Thursday, 18 August 2011

Bath Art

Ingredients for fun:
1) Non-toxic paint
2) Palette / any receptacle for paints
3) Paint brushes / sponges / toothbrushes / rags
4) Dark coloured clothes

For clean up:
5) Cleaning brushes
6) Bathroom cleaner, if required

1) Set rules
2) Involve kids in the cleaning up (skip the bathroom cleaner) - that can be part of the fun
3) Expect a mess
4) Have rags ready
5) Clean the palettes / brushes etc., bathroom then shower the kids
6) Test your tiles - I forgot to check and panicked when the red paint didn't wash off

Ae painted a dinosaur

Ew's Transformer robot on the bathroom floor

Magnificent !

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A wacky and wonderful journey through science

Dull science is rampant. The worse I can think of are the text books we used in primary and secondary schools (in Malaysia), 30 years ago. So bad, that I cannot remember how the secondary school ones look like. The only primary school science book I can remember is a page with a search for hidden animals. That was way back in Standard 1.

Despite that, I became a scientist. I met many very interesting science teachers who made up for those dire books and kindled my interest in the subject. The best part was having an aunt, who was a science teacher, who always took the opportunity to show the relevance of science in everyday life. Most unforgettable, was the time she bought cow eyes so we could cut them up at home and examine the lenses.

Enter Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus - a series of books by Scholastic about scientific topics written in the most entertaining fashion yet packed with nuggets of information. According to the Official Scholastic website for The Magic School Bus the series is almost 25 years old. But I have never seen them until a couple months ago at the Taipei Public Library. The author is Joanna Cole who was an elementary school teacher, librarian and a children's book editor. The books are illustrated by Bruce Degen.

Miss Frizzle is a teacher who is very passionate about her subject. She is portrayed as a wacky woman, very single minded in her quest to impart knowledge and provide experiences for her class of students. She is often the butt of the children's jokes which I find can be quite rude. This I attribute to my Asian perspective of respect and reverence of capable people in a teaching capacity. Or perhaps, I am now too distant from the age where it was hilarious to poke fun at teachers. But I tend to skip those parts when reading to my children. I substitute every nickname for Frizzie/ the Frizz with Miss Frizzle and I erase every mockery of her. Yes, I am a stick in the mud.

The first book we picked up at the end of last year,was "The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip". Miss Frizzle takes the students to a power plant. The children learn how electricity, how it is generated and distributed to homes. They travel through various electrical appliances. 
With all The Magic School Bus classic books, the scientific information is presented in a simple and easy to understand format. There is an element of imagination but the science remains factual. I really like the many layers of information. While the main story progresses, there are side notes in the form of the students' reports which provide additional detail or explanation. Real scientific terms are introduced and explained. The things explored are familiar and relevant. Sometimes, Ae follows the main story. Most times, she ignores the books but if she finds one on a shelve in the library, she brings it to her brother. Ew follows the main story and goes for the extra notes. Sometimes, he requests that I skip those parts, so I do.

If you are uncomfortable with the imaginary aspects of the story like a bus that changes forms, time travel, students small enough to float through electrical wires, the last two pages handles the brickbats. The author admits certain things are not possible or provides explanation. Some additional clarification is provided for anyone who may want to look up some of the information.

The illustrations are fantastic - attractive, colourful and greatly help children understand the concepts. There are detailed diagrams to explain how things work e.g. turbines. Jokes are often inserted as speech bubbles. I mentioned that Miss Frizzle is ribbed but there are clever play on words and wit. I love the creative designs of Miss Frizzles dresses, complete with matching shoes and earrings. It complements the theme explored in each book and provides previews of what is in store. Again, the diagrams are fun but factual. I wish Bruce Degen illustrated some of the text books I read.

Being very interested in electrical appliances, Ew got a lot out of that book. He probably didn't grasp the part about atoms losing an electron and how the movement of electrons creates electricity but I think he acquired the basic understanding of electricity. He can name the electrical appliances in the house (vs. non electrical). He can explain the end effect of electricity for an electrical appliance to work e.g. generate heat or light, cause movement. During the Fukushima incident, there were pictures of the nuclear reactors in the newspapers. I explained those to him and he seemed to grasp the concept because he had seen pictures of turbines in The Magic School Bus book.

The next book we borrowed was "The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body". The students travel through the digestive system and learn about oxygenation of blood and organs. This was the book that travelled with us back to Malaysia and entertained the children for 2 weeks. Again, Ew could identify with a lot of the stuff covered because he had asked me about poo in Mamypoko once and I had drawn him a diagram of the digestive track from the mouth to the anus. The book didn't go in the same direction but it built on some knowledge that he already had and added more about blood cells, the brain and muscles. He probably can't tell you about muscle fibres, I can't either. During a trip to the hospital, he stopped in front of the Neurology Clinic, pointed to a diagram and said "Mummy, look ! That is the brain." I was impressed.

It was a nice coincidence that I happen to find the VCD for the TV tie in for the same at Tesco. It is called "The Magic School Bus Gets Eaten" but the story is similar to the book. I am not a big fan of TV, so I prefer the books. The kids watched it twice and haven't asked for it since. (For this I am indeed grateful. Amen.)
Then we read "The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses". It was information overload for my kids as the Magic School Bus went through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue. Ew wasn't interested. Maybe it would be more suitable for an older child who has explored those concepts before. I liked it for the explanation of how each sense works. The story was creative but Miss Frizzle wasn't driving the bus. And the vice-principle whatever his name, doesn't drive it as well. Who say men make better drivers ?

During a library visit, we came across two Magic School Bus books in a different format. The books are smaller, thinner and much simpler. Those were the Science Readers designed for children early readers to read on their own. Despite the simplicity, the science remains true. What impressed me was these books are not about simple, mundane (sorry) subjects that most readers tend to be. No "Fox does the trot" or repetitive "More spaghetti I say". No, the two books we borrowed were "The Magic School Bus Gets Crabby" and "The Magic School Bus Flies with the Dinosaurs". The Crabby one is about tide pools and the organisms within. The latter introduces the link between birds and dinosaurs. The students of Miss Frizzle's class go back in time and learn about the feathered dinosaurs of Liaoning Plain in China. I improved my dino-vocabulary with words like Jinzhousaurus, Confuciousornis.

Ae loved those simple Magic School Bus readers. She carried them to the dinner table many times to read while she ate. I think she had found in them books like those her brother was reading but more at her level.

We are currently have "The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs" (classic book) and "The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth"(classic book). The former is a more popular choice in our household. We borrowed "The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth" first and read it a few times. Then my reservation of "The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs" came through. After we picked up the "The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs" from the library, the "The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth" was left forgotten at the bottom of the book basket.

In summary,
1) great series of book about science except for the rude jokes about the teacher
2) suitable for children of various ages - pre-school to primary. This adult loves it too!
3) different levels of information present in a manner that allows one the choice to skim or delve
4) wide range of topics - start with those that interest your child to get the most out of it. As they start to like Miss Frizzle and the bus, introduce new topics.
5) different formats - from simple readers, classic books, chapter books, cartoons

To quote Miss Frizzle, "Fasten your seat belts and take a field trip on the Magic School Bus".

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Alishan, Day 1

In our 2 years here, our travel has centred around the train hotspots in Taiwan. Last June, we visited Taiping Shan to ride the Bong Bong train. In Dec, we saw the historical roundhouse in Changhua. I thought it was time for us to pay tribute to perhaps the most famous attraction in Taiwan - Alishan, to pay tribute to the iconic forest railway.

Alishan means 'Mount Ali'. It all becomes a bit confusing when Mummy tries to answer the 'Are we there yet?' question because there is no mountain there called Ali. Alishan covers a mountainous area which boasts several mountains (none called Ali). The name is derived from the name of a tribal chief, Abali. When out hunting with Abali, the aborigines never went home empty handed. Hence, Abali was revered among the aborigines and they named his hunting ground after him. When it became too much of  a mouthful, they shorted it to Alishan. (retold from memory, with poetic licence). On our trip, we explored the Alishan National Scenic Area (ANSA) and spend about a day in the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area (ANFRA) within the ANSA.
Unfortunately, about a week before we were scheduled to leave. The little forest railway was derailed by falling tree branches, killing 30 Chinese tourist. The little train service was suspended and remains suspended today as I write. It was a major disappointment for us but we were so looking forward to the trip that we proceeded anyway.

The Alishan National Scenic Area website is a great resource although the news has not been updated since 2010. I can't help but conclude that the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan is not actively encouraging people to visit Alishan. As I went along the trip, I understood why. Large stretches of Provincial Highway 18 leading to the ANFRA, damaged by Typhoon Morakot in 2010 are still being repaired. We saw signs of fresh landslides along the way. Twice, we came to roads that had collapsed and had to turn back and change our plans. It was scary.

So, lets get to our trip.

There are several ways to get to Alishan. The Taiwan High Speed Rail connects to Chiayi. A cheaper option is the ordinary train by the Taiwan Railway Administration or buses from Taipei. In Chiayi, one can transfer to buses or trains to the ANSA and ANFRA. A large number of visitors take advantage of this excellent public transport arrangement. Erm..we chose to self-drive for various reasons - I am a detailed packer and didn't want to risk leaving the kids' toilet seat on the train and my husband is a control freak who addresses himself as 'The Captain' (of his vessel).

We started off on a wet and smoggy Monday morning following a map provided by Mr. He, our favorite airport limo service provider. We decided to forgo the GPS at this point, as our device seem to have a penchant for small country lanes. Our route was National Highway 1, all the way to Yun Lin --> Provincial Highway 78 to Gukeng --> National Highway 3. It was somewhere along National Highway 3, that our GPS started to show its fetish for the narrow country lanes again. Somewhere around Jhuci, we found ourselves going up a small winding mountain road. The mist was coming in fast although it was around 4pm. Suddenly the little mountain road came to an end. Up in front was the remains of a road, broken and we could not see beyond that for the mist.

Ew became really worried. My son is an expressive worry wart. He worries out loud. That's my husband's gene, I know. I am the stoic, let's project an optimistic front type. My palms may be sweaty, my heart may be pounding but my lips are sealed. My son needs certainty. At his point of his life, he gets that from us. To see us hesitating, calling, stopping, turning back. That's outside his comfort zone. I want his to learn to be mindful of this as he grows.

At this point, I called our accommodation for the first night and found to my dismay we were off course. We had to head to Provincial Highway 18. We shifted the sails and turned back. In actual fact, the road was too narrow, we had to reverse down it. But as the mist cleared so did our spirits. We whooped when we saw this.

Well kids, we are sort of there
Well, it was another hours drive Shizhou, near where we were going to stay. It is within the ANSA and just outside the fringe of the ANFRA. Staying outside the ANFRA is cheaper. It also gives you the base to explore the attractions of the ANSA. There are many hidden gems.

We decided to make an impromptu stop when we spotted a train engine. We were getting fatigued having been in the car for about 5 hours. I have no idea where this is. If it is any help, the name starts with the Chinese character for bamboo. It was a fun 15 minutes piss stop.

The road started to get windy and my dear son became queasy. While his sister glugged down a bottle of milk, he puked up the little green Skittle and whatever liquid left in his stomach. Poor chap. It was quite impossible to stop. The mist came in again. Traffic up the mountains was heavy.

There are very few petrol stations in the ANSA. Consult the ANSA website for the locations. When in doubt, top up your tank as we did in Shizhou.  Finally arrived at our destination for the Day 1 - Lauya Restaurant and Guesthouse. Read my review of Lauya on Tripadvisor.

A balm for the weary travellers

Our room - second one from the left

Magnificent mountains showed themselves
when the mist cleared in the morning

Frogs were everywhere - we counted 8 hopping around us at night.
There were fireflies across the main road and in the slopes behind.
Ready to call it a day, we were disappointed to learn that the cooks at Lauya were away tending the farm plot. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise, we were very happy with our dinner that evening. About 10 minutes drive from Lauya, in Shizhou we found a gem of a restaurant. They have an English menu. We feasted on tea oil chicken, tofu, mountain vegetable. Our hostess was warm and efficient. During our trip, we went back a second time. To my amazement, she remembered what we ate 2 days ago and which table we sat at. That is customer delight !

This is it ! Pardon my inability of read Chinese.
It is along the main road in Shizhou,
opposite Hi Lite. Tel: 05-2562732
 To be continued....

Monday, 25 April 2011

Pizza and Bagels

When I turn my oven on, I aim to make the most of the heat by creating two delicacies. I started today thinking about pizza for dinner. And I have been thinking about bagel the whole week. Since I watched Bob Blumer (Glutton for Punishment) learn how to make bagels, I have been dying to give it a go. While my pizza dough was proofing, I made a batch of bagels.

The pizza dough is Jamie Oliver's recipe. I make half the recipe and use a wholewheat flour / bread flour mix. Both organic. I rolled the crust thin but it didn't turn out crispy. Probably because of the wholewheat content. Toppings were homemade bollognese sauce, pineapple, mushrooms, organic capsicum, tomatoes, onions, cheese. There was enough to make 4 pizzas. We ate 2.5 for dinner, that leaves 1.5 for lunch tomorrow. Wholesome and yummy!

I tried a new bagel recipe. My usual one is from The Arthur Flour 'A Dozen Simple Bagels'. Today I came across this one from Hubpages which I thought was really simple and fuss free (no mention of malt powder or substitutes). It actually uses the same technique which Bob Blumer was trying to perfect. Cool ! Cause that was the whole reason I wanted to get my hands dirty was to try this technique.

I haven't eaten any of the bagels yet but I must say the shape of my bagels are looking a lot better than batches before.

I am compelled to confess my boo boo. When one tries to do too many things at a ago, like make pizza AND bagels, one tends to make mistakes. Especially if one works like me, I look at a recipe, and try to memorize the steps cause I don't like to refer to a paper while I work. I shaped my bagel, dipped them in poppy seeds and then remembered that oops....... that should come after I boil them. Anyway, most of the poppy seeds stayed on.

A Hmmmm point: This recipe calls for the bagels to be turned over while baking. I have not done that before. I did it today. It was messy cause the bottom of those bagels had stuck onto the reasonably oiled tray and bits came off. When the bagels were done, those bits from the bottom got stuck to the top. So although, they are shapelier, they are looking a bit pock marked. I think I will skip that step the next time. After all, I didn't see Bob doing that.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

"To Ew, for reading your first 13 words"

In a previous blog, I shared my frustrations teaching Ew to read ("You can't make him read or write, but you can make him not want to"). Out of the window went Siegfried Engelmann's "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons".

I didn't give up. I am just doing it differently.

We continue going to the library. Ewan loves his reading (as in being read to). He demands for it. He whines for it. When I lost my voice for 2 days and told him I couldn't read. My 4 year old told me "Reading is very good. We must do more of it." and "Mum, you can whisper the story to me if you can't read." I continue to surround him with books, books and more books. I shared my woes with Aunt Gloria in Ohio. She homeschooled 4 kids. She is the guru of homeschooling. At Christmas, she sent us a whole box of books!

I sound out words "to myself". When I am reading a book to him, I deliberately pause and sound out words e.g. "C-A-T cat". I don't make any demands of him. Sometimes, he gets annoyed because the story is stalled but he just thinks that I need to do that for me to read well.

I make up silly song with words spelled out in the lyrics. I can't think of an example of a song I created at the moment. There is a song that they play at Toy-R-Us that is really catchy and it goes something like "B-A-N-A-N-A, banana" over and over again. My kids learn things that are rowdy, loud and silly, easily.

I build his confidence by asking him to read the words in the story which I know he has memorized. "Once upon a time, there were three ......" I pause. He says,"bears". I praise. I applaud him for reading the word. I tell Po-Po. I tell Daddy. Everyone congratulates him. Ew acts nonchalant but I know he is pleased because he is doing it more now. He doesn't protest as much.

I deliberately spell out a word, sound it out, say it out load. As we read on and the word appears again, I ask him to help me read it. He does. Sometimes, he doesn't. That's ok too. We read the "Fantastic Mr Fox" for a month. The word "fox" was everywhere. When we were at a Thai restaurant last weekend, the chief waiter's name tag said "FOX". I turn to Ew and said, "Ew, can you read the Uncle's name on his tag". He looked away. A little embarrassed. I felt triumphant. I knew he knew it. Learning was reinforced in that incident.

When I see a word that means a lot to him example a food he likes, I point it out. I say "Hey, you like cheese. I think you should know the word cheese, so we can buy more when we're out shopping."

I label a few things around the house. Richard Gentry suggested it in his book "Raising confident Readers: How to Teach your Child to Read and write, from Baby to age Seven". I have only done it once. The labels are falling off and looking tacky. My house is looking  tacky. I am not sure if it works. Seeing the word in a book, I ask Ew to check if the label for "door" is still there. "Are you sure?" I ask. He spells it out. By the way, I was quite demotivated reading it because my child does not even fit the phase 1 Richard advocates. But he does have a few good tips here and there.

Last week, I bravely counted the words that Ew can now read. 13 words - bear, bus, toy, car, cheese, door, fox, train, cat, pig, No, dog, "I can't remember the last one". I made a really big deal of it. I wrote out all the words on different coloured cards. I punched a hole in the corner of each card and tied it together with a pipe cleaner. I told everyone about the words. Everyone wanted to hear him read and he did.

Ew told me he should be rewarded with a book from my secret stash (The Box). I present him "Rumpelstiltskin".  In it I have scribbled, " To Ew, for reading your first 13 words"


I have lost my voice. I can squeak, I can whisper but I can't do my usually ongoing narrative for my kids. Nevertheless, I had to keep them occupied for some peace in the house this morning. I reached for The Box.

The Box. Whenever I go to the stationery shop to buy a birthday card, I pick up a bunch of other little items to make it up to NT$100. The stationery shop gives a 10% discount on purchases above NT$100. These knick knacks go into the The Box. There are treasures to be found in the market too. The Box is not a physical box but rather a bunch of items hidden in high shelves and deep drawers, that I can reach into for a quick reward or to entertain.

Out came the multicoloured pipe cleaners. The colours and texture was enough to make them stop squabbling and calm down.

We googled pipe cleaner crafts. It is surprisingly popular. We started at  Disney Family Fun. There is a quick video which shows you the basic steps called Pipe Cleaner Tips & Tricks. Twist, coil, insert, connect, bundle. The kids quickly decided they wanted the dinosaur. So I made them these Pipe-cleaner-saurus.  It is not a replica of what's on the website but that's creativity.

Check out those eyes !

Black eye peas never looked so mournful on a dinosaur
Do a search on the Disney Family Fun website and you will find a whole lot of other ideas for pipe cleaners. Michaels is another cool website for crafts. Of course it is an online store first, but look under Project >> Kids / Teachers and there are fantastic crafts for kids. Check out the Chenille (the posh name for pipe cleaners) Bunnies and Chicks for an Easter project.

At Martha Stewart's you can create a whole zoo out of pipe cleaners. Check out Squidoo as well for other recommended websites.

Show the kids a few examples and then let them at it. That's what I am going to do the next time.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Spring on our Balcony Garden

It is lovely to go out on our balcony garden these days! All the green peeping from the soil and buds on the plants. Here are some of our stars. We also have tomato seedlings, a beet root, and a type of vegetable which is appearing in every pot.

Lemon blossoms looking pretty and perfuming the room
(Background: Looking down at the park from the 14th floor)

Pea flower

Our pea shoots are growing in a mix of coconut coir and organic matter in
stacked planter which we built

The harvest
Don't laugh - I am optimistic

Strawberry tartlets are technically from my kitchen not garden but
strawberries are one of the spring fruits that we are now enjoying 

Monday, 7 March 2011

Mee Ku

9 !

These turtle shaped steamed dumplings are special to the Chinese community. Usually a prayer offering on special occasions (see my previous post "The Jade Emperor's Birthday), 'mee ku's are scarce these days. They can be found at wet markets in small towns but hardly anyone makes them anymore.

To us who grew up on 'mee ku', they are special. To me, it evokes memories of an idyllic childhood. The plump turtle shape has a natural appeal for kids (and adults). Fresh from the steamer, it is warm, soft and sweet - the ultimate comfort food. A really special treat is to dip slices of  'mee ku' in beaten egg and fry them in a pan like French toast.

The recipe is from 'At Home with Amy Beh'. (I'll type it out later :)

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Jade Emperor's Birthday

The ninth day of the Chinese New Year is the Jade Emperor's Birthday known as "Pai Thee Kong". It is celebrated by the Hokkien Chinese. Having married a strapping man from this clan, I have a standing invitation to the party each year.

Being one for those for Chinese rituals since I was a child (I have always loved burning the gold and coloured paper for my grandmother cause it was the closest I could get to adult-sanctioned burning), I have secretly been making notes. This is also important as I am sure many of you have felt frustrated by the lack of written instructions / clarity on what must be done on certain Chinese family occasions.

Day -4: Make green bean filling for 'ang ku' (red turtles)
Ingredients: Split green beans, sugar
Soak 500g of split green beans overnight.
Steam with XX amount of water for YY minutes. ( I didn't get specifics. Excuse: I think it takes trial and error to get it right. Real reason: I went out gallivanting while mother-in-law (MIL) slogging away at the hearth.)
Blend with 350g sugar.
Fry in wok to mash up.

Day -3: Make 'ang ku' (red turtles)

Ingredients: ??? flour, glutinous rice flour, water, red colouring, oil, sugar - I don't know the quantities
Excuse: Hokkien is my fourth language. Real reason: I was not paying attention when my mother-in-law (MIL) was mixing the dough. Please don't tell her. For the same reason, I am guessing some of the ingredients. What I got was it was a mixture of two types of flour. One being glutinous rice flour and the other I am guessing is wheat flour. A total of 600g. I hang my head in shame - hardly living up to my reputation for being scientific and documenting facts.

The next part is confusing. MIL took hot water and mixed it with cool water (1:4). She later told me that she should have used boiling water. Add colouring, oil and sugar to the water. Mix flour and water.

Roll for 20 minutes. Phew ! Tip: Try using the Knead function of the bread maker or Kitchen Aid. It is really hard work. I was sweating and my arms were aching. It is wasn't for my desire to stay in good books, I would not have completed 10 minutes.

You will also need to have a mould for ang ku and access to banana trees. Cut banana leaves into 3'x3' squares and paint with cooking oil.

Roll dough into strips. Cut into pieces. Dust mould with flour. Flatten dough with a rolling pin. Take a teaspoonful of bean filling. Place in the centre of the dough. Fold dough over the filling forming a ball. Put the ball into the mould and gently press the ball of dough to fill the mould. When you are satisfied with your efforts, tap the mould really hard so the dough drops out. You should get a lovely little ang ku taking the shape of the mould which I did not. Each time I got malformed orange lumps with filling spilling out of the sides.

Put the ang ku onto the oiled banana leaf square.

Steam for 7 minutes on high.

Day -2: Make 'mee ku'

A family of 'mee ku's
Ingredients: AP Flour 1kg (MIL has a large household), baking powder 1 tsp, sugar 300gm, yeast 1/2 packet, oil 2 tsp, vinegar 1/2 tsp, water XX

The night before, make the 'ibu' (starter dough) by mixing 400gm of flour with 1.5 bowls of water and 1/2 packet of yeast.

Err...mix the rest of the ingredients in and knead for 20 minutes or until dough is soft and shiny. At this point I left the house and went I came back I saw this (and a visibly tired MIL).

I bet the people at SEATRU (Sea Turtle Research Unit) wished the same on their beaches

Day -1: Make steamed egg cake (to replace commercially bought steamed cake aka huat kuih), sweet glutinous rice, red eggs, jelly
I deferred these modules to next year.

Purchase other party food which was not bought earlier - sugar cane, another type of glutinous rice cake (nee kuih), 5 types of fruits, pineapple (that makes it 6 types of fruits), flowers (which were my present to MIL). Staples from the Hokkien pantry which are included are 'mee suah', 'chai' - a combination of dried ingredients such as bean threads, black fungus, shitake, bean curd sheets which are used to cook a vegetarian dish, dried longan.

At 11:59pm, the table is set.
A feast fit for an Emperor
Offering of gold
Day 0: The Party
A few minutes after 12am, incense and candles are lit. Family members take turns offering incense and prayers. The generic prayer goes something like this. "Po pee peng aun....." Bless us with peace...

The gold is burned. The tea cups are refilled twice during the ceremony. We hang around the table chatting, comparing neighbours offering - waiting for our feasting to began.

At 1am, we bring the offering back in. My MIL makes us "mee suah" with a hot soup and XXL sized prawns. We tuck in. YUM !

Happy Birthday Thee Kong !

Friday, 18 February 2011

Christmas Dana in Myanmar

I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunities to do charitable acts (dana) in far away lands. This Christmas dana brought me joy and here is what I have learned about giving.

I have come to realize that a dana is a gift - to the recipient and to oneself. To give, there must be one to receive. There were times when I truly wanted to give but I couldn't. I must also confess (in case I give a false impression of myself here) that there were also times where the was a need but I didn't feel inspired to give. Hence, my conclusion: For a dana to happen, something up / out there and in there (the heart) must be aligned. I don't take it for granted.

I have learned that it does not always have to be money nor does it have to be a large amount. In the recent year, I grew aware of myself giving my time, my presence, my attention. I rank these as harder to part with than money.

Genuine giving transcends race, colour, religion, and all things that we have created to separate us. In my imagination, when giver and recipient connect, the connection is magical. It is beyond this plane. A bright light bridges the two. All barriers are blurred. In my little mind, I count giving to one who is different from oneself as a 'bigger dana' simply because you have to overcome your prejudices first.
PS - I hope Ae and Ew will visit this blog one day and be joyful seeing the wonderful dana that they did when they were 1 and 3 years old.

Our Christmas breakfast dana in Myanmar was to a group of yogis in a meditation centre.
It also marks our Wedding Anniversary.

Simple maybe but priceless

Love the red hat!

The nunnery that we contributed to

The nun looks happy

The wonderful people who made it possible

We spotted an old neighbour in this photo and felt a connection

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Our Circle Time

I was very inspired Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool to create a Circle Time for the kids. The blog complete with a video was a great example. I immediately thought of a few ideas which I could put to work. So, the very next day, before we started any activities, I conducted out first Circle Time.

I introduced the idea by explaining that we were going to do something new and it involved us singing and maybe dancing. Ew, being Mr. 'I am in my Comfort Zone and Wish to Stay Here' protested that he did not want to sing and dance. Ae jumped at the chance. I insisted and grabbed their little hands.

I got them to hold hands and sang loudly "Let's Make a Circle" while nudging them to move around. It was a song that they were familiar with from Gymboree. That warmed them up. We did two more action songs.

Next, we shared something that we liked about the day. Ew said "Disneyland" (which did not happen today, but it does not matter). Ae said "bread" ( Ha ! Ha ! I had to smile. I wondered if she was thinking about the homemade bagel slathered with peanut butter and strawberry jam which I fed them as they played with Lego. They weren't even keen to eat it on their own to start with.) I was grateful for being able to go marketing and buy food and things for my family, without a care. I explained to them that it is important to be grateful for the good things that make us happy. I hope this will sow seeds of gratitude in them.

We finished with a little rhyme that I had learned when I was a Brownie.
" Twist me and turn me,
And show me the elf.
I looked in the water,
And there I saw myself"

The kids loved it! Even thought I said that was the end, Ae wanted to sing "Heigh Ho" (from Snow White) and we did it with actions.

That happened yesterday. Today, I had to take Ew to the hospital to check his ears. As we were dressing, Ae, who was staying at home with Po-Po, said that she wanted to sing and "do elf". I explained that we will do it when we came back cause I was running a bit late. Ew said no, we must do it before we go out. Enough said.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Butterflies on the Balcony

Our first hatchling
We kept the pupa under the central vacumn cleaner and forgot about it. When I found it, it was too late, the butterfly did not get to stretch its wings upon hatching and one wing remained folded. It lived on the balcony for a few days - hoping from plant to plant.
4 caterpillars hatched on our lemon tree after that

Going to sleep now, when I awake I will be a butterfly
(Did he know and believe in that ?)

Green at first

Then brown
Beautiful butterfly - we saw this one
The others - we saw the empty shells left behind

I wonder if a caterpillar knows it will become a butterfly. Does he know that he will enter a deep sleep and wake up again in a different form ? Does he face fear ? Or is he excited ? Or both ? That reminds me of death. We face death as an end to this life. I think about my final moments from time to time. I fear it. In those thought I am already missing my rahula (attachments). It is difficult for me to think of the end as the beginning of the next. Well, if in this life, all I do is crawl about eating leaves and poop all day, I really wouldn't care so much. Since I don't, I  want to remember to make aspirations for a peaceful and mindful end.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


A while back, we made playdough.

It was a cold, rainy week. Unable to go to the park, we spent our mornings, reading and playing Playdoh (yes, the commercial pack). The kids both play but in different ways.

Ae is contented to roll and shape the dough on her own. She makes worms mostly and birds, turtles, other animals that take the shape of worms.

Ew directs me to make him things. Roll it into a ball. When I make interesting objects like tadpoles, he conjures up stories about them. He wants to keep them, they become his pets. (I squash his pets when he is not looking and bury them in the canisters according to their colour.)

We take playdough one step further with our homemade version.

2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
2 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
Food colouring

Mix all the ingredients together except the food colouring. Cook it over the stove until the dough leaves the sides of the pot. Try rolling it. If it is too sticky, keep cooking until it feel right. Take it off the heat. When it is cool enough to handle, divide the dough into portions. Add food colouring and knead until the colour is evenly distributed. I only have red colouring so we had 3 colours -  plain, pink and dark pink playdough.

The volume of it makes it more entertaining and interesting than the commercial stuff. Imagine sinking your hands into huge lumps dough, stomping your foot into it, making giant what-evers. We made giant earthworms, giant tadpoles, a birthday cake. We rolled it out flat and made imprints of hands, feet, peanuts, fishes (plastic ones). Squishing on it with all one's might is pretty therapeutic too.

Unfortunately, the playdough became really sticky the next day - impossible to mould without making a mess. I tried keeping it in the fridge but when the fridge was accidentally turned off. I threw it away with the rest of the spoils. I learned later that in places where humidity is high (like rainy Taipei), the dough absorbs moisture from the air and becomes sticky. Cooking it over heat again will make it fine again. I'll keep that tip for the next time. Another idea I like to try is using natural dyes to colour the dough like turmeric, beetroot.

The playdough idea is from Instructables which I think is a really cool website for fun things to do with kids.