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Monday, April 30, 2012

Fern Cove Bed and Breakfast

Stingy Petunia was averse to the reasonably priced hotels in Perth because there were some comments about cleanliness that were unacceptable. To be fair, some hotels had great comments but mixed within that pile were a few worrying ones about bed bugs and cleanliness. So I looked elsewhere and found a few Bed and Breakfast deals. I shortlisted three... and since the first 2 were already booked, I was left with Fern Cove Bed and Breakfast. It didn't look as beautifully decorated as the other 2 but I was quite attracted to it because a few people made comments about the warmth of the host and the cleanliness of the lodgings. Cleanliness is uber important to Finicky Petunia.

When we arrived at Fern Cove Bed and Breakfast, I thought that its photos on the internet did it no justice at all. True enough, it hasn't got the timeless appeal of many Bed and Breakfasts who try very hard to replicate the cottage look from the late 1800s and early 1900s. This B&B was stunning in its rendition of 1970s retro chic. This, I presume would be the look of B&Bs 50 years from now... all trying very hard to be aligned to the distinctive look of the late 1970s that one associates with The Beatles.

Except for that very modern flat panel TV which clearly didn't come from the 1970s. But hey, I'm not sure I wanna have to watch the grainy black and white TV images from the 1970s. So yes, I can live with that flat panel TV. Yes I can.

The thing is, everything LOOKS 1970s but FEELS new. When you step into the house, you get some sense of how a young housewife who had just bought and decorated her new place would feel. It's really like going back in time to a moment of history that few Bed and Breakfasts bother to emulate.

The owner of this place is Russell, a tall man with laugh wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and a short-cropped beard. Laugh wrinkles are wonderful things to see on people's faces and when you see them, you feel comfortable right away. He is warm and friendly, completely down to earth. He helped us to book an Italian restaurant for dinner last night and really bent over backwards to ask his friend, Manjit, how we could locate echinacea plants - which incidentally, are out of season. These 2 lovely people even offered to help us buy and babysit some plants if we give them some notice of our next trip here. We felt very much at home.

I get to use the kitchen, and the fridge is stocked with whatever we need for breakfast - orange juice, bacon, eggs, bread and butter. There are fruits, cereal, fresh milk, coffee, tea and jam. It's just a matter of quickly frying up eggs, bacon... and then washing up after.

It's a great place to stay. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Off to Perth

The Husband and I are off to Perth this afternoon. We're going over to check out the streets and old buildings in Perth to make ourselves feel better about having bought a 2-bedroom unit in a new development that'll be ready by 2014.

We're very worried about inflationary pressures in Singapore. We're also worried that the housing bubble might burst. I've noticed that developers are much better at selling apartments than owners are. So... for now, with their arsenal of lifestyle brochures and dishonest showflats, developers are managing to sell shoebox apartments like hot cakes. Once these developers have made their money, those who own the tiny apartments may decide that they want to sell. They won't have the sexy marketing machinery behind them. By that time, the reality of living in cramped suburban quarters will kick in. Even people who don't already live there will realize that they don't want to live there if they had the choice of bigger apartments. It's one thing to sell an apartment with showflats that don't look anything like the real flat. It's another to sell an apartment by opening the actual cramped quarters for viewing. The look and feel will be completely different. Seriously too, the doors to foreign talent have closed somewhat. So, there might well be an oversupply of shoeboxes sold to investors banking on renting out to singletons here to make money.

Besides, I believe in contrarian investing. If everyone is rushing for something, then consider doing the opposite. Prices will drop soon... I think. Of course, I may be wrong.

So I began poking around in other countries. We looked at farmland and vineyards. We looked at houses in the suburbs. Eventually, we settled on a 2 bedroom apartment in Perth CBD. We're flying over to really check the place out, and also to explore potential in the suburbs of Perth.

I'm excited. I always am when there is something new to learn or something different that forces me to re-examine my assumptions about how things are done or should be done. Australia, as I found out, is very different from Singapore... and I am fascinated. Besides, The Husband and I were too poor when we married to afford a honeymoon so this will be our very first trip with each other since we got married. There will be no bottles to wash... no child's hand to hold... no having to worry that the little ones will refuse to eat strange food. It'll be a sort of honeymoon, I guess.

When I get back, I'll give you all the details of what we bought and share with you our rationale for buying there... in Perth and in that development.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Little Big Boy

I have come to the conclusion that between Mother and Child, there will always be disagreement. It doesn't matter WHAT the mother says or does. The child will take the opposite view.

Now, is it not true that kids normally DON'T WANT to do their homework, whilst mothers WANT kids to do homework... all their homework and nothing else BUT their homework? So, I thought I would make myself popular with Little Boy by taking the view that homework is a waste of time. Play is more important. So there I am hurrying Little Boy to finish his work so that he can play. And there I am proposing to write excuse letters to Teacher for this or that piece of homework.

But does Little Boy thank me? No. Does he think I am a cool Mom? No. Instead, he rolls his eyes in a MOST disrespectful manner and says "MaaaaaaaaaaaOM! Stop asking me not to do my homework!"

Eh what?

I was hurt. Little Boy has always been patient and sweet to me. When he was little, I left him at a baby sitting centre for 2 hours so that I could run some errands. He planted himself on a chair facing the carpark where he last saw me drive off, and sat there watching for 2 hours waiting for me. If I worked late, Little Boy would stand at the door of my study looking forlornly at me with his milk bottle in his mouth tilted to one side, wordlessly persuading me to get up and go put him to bed. If I travelled, he would make all sorts of presents from household odds and ends, place it in the walkway of our entrance to welcome me home. If I cried because he wouldn't put away his toys, he patted my knee and then kept everything away in his toy bins. So, when he yelled at me, it was a new experience.

Me: When people offer you help, and you don't want it, reject nicely.

LB: But Maaaaaaom! You ask me EVERY day!

Me: Yes... because everyday you have different homework. I can't tell if you want help or not if I don't ask.

LB: If I want help, I will ask.

Me: Still... you can say it NICELY.

LB: Sigh! Ok Mom.

So there. Little Boy and I have had our very first adolescent spat. He's getting to that age. He's no longer Little Boy. He's Big Boy. So sad!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Echinacea Flower VS Echinacea Root

To all those who ordered echinacea flower tea, here is how the flowers are doing. They've opened beautifully and their centres are just beginning to fill with pollen. I will be harvesting them tomorrow for processing in the dehydrator. Then I will call some of you to pick up your orders.

Don't be surprised to find the edges of your mug stained with pollen after you have microwaved the flowers like I showed you here.

I had a spot of flu early this week and so I used one stalk of dried flower with stems and leaves to make tea. This is the first time I am using a stalk of echinacea flower. In the past, I made the whole family chew and swallow the echinacea root. The first mug I steeped had a very mild taste compared to the tongue numbing spiciness of chewing the fresh root (sterilized of course). At the 2nd steeping, I was able to obtain a stronger brew (that tasted a bit more like the root) because I used a spoon and did a fair bit of mashing inside the mug. Then I chewed some petals and leaves - very mild compared to the root.

I sipped the first mug through 3 hours in the morning. The 2nd mug lasted me another 3 hours in the afternoon. By that time, the flu was losing its hold. But before I could finish drinking the 2nd mug of echinacea flower tea, guests came for dinner... and after they left, I discovered that my very efficient Helper had thrown away the tea and washed my mug.

So I took some echinacea tincture before bed. The flu was all gone by morning. I think I got better results with the tongue numbing root (12 hour turnaround instead of 24 hrs) but then... well, I don't wanna kill my plant, and also... I usually chew the root and eat it all up. This time, I didn't get to eat much of the flower because it had got thrown away before I could get to that. I was gonna eat up the whole flower at the 3rd steeping. So maybe, it isn't a fair comparison?

The verdict is still out on whether the root or the flower is more effective. Next time, I will eat up the flower at the first steeping.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Of Herb Books and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Over the years, I had collected such a stash of herb books that I felt guilty. The above picture shows half the stash. For the last 3 years, I steadfastly refrained from buying any more. "You'll never feel that you have enough, Petunia."... and I had visions of an eccentric old woman lying dead in a house filled wall-to-floor-to-ceiling with herb books that Police Officers had to hack through to extract my corpse. Ewwww!

"A little discipline in this regard won't kill you, Petunia" I told myself.

But when The Husband went on a business trip to USA some time earlier in the year, I could think of nothing that I wanted more than herb books. So, I went shopping on Amazon for these below. I am glad I did. My learning had largely stopped for 3 years for want of new material to read. These new books taught me a few exciting things.

Firstly, I learnt that echinacea flowers, stems and leaves are also effective against flus because they modulated the levels of interferon in the bloodstream, thereby stimulating the body's immune response against the flu virus. See here. I had previously thought only the roots were potent. Understandably, I was overjoyed because it means no longer having to massacre beautiful and healthy echinacea plants whenever the family came down with flu. I shall be able to keep the last 2 echinacea plants I have and in time, I shall be able to divide their roots and perhaps have 4 mature plants instead.

Secondly, I learnt of the bacterial revolution that has been quietly taking place in hospitals... and the doctors aren't winning. The words to describe this are adapted from the book in the foreground entitled "Herbal Antibiotics" by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

Late in 1993, a Newsweek article reported the death of Dr Cynthia Gilbert's patient from what used to be a highly curable disease - an enterococcus bacterial infection. This particular strain of the bacteria was resistant to every antibiotic in Dr Gibert's arsenal.

Bacteria are single-cell organisms containing, among other things, special loops of their DNA called plasmids. Whenever 2 bacteria meet - and they do not have to be the same kind of bacteria - they position themselves alongside each other and exchange information. Unfortunately for us, one of the types of information they exchange is antibiotic resistance.

During an information exchange, a resistant bacterium extrudes a filament of itself, a plasmid, to the nonresistant bacterium, which opens a door in its cell wall. Within the filament is a copy of a portion of the resistant bacterium's DNA. Specifically, it contains the encoded information on resistance to one or more antibiotics.

Levy and his team took 6 groups of chickens and placed them 50 in a cage. 4 cages were in a barn; 2 were just outside. Half the chickens received food containing subtherapeutic doses of oxytetracycline (a method farmers often use to speed up growth in meat animals). The faeces of the chickens, as well as of the farm family living nearby and the farm families in the neighbourhood were examined weekly. Within 24 to 36 hours after the chickens had eaten the first batch of antibiotic-containing food, the faeces of the chickens showed E-coli bacteria resistant to tetracycline.

But, even more remarkable, by the end of 3 months, the E Coli of ALL the chickens were resistant to ampicillin, streptomycin, and sulfanamides even though the chickens had never been fed those drugs. None of those drugs had been used by anyone in contact with those chickens. Still more startling: at the end of 5 months, the faeces of the nearby farm family contained E Coli resistant to tetracycline. By the 6th month, their E Coli was also resistant to five other antibiotics. At this point, the study ended, noting that none of the other families in the surrounding neighbourhood had developed antibiotic resistant E Coli bacteria. However, in a similar but longer study in Germany, it was found that this resistance did move into the surrounding community, taking a little over 2 years.

Stephen Harrod Buhner proposes that herbal medicines are superior to antibiotics because pharmaceutical antibiotics are simple substances, not complex... and because of this, bacteria can more easily figure out how to counteract their effects. Herbs contain a cocktail of substances and are very complex. For instance, yarrow, a healing herb, contains 120 active constituents. This effectively means that every time  you take yarrow, you are taking in 120 different medicines. Even garlic has more than 50 active constituents, some unknown.

Hmmmmmmm... this was an interesting piece of trivia. Now I know why chewing  raw garlic clears up diarrheoa every time in our family.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Houses With Character

The houses in our neighbourhood don't lack in character. Many places in Singapore have row upon row of grand houses that look exactly the same. These days, the minimalist style is in, and the houses built are all flat topped roof terraces, glass and steel. I thought this house was refreshing in how it had steeply sloping roofs and ceilings. If you can zoom in on the top floor, you'll see how the internal roof slopes steeply upwards like the naves of a chapel. The glass walls and windows framed by timber also let in copious amounts of sunlight. Praying up there would be like praying in one's private chapel.

 A little further along the road is this very old house with exposed bricks painted over. It towers over the other single storey dwellings. If it were a person, this would be a rugged old man with chiselled features and a beard. The garden is a profusion of leaves and creepers that have been teased up the walls by someone who clearly loves plants. There is a distinctive set of balcony railings that looks straight out of downtown Old Louisiana. Half the ground floor is al fresco space filled with wrought iron and wood furniture of different styles (presumably bought at different times) that don't match but that exudes a chic-ness all its own. From the street, I caught tantalizing glimpses of a back balcony decked with comfortable furniture - the perfect place for an apéritif. This is one house that speaks volumes of style all its own. It reminds me of this.

Next, there is this one with rough plastered white washed walls and a stunning window that pours sunlight ino the 2nd floor family room and the stair well.

And then there is this really beautiful house which is so open but so private at the same time, with a tree inside the house.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spandex Chair Covers

When we bought the teakwood dining set for 8 people, I thought it was a generously proportioned table that would last me till I die. Soon though, we felt the need to seat more... and since we are not short of space in the new house, it made sense to try for a bigger table.

I was still determined though... that the same teakwood dining set last me till I die... and perhaps will one day make it into the category of Beloved Family Antique Dining Set. Mayhaps Little Boy or The Daughter will want to keep the set in memory of me? 

So, for $200, the carpenter fashioned a foldable table top that I could fit and lock into position over the original table. It's kinda ugly because the new top is plywood with laminate, and has none of the natural wood-grained charm of the table it now sits on. But well... this increased the seating capacity to 12 and laminate tops can stand much abuse so it was still an imminently practical (and cost effective) solution, even though ugly.

Unfortunately,  we only had 8 chairs. So, we entertained with a mixture of stools and chairs. Then, The Husband came across the exact same chairs we had bought so many years back, but they were painted a very much darker colour. We bought them anyway, and resolved the colours problem with these spandex chair covers. See... no one can tell what colour the chairs are underneath the spandex. Best thing is, each cover costs all of $3 only.

All in all, I don't think it looks too bad.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 Easy Steps to Echinacea Tea

Put the dried flower, stem and leaves into the bottom of the mug.

Weight all down with a spoon.

Microwave till boiling and steep for 10 minutes.

You can make at least 2 mugs from 1 flower, but you'll have to mash it up inside the mug with the spoon to get more goodness out. Actually, the 2nd cuppa, if nicely mashed can be stronger than the first cuppa... and there are nice soft bits to chew too. Chew and swallow what you can so you get all the goodness inside you. Your tongue might tingle and go numb after some chewing but that's all good. The more the tingle the more potent the herb... and the faster your flu will go away.

Drying Echinacea for Tea Bag

I have been stupid for 5 years. I had believed that the only effective parts of the echinacea plant are the roots. Once you harvest its roots, the whole plant dies. It takes about 3 years to get an echinacea plant mature enough to use as medicine for flu. Growing and harvesting echinacea was an exercise in patience. I have been nursing a few plants to standby for Little Boy's PSLE. If he falls sick, I want everything I can use to manage the flu. I pay special attention to the echinacea plants to ensure that by the time Little Boy takes his PSLE, they are healthy and potent medicinal plants.

Yeah... I am Petunia Kiasu Lee.

Only just did I learn that the flowers, leaves and stems are effective against flus too, as long as you take the tea at the very first sign of a scratchy throat or itchy nose. See previous post here. Only last month I uprooted and killed a beautiful echinacea plant because Little Boy had flu. Little Boy's flu went away in 12 hours but my plant was dead.

Now that I know that flowers, leaves and stems too can be brewed into a Flu Warrior Tea, I've started to dry and freeze them in bags. I suddenly feel very rich in echinacea tea. Right now, I have about 16 echinacea blooms on the way. Green flower buds that look like hedgehogs on a stalk. I have too much for our family alone. I'm selling these tea bags of one fresh flower each... completely organic.

Each bag sells for $5, which is a steal compared to the price of a medical consultation. They've been harvested in their prime (and most potent), thoroughly dried in my dehydrator and frozen. They'll keep a long time in your freezer, and you can take 'em out and make a Flu Warrior Tea anytime. Leave me a comment if you wanna buy 'em. We can figure out a way to make a transaction.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Princess A****d

A skinny little girl came by today who charmed both the young males in the house - Milo and Little Boy. She was all of 8 years old, with a shy smile, a gentle manner... and a mind of her own that she did not hesitate to impose on my 2 young males. Milo has been known to turn grown men pale, the whites of their eyes showing. This little thing  not taller than Petite Petunia's belly button trotted over to Milo like a medieval Princess A****d armed with the magical aura of innocence that has been known throughout European history to calm the savagest of beasts.

Tame Milo she did.

Within 5 minutes my dog was kissing her face. Sure now of a her power over his snarling fangs and evil looking snout, she commanded "Sit down!" and Milo did. But well, Milo is an easy conquest. Readers of this blog know that he is a Wimp, with a capital W. More impressively, Princess A****d tamed Little Boy.

Parents that come to the house with their kids in tow for Petunia's sessions often expect that their kids will be working hard. Hence, the kids expect this to be another "tuition place". This is not true. I work the parents hard. The kids are my instructional tools, and when the tools aren't needed, they get to roam the house and play. Pleasantly surprised at this, Princess A****d, still armed with her powerful air of fearless innocence wandered upstairs and into Little Boy's room.

This is no mean feat because Little Boy doesn't take well to the rapid succession of kids and parents that have in recent times descended upon our house. He keeps his dark mahogany room door resolutely closed. It is a most unfriendly door indeed but that obviously deterred The Princess not a bit. She opened it a crack and saw a Little Boy hard at work. She came downstairs and commented "There is a Boy upstairs doing his work. When will he finish his work?" I absent-mindedly said "Yeah... he has to do 1 English Compo, 1 Chinese Compo and a Math paper. I don't know when he will finish, but he will do it quickly so that he can play."

She took this news with a pensive nod. Then she disappeared. Her Mom and I spent a long time analyzing a video so that Mom could learn how to motivate. The Princess was nowhere to be seen. Mom and I had peace and quiet. We did great work. When it was time to go home, we found The Princess together with Little Boy up in The Secret Room, accessed by a long ladder and through a trap door. Little Boy was looking quite amused when he gave me an account of the happenings.

She had let herself into his room, cautiously commenting "Your Mommy said that when you have finished your work, you can play with ME", which wasn't REALLY what I had said. Surprised and a bit distracted from his Math practice exam, Little Boy mumbled "That's good." There was then a long pause. Then...

The Princess: What is that trapdoor in your ceiling?
Little Boy: It leads to the Secret Room.
The Princess: Secret Room? Can I go there?
Little Boy: Yes. But you need the key."


The Princess (gone to stand politely next to Little Boy's chair): Can you get the key and open the trapdoor for me?
Little Boy (clicking on his timer and looking for the first time at the scrawny child): You wait here. I will open it for you.

Having got Little Boy's attention, and having got him started on doing things for her, The Princess had him firmly in her gentle grasp. She made Little Boy bring down some of the toys he had squirreled away in The Secret Room. Then she christened the room "The Play Room". Then she decided that it was quite appropriate to read in The Play Room, so she made Little Boy carry his books up. Then she made Little Boy bring his exam paper up there and then she made him do his work up there with her, all the while keeping up a companionable chatter, which of course meant that Little Boy couldn't concentrate. Since he couldn't concentrate, he couldn't solve his sums... and so The Princess (Primary 2 only) offered to help him solve Math problem sums from Nanyang Primary School's PSLE Preliminary Exams.

When we went upstairs to get The Princess, she was perched on the ladder with her head through the trapdoor trying to help Little Boy with his Math. My heart leapt into my mouth. If she had fallen off the ladder, it would be like having Princess Rapunzel fall out of her tower. Ceilings in this house are high and so the ladders are long and tall. I was upset that Little Boy had opened the trapdoor for her. It was dangerous.

I was also surprised. Little Boy can be irritable with pesky younger kids, especially if he is working. He most likely would have refused to open the trapdoor to his Secret Room... strangely, there he was looking very pleased and a bit amused at this chatty little girl with her head sticking out of a hole in the floor.

Later on, he told me that she was very cute. So I gather that The Princess had also charmed Little Boy into submission.

Monday, April 2, 2012


The wall on the left side of this photo has a mini concrete pillar up the middle of it. This is what is called a "stiffener". This wall is tall (4.2m) and quite wide (4.5m). A stiffener was required to stabilise the wall. Of course, a whole wall of bricks is unlikely to collapse during the year of post-construction warranty. It might not collapse for even 5 years or so. Nonetheless, it is not a strong wall without the stiffener. BCA building requirements stipulate mandatory stiffeners for every wall that is larger than a certain size.

Do check with BCA what these regulations are.

Next, it is up to the owner to double confirm that these stiffeners are in before the wall is plastered over and painted. Once the plaster is on, there is no way you can tell whether the stiffener is there. Contractors are not perfect. They can forget. Architects are on site once a week only. They might miss this too. BCA, of course, has other things to do than to come every day to make sure that every wall in your house that needs a stiffener has it.... they'll come when the house is done. By that time, you can't see the stiffeners anymore because of plaster, paint and tiles.

I developed the habit of photographing my house twice a day. Once in the morning and once in late afternoon. In the case of this wall, I used my photos to insist that the wall had no stiffener but plastering work had already started. This explains the light grey column down the middle of the wall. You can actually see my stiffener after plastering was done, when actually one should normally see an even tone of plaster. My contractor had somehow forgotten to put in the stiffener before plastering the wall. Even then, contractors, like every other expert can disagree with BCA experts. Some might even insist that BCA is kiasu and these stiffeners are unnecessary.

As far as I am concerned, if BCA stipulates them, then I want them... kiasu or not.

In general, I was very UN-ambitious about my cosmetic furnishings. I didn't use marble. I didn't have expensive wood finishings, parquet, stainless steel, glass... But I was very particular about strength of walls and pillars. I wanted to know that the steel bars were as thick as specified. That every stiffener that needed to be there, was there. The unseen insides of the house needed to be strong.