I have only just realised the wonderful way my Mom is welcomed to the dementia daycare centre. I’m not referring to the long waiting time for a chance to attend sessions, but the way she is welcomed when she arrives.

We knock on the door, which is not locked, and Mom would start to open it. Almost at the same time, there would be a staff at the door. Not always the same one, but the greeting is the same.

First the staff gives Mom a great big smile and a warm Hello! She seems delighted to see Mom there. She greets Mom by the name Mom wants to be known by. Almost at the same time, she reaches out to Mom’s arm and gently leads her in.

Such a wonderful warm welcome. No wonder Mom is happy to go and looks forward to her sessions. I have only realised this welcome is neither arbitrary nor accidental. It is intentional and done the same warm way every time we show up. The attention is all on Mom, and I am only incidental to the scene. It speaks volumes on how the staff at the centre are selected and trained.

I am so grateful to the centre and the people who made it happen. Click on the picture to find out more about Alzheimer’s Disease Association (Singapore).

Not anything

I was struck today by a change I saw in Mom. This happened at dinner time. Before I tell you what the change is, let me describe what Mom was like a year ago.

I would ask, “What would you like to eat?”. There would be a short pause, and I could see her expression as she struggled to think about it. In the end, the usual answer came, “Anything. Anything will do.”

It got to the point I would automatically give her two or three choices, just to avoid hearing “Anything”. With the choices, she would choose one or the other, almost at random. It seemed she could barely remember the two or three choices, and would grasp at one, and choose that.

After a while, I stopped asking, and decided for her instead. Let’s eat this, or that. Mom would be quick to agree.

Today, however, there was a change. A big change.

I brought her to a food court and asked her what she would like to eat.

She paused to think, and looked around. As usual, I prompted. “Rice of Noodle?” Noodle, she replied without hesitation, and she told me which type – beehoon, or rice vermicelli. I looked over the stalls that were open and told her there’s no beehoon here today.

“In that case, rice,” she volunteered. She answered quickly when I told her the types of rice dishes available, and she mostly said No, firmly. In the end, I took her to the variety rice stall, and let her pick out her dishes. She chose one vegetable confidently, and agreed after consideration when I suggested another two.

You might not think it much, but I find it a huge improvement from “Anything!” She did not say “anything” a single time while we were deciding on dinner.

We must be doing something right :)


On Mindfulness and Dementia

Have you heard of mindfulness meditation? It is about being present, to be wholly concentrated and aware of the present moment instead of having your thoughts winging off somewhere else whilst you’re doing something else.

Practising mindfulness has helped me be a better listener – to focus on the person and what’s being said, to be less judgemental, and to concentrate.

When I drive, I sometimes turn off the radio and just… drive. I try not to let my mind float but to focus on the activity of driving itself. Apart from being more aware of my car and the vehicles around me, I hear so much more. There is the sound of the wind blowing, and the sound of the wheels on the road. I notice the color of the sky, the road, the road divider, the buildings beside the road. I just drive, and notice so many things I would not have paid any attention to.

To my amazement, practising mindfulness has helped bring me peace. I become aware of the world that is, and not the world I wish it were.

I’ve noticed somewhat belatedly that Mom is mindful. When she makes a cup of tea, she is fully concentrated on every step of the process. Taking her cup, getting the tea bag, putting the tin back, pouring hot water, getting the spoon, and the bottle of sugar. Putting things back. Every movement is thought through and deliberate. She thinks of nothing else other than making that cup of tea as she is making it.

Mom is practising mindfulness, everyday, every moment that she is awake. Perhaps dementia has robbed her of the ability to hold many thoughts at once, and she holds just the one thought, that of the present moment. Or perhaps her years of studying and learning concentration and focus is helping her to cope now despite her dementia.

I believe that if one were to practise mindfulness before dementia set in, it would mitigate the dementia symptoms. Something to think about.

Feelings about Dementia

It is difficult if not impossible, to talk to Mom about her condition. For one thing, it is not openly acknowledged that there is a problem at all. We all carry on as though everything is just as it should be. So I am grateful for Dementia Daycare and the periodic medical appointments – in some ways, these affirm to us that we are doing the best we can, and not completely in denial!

At the last medical appointment, when the nurse ran the depression checklist on Mom, I sat at a distance and listened in. Mom’s answers were a bit surprising and enlightening. To most of the questions, she gave stock answers, for example confirming that life is worth living, and she does not feel worthless. But when she was asked if she felt unluckier than most, Mom hesitated, then said, “Of course, the young are luckier.” The nurse wanted a Yes/No answer, so in the end Mom said, “We should not compare. It is not the same after all.” And so No, she does not feel unlucky.

So there it is.

There is a lot more going on under the surface than meets the eye. I believe Mom is very stoic and does not want to cause us trouble. But there’s more we can do to help her fit in, and to make everyday count. Let me give it some thought.

Cooking Hints

As I was about to send the daughter off, she asked me to type out some easy recipes for her. She knows basic cooking but living away from home, she found meal planning and cooking more difficult than she had anticipated.

Eating in Singapore is easy and cheap. There’s a huge variety in hawker centres and food courts, it doesn’t cost much more than doing it yourself and is very convenient. In many homes, domestic workers take over the chore of cooking. Many working women I know don’t cook and proudly declare they cannot cook.

Though Mom worked, she used to cook all our meals when we were young. I don’t know how she coped. We helped her out occasionally, if only by telling her what we wanted to eat to spare her from having to plan. As far as I can tell, Mom cooked normally until a couple of years ago when she probably gravitated to simpler dishes as forgetfulness set in. Months before her stroke, she seemed to have prepared the same one pot meal everytime I checked. Apparently, a loss of cooking skill is an early sign of dementia but being apart, I hadn’t really noticed.

For myself, I’m a rare cook, often relying on cookbooks. I consider my meals edible, and perhaps “homely”, but certainly not anything to shout about. Anyway, to help my daughter, I wrote the following email in twenty minutes flat, filled with many items I haven’t cooked in years! It is written in a shorthand offhand way, with the understanding that the reader knows cooking and just needs a bit of prompting. I hope she finds it useful, and adjusts the quantities and seasonings successfully!

1. Egg

Fried egg
Omelette – onion. Fry onion with bit of salt until softened. Add beaten egg mixed with bit of soya sauce.
Omelette – green beans
Omelette – mushroom
Omelette – any vegetable
Omelette – minced meat. Mix meat and beaten eggs, add pepper and bit of soya sauce. Fry in well-oiled and heated pan.
Steam egg – beat egg into ceramic plate/ shallow bowl. Add chicken stock and pepper. Put on rice in rice cooker.

2. Veg

Stir fry – any veg stir fry with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Fish
Fish in ceramic plate – season with salt and pepper, or teriyaki sauce. (Make own teriyaki sauce – one tablespoon each dark soy sauce, mirin, sweet rice wine). Put under grill or in toaster about 20 minutes basting every 5 mins until cooked.
Steamed fish – add one tablespoon soya sauce, slivers of old ginger, put on top of rice in rice cooker.
Asam fish – buy bottle of assam paste – follow instructions on bottle.

4. Tofu
Steamed tofu – put in ceramic bowl, add one teaspoon soya sauce, one tablespoon oyster sauce, spring onion etc, put on top of rice in rice cooker

5. Pork
Slice pork thinly, season with cornflour, 1 tablespoon dark soya sauce, 1 teaspoon soya sauce. Stirfry with ginger strips.

6. Beef for pasta
Dice one onion and 3 cloves garlic. Fry until soft. Add minced beef and fry until brown, keep stirring. Add one can/ one bottle pasta sauce, bring to boil.

Boil pasta according to packet instructions.
Eat with salad.

7. Claypot chicken rice in rice cooker.
Soak four black mushrooms until soft, slice up. Slice one chinese sausage.
Season chicken pieces with oyster sauce, dark soya sauce, pepper.
Wash rice and put in rice cooker. When rice starts boiling, put chicken, mushroom and sausage on top. When cooked, stir well before eating.
Eat with sliced cucumber.

8. Simple meals without cooking or with minimal cooking.

Chicken sandwiches – buy cooked chicken. Add tomato, cucumber, lettuce.
Fried egg sandwich.

9. Fried rice.
Warm old rice from fridge in microwave.
Chop up leftover meat/chinese sausage/ luncheon meat. For greens use diced long beans, frozen peas/ carrots. Beat one egg.
Prepare one table spoon dark soya sauce, one teaspoon soya sauce.
Fry vege with/without garlic. Add bit of salt if veg is not salted. Add meat and stir till well-heated up.
Add rice and stir in sauces, when rice is heated, add beaten egg, stirring well all the time.

10. Shopping list

Oyster sauce
Dark soy sauce
Light soy sauce
White pepper
Cooking oil.
Teriyaki sauce.
Pasta sauce.


Tomatoes, cucumber.
Yogurt, Milk, Ice cream
Jam, Nutella, Butter

Dry pasta
Chinese mushroom
Chinese sausage

Fish steaks
Boneless chicken thigh
Minced beef – just before cooking
Salad – eat soon

Pomelo Buds!

Me : I have pomelo flowers!

Friend : For breakfast?

Me : ON the tree

Friend : Picture?

Me : Flower buds


Friend : Nice

Let’s hope I have better luck this year! For last year’s saga of the pomelo flowers and fruit, go to

Pomelo Plant in a Pot - for the flowers and early fruit
Pomelo Update - for the growing fruit

Chinese New Year meals

2013_02_09 CNY eve

Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year, celebrated by Chinese all over the world. That makes today The Day for the Reunion Dinner for Chinese families.

Until my paternal grandparents both passed away, reunion dinners were held with them. They were not formal dinners, but it was important to show up and eat. As my Dad had a large family, there were plenty of uncles and aunties and cousins about during those occasions.

Mom used to prepare food for the first day of the Lunar New Year for the hordes of relatives. They all came over. Her preparation would start weeks in advance!

She’d make Chinese sausages, and I used to get finger and hand cramps cutting up the meat for the sausages – using a meat grinder would not achieve the right texture, so everything had to be sliced and diced. Then we would help Mom “pump” the marinated meat into gut sleeves. “Pump” is the correct word because Mom had a huge syringe custom-made out of aluminium or something.  We put all the marinated meat in the end of the syringe, stuck the pointed end of the syringe into the gut opening, and “pushed” the end of the syringe. I remember the meat would slip in and the gut swell out with a woosh and gurgle.  Then we would measure and tie off the sausage lengths before hanging them out to dry. And the house would smell of drying sausage for many days.

On the first day of Lunar New Year, in addition to the Chinese sausage, we would have steamed chicken, steamed fish, soup with lotus root, stuffed vegetables and beancurd (niang toufu), braised pork, vegetables. The table would be full of good food, and everyone would tuck in. For the meal itself, all I can remember contributing was carrying the dishes out, and laying the table. I was never considered good enough to help with making or cooking the food! Some of the aunts came early and helped with the cooking, and they all helped with the washing up, so I was really let off easy.

It’s been a long time since Mom did major cooking like that. And no way will I prepare a meal with so many “made from scratch” items. So some traditions die off, and remain only in memory.


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