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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Theanne's Painting

I fell in love with Theanne's painting that she blogged about here. I don't know why. It spoke to me. LOUDLY. So, Theanne gave me her painting all the way from the other side of the world. A home made painting that looks like nothing else on earth. Completely original. Completely hers. Now, completely mine.

Here is a Chinese brush painting that I will be sending to Theanne tomorrow. Grandma painted it last year. I had been meaning to frame it and put it up but I never did get around to driving over to the frame shop. Theanne... I hope you like this home made painting as much as I like the one you gave me.

How Doth My Garden Grow?

The garden was a disgrace for 1.5 years. Between having to teach Little Boy almost everything he needs to know to tackle PSLE, and supervising the construction of the new house, the garden has been neglected. Many plants died and others limped along. It's been 6 months since I started nursing the garden back to health.

First, I rooted new rosemary plants. I lost the 1st lot to the birds who come by and pull the cuttings out of the soil. I had to devise a way of protecting the cuttings with overhead projector transparency foils. These cuttings each had 4 leaves when the went into the soil. They've now begun to look somewhat bushy. I rooted these from a Cold Storage bag of herbs and frankly, I am amazed at the size of their leaves. They're 3 times the size of the leaves from the rosemary plants I bought from plant nurseries. Clearly, a superior strain of rosemary meant for the dining table.

I managed to get lemon thyme. They smell divine. They came home very very bald but have since exploded into a respectable mass of star-shaped green leaves. Like a spray of green fireworks in a pot.

This trough of thyme was rooted with cuttings from a bag of Cold Storage herbs. It started with 4 leaves at 2 ends of the pot. This too has exploded. Unlike the pots of thyme you buy from nurseries, this particular strain of thyme has larger leaves, tougher and wirier stems.  Again, a superior strain of thyme meant for the dining table.

This brinjal plant was grown from seed. It has flowered and I think I have a baby brinjal growing on the left of the picture. I need to inspect this plant carefully for aphids every now and then. I've treated it once for a very heavy infestation with aphids clustered like mini grapes on the undersides of the leaves. It isn't difficult to get rid of aphids. I use a thick brush to paint an emulsion of oil+dishwash over the insects. They dry up and drop off soon enough. The emulsion clogs up the breathing pores of insects. Works on ants too if you paint over them.

I love lady fingers. So does The Husband. So, we're both looking forward to eating these little yummies.

I can't get over it. My lemon verbena has flowered. This has never happened before. I dunno what I did but I can't wait to see what the blooms look like.

I love salads, so these batavia salads are gonna be all eaten up as soon as they grow big enough. Yummsies!

The wild rocket salad leaves have already been eaten.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lion Dance + Dragon Dance + Milo Dance

On normal Sundays, the neighbour's house looks festive enough. 15 grandchildren and their parents drop by. The whole house reverberates with the noise of loud adult conversation and uninhibited children tearing across the lawn or bawling out loud. I am not complaining because these are happy noises made by contented people who enjoy each other's company so much that they willingly get together every Sunday. The people next door don't cook in the tiny saucepans I use nor the inconsequential baking trays. They cook in vats and cauldrons. Unlike us, they don't all eat together because there is no table big enough to seat them all. They eat in shifts of 5 people each even on normal Sundays.

I rather expected that their Chinese New Year celebrations would be quite extraordinary but I didn't quite expect a Dragon Dance PLUS a Lion Dance on the same day. Hundreds of people descended upon the house. There were so many that the kids spilled out into the street to play. Thank goodness they live in a cul de sac so there aren't too many cars whizzing past. I didn't know what noisy really was until yesterday.

The sight of the dragon flying through the air to the beat of the drums sent Milo rushing for cover under a table. When the lion appeared with its wiggling butt, Milo barked a series of challenges. Possibly, the lion was much smaller and so Milo thought he could take him on. The neighbour's 15 grandchildren wanted to show Milo off to their guests so they kept yelling his name over the fence to try and get him to come out and play. I decided that my poor dog would be greatly traumatised by all the hullabaloo so I locked him up in the backyard. This didn't stop the persistent children who at regular intervals throughout the day yelled "Milo! Milo! Milo!" Maybe if I train Milo well this year, we can send him over to do a Milo Dance next year?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Of Sque and Nail Polish

The Daughter had to work on the morning of Chinese New Year's eve. She had to wait tables at the alehouse-cum-rotisserie Sque. We missed her so we decided to all drive down to Sque and eat something so that we could spend some time together as a family. It was fun. The Daughter waited on us personally and she did a good job of it too except for the part when she snapped at me for wanting to change my order. "No! You can't change your order because the chef has already started and now he's mad at me!!"

Now, what kind of service is that, Sque?

Then, The Daughter made us wait ages before she got around to answering our menu questions because she went to smile and chat with all the other guests first. "You're family, Mom." she explained. But hey... hey... hey... we pay the same amount of money to eat there too!! Hmmmmph!

Now, what kind of service is that, Sque?

But we had a good time. When she got over her initial snappishness and all the other guests were served, The Daughter found time to make conversation and say cheeky things. I tried to feed her a mouthful or 2 of our beef cheeks braised in beer. You could tell that she was tempted but with supreme force of will, she declined "Mom! I'm working!" But her eyes were salivating. I could tell.

After lunch, we took a walk to Liang Court where the funniest thing happened. A Dead Sea mud cosmetics salesman accosted me unsuccessfully. I haven't used cosmetics in ages and wasn't interested so I matched his quick movements speed for speed as we sparred briefly. He tried to give me a free sample and I deftly flipped my hand over and gave it back to him... and then I gave his hand a comforting pat or 2 "Sorry, I don't use these things." I walked on by. It's odd that these salesman always think I need cosmetics. Am I very ugly? Hmmmmmmmm... The Husband has never been accosted by cosmetics salesmen. I am more ugly than he is?

Still, The Husband must be getting on in ugliness because THIS cosmetic salesman went for him! Being a total neophyte to this business of shaking off cosmetics salesmen, The Husband had absolutely no way of defending himself. I walked far on ahead before I realized that he was still stuck at the cosmetics counter. I called him on his mobile to hear a most bewildered and slightly outraged voice plus gales of Little Boy's laughter. The cosmetics salesman had buffed one of The Husband's nails to perfection and when The Husband asked "How can I get rid of this?", the salesman said "Wait!". Then he returned with a bottle of nail polish. Of course, The Husband did not recognise the nail polish for what it was until it was well and truly painted upon his nail. "There now," said the salesman (looking very pleased with his work) "now it's even shinier!"

Meanwhile, Little Boy was doubled up with laughter. When I asked why he did nothing to rescue his Dad, Little boy gasped and wheezed and bubbled up the words "I was too busy laughing." So now, The Husband has a very festive looking fingernail. We went to comfort ourselves with some coffee and dessert in a shop next to Sque. The Daughter contrived to go on her break, and we found that we had to split the waffles 4-ways instead of 3. Still, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Forgotten Puppy

Post Script: Forgotten Puppy has found an owner!! Many thanks to all who helped to advertise his plight. We now have Friendly and Frightened here who need homes too.

Here's Forgotten Puppy. He's a handsome one isn't he? Right now, he looks very different from when we found him. When I first saw him, I really thought he was gonna die. I brought him home and bottle fed him with goat milk. He wheezed and coughed and vomited all that I fed him. I fed him again with diluted goat milk and then he went to sleep. As he slept, he wheezed and coughed.

When he woke up the next morning, he was still weak but he wheezed and coughed much less. After a few days, he was playing chewy ear with his brothers and sisters. This one has had it worse than his brothers and sisters. He was half their size when we found him and he didn't know how to lap milk. Come meal times, he didn't get to eat. Sunny, my friend, had to feed him separately.

Right now though, he has filled out beautifully and looks very handsome. He's still something of a roly poly but I think he'll grow up into a majestic looking one... like my Milo (Manhunt 2013, Dog Category). He's got a coat of a very special dusky brown too. I personally think he's more handsome than his bro, Fatty. Fatty is of a rather common brown.

Forgotten Puppy can now manage to get food when fed together with his brothers and sisters. Temperament wise, he is quite timid. He likes to hang out with Sunny at the construction site, following at Sunny's heels all day long like he was the loyal sidekick. So, if you want a dog that wants nothing better than to follow you around to kaypo, ya gotta take this one. And he's a toughie too. He recovered from Puppy Flu with just a bit of diluted milk!! Like all mongrels, this one will save you a bundle in vet's bills because mongrels are just more healthy than purebreds. They are less prone to genetic ailments that plague the pure bred dogs.

Readers who read this, please help to email this link to everyone you know? Those who want the puppy can call Sunny at 91088507.

Can We Move On?

You know what they often say about wasting time posturing in parliament? Well, the way I see it, it's happening with the Ministerial Pay Issue. If I were the PAP, I would just listen to what WP has to say and state that the pay has already been cut, and why don't we just sit back and review a little later? No need to respond to every detail and parry and attack. Just ignore some things because it is clear that it is political posturing.

If I were WP, I would move on and focus on other things such as the MRT, housing and EDUCATION. But no, they wanna score points on the pay issue and in the process, Chen Show Mao (whom I actually like) made a comment that just doesn't cut it with me.

"Serving the country is not a sacrifice, it is a privilege." says Chen Show Mao.

He makes it sound like he would do this for free. I have no doubt he would (which is really makes him special) but I don't expect every politician to have the independent means to do this. Let's be halfway realistic instead of all idealistic. I get tired of the political wayang that goes on and on about Ministerial Pay. Pay has been cut. Let's move on.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The 10,000 Hour Rule of Practice

In the almost-words of Malcolm Gladwell (who writes for the layman but references really good research studies)...

For almost a generation, psychologists around the world have been engaged in a spirited debate over a question that most of us would consider to have been settled years ago. The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey player born in January ends up playing at the professional level. Only some do - the innately talented ones. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.

Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990s at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. Dr K. Anders Ericcson and colleagues divided the school's violinists into 3 groups. In the first, they put the stars. In the second, they put the merely good. In the 3rd, they put students who were unlikely to ever play professionally - the future music teachers. All the violinists were asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you picked up the violin, how many hours have you practised?

Everyone in the school started playing at 5. At that time, they practised the same amount of time a week - 2 to 3 hours. But when the students turned 8, those who would become the best violinists began to practise more than everyone else. They put in 6 hours a week by age 9... 8 hours a week by age 12... 16 hours a week by age 14. By the time these top performers got to the age of 20, they were purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instrument well over 30 hours a week. By age 20, these top violinists had gotten in 10,000 hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students totaled 8,000 hours. Those only good enough to be music teachers totaled just over 4,000 hours.

The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't FIND any "naturals", musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds", people who worked harder than others but didn't make it to the top. Their research suggests that once a musician has ENOUGH ability to get to a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't just work harder. They work MUCH MUCH MUCH harder.

"The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - IN ANYTHING" writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. "In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

The PSLE syllabus is now heavy on thinking SKILLS. Mental skills presuppose enough practice to develop mental HEURISTICS, or efficient approaches to problem-solving.

Take Math for example, different tuition centres have their own proprietary heuristic approaches. Some centres don't CALL them heuristics but nonetheless, their students learn ways to approach problem-solving (which are, in effect, heuristics). In these tuition centres too, they practise, practise and practise in order to achieve skills mastery and to stimulate the natural development of mental heuristics. Tutors in tuition centres mark student practices and provide individualized feedback. They provide the NECESSARY skills practice required to do well at exams in school.

So, the next time a school tells you that your child is doing poorly because he/she has NO APTITUDE since ALL the math concepts have been covered in class ALREADY, please point out that teaching conceptually is HALF the kind of teaching required to do well in exams that are heavy on thinking skills. You can only learn skills through practice and individualized feedback, which the schools have neither time nor some people say "skill" to provide. At least one Teacher confessed that he is not familiar with heuristics and had to resort to buying external resources to teach himself. See here. Also, the next time a school tells you that it is normal to set questions that cover skills that have not been practised because the good ones will NATURALLY KNOW, please point out that no baby is born naturally knowing. Those who know, actually know because they learnt and practised at their enrichment centres OR with the parents at home. It is as simple as that.

The above type of research calls into question the raison d'étre of streaming into Gifted, Express and Normal. The Gifted get better because they get more practice and are taught more things, which students in Express could well be able to master too. And I have heard of at least one secondary school who gets great results with Normal stream because they do the Express stream syllabus with the Normal stream. And the kids get it. Who are we to judge what a child's brain can or cannot absorb? Why don't textbooks document mental heuristics in the same manner as books by tuition centres do? See and Why do I have to buy these resources to cover skills tested in exams?

There are non-GEP students who do way better than some GEP. I'm willing to bet that invariably, these are students with access to the kind of skills practice (that help the development of mental heuristics) that schools don't have the resources for, but are quite happy to test at world class standards. The result is that enrichment has become a MUST.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


It's been a week since I came down with Puppy Flu. The fever and chills went away early enough but what was left was a wracking cough caused my a flooded larynx. My vocal cords were drenched in phlegm and I coughed up never ending gobs of sticky mucus every 15 minutes. I couldn't talk. The vocal cords can't work too well when immersed in phlegmy fluid.

So today, I went to see the doctor. At least I tried to. I brought the children to the polyclinic for their dental appointment and took for myself a queue number for my flooded larynx. There were still FIFTY people in front of me when the children's teeth had been scaled and polished. I applied to the registrar to cancel my queue number and went across the road to the Chinese Medical Hall to purchase $1/= of elecampane flowers. As I drove home, I had to clear phlegm three times in 5 minutes. The children thought I was gonna die from the paroxysms of coughing.

It took all of 10 minutes to brew a cup of elecampane tea... 20 minutes later, I have NO MORE phlegm. This thing cost me $1/= and I didn't have to queue to see the doctor.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Raider of the Fruit Basket

I begin to have territorial stirrings. The fruit basket is deep within my home... a good 10m from the row of trees behind my backyard. Who would have thought that squirrels would have the gumption to penetrate deep into the house to raid the fruit basket? But there it is... a tiny squirrel, the size of Mr Bean's teddy bear. I was sitting scarcely 6m away but it obviously considered me harmless. "Pouf! That one there... she runs too slow... nothing to be afraid of!!" said the squirrel to his friend.

To be sure the huge fruit basket we have (filled with oranges, bananas, apples and pears) must have seemed to the squirrel all bathed in the golden glow of fruity goodness.The squirrel must have been mesmerized and completely helpless to resist the Pull of the Fruits. I'm not sure what to do now. I don't mind sharing a fruit or 2... but what if this mammal drops fleas in my home... or sips from our water pot... or worse, brings its whole family to have breakfast here every morning.

How ah?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Doctors: To See or Not To See

It isn't that I don't like doctors... but they haven't been very effective lately. The Husband's toenail infection went through a month's worth of doctors' visits, same clinic. It promptly got well after I administered this dark green mash of balsam leaves, and bound it as a compress over night to his toe. The Husband's nose allergies joust with the doctors' anti-histamines and win a trophy each time. They retreat, backing away, intimidated by a hot brew of thyme tea. Years ago, The Husband's liver gave trouble. His skin turned yellow. His eyes were orange. Doctors didn't know what was wrong. No alcohol. No prior liver infection of the sexual nor digestive type. Only a bit of slush in the gall bladder, they said. In the end, it was milk thistle that saved the day. The Husband's haemorrhoids were very uncomfortable. It looked like some cutting and sewing would be needed in a very uncomfortable place. In the end, butcher's broom capsules saved the day. Then, there was a wart, caused by a virus, on his finger. The doctor's cream burnt a hole all around the wart but the hard lump was still there and still viral. We sent it packing with a mashed garlic poultice administered to the lump. When he had conjunctivitis, we used the doctor's eye drops... faithfully for 3 days. The eye got worse. After 2 days of green tea eye washes, we licked the conjunctivitis good and silly. The gynaecologist gave me general anaesthesia to go poke about inside my womb, only to declare that he didn't know what was wrong with me, and why I was bleeding so much every month. I confess that I don't know either but I did notice that if I take too  much garlic or ginger that month, I would be a leaking blood faucet that month. I still dunno why but the point is... the doctor doesn't either.

For years, I've prevented flus at home with 5 judicious drops of very diluted tea tree oil up each nostril whenever anyone feels even a bit of an itch in the nose. I've cured myself of yeast infections with rosemary essential oil. I've also gotten rid of body odour and dandruff with rosemary essential oil.

This time, the Puppy Flu got me good. The last time I was sick this must have been 10 years ago? I didn't wanna see a doctor because I know that the doctor will just say it's a viral flu and needs to run its course. He'll say that he can't do anything about it except give me paracetomol and an anti-histamine... and all manner of lozenges that I won't eat.

So, I stayed home and nursed it with echinacea which had gotten rid of Little Boy's sniffles within 24 hours, twice.... and which has been found to have anti-viral properties. I'm much better now but I have no voice. Well-meaning people ask me to see a doctor but I'm pretty sure he'll just give more anti-inflammatory medication so I dun wanna go. Instead, I think I'll go off to Eu Yan Sang and get a packet of those herbs that come with wasp/bee in it like here. I felt really ill this time. I did wanna see the doctor to make the discomfort go away, but I just KNOW the doctor will say that there is nothing much he can do to make the flu go away, or my voice come back.

The problem is, doctors are trained to NOT believe in God's medicines. They would be much more effective if they believed otherwise. Then at least, I would have a doctor to see, rather than have to lie in bed to give instructions via sign language to husband and children on how to take care of me. It's not very fair is it? When the others are sick, they lie in bed and get everything done for them. Towels, compresses, tinctures and teas... all manner of nourishing soups. All ready when they wake. And I KNOW when they wake because I pop in often enough. When I am sick, I need to co-ordinate my own bedside care... and no one knows I am awake because everyone has disappeared, and I have to Psssssst people for a while before anyone appears. If I were about to die, they would never make it in time to see me go. And since everyone is so disgusted with my Puppy Flu, I have been made, this time, to feel like I have leprosy by all except the dear Daughter and Grandma. Women are SUCH nicer people than men. Don't even get me started on the nourishing soup. I fell ill on marketing day so there was nothing in the fridge to cook. Everyone else ate out. I ate nothing.


I feel a bit sore about that... and that doctors always tell me they don't know or can't do anything. I don't really wanna be a MOM. I wanna get myself MOMMED.

Lee Hsien Loong: My Proustian Nun

My hazy memory recalls a passage by Marcel Proust that has defined for me till now, true service to the world. The book itself has disappeared into the far corners of this new house's ample storage space, but the spirit of Proust's words blaze forth in my mind.

Proust wrote about the nun, curt and busy, who manages her domain with efficiency year in and year out. She is not one to dissolve into excesses of emotion nor easily overcome by charitable urges of the MOMENT. Those are for the easy dilettantes who see misery once in a while and do good once in a while, and feel good once in a while. The nun it is who sees misery everyday and identifies spots where the need is great and bends limited time and resources thereto. She has no resources to feel sympathy because all her resources are bent towards DOING something about misery. Don't expect any fawning. Her charity and her kindnesses are DECISIONS made having considered the sum total of the difference she can make to others... and how important this difference is to her.

In short, the Proustian nun is a TECHNOCRAT.

However, the Proustian nun's DECISIONS are made with feeling and committed to with discipline and forethought. They aren't impulses of the moment. I am sure that Lee Hsien Loong FELT for Singaporeans. He felt enough to want to come home and make a difference. He felt enough to donate his salary to charity. But just like the Proustian nun would have, he convened a committee to review Ministerial salaries... looked at the numbers and now will be following through with discipline after much forethought.

Seriously, you think technocrats can't feel? All humans can feel. I have met MPs who truly FEEL for people. There are others who don't. I remember one who used to be a friend UNTIL she became an MP and became so insufferably snooty that well... I decided I didn't wanna be her friend anymore. I don't think she missed me. I certainly didn't miss her. Such people will examine themselves and WALK away from government now that the pay ain't quite so chi-chi. We will wave them a gentle goodbye and keep our counsel of who and what they are.

I like Lee Hsien Loong, my Proustian nun.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Puppy Flu

We found a 4th puppy. We called him Forgotten Puppy. He was very very small, very very weak, breathed in wheeezes and had a scar running along its back like someone had bitten him badly before. I thought he wouldn't last so I brought him home to make his last days comfortable, and let him go slowly into the night with some happy memories of warmth and dryness. I gave him a warm bath (blew dry the fur) and bottle fed it with some puppy milk from a carton. He drank greedily and then promptly threw up on me. I cleaned up the puppy, diluted more milk and bottle fed him again. He seemed to hold down the diluted milk better.

Then I let him sleep in a box on a pile of shredded newspaper, thinking he would be dead the next morning.

Amazingly, Forgotten Puppy made it. He lost his wheeze, and can now play catch and chewy ear with his brothers and sisters. I, however, developed a wheeze. I came down with fever and body chills. I threw up. I couldn't eat anything for 2 days. Today, I could only take a few mouthfuls.

The Husband is disgusted with me for having caught a flu from a dog. I didn't think it was possible. Next time, I will wear a mask when I nurse a sick dog. That is, IF The Husband allows me to bring home sick strays again.