Using as a reference our annual family photos taken during the Lunar New Year, it’s fun to watch how we change over time. Not the adults mind you, but the kids. My oldest nephew is now so tall at just 14 that he’s nearly at his dad’s height. Hannah is also fast closing the height gap with her cousin, and this year too, we had Peter in the pictures as a new addition. Too bad he looks a little sickly with the return of mosquito bites he suffered over the last couple of days.

Funnily, post-first days of CNY, Hannah, Peter and Ling are all down with varying degrees of illness. Peter and Hannah have got mild colds, and Ling is down with mild fever too. The weather has certainly been odd for this time of the year, with the cold front lasting longer than normal. It’s been quite dry – it hasn’t rained for a week now – and yet relatively cold too with evenings for the last week now hovering at 22-23 degree celsius lows.

Like the last year, the Nikon D7000 stayed at home, with the two micro four-third cameras pulling all photographic duties. The family pictures below were taken using the 17mm f1.8, and stepped down to f4.0 offered sharpness that was almost scary.

Just a few days ahead of CNY and heading out early morning for her school's CNY celebrations. The lift lobby at our home was actually quite dim, so some post-processing in Adobe was required to lift out details.

Just a few days ahead of CNY and heading out early morning for her school’s CNY celebrations. The lift lobby at our home was actually quite dim, so some post-processing in Adobe was required to lift out details.

Hannah in her Cheongsam on the first day of CNY. She's carrying a little Panda bag ("To hold all my ang pows!") that a visiting friend from the US brought along last year.

Hannah in her Cheongsam on the first day of CNY. She’s carrying a little Panda bag (“To hold all my ang pows!”) that a visiting friend from the US brought along last year.

Hannah with her favorite cousin. Her dress looks like it still has some space to grow - perhaps still wearable next year.

Hannah with her favorite cousin. Her dress looks like it still has some space to grow – perhaps still wearable next year.

Most of the family, excepting my younger brother/SIL - who is out of the country. Peter was struggling!

Most of the family, excepting my younger brother/SIL – who is out of the country. Peter was struggling!

Our yearly CNY picture. Peter is still struggling to break free.

Our yearly CNY picture. Peter is still struggling to break free.

In a red polka dot dress, and visiting a Minton neighbor's home.

In a red polka dot dress, and visiting a Minton neighbor’s home.

Next year at this time will see Peter just over a year and a half-old, and Ling should be able to dress him up in little boy clothes then.:)

It’s the end of another year, and Ling was asking just the other day when I was going to do another one of my end-of-year review of our big ticket and asset decisions in 2013. To be fair, we’ve kept the decisions that cost a lot of $$$ somewhat minimally this year, given the large expenditures we’re projecting for 2014 i.e. home renovation. Looking through the list, we had a large number of interesting (or just fun) purchasing decisions though mostly still relatively small purchases. Going with the list again in chronological purchasing order…

Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 (Win). 2013 was the year where I picked up a number of micro-four-thirds lens, all of which turned out to be great purchases. The first one in the year was the 25mm f1.4, which is closest the m4/3 standard has to a ‘standard’ focal length reach. The lens focuses very quickly, and has become one of the two main-stay lenses for my two m4/3 cameras. The only issue I can think of – and this is really being creative – is that the lens makes an odd soft squeaky sound when it focuses. And er, that’s it.=)

Panasonic-Lumix 14mm f2.5 (Win). This lens normally comes bundled with an earlier generation Panasonic m4/3 cameras, and lots of people were selling the lens out of the bundle for cheap on eBay. In terms of focal length, the lens is redundant since it’s covered by several other kit zoom lens already, but as a semi wide-angle and very compact prime, it works great. Attach it to the E-PL6 and the form profile is small enough for the camera to be pocketable. I don’t use the lens as much, favoring the 25mm and 17mm, but it’s still a win because of how cheap it was.

Billingham Hadley Pro (Win). My luxury camera bag for this year, and the last messenger-styled bag I’ll need for a while. The bag normally costs a lot when purchased here and nearly as expensive even through Amazon stores. For some odd reason, the bag is much cheaper in South Korea, and after assuring myself I wouldn’t buying an imitation, I picked up one through eBay. The bag has accompanied me for all of this year’s Minton shoots from March, and it holding my two m4/3 bodies, several lenses, filters, and a camcorder.

Olympus 75-300mm II (Win). This lens is a consumer-grade long zoom lens – as compared to the f2.8 equivalents which cost twice as much – and an improved model over the earlier generation lens of the same focal length range. I picked it up locally mostly for the Minton pictures. There’s some very slight perceivable loss of resolution and image degradation at its longest focal, but with the 2X crop factor, it’s a pretty cheap way to reach up to 600mm.

Zojirushi Bread Maker BB-HAQ10 (Win). The first of three presents I got for Ling this year, and I’m one of the main beneficiaries of it! I’ve been able to enjoy home-baked bread in the form of packed lunches to work, though Ling is quite concerned with the flour-intake when she bakes an entire (small) loaf for me to finish in a day.=)

Olympus 17mm f1.8 (Win). The second of my preferred lens for m4/3s. Robustly constructed, focuses very quickly and reliably, and nicely balanced between offering both a very slightly wide-perspective, and also capable of subject isolation when used wide-opened. I picked up the silver edition of the lens, and it looks gorgeous when attached to the similarly-colored E-PL6.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah's hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Pictures like these are why good prime lenses are worth every cent.

Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Win). The fifth and last m4/3s lenses for 2013. The lens is a small telephoto prime and while it doesn’t quite have nearly the same kind of reach as the 75-300mm, it’s a fast prime. The lens has allowed for some very nice close-ups of the two kids with plenty of subject isolation. The focal length also lets me put some distance between myself and them too, and Hannah is also less self-conscious as a result for it too.

Viking E20 Sewing Machine (Win). Ling’s birthday present this year. She hasn’t blogged about it yet though, but she’s already sewed a dozen baby bibs for Peter. She mused that these bibs sell for $15 each. This could easily become an alternate source of income if she ever decides to churn these out like a sweatshop.=)

Olympus E-PL6 (Win). The best sensor that Olympus has created in a smaller body. Handling is quite different from the older E-M5, the mode dial is fiddly, and you don’t really get to use the full 3 inch screen when previewing RAW images. But the camera allows for selfies and was picked up for cheap. Both the E-PL6 and EM-5 are in my bag whenever we’re out as a family.

Samsung Galaxy Note III (Win). A new phone that came out of my renewal of a teleco plan this month. Snappier and looking more gorgeous than the earlier generation device. I was considering numerous devices to upgrade to – including the LG G2 and the even humungous Sony Xperia Z Ultra – but none of them offered the stylus.

Google Nexus 7 (2013) (Win). Not an easy decision here as there are so similarly sized tablets. Among them included the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 (nearly bought this because of its stylus, but did not because of the comparatively low-resolution screen), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 (low-resolution screen – ugh), the LG G Pad (ideal size, high resolution, metallic back place, but no 4G/LTE arrgggh!!), and the new iPad Mini Retina (but didn’t want another iPad). The updated Google Nexus 7 won out in the end, given how reasonably future-proof it is, low-cost, great screen, and that it’s such a popular device that custom ROM developers have been churning out builds for it like no tomorrow.

Krups Dolce Gusto Circolo (Win). Ling’s Christmas present from me, though we’re again both beneficiaries. We’ve been enjoying gourmet coffees every evening now, and are gonna try the entire range of brews over time. The machine is one of mid-range models in the popular line of coffee makers, and is for the most part well-reviewed by purchasers. Interestingly, a couple complained about the apparent lack of full automation, but I actually appreciated that you can control the amount of water you’re using when brewing each cup.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

That’s it. Happy 2014.=)

If there’s one thing I dislike about living in this part of the island, it’s the amount of dust that gets blown around the house. When we first moved in our current home, we actually had a routine where we’d mop the house twice a week. The frequency dropped down to once a week, and before long – or rather when Hannah came along – we finally engaged part-time help to clean-up the place every two weeks, which isn’t nearly enough. The worst hit room in our home is the workroom too, since that’s the room where we do all our work, and all our computers and notebooks, book shelves etc. all are – all potential little pocket areas for dust to accumulate.

The computer equipment isn’t spared. My current desktop is a heavy-duty ensemble I put together 4 years ago, but in the last two, have been starting to get real cranky with intermittent failures. Opening up the casing alone reveals layers of dust and dust balls aplenty. The most serious failure was earlier this year and caused by the video card accumulating so much dust and gunk in its intake fans that it no longer was able to dissipate heat properly, causing the desktop to crash repeatedly.

Initially, I’d intended to assemble a new desktop PC when we’d projected we’d be moving to The Minton by the end of this year. That got delayed, but I stuck to the new PC project timeline nonetheless. Most of the PC’s key parts were picked up during a Sim Lim square outing this afternoon, but a couple were bought separately: the new SSD drive was from Amazon a month ago during the Black Friday sales, the Dell 27 inch monitor is currently at my workplace, and the blu-ray drive is still somewhere in delivery.

Here’s the outcome several hours of work later:

desktop

All my harddrives are labeled with masking tape with information on manufacturer, capacity, and month/year of purchase. Makes it easy for me to see which drives are nearing end-of-life and needing replacement.

Like the 2010 desktop, I didn’t go for broke in picking up the best equipment possible. I went with average components, since I mainly use the computer these days for work, image and video editing. Here’s the outlay:

Corsair Carbide Series 400R MidTower: Well-reviewed midtower casing with 6 internal and 4 external drive bays.
Asus H87-Pro + 4670 3.4 LGA1150: A reasonably-spec CPU and motherboard with sufficient USB 3.0 ports. Unfortunately, the motherboard supports slightly less SATA connectors than the last desktop. Looks like I’ll have to pick up a SATA expansion card soon.
Cooler Master Hyper 212x PWM CPU Cooler
Western Digital 4 TB Green 64MB 5400rpm: more storage for cheap for me to keep backups of backups.=)
Crucial Ballistix 1600 MHz CL8 (16 GB): a bit excessive for today’s normal usage, but more RAM is always good when I’m doing video-editing.
CoolerMaster V750S 750W 80+ Gold: this was one component that I didn’t scrimp on.
Dell S2740L Monitor: budget large-screen monitor
Palit GTX760 2GB: average-spec video card
Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 250GB SSD: bought for cheap from Amazon
Corsair AF120 Quiet EDT 1,100 RPM 21dBA: an additional fan mounted on the top of the casing

Oddly speaking, the motherboard still doesn’t play nice with the Probox enclosure I use for a couple of external harddrives. Basically, none of the drives will properly mount when connected with USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 works fine though). I experienced the same difficulty with the old desktop, which leads me now to wonder if it’s an issue with the enclosure than the desktop itself. That aside, the new desktop works great – I’ll put it through a couple of torture stress tests soon and see how the configuration works out.=)

 

Ling was sharing a story that she posted on Facebook just this morning. Conversations with Hannah again.

H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: To cool us down when we feel hot.
H: Orh.
H: It can also blow my hair dry.
Mommy: Yup.
H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: No more already.
H: No, it can also blow the mosquitoes away so that they won’t bite me when I’m sleeping at night.
Mommy: Oh, okay.
H: *giving me a cheeky grin*

It might just be a thing about young children, but they sure are fond of saying or pointing out the most obvious things! Or maybe she just likes an audience, and goes about chatting to everyone who is around her, and to herself when there are none within earshot. To be fair, we’re of mixed feelings here. On one hand, we’re thrilled that she’ll go out of her way to engage with us. On the other hand, we wonder if she’s just a little too friendly and without restraint! On a couple of occasions now when we’re out of home at shopping malls, she’ll bring along Disney character stickers, and give them out to other children she walks past. And we’ve observed before too that she has no compunctions telling others off when they do things she believes to be wrong – like shushing other children in the public if they make too much noise around her and if Peter is trying to nap in his pram. So far we’ve not had angry glares from irate parents in return yet, but who knows.=)

And of Peter; we were again reminded last week how quickly stronger he’s grown compared to Hannah at coming to six months old. It often takes the both of us to apply his facial creams to deal with his drool rash, and when we’re arm carrying him, he’ll continuously struggle to break free – and we’ve found ourselves having to exert a lot of energy just trying to keep him from tumbling off our arms. I guess it comes down to gender; many parents have shared before how more energetic baby boys are compared to baby girls. I imagine how different we’d be feeling if Peter had come first before Hannah – we were would be appreciating how much easier Hannah is to carry than her brother.

Several more pictures too taken over the last fortnight, including on my birthday.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall - Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall – Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah's hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah’s hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall - she enjoys dressing up!

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall – she enjoys dressing up!

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R' Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday. I'm a little tempted to get this for her - it's really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which are quite educational.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R’ Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday.

About the latter – I’m a little tempted to get the Tab 3 for kids for Hannah – it’s really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which seem quite educational, and it helps that the tablet comes with parental controls for accessibility and the like – e.g. to control usage. Hannah enjoys her gadgets time, but at least she doesn’t pine after them too much, which at least removes my concern about addiction to these toys if we were to get her one at some point later.

Ling has all but given up trying to find the right gadgets when it comes to my birthday. There was this occasion when she bought an (expensive) electronic shaver, that on my first try using it, turned my chin into a bloody mess. Not long after that, and knowing my love for mobile devices, she did thorough research and got me an Asus Transformer TF101, that very well-received tablet when it was released in 2011 – only that she got me the Wifi-only model which basically limited what I could do with it outside home. Lesson learned, so she said – so she got me a non-electronic and very useful notebook backpack for this year’s present to replace an old that has got frayed all over the edges.

I still love my electronic toys though. So, in the last week, I picked up two Android-based devices: the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and also the new Google Nexus 7.

The Google Nexus 7 in hot-pink, and the Samsung Galaxy Note III.

The Google Nexus 7 in hot-pink (that was the only available case color left), and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

I’ve really liked the Samsung Galaxy Note series, owning the first two generation devices. And while other competing mobile phone manufacturers have come up with similarly themed and styled phablets, none have come with the built-in digitizer and stylus support that the Note series have – a feature that I use a lot e.g. when jotting down notes that come to mind. Hannah loves doodling on it too. My contract plan with the telco was up for renewal, so that was opportune time to get the new phone on discount.

The new Note certainly has a nicer build than the Note 2. It’s slightly thinner, lighter, less rounded around its edges, and with its faux stitched back really feels nicer to hold. The bumped up resolution is a bonus though at my typical view distance holding the phone, I really couldn’t see that much of a difference. The Note 3 also has an enhanced feature suite for the S pen, though I found it intrusive – I prefer to just use the stylus for simple writing – that I disabled most of the new pop-up features. The device on the whole also feels snappier and quicker in doing most things, exhibiting none of the occasional sluggishness I got on the Note 2. This was an easy upgrade choice.

The Nexus 7 on the other hand was a much deliberated purchase, especially considering I already have a Motorola Xoom 2 that was picked up from clearance sales when it was getting phased out more than a year ago, and also an about year old Apple iPad 4 Retina. The iPad 4 is still working well and survived the iOS upgrade to version 7 recently – but the device also weighs a ton that of late that I’ve found myself using it less when on the move. Once the iPad Retina breaks, I’ll go with the iPad-mini instead. I’ve also been quite keen to try one of the custom ROMs that have been put together by the thriving Android developer community. This wasn’t quite possible for the Xoom 2 – OS upgrades from Motorola for this tablet has been quite disappointing, and the device is now stuck permanently on Android 4.0 – the device though still works great for Hannah, so I’ve got it loaded up with lots of her usual cartoons.

After picking up the Nexus 7 LTE over the weekend and taking the next few days to become familiar with its functions and quirks, I went about rooting, unlocking the device, and installing a custom ROM on it. The procedure wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hope though. The version of the custom recovery software I flashed into the tablet didn’t play nice with the ROM I initially wanted to try. And compounding the problem – I accidentally deleted my backup factory image that I’d installed too, resulting in a tablet that for a couple of hours had no OS installed, couldn’t boot past BIOS, and couldn’t be detected by Windows 7 either for me to do a sideloading of a new ROM. For those us who’re not geeky – that basically means that for several hours, I had a tablet that couldn’t connect to a computer, and also had nothing on it. Potential brick and return to manufacturer situation, without warranty even LOL.

That said, and several hours of checking out self-help forums, postings and guides from the developer community, I had the ROM difficulties sorted out – I still couldn’t get my choice ROM working on it, and eventually settled for the most recent stable build of the CyanogenMod ROM instead. Most Android users won’t ever have to worry about custom ROMs like these, but for those of us who love tweaking and heavily customizing our devices, custom ROMs are great. That said, I’d only install custom ROMs on devices that aren’t critical though – so the Note 3 is going with the official firmwares from Samsung.

Ling seemed quite impressed by the Nexus 7. Not by the device itself – but that it was small and compact enough for me to fit it into my bermudas pockets.=)

Red angry drool rashes on his cheeks and chin.

Red angry drool rashes on his cheeks and chin.

The SON is a champion drooler.

Between Hannah and Peter, one is an occasional leaky tap while the other is an OPEN tap. Peter started drooling when he was about 2 months old. Initially I thought he might be teething but hey, wasn’t that a bit too early? This boy loves to suck his fingers and smear saliva all over his face, ears and neck. To make matters worse, his bed sheets and waterproof sheets were constantly soaked through and he would sleep on his tummy with his cheeks plastered onto the wet bedsheets. Consequently, he developed drool rash with his cheeks and chin being the hardest hit.

My first reaction was to clean his face and hands regularly, before and after every feed. With quiet resignation, I have been taking out his bedsheet and waterproof sheet from his mattress to blow-dry with a fan every time he wakes up from a nap. I’d then tuck in the air-dried sheets back to the mattress just before his next nap. I do this about 5 times a day. Because he overwhelms his bedsheet with so much saliva, I need to change it every 2 days. Yeah, we have that many bedsheets.

ARGHHH!!! Somebody turn off the tap!

To treat the drool rash, I tried the steroid cream prescribed by his pd for his acne prior to this rash thing. It helped but it also lightened his skin tone and thinned out his skin. Definitely not a long-term solution. As usual, I searched the Internet for ideas to treat this condition. I was inspired to try Aquaphor but this product is not available locally. (This is a crime!!) Next, I bought California Baby’s Calendula cream but the rash didn’t go away. Wasted $$. I also tried his diaper cream, Desitin creamy. Well, it wasn’t an effective barrier between the skin and saliva. I started digging my stash of baby skin products bought previously for Hannah. Found her Mustela Stelatopia moisturizing cream – saw only a little improvement. In the end, I’m left with a tube of pure aloe vera gel to experiment. I took a skeptical glance at the colourless substance and wondered what healing agents it could possibly contain to treat the rashes. I was on the verge of giving up. Checked its expiry date and duh, it expired 6 months ago. I couldn’t care less and so I applied a thin layer on Peter’s rashes.

I was so wrong! Miraculously, the angry rashes on Peter started to tone down. Amazing! The inflammation subsided. I diligently applied this humble-looking gel about 3-4 times a day, each time making sure that his face was properly wiped clean with a damp cloth. I also ensured that the gel dried up on him first before letting him do his usual antics with his hands. The rashes didn’t disappear overnight but they gradually went away. Hooray!

So my friends, do not judge a book by its cover, nor a gel by its colour. LOL :P

P.S. If you know how to fix a ‘live’ tap, I’m all ears! :)

 

The two kids have been at home with Ling over this December holiday stretch, and that’s given them plenty of opportunities to interact and know each other. Ling was remarking that Peter especially seems to enjoy Hannah’s company, possibly because Hannah has a way of making him laugh with her antics. Though come to think of it, Peter hasn’t quite learned how to laugh out loud. His version of laughing is, at the moment, a wide open-mouth grin and silent laughter of sorts!

Weekday morning pictures with the two. Ling still finds the E-PL6 a little too complex, but thankfully the full-on auto mode of the camera is able to handle shots like this, with face-focus tracking enabled.

Weekday morning pictures with the two. Ling still finds the E-PL6 a little too complex, but thankfully the full-on auto mode of the camera is able to handle shots like this, with face-focus tracking enabled.

We sure hope that Hannah's love and affinity for her baby brother isn't a passing phase! Both of these two pictures were taken using the 17mm, and shot wide-open at f1.8.

We sure hope that Hannah’s love and affinity for her baby brother isn’t a passing phase! Both of these two pictures were taken using the 17mm, and shot wide-open at f1.8.

Peter chews his fingers a lot more than Hannah did at this age. Taken using the 45mm, and wide-open at f1.8. I'm still getting a handle of this short telephoto lens, and frequently to stretch myself as far as I can when shooting over a dining table. The lens is wonderfully sharp in its image center.

Peter chews his fingers a lot more than Hannah did at this age. Taken using the 45mm, and wide-open at f1.8. I’m still getting a handle of this short telephoto lens, and frequently need to stretch myself as far as I can when shooting over a dining table. The lens is at least wonderfully sharp in its image center.

Post breakfast activities @ Coffee Bean. She's been drawing a lot - so much so that I'm seriously toying with the idea of buying her a Galaxy Note tablet. Taken using the 25mm and at f1.8. Hannah was seated right beside me, so this required quite a bit of arm contortion for me to put both her drawing, her crayon on her right hand, and part of her face into the frame!

Post breakfast activities @ Coffee Bean. She’s been drawing a lot – so much so that I’m seriously toying with the idea of buying her a Galaxy Note tablet. Taken using the 25mm and at f1.8. Hannah was seated right beside me, so this required quite a bit of arm contortion for me to put both her drawing, her crayon on her right hand, and part of her face into the frame!

Hannah showing off her artwork. She's improved her drawing abilities by leaps. Taken using the 17m and wide-open at f1.8.

Hannah showing off her artwork. She’s improved her drawing abilities by leaps. Taken using the 17m and wide-open at f1.8.

Peter on the weekend morning, and laughing thanks to Hannah just to my right. With the 45mm and wide-open at f1.8. again.

Peter on the weekend morning, and laughing thanks to Hannah just to my right. With the 45mm and wide-open at f1.8. again.

 

Every year at about this month I’d do a post on how our kids have grown and changed each month. The last such post was in November a year ago here – here’s the updated one from when Hannah has gone from 3.5 to 4.5 years old. Appearance wise, she doesn’t seem to have changed as much as she did when she was between one to three years old. That said, she seems to be ever-so looking less chubbier around her cheeks since the last few months.

3 Years 5 Months old in November 2012, and playing with Ling's NTUC member card (she's custodian of the card whenever we're at the Fairprice checkout lanes).

3 Years 5 Months old in November 2012, and playing with Ling’s NTUC member card (she’s custodian of the card whenever we’re at the Fairprice checkout lanes).

3 Years 6 Months old in December 2012, and during an outing with Daddy using public transportation. Pluto is her constant companion, as one can see from other pictures here!

3 Years 6 Months old in December 2012, and during an outing with Daddy using public transportation. Pluto is her constant companion, as one can see from other pictures here!

3 Years 7 Months old in January 2013, and when she'd just got the Swampy plush toy from Disney's "Where's My Water" game. Regrettably, Swampy has since got passed onto the less-frequently played toys bin!

3 Years 7 Months old in January 2013, and when she’d just got the Swampy plush toy from Disney’s “Where’s My Water” game. Regrettably, Swampy has since got passed onto the less-frequently played toys bin!

3 Years 8 Months old in February 2013, and after her first ever hair-cut. We decided to try the $10 10 minute haircut options, and thankfully took quite well to it. That's lots of money saved for Daddy/Mommy - at least until she grows older and wants her hair done properly.

3 Years 8 Months old in February 2013, and after her first ever hair-cut at the salon. We decided to try the $10 10 minute haircut options, and thankfully took quite well to it. That’s lots of money saved for Daddy/Mommy – at least until she grows older and wants her hair done properly.

3 Years 9 Months old in March 2013, and wearing her faux pearl necklace given to her by her maternal grandmom. That necklace has gone through a lot of abuse though, and finally broke apart irreparably earlier this month.

3 Years 9 Months old in March 2013, and wearing her faux pearl necklace given to her by her maternal grandmom. That necklace has gone through a lot of abuse though, and finally broke apart irreparably earlier this month.

3 Years 10 Months in April 2013, and munching on strawberries. Like Mommy, she loves fruits that Daddy doesn't enjoy (that includes tomatoes, grapes, kiwi and strawberries!

3 Years 10 Months in April 2013, and munching on strawberries. Like Mommy, she loves fruits that Daddy doesn’t enjoy (that includes tomatoes, grapes, kiwi and strawberries!

3 Years 11 Months in May 2013, and at one of our favorite hangouts - Old Town White Coffee @ City Square Mall. They whip up fabulous Nasi Lemak sets there.

3 Years 11 Months in May 2013, and at one of our favorite hangouts – Old Town White Coffee @ City Square Mall. They whip up fabulous Nasi Lemak sets there.

4 Years Old June 2013. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafeteria at Greenwich Village became our weekend brunch/breakfast places.

4 Years old in June 2013. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafeteria at Greenwich Village became our weekend brunch/breakfast places.

4 Years 1 Month in July 2013. The cup sleeve at Coffee Bean is a toy too.

4 Years 1 Month in July 2013. The cup sleeve at Coffee Bean is a toy too.

4 Years 2 Months in August 2013. We've still yet to find out who's been teaching her how to do this! Probably from her boy friend classmates in school.

4 Years 2 Months in August 2013. We’ve still yet to find out who’s been teaching her how to do this! Probably from her classmates in school.

4 Years 3 Months in September 2013, and munching on chocolate-flavored buns for lunch.

4 Years 3 Months in September 2013, and munching on chocolate-flavored buns for lunch.

4 Years 4 Months in October 2013, and looking very grown-up during her year-end school concert performance. Dread the day she's going to bring home a boy. The horror.

4 Years 4 Months in October 2013, and looking very grown-up during her year-end school concert performance. Dread the day she’s going to bring home a boy. The horror.

4 Years 5 Months in November 2013. Next year she's going to K1, and we'll have to start worrying about her Primary One school placement.

4 Years 5 Months in November 2013. Next year she’s going to K1, and we’ll have to start worrying about her Primary One school placement.

The pictures here were taken on the E-M5, excepting the November 2013 (taken using the E-PL6) and that of September 2013 by her school’s event photographers. I’ll also have to start doing a similar series for Peter soon enough too next year once she’s grown a bit more.=)

It’s a sure sign of old age – in the last week, my back experienced intense pain after carrying Hannah up. On the first occasion last weekend, and because I’d forgotten that I have a bad back, I lifted Hannah up high past eye-level, and the second occasion just this morning, even something as normally minor as lifting Hannah up into the NTUC Fairprice trolley cart caused an immediate ache.

An ongoing discussion about lenses with a blog visitor reminded me that the Olympus 45mm and Panasonic 14mm haven’t been receiving much love since the 25mm and 17mm have become the two mainstays on the E-M5 and E-PL6. The 45mm is still regarded as one of the m4/3 systems finest primes, and though the 14mm isn’t quite in the same league optically, it was picked up for really cheap and a wonderfully small pancake lens that I can use very discretely in public places. The 45mm will be especially tricky out of the house though given how much subject distance I’ll need just for an upper body portrait.

The 45mm with the E-M5, and 14mm with the E-PL6.

The Olympus 45mm with the E-M5, and Panasonic 14mm with the E-PL6.

The first round of pictures using the two lenses weren’t so good – I’d gotten so used to the 25mm/17mm that I misjudged depth of field for a couple of pictures I took of Peter and Mommy shot wide-opened (basically, Mommy looked great right down to her facial pores, but Peter’s skin textures were all lost). Below are a couple that turned out alright. The first one’s using the 14mm, and next three with the 45mm – all shot at maximum aperture.

A quick picture at Hougang One's Fairprice. The price of putting Hannah into the trolley seat was a backache for the afternoon.

A quick picture at Hougang One’s Fairprice. The price of putting Hannah into the trolley seat was a backache for the afternoon.

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Showing how she cooks fishes. The plastic container was her stove.

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Say cheese. The living room is a little dark – we are so not going with warm lighting in the new house.

Hannah in a dancing dress after her evening bath.

Hannah in a dancing dress after her evening bath.

Two more pictures, but going back with the 17mm.

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This was a fun picture at Coffee Bean. Hannah is getting really good interacting with Peter and trying to make him laugh.

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Photos like these are usually preceded by Ling calling out “Dear, come quick with your camera!!!”

With no. 2 now in tow, home-cooked food has become a nice-to-have item. We try to cook on the weekends but weeknights are often defined by take-out dinners. Thank God that Hannah is fed home-cooked meals by her nanny on weekdays and well, the adults can get by with eating junk. Hee hee. Things should change for the better (hopefully) when Peter become less dependent and mommy gain yet another higher level of multi-tasking and speeds!

Whenever I think about cooking a meal, the first thing that comes to mind is how fast it gets done. Previously, congee required at least an hour of cooking in order for us to enjoy its softie-smoothie texture. One has to stand at the pot to stir regularly so as not to let the rice grains get stuck to the base. So the idea of cooking congee always get tossed out because it was time-consuming and quite laborious.

That, however, changed recently.

Thanks to the sharing by the mommy who runs the blog Food4Tots, cooking congee is no longer a time-consuming activity. In the past, I used to grind rice grains to increase the surface area:volume ratio so as to increase the rate of cooking. Well, the faster way to date is to freeze pre-soaked rice grains. The science behind it: when water in the rice grains become ice crystals, they rupture the cell membranes to release starch and at the same time also create internal cracks in the grains. So when the frozen grains are cooked in boiling water, they break into tiny bits (increase surface:area) and absorb water faster and release the starch sooner. Fantastic right? Many of us know that it is a bad idea to freeze vegetables due to the damage caused by ice crystal formation while few have applied this fact to quicken cooking of rice to make congee.

Oh, I digress. Back to the salmon congee. I usually use white fish (e.g. threadfin) to cook congee but recently discovered that salmon tastes just as good in congee too. In fact, I like it more. The omega 3-rich fish makes the taste buds and tummy really satisfied at the end of the meal.

Here my recipe for a quick salmon congee. Serves 2 adults and 1 toddler. I added minced pork for more flavour.

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Ingredients

  • salmon fillet – about 300g, deboned and sliced as desired (make sure that the salmon is fresh)
  • minced pork – 150g, marinate for at least an hour
  • uncooked white jasmine rice – 1 cup
  • century eggs – 2, deshelled and cut into small pieces
  • garlic – 3 cloves with skin intact, washed and smashed with blade of knife
  • ginger – 3 slices
  • salt – 1/4 tsp
  • light soy sauce – 1 tbsp
  • white ground pepper – dashes
  • corn starch -  1-2 tsp

Method

  1. Wash and then soak the rice grains for about 10 minutes. Rinse, pack the rice in a sandwich bag, tie and freeze overnight or for at least 4 hours.
  2. Marinate minced pork in soy sauce, pepper and corn starch in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Place the frozen rice grains in 2 litre of water in a big pot. (I used a non-stick pot to reduce the need for stirring) Add garlic and ginger. Bring it to boil.
  4. In the meantime, cut the salmon into slices (about 1 cm thick), deshell the century eggs and cut into small pieces, and use your hands to form little minced pork balls and lay them out on a plate.
  5. Once the water has boiled, stir the congee every now and then (especially if your pot is not the non-stick type). Don’t cover the pot. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes in medium heat or until you get your desired texture. Add some water if the congee gets too thick for stirring. (You could also continue with step 4 if you didn’t managed to prepare the items earlier on)
  6. Add the minced pork and give the congee a few rounds of careful stirring to cook the meat. Add salt and stir.
  7. Let the congee come to a boil again and add salmon slices with any of its juices. Gently stir to separate the fish slices if they are clumped together. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot for a minute or so. (Note: It is important not to overcook the fish. Otherwise it would become tough to the bite. Not so tasty lah.) Remove ginger and garlic if desired. Serve the congee in bowls topped with century egg. Enjoy!

p.s. Even Yang was surprised by how fast I could cook congee since I learned of this method. :)