On a certain weekend morning, FBB wanted to paint.

That is usually not a problem in and of itself.  He paints frequent enough in school and at home, and he knows what to and not to do with paints.

Except this time, BBM is also around.  And she has never painted before.

I put the 3-sizes-too-big Hello Kitty art smock (gift–don’t ask) on her, made sure FBB put on his own smock, set out the paints, brushes, and paper, and went on to do the dishes.

paint on the face

paint on the face

This is what I saw when I was done:

Paint on the face!  Thank goodness for non-toxic, water-soluble tempera paint!

Oh, and just when I thought FBB is old and responsible enough with paint, he showed me his hand:

FBB's painted hand

FBB’s painted hand

He can wash his own hand, thankyouverymuch.

Duct Tape Crafting

I bought some fancy duct tape, wanting to make crafts with FBB.   I was not happy with the way he stores paper bills in his (coin) bank, and the hand-me-down wallets he has received thus far are too… classic (read: old) for a 5-year-old. So, one Saturday afternoon, I decided to make a duct tape wallet with him.


Truth to be told, it was mostly my work.  He got bored by the precision required rather quickly.  Instead, he used the scraps and made his own craft.




Modelling Dough, Part Deux

After I published the previous post on playdough making, I found a recipe for homemade version of Crayola’s almost-mythical Model Magic via The Artful Parent:

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 1.5 cup cold water
  • Food colouring

Combine, heat over medium-low heat, stir until consistency of mashed potatoes.  Transfer to mixing bowl, covered with dampened kitchen towel to cool.  Sprinkle cornstarch on surface and knead in food colouring.

The recipe doesn’t seem to keep as well as the regular playdough though, so I won’t send this in to school the next time it’s our turn.  I’m pretty sure it’ll come in handy in the next–oh, 10 years or so–time we need a cheap air-dry clay.

Playdough Time!

Playing with homemade playdough

A few weeks ago, FBB came home with a teacher’s request to make playdough for their class.  (Understandably, with so many kids, they want fresh playdough every week.)  I signed up, and today was our turn to provide the weekly playdough supply.

His teacher provided us with this recipe:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 tbsps of vegetable oil
  • food colouring

This is a no-cooking recipe.  Just combine everything except the food colouring in a mixing bowl, then knead in the food colouring.

I vaguely remember many other recipes I saw online use cream of tartar as well, so I decided to use one of those recipes instead.  Here’s the one I ended up using:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of water (I used cold, filtered water)
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp of cream of tartar
  • food colouring

(So basically half of the recipe above, double the water, plus cream of tartar.)

I tripled this recipe, mixed the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, transferred into saucepan, added the liquid, cooked over low heat–and constantly stirring with a silicone spatula–until the texture was right.  Then I divided the dough into three parts for different colours.  (His choice, of course.)

If I were to make this again, I would switch from cold water to warm/hot water.  I would also switch from using food colouring drops to Wilton cake dyes for more intense colours–I used at least 15 drops of red and it was still a long way from the intensity I wanted.

Since FBB’s play dough have long since dried out, he wanted to save some of the fresh dough at home.  To keep the kids (or at least BBM) away from the stove, I set up a playdough playing station with our silicone mat and let them play with the still-warm-to-touch playdough.

Although no one in his class is Celiac/gluten-intolerant, I found the following gluten-free version as well:

  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1.5 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Food colouring

Happy playdough modelling!

[Update] Here’s a better version and instructions I found via The Artful Parent, which I’ll use to make the next batch:

  • 5 cups water
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2.5 cups salt
  • 3 tbsps cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsps vegetable oil
  • food colouring

Mix water, salt, cream of tartar, and food colouring. [Note: I still prefer to add food colouring at the end, just because I want to make smaller batches of different colours instead of one big batch of a single colour.]  Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring regularly until hot.  Add oil.  Stir in flour one cup at a time, stirring in between each addition.  [Note: I’m sure this technique gives better consistency.]  Mix until playdough pulls away from pan and is no longer sticky (pinch it between fingers to test).  Let cool on counter, then knead.

Preliminary Diet Trial Run

I decided to give slow-carb diet (as made famous by Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body) a trial run this week.

My system is admittedly not 100% slow-carb-proof, yet it is simple to follow.  Namely:

  • Have a low-carb protein drink for breakfast.  (This I already do, mostly because mornings are usually pretty busy.  The only difference is I will switch from water to almond milk to make the shake more filling.)
  • Substitute all instances of milk with unsweetened almond milk.  (This I already do, since I hate cow’s milk.  I might try to make my own almond milk when I have time, but the cartons are fine.)
  • Skipping all sweeteners to tea or coffee.  (I like my tea black, so that’s not a problem.  With coffee, I can do it with a lighter roast.)
  • Skipping all sweet drinks and desserts, including juices.  (Not much of a problem; it’s not part of my regular diet.)
  • Avocado or a handful of unsalted nuts for snacking if needed.  Or, just have another protein shake.  (Stocked.)
  • Avoid–or at least lower–fruit intake.  (I don’t completely agree on Tim Ferriss’s experiment with fruit juice and extending the claim of negative effect to all fruits.  I’ll limit my fruit intake and stick to whole fruits.)
  • Perhaps the biggest change of all–substitute rice/noodles with lentils or black beans.  (Conducting trail run this week.  I already know I like black beans enough, but I want to try lentils because black beans are a little more bloating.  Plus, lentils it looks closer to actual rice.  Unico brand canned lentils worked, but I’m trying to stay away from too much canned food, so I’m trying dried lentils next.)

That’s the beauty of (southern) Chinese cooking–the dishes are mostly slow-carb already, so one only needs to take the rice out of the equation and replace it with a slow-carb like lentils or beans.  I’m not going to fuss about the tiny amount of gluten in soy sauce, the sauce slightly thickened with corn starch, the trace amount of sugar used in seasoning, or the fact tofu is on the “bad” list because of elevated estrogen.

(Note to non-Chinese: we don’t eat soy sauce by the boatload.  The amount we–at least my family–regularly use in a dish shared by 4 people is less than what I see some random white guy add to an already-soy-sauce-laden dish in a Chinese restaurant.  Of course, the same guy would then go on to complain about Chinese food being full of MSG–even if none is specifically added to the dish or the condiments used on the dish, MSG is a naturally occurring of the fermenting process of soy sauce.)

I think what I’ll miss the most in this diet (outside of cheat days) is chocolate.  So I just have to make sure I pick a tasty chocolate flavoured protein shake!

Stroke… and Counting Our Blessings

My grandmother–my only living grandparent–had a stroke on Saturday.

She was extremely lucky, and she is extremely resilient.

Lucky, because it happened in broad daylight, while she was in a public place (grocery shopping, to be exact) with my mom.  Someone called 911 for them, and she was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital immediately.

Lucky, because when it happened, there was one person standing next to her.  She fell onto the person on her left instead of hitting the ground or the shelves.

Lucky, because her stroke affected her left side of the body, from arm and down.  She never lost consciousness or speech.

Lucky, because even though she was having a bad case of flu since last week and was on Tamaflu, she was tested negative for H5N1.

Lucky, because all her living children have moved to Toronto–and none of them nor their spouses have full-time, regular 9-5 jobs.  All but two of her grandchildren are also in Toronto.  My brother in Seattle arrived on Sunday evening; my cousin in San Francisco is coming on Wednesday afternoon.  Everyone is collaborating and coordinating the effort to provide the best support to her hospital stay and recovery.  We’re talking about 4 hour shifts here.

Lucky, because despite the relatively big size of the blood clot (2-3″), she was put on tPA treatment, and her body responded to it positively.  By Sunday, she has already regained some motion on her hand, and limited gross motor skill on her left leg.

Resilient, because she insisted she didn’t have a stroke, and fully believe she was hospitalized only for the flu.

Resilient, because when she was told they would take away her NG tube if she proved she could eat a jello, she chowed it down in seconds.

Resilient, because when she was asked to walk (with the aid of a walker), she was told to slow down–she thought they’d discharge her earlier if she proved she could walk.

We don’t know what will happen next.  We’re fighting against having her stay at a rehab hospital: she has shown minimal loss of ability; she doesn’t speak English; rehab will be farther away from everyone’s home than her home; it will be less flexible.

Grandma, I know you won’t read this, but I still have to say,

We all love you.

Why We Won’t Enrol Our Son in YRDSB’s French Immersion Program

Our beloved son FBB is in SK. I have been contemplating enrolling him in French Immersion.

Since he is currently in a Catholic school, in addition to whether to enrol in French Immersion or English stream, we also have the choice of enrolling him at either the Catholic or public system.

(Both Catholic and public school systems are 100% government-funded.  They operate as separate entities, and, as such, sometimes have different philosophies and different policies.)

Obviously, the English public school has been ruled out on the day we enrolled him in the Catholic system.  The sole reason we originally put him in Catholic school is because the school is closer to home.

We attended the information session at the Catholic French Immersion school last month, and the public French Immersion school last night.

Right after we walked out of the school door last night, we agreed to rule it out.  Here are the reasons why:

  1. Catholic board policy states, when one student is in the French Immersion school, all siblings are automatically accepted at the school and, more importantly, even the siblings not in French Immersion program still have school bus rights (we are far enough to get bus).  Public board has no such policy to keep siblings together.
  2. In our particular area, the public French Immersion program happens at one school for grades 1-3, and a different school for grades 4-8.  Both schools are far enough for us to get school bus.  Since our kids are four years apart, they will almost never be at the same school–even if both are in French Immersion.  For all we know, the kids may have crazily different school bus schedule.
  3. The Catholic FI school has 2 FI classes with about 17 students each, and 1 English class with about 12 students.  The grade 1-3 public FI school has 5 FI classes alone, plus 2 English classes.
  4. Perhaps partially related to the difference in school sizes, the staff at public FI school feels more rigid and less friendly than the Catholic FI school.  The parents at the public FI school’s information session also seem more of the aggressive, helicopter type.  I think I sniff the scent of a few tiger moms as well.
  5. The Catholic FI school has a LEGO robotics after school club. 🙂

We still aren’t sure if we will enrol him in French Immersion.  All I know is, he won’t be in the public system next school year.

Dot Dot Dot… Grid?

I’ve been experimenting with notetaking with different types of paper lately.  I found the standard ruled paper stifling, yet blank pages are too intimidating. Graph paper feels a little more in-your-face, yet paradoxically, despite having more lines, seem less confining for writing English.

(For writing Chinese, the cases for graph paper and ruled paper are reversed.)

But the one style of paper I found most is liberating is dot grid.  The lightly-coloured and small dots offer a little bit of structure, while remain highly unobtrusive.

Unfortunately, dot grid paper or notebook is not half as easy to find as the other three types.  I experimented with some of the free graph paper generator online, but there is usually this ugly watermark I don’t want for paper I write on every day.  Besides, I want my paper to be 2-up on a US Letter size, since I want to be able to make a booklet out of the printed grids for easier carrying.

What’s a programmer to do?  Write a program, of course!

My first Google search with “Ruby” and “graph paper” led me to Prawn.  I ignored everything not related to generating a paper with dots in a square grid, then experimented with it.  [Github commit of 1-up dot grid]

A few iterations later, I found myself with a (slightly) more generalized collection of functions, allowing me to generate dots in both square and triangle grid, as well as ruled (both ways) and square grid graph — in any paper size and partitioned in any n-up way.  [Github commit of n-up dot grid] [Github commit with n-up ruled, graph, and triangle dot grid]

Heck, I even experimented with dot grid with the number of dots in Fibonacci sequence.  [Github commit with Fibonacci sequence]

As of that state, I it has all the core functionalities I wanted, but using it still require editing the script with the right parameters for the function calls — a clumsy way to use a program.

So, after a bit of code clean-up, I changed the script to use command line arguments and options.  Oh, and I added README.  [Github commit with command line options]

Now this is a tool I know I will continue to use, but only infrequently.  The rudimentary built-in help will be vital to refresh my mind the next time I use it.

Year of Horse Outlook

January 1 of 2014 has come and gone. Many people have set (and some probably already failed) their new year resolutions.

I haven’t.

It wasn’t as much a problem of finding potential resolutions. Everyone can resolve to better health by ways of weight-loss, exercise, diet and the whole shebang–there’s always room for improvement. A lot of people wouldn’t mind making their financial outlook a little brighter by debt reduction, earning more, and increase savings. Self-improvement is also a big thing; many want to learn a new skill, language, or knowledge, or improve one they already know.

I could pick one or more from these areas and call it a day. I may even get bonus points for setting concrete, measurable goals.

Yet, I haven’t.

I haven’t set any resolution, because December is always a hectic time to properly reflect on the year. By the time January 1 comes, I feel ill-prepared to set a goal for that new year.

Contrarily, January is often a slow month, giving ample of time to reflect and plan.

I’m Chinese.  I will turn 36 in 2014. Chinese believe in 12-year cycles; this year with mark the start of my 4th cycle. I decide to start things anew.

(Oops, did I just tell the whole world my age?!)

I am starting my New Year Resolutions on Chinese New Year.

While CNY always falls on a different (Gregorian) date, it has this neat property to always fall on a day between late January to February. And, as I’m surrounded by plenty of extended family, I don’t have to the luxury to forget about it.

(I suppose I could use a more defined date and system, like the Groundhog Day Resolution chosen by my productivity hero David Seah. But watching groundhogs trying to find their shadows is nowhere as fun as receiving red pockets!)

What’s In Store for Cindy in the Year of Horse?

This is the first year of my personal cycle.  Aptly, the theme of the year is Renewal.

Here are my 3 goals:

  • Health: Lose 20 lbs of fat — This is pretty self-explanatory.  Losing 20 lbs of fat will bring me closer to my pre-baby body.  I’ll post more on how I plan to achieve this.
  • Financial: Start a new business in 2014 and find 3 paying customers — This needs more reflection on the WHAT.  And more hustle for the HOW.
  • Intellectual: Write 4 programs/applications for each of 12 different programming languages — One language for each month; one program for each week.

Here are a list of new habits I intend to form:

  • Exercise every day.  (“Off” days will still have active recovery.)
  • Floss my teeth every day.  (Hey, don’t judge.)
  • Keep a journal.  (The perfect excuse to buy a Moleskin?)
  • Practice copywriting every day.  (I’ve come to believe copywriting is a very versatile and transferable soft skill .)
  • Work on business for 1 hour every day.
  • At least one code push to github every day.

I still have another 20 days to flash out the detail, such as what exercise and diet regime to follow (or experiment), how to perform exploration on the business to start, which programming languages to learn, defining the cue/anchor for each habit, etc.

No Shawl for Me!

The Wisteria Arbor Shawl I kept trying and failing was frogged last week.  After too many frustrated attempts, I decided to switch to the Japanese Garden Shawl instead.

The pattern was nice, but again, I ran out of yarn on Saturday.

I thought about frogging and reknitting with less repeats, but finally gave up–the yarn was just not cut out for shawl-knitting.

As a result, I’m still shawl-less.

While I was still struggling with the shawl, FBB asked me to knit something for him and something for Daddy.  He didn’t know I have already started knitting the red train from the Land and Sea Playset from Knit Picks.

The truck is still UFO though, as I realized I only have 1 week left before nieces Jessie and Kelly leave for the whole summer.  I’m trying to crank out a skirt (from the Sheepy Time Knits Skirt Collection) for each of them.  These should knit up really fast, as I don’t plan to get fancy with them aside from edging.  In the mean time, I have to decide is whether to make the second skirt in the same or different style–sibling rivalry is a tricky business.

I’m only at waist + 3″ on the first (bigger) one; hopefully I can finish them on time.