Friday, November 28, 2014

What to look for in a Confinement Lady - from a Dad's perspective

It's been known to many we flew a confinement lady (otherwise referred to as the CL) in from Malaysia to take care of Li Li and Ellie for a couple of months. Many friends, from Singapore, Malaysia and even Hong Kong have tried her cooking, with varying amounts of praise. My wife has also posted pictures of her everyday meals on her page for reference, which have impressed many as well.

So how good was she?

Spread for Ellie's first month party, prepared single-handedly by the CL (Confinement Lady)

I might not be the best person to judge, as I am out of the house half the time on weekdays, but I can only say that she was not perfect. So let's start with the cons.
  • She talks too much, too loudly.
  • She doesn't help you much when you go shopping with her, aside of telling you what to buy, so it's better to leave the shopping completely to her.
  • Aside of her designated chores, she doesn't do much else in the house to help out unless she's asked to (it gets tiring to ask again and again).
  • She is an online game master (really picky employers can stop this by not giving WiFi password).
  • Her food is usually overseasoned, and she cooks a little too much all the time.
Ok, before you think that I am bad-mouthing my CL, please hold your horses, besides, many friends have already individually contacted me to ask me about her, so I might as well put this on my blog to answer all FAQs.

Now, to the main point. 

In spite of all the above, I feel that she is a GOOD CL.

  1. She keeps to her main role well, that is to nurture both mother and baby to good health during her stint. She cooked balanced meals, made special tonics for my wife and ensured that she did not have to wake to tend to the baby in the night.

    She also loves babies. There was not an instant that I felt she really lost patience with Ellie, which is commendable  as she was here for 2 months, and babies can be infuriating at times. As long as she did this part properly, all the cons mentioned above are really secondary.
                                         
  2. She cooks well. Even though she often over-seasons and cooks a little excess, I think I prefer food to be generally tasty and sufficient, rather than bland or not filling. Within our limitations of a tiny open kitchen with just 2 heating points on our electric stove, she did well.        
                                                                     
  3. She knows her place. And that is to just be the CL. Those who had experience with your parents playing this role, you should understand when I say that your mum will always be your mum, even if she can perform the roles of a CL well.

    Our one knew when to stop when things were not looking right, and when to disappear when she needed to, and that, I feel, is the X-factor that differentiates a good CL from the rest. I do not think it is acceptable if the CL should become the cause of any form of negative energy in the house. It certainly did not happen for us. However, this X-factor can only be known through the form of recommendations from friends, if you found your CL from an agent, this part will surely be a hit-and-miss.

So, there you have it. My very honest assessment of my CL, and a few pointers when you choose your own.

At the end of the day, both Li Li and Ellie were at their most vulnerable when she came, and emerged strong and well when she left. Nothing else matters.



Monday, November 3, 2014

Putting Food on the Table Linky: 8 Tips for Cooking Dads (and Mums)

Since Noah came, I have more or less taken over the job of putting food on the table. It's not always easy (don't get me started on the cleaning up part!), but the end result of watching my family tuck in happily is always a joy.

After nearly 3 years of churning out home-cooked goodness for my family, I realised even though it's still a struggle at times, I have developed a certain kind of momentum when it comes to making meals possible on working days, therefore, I am going to kick off this first ever linky on my blog giving some of my personal tips to cooking Dads (and Mums). Hopefully a couple of these tips will come in handy and make cooking much more of a breeze at home.

Some of the food I put on the table


1. EQUIP YOURSELF WITH YOUR FAVOURITE COOKING ASSISTANTS

This, to me, is the most important. You can have skills of a masterchef, but if you have pans that stick, spatulas that melt once they touch a hot surface or a blender that can never be cleaned properly, you will be frustrated in your endeavors to the point of giving up.

Therefore, when it comes to cooking, having great cooking equipment you are comfortable with is the key. Now this is extremely personal, but let me share what I have.
My 3 trusted kitchen assistants

I believe the 80-20 rule applies to most situations, and that includes cooking as well (80% of the food you cook will be done in 20% of the cookware you own). For me, my essentials are a good non-stick frying pan that holds a lot of heat (I use Scanpan, it's my best purchase ever), a soup pot and an oven. I now also have a claypot that I hope will work its way into my cooking repertoire. That's it!


2. DO NOT STOCK UP WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO EAT

The beauty of cooking at home is the fact that you know what you eat. Understanding this, the best way to ensure my family does not consume the things I don't want them to, is not to have them at home at all.

For example, I have never purchased MSG before, and I have stopped buying stock cubes. Sometimes my food might be a little bland, but not having these short-cuts force me to improve my cooking skills and use real ingredients to spike up the taste of the dishes next time.

One other thing I do not have in my kitchen is the microwave oven. I have no issues against the marvelous functions of it, sometimes I wish I had one too, but by not having it, I ensure I will not waste precious fridge space on frozen microwaveable meals. What's better than freshly-cooked food?


3. USE THE BEST INGREDIENTS

My cheat to churning out delicious food at home is simple - use the best ingredients you can find. It's difficult to define "best", but it's easy to define "fresh". Grab the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on.

For me, local seafood is still probably the best at the wet market, but when it comes to vegetables, meat and imported seafood, good supermarkets might have exclusive access to the higher-end suppliers.

Personally, I pay a lot of attention to the meat I have at home. Genuine "organic" meat might be hard to find, but I really do prefer meat from animals who spent their lives roaming around on their own feet eating things they are supposed to eat, which leads to the words "Kampung chicken" and "Free-range pork/beef". They cost more, but you can really taste the difference, and if you try hard enough, you will definitely find the most reliable suppliers in your area eventually. The folks in your home (that includes yourself) deserve it!


4. FREEZE FAST, THAW SLOW

Now that you have your hands on the best ingredients, it's time to keep them fresh for as long as possible.

For meat and seafood, freeze them as soon as you get home, but please know that you should NEVER freeze them twice. If you cannot finish using them at one go after thawing, keep them chilled and use them up as soon as possible, freezing them again is the worst decision you will ever make.

Also, the best way to preserve the integrity of your meat/seafood is to adopt the "freeze fast thaw slow" rule, freeze them as soon as you can, but thaw them as slowly as possible. Meat or seafood that is forced to thaw in water or in the microwave will lose some of its original textures. It's recommended you put the frozen ingredients you need into the lower level of your refrigerator one day in advance to allow it to thaw at a low temperature slowly, preferably overnight. Have some patience, it will be well worth the wait.


5. PLAN IN ADVANCE

As Daddies, most of us are working. We do not have time to visit the market everyday nor do things impromptu frequently. Planning in advance is vital, especially if we can only stock up on ingredients once a week. We do not have to plan everyday's menu in detail, but we need an idea of what we want to cook. Things that usually catch me off-guard are rice, flour, cooking oil, soy sauce and small aromatics like onions, garlic and ginger. It's frustrating to wake up early wanting to stirfry chicken to realise I have run out of shallots. Always try to check these things before 'marketing' and don't miss any essentials out.

On a daily basis, it's important to plan what to cook one day ahead. This makes sure we thaw the right frozen ingredients the night before (especially if you are following point 4). Waking up to rock-hard frozen meat is no fun.


6. DON'T OVER-COMPLICATE THINGS

I cannot emphasize this more. The nicest food is usually the simplest (some simple examples are soup and steamed fish). If you had managed to stock up on the good raw ingredients, you don't have to do much to ensure a table of healthy delicious food for your family.

The important thing is not to overcook your ingredients or over-season them. Let their natural flavours run the marathon for you. How to not overcook.... ah....... that comes with some heart, and practice, cook more and you will gain the experience required to shut the stove/oven at the right time.


7. UNDERSTAND WHAT KIND OF DISHES TASTE GOOD PRE-COOKED

If you are like me, waking up early frequently to cook meals for your family, you can help yourself by cooking dishes that will taste just as good (or better) cold or re-heated.

As a rule of thumb, this usually does not apply to fried food, as your family will likely eat them cold a few hours later which is really not optimizing your efforts.

Soups, stews and simple stirfries usually taste great reheated. If you plan to steam fish, I recommend you prepare the fish and ingredients on a plate for your family to steam them right before they plan to have their meal. It's a simple task. Reheating already-steamed fish will result in an overcooked fishy disaster.

If you are into pastas and salads, prepare the sauces and dressings and leave your family members to incorporate the sauces and dressings themselves. These dishes start to die once everything is mixed up, doing it way in advance is NOT recommended.


8. GET ENOUGH REST AND DON'T BE TOO STRESSED

Lastly, if you are cooking for your family, you are already doing a good job. The twice-a-week takeaway and occasional instant noodles will not kill you them.

I do not cook everyday too. Sometimes I just throw everything down and call for a pizza or bring my family out for a simple meal. Don't batter yourself over putting dishes on the table everyday. Get enough rest and don't be too stressed.

While I was preparing this post, it suddenly occurred to me that it is not often that a Dad's contribution to family meals is mentioned, so I have decided to initiate this linky, to encourage my fellow bloggers to share more on this aspect. I am sure a lot of refreshing points of view will be gathered along the way, so do stay tuned throughout November as more and more parent bloggers link up.

Meanwhile, pick up your spatulas and get cooking!






Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tips for parents handling toddlers alone on (multiple) flights

Last week, I made a trip not many Daddies will make, not because they cannot handle it (because I believe many can), but because they either will rather not take the risk, or will not be allowed to by other members of the family.

I took Noah back to Sarawak by myself. It sounds simple, but it's more complicated than it looks. There are no direct flights from Bangkok to Sarawak, taking the easy way out in terms of flight timing choices means I had to transit at KL via a famous budget airlines, which meant my luggage could not be checked through the whole trip. Furthermore, I had to visit 2 cities in Sarawak. It finally translated to a mammoth task of bringing Noah on a 5 day trip which involved 5 flights, 3 cities and more than 24 hours of travel time (including transit).


Noah extremely bothered by the loud announcements at the airport

Having brought Noah back to Bangkok in one piece, I think it should be time to share with other parents my personal tips to handling toddlers alone on such daunting trips.

1. Be fully prepared in advance, don't play games with time

To be extra cautious, I made sure every leg was checked-in online. I went to the airport early and once I got my boarding passes, went through the immigration and located the boarding gate without delay. I would rather reach the boarding gate and relax there with my child than to risk missing the flight if anything went wrong during another activity far away from the boarding gate.

Use the same airlines to complete your journey if possible, as they will be more willing to help you if anything screws up during transit (can also check the luggage through if not a budget carrier). If like me, you have no choice but to use a budget carrier over multiple legs, make sure you allow ample time (at least 3 hours) between flights in case your first flight delays. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Flight 1: Bangkok to KLIA2

2. Choose the right seats

Even though my son is 2, my budget airlines incredibly seated us apart for 2 of the 5 flights. This forced me to pay extra to ensure we sat together. This is a very big reminder to everyone taking budget flights, if you did not check this properly, you might have a lot of unnecessary negotiation to do on the plane itself. Not good with a potentially cranky kid in tow.

My other advice is to not have the child seated by the aisle. Firstly, an aisle seat could give him/her the freedom of getting off the seat and start walking along the aisle (not what you want if it is not your choice). Secondly and more importantly, I would not want to run the risk of him/her getting hit by an unknowing passenger or even the push cart along the aisle. It will also reduce the chances of him/her getting hit by a falling luggage from the overhead compartment to zero (yay).

Flight 2: KL to Sibu

3. Prepare a good carry-on bag

Try to spend some effort preparing a bag which contains all the essentials for you and your child. If you forget anything, don't fret, most airports will have shops to sell what you need (unless you forgot your passport or wallet of course). A simple checklist will be as follow:

- Passports
- Boarding pass (if checked-in online)
- Wallet (money, credit cards and insurance cards)
- Snacks
- Water bottle
- Pen (to fill in arrival/departure cards)
- Mobile phone
- 1 book for your kid (just 1!)
- Extra battery or power bank (you do not want to lose communication at any instant during the trip)
- Little toys (I brought a little car and a turtle soft toy)
- Carrier (if your toddler likes to be in it)
- Extra clothes and diaper (bring 2 sets if possible)
- Tissue and wet wipes

Flight 3: Early morning flight from Sibu to Kuching



 4. Travel light

What? After that bloody huge list I gave above?

Yes! I had everything in my slingbag and my bag did not weigh over 4kg. Note 1 missing item in the list, the laptop. The smartphone is more than capable of addressing our emailing needs and if you are going to be the one and only caretaker for your toddler throughout the entire trip, you probably will not have time/energy to be at your laptop anyway.

You need to travel light because your toddler is heavy, and if you have check-in luggage your hands are going to be full in between flights.

Flight 4: Afternoon flight from Kuching to KL, sleepy-eyed Noah snoozed for the entire hour and a half

5. Keep the kid well-rested, full and hydrated

As I have shared in a previous post about bringing a toddler for a staycation, I have to emphasize again the importance of keeping your kid well-rested, full and hydrated. Diet training can resume tomorrow. If your kid wants only fries, cookies and cupcakes, my suggestion is not to let them go hungry.

I was fortunate enough that Noah sleeps pretty easily on planes as long as he's tired enough. It kept him in decent spirits throughout the long journeys and I recommend that you do your best to find a suitable environment for your kid to sleep as well.


6. Keep an eye on your toddler at ALL times

I can never forget my wife's warning. In one of our discussions leading up to this trip, she told me, "We cannot afford to lose him."

I shuddered as I read it, and it reminded me to be extra vigilant. I am usually a very trusting person, but we really do not know the dangers lurking around the corners of international airports. Losing contact with your child, even for a split second might result in irreversible regrets. So my final reminder is that, your phone can wait, your messages and emails can wait, Mark Zuckerberg will always be there. Treasure every moment with your child and use it as a precious opportunity to build an even stronger bond with him/her. Don't lose sight of your kid, it's not worth it.

Flight 5: KL back to Bangkok. His worst-behaved flight of all, but it overlapped with his bedtime so it's understandable.

During the descent of our final flight of the odyssey, Noah suffered a major breakdown. He started wailing for Mummy and refused to sit on his seat and put on his seatbelt. All of a sudden, the plane went through a period of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced in a plane (trust me, I've sat in a lot). Noah finally relented and sat motionlessly in his seat, holding my hands tightly. After 10 minutes of roller-coaster style excitement and shrieks of fright from fellow passengers, I could finally catch my breath.

Impressed with Noah's great behaviour, I thought to myself, "Maybe this has been the very best training for Noah of the importance of putting on a seatbelt in the plane." Then I looked at him again, close-up. He had long fallen asleep! So much for the training!

In any case, I hope my experience will help you in some way or another. Just be prepared, and everything will be ok. Happy flying!


PS. Noah, if you ever get to read this, Daddy wants to say thank you to you for being such a great boy during this very tiring adventure. We could get through this more because of your good behaviour than my competence as a Dad. I hope our bond has gotten stronger along the way, and here's to many more father-and-son escapades in the future!



Friday, October 17, 2014

2 teddy bears warming Daddy's heart


Last night, I asked Noah to help me open a present my colleagues bought for Ellie on her first month.

It turned out to be a walker that's way too advanced for Ellie now. That's ok, because Noah can play with it in the meantime and not feel left out even though the present was not meant for him.

The cute walker happened to have 2 large adorable teddy bears bouncing up and down as it moved.

Interested to know which lady Noah likes, I cheekily pointed at the blue teddy and said, "This is Noah." to which he quickly acknowledged.

My subsequent question was of course, "Who is this?" while pointing at the pink one, expecting names like Ruirui, Aida, Ellie,Unna or even Mummy to pop out.

"Daddy. Noah and Daddy," was his shocking reply!

I couldn't describe my feeling when I heard that, still can't now. I just know I have to write it down before I forget about it.

Who says Daddy shouldn't wear pink? I am a happy pink Daddy Eddie!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The daily selfie with Noah

Since I took over the job of sending Noah to school, I made it a point to take a daily selfie with my dearest son, who totally cooperated with me, well, most of the time anyway.

It's been a really tough couple of weeks with him recently, with him battling the many changes of going to school, having an unfamiliar confinement lady at home, and of course grappling with the appearance of a baby sister.

I do not expect him to understand completely what's happening, but some days get really really bad.

The daily selfie compilation

After a particularly difficult night, I decided to make a collage of our nice selfies together, to remind myself that for every difficult moment, there are countless beautiful ones.

May today be a better day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Story of Ellie - A Tale of Gratitude

Now that little Ellie is back where she belongs, healthily drinking, burping, sleeping and pooping her days away, I finally have some time write a post for her.

Ellie!

If there's anything my nearly-3 years of parenthood taught me, it's that raising children is NOT just about the parents, far from it. In Noah's case, we thought we could get by with just the 2 of us and the help of my mum after delivery, but that didn't turn out too well, so this time, we really activated almost everyone we knew, near and far, to ensure a more comfortable path especially for my wife. Even then, the unpredictable nature of a newborn's health presented us with challenges we could not previously anticipate.

My poor baby, looked at her pocked hands, both of them were the same.

Less than 15 hours after Ellie's birth, she was diagnosed with Transient Tachypnea. From what I understand, it's a problem caused by fluid in Ellie's lungs, which affected her ability to breathe normally by herself without aid, especially during latching. It's not uncommon in newborns, especially those delivered via C-section before 40 weeks, nor is the condition serious, but it pained us immensely to see her all tubed up for a week, through the nose (oxygen), mouth (milk), hands and feet (IV and blood withdrawal). She also had to spend a few hours in the light box to get rid of her mild bout of jaundice.

This condition posed unexpected challenges for us. Li Li had to spend full days in the hospital when she should have been staying in the comforts of home during her confinement after discharge. I had to forgo many days of work when I already took many days of leave after  Ellie's delivery, and Noah had to spend virtually a full week in the hospital with us.

Now that this chapter is closed, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this more bearable than it really should be:


- My family in Sarawak, who miraculously managed to make a huge stash of brand new baby clothes (from Australia no less) and mee sua appear in my house, and also to keep some pretty serious news from my knowledge so that I could completely concentrate on what's happening here.

Thank you Dad, especially, sorry that I neglected you because I was busy becoming a Dad myself. I thank you for your strength and understanding. Rest more and smoke less, you will see us soon.


- My in-laws, who took turns to visit Bangkok right before Li Li's delivery to carry luggages full of goodies for us.

Especially my mother-in-law, who was here during crunchtime. Sorry that Noah did not give you an easy time, but we thank you nonetheless for being here when we needed you and ensured we had nothing to worry about at home. 

外婆 and Ellie!
- Our friends, especially Grace, who recommended a good confinement lady to us, Wendy, who took the trouble to do some last minute shopping in Singapore to allow Li Li to drink the most nutritious soups in the world at home, Junhui, who bought a stunning pair of sandals for Ellie even though he did not manage to see her in the end during his trip to Bangkok, and Frances, who recommended the hospital and OPD to us.

- My CG in Singapore. We have not been around for more than 4 years, but I know some of you prayed for us, and every single prayer counted.

- The team at the hospital (doctors and nurses included), who worked tirelessly to ensure both Li Li and Ellie recovered well. I can see your heart and love when you are working, so keep it up. I just hope you are paid as handsomely as the hospital you are working for!

Maybe the best nursery in Thailand!

- Noah, my first-born. Formerly the youngest in the family but now officially an elder brother. Thank you for behaving like an angel throughout the entire week in hospital. 

Noah slept with me on the sofa in Li Li's ward.
I did not expect you to understand the importance of your sister's arrival, but you did, and you did not make a single complaint, even if we had to spend time with her at your expense.

Yes, you are behaving out of character sometimes these days, but I am sure you will get used to the many changes at home soon and return to a settled routine like before.

Noah and Ellie
The love in your eyes when you hold Ellie is unmistakable. Daddy and Mummy are so thankful to have you with us.

- And finally, my wife, Li Li.

Sorry that I can never give you the ideal amount of assistance required, and thank you for being such a brave and strong Mummy, to battle through another difficult birth process to deliver our precious daughter. We are four now, and our family will be stronger because of it.



I would also like to thank everyone who is still reading this, for sharing my unforgettable parenting journey with me. 

Noah was named during the floods in Thailand in hope that he can be a blessing in his generation. Ellie means the light of the sun. 

With Noah and Ellie, rainy days and floods are no longer scary, and there's bound to be sunshine after the rain! 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What would you like to be when you grow up?

Even though the picture of Sakura (from the famous online trio, Ninjagirls) as a grass cutter seems a little too sexy to be true, her latest article had me ponder a bit.

When I was little, I was constantly being 'brainwashed' by my mum to either become a doctor or a lawyer (now doesn't that sound familiar), so much that it seemed like these 2 are the only respectable jobs in the Universe, and the only 2 that will serve as a benchmark to my success as a person and my mum's personal achievement as a parent. And as Sakura mentioned, it's not uncommon to hear parents using cleaners and grass-cutters as a warning to their children if they do not do well in school.

I have posted my fair share of complaints (and praises too) about Thailand on this blog since I came, but I will have to say that after being immersed in the Thai culture for a best part of 5 years, a lot of my perspectives have changed.

I get greeted a warm "Sawadee Krup" by the guards at my condominium, banks, malls whenever they see me.

Ladies of all ages clear plates at food courts with a smile, and toilet cleaners also look just as happy as their counterparts working in nice offices. This bodes well to the end result of their work too, most public toilets in Thailand are extremely clean, even those at petrol kiosks and small eateries.

More than half of my own staff held odd jobs before they joined me, even some of my more senior staff.

I see locals making a good living in ways that would likely be discouraged by most parents in Singapore/Malaysia. Some spend years as waitresses at the same little restaurant, some repair air-conditioners so well that the ended up forming a team of technicians which can serve as many as 6 households at one go, some lose their jobs and find a new lease of life selling grilled pork along the streets. One thing that stands out, is that even if life is tough, they will try to enjoy their work when they are at it.

I have to admit though, in spite of all this, I will not be the proudest parent if Noah ends up spending his life cutting grass and pruning trees (even though I sell brush-cutters and chainsaw parts myself), but I believe that there is beauty in every job, and to excel, you have to try your best and have fun while you are at it.

At the end of the day, 行行出状元, we must give due respect to every profession that adds value to the society.

No job is more important than another, and as long as my children are happy and making a decent living out of whatever they are doing, who am I to complain?