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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.