Friday, December 24, 2010

Finish Line

Early this year, I decided to join a few reading challenges. Here's how they turned out:

1. The Quantity Book Challenge - as of Dec. 24th, 2010, I have finished 199 books. This number earned me the Most Voracious Reader Award at my book club's Christmas party earlier in the month. Yay!

2. The Chunkster Challenge - did better than I thought on this one, with a 5th hefty tome completed last month. Since the rules require a review, pardon my brevity:

- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (471 pages, read March 3-8)- a man's book, if there ever was one. War and love from a very masculine perspective. Classic Hemingway, with very vivid descriptions, and his wonderful prose style. This book struck me as written from a very personal experience, which made it all the more moving. Everyone should read this book.

- The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris (572 pages, read April 6-7) - sequel to her first, and very enjoyable novel Chocolat, this book brings back familiar characters and places them in a similarly challenging setting, particularly with little Anouk beginning to grow up. Harris writes her own version of magical realism, and this book is worth a read for those who enjoyed the first one.

- Middlemarch by George Eliot (795 pages, read May 19-24)- It took me years to get around to reading this novel, but when I finally did, I was not at all disappointed. Interesting characters, a readable plot - one just needs to be in the right frame of mind to read this, because one started, it will be enjoyed and appreciated.

- The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks (480 pages, read May 24-28) - interesting premise, but not-so-excellent execution. Too many things going on at once, and it seemed like everything had already happened before (in a television series or another book). Read during a weekend beach trip, and it was good entertainment.

- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (650 pages, read Nov.1-8) - A brilliant slice of life in the time of the Sun King, but I did wonder why it was called Wolf Hall when the Seymour family didn't feature particularly strongly in the story, though they would play a significant part in the period following where the novel ended. History, politics, intrigue, and one very compelling, intelligent and admirable man.

3. The A-Z Challenge - here's a list of the new authors and titles I've read this year.

4. Filipino Books - the five I read in 2010 were:
- Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
- Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal
- The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker by Gilda Cordero Fernando
- Connecting Flights edited by Ruel de Vera
- 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country by Alexander Lacson

5. Classics - I managed 22 new reads and rereads, listed below:
- The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- Beowulf
- The Invisible Man by HG Wells
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
- Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
- Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal
- Towards the End by John Updike
- Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
- The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare
- Therese Raguin by Emile Zola
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
- 1984 by George Orwell

6. 20 Award Winners - a combination of new and rereads, I didn't think I'd finish this year but managed 21 in the end.
- Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (Booker)
- Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (Guardian Fiction)
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Newbery)
- The Stories of John Cheever (Pulitzer)
- Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (Newbery)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (Nobel)
- Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (Man Asian)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Pulitzer)
- The Dancing Girl of Izu by Yashari Kawabata (Nobel)
- March by Geraldine Brooks (Pulitzer)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Pulitzer)
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Newbery)
- Soliders in Hiding by Richard Wiley (PEN/Faulkner)
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan (Newbery)
- Holes by Louis Sachar (Newbery)
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Booker)
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg (Newbery)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (Newbery)
- A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle (Newbery Honor)
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Guardian Children)
- The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Costa)

That's all for the books I've read this year. As for the books I purchased in 2010, well, that's another challenge altogether.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Clap Clap

Unlike other babies, who applaud at the littlest thing, Little A was never much of a clapper. He learnt how at the right time but preferred to watch other people doing it, and when commanded to clap would bring his hands together once or twice at most.

Like all other parents, when he does something properly or well, we applaud him. He enjoys this, and sometimes makes us just sit down and clap while he performs for us.

Most recently, he has discovered another use for clapping. Since he still does not speak, but realizes that clapping makes people feel good, whenever he bumps into me, spills or does something by accident, he claps repeatedly while looking at me with a worried face, as if to say, "I want to make it better." Lately, he claps when I scold him as well, as if to say, "I know I did wrong, it won't happen again." He doesn't stop until I tell him it's okay, and show how we can fix whatever went wrong.

Most cultures use applause to show appreciation. In his own wordless way, my boy does so too. I know he claps to show us that he knows how much we care.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Connecting Flights

The Filipino diaspora has been widely documented over the past decades. People are undeniably one of the country's largest exports. Step into any hotel or hospital in the world or onto any large ship in any port and you are likely to run into not one but several Filipinos.

Whatever the reason for their travels overseas, be they education, work or wanderlust, travel they do. "Connecting Flights" is a collection of poetry and prose pieces by contemporary Filipino writers in English edited by Ruel S. de Vera, an award-winning writer himself and my former university professor.

A slim volume, this book features the Filipino voice writing from elsewheres ranging from Russia to Hong Kong. For me, the crown jewel in the collection is Yvette Tan's story Seek Ye Whore, a retelling of Ira Levin's "The Stepford Wives", the book for which this blog is named. Her version puts a fine twist on the traditional story, and is, from a female point of view, infinitely preferable.

Another wonderful piece is Charlson Ong's Of That Other Country We Now Speak, a fine story that merges myth and legend with real life, and showcases the Filipino's belief in one having a definite effect on the other.

Karla P. Delgado's Barcelona Breathing resonated with me, as I too found myself when at school abroad, and hope to return to the country I call my second home one day.

On the whole, this book is worth a read, whether you are Filipino or a foreigner, an armchair traveller or a real one.

Coming Up to Christmas Break

On Wednesday, Little A's preschool will have their annual Christmas program. He started attending a little over a year ago and had a difficult time adjusting, so last year's program was something we didn't even consider him joining. Since then, we've had a whirlwind of a year.

This time round, he's as ready as can be. We'll find out on the day itself whether or not he will perform, but he's been practicing with his classmates and his shadow teacher. Yesterday they did a rehearsal at the nannies' Christmas party, and he only had a panic attack towards the end of the number, due to the sheer volume of people crowding a tiny space.

I haven't seen the parish hall where the show will be taking place, but I do think Little A will perform better on a stage than simply in front of large crowd. In a few days, I'll post the outcome.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Learning Curve

December already. Argh. The first birthday of the little shop saw the opening of a second, albeit temporary, one for this Christmas season. This meant hiring new staff, training new staff, observing the new staff, and keeping up with the corporate orders and retail customers.

Also, Little A went back to school and had to adjust all over again. A one-month break from thrice a week classes resulted in a behavioural backslide that extended to his therapy sessions. Suddenly he was having major mummy separation anxiety tantrums that required a gradual (two week) weaning-from-my-immediate-presence process.

Now that he's nearly back to his school-happy self, it's only a week until the Christmas holidays begin. So we will do this all over again in January.

Never mind. No one ever said parenting was easy, regardless of whether one's child is typical or not.

On a good note, he learned how to read and type the word "duck," his current favourite thing. One day, he pointed out something on a text heavy page, and I said, "Yes, those are words, and letters." He looked at me, disgusted, put the page down, went to his bookshelf, opened a book, took it back to me, pointed to a specific word on the text page again, then to a picture in the book.

I looked closely at the size 6 font and saw he was pointing to the word "duck." Then he pointed again to the picture of the duck, in a totally different book. To show me he could knew what the word said. I was beyond proud. My boy may not yet speak, but that he has begun reading, and typing, means that perhaps he will soon find a new means of communication.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Summer Book

No matter what part of the globe one calls home, summertime contains a certain magic. For me, it means talc-fine white sand shores, warm, clear blue water and a breezy spot in the shade to which I retreat when the sun blazes too brightly.

For an impetuous young girl and her physically fragile yet mentally agile old grandmother, summer is a tiny island off the Finnish coast where they, together with the young girl's father (also the grandmother's son), are the only human inhabitants.

Tove Jansson's The Summer Book was her first adult novel and is touted as her best-loved. Never out of print in its native Scandanavia since initial publication in 1972, this short and very bittersweet read draws largely from the author's own life. Perhaps this is what makes it so special. There is a saying that truth can be better than fiction, but this novel marries them so perfectly it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Jansson's prose is the kind I love, though credit must certainly be given to her translator. She uses simple few words that tell a great many things. Descriptions are anything but flowery and her narrative is straightforward, yet each chapter, on average four pages long, is a short story in itself.

"A small island, on the other hand, takes care if itself. It drinks melting snow and spring rain and, finally, dew, and if there is a drought, the island waits for the next summer and grows its flowers then instead, the flowers are used to it, and wait quietly in their roots."

The best part about this book is the relationship between the two women. Grandmother knows Sophia so well that she can defuse a potentially dangerous situation with a few simple words. She is wisdom personified and equal parts common sense and imagination. Sophia is a temperamental and capricious child, but is also wise beyond her years in a way children these days seldom are. Their exchanges are alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching.

Readers looking for a feel-good story about a grandmother and granddaughter will not find that in The Summer Book. This novel is philosophical in a very understated way, and re-reading it will bring new insights each time.

Though my introduction to Tove Jansson was though her utterly captivating Moomin world, I have firmly joined the ranks of her adult reader base. I look forward to reading more of her books, but sense I will return again and again to this tale of summer.

*A special Thank You to the two wonderful book bloggers who organised NYRB Reading Week. I hope it becomes a regular event held worldwide more than once a year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Long Holiday

Little A missed a week of school due to roseola, which meant he had one more week before school broke up for two weeks of holidays. The last day would be trick or treat day, and then there would be an afternoon party to mark the beginning of the break.

While I was looking forward to getting him back to his new routine (speech therapy once a week after school, and the thrice weekly shadow teacher), powers beyond my control had other plans.

On Monday there was a typhoon, which meant classes were called off at the preschool level. On Wednesday, his class was scheduled for a home visit, which meant that in lieu of regular classroom activities, a playdate at one student's home would happen instead. On Thursday afternoon, the teachers announced that there was an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease in Little A's classroom, and parents could decide whether or not to let their children come to school the next day.

Having suffered through hand, foot and mouth disease once already, none of us wanted to go through it again, and Big A said under no circumstances was Little A to set foot in school the next day. This meant his holidays had started two weeks early.

A month off school for Little A then, but not a holiday exactly. Therapy sessions go on, and so shall the shadow teacher's regular home visits, which are still something Little A is adjusting to. Perhaps when classes resume in November, he will look forward to going back.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Seeing Spots

When Big A and I got home from work last Tuesday evening, the Au Pair told us rather worriedly that Little A's front and back were covered in some sort of rash.

This was hot on the heels of an unexplained 24 hour fever two days previously. I checked the rash and checked the baby books, and it looked suspiciously like it could have been measles, german measles or roseola. Little A also had a cold, his eyes were bloodshot, and he had slightly soft stools in the days since the fever.

He never had his MMR injections, what with the whole autism-vaccination issue, so I worried it could be either of the measles, neither of which I've had, nor my Au Pair or Cook. (Big A phoned his mum, who said he'd had the measles as a child.)

Luckily, Little A's pediatrician was at the nearby hospital the following morning. We went for a visit, and she told us it was the least scary of the three - roseola. The rash would be gone in 2 days, and then he would no longer be infectious to other children below age 3. A good thing, since my mum's 60th birthday was that Saturday, and it would have hugely disappointed her if Little A had to miss the celebration.

While the rash was gone by Thursday and he was back in good spirits, though sleeping slightly longer at nap and nighttimes, I kept him home from school on Friday to be sure. Thankfully, he is back to normal, though he hasn't been back to school since then, which is a different story altogether.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Little About Me

It is a sad day when the second of two British boarding schools you have attended in your life is taken down to become a housing estate.

Last in, First Out
Ten years after I left, the school where I had spent five of my teenage years moved from Surrey to Birmingham, thanks to a tie-up with a prestigious British ballet company. It was bittersweet, as the Surrey campus had been its home since the school was founded, and had seen the likes of Sarah Brightman and Jenny Agutter walk its halls as students. In my time there, a few of us made it to the stage or screen.

Most of the staff, who had been there for decades, did not follow the school to its new home, or perhaps were not invited to, which is a shame as some of them had helped to create fantastic performing artists. Today the campus is a housing unit, but no longer for budding dancers.

Prior to studying in Surrey, I spent six weeks at a Sussex school in 1998 as a trial for the entire boarding school experience. This school, which had its own roster of famous alumni, shut its doors at the end of the summer term in 1989, and many of its students (as well as some of the teachers) went on to Elmhurst, so upon my arrival at the latter, it was nice to see many familiar faces.

Despite closing as a school 21 years ago, the campus remained untouched until very recently. It was with great sorrow that former students said goodbye to what will always be a very special place in their hearts.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Germs, Begone!

Dear Santa, For Christmas this year, we would like to be well. All of us, please. Thank you.

Today marks the start of the 4th week of family illness. One thing has followed another. First Little A came down with a 3 day fever that led to a cough and cold. Less than a week later, Big A caught the flu and I contracted sinusitis, all while Little A was still recovering from the first bug. Late last week, when we thought we were back on the road to health, we all started sneezing and realised we now had the common cold, though Little A had a fever again over the weekend.

Add this to: the coming Christmas rush, a second store opening in a week's time, new staff to hire and train, my mum's 60th birthday this weekend and, for Big A, a huge moral dilemma at work that has made him realise that, despite idolising Gordon Gekko from the moment he saw the first film 15 years ago, (the one that inspired him and countless other young men across the globe to get into stockbroking and investment banking) he did not turn into an unbridled capitalist after all, and you get a household that is limping along and doing its best to get back at full speed.

On the Little A front, we're getting into the new routine. He has started once weekly speech therapy, and his shadow teacher is coming thrice a week and accompanying him to school. They are still getting used to each other, but we're all crossing our fingers that this turns out to be a good mix of teacher and student.

Here's hoping this month, or hopefully even this week, sees us back in the pink of health.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This is the Way We Pack Away

Little A enjoys packing away these days. Hooray!

The flat we live in requires a place for everything, and thankfully my son is learning to put everything in its place. He helps with the household chores by stacking tins in the shopping trolley at the supermarket, making sure we have certain vegetables, arranging rolls of toilet paper on the storage rack and refilling the container of cotton buds that sits on the bathroom shelf.

I've also caught him opening the drawers where his favourite toys are kept, taking them out carefully with both hands then shutting the drawers with his hip. Just like his mother.

His favourite of all activities is finding every single coin in the house and slipping them one at a time into a particular drawer. Big A and I always know where to look when we need change.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Days Go By

It's been a month since I last posted anything, and I only just realised it.

In a month, we've been down with the flu and are just recovering, and been to a barrage of Little A's doctors - regular pediatrician for the flu, developmental pediatrician for a quarterly checkup, special ed doctor for psychoeducational assessment as recommended by his preschool directress and finally, evaluation by a speech pathologist.

We're now beginning the phase of increased therapy, which according to my reading is still far short of the 25-40 hours per week recommended period for intervention for children with autism. From just 2 hours per week of OT, he will now have an additional hour of Speech Therapy and close to 8 hours of home and school-based behavioural coaching/shadow teaching.

After Little A's parent-teacher conference in August, it was strongly recommended that we get him a shadow teacher (something I asked about last year but no one listened to me then) so that he could focus and attend more during class time to bring him up to the level of his age group in terms of social skills and learning.

The search for the shadow teacher, who will also do at-home behavioural coaching (something like ABA), took an entire month. The queue for a speech therapist's evaluation took several months. OT is going fine, but we've all noticed that after an initial marked improvement, Little A's progress seems to have plateaued. Add to this the fact that the clock is ticking and he only has until age 5 (6 at best) to maximize this period of super fast childhood brain development and here we have the urgent need for more intervention as soon as possible.

Since we live in a Third World country, the cost of all this comes out of our pockets. No state subsidies of any sort in our part of the world. Still, Big A and I have decided we will take out a loan if needed to pay for all this, because we only have 2 more years to help Little A catch up as quickly as he can. And these costs are staggering. Every treatment is billed on an hourly basis. Not per month, nor per semester. Per hour.

I am inundated with paper, lists upon lists, as we have plenty of home-based work to do with Little A and I'm trying to come up with a coherent across-the-board programme for the au pair and myself to execute on a daily basis. My mum, bless her, has enrolled in an Early Intervention course, auditing classes once a week at the university she taught at and got her Master's Degree from many years ago.

This is very much a group effort. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we're now putting together Little A's power team. Wish us luck.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Retail Therapy

There are women who don't like to shop. I don't personally know any of them, so perhaps they are an urban myth. Everyone I know possessed of the XY chromosome pair, and even certain XXs, get some enjoyment, if only the fulfillment of purpose, from finding, choosing and acquiring certain material objects.

For most people, some kind of shopping is a necessity to survival. We need to purchase groceries, petrol, clothing, presents, school and office supplies. We want to purchase entertainment objects such as books, magazines, cinema tickets and music cds.

Some people may enjoy this choosing and finding more than others. The acquiring part is understandably most painful as it requires parting with hard-earned money, and perhaps this is what sours the entire shopping experience for some.

Still, it is the sense of enjoyment that stays with one most when a particular thing is purchased. Whether it's a new tech gadget or a beautiful dress, a hot-of-the-press first edition or one's own home, one cannot deny a sense of happiness that comes with the acquisition.

Shopping for necessity is part and parcel of a wife and mother's existence. Shopping for enjoyment is a rarity. Shopping for a bargain is the best of all. So for the first time this year, I purchased three dresses and a top at a sample sale in a neighbour's flat. It was like stepping into a little piece of heaven, seeing rails upon rails of Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Chanel, DVF, BCBG, Bebe and more at unbelievably reasonable prices.

I am thrilled with my new things as owning a DVF dress has been on my life's wishlist for decades. The Marc Jacobs was a complete bonus and an utter delight. Now I have something worthy to wear with my few gorgeous pairs of shoes, one pair given by my husband every two years for the past three. Ah, the joys of being a girl.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hurts and Hugs

This month, Little A's teacher has given me two notes. These notes are the school's form of calling parents' attention to disciplinary problems involving at least two children. The report is called "Hurts and Hugs."

In the first instance, Little A was excited about some music being played and in his delight he yanked at his classmate's hair. Twice. The second time, he was again overjoyed at a movement activity going on which had the whole class in a frenzy, and apart from a powerful hug, he bit the same classmate, a quiet little boy, on the ear.

Making Like Mike
Little A's teeth HURT. I have been bitten more than once, sometimes because he was angry, other times because he was excited. My nose has suffered, as has my shoulder and both upper arms.

Each time, we tell him not to do so, and lately he has been biting less. But I guess that day he really was happy. We have also noticed that he is rougher with people he is fond of - his dad, myself, other children he likes.

After the biting incident, when I re-entered the school and saw the other little boy in tears, two other mothers who had witnessed it said it really wasn't meant maliciously. Little A, and the other boys, were just very, very excited.

Still, I am glad these reports are provided. What I do wonder though, is why I was never given a single Hurts and Hugs slip between November and May, when Little A was pushed regularly and deliberately by a big bully of a boy who is thankfully no longer in his class. The first couple of incidents I was prepared to overlook, but it would get such that the boy would go out of his way to seek out my son just to give him a strong shove that always sent him tumbling to the floor.

Last year's teachers, huge disappointments both, never did a thing about it. I knew it wasn't just me making something out of nothing because another student's father called the teacher's attention to it one time when it happened in front of the entire school. I am thankful that my son, at least, does not hurt deliberately. He may not be many things yet, but one thing he is not is a bully.

Busy Days

This is the second crazy month for me, with little time for anything other than work. Still, here we are, doing the best we can. Little A has been unpacking cupboards and leaving trails all over our flat. Where it used to just be mess, now it's often organised mess. Certainly an improvement, and something to smile about as he is very careful, particularly with the Noritake china.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Burn, Baby, Burn

Big A rarely falls ill. This is a very good thing because, like many men, he acts like he is at death's door every time he catches the common cold. This time though, he's pretty sick.

Since Little A has moved himself back onto our bed after a few months of sleeping on his own on the floor, his preferred sleeping spot is nestled next to his father. So naturally, he is now suffering from the same cold and cough combo as his dad.

Last night I wanted to ease both of their breathing difficulties and brought out the steam vaporiser, set it up and got it going. All was well until at about 430am, when Little A woke up, got down from the bed to get a drink, and decided he wanted to touch the vent from where the steam as issuing.

Of course he burned his hand. Of course there was screaming and crying. Of course it was not yet 5 am. He even tried to get into the sleeping au pair's room to show her his injury. I knew it was bad because he actually held on to the ice pack, something he normally never allows to come into contact with any part of his body.

After an hour, he fell asleep. Later that morning he woke up and didn't seem too bothered by the red and juicy blister covering part of his little hand. I told his teachers about the burn in case he didn't feel up to holding crayons or paintbrushes or his spoon, but when I peeked into his classroom midway through the class, he was seated at the little table, colouring away with no apparent discomfort.

For the rest of the day, he used his hand as usual. I hope the burn heals without the blister opening up, so that I don't have to worry about him touching dirty things with an open would, which he enjoys doing. Fingers crossed!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Move Over, Martha

Stepford Mum is in the house. The month of August is the turn of Little A's class to be featured on the school's notice board. A blank patch of wall is decorated in turn, month at a time, by each of the ten classes. More accurately, it is decorated by certain mothers in each of the ten classes.

As I am the only mother who regularly stays at school during Little A's classes, (a few come to drop off and pick up their kids, but most just leave their nannies in charge of the school run) I ended up in charge of this month's decoration. A meeting was held to discuss the theme and how we would execute it, but only three out of twelve mothers turned up.

Wanting to be democratic, we three held a little discussion and then the rest was left in my hands. I sent a letter out to the other parents explaining what was discussed and asking for feedback, assistance and financing for the materials needed to put this grand scheme together.

Running with Scissors
Most of the parents, save one set, sent their "payments" within the next few days. That week, I was busy with my trusty pair of 15-year old, still-sharp scissors as I cut out, one by one, letters to the words "I am the world's greatest," a dozen balloon-shaped sheets for each child's parents to decorate, five sets of colourful party buntings, and, at the last minute painstakingly put together what turned out to be a bonus art activity for the children - little paper "cakes" with their names on to adorn the matching balloons.

Serendipitously, Little A's classroom theme is "Party," and since the shop I run sells gift packaging materials, it was easy to get most of what we needed at great prices. An exhausting round of bookstores and a scrapbooking shop provided the rest of what was needed.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the work, despite being a total amateur in the crafting department compared to my highly artistic graphic designer of a sister. Putting it all together in one morning, on the other hand, would require more than one set of hands and I really wasn't sure any of the other parents would turn up to take part in this activity. So I recruited the help at hand.

Army of Nannies
On D-Day, I walked into the school with both arms full of bags, dropped off Little A at his classroom, then stood in the middle of the waiting area and called out, "Nannies of the Pink Room!" like a drill sergeant.

They responded immediately, and I set them to work. Anyone who has ever employed a good one will know that a capable nanny is second to mum only because she didn't actually birth or nurse the child she is in charge of (though some mums don't even do the latter.) If there were less-than-capable nannies present, the efficient ones quickly took them in hand.

While I gathered and put together the "cake slices" and balloons, the nanny battalion put the backing paper together, assembled the paper streamers and stuck the balloons on the sides of the sheets. They then assisted me with the placement of the lettering and the balloons and cake slices. We finished in plenty of time, and when Little A's class came out to see it, his teachers were very pleased.

Parents are competitive. Nannies are too. If there was a prize for the best decorated notice board at Little A's school, we'd be a shoo-in for first place. Already, the mothers of the next class to take their turn have asked me to help put their design together. Crafty mum, that's me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Music Man

When children are but a few months old, they begin to show their preferences in terms of toys and books. Later on they pick which food they eat, which nursery rhymes to listen to and which videos to watch. The point is, little people know what they like.

My son has always loved classical music. When he was in the womb, I listened to it most of the time, partly because as a trained classical dancer for most of my life, I enjoyed it, but mostly because of the whole Mozart-brain development theory.

I continued to play classical music when Little A was born, and the first videos he watched (and consequently grew totally addicted to) were the Baby Einstein and then the Little Einstein ones.

When he began to recognize shapes and images, he took great notice of musical instruments - brass, percussion and strings. He studies photos of instruments very intently and sometimes carries them around with him. One of his all-time favourite books from age one to this day is Zin Zin Zin A Violin, which has kept him occupied on plane, train and car rides as well as at home, for hours.

Little A recently inherited a 1/16th size violin that his two cousins have outgrown, to his great delight. Visits to their house have seen him sitting in a corner with both violins in front of him, serenading the rabbits in their cage.

While he seems a little young yet to begin music lessons, we are hoping the love for music remains, and that in time he will make music as well as he enjoys listening to it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Three's Company

This week, I will bake more cakes than I have in the past six months. My boy is three, and we are celebrating in our own little way.

Unlike my artsy younger sister, who could give Martha Stewart a run for her money in the crafting department, I have neither the talent nor the patience to cut out a gazillion crepe paper streamers and glue them into intricate shapes with added tiny accents. That said, Little A would probably love running through a flat with crepe paper streamers dangling from the ceiling so maybe I should get out those scissors.

My Martha moments come in the kitchen. Since this is birthday week, I am baking, baking, baking, with plenty of help from my dear food blogger friend.

On Sunday, I made a chocolate cake for myself, a yogurt cake for Big A's family (it was his grandmother's birthday as well, and 96 is certainly a milestone) and cupcakes to take to school for Little A's classmates the next day. The last were with a little help from good old Duncan Hines since I didn't have enough butter nor sugar to make the frosting from scratch.

This afternoon, I will make another chocolate cake, and a gluten free sponge cake for tomorrow, when Little A celebrates with his cousins. That way he can have his cake and eat it too.

Three years have been chronicled in this blog so far, with many more to come. For his third year, I wish my little boy good health and happiness. He knows how much he is loved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Read On

I am all for promoting children's reading. Whether it's a creative but copyright-infringing knockoff or a simple homemade picture book, anything that gets kids away from the television and turning pages cannot be bad.

These two little books were products of a book swap I recently took part in, and now happily live on Little A's bookshelves. Both brand new, both overlooked, these books represent two of the best things about children's literature and just go to show how some people's trash is other people's treasure.

One is just one step above a picture book, with lovely illustrations and simple text that makes for perfect bedtime reading for a young toddler. The other is verse, one of the best things for young children's language development. All of my favourites by Eugene Field, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson and even Mother Goose are in this slim volume. The lilting cadences that come with reading verse out loud calm me down, and certainly lull my cranky son into quietness.

I only wished there were more copies of these books at the swap. I would have snapped them up and given them to my godchildren this Christmas.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best of Both Worlds

There are some perfect pairings. Chocolate and peanut butter. Tea and biscuits. X and Y. For me, one of these perfect pairs is books and shopping.

I love to read, and, as a woman, shopping is in my DNA. Over the last few years, I've accumulated a few books that combine two of the things I enjoy most. While all of these books are gems, my current favourite is The Virago Book of the Joy of Shopping.

Beautifully packaged in black and that shade of blue popularised by one of the most well-known jewellers in the world, this book brings puts together a big picture by tackling every aspect of shopping from a fabulous selection of women writers. Taking the form of extracts from fiction (characters by Helen Fielding, Patricia Highsmith, and of course, the Shopaholic herself), non-fiction and even letters and diary entries by the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot, this book is one that every woman should have, and will love.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Best Things in Life are Free

Baby kisses. Warm hugs. People who remember your birthday. Yes, it's true that money needs to buy most of the things we need to survive, but sometimes we get great things without needing to fork over any cash at all.

Recently, the bookstore nearest my little shop was renovated. In the months since Christmas it looked terribly shabby, with dusty shelves, no new books (and consequently, nearly no customers) and a general air of neglect. With a competing bookshop rapidly expanding its number of stores, this one needed help, badly.

Luckily, the people running the store realised this and quickly took action. The newly redecorated shop is bright and cheerful, with well-stocked shelves. The management also kickstarted business and showed off the new look with a fantastic promotion - a book swap.

For the weekends of June, old books with pages intact (apart from school texts, reference books and a few other exceptions) were accepted by the store and in return customers chose as many books as they gave back from a roped off area containing tables of unmarked remainders, brand new sealed books that didn't sell too well, and the titles others had returned.

Over three consecutive Saturdays, I exchanged 27 books that I'd read but didn't love and couldn't give away for 20 spanking new books and seven secondhand ones that I'd been wanting to read (or never even heard of but looked interesting) and couldn't believe I'd gotten for free. Some of the new books have been put aside for presents, others may be swapped again once I've read them. Apart from the fact that I still have too many books for the number of shelves in my flat, a bookswap is really a no-lose situation. I hope the bookstore makes this a regular thing.

Hand Me Downs

Recycling is good. Little A is lucky to have an older male cousin who provided him with nearly all the clothes he has worn since he was born. The only new clothes he has worn were presents, and the only clothes we have bought for him were purchased in the last year - shoes, underwear, vests and shorts mostly.

Little A turns three in a few days, and he still has enough hand-me-downs to last for years to come. Amazingly, many of the things have come back in style, such as this Toy Story t-shirt, over 10 years old and from the first movie (the third installment is in cinemas now.) The FIFA World Cup kit from 1998 is also significant as the current year's championship is underway.

I wish my mother-in-law had saved some of Big A's clothes from when he was little, as I'd love to photograph his son wearing them decades later. I have made sure to pack away some of Little A's things that were given new, like his Marimekko shirts and his Chelsea football kit. Perhaps one day his son will wear them too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Testosterone Overload

I flip through the newspaper every day. I give the headlines a glance, read the stories and opinion columns that interest me, skim over the business and entertainment sections, take note of interesting ads and usually read the lifestyle pages in full.

The single section that interests me the least is the Sports page. I don't live under a rock, so I do know that sporting mania is going on right about now, what with the NBA finals and US Open just finishing and the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon going on simultaneously and the British Open taking place in a few weeks. I have a vague idea of which players are hot, and which teams deserve to win, but I can't seem to muster the passion for the game that keeps many of my friends rooted to television screens night after night. Not the same kind of passion that makes my heart skip a beat when the bookstore goes on sale, or when I try on a beautiful pair of red-soled shoes.

I imagine my dad, with a wife and three daughters, had a hard time spending close to three decades in a house where female hormones ruled and it was all about the arts, with no one to talk sports with him until his sons-in-law came along. With two males in my home, I may need to get into the sports scene soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Honour Thy Father

I'm not one to write full-out reviews, but when a really good book comes my way, I can't help but want to force it upon other people.

Currently in an American classics phase, I realized it had been a few years since I'd reread Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. That I picked it up two weeks before Father's Day was pure luck, because the reread made me realize that this novel, more than any other I've read, pays homage to fathers in such a beautiful way that no other novel even comes close.

In many books, young adult or otherwise, the father is nearly or completely absent (as in the case of the boy wizard, the boy genius, the teen demigod, the Little Women, and many more) or just in the background (as in the case of the clumsy mortal, her paramours, and countless others.) One of my other favourite books, Roald Dahl's Danny, Champion of the World, also pays tribute to the father figure, and as you will see in the photo, both these books have been read again and again in the 25 or so years they've been on my shelf.

Harper Lee places the father front and centre, in a position where he truly lives up to his title of head of the family.

This quote focuses on the book's central theme:
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of giving the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

As does this one:
"Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him..."

This book was written by a woman, so some may argue that she puts the father figure on a pedestal. But most who read the book come away awed and inspired. Read it. If you aren't moved to tears, then you don't have a heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Woman's Work

There is a saying that goes, "A man may work from sun to sun but woman's work is never done." How true, as this song from about 1692 shows.

Times have not changed much since then, except now women go to work outside the home as well as within it, making their lives that much more difficult.

Big A starts a new job next week, and Little A resumes preschool. We've made the most of the summer with little breaks to beat the heat, and now it's the time of year for the rains to resume.

The days pass, and soon Little A, no longer very little, will be three. Some things have changed, but others remain the same. The laundry piles up as the larder empties, meals must be planned and made and bills paid. Indeed, a woman's work is never done.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Postcards from Paradise

The summer heat is going nowhere, and when our bedroom air conditioner went on the fritz, we dug out the gift certificate for the two-night island resort stay Big A won last year at a golf tournament, booked the flights, and hied off to have some fun in the sun.

This was Little A's first beach trip, so we weren't sure what to expect. He loves to swim but has never experienced salt water, and only recently started walking on grass, so we wondered how he'd take to sand, even the talcum-powder fine version found on Boracay Island.

As for Big A and myself, the last time we'd gone to this beach together was in 2002, and much had changed on the island since then. It had gone from a little known paradise to a fully commercialised locale complete with Starbucks in just five or size years.

The resort we stayed at was on the opposite side of the island from the hustle and bustle, and we did appreciate the tranquillity, especially after a visit to the other side for dinner with my best friend and her family.

Little A loved the Kid's Adventure Zone with its giant slide and soft play area. He also loved being in the water, and didn't seem to mind the saltiness (though he was very careful not to swallow it). He didn't like the sand at all, and for some reason did not really enjoy our beautiful hotel room.

On the whole, it was a lovely two days, apart from being delayed and then diverted to another airport for the flight back. We do hope to visit the beach as a family again, and perhaps stay a little longer next time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

To Each His Own

During our last little family holiday, I came across this comic strip in the newspaper. Since these are the days when we can make digital copies of everything, there was no need to clip it out, though in hindsight, maybe I should have done so and pasted it into Little A's baby book.

My son will be three in six weeks, and he has yet to begin speaking properly. He's continuing to make progress with Occupational Therapy, but we are still waiting for him to start talking.

The comic strip made me realize how much we judge people based on what is considered to be "the norm". What is "the norm", anyway? And who invented it? Who said that man couldn't be an island when and if he chose to, for certain periods of time?

Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes strips are so clever that there was even a philosophy teacher who did a short course on them every year at the university I attended. I salute people like Watterson, who dare to question what others set as the way to do things. Naturally, I wish for my son to experience the same things his father and I did, but I also realize we do not fully comprehend that in his own way, his experiences may be fulfilling enough. He has his joys and his frustrations, as do we all, and perhaps, for now, that is enough.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Running in the Family

When I was about 3 years old, I ran away from home. Food allergies and lactose intolerance made me a very picky young eater (chimpunk-like, I used to masticate bits of meat and then spit them out later), so there was always war at mealtimes. I'd endured the "no leaving the table until you finish your meal" tactic by falling asleep on my plate several times, so my mother, in desperation, went for the "this is my house and if you want to stay here, you need to follow my rules" approach.

To my three-year old mind, it was made perfect sense. I didn't want to follow the rules by eating my dinner, so I had to get out. I got up from the table, went upstairs, and packed a small bag with my favourite pillow, some underwear and a toy. Then I walked downstairs and out the door.

My mum just stood at the upstairs window and watched me go. My grandparents lived next door, so she was sure I'd just go over to their house. When I walked past it and started to turn the corner, she panicked and chased after me.

I remember clearly that I was heading for the church a few blocks down the road. Whether that was because it was God's house and therefore somewhere else to live or because there was an adjacent school and the nuns might take me in, I really don't know. As my mother dragged me home, I argued that I couldn't go because I was not going to eat my dinner.

Last night, Little A followed in my footsteps. Six weeks shy of three years old and still not speaking, I have no doubt that he does understand most of what's going on, and that my three year old logic and his may have been along the same lines.

I explained that he would be punished briefly for something naughty he'd done, despite the fact that he'd been wearing his "I know I did something wrong and I'm sorry face" and kissed me by way of apology. I told him it was going to be a quick punishment because he needed to learn his lesson. In response, he walked to his room, picked up the toy cash register that had been mine as a child, and walked to the front door wearing nothing but his underwear.

He looked so determined to leave that I opened the door for him, whereupon he walked to the lifts and waited for one to open. I then said he couldn't leave home without a shirt, shorts and shoes at the very least, and this is when he started to scream. Nanny quickly came out with clothes and dressed him while he screamed bloody murder and no doubt made the neighbors wonder if I was a child abuser. One of them came out to go downstairs.

The man smiled down at my son, as if he knew exactly what I was going through. When the lift doors opened, he and Little A stepped in, followed by ever-reliable Nanny. I waved goodbye and went inside to wait.

A few minutes later, I heard the front door open and the sounds of Little A's crying. I went to the door and told him his punishment time was over. He walked into the bedroom and picked up the book he wanted read that night. I started to read and, just like that, we were friends again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Election Fever

Just four days apart, the two countries I consider my homes (the Philippines and the UK) are holding elections. The UK is done, just waiting for the final count, with everything happening smoothly, calmly, and in a typical British fashion.

In the Philippines, however, it is a totally different story. There is no work on election day, a liquor ban two days earlier, and the air cannot be seen for the thickness of mud that is being slung about. Candidates are using anything to fuel the fires and it is just getting so damn ugly that it seems disheartening to even vote for any of them.

Two days to go. And then an interminable wait for the winners, which no doubt will be questioned because of rampant cheating that has happened before and the failure of new machines that will be used for the first time on Monday.

What a joke. There is a song playing in the background of my mind, and it is "Send in the Clowns."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Vacation Time

The searing heat of these sizzling summer days makes living in the city very uncomfortable right now. A recent hike in power rates has also raised the ire of most people, who discovered this month that a minimal increase in consumption has resulted in a 50% increase in rates. Not a good combination.

Little A's nanny went on her annual holiday last week, which meant no work for me at the shop and full-blown Cinderella-with-child mode at home. Big A tried his best to help by taking Little A swimming every day, having his mum cook us a week's worth of meals to store in our freezer, and, best of all, booking us a 4 day holiday in the mountains.

We timed the car trips around Little A's schedule, wanting the bulk of the 5 hour ride to encompass naptime. Things worked out perfectly. The weather was perfect, and Little A discovered that grass is not the enemy after all but rather fun to walk on as he trekked up and down around the pine trees. Every morning, he spent an hour with me at the Kids' Club before we went on family adventures. We slept well, ate well and best of all, I had no cooking or washing up or washing to do - until we got home.

Now, it's back to reality until Nanny gets back midweek, and until the next little mini-break.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Munch Munch

Everyone is all about healthy eating these days. No fat, no carbs, no meat, no dairy. My husband and I are lucky to be blessed with fast metabolisms, which Little A appears to have inherited, but I do believe in the importance of a balanced diet for the entire family and make sure that every meal served on my table has some vegetable content or side dish.

It doesn't help that I married a caveman who claims veggies are only for rabbits. He does eat the few things - lettuce in salads, sandwiches, tacos and the occasional piece of roast veg - but the only time he will eat an entirely vegetarian meal is when his mum sends over a dish made from the fruit of the Moringa plant cooked with red peppers, onions, garlic and ginger. He consumes the entire bowl, without sharing, with a massive plate of white rice.

Little A, thankfully, is a veg eater. He has a frightening like of tinned meats and bacon but dislikes sweet things, so refuses fruit of any kind, along with cakes, chocolate and other sweets. His only snack food of choice is unsweetened corn flakes. Since he has long stopped drinking milk and no longer eats anything with casein, I worry that he doesn't get enough of the nutrients he needs. His sporadic medical checkups indicate that his growth is on track, and he is taller than most of his classmates as well as full of energy, and as he sleeps and poops well, I suppose there is no need for concern.

My sisters' daughters and many of my friends' children are terribly picky eaters, refusing most foods except for bread, french fries or plain pasta and pizza. Their parents keep the kids' diets as balanced as they can with plenty of milk, so I suppose I out to be nothing but thankful that my son eats well. And so I am.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moving Forward

Our follow-up visit to the first Developmental Pediatrician we consulted took place this afternoon. Following the BAER hearing test last December, we visited an ENT to check whether there was anything wrong with Little A's ear. All there was was a buildup of earwax that caused a blockage, which explained the "peripheral hearing loss".

The Dev Ped was very pleased with Little A's improvement over the course of his past 3 months' twice weekly Occupational Therapy. His eye contact is much more consistent and he is less hyperactive, actually sitting down in a chair for a length of time (though this could have been because he was past his naptime and was actually quite sleepy). More importantly, he sat down to complete every tabletop task assigned to him with a minimum of prompting.

The Casein Free Diet seems to be working, so the next step is to remove gluten from Little A's diet, which is much more of a challenge as it not only takes 9 months to be fully eliminated from the human body, it is present invisibly in so many foods, from soy sauce to cornflakes, Little A's only snack food of choice.

The doctor also told us to get in the queue for a Speech Therapist, as this is the only thing Little A is really still lacking. In the Philippines, only 30 individuals are licensed as Speech Therapists every year, and of those 30, most seek greener pastures abroad. So they are a limited and therefore valuable commodity.

This week, with summer in full swing, Little A resumes preschool for a 6.5 week period, along with his continued twice weekly OT sessions. We're keeping our fingers crossed that things continue to move forward.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bully for You

At his cousin's second birthday party this afternoon, Little A got pushed a couple of times and smacked around the face by a boy twice his size and probably thrice his age.

The party was a long play session at The Little Gym, which meant there were about 2 dozen children aged one to twelve jumping, running, swinging and throwing things in a large room with padded floors. Plus one adult for every young child and a few teachers. Loud music, screaming kids - pandemonium, in other words.

Little A likes these types of parties, where kids just do their thing and there is no one to force them to play games or sit down. He thoroughly enjoyed himself right up until the end of the party, when some big boys decided to turn two large cushions on their sides and ride them like horses.

He ran up to them, wanting to have a turn. One boy told him to go away because they were already there ahead of him, but he ran forward again with a big smile. At this, another boy pushed him roughly away.

Little A then turned to the other cushion, which had fewer boys crowding it. The boy who'd pushed him already reached over and gave him another shove.

Once can be an accident, but twice is intentional. When the cushion was at last available and Little A bouncing happily on it for about two minutes, the boy ran over from the other size of the room, smacked him on the mouth and pushed him off it so he could get back on.

My son is no sissy, and never complains with rough play or even mild pain, but this smack must have hurt because he put his hand to his mouth and cried for a few seconds. If the party hadn't been at an end, I would have Had Words (to borrow the capitals from a former schoolfriend and fellow blogger) with the boy's mother. But children and parents were leaving and there was general chaos so I just left it.

My sister, the host, was outraged on hearing what happened a couple of hours later, when I discovered that the bully's fingernail had left a nasty red mark on Little A's cheek. Apparently the boy was a brother of one of her son's friends, and had she witnessed the rough play she would have asked the big boys to leave the play area.

I am thankful my son is not an aggressive boy. He loves to hug and goes up to random strange children in shopping centres sometimes. At the playground in our apartment building, he stands at the top of the slide and doesn't let anyone past him to slide down until he's hugged them. While he can hug a little too tightly, I feel that this is miles better than shoving and smacking. And for a boy to be doing this to a much smaller child speaks terrible things of the people who are raising him.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dreaming of the Dream King

Tomorrow, Neil Gaiman returns to Manila for a two-day visit. He first came to the Philippines in 2005, when I was fortunate enough to be working for the bookstore that made the trip possible. As then-Media and Publicity Manager, my job was to schedule his interviews, which allowed me to spend a little more time with him than the people who queued for hours just to get a book signed.

Most people who read will agree that this man is more than just the Dream King. One of the best modern-day living writers, he has won countless literary awards and crossed over into scriptwriting, children's and young adult literature as well as storytelling. (Audiobooks narrated by him are fantastic.) He's even done something with stamps.

I first discovered this author in the late 90s. While homesick for the UK and trawling the bookstore aisles, I spotted a novel that featured both a London I longed for and one that was even better than my imaginings. Neverwhere remains my favourite Gaiman book to this day, if only because it features the city I love most in the world.

At any rate, early this morning (I woke up to soothe a fretful Little A from 5-630am and then got another couple of hours' sleep) Neil Gaiman starred in my dream.

As I remember, we were in a large room for some sort of writing workshop before his booksigning was to take place and I mentioned needing to leave early so I could buy one of his books and have it signed later. He gave me a why-don't-you-just-give-it-to-me-now-so-I-can-sign-it-instead-of-joining-the-queue-of-hundreds-later expression.

Then he was offered a granola-type food, which he took, ate and promptly said he loved because it reminded him of a childhood favourite snack, flapjacks. Shortly after this, I woke up.

I have no idea if Neil Gaiman likes flapjacks in waking life, although they are an authentic British snack, but I feel very honoured to have the King of Dreams himself visit one of mine. Tomorrow, I will likely join the thousands of fans waiting to see him in the flesh again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

From Baby Steps to Leaps and Bounds

Two months of the year have gone already, with evidence of this apparent in the change from cool, breezy weather a couple of weeks ago to cloudless skies and hot afternoons that signify the early start of an El Nino summer.

In our little world, much has happened as well. Little A has completed two months of occupational therapy, and in another month we visit his developmental pediatrician again to provide a progress report. Honestly, Big A and I are amazed and proud of how much our son has accomplished over the past two months.

During therapy sessions, Little A was initially uncooperative and had to be forced, with a lot of whining and outright tantrums, to do what was needed. Slowly though, he came around. He now enjoys the therapressure brush protocol, though he sometimes gets annoyed that it disturbs him from playing, and has gone from a hyperactive child who refused to sit still between tasks to one who sits quietly much of the time and plays with one toy while the next activity is being set up. He completes his tasks with minimal prompting and only complains towards the end, when he has tired of the repetition.

At preschool, he has gone from hating the classroom environment (and throwing a long tantrum every schoolday for most of the class period) to walking in happily and sitting down during circle time. He still does not give story time his full attention, but I am hoping that will happen in the next few months.

At home, he has decided that he will no longer spend all his nights in our bed. He makes up his own little bed on the floor with our help, and spends 50% of his nights there. He has stopped trying to climb into the swimming pool at every opportunity and eagerly watches any and all swimmers, pulling at the hands of children in swimwear to show them he wants them to get into the water.

We still have a way to go to get him to speak, but there is time in which to work on this, and thus far time has been telling that further improvements are on the horizon.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading 2010

Another reason I've been so remiss about posting lately is because I've been burying my nose in a book whenever possible. Some of the book bloggers I follow have been posting their reading challenges for the year, and while I thought I was Mistress of the List, apparently I've been falling short for years by not keeping a chronicle of all the books I read.

So for the sake of quantifying my reading this year, I hereby declare that I will complete the following reading challenges:

1. The Quantity Book Challenge - I put down 75 books, which is very doable since I estimate I read well over 150 per year, rereads and children's books included, but not counting picture books.

2. The Chunkster Challenge - 4 adult books of at least 450 pages each, not including short story or essay collections.

3. The A-Z Challenge - 26 new authors (ones I haven't read before) with last names starting with each letter of the alphabet.

4. Filipino Writers - 5 books by Filipino authors written in either English or Filipino

5. Classics - 20 books: 10 new reads and 10 rereads

6. Award Winners - 20 books, any combination of new and reread, that have won a literary award.

7. TBR Challenge - all books read for these challenges will come from my To Be Read pile, the stack or mountain of books most readers accumulate faster than they can read them all.

To help me achieve this goal is a nifty little notebook given by my sister as a Christmas present. A cloth-covered hardbound little book, it was printed specifically for the purpose of logging one's reading material. 2010 is underway, and so the challenges are being faced, one book at a time.

All's Well That Ends Well

I have been horribly remiss about posting this year. Only the fourth entry in two months, tut tut. The latest reason is that Little A and I have been down, then up and about, with a nasty cough and cold bug for a month now.

It started with a sore throat and phlegm that had me coughing and then took my voice away for nearly a week. Little A caught the cough first, then came down one morning with a fever that wasn't particularly high but persisted for nearly five days. Our pediatrician, who is also a pediatric pulmonologist, said it was nothing to worry about and would go away in its own time. The day after we visited her though, Little A felt so unwell that he just lay bed all day and slept on and off. He would drag himself to the table and try to eat (by the second day of the fever his appetite had gone from very good to practically nonexistent) and then go back to bed and just lie there.

Alarmed, we consulted, by phone, another pediatrician, who said more or less the same thing ours did. After two days of this lethargic lying about though, my mum decided to go the old school route and take Little A to our old pediatrician, who should be retired but is still practicing. This doctor thinks prescription drugs cure all, and promptly diagnosed bronchitis for us both and prescribed Little A two types of cough syrup, a course of antibiotics and a solution for the nebuliser that we had to administer five nights in a row. As my pediatrician three decades ago, he sent me off with a prescription for the same course of antibiotics and the grown-up version of the cough medicines.

Big A, who had this entire time been banished from the sickroom and was spending nights on the couch, insisted that I take my meds immediately. I did, and the antibiotic killed all the germs, good and evil, in my body so effectively that I came down with a cold and sinusitis the day after I finished the course, and only finished coughing a full week later and sniffling a few days ago.

We only gave Little A the nebuliser treatments, and his cough went away in another week or so, but then he came down with a cold a few days later. He still has a runny nose but thankfully has gained his appetite back.

Apparently, we weren't the only ones who suffered through this. My sister was coughing for weeks as well, though she never lost her voice. I am still recovering mine, weeks later. Still, I am thankful that neither Big A nor the au pair had to suffer through it. Let's hope it's another half year at least before the next bug hits.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Today is Day One

Metaphorically speaking, that is. I have not found the time to post recently, so the "real" Day One was actually 4 days ago. Day One was the new diet start date for Little A. No casein. No gluten will follow, but I'd rather do one thing at a time and see what works.

A fortnight has gone by since we took Little A to another developmental pediatrician for a second opinion. She was quick and frank in her assessment and diagnosis - Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our first dev ped had said "Communication Disorder," but this was just apparently another way of saying the same thing. And since we've already begun twice weekly occupational therapy, there is little else we can do now, except try the diets. The most common is the GFCF one, but other options are the Candida diet and SCD.

Thanks to the Internet and my photographic memory, I am now learning all I can about ASD in as little time as possible. Big A says he knew deep inside that this is what was different about Little A, and I suppose a part of me knew it too, as long before we even began to suspect anything, I had already stored literature on the vaccines and autism link, and showed them to my husband, who promptly refused to let Little A get his MMR jabs.

Both dev peds admit that Little A shows few stereotypies. Hyperactivity, yes. Hand flapping and other actions that fall under stimming, not noticeably. He likes to rock as much as the average child, and does not spin things obsessively. I have a friend who constantly pulls her hair out and others with their own little habits.

There were, however, red flags that we were never told about. Not pointing, pulling to show, these were things I thought were cute. In fact, I even thought that his not pointing would save me from later having me to teach him that pointing is rude, even if it is natural. The texture sensitivity and his intolerance of loud and crowded places that made going to children's parties impossible we just put down to natural quirkiness as there are many non-autistic children who don't like mud or sand or noise.

Still, it is official now. So, again metaphorically speaking, this is day one. All we can do is work with him, try what we can, and pray that the interventions work quickly and effectively. The rest is up to Little A.