About School

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The first few weeks of school has just gone by. My 6 year old has officially joined his elder brother in the big boy school. It dawned on me that very soon my little baby would lose his chubby cheeks and potbelly, and his cutesy little feet would balloon into a size 10 like his elder brother’s. I felt the need to smother him with hugs and kisses because very soon, my little baby wouldn’t be so little anymore.

His K2 graduation photo now sits in our living room. He looks handsome in his graduation robe proudly holding his graduation scroll.

However I wasn’t really ecstatic about his year end concert. Seeing him march on stage in his graduation robe with his head held high with his scroll in hand brought a mixed sense of pride and a tinge of sadness. This seemed to mark the end of childhood innocence and the start of grueling years of formal schooling. Yet, I know the choice is mine, whether to jump on the bandwagon.

This year, we paid 60 bucks to watch him on stage dancing to the beat of some funky pop songs from the billboard charts. It was cool but I didn’t get overly excited. The teachers and children had spent the last few weeks of school preparing, practicing the songs , dance moves and speeches. The usual lessons came to a halt and they spent hours practicing and rehearsing.

On the day of the performance, the kids were asked to put on makeup so that they would look ‘better’ on stage. Of course the boys protested indignantly that ‘Boys don’t wear makeup!’.

I would have very much enjoyed a simpler concert, a song or something they had learned in school during the past year. There needn’t be fanciful costumes or props or a grand concert hall but perhaps that wouldn’t be good enough? These days, it’s not uncommon to see schools lavish on year end concerts and I am beginning to wonder over the motivation behind these.

There may be many different views on the purpose of education. Scholars, teachers, and policy makers are still trying to reach a consensus. Some joked that one might have better luck asking ‘What is the meaning of life’.

If the role of schools is indeed to train our children to become lifelong learners who are able to love, work, and act as responsible members of the community, then I wonder how a lavish graduation concert would fit in.

The teachers were visibly stressed out preparing for the big day. It was definitely not easy to get a bunch of preschoolers to cooperate and put up a performance of this scale. I could imagine how unnerving it must had been for the teachers, especially when the audience is made up of demanding monster parents.

Fast forward a couple of months later. My 6 year old is adapting well to his new school. There was no first day of school jitters and no crying. Unlike child birth, the second kid was definitely easier than the first. I am quite sure having an elder brother in the same school made a difference. For a start, he already knew some of his brother’s friends even before joining the school.

And how did we prepare him for Primary 1?

No, we didn’t cram him with worksheets or tuition classes or send him for a crash course in reading. We did make sure he knows his dollar and cents so that he could tackle his adventure in the school canteen. He was so excited on his first day of school because he got to order his own food and handle real money like a big boy.

On the first day, his buddy, a girl from Primary 2, asked him why he doesn’t buy any sweet drinks. He probably gave her a list of reasons why sweet drinks were not good for you. I still couldn’t fathom why the school doesn’t sell mineral water.

On the second day, he was too short to see beyond the first rack of food and couldn’t order any side dishes to add to his rice. If not for the parent volunteers at the canteen, he would have probably ended up eating plain white rice with a few leaves of lettuce. That happened to many of the kids. They were too flustered and it didn’t help that the canteen vendors weren’t very thoughtful in displaying the food they were selling.

On the third day, he was short changed by the canteen vendor. He was too slow to figure out how much change to get back for his bowl of noodle that cost 80 cents. But now he knows better, that it’s okay to ask for your change even if you can’t figure out the exact amount; that adults are not always right and sometime they can be forgetful.

It was a pity that the school field was closed again for construction. His elder brother who is in Primary 6 this year had gotten quite used to it. The field was out of bounds half the time he was there. As a result, the chaos at the canteen during recess time was only to be expected. When the children are deprived of the space to expend their energy (after sitting in the classroom for long stretch of time), trying to maintain order is insane and inane. Thankfully so far, the boys have been able to keep themselves occupied without getting into trouble and I have yet to receive any complaints from their teachers.

Though I am far from satisfied with how things are being run in the school, I realised that school is probably the best place for the boys to get a glimpse of real life.

Managing their expectations, taking things in their stride, dealing with adversity, finding their own solutions for their own problems, learning to be positive and focus on the brighter side of life. These are life skills that even some adults struggle with.

While the school is far from perfect, I think it has provided them the environment to pick up valuable life skills at a young age. So maybe it is not because of the school system, but in spite of the school system that our children will learn to succeed.

 

3

A French Baguette, An Incidental Bake

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There was much feasting this holiday season. We had family over for Christmas dinner and friends over to warm up our new place. I found myself spending more time in the kitchen than usual. Either that or I was frantically searching for new recipes.

A couple of girlfriends came with a bread machine the other day and I was thrilled. Yes, I am at that stage where receiving kitchen appliances excite me.

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After putting the kids to bed one night, I decided to check out my new toy.

I was glad that It didn’t come with a 100 page manual in 10 different languages. The recipe that came with it looked simple enough for a non baker to understand. According to the recipe, you just need to put all the ingredients in the stated order, press a few buttons and voila! A freshly baked bread will be waiting for you for breakfast the next morning. The simplicity got me even more excited. It had been a long day and I was deadbeat but I thought how difficult could it be to measure the handful of ingredients and dump them into the machine. I could do everything in a jiffy and surprise the kids with a freshly baked loaf for breakfast the next day.

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I took a quick glance at the recipe and picked out French bread as it required the least number of ingredients and could finish in just less than 2 hours! (I later realized I made a mistake, it would take more than 3 hours to complete)

I carefully measured everything, making sure they were added in the correct sequence. It took me less than 15 minutes. I happily texted my girlfriends and thanked them again for the wonderful gift. And left the machine running while I packed up the cardboard box that came with the machine.

It was then that I heard a rattling in the box. I took a closer look and found a small metal piece that looked like a part that should go into the bread pan. It turned out to be the kneading paddle! My heart sank. What was I thinking, trying to knead a dough without a kneading paddle?! There goes my first loaf of bread!

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The heating coil was already red hot by then and I swiftly transferred everything onto a mixing bowl. I was ready to throw everything into the trash but my friend who was still on the chat had some experience at making bread suggested that I should try hand kneading.

I took her advice and gave the mix a quick knead, much like an attempt to resuscitate. Thereafter, I left the dough in an oiled bowl and cling wrapped it. I wasn’t hopeful that what I had done would be enough to save the dough. I was quite sure I had ‘killed’ the yeast knowing how fussy yeast was. Too hot, it dies and too cold, it remains dormant.

A quick search for a French bread recipe on the Internet yield so many different recipes. Unfortunately my brain at 12 midnight wasn’t capable of finding the closest match for the recipe that I had used especially when I had to do unit conversion.

Surprisingly the dough that had been sitting in the bowl for the last hour had grown in size. Ideally it should have doubled but I wasn’t complaining, the dough was still ‘alive’!

Without much delay, I turned the dough onto my kitchen top and started rolling it out, like what I saw in the videos. I wasn’t sure but I thought some kneading shouldn’t hurt.

I divided the dough into 2 and rolled each out into rectangular shapes before folding in the sides and sealing up the edges. I made a few slashes on top like on most baguettes. The oven temperature was set to 190 degC and for the next 30 minutes, (the timing was a rough guess, an average bteween 20 to 40 minutes) I planted myself in front of the oven, anxious to see how the bread would turn out.

After what seem like a long while, the alarm finally went off and 2 loaves of good looking bread emerged. It was already 1am in the morning.

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The colour of the crust looked about right but it wasn’t crispy enough and the inside wasn’t as fluffy as those we like from Cedele. I was glad they were edible and didn’t taste like some rocks or stones. It was decent enough for my boys to gobble a whole loaf for breakfast the next morning.

And that was pretty much how I ended up making my first loaf of French baguette. An incidental hand knead loaf that I wasn’t even sure how to replicate! It was a mishmash of everything that I could gather on the Internet when my brain wasn’t functioning 100%.

IMG_4986Then again, I really shouldn’t be making bread the labour intensive way since now I have an all singing all dancing bread maker machine sitting in my kitchen!

 

Note : In case you are adventurous enough to give this a try using the labour intensive method, these are the ingredients I used

1. Water 260g
2. Salt 6g
3. Oil 9g
4. Sugar 12g
5. Bread Flour 400g
6. Yeast 5g

Good Luck!

2

A Tree, A Stall And A Christmas Wreath

I can’t believe it’s 3 days to Christmas. It’s been a maddening rush this school holiday with the renovation of our new place, house moving, a trip to Australia and before we know it, it’s just a couple of weeks more before school reopens.

Amidst all the packing, unpacking and tidying up loose ends around the house, shopping for a Christmas tree was like the last thing on my mind. Didn’t help when the weather had been wet. Just the thought of packing a drenched fir tree into the car made me tired.

I wouldn’t mind having a tree like this again but we don’t have a backyard here and a dead tree branch this big would probably be very sick. Humid weather and sick tree don’t seem like a good combination for the house.

A couple of days ago, while I was clearing up my boys’ nature pile, I discovered some good looking tree branches and twigs collected while we were overseas. The oldest among them was probably a branch of pine wood which my elder boy picked up at Yellowstone National Park some 8 years ago.

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I decided to put some of the nicer tree branches together and thought I could almost make out the shape of a Christmas tree. The boys thought it was pretty cool, but we needed more branches in order to make a taller tree. So that afternoon we took our bikes to East Coat Park and the boys’ job was to bring back tree branches that could fit into our ‘tree’.

My elder boy wasn’t hopeful as he was quite sure the park cleaners would have cleared away the fallen branches. I was more worried that the branches were either too damp or infested with bugs. He was right as it was hard to spot any tree branch on the cycling track. We had to go off the track and even so, we could only find a few twigs, nothing like what we had in mind.

We came to a big field and noticed a few big trees standing at its far corner. We decided to ride across the field to try our luck, hoping that the cleaner might have missed the secluded corner.

Lo and behold, there were indeed some big branches lying around the tress. It looked almost like parts of the trees were ripped off by the recent storm.

With some teamwork, we managed to break off some of the smaller branches and carry them on our bikes to the nearby jetty. We spent the next hour or so peeling off the barks.
What lay beneath the damp and often lichen ridden barks was smooth, solid and unspoiled wood. If not for the storm we had the last couple of days, these healthy branches wouldn’t have fallen.

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We brought them home and managed to work through most of the branches except those more stubborn ones which require us to use a sharp knife to get the bark off.

We chose some of our best sticks, strung them together with string and that was more or less how we got our Christmas tree this year.

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Apart from the Christmas tree, we made a Christmas stall using one of the cardboard boxes kept from the house moving.

Someone was thrilled to have a stall to sell his knick knacks. He named it ‘Marcus Christmas Stall’ and had hours of fun playing with it. He planned what to sell, came up with the price list and we had some lessons on money.

Hopefully our pretend play would help to ease him into Primary school, which is starting in a couple of weeks’ time, and buying his own food at the school canteen would be like the scariest thing.

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Last but not least, we made a simple Christmas wreath using Nespresso capsules. It was the simplest wreath I have made thus far.

I have always wondered what to do with these pretty Nespresso capsules. When I chanced upon this wreath on the internet, I knew I have to make one.

If you are a Nespresso drinking family like us, you will probably gather enough capsules to make this within a week.
Here are the things you need

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1. 13 used Nespresso capsules

2. a cardboard ring of about 7.5 cm in radius and 2 cm in thickness

3. ribbon to coil around the cardboard ring

Put these 3 items together and viola, you get a cute Christmas wreath!

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Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

May the simple joys of life warm your heart and fill your home this holiday season.

 

Our other DIY Christmas wreaths
Burlap Christmas Wreath
Toilet Paper Roll Christmas Wreath
Dried Twigs Christmas Wreath

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