Thursday, July 23, 2009

Secrets of a Working Mother, Part 3

Now, the ingredients to prepare a week's dinner are all set. The next step is the implementation. And as the saying goes, the devil lies in the implementation.

Everyone has 24 hours a day. In addition, this is a zero-sum game - one hour spent in cooking will mean one hour less for sleep. And trust me, a working mother needs adequate rest and her beauty sleep.

So how can we find time to cook? The answer lies in delegation. That's why most working mothers have maids. But what if you are like me, with no maid. Well, the party to delegate the task to does not necessarily need to be a person. Read: a human being. It can be a machine.

Automation is the key

In fact, we are very blessed to be living in the 21st century surrounded by the many smart gadgets. My best friends in the kitchen include the smart microwave ocean which also doubles up as a conventional oven, the latest rice cooker with the timer and my washing machine also with timer function.

Every morning, I will wake up half an hour earlier. Yes, half an hour is all I need to fix a nutricious dinner. I will use the defrost function in my microwave oven to thraw a pack of minced meat and fish. In the meantime, I will be washing the rice, setting the rice cooker on automatic mode and I am assured of piping hot rice in the evening.

In a few quick minutes, the minced meat and fish are ready for seasoning. Here, my previously fried golden garlic bits will make their presence felt in the meal. Instead of cornstarch which is supposed to make the minced meat stick together, I beat an egg together with some soy sauce and pepper. After mixing them with the minced meat, I will lay the fish fillet to one side. A slice tomato will be laid on to lend a piquant taste in the dish.

Next, I just put the dish into my multi-purpose microwave oven, this time round setting it to the conventional oven mode and set the timer to cook the food. For my oven, it will take about 25 minutes.

In the meantime, I wake my children up and have our breakfast. Once breakfast is done, the food is done too. I will just leave it in the oven for consumption in the evening. To have a "different" dish each evening, I will vary the fish fillet and at times, the sauce for the baking.

Of course, Aileen's Kitchen is closed during the weekend.

Time Management

So, this much is for the dinner fixing part. There are so many other things which a working mother has to see to. One of which is doing the laundry, ironing clothes, tidying up the house, sweeping and mopping chores and the list goes on.

For me, I have a priority list on what is the most important and try to find pockets of time to do so. Remember in my first post on this subject, I have written that a little planning goes a long way. Same here, if we want to save time, we have to work smart. For example, I will try to stock easy care and maintenance working attires. As far as possible, they should go into the washing machine. Hand-wash pieces are frowned upon. For my boy's uniform which I have no control over the type and make, I will carefully roll up them together with clothes which crease easily and stuff them in the laundry bag. And if possible, I will also try to iron them when they are slightly damp - i.e. after their spin in the washing machine.

For my less critical chore such as cleaning the house, I will usually do it during the weekend. At times, I may even skip doing it due to time constraint.

So this is it.

My secrets are simple. I shall use the acromyn PAT to sum it up.

P-lan in advance. For example, I will buy a weeks' worth of meat and fish one week earlier. Where possible, I will also prepare in advance as in the case of frying garlic bits and saving it up for future use.

A- utomation is the key. The modern technology is our best friends.

T- ime management and have a priority list on what to do first.

I know it is not easy being a working mother but as what Friedrich Nietzsche said "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". I think it also makes us smarter. Let us give ourselves a pat on our back on a job well done.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Primary 2 - English Composition

An Accident from Pretence

It was early on Sunday morning, Jason was watching a tlevision programe, "Superman". Mesmerised by the show, he wanted very much to be like the hero. So he drapped a red old cloth as his cape and pretended to be "Superman".

Next, he climbed up the chair and attempted to fly, but "Superman" he was not and he ended up hitting his head on the floor.

"PAIN! PAIN!" he wailed as he burst into tears. Upon hearing his cries, his sister, Jane came to comfort him. Blood was oozing down his head as he had a deep cut on his forehead.

After cleaning his wond and applying a plaster, Jane showed Jason a newspaper article about a boy who pretended to be "Superman". The boy was wearing a piece of cloth as cape. He opened and jumped out of the window. Instead of flying, he fell and crashed onto the groundfloor to his death. Jason promised that he would not do it again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Secrets of a Working Mother, Part 2

My mother used to tell me when I was young in Hokkien "mee gia si xi ae, dao nao si wa ae", loosely translated into "things are dead, your brain is alive." What she meant is to be creative, to think out of the box, or basically to use your head.

This phrase was ingrained into my head since I was young. But it was only when I was in my early thirties that I truly appreciate its magic. Do you know that we can and in fact should start preparing when we have got little pockets of time available? That is one reason why I join the Toastmasters Club. I find time to polish up my speaking skills so that I can cut down the time spent to perfect that presentation. The fact is certain core skills are transferable.

This simple but powerful concept applies to managing a household. And today, the focus of my post is that of cooking dinner in a jiffy.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

There is a lot of work when one is in the kitchen. However we can definitely cut down certain work. And as far as possible, we should get whatever help that is available. One of which is the scaling, cleaning and cutting of fish. Another is the choice of whether to take meat slices or minced meat. My choice is the latter as it calls for the least work at my end and I can always summon the help of the butcher.

Another is that of garlic - a omnipotent herb used in Chinese cooking - which will enhance the taste of cooked food. I will usually buy the bottled chopped garlic from supermarket. Of course, you could spare the time, you can also chop the garlic yourself. I will then fry them "in bulk" and wait for them to cool before storing them away in the refrigerator. This was one lesson I learnt when I was in the States. My batch of garlic cloves was on the verge of going bad. Following a hunch that cooked food could be kept longer, I embarked to chop the garlic and fry them. Today, this method not only spare me the agony of peeling and chopping garlic everyday, the golden fried garlic bites are also more fragrant.

Weekly Grocery Shopping

For me, the preparation for a five-day dinner menu starts early - in fact the Saturday before the coming week. I will do marketing every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn so that I could complete the preparation by 8 am. I need to do so as thereafter I will have to send my two boys for their tuition later.

I love to shop at wet market because of the personalised service which I received from the stall holders especially after I become a regular. My weekly grocery items include fish (usually a mix of red snapper, cod fish, salmon and at times, pomfret), minced pork and eggs. These are almost my staple.

For the fish, I will get at least five fillets or more - nicely cut in the portions which I will need to cook each time. I seldom buy a whole fish, if I do, it will almost invariably be white pomfret and a big one. I will request the fishmonger to help me to debone the fish and cut into slices. These variety of fish may cost a little more but think of the time savings in cleaning the fish at home. Not only that, these fish is already a winner in the taste category, one cannot go really wrong in cooking them. But make sure, they are fresh. It is not difficult to know which stall sells the freshest fishes - just head to the most crowded one. You can also perform the "eye test", fish fillets should look firm.

In the case of pork, I used to get lean meat but found the cutting cumbersome. So nowadays, I stick to minced meat. Again, I will get the butcher to help to put them into four to five packs - with each pack enough for one time use.

With most of the work done by the friendly neighbourhood market stallholders, I just need to do a final round of washing the fish fillets. Next, I pack them into "one-time" portions before whiffing them into the freezer.

After I send my two children to their tuition, I will next head to the nearest supermarket. Items which I get from the supermarket are tomatoes (usually about five medium-sized one), DoDo fishballs and needle mushrooms. At times, I also stock up small tins of baked beans, sardine cans, preserved "cai xin" and "giam chye" (salted vegetable). Like it or not, sometimes we need some variety in our food and they may not be healthy. But I believe in giving in a little to that urge so that it will not grow sinisterly into a dark desire. That is all for this post, coming up next is the menu and how to section in my next post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Secrets of a Working Mother, Part 1

Many people ask me how I am able to juggle both work and family without a maid. Just the other day, I was navigating the after-office-hour rush to fetch my elder boy from his primary school, with his little brother in tow. An auntie could not contain her amazement and asked me non-stop on how I manage to cook dinner everyday, fetch my boys, coach them with their school work and do housework while holding a full-time job.

I Have Done it Before

The first thing that comes to my mind is that it's really nothing spectacular. I did my part-time post-graduate studies in three years during which I worked full-time, was heavily pregnant with my boys and took care of the elder toddler too. I just do it because I have to.

I did not think much about it. It has also never crossed my mind that this itself was an accomplishment. A few years down the road, I met one of my former classmates who had just become a new mother after graduation. She told me that it was gruelling enough just being pregnant and then being bleary-eyed taking care of the baby, it was baffling that I could still squeeze in time for my part-time studies.

I supposed that it was my commitment to myself to complete what I had started. I had just commenced my post-graduate studies when my first child came along. As Lance Armstrong once said: "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." And I am definitely not a quiter. Giving up my studies was not an option. So like an athlete, I pressed on with my sheer will pushing over my body. Of course, my boys' laughters and antics made all the hardwork worth it.

The Training Ground

Then I had the training of being away from home when I became a stay-at-home mother at the United States. It was hard in the beginning. I was homesick - very badly homesick. And I suffered from cultural shock from all angles. For one, I was never a domesticated person. My cooking sucked and I seldom cooked at home. To add salt onto open wound, it was also very tough to get the Asian ingredients in a non-Asian country.

But desperation breeds ingenuity. I learnt new ways of cooking - using oven but Asian condiments to prepare fusion food. The 30-minute with Rachael Ray's cooking program was my favorite. From which, I mastered the concept of preparation in advance. E.g. frying minced garlic and keeping it for later use.

When I returned, I have also experimented with cooking food the night before and heating it the next day for dinner. There were a lot of learning points on what was the most efficient way, and how to cook in the shortest possible time, easiest way while still retaining its nutrients. All these are largely from trial and error which I would share with you in my next post.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Favorite Things

Reason in Economics and marvel in management. These are a few of my favorite things.

Logically, people will ...

I fell in love - head over heels - in Economics for it is so rational. But my love clearly is not.

Economics makes so much sense in the at times nonsensical world. While usually true, economics could explain not all of today's phenomenon. As my Economics professor has put it very simply, when we study economics we do so in a "closed" world.

The key assumption here is that people are rational. In the real world, he added one variable, "a" in the equation and aptly termed it "animal". Like a beast it is, it is highly unpredictable but powerful - able to overthrow the entire economic reasoning. This animal is "market sentiments". Just like my love for the subject.

Once there were only white swans

Another very interesting concept which I learnt not from former education but from reading especially management books is that of "white and black swans". The story goes this way. Once people have always believed that only white swans exist. This was because no one has ever spotted a swan of another color. Then, this belief was debunked when black swans were sighted.

What is the morale of the story? Very often, we make decisions based on past trends. But past trends cannot predict the future as there are a lot of unknowns that lie ahead of us. Nothing is absolute as the world is constantly changing.

Putting the two together

When I put my two favorite things together, I learn to plan with the best information and yet be prepared for the uncertainties that lie ahead. Just like in the chorus of the song:

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I am feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And I don't feel so bad....

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I will always remember you Michael Jackson

On that fateful day 25 June 2009, the whole world was shaken by the shock news that Michael Jackson had passed away from a cardiac arrest.

The world grieved in pain for the loss of a music giant. He had many beautiful songs. Amongst which, "Heal the World" and "You are not alone" are my favorite as I love Ballad. Through these lyrics, one could not but feel his very sensitive inner self. A versatile songwriter, singer and performer, he was. Who could have forgotten his fast-paced number "Beat it" and his famous moonwalk. His endless philanthropic deeds speak volumes of his kindness and generosity in giving back to the society.

Despite his music success, he had a controversial life after he suffered second-degree burn during a Pepsi concert, further aggravated by a rare skin disorder. The court cases against him had caused much pain and angst in the gentle soul. In the latter part of his life, he suffered from severe insomnia.

Now that he is gone, may he rest in peace.

As what Maya Angelou aptly titled poem "We Had Him", I am glad the world had him.

Maya Angelou's poem in tribute for Michael Jackson's public Memorial on Tuesday, "We Had Him":

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.

In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.

Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.

Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him.

He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.

Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that.

He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his.

We had him, beautiful, delighting our eyes.

His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us.

And we laughed and stomped our feet for him.

We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.

In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England

We are missing Michael.

But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dictation for Term 3 and 4

These are the dictation passages for Primary 2.

T3 W3 Dictation 1
It was a sunny and windy day. Jill and Ling went to the East Coast Park. There were many people at the park. The girls headed for the beach to pick seashells for their Art lesson.

T3 W4 Dictation 2
My daddy bought me a skate scooter. I was so happy! But he wants me to be very careful when I ride on the skate scooter. He told me to wear a helmet.

T3 W6 Dictation 3
Early on Monday morning, Dan rushed out of his flat to go to school. In his hurry, he forgot to bring his house keys with him. He only realised it after the front door was slammed shut.

T3 W8 Dictation 4
Mr Lee was dressed in a black T-shirt and blue jeans. He was also wearing a blue cap with red stripes. He is a tanned Chinese man and has a moustache on his face.

T3 W10 Dictation 5
Jason saw a little girl, about two years old, at the bottom of the pool. He dived in and pulled her up. Luckily, the little girl started crying. She was all right. Just then, the little girl's mother dashed to her side.

T4 W2 Dictation 6
Ming comes from a poor village. He spends his time looking for food thrown away by the fruit and vegetable sellers. Once, he spotted some ripe bananas near the dustbin. Quick as flash, he picked them up.

T4 W4 Dictation 7
During the holidays, Jenny and her brothers visited their aunt. The children took a taxi to her house. Their aunt was preparing some food for them. Jenny looked forward to her aunt's delicious meal.

T4 W6 Dictation 8
There was a big crowd at the shopping centre. A woman had fainted as the place was very hot and stuffy. A passer-by dialled 995 and an ambulance arrived shortly. The woman was sent to the hospital.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lost in The Shopping Mall

This is an essay adapted from a primary 2 school student.
On a bright and sunny day, Jack and his mother went to a shopping mall in Tiong Bahru to buy a present for Jack.

In the shopping mall, Jack was amazed to see many shops selling toys. As he walked along the corridor outside the shops, his eyes feasted on the fascinating toys on display at a shop. A transformer - Bumble Bee, on offer caught his attention. He let go of his mother's hand and stood in front of Bumble Bee, wishing that his mother could buy it for him. When he turned around to tell his mother to buy it, she was gone! "Where is mother?" the thought flashed in his mind and he burst into tears. His cries filled the whole shopping mall and he was so frightened. When his mother heard his cries, she hurried back to the toy store to look for Jack.

True enough, she found Jack! Both mother and son were so happy and hugged each other. His mother heaved a sigh of relief. Jack told his mother what he wanted. He was so excited when his mother agreed to buy the toy for him.

Jack has learnt his lesson well. From that day onwards, he did not dare to go out of his mother's sight without her knowledge again.

Have Fun

About Dr Nick Morgan:
Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. A passionate teacher, he is committed to helping people find clarity in their thinking and ideas — and then delivering them with panache. He has been commissioned by Fortune 50 companies to write for many CEOs and presidents. He has coached people to give Congressional testimony, to appear on the Today Show, and to take on the investment community. He has worked widely with political and educational leaders. And he has helped design conferences and prepare keynote speeches around the world.

From Nick Morgan's blog:
What is the most important rule for success in public speaking?

I'm often asked what is the single most essential thing to remember in order to give a good speech. My first instinct is to respond, "it's a complex process, an art form, and it involves lots of moving parts. So there's no one single thing." But if I'm pressed for one rule only, it would be this: have fun.

That's right -- have fun.

Could it possibly be that simple?

Audiences have provisionally given up their authority and bestowed it on the speaker. They want the speaker to succeed. Otherwise, they've wasted their time, and who can afford to do that these days? The best thing the speaker can do is to signal to the audience that he or she is having a good time. It will let the audience know that it is in good hands. It can relax and enjoy the experience.
That creates a virtuous circle -- happy audience, happy speaker -- and those good vibes go a long way toward creating a positive experience for all.
Of course, the hard part about having fun is that most people are nervous when they speak, at least at the start. So how do you relax and have fun when your heart is hammering away, your palms are clammy, and you're thinking to yourself, I will never, never agree to do this again?

Focus on the audience. If you can stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about the audience, you've got a chance to begin to enjoy yourself. Remember, a speech is not primarily about you, the speaker. It's about whether or not the audience is moved to action.

So relax, forget about you, and have fun.
I read this article and I agree with it totally.

What is the most important thing when you are doing something? It is to have fun.

This is the same mantra which I instill in my boys. Studying should be fun and we can make it fun.

I know sometimes, we are jaded especially for those who have been working for many, many years. But having fun is the state of mind. When I studied literature or history, I imagined that I was the main character undergoing the same experiences. You need to get a little more imaginative when you studied stuff like Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. For Physics, we could imagine we were Newton sitting under the apple tree or the fellow who shouted "Eureka" and ran naked in the street when he discovered this "displacement theory thingy" where taking a bathe?

When I was teaching the three states of matter to my children - they were then around three and five years old. We imagined that we were water molecules in the sea. As the sun heated up the surface, we got more and more energetic and were jumping further and further away. Finally, we managed to break free from the force of gravity and became gas.

There is also a lot of fun stuff relating to Mathematics - eg. Sudoko Challenge. For me, I love the story of Hotel Infinity - a very special hotel that could take in countably many, many guests.

You get the idea? Same theory applies to work.

So let's all make a commitment to have fun in our day-to-day activities.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

From Dowdy to Dazzling

In a world that devotes a disproportionate attention to how one look and often judge a book by its cover. The story of Susan Boyle is uplifting.

Susan is a dowdy housewife who spends most of her time taking good care of her household - keeping her house spick and span, her family members well-taken care of. It is a 24/7 job with no pay but the immerse satisfaction more than made up for the monetary consideration. Then she takes part in Britain got talent and woos the world with her angelic voice. Consequently, she also pays more attention to her appearance.

Susan reminds me of my mother - also a housewife. But unlike Susan who is 47, my mother is much older and crossed the 60 age-mark. My mother is also illiterate. Born in a poor family in a fishing village in Malaysia, she has to give up studying as her family simply could not afford it.

Instead of pursuing an academic education, my mother turned to learning tailoring in a bid to support herself if need be. She worked for short spurts of time only to be interrupted by the then-so-common strikes in Singapore and Malaysia.

Her worklife was cut short when she got married through match-making to my father, a Singaporean. For years, she applied to be a citizen of Singapore. Being illiterate and a housewife did not make the task easy, I remembered the frequent trips to the Immigration Centre to extend her stay in Singapore.

Though my mother is not a career woman, she is a very successful woman. She has a blissful marriage, grown-up children who take care of her.

But unlike Susan, my mother will never take part in any singing contest and hence may always remain dowdy. Nevertheless, this is only in outward appearance, in my heart, my mother is a dazzling lady in her own right.

I love you, mother.