day 733 | February 13, 2016 | AppJamming - A Coding Workshop

I've been curious about First Code Academy's coding (and robotics!) workshops for more than a year now, since I started looking at programming schools for my younger brother. While I was extremely keen on it, it is a substantial time and financial commitment on an already loaded plate.

Next session of AppJamming is on 16 April 2016, Sunday
2 Hour workshop tailored for 9 - 11 year olds (1pm - 3pm)

When I was informed of this opportunity for a 2-hour workshop for kids, I jumped on it. Booked and paid before getting alignment from Roo and Red. Intent was to give both of them a flavor, some familiarity, and explore if they would be willing to commit more to learning code. Roo's already doing 3 sessions of supplementary Mandarin on top of 2 sessions of Ballet on a weekly basis. And we love our lazy hammock and skateboard chill outs. If we wanted things to work out, she needed to be fully committed and onboard.

Hosted at a lovely venue, the Hub at Prinsep Street, the workshop was well-organized, and reasonably priced (almost a give-away) at $11.50 per kid. That's 2 hours of coffee and book bliss for me while the kids learned something new.

Didn't get to go in, as it's a kids-only workshop -- so sharing stories and impressions from my conversations with Roo and Red:

Roo and Red arrived late from a mad morning shuffle. They walked in while the workshop was already in full swing. Noted about a dozen kids involved. Red was the youngest at 5 years old, and more than half of them looked to be 10 years old and above. Roo also noted there were only 4 girls in class. Would definitely promote having more girls onboard.

They started off with simple game interactions, like working with QR codes to load an app on a phone, then clicking a monkey to do something simple like make a sound, or say "Xin Nian Kuai Le," something which amused both.

After that, they were asked to create a game AppInventor. Roo was excitedly sharing that the program reminded her of the Scratch software when her Tito J was doing programming projects while staying with us for summer vacation. Both programs were developed by MIT and there are plenty of resources online to learn from. She observed that the program has compartments for media, layout, and "blocks." She explains further that blocks are like puzzle-pieces with words, that help give the game instructions on what to do.
Sample Scratch Code - an exercise on Logic and Flow
I'm glad that she had fun with code, and sees them as puzzles. A string of instructions in computer language. When asked if it was difficult, she then mentioned it was challenging to scroll without a mouse, and that the macbook I passed her had run out of battery. I felt mortified -- but glad she soldiered on despite technical difficulties. Equipment issues probably stained the experience for her. Red was also a little distracting, as she started pulling her Tsum tsums out to play. Asked Roo if she would go again, she gave me a "maybe." Right tools, in the company of good friends, a little more idea seeding at home, and I hope to convert that to an unqualified "Yes! More, please."

day 732 | January 1, 2016 | The Simplest of Days

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, and another year has passed. Still ever thankful for the simplest things, and so lucky that I have two little angels who help reconnect me back to earth, the universe, my inner child, and the grown-up I aspire to be.

Last year has been about re-writing my personal mythology, actively working through fears, and being unashamed of my scars. It's spending time with my dad, his gentle wife, and my half-siblings. It's my mom reconnecting back to a self she has missed, and my younger brother growing up. It's friends who inspire with their choices, their struggles, and their stories, beautiful human beings. It's a conscious uncoupling that overflows with kindness and support despite all. It's adventures and exploration in new and familiar places with sweaty fingers in a firm accepting hold. It's precious time being a kid with the kids, dreaming awake, head in the clouds, barefoot, laughing at the silliest things, face up to soak rain or sunshine, whatever the sky is willing to provide. Nothing fancy, just the simplest of days, regardless of where I am, when play is love.

"And I learned what is obvious to a child.
That life is simply a collection of little lives, 
each lived one day at a time.
That each day should be spent
finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals.
That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes
cannot be bettered.
But most of all,
I learned that life is about sitting on benches
next to ancient creeks
with my hand on her knee
and sometimes, 
on good days,
for falling in love."
- Nicholas Sparks

Day 729 | November 24, 2015 | Pushkar, India

Sitting on a sofa in a veranda facing Pushkar lake, a thick blanket keeping me warm from the 4am chill, I could feel the devotees' chants electrifying the air, like thousands of little wings on your skin, a swarm of bees. I hadn't been able to sleep. The indistinguishable prayers haunted the edge of my consciousness. So instead, decided to embrace the wakefulness to soak it all up. People were going into the lake, lighting candles, and making offerings to their gods, primarily the Trimurti. Behind the row of ghats sat the moon, almost full, resplendent in orange. Watched as the moon slowly disappeared from the horizon, and the colours of morning took over, and listened to the ebb and flow of articulated hopes.

Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in India, among the sacred pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus. Around the lake, there are 52 ghats where pilgrims can descend to bathe in holy water. I understand what drives people to pilgrimage, though I am self-professed areligious. The seeking of a higher energy you're struggling to sustain on your own. To recover your "muchness" after life has thrown many things your way, both bad and good. This place is like a charging dock -- reconnected to earth and many gods, disconnected from real life, to be able to look at life and self from a different vantage point. Surrendered, and offered a humble gift to the universe. Clean heart, fervent wishes, the best of intentions, and a commitment to authenticity in words and actions. And it's a cosmic coincidence, that the consistent message I received was to simply "trust and let go."

India is not for the soft. It is hard edges and starkness that overwhelms. But that doesn't mean it's core is not delicate. In this place, there is so much to hope for. Moksha and peace. A deficit in sleep, perhaps, but twilight memories that will sustain.

We were there towards the tail-end of Pushkar Fair, and saw a place that usually only has about 20,000 residents packed with more than 100,000 pilgrims and revellers. Added into the list of places I will definitely go back to, next time when the fair is not going on. Here are some of my images from Pushkar -- Let them tell the story...

day 727 | December 7, 2015 | Willing Hearts

All set for volunteer work :)
And we were back again, trying to stick to a family commitment of volunteering with Willing Hearts once a quarter, and continue to get the little ones exposed to a community that gives.

This time around, the volunteer coordinator was not comfortable with letting the kids handle knives. We were too late for the egg cooking, after spending close to half an hour looking for Red's misplaced MRT card. Willing Hearts receives donations from various organizations. Some of these are food donations from grocers, especially some of the products no longer deemed saleable. So we took on the task of sorting potatoes. It sounded simple enough, except when fungi and rotten bits were involved.
Good rules!
Roo and Red struggled with the smell of rotting things, and I was almost worried they would walk out on me. I have a high tolerance for yucky things, and had to admit some of the pieces were truly disgusting. But among the moist, rotten bits, were potatoes which were still good for cooking and eating. And ultimately, that was the job -- to soldier on through the muck to find the gems that could help feed other people.

day 728 | November 25, 2015 | Barefoot College

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." Gandhi

It was the TED Talk that captured my heart and imagination, an inspiration on how I would like to grow as a human being, and how I'd like to raise my girls. Wasn't until closer to the date of our Northern India trip when I realized that Barefoot College in Tilonia, a Gandhi-inspired community, sat right between Pushkar and Jaipur. Was not about to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand, and so thankful that Nandlal, Barefoot College's visitor coordinator welcomed us so readily despite our surprise visit.

day 727 | October 28, 2015 | Otter Totter

Roo called to inform me that Otter had passed away. I thought she was joking. After all, Otter was perfectly fine when we left for work that morning. I didn't even realize I was crying, until someone passing by the office pantry where I had walked to take the call asked me if I was ok. As soon as my meetings ended, skipped everything else, and ran back home to check on my wee ones and my bunny. True enough, Otter was lying in his cage, covered in Red's old shirt, no sign of life. Breath, playfulness, starlit eyes shiny against black fur, all gone. It's strange and frustrating how loss enables us to truly appreciate what we had, and what we still have.
"People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed..." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
I was heavily pregnant with Red when I met Otter for the first time at a friend's home in Kuala Lumpur. My friend, Lady L, was looking a for a home for him. The shiniest black fur, playful intelligent eyes, and hop hop hopping along confidently like a little boss despite his young age. As soon as we met, I was in love. A look, then a touch of his soft fur, and I was done for. The moment I exclaimed 'Otter' as if greeting an old friend, W knew we were going to have to bring him home with us.

Wept as I stroked him for the last time, saying thanks and goodbye. The kids stood by as I carried his body delicately into a box, to prepare him for cremation. He left so abruptly, likely from a haze-induced lung infection that had weakened him over time. During dinner, the kids and I were telling Otter stories to each other, celebrating the 5+ years he spent with us. This is the kids' first real brush with death that they will both remember, and as expected, it has hit Roo more than Red. Before they slept, the kids asked to print photos of Otter, and proceeded to post them all over our home.

Once the kids were asleep, W accompanied me to bring Otter's body for cremation, and there was something beautiful about connecting over shared grief and guilt. It felt like well and truly an end of a chapter. Stepping back, there is a recognition that funeral ceremonies are truly for the living -- to acknowledge, remember, say goodbye, and seek support. There will be more questions from the little ones, about loss, life, death, and afterlife, but there will also be many fondly shared Otter stories.

day 726 | August 9, 2015 | SG50 Stories

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” - Shannon L. Alder

We remember stories. The stories we believe and tell have the power to make us, as individuals, as families, as a society, and as part of humanity. This year, with the death of one man, many stories were unearthed, retold, and reinterpreted. Some may be true, and perhaps some are not. After all, there are many, and stories have a life of their own. All of them hold magic, even those that masquerade as truth. They can inspire and build; they can tarnish and destroy. As readers and listeners, we have the power to choose, what to believe, what to remember. We align to what resonates us, and I hope that the stories that we choose are the ones that can help us continue to build a good way forward.

Beyond the impressive fighter jet aerial display, the bright lights, and the choreographed shows, I hope the kids will remember taking that long walk to pay respect to a man named Lee Kuan Yew. What made him remarkable? His single-minded dedication to an ideal vision, his persevering discipline, his forethought, his curiosity, the way he loved his wife, among other things. Roo insisted on bringing her Mandarin review materials for the long wait, because she thought LKY would be pleased with that. They will remember the story of a heartbroken Singapore, beautiful and united, as she mourned her father. "Everyone is so nice!" both Roo and Red exclaimed as we persevered through the queue, escorted by warm empathic smiles. This man was not perfect, and yet he is mourned not just in his home, but by other nations around the world. These are the stories we choose to tell, because it will help our little ones move forward, to stand on the shoulder of a giant, and drive better things for themselves.

I hope the kids will remember that year after year, we hear sirens wailing throughout Singapore at 9:00am every National Day. That at that moment, and during the parade, we stood among family and friends, reciting the pledge and singing Majulah Singapura, as a promise to ourselves and to each other. And I hope that as we do this, and in every thing they do, they understand their part in that bigger story.

On a more playful note, the kids will remember how tickled their mother is of a multi-faceted Prime Minister, with a childlike curiosity and learning attitude worth emulating. He leads a country, codes, speaks at least three languages with native proficiency, and shares his unique eye through instagram, all in a day's work.
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.” - Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

day 725 | July 17, 2015 | Reconnecting in Kuala Lumpur

KL City View from our hotel room
It has started -- Roo and Red are now actively curating what I post online. Got the sense for this particular trip, Roo specifically wanted to remember. Was nagged more than a dozen times with reminders to blog, along with follow-ups after the trip on whether the images were ready for posting. I pre-selected the images, then they reviewed it for approval (Something's wrong with this process!). Soon, the words flowing on these pages will be theirs too.

They shared snippets of what they enjoyed about the trip, and I was their insight-hungry journal keeper. Things that topped the list were (1) hydrotherapy swimming pool at Maya Hotel, which was perfect for Roo's height and featured jacuzzi jets in every corner, (2) Japanese meals at an old favorite Ozeki, ranked 5 stars for the lovely service and fat fishes, and Yuzu, unremarkable at 3 stars, (3) Choosing books at Kinokuniya, and (4) Chilling out during the bus ride, with movie, music and games on the console, green view from the window, and ready snacks on their laps. I'd like to think another thing on their list is being together as a family -- their mother, their father, each other.

Remember the good days, learn from the bad, and choose to remain open and vulnerable despite it all. This was important to me, and while the little ones probably don't understand yet the significance of this trip during the time we planned it, perhaps when they grow older, they will understand our intention. They are loved so so much, and I want them to grow up in a doubtless awareness of that.
Snuggle hugs. Intricately intertwined.

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