Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cute and weird and funny and quirky

I used to wonder how I would survive parenting when the children eventually all drop their naps. I expected the days to drag on miserably and leave me begging for bedtime to arrive sooner.

Surprisingly this new phase of parenthood has blossomed out beautifully.

On most weekdays, four-year-old Nathan goes to school. Which he absolutely looks forward to each day. While at home, two-year old Grace still naps for a good solid two hours.

You get the best of both worlds with two-year-olds as they need a nap on most days, but can also stretch and skip a nap every now and then.

On weekends, we sleep in and have a slow leisurely breakfast. And then we might head out to run errands or get groceries. Maybe round things off with a late lunch or afternoon tea. With Nathan lo longer needing naps and Grace being able to skip a nap sometimes, we can stretch the day longer as we no longer need to rush back for naps or time our activities around naptimes.

On afternoons when we stay at home, we establish a quiet rest time for Nathan. He does not need to nap if he doesn’t want to, but he can play quietly in his room while Grace (and the other children) nap.

Our Lego busy bags have been working beautifully for this quiet rest time. Granted they have evolved and been modified to suit Nathan’s own preferences and interests, but the basic concept is still there. And he always looks forward to this time when he can tinker around with them to his heart’s content.

I sometimes hear him talking to himself quietly in his room as he tinkers. But I don’t intrude as this is his own private play time. Though I often wonder what he talks about or what stories he weaves quietly to himself. Sometimes he shares them with me. Sometimes he forgets to.

One afternoon after rest time, I was greeted with this sight…

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It was so cute and weird and funny and quirky all at the same time. I just had to snap a photo of it. And share it.

Each one of the above characters he created above had a name. But for the life of me, I cannot remember any of them now. Nathan has a thing about giving almost everything a name. It’s a little hard to keep up with all of them. He even named our cars ‘Bluey’ and ‘Mister Grey’, and our house, ‘Housey’ (It reminded me a little of my brother who had a thing for naming everything ‘George’).

What cute or weird things have your kids come up with lately?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pretzels are easy to make

I haven’t shared a ‘play’ post for while here. But make no mistake that our days have been packed to the brim with play. We make it our everyday business around here.

Here’s one of our favourite books we’re currently reading:

Walter the Baker
by Eric Carle
(who also wrote the very popular children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar which I mentioned in this play post)

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It’s a fun and engaging story about the invention of the pretzel. Not a historical true account of events. It was simply retelling of a familiar tale the author heard as a child.

And the main lesson of the story I believe was about persevering through challenges.

Even seemingly impossible ones.

In the story, to avoid banishment our dear baker, Walter had to…

“Invent a roll through which the rising sun can shine three times
It must be made from one piece of dough
and most of all, it must taste good!”

After working all day and into the night, dear Walter finally did it (with some support from his loving family).

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At the end of the story, Nathan asked “Can we make pretzels just like the one in the story?” . I usually make it a point to try to find away to say ‘yes’ before I say ‘no’. So I said “Sure, why not?”.

The basic recipe for pretzels was surprisingly easier than I had expected. I highly recommend this one from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Everyone got their hands stuck in the action. Mixing. Kneading. Rolling. Twisting.

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Into the oven and out in less than ten minutes.

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Just in time for morning tea.

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We still had some pretzel dough leftover. So after twisting those up into pretzel shapes, I decided to try out the optional step of dunking them into a baking soda bath before popping them into the oven. This dunking step supposedly gives the pretzels their signature golden brown colour and classic pretzel taste.

This is what the pretzels with the baking soda wash looked like after baking.

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30 minute soft pretzels
(Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cup warm water
2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups plain flour (plus extra for kneading)
1 egg
Coarse salt for sprinkling

Directions
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Mix yeast in warm water. Add salt and sugar. Gradually add in 3 cups of flour. Mix ingredients together until well combined and thick. Add remaining 3/4 cup up to 1 cup flour until dough is no longer sticky. Press dough lightly with finger. If it springs back upon touch, you can begin kneading.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 3 minutes and shape into a ball. Divide the dough into 1/3 cup sections (or whatever your preference is if you prefer them smaller or larger in size).

Roll the dough out into a long even strip. To twist the dough into a pretzel shape, take the ends of the dough and hold them up into a ‘U’ shape. Cross the strips over each other then bring them forward and press them down into a pretzel shape.

Beat the egg and pour into a wide shallow bowl. Dunk the pretzel into the egg wash on both sides and placed onto a lined baking tray. Sprinkle with some coarse salt.

Bake in a 200 degrees Celsius oven for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on them as they bake fairly quickly depending on your oven or the size of your pretzels. You can leave them in slightly longer for a more golden, crisp top.

Enjoy!

(You can refer to Sally’s recipe for the optional baking soda bath step after shaping them to try out the effect of this step on producing the classic pretzel flavour and texture)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Magical Manukan

There are a few places from my childhood that still hold a special place in my heart. I call them the playgrounds of my childhood. These are the places that hold some of the happiest moments that still shine crystal clear in my memory to this day.

For years I’ve been wanting to make a return trip to this particular childhood playground…

Manukan Island.

I still remember the very first time I stepped foot on that island with my family.

I really believed I had stepped onto the most beautiful place on earth.

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I remember I walking along the newly constructed jetty for the very first time. I could still smell the lacquer on the dark wooden beams. I remember gazing in wonder at the crystal clear water below us. I could see right through to the coral reefs and the myriads of rainbow hued parrot fish, clownfish, butterfly fish, angelfish. I even saw numerous starfish and sea cucumbers lying on sand right at the bottom of the seabed. The white sand on the beach looked so clean and fresh.

We swam and snorkelled and played in the sand for hours until we got properly sunburnt. When we got hungry, we ran back to our picnic spot where my dad was barbecuing sausages and chicken wings for lunch. My mum was unwrapping the foil off the sweet potatoes, corn and fish they had cooked on the grill. The food all had the ashy taste of charcoal on them. But they seemed to add a unique extra flavour to the food.

Later that evening, we saw some local fishermen paddle up in their boats to show us their catch. I remember the green luminous florescent glow of the water under their boat as it skimmed across the waves. We looked curiously at the odd assortment of sea creatures they had for sale. Silver scaled fish which had a bit of a rainbow glint as the light shone on them, prawns, squid, octopus.

We spent the night in one of chalets on the island. I can even remember the raw feeling of my sunburnt skin rubbing against the sheets on the bed I slept in.

I have many other happy memories tucked away of trips to this island with other families and friends. All those memories are packed to the brim with roars, screams and shrieks of laughter. We laughed so much until our sides hurt and left us gasping for breath. Those are the best kinds of laughs. I still smile and chuckle now when I remember the silly jokes that set off those laughs.

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I know for a fact now that Manukan Island is not actually a world class island destination. There are probably hundreds of other islands around the world that can lay better claim on that title.

But in this corner of my mind, this island is the most beautiful in the world to me.

It’s been over fifteen years since I stepped foot on this island.

There was no disguising the weather-worn look on the jetty. The water had lost some of it’s sparkle and crystal-clear purity. The coral and fish were decidedly more sparse. The beach was scattered with more bits and debris than what I remembered.

I grudgingly had to admit that the place had lost a bit of its magic. Or was the difference just me?

This time round, I returned with two new little playmates.

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I concluded that for the most part, the truth is:

We bring our own magic to a place.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Same. Yet older.

So earlier this month, my youngest brother finally tied the knot. And after ten years, we finally took a sibling group photo together (the last time being at my own wedding).

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NB: The long interval between my wedding and his is not in any way an indication of how old I am. It’s more likely an indication of how young I was when I walked down the aisle. Or maybe more likely an indication of how OLD my brother is at his wedding.

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It’s a big thing trying to wrap my head around the fact that my youngest brother is now married. In the same way I felt at my other brother’s wedding, I am faced with yet another new dimension of this person I’ve known almost all my life I now have to reconcile with.

I still have the clearest images in my mind of him as a chubby, dimpled, bright-eyed little baby. I relished my big sister role with a baby brother to ‘mother’. I remember running after him, bowl and spoon in hand. feeding him rice porridge… reading story books out loud to him… trying to lift him up to carry him on my own (but not quite succeeding).

With the baby in the family now married off, it definitely marks a whole new era for our family. Almost like hearing the sound of the final thud of the door of our childhood shutting behind us.

We’re all grown up.

Sounds pretty heavy doesn’t it?

The truth is, it’s difficult to put a finger on the exact moment when the growing up happens.

I keep flipping up and down between the two images above.

Trying to pinpoint what and where the differences are.

We look the same. Yet different. Older--maybe.

But when did it happen? And how?

I asked my parents this question before:

“When you look in the mirror, do you actually feel older?”

And they tell me:

“I feel exactly the same inside as twenty, thirty years ago…”

That’s how I feel too. When I look at the person staring back at me in the mirror. I don’t really focus on how much more intelligent or prettier or capable that person is. I just see: me. Just me.

So as I look at this picture of my brothers and I, that’s what I see too.

Just us. Three.

S.S.P.