Friday, April 20, 2012

Getting Children to Eat Healthily

It's the start of a new term at the school and we have been cooking up a storm.

Cooking for children is a different affair from cooking for adults. Firstly, you have to ensure there's good nutritional content. Secondly, you have to make it interesting. Thirdly, you have to be mindful of the seasoning.

Living in KL, it seems like many people are used to heavy flavouring. We baked banana bread the other day with (almost no) little sugar and less butter. A parent was around and we offered her a slice and her immediate response was, 'where's the sugar?' While it may take awhile for adults to get used to enjoy food in its original flavours, children (especially the younger ones) are like blank canvas. Given the right exposure, children can enjoy healthy nutritious food.

We had a 3 yr old child who is a very fussy eater and prefers to drink soup and milk. That is if he is not eating lots of snacks. He is my biggest challenge - our in-house chef and I are always trying out new recipes and tricks to entice him to eat. After three weeks with us, we have weaned him off junk food (in school), introduced him to several new food and he had put on one kilogram since he joined us. I don't know who is happier - his mom or me. :)

Here's some tips we find work very well in feeding our children.

1. Nutrition dense meals
A child's stomach is small (assuming no overfeeding and wrongly conditioning a child to over-eat), so a child's serving is way smaller than an adult's serving. We try to make every bite goes a long way.

We use antibiotics free chicken, kampong eggs and if available, free range or organic produce. The cells of a child are growing rapidly, and the harmful effects of chemicals in our food can have a bigger impact on them.

Some popular (and successful) meals with our kids are:
- soup with mixed lentils, broad bean, chickpeas, ABF chicken and brown rice
- ABF chicken pomodoro with Japanese sweet potato served with pasta, purple cabbage and peas
- Avocado and mango smoothie made with Greek yoghurt (less sugar, twice the protein and thrice probiotic cultures to normal yoghurt), whole fat milk and dash of golden flaxseed

2. Soupy / wetter meals
Perhaps it is easier for the child to swallow a soupy meal or chew softer food. We find that our children enjoy their wetter meals to dryer ones. Be mindful that they might not have a full set of teeth yet, or children being children might be too impatient to chew properly. So prepare the food from a child's perspective.

Adding a little more water to the rice, or cooking the pasta longer than the ideal al dente make the food a little more palatable for the children.

3. Variety - mix it up!
The breakfast, snacks and meals are different each day so even the small eaters get a good range of nutrition throughout the day (and week). The attention span of a child is short, make sure you keep them interested by introducing variety.

For instance, breakfast could be weetabix and snack is mixed berries smoothie one day. The next day, it would be oat porridge with homemade date sauce and wholemeal cheese and tomato sandwich.

4. Make it fun
We always start off with a 'choo choo train' trip to wash the hands, and a 'choo choo train' trip to the dining area. The teachers and children will eat together which is great because i) the children get to observe the teachers, ii) kids eating well have a positive externality on the fussier ones.

We encourage the children to feed themselves and assist only if necessary. If they drop food, that's fine. They are creating memories, acquiring life skills, not creating a mess. We can always clean up later. Uninterrupted eating (without someone always cleaning up after them, chiding them if they drop something, wiping their mouths constantly) allow the children to enjoy their meals.

5. Make it child friendly
Make sure all cutlery and crockery are child size, BPA free, fun looking and user friendly from a child's perspective. I found this lovely saucer with the right depth and a knobby handle. So a child can hold the knob to secure the bowl or for manoeuvring if needed.

6. Timing is everything
Physical health and good nutrition are two important features of the school. We feed the children every three hours or so that they don't go too long without food, maintain an optimised sugar level and it makes a big difference to enhancing their mood.

When the child starves for too long, he might be too hungry to eat properly. So we pre-empt with regular good portion of meals and snacks throughout the day.

With fussy eaters who prefer their milk, we offer solids first. A teacher will guide the child in feeding, encourage his progress and in some cases, we help with the feeding. The preference is for the child to gain independence and competence in self-feeding, but it's also important to get good nutrition into the child.

7. Keeping trying, but do not force feed
For fussy eaters who reject food, we keep trying and encouraging. Don't give up. Every mouthful is a small victory. If the child shows unwillingness to eat and spits out the food, we would not force food. Instead, we would monitor the child, offer alternative (say milk) or bring forward the next meal when the child is ready again.


Healthy eating can reap lifelong benefits. A good diet makes a big long run difference to a child's physical and mental development and boosts his immune system. In the short run, feeding our child wholesome meals increases his learning ability and lifts his general mood.

Designing meals and cooking for children can get challenging, but the results of good diet can be immediate and are very rewarding.

Some good resources I use often are:

Hope you get some recipe inspiration and have fun cooking for your family this weekend. If you have any tips or great recipe, do share with me too.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

50 rules for Dads of Daughers

When I was a little girl, my dad was my hero.

He carried me when I was feeling unwell and when I just wanted to manja. We held hands even today. He always talked to me like an adult and indulged by daily 101 questions. He never fails to make me feel I'm the center of his attention.

My dad is still my hero. But the number one hero spot was overtaken by Dear Husband many years back.

I just read a wonderful post by a dad on 50 rules for dads with daughters (please see post below). I have always drawn parallel with the unconditioned love my dad has for me to DH's. Perhaps it's really true that a daddy's love conditions a little girl's heart and sets her to expect nothing less.

I'm very blessed DH is a fantastic hands-on dad who's checking many many of the 'rules'. No wonder, Dear Daughter breaks into this happy giggle each time she spots her daddy.


Read this from Original post from, which is now one of my favourite blogs. :)

About Michael
Michael Mitchell is an (almost) thirty-something dad who blogs daily tips and life lessons for dads of daughters at He spends his days practicing the arts of fatherhood and husbandry, while attempting to be a man of God and a professional raiser of philanthropic funds. On the rare occasion he’s not tied up with the aforementioned and other pursuits of awesomeness, he enjoys fighting street gangs for local charities and drinking from a cup that’s half full. Bookmark Life To Her Years and “like” him on Facebook for more “rules”.

1. Love her mom. Treat her mother with respect, honor, and a big heaping spoonful of public displays of affection. When she grows up, the odds are good she’ll fall in love with and marry someone who treats her much like you treated her mother. Good or bad, that’s just the way it is. I’d prefer good.

2. Always be there. Quality time doesn’t happen without quantity time. Hang out together for no other reason than just to be in each other’s presence. Be genuinely interested in the things that interest her. She needs her dad to be involved in her life at every stage. Don’t just sit idly by while she add years to her… add life to her years.

3. Save the day. She’ll grow up looking for a hero. It might as well be you. She’ll need you to come through for her over and over again throughout her life. Rise to the occasion. Red cape and blue tights optional.

4. Savor every moment you have together. Today she’s crawling around the house in diapers, tomorrow you’re handing her the keys to the car, and before you know it, you’re walking her down the aisle. Some day soon, hanging out with her old man won’t be the bees knees anymore. Life happens pretty fast. You better cherish it while you can.

5. Pray for her. Regularly. Passionately. Continually.

6. Buy her a glove and teach her to throw a baseball. Make her proud to throw like a girl… a girl with a wicked slider.

7. She will fight with her mother. Choose sides wisely.

8. Go ahead. Buy her those pearls.

9. Of course you look silly playing peek-a-boo. You should play anyway.

10. Enjoy the wonder of bath time.

11. There will come a day when she asks for a puppy. Don’t over think it. At least one time in her life, just say, “Yes.”

12. It’s never too early to start teaching her about money. She will still probably suck you dry as a teenager… and on her wedding day.

13. Make pancakes in the shape of her age for breakfast on her birthday. In a pinch, donuts with pink sprinkles and a candle will suffice.

14. Buy her a pair of Chucks as soon as she starts walking. She won’t always want to wear matching shoes with her old man.

Photo Credit :: Danielle Rocke Toews
15. Dance with her. Start when she’s a little girl or even when she’s a baby. Don’t wait ‘til her wedding day.

16. Take her fishing. She will probably squirm more than the worm on your hook. That’s OK.

17. Learn to say no. She may pitch a fit today, but someday you’ll both be glad you stuck to your guns.

18. Tell her she’s beautiful. Say it over and over again. Someday an animated movie or “beauty” magazine will try to convince her otherwise.

19. Teach her to change a flat. A tire without air need not be a major panic inducing event in her life. She’ll still call you crying the first time it happens.

20. Take her camping. Immerse her in the great outdoors. Watch her eyes fill with wonder the first time she sees the beauty of wide open spaces. Leave the iPod at home.

21. Let her hold the wheel. She will always remember when daddy let her drive.

22. She’s as smart as any boy. Make sure she knows that.

23. When she learns to give kisses, she will want to plant them all over your face. Encourage this practice.

24. Knowing how to eat sunflower seeds correctly will not help her get into a good college. Teach her anyway.

25. Letting her ride on your shoulders is pure magic. Do it now while you have a strong back and she’s still tiny.

26. It is in her nature to make music. It’s up to you to introduce her to the joy of socks on a wooden floor.

27. If there’s a splash park near your home, take her there often. She will be drawn to the water like a duck to a puddle.

28. She will eagerly await your return home from work in the evenings. Don’t be late.

29. If her mom enrolls her in swim lessons, make sure you get in the pool too. Don’t be intimidated if there are no other dads there. It’s their loss.

30. Never miss her birthday. In ten years she won’t remember the present you gave her. She will remember if you weren’t there.

31. Teach her to roller skate. Watch her confidence soar.

32. Let her roll around in the grass. It’s good for her soul. It’s not bad for yours either.

33. Take her swimsuit shopping. Don’t be afraid to veto some of her choices, but resist the urge to buy her full-body beach pajamas.

34. Somewhere between the time she turns three and her sixth birthday, the odds are good that she will ask you to marry her. Let her down gently.

35. She’ll probably want to crawl in bed with you after a nightmare. This is a good thing.

36. Few things in life are more comforting to a crying little girl than her father’s hand. Never forget this.

37. Introduce her to the swings at your local park. She’ll squeal for you to push her higher and faster. Her definition of “higher and faster” is probably not the same as yours. Keep that in mind.

38. When she’s a bit older, your definition of higher and faster will be a lot closer to hers. When that day comes, go ahead… give it all you’ve got.

39. Holding her upside down by the legs while she giggles and screams uncontrollably is great for your biceps. WARNING: She has no concept of muscle fatigue.

40. She might ask you to buy her a pony on her birthday. Unless you live on a farm, do not buy her a pony on her birthday. It’s OK to rent one though.

41. Take it easy on the presents for her birthday and Christmas. Instead, give her the gift of experiences you can share together.

42. Let her know she can always come home. No matter what.

43. Remember, just like a butterfly, she too will spread her wings and fly some day. Enjoy her caterpillar years.

44. Write her a handwritten letter every year on her birthday. Give them to her when she goes off to college, becomes a mother herself, or when you think she needs them most.

45. Learn to trust her. Gradually give her more freedom as she gets older. She will rise to the expectations you set for her.

46. When in doubt, trust your heart. She already does.

47. When your teenage daughter is upset, learning when to engage and when to back off will add years to YOUR life. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

48. Ice cream covers over a multitude of sins. Know her favorite flavor.

49. This day is coming soon. There’s nothing you can do to be ready for it. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be.

50. Today she’s walking down the driveway to get on the school bus. Tomorrow she’s going off to college. Don’t blink.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Greener Pastures

The mall where the school is located within was having a eco-friendly bazaar all week. We were invited to participate and so had a chance to meet many nice families and mingle with the lovely stall folks. There were many stalls retailing organics products, recycled products, food and my favourite stall was Jolene's nursery.

I must have bought 7 plants from Jolene in the last two days. Some are for the school. Apparently these plants can absorb the toxic in the air during their photosynthesis (nope, she was not referring to carbon dioxide). Her plants are of good quality and health too. I could tell the difference when re-potting them. The roots are bigger and the plants resettled well. Most importantly, Jolene solved the mystery of the ailment striking my plants.

Some of my previously healthy plants are dying one by one. It all started with the serai (lemon grass) which got coated with a layer of white powdery substance. Soon the leaves dried up, and the plant died. It spread to its neighbour, the pandan which soon suffered the same fate.

So it was opportune that I met Jolene this week. She knows her plants and takes a natural approach to gardening. She diagnosed that my plants are suffering from powdery mildew, a common fungi that thrives in humidity (which is our local weather), and prescribed daily 'medicine' of garlic-onion-dried chilli-baking powder blend. After plucking out the affected part, that is.

I woke up just before 6 am the following day, eager to implement her prescription. Two days later, the powdery mildew seems less. Fingers crossed that my plants will return to their thriving days.

Thankfully, the edible plants seem to be immune.

From top, first comes the lime. Remember how small they were? Like babies, the seedlings grow up in the blink of an eye. Maybe, not as fast for these lime. According to the uncle from my usual nursery, growing lime takes around a year before I get a decent 20 inches or so.

My basil (almost two feet tall) smells great.

The lemon balm would be great for days when we have headaches or congestion. Add slices of crushed ginger with bruised lemon balm, pour hot water and sip. A natural way to get rid of the headache and congestion.

Lavender is apparently edible. I can't think of any recipes offhand other than lavender cookies. But the smell of lavender is fabulous. I'm hoping that the little bush I have will multiply now that I have shifted it to a bigger pot.

Say hi to chilli! You have seen it grow it from tiny green shoots to the 15 inches tall kiddo it is today. Very soon, it shall get married and bear me chilli fruits. ;)

Then there are the thyme, oregano, italian parsley, celery parsley, rosemary which are doing well. Having fresh herbs on hand is great. We have harvested a number of times and used them for our pasta, stews and roast meat.

Plus we have been doing sensorial activities in school (mainly cinnamon, coffee beans, lemon and cocoa beans). Dear Daughter gets excited during this activity. She would sniff, try to say the name and extends this outside the classroom. For instance, when we say smell the basil, she would lean closer, sniff it and gets excited with the lovely scent she detects. The other day, we were having a meal and when the food came, I commented that 'the food smells great'. DD leant over the dish for a deep breath and went 'hmnnnnn' in an appreciative manner. Cracked us up.

In any case, if you are interested in Jolene's services, check her out at her website or give her a ring at 0123211127. I think she does landscaping too and one of her recent projects was creating an edible garden. Sounds like a dream for me. :)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Parenting with heart

One thing I love about working in a school environment is meeting other parents. It's great to be able to share stories, tips, to get to know them and their children better.

Before I became a mother, I have very defined ideas of what kind of mother I would be. I have expectations of what I would react to certain situations or what an 'ideal' parent should be. But all that went out the window when DD was born. Understanding why DD do certain thing determines my reaction to it. I also realise there is no one ideal way of parenting. Every family has its own circumstances which shapes the way they manage the family. Everyone tries their best, and it is presumptuous for an outsider to judge.

Now I appreciate the support that parents lend each other, the stories and advice we trade far more.

A parent wisely told me that whilst it's great that the program seeks to provide mental and physical stimulation for a child, she enrolled because she sees it as an wholesome way to spend quality time with her child and for the child to learn at the same time.

I also met a very lovely mom who is a speech therapist. She was just telling us how it's always harder to practice what you preach. In her work, she always recommend that parents spend more time communicating with their child but when sometimes she forgets with her own child.

Recently, Dear Daughter had been acting up. I said no to something, explained why and she had a non-proportionate reaction and laid on the floor kicking. This was the first time she had such a meltdown. This happened again shortly after.

To be honest, I was caught off guard because DD is usually a happy adjusted toddler. Our principal commented that she could have picked up this from another kid in the existing daycare she goes to. Or that there is a deeper underlying reason why she is behaving this way.

It got me thinking. She could be missing her grandparents who just left town on Monday. It could be that her current daycare is having some staff turnover. It could be that both Dear Hubby and I have been busier in recent months (but why react now?). It could be that I'm weaning her from breastfeeding these past weeks.

I felt guilty (ah, that mother guilt that always spring on so quickly) immediately. DD has gone through so many big changes in her life in her 17 months - from relocating, house moving etc. DH and I have always tried to give her undivided attention when we are with her, but March had been crazy busy for both of us. A good wake-up call it was for me. No matter how busy we are, DD still needs quality attention. This is something we should not shortchange her.

In the last few days, DH and I switched off from work when we are with her. We spent a couple of hours with her every evening before her bedtime, enjoying dinner as a family, role-playing, cooking dinner together, light exercises (she loves her kids yoga), reading, gardening and playing with the fishes (btw mother fish just gave birth again!). Oh and remembering to squat down to talk to DD at her eye level. The effect is immediate. DD is back to her smiley-giggly self, saying her please and thanks, showering us (and strangers) with affection.

It heartens me to see DD happy. Ok DD waking up, time to have breakfast at our fave joint. Followed by a day of swimming, baking, cooking and chatting with grandparents. :) 

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
~Diane Loomans

P.S. If you have a child, do give your child an extra tight hug after reading this.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I don't know how other mommies do it.

a) I finally caved getting help.

I grew up with no domestic helper. My dad didn't want me to take things for granted. By 8 years old, I took over the housework at home. I would sweep and mop the floor once a week, iron my uniforms, wash dishes and even sew/patch clothes myself. Looking back, I think parents were just exploiting me as child labour. Ha. It did instill a good working attitude in me and I believe that you reap what sow.

I had fully intended to do the same to DD. I had already got her to help with watering the plants, bringing me stuff when I cook and dusting surfaces. 
If only, it's this easy to keep a toddler clean
In recent weeks, with the school opening, I have been really swarmed. There's a million and one things to do but not enough hours in a day. We don't have a domestic helper so DH and I do the household chores ourselves. I make dinners for weekdays and he would cook for weekends. On top of that, I'm in charge of grocery and financial matters. Weekends are filled with kiddie activities.

Then I had a car accident a couple of weeks ago. A minor one, but still a good wake-up call. I need to slow down, learn to delegate and accept help when needed. Looks like I cannot wait till DD grows up to assume the role of chief domestic officer.

Realising it was one thing, but finding good help is another. Salimah was recommended by a lady in the condo. She started today. I didn't know what to do with help, I actually offered her cookies and drink when she arrived. Ha. She got to work right away, and she knew exactly what to do. She was meticulous and had initiative. She cleaned better than I had ever done for the house. 

When I came out of the study room at one point and saw her washing my balcony, my heart swelled with so much gratitude and I swore I was going to burst into tears. What have I done to deserve Salimah? (Yes, I have been so busy and strung up that I am getting emo.) 

I'm glad we finally got cleaning help. Best decision I have made this week.

b) I love drinking coffee but stop taking caffeine during pregnancy. I thought I just had to wait till DD was born for some coffee liberation. Sadly (or thankfully), as I breastfeed her, any caffeine I consume gives her gas and makes her (more) active than usual. She has more problems with coffee than tea, so I can indulge in 1/4 serving of teh ice and teh tarik occasionally.

For coffee, I took one for the team (yes, hubby it's for you!!!) and extended my abstinence from coffee. I did cave in and switch to decaf coffee at one point. I know it's moot, but the psychological benefit from smelling and drinking coffee is intangible but very real. Plus I became obsessed with all coffee derivated food such coffee flavoured cupcakes, coffee candy etc.
My fave coffee cupcake at Bijou. Sadly they took this off menu.
One of DH's favourite cafes is Antipodean in Bangsar. We go there at least once weekly. Unfortunately they don't serve decaf coffee, as a matter of principles. I asked the owner several times and even posted on their facebook, to no avail. Here goes some of our conversation.

Me: Can you please put decaf coffee on your menu?
Him: *smile* No
Me: But you are a family friendly cafe, just think of the number of pregnant and lactating moms here.
Him: Erm, no.
Me: I will bring my own beans. How about that?
Him: Noooooooooooooooo.

Sigh. At least he wasn't as snooty as Artisan Roast.

After DD turned one year, I decided to test the waters by stealing sips from DH's coffee. Little to no reaction from DD. Yay! I start lite with nespresso, capuccino or latte.

Two days ago, when the owner wasn't around, I decided to order a long black from Antipodean. It tasted so good, could be partly because I couldn't have it for so long. What's even better was the fact that DD was fine! 
Liberation tastes so sweet
Lesson I learnt - as mothers (and fathers), we try to take on as much as we can for our children and our other halves, many times we forget ourselves. Sometimes, we just have to remember to cut ourselves some slack. A happier mom is a better mom.

In other news, our school is opening in a few days. Am beside myself with excitement.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It sure feels like spring around here

Living in Malaysia, there is really only one season, which is summer. It is hot all year round with variation in the amount of rainfall.

Having said that, it feels like spring in our house which has been on the receiving end of 'new births'. (Not mine, I should clarify.)

I became rather fond of gardening in recent months. It started with us moving into our new home and we thought some greenery would spruce up the bare balcony. Plus, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce DD to living things and instill the idea of responsibility (before we move on to pets).

I am rather green (haha, I can't help the pun) to plants and nature so the maiden trip to the nursery was an eye opener. I didn't know you can buy plants outside the florists and supermarkets. Haha. The uncle was particularly nice to me and offered plenty of advice. I think he was rather worried I was going to kill the plants eventually.

The plants were delivered to our home and got all set up. Weeks came and went, they didn't die. In fact, most of them seemed to be thriving. 

I got adventurous and planted some chilli (both chilli padi and big red chilli) and lime. I had a 10% hope of any positive outcome. Still, I got DD to water the pot daily.

When we returned home after Chinese New Year, I was delighted to see some green shoots. Real green shoots, not the Bernanke-imagined kind. 

I made the rookie mistake of planting both chilli and lime in the same pot. When the seedlings came out, I happily told DH we are going to get chilli lime. He shook his head and said that wasn't going to happen. Then I fret about not being able to tell which is chilli or lime. It has been weeks, the seedlings are now bigger and it's obvious from the leaves. And if I am really unsure, I can always wait till they fruit. :) 

It's great having all these plants. DD loves helping me with watering the plants. Every night before bed, she would say 'night night' to each one of them and pat them. Very cute.

And then our fish gave birth less than three days after we bought the three of them. 

I think the fly (baby fish) were born live, rather than hatched. We had to separate them, in case the mother fish eats them because she forgets those are her offspring. Yes, apparently goldfish memory is not limited to goldfish. I counted 30 initially but eventually only three survived. We bought 3 and ended up with 6, a pretty good buy if you ask me. Great fun for DD too. She went hysterical when she spot the teeny tiny fly for the very first time. They are now much bigger, probably at the toddler stage. Mother fish is pregnant again though. 

DD has to say 'morning' to the fishes before going to the school. She wants to dip her chubby hand in to 'sayang' them. Given her excitement, I think it could be a good idea to have some plants and pets at the school. Maybe more fishes or even rabbits. We will leave it to the kids to decide.

Then there was Valentine's Day. DH actually remembered without any reminders. On top of that, he bought me flowers (gasp!), making me a very happy mommy indeed.

P.S. The chilli lime plants have grown pretty big and more have sprung up since the picture was last taken. If you are interested to adopt some chilli babies, do let me know.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentines special: Loving thy body

It tastes as good as it looks
This morning I was having breakfast at our regular mamak after the morning school run. I ordered nasi lemak with ayam goreng (fried chicken) and teh ice (iced tea). I usually order this or a thosai.

As always, I get stares for eating alone. It baffles me why there is a blatant double standard in this. It's ok if men dine alone, but strange if a woman eats alone. God forbids if she has a healthy appetite.

When I was paying, the young lady at the cashier asked me if I eat any lunch or dinner. She told me she has only fruits for dinner and a light lunch because she needs to watch her weight. I took a second look at her slender build and told her she looks amazing and there's no need to diet.

I did answer her question. I do have my lunch and dinner. In fact, I have a healthy appetite and eat every two to three hours. I guess I have relatively high metabolism to burn off the insane amount of food I consume (well, most of). If I put on any weight, it can be easily lost through more exercise. 

I am slightly taller than average, of average build and have chubby cheeks all my life. I don't weigh myself regularly because my weight changes a lot all the time, i.e. before and after meals, during the month, before or after breastfeeding. If I put on weight, fret not, I have bigger clothes for 'fat days'. I don't stress over weight gain, because I believe the weight can be shed off through exercising more. 

I thank my parents for encouraging my love in food and not focusing unnecessarily on my weight. My dad lovingly tells me that my chubby cheeks is plump of collagen and would slow down the aging process, a blessing in later years. (Not sure how true, but my dad is just wonderful that way.) I am grateful for my Dear Hubby who love me for who I am. My father-in-law proudly pat me on my head as I out-ate the male cousins-in-law. My mother-in-law who always cook me my favourite dishes and go out of her way to buy me my favourite dessert.

Just yesterday, I was buying frozen yoghurt and commenting to the lady boss that frozen yoghurt is a great snack for kids. She went on to gush about her yoghurt series being low fat and no fat, which is better for children. 

It was a little sad that the pressure on images seems to be taking its toll in Malaysia. I had always thought it's a refreshing change that women here are of different sizes and that women aren't that self-conscious about their weight.

While driving home, it brought to mind a friend in HK.  She fretted to me her baby was putting on weight too fast. She didn't want her baby to grow up obese and was searching for a low fat formula. Her baby was three months old at that time, aiyo.

But good fat is necessary for a child's development. Over 60% of our brain is made up of fat. A child's brain grows to 97% of an adult's brain by 6 six years old. Depriving your child of fat from young equates to shortchanging your child of his or her potential.

It bothers me that the society places so much pressure on images, and most of this pressure falls on women. 

As a mother of a daughter, I want DD to grow up with a healthy appetite, loves her own body, celebrate her individuality and never be afraid of eating alone. 

Raising our children to have a healthy self-esteem gives them the inner strength to make many other right decisions in life.

Why conform to what the magazines portray as beautiful? We are all beautiful in our own unique way. 

Enjoying your thosai much, little girl?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The One about Bugs

Last weekend, I was gardening.

I was transferring one pot of aloe vera to a bigger pot when I unearthed a GIANT worm. It squirmed from the exposure and snarled at me menacingly. Ok, I might have imagined the snarling but I jumped back and hollered for Dear Hubby.

My shining knight came running and scooped the worm into a plastic bag. I made sure he made sure the worm was dead before he disposed of it. He laughed at me being scared of a tiny worm. But I cannot help it. The very sight of a wriggling worm gives me the creeps.

Yesterday, DH told me that there was a cockroach in the bathroom. I rolled up a copy of Economist and swiftly killed the roach, before picking it up (with a tissue la) and flushing it away. DH laughed (albeit shakily, clearly still traumatized by the roach) that I can ‘terminate’ most bugs in the house but am scared of worms.

He’s right and we are lucky to complement each other this way. The bugs that freak him out (most except lizards and worms) – I can handle them relatively calmly. He can take care of the yucky lizards and worms.

We all have our own preference and fears. It’s only human. Having said that, many of our fears are possibly a result of exposure and upbringing, rather than innate.

Once we were in the fish section of a supermarket, where they have live fishes in tanks. This was when we were living in HK. One fish jumped a little, causing a little splash and startled a 4-5 year old girl next to it. She screamed in fright so loudly and couldn’t stop crying for a long while. DH couldn’t believe a fish can cause such a big reaction. To me, it was probably a result of parental influence and lack of exposure.

One of my challenges is raising Dear Daughter to have an open mind. 

This is one of the many things about my parenting approach which surprise even me. Friends know me as an opinionated person who has a strong view on most matters and what I want. Often I persuade people to do certain things (without realizing it).

Kids' hearts are pure. Their hearts are like a clean canvas. I consciously refrain from imposing my personal preference on her or introducing fears to her unwittingly. She shall develop her own preference, her own thoughts without prejudice.

Anyway last night, there was a bug crawling on the floor. I pointed it out to DD and wanted to see how she would react. She was curious and leaned closer to touch the bug, then squealed in excitement when the bug flew away. DH remarked she was a stark contrast to an encounter when we were living in HK. I felt strangely proud of my fearless little girl.

p.s. I used to be scared of cockroaches too. One Chinese New Year eve, I saw one and screamed a bloodcurdling scream. My dad rushed to me immediately and in his haste, he kicked at the roach and hit a metal object. His big toe nail came off and he bled a lot. We even had to visit the A&E. I felt really bad and thereafter suppressed the fear to rid the pests myself. After awhile, I realized most bugs aren’t really that scary.

p.p.s Reading the entry again, it sounds like our house is full of pests! It’s generally ok, just the norm for a tropical country. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Because some things do get lost in translation

Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fai Cai! 祝贺大家龙年龙马精神,万事大吉!

Chinese New Year has always been one of my favourite times of the year. This is our second year with Dear Daughter in tow. And I have to say - things do get betterI had a fabulous CNY.

1. For one, being with our parents and the huge extended family means I have two hands to myself. This is something which they don’t warn you of in parenting books. Have a baby and learn to do everything with one hand.

2. I am able to savour the endless rounds of good food in peace. No gobbling an entire meal in two or three bites or chasing after a toddler in between stuffing myself with mouthfuls of food.

3. DD runs around entertaining our family members. Her joy is infectious and it is great to see others loosen up with her and laugh along. This is the year she gets very interested in dogs. It cracked us up when she stands at the door beckoning the family dogs to come over with, ‘Dog! Come here!’

Guess what she saw? 

Aww, lovely puppies which are as excitable as she is. Too bad condos in KL can't keep dogs.

4. I taught DD to do the ‘gong xi’ pose, the one where you put both fists together and shake vehemently as a symbol of congratulations. Children at this age learn quickly through mimicking adults (yes, that’s why we are role models). DD saw DH and I offering two mandarin oranges to our elders and copied us by bringing mandarin oranges to her grandparents. It heartens me.

It is very important to me that DD is exposed to the Chinese traditions. I want her to learn to greet her elders, to wait till the elders eat before she can start. I want her to know not just Mandarin but also her dialects.

After living in Hong Kong for a couple of years and covering the North Asia markets, I am convinced that knowing Mandarin is mandatory and basic, knowing the dialects is the next wave of advantage.

I remember when I first started out doing sales, my boss who was the Head of Sales told me that ‘D, clients don’t buy from you because you have the best product or best price. People buy from people they like.’ It’s true, and usually speaking the local language helps break the ice and brings people closer. The benefits of knowing languages are intangible but very real.

Unfortunately for the younger generation, they are generally exposed to English only and deprived of the opportunity to learn dialects. Here in KL, it’s pretty bad. From primary level, we would be forced to choose between going completely Chinese, completely Malay or pay through the nose at an international school. At the all important early childhood stage, there is a dearth of options.

Yes, many kindergartens claim to teach Mandarin. But you don’t pick up a language unless you are immersed in it. Allow the child to interact in the language so that his/her brain forms the right synapses. The system our school uses alternates between English and Chinese weeks, allowing full bilingual immersion and have successfully produced batches of effectively bilingual children since 1998. This is why I went through the drastic measure of importing a system.

Having said that the best way to learn a language is not through a taught environment but rather in everyday life. For DD, I speak to her in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Occasionally we learn Japanese together (I studied years of it but don’t remember most of it since I have not used the language in years). When my parents are here, I ask them to speak to her in Hokkien as well.

Initially my parents resist here fearing it would make them ‘uncool’. I had to laugh when I heard this. This coming from my strict traditional dad. After I explained to them my rationale, my dad agreed that imparting her with dialect skills is an invaluable gift.

He questioned then if it would be confusing for DD to be exposed to so many languages at a tender age. I explained to him that when children are under three, their ability to absorb information is tremendous. Just expose them to the languages actively (ie. not passively through a DVD and hope for the best) and the little seeds are planted in their brains. You will be surprised how kids pick up the nuances of languages almost instinctively.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that DD is happy. I will provide her a nurturing environment to acquire knowledge and skills in a fun way. A good foundation in early childhood serves as a springboard to realizing her full potential. After this, it’s up to her how far and high she wants to fly.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Giving our children a good Head start

I love my food and have been head over heels in love with food since I was a little girl. Food not only fuels my body, it serves as a daily inspiration for me. I live to eat and am blessed with a hearty appetite.

When I was pregnant, I pray that DD will love food as much as DH and I do. I don’t have any particular craving and exposed her to a variety of food. After DD arrived, I breastfeed her and am still breastfeeding her at 15 months. According to the parenting guides, breastfed kids are unlikely to be picky eaters. The theory is that the child is exposed to a smorgasbord of tastes through the breast milk from a young age, as opposed to the homogeneous taste of formula milk.

Well, as I have discovered through my parenthood journey – take what I read from parenting books with a pinch of salt.

Each child is unique. As a child leaves infancy behind and moves in toddlerhood, he/she starts forming his/her opinion and preference in everything, including the food.

DD is no exception. She was doing great, eating well until she neared one year old. There are days when it is just harder to feed her. Through trials and error, here’s some tricks that work for us:
  • Offer variety. Mix it up. Don’t feed the same thing day in day out.
  • Make a nutrition packed soup/stew. It’s easier to sneak in a few mouthfuls of power food every now and then. For instance, I boil spinach, broccoli, lentils, carrots etc, blend it up and add a protein such as minced beef or fish.
  • Offer distraction. I have tried video, feeding her while she is playing with toys and feeding her while taking a walk.
  • Let DD feeds herself. The mess can always be cleaned up later.
  • Offer competition. Sometimes I pretend to feed her doll. Or when we are out with friends’ kids, we find that she eats as heartily as the next kid.
  • Offer a change of location. Don’t always feed at the high chair. She loves it at Fitfor2 at Bangsar Village or Kidzsport and never fails to finish her meal there.
Then there are days when all above fails. I will resort to feeding DD her favourite food – cheese and tomato. I would tell myself that some food is better than no food and try to focus on the big picture, i.e. her diet throughout the week.

In recent years, the diagnosis for hyperactivity (ADHD) and dyslexia in children has been increasing. Leading nutritionist, Patrick Holford, found in his book ‘Smart Food for Smart Kids’ that in many of these cases, the learning disabilities can be eliminated simply through an improvement in diet. Holford explains the positive link between eating nutritious food and a child’s brain power.

I strongly believe in the importance of wholesome food for a growing child. This is why I go out of my way to ensure our school feeds nutrition-packed food. Our nutritionist works on IQ-boosting food to improve the children’s attention and learning ability.

Parents are not charged a leg and limb to select the meal option. Instead our nutritionist team source actively for the right suppliers and  works within budget. The children comes first at our school, before any talks of profit and margins.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, our preschools and daycares do not know or care enough about this. Many of the schools continue to serve sugary drinks, pandan cakes, doughnuts, nasi lemaks etc. 

When I question these schools, the principals would tell me that 'it's part of their effort to ensure the child gets accustomed to a Malaysian diet.' Erm, I don't think so.

We are what we eat. The stuff we put in our mouth affects our mood, our health and learning ability. Depriving your body of vital nutrients can be detrimental.

A child’s brain goes through exponential growth in the first 6 years and is 97% of adult size by age 6. Hence we should all give our children best head start in life with a wholesome diet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Multi-Million Dollars Job

It’s been a crazy Friday the 13th.
DD tossed and whined through the night with a mild fever due to teething. Then I had a flurry of meetings. Met up with the contractor and the designer. Then back home with DD. I am on solo for parental duty tonight as DH has a work event.
Now that I have put her down, I finally have a quiet moment to myself and want to write about what I heard this morning.
This morning while doing the school run, I tuned into Mix FM’s Daily Dilemma with Dilly and JD. [I love the two of them, they never fail to brighten up my mornings.] Today’s dilemma is about a newly married young lady who frets about juggling family life when she has a child. She feels that since her boss  frowned on her leaving on time after getting married, it is a good indication the boss would be unhappy with her starting a family.
I hunted around for my handphone to call in only to realize I left it at home. Ah well, Dilly, we are not meant to be.
What Alicia has described is a real problem.
I think many working mothers share the same harried feeling I have on most days. As women, we juggle different roles in our lives. We are daughters, employees and someone’s BFF, wife of someone we love and then we become mothers. In the many hats we wear, we are pulled in different directions constantly. 
The dilemma exists partly because our work culture is still years and decades behind developed countries’. While Malaysia recognises there is a brain drain, our employers are still imposing an invisible glass ceiling on women, in particular working women. By employers, I don’t mean the stereotyped males, female bosses are equally guilty as charged. This shouldn't be the case.
I hope I can make a difference in whatever small ways I can. For one, our company is different, we are pro-family and support working mothers. Working moms can be fabulous resources. They are great multi-taskers. Nothing fazes them as they take mini daily disasters in their strides.
DH and I are very hands on with parenting. We have no maid, minimum help from parents (who are out-of-state). This is fine, because we want to raise DD ourselves. As in, not farm out parenting and this is a decision we both feel strongly about.
Everyone asks us out how we do it. I won’t deny it. The truth is we take a day at a time.
It is very tough juggling everything, even harder when both of us had a rigid schedule.  God forbids when a day falls out of routine, i.e. DD falls sick and one of us had to take time off. Worse if you have to deal with a manager who doesn't understand, as in Alicia’s (the lady who rang in the radio station) case.
I think 2011 was a pivotal year for me. As DD turned one, it made me reassess what I really want in life. I used to work in the financial industry in London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong in investment banking. I was driven and passionate, so zealous that one HR manager told me to chill a notch. LOL.  When I was working in London, I volunteered to cover the New York hours too, working crazy 7 am to 1 am shifts everyday because I loved my job so much. But in the meritocratic work culture, my hard work was recognized and I climbed the corporate ladder quickly, skipping rungs as I got promoted faster than peers.
That was the old single me then. When I met DH, my priorities shifted. And I became a mother, and things changed further. Other priorities take precedence over being the top performer at work. It doesn't mean I don't want to excel at work, I am just no longer at my employer's beck and call.
I know with clarity what I want in life.
I want to be a full time mother. As in dedicate myself completely to DD without being half glued to the Blackberry, without cajoling her to watch one more video so that I can finish reading a research report and without rushing so much that I cannot spare a moment to squat down and talk to DD at eye level.

Being a mother is the most important job I will ever do. I created a life. It is now my job to give her the best upbringing. In the early years, a child is like an blank canvas and it's up to parents and early caregivers to bring out the vibrant colours in them. I want to dedicate the next few years immersing DD in a stimulating yet nurturing environment and develop her learning potential. Be a role model for her.
In the many roles we play in life, we please no one when we try to please everyone. Instead, focus on what matters most to you.
The other day, I peeled the foil off a pack of cream cheese for DD’s snack. Spontaneously, my 15 month old daughter said ‘thanks’ to me. It was the first time she articulated the word and she had used it in the right context.
Imagine my joy and pride. This beats the triumph of closing a multi-million trade. Anytime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

Our dear friends, M & J, had a beautiful baby boy last month.
Baby boy is so angelic and adorable. He is also very understanding and allows his dear mommy rest time by sleeping through most of the time.
I am incredulous because Dear Daughter is extremely active from the moment she is born. She cries, she squirms, she is awake often … she basically needs plenty of TLC from the get-go. So (irrationally) I asked my friend what her secret is in producing such a well-behaved little angel.
M happily replied that she prayed for a well-behaved boy throughout pregnancy. Each time she sees a well-behaved child, she would rub her belly and remind baby boy to be a good boy when he comes out.
At that moment, Dear Hubby shot me a dirty look which said ‘what were you praying for during our pregnancy?!’
Oops. Come to think of it, I think I got what I prayed for. When I was expecting DD, I prayed that she will be a healthy and happy child who is interactive and active. Guilty as charged. Next time I will save my wishes for the national lottery or such, since the fulfillment potency seems pretty strong.
I think that as parents and parents-to-be, we form our expectations on the kind of parents we want to be and transpose this into reality.
I ask myself what is the most important aspect I want DD to develop. The answer comes to me right away. A beautiful heart. It is most important to me that DD grows up with a zest for life, passion in her endeavours and empathy for others.
The best way to inculcate this is to model the behavior as parents and let her participate directly.
Whenever we pass by dead animals on the road (which by the way, there are far too many road kills in KL), I would always stop whatever we are doing and say a prayer for the dead animal with Natalie. We would pray that the suffering for the dead animal is short, that it had lived a fulfilling life and that it is now up in heavens running around happily and healthily every after.
DD is active because we interact with her in a rough-and-tumble way. I want her to experience life through its full spectrum of colours herself, not through reading or observing. DH and I converse to her from day 1, allow her to crawl on the grass as young as soon as she could crawl, let her fall and pick herself up and run around with her in the mall. 

Hence it is totally my fault when she starts somersaulting three weeks ago. Beats me how she figured it out though.