28. December 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues

Better write up a quick post before it completely slips past the both of us! We had a small stack of presents pilled under the tree this year, most of which were for our girl – and from her uncles/aunts, small group friends, nanny etc.

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Most presents are tightly wrapped up with sticky tape, so Hannah needed some help from us to get them opened. The series of pictures below was after we helped her peel/pry open the side of one such present. This one’s from her nanny – and it’s clothes.=)

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Her favorite present this year came from her Aunt Jas – a little prayer book, that Hannah’s now taken to carrying around everywhere she goes.=)

Another year almost zoomed right past us already! Time for my annual reflection on what went well and what didn’t. Starting off with the toys first then the others:

Olympus E-PL2 (Win): This was a relatively minor upgrade from the old E-PL1 with gains largely in autofocusing speed for me. Still, I thought it was as a good time as any to trade-up before the resale price of the E-PL1 dropped any further. Olympus has released a whole range of new models in both the E-PL and PEN series that offers a bunch of new nifty features, including even faster AF and touch-screen focusing (tried it out on a small group friend’s unit and loved it!). Then again, there’s also the just released Sony NEX-7 which is really tempting. Should I jump ship?!

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Dpreview remarks: “…the NEX-7 offers the finest still image quality of any APS-C camera, bar none.” Dreadfully expensive though with limited range of lenses.

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 (Win): The new E-PL2 got quickly married to what many regarded as one of the best lenses around for the micro four-thirds standard – the Lumix 20mm f1.7. I paid a small sum of money for it, but since its purchase in July this year, I’ve rarely touched the E-PL2 kit lens again. I’ll say 99.5% of all my pictures taken since July on the E-PL2 was using this 20mm. It’s really that good.

Motorola Atrix 4G (Win): This was my zero-dollar upgrade for 2011, and by virtue of that fact, surely a ‘win’ decision in itself already.=) The phone uses a mammoth battery, and I can get through a day at work with semi-heavy activity easily without recharging. Amazing performance for an Android smartphone. Unfortunately though, I just discovered that the phone might not be receiving an upgrade to Android 4.0 – a major bummer. When my mobile plan contract expires next April, I’m going to look around for the next zero dollar upgrade and see what’s available.

Apple iPad 2 (Win): A reluctant ‘win’, and only because of my dislike for the fruit company. Drab-looking UI and zero customization short of jailbreaking the thing. But I got to hand it to the App Store. There’s really a lot of apps, and when you’ve got the AppZapp app loaded onto it, you get a lot of normally paid-software free too. Still, if iOS does not get a major facelift with the impending iPad 3 or iPhone 5, I’ll be dumping the iPad the minute an Android 3G quadcore tablet loaded with 4.0 becomes available. Ling though did get me an Asus Transformer EEE pad for my 40th birthday earlier in the month, but it wasn’t the 3G model – which pretty much crippled the device out of our door for me. I ended up selling the EEE pad away to fund Ling’s Xperia LOL.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V (Win): Ling looks like she loves the phone. Just got to make sure she charges it every night!

Staycation @ Capella Sentosa (Win): Simply put, the most luxurious property we’ve yet stayed. Amazing room, view and hospitality – to the point that we were contended to just stay in the hotel room and not venture out during our three day staycation.

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Capella staycation: Hannah approves!

Staycation @ Naumi Hotel (Mixed): This was a somewhat disappointing stay. We paid nearly as much as our stay at Capella (the Sentosa hotel rates were supposed to be higher even) so was expecting quite a bit. What we got was great hospitality, a very comfortable bed, huge room, and lovely buffet breakfast – but also what we thought was a colorless room, non-existent view, noisy surroundings, and spotty housekeeping. So, unlike the Sentosa staycation, the room wasn’t nearly as interesting. We ended up spending most of our time out of it.

The Minton (Mixed): This was our Purchase of the Year, and pretty expensive when it’s more than SGD1.3 million. We were at a cousin’s housewarming event on Christmas Eve. Their new place was a 28th floor unit at Clover by the Park. It was a larger unit than ours (with three balconies!), amazing view that we could even see The Flyer and Marina Bay Sands, and they paid less than we did. Sigh. Whether the decision was the best one we could make is still too early to call i.e. in the worst case scenario, Hannah fails to get into the very school we bought this apartment for.

Next year, 2012 – and we expect Hannah to start getting real assertive! =(

While Hannah has been with us for 2 Years 6 Months now, we’ve only really celebrated our first family-Christmas this year, with trees, home decorations, stocking, and presents and the like. Hannah (of course) received the most presents, followed closely by Ling, and me – far behind. Oh well. I’ll leave Ling to blog – maybe – about Hannah’s reactions to the presents she got and supplement it with my usual pictures and videos.

For this entry, it’s about one of the two presents I got Ling, and it was this:

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blogbirthdayIt’s the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V, and Android equipped smartphone. Ling’s Samsung phone was more than two years old now. It’s still an amazingly beautiful non-smartphone. Reliable, crazily long battery life, and alluringly and eye-catchingly pink in color (right).  Unfortunately, Ling has mused, or maybe she was just dropping outright big hints in my direction, that she’s been feeling a little out of the loop when our small group, Salmon Run, goes all loco on Whatsapp messages.

I wasn’t going to get her an iPhone 4S – that much was certain. So I looked around for a bunch of Android smartphones that met my criteria: a) midpriced; b) small; c) with Android 2.3.4, or the most stable and recent Android build short of the upcoming Ice-Cream Sandwich OS that’s only starting to be available. I did my usual comparison spreadsheet, and concluded that…

LG Optimus Black: Slim, attractive design, mid-priced, pretty good display, but pretty big;

HTC Wildfire S: Great build quality, suitable size, mid-priced, but slow processor and relatively low-resolution display with a small screen.

Samsung Galaxy Ace: Suitable size, mid-priced, but what I felt to be pretty plasticky build and relatively low-resolution display with a small screen.

I was pretty settled on the LG Optimus Black until I found that Sony Ericsson had an Android model that had an equally contrasty-display with higher resolution to boot even, and all for an even more affordably price-point at the shop I was going to pick it up from. Checking it out at the Sony Style shop at Tampines One proved a relief; the phone was light and the 3.7 inch screen made the display resolution of 480×854 look even sharper. The build itself is mostly plastic and the back case will attract fingerprints easily, but the device felt solidly made nonetheless.

So, I picked it up on Christmas Eve and installed (in secret) all the social networking software that Ling has been pining for before surprising her on Christmas Day with it. Surprisingly, while the Xperia Neo V is a single-core processor smartphone compared to my Atrix’s dual-core, the Xperia feels a lot more fluid and responsive, even when I’ve got live wallpaper loaded onto it. Weird. Maybe it’s how Sony has optimized its own UI overlay on-top of Gingerbread.

Oh well; Ling was thrilled with it, and she said she suddenly feels very ‘liberated’. Wait till she starts getting all the Whatsapp spam.=)

And oh yeah – the other present she got from me was a pencil case stuffed with nearly a dozen red, blue, green and black pens – for her return to full-time teaching starting next MON.=)

19. December 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags: ,

We’ve been reading to Hannah every night before bed but just today decided to try varying the activities a bit. Ling got her an activity book and glue from Popular Book Store (Ling quips that the Popular Membership card is super worth it, given the ton of stationary and children materials she buys from the book store!), and has been giving it a go.

The series of pictures tells the story. Our girl still can’t fully handle the picture sticking on her own, but with some help from Mommy can just about do one or two.=)

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What the pictures here don’t tell though is that just earlier on in that very day, Hannah had super-stressed out Ling with her continued bawling. i.e. she cried over lunch, over her bath time, over her nap, over when Ling was trying to prepare dinner etc.

I got back home from work to find a very red-eyed Hannah and a weary looking Mommy. For the next half-hour had to sit our girl down and ‘psycho’ her to give Ling an easier time. Hannah at least went up to Ling thereafter, said “Sorry Mommy, no more cry-cry’”, and actually sounded very sincere.=)

We didn’t start Hannah on watching kiddie television programme until very recently when I bought her a couple of veggie tales DVDs that were on sale. Hmm, this wasn’t intentional but perhaps we didn’t want her to become addicted to TV shows or cartoons at her age of development.

Long story short, Hannah has begun to enjoy YouTube videos on children’s songs. Two of her favourites are:

I went online to order a customised video on learning the alphabet for Hannah too. Yang told me that I got conned for the price I paid. Anyway, we enjoyed the video thoroughly and Hannah wanted to watch it a few times on a daily basis. And she could recall the story for each letter with amazing clarity. The secret? Her photo is in every story of each letter. Other aspects which attracted me to acquiring this video are the use of a different classical music (mostly) for each letter, interesting story line for each letter, simple and cute illustrations and pleasant, child-friendly narrator voice. Below is a short clip of the customised video.

Whenever it comes to planning meals for my family, I would get into this crazy nutrient-balancing auto-pilot mode. And if a new recipe is a one-dish meal (& deficient in certain nutrients), I tend to tweak the recipe in order to include all the 7 classes of nutrients, namely:

1) Carbohydrates (mainly from starchy plant foods, e.g. rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles, corn)

2) Proteins (preferably from meat and fish)

3) Fats (this is my least worry as it is often found together with meat and fish)

4) Vitamins

5) Mineral salts

6) Dietary fibre

7) Water

Although certain vitamins and mineral salts are present in meats, others are only found in plants. Hence, I must have at least 1 green vegetable and 1 fruit (preferably rich in vitamin C) to make the meal a balanced one. Dietary fibre is only found in plant foods and the amount varies depending on the type and part of the plant eaten.

While Yang enjoys Mac & Cheese, I’m just so-so with it. Perhaps the thought of eating macaroni (loads of carbo) with cheese (plenty of fats) doesn’t excite me. However, I decided to give the dish a shot after browsing a mini cook book for toddlers recently. I happened to be in a creative mood. :)

Below is my recipe – an attempt to make Mac ‘n’ Cheese a somewhat nutritionally balanced one-dish meal for my family.

Mac 'n' Cheese - hot from the oven!

Ingredients (for 2 adults & 1 toddler)

  • Butter – 4 tbsp
  • Flour – 4 tbsp
  • Fresh milk – 450 ml (can be replaced by formula milk)
  • Elbow macaroni – 150 g  140g
  • Broccoli – 6 florets, sliced
  • Carrot – 1 small stick, peeled and grated finely
  • Fresh corn on cob – 1 cob, kernels sliced off
  • White button mushrooms – 200 to 250 g (or 1 tub), with dirt brushed off and sliced
  • Bacon (lean) – 3 strips (about 150 g), trim off excess fats and cut into small pieces with a pair of scissors
  • Grated cheddar – 80 g (or 4 cheddar sandwich slices each of 20 g, broken into small pieces. I used President’s.)
  • Finely grated parmesan – 5 tbsp
  • Ground pepper – dashes
  • Optional seasoning: Italian dry herbs / Cajun powder – dashes
  • Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

Method

1.         Preheat the oven to 200°C.

2.         Cook elbow macaroni

  • Add macaroni and a pinch of salt into a pot of water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes or until al dente.
  • Drain the macaroni and set aside.

3.         Stir-fry vegetables and bacon

  • While the macaroni is being cooked, heat up some vegetable oil in a heated wok and stir-fry the broccoli, carrot, corn kernels and mushrooms until the mushrooms begin to sweat.
  • Add bacon and stir fry until it is cooked.
  • Dish up the vegetable mixture into a bowl and pour the remaining liquid (this is salty) into another bowl. (If there’s no liquid left, it is fine.)

4.         Make the cheese sauce (Mornay sauce)

  • Rinse the wok with tap water and use a paper towel to wipe dry.
  • Using low heat, melt butter in the wok and add flour stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes to make a smooth paste (roux).
  • Add milk a little by little, stirring constantly, to dissolve the roux to make a smooth sauce.
  • Once all the milk has been added, continue to stir until the sauce is about to boil.
  • Once the sauce starts to boil, remove from heat and stir in the grated cheddar cheese to dissolve. (It is alright if some cheese bits are still visible.)

5.         Add the drained macaroni, vegetable and bacon mixture, pepper, 1 tbsp of the reserved liquid (from step 3) and optional seasoning into the cheese sauce and stir to coat all the ingredients with the cheese sauce.

6.         Transfer everything into a heatproof dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Lovely...sprinkle with some Parmesan before popping it into the oven :)

7.         Bake in the preheated oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes or until the top becomes golden brown. Serve warm.

Update on 19th Dec 2011: I have made some adjustment to the recipe (see red print) after tonight’s attempt. 150g macaroni was too much for us to finish and so I reduced it by 10g. And the addition of corn made the dish even more delicious. :)

Note:

The bacon could be replaced with other meats such as minced chicken, minced pork or fish (e.g. threadfin, cod and salmon). Alternatively, you could omit the meat altogether. I tried one vegetarian version using broccoli, tomatoes and egg plant. :)

Multi-colours! Good phytochemicals for the body :)

My bowl of vegetarian mac & cheese :)


We headed down to Marina Bay Sands for a look-see on the third day of our Staycation. Funny how that as Singaporeans, we’ve not gone by earlier to check out this absolutely monstrous construction that is supposed to sustain our island’s economic and tourism drives.

Truth to tell, the place is visually impressive at least. While walking about in the MBS shopping areas itself, I remarked to Ling that when we’re in a Singapore mall and can’t easily spot the local staples like Bata and Popular Book Store, the mall is definitely in a different league altogether. The prices for the ground floor foodcourt (Rasapura Masters) were equally representative with their marked-up prices well and above typical foodcourts too.

The view from the Sands Skypark was impressive, and we got pretty good views of the commercial business district. We’d deliberately gone by in the very late afternoon at about 1830 hrs-ish, and stayed until early evening to get contrasting panoramic compositions.

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A view of the city and Marina Bay Reservoir; stitched together from seven images with the D300.

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The Central Business District at about 1910 hrs.

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Suntec City and the start of the Helix Bridge. It was starting to drizzle lightly, so this was a really quick shoot and run composition!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The cantilevered platform looks like an inverted half-banana.=)

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Panoramic stitch using the f1.7... handheld.=)

Larger versions to be uploaded soon to Flickr.=)

Well, even if our stay at the Naumi was only so-so, at least the three of us had a fabulous time exploring downtown Singapore. Hannah wanted to check out all the Christmas trees in the vicinity!

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Not easy to take family pictures, so we grab every opportunity possible!

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The two floor high Christmas tree at Suntec city.

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Hannah wants to be fed at Thai Express!

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Evening at Suntec City; colorful light-up.

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Walked over to Chijimes to check out the lights too.

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She still isn't always able to brush her teeth on her own, despite what the picture might suggest.

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Playing with festive decorations at the hotel lobby.

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Our room had a rocking chair that Hannah was fascinated with.=)

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At the Children's Collection at the Central Library on the second day.

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Tucking in at the Sin Swee Khee Hainan Chicken rice. The eatery was situated right beside the hotel.

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Outside our hotel. She's getting heavier at 15 kg!

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We let Hannah choose dishes at the Paradise Inn restaurant @ Suntec City. Nah - just kidding, but the fare there was marvellous.

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We take turns to carry her for pictures. This one's at the main entrance of the Suntec City.

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At the hotel's breakfast buffet. Her entertainment consists empting out the condiments container and laying out sugar sticks in triangular formations.

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We had the entire infinity pool to ourselves - only because we were the only jokers to try swimming in a cold early morning!

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Taking the train from Orchard to City Hall station. She had an allergic reaction to the plasters on her arm. Hopefully they don't leave scars.

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Having a late afternoon snack before we headed out to Marina Bay Sands on the third day.

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Hannah can roll her tongue - but neither Ling nor I can.

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At the Sands Skypark. Very windy up there!

Panoramic pictures next!

13. December 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Traveling

blog-pano-06We thought long and hard about whether to take Hannah out for her first short vacation nearby overseas this month as I’d managed to take a stretch of a few days off work, but barely a fortnight before its start date decided not to. So, in the spirit of the year, we went for a second Staycation – this time in the town area.

Six months ago, one hotel was listed on Tripadvisor as Singapore’s best; and it was a little boutique hotel along Seah Street (where my grandparents and parents stayed for years), called Naumi Hotel. The hotel’s rating has dropped from #1 to about #5 or so since June, but still remains easily in the top-ten hotels in Singapore. Many of the reviews note the hotel’s five star-ness, very friendly staff, and laid-back setting.

So we decided to give the place ago, plunking down for a Corporate Suite (our memories of Capella @ Sentosa was still very fresh, and we wanted a similarly large space for Hannah to roam around in), with the per night rate about SGD430 including taxes and such.

Three nights later, we’ve got very mixed feelings, with Ling a little less forgiving of the hotel’s quirks than I am. Here’s the quick run-down of what we felt worked, and what didn’t work for us. Starting off with the former:

Very friendly staff. No doubts there. Everywhere, we were greeted warmly. Staff was very responsive too, from the point in which we made the reservation, all the way till check-out.

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The living area of our Suite.

Very spacious room. So big it almost felt a little empty!

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The most comfortable hotel bed we've slept in - ever.

Super-comfortable bed. We actually toyed with the idea of removing the entire bed linen and copying down the brand and model number of the bed, and buying it for our new place!

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Marble-tiled bathroom

Very small hotel of just 40 rooms. No screaming kids, no Singapore families pushing and shoving at the buffet spread, no long check-in’s like a new condo-launch queue (as compared to the Tripadvisor scathing reviews of Marina Bay Sands’ check-in). We took our time at breakfast, enjoying its wonderful spread and the wait staff’s amazing hospitality. Someone pointed out too that the the check-in staff was the same person who’d help you with the luggage and the same person who waited your table at the restaurant. We liked it – true multitaskers. We recognized many staff by face (though not their names) by the end of our stay.

 

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The view should be normally better than this. It was a really cloudy mid-morning.

Infinity pool all to ourselves.

On the other hand:

Furniture and setting really looks worn. This was noted in many reviews, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad. The furniture really looked tired, and truth be told, our Corporate Suite’s setting looked drab and almost depressing with those shades of brown. More ambient lighting and wall fixtures would had really spruced the place up.

Bad soundproofing. This was also noted in many reviews, and it’s bad. We can hear persons along the corridor, and on several other occasions, sounds of doors slamming, what sounded like furniture moving about, water rushing down pipes etc.

No view. Maybe it was that our Suite was the third floor. But right outside our room was one of those 1940s back alley where we can spot shirtless uncles going about their business of the day. We took one look on the first day and saw enough. The curtains remained closed for the rest of our stay.

Missing a few amenities, e.g. no welcome fruit basket (Ling expected it), no newspaper delivery to the room, no baby toiletries (Capella had a full suite of these and even a baby bathrobe laid out for Hannah). Complimentary mini-bar had gassy drinks; a couple of juices would had been great.

Housekeeping was inconsistent. This was Ling’s biggest gripe. Firstly, we’d expected an extra towel to be in the room as we’d indicated that we had a third guest in the room (Hannah), but this wasn’t there when we checked in, so we had to call housekeeping for one. On the third day, we returned to discover that housekeeping had removed Hannah’s used towel without replacing it. Handtowels were also not replaced on the third day. Used cups weren’t cleaned properly. The bed cover was removed and haphazardly thrown into the wardrobe. Right behind the long sofa in the about 20cm gap between its back and the curtains was a lost sofa cushion (all dusty now), and the gap area was terrifically dusty.

And one final incident really struck in our mind. On the third afternoon, a staff member rang our door bell twice fairly briskly, waking up Hannah from her afternoon nap. Before we could get to the door, the staff had already opened it.

Emergency? You could call it that; the staff asked if she could come in to spray the room with insecticide! Oh my. If you were at a hotel where a staff member had to come in to spray insecticide, something is seriously amiss. We declined the offer, only because we were still in the room!

In all; Ling was not impressed. As for myself, I was more disappointed. If it wasn’t for the friendly staff and that we had a generally laid-back stay, Naumi Hotel would have rated a three star experience. We really did expect better, since the room rate wasn’t that far off from what we paid for at Capella at about a hundred less per night, but this was really not anywhere near a luxurious five star experience. We both agree that this was a four-star, and Ling had to think carefully if it was even at that rating.

Oh well. Next Staycation, I’m going to get us the Mandarin Oriental.=)

Me, not her. =(

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Well, at least Hannah loved the cookies and cream/mango ice-cream cake Ling got me. And she got me the Asus EEE Android tablet. Now I’ve got two tablets and no clue how to juggle between them!