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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe for Low Carb Almond Bread

This post is for Blurting.

250g of Bread Flour
250g of Damp Almond Flour OR 125g of Dry Almond Flour
230ml of warm water
6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of yeast
1 pinch of salt

(1) Dissolve sugar in warm water and add olive oil.
(2) Pour mixture into the bread maker.
(3) Pour in almond flour.
(4) Put in pinch of salt.
(5) Pour in bread flour
(6) Pour in yeast.

Do note that the sequence of adding ingredients is important when using a breadmaker. I usually set the breadmaker for crusty bread.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Potato Chinese™: From Reciting to Writing

This post is written for the many parents who have bought Potato Chinese™ from me. Many have asked...
(1) Why it is necessary to Listen, Read and then Recite simultaneously... Why not just READ only?
(2) Whether Potato Chinese™ aims to increase vocabulary.
(3) Whether Potato Chinese™ helps a child to write better Chinese compositions.
(4) How to transit a child from reciting Potato Chinese™ to writing Chinese compositions.

Why Is It Necessary to Listen, Read and then Recite
Neuroscientists that study the brain have noted a phenomenon they call Brains on Fire with gifted learners.  When gifted learners are exposed to learning material, multiple parts of the brain light up. Some parts of the brain that light up had little or no relevance to the material given to the gifted learner. For example, if given something to read, parts of the gifted brain that processed sounds and tastes could well light up. Scientists began to call this "multi-modal learning". The gifted brain engaged naturally in multi-modal learning, leading to better grasp of material (since the brain approached learning material from multiple perspectives) and better retention.

When I developed Potato Chinese™, I assumed that Little Boy is NOT gifted at Chinese. Hence, I went about artificially stimulating multi-modal brain engagement. Potato Chinese™ requires the child to
(1) listen to an audio-recording (to stimulate the parts of the brain that process sounds)
(2) read printed text on paper (to stimulate the parts of the brain that process sight)
(3) recite (to stimulate the parts of the brain that control the vocal cords and mouth)

This multiple, but highly co-ordinated, stimuli excite the normal brain to waking up and working harder, thereby enhancing retention and grasp. If you want to know more about Brains on Fire, click here.

Does Potato Chinese Aim To Increase Vocabulary?
The answer is No.

Potato Chinese™ is designed to stimulate the development of brain synapses for processing the characters, sounds and meanings of the Chinese language. In other words, Potato Chinese™ was designed to build cognitive infrastructure as was described here, without which the Potato Child finds it highly effortful to even differentiate one Chinese word from another, let alone recall and write them. Parents who CAN speak and write even some Chinese will find this really hard to understand. How is it possible to not tell the differences between one Chinese word VS another? The differences are stark.

I do however, assure you that it is not only possible, the phenomenon is very real in the lives of those who are illiterate in Chinese... and that includes many Potato Kids when they enrol in Primary school. It was the daily reality for Little Boy up until Primary 5. I am illiterate in Chinese. I really have difficulty differentiating Chinese words one from the other even when they are side by side. Don't even ask me about retention and recall.

Similarly, my Spanish friend cannot differentiate the "b" sound and the "v" sound simply because her language does not make a difference between these 2 sounds and the brain synapses to process these sounds differentially have not developed at all in her brain. She can't even HEAR the difference between these 2 sounds let alone remember them. Here is yet another example. The ability to immediately differentiate between more than 10 different types of snow is absent in my brain. The Eskimo teenager, however, can take one look at a pile of snow and know what type it is. For me snow is snow is snow.

I devised Potato Chinese™ to stimulate the development of brain synapses in Little Boy's brain that would help him process the Chinese language. Potato Chinese™ is a brain exercise to stimulate the brain to develop synapses relevant to differentiating one Chinese word from another, retaining them and recalling them. It is not an attempt to increase vocabulary.

However, after 15 Potato Chinese™ compositions, Little Boy could recognise many new words and he knew how to use them in context too. Does this count as increased vocabulary? Yes. But it is a welcome side benefit of Potato Chinese™, not the aim of Potato Chinese™. Once the brain synapses are in place, then there is no more need to recite and memorise Potato Chinese™ anymore. Nowadays, Little Boy simply needs to read a new composition in order to learn and retain new words and phrases. He needs 15 minutes. Gone are the days when we had to do Potato Chinese™ for 7 hours a day.

If your child is NOT a Potato Kid, please don't waste your time on Potato Chinese™. Your child already possesses the brain synapses to process the Chinese language, why waste time with Potato Chinese™? Just get your child to quickly read one Chinese composition a day or one Chinese novel a week, and that should be fine. Faster... less tedious and just as effective.

Indeed, these days, that is what Little Boy does. We don't waste time on Potato Chinese™ anymore. We've gone beyond.

Does Potato Chinese™ Help Children to Write Better Compositions?
The answer is No.

Within 3 weeks, Little Boy memorised and recited 15 Potato Chinese™ compositions in December 2010. He went back to school in January 2011... and we saw definite improvements in Chinese spelling (ting xie). He needed far less time to learn his spelling list AND he was achieving much better scores. He also achieved better scores in Listening Comprehension because he could now process Chinese sounds more clearly. He achieved much better scores in Written Comprehension because he could now recognise more words. He actually topped the class in Chinese Oral Reading because all that recitation gave him confidence to read with style and expression.

BUT, he failed his Chinese composition writing even after memorising and reciting EVEN MORE Potato Chinese™ compositions, in May 2011. Little Boy knew many words. He could recognise them. He could read them. However, he could not WRITE them. This is because Potato Chinese™ focuses on memorise-recite. There is no emphasis on writing.

To get Little Boy to pass his Chinese compositions, we had to take the next step - transit from reciting to writing.

How to Transit from Reciting to Writing?
So what did we do to help Little Boy score better at his Chinese Compositions?

Little Boy had to go back to all the compositions that he had memorized-recited... and pull out good expressions and vocabulary. He listed them all out in an old exercise book. In all, he pulled out 40 short expressions. He knew how to use them because he had seen how they were used in context. This meant that he would not use them wrongly as he was prone to doing in the past... when he memorized the lists of disembodied words Grandma gave to him. We divided the list of 40 words into sub-lists of 8 words each. We worked on one sub-list every week. Little Boy gave himself ting xie of 8 expressions a day on each day of the week. Every Monday, we switched to a new sub-list. By the end of 5 weeks, he had mastered 40 expressions for use in his compositions.

Then we began WRITING compositions. He did one composition every day for 3 weeks, i.e., 15 compositions. We first worked on technique... and when he had gotten the techniques right (more about techniques in another post eh? This one is getting really long), we worked on speed and length. We targeted to write 2 A4-sized sides of paper in 50 minutes. This was not easy for Little Boy. But by the 15th composition, we did manage to write 2 A4-sized sides of paper in 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, even as he practised writing his compositions, Little Boy continued to accumulate nice phrases and expressions for self ting xie. We pulled 50% of these words from the Potato Chinese™ compositions. We pulled the other 50% from PSLE level compositions sold in  Popular bookstore.

As of today, I believe Little Boy has a list of 240 expressions that he revises again and again so that he does not forget how to write them. He uses these in his Chinese compositions. Then one day 1.5 months ago, he came home and announced "Mommy, I looked at XXXXX's Chinese compo today. I notice that I have as many good expressions as he does, and I use them correctly too. My problem is that I write too many simple words wrongly (even though I get the difficult words right). XXXXX has at most 1 or 2 wrong words. I have 9. He can score 35/40 and I am stuck at 29/40"

With that realisation, Little Boy went on a mission to fix his simple words. He gave himself ting xie daily on all the simple words he was prone to writing wrongly. Grandma had in the past burst a few blood vessels trying to tell him about his high incidence of wrong words. All Little Boy did was nod. It was not until Little Boy noted, owned and took charge of his own weakness did he make any progress in this regard. Little Boy can do anything, but only if HE decides to. Sigh!!

And finally, Little Boy began to hit the 30s in his Chinese compositions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Separation-Individuation (Toddlers)

One Mommy, a Consultant Radiologist (or something like that) all the way in Queensland Australia, expressed interest in Petunia's book. I was sad that I could find no cost effective way to get my book to her, at a price we could both agree on, so I ventured to try and understand her situation a little more. This post is written especially for her, and her little boy M.

The Separation-Individuation stage of early child development is described in an earlier post here. To be very frank, Petunia is no expert in early childhood psychology. I know enough to keep myself out of trouble with my kids, but not really enough to call myself a true expert. I can, however, share what I do know... and what worked for me.

So, for what it's worth, here goes.

Throughout the Terrible Twos, Traumatic Threes, Fearsome Fours and Feisty Fives, I was  the famous Chinese military strategist, ZhuGeLiang, personified. I lied and cheated my way through those periods of my children's development. Kids this age are crazy I tell you. They cannot be reasoned with. Firstly, they're too young to possess much reason. Secondly, they can't even talk properly. Thirdly, in the grip of separation-individuation, they will fight you to the bitter end. Unless you are prepared to roll on the floor and create a scene in the way these kids are enthousiastic about, don't get into a fight with them.

If you do meet tantrums, you have to face down EVERY SINGLE one. This is because ONE single capitulation to a tantrum tells your kid that tantrums work on you, and that will then encourage your child to throw even more tantrums. As more tantrums are thrown, some tantrums will work and others won't. The kid can't tell WHEN tantrums work and WHEN they don't... just like a jackpot addict can't tell when he'll hit the jackpot. As a result, the child will be very persistent in throwing tantrums JUST IN CASE, just like the jackpot addict is compelled to pull the lever of the jackpot machine.

Once in a while, I had no way to avert a tantrum. I made sure I faced down EVERY single tantrum. See here for a memorable Little Boy tantrum. I never allowed any tantrum to win a coveted prize. Then I explained gently that if they asked for things so rudely, it was a 100% guarantee that I would NOT give them what they asked for, even if I had initially wanted to. If they wished for anything from me, they had to ask and reason like humans, not little animals. As a result, Little Boy once came to ask reasonably for permission to stay up very late after having thought through his case. He made very cogent arguments and I was impressed. He was allowed to stay up late merely on the strength of the effort he made to reason things through in his funny squeaky voice.

I was on a mission to humanise my son.

There were many avenues for subterfuge. The most useful one was The Meow Took It.  Then there was some advanced sweeping of the premises for possible items that might lead us into conflict. Potentially controversial items were removed. I tried not to say "No". I said "Maybe" or "Later" or "We'll see." In the case of apple juice, which Little Boy adored and could drink up to 2 litres a day, Grandma advised me to nod and smile, and then cut his apple juice with progressively more water. Eventually, Little Boy was happily drinking 2 litres of water spiked with 2 tablespoons of apple juice, a day.

Luckily for us, kids at that age are gullible. What they lack in reasoning powers, they make up for in gullibility. If you tell them The Meow Took It, they'll believe you!. You can't reason with a psyche intent on separation-individuation but you can trick that psyche into complacence.

Then, Grandma said to me something profound. The human will hardens when it goes through fire. If you have a strong-willed child and you repeatedly engage in parent-child  showdowns, you will harden that child's will and set it into hardness for the rest of his life. This is a recipe for long-term parental suffering. It also does your child a disservice because his strong will becomes hard and brittle (like a steel rod)... when it would actually serve the child better in adulthood if it were strong and flexible (like steel cables).

Grandma believed that it was far more important to harness and channel the strong will, rather than harden or break it. Grandma had no PhD, but I am forever grateful for her wise words, and I had faith in her words because Little Boy takes after The Husband. Grandma had done a great job with tempering The Husband's strong will and rendering it flexible without breaking its strength.

Once they get to an age where you can reason with them, then it's time to stay scrupulously away from subterfuge in order to preserve trust. The development of logic and reason also comes with it the ability to think critically. You don't want your child to think of you critically as a crook.

Before they get to the stage of separation-individuation, they ummm... have only one language. Crying. They have no idea how to ask for things nicely so it's ok to give in to their crying. If we ignored our babies when they cry, many might starve to death.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I met Beanie today! I was thrilled to bits!! Oops... you dunno who Beanie is? Meet her here. Beanie is this little thing full of goo goo gagas and energy. Ohhhhhh... loooook... water jug... lemme go and try to hold it. Oooooooooooooh... breadcrumb on floor... looks yummy. Hey! Why is Aunty Petunia hanging on to my leg? I need to go and check out that lady's handbag.

Beanie was every bit as cute as the photos in her Momma's blog. EVERY BIT! And her Momma was every bit (actually a little more) as pretty as the photos in her own blog.

Ok... I may be biased. I have serious Baby Besottment Syndrome. It's a psychological condition that is defined by symptoms such as having a built-in sensor for every baby within 10m of me... for having baby cravings of the hugging sort. I had fun today trying to hang on to a wriggling baby intent on examining everything and everyone at Jones the Grocer's.

Beanie reminds me so much of The Daughter. I missed The Daughter's baby years because we weren't financially stable then and I had to work full-time. I regret that. Never mind, when The Daughter gives birth to her own Beanie, I'll try and make up for those years lost.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The Separation-Individuation stage of The Daughter's development is something I have never written about. It is one thing to write about the pain of Separation-Individuation we both lived through with each other. It's another to write about a theoretical idea you read about in textbooks on Developmental Psychology. I don't think it's ever a good idea to write about personal pain before one has had the time to develop some distance.

So yes... I am now ready to write about The Daughter's teenage years because The Daughter has become quite the adult and has now become one of the best friends a woman can ever hope to have.

Looking back, the thing that tripped us both up during The Daughter's teenage years was a developmental stage in human psychology called the separation-individuation stage. "Many child therapists believe that the stage known as separation-individuation is the most important. It is the stage that roughly lasts from 18 months to 2 1/2 years of age. The child will go through the dilemma of how to be separate from and dependent on you, the parent. Developmental stages are not exact on beginnings and endings. Separation Individuation is a stage most commonly known as the "terrible-twos." It can be terrible because a good-natured toddler can turn on a dime, into a red-faced, screaming, demanding, little person who is out-of-control." (Text sourced from here).

The separation-individuation stage is repeated twice in the course of normal human development -(1) The Terrible Twos and (2) Adolescence. If you had a tough time with your child during the Terrible Twos, expect the same thing but worse during Adolescence. "During the separation-individuation stage, the child (now a teen child) will go through the dilemma of how to be separate from and still connected to you, the parent. This developmental step is necessary, and the will of the child is again exercised in small or abundantly loud ways. The teen is trying to figure out how to be who he is and to be close to you and separate enough from you in order to maintain a sense of autonomy. Just like when your child was 2, it is necessary to pause and remember why this is going on. Your child is looking to you for education on ways of being independent and dependent. Too often, teens take the path that is easiest and most available to them: They do what their friends are doing." (Text sourced from here).

If you wanna visualise the PAINFUL process of separation-individuation, click here. Clearly, that amoeba was in pain. You don't think?

The process begins by pushing you, the parent, away. Teens stop chattering when they get into the car. Teens keep themselves to themselves. They lock themselves into their rooms and won't tell you where they've been and whom they've been with. Ohhhhhh... the rejection!! This is quite hurtful for parents who, like me, are used to my little ones following me around the house, thumb in mouth, because anything I was doing, was good enough for them to participate in. And ohhhhh... the fear!! You fear so much that they will fall into bad company and all that.

Psychologically, at this stage of their development, teens also begin to question their parents and all that their parents stand for. If you have brought them up to be Christians, it is at this stage that they will question your religion. If you have brought them up to be hard-working and achievement-oriented, it is at this stage that they will question your values. This is painful for Moms and Dads for a few reasons...
(1) Your authority as Wise Woman and Big Red Indian Chief is being challenged. Ouch!
(2) Your very beliefs and values are being challenged, and this can seem like a rejection. Ouch again!

I thought I was so smart. I side-stepped the issue of religion by never openly imposing mine. I just lived with God looming large in my life, and hoped that it was a life enticing enough to catch her faith. There was nothing there for her to challenge. ***Pat pat me.*** I side-stepped the issue of values in the same way. I never moralized her or explicitly talked about values I held dear. ***Self-congratulatory smile.*** So, I was a very smug pre-adolescence Mom indeed. I thought I had it made.

BIG mistake.

The Daughter still found a way to cause me pain through Separation-Individuation by rejecting my plans for her well-being here. And then, guess what, we had a fight about Whether Milk Calms Chilli Heat on the Tongue. Oh boy! What a fight! We were like 2 cats!

Little Boy had taken some chilli and his tongue told him firmly that it would drop dead if he just sat there. I told Little Boy to drink his warm Milo because I knew the milk inside would soothe his unhappy tongue. The Daughter told Little Boy to drink the glass of iced water because the ice would cool down his burning tongue.

Oi? The Daughter had just contradicted a TRUTH that I believed in most strongly. Milk soothes a spiced up tongue. I was CERTAIN that was true. The Daughter had just challenged my beliefs (without factual basis) and jeopardised the well-being of my son, whom I valued. I didn't like that one bit. My response was visceral. I won't spoil my reputation (and hers) by revealing the intimate details of our glorious Mother-Daughter Clash of the Titans.

Suffice to say that The Husband had to intervene.

This Separation-Individuation stage of development holds some implications for Teen Motivation. I don't have the energy to write a book about Teen Motivation, but over time, I can write short posts detailing how the strategies, in Petunia's Book, have to be adapted for use with teens. In some cases, one needs to do the opposite of what's documented in Petunia's Book. In order not to bore Petunia's blog followers, I've decided to put all posts on motivation here.

Book on Dog Motivation?

The thing about becoming a published book author is that people take one look at your book and think... hmmmm... this is a rather nice book, BUT it isn't quite customised to me. I've so far received requests for the following books...

- Write me a book for Working Moms to Motivate in the Little Time We Have.
- Write me a book to Motivate my Husband to WANT to Be Nice to Me
- Write me a book to Motivate My Teen to WANT to Study
- Write me a book to Motivate Babies
- Write me a book on Dog Motivation

I kid you not. At one time or other, after reading Petunia's book (and sometimes, after only examining the book cover) people have suggested all the above in seriousness. Yes, yes... no joke... not even the one on Dog Motivation. Even after knowing WHO Milo is, WHAT he is capable of and HOW bad I am at getting Milo to behave like a human, I have been asked to write a book on Dog Motivation.

The book for Working Moms is quite do-able, so I will mull over that idea.

The one on Motivating Husbands to WANT to Be Nice to Me is VERY VERY VERY do-able BUT somehow I don't think The Husband will appreciate my releasing details to the whole world on how I weave my Soft Wifely Spells of Motivation around him. If I do write that book, I might have to write a sequel - How To Turn A Husband Into An Ex. I can perhaps write the book, Motivating Husbands to WANT to Be Nice to Me, and have it published posthumously... after we both have had a good kick of the bucket. Then, people can laugh all they want and we would both be too dead to care. Besides, like I always tell The Husband, there are things wives (even wives with a PhD in Human Motivation) simply despair of ever getting husbands to do (or stop doing) unless it were possible to use mild electric shocks on the husband you have promised to cherish and to hold.

The book on motivating babies would be rather short I think. A baby just lies there - sleeps, poops, cries and feeds. If you wanna motivate the baby to lie there, don't pick him up. If you wanna motivate a baby to eat, wait till he's hungry and then give him a bottle. If you wanna motivate a baby to poop, wait 4 hours after the bottle. If you want the baby to cry because you wanna know if it's still alive, pinch him. If you want the baby to fall asleep - hmmmmm... now this one... I dunno... I have nightmares about putting my own kids to sleep. Hence, I sorta feel I have absolutely no moral authority to write about motivating babies to sleep.

Now... the book on Motivating Teens to Want to Study... the spirit is willing but the first Petunia's Book was such hard work. It was much harder than I thought. So, instead of writing that book, maybe I'll just put up a blogpost sharing my journey with The Daughter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Excerpts

I've put up page excerpts from 5 chapters of the book for those interested in browsing.

- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 11

Happy browsing! The first few buyers have received their books! I'll be posting their feedback in a few days. Oooooooooh.... I live in trepidation!

Friday, July 13, 2012

I Love My Son

I did resolve to check in with Little Boy's work everyday of my trip to Israel. I did want to be a Very Good Mother you see. I had resolved to mark his compositions everyday. However, when I got to Israel, all thoughts of Mothering Little Boy Responsibly flew out my head. I spent 2 glorious weeks sightseeing and doing a bit of work. A bit. So I must say, I have been a Very Bad Mother indeed.

Little Boy, in contrast, has been a Very Good Son. Oh yes... I came home to a single white sheet on my writing table... and 2 stacks of completed (and marked) work by the side. He had typed out a table on the white sheet, documenting the analysis of his mistakes and his progress. One column listed the item of work. The second column listed the number of mistakes. The third column reported the number of careless mistakes. The 4th column listed Suggestions for Improvement. Little Boy's Work Report Summary ended with a qualitative assessment that reads like this... Comments in brown are mine.

I think I did good work this week [You bet he did!]. However, I am sad that I did not score 100 marks for the Math papers when I could have because all my mistakes were careless ones [Oh boy! Who bl**** cares!]. As for the Chinese compositions, there was a steady improvement throughout the week. The table does not list these compos in their chronological order, but you can easily sort them in chronological order by looking at the number of mistakes I made [Kiss. Kiss. Kiss. Hug. Hug. Hug].

Wow! I tell you, I felt so guilty when I saw that single white sheet of paper. I blushed behind my computer screen like any boss caught not doing his job. I then recovered like any boss caught not doing his job. I smiled brightly and said " I am so lucky to have a son like you." See... when a boss has a subordinate who will do part of the Boss' Job, just be gracious and give credit where credit is due.

Here is one of the 5 compositions Little Boy wrote whilst I was away in Israel. It was better than any he had done before I left. He had really kept faith and done the best work he was capable of whilst Home Alone -

Ohhhhhh... I love my son... I love my son.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hamat Gader Thermal Springs

Israel isn't known for its hot springs. This meant that apart from The Husband and I, there were no other tourists in Hamat Gader. It always gives me a thrill to visit places that other tourists don't know about... like discovering a hidden gem of a holiday experience.

Hamat Gader sits almost on the border. This sentence is loaded with meaning when one is in Israel. Borders are dangerous places, and require defending. The resort had armed men walking in it and around. From the pool, one can see a guard tower with armed guards inside. barbed wire fences line the road that drives to the resort. One husband turned pale when he realised how near the border we were. I don't blame him for turning pale. Borders are serious business in Israel. Happily, the resort is at a rather friendly border... not one that sees rockets get lobbed over every week.

En route to Hamat Gader, we dropped by a church built over the location at which Jesus chose his 12 Apostles. The gardens of the church were most inviting indeed. At one end, the waters of the Sea of Galilee lapped gently on pebbled shores. At the other, a lush garden with roaming peacocks and peahens. The most stunning feature of the garden was this long bower with FAT juicy grapes hanging down tantalisingly.

The grapes were sour though.

Fat juicy grapes... but oooooooooooh so sour!

Hamat Gader dates from the time of the Romans. The Romans built impressive structures there that are today in ruins. The current building looks like it was built in the 1960s... but it is very well maintained and NOTHING can detract from the bliss of soaking in this hot spring.

At 50 Deg C, the water is crystal clear because it is hot enough to hold the minerals. When the water cools down, sediments form and the water becomes cloudy. Mineral deposits line many parts of the swimming pool mosaic tiles.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When the Bible Comes Alive - Part 2

Our friends brought us to Nazareth. I must say that we tasted of the warmest hospitality in the few days we spent with them. I was touched by the effort made to guess at our deepest desires. And Nazareth was absolutely one of my deepest desires.

It meant something to be walking in the vicinity of Mary's House... and Joseph's Workshop... It meant something to wash my hands and splash my face with water from Mary's well. Since the whole of Nazareth was served by that ONE natural wellspring of water, it was certain that Mary, Mother of God, herself went there with her earthenware to get water for her family.

Oh dear me... for readers who aren't Christians, please bear with me. I know I sound silly but it really meant something. Again, I was a little peeved that mankind had seen fit to construct buildings ON TOP OF Mary's House and Joseph's Workshop and Mary's Well, as if the original places weren't already beautiful in their original state.

The walls of the church were adorned with pictures of Mary and Baby Jesus. This one is from Singapore and depicts a multi-racial flock.

This is China's version of Mary and Baby Jesus.

The people are clustered around the altar that is inside the grotto which was Mary's House.

Here is the altar (aka Mary's House) up close.

Excavations to bring again to the light of the world old Byzantine mosaics are under way.

Mary's Well

Bread that Mary would have made for Jesus and Joseph.

Mary's Salad? Heh!

When the Bible Comes Alive - Part 1

I walked the path Christ walked as He carried His cross through the streets of Jerusalem. At first, it seemed like just any other pleasant walk through those ancient streets that Petunia loves to visit. However, when the guide explained that here Jesus fell... there Jesus placed his palm... here Jesus fell down again... and right here, Simon from Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry His cross... it didn't seem a pleasant walk anymore. I seemed to see the rabble around... and a man falling onto his knees, heavy cross upon his lacerated back, dripping blood.

As we made our way into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a large and heavy church all dark inside, the guide pointed out another heavy stone structure built ON TOP OF the place where Jesus' body was laid to rest wrapped in a white burial cloth. It was very confusing... and I was irritated that mankind had seen fit to erect such an ugly structure over such a holy place. It would have been more beautiful had it stayed the cave it once was... with uncut boulders... a simple slab, and an opening that let in light and air. It would have been a glorious place had mankind not decided to worship God with dressed stones... and huge churches with no sunlight inside. After all, in Exodus 20:25, God did say "25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it."

I am sure that the people who built the church wished to glorify God. I am just not sure that it is the best way to do it. But maybe, that is just me.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was given the privilege to enter into a narrow room wherein there was a stone slab. This was where Jesus' body was laid to rest. I could not help it. It was so dark and so sad... and I saw His body lay there pale and washed. Tears welled up and I was quite overcome with grief. It was happening right before my eyes. Things went downhill from there. The guide ushered us to the Golgotha and from there, we went upwards within the church to see the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross.

Again, it was happening on the slab right before my eyes... the nailing. And when the figure of Jesus crucified upon the cross reared itself before my eyes, I had a COMPLETE meltdown. It was all VERY undignified! Me sniffling amongst all those people... who didn't at all seem bothered by all that blood and gore I could see on the floor and walls. It was also very embarrassing. It took some effort to keep myself from opening my mouth wide to wail.

And I do mean WAIL. Instead, one tried one's best to blow one's nose genteely onto The Husband's sleeve ... discreetly so no one else could see.

I was glad to go out into the sunshine again and those who were with me were sweet and kind. They asked if I would like to spend more time in the Holy Place that had moved me to tears. I declined. No way was I gonna stay over long in that place that meant so much pain and blood for me.

This said, I am grateful to my hosts for bringing me there. It is not a sight I would have missed for the world. Walking the Way of the Cross helped me feel Jesus' humanity and be grateful for His divinity. It was a deeply spiritual experience.

Jesus' tomb slab is inside the huge black structure here.

Jesus was crucified here where his golden figure stands.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Petunia's Book Has Arrived!!

The printer has delivered the books! Oh happy day! The Daughter is in China... and The Husband is in Europe. Our little family situated in 4 corners of the world has been awaiting these books with some trepidation. What if the books look ugly... look cheap... look unprofessional... look amateur (which is the same as unprofessional I guess).

The books look great (ummmmm... if I might say so myself... kekekekeke)! There was some concern that it would be too thick (even after I took some content out). It turns out that the thickness is about right.

For the next few days, I'll be shipping out all 284 books ordered (and paid for) so far. Hmmmmmm... and I realise that this part of the book business is far less fun than writing and illustrating a book. May this book bless your families and bring sweetness into your lives.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Akko (Acre)

We didn't know that Akko was Acre. Our friends told us that it was a city with lovely ruins from the past. We nodded our heads politely and went along. Akko meant nothing to us. Acre meant many things. Akko is a town as old as civilization. As days flowed into years and years into centuries, Acre went from Phoenician rule to Christian rule to Muslim rule and finally, Israel took this town in 1948.

A humongous castle stands at Acre, excavated painstakingly from under 30 metres of mud and stone the Muslims poured into and on top of its vast halls in an attempt to obliterate all traces of christendom in Acre. The mud preserved the structure very well. The arched ceilings rise elegantly 20m above the ground, every brick preserved and intact. Monastic knights lived here. These were men who dedicated their lives to the protection of pilgrims who made the long journey to Jerusalem to see the land where Jesus and Mary lived and died.

They were warrior monks.

The best known of such monks would have to be the Knights Templar who ran one of the world's first known money transfer system. Devout Christians left all their possessions in the care of the Knights Templar in the towns where they lived. These possessions were quantified and recorded. As these Christians travelled across strange lands, they did not have to carry much wealth and risk having that wealth be taken away by robbers and brigands. Instead, they could approach any branch of the Knights Templar along the way and draw down upon the wealth they had left in the care of the Knights Templar.

Templar Knights swore an oath of poverty. The emblem of the Knights Templar has 2 knights sitting on the same horse... to represent how poor the knights were. They were too poor to mount each knight on his own horse. Of course, whilst the order may have started poor, it soon became a very rich organisation because every one who was religious would donate wealth to the order... and wealthy devotees would give their lands and riches to the order for safekeeping during their own long years of pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Being religiously driven, the Templar Knights were formidable in battle. They were not allowed to withdraw from battle. Dying was an honour. As usual, money corrupts the mind, spirit and soul. After a bit, lesser men, driven by money more than religious fervour inflitrated the ranks of the order. These knights lost Acre after 200 years, losing to Sala-adin, an Kurdish Muslim who was equally driven by religious fervour, and a man so great that he commanded even the respect of his Christian enemies.

One of the Large Halls

The Knights Dining Hall

People dressed up as knights and pilgrims.

Parts of the castle exposed to the elements. The walls reached further out into the sea but much has been destroyed by wind and water erosion.

Another Little Boy

The Husband and I are doing the last bit of Israel together. We bunked in with his friends and I made acquaintance with a young man of 6 years old who has appointed himself Petunia's Bodyguard. I don't think any amount of money can buy this level devoted service. We travel in 2 cars and being still under 10 years old, The Little Man has to ride in his parents' car. Even then, The Little Man contrives to be Him Who Opens Petunia's Car Door with a bright smile and a shy hello.

We visited Acre yesterday... the port through which the Crusaders entered The Holy Land. One part of the tour included some tunnels. The Little Man declined to go in because he found it creepy and full of monsters. I too declined because I have a fear of enclosed spaces where I can see no sun. So we bonded over our mutual dislike of tunnels.

We sat there and made conversation... wondering at this well and that other doorway. The Little Man has an intellectual bent. At all of 6 years old, he was the only one in his family who wanted an audio guide and actually LISTENED to it attentively. Since Petunia loves history, we both bonded over the historical details of Acre's Knights' Castle.

Then, The Little Man did something knightly.

We were close to closing time. After waiting a bit for the others to finish viewing the tunnels, we realised that the both of us were all alone in the castle. In a bit of a panic, we decided to make for the entrance. The Little Man ran nimbly on short skinny legs and lead Aunty Petunia through a gap in a closing door. I stood there blinking in the bright sunlight when the quick thinking little fellow pointed to the ticketing booth and said that we should return the audio guides. He insisted we return the audio guides quickly because his Daddy's driving license would otherwise spend the night there. I was a bit confused because we were separated from the rest of the group and I wasn't sure how many audio guides we had borrowed. But somehow, the little man was sharp and alert.

"Aunty Petunia, we have TWO audio guides" said he.

And that was true indeed. We rescued his Daddy's driving license and found an ants' nest to observe. Somehow, the little man wasn't as self-assured and calm when he saw the ants. He hopped here and there... and then ran off.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I don't suppose many tourists will wanna go to Sderot... a small town so close to the Gaza strip that it gets bombarded by rockets every so often. It has been 11 years since Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip... and for 11 years, people in Sderot have lived in fear of rockets launched from the Gaza strip. Sensors can detect incoming rockets and sirens go off to warn the populace. When that happens, the residents have no more than 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter. It doesn't matter if you're sitting on the toilet... are showering... or have 3 children to find and gather up, you have 15 seconds before the bomb hits. That means 15 seconds to get yourself somewhere that will keep you alive.

Kids have been so traumatised that they refuse to go to the toilet in the daytime. They don't want to be caught with their pants down when the rockets come in. Other kids will sleep nowhere else than their parents' room. The latest spate of bombardment was only 2 weeks ago... so yes, it is not history I write of here... it is current reality.

You would think that after 11 years, the town would be deserted? It is instead a thriving suburb. Property prices are on the rise. Roads are well maintained and gardens are neat. The guide explained, "The people here are strong. They have the resolve to NOT allow acts of terrorism to change the way they live. This is our home and we will not run. We might die but we will not yield."

You cannot help but admire such courage... not from soldiers but from normal people like you and I. When The Bible documents that the Jewish people are a bunch of stiff-necked people, I think it is an understatement. These people have titanium necks.

All the schools in this town are new. At the cost of millions, the entire school is built of reinforced concrete able to withstand rocket hits. This way, students in school can continue with lessons no matter how many rockets are coming in. Below, you can see the picture of a school wall that suffered nary a dent from a rocket that crashed its nose right into it.

Remains of rockets.

Direct rocket hit in a school.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I like the Israeli breakfast - bread with a selection of cream cheeses. One would think that cheeses at breakfast would sit heavy on the stomachs but not these cheeses. They're low in fat content and very digestible. A little sour and a little salty, it's a refreshing way to start the day.

Jaffa Old Town is in Tel Aviv. The story goes that on an outcrop of sea rocks off the coast of Jaffa Old Town, a beautiful princess named Andromeda was chained and left to be eaten by sea monsters sent by the angry God of the Sea, Poseidon. Andromeda's mother, Queen Cassiopeia had boasted that her daughter was of beauty surpassing that of Poseidon's daughters, the Nereides (sea nymphs). I stood upon Jaffa Hill looking down at the outcrop of rocks, imagining in my mind's eye a princess chained. Then my guide continued his story. A young demi-god, Perseus came with Medusa' head, and turned the sea monster into stone... whereupon, a pair of intense Mediterranean eyes held my gaze and delivered the punchline... "You, Madame, stand upon the legendary sea monster that turned to stone."

I assure you that every little hair on my arm stood straight up right there and then. Boy... not only was I in Israel, breathing the air of Israel, soaking in the sun in Israel... the same sun that Jesus gazed upon... I was actually standing on the head of an ancient sea monster. I wonder if there's any chance that one might get a glimpse of Medusa's head.

For those who know the Bible, Jaffa also figured large in the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah didn't like the people of Nineveh. When God asked him to bring a message to Nineveh, Jonah took off in the opposite direction. He came to Jaffa, and took a boat to Tarshish. Eventually, his fellow sailors tossed him overboard and a whale swallowed him whole and vomited him out again near Jaffa. Oh well... I suppose Jonah figured that if he tried to sail again, another whale would just as happily swallow him up and spit him out again near Jaffa. So, it would be like Sisyphus all over again - running away from God is futile. So Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered a message he didn't want to deliver. He saved a city that he didn't want to save. Then he sulked at God.

The nerve! What nerve had Jonah!!

An alleyway amongst the streets of Old Jaffa Town. Streets were all positioned in ways that would allow the sea winds to blow right through them, creating ventilation for all who walked there and lived there.

Would you believe it? There was a time where Jaffa was ruled by the Egyptian Pharaohs. An archeaological dig is ongoing, attempting to recover the remains of an ancient Egyptian structure.

We passed in front of a construction site for a new condominium. Before construction is allowed, the builder must arrange for archeaological digs to first be done to recover any artifacts that might be affected. There is nowhere one can dig in Israel and not find anything.

Here is an ancient winepress. Grapes were placed here for feet to stomp upon. The grape juice flowed from here into a separate cistern.

Isn't this so amazing? There is an orange tree (think Jaffa oranges) growing in a huge pot suspended in the middle of a courtyard by steel cables. It just hangs there 3m off the ground, with a full-sized tree in it!!

Here is a water bag made of goat skin. You can still see the goat's 4 legs.

I loved this glass sculpture. Water spashing and breaking into droplets, frozen into glass.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tel Aviv

I have to get some work done in Israel but I really can't decide whether this trip counts as work or not because I am having entirely too much fun... even for someone who normally enjoys her work. This is a beautiful country. To be sure, Tel Aviv is not beautiful since it is like any other big city chock a block full of concrete and pavement. If you've seen one major city, then you've seen them all.

But this is still a beautiful country. The quality of sunshine is different here. It just seems more golden, somehow. From my hotel room, I can see Tel Aviv's buildings stretch far out to the right... and the Mediterranean Sea go out far... further than the eye can see. All of this bathed in the golden glow of the Mediterranean sun. I'm not sure I know how to describe how the sunshine here is different, but I will try...

Singapore sits atop the equator. The rays of the sun burn incandescent white. They're white hot rays like blazing magnesium. Here in Tel Aviv, the sun is golden... really golden... and when I look out upon Tel Aviv city, I truly understand the cliched phrase "a city bathed in a golden glow". I'm also not sure why this happens but by some trick of this golden sunlight, an aura glows all along the horizon line where the Mediterranean Sea meets the sky. It looks like God used a highlighter pen to draw that line in the same colour as His own divine light.

Somehow, you can understand why people fight over this land. I'm not saying that fighting is good. I am just saying that I can understand why people would fight over this place.

And boy... the food is good. Meals start with an assortment of salad plates. At one of our meals, I swear we were served about 25 different varieties of salads and dips. You take the pita bread (fresh from the stone oven) and dip it or salad it. I'm usually full before the main course even arrives... and thus far, I haven't had dessert yet because greedy Petunia just MUST try every dish. By the time dessert comes around, there is just no more stomach space. I must learn to pace myself and not try to eat everything that smiles at me from the table.

An assortment of salads and dips. This is not half of what can get served at ONE meal.

I loved this salad. I have no idea what it is made of and none of the people I knew could tell me. But it was crunchy, it was refreshing and just woke up my tastebuds.

These are Syrian olives. Oh my! NOTHING like the mild tasting olives you get back home. These have double the flavour and are pleasantly bitter at the end of the chewing. There is no describing this. I've always loved olives... any kind... but I think my palate has been spoiled now by Syrian olives. From now on, I think I will be an Olive Snob and go around sniffing at all other inferior olives.

This is hummus with parsley. Hummus is a spread made of chickpeas and can be augmented with spices and herbs.

This is hummus.

Pita bread.