't do it again. Because it's crazy - to spend your life with one person and not be totally driven crazy."

A young vegetarian comedian, Sarah Silverman, whom I've never heard of until recently, suggested eloquently that "marriage to me is like eating meat. I think it's gross and [bleep]ing crazy."

I have no idea why Ms Silverman thinks marriage is "gross" or what she means by that appellation. At first glance it sounds like an off-the-cuff statement made by a teenager, which led me to some head scratching, wondering why these remarks would even be worth reporting in the first place.
But then when one reads further about Silverman says about marriage, then one realises that there's a kind of a Hollywood agenda to redefine marriage.
"Because gays and lesbians can't get married in most states", Silverman said, "If you're getting married today, it's the equivalent of joining a country club that doesn't allow blacks or Jews."

Trivial Things: The "Eternal" Triangle

There's an Agatha Christie short story featuring the Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot called "Triangle at Rhodes". The triangle here refers to the oldest romantic device in the book -- the love triangle. While holidaying in the Island of Rhodes, Poirot observes a love triangle unfolding before his very eyes and expresses his usual grave, cryptic concern that no good can come of it. His words prove to be prophetic (duh... it is Hercule Poirot afterall) and murder results (as it often happens when Poirot is conveniently present to see past the obvious).
Love triangles are common fare in romance literature and some stories do not restrict themselves to triangles and may extend to other polygonal shapes. Even my favourite novel of all time, Pride and Prejudice, employs the device but with elegant subtlety that seems to be lacking in many of today's television shows which prefer the sledgehammer effect.

On the whole, I am neutral about love triangles. It is afterall a plot device and plot devices can be used to great effect or used poorly. But more often than not, it is a cheap, convenient device to prolong storylines that have gone past its used by date. Television shows by their very nature often feel obliged to stretch sexual tension, ramp up the stakes in certain pairings by using love triangles. There's a formulaic sameness about these love triangles. A & B are secretly in love with each other but for some reason are emotionally constipated to act on such feelings. C comes along, falls in love with B which forces A's hand and makes him or her confess their true feelings. A & B live happily ever after. Another scenario might be that A & B are a couple but the fire seems to have gone out of their relationship. C comes along and threatens separate them both. Luckily A & B realize in time that what they have is the "real thing" and C bows out gracefully or kicking and screaming.

I mean, really, one could write these things blindfolded. These plot lines also have a tendency to show up when shows are about to, in television terms, jump shark. It's used to spice up withering storylines by contriving tension between characters, ramping things up. At times its tolerable, at other times it feels like my relationship with blue vein cheese -- I wanna gag.

I'm no vegetarian and I like a good steak as much as anyone. However, a good cut of meat can be overdone, difficult to sink one's teeth into and hard to swallow.

When you have one sinful person coming together with another sinful person -- there's plenty of problems there to be explored. It's probably harder to write about those things and make good television out of these everyday relationship issues than to revert to literary cliches.
Therein lies the problem...

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Do you feel that some days you shouldn't probably even get out of bed?

I've been feeling that way, everyday for the past few days. I'm tired, a little sleep deprived and battling a cold. The trouble with these cold and flu drugs though is that it gets you through the day but doesn't quite take away the underlying feeling of fatigue. Sick people should be in bed recuperating but at times that's not an option. But something's gotta give... and in my case, that usually means that the "Irritation-meter" registers record levels of sensitivity.

Hey, I don't mind admitting it. I'm as cheerful as a grizzly bear with a splinter in its right paw when I'm sick. I like to hide away and indulge in a pity party of one. Still, the right kind of music or a good flick can soothe the troubled beast.

Well, seeing that I'm child free, it's  an opportune moment to catch up on some sleep. If it comes...

On Video: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

While doing a little bit of research for this review, I was fascinated to note that there have been dozens holocaust films made since the 1940s... many of which aren't in English. There's a fairly decent list in Wikipedia although being Wikipedia, I can't guarantee it's exhaustive or entirely accurate. But I gave up counting after 60 when I was constantly interrupted by children and husband. A quick scroll through the list suggests something closer to 200 films or more.
I've seen a few holocaust films in my time -- Life is Beautiful, Schindler's List, Cabaret, The Diary of Anne Frank, Escape from Sobibor, Sophie's Choice (though not all of it). And I expect that many more will be made and many more stories like these from other parts of the world get told.
Still, I don't think anyone can watch such films untouched by the horrors of war and genocide. Such films are a constant reminder to us that evil lurks amongst us and within us. As George Santayana has famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The poignancy of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas lies in its haunting manipulation of the narrative's point of view. Throughout much of the film, we take on the bewildered perceptions of the 8 year old protagonist, Bruno. We see war time Germany through his eyes and though we have the benefit of hindsight, it is through his naivete that we engage with his world as he tries to make sense of the horrors that his family is so desperate to shield him from. Even with all that we know about what happened, it is no less unsettling to see these sudden bursts of controlled violence within the facade of domestic felicity. Scattered throughout the film are hints that the nearby "farm" with its well-used chimneys is less interested in farming livestock and crops than herding men to their end.
After a slow build up, Bruno meets the boy in the striped pyjamas, Shumel, a young inmate of the "farm", hidden in the forest behind the family home.  Desperate for friendship and company in a world of men, an awkward relationship between two "innocents" is forged out of this encounter.

Despite the film's best efforts, I found it hard to connect with these characters. I really wanted to like this film as I had heard so many good things about it. Quite possibly I was not in the right frame of mind...  or that the slowness of the film worked against it (a factor that is seldom a problem for me) or even the jarring use of British accents. While I liked the storyline and was appropriately disturbed by the recurring use of understated violence, I didn't find the dialogue or the characters involving. I could sympathize with their motivations but mostly I felt like an outsider looking in at people interacting in a war film rather than war film about people.

Certainly, there was much to weep over -- the loss of innocence, the loss of humanity, but in the end, despite feeling the horrors of the situation, I was unable to empathize with the people in it.