Friday, November 28, 2008

Sinterklaas & Pepernoten: Serious Stuff

Yes Sinterklaas has rolled around again, once again the Dutch community is held in the thrall of the old white haired guy who steams over from Spain with all his 'black Petes' to check out which children have been naughty and which have been good, distribute huge quantities of sweets and little sweet biscuits known as pepernoten, and finally leave a pile of presents on the doorstep on December 5.
It's three weeks of feverish excitement for kids as the 'black Petes' make appearances at school and there is a tv show (The Sinterklaas Journal) broadcasted daily at school to keep the kids up to date with what the mischievous Petes have been getting up to, and to hear a few words from the wise old man himself.
Each year there is a drama caused by some errant Pete who just can't seem to follow the rules or simple instructions. Last year they lost one of the Petes and all the Dutch kids were sitting on the edges of their seats, waiting for daily news about where he had been spotted; he finally turned up on Sentosa Island, apparently having mistaken it for 'Sint-osa' Island. Very exciting stuff!

This year it's the mystery of the silver pepernoot. This huge and tasty creation was apparently stolen by one of the Petes on the day Sint arrived in his boat at Keppel Marina. Each day clues are revealed at school and the kids are searching Singapore looking for it. They've also been asked to make a 'missing' poster and to stick it up in a prominent place somewhere on the island. Carl got straight to work, and stuck his work of art on the side of his school bus. You can tell by his face that he's very proud of it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Veges Just Keep Getting Weirder

Now that we've moved to our new apartment I've got a whole new neighbourhood to explore. I do miss Balmoral; we knew almost everybody in our condo and loved living there, plus we had a supermarket, 7/11, pub, pizza joint, chicken rice shop and a masseuse right on our door step. What more could you want in life? However this end of Bukit Timah Road isn't too bad. We usually take the kids out for dinner on Sunday nights and we've walked to two nearby restaurants so far; Tin Hill and Fresca Pasta. Both were ok, family kind of places and very convenient for being so close.

One bonus of living here is that our new 'local' supermarket is the Fair Price up at Bukit Timah Plaza, a 5 minute drive down the road. The place is a mixed blessing; it's a great supermarket with an excellent range of fresh food but the car park is way too small for such a mammoth shop so I only like to go there in the evenings when it's a bit quieter and there's no queue to get into the car park. The other day I had a great time in the vege department, finding all sorts of weird and wonderful things. First was a big leaf of edible cactus, which was pretty gross actually so I probably wasn't cooking it right.
Second was a bunch of these things. The sign said they were some kind of bean but I don't know. You know how you get those praying mantis insects that look like a leaf to fool predators into not eating them? Well that's what these things reminded me of, like a vegetable pretending to be a bug in the hope it wouldn't get cooked. It didn't need the camouflage actually because they also tasted pretty disgusting. Rather like praying mantis, I imagine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Un-bearably Cute!

I know, I know, I'm seriously overdoing the cutesy theme and what is it with my obsession with bears at the moment??? Anyway bear with me (ha ha) for a while longer while I share with you some pics of Carl and his new best friend. By the way that's face paint on Carl, not pizza.






















When he jumped off the school bus with a furry brown bear and its substantial luggage (who said animals travel light? Obviously Paddington isn't the only bear with an extensive wardrobe) I figured Carl must have swiped the furry fellow from someone at school. But no, this is Boris, mascot and friend of Group 1B at the Dutch School. Boris gets to go home with a different kid each weekend, to be subjected to a crazed weekend of non-stop partying, beer swilling, drinking games and general debauchery. Or in our case, pizza on the sofa and a day locked in the car while we watched Sinterklaas arrive at Keppel Marina on Saturday.
Boris comes from the Build A Bear Workshop, a place which we ourselves discovered recently and which is a hugely fun venue for young children. The kids get to pick out what kind of bear (or other animal) they want to make from a wide range of pre-sewn 'empty' bodies. They then help to stuff it with the help of a very cool machine which blows soft stuffing into the beast through a hole in the back. An assistant then gets them to pick out a red satin heart, make a wish with it and then poke it inside the toy before it is quickly closed up. They then get to 'bath' their new bear under an air shower, after which comes the fun part - picking out an outfit. There are literally hundreds of different accessories available and if you thought the price tag of a basic bear, at $32, is quite cheap that's because they sting you on the extras. Who can resist the little miniature wellington boots, pyjamas, handbags, back packs, hats, tiny Eskimo outfits, superhero costumes and sailor suits, all made in bear size? I limited the kids to two outfits each but still, the bill was pretty high.





















Ironically a week later both boys have stripped their toys naked, although they do have pride of place snuggled up to their pink little cheeks in bed at night.
Before we went to the shop I explained what we were going to do and we visited the shops website a few times, mostly to get Carl to decide which bear he wanted because he is chronically indecisive. Eventually he announced he wanted a husky dog, not a bear. Was he sure? Yes. Totally sure? Yes. When we got to the shop was he still sure? Yes. Once the stuffing was in was he still sure? Hell no, now he wanted a frog. No, a turtle. No, a frog. Eventually he chose the most appropriate beastie for him: a monkey. He is after all our little 'aapje', and was born in the year of the monkey. It figures.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Panda-ing to Your Soft Side

Hubby sent me an email from work the other day and instead of the usual photos or clips of disasters involving ships or happening at sea, it was a bunch of pics of a panda cub explosion in China.














No, there wasn't black and white fur flying everywhere, it was a population explosion! Rarely have I see something quite so smoochy-licious as these pics so I had to share them with you.














Apparently the Sichuan Wolong Panda Protection and Breed Center is dealing with the results of a breeding boom where 16 pandas have been born. The brood includes five sets of twins. The cubs are weighed and measured every five days (see the photos), with the heaviest weighing in at just over 24 pounds, while the lightest weighs about 11 pounds.














The pandas are due to stop suckling soon - just about the time they'll start learning to walk. Once weaned, the panda cubs will attend panda kindergarten- wouldn't you love to work there! In the meantime, more little ones are expected at the centre since 38 giant pandas were artificially impregnated.
(Wow,someone had a sore wrist!)















If ever there was a place where it must be a box of fluffies to go to work everyday, this is it. How they stop the employees going home with their pockets stuffed full of pandas I don't know! I'm guessing once they hit the 500 kg mark and their claws are four inches long pandas aren't quite so cute any more, but as babies don't they just make you want to dip them in chocolate sauce and gobble them right up?













Click on the images to enlarge them, then put your face really close to the screen and imagine you hear this guy sighing as he drifts of to sleep. He's had a hard day of playing and being cuddled, after all. And based on the statistics, all he's got to look forward to in adult life is a hot date with a lab technician and a test tube!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yokohama Quilt Show

Now before you all start laughing and pointing out that I am the sewing fraternity's equivalent of an illiterate red-neck, I'll point out that I am not claiming to be able to quilt myself. In fact I'm not particularly gifted when it comes to little crafty things at all, although I did a hugely satisfying book covering course today (and I will gloat over the results in another post shortly, don't worry). Also I'm still ridiculously proud of my efforts at a recent glass fusion and silver jewellery course where not only did I produce something wearable, I didn't manage to trip over and throw myself into the kiln in the process.







However a friend recently visited Japan to attend the Yokohama Quilt Show. In my ignorance I never realised that there were international events arranged around what I thought were basically bed spreads which just took a lifetime to make, but my eyes have been opened. These quilts are quite literally works of art and when I saw the photos I couldn't believe the detail and imagination that goes into producing them, let alone the thousands of hours of painstaking work.
I don't think these things are for sale - and frankly who could bear to part with one after spending so much time making it - and I can only wonder what happens to them after the show is over.
Take a moment to have a peek at these - click on the photos to enlarge them, it's worth it.















































Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forest Adventure x 2

One of Niels favourite activites in recent months has been Forest Adventure, a kind of high-altitude obstacle course which has been constructed on the bank of the Bedok Reservoir. Basically it's an adventure course of ten or twelve wooden walk-ways, all different, strung 5 metres above the ground. There is an adults course (for 1.4 m tall and over) and a kids one (1.10 m tall minimum). Adventurers are strapped into a full harness and wear a helmet so it's all perfectly safe. They are clipped onto the course with a safety line at all times, and it ends with a flying fox which whooshes them down to a soft landing.
A couple of weeks ago I was measuring Carl and lo-and-behold, he is just on 1.1m! So to his great delight, he's tall enough to have a crack at the course. He was so excited to be doing something which he's only been able to stand and watch Big Brother do up until now. Holger took him along, got him strapped up, and Niels followed him through the course to help him with moving his safety clip along the top line, something which can be a bit difficult until you get the hang of it. He had a few nervous moments - some of the wooden 'pathways' were too difficult for him as they swung so much and at four years old his legs are only just long enough - but he did pretty well. You can see by the look on his face in the photo that it was a bit of a challenge for him but he was keen to go back and do it again, so he was still having fun. When they got home he rushed in and his face was absolutely glowing with excitement, he was so proud of himself for having done it! What a great confidence booster. In fact I know plenty of grown-ups who wouldn't have the guts to do it and we're really proud of him too. It's hard to believe how fast they grow up!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Power Of Advertising

I was reading through Gulliver, the business travellers blog which is published by Economist.com, this morning and couldn't help having a laugh-out-loud moment when I saw this piece. Any of you who have ever booked a holiday based on a photo in a guide, beware! You never know what what that photo of the room with a scenic view may not be showing. Modern decor, en-suite bathroom...nuclear power station....WTF??



Check out this photo from Photoput.com if you don't believe me. Talk about looking on the bright side!








Monday, November 10, 2008

The Tooth Fairy - a play for kids



You know that old saying about waiting for your ship to set sail? Well, that is pretty much the reality for us at the moment. One of these days (allegedly!) hubby's ship will sail so we're making the most of the family time we have left before he disappears over the horizon. This meant he had no excuse not to join the boys and I at a play put on by The Little Company who perform at the DBS Arts Centre - Home of the Singapore Repertory Theatre down on Robertson Walk.

It was a play aimed at kids "from 2 - 12 years old" based around a kid who loses a tooth, and is waiting for the tooth fairy to turn up. It's an entertaining story with good guys, bad guys, flashing lights and simple special effects, and the boys loved it. At one stage early on I was a bit worried that it was going to be too 'girly' for them to enjoy; then the brother character thumped his sister in a pillow fight and did a rap song so all was cool again with our lot.

The DBS Theatre is small enough to feel intimate and fully engage kids which is ideal, and they absolutely loved it. If you're looking for a fun show I would recommend this for kids up to about 9 years old. It runs until December 14, check the SRT site or Sistic for details/tickets.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Off To Hospital Again


We'd only been in the new apartment for a couple of days when it was time to make yet another unscheduled trip to the hospital. I guess it's only fair: since we've lived in Singapore Niels was the only one of the three guys not to have received stitches. His hospital experience was limited to x-rays and observation following his sword-swallowing incident and I guess he felt that unless it leaves a scar on the outside of your body, it's not a real injury. After all, Carl received four stitches when he fell over and split his chin open by the swimming pool. And hubby needed three stitches after Niels jumped on top of him and split his Dad's head open with his chin. So now it was Niels turn. Not surprisingly, a swimming pool was involved again.


The three of them had headed off for a post-dinner dip on Sunday evening, leaving me with a few precious kid-free moments to update my blog (what else?). When they returned hubby was holding a towel pressed against Niels upper shin. "You'd better have a look at this".


Hmmmm, a surprisingly deep cut about 2.5 cm long was gently oozing blood. Definitely too deep to just stick shut with a plaster. The two of them headed off to KK Women's & Children's Hospital - our usual haunt - and returned two hours and umpteen text messages from Niels later, with three stitches in his leg to show for his trouble.


At least they all have matching scars now!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

When It Rains, It Pours

The rainy season has well and truly started. Although the days dawn bright and sunny, by around 2:30 in the afternoon the sky darkens to a sullen grey and thunderheads starts to form over the island. The humidity rises so high that it forms a layer of moisture on your skin even more cloying than the sweat which has by now coated your body if you are standing outside. Before long the palm trees start to sway as the first breeze stirs the hot damp air, offering the promise of a reprieve.
Suddenly there is an ear-splitting CRACK as the first lightening streaks across the leaden clouds and the thunder builds from a deep ominous roll which vibrates through your feet to a window-rattling bombardment within a few minutes. The rain comes with a sudden force which is always breathtaking - from a few fat drops which steam on the hot pavement to sheets of water which fall so hard they bounce back up into the air, rendering umbrellas useless and drenching anyone caught exposed within a couple of seconds.
Most thunderstorms are over within half an hour but they are ferocious and breathtaking and utterly spell-binding to watch. I love nothing more than watching from the relative dry of the balcony or an open window as lightening forks down to the ground and the earth shakes with pent up energy when the island seems to be trying to shake off the oppressive heat of the day with a defiant display of raw energy.
Then it's all over. The growl of thunder recedes into the distance, lightening flashes high in the thinning clouds but no longer reaches the ground, and the rain lightens then ceases altogether. For a few minutes the palms continue to sway, shaking off their heavy coats of rain while every living thing draws in a deep breath of unusually cool air. Then the sun breaks through the dissipating clouds, the temperature begins to rise again and the tropical heat returns. Until tomorrow's reprieve.


video

Monday, November 03, 2008

...The Long Goodbye



And so the Long Goodbye contniues. On Friday we exited our lovely apartment, our own little piece of Singapore - or so it has seemed for the past 2.5 years.

Not without some drama I have to admit. Neither hubby nor I anticipated that it would take so much work to pack up and move. In the end the removal company packed up our lives into seven...yes SEVEN...cubic meters of boxes. At least one cube was reserved for my handbag collection of course, and it has to be said the lamp I bought hubby as an 11th anniversary present will receive it's own crate and so seems even more enormous than before.

However, finally the job was done. I gave away all of our furniture, some to friends and the rest to strangers who responded to my ads on freecycle, a marvellous website if ever there was one.

Hubby ended up driving at least eight times backwards and forwards to our new apartment dropping loads of stuff, so we had way underestimated how much we would end up with here as well.

So now we are settling in to our new home, a serviced apartment quite close to the boys school. They are extremely pleased because it's a much larger condo, with more kids, a bigger pool, and a playground. It's inconceivable that life could get any better than that if you're under ten years old.