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This morning, I relied on this ‘Pause + Pray’ list in Thirst’s reflection piece for the words to pray for River Valley High school:

  1. Pray for peace and comfort to all who are hurt and grieving.
  2. Pray against every fear and trauma arising from this tragedy.
  3. Pray for protection on our schools and young people.
  4. Pray for wisdom for the decisions that need to be made by schools, the authorities etc.
  5. Pray for kindness, compassion and love among Singaporeans.
  6. Pray for humility and repentance as we seek God’s mercy and grace.
  7. Pray for God to move in a powerful way in our nation, for Him to redeem this for good.

Read Thirst’s full article ‘River Valley High School death: Making sense of a painful loss’.

Last week, I encountered several signs of a new season approaching, which came into sight after I met singer-songwriter Crystal Goh at our Read! Singapore panel session two weeks back.

We caught up for brunch today to fellowship as she also sensed that she was entering a new season.

Crystal and I had first connected in 2013 when she first contacted me to ask for permission for her Diamonds on the Street collective to stage a performance based on Prince Bear & Pauper Bear.  She and fellow volunteers were working with a group of children from the Prison Fellowship Care Corner to perform a music drama adapted from my book in a closed door performance to families and friends.

Crystal was afflicted with Spasmodic Dysphonia, the same voice disorder that I came down with – a condition as rare as mining diamonds.

Our meeting as fellow panelists at Read! Singapore this July is the first time that Crystal and I have met in 7 years 7 months.

I shared with Crystal how the bible verses Isaiah 55:12-13 came to mind (after she and I reconnected at our panel session):

12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:12-13

And how these verses came alive for me through three signs of nature that were around me during Phase 3 (Heightened Alert):

  • the plant in my veranda that flowered for the first time,
  • the barren tree trunks that sprouted new leaves for the first time in over 5 years and
  • the Munia bird family that left the nest in another potted plant once Phase 3 started. I last saw the birds on the last day of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

After hearing this, Crystal showed me the lyrics of A Beautiful Sight – a song which she had written for the Prince Bear & Pauper Bear musical performance 7 years ago. It read like a summary and confirmation of what I had just shared with her:

A Beautiful Sight

I am looking at my future

From the ending point I see

Trees have blossomed, there are grapes on the vine

And the fields have come alive

Everything that once was barren, all restored and now abundant

From the ending point I see

A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sight

Look and see, look and see at the birds in the air

None of them will fall outside Your care

I believe, I believe I am worth much more

That You only have good things in store

I’ll be brave, I’ll be brave when the darkness surrounds

Yes I know that a new day will come

I am never alone, one day I’ll see

That all will be beautiful

Many times, my future seems to take

Such a long time to come

And my hope fades, oh my heart aches

Tomorrow when will you, when will you come?

Tomorrow when will you, when will you come?

I, I will wait patiently

It won’t be delayed, it won’t be delayed

I, I will wait hopefully

It’ll surely take place, it’ll surely take place

A new day awaits, a new day awaits

Yeah my future awakes

So I won’t give up on hope

I won’t give up

Everything that once was barren, all restored and now abundant

From the ending point I see

A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sight 

(Lyrics by Crystal Goh)

This week, I also received a visit from a beautiful bird that I saw for the first time. A White-crested Laughingthrush came strolling along the ledge of my veranda, where my potted plant just flowered for the first time. Learning its name brought me joy and laughter. And this bird was a beautiful sight.

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I’m delighted to have stumbled on a performance that children from an international school here in Singapore put up based on my book The Tale of Rusty Horse. It looks like a parent posted the video to Youtube.

This was the book that almost didn’t see light of day because I was concerned that it would not measure up to my debut picture book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear. My sequel book syndrome…haha.

It was also 2008 – a pivotal point in my life when I was trying to decide if I should pursue writing or say “Been there, done that in my sabbatical” and beg my former bosses for a corporate job back.

In the story, Rusty Horse was torn between crowd opinion and being true to himself. I too was torn between choosing to return to the glamour of a hotel job or pushing books to schools with my lonesome trolley. There were conflicting voices on both ends.

I finally listened to the inner voice and decided to be true to self – pursue writing and not look back. Shortly after, I became the first author in South-East Asia to win a Moonbeam when Rusty Horse giddied-up away with the Gold medal at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in 2009. It felt like Heaven’s nod to my station in life.

And Rusty Horse has remained a favourite with several friends, which I have been giddy with delight to know that.

The past week has been a week of two signals.  

My dad had a very rough week, on the health front. From this, I’ve had to learn that I can do nothing but wait things out and pray about it. I’ve been focused on the “doing” with my dad’s health issues and missed out on just “being”. So, I reset my compass and called on prayer reinforcements from close friends to get us through this week’s very choppy waters.

Providentially enough, I’ve been surrounded by good signs that I will be entering a new season.

I saw it all around me but did not connect the dots until after the Read! Singapore panel session that I was on last Friday. Four of us panellists – Singer-songwriter Crystal Goh, Flutist Calvin Chong, Artist Favian Ee and I, moderated by poet Aaron Lee, shared about how we have kept going creatively since the pandemic in the context of creative hacks from one of Read! Festival’s selected books: Keep Going – 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by bestselling author Austin Kleon.

Read! Singapore’s panel session Keep Going: Staying True to the Creative Process. From left: Moderator & poet Aaron Lee, Singer-songwriter Crystal Goh, myself, Artist Favian Ee, Flutist Calvin Chong

Aaron asked if any of us had a response to Creative Hack #9 – Demons hate fresh air (to exercise is to exorcise), which is a nod to a pop-culture reference.

I started regular walks five years ago because I was unable to sleep during my chemotherapy cycles and also got into the routine of sitting on the balcony in the mornings to take in the greenery during my quiet time. But I passed on that question because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say.

I also missed the point of Hack #5 till panellist Calvin Chong pointed out that in the book, Creative Hack #5 Slow Down and Pay Attention also referred to “paying attention to the things that we usually pay attention to”.

Some of the book’s creative hacks have spiritual angles to them, which I pondered further after our ‘phygital’ session – a blend of an in-person physical event with an online audience, which saw over 300 people tuning in digitally through livestreaming – a new normal in these Covid-19 times.

I had briefly chatted privately with panellist Crystal Goh and we acknowledged that we both seem to be headed into new season. She subsequently texted me this week to ask how I knew I was entering into a new season. I replied that it was just a sensing, not a revelation ie. no specific signs.

It was as if I had to say that out loud before I saw the specific signs.

The following morning during quiet time, the bible verses Isaiah 55:12-13 came to mind. These are significant verses for me which I have read and re-read over the past 5 years after a friend pointed me to them when I was in hospital recovering from cancer surgery.

Then, 3 things got my attention:

First, I noticed that the potted plant in my balcony was flowering for the first time since I sat facing it daily 5 years ago. I didn’t know even know that this kind of plant flowered. It had suddenly sprouted three sprays of flowers during Singapore’s Phase 3 Heightened Alert.

Secondly, the skinny trees in our garden had sprouted new leaves on their barren trunks, again for the first time in over five years. The leaves have only been growing nearer the treetops all this time. This also happened during Phase 3 Heightened Alert.

Thirdly, the Munia bird family that had their own SHN (ie Stay Home Notice period) in my potted plants during Phase 2 Heightened Alert flew the coop on day 1 of Singapore’s Phase 3 Heightened Alert. (I managed to photograph the family on the last day of Phase 2, also the last time I saw them.)

Is it a coincidence that all these 3 signs of nature happened in Phase 3, and for the flowering and new leaves, for the first time in 5 years?

My family has gone through a whole series of major health issues these past five years – one after another consecutively – which mostly involved 3 of us spending lots of time going to hospitals.

These 3 signs, when seen together, seem to point to a God-incidence – coincidences that seem to have happened by God’s hand.

I noticed these because after our Friday panel session, I paid attention to what I usually pay attention to (Creative Hack #5) and they have all been signs from Nature (Creative Hack #9). To flesh out Creative Hack #9’s “exercise to exorcize” to my personal situation, I believe I should exercise my faith to exorcize the demons of fear and doubt that crept back in, causing a chokehold over my voice in the the past 3 years from the day of my mum’s cancer diagnosis.

I read these God-incidental signs as the signs for a new season. And it comes with the assurance in Isaiah 55:12-13 of joy, thanksgiving and new flowering.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:12-13

This article first appeared in Parentwise, a new site providing resources for young parents.

Caleb was not an easy toddler to handle. He slept very little and hardly ate much. He also had a steely will, so it took an extraordinary amount of effort getting him to do the simplest things. I was sleep-deprived, frustrated and felt like a failure in parenting.

So, I hit the books to learn the basics of Parenting 101.

I read books by experts with strategies to give you a happy baby and a rested mummy. A few experts offered different classifications to help you identify what type of personality your toddler has, so that you can apply techniques to manage your child effectively. Another used a “Cry it out” sleep training method so your baby can learn to self-soothe and eventually be conditioned to sleep through the night.

I knew quite instinctively that “Cry it out” sleep-training wouldn’t work on Caleb. I recalled one afternoon when I left him in the crib to self-soothe while I showered. When I came out five minutes later, he had already cried himself completely hoarse. He also had one leg over the crib and was in the midst of climbing out. 

I also went through great pains with Caleb’s eating, or should I say…not eating. I borrowed cookbooks from friends and spent inordinate amounts of time persuading my toddler to eat, without success. Soon, I learnt that any recipes offered with the opening words, “Your child will love this…” was guaranteed to be rejected by my fussy toddler. 

One evening, after failing to get Caleb to eat dinner, I decided to ignore him completely. He slinked around me for some time and finally said, “Mummy is angry. Caleb wants to eat so Mummy will be happy.”

By then, I had cleared his dinner. So, I rummaged through the food cupboard and handed him a box of milo pops. He munched on it and said, “Caleb is eating. Mummy is happy now? Mummy, eat one milo pop, then Caleb is happy.”  I was torn between smiling and sighing.

Caleb at 2 years old

It didn’t help that around me, some parents seemed to handle these things with little effort. I recall a mum whom I met as I was waiting to pick Caleb from our church’s Sunday School toddler class.

“It must be a lot of work for you,” I said when I learnt that this mum had four young kids.

“At this age, they only eat and sleep,” she said breezily. “It’s so easy.”

Here I was, exhausted from parenting one toddler. I felt like a kid with red marks all over my report card.

One “lightbulb moment” for me as a parent came from a book which a friend gave me. In “The New Strong-Willed Child” by Dr James Dobson, he used the example of a supermarket trolley to illustrate the personality of a strong-willed child. To paraphrase his illustration, some of us find ourselves with a supermarket trolley that we can push in the direction we want with ease and minimal effort, which makes grocery shopping an easy task. These trolleys are the ones with straight and well-oiled wheels. This is the compliant child.

Others find themselves with a supermarket trolley that won’t go the direction they want it to go. These usually have crooked, bent wheels that refuse to yield. The person who is pushing this trolley ends up expending seven times the energy to make it move. This was exactly how I felt with my strong-willed toddler.

Over time, I’m learning to stop giving myself poor grades as a parent. After all, parenting is a life-long learning journey, not a fixed syllabus one can ace.

When Caleb was in his twos, I also glimpsed how much he has a mind of his own.

“Caleb, do you look like mummy?” I asked one day.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you look like Papa?” My husband asked.

“No,” he replied. “Caleb looks like Caleb.”

I’m reminded, from that conversation, that my kid is his own person. He has his own strong traits and developmental milestones will differ from other kids. As I learn to read my child better, it helps me to parent him better. And if I stumble through a lousy parenting day, I cut myself some slack. Tomorrow is a brand new day to start over.

30 years ago, Ben gave me a log which he had smoothened and carved my name with his army knife. He time-marked it 29 June 1991 and gave it to me as a gift. We decided to call it the day that we “went steady” (it’s as 1990s as it sounds).

In carving the wood, he cut his thumb very deeply and it bled profusely in-camp. It left a mark on his thumbprint.

Today is exactly 30 years from that fateful day. We decided to celebrate it with a simple breakfast of our favourite bak chor mee at the corner coffee shop at Geylang Lorong 11 (it’s as senior-moment as it sounds).

What I had forgotten was that the Geylang coffee shop, which Ben brought me to 30 years ago, was down the opposite end of the same lane. Ben had brought me to Mong Kok coffee shop on our 2nd date. After we finished 5 plates of dim sum, he asked if I was full. I said “No” and ordered a couple more plates. He said that he was so impressed with me because I was the first girl he met who not only didn’t push food to him but even ate his food. (I had thought it was my wit that bowled him over but it turned out to be plates of dim-sum.)

We dated 7 years and have been married for 23 years since.

We’ll gone through mountain-top experiences as well as valleys.

Through sickness and health. Through thick and thin.

For “the God in the mountains is still God in the valley” and He has seen us through good times and bad. God’s grace and mercy has marked our 30 years together. And I’m thankful for it all.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. – Ps 84:6

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:12

Marky Polo in Tokyo was launched at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2021 (AFCC) through a book talk where illustrator Nicholas Liem and I were moderated by bestselling author and former journalist Hwee Goh.

If you missed the live on-line session at AFCC last month, it is now available here:

Today is Thank God Friday (on the other side of the world…LOL).

I want to thank God for:

1. Father’s Day

Our family was able to gather at home to celebrate Father’s Day last weekend with Singapore entering Phase 3 Heightened Alert from 14 June, allowing up to 5 household visitors. We celebrated three fathers – my dad, my brother and Ben – over a simple meal of Yong Tao Fu, ngor hiang and chicken wings.

2. Munia Family ends Stay-Home-Notice

I got to see the two Munia chicks on 13 June. They had grown and clearly passed flight school. I sat with them for quite long and I’m glad I did. Because, right on timing, when Singapore entered Phase 3 the next day, the Munia family flew the coop!

3. Wholly Fellowship

We have been permitted to have two household visitors per day for the past month up until 13 June. Since it’s about observing the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, I kept my entire month socials-free except for two occasions – a friend’s 50th birthday and another friend who needed a listening ear.

This week, Singapore opened up outdoor dining for two persons per table. I’ve been in no rush to eat out but I realised that I did miss seeing friends.

So, it’s been wholly a week of fellowships with school friends and college friends. And I took Caleb out for one meal (yes, it was Din Tai Fung) before school reopens next week.

In this pandemic period, as Covid-19 continues to rage and mutate around the world, I want to remember and give thanks to the One who is in control of all things in our world.

Ps 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Last week, I received a delightful email from a young reader’s mum. Her 7-year-old wanted to share the story of Little Otter, Litter Trouble with his friends. Could they have permission to do a video recording of Alexander reading this book for his Student Learning Space (SLS) so he could share the story with his classmates?

It was of course a resounding “Yes” from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, my publisher of this book and myself. Such enthusiasm from a young reader is an encouragement to an author and also a validation of Wildlife Reserve Singapore’s efforts in creating awareness of our local wildlife here in Singapore.

Once thought to be extinct in Singapore, there are now at least 90 otters from 10 families thriving here. Litter can however threaten the well-being of our new residents. 80% of litter on land finds its way to rivers and oceans, polluting the environment and threatening aquatic and marine animals such as otters. And we can all help by not littering, so this amazing species can continue to thrive in our island-state.

(Video from Alexander’s mum Cherie Gwee)

I wanted to send a little encouragement back to this little reader, so I mailed him an autographed copy of Hornbills in Our Neighbourhood, my latest book in this wildlife series. I hope Alexander will develop an interest in these amazing birds too!

This series of picture books is available at Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s online store.

Today is Thank God Friday and there is much to give thanks for:

  1. Singapore’s exit from Phase 2 into Phase 3 (Covid Heightened Alert)

After one month of Phase 2 Heightened Alert measures, Singapore is gradually loosening some measures as we move into Phase 3 this weekend. With our community cooperating on Covid-19 measures through the past month, the virus spread has slowed.

I’m thankful for our leadership’s Covid-19 measures and our healthcare workers and front-liners who are working really hard to keep our country safe.

2. Munia Family’s Stay-Home Notice

During Circuit Breaker last year (Singapore’s version of a lockdown), a pair of bulbuls set up nest in our potted plant. Caleb and I spent many mornings and afternoons following the birth of baby bird. We had empty nest syndrome when baby bird took flight with its parents and never returned.

This Phase 2 Heightened Measures stay-home period saw another feathered family set up nest in our potted plants again. This time, it’s the tiny white-headed Munia.  Typically found in our nature reserves, this pair decided to take up residence with us.

They have a closed-up nest construction so I’ve not been able to see the eggs or the birth of baby bird. But this week, I was fortunate enough to see the Munias take baby bird on flight orientation class. They flew one round and then baby bird landed on the ground, looking winded and flat out. After 30 minutes or so, it disappeared, presumably back into their nest nearby.

Watching them chirping in my verandah daily has been such a delight to see in the mornings and evenings as they go through their own Stay-Home-Notice period till baby bird graduates from flight school.

3) Sew Sow Good Stuff SG…again!

Last year after Circuit Breaker, I started a collaboration with Chiao Lin and her daughter Daryl with our Sew Sow Good Stuff SG fundraising initiative for Child at Street 11.

Things seem to be taking a parallel track to last year. As timing would have it, Sew Sow Good Stuff SG’s next fundraising work will kick off as Singapore moves out of Phase 2 into Phase 3. We’re just set up to start development of a new giftset!