Daily

News & Sadness

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“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.

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Daily

Flashback

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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.

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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.

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Daily

Enriched

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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.

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Daily

Owning It

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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 that 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.

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Daily

Say What?

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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.

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Daily

Independence = Freedom

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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. :)

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Fun

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.

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Daily

Just Look It Up

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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.

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Books

Progressive Phonics

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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.

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