Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Seafood For Dinner, Anyone?

No doubt some of you have heard about the huge squid which is being slowly defrosted in Wellington, New Zealand, after being thoughtfully snap-frozen by fishermen upon being landed on a fishing boat in Antarctica. This is the largest invertebrate in the world, speculated to be the fearsome 'Kraken' from Norse legends.

You have to wonder what it was like trying to squeeze a 495 kilo, ten metre long colossal squid – described as a “gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms” – into a freezer. Who exactly decided the thing was definitely dead and so volunteerd to have the first shove?? Wouldn’t be me, I can tell you that. Take a look at the photo above - would you dare to grab an armful of that and heave it on board? With eyes “the size of dinner plates” and known to be “nasty, aggressive type of squid” this is no Nemo-type pet you take home to give your sisters kid for her birthday. Consider this – this monster specimen is supposedly just a baby, with estimates based on the size of colossal squid beaks found in the bellies of dead whales leading biologists to estimate that the adult ones reach at least three quarters of a tonne in weight.
Scientists at the Te Papa museum, who are slowly defrosting the squid in a tank of salt water to prevent the outside rotting before the inside is thawed enough to conduct research on it, have said that “if it was cut into squid rings, they would be size of tractor tyres, although they would taste like ammonia.” Hmmm, tasty. I knew there was a good reason why I don’t eat squid.

If you’d like to take a peek at this freakish fiend from the deep it will be going on display in Welington at the fabulous Te Papa museum in a HUGE tank of formalin.

Check out the museums website for more info. There was even a Squid Cam while it thawed out. Seriously.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One Size Fits All

Have you noticed how expensive kids clothing can be? Sometimes a piece of children’s clothing and the adult equivalent are practically the same in price, despite the huge size difference. However I’ve found the perfect solution. Behold, the all-purpose fully recycled one-size-fits-all unisex box suit. Granted, it is a bold fashion statement but clearly Carl and Niels are more than happy to model this for a grateful audience. Think of the money you’ll save! Not only is it free, once they out-grow the box, simply chuck it in the recycle bin and collect a new one from a handy supermarket! And consider the savings in transportation costs: we can now stack kids into school buses, etc like milk cartons in a crate. I wonder if the idea will catch on…

Friday, April 25, 2008

Too Old To Lego, Too Young To Die

Isn't it amazing how much kids love Lego? I mean seriously, totally love it so much they want to take it to bed and sleep with it so they wake up with six little indentations in their forehead from lying on top of a plastic brick all night. And then losing the tiny little bits in the sheets to stress their Mums out when doing the washing. Kids love Lego with a passion and abandon adults can't match, and even the repeated agony of standing or kneeling on those razor-sharp corners doesn't dull their devotion.

Actually I don’t mind Lego associated traumas, don’t even mind knowing I'll have to unhook the vacuum pipe and retrieve the piece I just heard clunking its way up the hose when I vacuum under the sofa. My Mum used to carefully go through the vacuum bag every time she emptied it to retrieve the Lego bits we’d hidden on the floor in places only the cleaner would reach because hey! we were thoughtful kids that way.
If only I had spent as much time working on my thesis as I did planning and building the Lego creations I made as a kid! Nothing stretches a kids imagination as much as playing with Lego, let alone developing their fine motor coordination and spatial planning. Who knows, maybe that’s why I'm pretty good at playing the piano and reading maps.
Most importantly though, it’s just loads of fun. In fact it’s still so much fun that I love taking the kids to a Lego shop – of which there are several in Singapore – to check out the latest offerings. Yes, whole shops filled with nothing but Lego: Starwars, Exo Force, Mars Mission, City, Knights Kingdom…not to mention the merchandise! Chess sets, clothing, watches, key rings, cups, plates, drinking bottles, even salt and pepper shakers! Ok so I’m not that into it, but it’s nice that the three of us can all sit down and play with our big crate of Lego together. Every now and then I pick up a couple of catalogues to bring home and the kids spend hours scrutinising them, carefully making lists of what they want, changing them day by day. It doesn’t actually matter that I’m not going to buy it – they just love to fantasise about it and look at the pictures. Now they’re into http://www.lego.com/, where you can play cool games, download stuff and see all the products on offer.
Proof of our obsession: the guest room is actually called the Lego room.

Last week when the kids were really pushing for me to buy more Lego – which we save for birthdays, Christmas and special occasions because it’s quite pricey – I decided instead to build all the sets they’ve already got. Little kids can be a bit overwhelmed by a big heap of Lego and can’t sort out the little bits to put together a set. I thought I’d spend a morning doing it and be finished. Wrong! Two days later I finally reached the end. Every set was assembled, and only about 3 little bits missing as far as I could tell (damn that vacuum). But my back was killing me. Hours spent hunched over trays of colour sorted Lego bits has a completely different effect on the body of a thirty-something than it does on a kid! I don’t remember aching all over after a Lego session when I was nine years old. My sound effects have gone from cool laser sounds as we play to "ooooh my back hurts, help Mummy up".
Niels birthday is coming up next month and guess what he wants? Star Wars Lego. I’d better do some stretches first…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Score: 1 - 0 To The Rabbits

Houdini and Sweetpea have been even more persistent than usual lately trying to get into our bedroom, which is strictly a rabbit free zone due to the computer cables etc at ground level. Or perhaps we’re just getting lazy because they haven’t seriously chewed anything…until now. Hubby went to connect his mobile phone to its charger and found that somebunny had chewed through the cable.
Sweetpea has been practising her "what, me?" look (left) while Houdini has perfected his "whatever" flip of his ears and is totally not going to listen to some two legged hairless freaks who leave their phone chargers lying on the floor anyway.
So it's back to being more vigilant with the baby gate, the only form of tough love our two delinquents respond to.
Perhaps it was revenge for going away on holiday…

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bali 2: Waterbom, Dream Villa, and I Could Get Used To This...

Our Bali holiday really was a lot of fun, and as with all fun things what could be better than telling everybody about it endlessly? So here you go, more cheesy family holiday shots and anecdotes.

On a more serious note, we would definitely recommend the place we stayed in, Bali Dream Villas. Not only was the accommodation luxurious, it also comes with a bunch of wonderful staff who make it their mission in life to make your holiday as relaxing and comfortable as possible.

The kids immediately latched onto Daywa, our softly-spoken driver who spent half of his time in fits of giggles at what the kids were saying, especially Carl who took to yelling "don't speak Dutch!" at me in the car. They of course loved the extra attention, especially Niels who has always been a more male-focused kid, wanting to be ‘one of the big boys’ hanging around kicking the tires of the car and sneaking out to watch cartoons (in Balinese) on the tv in the security guards hut with the guys.

Carl, who has always been a ladies man, soon had Nade and Nyome, the cook and housekeeper, wrapped around his little finger. He had them fetching drinks, looking for toys, and even dressing him in the mornings, all with a charming smile on his face. He only had to sidle up, hold their hand and gaze into their eyes and they would melt in a puddle, ready to do his every bidding. All joking aside, I could seriously get used to having staff – well who wouldn’t! – it’s just so nice not to have to do everything and just focus on enjoying the time you have with the kids and each other. So if I ever win the lottery, that’s going to be near the top of my list!

One of the most fun things for the kids that we did while in Bali and which is a definite must-do if you are going there with the family, is the Waterbom park.
This is your typical water park with slides ranging in excitement from a gentle float in a rubber tube down a quiet jungle-lined river to ‘don’t look behind me the water wasn’t that brown colour when I started the slide’ terrifying.
Most rides are done on tubes, which seat either one or two people, or on mats with handgrips. The extremely fast and scary slides required you to lie on your back with your hands folded onto your shoulders and your legs crossed at the ankles. Having stood at the end point and watched a few people come down it was immediately obvious that if you forget to cross those ankles, you are going to experience the enema from hell, baby!

One of the funniest parts of the day (well for me anyway) was watching groups of 18-24 year old Aussie guys whooshing down the slides, climbing out at the end with a look of OHMYGOD on their faces and then needing two hands to pull the extreme wedgie out of their arses! Perhaps it’s just my infantile sense of humour but it had me in stitches. I said to the attendant standing at the bottom “you must have the best job in the park” and he cracked such a wide grin you could just tell he was having a whale of a time watching these guys with their too-cool attitudes and loud mouths getting what they had coming to them…right where it hurts!

The kids water playground at Waterbom is also a blast, with lots of valves to open and shut, levers to turn, and unexpected jets of water popping up from everywhere. A huge bucket on the top was constantly filled and about every 4-5 minutes it would reach the point where it tipped over, inundating the entire playground in a deluge of water. Holger reckoned there must have been around 1,000 litres of water in there, so you can imagine the effect it has – the noise alone was impressive and the kids just loved it.

One of the last things we did – remembering just in time on the last day – was find a Balinese costume for Niels. His class is doing a new IPC (International Primary Curriculum) unit on textiles and fabrics and all the kids had to go to school wearing a national costume. We got him a beautiful batik sarong and scoured the markets for a topi, the pointed woven hats the farmers wear in the rice paddies. He looked so cute all dressed up and ready to go to school! Carl of course wanted to be in the photo which is why he is standing there with his Cheshire grin, still in his Superman pyjamas. I love the look of forbearance and patient suffering on Niels face in this photo.

All in all, we would thoroughly recommend a Bali holiday, although I would suggest renting a villa as we did rather than staying in a hotel. Kuta would have been too busy and noisy for us to enjoy staying there so we liked being a bit further north, on the coast. It also means you are closer to the sights and don’t have to drive through the town (which takes forever) to go anywhere.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You Reap What You Sow...As Every Parent Knows

A while ago I wrote about how some bad habits come back to bite you in the bum when you have kids, especially noxious ones like swearing. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that your kids will ape you and that your actions - good or bad - will shape their behaviour, which is just as well because between the sleepless nights and the brain numbing cartoons, we parents have little grey matter over for free thought.

Kids are by nature messy eaters and I've long said that my least-favourite part of being a Mum is meal times. Carl has spilt every drink ever given to him and rarely stops talking long enough actually get food in his mouth. Niels eats well but prefers a reclining open mouthed posture which means by the end of the meal there is invariably a trail of food down his front. Yes, I was the woman who used to sneer at the bad table manners of other peoples kids, and yes I was the one who declared her kids would be eating tidily with a knife and fork by age four, and yes I am now having to swallow my words along with my dinner every night.

In an effort not to get stressed by the everyday messiness of mealtimes I seem to have adopted the saying "don't worry, it's got to go in the washing machine anyway". I guess it's more for my sanity than the kids reassurance that I say this as I struggle not to sweat over the little things every day. I didn't realise quite how it sounded however until last night. We were eating a stirfry with rice and marinated pork and I left the table for all of 20 seconds to get Carl another cup of water to replace the one quietly puddling around his feet and dripping off his chair. When I returned Niels looked up guility at me and froze, a bottle of thick sweet black soy sauce poised above his rice. "Oooops" was all he said. At first I couldn't see anything wrong - then his widened eyeballs slowly rotated downwards to a long trail of black sauce oozing down his chest and stretching all the way along his thigh like a string of gorilla snot.

With a fixed grin and gritted teeth I squeezed out 'don't worry, it's got to be washed anyway' then peeled off his t-shirt and we carried on.

For dessert he had a big bowl of yoghurt with Frosties and Carl, who still hadn't touched his dinner but was in full flow with a story that seemed to invovle Darth Vader and a school bus, spilt his water. Again. I leaped up, grabbed a cloth from the kitchen and in the nano-second it took to return, Niels had managed to drop of whole spoonful of soggy yoghurt and Frosties not only into his lap but actually straight into his pocket. Guess who was going to have to scrape that goo out with their fingernails? Probably seeing the steam starting to puff out of my ears he looked at me, gave me a condenscending smile and said "it's ok, it's got to go in the washing machine anyway".

How comforting.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Back From Bali

Yes it's true, the days since I lasted posted have been filled with a holiday on the amazing Indonesian island of Bali. It seems a little obvious to say we had a fantastic time, although we were looking forward to a holiday for so long it would have been easy to have been disappointed once we finally got there.

First impressions: pretty much from the first minute you hit the traffic in Bali until you get back on the plane it's hard to believe that there could be so many scooters and motorbikes in one country and that the roads could consistently be in such poor condition. Wherever Bali's tourist dollars are going, it's not into infrastructure. Too few roads, appalling road surfaces, no road signs and an apparent lack of a road code mean this is NOT a place you should try driving yourself.

Fortunately we had the wonderful Daywa at our disposal for the duration of our stay, our driver who cheerfully and safely drove us around every day. Not only was it a godsend to have a local to navigate the roads but he was a wealth of information and the kids loved him. Holger surprised and delighted Daywa and the rest of the staff at the villa we stayed in by being able to speak a bit of Bahasa Indonesia, and they were thrilled to teach him more words and let him practice by not speaking English to him.

Roads aside, it is a wonderful place to visit. With over 1,000 temples on the island spirituality is of the utmost importance to the Balinese, and several times each day each person brings a small offering - a pandan leaf folded into a square dish and filled with colourful flower petals, a small cookie or squre of bread, and some burning incense - to the nearest temple. At our villa the cook and housekeeper would put these in the kitchen, next to the swimming pool, on the roadside and at a nearby temple each day. No matter where you go in Bali, the air is always sweetly scented with incense.

Bali is poorer than I had expected, with literally everybody is working hard to survive. We only saw a couple of people actually begging but there is a vibrant street economy going. Everything from freshly cooked satay to sarongs, newspapers, fruit and woven baskets is literally sold on the side of every street and country road. Farmers work in the rice paddies from dawn until dusk, men and women alike bent double planting new rice plants or harvesting the mature crop, conical topi hats shading them from the sun. Once the harvested rice is shaken free of the stalks it is spread on large pieces of plastic on the road to dry - motorists must swerve around the drying crop to avoid driving straight over the top.

A morning spent on Kuta beach was an exercise in maintaining our manners as we were constantly offered massages, tattoos (temporary one assumes!), food, drinks and sarongs by a steady stream of vendors walking past.

Yet despite the obvious day to day struggle the Balinese go through to live their lives they are an honest and friendly people who, in our experience, lack any resentment towards foreigners. Two perfect examples, both of which occurred during our morning on the beach: when I stuffed my clothes into a bag to go for a swim, all of my money fell out of the pocket of my shorts onto the sand. I didn't even notice and one of the woman who had been going up and down the beach hawking sarongs (and which I'd turned down more than once), walked up to me and told me that my money was lying on the ground. Anybody could have picked it up without me seeing, she could have picked it up and I would never have known. It was several hundred thousand ruipah, probably more than she would earn in a month. Needless to say I bought one of her sarongs and gave her a big tip as well!

As we left Holger went to pay the guy we had rented our beach loungers from. The price was 30,000 ruipah but, unused to the currency, Holger gave him 300,000 instead. The guy came back to us and gave Holger the money back, laughing at his mistake. That's honesty for you.

I'll be back with more photos from our trip over the next few days.