Saturday, July 6, 2013

Strawberry Picking @ Fruition Berry Farm

Delicious, red strawberries - ready for the picking. They tasted as good as they look.
July 1st is Canada Day. We usually go to see the parade on Princess Street or join the festivities (face paintings, horse/wagon rides, min petting zoo) at the Grass Creek Park. This year, we went strawberry picking instead. There's a really great u-pick farm in Kingston - Fruition Berry Farm. It is not that far, only about 15-20 minutes drive from the house.

This was our first time strawberry picking in Kingston. We went once before... a long time ago while, vacationing in the UK. That time was not so great because it was at the end of the season. This time around, the strawberries were at their peak. There were lots to pick. It didn't take us long to fill our two 4-liter baskets. The strawberries are spray-free too, so we got to taste them while picking. They tasted great - sweet and fresh! These strawberries were probably the best strawberries I've had - kids and Roy agreed too. We'll definitely try to come again next season.

Our loot - kids had a great time
Melur enjoying a strawberry

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How Melur Got Her Email Account

Kingston's annual spelling bee contestants - junior level - Melur on the far  left

Melur had been asking for an email account. She said she's the only one in her class who doesn't have one. Roy and I were not sure about this. We were worried about spam - among other things.

Anyway, in the end I made a deal with Melur. She'll get her email account if she enters the Kingston's annual spelling bee and gets through to the tie breaker round. To get through to the tie breaker round, she needs to be able to spell all the words listed in the guidebook - about 300 words or so. She was happy to accept this challenge. We worked hard for about 3 weeks before the spelling bee. Here's how we went about it:

1. Melur went through the words for 1-2 alphabets every day. She'll write each word on a flash card.

2. I'll quiz Melur every night on the words from the flash cards. Roy and Arman also did this; basically whoever is free for that night helped. But whenever Arman did the quizzing, it usually ended up with the two of them screaming at each other **sigh** Melur would scream that Arman is pronouncing the words wrong and Arman would scream Melur's just making excuses for not getting the spelling right.

3. We went to the spelling bee practice. They had this about 4-6 times before the actual spelling bee. We attended the practice twice. The first time is just to see how it is, and Melur joined in the second time.

4. We also had a family spelling bee on the weekend. We did this once. Melur and I went one on one, and I think we drew. What can I say... the words are not easy ones.

Melur was a bit scared in the beginning, she became more confident  after the first preliminary round.

On the day of the spelling bee, Melur was a bit scared at first. But, she went through 5 preliminary rounds and spelled the following words correctly: tacit, uxorious, lithosphere, rectitude, and reconstructed. For the tie breaker round, she misspelled "reassurance" and that was that.

You can watch the YouTube video here.

We had a good laugh about this - they misspelled Melur's name - with double Ls

Roy and I are proud that she made it through to the tie breaker round. I asked Melur if she wants to do this again next year, and she said YES! Melur's goal next year is to win a trophy - so at least third place. She has to be a "big reader" for this. We'll definitely come back again next year for the spelling bee. Wish us luck!

PS - That night Melur got her own gmail account.

- Posted by ehaz

Monday, March 11, 2013

Movie: Oz, The Great and Powerful

Melur and Arman in front of the poster for Oz, The Great and Powerful

We went out to watch "Oz, The Great and Powerful" last weekend. The last time we watched a movie at the theater was in January for "The Hobbit" (I love this movie! Can't wait for the second one in the trilogy to come out). We also decided to try the new movie theater in town - Empire Theaters @ Kingston

Something new in town
The new Oz is not a re-make of the old classic, "The Wizard of Oz." It has its own storyline. You can think of it as more of a prequel. The movie focuses on how Oz became the ruler of the Emerald City. And a big part of the storyline is on how the Wicked Witch of the West came about.

Overall, I thought the movie is OK. I'll give it a 3 (an average on a scale of 1 to 5). The cinematography is great - very colorful. I think they did a great job here. It also has an interesting storyline. It doesn't really have anything extra special that would make it into a classic, but it is something that the whole family could watch together and enjoy. There was one interesting part in the movie, where Oz was going down a waterfall in his hot air balloon. Because of the 3D effect and angle, you could feel as if you are going down the waterfall yourself. I wish they would push for this type of angle/scene even more to make the movie interactive and make full use of the 3D technology. [Note: Roy thinks this idea is too weird ***hrmmmphh***]

My own takeaways from this movie are: (1) A bad man could turn a woman into a screeching green witch; (2) Life is unfair, you just give and give and give, and in the end he leaves you for a pretty blonde thang; and (3) If life is fair, the farmhouse and Dorothy would have landed on Oz instead.

Here are more reviews:

Roy: I was expecting a lighter movie, something more kiddy. The movie is a little bit heavy, especially for kids. I would rate Oz as average, overall.

Melur: Just average. I prefer "Rise of the Guardians."

Arman: A decent enough movie. They should have made it funnier.

Embracing Winter: Skiing @ Batawa Ski Hills

Melur - the smallish bundle of fuchsia and blue - at the end of the blue-square trail

Spring is almost here in Kingston. The weather is getting warmer (we moved from temperature below 0 C, to above 5 C). There's still snow on the ground, remnants of winter. But we now have more water puddles rather than snow. Yes, the snow is finally melting away!

I've been meaning to put up this entry for a while. Unfortunately, so many other things to tend to. But today I found the time (by slacking off). Anyway, this is a short entry on what we did on February 10th, 2013 - when winter was still at its peak. The four of us went skiing at the Batawa Ski Hills, which is about an hour away from Kingston. It is not a full-fledged skiing resort, "hill" is definitely an apt description. Batawa only has 6 downhill ski routes, but is the closest to Kingston and offers an affordable one hour skiing lessons. Definitely a great choice for us because we are mostly first-timers - only Roy has experienced skiing since he took lessons while in college.

Both of the kids were so excited in the beginning. During the lesson though, we discovered that perhaps skiing is not Arman and my cup of tea (to put it mildly). But Melur is a natural! She went down the bunny hill even before we took the lesson. She quickly graduated to the blue-square (intermediate) trail afterwards. It was exciting to watch her. I think if she had her way, she'll be going down the black-diamond (advance) as well.

Some pictures:

Roy before taking the skiing lesson - smiling as always!

Arman - tried to ski, but I think his knees aren't strong enough. He hates not being good at things. No worries, we'll try snowboarding in the future.

Melur and Roy using the handle tow to go up the bunny hill (green/beginner trail).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

We Are Busy People

With two school-age kids, we are a busy family. Roy and I like to see the kids active, and that makes us busy too. The kids have school from 9am until 3:30pm on weekdays. They usually get half an hour rest and snack time after school, and then spent the next 1 to 2 hours on homework, school project, and piano practice.

Our weekly after school schedule looks more or less like this:

Chess club - Both Arman and Roy are members of the Kingston Chess Club, and they play club tournament games on a weekly basis. The club starts around 7:30pm and ends around 11pm. Arman usually comes home about an hour earlier. He gets a ride from the Chans.

Piano lessons (7pm to 8pm) - Both kids are taking the piano exam at the end of this year.

Islamic school or "menyaji" as the kids pronounce it (5:30pm to 6:15pm)
Scouts (6:30pm to 8pm) - This is probably the kids' favorite extra-curricular activities. 
Badminton for Roy (8pm to 9:30pm)

Family swim (6pm to 7:30pm) - We go to the swimming pool at the Queen's University Recreation Center. The swimming is only about 45 minutes (at most), but we shower and change there. Melur and I usually take our time to get ready for dinner afterward.
Dinner out after swimming. We have a list of "pre-approve" places - i.e., places that are cheap and offer healthy options. Our favorites are: Royal Angkor (Thai food), Subway, and Alibaba (they have the best chicken shawarma in Kingston). 

Islamic school (6:30pm to 7:30pm)
Family movie night (9pm onwards) - We let the kids sleep later than 9pm on Fridays. We usually watch an episode of Grimm on Friday nights, but since Grimm is on hiatus until March, we are watching anime instead. We are now going through "Fruit Basket." We've been watching 1 to 2 episodes for the past 3 weeks. We figure that by the time we go through the entire series, Grimm will be back on.

Swimming (9:15am to 10am for Arman, and 10:30am to 11:30am for Melur).
Islamic school (3:30pm to 5pm)

We try to plan a family activity together - e.g., board games, apple picking, sledding, etc. About once a month we'll go to Toronto for Arman's chess tournament. This week we might try downhill skiing at Batawa Ski Hills

Between Roy's work, my dissertation/research, and the kids' school and extra-curricular activities, our family schedule is quite packed. Roy and I still need to fit grocery shopping, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning up the house into our schedule. On top of all that, we try to fit in exercise too! 

Playing Smallworld, which is currently our family's favorite board game. This picture was taken about 2 weeks ago.

What can we say... we are busy people.

1. I'm thinking that we should cut ourselves some slack, especially in keeping the house clean. So what if the kitchen is dirty by Uteh's standards? We have work, kids, and ourselves to take care of.  The house is not dirty-dirty, just OK-dirty. That should be good enough because there are other things in our to do list are more important.
2. The un-sung hero here is of course Roy. He shares the housework, ferries the kids and myself to places we need to be, and works full-time. We don't say it often enough, but thank you for everything!

Arman's Favorite T-shirt

About twice a year I would go through the kids' closets and throw out clothes that they don't fit into anymore. I don't actually throw them out (as in into the trash bin), I usually donate the "good ones" to goodwill. This de-clutters the house, and lets me take notes on the kids' clothing needs. 

Arman doesn't care much about what he wears. He usually wears whatever he could grab in his closet - he doesn't care much about wearing things that fit him and appropriate for the weather. But, there's one t-shirt that he loves to wear. He outgrew it (he got it about 2 to 3 years ago from Mak Long). He used to wear it all the time, so this t-shirt went through rapid wash-wear cycle. I decided to keep this t-shirt as a momento.

The t-shirt is bright orange (below). Arman looks good in bright, warm colours. But I think he likes it because it has a bit of an attitude. The t-shirt says: "Hear no evil... See no evil... Speak no evil... That's no fun!!!" 

Arman's favorite t-shirt - bright orange with an attitude. I remember him wearing this all the time.

Oh, come to think of it, Arman does like t-shirts with a bit of attitude. Here's one that he really likes and could still wear. He chose this himself, which is quite a rarity. Arman's usually more of a I-like-what-you-like-just-pick-something type of guy. 

Arman likes this t-shirt too (one of the few clothing items that he picked himself). This one also has an attitude.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thank You Cards

Arman and I took on a small project last weekend. We wrote thank you cards for the boys (and Gillian) who came to celebrate Arman's birthday in December last year. Arman wrote this message for the boys:

Dear XXX,
Thank you for coming to my birthday party. I hope you had a great time.
- Arman

I took pictures of each boy who came to the party and had them printed. Each boy gets his picture as a small token from us. Just something that would remind them of the fun they had.

The thank you cards and pictures

Arman taking his task seriously

Proudly showing off the finished product
This is good exercise for both Arman and I. Arman gets to practice his handwriting and hopefully, he forms good habit in terms of writing thank you notes. I get to spend some time with Arman by helping with the cards and I also need to get into the habit of writing thank you notes.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Melur the Handy Girl

Over the years, we’ve noticed something very interesting about Melur – she likes to put things together. When Arman gets a Lego set, strangely enough, it’s Melur who puts it together. And if/when it breaks, it’s Melur who puts it together again. Melur also likes putting together puzzles.

Recently, I put together Arman’s new desk and cabinet. I thought I’d test Melur by letting her put together some furniture herself. And yesterday, she passed with flying colours.

We started her off with something simple – a work chair for Arman’s desk. Other that unwrapping the box, Melur pretty much put the entire thing together. She needed minimal help from me. She managed to decipher the instructions herself:

Here she is with the completed product:

So we moved on to something more difficult, a book shelf for my office. This was a little tough, as there were some imperfections in the fabrication. But other than a few adjustments, Melur put most of the parts together herself. She put in every screw/bolt (although I may have tightened them at the end). Here’s the completed bookshelf for my office:

Nice job, Melur. I know who I can count on to put together our furniture in the future :p

Arman’s new chess coach

So at Arman’s most recent chess tournament in Toronto, we met with a few other Malaysians on the circuit – James from Kedah and Gary from Johor (their kids were Kylie and Eugene, both from Grade 3). It was a delight meeting them. Although Arman is in Grade 4, they’re all in the same age category (Under-10, at the moment), and have very similar CMA ratings. All our kids competed in Section 1 of the Kids Grand Christmas Chess Tournament, and finished in the top 10.

Living in Toronto (or even in Ottawa), you have access to a lot of resources when it comes to chess. There are many chess clubs near and around Toronto. And there are also several chess masters in the area willing to give out chess lessons – not so much in Kingston. I know Arman is anxious to move to Ottawa or Toronto to get access to chess masters and chess camps.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to get Arman a real (titled) chess master as a coach, and I thought I’d give the internet a chance. I came across and thought I’d reach out to them. I was immediately contacted by IM Kizov. We set up a first coaching session, and Arman seemed to take a liking to it.

IM Kizov is a FIDE International Master from Macedonia. I believe he still lives there. He runs his chess lessons via Skype and the ICC. One of the interesting things about this process, is that we’re getting acquainted with the tools of the trade. Arman now plays on the ICC, and we also downloaded ChessBase Light for analyzing chess games.

Anyway, Arman has only had 2 lessons so far. But hopefully, it’ll improve his game. I’m starting to see some improvement in his game, but it’s still too early to tell. The Kingston Chess Club starts up again tomorrow, so we’ll see how well he improves.

Good luck, Arman!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Busy Bee

Roy is not only the main bread winner in the family, he's also the handyman. See what he does around the house.

Time to get Arman a new closet, the one he has now is old and falling apart - literally! 
Tools of the trade
Showing off his handy work
Arman also got a new computer table
I got something new too - an additional table for the office for the extra work space