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Thoughts from helping with homework

J-’s schedule is pretty packed these days: homework, high school applications, and the occasional extracurricular (karate or yearbook). We compensate by making time to help out. She learns a lot more with guidance than by floundering on her own, and she works more independently as she gains confidence and skill.

Right now, she’s working on her Media Studies homework. Their task is to analyze a commercial and create a multimedia response to it, identifying the marketing strategies that food companies use. The multimedia commenting tool was a little frustrating in the beginning, but she’s starting to get the hang of it. We helped her figure out some of the intricacies of the tool, and we helped her refocus when she was getting distracted. Now she’s planning her comments so that she can record things smoothly.

I’m getting better at helping without getting impatient. Sometimes it’s difficult. I bite back suggestions. I remind myself that the purpose of the exercise isn’t to come up with the best results, or to learn a lot about behavioural psychology and marketing. The exercise is so that she can become a little more aware of the marketing strategies that try to convince us to buy things, and so that she can learn how to learn about a new tool.

We provide a little scaffolding. We walk through the tutorials with her. We give her some suggestions on how to edit and trim her drafts. We help her get over the technological humps. The end product must be completely hers, though, because it’s much better to have an average result that she feels she truly owns than an excellent result that she feels confused by.

We’re also trying to help her learn how to manage her time and energy. Like many people, she shows frustration and elation clearly in her face and in her posture: slumping when she runs into problems, brightening up when she solves them. The odd thing is that both are self-reinforcing states. It’s hard to solve problems when you’re tired and unhappy; it’s easy to deal with life when you’re happy and energetic.

A very useful trick is that of knuckling down and doing something even when you’re feeling blah about it. If not that, then redirect your energy into something that will help you keep moving forward. You can lose a lot of energy to the friction of frustration, or you can use that energy to take the next step.

J-’s slowly learning the value of choosing her response to work, I think, and that’s a tremendously useful lesson. So we help, but not so much that the path is smooth. A little striving is good for learning.

Stories from our trip: Furry caterpillar

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From October 7: I skittered across the pool in the opposite direction from the floating divider and the furry caterpillar I glimpsed. It had huge hairs sticking out of it, which sometimes means major irritation, which means me being far away. W- was unperturbed. Amused, even.

"I think I’ve figured you out," W- said afterwards.

"Oh?"

"Yes! You: Furry cat? Okay. Furry caterpillar? Not okay."

I nodded.

"Jelly? Okay. Fish? Okay," he said. "Jellyfish? Not okay."

"Now that you put it that way, it makes a lot of sense."

Image © 2007 zenera, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License

Back from the Netherlands

We were in the Netherlands from May 3 to May 10 to celebrate my sister’s wedding. I still have to sort through all the pictures and sketches, but here are some highlights:

Seeing Keukenhof again: My sister and her fiancé timed their wedding so that we could catch the spring flowers at Keukenhof , which has hectares and hectares of tulips and other blooms. My family and I had been there before, when I was in high school. W- had never been to Europe, so it was his first time for everything. Taking up gardening myself

The wedding: We had a small civil wedding ceremony in the gazebo in Agnietenberg, a campsite in Zwolle. Kathy wore a white terno (full-length dress with butterfly sleeves) beaded and decorated with hand-painted blue tulip appliques; a fusion of Philippine and Dutch cultures. John wore a suit. I wore the red dress I sewed myself. =) I’ll link to photos when they become available.

Moments that made me laugh:

  • Seeing the world’s tallest ringbearer get pressed into service (Mathew filled in for the actual ringbearer, who was late)
  • When they celebrated the end of the wedding ceremony with the Hallelujah chorus
  • When my dad got flustered reading the witnessing statement in Tagalog and ended up putting in all sorts of other things

Den Haag: We visited W-’s friend Dan in The Hague and we had a lot of fun catching up. In the evening, we rented bikes from OV Fiets and headed to the beaches near the North Sea. The Netherlands’ biking life made me so envious: separate bike lanes going practically everywhere, rental systems, flat terrain, garages with grooves in the ramps, locks integrated into bikes, and the freedom to bike without worrying too much about opened doors or inattentive drivers…

Geek: One of the advantages of being a geek is that most people appreciate getting tech support. We don’t do this on a regular basis for family or friends, but if we happen to be in the same country and we have some time on vacation, why not? =)

Dan had warned her husband that we were both geeks and that we were not allowed anywhere near the computers or even the microwave, because we might reprogram stuff. We ended up looking into their WiFi router, writing down the password for them and their future guests, and setting the BIOS settings on one of the computers so that it could recognize the printer that was on LPT1. (Smart IO chipset for the parallel port! Gosh.) Most of the interfaces were in Dutch, but we figured it out. We also fixed up Auntie Katharina’s computer, but that’s the next story.

Germany: We were hanging out in John’s house in Zwolle, and Auntie Katharina mentioned she’s been having problems with her computer. My parents had been planning to get Auntie Katharina a new computer for a while, so that she could talk to them using Skype. Day trip!  After much back-and-forth, we convinced Auntie Katharina to let us go on this adventure. (After all, W- had never been to Germany, and it would be so nice to visit Wiesbaden again, and…) So we piled into the car, rushed back to the camp, packed our suitcases and backpacks, and headed off to Germany. (Don’t you just love being able to take a day trip to a different country?) We bought a laptop from the Media Markt near Auntie Katharina’s house, visited her son and her grandkids, then headed over to her place to set it up. Then it was a long drive back to the Netherlands for a short nap before W- and I took the train to the airport. That was definitely cutting it close, but we made it!

Shanghaippy birthday, John Grimme! Recipe: Lumpiang shanghai

John Grimme, my sister’s fiance, celebrates his birthday tomorrow. (Well, today already, given time in the Netherlands.) He gets this bad pun because of his deep love for lumpiang shanghai, and because I’ve decided to get lots more drawing practice. =) Makes me wish I thought of making birthday illustrations like this earlier! Oh well, I’ll just have to do some drawings for other family members on other occasions.

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He probably doesn’t need this recipe, but here it is for other people who are curious.

Lumpiang shanghai

These ingredients can be changed quite a bit. Experiment!

  • 500g ground pork (fat is okay)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • a few cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spring roll wrappers: look for packages with photos of golden-brown deep-fried delicacies on them if you need to be sure, as rice wrappers don’t work as well as the other kinds do
  • egg, beaten (for sealing)
  • plum sauce (for serving)

Mix everything but the egg, the wrapper, and the plum sauce in a large mixing bowl. Test the seasoning by frying some of the filling in oil until the pork is cooked, then tasting it. When the filling tastes good, make the spring rolls.

Take a spring roll wrapper and spread it on a plate or saucer. Put a teaspoon of filling slightly below the wrapper center, in a long finger-width line. Leave space on either side of the filling so that you can tuck the ends in. Fold the near corner of the wrapper over the filling. Fold the sides inwards. Moisten the far edges of the wrapper with some of the egg, then roll up your wrapper until you reach the end, rolling it as tightly as you can.

(*Optional: Wash your hands, browse the Internet for a video on how to make it, then get back to making lumpia.)

Make as many as you can until you run out of wrappers or filling. If you run out of wrappers first, you can turn the rest of the filling into meatballs or little patties. If you run out of filling first, you can use the wrappers for other fried goodies.

If you want to freeze any of the lumpia, you can do so now. (When Tita Gay came over for our wedding, we made well over 300 pieces of lumpia. Everyone had all the lumpia they could eat, and we enjoyed the extras for almost a month afterwards.)

When you’ve made a batch of lumpia, heat 1-2 inches of oil in a frying pan until a piece of bread sizzles or until the oil smokes. (This is why we don’t make lumpia often – frying can be  scary!) Fry the lumpia a few at a time, turning or rolling them so that they cook evenly. Avoid overcrowding them, and give the oil time to heat up again between batches. Lumpia is done when it turns crispy and golden brown. Let them drain on paper towels or in a strainer, and break one open to test if it’s cooked inside. If it is, eat the evidence. Stop yourself from eating more. Fry up another batch. Test those for quality, too. Remember to leave some for your guests.

Serve warm, with plum sauce.

Cats: 0, toilet paper monster: 1; also, ArtRage and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

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One time when I came home, W- showed me the picture he took of a toilet paper trail going to the laundry basket. The cats refused to testify, but this is what I think happened.

W- says the other drawing I made of Neko(cat)’s favourite positions for sleeping might be too personal, it being set in our room and all. I said Cat versus Human does it. He said my blog isn’t Cat versus Human. Which is true, because Cat versus Human is awesome and even has a book coming out, but not inarguable. I didn’t break out the persuasive techniques we learned about in “Thank You for Arguing,” though. Instead, I’ll tease you with the captions:

  • The Pillow Hog
  • The Balancing Sphinx
  • The Chaperone
  • The Heat-seeker

People who know Neko (our oldest cat) or who have cats of their own can probably figure out the rest.

I’m playing around with Artrage Studio Pro to see if I like it. I think I get more value from it than from a new laptop battery. Putting my computer into hibernation mode before moving between the kitchen and the living room adds maybe a minute; not a big cost. Being able to draw with 16 million colours and infinite erasures – now that’s something real. It makes drawing a whole lot more fun. I might give the Autodesk SketchBook Pro trial another spin, too. It might be better for pencils and clean illustrations.

Drawing is a great way to remember, particularly for things I’ve forgotten to take photographs of or for which I’ve lost the files. My stack of blank index cards is dwindling fast, and sketches pile up on my bedside table. This is fun. =)

Quick comparison with SketchBook Pro:

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Smoothing is more controllable in Artrage, and I should check out the flood fills in that program too. I do like the pen gestures in Sketchbook Pro, though, and I’m sure they’ll be a lot more convenient with experience. I’m going to practise drawing in both some more. Who knows? I may even get both, if it turns out that they exercise my brain in different ways. =)

Coconut buns and the economics of home awesomeness

Sometimes making things at home is cheaper than buying them. Sometimes it’s more expensive. For example, the batch lunches we prepare and freeze come out to $1-$3 per meal, labour included. They’re definitely worth it compared to eating out. The coconut cocktail buns (pan de coco?) I spent this weekend learning are cheaper at the store, but they were still very much worth making.

We followed a recipe from an book that W- had bought from a pastry store in Chinatown a long time ago. It was a different way of making dough. The first step was to mix yeast, warm water, and flour. I was a little nervous in the beginning because it was more of a slurry than a paste. Once it rose and I combined it with the rest of the flour, it was beautifully dough-like, made smooth and elastic through kneading. After several rounds of rising, I filled it with the coconut mix, wrapped the dough around it, let it rest some more, then popped it into the oven for 15 minutes. The result:

Coconut cocktail buns

The buns were scrumptious. Not too sweet. Complex taste. Yummy yummy yummy.

I had a lot of fun making the buns with W-, playing around with the voice and mannerisms we’d picked up from a Julia Child video. I also made some pie crusts for Pi Day (March 14). W- filled the first pie crust with lemon meringue. I sewed up some tea towels from the fabric that W- helped me pick out, and those passed their field test. We salvaged some wool scraps from one of my bins and repurposed an empty paper salt shaker into a dice roller for J-’s math study sessions. It was a great weekend for maing things.

We spend a lot of weekend time doing things ourselves: cooking, baking, sewing, fixing things, even woodworking during the summer months. Some of things cost us more in terms of time and money than we might spend on functionally equivalent alternatives, but we get a surprising amount of value from these activities. For example, baking coconut buns results in yummy coconut buns (for which a reasonable equivalent can be bought for a little more than a dollar each), but the activity is also:

  • intrinsically enjoyable for us
  • a way to develop skills
  • shared relationship time
  • an opportunity to create or build on in-jokes
  • an opportunity to strengthen other relationships (friends, neighbours)
  • a way to reinforce and express our shared values
  • a good reason for a blog post =)

So although baking buns takes time, it actually pays off better than many of the other ways I could spend weekend time, such as:

  • reading
  • watching movies (borrowed from the library, but still passive)
  • programming or working (important to invest time into relationships; doing well in programming and working at the moment, I think.)
  • writing, even

There’s a reasonable limit to how much time I would spend on baking or making other things at home. I don’t want to mill my own flour (just yet). I think I’ve got a decent balance right now, and I look forward to picking up more as I get better and more efficient.

Am I trading off, say, more brilliance at work, or racking up income through side-hustles, or becoming more famous through writing? Maybe. But this is good, and all of those other aspects of life are pretty okay (even awesome!). Life is good.