Google Analytics

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Letter To My Ten Year Old

To my dearest newly minted 10 year old S,

From a quiet and peaceful baby to a much louder "2 digit" year old, you have come a long way. I think back to when you were young, and how nearly every behaviour and milestone came as a surprise to me, even though you were my 2nd one. I didn't know until then that the same sets of genes can combine to create 2 very different individuals :).

You refused to start walking for quite a while after you turned one, and I was also pretty laid back about it as you were such a happy and healthy baby in general. And just when we were getting a wee bit worried, your doctor advised waiting until you were 1.5 to do any further tests, you decided to walk nearly exactly at 1 year and 6 months. It was almost as though you were waiting for my birthday to present me with those first steps ;).

Not walking yet, but figured out a way to explore the kitchen ;)
From the time you started talking, or probably even earlier, you figured out how to charm everyone around you. You are still considered a "quiet and calm" child, especially by your teachers, but I know that you do have a voice and quite a lot of opinions that make their presence felt, especially at home ;). When you were first starting school, I even used to worry if you could hold your own, but I soon found that you were more than capable of finding your own way. We had a party for your 10th birthday and I was so thrilled to see the wealth of friendship that you have developed in your 2+ years at school here.

May you keep conquering new heights
You have always been fond of hugs, and these also work very well as a calming mechanism for when you need to get out of trouble ;). I keep reminding you that even when you are a "big boy" and would possibly be embarrassed by my hugs, I would still continue with them. I am happy to note that as of today, nothing much has changed, and you still like to be squished up in a "chutney" hug from time to time :).

You are passionate about running, and have been showing so much commitment towards your after-school athletics class. You insist on attending it even if I sometimes feel that you might be tired after some other activity, and I am in awe of your enthusiasm and energy. Even your teachers at school have noticed your drive and started picking you for participating in events.

With an avid reader for a sibling, you didn't have a choice but to be one. I am glad though, that you are not forced into it, but instead choose it yourself as one of the activities for your free time. The library system in Singapore has been great for this, as it gives you access to such a range of books for your age group.

You also have a lot of other varied interests, from Pokemon to Beyblades to Rick Riordan, but I especially love the fact that you also like to hear about how things are made in the kitchen. I am guilty of not letting you try your hand at much yet, other than making the occasional dosai or roti, but I hope to change this soon.

Here's to you my darling boy, may you always retain your enthusiasm and curiosity and wonder. 

Lots of love,

Sunday, February 18, 2018

To Push or Not to Push?

This is not a childbirth story, though the title would be appropriate for that as well ;).

As parents in current times, we are very aware about the impacts of stress on our kids, and sometimes this does mean that they get an easy out. I find it tough to decide when to push a bit and when to let go, and I say this as a very easygoing parent on the whole. I'm ok with some opportunities being lost, in trying to make sure that the kids are mentally prepared for anything they get into. On the other hand, as an adult, I know that we cannot always choose our challenges, and I would like my kids to be somewhat prepared for the realistic world they will grow up in.

While studying or practising (at exam time) is something that is a non-negotiable activity in our home, most other things are left to the kids to decide. This is especially true of "additional" exams that I have hardly ever enrolled them in, as they haven't shown much interest in that direction in spite of most of their peers doing it. I look at it as one more exam that I would have to push them for, and that usually makes my decision for me ;).

To be the wind beneath their wings :)
When there was an athletics event coming up this month, my 9 year old was very keen (he's been interested in running/athletics for a while as I mentioned earlier on this post), while my 12 year old .. not so much. I enrolled him, and tried to persuade her a bit to enrol as well, but then just let it be as I thought participating in something like this should be voluntary. They've both been going for classes/training for a few months now, so being physically prepared was not the concern here.

Forward to the day before the event, and the coach messaged me to ask if she could substitute as one of the girls of the relay team in her age category had dropped out. She was quite aghast to begin with and there might have been some tears along the way but she finally was persuaded to go, to help the team out. Or rather she might have realized that I wouldn't take no for an answer ;).

I kept feeling a bit guilty about it, and finally got teary eyed when I saw her running, but she did a really good job of it. She managed to keep up the pace well and even caught up a bit to a runner ahead of her, and the team finally won 2nd place and the silver medal. D was very happy with the silver medal and glad that she had been pushed into it, though I'm still waiting for that thank you note. I am totally taking credit for that medal of course ;).

S's team also won the bronze :)
Side-note: As someone who has been trying to get into running, but find it very challenging as I started on the journey late in life, I am thrilled that my kids have got comfortable with it at a young age :).

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Xiaomi Mi6 - My Disappointing Experience

When we set out to buy a phone, one of the first things we do nowadays is to look up reviews online. And this is just what I did with the Xiaomi Mi6. I checked out what the phone and the general interface looked like at a local Mi Store, and then looked up a lot of reviews, including ones that compared it with others in the same category. Nearly all of them raved about the features, marvelling that so much was available at the price point they were selling it at. As my intro to Android, I felt it made sense to not spend too much on a high-end brand/model and decided to go for the Mi6. My 1st BIG MISTAKE. It might be better to pay a premium to ensure that you're given some respect as a customer, and also increase your chances of getting a good product.

The thing is, as long as the phone works fine, everything is smooth. You never need to experience anything other than the online buyer and platform, and can go on with life. In looking for a good deal, I decided to go with a seller other than the official Mi Store - my 2nd BIG MISTAKE. I found out later that as the phone was an "export model" not purchased from the official Mi store, it would not be serviced by the Xiaomi service centre in Singapore, even on payment. Basically, not official store - might as well be fake for all I care is the brand standpoint.

As soon as I received the phone, during the initial set-up we realised that there were issues with the touch. It is somehow ingrained in me that I can't "just return" stuff, so I decided to check a bit more if there were some issues because of varying temperatures or some other reason, and take a call on it a few days later. My 3rd AND BIGGEST MISTAKE, for sure.

Pic sourced from one of the rave reviews at tech
Here's the story after that:

1. Soon after the cover smashed, I went to the Xiaomi Service centre, as I still didn't know that the brand didn't care about my "export model". Waited more than half an hour with token et al, to be told in 2 minutes after a check of the IMEI number of the phone that they couldn't service it, even if I paid for it. I was directed to find a "third party" service person.

2. Along the way, I had also messaged/emailed Lazada and Xiaomi. While Lazada was at least responsive (while as "just" a platform also not taking much ownership of the product), Xiaomi was definitely my worst customer experience ever. Other than standard responses telling me how sorry they were, there was absolutely no BRAND PRIDE and no offer of actual help. I was always clear in my interactions that I was not claiming any warranty (which wouldn't be relevant after the break anyway) but only wanted a trustworthy service option.

3. I even went to the seller (iSky Trading) offices, as I was directed to them by Lazada, to figure out that they were hardly forthcoming and would only offer to send the phone back to China (including the to-fro postage to my expenses) without even an approximate quote or an assurance that it would resolve anything.

4. I checked out a few service centre options in my neighbourhood to be told that since it's a new model, no one was willing to check it out. Finally found someone in Sim Lim Square - the touch issue had got worse by then, and the only suggestion by the repair guy was to change the entire touch assembly.

5. By now, the touchscreen was completely crazy, with days going by without the phone responding, so I had started using alternate phones (had a delightful experience changing my iPhone battery, and even managed to complete a long-pending flash of OxygenOS onto an old OnePlus One). I was just carrying around the Mi6 like a decoration in the hope that I would find someone willing to open and diagnose the issue, before I had to opt for the last hope of replacing the assembly.

6. I also joined the Mi forums and posted there asking for help, which led to getting a suggestion to check the touch cable/ribbon connection or else change the touchscreen itself as the last option.

And so here I am, basically wondering what to do next. I rarely rant on my blog, but this was something I just had to get out of my system, so I thank you if you managed to read this far.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb: A Quick Review

One of the lovely things about a library system like Singapore's is that it has made me try a lot of books and authors that I might not have come across otherwise. Being able to borrow and return from any branch of the library is an amazing convenience, and we have made full use of it as a family. I am known to even plan my eating out or shopping based on which library the books I (and sometimes the kids) want are available at ;).

Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and towards the end of last year, I was thrilled to come across a new (to me) author in Robin Hobb. A few of her books caught my eye in the library, and I then also came across a recommendation from someone soon after, so I took it as a sign that I must try out her work.  If I needed any more encouragement, I found that she is quite prolific, and as a "series" fanatic, I just had to take the plunge.

I started with the first set of books (the Farseer Trilogy) that introduces the protagonist who is quirkily named FitzChivalry, and was done with them in a week or so. It was then I realised that there was a chronology and ideal order of reading of the series, so of course I had to read them in that order only ;). The next set is the LiveShip trilogy, which is quite spectacular reading, but seems to move away from the hero of the earlier Trilogy, and introduce an entirely new set of characters. I noticed though, that there were some hints of a connection with some names of places being referenced in both sets. Before I missed Fitz too much, he was back in the Tawny Man Trilogy, set some years after the first set of books. There is again what seems to be a divergence towards a dragon themed set of 4 books, but as you read you realise that it ties up with the tales of the liveships. Finally, Fitz is back in the final trilogy, and the author deftly brings together the entire universe of characters as she concludes the tale.

I think it took me a couple of months to get through the 16 books of this universe.. and I absolutely LOVED how the last book brought it all together and gave closure to a lot of the streams of storylines along the way. I found a couple of the books to be a bit slow-moving in parts, but the richness of the characters and just the details of the story kept me going. I found most of the books in the library, and also bought a few to read on my Kindle when I occasionally couldn't borrow them, because it's the kind of story that you are compelled to keep moving through.

Though it sounds like I got through the books pretty quickly, I find that as I grow older, I actually tend to read a bit more slowly and take in more details. My younger days were filled with speed-reading and re-reading, much like I see my 12 year old doing nowadays. Now, I try to savour it more, probably because I don't see myself spending time in re-reading an entire series all that easily ;).

So what are you reading at the moment? Do share.

Friday, January 12, 2018

San Francisco with Kids: The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a suggestion that EVERYONE makes when telling you about places to visit with kids, and when you go in, you'll realise why. It's like a Science Museum on steroids.. one day is barely enough to see it all. If you can avoid school holiday time, you might have an easier time of it, as when it's crowded you might end up waiting around a bit for popular exhibits as we did. But there's enough to experience that you can keep moving around and come back later to the ones you missed as well. The post is more of a photo tour, as I can't really do justice and describe the variety of stuff. You can find more details of the different spaces etc. at the link given on the first line.

This is an exhibit in the Colours and Light section (which is where most of my pics are from) that showed how perception makes the difference when viewing colours. I was curious to see if it would come through in photos as well:

What colour would you say that is? White?
The one on the left is the "white" one from the previous pic!
The rightmost one is the newest now.. 
The card in 2nd position is the one we saw in the first pic - dark grey if not black.
Pretty cool, especially for the kids.

Who doesn't want to make funny and colourful shadows if you get the chance. I was also part of the fun along with trying to click it ;).

This is what we looked like on a screen that detected our infrared radiation. The one with the black i.e. VERY COLD nose is me :P. Checked after a couple of hours spent inside and it was back to normal. You could also press your hands on some cold shapes and check out your "tattoos" on the screen.

On to a small room where everything was lit in monochromatic (yellow) light. It was fascinating to see how that drains out most colour. My blue jacket was dark grey, our shoes were drab, and this lovely rainbow looked absolutely washed out. Compare to the one just outside the room just below. The room also had small torches giving out white light that the kids could shine on things to see the difference that made. A box with jellybeans, a set of crayons, a painting of a landscape, were some of the examples in the room.

Monochromatic light
A similar one in normal white light
We'd seen this type of mirror before but it's always fun to go at it again. I was not going for Leonardo's Vitruvian Man symmetry, but that's what I managed to look like ;)

This one was titled Floater Theatre where we watched a BLANK WHITE SCREEN for a few minutes with a narrative playing alongside, with the floaters in our eye showing up and giving a performance based on how we moved them. Amazing use of something I always assumed was a minor irritation but otherwise never thought about.

The kids, especially D, were fascinated with this one
My post probably covers about 3-4% of the place, as most activities were hands-on and I was only clicking the occasional one. Do check it out if you are ever in San Francsisco, I am sure the kids will find it memorable.

Signing off with a lovely if slightly garbled pic of D and S with an even more shadowy me on the side..

Monday, January 08, 2018

Looking for Balance in 2018

This is NOT a resolutions post ;). I seem to have done a few of those over the years, and find that nothing much has changed from what I wanted in the last couple of years. I've made some progress and there's still quite a way to go. But there's something about a new year that spurs one to make SOME change, so here goes.

Facebook let me know this morning that my friends have liked my post 68,000 times. Definitely a "feel-good" piece of info :).

But in fact, 2017 was a year when I consciously moved away from social media, especially FB. It was in my effort to find a balance between sharing my thoughts and wondering if it was validation-seeking. I think though, that I ended up too much in the other direction and hardly ever posted at all. It was especially around the new year when I saw a timeline filled with posts from people I know.. and it set me thinking afresh.. why don't I post anything much nowadays? Whether on social media or on the blog, I seem to have a block of sorts.

I know it started with posting less pictures of the kids online due to safety concerns.. and then considering very carefully every one of the memories before putting them down on the blog.. wondering if I'm invading their privacy in some way by doing it.. and just over-thinking in general. I have always been more of a literal/narrative writer rather than a creative one, and I was losing my main writing material :).

Patterns and perspectives.. nobody sees it just like you do
I went over some of my old posts and had to marvel at the person/writer I was then, that I could just put out my thoughts and memories so easily, and had to wonder what has changed since then. I think all bloggers start off writing with a level of ease, because at that point it's not about who might be reading and how the readers might react, but just about sharing. As social media entered the picture, I was thrilled to be able to broadcast my writing, but it also brought with it the worry of what folks might think or how they might react. I know that I have hardly ever written on controversial subjects, and this worry might sound slightly irrational, (as most of my friends have been nothing much encouraging!), but we just seem to live in a world where the simplest statements could start arguments or need proof. It left me feeling like if I posted anything at all, I needed to make sure I had the energy to stand up for it ;).

Balance and peace in other parts of life would be good too :)
I have tried my best to use social media in a controlled way, especially in the last 2-3 years, but it has definitely been a tussle about how much to share. Reading all the discussions and articles about how sanitised or airbrushed a view of our lives we put up on FB only set me thinking some more :P. But then I recognised that each person's attitude or relationship with social media is a personal thing, it's not something you can figure out from reading about other's experiences. If I'm feeling low*, seeing happy posts usually brings a smile and makes me hopeful. At other times, I'm just glad to be able to know what people are up to, without needing to actually "stay in touch" :). So in 2018, I hope to reconfigure my sharing and find that elusive balance. Starting with more blog posts ;).. so wish me luck.

*If I'm really in a super-low or black mood, I usually stay away from social media altogether.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

San Francisco with Kids - Children's Creativity Museum

We've been on holiday in San Francisco, and decided that we would stick to finding places in the city to explore rather than traveling around much this time. We did the whole whirlwind tour experience in 2013 and I even later attempted an A-Z set of posts to capture it all ;).
Never actually completed the alphabet, but it was fun to write! Start reading here if you would like to check it out.

We had a lot of recommendations from friends and family on what to check out, especially with the kids, but sometimes you come across a place serendipitously - this time thanks to looking at a map (a paper one for a change ;)) and finding it marked there. It turned out that it wasn't too far from where we were so decided to give it a try and the kids had an amazing time!

The Children's Creativity Museum has something for kids of all ages, and though I was a bit concerned if D would find it too simple, both of them (12 and 9) found enough to do and had lots of fun. The ones we especially enjoyed were:

First stop: The Animation Studio. We made models out of clay, using the provided metal skeleton as a base. The first coat was with with mixed multicolour blocks (loved that they repurposed the clay for as long as possible), and the outer layer was with the colours to create the characters. Can you guess who made what from the pics?

After making the figures, the kids learnt how to make an animation video using multiple still photos of the characters, moving them a bit every time. We had a whole storyline with the princess and penguin walking along and the zombie coming out to scare them away, but managed a grand 4 second video after what seemed like a ton of clicks :)

Basic figures

And tadaah.. yes the unimaginative penguin is mine ;)
the one on the left is a Spiderman zombie ninja warrior in case you missed that.

The next stop was the Robotics Studio where the kids figured out how to write programs on the provided tablets to take the robots through a variety of tasks.. This one was to find its way out of the maze. There were also ones that drew, threw a ball into a hoop etc. The commands were simple ones, but the challenge was to find the most efficient way to complete the task. More suited for younger kids, but even my 12 year old enjoyed the novelty of it.

The kids and I had the most fun in the Music Studio where you could create your own music video :). They had a green screen background that they could use to add in one from a range of backgrounds and also provided karaoke versions for a selection of popular songs. We actually ended up going back there again later in the day to try and get more videos in ;).
Would have loved to share the videos but I have been following a policy of privacy on the kids' photos and videos, at least until they're online themselves and I have to come up with new rules ;).

There were a couple more spaces.. one based on a winter wonderland theme which had some art based activities.. but these were more catering to the younger kids so we didn't spend much time there.

Ornaments for a paper tree
I was really glad to have found this place by chance, and I hope this post helps someone who visits SF with kids in the future. All details of admission and tickets can be found here. The museum is usually closed on Mondays but was open all days for a couple of weeks thanks to the holiday season.