100 Word Challenge – Week #154 “Remember”

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I watched in anticipation as Mom poured the bitter black medicine out onto a spoon. “Now be a good girl and swallow this.”

And just because she said that, I decided to make a run for it. My three-year-old legs took me around the dining table, through the living room and into the bedroom.

I started laughing as she chased me round and round, her house-dress flapping around her swollen abdomen.

She finally Ordered me to Stop! I looked up as I opened my mouth and saw she was stifling a chuckle.

A sketch from an old photo

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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
Salt
Cooking oil.
Teriyaki sauce.
Pasta sauce.

Garlic
Onions
Ginger

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

Rice
Dry pasta
Chinese mushroom
Chinese sausage

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

Setting Goals

It’s already February, so I’m at least a month late, but I do want to talk about “resolutions”.

New Year resolutions are often just a list of behaviours one hopes to comply with in the course of the year, and I have been guilty of making and breaking some of the following…

  • I shall eat wisely
  • I shall be nicer to my mother / brother/ children
  • I shall study harder, save more money, exercise more frequently

For some reason, resolutions tend to be repeated year after year after year. I know.

I wonder if the problem is because a year is too short, and there’s always the next year, and the next… to accomplish what we could not complete this year. Meanwhile, the most important things in our life could be waylaid by resolutions that were not properly thought through. After all, we failed at them because other more important things came up. Say we wanted to eat healthily, but a friend insisted on having a nice meal. Between your friendship, having fun, and your resolution, guess which two won out.

So perhaps the better way of going about it is to figure what is most important to us in the longer term, and aim further down the line to accomplish this. Say, setting goals for 10 years, instead of just one year.

So in my early twenties, the 10 year goal could look like this:

  • pass college
  • get a job with good career prospects as soon as feasible
  • get married and have two children
  • buy a house

So these things should happen in 10 years’ time, or they might be accomplished sooner, in which case, in theory anyway, I can sit back and shake legs until the next 10 year period comes around. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? Nothing in there about being a perfect fuddy-duddy and always eating healthily and exuding kindness. You could say healthy eating and kindness are merely means to an end, being essential to the goal of getting married and having two children, so they should be practised anyway, but no need to be perfect.

So now, what would I like to accomplish in the next 10 years? To be honest, I can’t see that far. Somehow, life seems so full of uncertainty and variability right now, so I’m going to modify the technique and consider the next 5 years only.

Very briefly, in the next 5 years, this is what I would like to achieve:

1. To be fabulously fit

2. To travel to places I have never been about once a year

3. To be an expert in a chosen field in my career

Goals are goals because they should be set above the line of what would otherwise ordinarily happen. They must be something more which one aspires to. Hopefully, they are meaningful things one dreams about accomplishing, and would feel happy to achieve. Meanwhile life goes on – seeing to Mom’s needs, enjoying the moments, and taking care of the mortgage, the laundry, the dog.

I find setting a five year target focuses the mind, and gives one stronger purpose. What do you think?

WonderWomanV5

She Means Well

There seems to be two ways to describe what happens to the personality of a person with dementia as time passes. On the one hand, we are told – it’s not them, it’s the illness talking, they can’t help it. On the other hand, there are those who believe the essence of the person is still there. Bob deMarco, looking after his mom Dotty who has Alzheimer’s, subscribes to this other belief. It has been eye-opening to me to read about how he handles Dotty, and listening to and watching Dotty on the videos has been encouraging.

I think the truth as usual lies somewhere in between. Personalities are altered by the disease process, and different aspects surface at different times. Some characteristics are consistent – wanting to go home, not recognising faces, restlessness, a phase of anger. I say “not recognising faces”, because that is different from not remembering people. I know this because I am bad at remembering faces, but know who I am talking to once I have had a little more time to recollect or catch sight of the written name.

Thinking about my mom and what her “essence” is – I think I can distill it down to this: she means well. Whatever she did, how she lived her life, it was for us, her family. But I wasn’t always happy about what she did.

When I was quite young, during the school holiday, mom passed me a letter I got in the mail. To my dismay, I discovered the envelope had been torn, and immediately blamed my siblings, who protested their innocence. It turned out the “chief inspector” was mom. Her explanation:

Who is writing to you? You are only 12 years old. You will see your school friends soon enough when school starts. They shouldn’t be writing to you.

I guess she did feel bad about peeking into my mail, and became defensive as a result. Over the years, there were a couple more memorable incidents, and I wonder if the latter ones can be attributed to loss of judgement due to dementia.

About 15 years ago –

I really don’t like _____. She is no friend of yours. You should stop seeing her.

This was really out of the blue to me, and I like my friend very much. Her only offense was probably not to greet mom loudly enough. I had to remember not to have my friend over when mom was staying over.

About 10 years ago –

Oh I saw ____ the other day. You must give him a call. He will be leaving the country soon. I got his number right here. I told him you will definitely want to be in touch.

This, about a chap I was trying to keep a cordial distance from. Definitely did not want him to think I was talking about him with mom!

About 5 years ago –

I am going up for your cousin’s wedding this weekend. Yes, your aunty invited you a couple of months back, but I didn’t want to bother you with it. I have already told your aunty you are too busy with work to attend.

At that time, I was quite upset that she had spoken on my behalf without checking with me. Now I wonder if she had been covering up for forgetting to ask me.

Nonetheless, all these were the result of good intentions.

I hope I have the patience, wisdom and equanimity to accept and deal with what good intentions brings!

Swimming for Life

When we were young, my mother wanted us to have the opportunities she did not have in her youth. So we all had to take a music instrument, and do sports. The sport she chose for us was swimming.

It took me many months just to put my head into the water and learn to float; but I had the luxury of youth and time. As Malcolm Gladwell said in his book on success, it takes 10,ooo hours of effort to become really good at anything. Because I was really young when I started, I became a competent swimmer but only just.

A lot of juggling was involved to make sure we went to the pool regularly for training, but mom took the responsibility seriously. The coach she engaged for us was a handsome young man – a Bruce Lee lookalike. He was actually employed as a lifeguard at the pool and coached us during his off hours. We stayed with him or rather he stayed with us for many years despite my mom not giving him any raise!

Coach encouraged us to participate in competitions, and there were so few swimmers in my small hometown, we did quite well. We also represented the hometown at national level championships, and at these championships, I often came in last or second last. As Coach said, it was all for the experience, and we will do better next time.

One of these races was particularly memorable; it was the 200m butterfly. It is such a long and difficult race to do that I tried to pull out of it. As usual, Coach would hear nothing of a withdrawal. Go do it, try, it’s a good experience, he said. Nevermind last, just try. You might get a medal. Yeah, fat hope.

Upon registration, I realised there were only 3 other girls still in the race, and they were miles better than me. I could see the 3rd best girl was relieved I was there to bring up the rear.

It was a fiasco from the starter’s gun. From the moment we hit the water I was 2 body-lengths behind the rest. They pulled further and further away. When I touched the wall at 150m, I could hear the crowd shouting as the other girls finished the race. I took a few more breathes and contemplated quitting there and then. But instead I turned, kicked off and started the last lap. My arms could barely lift out of the water, and my legs were slanting 45 degrees down; I had to switch to breast stroke kick. It was torture swimming that last lap alone while I could feel all eyes on me. My face was red and I was crying into the pool. I heard my team-mates shouting encouragement between giggles, but they soon lost interest. I tried not to look at the far wall (so far away!), but concentrated on the lane marking at the bottom of the pool, taking one stroke at a time. Finally, I was 5 strokes away, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 and then touch the wall with both hands. There was a smattering of applause.

The results were delayed, and when Coach ran back to tell me someone was going to be disqualified in my race, I thought it was me because I took too long to finish or did something wrong.  It was several minutes before I understood what he really meant. Someone else was going to be disqualified and I was going to get the bronze for just finishing!

I think the lesson here is that the best swimmers don’t necessarily end up with the medals. There were several girls better than me who were entered but pulled out because they thought they had no chance for a medal. Sometimes the rewards go to those who doggedly hang on and don’t give up. My mom and Coach are like that, they don’t give up, and they didn’t let me. A very important lesson in life.