Monday, April 30, 2007

I've got my eye on...

...DNA. Go check out my friend Hsien's new blog, Eye on DNA. If her track record is anything to go by, this blog promises to be an interesting read; with up-to-date DNA news/developments and sharp, often humorous, commentaries by the author.

Besides, according to this successful and respected science and health blogger :), the world of genome is going to change our lives in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Ignore at your own peril.

All in a Muddle



Bought two toys/games from Boots called All in a Muddle (see picture) and Timber. If All in a Muddle looks at all familiar, it may be because you've known it in its original form, Twister. Timber, meanwhile, is Jenga.

Boots manufactures these under its house-brand, and sells them, I think, at a very good price.
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Played All in a Muddle with the boys today. I don't really like it, too much work. Maybe I'll use it as a picnic mat.
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All in a Muddle also describes my current state of mind. As I said yesterday, I could be stressing about Sean and his new school. But it could also be that Brian's leaving for a 5-day residential camp tomorrow, in West Devon. I'll miss him so :(

Sunday, April 29, 2007

O Noooo...Meccano...



Brian's classmate Neil's mum (Varsha) gave Brian a Meccano set yesterday. He started work on it after our lunch at Oriental City. Before long, he was fretting and said he needed help. I thought it strange as I didn't think it looked as complicated as this.

I reluctantly helped him. And boy, the box says this is for ages 8-15, but no way could Brian, who's 9.5, have fixed this up by himself. Even I found it incredibly difficult to screw the parts in. We spent about an hour doing this and for my effort, I earned a blister on my index finger. I had such a bad attitude about it compared to Brian, at every stage, I kept complaining that it was too complicated and impossible to do, that we should just forget about it and give up. He wouldn't, so I had to persevere too.
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Maybe I'm just not in the right mood. My fuse has been extraordinarily short these couple of days, dunno why. Maybe I'm subconsciously stressing about Sean and school. He's been good at school (or so says the teacher) and he says he likes the school. But today he was so whiny and irritable that I just lashed out at him throughout the day. Yesterday, it was Brian who got my goat. What's with them? What's with me? I don't like it when my Screaming Banshee persona surfaces :(

I'll make it up to them tomorrow, I will.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Polly wants a cracker



Friday is show-and-tell day. Sean showed off Marco. Another child had his father come in with a parrot, the kids were enthralled.

Amazing, just amazing

Those who didn't catch American Idol's "Idol Gives Back", click and watch before Youtube removes this. Celine Dion in a duet with the King himself. Gave me goosebumps.

Dunno why, but watching his performance makes me wish I was born in another era.

Friday, April 27, 2007

My baby goes to big boys' school



Sean's first day at his koko's school. This is the first time both boys are in the same school. They woke us up at 5am :( all raring to go. Sean acted like a monkey in the few hours between waking up and leaving for school, he was that excited.

His teacher said he had a great time (...big question mark from me again, English teachers are always so positive, I just want them to keep it real). She found it very difficult to get him to take his lunch though, don't blame her, it's gonna be a monumental task getting him to try new foods.

With koko, and a less fakey smile.


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Brian's teacher took him out of his class to give him a one-on-one lesson on trigonometry; this new head of Math who joined the school last term is pretty cool. She knows lots about the strange Math that Brian likes, things like finding the formula for triangular numbers, golden ratio, fibonacci and other number series. In fact, last term, she gave him a worksheet which had a few questions that stumped me, she knows her stuff. However, while Brian is enjoying her teaching style, I've had feedback from another parent that her boy (who is good in Math) is having a terrible time with the investigative Math she's teaching. One man's meat---
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Met up with my Form 6 classmate Andy (we've known each other since early secondary due to scouting/girl guide activities) for dinner at Goldmine. Andy, who's with Singapore GIC, flew in from Moscow a couple of days ago and is in town for just 3 days. He and his family actually lived in London for 2.5 years but went back to Singapore the very same week we arrived. He knows Eddie too as we were all in NUS and Eusoff Hall together for 4 years.

Ate too much again. Still, it was good fun catching up and getting updates about our mutual friends, those from Singapore as well as those from Malacca.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Skipping birds & bees altogether


It was just me and Sean at home today as Brian went for a playdate at his friend's place. After lunch, I suggested to Sean that we take a nap. Sean was lying in bed, and I was trying really hard to sleep.

About 5 minutes later, he suddenly asked, "Last time, when I was in your womb, did my head get stuck in your cervix?" (He pronounced cervix Kervix).

I made him repeat the question as I didn't hear it right the first time.

An incredulous me: What do you know about cervix?
S: It's the end of the mother's womb.
Me: What's a womb?
S: I don't know. I think it takes care of the baby.
Me: How does the baby get food?
S: The baby gets food from the mother's blood....and the baby's oxygen also comes from the mother's blood.
Me: From the blood? Is it through the umbilical cord?
S: I think.
Me: Have you heard of the placenta?
S: Is it a towel in the mother's womb?
Me: Towel?
S: It looks like a towel.

I got all that down, prepared to go back to my nap, when he started again, "The egg comes from your ovary."
Me: Where's my ovary?
S: Inside your body.
Me: What's inside Daddy?
S: Testicle.

I guffawed...stifled my laugh...as he continued.

S: It makes the sperm. The sperm comes out from the penis*. The baby comes out from the mother's vagina. If the baby doesn't start to grow, something might go out of the vagina with some blood.

(In my heart) Me: Oh...boy...

We never did manage to take that nap.

Anyway, the answer to his original question is No, his head never got stuck in my cervix, cos I never got the chance to go into labour, both Brian and Sean were delivered by c-section :(

*I've always used the correct anatomical names for body parts with both Brian and Sean. As far as they're concerned, words like penis aren't taboo and are as normal as other parts of the body like 'arm', 'chin' etc.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Freezer surprise

Before my Singapore trip, I had defrosted the freezer for the first time since moving to London. You see, I had no idea how to do so till I found this, what a saviour. It took me hours to be rid of all the ice but the effort was well worth it, a clean, frost-free, freezer.

Having used up all the food before leaving for Singapore, my empty freezer now needed filling up. So I drove to Sainsbury's first thing in the morning, stocked up on loads of food to last us at least 10 days. I cleaned and divided my meat into portions, and when I opened the freezer to store them, to my surprise, I saw a cup of ice in the middle of the empty compartment. Strange.



I asked the boys and Sean said he left the cup of water in the freezer yesterday cos he wanted to see how water freezes. He must have forgotten about his little experiment. Anyway, he was happy to see his frozen water and gleefully asked to fill the cup with water, this time, to see frozen water melt.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day of Jenga and jetlag

In Singapore, when we went to my cousin's place, the boys played Jenga with my 10-year old cousin-niece. It was their first time playing Jenga, and they quite enjoyed it. Here in London, the boys made their own Jenga set using old blocks which had been given to us by Karen 2 years ago in Frankfurt.



On Sunday, we slept at 6pm and woke up at 2am. I told Eddie we should have dinner outside tonight, to force ourselves to stay awake. He suggested we take a nap during the day. At 4pm, the boys and I went into the room, laughed and joked till we finally slept at 430pm. When Eddie got back from work at 730pm, he found us all deep in sleep. He said he even called but no one picked up the phone. It was sheer torture forcing myself out of bed for a shower. It was even harder waking the boys up. Sean whined and cried but we managed to get all of us out of the house by 830pm.

Here's a jet-lagged Sean at Goldmine. He did wake up to finish his dinner though, after the waitress brought him a plate of oranges as motivation to eat up. Brian, on the other hand, ate maybe only 3 spoons of his dinner :( Well, our effort didn't entirely go to waste, the boys and I only woke up at 530am on Tuesday (yup, this is another back-entry, was too tired to write yesterday).

Back to life...

...back to reality...and tonnes and tonnes of laundry aaaaaaaaargggghhhhhh....

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fun with the Fongs

Visited my oldest friend Irene (we go back to Primary 2 in Malacca) at her new house somewhere near Hougang. Her new place is huge and spread over 3 floors. We caught up lots while the kids played together. Lunch was home-cooked; prawns, ayam buah keluak, kiamchye soup, vegetables and beef rendang. Yummm.

The Fong sisters are lovely homeschooled girls. They need no time at all to warm up to Brian and Sean, it feels like the 6 of them are siblings. Brian and Irene's No1 were born 3 days apart, while Sean and her No3 are about 4 months apart. Here's a picture of Brian with the four sisters. Such a serene photo...until...


...Sean enters the scene!


We could have talked for hours but with a dinner appointment to meet, we reluctantly left their place at 3+pm. Did some last minute shopping at Parkway, then headed back to the hotel for a rest. Oh, Sean got a haircut at the Malay barber's.



Sean was tired and so was mum, and they didn't join us for dinner at Swensen's with Brian's godma Janey and godbrother Way. The boys had a good time fooling around and playing with a couple of puzzles that Way brought along. When we parted, Way said it felt like it had only been a minute since they stepped into Parkway, he didn't want the evening to end :)

At Swensen's, Irene dropped by to pass me some books she had bought for the boys. She had wanted me to follow her to this homeschooler's place but I had to rush off earlier. Anyway, I can't remember the homeschooler's name but this lady stocks good books which she and/or her husband have personally read through and reviewed. Irene gave Sean two excellent books, Lookalikes and Lookalikes Jr, which adults would love as well.

For Brian, three books, Rascal, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and The Phantom Tollbooth. Brian started on Rascal immediately on Saturday night, finished it on Sunday morning, started Rats of NIMH after we arrived in London on Sunday evening, finished the book today (Monday, the day I'm posting all these back-entries), and started and finished Phantom Tollbooth today. He loved them all but his favourite is Rats of NIMH. Rest assured he will be re-reading these again, that's what he does with books he loves (he's re-reading Rats of NIMH right now actually). Thanks Auntie Irene!
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Went to the Tans for one last hurrah before leaving Singapore. Yup, it was mahjong time again. My luck has been really yucky. Played with the Tans twice (Monday and Friday), 3-leg, and lost both times, the first time it was $3 (to Karen; Daniel lost $4), the second time $18 (to Daniel; Karen lost $20). Tonight's session started at 1030pm and ended at 330am. I reached the hotel at 4am and my wake-up call was 6am, airport shuttle leaves at 7am for me to catch the 9am flight...hee...

Anyway, this last session was 4-legged, as they found another kaki, their friend James. Both James and I had the yuckiest luck, I think the Tans must have rigged the mahjong set or fengshui-ed the mahjong area. Daniel's luck was just so darn good...so frustrating, my cards were going nowhere during the first round, and for the second round, the cards were good but no finishing power (false hopes). Don't know which is worse, I think the former. Anyway, I lost $28, James lost $33, Karen won $10 and Da Niu won the rest @#$%^&*. I'll have my revenge when the Tans visit us in June, gonna rig our mahjong set soon...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Good food and good friends

Our favourite Japanese restaurant in Frankfurt was Iroha. After Iroha, I could no longer eat at sushi-chains like Genki, Sakae, even Sushi-tei. I'm not willing to fork out the crazy prices at Inagi-ku, and I was left disappointed when I tried the restaurant at Crown Prince Hotel. Goes to show expensive does not necessarily mean good.

Well, the Tans introduced us to Wahiro (even the name has Iroha in it!) at Katong Mall. The restaurant sure doesn't look very enticing nor promising, does it?


But the food was really good. This blogger did a good review of Wahiro. I told the Tans if we relocate back to Singapore, Wahiro will be our regular haunt, just like Iroha was...ah sweet memories...

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Today was another full day. In the morning, I rushed to the clinic to get antibiotics as my gum was swollen after the root canal :( Went to Wan Yang for a back massage, and then lunch with the Tans at Wahiro, then took a cab to Brian's school to collect some stuff, then to my cousin's place in Woodlands for a short catch-up before heading for dinner at Esther's place.

Dinner was with this group of fun folks who attended the same church I did before I left for Frankfurt. Esther did the cooking, Joanne & Mike brought satay and rojak while Kat and Alan brought wine. I haven't seen Esther and her hubby Tong, Joanne and Mike for at least 2 years I think. Everyone looks the same, if not better. We have 9 kids among us,and it was just so nice to see how much they've grown. They in turn were amused to hear Sean's accent. The last time they saw him, he was a grouchy, unsmiley little tot who had just turned 2.

Ate so much, joked lots, was made to drink port wine, before reluctantly leaving at 1130pm. Mike was leaving for a week-long business trip in Memphis on the 6am flight and had not even packed yet; Alan and Kat cancelled their Shabbat for this gathering; Esther and Tong opened their house and did so much cooking; Thanks guys, I really appreciate it and it was so much fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another busy day in Singapore

Ed left for London in the morning while the rest of us made our way to Raffles Place for me to deal with the usual banking matters. I made a beeline for my favourite kuey teow fishball stall at Golden Shoe food centre. At street level, the building had been refurbished so beautifully; thank goodness that was just a facade, the second floor was as old and dumpy as I remembered, which means the food will be as good and cheap as ever. I wasn't disappointed.

My dried kueyteow was just as delicious as I remembered. And still only S$2 a bowl! It was so good I ordered another. Yes, I had two bowls for breakfast. Brian had nasi lemak, mum had some fish-soup noodles while Sean had yellow mee with fishballs.


This is the fabulous kueyteow stall and the notorious erhm, I don't know how to describe this person, if my memory serves me right, his name's Raymond. I patronised this stall so often during the 5+ years that I was working in Raffles Place back in the mid-1990s. Raymond can be really nasty but very funny when dealing with impatient customers. The past few times that I've been here though, he seems to have mellowed so much, doesn't spout funny lines anymore, he seems...jaded :(



After settling my banking stuff, we walked towards City Hall to collect Ed's altered clothes. It was a hot, humid but very pretty walk. Singapore has changed so much, I feel so much like a foreigner sometimes :(

I do like this sculpture by the Singapore river though. I asked Sean if he wanted to join the boys jumping into the river, he politely declined.



When we got back to the hotel, Karen called to arrange for the kids to play together. Here are the Tan and Leong kids together again, after an exhilarating hour at the inflatable playground in Katong Mall. Brian, Declan and Kyra looked fine but Sean's head was thoroughly soaked in perspiration! He wasn't exaggerating when he said he was hot then.


We then picked mum up from the hotel and headed for an early seafood dinner at East Coast's Jumbo. The chilli crab was very good this time, but was a bit disappointed with the black pepper crab, I think it was a bit overcooked. Drunken prawns was mmmmm, excellent, as were the other dishes. But boy, is it my imagination, or is Singapore getting hotter?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day with the Dentist

Woke up early to face my Day with the Dentist. Yup, one of the main aims of my Singapore visit is to have a root canal and crowning done for this problem. Mum decides she wants to come along although I had warned her the wait will be long. Brian drags his sleepy little head as we headed for Orchard Road. That's his head you see resting on a table at Lucky Plaza's Killiney Rd kopitiam.


My dentist and his colleagues operate out of Wisma Atria's office tower, and there's internet access, books, tv, coffee and a lounge area for the boys and mum to use while they waited. Then it was time for the dreaded root canal. I felt no pain during the entire procedure, and when it was all over, I told the doctor that I felt so relaxed I almost dozed off. She said, "You did. You actually snored :)"...gosh, how embarasskin...

My regular dentist, whom I've been seeing since the mid-1990s, then did the fitting for my crown. While waiting for the crown to be made, we headed for lunch at Wisma Atria's Food Junction. With some time to kill, we loitered at Wisma Atria for a while.



Fitting was completed by about 4pm. I think normal people would give their mouth a rest after a root canal and crowning, but that would be soooo boring, wouldn't it? So for dinner, I gorged on a buffet of oysters, crab, sashimi, durian paste, durian cake, and lots more.


I'm paying the price for all the indulgence in Singapore. Don't even dare get on the weighing scale, that's how bad it is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All the way from Malacca...

...Grandma comes by to spend precious time with her darling cucus (Malay for grandchildren). We had gone to Parkway's Giant to stock up on some essentials (mostly Nongshim's Kimchi Ramyun hee...) and when we got back to the hotel, mum was already at the lobby waiting for us.

The boys hugged her lots and Sean just kept staring at his beloved Grandmother. Over the past 2 months, Sean had been asking when we'd be going back to Singapore or Malacca again, and each time I ask him why, he'd reply, "Because I miss my Popo..."

Later, we went to Parkway again to jalan-jalan. See the boys' different personalities here; when mum went into a leather accessories shop, Brian sat quietly and waited while....



...Sean spent a good five minutes making ugly faces in the mirror.

Spending time with the Tans


Ed flew into Singapore some 16 hours after we did. The Tans picked us up at the hotel and as no one wanted to decide where to eat, we ended up at Sundanese in Suntec City. This used to be one of my favourite restaurants, back when I first started working, but it's not such good value-for-money anymore. Still, it was fun to eat with the Tans again. Brian and Declan spent much of lunch discussing gameboy pokemon strategies.

After running some errands in the city, we decided to hang out at Yakun Parkway...reminding me of the good times we spent hanging out in Frankfurt's Zeil after lunch. And just like during the Frankfurt days, Kyra continues to run after Sean, emulating all the naughty things he does. You're better off sticking with the older brother, little Kyra.



The pictures above were taken in one afternoon, but Sean has a different tee-shirt later cos he got wet after leading Kyra to play "splashing water at each other" at the little fountain-pool beside Yakun. I was prepared to let his tee-shirt dry out, but Eddie rushed off to Giordano's and got a 3-for-$24 deal on kids' tees.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A great way to fly...



It was a good flight back, Sean slept lots and when he was awake, watched Spongebob, Blue's Clues and Charlotte's Web; Brian played his gameboy most of the journey; I watched The Pursuit of Happyness (feel-good movie), Dreamgirls (sooooo goooood I watched it again on the flight back to London), 2 episodes of Malcolm in the Middle and Extras (the episode guest-starring Orlando Bloom).

The moment we stepped out of Changi Airport, Sean complained, "It's too hot!" It was hot, thank God for airconditioning. After checking into the hotel, we went across to Parkway Parade, and it was a madhouse there. Sooooo many people everywhere. The Singapore economy sure is looking hot.

So hot that I found myself getting grouchier by the minute. Had early dinner at the basement foodcourt and to my dismay, the meepok stall's standard has deteriorated a lot. Sean finished his chicken rice and Brian enjoyed his charkueyteow (standard has also dropped). Shopped for some stuff to bring back to London, and then allowed the boys some time at MPH, bought them each a book, and then headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Let the feasting begin....

Yahooooo!, am off to Singapore for a week of fun, feasting and friends. Catch y'all later!

For Stef: About early reading

A few days ago, a question came from a reader, Stef, in a comment on one of my posts: "Hi! Just found your blog through a link. I love your Science at Home stuff! How did you get your boys to read so early? It's amazing. Would love to hear about your techniques. I've 2 boys, 2years 3mos and 4years 7mos."

For what it's worth Stef, here are my erhm, "techniques"/tips:
1. Be a lazy mum: I did not intentionally seek to make my kids early readers, it's just that reading is the only activity that I could do with them while lying in bed or lazing on the sofa, everything else requires active physical participation from me!
2. Be a book junkie: I don't mind spending S$100+ on children's books each time I visit Kinokuniya or Borders but balk at forking out S$60 for a nice Zara top.
3. Buy board books: They are hardy, and last at least 2 kids, maybe more if your No2 isn't like mine. Sean's board books were all handed down from Brian's time so it's been worth the expenditure. Books we love include Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Hungry Caterpillar, Mixed-up Chameleon (all Eric Carle), Dinosaur's Binkit, Going to Bed Book, But not the Hippopotamus, Barnyard Dance (all Sandra Boynton), the DK board book series, I spy series, Goodnight Moon, Velveteen Rabbit, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Shel Silverstein (not board though) and many more.
4. Buy not borrow: I know Singapore's library is world-class, but there is a huge difference between borrowing and owning a book. When you buy a book to keep, your child has access to it at all times.
5. Use Sesame Street as your babysitter: Sesame Street is great for teaching the alphabet and numbers. Really superb.
6. Give flashcards a pass: This one's a bit iffy. I was one of those mothers who bought S$1k+ Glenn Doman cards and flashed them to my older boy, must have been quite a sight huh. I used them (not as regularly as prescribed) on Brian and he enjoyed it, always smiling, even laughing, and attentive. He read at 3. I did not use them with Sean cos he wouldn't look at the darn cards...still, he read at slightly past 3 years of age.
7. Teach the alphabet sounds: If you followed tip No5, there should be no problem getting your child to recognise letters. I taught both alphabet and their sounds at the same time. I'll go A and the sound, B and the sound. I also taught them to recognise both capital and small letters at the same time.
8. Watch out for learning spurts: It may sound like I spent all my time teaching my kids or reading to them but no, really, I only do it when they show interest. If they're not interested, can forget about it, I won't bother. So watch out for learning spurts, periods when the child is looking to learn. Sean knew his beginning sounds and letters by 2 years old but stagnated there. After he turned 2.5years, I saw his attention span improving. So I made an effort to read books like Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Polar Bear books which are so repetitive and easy to read.
9. Allow them some downtime: At other times, let them explore their own world, after each learning spurt, sometimes they need time to reflect on what they learned. Even when you think you're not getting through to them, trust me, they are learning. A couple of weeks later, they'll surprise you with just how much they've absorbed.
10. Bedtime is the best-time: The best time to teach reading is bedtime. I pasted next to Sean's bed A4 sized papers with colours and their spelling; ie, I coloured red and beside it I wrote the word red, etc, and point to them as I read them out to him. Slowly, he recognised the words. And of course numbers too which they both love. Start with 1 to 10 and their spelling (one, two...). Also, shapes like heart, circle, pentagon, hexagon, diamond.
11: Prepare matching worksheets: When he became confident, I gave him exercises like matching colours to the words, shapes to the words and numbers to the words. He learned to recognise words this way and those he didn't recognise he guessed (and learned at the same time). This matching exercise was really fun for them and both Brian and Sean started this way. When they got it right, I'll write Good Job, Excellent, again they started recognising these words (Good, Job, Excellent...).
12: Teach blending: Once they knew their beginning sounds, I started teaching them blending simple 3-letter words. Ask them to sound out each letter, eg p-o-p, then get them to "SAY IT FAST" - POP. Not as easy as it sounds.
13. Very Important-Dolch Sight words: With Sean, I made the mistake of trying to get him to blend words as I thought he already knew his beginning sounds. I had forgotten that Brian started with sight words. So what happened was Sean kept trying to blend words he already knew like 'the', and simple words like on, no, yes...and this slowed him down. I was resigned to him not being academically-inclined, and would look at Brian and ask, "How ah? Your brother like that?" My husband and I felt maybe he'll be the sporty type. But the week that I started Dolch Sight words, ie pasting up the pre-primer words and introducing them to Sean, his progress just rocketed. He was no longer stuck at simple words and could just concentrate on blending new words.
14. Great first book-Hop on Pop: An excellent book to start them on their reading journey is Dr Seuss' Hop on Pop. It's phonetic, so really great for a child who's just learnt blending. Both boys' first independent read was this book.
15. Read lots to them: One thing I failed to do was to continue reading to my children even after they've started reading independently. Another basic tip that I should have mentioned right upfront is to always slide your finger under each word that you're reading (right from the beginning), and to try to get your child to track your finger. This way, they learn that reading goes from left to right, and that there is a space between each word, and a pause at the end of each sentence.
16. Phonics?: So basically, what I do is a mix of phonics and sight words. For phonics, I don't go beyond teaching beginning sounds. I never taught either boys the long-a, short-a, hard-c, long-c stuff, too many rules, find that a pain. Reading should be pleasurable, not full of rules to remember. That's my view anyway.

So that's what worked for me. Hope it's useful for those of you helping your child with reading. Of course you all know every child is different, every family is different, what worked for me may not work for others, what did not work for me may well work for others, and you. I'll end this with a video of Sean reading (for purists: decoding) about ministers' salary from the Straits Times that Ed brought home last night.

Friday, April 13, 2007

In search of...Mary

Mary had gone missing for quite a while. So long that even Eddie noticed her absence. Both boys had no idea where she had disappeared to.

When I had to go to the store yesterday to buy baking ingredients, I went to the balcony to look for Sean's slippers (it was a really warm day). There, I caught sight of something familiar stuffed into one of Sean's wellies...MARY!!



The last time he used his wellies was over two months ago. Both boys denied doing this to Mary so how she ended up in Sean's wellies remains a mystery.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oooh...this is good : )

Mr Wang Says So

There's Plasma - And then there's Plasma

I like my open kitchen a lot cos while I cook, I can watch TV if I want (the title of this entry has nothing to do with TV, by the way). Of late, Sean has started standing on the other side of my counter to watch me while I cook. The other night, he was watching while I boiled a pot of spaghetti.

As the steam rose from the pot, he asked, "Is that evaporation?" pronouncing the first two syllables a-ve like in ave-rage. I replied, "Yes, that is e-va-poration." (Realised weeks later that I was wrong*) I quickly called Brian over to help with this impromptu science lesson. Warning Brian to keep quiet, I pointed to the glass hob above us and asked Sean what the droplets were, he replied correctly, "Condensation." When I asked him where he learnt these from, he pointed to Brian.

I asked Brian to explain what was happening, so he started on about molecules gaining heat/energy when liquid changes into gas and losing heat/energy when gas turns into liquid. He then started talking about the different states of matter.

Brian: Bose-Einstein Condensate is when the atoms in a solid lose so much energy that they start clumping together to form one big atom. I can't remember what plasma is.
Sean jumps in: Plasma is a yellow fluid.

(By this time, I was lost, it was just two of them conversing, I was watching my spaghetti, no idea what Sean was on about).

Brian: Not the plasma in the blood. There's also a state of matter called plasma.
Sean retorts: There's only one plasma. Plasma is a yellow fluid, silly!
Brian: It's also a state of matter.
Sean: No, it's not!

And with that, our impromptu science lesson came to an end. The boys never fail to amaze me with their ability to turn every simple conversation into an argument : /

*More links to Bose-Einstein Condensate
A new form of matter
Easy BEC

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*Each time Brian read this post, he would ask "Shouldn't it be boiling, not evaporation?". I shrugged his question off with, "Erhm, I'm not sure, but maybe it's boiling AND evaporation..." But his question remained at the back of my mind. And he did bring it up now and then. Today, I opened up a file on my desktop and by chance found the answer.

VAPORIZATION (evaporation + boiling)

Liquid water changing into water vapor is an example of vaporization. Vaporization occurs when a liquid gains enough energy to become a gas.

There are two main types of vaporization. When vaporization takes place only on the surface of the liquid, the process is called evaporation. A puddle drying up after a rain shower is one example of evaporation. As the water in the puddle gains energy from the ground, the air, or the sun, the molecules on the surface of the puddle gradually escape into the atmosphere. You also can observe evaporation whenever you sweat. Beads of sweat evaporate into the air as they gain energy from your skin. Because your skin is losing energy, sweating helps keep you cool when exercising or on a hot day.

When vaporization takes place inside a liquid as well as at the surface, the process is called boiling. Each liquid boils at a certain temperature. That temperature is called its boiling point. Like the melting point of a solid, the boiling point of a liquid depends on how strongly the particles attract one another.

Eventually, when the temperature of the water reaches approximately 100C, the water molecules are vibrating so fast that they break free from their positions in the liquid. When this happens, the temperature of the liquid stops increasing. Instead, the added energy changes the arrangement of the water molecules for a liquid into an arrangement characteristic of a gas. You observe this process as vaporization.

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Cheyne Walk with boys & Joy

Remember this restaurant?

Went back there yesterday, this time with the boys, and Aunty Joy of course. Food was as good as I remembered.

Mussels, sirloin steak, to-die-for potato, apple crumble.


French onion soup, grilled fish, carrots, sorbets and ice-cream.


After lunch, we went back to Joy's to pick baby Kieran up and headed for the National Army Museum. The boys had a good time playing at the museum's Kids Zone. I was pretty much bored out of my skull at the museum...I know, I know, must make more effort to 'appear' interested lest the boys pick up negative vibes from me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I wasn't imagining it...


...the District Line is crap. Today's Metro newspaper reported that London tube commuters were hit by a total of 2,740 delays lasting 15 minutes or more over the past year. Taking pole position with 482 delays is the District Line, the one and only line that goes past our place. @#$%^&*

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hotel Chocolat...yum



Belgian chocolate I bought from Hotel Chocolat, a spacious shop on prime High Street Kensington selling only chocolates, shiokers.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A hearty breakfast



Sean's breakfast for the past week. It doesn't look it, but the egg is fried in the shape of a heart inside the bread. When done this way, he gobbles everything up, including the crust.

Day out at Oxford



The historical University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge was held today and we had been warned that traffic would be bad around our area, which is near the race's finishing point on River Thames. We decided to get out of London and visit Oxford instead. We must have jinxed them cos Cambridge won for the first time in 3 years.

Oxford's an easy hour's drive away. While it's not as pretty/awesome/inspiring/picturesque as I had imagined it would be, we did have a good time just walking around. We really enjoyed the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) and Pitt River Museum.

Both museums are very child/family-friendly. Just take a look at this OUMNH cheetah exhibit, the card on the table actually says, "PLEASE TOUCH!". I did a double take cos I was sure a card like that would warn "DO NOT TOUCH!".


And on this table of smaller, more fragile exhibits, the card only reminds children to handle with care, with a message from the exhibits, "Children: Please touch us gently with one finger as we are very fragile." I really like the rest of the message, "Parents: Please do not stand or lift your children onto our table. We, and they, will be difficult to replace." :)



Brian and Sean are holding the Dancing Buffalo and Dancing Lion that they had made at the free family activity conducted by Pitt River Museum.

Oh, I cannot not post this picture of the first exhibit you see when you enter OUMNH. It's a model of Deoxyribonucleic acid. For the uninitiated (which includes me), that's long for DNA. Of course I thought of Dr DNA and her blog when I took the picture. (Added later: When I wrote the previous sentence, I had not read Dr DNA's latest entry in which she declared "a love of genetics is in my DNA"....Mere coincidence?...I think not...just call me Ms ESP)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Science at home 6

With time on my hands today, I finally helped Brian make Oobleck, which he first read about in January. It was a heckuva fun afternoon, messy one though.



Isaac Newton thought that no matter how much force you applied to a liquid, it would either stay as runny or as thick, ie, its viscosity (the measure of a fluid's resistance to flow) is constant. For example; no matter how much you shake a bottle of water, its viscosity remains the same.

In the case of a non-Newtonian liquid, when force is applied to it, it either becomes thicker or more runny, eg quicksand becomes thicker and ketchup becomes more runny (that's why we shake a bottle of ketchup).

Oobleck is a non-Newtonian liquid. We made it by mixing 1 cup of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water (we added food colouring too) to form what chemists call a colloidal suspension. What this means is that Oobleck is actually made up of tiny, solid particles (cornstarch) suspended in water.

When we left Oobleck alone or moved it slowly, it acted like a liquid, but when we applied force to it, it acted like a solid. Why?

Cornstarch is a natural polymer - a long, bulky chain of atoms. When no or little force is applied, these polymer chains have time to slide past one another along the water molecules, and Oobleck acts like a liquid. But when force is quickly applied, these polymer chains have no time to move out of the way, and run into one another, resulting in Oobleck acting like a solid.

This youtube video of people running on oobleck is funny.

Who else beesides me is...



...tired of my cupcake blog entries? Even if you're not bored, I am. I think I'll take a cupcake hiatus for a while...erhm, unless the nasty cupcake bug bites again.

But here's my latest batch of cupcakes, which I made for my cupcake-tasters the Tan clan. Hsien's boyo Stephen said his favourite colours are red and pink, hence the general theme of this batch of cupcakes.



I also made some chocolate covered ones just cos I felt the bees look nice on them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Last day at Studio



Today's Sean's last day at his present Montessori school. I bought tiny magnetic frames in vibrant colours, inserted his photos, and he presented them to each of his 8 teachers.

Here he is reading parts of his first ever school-leaving report.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Googling our neighbour...

...the 4th rock from the sun. Brian's science teacher told him about Google Mars, pretty neighbour we have huh?

We found Olympus Mons, largest mountain in the solar system, with a height of 24km (3 times that of Everest) and a base of 500km in diameter!

Ha, check this out...The Olympus Mountaineering Award, established in 1994, for the first mountaineering team to successfully climb to the top of Olympus Mons. Any takers?

Off to bake cupcakes now.

Deep man...Deeeeep...

A couple of days ago, I told Hsien that of all her blogs I liked cottontimer best, cos it's fun and light reading. Plus I can stalk her there.

I also said her other blog A Hearty Life was too deep for me. She tried to convince me it wasn't so by pointing me this way.

I think she's trying to do the same with her other even deeper blog (so deep it whizzes over my head) Genetics and Health by blogging about some silly conversation a 4-year old had with his kooky mum.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In search of the perfect chocolate cake

This is my second attempt at baking what I hope is the perfect chocolate cake. Here is my tried and tested recipe, adapted from this recipe.

The chocolate ganache was adapted from another recipe, but it's somewhat off. On my next try, I will use butter instead of double cream and use a mix of dark and milk chocolate instead of just the latter.


What the cake looks like inside.


Persuaded Hsien to meet me for lunch today so I could pass her some of the cake. Hers is a sweet-tooth family and could therefore help conduct the taste test. Be gentle okay?

My favourite, favourite, favourite chocolate cake is Singapore's Bengawan Solo's Chocolate Gateau (below). The combination of their chocolate icing and buttercream is just heavenly. If anyone has the recipe for that, please, I need it.


Wendy: You see what I mean about the sides of the cake? All uneven, unlike Bengawan Solo's which is smooth and nice. Should I ice all round the cake before pouring the chocolate ganache on it?

Pleasing a Chinaman's palate



I had lots of pork loins in my freezer (Sainsbury's was having a good deal on them) and was planning to cook Tonkatsu (have uploaded the recipe which I've owed Wendy for some time); at the last minute, decided to be adventurous and do it the sweet and sour way.

I've never tried cooking this as I never had the confidence to do so. My mum cooks this really well and back in the good old days when Eddie used to cook for me (before kids...before marriage...it was the good old days remember?), he also made a mean dish of sweet and sour pork. He did not use bread crumbs to coat the meat, but used crushed Jacob's biscuits instead...yummm.

Back to reality now. After two plus years of cooking, I am now somewhat able to estimate the sauces/ingredients required in the simpler dishes I eat in restaurants. Ed actually said the sweet and sour pork was good (and he's extremely stingy with his praises) and to make good on his praise, he had second helpings of rice. He's such a Chinaman, really loves pork, which I hardly cook. Tonight, besides soup and this dish, there was also steamed minced pork.

Unfortunately, the boys (Brian in particular) don't seem to like sweet and sour style of anything (even in restaurants) and prefer plain Tonkatsu, without any sauce. I have a trio of hard-to-please palates in this house. Grrr....

Blush...

...big-time blogger blogs 'bout my little blog.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Science at home 5

Last night, Sean asked to make a rocket balloon, an experiment he found in his Blue Pocket Scientist book.

As I write this, I realised the last time we conducted an experiment at home was more than 2 months ago. Urggh, so much for my plans to keep Brian up to pace with Singapore's Pri 4 Science syllabus.

Anyway, here's our rocket balloon (materials needed: straw, balloon, tape, string):



Wanna see it again?



Objective: To show that you can use air to move things.
Procedure: Thread a long string through a straw and tie to two chairs. Blow a balloon (preferably a long-shaped one) and peg the end to stop the air from escaping. Tape balloon to straw. Move straw to the end of the string and release the peg.

Outcome: The air trapped inside the balloon pushes out the open end, causing the balloon to move forward.
Explanation: The force of the air escaping is the "action"; the movement of the balloon forward is the "reaction" predicted by Newton's Third Law of Motion "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

CONCLUSION: Air power can move things.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Scientists know everything?



Sean asked to do the experiment above. He explained, "You bend the tube like a sad face. And then the water will come out." We didn't have a hose so we told him this experiment will have to be done another day. Ed then gave Sean a straw and cup of water and Sean amused himself by blowing bubbles into the water.

Some hours later, I screamed at him when I found water all over the floor, evidence that he's been a bit too enthusiastic while blowing bubbles. As I grumbled and wiped the floor, he said, "You shouldn't scold me."

Me: Why not?
Sean: Because I'm a scientist.
Me: So what if you're a scientist? Why can't I scold you?
Sean: Because scientists know everything*.

.................................

*Someone's gonna start using this to win all her arguments.