Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Apple Crumble and our 20-month-old

Dylan turned 20 months yesterday.

Also, for the first time since we arrived in Australia, he spent an hour away from mommy when mommy placed him in a home-based day care. The little terror - in the space of that hour - managed to cause a boy to cry by hitting and kicking him after he failed to "return" a coveted toy, which just set our dear brat off into a tantrum fit, causing him to regurgitate some of the morning's eggy breakfast. Poor caregiver!

On the bright side, I'm really thankful that this little boy is now starting to eat more at mealtimes, and taking to full-fat cow's milk pretty well too.

"Something seems stuck in my ears..."

All in all, a little celebration was in order, so we used the Seah's bak kut teh sachet with about 1kg worth of chicken wings for dinner, and I made apple crumble.

Chooks bak kut teh

On a cold day, there is nothing quite like slow-cooked chicken in herbal soup, with its meat just falling off the bone and melting in our mouths!

Apple Crumble - open

This was my 2nd attempt at the dessert, using the recipe from Video Jug. I'm so glad I found this website - the great thing is you get to see how the dish is made step by step. Real easy, and yummy too!

The first time, I over-stewed the apples, and it became too soft, almost like pureed. So although the recipe calls for 30 minutes of stewing the apple together with the suger in a covered pot, I will say about 20 minutes of gentle stewing will do. When you bake it in the oven preset to 150 degrees for 30 minutes, that's more than enough time for the apples to get softer.

Another variation to the recipe - instead of stewing the apples with a stick of cinnamon, I just sprinkled a dash or two of powdered cinnamon both into the stew and into the crumble mix.

Best served with just cream, though hubby still prefers it with good ol' vanilla ice-cream! To ease on the guilt factor, we had it with 98% fat free ice-cream, of course.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reactions to New Maternity Package

"What?! I won't get the new enhanced $6000 Baby Bonus CDA for 1st child?"

Seems like the new perks to incentivise delivering and raising offspring have raised quite a hullabaloo in the press. There is even a sarcastic suggestion that Singaporeans will start only copulating after marriage if they can get more perks from the government, in a letter that was really about how many people hung Singapore flags over the National Day period.

I'm glad (and amused!) that the online community, now probably best known as members of "Netroots", have moved successfully to get the government to back-date the package to benefit moms giving birth August 17 onwards, and not just Jan 09 onwards.

To put it delicately, watching this circus play out just illustrates a quintessential feature of human nature - our need for more, more, more!

August 17 back-dating not good enough? Backdate to January this year!

What about parents of children past 7 years, don't they deserve something?

And what about Dads? Shouldn't they get a little more than just the 6 days of infant care/ child sick leave days?

For this mother, knowing that the voices of working mothers are being heard and responded to is gratifying. I'm ecstatic that new mothers can look forward to 16 weeks with their newborns now - yay for my preggie friends!

What's also assuring is the effort to increase access to infant and childcare services. Altogether, they represent a commitment to family, and hopefully employers will take the cue to support this shift from workplace productivity to worklife balance, tough though the call may be.


Ok, ok the story behind the photo above - this was Dylan after the 2nd time he completed an exhilarating ride on the miniature steam train Kaye-e at Peterkin Park today. For the full story, read the Daddy's blog entry.

He was so, so upset when the rides ended, that as we walked away he fought free of our arms, got down to the ground, and started running back to the train station!

So we just had to return to the station-master to ask for another ticket. To our surprise, he waved us in so Mommy, Daddy and Boy got our third ride for free!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Home alone Part II - Edible Playdough

yummy peanut butter playdough
"Am I supposed to play with my food, mommy?"

An update since my last post - hubby's back, yay! I've also returned from the verge of insanity, and am happy to say that the rest of the week went by without incident.

It's strange, but the very next day, and in the days afterwards, the little boy was a lot calmer, happier and more responsive to mommy. Partly I think seeing mommy's emotional melt-down may have opened his eyes to the fact that this adult has complicated feelings too. Which isn't good - the adult needs to be the calm one, all the time, so please don't follow my poor example!

Also, I believe, it's a combination of me learning to be a lot more relaxed especially at mealtimes, learning to just enjoy being with my little boy, and my little boy feeling more secure that mommy isn't going to "lose it" again, and hence returning the favour.

Most of all, this week has taught me to truly commit all things in prayer and trust that God is truly in control of every situation.

Funny thing - at lunchtime the next day, Dylan took the fork and spoon in his hands, and started wanting to feed himself. One spoonful... two... he managed seven spoonfuls all by himself! It still didn't amount to much - about half the plate was still full, but it was still a proud moment for me.

It was mainly rainy this week, so us poor twosome had to stay indoors for much of the day.

Poor boy really wanted to go outdoors, so on a couple of the evenings we'd just sit out on the steps leading up to our front door, just watching the rain, and maybe the birds sitting on the telephone wires along the road. Sometimes, Dylan will just play on the stairs, going up one step and down the same step, always cautious not to lose his footing.

I experimented with some baking whenever he slept - made cheese cookies and a date loaf. If there is time this week, I'll try my hand at baking my first banana cake, and maybe apple crumble too.

I also found this great recipe on the ChildFun on how to make edible playdough.

Mixing 450gm of smooth peanut butter with 2 tablespoon dollops of honey, and dried skim milk powder, I made a yummy pliable dough that kept the boy busy for a while at least! Wonderful way to spend rainy days.

Here's a video in 3 takes: Take 1 - getting the rest of the dough out, Take 2 - lip-smacking good this playdough!, and Take 3 - Shapes.

Discipline toolkits for parents

Bringing up baby to be a responsible, discipline-loving and responsive child isn't easy.

Babycenter provides an interesting and useful article that spells out what parents can do with infants and upwards entitled "The discipline toolkit - successful strategies at every age". Very worth your 10 minutes to read!

E and I started implementing the Naughty Corner, and it seems to be working.

For first-time parents or parents-to-be who have not been watching prime time free TV, the Naughty Corner is made famous by Supernanny Jo Frost, to stem children's undesirable or dangerous behavior.

The idea is simple:
1. Firmly and calmly explain to a misbehaving child that you do not want to see the behavior being repeated - for example something like touching the oven or turning the gas knobs on the cooker.
2. If the child persists after a number of warnings, move the child to an area designated as the "Naughty Spot" and explain calmly that he has to stay there (for children under 3, no more than 1 minute or less) until Daddy or Mommy comes back.
3. Afterwards, approach the child and lovingly explain why he had to stay there.

The first couple of times we implemented this, the boy ended up in a pool of tears and would constantly get up and run towards either of us the minute we set him down, even though we'd explain why he must stay there for 1 minute. But we steeled ourselves one day and just continued placing him back in the spot, each time explaining why, until he eventually stayed there for the full minute.

Ever since then, we've really only needed to send him into the naughty spot a couple of times. Mostly, he understood when we really didn't want him to do something when we said "If you do this again, you will have to go to the naughty corner." Otherwise, he would stay there until either E or I went to him again.

The good thing about this I find is that the minute he gets allows him to cool off from a tantrum, and gives me time to cool my head too, like a kind of time-out for both parent and child...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Home alone, food trials, and spiritual lessons

E left on Sunday to spend this whole week at a rural indigenous community in Port Augusta, near Adelaide, as part of the med school course.

That means that I have the whole house and the toddler to myself this week. Normally, if this happened in Singapore there would be no reason for anyone to bat their eyelids at this.

But over here, I'm suddenly struck by how we're completely left to ourselves here, and if anything should happen to either Dylan or I, our nearest relative is 2 hours' drive away in Melbourne.

It doesn't help that E is in some one-horse town in the rural outback with no mobile network reception. The last time I heard from him was Monday evening when he arrived at the camp, and even then he had spent 30 minutes climbing a rather steep hill to get a just single bar on his mobile phone.

In other words, beside the landline number under the words "Pitchie Richie" he wrote on a post-it stuck on our refrigerator door, my husband is practically uncontactable.


Still, when he left I told E that I'm fairly comfortable here, and confident that we'll get by O.K. this week until he returns this Sunday evening.

You see, I'm a real optimist that way. Always have been. And that's probably the cause of this mommy's downfall.

2 days have passed, and I'm now in a rather different frame of mind.

In the 2 days without E around, the boy has thrown up twice. Once yesterday after throwing a tantrum when we got home from his MMR and meningoccal shots (poor thing had two needles simultaneously enter each arm... :0), and tonight.

Tonight, I tried guilting him into eating his dinner by losing my cool and crying my eyes out right in front of him, only to see him reciprocate by crying himself into a fit, and promptly throwing up the rest of the little bit of dinner he had ingested.

It all started when I foolishly believed that if I tried hard enough to make a yummy meal fun, it would work and the boy would eat more than his routine four spoonfuls. It's all part of my natural optimism, you see.

This was my bait - meatballs in tasty tomato sauce, an Annabel Karmel recipe I slogged three hours yesterday over, and chicken rice balls inspired by Little Gastronomy:

Chix Rice Balls c Beef meatballs

In case you didn't see it, the plate was arranged to look like a face. I used some leftover chicken rice from yesterday, heating it with milk until it boiled into a porridge-like texture and added instant potato mash to make it gooey enough to fashion into rice balls. It took 10 minutes.

The boy really enjoyed using his fingers to gobble down the rice balls, but he left the meatballs untouched and wanted to leave his seat.

After many futile attempts to get him to tackle the meat, I suddenly lost it.

I was overcome with a tsunami-sized wave of self-pity. Hang on, I spent 3 hours yesterday on these Annabel Karmel meatballs, and you prefer my lousy leftover 10-minute rice balls to this?!

So I raised my voice at him, and said have you any idea how much time mommy spent making this just for you?! I have another 20 meatballs left in the casserole dish you know! Now what am I going to do with them?

Of course, you know the rest of the story. As though it wasn't cruel enough that my frustrations stem from him eating so little, this mommy had to witness the heart-rending sight of her little boy promptly throwing up even those lousy riceballs she disdained so much.

I'm shaking my head and smiling as I write this now, but at that moment, I honestly wondered if this would be the longest week of my life without the calm intervention of another adult in this home.

So, to conclude, I'm beginning to think that I need a lot more strength to face up to when my efforts don't render the results I desire. Parenting is one way this comes through so powerfully!!!

In a devotional passage last week from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, I read about how disillusionment can be a good thing.

Based on John 2:24-25 ("Jesus did not commit Himself to them . . . , for He knew what was in man"), the passage notes that "Disillusionment means having no more misconceptions, false impressions, and false judgments in life; it means being free from these deceptions."

All my life, I've prided myself on one thing: being optimistic - about everything, choosing to believe in the best that people can offer including myself. That just through believing hard enough, things will happen the way I want them to. Of course the lesson from the devotion here was about our disillusionment in other people mainly, and more generally in our own human nature. But I do wonder how it applies to our illusions about ourselves, our abilities.

I'm starting to think that there is thin line between optimism and delusion.

Parenting powerfully forces me come to terms with my limitations, in this case through wrestling with the will of a toddler. At bedtime, I looked at this boy's face smiling up back at mine, and I just felt so bad.

I told him, I'm sorry son. Mommy shouldn't have allowed her bruised ego to be the excuse for raising her voice at you just now. I love you so very much, it just hurts when you don't eat.

He looked kind of blankly back at me, and yawned.

I said, ok you're tired. Goodnight. Turned the lights off and he fell straight asleep.

Oh, I guess that's a blessing I should thank God for. He's now sleeping through the night in his own big boy's bed!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dress-Up Day

Dylan has been going to two playgroups here in Churchill.

Both are organized by moms and held once a week/fortnight at schools - one at a mission school, and the other at a local kindergarten - they call them "kinders" here. He really loves going to the one at the kinder because it has all the toys and manipulatives, and pretend corners where he can play "masak masak". Outdoors, the kinder grounds also holds much more age-appropriate play equipment than the regular big boy playground in our vicinity.

Although most of the 3 hours will be spent in unstructured play, the moms also would have scheduled a special activity for each session. On Friday, it was dress-up day, and mommies had to find fancy costumes for their littlies to wear.

With our tight budget, I wasn't too keen on decking him out in any of the Spiderman/ Superman suits you can get at the Kmart or Big W.

After some thinking, I decided what better to dress up as than something Dylan absolutely loves?

Out of a cardboard box, some yellow and black wrapping paper, a ball of yarn and a meat tray, I made a miniature digger for Dylan to wear. After all, one of his first words had been "Dig and Throw!" and he is fascinated with construction vehicles.

So, here's the end product:

D the digger

Dylan seemed keen on his new outfit as well when I tried it on him at home, so I was super pumped. All excited to show off to the other moms, we headed for the kinder, only to have the little bubba absolutely refuse to put the costume on because it got in the way of all the other things he wanted to play!

What a disappointment. Well, at least some of the other kids wanted to wear it -
K and kids 2

Still, it was nice to see this little boy having fun.

Playing house - want an orange, mommy?
at the wash basin

Flanked by 2 princesses
which princess?
"Mirror, mirror, on the dresser, which of these two princesses is fairer?"

Is this a dresser or a computer, now?
at the play computer

Snack Time...
snack time! Me and my best bud, Jack!

It was a gorgeous morning, and the kids didn't take long to take full advantage of it outdoors. Our li'l trooper naturally gravitated towards the wooden play truck, where he spent a considerable amount of time even though this mommy tried to divert him to other erstwhile activities like the slide and ladders.

D the trucker

playing truck 2

D and J again
D and J
more truck time

Crossing the play bridge - this is harder than it looks!
bridge area 3

coming down the play bridge

2 little Possum Princesses in a Tree!
2 little possums in a tree

Afterwards, we adjourned back indoors for a tasty - albeit unhealthy treat - chippies!
chippy time!

Sigh, this is the only time you will see the little guy quietly seated, no need for straps and persuasion beyond a bowl of potato chips!
lots of chips!

loving my "tay-toe!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

Pumpkin soup and honey mustard dressing

It's a little disheartening when an ingredient you cherish so much doesn't seem to be appreciated by the people you are cooking for. But parents of young toddlers also know that you have to persist in giving a picky child a food that they previously reject - they say up to 15 times!

Sunday dinner

Extending on this principle and hoping that it will apply to the bigger boy in this family (er-hem you know who), I persisted in another pumpkin innovation - by making a cream of vegetable soup that uses up the remaining quarter of a pumpkin I had left!

Besides, pumpkin is such a rich source of essential minerals - like potassium and zinc and not to forget vitamins and beta-carotenes too.

Thankfully, the boys liked it.

The good thing about this soup is that you can use up leftover veg in the fridge.Here it is, and here is how I made it:
Cream of vegetable with homemade croutons

1 onion - minced
3 cloves of garlic - minced
quarter pumpkin (or any squash) - cubed
1 courgette/ zucchini - cubed
1 potato - cubed
2 carrots - cubed
Chicken stock (from cube)

Goes with:
a slice of cheddar (the cheap kind)
homemade croutons (just bread fried in a touch of olive oil with pepper and mixed italian herbs)

Main: Pork Rissoles (buy from local meat vendor and pop into grill/oven) with salad

Fry the onion and garlic in a bit of oil till soft, then add the potato and carrot to soften gently over medium-low heat for another 10-15 minutes. Add the remaining squash (pumpkin and zuchini) and cover the ingredients with the stock to bring to a boil then let simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. Liquidize using a hand-blender, add cheese (optional cream) and croutons, and voila!

For accompanying salad, I just used up some lettuce and tomato topped with sultanas, and made a simple dressing using honey, a bit of olive oil and Dijon mustard.

mother and picky eater
Me and my muse for inventive cooking - the picky eater.

More food experiments later.