Travel to Europe

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In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, suggests that for a partner to be a true partner, he must be treated as equal and capable.

imagesFor some wives, accepting that their husbands are capable of doing things around the house is difficult.  It is just not possible to delegate traditional responsibilities.

Some mothers can’t hand over parenting responsibilities because their way is the only way!  Everything is else is just sloppy.

It comes as no surprise then that children (and husbands) become highly dependent on the mom, and expect to be waited on hand and foot.

On the other hand, there are mothers who are eager to share the domestic responsibilities, but it is their partners who refuse to take them on.  Husbands are stuck in the gender-biased role of women being solely responsible in running the household.

Fortunately, my friends and I believe that our partners are equal and capable.  And our husbands, to their credit, have shown that they are more than capable!

A month ago, my friends and I met up in Europe.   We took a week off from work, left the kids with our husbands, flew to Amsterdam with a side trip to Antwerp.

IMG_0994Rijksmuseum, Museumplein, Amsterdam.

We were celebrating our friend’s wedding and we wanted to do it in a special way.  Since we no longer live in the same city, spending a week with each other is as special as it gets.

IMG_0963From Sydney, Lyon, Los Angeles.

_DSC1445With the bride at the Conservatorium, Amsterdam. Photo by CF.

The trip lived up to my expectations—good food, exceptional accommodations, excellent museums, but most of all, remarkable company.

IMG_0896Nuance. Duffel, Antwerp.

IMG_0832Envy. Amsterdam.

Image 1Josephine’s.  Antwerp.

Decades ago in the college cafeteria, we talked about philosophy classes, boys, and school orgs over Mongolian BBQ. Now in bars, we shared stories about our children, gossiped about ex-boyfriends, and discussed food and travel, all while drinking cocktails (or mocktails depending on who you ask).

IMG_0991Sir Albert Hotel, Amsterdam.

This reunion has been a long time coming for us that aside from soaking in the beauty of the place and admiring pieces of art, we chitchatted about everything—kamote, what meat to use in kare-kare, impromptu date in Baguio, first date in Union Square, fashion, packing, paddle brush, and the list goes on.

IMG_0817Self Portrait. Van Gough Museum, Amsterdam.

IMG_0966Veal Tartar with Poached Egg.  Conservatorium, Museumplein, Amsterdam.

IMG_0821Banana Hearts.  Flower Shop,  Amsterdam.

But this lovely reunion would not have been possible if my husband, actually, all our husbands, had not agreed to take on our household responsibilities.

For that, we will always be grateful!

Taking a week off meant that my husband had to make breakfast, drive the kids to school, and make dinner.  All these while doing his regular parenting responsibilities of preparing the kids’ lunches, picking them up from school, helping them with homework.  All tacked on to his regular work.

To all my Fuimos a Amsterdam friends, hooray for sharing domestic responsibilities and supportive husbands!  Next up, a two-week European vacation with the family!

Image 2The Philippine flag. Antwerp. Photo by ILDM

Homeworks and Tests

My first grade daughter casually told me over dinner that her unit test in Math is tomorrow.  She said that she was ready for it.

I asked her what she thought was challenging. She casually said —subtraction and telling time by quarter hour.  Since I check my daughter’s homework everyday, I know exactly what in subtraction trips her —it isn’t the process of taking away, but solving for the value of x (e.g. X-5 =2). In telling time, she reads 8:45 as 9:45 because the hour hand is closer to the next hour.

So after dinner, I made sample problems.  We sat together; she solved the problems. We were done in 15 minutes.

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I couldn’t help but think about how different the test culture is in her school compared to other schools.  Friends from the Philippines would tell me that when their children have exams, it is as if the parents are taking the exams as well.  The parents do not make plans other than spending countless hours preparing for the exam.

My daughter’s unit test is not even announced to parents, my guess is because the teachers do not want parents to drill their children.

At such a young age, tests are given to check the child’s mastery of the subject matter, and in effect, the teacher’s competency to teach. Cramming and drilling at this age to get a perfect score is just not going to work.

Can you imagine spending the whole day in school and coming home and doing more schoolwork?  What about the downtime?

IMG_0471A quick and simple project made after school

As a lower grade teacher myself, I tell the parents to alert me the moment that they find themselves spending a considerable amount of time teaching their children concepts that I should have taught in class. Because if they do, then it means that I was not effective and therefore, I need to re-teach the subject matter.

Homework that takes 2-3 hours to finish for an elementary school child means a) the child is highly distracted when doing the work and therefore, needs to learn to focus; or b) the child is not understanding the homework, and so the teacher needs to re-teach; or c) the teacher is trying to finish the curriculum and is leaving it up to the parents to complete it for them.

In my opinion, it is the primary responsibility of the teachers to impart the academic concept/skill to the children.  Sure, the parents can reinforce it, but the teaching falls squarely on the teachers’ shoulders.   It is after all, our job!

Audiobooks

When I taught first grade ten years ago, I had a Listening Center in my classroom.  I had a tape deck, 6 earphones, and multiple sets of first grade books in one cozy corner.

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I knew that a struggling reader would benefit from listening to an audio book.  As the story is read aloud, a struggling reader would be able to concentrate on making the story come to life without being bogged down with decoding words.

In a way, an audio book levels the field for all readers because struggling and advanced readers alike can listen together–something that would be impossible to do if an unskilled reader were left to read a challenging book on his own.

My children have listened to numerous audio books—Harry Potter, Percy Jackson series, Magic Tree House, The Inheritance Cycle, the list goes on.  Our very first audiobook was played in the car on our way to Disneyland.

randomhouseaudiobrisingr500The story in our CD deck

Although my children have always been confident readers, I found that listening to audiobooks made them even better readers, not to mention story writers.

My six-year old uses phrases like subtle whisper, frantically searching, and slow pace in her writing. These words I know she picked up from reading because we don’t use these words in our everyday conversation.

Not only does the audiobook help struggling readers, but also widens vocabulary.  My daughter listens and engages her older brother in discussions of books that she may not necessarily read on her own.   She now appreciates books that more savvy readers read.

I was worried that when they discovered audiobooks that they will stop reading on their own.  On the contrary, they developed an even more insatiable appetite to read independently.  Sometimes, they even choose to read books that they have already listened to because they like it so much.

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The best benefit of an audiobook for me is listening with my children.  Since we listen to the story in the car, we have mini book club discussions on our way to school.

I can even use the characters in the stories to stress a point when I am in my mommy-teacher moment like, “Remember, Galbatorix who made bad choices?  Tell me again the consequences of his actions?”

In a nutshell, listening to audio books can:

  1. help improve vocabulary
  2. allow a child to read beyond their reading level
  3. help their creativity in writing
  4. improve the ability to read aloud with expression

Reading for Kids

I am now writing in the library while my kids, 8 and 6,  are going crazy over the books that they can borrow.

They love books and take very good care of them, but their appetite to read is insatiable that if I were to buy every book that they fancied, we would quickly run out of space.

Instead we go to a public library to stock up on books.  I direct them to the children’s area, and recently, to the graphic novels section for their book selection;  I do not discourage them from reading books that are thick or have no pictures.

They choose books they can read by themselves, books that they want to be read aloud to them, and even books that are way too easy for them.

IMG_3452.JPGAt 18 months

It amazes me that they honestly derive pleasure from reading books because I was never that kind of a reader.  When I was in school, most of the books I read were assigned readings.

My children love reading books now because I made a conscious effort to promote reading.  My husband and I were determined to cultivate their love for reading.

Here are the reading strategies that worked for my family, I hope you will find them helpful:

1.  Start reading early and read often.  Yes, even if it is the same book over and over again (and, even if you think the child is not understanding the story).

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2.  Spend time in libraries. Borrow books that you think would interest them.  Do not veto a book just because you think it is too thick or too hard to understand.  Look for books with topics that appeal to them.

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3.  Give books as prizes.  It shows how much you, the parent, value reading.

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4.  Model reading.  A grown up has to model reading (in our case, my husband did).

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5.  Limit screen time.  Regulate watching TV and playing with video games.  And always have an abundant supply of books—chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, mystery, science, comics, etc.

6.  Listen to audio books.

College Friends

Kaibigan is the Tagalog word for friend.

Magkaibigan tayo.  (We are friends.)

The root word is ibig meaning like, or fond.

Ibig kong lumangoy.  (I like to swim.)

One of my very good friends got married this weekend.  Our little tight-knit group, now scattered all over the globe, has decided to celebrate this special occasion by gathering for a buddymoon (or honeymoon with friends).

Our friendship started back in college. For four years, we encouraged each other to have fun and be successful in school. We learned very early when to study and study hard (!) and when to kick back and party.

After graduation, we went our separate ways—some left the country, others pursued further education, one went to law school, and one pursued her passion for cooking.

Now a couple of decades later, during the very rare occasions that we are in the same time zone, we still recount and embellish stories from long ago  —my favorite ones are about crashing a blind date, being clipped by a tricycle while crossing Katipunan, and getting a wall clock and electric fan from a paramour for Christmas!

We try to meet up in Manila whenever we can, but that is easier said than done. Between work and family, it is next to impossible to coordinate everyone’s schedule.

CIMG0766My wedding entourage

We regularly email each other to share milestones.  Smartphone allows us now to chat in real time too.  And thanks to WhatsApp, we even know what our inaanak (godchild) is having for lunch.

IMG_0238Sunrise in Sydney (Photo by ILDM)

I could not agree more with what we learned from St. Thomas Aquinas in one of our Philosophy classes:   There is nothing in this world to be prized than true friendship.

 Now if we can only agree on where to meet up for this buddymoon.

Spelling for Kids

When should I correct the spelling?

As a former first grade teacher, I am constantly asked when children’s spelling should be corrected.

My very simple answer is:  if it is a word that your child SHOULD know how to spell correctly, then it should be corrected, otherwise don’t.

If a 4-year child spelled ball, /BL/. I wouldn’t correct it.

If a first grader spelled ball the same way, I would.

If a kindergartner spelled blue, /BLU/.  I would leave it.

If a first grader spelled blue the same way, I would get a blue crayon and show him the label, and then have him correct it.

If a first grader spelled mountain, /MOUNTEN/. I would leave it.

If a third grader spelled it that way, I would point it out and have the child think where he could find the correct spelling for it, or think of another way to spell it.

In my opinion, the important consideration is the manner by which the spelling is corrected.  Pointing out spelling errors as the child is writing could be frustrating.  But, letting the child complete the work while giving him praises for his effort, and then going back to the misspelled words could spell the difference (pun intended).

Example:

The 6-year old child writes in the grocery list:  meetballs

Parent:  I see you spelled meat, M-E-E-T.  You are right, meet is spelled that way.  But that meet means when a group of people gather together to discuss something, like in a meeting.

What other ways can you make the long E sound, like in the word /meat/?

At this point the child can say, add /e/ at the end of the word,  like Pete; or /ea/ like in the word read.

Then, you can write the two ways and ask him which one looks right, or you can simply say that the second one is the correct spelling.

Four, Five, Six, and Seven-year olds are just learning that they can actually put their thoughts into writing.  They can write notes, make lists, and create stories that relay information and contain ideas.  These creative pieces are extensions of themselves.

Interest to write should be encouraged first, and then spelling, grammar and syntax follow next.

As a teacher (as a mom, too) I would rather be handed a piece of writing riddled with misspelled words, than not to have any piece of writing at all because my child is worried that words may not be spelled correctly.

IMG_2377My daughter’s writing at 4

IMG_1775At 5, an advertisement my daughter wrote to teach reading

IMG_2774At the end of Kindergarten (almost 6)

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Spelling is one of the strong suits of children educated in the Philippines.  I think it is because Filipinos read words exactly as they are spelled, without the  American twang.   Spelling is also considered as an important part of the Language Arts block.

WAS is read with a short vowel sound /a/, instead of a short vowel sound /u/.

TRAIN is read as T-R-ain, instead of the American English accent, chrain.

Tagalog spelling is much easier because the spelling rules are simple:  All vowels are read as short vowel sounds and each letter in the word is pronounced except for the digraph /ng/.

leeg (neck)—le-eg

paa (foot)—pa-a

kamay (hand)—ka-may (not May as in the month, but /ma/ like Mama + /y/

bato (stone)–ba-to (short vowel /o/ as in Oscar)

English spelling is definitely more confusing than Tagalog.

Kale

I went to the Farmer’s Market today and found a wide variety of fresh produce.  I usually just buy my usual veggies:  broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, snap peas, lettuce.  But today, a box of kale caught my eye.

I heard about kale and how it is supposed to be a wonder veggie, but the only time I actually bought it was from a grocery store to use for my chicken soup.  My tinola had kale instead of the usual green papaya and malunggay.

I decided to buy a bag and asked how else I could prepare it.  The stall owner, a Filipino, was surprised that I have only eaten it cooked.

I nibbled a leaf.  I liked it.  It was chewy and sweet.  The taste was definitely different from the packaged bag I picked up earlier from the grocery store.

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I haven’t eaten enough of it to know if it was because it was fresher, or because it was organic, or just because it was a different variety.  But I liked what I tasted.

Baked Kale chips are becoming popular too.  They are quite expensive in specialty stores, so I thought of getting several bunches to bake for my kids.  The verdict:  my daughter likes it, but my son doesn’t.

Nothing can be easier than preparing this nutritious snack–kale, olive oil, salt.

Kale Chips

Kale leaves
olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Remove the stem from the leaf and cut leaves to about an inch to inch and a half.  

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Rinse and dry very well.  Cover a baking pan with parchment paper.  Lay the dried kale being careful not to overcrowd.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.  Bake for 10-15 minutes. 

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When the tips start to brown, remove from the oven.  Serve right away.

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Click here for the nutrition facts for a cup of uncooked kale

Meal Plans

Báon is a Tagalog word that means food, or items packed, specifically for a trip.

Ang báon ko ay tinapay. (I brought bread.)  Nag-báon ako ng maraming libro.  (I packed a lot of books.)

It can also mean monetary allowance for a trip.

Magkano ang báon mo?  (How much money did you bring?)

Báon is also the word used to refer to food packed for school.

Anong gusto mong báon bukas?   (What snack/lunch do you want to bring to school tomorrow?

I pack my children’s snacks and lunches for school.  With the invention of Thermos and ice packs, there is really no reason for me to spend extra on hot lunches or salads at school.

Palagi silang may báon. (They always bring packed food.)

IMG_0127    IMG_0027Adobo wings

Occasionally, I would pre-order lunch for them in school, especially on sushi days.  But regularly, nag ba-báon sila (they bring packed food).

My children know what to expect for their báon.  I post the menu of the week on my refrigerator door for easy reference.

It is not always easy for me to follow through with my weekly menus, but when I do, I feel I am organized and in control.  I have less food waste, I have more time to do other things, and I don’t overspend on food.

Planning our weekly menu is a family activity.  My son would go through the recipe books I have, and then he would choose several dishes.  Usually, I would be able to cook his choices.

IMG_0016Bacon quiche from a recipe book

I would then buy all the ingredients and cook a week’s worth of food for báon and dinner. I would store them in leak-proof tempered glass containers so they can easily go in the microwave or oven.

My daughter would then decide on which days the food would be served. She would help write the menu.

IMG_0113Menu for this week

Something could definitely be said when all you have to do is take a couple of containers from the fridge and dinner is served.  You have more time to spend with the children.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering cream, sugar, and gelatin. Fresh fruits usually top this dessert.

Although this is not of Philippine origin, this can easily be tweaked to highlight Filipino flavors.

Mangoes are the fruits that first come to mind to flavor this dessert. They are abundant in the Philippines (and they are my favorite!)  It is also a fruit that can easily be pureed and incorporated into the mixture.  Diced golden ripe mangoes would the perfect topping.

I made this dessert for our New Year’s Eve meal.  I would have loved to use mangoes, but mangoes are not in season.

So, I did what a good cook does– use what is in season or what I have readily available.  In this case, I had raspberries and blueberries (not in season either, but I had them in the fridge.)

If you are going to flavor the cream with real mangoes, puree 1 cup of ripe mangoes and mix with the cream mixture after the gelatin and sugar have been dissolved.  And instead of using two packets of unflavored gelatin, use three packets.

Panna Cotta

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups half and half or whipping cream

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
2 cups assorted fresh berries

Place the milk in a heavy saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Over medium heat, dissolve the gelatin being careful not to boil the milk, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, honey, sugar, and salt.

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Stir until the sugar dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat. (Add the pureed mango at this point if you are making Mango Panna Cotta).

Pour into 6 flute glasses or clear bowls, so that they are 1/2 full. Cool slightly. Refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours.

You can speed up the molding process by putting in the freezer for 45 minutes.  Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spoon the berries (or mangoes) on top and serve.

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This is a recipe that can be played around with.  Obviously, the higher the fat content of the cream, the richer the dessert would be.

I have substituted half and half with whipping cream, and it still tasted delicious.  I have also used only 2 cups half and half and 2 cups whole milk and it was still good.

My point is you can make this dessert as rich (use whipping cream) or as less fatty (use low fat milk) and it will still come out fancy.

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New Year’s Eve

On the last day of the year, we tidied up the house, prepared our dinner, and while waiting for the food to be cooked, played with the toys from Santa.

IMG_0021Rubber Band-Powered Airplanes

IMG_1174Remote-Controlled Helicopter

If we were in Manila, there would be a big party (I come from a big family) with abundant food and loud fireworks.

Thanks to Face Time, my children were able to see how their titas and lola greeted the New Year.  They oohed and ahhhed as they watched the fireworks right outside their lola’s house–16 hours ahead of our own New Year celebration.

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My own mom was very big on spending Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in our own home.  She wanted all of us together as a family. Our tradition was to spend Christmas and New Year’s lunch with cousins, and aunts, and grandparents, but the Eve was reserved just for us.

Aside from wearing red (lucky color), and wearing polka dots (symbol of money), putting money in pockets (to greet the year with pockets filled with money), jumping (for children to grow taller), and making noise (to ward off evil spirits), we would also turn on all the lights around the house on New Year’s Eve. On the dining table would be a huge basket of fruits to symbolize abundant blessings for the New Year.

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My mom would even open all the windows “to welcome the luck of the new year in”.  Not too far behind her would be my older sister shutting the windows because leaving the windows and doors open meant letting the firecracker fumes in the house as well.

Except for donning something with polka dots, and opening the windows and doors (it was too cold), I followed my mom’s tradition of welcoming the year.  We had a quiet dinner at home with a home-cooked meal.  At midnight, we clinked flute glasses filled with sparkling apple cider and Prosecco.

And so, we welcome 2013 full of hope and excitement for the endless possibilities that this year may bring.