31 Aug 2012

A time of Inner Contemplation

I awoke last Tues, with a strange ringing in my ear. The buzz was so loud it felt like there was an air-cond in my ear. Later when my child spoke, I heard two distinct pitches in my left ear, her voice came out (if you understand music) in two tones, perfect fourth apart. I panicked. I switched on some music, and realised that the left ear could not detect higher notes, while the right could.

Panic set in, and the following day headaches started. As a musician, my ears are precious, I drove to the ENT, where they found nothing wrong with my ear but cautioned that if the buzzing continued, I could loose my hearing partially. I became depressed.

As the headaches continued, it came with nausea, a sense of imbalance, sensitivity to sounds and light. Because I felt the pain down my neck, I went to see a spinal surgeon who got me to do an MRI. I thank God that incidentally the found the enlarged pituitary gland. From then I was asked to see a neurosurgeon, followed by another MRI of the brain.

What they found was a Pituitary Macroadenoma in my gland which had haemorrhaged. Being one who is "afraid" of doctors and procedures, that shook my world. I went between depression and extreme fear to eventually increased in faith as many wonderful friends came my way and started praying for me.

My dear husband took days off for work to sit with me as I went through a series of tests. On one of those long days, when he had to get back to work, a dear friend Dr. Chan, insisted she went with me to the hospital despite multiple protests from me. I was strengthened by her faith, her prayers and encouragement. I thank God for these angels and sms's that have strengthened me. (You know who you are.)

I Praise God that because of the prayers, the headaches have subsided. I quote the Endocrinologist "I'm surprised that in your state, that you're not in more pain." Truly, it is God in control of me. I also praise God, as doctors have stated another 1mm of swelling could have caused me vision loss. Thank God for protecting my precious eyes.

So many thoughts have gone through my head in just this one week. It has opened my eyes and heart in a way I cannot describe. from the way I look at life, my priorities, my relationship and faith in God, my relationship with my children and husband, my friends around me. As these thoughts come, I've been journaling them in a book I keep as I read the BIble.

Well...another thing is Praise God, my blood tests have come back normal, and I will meet the neurosurgeon tomorrow. Both he and the endocrinologist have said it's best to take the tumor out to prevent risk of a second hemorrhage. I know it is a delicate operation, and they've told me, will take about 3 hours. I'm praying that it will go well, that none of the precious cells around it will be sacrificed in the process. Sure many have gone through it, but to go through it myself, is different and I understand now the fear people have been through in such a situation. Above all I know God is in control, from the way He helped me to trace the source of headaches to this point. He is my refuge and strength.

Finally, as I struggled to distract my own thoughts, I sought my camera and went out to my tiny garden.

 I saw this new shoot growing, and it promised me, new life. As a dear friend prayed for me yesterday, she said "Sometimes, God prunes, and He cuts off much, till we're almost bare, but that is so the best shoots may come forth."

Then next to it, growing on  roots were these mushrooms that grew so peacefully.

Finally, still a little troubled, I heard a voice saying, "Look up Martha, the dragonflies that have come and gone from your Kedondong tree are back. I looked up, and true enough, there it was, sitting on top of the branch, displaying its beautiful wings. It's meaningful to me, as this dragonfly that's back today, has been gone for some time. It's morphed and now an adult. It shows how in shading of it's old skin, it has become bigger, stronger, more powerful.

Here it almost seems as if it's looking at me doesn't it.

In all things, I give thanks coz I know, God my maker, holds my life in His hands, and He is watching over me.

martha@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012

14 Aug 2012

Lessons learnt from A burden of a bag

Yesterday after work, I decided to park my car at home, and walk to my sis's house to pick up my children. Instead of just 2, 4 kids asked to come home with me, and I said "ok." :) After a short walk, Jo said "Mum, please hold my pencil and paper" and skipped down the street to join her cousins who were far ahead already. Nel just walked slowly beside me, burdened by her bag of books.

My mind began to wonder, thinking of all the many children who are daily burdened by never ending homework, tuition classes (some up to 3 extra tuition a day!), extra curricular activities, compulsory stay backs in schools, never ending exams. (I'm thankful I've chosen not to put my children through this sort of life.)

As I continued dreaming, feeling for those kids, Nel trudged on silently, never once asking me to hold her bag. I snapped out of my thoughts and said "Nel, would you like me to hold your bag, so you can go catch up?" A smile lit up on her face and she replied "Really mum? Thanks, and I'll take Camel the dog." So off they went, Nel and her pooch bounding down the pavement in large strides to catch up with the wild kids who were giggling and laughing loudly some distance away.

I guess, sometimes when a child is older, they may keep thoughts to themselves, they've learned they must handle responsibilities, to do whatever they can by themselves. It's nice some times if we parents can learn to imagine what they might be thinking, and sometimes make conscious effort to "alleviate" that burden, that they may be free as children. :)
@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012

11 Aug 2012

Road Trip Johor- Some other places

This is the 3rd post on our recent road trip. Move one post back to read about our search for Seahorses in the Pulai Estuary, and 2 posts back for our visit to Noah's Ark.

This will be a very short post on some other places we visited.

1) Tanjung Piai.  There's an entrance fee of 5Rm for adults and 3RM for children. Basically it is a large mangrove area, which we found fascinating. Tg Piai also marks the lowest point on the continent of Asia. 

We were first greeted by these 2 beautiful, shy, Dusky leaf monkeys who were really curious about us. They kept clambering up to peek at us, at times stopping to play with our National flag. :)

Be careful, as this place is full of macaques! So if visiting, Do not bring food! They will come right at you! Trust me on this.Saw this mama with her baby. Precious!

As we walked the boardwalks we were fascinated by the diversity of life here. A large variety of mangrove plants, shells, fiddler and tree crabs, lots of mating horseshoe crabs, super huge monitor lizards, snakes and birds. Go have a look at it yourself. We spent a long time just watching, fascinated :) !

At the end of our long walk, we arrived at the southern most tip. The first thing the kids did was to climb right into that globe! My handphone started beeping too, welcoming me to Indonesia, providing  me cheaper sms from Indon to Malaysia! :)
2) We also dropped by Kukup, where we were shocked by the CUT-THROAT prices of seafood! Do ask for prices before you order crabs and fish.

 Well after lunch, we found a boat men who charged us RM60perboat for a ride including several stops. He dropped us on the island of Kukup, but sadly the observation tower and a large part of the island is under renovation. Many broken boards. They gave us a discount on the tickets. The island is nice for bird watching. We spotted Herons, curlews, kingfishers and Brahminy Kites. I'm sure if we stayed longer we'd seen more, but the mosquitoes on this island are very hungry, crazy type who will pierce through your skin, through insect repellant!

So after our brief tour on the island, the boat man took us to a floating fish farm. The children loved this. He showed us the Puffer Fish (which he shook till it got angry and showed its spikes!). The children also got to feel a jelly fish, which  they say doesn't feel like jelly, but a rough surface.
And then, on the bottom right, is the amazing spitting fish (as I call it.) Put an anchovies on a piece of wood, and it will shoot down it down with water very accurately! I'm amazed. The children tried holding the anchovies, but the smart fish would not shoot, unless food was placed on the wood. At one point some of the children, refusing to let go of the anchovies, got shot by strong spitting water, right in the face! Ptuiiii!!! haha...:)
3) We visited Pak Hussein, who hails from Singapore, but lives in Johor. He makes amazing Jong, which is the long boat he's holding. It actually comes with a sail, but in the pictures below, sail wasn't attached. The Jong is used in competition, usually held in August, but this month it is delayed coz of the Raya festival. To help the boat balance, a piece of  curved wood with a mini boat at the end, is attached to the main boat. Mr. Hussein also makes congkaks, which are in the shape of a jong. This is made of pure wood (he said chempedak/nangka tree wood), and is very heavy! 
Pak Hussein's family also makes Dodol. The one seen below is coconut dodol, basically made of coconut, palm sugar and glutinous flour. It's then wrapped in Pinang leaves.

Picture above are us digging into the dodol, the wok used in dodol making, pinang leaves drying, and of course, children playing Jenga with a stack of dodols. haha..
En. Hussein can be contacted at 0167665253.

4) A short drive from En. Hussein's place is a   small factory that produces famous keropok lekor. They were very friendly, and generous in sharing knowledge with us. We got to try some of their very delicious fried keropok, and of course we bought some too. :)
Ingredients are mixed (note chilli included), fish added and then placed in machine which grinds it to a dough like texture. This dough is fed into a machine, which presses it into strips which are deep fried in oil. The oil used here is clean, as the lady told us, they change the oil daily. This factory and En. Hussein's place are located in the Gelang Patah area.

We wanted to pop by a gasing (top) maker's house too, but learned he passed away recently.

Ok, that concludes my journal on our recent road trip. :)

@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012


8 Aug 2012

Road Trip Johor- In search of Seahorses (S.O.S)

(Continuing from the first part of our trip where we visited Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary)

We woke very early in the morning, 5am!, and headed out to the S.O.S center to learn about seahorse conservation. The children were really excited to be up at such a time. As we left our cheap hotel, we were greeted by the joyful chirping of flocks of birds already up before us. :)

The journey to the S.O.S center took us through some very narrow kampung roads, and it's best if you have the GPS coordinates before heading to the place Or best is to stay at the center which has 2 tiny rooms the day before your trip (If you have a 630am session like we did.)

We were very fortunate indeed to find that Mr. Choo Chee Kuang  (who's currently working on his PhD), would be our guide and teacher for the day. He's currently a lecturer at University of Malaysia Terengganu, and is an expert on seahorses.

 Because it was only 6am when we got there, they served us with jam and chocolate sandwiches and drinks of milo before Mr. Choo began a one hour talk about conservation, seahorses and the Pulai River Estuary. We learned how the numbers of seahorses in the area has dropped drastically since Project Iskandar began. Where they used to find up to 20-30 seahorses, now it's common to find only about 5.

The above is found at their center. The species that you'll find at the Pulai River is the Spotted seahorse, which is the brown one seen in this picture. Males are usually brown, and females yellowish.

Threats to the seagrass beds where seahorses live.
S.O.S center
After the very informative briefing, we drove to the jetty nearby and got ready to head out towards the Merambong area. Exciting indeed and great to be out on a really cool breezy morning. :)

We got to watch sunrise, and the children commented "Wow, look, it's turning from dark to light!" Shows how "often" they get up before sunrise!

Sunrise at the jetty

The journey out by speedboat towards the Merambong took about 15 minutes, and of course, we all love fast boat rides. :) From where we were,  we could see Project Iskandar, the linkway to Singapore, and basically we were then between Singapore and Johor.

Finally, smack in the middle of the ocean, the boats slowed down....and we saw beds of seagrass. Here the water is shallow, and the boatmen had to row the boats to a spot where it was save for us to get off.

At the first sight of seagrass all of us went "WOW!!!" and excitement swelled when we spotted a greyish, spotted kinda squid, pink sea cucumbers and so on. We stepped out of the boat, very carefully at first, after all, nobody's ever taken us out to the middle of the ocean and said "Now get off the boat! "

Mr. Choo did another round of briefing, on how to gently hold a seahorse if we spotted one. Basically our duty for the day was to scan the seagrass bed for seahorses and pipe fish. So off we went. It wasn't 5 minutes into the trip when one of the fathers spotted a seahorse, and 10 minutes later, he spotted 2 pipe fish. I regret to say I don't have a picture of the pipefish, which according to Mr. Choo, was a rare species last seen 7 years ago!

Apart from the seahorses, we spotted a vast diversity of life there such as the ones below. Can you identify them?  S.O.S was very generous, in that they gave us each a copy of their very lovely book which contains pictures and names of species found in this particular place.

Left column: Thorny Sea Cucumber, Carpet Anemone, Swimming anemone. Middle column: King Horseshoe Crab mating, Thumbs-up Sea Squirt. Right: Sea Cucumber, Noble Volute.

The children were also very amazed by the starfish found here. On the bottom right is a Knobbly Sea Star which was really big, almost as long as my arm. It can grow up to 30cm.
Clockwise from upper left: Biscuit Sea Star, Brittle Star, Knobbly Sea Star, and ??

Can you spot the seahorse in this picture below?

Just above the pipe.

Well, here's the handsome male. And looking at his pouch, you can tell he's pregnant. Wouldn't it be lovely if human males carried the baby like seahorses do? :)

 Mr. Choo talked more about seahorses, measured them and showed us how, where, why a seahorse is tagged.

All the children fought to hold the seahorse...haha....but I guess, they all just wanted to feel it.

After all the tagging and measurements of seahorses and pipefish were taken, they were released back into the ocean, and we had to step away in opposite direction so as not to step on these creatures.

Since it was Jo's birthday, we all sang Happy birthday to her right there on that bed of seagrass, and she was given the honour of releasing a particular seahorse back to sea. What a special birthday treat it was for her. :)

The above is Jo, gently talking to the seahorse before releasing it. Later at home, she showed me how it swam, and she's still talking about the experience till now.

All in all, it was certainly a very special and unforgettable trip. This has inspired both my children Nel and Jo even more about the importance and need for conservation. Much thanks to Mr. Choo who greatly inspired the whole group, and who so patiently and generously shared knowledge with us.

If you'd like to join one of S.O.S activities, you'll need to check their webpage at http://www.sosmalaysia.org/home.html There is an age limit, if I remember correctly, best to call them to find out. You'll have to check with the schedule as trips depend on tide and weather.
Mr Choo Chee Kuang passed away in June 2013. He is deeply missed. 
@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012


7 Aug 2012

Roadtrip Johor - NANAS

We had a lovely weekend in Johor with friends. It was mainly a holiday consisting of several field trips, which were a visit to Noah's Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary, a visit to learn about seahorses at S.O.S and a visit to several mangroves and cottage industries. Here's the first post about this trip.

NANAS we found out is a farm mainly for abused dogs and abandoned dogs.  How many dogs you ask. Well...we found out, about 600 dogs! On top of that, many many cats, about 4 horses, some rabbits and snakes.

So you can imagine, as we entered, we were greeted by a very heart warming, loud,  woofy welcome!

These were the first few dogs that welcomed us, very friendly, lovable dogs. In fact, they were also our tour guides and walked with us around the entire farm. There were times when we had to walk through at least 100 dogs lying down and resting, and Tilby, the large black dog would go first, paving a path for us to walk. He always looked back to check if we were following. :)

 This here is a beautiful Irish Setter. She's tall and very friendly! When you arrive, don't be surprised if she comes up to you and shove you while rubbing her beautiful coat against your clothings. :)  Speaking about clothings, we had beautiful paw mark decoration on our shirts by the end of the trip. :)

Mr. Shalom Tye was a really gracious host. He's a volunteer at the farm, and we were just amazed at the way he talks to dogs, which was very calmly and firmly, as if talking to little children. :)  From him we learned how the farm was started by Mr. Raymund Wee who's mission is to have "fewer stray cats and dogs roaming the streets, and to give animals a second chance at a happy life with freedom."   They take in many abused and injured animals and give them a better life at the farm. Some healthy ones are neutered, ear clipped and released back out because there's a limit to what the farm can  take. And Mr. Raymund says in an opening note found on their calendar "Our greatest regret is that we are not able to take in every one of them who needs and deserves a life like this."

The kids really loved the cattery which is situated right next to a pond with  Lilys (the dogs' swimming pool apparently! ) . The cats there are really beautiful, just very well kept indeed! :) 

We spent a long time just petting and playing with the cats, many who yearned attention. There were also some abused cats (cats with missing limbs and blind cats), and it's so wonderful that now they have a safe place to live.

Couldn't help but take a picture of Billy Jean who "waddled" over grass, sand, mud, blocks of stone just to accompany us the entire time. My girls fell in love with this lil one.

Well, what I can say, as a first time visitor, initially I felt a little intimidated by the sight of so many dogs at once. But we got used to it, and the dogs are very friendly and lovable. I heard they are also fully tick free! :)

It's just amazing at how vast and beautiful the farm is, lots of space for the animals to roam. It's really a little piece of heaven, and the decorations make it more homey. If you're an animal lover, I highly recommend a visit to Noah's Ark Sanctuary, and I'm sure they'd welcome help and donations any time, considering the large amount of animals they have to feed daily.

Hats off to the volunteers there and Mr. Raymund especially for this work, and thank you Mr. Tye who very cheerfully and passionately shared about the farm to us. We certainly learnt a lot through this short visit.

If you'd like to sponsor an animal, you can find them here.  If you plan on visiting, do call before you go. They can be contacted at 0197159199.

@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012


2 Aug 2012

A Lesson on Feelings.

Some time ago, I blogged about how I used a book "Teaching Emotional Intelligence" by Adina Bloom Lewkiwicz (website here) to talk to my children about Informed Choice. Since then, my children have put the information into practice  whenever they remember to. It's helped them to stop and think, before reacting or making a choice.

We've been doing bits of the book at least once a week. This week we worked on the chapter "Uncovering Feelings."

Following parts of the lesson plan provided in the book, we began by playing the Mirror game. We took turns being the leader while  the rest mirrored. Later we discussed how a mirror only reflects how one looks on the outside,  but it cannot reveal what one feels on the inside.

From there, we went on to discuss how many people really hide their feelings and only if we read their body language carefully, might we sometimes guess what they really feel. For instance, someone's who's just been kicked out of swim team might laugh and act like it's cool and he doesn't care, when in reality he's embarrassed and angered on the inside.

Then I asked my children, "Have there been situations where you've hidden your feelings, and showed something else on the outside?"

My children provided me with a few scenarios:
1) When my pet died, and I acted happy in Chinese class, when actually I wanted to cry.
2) When you asked me to apologize to my teacher for disobedience, I acted rude to you and then pretended to be brave. Actually on the inside, I was scared and wanted to cry coz I knew I was wrong.
3) When a teacher asked me to move and sit next to a new person in class. I pretended to be stubborn and put on a proud look,  but actually I was very shy to sit next to someone unfamiliar.
4) When I fell down and laughed happily, but was waiting to go home and cry.

Continuing, I asked "Why do people hide their feelings?"

My children:
1)Because they are afraid to be embarrassed
2) Because if they showed their true feelings they might loose  friends.
3) Because if people knew how they really felt, they might not get what they want.
4) They might get into trouble.
5) Because people are afraid to show they care, when they actually do care.
6) They might get murdered    (too much reading of detective stories here! haha..)

From there, we went on to draw a "Feelings Tree" which was an activity suggested in the chapter. Nel drew masks on branches showing faces people put on. The true feelings are hidden beneath the ground.

I asked her why feelings like "loving and happy" were hidden. She replied "Sometimes someone loves someone else, but they put on a proud face to hide what they feel. Sometimes someone may be happy but don't want others to know coz it's a happy secret."

Following that, we made paper masks and acted out scenes. Here's 2 very short videos of very short scenes children acted impromptu. The first is of a child who puts on a sad face to manipulate but is really happy on the inside. The second is a girl who pretends to be nice to make friends and eventually does nasty things coz she really jealous and hateful on the inside.



We continued by talking about assumption, about assuming the worse even before anything's happened. For instance "If I show people I'm feeling lonely, they'll laugh at me and think I'm being silly, then they'll tell everyone and I'll be embarrassed." We agreed that most of the time, these assumptions will not come true.

 And then we finally ended by talking about how often, it is OK to show what you're really feeling on the inside, in fact it might really help a lot to let it out to someone you trust.

Personally, I learnt from this lesson too, as I'm one who'd rather keep feelings on the inside and show only calm on the outside. I've to learn to sometimes show like it is. I also learned through my children that in certain situations, I must practice calm and understanding to allow them to show me their true feelings.

Often parents shut down children's feelings by negative remarks and threats. When children cannot show their true feelings, where can they turn to then? To the internet? Help columns? Or worse the counsel of "fools".

 I'm thankful for today's lesson, as it created an open passage between my children's feelings and mine. I hope that in times of need, when they need to hide from the world and pretend that all's ok, that they will know that I'm here for them, that they have no need to wear masks with me, coz their feelings are safe with me.

 @poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012


Volunteers in making..

 a mum is allowed to brag once in a while right? Just 2 weeks ago, Jo made a whole jug of lemonade for our family. After we'd taken our drinks, she charged us 50cents each drink! We were surprised, but she said "Mum, I've decided I want to raise funds for the poor. Every penny goes to them." So we paid up willingly. After selling to visitors and all, she made a mere $4.50. She asked, "What can I
do with this mum?"

I replied, "Well..another $10, and you could buy a pack of milk powder."
"Things are so expensive nowadays mum..." she replied, dejectedly. But as I write this now, she's not given up. She's in the kitchen actually attempting to bake her own oat cookies, which she is gonna sell to raise more funds. I'm proud of my lil girl who'll turn 7 soon.

As for my shyer girl Nel. Seeing the way she helped load and unload heavy stuff for the remote village made me proud enough. Her initiative and willingness to work hard is something worth praising. Not only that, she's been bringing stuff of her own because she wants to teach the remote children English. And she did teach them stuff last week.She may also begin volunteering on PKetam to teach English once a month. Yup...let me "brag" once in a while. I am proud of them.

But you know, this did not occur overnight. It started with me bringing them to Old folks home once a month, from the time they were toddlers. And then we started going into interior villages. And now, they on their own accord are beginning to want to reach out to help others. :) :) I'm beaming.
@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012
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