Wednesday, April 27, 2016

So how do you do it all?

I have been getting this question rather frequently these days. "How do you do it?" I am asked. "How do you settle your renovation, homeschool, tend to a newborn, care for three other kids, do the housework, while not having a maid?"  Many a times, I wonder if the person is waiting for me to share some secret tip to doing it all, or waiting for me to reassure them that it isn't possible, and that life is a mess right now.

Whatever the case, the truth is that I have no answer to that question.

There is no secret tip to doing it all. I've learnt that you can't have it all. You can't have three kids and a newborn, homeschool, and renovate a house while keeping your own home spick and span, especially if your cleaning lady has to leave Singapore for home for three weeks. You can't care for a newborn and do pin-worthy learning activities while ensuring that the meals get cooked. You can't clear out the study for an impending visit, pack to move, plan your new kitchen, while writing regular blog posts. Something has to give. Life isn't a non-stop series of Instagram-worthy moments, and most of what isn't captured isn't pretty.

Which is why, yes, I can reassure you it isn't possible to do it all, and yes, life is quite a mess right now. I am so tired from staying up late to pack, to settle chores, to work out our renovation details. Yet while we try to get as much done as possible, there are always more things to be tackled, more messes to be cleaned up.

As I write this, the floor is littered with a confetti of cut paper that the toddler has spilt after a snowflake cutting activity that the older two have been doing. I still need to clear out the study, and it is a huge mess of half-packed boxes. The laundry is running, because the toddler has taken to peeing on the bed once in a while. The house is filthy, because I've no time or energy to vacuum, and our regular cleaning lady is away (so I've resorted to calling an alternative cleaner, thanks to a friend's recommendation). The home is a far cry from looking like this. The baby will wake up soon to nurse. Our dryer is spoilt and we have loaned my mum's one for the moment until we move, and it is now chugging along inside the study room (because there was no place else for it). We've not done much school these days, save for spelling and reading. And I am very very tired.

So yes, I am not doing it all, and I don't intend to. After all, I am human, not some robot that doesn't need to sleep. But whatever the case, this period of craziness has taught me some lessons:

:: Just do the next thing. As always. Because the only way to go is through.

:: Eliminate to concentrate. Because we can only do so much, and we need to stay focused.

:: We must fight, to choose joy. Because everyday can be a battle, but we can fight to count our blessings.

:: God enables when you are unable. Because we are treasures in jars of clay, and He patches us up with gold when we crack under pressure.

:: Our thorns are what keep us pinned close to God:

"The weaknesses, failures, and sins of our family are the places where we learn that we need grace too. It is there, in those dark mercies, that God teaches us to be humbly dependent. It is there that He draws near to us and sweetly reveals His grace. Paul's suffering teaches us to reinterpret our thorn. Instead of seeing it as a curse, we are to see it as the very thing that keeps us "pinned close to the Lord." 
- Elyse M Fitzpatrick

These days have been days of tears, of exhaustion, but these have been days of witnessing God's grace over and over again. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Home: An update

So we've gotten the keys to our new place, and renovations have already started. Our contractor is really on the ball, so everything has been moving at breakneck speed! We couldn't do much before we actually got the keys, so we've been spending the past few days running around settling things. Some days we are so busy I don't realize we're way past lunch time, and only realize I am famished when I finally start eating! 

Renovating a home has been both exciting, and exhausting. We've visited six tile companies to shop for tiles, and have had so many heated debates about this and that. Like toilet bowls. The hubby had to have this specific WC, because he watched a video that demonstrated how it could flush down 15 golf balls. However, I didn't like how it looked, so we compromised by letting him choose one WC, while I chose the other. Oh, and those tiles. Don't get me started on tiles!

Moving to a landed place has it's challenges, but it has been quite interesting learning more about all these technical things about building a home. I am looking forward to having more space for the kids, and a backyard for them to play in!

We've had to bring along the kids with us for errands when my parents were not available to babysit, and Baby J basically follows me everywhere I go. Going anywhere with four has been a challenge, and sometimes we resort to letting them play games on the phone, so that they don't run wild in the house that is now filled with debris and all manner of construction material.

The kids are excited about the new home, but are also worried about their drawings and toys. "Will we get to bring these over?" is a common question these days. Whatever the case, I'm taking this opportunity to declutter our stuff, so watch out for our moving house sale (probably on IG) soon!

I don't enjoy the craziness during this period. It feels like we're so busy, it's hard to breathe! But I know that things would go back to their regular rhythms, as the dust literally settles. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to sorting out our very long to-do list!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Life with four

Life with four has been crazy. 

It's the kind of crazy that turns you into an active volcano, one that is simmering and bubbling and all ready to explode. It's the kind of crazy that warrants me sneaking into the kitchen, for "just one bite of chocolate", until at the end of the day, you realize you have eaten half a huge bar of chocolate. It's the kind of crazy that has you flopped on the bed exhausted from having to babywear most of the day, wondering what on earth you did, aside from keep yourself and four little beings alive. 

These days, there seems always to be at least one kid crying, two kids fighting, and some new mess that needs to be cleaned up. We think Small J is on the verge of dropping his nap, and hence his whole schedule is pretty much messed up. He fights sleep, even though he's tired, and sometimes I find it impossible to make him nap. However, an early bedtime for him is challenging, because the hubby puts all three boys to bed, and can't be in two places at one time. So I try my best to make him nap, and find myself grinding my teeth and trying not to yell in the hour or two that he tosses and plays until he falls asleep. We're still figuring out a way to ensure he gets enough rest, but meanwhile, we end up with a really cranky and whiny kid who is also at the peak of his terrible twos.

Mealtimes are a huge challenge. Just the other day, Small J was melting down after lunch, because he had woken up early. His screaming woke the baby, whom I had to put in her chair because I had to carry the upset toddler. Lil J wasn't eating his lunch, and decided there and then he had to go poo. So I had to leave the crying baby, pacify the screaming toddler (figs did the trick), and clean up Lil J. 

Today, Lil J kept disturbing Small J, and the toddler decided that he couldn't take it any longer and messed up a Perler bead creation that Lil J was working on. Lil J lost it, and both started to go for each other. The shouting and crying woke the baby. I had to drag Lil J to the room to cool down, rush to finish lunch prep, while asking Junior J to help to repair Lil J's creation. Thankfully my dad was around, so he helped to carry the baby, while I had a talk with Lil J. Later, Lil J decided he was too upset to eat. And Small J also decided not to eat, and proceeded to spit every single mouthful I fed him. He then proceeded to demand for a chocolate egg, which of course, he didn't get. He went to bed hungry, after a fair bit of screaming and struggling, and then took ages to fall asleep. 

I catch myself wishing I was an octopus, and envision myself with waving tentacles deftly cooking, wielding the cane, separating fighting siblings, and eating my chocolate... all at the same time. 

But octopus I am not. And so, it has been prayer and prayer and more prayer. And chocolate. Lots of it. And sometimes, outbursts of crying. 

However, amidst the madness there are always bittersweet moments, that help you to think that having four and choosing to stay home isn't that bad. Sometimes it's seeing how Junior J has risen up to the occasion, and helps care for his younger siblings. Or how the older two are now helping to prepare dinner by chopping up stuff. Or those sweet moments where all four are hanging out together, and no one is fighting. There are also those times when you realize that they grow so, so fast. Or the times when you discover that they are making progress in an area that they were struggling. And suddenly, the world stops spinning at a dizzying rate, and slows down for your heart to capture a snapshot to remember forever.

And of course baby smiles. Baby smiles always make things better. 

They say God never gives you more than you can bear, and life these days are a testament to that. His mercies are truly new every morning, and I know things will get better as time passes. Meanwhile, there's always prayer, and more chocolate. :) 

PS: I've hardly the time to blog these days, so for more snippets of crazy, head over here!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Thankful Tuesday: Living in the "in-between"

I've been living in a state of "in-between" these days. It's an uncomfortable state, one where you feel like you are waiting, with baited breath, for something to happen, for things to get better.

It's how the boxes of various things purchased for the new home pile up around the house, as we wait the legal matters to be sorted, and the keys to be handed over. It's how I literally suck in my breath, and hold in the abdominal muscles, when I put the baby in the carrier to gain back the use of my hands, even though I've read that babywearing may make my diastasis recti worse. It's how we pat and rock the baby, knowing that it gets better in a few months. It's how I sit by the toddler who tosses and turns and talks and does everything but nap, knowing that he is is teetering on the edge of the parenting crazy cliff called "I need a nap", and wondering when he will finally reach the stage where he will truly not need one. It is how I feel, clogged and congested, with my second bug in a row, wondering when I will ever stop coughing.

I don't do transitions well. So I struggle with these "in-betweens", always hoping for things to settle down. But I am reminded that change is our only constant... and that a Christian's life is always in that state of "in-between", as we wait here on earth for Christ to come again. And this stage of being stuck means there is something to look forward to: moving to our new home, not having to rush home for the afternoon nap (until the youngest starts being unable to nap on the go), recovering and feeling better, the delightful months of cooing and gurgling that follow the initial demands of the newborn stage. (Oh how fast they grow, especially in the first two years!) And of course, ultimately, our home in heaven.

So I keep praying, and thinking of the things that are to come. The "in-betweens" start feeling a little less like hindrances, but more like building blocks of anticipation and hope. Meanwhile, I look around me and see so many blessings: these four little children, who are learning to care and love each other, the hubby, who has stepped up so much, our parents, who tirelessly help out and shower so much love on the kids, my friends, who help in practical ways and send prayers when I need them most. And I am so thankful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Love Letters: Love in the ordinary

My dearest children,
Papa and Mama celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary a few weeks back.  It marked the end of Mama's confinement period, and I was craving beef. A juicy burger, to be exact. So I suggested that we head to Burger King for our celebratory dinner, much to Papa's horror.

I didn't get my burger. But I did get really good prime beef short ribs that I had to cook on a sizzling lava rock, and a huge bunch of flowers to boot. The bouquet had one sunflower, ten roses (for our ten years), and four carnations (representing the four of you). The florist told Papa he had chosen the strangest combination, however I begged to differ.

It was a lovely dinner, and the food was excellent. You could taste the effort that went into creating each dish: the layers of texture and flavours, all expertly blended together. You would have thought it would have been one of those romantic dinners, with candlelight, wine and some life-changing conversation. Instead, it was like a scene from one of our meals at home, except everyone was better dressed, and thankfully we only had one child to feed. 

Baby J, you chose to poop first thing upon us reaching our destination, and the building that the restaurant was housed in did not have a changing table. We had to change you in the balcony, you perched upon the table with nothing between you and a eight metre drop, while I held on tightly to you. You fretted most of the time during dinner, and I ate half of the delicious food surreptitiously standing up in a corner, as I rocked you. We didn't have life-changing conversations. However, we did enjoy some quiet chit-chat, without the usual interruptions of having to bring a kid to the potty, or chasing a wandering toddler. 

Many would say that romance disappears after the wedding. It does, if you are looking for it in all the wrong places. The bouquets and letters might decrease in number, the celebratory moments may become fewer and far between. This is even more so when there are kids in the picture. You can't really enjoy a quiet candlelit dinner when there are toddlers about: they need to be chased and fed, and sometimes might try to burn down the house with the candle. 

But love? It doesn't slip away, making a quiet exit because everyone is just too busy trying to survive and care for the kids. Instead it grows, but you need to look carefully to spot it. You can find it in the kitchen, when one person does the dishes so the other can rest. You feel it in the hands of the person who volunteers to clean up the puke or the pee accident. You see it in the everyday moments, when one person decides to put the other's needs above their own. You sense it even in the quarrels, when one learns to control the tongue, and put aside pride to say "I'm sorry". 

This kind of love is quiet. It's not showy with loud proclamations of adoration, but always there. As 1st Corinthians 13 puts it: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

I once read that while our God is all-powerful, we meet Him mainly in the plain moments of everyday life:

"We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: 
not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences 
but in our simple presence in life.”  
- Brennan Manning

I think it is the same when it comes to love, since we are only able to love through Him. We find love in the everyday moments, in our daily grind, in the grittiness of real life. Of course there are the high points, of celebrations and romantic dinners. These are not wrong in and of themselves. However, be careful not to use these as a barometer for a relationship, because it is much easier to buy flowers, than commit to doing the vacuuming week after week. Look hard for love in the ordinary, and be thankful for it when you do find it.

One day you will grow up, and you would start looking for love in that special someone. I pray that you'll look for love in the right places. Meanwhile, we pray that we'll be able to love each other and love you as God has loved us. 

Your Mama and Papa.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The second month

It's our second month as a family of six. 

The in-laws have returned home, and life is now falling into a more predictable rhythm. It's a rhythm of juggling, through a haze of sleep deprivation that a newborn brings. These days I still feel like I'm just fighting to stay afloat: I find myself carrying the baby and bringing Small J for his numerous potty requests just before naptime, while yelling at the older two to stop fighting. I half-wish I was an octopus, with extra arms to do what needs to be done. But octopus I am not, so I do the next best thing, and babywear. 

Babywearing works for all of us: I get my hands back, so I can attend to the older three. The baby is happy, because she is snug, and being upright helps so much for her reflux. She gets to sleep, while I get to do school, read to the boys, or cook dinner. The only one that is complaining is my back, and the nagging thought about encouraging sleep associations that might make getting her to nap harder in the future. So I try to put her in the cot whenever she falls asleep. Sometimes she stays asleep, sometimes she wakes, then it's back into the carrier for another stretch. But for now, it's really a matter of whatever works. 

Whatever the case, I am so glad that we are falling back into some semblance of a routine. I've learnt to be an opportunist when it comes to homeschool, snatching whatever time and opportunities I have for learning. There are no pinterest worthy lessons, just lots of reading aloud, and short lessons as and when I can manage them. I am really thankful for my parents who have been helping out, and the hubby who has been a trooper, juggling both work and his daddy duties.

Lessons aside, Junior J and I had the chance to take part in a fundraiser to raise funds for Preemptive Love Coalition, and are looking to do another fundraiser with the group in the near future. That aside, we're starting to prepare for the upcoming homeschool Children's craft fair in May. 

Amidst it all, we're also preparing to renovate our new home. (You can find more updates over on Instagram. You can find us at @justtey.) These days, we've been scouting for tiles, which has been both mind-boggling yet exciting.

With all that has been going on, life has been really really full, but in a good way. Whatever the case, we're all enjoying having a new member in our family, and these moments of togetherness make all the craziness worth it!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Reheating food: Hazardous or hoax?

These days, I get updated on current affairs through Facebook. I find news websites a tad depressing to read, and it seems that you can more or less get updated through FB, since people can be counted on to share about relevant issues. If there's an earthquake somewhere, or if there is some good sale going on, you'd be certain that someone on your friends list would post about it. I've realized that the filtering that Facebook does to your feed can be pretty useful, since it means that I tend to get updates from the people or pages whose posts I read more, and that prevents information overload. (FB's filtering isn't so great when it comes to small businesses though, but that is another issue altogether.)

I really do enjoy reading posts about varied topics, and I myself share interesting articles on the blog's FB page. However, there is another class of articles that I am not a fan of: the health-related ones that usually involve a certain amount of fear-mongering, with titles which include words like "toxic", "lethal", "can kill". My issue with these is how many of these articles do not seem to be reliable and are not substantiated with scientific research, yet many go on to share these articles as if the information was truth.

One example would be a post about seven foods that become poisonous upon reheating, which has been making its rounds recently. I spotted a few friends and pages that I follow sharing this post, and I know it got some people quite worried about freezing and reheating their food. This particular post bothered me a fair bit, which is why I am writing in an attempt to encourage everyone to read with discernment. That aside, I wanted to take the opportunity to research their points on food safety a little further, since it is a relevant issue for us, as we freeze and reheat food frequently.

Firstly, about reader discernment. These days, anyone can set up a website or blog sharing information about anything. Most of the information online is not policed or vetted, which means the best way to read anything on the web is with a huge pinch of salt.  I found this list of questions very helpful for evaluating online information, and it tackles aspects such as coverage, objectivity and accuracy. Even what is deemed as a reputable source may sometimes give erroneous information, for example, a news site may misinterpret the findings from a scientific paper. To a certain extent, scientific research, often deemed as reliable information source, has its limitations too, since the type of tests and sample sizes may not be ideal, and fraud can also be an issue.

All in all, we need to remember that not everything online is true, and we need to be wise in how we deal with information in cyberspace. We also need to teach our children the skills to evaluate information as they learn how to navigate the web (I can't emphasize to you how important this is, having marked so many project reports from kids who plagiarized chunks of information filched from random sources!).

Now back to the article on reheating food. Going by the list of questions to evaluate internet information, the article wasn't up to mark on many aspects. It had issues with regards to authority: all the information was copied from another article, and no author was stated. A quick check on Google showed that there were at least ten articles containing the same points floating around in cyberspace, all with no scientific evidence being cited to back up the points. Another indicator which set off alarm bells in my head were the reader comments that followed. However, the point of this post is not to slam the websites, or the writers (which is why I am not linking to the said posts), so let's move on to looking at what interests me most: do these stated foods really turn toxic when reheated? (In the process of researching this matter, I've tried to use reliable sites with accurate information, to the best of my ability.)

1. Spinach

Spinach was the first culprit in the dangerous food list, being said to "contain nitrates which will change into nitrites when reheated". A quick search online yielded many articles which stated that spinach becomes toxic when reheated, but most of these were written along the same lines of the original article, and these didn't cite any references or give a proper explanation. However, I found a short piece by European Food Information Council that confirmed the point about nitrates and nitrites:

"Nitrate itself is totally harmless, but it can be converted to nitrites, and then to nitrosamines, some of which are known to be carcinogenic. Enzymes present in bacteria convert nitrate to nitrite. This happens especially when spinach is heated, stored and then later reheated. Nitrite itself is a harmless compound, but it should be avoided by infants of up to 6 months. It can affect the ability of the blood to transport oxygen by transforming haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood, into methaemoglobin, a form of the protein which is unable to carry oxygen. This can be dangerous for babies and is commonly known as “Blue Baby Syndrome”." 

I wanted to read up more about the whole process of the conversion of nitrates to nitrites, and I found this very informative article from the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong. To summarize, spinach does contain a high amount of nitrates, and this is converted to nitrites by enzymes within the plant cells, and by bacterial action on the vegetables before cooking, after cooking, and after ingestion. It is probably not the action of reheating the spinach that is the issue, but that the cooked spinach has been left at room temperature before being refrigerated, since this period of time allows for an accumulation of nitrites.

2. & 3. Celery, carrots and beets
These three were also mentioned as having high levels of nitrates. However, I unearthed this factsheet on nitrates and nitrites, and it stated that the vegetables that contain the most nitrates include lettuce, spinach, beetroot, celery and radishes. Going by the table of nitrate levels of various vegetables, it seemed like carrots do not contain high levels of nitrates.

If the levels of nitrate/nitrite are a cause of concern, then following these steps would help to reduce their levels:
:: Storing the fresh vegetables in the fridge, which reduces enzyme and bacterial activity.
:: Peeling root vegetables, as the nitrates are concentrated in the skin and just below the skin.
:: Discarding the stems of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach might help to reduce the nitrate levels.
:: Washing leafy vegetables before cooking, and blanching them in boiling water and discarding the cooking water, which helps to wash away some of the nitrates.
:: Cooking the vegetables immediately after chopping or mashing, as chopping releases the enzymes from the cells and speeds up the formation of nitrites.
:: Freezing any foods containing these vegetables, if not to be consumed immediately, so as to stop bacterial action which causes nitrite accumulation. [A side note: this means it should be fine to heat up those frozen frittatas containing spinach, if you froze them quickly after cooking!]
:: Not storing these foods in the fridge for more than 12 hours.
:: Ensure food for infants containing such vegetables is prepared for immediate use, and only introduce these foods when they are older.

Like what was mentioned in this articlethe nitrates and nitrites in vegetables should not pose a problem to us, and reheating the vegetables should not be an issue if the food has been stored properly prior to reheating. However, the consumption of these vegetables would be an issue in young infants due to the risk of methaemoglobin.

Finally, for those who are concerned that the presence of nitrites in vegetables might lead to the formation of nitrosamines (some which are carcinogenic), some studies have shown that the Vitamin C found in the same vegetables have a protective effect against various cancers. However, processed meat (such as sausages) can be a source of nitrosamine exposure. These meats contain nitrites and nitrates which are used as preservatives, as well as amines, produced during the breakdown of protein. The nitrites in processed meat can combine with amines to give nitrosamines. So if you're worried, eat your vegetables (but ensure you follow food preparation and storage guidelines), but ditch the processed meats!

4. & 7. Potatoes and mushrooms
The article stated that potatoes are harmful when reheated because "their dietary and health benefits are lost". I tried researching further, but I couldn't find any article discussing this in detail. Going by the nutritional content of potatoes, key nutrients include carbohydrates (mainly in the form of starch), as well as Vitamin B complex and Vitamin C. Since both of these vitamins are heat sensitive, the process of cooking the potatoes would decrease the levels of vitamins. Subsequent storage and reheating of the meal might further decrease the vitamin content. However, even with this loss of vitamins, I do not think we can conclude that reheating and consuming potatoes would be harmful.

In the case of mushrooms, the article mentioned that reheating might cause "heart and digestive problems". However, again no scientific evidence was found that reheating mushrooms (assuming these are the edible ones!) might cause health issues, so long they were properly refrigerated after cooking.

That being said, it is important that the cooked food is stored properly in the fridge if it is meant to be reheated and consumed later, since leaving the potatoes or mushrooms at room temperature may result in the growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium occurs naturally in the soil, hence it is sometimes present on potatoes or mushrooms. It  produces spores, and these are heat resistant to a certain degree, so the process of cooking/baking potatoes may not destroy the spores. The spores can then be activated as the potatoes are cooled, especially in low oxygen conditions (such as when the potatoes are foil-wrapped). While the bacterium and spores do not cause disease, they produce botulinum toxin, which causes respiratory and muscular paralysis, an illness known as botulism. Potatoes seem to be one of the common foods associated with botulinum, while mushrooms are less often mentioned. However, a study has shown that the toxin can accumulate in fresh mushrooms that are stored at room temperature. As the toxin is heat-labile, heating foods to temperatures of above 80 ºC for at least ten minutes would greatly reduce the possibility of illness.

A side note: Infants can also contract botulism, when they consume food containing Clostridium spores (such as honey), which then grow in their gut and produce botulinum toxin. This usually doesn't happen for children above 6 months and adults, as the immune system prevents the growth of the spores. This is why it is not recommended to feed honey to babies below one year of age.

(For more information, click here for an interesting read about the history of botulism, and here for more information about the bacterium and preventing food-borne botulism.)

5. & 6. Eggs and chicken
The article cautioned that eggs were "lethal" if consumed after reheating, and that the "protein in chicken undergoes a change in structure when eaten the following day". Again, I could not find any evidence to support this, and if you think about it, cooking the chicken the first time already alters proteins since the heat denatures them.

Like potatoes and mushrooms, the problem with reheating eggs and chicken would be the risk of food-borne illness. However, this bacterium in question this time is Salmonella, which can cause diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps. Usually the issue is when the eggs and chicken were not cooked adequately enough the first time (in terms of temperature and time duration), such that the bacteria present in the food is not killed. If the cooked food is left at room temperature and not refrigerated quickly, the bacteria multiplies and causes illness.

To prevent food-borne illness caused by bacteria such as Clostridium and Salmonella, ensure the following:

:: Store food (including eggs) below 4 ºC.
:: Oil infused with garlic or herbs may contain Clostridium, and should be refrigerated.
:: Do not use food in cans that have bulging or damaged lids, or any signs of leakage. Discard any expired canned food, and any eggs that have cracked.
:: Store raw meat separately from other produce and food in the refrigerator.
:: Refrigerate cooked food quickly and use within three days. If the portion to be stored is large, divide it to allow it to cool faster.


:: Wash hands, kitchen counters and utensils with soap before food preparation, after handling raw meat and eggs, and after visiting the bathroom.
:: Some recommend that poultry should not be washed, as the juices containing bacteria may contaminate kitchen surfaces or other food.
:: As home-canned foods may contain Clostridium, always heat these foods to 80 ºC for at least ten minutes.
:: Cook eggs until the whites and yolks are firm.
:: For dishes that require eggs to be raw or undercooked, use pasteurized eggs.
:: Poultry needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 74 ºC.
:: Reheat leftovers until piping hot before consumption.

:: Hold hot food above 57 ºC (poultry should be kept above 74 ºC), and keep cold dishes cold.
:: Do not leave cooked food out for more than two hours, and try to eat food immediately after cooking.
:: For lunchboxes and picnics, pack eggs or egg products with a frozen gel pack, or a frozen juice box.

(These tips were summarized from here, here, here and here. You can visit these sites for more information.)

In conclusion, reheating these seven foods is not dangerous, provided that the rules for proper food preparation and storage are followed. It is not reheating the food, but the presence of bacterial contamination and the improper handling of food that causes illness. Of course, it is ideal that you eat freshly prepared food, but freezing and reheating food should not pose a health issue.

PS: I hope this article has been helpful in debunking the myth that reheating certain foods can kill you. If you've found it useful, please share this!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Worry: A thief of Joy

You might say we have a perfect life. Ten years of marriage, four healthy little children,  an exciting move into a new home. Of course we've had our problems, but our blessings far outweigh the troubles we've encountered, and we have been very blessed.

However, I admit that since the day my first baby was placed into my hands, I've always worried that all this was too good to be true. That I was blessed with so much, that some measure of sorrow must be given. That perhaps one day, I might be like Job, and have some of these precious people, or things wretched away from me. Like most parents, we fretted when we discovered troubling health symptoms in our children, and we worried about major illnesses. (Recently, we had to do an ultrasound on Baby J, as there was a possibility she had spinal bifida.) We worried about their education, after making the decision to homeschool.  We had sleepless nights, after all the issues and mess-ups that occurred during the process to purchase our home.

Today, I sat in church listening to the sermon, one hand trying to feed a baby who strained and kicked. I didn't manage to follow through the sermon, since I had to nurse and then change the baby. One particular thing though, caught my attention. My pastor shared about how a father he knew found so much joy in the birth of his son. However, this father could not really enjoy his son, simply because he was so worried that something might happen to his little one. My pastor shared that sometimes we might be like that father, and reminded us that God is not a bully, someone out there maliciously planning to trip us up. This really hit home, since there have been so many times where I've let my worries get in the way of enjoying my blessings. In a sense, I was like an overly suspicious person, who receives a wonderful gift. Instead of enjoying that gift, I would hold it gingerly with two fingers, and ask "now, what's the catch?".

I've had less problem trusting God in the tough times, of which we've had our fair share. Our world is a fallen world, and I know that pain, loss, illness & death a part of our sinful inheritance. However, while I was able to look to God when things are difficult, I was still not fully convinced of His goodness to enjoy the blessings He has bestowed. Because I didn't know God truly as the good God that He was, I let worry into my heart, and it robbed me of joy.

When Birds Worry 
When the birds begin to worry 
And the lilies toil and spin, 
And God’s creatures all are anxious, 
Then I also may begin. 

For my Father sets their table, 
Decks them out in garments fine, 
And if He supplies their living, 
Will He not provide for mine? 

Just as noisy, common sparrows 
Can be found most anywhere
Unto some just worthless creatures, 
If they perish who would care? 

Yet our Heavenly Father numbers 
Every creature great and small, 
Caring even for the sparrows. 
Marking when to earth they fall. 

If His children’s hairs are numbered, 
Why should we be filled with fear? 
He has promised all that’s needful, 
And in trouble to be near.

- Anon

Today, I am reminded to enjoy my children and my blessings, and to give thanks to the Giver, while trusting that He who gives good gifts also holds our tomorrows. May we continue to keep looking to Him!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Love Letters: Ten good years

My dearest children,

Your Papa and Mama got married ten years ago. People have a lot of alternative names for marriage, from tying the knot, to getting hitched (interestingly enough, this phrase came from the practice of hitching horses together to pull a wagon). Whatever you call it, marriage involves the union of two people. Since people are never perfect, you'll find that this union is also imperfect. You'll know, since you've witnessed the times when we argue and fight, the times when we get angry at each other and end up shouting at each other.

However, conflicts aside, you've also seen how a marriage is love in action (or at least, I hope you have!). I remember a Reverend once defined love as "an intelligent willingness to do what is best for the other person", and that made sense. Love isn't a feeling, because feelings are fickle and change with the minute. Love is a verb: it is a conscious act of putting someone's needs above your own. You've seen it in the way Papa stays up to load the dishwasher, so that Mama can rest, or how he works hard to provide for the family. He isn't one who is lavish with gifts or words, but he shows his love quietly in his actions.

The world will tell you that you need to find a spouse that completes you, that fulfills your every need. Unfortunately, you'll find that you'll never be able to find a person that will do that, because only Jesus is able to fulfill our every need. That being said, marriage involves a partnership, and partners complement, and build each other up. I know it is the case for us, and we help the other fill in the gaps for our weaknesses. Papa's the rational and logical one, while I help him to understand the emotional, rather irrational side of things. He brings spontaneity to our outings, and helps me to loosen up a little, while I help him to keep track of our appointments, and things to do because he just can't seem to remember. You've witnessed the debates we've had, from identifying the instrument playing over the radio (Mama always turns out to be right, because she was the one who played in the symphonic band, though she doesn't have that music diploma that Papa has!), to politics (Papa says I need to think and care more deeply about these things). Many a time, our different personalities mean that we fight like cats and dogs. However, we're learning, just like you, to love more, and to love better each day.

On to a side point: When you grow up, you'll find that you'll be given all kinds of suggestions for the perfect wedding. These days, weddings are becoming more and more magical (and correspondingly more and more expensive!). But don't you forget, that the wedding is just the beginning. It is not about how many tables you have at the banquet, or what car you use, or if you had your pictures taken against a Greek sunset by the beach, but about how you live those years after the wedding. Boring I know. However, that is a lifetime of meals eaten together, and a lifetime of rides together, be it on the train, bus or car. It'll be a lifetime of sunsets, and lots of photo opportunities along the way... and that is so much better. (And another tip if I may: Don't spend too much on those wedding portraits and albums. Many advised us about this, and I've found it to be true, since the albums end up collecting dust!)

It's been ten good years for Papa and me. There have been hard times, and times when we feel like tearing our hair out. But there have been such wonderful times too, and we've seen how God has helped us through it all. The four of you are one of the most precious things we have gained in this marriage, and we couldn't thank Him enough for each of you. But for today, here's to the two of us, for the rest of our lives.


PS: To the hubby:
Thank you for putting up with all my craziness for the past ten years! Love you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Love Letters: In His good time

My dearest children,

Mama used to teach. I had the opportunity to witness the phenomenon called "growing up" on hundreds of students, where I saw them change from rather mischievous young boys, into men. These ex-students of mine are all in their twenties now. Many are working, and some even have gotten married! Some of these students were quite a handful in school: they failed subjects, they were rowdy in class, they couldn't sit still. Some fell asleep in class half the time, some had alot of angst, some of them sometimes forgot to do their homework. But you know what? Almost all of them turned out pretty ok in the end. The pimples cleared up, the moodiness of adolescence faded, and they grew up.

I had the chance to chat with one of my ex-students recently, when he dropped me a note to ask if I was able to write a letter of recommendation for his application to university. His story was different from the typical kid studying in Singapore, and I am sharing his story here with permission. While most take the direct path of secondary, then tertiary education, he dropped out of polytechnic halfway, and later went to do his National Service. It was in NS that he decided to sit for his A levels as a private candidate, and he went on to do pretty well. It was a story of determination, and he shared that to study for his As, he borrowed notes from strangers in the library, and got notes off the internet. Now he is applying for University.

While my student's story had a somewhat happy "ending", I can imagine how his parents would have been worried about him. As parents, we tend to worry about your future. Living in this society that values academic qualifications doesn't help, especially when the focus tends towards accelerating learning, even during the early childhood years. I admit, sometimes I am terrified when thinking about the uncertainties that homeschooling brings, since this is a path less trodden. But my student's story is a reminder to me, that not every child's path through life is a straight one. Some take a more meandering path, some head the wrong way, only to make a u-turn later. Whatever the case, I am again assured that God makes all things beautiful in His own time, and that we need to continue trusting in Him. I need to keep remembering that He holds your futures in His loving hands, and that everyone's journey is different.

Now all of you are still young, and it is my hope that you'll keep playing, exploring and discovering. You've taught me how achieving all these milestones of growing up are a matter of time. I've learnt that some just need a little more time to get there. No matter what, know that we'll never give up on you, and that we'll always be behind you. So take your time. Like how flowers grow and blossom in according to the seasons, bloom only when you're ready.

Your Mama and Papa.


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