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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Angels

I was right to fear the mountain.

At 1530h, snowflakes floated down like slowly waltzing fairies. They whispered invitations as they passed. Enchanted, we followed their dance up the slopes in a cable car and joined their party at 3000m above sea level.

Excitedly, we sat down on our luges and pushed off. Not long after, the waltzing fairies whipped themselves into a disco frenzy and there were so many that we could see nothing beyond 15m. Their noiseless dance didn't seem friendly anymore and I began to be afraid.

We couldn't go back up because we were one quarter way down. We decided to push on. But we couldn't see beyond all the white, and so we took a wrong turn and ended up on a steep slope for skieurs. The luge went so fast that the powdery snow churned upwards into our faces and filled our mouths and noses. We were drowning in an ocean of cold white powder and we had to stop to walk and fall down the slope. One skieur after another zipped past us and soon, there were no more skieurs because the sun was setting and I suppose that the ski slopes were closed.

We were alone - Little Boy, The Husband and I. I looked at my brave little son who maintained a stoic silence even as his eyes panicked and ran screaming down a dark tunnel with no end. The Husband and I searched for a sign post and fumbled with frozen fingers for our mobile phones. I started to look around for a cave and I vaguely remembered that one could survive the cold by digging a hole to bury ourselves in. It was dark and our fingers were so numb that the mobile phones could not be found. My heart screamed again and again, in the great white silence and I felt sorry for my Little Boy who trusted in me and The Husband to keep him safe and we had not done so. The Husband could do nothing for us without his skis. He could only keep us calm. "Let us not panic" he said. But my heart was not listening anymore.

What kind of pathetic parents were we? Little Boy had icicles in his hair and ice in his eye brows... and even ice cubes in his scarf where the water vapour from his breath had frozen, and with every breath, the ice cubes grew bigger. Even our snot froze. There was a brooding silence all around us. The Daughter had disappeared.

I didn't know it but Little Boy prayed to God for deliverance.

And God sent Pascal, a Snow Angel. He was about 1.85m tall with the kindest eyes in the world and a voice that calmed our hearts. Before long, a powerful scooter stormed up the slopes to rescue Little Boy and I. The Husband stayed alone on the slope and the scooter went back for him. But I was almost in tears because The Daughter was nowhere in sight. I feared oh... I feared that she had luged off the mountain side, or fallen into a hole where we would find her only the next morning, frozen and dead. My Daughter, with her whole life before her...

Once arrived at the Safe House, I tried to organize a search for her and as I tried to calmly explain that there was a 15 year old girl still on the slopes cold and alone, she emerged from the white darkness of the awful blizzard and ran crying into my arms. As I folded her into my arms, I think I experienced the most joyful moment of my life.

The people at the Safe House were very kind. There was hot chocolate waiting and they helped us to collect our gear. Powerful snow scooters scooped us all up and deposited us gently at the hotel. We owe our very lives today to men such as Pascal, Jannick and Thomas... and women such as Sylvie, who make up the Groupe Sureté of the Val Thorens.

People like Pascal sweep the slopes at every slope closure for people like us who are caught off guard by blizzards that take less than 15 minutes to build up and blind the unwary. People like Jannick ride their scooters up the slopes to carry people down to safety. People like Thomas man the call centre and co-ordinate rescue missions. And people like Sylvie make sure that there is hot chocolate and warm conversation to help us forget.

I promise you that I will NEVER go up the slopes again. N-E-V-E-R! There is absolutely nothing wrong with my bed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

La Luge

"La luge" (I learnt today) is that thingy you sit in to slide down the hillside. "Le toboggan" is the slide fashioned into the slope for the "luge" to slide down upon. Val Thorens has a very very very long toboggan. The entire descent takes 45 minutes. Now, imagine sitting in a luge and pushing yourself off for an exhilarating ride that lasts 3 quarters of an hour. Now, don't you think that is safer, much more civilised... and therefore more fun than ski-ing?

You don't? Oh well... I do. And so do plenty of other 3 yr olds.

The children took one private lesson yesterday and spent the afternoon on the Green slopes... and I went down the Green slippery slope of Envy. Even Little Boy (the Mr Clumsy of our family) came back with tales of his exploits on the slopes... and he pontificated on ski-ing techniques whilst nodding sagely to similar comments from The Husband. Since I understood so very little of their happy and animated conversation, I felt rather miffed and left out. You would think that if these people had both the courage and the skill to master the snows, they would politely keep it to themselves, non?

So The Family decided to bundle me up in ski pants, got me a ski mask, a pair of ski gloves and shoved "une luge" at me because a Sulking Mother is a terrible one to have along on a ski trip. The Husband grinned at me evil-ly saying "Your bed has lost its charm huh?" So I spent the morning tobogganing down the Green slopes whilst the children ski-ed smartly down and The Husband began to look rather more handsome and dashing as he zipped past me and turned smartly to photograph the descent of our kids.

It's funny how much more attractive men look when they're ski-ing. There is a sense of powerful grace in the way they move. And you know what, their faces are tanned and rugged looking. Hmmmm... that's another thing for me to do on the ski slopes. Sit in my luge and ogle the men. Hee!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Waiters in French restaurants are consummate professionals. They hold their noses way up high and they have courtly manners. They say things such as "A votre service" (At your service) or "Je vous en prie" (I pray thee) and "Je vous propose" (I propose to you... such and such a dish). They know exactly what goes into each dish and will be able to discourse knowledgeably about the various merits of each, and they might even ask a few questions to get to know your tastes before they propose anything. And they call me "Madame", each time with a slight nod of the head and an imperceptible discreet bow.

Their every action is smooth and elegant. And they are most certainly NOT at the beck and call of the customer. On the contrary, these professionals know without looking when you have finished your plate, and come by your table without being asked. They know exactly when not to bother you and they will even make polite conversation with you if they think you feel like talking. In the Singaporean context, they aren't waiters. They're Personal Food Consultants.

However, all this consulting takes time and the guest must learn patience. Whilst they are with you, their attention is on you and on no other, and they will freeze with a haughty stare the impolite guest who dares to intrude into the moment that Mr Waiter is at present sharing with another guest. You see, you are a not merely a client at his restaurant, you are a paying guest and he is your host. And there are rules of courtesy governing the behaviour of both parties, and if one should flout these rules, the other is well within his rights to be offended. And you will find yourself very soundly snubbed from then on. No more polite conversation for you! People who have experienced being snubbed by a French waiter, could well have unknowingly broken some rules regulating social behaviour in France.

So, in a French restaurant, you learn to be patient. Everyone is there to have a lovely evening and so everyone lingers to enjoy food and conversation. And Mr Waiter treats everyone special, including you, when it's your turn.

This is something that Little Boy is unused to. In Singapore, we expect service staff to come immediately when we call. So, when Little Boy has to wait for the plates to be cleared, polite conversation to end, and dessert to be served, he becomes very impatient. The Daughter has it all figured out though. She leans across and whispers "People here linger over their food. You must learn to linger."

In truth, I don't mind this lingering business because one simply wants each mouthful to last forever and the children have grown old enough to be funny and knowledgeable. They're great conversationalists, our kids.

Val Thorens

Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in France, and it gets the earliest snows because of its altitude. The children had seen snow in USA but not the waist high snow banks of fine powdery snow that would make our ice kachangs blush and hide themselves away (for not being quite as fine).

I like snow from behind a window pane, and from under a thick quilt with a "café au lait" in one hand and a croissant with jam in the other. Not for me the romps in the snow with snowmen and snowballs. Not for me the ultra stylish swoosh swoosh of the tanned "skieurs" gliding effortlessly down the slope, deftly avoiding rocky outcrops and the tips of small pine trees. Not for me the charms of trudging through knee deep snow leaving enchanting footprints behind me.

It's very very cold you know. Nonetheless, I've never met anyone who thinks ski-ing is unpleasant. And I can understand why. These mountains exude a sense of powerful majesty. To fly down the slopes on skis and feel the kisses of the mountain air is a thrilling experience. The rush of adrenaline keeps people coming back for more. From the beginning of time, Man has enjoyed flirting with danger... conquering it. "Skieurs" must feel like Kings of the Mountain, non?

But I fear the mountain. God is in these mountains and it is not the God of my everyday who is gentle and patient. This is God when He decides to appear in all His masterful glory as Sovereign of all He created. Here is the face of God that sends me flying for refuge because to contemplate This face is to feel a keen sense of my own vulnerability. I cannot relax around these mountains. I love my slippers, shorts and t-shirts too much and I dislike the encumbrances of gloves, coats, scarves and boots. Here, I cannot run around with legs and shoulders bared to the sun for the kisses of the mountain are cold... oh so cold. And wherever I go I cannot help but see the mountain's potential for violence - its avalanches, its blizzards and people being carried off the slopes on stretchers.

But The Husband loves the mountains. When we were students, it was he who dragged me up the slopes at X'mas, New Year and over long winter weekends. He would then disappear up the Black slopes for his adrenaline fix. In France the slopes are categorised by difficulty from Green, to Blue, to Red and then finally, the Black slopes. On one occasion, he came back after the start of a blizzard recounting that he had almost ski-ed himself off the mountain side for lack of visibility.

But it isn't fair for a Cowardly Wife such as I to prevent The Husband from sharing his love for the mountain with his children. It also isn't fair for a Cowardly Mother such as I to deny the children an experience that they will remember. So, to console myself, I booked a rather pricey hotel with excellent service staff, sumptuous breakfast spreads and refined chef-prepared dinners. I have come armed with a stack of magazines and my own soft fleece blanket. And I intend to STAY in bed for 4 days to admire the snow from behind a window pane.

I will of course, get up for meals.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Le Marché Du Dimanche

Eating out tends to be expensive in France. A very simple meal costs about S$100 for a family of 4. Of course, even simple meals in France is comprised of a starter, a main and dessert/cheese. Still rather elaborate by Singaporean standards where one eats a plate of char kway teow and lunch is over.

On our first day here, we ate at a charming brasserie (we were told that it had been around for the last 100 years) where the décor was reminiscent of the 1940s. The tiny tables were placed so close to each other that people had to move tables for me to squeeze into my seat. There was a lively buzz of soft conversations and the intense fragrance of coffee in the air. It was altogether very pleasant. Little Boy ate up his lunch and part of all ours. The food was that good.

But one does not need to eat out to eat well. I contrived to book accommodation that came with kitchens. Armed with my kitchen, I plunged into the crowds at the Sunday market. We found a stall selling about 14 different varieties of oysters. We bought a dozen for S$20. There were some specialty breads so we picked up a loaf. And I swiped 4 different goat cheeses from the crêmerie with exotic names like Crottins de Chavignol (roughly translated as "shit bits of Chavignol"), Trou de Cru (i.e., a Hole of Raw) and Bouchons de Sancerre (i.e., Corks from Sancerre"... which looked exactly like a peeled banana). Very evocative names that reflect sense of humour of the peasant folk who created these masterpieces from milk. I even found a stall selling organic apple juice and pear juice.

And then we had lunch. Very fresh raw oysters with a hint of lemon and a lot of sea in them, chewed down with crusty bread and good French butter. The children loved the bread and the cheese but balked at the raw oysters. I was puzzled. In my own experience, I had taken to French oysters like a walrus but it took me 2 years to get into cheeses. Oh... if only Sunday markets were everyday. I would go back there to get a dozen oysters a day.

For another meal, I went sniffing around for a "charcuterie". This is a place that sells treated meats of every sort. I carried away packets of pâté (these come in a variety of different meats, from pork liver to goose liver to chicken and salmon) and meat mousses and my favorite "rillettes d'oie" (minced goose). The variety of treated meats is mind-boggling. All one needs to do is to close the eyes and point. It doesn't matter what you choose. They're all good. Then, with a baguette (french crust bread) lunch is again served.

I like hot dinners so I bought filet mignon and served up steak with flavoured with herbes de Provence. Oh... I look forward to every meal here.

Of Wives and Courtesans

The Husband and I are back in Paris again. For the first time, it is neither in transit, nor for work, nor to study. We're here to see Paris with the children. I've known this city for more than 25 years and still I discover things about it that I didn't know.

At Versailles yesterday, I saw for the first time, the Petit Trianon and Marie-Antoinette's Hamlet. For those who are curious, Marie-Antoinette was the unfortunate Queen at the time of the French Revolution. The poor lady was beheaded at the guillotine. The story goes around that when told that the peasantry had no bread to eat this Queen responded callously to her Ministers, saying "Well... then let them eat cake."

The Petit Trianon was a welcome change from the main palace at Versailles. The one was a man's way of showing the world that France was a powerful country and the French king was someone to be reckoned with. It was breathtaking in its grandeur. Everything was gold, brocade and every inch of stone was sculpted. In contrast, the Petit Trianon was a woman's way of living her life contentedly and far more simply, away from the heavy pressures of a regimented court life. The decor was light and feminine. The stonework was unadorned and the garden communed intimately with the house in a manner too casual for royalty. Just looking at the Petit Trianon gave one a sense of the woman who lived there (Marie-Antoinette).

She was a carefree spirit who fled the heavy protocol of her husband's palace... and she stayed very much a little girl at heart. I don't think she was at all suited to the heavy responsibilities of a Queen. All my life, I had thought her to be a wastrel of a Queen who splurged on dress after dress to the detriment of her nation. The Petit Trianon seemed to portray a different woman altogether... She was a merely girl who never grew up, and who was still playing with make-believe doll houses after bearing 4 children - except that her doll houses were life-sized and constructed within her very own estate. Gosh... the lady constructed a village complete with cottages (with thatched roofs) for her to play in!! I once thought very badly of this Queen. I thought her evil, unkind and wasteful. It turns out that she was merely immature.

Then I figured out why the French psyche tolerates the peaceful co-existence of wife and mistress. Indeed, no one in France batted an eyelid when Francois Mitterand claimed both wife and mistress as his own. My moment of epiphany came in when I learnt of the existence of Mme du Barry (mistress of Louis XV) and Mme de Maintenon (mistress and later wife of Louis XIV). French kings married for political expedience but that didn't stop them from falling in love, and very often, they were faithful to their mistresses till death. Both mistresses wielded considerable influence on royal decisions and were given lands and titles to keep and enjoy. In such cases, I think being the mistress is probably more advantageous than being the Queen. One has all the informal privileges without any of the formal duties. When push comes to shove, the Queen is beheaded and the mistress is spared. However, the most awful thing about being a Queen would certainly have to be giving birth in public. 19 royal children were born on this bed in full view of the entire court standing behind the gilded balustrade. Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!

Not surprisingly therefore, the French psyche has never denigrated the courtesan. Courtesans were celebrated for their brains and their beauty. With both, they had access to immense personal wealth and power. These were women who succeeded in a man's world and it is upon their legacy that women like Coco Chanel built their success. After all, Coco Chanel started her design house with money from her lover who had married another for expedience, but had loved her openly and well.

It is a very French mental model of the man-woman relationship and one that I never understood because I come from a culture where women were possessions (you know, bond maids etc...). To be the mistress of a man is to be a slave to the first wife. In France, that was not so. In France, women are cherished, spoiled, loved for our beauty and respected for our brains. And in a country such as this, being a mistress is sometimes better than being the wife, simply because the mistress is loved till death do them part... and the wife is sometimes not.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Milo's Place in the Family Huddle

The Family Huddle started when we were living in the US. One day, the children and I decided that we would give The Husband a scare by ambushing him when he got home. So, we kept a lookout for his car and then went to hide. The Husband came in to a house with no one that he saw. En route to the bedroom, we attacked him. He got pushed on to the floor and quickly overpowered by 2 small children and a tiny wife. There was a lot of yelling and screaming and hair pulling.

Not long ago, we got into a Family Huddle again. Milo was most indignant that he wasn't part of the mêlée. He stood outside the Forbidden Area with his entire body on high alert and looked quite offended. We finally moved the Family Huddle into the patio so that he could take part.

Since then, I've been really mean. I've taken Little Boy more often than usual onto my lap for noisy hugs and kisses from which I secretly peer to enjoy poor Milo's indignant look. The Daughter disapproves because she thinks I shouldn't try to provoke another's jealousy. I know I shouldn't but I am so tickled.

Okay... okay... I stop.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Termite Protection?

Almost everyone I know who have had experience with renovating an old house has advised me to pump anti-termite chemicals into the foundations. Since these are intelligent people with experience, I am inclined to take them seriously. It would be most unwise to try and save a little money only to be saddled with pest infestations every other month.

However, I do not then understand why my architect would advise against termite protection, saying that termites can fly in from the patch of jungle opposite my house... or from the neighbour's house, and protecting the foundations of my own house is thus futile.

So I sit here wondering who is right? If blog readers have any wisdom or experience to share that can help me make up my mind, I would be so very appreciative.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Chocolate

We went to the Valrhona outlet today and got The Daughter a selection of chocolate. The Palmira is something called a Grand Cru. It's made exclusively with cocoa beans from the Palmira Plantation. The Daughter assures me that it is by far the nicest chocolate... but I didn't dare eat it. The tonsils feel like they're about to balloon.

That is all the chocolate I am prepared to buy. The rest is coming out of her pocket money. Anyway, I don't like chocolate that much. What I did like was Amoy Street Food Centre's Piao Ji Fish Soup. It's even better than Han Kee, which I ate 2 days ago.

I am now content. I have had my fish soup fix!

Being Contrarian

There is an interesting article in The Straits Times, December 2, 2009. It's about people's tendency to spend more and more on "quality" goods when they perceive that others are spending more on "quality" goods. Over time, things cost more and more, and the people who can really afford luxuries are STILL those who earn more. The relative position of how people stand in relation to each other does not change. Only that everyone needs to pay more even for poor quality stuff.

It's crazy... but it's true.

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. That is to say that family fortunes were made by men who started finance houses, dabbled in property development, rubber plantations and what-not. It was a family where women wore jewels (not diamond bits) and were conversant about the latest brands and fashions. It was also a family where I saw women pawning their jewelry and scrimping on housekeeping money when the men made big losses and were in debt. You hid those hard times from the world. And then there were the long-drawn legal battles over inheritances.

It disgusted me.

When times were good, there was so much to show off and when times were bad, there was so much shame to hide... and people forgot to love each other.

I developed my own psychological defenses against this sort of emotional trauma. I decided that I was not ever going to envy another's wealth, nor be ashamed of my lack thereof. I will spend my money when I feel like it, and not when someone else spends on "high quality". Fortunes rise and fall in an uncertain world, why have one's happiness all tied up in THINGS?

Such an attitude allows me to be genuinely happy for the person who has enough to splurge on the things he/she feels like buying... and it allows me to respect those who have not enough to buy article luxuries.

But of course, such equanimity vis-a-vis wealth cannot be maintained beyond a certain point. I do everything I can (and more) to ensure that there is enough for food and books and that we don't sleep in the rain. Things are important after all when it comes to food and lodging.

Over the years, I developed a perverse pleasure in spending my money in the opposite way that everyone else would spend it. If everyone was going for hair rebonding at $350/= (in those days, that was how much rebonding cost) I would cut my hair myself. When everyone was into ********* brand of briefcases, I would go to France and buy back a Tessier... a very old and established artisanal brand of leather goods with strong stitches and well worked leather. When I went into Takashimaya to compare workmanship, the Tessier I bought for a $300/= had not a single frayed stitch, whilst the ******** brand (priced at $1200/= had three frayed stitches (yes, I counted). The sales person said it was because it was a showpiece. When everyone took $100k worth of renovation loans, I put in a vinyl floor and lived without a sofa because I did not want to take a loan.

The funniest though was the time the imposing Sikh jaga at the hotel lobby refused to allow us to park our little Suzuki Swift in the VIP lot meant for us. Our little car took up about half that lot. I had a tinge of embarassment then but it quickly passed.

And I didn't buy my first diamond until after I bought my first investment property. And since I've not developed the habit of wearing jewelry, it didn't make sense to buy more than a few pieces.

What matters in life should be true quality and not the aura of quality created by savvy marketeers. Or the heady feeling of being swankier than your friends. So, if a pair of slippers is a quality product, does it matter that it costs $2.90/=? And if a bra provides good chest support and is made of breatheable cotton, does it matter if it costs $3/=? And if a Tessier has thicker leather and sturdier stitches, then so what if it is not $1200/=? And so what if no one in Singapore has heard of Tessier?

If everyone thought this way, then merchants would have no excuse to charge close to S$50/= for a pair of children's jeans when the cost price is a fraction of that. Come on! I once bought from a pure cashmere Ralph Lauren pullover (leftover stock from 3 seasons back) for S$50/= that I still wear today... and for $50/=, I could maybe get 2 or 3 pairs of Osh Kosh B'Gosh kids' jeans from a factory outlet. And at Walmart, I could get t-shirts for S$3.50 that looked really nice and didn't change shape in the wash.

$50/= for a pair of kids' jeans. Hmmmmmmmph!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


That's chocolate in old Aztec.

The Daughter has developed an inexplicable taste for expensive chocolate... and she is on a mission to develop her chocolate palate. Till this afternoon, her strange passion was confined to reading books on chocolate. Today, we drove down to Jones the Grocer and... and... and... spent a lot of money on chocolate. I won't even tell you how much we spent because it would only spoil my very carefully constructed Frugal Petunia image. And of course, The Husband reads my blog... and I don't want him to keel over.

The Daughter is now engaged in an elaborate chocolate preparation exercise. Each bar has been carefully cut up into neat squares and placed in Ziploc bags. Space has been made in the herbal fridge where the temperature is an ambient 12 Deg Celsius to 18 Deg Celsius... Oh... you mean you don't know? Any other temperature just won't do!! Sigh! All that fuss for a bar of chocolate.

I was asked to run downstairs to taste a square made from Ecuadorean cocoa beans and then there was another made with extraordinarily fragrant cocoa beans from a single plantation called Chuao and another from the beans of the Porcelana Plantation. It seems that like coffee, good chocolate is made from good beans and like wine, growing conditions, plant cultivars and the harvesting process has to be rigorously controlled or the end product would suffer in some way or other.

For the moment, my uneducated palate can only discern that the chocs have more body and roundedness and much less sweetness than the candy bars one buys in supermarkets. I cannot discern the difference in fruitiness etc... One thing is sure though, the chocolate bars are very fragrant and the roundedness lingers on the palate for some few seconds after the swallow. Altogether, it was very pleasant indeed.

Usually, after eating chocolate, there is a cloying sweetness that lingers in the throat and causes phlegm (and later a sore throat) if not washed down with copious amounts of warm water. These chocs weren't like that. There was no cloying sweetness at all. But that's about all I can manage to discern (especially after a big bowl of the Amoy Street Food Centre's Han Kee Fish Soup).

Nonetheless, if you wanna hear it from the pros, I copy out here the Tasting Notes that accompany the Chuao choc - "It has an initial flavour of plums, red fruits and an aromatic and sumptuous roundness". Nope! I can't taste the fruits. It tastes like chocolate that doesn't hold the potential to make me sick... but maybe if I were willing to spend more money (and put my waistline at risk) I will learn to discern the red notes and the golden notes.

What I did was to tell The Daughter was that she would have to save up her pocket money to buy more of this kinda choc. So she said, "Next year, could you cook extra for dinner everyday? I'll pack lunch to school and save up everything to buy chocolate."

I'm rather ambivalent about this strange passion but then again, I don't want say no to something just because I am ignorant. But truly, teenagers do the oddest things!! But I am glad that she isn't into vodka tasting or opium appreciation! So yeah... I guess for love of The Daughter I will be laying out more cash (though not as much as today... good grief!!) for more chocolate. ESPECIALLY since she has identified the MUST VISIT European Chocolatiers and intends to have The Family detour there for chocolate tasting sessions.

Excellent Flip-Flops

I wanted to cook up a seafood galore for my friends with the freshest clams, fish and prawns. I went back to the wet market near my old home of 15 years and ordered from the fishmonger (and his wife) who had taken care of me and my family for 15 years. I watched them age and they watched me age. I do know that they're a little more expensive than neighbouring stalls but the relationship has stood the test of time because they've never failed me. I don't even have to choose my produce. I arrive to neat bags all packed and ready to go. At home, they go straight into the freezer and when I cook them, they're ALL fresh. And I mean ALL.

Unfortunately, after I moved house, they were a bit far and I went and dallied with other fishmongers. The family is picky about freshness and all it takes is one bag of less-than-fresh fish/prawn/squid for me to start exploring the produce from another stall. These new relationships lasted 6 months at the longest. There was one whom I thought I could build a new life with but sadly, he gave me 3kg of bad prawns that traumatised the children so badly I had to throw the whole lot. There is nothing worse than powdery prawn.

In my hour of need, I went back to the old and trusty fishmonger and his wife. It felt good to be back at the old market and it made me think that being able to afford more expensive items doesn't mean a higher quality of living. Prices at that market have stayed quite low but the produce is excellent. On Sundays, the out-of-the-way market that has none of the upmarket airs of Jones the Grocer's, is packed full of people.

And what really convinced me were the 2 pairs of slippers I got for $2.90 apiece. They're absolutely non-slip. They cushion the feet oh-so-comfortably and they were a fraction of the price I paid ($16.90) for an earlier pair that puts my health at risk on rainy days because they absolutely won't adhere to any wet floor. And these didn't even look as good as the $2.90/=!! Of course, taste is subjective but we like our accoutrements plain, simple and boring.

And then I kicked myself really hard because Little Boy needed 2 pairs of jeans for the European winter holidays. I almost keeled over and died when I saw Kiddy Palace selling them for close to $50/= apiece. Kids' jeans for $50/=? Whoa! And no-brand ones at that! I shrugged my shoulders and decided that well... maybe it was the inevitable inflation... and I bought them anyway. Not without my heart bleeding though. And then I really kicked myself because they were selling very thick and well-cut adult jeans for $20/= apiece at the market and their kids' jeans were going for $10/=.

The next time I need anything, I am so going to the old market FIRST to see if they've more good stuff at pretty prices!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Big Project

One thing lead to another and we have now embarked upon an ambitious family project to preserve our memories. The children are growing fast. Too quickly they grow out of baby talk and toddler speak. They've turned from clumsy, ungainly and amusing to graceful and serious. They were cute and now they're handsome/pretty.

In the process, we have accumulated a over a thousand photo prints and 60 hours of video footage. The photos of The Daughter are fading, and the video footage comes in digital cassettes that are impossible to search. Hence the new family project was birthed to edit all 60 hours of video and scan a thousand photos.

It looked like such an onerous task at first but as the weekend progressed, it turned out to be a very pleasant task indeed. The Husband wore the slightly goony smile on his face as he went through the videos, reviewing the funny ways of both our children. And I wallowed serenely in my thousand remembrances. And so the long weekend seems to have passed by in a happy haze, interspersed with good food, and a lot of it.

So many happy moments that I don't even remember were captured digitally this weekend... and they really gave us all a shot of endorphins.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Milo... Brush Your Teeth

When we got our roly poly puppy, I peered apprehensively at the dangerous looking little fangs and imagined the dangerous looking huge fangs that Milo will one day have. I flatly declared that I was not pulling tooth-brushing duty. Everyone in the family nodded sagely and kept quiet.

I went out and bought salmon flavored toothpaste and a doggy toothbrush, and declared to the general audience, that the items had been purchased for the use of any brave soul who might decide to venture into roly poly puppy's gaping jaws. You see... it didn't feel right to order someone to brave those pointed teeth. It didn't help that roly poly puppy loved jawing us back then. Whaaaat! Give him an excuse to jaw us some more? You must be crazy!!

On the 2nd visit to the vet, we were shown a whole series of photographs depicting gum disease in dogs. Ooooooh.... not nice! The vet had some trouble trying to meet our eyes because everyone of us was guiltily staring at our own hands and feet. Perplexed at the lack of response, the vet asked worriedly "Did you buy toothpaste and toothbrush?" I brightened considerably and responded with a wide and proud smile "Oh yes! I did!" because I did. I felt like a schoolgirl whom Teacher had praised. Me good girl! Me bought salmon flavoured toothpaste! Yay! Of course, I didn't tell Teacher that neither toothbrush nor toothpaste had seen use.

Returning home, The Brave Daughter sat down on the patio and tried to brush Milo's teeth... and you won't believe how easy it is!! He loves the taste of the toothpaste and happily sits in your lap whilst you wiggle the toothbrush anywhere inside his mouth. As long as you keep topping up with new toothpaste, he doesn't care. Yum! Yum!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Unfair Life!!

I don't understand it. Milo adores The Husband in the same way our children used to do. I find it most unfair because The Husband almost never deigns to even look at Milo. He is always busy at something or other and his most common refrain to me these days is "My children are more important than the dog. If I have time, I would rather spend it with my children"... OR "Petunia, it's a DOG!" as if that is the excuse to end all excuses for neglecting a pet. Hmmmmph!

Yet, when evening falls and the smells of neighbours' cooking fill the air, Milo starts expectantly at the sound of jingling keys. At the familiar sound of The Husband's key in the lock is heard, Milo drops everything to go and sit at the gate of the Forbidden Area, tail slightly wagging. At the sound of The Husband's voice, the tail wags somewhat harder and when The Husband appears at the top of the staircase, the entire bottom gyrates at an impossible angle to the waistline... and the tail wags so fast that it looks about to lift the bottom half of Milo straight up into the air. Like a canine helicopter backside.

Now what has The Husband done to deserve such adoration? And what have I done to NOT deserve (at the very least) similar adoration? But nooooooooooooooo... both the children and our dog reserve their most exuberant welcomes for The Husband. In days gone past, I spent hours coaching The Daughter to say "Mama!" and I thought the odds were stacked in my favour because I had coached and coached and coached.... and also because the bi-labial nasal sound "Mmmm" is easier for babies to observe and imitate than the inter-dental "Dddd". But when it came to time for a first word with me going red in the face yelling "Mama!", The Daughter turned her head away from me and smiled at The Husband and said "Daaaaddy!".

Unfair! What charisma does The Husband possess for pets and children that I do not?!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Insect for Laryngitis

The Husband came home with a treasury of Godiva chocolates. I ate so much that I gave myself a phlegmy sore throat, which progressed quickly to laryngitis. So off I went to Eu Yan Sang for a packet of their "kai yin cha" (i.e., open your voice tea). It never fails to give me my voice back within a day. This tea is not for the squeamish for key in its composition is a bee of some sort. It's black and furry and has multi-coloured wings. It looks every bit like an insect.

Here it is in macro view. See it's wings?

I don't know what is in this packet. I should find out huh? But well... Eu Yan Sang has it so conveniently packaged that I've delegated the task of knowing to them. Let's just be intellectually lazy sometimes. I do know that it works though.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Feng Shui: A Soft Science?

My interest in the Chinese culture started when I discovered TCM. I grew up at a time when China was still closed to the world, and my parents sent me to a private school which used textbooks specially shipped from England. The teachers were English and some of them wore suits to school to teach us, and our school principal was a Margaret Thatcher lookalike. I can reel off the names of each of Henry VIII's 6 wives, and explain to you what the Bayeux tapestry chronicles and I can even tell you when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales... but I had never heard of the Water Margin... nor gasp!! the Cultural Revolution.

My only exposure to Chinese culture were television series from Hong Kong with far too much melodrama for my tastes... and those awful romance movies from Taiwan about unrequited love. You would agree that neither of these came near to any degree of erudition. Not only were they absolutely insubstantial cultural fare, they served to turn me off romance forever... to the extent that later, the best way for a potential suitor to turn me off forever, was to offer me flowers, poems and over enthusiastic courtship. Ewwwwwwwwwww!

It seemed to me that Chinese culture was unnecessarily melodramatic, shallow and frivolous ... and I had absolutely no respect for it. Then I discovered TCM.

It started with a spot of acupuncture on a day when my tonsils had swollen so much, I preferred to starve than to eat. The needle was inserted painlessly into my hand and the tonsils went down within 5 minutes. Whoa!! And it happened in this non-descript little half shop for $10/=.

I started to read up. It was very difficult to find books in English on TCM and all that blather about elements (earth, metal, wind etc...) meant nothing to me. I developed a rudimentary understanding of tongue colour and coating... at least enough to make very basic diagnoses. I started to experiment with different herbs. This drove my mother-in-law nuts because for the sake of experimental rigour, I had the habit of experimenting with one herb at a time. This is not recommended because the Chinese believe that energies and elements need to be balanced out in a full prescription or the body's yin-yang balance will be upset and one would get weaker.

But heck... it was my body... and it was fun!!

But it was so very difficult to find literature on TCM in English. Such was my hunger for information that I ended up reading anything I could get my hands on that related to herbs. This opened up the whole new world of alternative medecines that ranged from French homeopathic prescriptions to North American Indian folk remedies to the illustrious tradition of Ayurvedic medecine.

It soon emerged that some herbs are known across cultures. For example inula helenium (called elecampane in North America) was also used in China as xuan fu hua. North American Indians used elecampane to dry up phlegm, and TCM prescribes it for conditions where the body is overcooled and too wet (i.e., to dry up phlegm). And would you believe that I found both dang gui (angelica sinensis) and gotu kola (centella asiatica) documented in French homeopathic medecine? If herbal traditions arising in different parts of the world together concluded that inula helenium dried up phlegm, then the conclusion is very likely, a reliable one. Researchers in the social sciences call this triangulation, and data triangulation is terribly important in the soft sciences because there is so much imprecision to deal with.

Triangulation sealed the reputation of TCM for me. I began to look upon it as a reputable body of medical knowledge and not a collection of old wives' remedies fraught with superstition and dubious religious connotations. I learnt to separate the science from the folklore.

And about this time, I watched a movie made in China called "The Opium War". There was enough poetry in the script that it made me realise that whilst the Chinese mass culture I had grown up with was mindless and low brow (think TCS Comedy night on Channel 8), there were aspects of Chinese culture that were deep and rich. I understood less than half of what was said and grasped none of the literary references... but I was mesmerised by the music of the Mandarin one never hears people speak in Singapore.

So when the question came up on the topic of Feng Shui, I wondered whether I was being a bigot to pooh-pooh the entire field and to view it as a domain of the highly superstitious and uneducated (though very rich). I decided that perhaps here too, one could separate science from folklore. The problem though is that TCM may be considered a hard science. It is after all, medecine. Inula helenium in the laboratory or out of, has predictable outcomes. If you're a TCM charlatan, you are soon found out.

Psychologists and sociologists will tell you that such precision is unheard of in the soft sciences. Because the fields are fraught with imprecision, it is hard to discern the true expert from the charlatan. If the Feng Shui master's prescriptions don't pan out, is it due to the imprecision characteristic of the soft sciences, or is the guy a charlatan?

In a course module spanning 18 hours, I can cover 8 major human motivation theories. Those who attend my course will be able to converse intelligently on these 8 theories of human motivation. However, what I have not covered are the hundreds of boundary conditions that tell me when to use which theory... and what not to do when applying each... and when some of which theory's predictions will NOT be true. There are rules but there are thousands of exceptions in the social sciences... The rules can be taught in 18 hours, but the exceptions take decades of practice and study to learn.

Any charlatan pretending to know the science of human motivation, can spout the 8 motivation theories after 18 hours of class... and the client cannot tell because the client knows even less. Similarly, any charlatan can pretend to know Feng Shui because a client like me knows even less. And to come across as convincing, the charlatan leverages on the common man's superstition and religious beliefs. All this confuses the issue and it becomes hard to tell where the religion ends and where the science begins.

But I am convinced that there is a science involved. There must be. Even though TCM's theoretical formulations are alien to me (I mean... I have given up trying to understand the principles of hot/cold, dry/wet), I have learnt and experienced the effectiveness of TCM prescriptions and needles. Friends of mine who are building engineers speak of Feng Shui masters who walk on a piece of empty land, make some calculations and conclude that there is the water element under there. Upon digging, the building engineers found an underground spring.

Every theory is man's conceptual representation of reality. It isn't really real. Psychologists depict motivation in little boxes... does motivation look at all like a little box? Surely not.

Hence, so what if the TCM conceptualization of hot/cold and dry/wet... bears little resemblance to the real human body? It suffices that the theory, when applied, generates solutions that work. So, whilst I very much doubt that there are truly dragons underlying the lay of the land and that yin energy and yang energy are palpable realities, I do believe that the entire theoretical formulation that governs the practice of Feng Shui can predict observable outcomes (barring the hundreds of boundary conditions that plague all the soft sciences).

I think that, in some way, it reflects some unseen reality/rules or algorithms that govern human-environment interactions. We mayn't be able to see them but they are nonetheless there and have an effect on the quality of human lives. After all, can you actually see the release of cathecolamines when someone is stressed? Yet we all know what stress is, and we all agree that stress is very real.

In truth, when the unseen reality/rules or algorithms that govern human-environment interactions come to light, they may not even at all resemble the theoretical formulation that Feng Shui masters use. After all, those of us who see pictures of bacteria and viruses will pooh-pooh the theoretical formulations of TCM (earth? metal? hot? cold? what silliness?).

But... but... but... even though the theory looks nothing like reality, its predictions can be so accurate that there must be value in that codified knowledge no?


Friday, November 20, 2009

I kiss you. You kiss me.

I was very tickled and pleased today to find that Milo understands the notion of taking turns. If you kiss his forehead as he sits in your lap, he will reach his snout upwards and lick the underside of your chin. And if you kiss him again, he'll lick you again. And so it goes on... first you, then me and then you, and then me again.

He understands quite a few words now but chooses to ignore those that are inconvenient to listen to. As long as he thinks you have food for him, he will immediately obey when he hears the commands "Sit!", "Release!", "Drop the ball!". If he reckons you don't have food, then he'll look at you quizzically, pretending that he doesn't understand a word of what you just said.

If he wants you to play with him, he'll fetch his rubber ball and drop it into the Forbidden Area and look meaningfully at you. When all else fails, he whines until you walk out into the patio to give him a hug. Then, he'll promptly climb on your lap and start the "I kiss you. You kiss me." routine. I think he knows that doing that melts both our hearts and we end up sitting longer with him on the patio.

And he has figured out how to grab on to one of our legs by wrapping his two front legs around one of ours when we get up to leave the patio. Man! This dog is so like a human toddler pre-speech.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Real Estate Blessings

If you knew the story of how I bought my house, you would draw certain unflattering conclusions about my intelligence and capacity for wise judgment. At my most rational moments, I would be the first to tell you that such momentous decisions should not be made in a moment. It isn't as easy or straightforward as picking up the manna that drops from heaven. Yet, when manna has dropped at your feet, it is faithless to NOT pick it up in a moment and smile back at God.

In my case, I picked up the manna and promptly forgot to smile my thanks at God. I looked at the dilapidated new house and questioned myself harshly. Did I make the right decision? Gosh... what an old and disgusting house too! The roof leaks!! Oh my! Such a lot of work to do! You will never get through this... Whaaaat... you mean one has to spend so much money to get it back in shape? You shouldn't have paid so much for it then! Petunia, nobody buys a house on a whim in a split second of impulse. Handbags yes... dresses too... but HOUSE!? Oh silly silly silly Petunia!! Woman of little brain and no sense. If you had to be insensible about something, at least do it with something small like a handbag.

It is a good thing that God is faithful despite my faithlessness. He sent credible witnesses to encourage me and show me that I had made a good decision even if it wasn't an entirely rational one. Friends popped by to see the house and gave their assessment of the price versus value. Others called and asked and then gave their opinion. And they've all said that it was a good decision. At first, I rather suspected that they were saying nice things to be nice. But then one person huffily said "I say I what I think. I don't say things to be nice! You should know me by now!" So there... suitably chastised, I felt much better.

And everyone offered nuggets of wisdom. "Never buy a garden umbrella. Put out a roof instead", said one. "Make sure you get that fibre optic cable in, and the termite protection too!" said another. And another broke my mental paradigm about where my kitchen should be. One dear girl even took leave to come see the house. Another offered to give me an entire stack of design magazines to help me along. A dear blog reader offered to give fengshui advice. And there was even a very gracious gentleman who suggested all sorts of state-of-the-art technologies to make the house "green".

As the pile of suggestions grow, so too does my enthusiasm and confidence. When you know more about something and you see all these different perspectives, the task really looks far less daunting. And to some extent, enthusiasm is contagious.

So yes... when manna drops from heaven, you pick it up with faith and smile your thanks at God.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Warm and Cosy Afternoon

You know it isn't true that one must refrain from meeting internet acquaintances. Sure enough, there are dangers but when approached with judicious caution, the internet can be a place to meet soulmates. Since The Husband will never see this the same way as I do, I neglected to tell him that I was meeting up with 3 ladies that I had met online. Shhhhhhhhh!

When you read someone's email or someone's blog or someone's comments on your blog, you go straight into the discovery of who they are and how they think. There is no distraction. There are no appearances to judge, no polite conversation, no fear of being poorly judged because the person who bothers to read your blog consistently... or respond lengthily to your email without ever having seen your face, has already accepted you outright. So when blog friends meet, there is no awkwardness. You skip all the initial phases of a friendship and get down to the business of being friends. So there we were, four women, most of us had never met each other... and the conversation did not lag at all.

It was warm and it was cosy.

I had a warm and cosy afternoon such that I have not had in a very long while... in the company of people that I have met only once, twice and three times. It was better than snuggling under the heated quilts in the cold of winter. Three internet acquaintances came by today. They came for high tea ostensibly, but mostly because they were kind enough to want to share with me their experience of house renovation. I learnt many many things today which I have written down in my notebook lest I forget. So you see, the internet is not just a faceless nameless way of sharing knowledge. You meet flesh and blood people with warm beating hearts and open faces who teach you things that are important to know at a time when you need to know it.

Timely information indeed!!

Many underestimate the power of an idea. But reality is always birthed twice and its first birthing is the idea of it. If you've not thought it, you cannot make it real. So I collected a little basket of ideas today from three people who reached out to me in cyberspace with warm fingers and tender hearts. Now it's my job to take my bundle of posies... oops... ideas, and tend them till they grow into a reality that I and my family can enjoy.

Thank you!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dilapidated New House

Our new house is more dilapidated than I had remembered. Back when we were viewing to buy, I had formed the impression that it was in a live-able condition... I guess because someone was living there. Going there again, I realised that I cannot live there without first making some major renovations.

The rooms are too small. Those need to be enlarged, and that means the house has to be extended into the garden. Parts of the ceiling are mouldy, which is probably a sign that the roof leaks somewhat... so the roof needs to be changed. The interior of the house is so dark that one of the bedrooms is in pitch black darkness at noon. We'll have to put in a skylight. There are not enough toilets.

I will not... I will not... I will not... regret the decision to buy this house. I like its location and don't people always say that you buy a place for its location, and then fix everything else? So, I will be a conscientious house owner full of happy optimism and pour energy into fixing the house. And money... Ooooh... a hand clutches about the heart of the frugal and penny pinching Petunia Lee, and gently squeezes.

The Daughter and The Husband drew up a rough to-scale floor plan, and devised a new floor plan. What a relief that these two are so excited!! With this floor plan, I can close my eyes and visualize the house as we would like to live in it. Now THAT is inspiring indeed.

Since I will need all the advice I can get, I organized a pre-renovation party for ladies who are interested, are good at, are experienced in house renovations... and with all this help, I hope I won't end up making too many mistakes!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

When a Boy Plays With His Dog

After an initial enthusiasm, Little Boy seemed to lose interest in his dog. Initially, it was because he didn't like being nipped. And then after, it was because he just didn't think it was fun to sit there with the dog on his lap, cuddling sedately away.

One weekend saw their relationship move to a whole new level because Little Boy found out that he could play boys' stuff with Milo. One pair of old pants (see picture above) and 2 young males ran around the outside rooftop terrace for about an hour barking and giggling... growling and squealing. I thought nothing of it and left them alone.

When Little Boy came in for lunch and gave a blow by blow account of their testosterone filled games, I blanched and The Daughter protested loudly. Their games included tying Milo's front legs together with the pant legs so that when Milo would tumble over when he tried to chase the ball... dangling the pant legs out of reach so that Milo would jump high and snap his jaws but not get his prize... rolling around on the floor with Milo pulling ears, wrapping his head up in the pant bottom and tying the legs around his neck and then pinning him down... ummmm... you get the point?

Milo must be a glutton for punishment because he now adores the pair of blue pants used to torture him. If any of us pick up that pair of old pants, he is on alert, tail wagging and body poised to spring.

Oh well... when the weather gets hot, here is a Little Boy's foot, his dog and a pile of ice cubes.

And here are two tired children chilling out napping and reading companionably... Now, contrast Little Boy's relationship with Milo, to The Daughter's entirely different one below.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Teh Si or Milo

Milo is a bit of a misnomer for our hunk of a dog. Technically, he is the colour of teh si (tea with milk). As I drove home with our roly poly puppy one month ago, I actually did propose to Little Boy to name him Teh Si. Little Boy sniffed at the name and preferred Milo... so Milo he is even though he is the wrong colour.

There were other names we considered... Voyou, Sarsi, Budderball, MudBud or The Zohan (yes... yes... from the movie "You Don't Mess With The Zohan"). My personal favourite was The Zohan but I didn't insist because I knew I would be yelling out the name within earshot of conservative neighbours and they actually know who I am. You, my blog reader do not, and so my reputation is cloaked in a blanket of (ummm...) anonymity.

The Daughter leant towards "Voyou", a French word meaning "tramp", and it was the name of the dog I knew in France. Again, it is not a very respectable name but Voyou was the spitting image of the Tramp in the cartoon "Lady and the Tramp". So I suppose it is again up to a male of our family to uphold the family reputation for sobriety and propriety in choosing a sensible but still whimsical name of "Milo". Us girls (The Daughter and I) just want to have fun... and the names we choose always have a hint of mischief.

Oooooh! Mischief is a nice name for our dog!

But sigh... I still prefer Teh Si. Would it be too late to change names you think? After all, our doggie orphan has had no papers done yet except at the vet's... and for a bit of money, the vet would surely consent to discreetly effectuate an identity change for him... and the authorities wouldn't have to know. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lap Dog!

When Little Boy bounced his yo-yo up and down in front of Milo, The Daughter and I exclaimed our disapproval together. It took a while before I realised that we were protesting different things. The Daughter didn't want the yo-yo string to cut Milo's gums... and I was worried that Milo's teeth might cut my son.

When Milo swallowed a chicken bone during one of his walks, The Daughter fretted for 2 days and examined every pile of his shit to see if it had safely passed through his gut. When he was tired and listless last night, she fretted again. Willingly, she wakes up early to spend time with Milo before school, comes home on time to walk him (very rare in the past), and on weekends, she spends hours lying on her side in the patio, holding Milo close to her like a breastfeeding Mom.

I have thus been relegated to the role of Milo's Grandma. The Daughter makes all the key decisions concerning Milo's health, diet and education. I provide suggestions that she mostly sniffs at ... AND... this is the part I like most - I spoil Milo by sneakily breaking all the rules she has laid down for Milo's protection. Oh naughty Grandma!! But what fun to slyly slip him a little bit of char siew, roast duck and crispy chicken skin... and toast with butter and marmalade... tea with milk... a dish of Ribena when The Daughter isn't looking!

To tell the truth though, Milo has shown me that The Daughter will be such a wonderful mother. She will be responsible, strict but very loving... and she will be doting, devoted and patient with her little ones. And like me, she will be ferocious and determined in the defence of her loved ones even against themselves.

On her part, The Daughter understands me better now... why I am so protective... why I lay down strict rules and enforce them... why I am so biased in my assessment of my children. After all, The Daughter is convinced that Milo is so good-looking that he is a show dog. Really, you can't get more biased than that because Milo is a mongrel. He cannot (by any stretch of the imagination) be a show dog!

From Day One in the hospital, I looked at The Daughter's tiny head and I saw a beauty queen (with class and a brain of course... no bikini boomz thank you very much!)... and for the last 16 years, The Daughter has always thought that I was full of flamboyant and insincere praise for her. She now understands that I mean every word of praise I heap on her hapless head. Just like she means every word when she says Milo is a show dog.

The world looks upon us both and laughs out loud at the sheer boastfulness and silliness of our thoughts. But when it's your kid, you don't care. You just believe with your heart, even though you know it may not be true.

That's love.

And of us all, the one who loves Milo most, is The Daughter. Of course, Milo knows that and makes it obvious that he loves her best out of us all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hot Dog on Salad

Will you look at that carnage!!?? My gotu kola pot has been converted into Milo's strong box for leftover bones. He makes a mess burying his bone and he makes even more of a mess digging them up again. And we've all learnt not to look at him when he is hiding his calcium treasures... because if he catches on that we've caught on to his secret hide-out, he will promptly dig up his bone to make sure that it's still there.

And that makes twice the carnage. Here he is with a look that says "What can a dog do to get some privacy around here?"

I reckon that the other reason why he loves the gotu kola pots are that gotu kolas are soft and cool to lie upon when the sun is high and the day is hot. Of course, another way of staying staying cool on a hot day is to get the alpha bitch to put out an umbrella, and open the door so that someone's ferocious looking black snout can get some aircon.

Now, is anyone else getting the impression that I am raising a doggie wimp... or is it just me?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

No Paws in the Forbidden Area

Here's Milo telling me, "My paws can't come in. But my head can!" This is a dog that interprets the fine print very finely indeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Alpha Bitch

Putting together bits and pieces of advice from friends with more dog training experience than I, I'm getting rather good at speaking one sentence of doggie language:

"I am the alpha bitch!"

Oh my! Now I've gone and been vulgar! But I mean it quite literally as in "I am the top dog and female". There are several ways to be a an Alpha B and all of it are stuff my kindergarten teacher taught me never to do...

First off, who eats first is of utmost importance in Dog World. As the Alpha B, I get to eat first. It follows therefore that if I expect Milo to be obedient to Alpha Dog (aka The Husband), Beta Bitch (aka The Daughter), and Gamma Dog (aka Little Boy) these lovely people should all get to eat before Milo. To this end, I have institutionalised a rather ridiculous meal time habit in order to communicate to Milo that we are alpha and he ain't.

Before every meal, everyone troops out into the rooftop terrace holding a tiny plate each laden with 2 pieces of protein. We walk leisurely around nibbling on one piece of protein and Gamma Dog (aka Little Boy), a person with immense initiative, smacks his lips and licks his chops for good measure. When Milo gets to close to our plates, we growl "No!" whereupon Milo retreats to a respectful distance and watches us politely. Then, we each deign to take the other piece of protein from our plates and place it on the floor in a neat pile. If he approaches before we say "Come!", he gets growled at again and stared down. Then we leave him to enjoy his titbits whilst we all troop downstairs to eat our meal as humans normally do.

It is very amusing because it works like a charm. Willingly, Milo now rolls over to expose his neck and belly to Little Boy... and Little Boy is such a gentle child (having always been gently treated) that I feared very much that Milo would not heed him at all. And Milo no longer nips at Little Boy.

Next, when I play games with Milo, I will place my arms around his neck. Us humans read that as a bear hug, and it is a gesture of friendship and equality (unless of course a human male hugs a human female without permission). Milo however, responds by rolling on his back and exposing his neck and belly to me telling me that I am dominant. I respond by placing my hand on his throat. This happens about 3 times every day... and whaddaya know... I have now a dog that pulls back from whatever he is doing whenever I clear my throat at him.

Like I said, if I did this to friends in kindergarten, I would have gotten my ears soundly pulled. So, I made sure I told Little Boy that leadership of people follows quite different rules than doggie leadership. For one, it wouldn't do to swagger in front of friends, plate in hand, saying "I have yummy food and you don't!". And then, one doesn't go around putting hands at people's throats so that they'll toe the line. And then, if I keep clearing my throat in polite company, my irreverent friends may just pool funds together and buy me a spittoon! Little Boy, of course, rolls around laughing and tells me "Mom! I know that! I'm not that dumb you know!"

But well... I just had to make sure.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. It was not in God's plan. To me, it seemed like a cruel thing for God to do to Moses. Why did not Moses rebel?

I have been a Christian all these years and I never understood the extent of God's love for me until now. Of course I knew God loved me. As a Christian we all know that God sent his only beloved son to die on the cross for us. Christians pray to God, our Heavenly Father and Christians know therefore that God love us as a parent. Even then... there is knowing and knowing.

But now, I know.

This week I offered to The Daughter a plan for her good. I proposed a project that would bless her and keep her safe whilst she is away at university... far from my mother's arms that have protected her jealously all these years. I proposed to buy her a house near her university to stay in. Without hearing me out, she rolled her eyes as if to say "I can take care of myself". After hearing me out, she proposed to pay me rent for my trouble.

A jumble of thoughts crowded into my head. None of them good. Waves of emotion crashed upon my heart. None of them pleasant. It was a combination of her dismissive attitude and the cavalier assumption that she will pay me back. For a moment I was speechless. I, the wordsmith of the family... the winner of every argument... was at a loss for words.

And when I found my tongue, I said "I only want what is best for you. I have devised a plan that will benefit you and make life good for you. But in your arrogance and your pride, you see the worst in what I intend." How does one describe the mix of emotions compressed in a raging ball inside my small little ribcage? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And I will tell you that I felt scorned. There was hurt too... like someone took a paper cutter and scored a deep gash into my soul.

But I did not write this to speak badly of The Daughter, for as daughters go I am first to admit that I have a wonderful one. She is as loving as they come. She is responsible and wise beyond her years. And she is beautiful... oval face, soft brown hair, jet black sparkling eyes and porcelain skin. But she is a teenager in the same way as I am human. And we are both rebellious. She and I are not horrible people. But we are both rebellious.

I know now how God feels every time I assert my human will against His divine will. He only has plans to prosper me but I in my limited wisdom scorn Him and I, in my arrogance, think I can pay him back for His grace. The truth is, there is no way to pay it back to God and I only know this deeply and with conviction because it was at the tip of my tongue to hiss poisonously at The Daughter ,"You can never pay me back the full measure of what I have given you out of love. Never! The debt cannot be repaid!" And in this poignant moment of my own pain I have come closer to my God because I now know what it means when people say that God wants what is best for me, and that I must accept His plan for me as His gift of love to me.

And I only understand Him now because I am a mother who wants to sing to her daughter the following song adapted from the hymn "All the way my Savior Leads Me".

All the way your mother leads you
What have you to ask beside?
Can you doubt her tender mercy,
Who through life has been your guide
Homely peace, the softest comfort
Here in love, you came to dwell
Don't you know whate'er befall you
I will try to make all well?
Don't you know whate'er befall you
I will try to make all well?

So... I guess Moses did not rebel because unlike me, he knew that God's timing and methods do not have to conform to our expectations. This is something I am only just learning.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Milo Sees My Line of Action

It has been 2 weeks and Milo has grown. His back leg muscles ripple as he runs and he has developed a v-shaped body with a nicely filled out torso, a lean waistline and a taut butt. Yup! That's a darn good lookin' dawg I got. He's a hunk! And he's big. At 4 months he is the size of a neighbour's beagle.

I'm no connoisseur of dogs you know... From the beginning, The Husband and children made clear to me that they wanted a REAL dog... and not one of those tiny, fluffy toys... or tiny hair-less toys. If you ask me, I would have preferred a tiny, fluffy toy over a REAL dog because at least I would have had the advantage of size, and tiny fluffs appeal to the girlie aspect of me. But The Husband looked upon those with some disdain because he had grown up with REAL dogs... with size, spirit and with character.

What I did not know is that that means TROUBLE for me.

Milo no longer listen to my sedate pleas to stop pawing at us. He leaves long scratch marks along The Daughter's thighs and calves. He nips at Little Boy's ankles. Of late, when I say "No" rather firmly he barks back loudly as if to say "When I grow up, I'll do that and you won't stop me". He INSISTS to put his front paws into the Forbidden Area, and this morning, he nipped me at my throat. I don't speak doggie language very well so I am not sure what the nipping at the throat means, but I would be rather more comfortable if he kept at a respectful distance from my throat.

I think Milo comes from a bloodline that has somewhat more character and dominance than what one normally finds in the popular breeds of dog such as beagle or labrador etc... Milo is an intelligent and strong-willed dog. And because we speak so softly and only tap his forehead lightly when he is naughty, he has come to realize that there are no real consequences to misbehavior. Sigh! It's motherhood all over again.

I decided to adapt some child-rearing techniques and use them on Milo today. I guess it helps to have had to deal with 2 intelligent and strong-willed children back then and even now. Our cane is more than a decade old. It is very little used and so it is hardly worn down at all, but we have on occasion used it on our children.

Cane in hand, I went to get Milo's favorite snack - 3 nice big prawns the size of my thumb, stir-fried to al dente perfection in a bit of garlic and olive oil. I placed 1 piece of yummy in the middle of the Forbidden Area. Milo bounded into the room. I said "No." in a low but firm voice. He looked at me and barked loudly and defiantly. I walked over and gave his nice taut butt one sharp stroke of the cane, and I said "No" in a low quiet voice.

I know it must have hurt, but our tough little Milo did not yelp. He gave me this startled look and he retreated quietly and with some dignity back into the patio where he stayed put. After 10 minutes, I picked up the yummy prawn and walked into the patio to feed it to Milo. I repeated the whole process with the remaining pieces of prawn, so the entire lesson took about 30 minutes.

An hour later, I placed an entire pork rib in the middle of the room. It's one of those that have been dried and cured by enterprising people who sell doggie treats. This time, two paws came into the Forbidden Area and when I said "No", the paws went back out with nary a bark. After about 5 minutes, Milo barked at me. I said "No" and I cracked the cane on the table. He shut up and went to lie down in a far corner of the patio. After another 10 minutes, I walked out and gave him his pork rib.

Yet an hour later, I put out a piece of chicken strip (the sort that comes in bags covered with Japanese words). This time, no paw came in at all. He sat just outside the patio quietly and politely for 20 minutes before he got his treat.

I guess what works with kids, also works with puppies. When the children were little, I realized that they were very good at discerning where my line of action lay. I define line of action as the point beyond which I am angry enough to punish. I decided then to bring my line of action forwards. I didn't have to wait till I was angry before I passed into action. I pass to whole-hearted action after a cue is not obeyed. For Milo, the cue was the low and soft-voiced "No"... because dog or not, I have no intention of becoming a screaming shrew. Apart from being inelegant, yelling stresses everyone out.

Children and dogs should be cued to obey when softly spoken to... and if the action is redoubtable enough (i.e., not half-hearted action but whole-hearted decisive action), there is no need to pass to action too often. A single experience seared into the memory circuit is enough because pain is most feared when remembered. This explains why the cane has been used less than 1o times with 2 children over more than a decade.

I hope it works on Milo... I still don't know if it does. Maybe dogs are different than kids.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Milo the Good Little Boy

It's really funny the kind of things Life makes you learn about yourself. I would never have thought I would ever grow to love a dog. I never had a dog growing up and I always thought they were smelly and filthy creatures. I approached this whole dog business with some apprehension. What if it shitted all over the house? What if it brings home fleas?

And when Milo started jawing us, I was seriously concerned because I knew that Milo has a BIG DOG destiny. Everyone remarks on the size of his paws, and someone even said that his black snout portends a certain ferocity. I worried... I was still kind to the dog because we had brought him home and I felt that I needed to make him feel loved... but I worried.

But after Termite shared some small tips about dog language, I managed to bridge the communication gap somewhat. And Milo is now such a wonderful dog. He still jaws me occasionally, but he is so careful and gentle that I hardly feel his teeth. He responds to a softly whispered "Sit" and when he puts his paws into the Forbidden Area, all I need to do is to say in a lilting sing-song voice "No... no... Milo", and he will drop his paws back into the patio and look at me with his head cocked to the side.

I realise too that if he thinks I am angry with him before bedtime, he'll paw at the patio gate, whine and even bark a lot. My children used to do that too. They would be anxious and refuse to go to bed until they knew that I still loved them as much as before. So now, if I have been angry just before his bedtime, and he has shown he is sorry, I will put him on my lap and cuddle him for a while before I get up to close the patio gate for the night. Then he will lie down outside the gate and fall asleep quietly.

He is a dog that is so easy to love. I think I have the best doggie in the world... but of course, every doting dog owner will think that right?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Milo and I Communicate

Here was Milo sitting outside the Forbidden Area, watching me as I blogged. I must admit that this whole dog training process is quite challenging for me. I don't speak dog language and I could not decipher his look. When the first rain drops splattered onto the patio, he placed 2 paws into the room... and then I understood. He wanted to come in out of the rain. So I went out and invited him into his kennel. He clambered in gratefully and chewed on the pork knucklebone that I gave him yesterday.

He amused me greatly last night because he threw a puppy tantrum in his kennel. Somehow, his soft kennel bedding comprised of 2 or 3 discarded t-shirts had all disappeared into different corners of the patio, and had become wet with the late afternoon rain. There he was on the the hard floor of his kennel sans softness and sans cuddliness, with just his knucklebone.

As I retired for the night, I heard a huge hullabaloo from the patio. There were puppy growls and frustrated barks and a lot of scratching and turning about in his kennel. At first, I thought he was playing some obscure game with his knucklebone and so I didn't interfere. But the hullabaloo continued. I went out to investigate and I finally figured out that he was upset because there was nothing soft to lie on. Spoilt baby! I went and got him a set of fresh bedding and he flopped down with an air that said "It's about time! What took you so long to make my bed, huh?" If only I could understand him better.

But he doesn't seem to have problems understanding me. Last week, this patio had greenery everywhere. As you can see, there is not a spot of green left on this patio except from the hanging baskets which he cannot reach. My monstrous lemon balm with bushy citrus scented leaves has been pruned to stumps. I have carried my echinacea out of harm's reach and as you can see in the photo above, he is having a good go at my morning glory. When I opened the patio door, Milo looked up at my face, decided that I approved of his gardening strategies and went back to work.

I can't believe I wordlessly stood by and watched him decimate my green darlings. In fact, I can't believe that I actually took a photo of him doing plant murder. My priorities in life seem to have changed somewhat. I don't know what to approve of anymore.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Didn't Work!

Alright! I confess! I admit! I concede the point! Looking sad doesn't work on Milo at all. He was very badly behaved yesterday. He listened to me very little, nipped people left right centre and tried a few times to enter the Forbidden Area. Sigh! So... I bowed to the wisdom of the website and gave him a sharp knock on his head with my knuckles. He has begun to take me seriously again.

I towered over him with a handful of dog feed and required him to sit politely before I would bend down and give him his food. He now responds to the command "Sit!" He is a very intelligent dog and figures things out in no time at all. He took about 5 minutes to learn to sit calmly and get fed.

This morning, he has not once tried to bite me and when he tried to grab my slipper from my feet, all I did was bend down and glare at him like I used to glare at my children. He let go and walked away apologetically. I am determined to do a good job bringing up this dog because we all like him a lot, and we want him to grow up into a pleasant member of the family. Otherwise, when he grows up, he may hurt the children or other people, and we would be forced to remove him.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Milo Comforts Me

We played rough this morning with Milo and his puppy bite hurt even though it didn't draw blood. I yelped and then I whined and whined... and then I turned my back him to nurse my hand. He ran around to look at my face, stopped for a moment and then he padded over to lick my face and comfort me. A while later, he licked the spot on my hand that he had hurt.

He is a strong little puppy and will grow up to have a formidable bite. I need to teach him bite control or he will grow up into a biting dog. Normally, dogs learn bite control between 3 to 8 months if they grow up with a litter. As they clown around, brother and sister dogs bite each other and hurt each other inadvertently. Over time, they learn to jaw each other gently. I don't like being jawed at all so he will just have to learn not to jaw me. The internet recommended to give a yelp and then a "No!" and a cuff. But I think I shall use on Milo, the strategy I accidentally discovered when trying to get Little Boy to put away his toys many years ago.

In those years, I was unused to life as a stay-at-home mother. It is far more stressful than most people think. Little Boy just would not obey me. I was frustrated and so I sat down on the sofa and cried real tears. Little Boy walked up to me and looked deep into my face and then he patted my knee a few times. After that, he waddled off and put away his toys. Every one of them!! Bingo! I had struck lottery. For years after, I got Little Boy to obey by looking sad. It's time to try that on Milo... Hee! Hee! Hee!

You see... the men in our family (Little Boy included) don't like to be told what to do. But they will do anything to protect their womenfolk from hurt. It looks like Milo is like that too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Milo's Little House on the Patio

When we got Milo, I had not reckoned that my plants would have to make way for him. Sigh! Anyway, the small shady patio is now his space and the larger sunny terrace patio is for the plants. He didn't like his new house at first but with the hot sun on the patio at noon, he went and curled up inside the house for a nap. We covered the roof with shiny aluminium foil and the little house is quite cool inside. It gets about 1 hour or 2 of direct sun before it becomes shady again. When it rains and the wind blows, his little house is relatively shielded from the elements by the walls all around.

The doctor took a look at the size of his paws and declared that he would be a big dog in time to come. I reckon that he'll outgrow his house. But by then, we would have moved to the new house. He would be able to sleep under a covered patio in a big dog basket and look out benignly on the world. Crooks who don't know him will probably be deterred by his size, and I am sure that when push comes to shove, he will do what all the gentle and kindly men in our family do to protect the hearth and home.

Right now though, he needs to learn not to play bite or nip at us. I suppose that like most babies, he explores the world with his mouth... and his world includes his pack of humans - us. Every time he play bites any of us, we give a sharp yelp of pain followed by a stern "No!". Then we ignore him for a bit like we're angry. He has an endearing way of putting one paw on our knee or lap and look at us with his big doleful eyes whenever we do that. That look says "Sorry... I didn't mean to be naughty."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Milo Adopts Us

Milo has adopted us. He thinks we're his pack and makes sure he comes running to where the pack is every time we walk away. He gambols and he plays and he rushes around licking toes and ankles and knees. The children don't mind but I've seen him licking his own pee, so I mind a lot. The smart little thing has already learnt to leave my toes alone, and even knows the word "No".

We bought him a pee tray, a squeaky ball, a rope toy, an edible chewie, ear cleaning solution, toothpaste and toothbrush. Having a dog in the house is no excuse for poor hygiene... maintains the finicky Petunia. He has a packet of Japanese snacks that we give him when he pees and poos in the right tray. But accidents do happen, he went and pooed on the lower rung of my metal grill shelf because it looked a lot like his pee tray. He wanted to be a good dog and made a mistake.

He is a gentle and sedate dog (like a labrador) with a nice deep bark i.e., not the shrill yipping that grates on the nerves, which he uses only when he really needs to. There's a bark that says "I don't want" which he used when I tried to entice him to walk on the hot pavement. There's another bark that says "I need to go pee". He's a dog of few words and fits right in with our family because we like quiet and reflection. More than that, he fits the profile of 3 generations of family men - men of few words.

He's a good little boy that'll grow up into the tradition of our menfolk.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Meet Milo

Here is Milo. He's a new addition to our family and is all of 3 months old. It's nice to a have a baby to mother again. He is a smart little thing so I think we'll get along. I was quite impressed that he had figured out in the first 5 minutes how to slip the loose collar that I had placed around his neck. He's collarless now because he was so traumatised by his bath that he trampled all over the earth in the pots... and then all over my lap and t-shirt as I tried to comfort him... and then he stuck his nose under my arm and fell asleep. I sat in the sun for 10 minutes baking uncomfortably.

Then I shook him awake, placed him in a corner, took of my smelly t-shirt and gave it to him. He promptly put his nose into the shirt and fell asleep again.

Here he is. Sleeping.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Attack of One Slimy Snailbag

I woke up this morning to a tray full of chamomile seedlings sans leaves. Only stalks were left sticking out of the little eggpots!! So, after I finished replying to Leah's email at about 10pm, I went to look at the tray in the dark with my torch. Lo and behold... a snail was perched atop a helpless chamomile trying its best to ravish the poor defenceless seedling subjecting it to a fate worse than death.

That DISGUSTING snail!! Here it is... CLOSE-UP.

Will you just look at those shifty eyes and that horny head and slimy hands caught in the act of ... of ... of ... I can't say it. I have never been so angry at a snail before. I only managed to save the last seedling. All the others have perished at the hands of this thief come in the night to rape and plunder at my seedling tray. Of all the seedlings in the tray, this good-for-nothing went straight for the most delicate... most elegant and sweetest plants. It left the periwinkles quite alone, crawled disdainfully over the dandelions and the enveloped as many chamomiles as it could in its repulsive embrace.

And I was so looking forward to distributing seedlings to my friends!! Now all my chamomile ladies have been ravished and I will have to start over. Sob! Waaaaaaaaaaah! I now understand why people in the days of yore invented the "draw and quarter". I seriously contemplated the "boil and herb butter" way of processing that snail.

Anyway, if it's any consolation for those of you who took dandelion seeds from me, snails don't like dandelion leaves.