Monday, 31 August 2009
Recently my son remarked, "Mum, you live like a peasant!"
"Your ideal home is in the countryside with a small house but a huge garden.You'll grow vegetables and keep dogs. You'll wear your straw hat, ride bicycle everywhere and eat pumpkin and sweet potato all day long."
He cannot comprehend why I choose the simple life when I could live in the city surrounded by lights and glamour. Well, when I was young like him, I was attracted to the glitzy life too. I've been there, done that and now I crave to be away from the madding crowd.
He has also noticed that I'm happiest when I'm driving back to my parent's home every weekend. My face lights up when I see the vast expanse of space and greenery. I feel a buzz when I see the sun dipping beneath the canopy of trees in the distance, painting the sky with a gorgeous palette of colours. Maybe I'm biased but the sunsets are the most beautiful at my parent's place.
Indeed my dream is to be back at the farm again during my sunset years, where I can live like a peasant until I fade away into the darkness.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
YK has gone back to his secondary school with some friends to visit his ex-teachers. The camaraderie amongst the old boys in his school is very strong.
Being a teacher can be quite a thankless job, so it is only right that we have a day to honour them. Now that I am working closely with teachers for our gardening business, I have come to appreciate them more.
I was very impressed when a principal from a pre-school called to enquire about our gardening kits for little children. The teachers love the kids so much that they are paying out of their own pockets so that the kids can learn to grow vegetables. Such dedicated teachers are hard to find.
Recently I read about a teacher in an elite girl's school who tweaked her student's ear and pulled their hair when they couldn't complete their worksheets. When SK was younger, I used to hear his tuition teachers yelling during math lessons.
Back when I was in primary school, we had our fair share of nasty teachers. During those days, they could get away with caning or slapping the kids. One of our teachers even made us clean his house during the weekend!
Parents today would not hesitate to lodge a complaint if they find the teacher's performance unsatisfactory. Kids today can be too boisterous and the teacher's hands are tied when it comes to disciplining them.
I've tried teaching my own kids before and I know how hard it is. That's why I leave the coaching to the tutors to preserve my sanity. The teachers (and students) will get a well-deserved day off tomorrow. To all the teachers out there, "Happy Teacher's Day!"
The good news is, it is up and running now. Business is good and the kitchen staff are coping very well. We had rosemary chicken, baked mussells and the oreo cheesecake. The rates are reasonable and the food was really delicious, even more so than many established restaurants that we had been to.
After lunch, we dropped by a health equipment store to buy myself an exercise bike. Because of the limited space in my apartment, I wanted a really compact one. When I saw this little fella in the papers, I went down and bought it immediately. The bike is now sitting in my living room.
It has pedals without a seat. I have placed it in front of my sofa so I can pedal while watching TV. It's so portable too, I can even lug it to my office and pedal while working at my desk. Now I have no excuse for not exercising.
Setting up his equipment.
Warming up exercise.
Then it rained the entire morning, the competition was almost called off. The enthusiastic archers didn't let the rain dampen their spirits and decided to forge ahead.
Their persistence paid off and CH came in third in his category!
Thursday, 27 August 2009
YK spent 2 days at his friend's house mugging for math paper. His friend's father, a math teacher, coached them during this period. YK told me, "His father is an excellent math teacher, I don't think I had ever studied so hard in my life!"
Apparently, they studied from morning till late at night under the father's guidance. They adhered to a strict study schedule, it was almost military like. I imagine it must have been very productive.
That started me thinking about the seemingly lack of discipline in our home. I have been very lax with the kids. I allow them to plan their own schedules. They can study with the music in the background or while chatting with friends on MSN. I'm happy that they're doing some studying instead of loitering about with friends.
However, when I visit my friend during the weekends, I would find her kids bent over worksheets in a room dedicated for studying. The room is quiet without any distractions of any sort. Their father is quite a disciplinarian and the kids knows when to be serious.
On the contrary, I don't discipline the kids very much. I rarely get angry and they're not afraid of me. Besides, I don't impose many rules at home.
However, when they were much younger, their father used to set many strict rules, often inflexible and impractical ones. As a result, everyone was unhappy when he was at home. Naturally, the moment he left the house, the kids would ditch the workbooks for their toys while the maid kept her ears peeled on the front door so the boys could scramble back to the study desk quickly.
Growing up, my parents were not that strict. My dad is the stern and serious type, so we were naturally in awe of him. As a draughtsman, he did alot of freelance projects at night to supplement the income. Drawing building plans demand alot of concentration, so our house was always quiet.
We had a large L-shaped living room. My father's drafting table and our 3 study desks occupied one side of the room while the sofa and TV set occupied the other.
Mum assigned us homework every night. Dad would be at the drafting table as usual. My older brother, being the diligent one, would be practising math or something. My little brother would be pretending to read a book while his mind was a thousand miles away.
I was the luckiest one who sat facing the window. During the day, I could see the trees in the backyard. When it was dark outside at night, I could see the entire TV screen reflected in the window pane. Of course nobody knew that I was watching the same programme (laterally inverted version) that mum was watching in the other corner.
That explains why my brothers always did so well in school. I guess it also shows that you can have all the rules in place but you can't really force an unwilling kid to study. I was one who spent alot of time daydreaming with a book strategically placed on my lap. I wonder if my parents ever figured that out.
Woo hoo! I can finally post photos again! After paying US$20 that is. Here are some photos of the gardening workshop for kids. Many pre-schools have expressed interest in our product, so we're going to be interacting with lots of kids from now on. It is a good thing!
Showing them the different kinds of vegetables.
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
So, we both trudged out of the house at 6.15am for a quick walk around the estate. I gave him a wipe down when we got home so he could go back to bed while I head to work.
Traffic was bad this morning due to an accident on the highway. I arrived at the office feeling bleary-eyed and exhausted. When the phone rang at 8.30am, I answered sleepily thinking it was a credit card promoter determined to bug me so early in the day.
As it turns out, another pre-school is interested in ordering our gardening product. They're asking for 2,000 sets to be delivered by early next week! I was awakened instantly. That's really short notice, I wonder if we could rush them out on time. Wish me luck!
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
The workshop at the Montessori was a blast! These 5 year olds were such a delightful bunch to teach. They called me Ms Green Fingers and asked about my doggie mascot. When I told them Rusty was sleeping at home, they quickly added, "Dogs are not allowed in school!" But of course...
Kids today are so inquisitive and bright. They impressed me with their knowledge and eloquence. All the butterflies in my stomach settled and went to sleep as soon as I started interacting with them.
The principal looked suitably satisfied with the education I was dishing out and the videographer kept the camera rolling without any reshoots.
All in all, it was a great experience. I'm sure there will be more to come.
Rusty spent all afternoon snoozing in the office while I worked on a presentation. See, I have to give a talk and demonstration about growing vegetables to a bunch of little kids at a Montessori pre-school tomorrow. The entire session will be captured on film by the Ministry of Education, so I had better be well prepared.
In a moment, I will be heading to town for some presentation materials. I'll be bringing a basket full of vegetables to the pre-school tomorrow. Oh, this is exciting!
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Mum was telling me how her friend SN still looks so youthful at the age of 70.
During those days, most of them lived in poverty. Those who were sent to the village school, especially the girls, were counted as the lucky ones. Most of them could not afford books, let alone school shoes. Some of them went to school barefooted.
SN was one of those who stood out. She was the meek and quiet kid who always looked dishevelled, with very little hair on her head and a bloated tummy. The teachers looked down on her and suspected she had worms in her stomach.
Yet she was the smartest kid in class. When the other students were monkeying around, she was the only one reading quietly at the corner, oblivious to the mayhem.
So it is no surprise when mum learned that the untidy little girl everyone had overlooked is today a president in an international bank. She's single, well off and living life to the fullest. Despite her age, the bank still retains her because she's valuable to the company.
Isn't it strange how life turns out sometimes?
Saturday, 22 August 2009
So the training must certainly go on. The same 1.5km route took us only 30 minutes today. Maybe the early morning downpour had washed away all traces of dog pee, for he didn't make as many stops today.
I've learned another new trick myself. Instead of twiddling my thumbs while Rusty's doing his business, I continue jogging on the spot, sometimes I run backwards to train a different set of thigh muscles. Seeing me running around him must be unsettling for doggie but at least he's not under any pressure to move.
This way, I don't compromise on my exercise while he can linger as long as he likes. It's a win-win for us. Even though we were out for only 30 minutes, I returned home soaked in sweat, sign of a decent workout. Now why didn't I think of this earlier!
Friday, 21 August 2009
"You've signed me up to help you carry Rusty right? Are you going to use a dog harness or stroller?" he teased.
"Rusty can run faster than you ok!" I retorted. "...if he doesn't stop to pee that is."
This is a dog run. Rusty will run like a dog should!
"Well then, you had better start training him so he doesn't get distracted during the event.", he addded helpfully.
So, we start training along the canal this morning. "Let's go Rusty!" I tug his leash as I break into a run. He trots along nonchalantly, sneaks into the bushes and lifts his leg up to pee.
Ok, fine. The dog has to pee after spending all night in the apartment. But why does he have to stop every 10 metres?! We run for 30 seconds, stop and linger by the lamp-post or tree for 10 seconds. Then repeat again.
This is getting exasperating. He not only pees, he checks out other dogs' pee. Then he stops to crap. Great! That takes one minute. As if this is not bad enough, he backtracks to check out spots we had missed earlier. Now what!
"Come on Rusty, run!" I plead.
The training is not working out. At the rate we're going, a 3-km run which normally takes 20 minutes to complete is going to take us an hour!
We finally arrive at the gate after 45 minutes. He is already panting and we've only covered 1.5km. In a nutshell, he had only spent 10 minutes running and 40 minutes sniffing the ground. But hey, he's a jack russell, he walks with his nose to the ground.
For once, he looks really happy to head home. If only he knew that from now on, his walks are no longer going to be a stroll in the park. The training has already begun!
Thursday, 20 August 2009
I grew up with dogs around me all my life. What we had were mostly mongrels that somehow strayed into our yard and stayed behind. While they were very much part of our lives, they slept outside and didn't require much attention.
Maybe it is the amount of care we've lavished on Rusty, we constantly worry about the day when he has to go to doggie heaven. He's more than a pet, he's like family now.
Imagine his face is the first I see when I am awake. Like my personal trainer, he forces me to go for long walks whether I am in the mood or not. He is the one I worry about most when it comes to mealtime because unlike the kids, he can't make his own dinner.
Rusty never talks back even when I growl at him. He's loving and sweet all the time and never demands anything from me.
When I heard about Rusti Run from CH, I signed up immediately. Surely Rusty must support an event called Rusti run right? I got in touch with the organiser who had named the Run after her late dog Rusti. Now my little Rusty is her new furry friend. When I saw Rusty's photo on her website, I was filled with pride. (http://www.rustirun.com/Furry_Friends.html)
It sounds rather silly the way I gush about Rusty. Now I can finally understand why pet owners or proud mommies behave this way. Well, we can't help it, just bear with us.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
After a 15-minute ride through dimly lit streets, we arrived at the Goldi Sands beachfront hotel, bleary eyed and disoriented. The kids were tired and fell asleep soon on the comfortable beds.
I woke to the sound of crows in the morning and withdrew the curtains to find them frolicking in the sun. In the distance, a procession of fishing catamarans was returning from the sea.
After a night of rest, Negombo began to look very charming in the morning light. Even the hotel lobby was beautifully painted to resemble the ocean floor.
Negombo was once a trading port for Portugese and Dutch. Today, the fishermen of the Negombo lagoon live in abject poverty in small, thatch palm villages, relying on traditional knowledge of the seasons for their livelihood.
A typical house by the shore.
Using outrigger canoes carved out of tree trunks and nylon nets, the fishermen bring in modest catches from September through till April. The brightly painted boats are said to have originated in the islands off the Mozambican coast, brought to Sri Lanka by Portuguese traders in the 17th century.
Boat coming in with fishes.
Fishermen gathering around to sort out the catch.
The bigger ones were sold in the market.
The smaller ones were dried in the sun.
Watching the fishermen hard at work was an eye opening experience. There we were, in the cosy cafe, munching on french toasts and bacon while watching the fishermen baking in the sun, working so hard to make a living....life can be so unfair sometimes.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Except for the occasional dog barking in the distance, the estate is surprisingly quiet during the day. The environment is great for working actually. In between work, I water the plants, potter about and make myself a sandwich.
At some point, my head felt heavy and the throat was scratchy. This virus is indeed infectious. Even the flu vaccine cannot help me this time, so I went to the doctor before it gets too bad.
"Do you suffer from depression?", she asked, before prescribing Tamiflu. We've heard reports of people hallucinating or becoming suicidal after taking the medicine. While some doctors are strongly against this prescription, my doctor thinks otherwise. Even her 4 year old daughter had completed a course. "Kids are more resilient than you think.", she said.
SK is halfway through the course and hasn't developed any side effects. He's fine now though the cough hasn't gone away. I'm on the 3rd pill and it does mess up the mind a little. I didn't sleep well last night. My mind was too busy with vivid dreams. In my dream, I kept asking myself, "Am I hallucinating already?"
Other than that, I'm fine. The medicine must have stopped the flu from developing. I can return to work tomorrow though honestly, working from home is so nice.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Despite taking Panadol for fever, his temperature soared to 38 degree Celcius. The doctor had every reason to suspect he is infected with H1N1 and prescribed Tamiflu and a bunch of pills.
SK is now on medical leave and I'm on home quarantine for the next few days. The virus is highly infectious and everyone in the family is at risk. The timing is just bad. Both the kids are having exams next week and I'm trying to get SK to do some revision in between naps.
My auto-cleaning mode kicked in as soon as we got home. I started disinfecting the towels, door knobs and table tops with Dettol. I banned the poor kid from cuddling Rusty or leaving his room.
In my enthusiasm to disinfect his clothes, I poured so much Dettol and detergent into the washer that soap suds were spilling out from its soap dispenser.
It's best that I stay away from my parents for the time being. Meanwhile, I hope that SK will recover quickly and life can go back to normal.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
I would pay to go on a trip like that! My enthusiasm must have been contagious for he finally signed up. For a change, we would be hearing about his adventures but until then, you'll just have to bear with mine.
The biking trips in France are designed for anyone who can ride a bike. We could ride from point A to B or if we're feeling adventurous, we could make a detour to explore other villages along the way.
Together with Michaela, the Australian cyclist, we decided to explore the villages of Vaugines and Cucuron, enroute to Lourmarin. The moment we set off, Michaela sped off quickly and disappeared from our view. That sweet and demure looking lady could certainly ride like the wind.
While stumbling along unpaved trails winding through a cherry plantation, we found her picking dark red cherries that were hanging on the low branches. Soon all three of us were munching on succulent cherries. I had never tasted such sweet ripe cherries in my life!
After we cleared through the shady plantation, the village of Vaugines, situated in the foothills of the Grand Luberon, came into view.
Vaugines is a very old charming village far from the main routes. It has kept its original Provençal identity, witnessed by its peaceful streets ornamented with pretty traditional houses.
The landscape here is wild and authentic. It was chosen as the setting for the famous French films "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources", adapted from books written by thc Provençal author Marcel Pagnol, and starring Yves Montand. For a while the calm of the village was disturbed but it has once again found its true serene character.
This isolated village with a population of under 500 people consists of mostly stone rural houses. The center square is shady, featuring an old fountain, a terrace cafe-bar-tabac and a small "alimentation" shop where I finally found some lavender honey.
In the west side of the village is a very long, narrow street, a sort of medieval-residential street.
There wasn't much to do at the tiny village. The only cafe was closed when we arrived, so we decided to ride to Cucuron which is 3km away.
The distance may not seem like alot but with the undulating terrain, we couldn't cover long distances in a day. Thank goodness Cucuron is situated at the foot (instead of the peak) of the southern slopes of the Luberon range. It is almost entirely agricultural, surrounded by some fields of wheat and fruit trees, but increasingly with the advent of the appellation for Côtes du Luberon, by vineyards.
A charming restaurant window greeted us upon our arrival.
Cucuron was more important in the 16th century (many houses remain from this period) and it suffered a gradual decline in the religious wars and only recently regained its former population (currently about 1800 people). Cucuron provided the background for Horseman on the Roof, movie adaptation of Jean Giono’s novel.
A special feature of the village is the old carp pond surrounded by plane trees where the weekly market is held on Tuesdays. Obviously we didn't arrive on market day for it was quiet and peaceful around the pond that afternoon.
Michaela was already waiting for us under the shady plane trees, outside L'etang cafe.
Then we sat on the rock and had our lunch.
Saturday, 15 August 2009
Some of the country roads provided little shade and though we rode past cherry plantations (below) filled with red luscious fruits, we were too conscious to pick any despite feeling parched.
We sought refuge beneath any shade we could find along the way.
From the gates outside a villa, we could see the next village perched on top of the hill, glistening in the sun. We struggled up the steep slope to find almost all the shops closed for siesta.
If I remember correctly, we had arrived at Goult, an ancient fortified hilltop village where streets are carved out of living rock. The narrow lanes are walled with stone and solid rock, with arched doorways and vaulted passages.
The map wasn't always reliable. After a specially long uphill climb one afternoon, we came to a road fork and wasn't sure which way to proceed. It was in the middle of the woods and there was nobody around to ask. One solution was to backtrack, the other was to take a gamble and forge ahead. We chose the latter.
Luckily we chanced upon a campsite with a rangers station, refreshment stand and toilets. Feeling somewhat rejuvenated after an icy drink, we continued our journey, riding through pine forest, unmade roads and abandoned quarries, wondering if we would ever make it to our hotel, Auberge des Seguins, for the night.
As it turned out, we had to delve deep into a quiet valley to find this fabulous hideaway situated at the foot of an imposing white-rock cliff in the Natural Regional Park of the Luberon.
We arrived at the hotel weary and worn out after a long day of riding, it was like an finding an oasis in the desert.
We were given a lovely room built very close to the cliff, so close that we could see the granite above our heads. The dortoires (shared public bunk rooms) and simple tile-and-stucco rooms of the hotel are a terrific retreat for hikers and rock-climbers.
Though it is tucked away in the valley, people travel all the way to Auberge des Seguins for the food. The owner is passionately Provençal and insists on wonderful regional food: aïoli, tapenade, curried chickpeas, lamb stews, delicate goat cheese, and local wines.
This is also where the locals come for reunions and weekends with friends, to lounge in lawn chairs or dip in the stream-fed swimming pool. CH gamely took a dip in the ice cold waters while I sun-bathed on the deck.
In the evening, we wandered to the hotel terrace restaurant and asked for a bottle of Rose and nothing else. The lady owner descended upon our table, frowning at our lack of appetite. "Regime?" she asked, wondering if we were on a diet.
We ended up having a delicious dinner and were thankful she made an appearance that night. It was at the breakfast table that I discovered the joy of spreading lavender honey on my baguette. I loved it so much that we went in search of honey at the stores the next day.
We would love to stay a little longer to enjoy the beautiful surrounds but the journey beckoned. As we were getting ready to leave, an Australian lady asked if she could ride with us to the next village. She had arrived with her husband the day before but he fell ill and was waiting for the tour organiser to send him to the next hotel.
So, the three of us left the valley together just as the morning mist was beginning to clear.
Friday, 14 August 2009
Even while traveling, there are ways to stretch the dollar. I don't travel on business class because to me, the priority is being there, instead of getting there. However, I've learned not to fly on the cheapest tickets because more often than not, your schedule gets messed up.
I like the freedom of traveling on our own, sans tour guide and groups. With the wealth of information available on the internet, we've had no trouble getting about on public buses or trains. It is part and parcel of the traveling experience. Though I must say, we had a bad experience in Lourmarin where we missed the only bus to Marseille.
We watched helplessly as the bus roared past us because we were waiting on the wrong side of the road! We finally hailed a cab with an inexperienced driver who spoke no English and got lost in Marseille. We ended with a 100 Euros fare and a headache!
We travelled independently on our biking trip. We signed up with a biking company that provided maps, directions and bike. We set off early each morning and would arrive at the hotel in the next town to find our backpacks already waiting in the room. Some of the hotels provided were quite posh, like this newly refurbished one in Lourmarin. The decor was very zen and contemporary. I can't remember the name but can still recall the artistic touches and attention to details.
The French motorists are very tolerant and always treat cyclists with respect. I had never felt any pressure even when I was slow on some days.
We came across these curious looking things along the way.
Lourmarin is extremely picturesque, with Catholic and Protestant churches and a pretty Renaissance castle that overlooks meadows and terraced gardens.
Due to the numerous cafe terraces, restaurants and boutiques, Lourmarin attracts many visitors during the day. By the time we arrived that evening, it was rather peaceful. Upon entering the village square, we noticed the typical Mediterranean architecture in its winding narrow streets, mostly too narrow for cars to enter.
The town has a reputation for attracting artists - it's most famous inhabitant was Albert Camus who lived here and is buried in the Lourmarin cemetery. Maybe that explains the profusion of art galleries and shops.
Traveling on our own means that we can eat like the locals. Sometimes if we're lucky, we end up in a good restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide. While roaming about, we stumbled upon a restaurant with an imposing door and an adorable dog outside.
While cuddling it, we decided it must be a sign that we should stop for dinner in that restaurant. The big wooden door opened to a restaurant filled with diners. We were lucky to secure a place at the roof garden even though we didn't make any reservations.
It was one of the best meals we had in Provence. The foie gras was cooked to perfection and desserts, especially the creme brulee, were heavenly. I would have kissed the dog but we didn't see it after dinner. It must have gone to bed.