Daily

On Being

dakota-corbin-211682

Everyone’s favourite ex-president (well this is limited to everyone in my tiny inner circle) made his first official appearance of the year yesterday. It was 1AM, our time, and as I was scrolling through my feed I noticed an irate friend’s comment on the “live” video, “Where is he going with this!?”

The bits that I caught weren’t too bad, nothing earth shattering, but some sensible advice and encouragements for college kids, and honestly, for anyone who’s questioning their purpose at the moment:

Don’t think about who you want to be. Think about what you want to do.

Standard
Daily

To Dos

Schedule.jpeg

I’ve kept to this notebook system of mine since October last year, and it’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve been faithfully using a notebook to get organised. The things that made a significant difference for me were the little checkboxes next to each item (I love ticking those!) and having category headers so I can see the spread of projects and also check on my work-life balance (will fix that in June).

Since I’m a commitment-phobe, I don’t fancy notebook systems that allocate a set number of pages for different functions; I like having the freedom to decide what each and every blank page should be used for. The stick-on tabs have really helped me with that—blue is for monthly deadlines and errands, and the yellows are for notes from meetings, workshops, and so on.

I would love to know how you get organised too!

Standard
Daily

Choose Your Own Nightmare

anton-strogonoff-239556.jpg

My friend Pat sent me this article today, along with the question, “Still want to go to Seoul?”

In the classic novel Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the protagonist tells the tale of his steamboat voyage up the Congo River to a destination of unimaginable danger. Having to choose between unavoidable evils on his journey, he tries to pursue the lesser one, recognising that he has to be “loyal to the nightmare of (his) choice”.

The US Navy’s aircraft “supercarrier” – the USS Carl Vinson – and its accompanying fleet of warships that constitute Carrier Strike Group 1, currently steaming their way towards the Korean peninsula, is unnervingly resonant of that story.

My answer was a resounding “YES.”

As I told my friend June over coffee, it seems appropriate that I would find myself in Seoul at this juncture, as I take stock of my life so far and decide on my trajectory for the next 20 years or so, if I’m lucky enough to have time on my side.

In a worst case scenario, if something were to happen during my solo getaway next week (and if I managed to survive), I would think to myself, “This world is so screwed, but I’ve never felt more alive.”

Standard
Daily

Pause

erik-jan-leusink-104677.jpg

In a rare occurrence, I finished all the work I needed to do for the day by 7.30PM, thanks to my mother-in-law, who came by to entertain Z! Usually it’s 9PM or later by the time I sit down to attack the day’s tasks.

I’ve completed a Python lesson and will do another, before treating myself to an early night. Unfortunately I’ve somehow managed to give myself whiplash, or something that feels like it, just by sleeping in the wrong position. (Yet another side effect of being 40.) Thankfully, it’s antihistamines to the rescue again… but I feel so sorry for the rabbits in this study.

Standard
Fun

Little Passports

W_201608JM_WorldEdition_Suit_Sticker_Final.jpg

We received a six-month subscription to Little Passports (for review) last year, and I’d meant to feature them on my previous blog. Unfortunately I experienced a technical glitch while transferring my phone pictures over to the laptop, and most of my Little Passports photos were corrupted and unusable thereafter.

Some background on Little Passports: It’s a subscription-based product that introduces kids to a new country every month. The two moms behind this were exposed to a variety of cultures as they were growing up, which motivated them to recreate these learning opportunities for other kids.

The reason I’m putting this up now is that we enjoyed the packages, and Z’s been badgering me to resubscribe. All pictures in this post are from the Little Passports web site.

Continue reading

Standard
Daily

News & Sadness

kayla-velasquez-199343.jpg

“I think you should pray.”

This, from my husband late last night, as we were settling into bed. I was curious as to why he would say that now, as I’ve been spiritually adrift all my life. It transpired that he too was especially affected by the stories coming out of Syria over the last couple of days. To quote my “grandfather figure” Dan Rather:

Take a moment to pause in your day. Do not skip past this story as part of the background noise of our modern world. I believe we should force ourselves to at least consider the implications. Look at the pictures of the dead children. We are witnessing a sheer slaughter on our watch. It is a situation that doesn’t lend itself to easy answers, so the world chooses to look the other way.

Read his full post here.

I’ve been getting a fuller dose of the news on my FB feed–a result of active curating. It makes everything else seem trivial; sometimes I don’t even feel like sending a message to someone to say hello or to wish them a happy birthday, not when there’s all this tragedy and injustice swirling around us.

This is part of the reason I’ve scaled down all personal updates and done away with blog-promotion efforts; to me, status updates and blogs are just a step up from gossip–they’re there to satisfy our need for a peephole into someone else’s existence. Of course I’m honoured that friends and even strangers are interested in my life and my thoughts; for a while I was hooked on my Google Analytics stats as it was logging reads from places I’d never even heard of, lasting up till well over an hour! But if I were to rank reads by priority, it would be a good book first, followed by news and quality reads such as the NYTimes, followed by anything remotely educational or thought provoking (e.g. Brainpickings or the much-maligned School Of Life/Alain de Botton) and then daily life blogs, and finally gossip–my only vice, and it’s a cesspool.

My point is, there are much more important stories that need to be told right now, and they’re not mine. I do think that those of us who believe in it should pray, while trying to find a way to help. There is a site, Charity Navigator, which seems like a godsend as it evaluates the reliability of charities and gives each one a rating. This is its Syria page.

Standard
Daily

Flashback

bcgmagazine-46217.jpg

Sometimes I’m glad my friends aren’t as unsentimental as I am, i.e. they’re not always tossing or deleting everything in their path. When I reverted to this blog address and decided to let my .com go, I did save over 300 posts in the form of screenshots, but I didn’t think twice about trashing all the online evidence. That said, it does make me smile to find bits and pieces of the past still floating around, like these two guest posts that I wrote for my favourite local bloggers, Justina and June. One’s about motherhood, and the other’s about movies.

Standard
Daily

Directions

jungwoo-hong-100345.jpg

I spent the weekend on a proofreading assignment. I’ve not done that in years as my eyes needed a break (and I’ve graduated from that sort of work), but this was a project I wanted to see to completion. Technology has made a huge difference, and having the text read aloud for me as I scanned it really helped me to stay on task.

The project involved having to check the résumés of Master’s degree students, among other things, and everyone seemed so accomplished and driven. And mobile. Many of them were young too, or at least younger than I am–their résumés told stories of valiant efforts to combat corruption or fraud, either that or they were building up communities or advocating for some cause or other. When they weren’t working or studying, they were volunteers, and always leaders on a mission. Oh, and their grade point averages–5.0 out of 5.0 wasn’t a rare occurrence! And some listed up to six languages spoken.

Not the best thing for someone who’s still searching for direction and meaning to look at–or maybe it was. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, my daily confidante (and the one person who’s consistently tried to contribute to my betterment by alerting me to ideas and inspirations) is away in Geneva to highlight the plight of Bangladeshi workers in Singapore–to a UN committee, no less.

Right, as I was saying: direction and purpose. I actually enjoy my work, and the act of working. It is meaningful, in its own way. It also makes me happy that I’ve secured almost 90% of the income that I wanted to generate for this year, matching what I brought in last year. Not because I’ve been out there chasing new clients–that’s an area I have to address–but because I’ve let relationships germinate, which has resulted in more extensive work. I can hopefully take a breather in June, spend quality time with the kids and Alf, and then take the next six months to lock in more work and plan for 2018/19, which probably involves a career switch because on-the-ground impact matters to me. And going full-time, because financial independence matters to me and my future, as well as that of my kids.

For now, I’m mulling over the Professional Conversion Programmes meant for transition folks like myself; I might have a good shot at getting into the social work programme because I have a specialist diploma in counselling, which I took on the year Layla was born. The other possibility that I want to explore is tech. I had a conversation with Ron about this yesterday, and it was inspiring to hear from him that he’s still in love with what he does for a living:

R: It’s my Dad! He was the Mr Gadget in our household when I was young
R: Omg! Messenger crashed!
Me: LOL! Hope you weren’t typing an epic message!
R: I was writing a huge message about how I got into loving to code
Me: Sigh!!!!!

Me: Too much for messenger to handle!

He did get to finish that story, and I want to have one of my own to tell too. So my first step will be to devote at least an hour a day to finishing the 30-day Python course that I purchased on discount. Only $15!

Standard
Daily

Bill Savings

anthony-indraus-134161.jpg Reading this post reminded me that our recent power/water bill fell just under $90–that’s for a family of four, in a four-room HDB unit. My parents and brother live in an executive condominium, and according to my mother, it’s not uncommon for their bills to exceed $300 per month. Our power consumption has been under the national average since we moved in, and in recent months we’ve managed to get our water bill under the average as well without making special effort.

The difference can be largely attributed to air-conditioning. When we bought our place, there were ACs installed, but we did the crazy thing by asking our contractors to dismantle them; we gifted them to one of our housing agents. We had one AC back in our previous home, but it gave Alf the sniffles every morning–once the sneezing sets in, he’s as good as incapacitated for the rest of the day–and it was one of many things we were determined to live without when we moved out.

We got what we wanted–Alf has hardly sneezed since we moved here, despite the fact that there’s construction going on all around us. It’s comfy and cool for most of the year, but I won’t deny that heatwave and haze months have left me questioning our decision. We use just three fans, a ceiling fan in the living area that cools the study area as well, a EuropAce jet turbine fan for the kids’ room, and a Mistral high velocity power fan for ours. We didn’t agonise too much over the choice of fans; Alf picked them out. Between them, I prefer the Mistral because it’s much easier to clean. We still use blankets so the fans are doing their job.

Standard
Daily

Enriched

pexels-photo-259165.jpeg

I read an NYT article about financial planning a few nights ago, and it revisited the perennial question of “How much is enough?”

I found the article reassuring, but it cited a classic rule that I haven’t been following:

Spend 50 percent on needs, 30 percent on wants and 20 percent on savings.

Lately, Alf and I have been talking about reassessing our enrichment spending. It makes no sense that we’re working all the time, only to fund lesson after lesson. (Note: I do take a number of FB breaks; my girlfriend told me to regard those as watercooler time i.e. necessary for sanity preservation.) I have a friend, a mother of three, who told me they set aside a fixed sum for enrichment every month, and if one kid has more needs for a particular month, the others go with less or without. I think that’s a sensible idea for families with a smaller budget–we too put a fixed sum into an account dedicated for monthly payments, but we’re just as likely to say, “OK, you think this is useful? Let’s see how we can make more to cover it.” We’ve made it happen, but it’s the less prudent way.

Of course exposure is important, and we’re still leaving some leeway for exploration. Layla starts a new class next month where I hope she’ll find herself engaging in discussions and sharpening her critical thinking skills, but we’re also cutting back on other classes for both kids. Chinese tuition will probably be a fixture in our lives until the secondary school hurdle is crossed, but we’ll say goodbye to science tuition after the PSLE is over. Layla’s been responsible for her schoolwork–I’m hands off–and it shouldn’t be too difficult for her to enter the school of her choice, so I’m really not worried about next year.

I’ve also ceased to be overly concerned about her grades in her daily work and tests; I’m starting to look at the big picture, and what she needs most is space to be curious, to assert herself, and to discover new passions. I’m heartened to see that she’s challenging herself–at the beginning of the year, she told me there were openings for reading volunteers to help the younger kids in her school, but she wasn’t keen. A few weeks ago, she told me that she’d signed on, and I was surprised, and very proud to see her growing in this way.

Standard