Owning It


I seldom pay attention to the local news because I like being ensconced in my bubble. Also, after going through whatever NYT/Guardian/NPR/Al Jazeera/Vox feeds me, I’m spent. But this piece about a book reading gone awry caught my attention, as it involved someone I know in a blogging capacity. The gist of the story:

Local independent publisher Epigram Books will re-record an excerpt from Balli Kaur Jaswal’s acclaimed work of fiction, Sugarbread, after an audio recording raised the ire of leading members of the arts community online.

Alf and I listened to the recording earlier, and I get where the Apu/Simpsons comparisons are coming from. Honestly, it made me chuckle. Alf, on the other hand, felt the accent was almost… plausible if said character was from a traditional family. My husband is Singaporean and Indian, although he’s not Punjabi so perhaps it’s not for him to comment either. I’ve probably hung around more Punjabi-Sikhs than he has. My best friend from my polytechnic days is Punjabi; back then we did everything together and we’ve recently reconnected–to me, she’s always sounded like me, and I know I sound like a little bit of everyone that I hang around or listen to, no matter where they’re from.

But I didn’t bring up this story to interrogate the topic of accents. The marketing manager who oversaw the reading is also a blogging dad and I believe his job is no picnic. I’ve made some godawful calls in my professional life that reeked of insensitivity and stupidity, and luckily for me, that was back when we could bury our wrongdoings with relative privacy. We don’t live in those times anymore, so perhaps it’s a good thing I’m now based at home! To me, this episode isn’t even within sniffing distance of any of the gaffes I wish I could erase from my slate–and I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d been the one directing the piece.

So here’s why I shared this: It was interesting enough for us to discuss it as a family, and I used it as a shining example of how a delicate situation was handled with grace–responsibility accepted, relationships repaired, and an invitation issued for more conversations where we reflect on our own prejudices, and perhaps, find a better way forward. Read my blogger friend’s post here.


Say What?


The problem with too many words is that we don’t say or hear them in real life, and we don’t necessarily know for sure how they’re pronounced. (I don’t even watch or listen to the news; I read everything off my feed.)

So I’m looking up the pronunciation for “stalwart” (“wart” or “wurt”?) and Z comes running along to see what I’m up to. The cool thing about him is that he always asks what something means. I give him a kid-friendly definition and he goes, “If you eat a lot of sweets for a long time, you’re a sweet stalwart!”

Sigh. As eager as I am to have eight daylight hours to myself, I’ll miss having him home next year.


Independence = Freedom


The biggest problem with divorce is that most people don’t agree, and that’s why they’re getting divorced. If I had any advice for women now thinking of getting married I’d say never, never, never give up your financial independence. No matter how difficult it may seem, keep one toe in the water: it may make the difference between sinking and swimming.

This article should be required reading for any woman thinking of walking away from a job as she enters into marriage, no matter the motivation.

No man had taken her away and immured her in some comfortable suburb.

That’s a cynical way to characterise a homemaker’s life, but in truth, you do forfeit some of your rights and choices when you forgo your financial independence to any degree.

I started taking on paid assignments when Layla was three months old, only because a girlfriend mailed me to ask, “Are you ready to work again?” and I thought I’d better say yes. I’ve never been able to draw clear boundaries between work and family–I’m always thinking of one while trying to manage the other–but it’s a conflict I’m happy to have. And the relief of drawing a monthly paycheck now, modest as it is, is immeasurable. I supplement that with freelance assignments, and it’s taken me 10 years to have a system in place where I’m not just meeting needs, but targets too.

The plan is to head back to full-time work in 2018/19 though. I do want to do it all. :)




I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably have only a few days left being a person on this planet.

That’s kid lit author Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her Modern Love tribute to her husband, published shortly before her death. In it, she also says this:

So many plans instantly went poof.

No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason, now, to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writers’ residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta.

No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar.

But I don’t think she ever looked at life (or love) that way; she simply made new plans, while she could. Look her up in 12 ways here, and some of her friends/fans are pushing on with her #project123 on Instagram, which you can find here.

She made it to Day 61 of #project123.

Pictured is our contribution–>3 ways to doodle at the dinner table:

#1 Play Hangman. Do you still remember how? Layla’s friend gave me a refresher on Friday.

#2 Play the pattern game: Start with a single element in the middle, and take turns to create patterns around it until you run out of space. One rule: No repeats.

#3 Draw a cat. Draw a cat that looks like a dog. Or a fox. (Purely accidental, on my part!)


Cloud Bread

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I’ve noticed that if I don’t visit my mother for a couple of weeks, my Mandarin goes “off key” due to lack of practice, and it takes me a few attempts to hit the right tones again. I’ve also seen how challenging the “four tones” of Mandarin can be for anyone who didn’t grow up listening to the language. We had some fun over the recent Chinese New Year holiday trying to teach Alf and my non-Chinese friends how to construct simple sentences in Mandarin–with hilarious results that I wish I’d caught on video!

With Layla, I assigned names and actions to each tone– (1) was a steady high, like you were prancing about in the meadows; (2) was like going up a roller coaster; (3) was the “old lady voice” and (4) was an affirmation that required a fist pump. With Z, I’ve been so busy that I’ve left it mostly to our tutor, and his tones are a little wonky. The tutor’s asked me to up the exposure and I’ve found a link to this delightful series called Yun Cai Mian Bao, or Cloud Bread, which Layla used to watch. I love the animation and the sweet simplicity of the storylines.


Just Look It Up


There was an article in Vox yesterday about the word “recuse,” which should’ve popped up in your FB feed several times over the last couple of days if you follow news providers. Did you look it up? I did. There’s no shame in checking the dictionary–what’s embarrassing is that there are people out there who feel the need to castigate others for not knowing words.

I made up a rule for Layla two exam seasons ago: If you don’t know what something means, you don’t deserve to write it down. I’ll even look up words that I think I already know, just to make sure I’m not missing out on an alternate meaning, or worse, misusing or mispronouncing the word. This is my dictionary of choice, for now, and they have a game app that is the best tool for learning and retaining vocabulary words that I’ve ever encountered–far superior to the flashcard system. I’ve been recommending it to everyone, including my daughter.

Of course, making the leap from learning a word to using it can be challenging… if you live in Singapore. I do find many words to be pretentious or impractical in the local context, but in one of my chat groups recently, someone was on the receiving end of a ribbing for using the word “foreboding,” and I remember thinking, surely we haven’t sunk that low?

But well, we each have to take responsibility for our own learning journeys. I’ll leave you with something I read a long time ago, from a geeky vocabulary book titled Verbal Advantage:

Because “enervate” sounds like “energize,” many people are tempted to think the words are synonymous when in fact they are antonyms. From my sample sentence, “After her exciting night on the town, she felt enervated,” if you don’t know precisely what “enervated” means there’s no way you can guess because the context is ambiguous…

The point is, as I’ve said several times before in this program, if you want to build a large and exact vocabulary, don’t rely only on context or on your intuition or on someone else’s definition of a word. When you have even a shred of doubt about a word, look it up. It won’t cost you anything to do that, and no one’s going to peer over your shoulder and say, “Hey, what’s the matter, stupid? You don’t know what ‘enervated’ means?” On the other hand, someone might say “Whoa, get a load of Verbal Advantage-head digging through the dictionary again.”

If something like that should ever happen, you can throw the book at the person–literally–but why ruin a good dictionary? Instead, you can rest easy in the knowledge that the insolent dullard already is eating your intellectual dust–for you, as a verbally advantaged person, know that reading, consulting a dictionary, and studying this book will invigorate, not enervate, your mind.


Progressive Phonics


We’re stepping up the reading practice again, so I’m popping in to share a link. Progressive Phonics is a free curriculum that worked for Layla, and I’ve just tried one lesson on Z, which left him in giggles and hankering for more. We’re still soldiering on with Ladybird’s Peter & Jane series–we’re now at Book 4–and Z attends a weekly phonics class, but I’ve already given notice that he’ll be withdrawing after May.