Thursday, April 30, 2009

Slice of heaven

On Sunday, hubby and I went mountain climbing at Mt Serapi again. We (mostly me actually) were still a bit sore from the last hike, so this time we decided to take the shorter route to the waterfall. Yes, the one where you risk encountering leeches!!

Now, leeches rank no.2, on my list of 'despicable creatures', right behind cockroaches. It doesn't matter that leeches are harmless and actually medically useful, they're just gross. So, I went armed with a big bottle of salt which I grabbed from the kitchen. It seems if a leech attaches itself to you, putting salt on it will make it drop off. I was considering rubbing my whole body down with salt first, you know, just in case.

As usual, by the time we dropped the kids off at grandpa's place it was already well past ten. We then proceeded to have our favourite kolo mee (this time I could take scrummy photos of the noodles, since discovering the camera's macro mode) and headed off.

When we reached the park, I wasted no time asking the park ranger about the chances of having a blood-sucking slimy slug crawl up my leg. Fortunately, he explained that leeches were more prevalent during the rainy season. Since it is now the dry season, and the day was nice and hot, I could breathe easier. Still, I was on high alert, all along the one and a half hour trek (one way), trying not to brush up against the shrubbery, lest I tempt a leech with my delicious blood filled limbs. I am alive and well to report that luckily, there were no leeches in sight.

Oh, but when we reached the waterfall... seriously, risking the leeches was totally worth it! It was so beautiful and peaceful. There were lots of butterflies floating about, giving the place an air of tranquility. I imagine the Garden of Eden might have been something like this (minus the leeches of course).

We swam in the chilly water and sat under the cascading waterfall. It was better than any spa! Then we had a bit to eat and spent ages photographing the gorgeous butterflies. (it's the obsession with the macro mode thing...) I could've spent the whole afternoon there, but we still had a long trek ahead, so we left after spending more than an hour lounging about.

It's truly a beautiful place, and I can't wait to get back. It would be lovely if we could bring the kids along, but the trek is too strenuous. We'll search for a more accessible, interesting piece of nature to bring them to this Labour Day weekend. Will keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Camera macro mode

On Saturday, Annie was invited to her classmate's birthday party. She lives at our condo, so the party was conveniently held at the poolside cafe downstairs. I thought this would be a good opportunity to bake some cupcakes and make them pretty, like the ones you see people putting on their blogs and facebooks. I've been itching to try my hand at cake decorating so this was a good excuse, I could make some for Annie to give to her friend.

I baked some chocolate chip cupcakes and frosted them with the ancient cream cheese sitting in my refrigerator. It still smelled okay... :) I was helped by my very capable assistants; Do, Re and Mi. (Their professional fee in the end was leftover cream cheese frosting piped directly into the mouth!)

Naturally, I had to take some photos of the hard work. I always wondered how people took such gorgeous close-up photos of food, which made them look so delicious. I thought you had to have one of those funky cameras which had lenses that looked more like the Hubble telescope! It was then that hubby introduced me to the 'macro' mode on the camera! Who would have known? I had the technology with me all along! No, I didn't read the manual that came with the camera. Too long. Too many languages. Too boring. (Sounds like 'Sejarah'- this pretty much explains my atrocious secondary school results!)

So anyway, halfway through the party, Annie brought a whole gang of her friends up to our unit! Attack of the sugar-propelled, hyper, pre-teens! Hubby, ever the clever one, locked himself in our room and promptly fell asleep. There was a plus side to this invasion though; I could now dispose of my leftover cupcakes, instead of having them sit in the fridge until they fossilized into potentially lethal projectiles! I remember, a long time ago, I had made rock-hard doughnuts. Dad used the phrase: "throw dog can die!" (direct translation from chinese, meaning: it's so hard, you could kill a dog if you threw one at him!)

Here's the reaction to,"Who wants cupcake?"

I let them put their own sprinkles and closed my eyes as the hundreds and thousands cascaded onto my dining table and floor... Then I let them have their cuppies, and without further delay announced, "My, it must be swimming time!"

They were gone in a puff! Even better, Claire and Eva went along, so I joined hubby for some well-deserved zzzzzzzz........

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Original Supermum

The Original Supermum would definitely be my own mummy. Mum died of breast cancer two years ago, on 27th March, 2007. She and dad raised all 6 of us and education was always a top priority, at all costs. Only 2 years ago did Dad finish paying the bank loans and overdrafts which he took out for our overseas education! He already had 11 grandchildren by then!

There was a time when mum was working full-time as a government staff nurse, weekends at a private clinic, nights taking care of a bed-ridden patient and even sold insurance and MLM products on the side! Being a mum myself now, I realise and can fully appreciate the enormomity of her selflessness. I never heard her complaining about work or having to send us to school and piano classes.. etc.. Only now that I have to do it myself, do I know that it's no fun! :)

Anyway, mum was born to a rather privileged childhood, compared to most other children of their time. Grandad ran a restaurant in town and she was the third daughter born to his second wife. His first wife had passed away and later on our Grandma was shipped directly from China! Much later on, dad who came from a more rural area, rented a room for a while, at the space above the restaurant. This must be how they met for the first time.

Mum was a tough cookie, to say the least, she always had a rebellious streak in her. I remember she told us of the times when she used to ride her bicycle to school with her siblings. When her bicycle chain came off, she would throw a tantrum and dump the whole bike into the drain! Grandad's workers would have to come fish the bike out afterwards.

Those days, children of different ages could be placed in the same class, depending on their academic abilities. There was one particular boy in her class who was quite big and mum would tease him and call him names! He would then chase her around the yard but she, being petite, could outrun him easily. And guess what? She ended up marrying his brother! (yup, that boy was my uncle)

Even when she was in nursing college, mum could be found in the drain catching guppies! She was quite the tom-boy, albeit a beautiful one. She also had a very high pain threshold. I remember once, she accidentally kicked the side of the bed. After about a week, she was wondering why it still hurt. So she had an x-ray done and found out that she actually broke a toe!

Mum, with her wealth of experience being a nurse, was the one we always turned to for medical advice, especially concerning babies and children. She spent many, many years at government maternity and child health clinics. She knew most of the small villages in the rural areas and could speak many chinese/malay/iban dialects as well. She even once delivered a baby on a village jetty! The baby was already on its way out, so it was an emergency. Some of the villagers have a long way to travel before reaching medical help. Doctors were also not always available in those rural areas.

Many times, her vast experience proved more valuable than a doctor's expensive training. There was one time, she had a bad, piercing pain in her abdomen and went to see the doctor. Either one or two doctors (I can't remember) turned her away, saying it was nothing serious. She knew something was wrong and in the end insisted on being admitted. After further investigation, it proved to be appendicitis, and an emergency operation was done. Mum said any more delay would have caused the appendix to rupture!

Even in the case of her breast cancer. Mum has a history of lumps in the breast, so she had yearly mammograms done at the general hospital. The doctors there gave her the all-clear. It was only after she discovered a lump through self-examination, did they discover the tumour. Mum was a fighter, she went through operations and also the dreaded chemotherapy. I believe she played down the pain and misery she was going through for our sakes.

I remember during the last couple of days, when mum was drifting in and out of consciousness, she asked for a piece of wood because there were a lot of 'bad people' around. Religious aunty says the devil comes to fight for your soul at the hour of death. Doctor sister says morphine makes one hallucinate. Original Supermum says, "I'll clobber their heads with my stick!"

Well, anyway, a few nights ago, little brother had a dream of her. He can't remember much, but what he remembers is this. Mum said she was doing okay. She hadn't met God yet. She said she was in a dark place, a city with no lights. Something about that is where we prove ourselves. She said that we must really do more good and not be so calculative.

Now, I doubt little brother has read books on theology, spirituality, the after-life, and such. Moreover, the descriptions are eerily vivid. 'City without lights' is particularly disturbing for me. As far as I'm concerned, this is pretty genuine. If anyone can break the laws of time and space and who knows what else, through sheer willpower, to reach us, it would be none other than The Original Supermum! :)

Many people will interpret this in many different ways; purgatory, different levels of heaven, an alternate universe, reincarnation...? What ever the truth is, I believe our mere mortal brain will not be able to grasp its concept. It'll make e=mc2 seem like 1+1=2. So I believe this is where faith comes in. Just believe and know there is a God and leave the rest to Him.

So, just in case there's WiFi in heaven; Mum, we get you loud and clear! We love you and we miss you!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Disposable diapers and gold powder.

It's been a pretty uneventful week so far. Mostly I've been busy with the usual daily routines which consist of, basically, ferrying kids to and from school and extra-curricular activities, and running the pharmacy. Oh yes, and the almost daily run to the supermarkets for groceries and not forgetting, the purse-draining baby essentials; disposable nappies and milk formula!

Numbers 2, 3 and 4 are still on milk formula. S-26 Gold from Wyeth and Gain Plus 3 from Abbot. It's so expensive, you'd be excused if you thought S-26 Gold means it comes with a free gold nugget in the bottom of the can!

Yes, I know breast milk is the best milk... yadda yadda... (even better, it's free too!) but regrettably, I do not perform well in cow-mode, so there! All these milk companies really cash in on the mother's guilt for not breast-feeding. Serious pot of gold there.

Another gold mine; disposable diapers. This one basically cashes in on the natural human aversion to handling poo, or, as in the case of men; being in the same room as poo. Quite ironic, as they can spend hours with their own poo in the loo...

Anyway, baby Solomon obviously still needs nappies, and Eva only needs them at night and sometimes during afternoon naps. She actually likes wearing nappies and sometimes refuses to take them off! Just the other night, hubby said he could smell poo. I thought it was just his nose going wonky. After a while, I could smell it too. We checked that the loos were flushed and pottys clean. We then asked the kids if anyone passed some serious gas. The kids were laughing and denying any responsibility. Then Eva said while laughing, " nobody putt putt, only me ngh ngh in my pants and I sit until flat, flat!" At first, I thought she was joking, as she's already coming 3 years and hasn't pooped in her pants for ages. So we were all laughing at her 'joke', when I took a look down her diaper and sure enough, there sat a piece of flattened poo! I was aghast! I started lecturing her, but she was busy laughing along with her sisters who found it hilarious!

As for Claire, we're in the process of weaning her off diapers at night. It's high time she learns how to go to the loo in between sleep. It's just that I'm so sleep-deprived (Solomon still needs 3 feeds at night!), I'd rather pay RM2+ a night for more sleep! Ya, the nappies are expensive too; my children have expensive skin- they're unfortunately allergic to cheap materials! Also, only Mamy Poko pull-ups, the most expensive brand in the market, come in size XXL, which is already tight for her! :) This is another reason why I have to disrupt my favourite pastime to bring her to the potty! And she doesn't make it easy; number one, she has inherited my love for sleep and will scream if woken up. Number two, she's not easy to carry! Sometimes, my maid Paula and I are so tired we forget to bring her and sometimes she also has too much to drink. This is why I have discovered Febreeze, the wonderful odour-neutralizing fabric spray thingie.

It wasn't easy with Annie either. I remember when we were training her to potty at night, she would grab on to the bed rails so tight while her dad pulled her from the other end, all the while with her eyes still closed and crying! It was such a funny sight, like tug-of-war! You'd think we were dragging her for an injection appointment with the doctor! The amount of energy she spent resisting, she could have used to go to the potty ten times over! Then, if by some miracle you managed to get her to sit on the potty, she'd refuse to pee, even though she was already there! This is why I did not bother in the end and just let her use diapers at night until she was around six I think!

The next time you're with strangers who are fellow parents and you want to strike up a conversation, just say,"So, what do you think about the price of diapers and baby formula these days?" Trust me, you'll be set for the rest of the day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ow... me legs...

Yesterday, I could have had my usual lazy Sunday and slept in all I wanted. But no... instead, I decided to follow hubby to Matang, where we trekked a 5km long trail up Mt Serapi. That means we walked a total of 10km, but don't forget it is not on level pathway, but on an incline for 2 hours, followed by a decline for 1 1/2 hours. It might not sound like much for frequent joggers or general fitness freaks, but for a flabby mummy whose most regular exercise is carrying the groceries to and from the car, it might as well have been Mt. Everest!

We started the walk a little late, 10:30am. Early morning would have been ideal, because then it would be nice and cool and we would have completed the climb by the time it started to get hot. Well, here's some news, having 4 kids means that timing is never going to be ideal. I guess it would be rather unfair to blame the kids totally, as I was also rather reluctant to get out of my comfy bed so early in the morning when there was no school or work to rush to! So I took my time getting up and getting ready. Then I had to handle the near impossible task of waking the grumpy, not-morning-people, kids- without making them cry. When we got them more or less ready, we carted them off to Kung Kung and Popo's place. 'Thank God for grandparents', is all I can say.

Mummy and daddy, now footloose and fancy-free, headed off for what hubby calls 'guilt-free' kolo mee! We could savour every last drop of artery-clogging pork fat, with the reassuring knowledge (or misinformation?) that we would be burning off every calorie soon.

The drive to Matang took around half an hour. Mt. Serapi's peak is 2300 feet above sea level. There is an old television relay station at the top which is no longer in use, I think. Anyway, the whole area is a forest reserve called Kubah National Park. It is managed by the Sarawak Forestry Department. At the entrance at the foot of the mountain, we had to pay a fee of RM10 per person. There are a few trails to choose from. A one and a half hour trek can get you to a beautiful waterfall, but apparently there are high chances of encountering leeches! We took the longest, the Summit Trail. The park is beautiful, with plenty of colourful butterflies flitting about and the calming sound of insects all around.

The trail is a cement pavement all the way to the top and was therefore easy surface to walk on. That was not the problem at all. The incline was the killer! At some places nearer to the summit, it was so steep that my legs refused to budge any further! I had to take 5 minute breathers at times like that. I had already started sweating way back at 400 feet (and the entrance must've been at 200-300 feet)!! :) There were small rest houses along the trail. If hubby had let me have my way, I would have stopped at every single one! I would also have started heading back down way,way before we reached the top!

Along the way, we saw butterflies of many colours, orange, purple, yellow, white, green... They were very brazen and landed on people's hands and arms. There were many noises which we think were made by insects, frogs, birds and possibly monkeys. We didn't see any of them though, they're most probably very shy and I was also too busy concentrating, willing my feet to go on, step by baby step! A big fat beetle-looking thing did cross our path. It looked like one of those big, juicy grubs that make up the diet of Timon and Pumba, of The Lion King.

Well, I did manage to reach the peak, thanks to some pushing (literally as well, from behind me) from hubby; he kept lying that we were almost there (even at 1000 feet)! He also told me there was a canteen selling 100 plus at the top! Even the children don't believe a word their dad says! I remember one time Claire wanted me to help her with a numbers writing workbook. I was busy so I told her to get her dad to help. Her reply was, "No! Afterwards he say 2 is 3!" That's what you get for teaching your kids, "E for Ephelant"!

Anyway, the view at the top was pretty amazing, and the air was fresh and totally relaxing. The descent was another horror story. Using your calf muscles and knees to stop yourself from rolling down the mountain like a soccer ball, is very painful indeed! In some places, you have to jog down to ease the strain. Towards the end, I had to walk backwards to let my calf muscles stretch and took off my shoes because my toes were getting pulverized! My legs muscles were so stiff, I didn't dare bend my legs too much otherwise they would've just given way! I must've been a sight; waddling like a duck, backwards, without shoes on!

I was happy to finally be at sea level. After the torturous climb, we unfortunately nullified the calories burned by eating yummy nasi kandar! Then we rewarded ourselves with a smashing back rub and foot massage! I'm not in a hurry to get another mountain climb under my belt, but I definitely won't mind another go at the foot and back massage soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cake Decorating?

Last week, I ordered some Wilton Cake Decorating books. I remember when I was small, my mum had some Wilton yearbooks and I loved flipping through the books and looking at those gorgeous cakes. I tried ordering from Amazon, but they couldn't deliver to Malaysia, probably because of Wilton's policy. They have their own distributors here I guessed so I searched on the internet and found a site where I could buy from Klang valley. I bought the 2009 yearbook, a fondant cake decorating book, a book on making fondant flowers and a set of alphabet and numbers cutters (I've always wanted one, don't ask me why). Altogether, I spent RM300 plus; a cake or two had better come out of this extravagant, impulsive purchase!

I've always wanted to try decorating a cake, but the furthest I've ever gotten is writing a big '2' using a tube of Choki chocolate-spread thing (just cut a corner off the plastic tube and you have a piping bag!) and filling it in with sprinkles. Then I stuck some gummy sweets to the side. It was Claire's 2nd birthday. I was really in love with Secret Recipe's white chocolate macadamia nut cake, but they had just opened then and didn't have cake decorating services yet. But I just had to have that cake, so I figured I'ld decorate it myself.

(How do I stop Picasa from automatically rotating my pics anyone?)

Anyways, the Wilton book cakes are just amazing! They don't look like cakes even sometimes, especially the fondant/gumpaste/sugar paste ones. Fondant is so versatile, there are so many things you could create with it... all the possibilities... So now I'm having day dreams of decorating my own children's birthday cakes using fondant. Theoretically this will save me a lot of money. 4 kids, 2 cakes each (1 for school and 1 for home) equals to 8 cakes a year. Some cakes, like Annie's favourite Barbie doll ones can cost up to RM100 each! (Moreover it's not a real Barbie doll they stick in the cake okay, it's some China generic aptly called Maria or something like that!) So, provided there are no major disasters, I should be able to save money and spend that money on more books and tools!

It should be easy, like playing play-doh right?? (Hehe.. famous last words) So I guess this is going to be my new hobby. Cake decorating. When am I going to actually make a cake? I don't know yet. I'm still in the research (read procrastinating) stage now. We have an open water dive (scuba diving in open sea... no more swimming pool... *scary*) this Sunday, so one hobby at a time. I'll give myself until Annie's birthday (20th May) to make my very first fondant cake. There are many bakeries near my shop, so if my cake ends up looking like something the cat dragged in, I can always buy an emergency back-up cake!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter!

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and everyone was up early for mass which was at 7:30am, at Holy Trinity Church. It wasn't hard waking the kids up, as compared to a school day, because they were excited to see their Easter eggs being distributed.

Here's Solomon, Daddy put him in a basket while everyone was busy putting on their shoes. He didn't seem to mind.

The day before, Saturday, the kids plus cousins were busy the whole afternoon dyeing hard boiled eggs. We started off with 9 trays of eggs, which makes 270, and ended with around 250 eggs. There were some casualties during boiling, and many more during the colouring process!

We started off dyeing the eggs by dipping half in one colour and the other half in another colour. This produced two-toned eggs. We used 1/2 cup water+1 tablespoon vinegar (as a fixing agent I think) and added food colouring as needed.

The results were a bit boring though. I remember when we were kids, we used to decorate Easter eggs by drawing on them with magic markers! This was much easier and a lot of fun and produced more fancy eggs. However, the colour tends to seep through the shell and stain the egg inside. So since we do not want our kids ingesting toxic eggs, we had to use proper food colouring.

Anyway, I read on the internet that one of the methods for decorating with liquid food dye was to draw on the eggs with white crayon before dipping in colour. The areas with the drawings would not absorb the colour due to the water repelling wax. So we tried this, using small birthday cake candles and the results were great! Then the kids tried dipping and mixing more than 2 colours and came up with very interesting eggs indeed.

There were a few egg crashes, stained tables/dresses and food colouring spills; which earned some mummy-naggings, but all in all they had a good time making a mess and getting colourful hands!

So yesterday the eggs were handed out to all the children after mass. I'm sure the kids were proud to see their handiwork being appreciated!

Here's Solomon again, obviously he got a blue egg!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Family Portrait.

I've been meaning to get our family photo taken for quite some time. Well, we finally did do it at Jacky's Studio. Since I finally lost a bit of weight after being pregnant for years,I figured the time was right! :)

I chose Jacky's Studio, because I saw my friend Dianne's family photo and was really impressed. It was nice and fresh and everyone was smiling very naturally. She told me he was very good at making people feel relaxed and would chat with you till you smiled or laughed! He was also the photographer for Sis no.2's studio wedding shots. However, Sis no.2 had quite a different opinion of him. This was many years ago, and he was an angry man who would even scold you while taking your photos!

When we went for our shoot though, he was definitely a changed man! He was very upbeat and made the kids laugh by falling over chairs and all! He even preached about positivity until Hubby got quite irritated!

Anyway, all I know is his new-found positive energy shows in his work. He makes people genuinely happy, so the smiles in the photos look natural. This sure beats my old wedding studio pics, where hubby and I look like someone put a gun to our heads and said, "Smile or else..."! Our postures were also so forced and unnatural, as the photographer ordered us to, "move your shoulder to the left a bit", or "turn your face to the right a bit", it felt more like playing Twister! Wedding studio photo sessions really are exhausting, not to mention expensive. After all that, my album is collecting dust, sitting in a drawer.

Well, we got to Jacky Studio half an hour late that day. Try getting four kids bathed, nicely dressed and presentable first thing in the morning and you'll know why. He has an amazingly beautiful studio at Bamfylde road (the renovated house with glass walls). Annie wore stockings because her skirt was rather short. Eva wore stockings because her legs were full of blue, white-board marker lines and circles! (She loves drawing on anything; walls, clothes, floors, beds, skin...)

I only managed to put on some lip gloss because we were already late, and I'm not that good at putting on make-up anyway. I did initially plan to put a bit on, to avoid heavy, fake looking studio make-up. Then I figured lip gloss would do fine, let's go for the au-naturel look. Well, Jacky didn't quite agree and asked me, "You're not going to put on any make-up?", with an incredulous look on his face like I'd broken some sacred law. So, I thought, with him being the expert, maybe I'ld look horrifying in the photo without make-up and agreed to let his staff do my face.

I started getting worried when she slapped on more and more layers of foundation with wanton abandon! She must have been a house painter in her past life! As my features began disappearing under the brown paste, I asked her if it was getting too much, as I didn't want to look like someone else (like my wedding photos)! She gave the usual reply of- it won't look excessive under the glare of the lights. Well, I should have listened to my instincts and gotten her to stop way earlier, because I think I look pretty fake in the picture. He actually wanted me to do my hair as well. Thank goodness I declined, otherwise, with the expertise of Ms. Housepainter, I might've ended up looking like a golliwog! Anyway, the kids and hubby look great, so I'm not going to complain.

He took some pictures of the kids while I was getting my paint job. Solomon was still in a good mood so he got some really nice shots. Hubby also took some passport-sized photos, which he needed (very expensive passport photos indeed, RM63 for 12 copies). Later when I was ready, he just told us where to sit or stand and told the kids to smile. He instructed me to jump forward with Solomon on the count of three, to make him laugh. He made funny faces while taking a series of shots and even pretended to fall over a chair. That got the kids going! The session didn't take long at all.

After that, we picked out the shots that we wanted to have printed and chose the sizes. He charged RM120 for the session and pictures were charged individually, depending on size. The face paint job cost another RM30. Altogether, the whole bill came up to RM1108 (no, no, no... this is without frame). Well, I think the photos are priceless anyway.

I did try to wrangle a soft copy from him, but he didn't budge. So I had to get the photos scanned, otherwise there would be no other way to get a digital copy for my blog and facebook, short of breaking into his studio at night!

When I look at the family portrait, I feel this sense of achievement. I am proud to have co-produced this neat, little, complete family unit. It seems to mark the end of a chapter, 'The egg-laying stage'? :) So now we are onto the 'growing out' phase; further nurturing, feeding and educating! (Sounds like a chicken farm!) This is just the beginning of a long, long story.

Anyway, I'm glad we finally got our family photo. Now I have to get them framed and hung before I get lazy and it starts to grow mould at the back of the cupboard. Hubby says he'll hang them for me! Gives him an excuse to buy a drill... Why do I have this sense of impending doom?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mothers' day off!

So, yesterday, we finally took the plunge (literally as well, off the 3m diving platform), and had our first scuba diving lesson. Sis no. 2 (her hubby, busy with work, will attend the Thursday class), sis no.3 and her hubby, and me, went to the Stampark pool for the first confined dive. My hubby came along to help and give moral support (and also escape from babysitting).

Sunday was a day dedicated to us only, kids (totalling 12 between the 3 of us) were all dumped at home with maids or grandparents! It's about time we did something for ourselves! Otherwise we'll be learning diving at the old folks' home! :)

So, our instructor is Edward from Borneo Scuba. Hubby learned from him and says he's the only fun instructor around! Yesterday we went through all the basic things. Obviously, we had to learn how to assemble, disassemble and clean our scuba gear. Then we learned some compulsory skills.

First he had us swimming around to warm up. Then we had to put on super tight wet suits. These are really uncomfortable and extremely hard to get on and off, but they really keep you warm in the water. Sis no.3 put her leg in a sleeve once! That had us rolling in laughter!

Next on were the flippers which were really long and clumsy and made one empathetic towards Ronald MacDonald! We were then taught the wonders of spit for keeping goggles from fogging up! You had to work up a good amount of saliva, spit and really rub it into the inside surface of the goggles, then rinse only once. It's pretty gross, but it actually works! (Instructor's tip: cursing with plenty of emotion before spitting will help produce more saliva! -works better in hokkien)

Initially we swam around with fins and snorkels to get used to the fins mainly. It looks and sounds simple, but the kicking is a bit different from swimming sans fins, so we had to adjust a bit.

Next came the gear, mainly the BCD vest (inflatable to control 'floaty'ness), gas tank (70% nitrogen + 30% oxygen, similar to normal air), regulator (breathing mouthpiece), gauge (tank pressure and depth) and weight belt. You'd think with all that heavy gear on, you'd sink to the bottom, what with a weight belt thrown in. As a matter of fact, the wet suit increases your buoancy, and the BCD helps even more. So, without a weight belt, you'll actually find it hard to go down!

We had to get used to all the equipment. It's like learning how to drive. For the first-timer, there seem to be so many things to keep track of, the gear shift, brake, accelerator, clutch, steering, speedometer... Then you have to learn the delicate balance between clutch and accelerator. After plenty of practise, it'll become second nature. It's the same with diving I guess. Initially there seem to be so many things to remember, regulator, pressure, BCD valve, octopus (extra regulator for helping others)... Then we have to learn the delicate balance of buoyancy, between floating up too much and sinking to the bottom! This can be controlled by filling and releasing air from the BCD, or filling and releasing air from our lungs by controlling our breathing.

Mainly, we had to get used to the idea that we could now breathe underwater and also remember not to use our noses for breathing. We had to learn how to clear water from our goggles if they get filled, practise removing and replacing our regulator, goggles, and BCD, all underwater. Initially, when taking off the goggles, we forget that we can still breathe underwater and start to panic, then you get water up your nose and everything goes wrong and you have to get up! After reminding ourselves to relax, slow down and breathe, it gets easier.

Another important thing to learn is surfacing without your regulator. You cannot move vertically up too fast, as the air in your lungs will expand due to the pressure difference and your lungs will basically explode! So, we had to learn to surface slowly while looking up and saying, "ahhhh...". This helps remove all the air remaining in the lungs. Breathing out only removes about half.

Once we got familiar with the whole set-up and relaxed, diving around the pool was fun and surreal. It's definitely a great experience, and this is only a swimming pool! I'm still not 100% confident and panic-free, but I'm glad hubby got me to learn because it opens up a whole new world previously inaccessible to us land-dwellers!

(Sis no.3's hubby is not in most pics cos being an ex-water polo player, he takes to water like a fish, and was doing other things while we were doing the baby stuff!)

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Korean buddies

Annie, Claire and Eva have made friends with the Korean boy and girl living across the hallway. Wu Bin and Da Bin (she says some people call her 'Dustbin'!) . They are now good buddies and will find any opportunity to play.

When we first moved in to the condo, the kids opposite were always peeping at us from behind their door and sometimes even knocking on our door then running away! Interaction between the two factions started a couple of months ago. Initially they were enemies! It started when we noticed they were playing with Claire and Annie's scooter parked out in the hallway, and leaving them in odd places (stairwell, elevator lobby). There were a few times when we almost couldn't find them.

Then one night the 2 gangs spied each other and started throwing rubbish (paper) at each other from behind the safety of their respective doors! It wasn't a hate war, they were actually having fun and were screaming and laughing! It then elevated to the Korean kids spraying mosquito spray and Claire shooting her gun at them! I had to intervene then.

I think they were all eager to have new friends but did not know how to interact, or initiate a conversation. After the battle, they started leaving nasty (but harmless) notes at our door, saying things like, "you're stupid", etc... I did not approve of that, so I instructed the kids to leave it be.

After a while, the notes turned into small gifts, toys or stickers. Annie left them some stickers which she collected from Disneyland and some hotel toiletries! They then reciprocated with more gifts and nicer notes asking about our holiday.

Soon, they were meeting outside the corridor and playing their bikes and scooters together. Now the kids can't wait to get home to see if their new friends can come out to play.

Last night, they came over and helped sing Happy Birthday to Kakak Paula who turned 22. Then hubby and I had to go back to the shop to pick up something.

When we came back, the whole house was awash with talcum powder! They even managed to get some on the wall above their bedroom door! There were brushes, pieces of cloth, a mop and a broom on the floor. Evidently, they were trying to clean up all traces of their mischief before we came back. Poor Eva emerged with powder on her from head to toe!

Mummy and daddy had to tell them off for making a mess and making the floor dangerously slippery (water+talcum powder). Also for victimizing poor Eva! (though she didn't complain much actually) So everyone was sent to bed.

After putting them to sleep, I noticed a note under the door from Da Bin. It was addressed to Annie and she wanted to know if Annie could still play the next day and hoped that Annie would not get a scolding from me. I think her concern was a nice gesture and I'm happy the children have made good friends. It's really great to see them laughing and screaming like we used to when we were kids. I just have to monitor them once in a while to make sure they're not dismantling the house or traumatizing little Eva!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jungle adventure!

On Sunday the whole gang went to Santubong for a short 5 min hike up the side of the mountain to reach a small stream. Sis no.2 has been there before and claimed it wasn't such a tough trek! Well, the 5 mins became more like 15 mins with 9 kids in tow. Some of the smaller, sissy ones (Eva) had to be carried, almost the whole way.

The path was easy initially, a bit slippery though, with a plank walkway provided. When the walkway ended, the tree roots and rocks made the trail very uneven and holes under upraised roots were scary for the kids. It seemed a bit rough at first, but I suppose we were just not used to it. A few more trips and I think the city-softened kids will get to feel more at home in the jungle.

Well, we reached the stream without any casualties. Most of the kids were wary at first, sitting on the slippery rocks and not daring to move. After a bit of warming up they started to enjoy the cold water and got busy building dams and catching fish! Timothy managed to catch a small fish which we kept in a mineral water bottle. This is not an advisable thing to do, as I ended up drinking from that same bottle! No, luckily I did not swallow the fish, though I must have swallowed some fish poo along with stream water!

The stream was nice and quiet. We brought along some food so we had a picnic on the rocks. There were no amenities like public toilet, so the kids had to 'shee shee' a bit further downstream! Fortunately no one needed to do the big one. Eva never really got into the groove of the whole jungle/nature thing, so she was hanging onto me the whole time, after changing clothes early, refusing to sit on the slimy rocks. Claire must've worked up an appetite sitting in the cold water, as she tried stuffing a whole egg into her mouth!

All in all I think it was a good experience for the kids (and good exercise for the adults too). I remember catching guppies in the drain when I was a kid. Now, Eva coughs and gags just walking past a smelly drain! They don't even like stepping on grass without shoes on! Yes, we must definitely plan for more outdoor activities in the future.

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