Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The House of Chickenpox

After two rounds of common cold / influenza virus at our house, and the scare of H1N1 influenza virus, we were graced by the arrival of the varicella-zoster virus.

Daniel was four, and his symptoms were relatively mild.  He had about fifty blisters over his body, mild fever for a day or two, and tired easily.  We did our best to seperate him from his younger sister once his rashes developed.

On the one hand, relatives kept telling us that it would be better if Audrey got chickenpox as well, so as to get it over with.  They reasoned that it would be a mild case for young kids.  I was not so sure.  Afterall, Audrey was barely fifteen months old, and her immune system was not as developed as Daniel.

I was just about to breathe a sigh of relieve after two weeks of taking care of Daniel, when Audrey started to develop a rash.  Sure enough, blisters started breaking out all over her body over the next two to three days.  There were over a hundred blisters covering her scalp, face, ears, neck, torso, underarms, back, limps, and worst of all, her genital area.  She had a very high fever for one to two days, and her head was so itchy that she couldn't sleep at night.  I was giving her oatmeal baths twice a day and constantly covering her blisters in calamine lotion.

Just as fast and furious as the rashes arrived, they were also drying up quite fast.  Except for the rashes in her genital area, most rashes were drying up after five or six days.

The other issue that came up was the contagious nature of chickenpox and going out in public.  Before I realized either of my kids had chickenpox, they have been out in public in the company of their friends.  That happened to be a contagious stage for the virus.  So without knowing it, we may have been spreading the chickenpox virus around in the general public.  I am sure that's how Daniel got the virus to begin with.  So the cycle goes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finally! Got the H1N1 Flu Vaccine

After our whole family has recovered from being sick (we passed around cold/flu and took turns to be sick after Halloween), we are finally ready for the H1N1 flu shot.

After hearing about the soreness on the arm and possible flu-like symptons that ensure, I decided not to innoculate both kids at the same time.  It would have been too much to handle two cranky, sick kids at the same time.  Again.

So I picked up Daniel after school one day, and drove him to the Oakville H1N1 flu shot clinic at the Halton Regional Centre.  He was very intrigued.

“Where are we going?”  Daniel asked every 5 minutes.

After we parked our car, we started walking towards the building.  Daniel pointed to the orange traffic cones that line the entrance and asked, “are we going through this maze?”  We were directed inside the building and the “maze”`continued.  As we snaked through the line Daniel kept asking questions.
“Is the virus chasing us?”

“Is everybody here getting the shot?”

I explained to him about the vaccine and reminded him that he has had vaccines when he was a baby. We called it “needle.”

“I don’t like the needle.”

I was beginning to panic. Especially I could hear children wailing inside the auditorium.

Once inside, Daniel chose a sticker. He was happy.

We answered all the questions and completed our registration. I was relieved to hear that they have now officially amended the policy to only administer one half doze of H1N1 flu vaccine to kids.

We rejoined the line to get the “needle.” Daniel continued with his questions, “why are they crying?” pointing to the children at the stations. I explained that they are not brave like Daniel. Daniel has always been a brave boy with needles and barely cries. He was getting convinced.

We finally reached a nursing station and I sat Daniel down and started talking to the nurse. Daniel still had his Lightning Macqueen tattoo on his left arm, which he was showing off to the nurse. Then I distracted him by giving him “a rock of his own,” a pebble we picked up at the pebble beach the weekend before. Daniel was looking at the rock when the nurse gave him the needle. He flinched and said “ouch.” That was it. No tears or screaming. I was so relieved. The nurse put a Chicken Little band-aid on his arm, and it was my turn. Surprisingly, it did not hurt at all.

We went to the observation room to stay for 15 minutes. Kung Fu Panda was playing on a TV. Daniel joined the children at the TV, with his treats and juice. The 15 minutes of Kung Fu Panda was the most memorable moments of this trip as he kept asking me questions about the story the following days.

I am happy to report that my arm was only sore for the first 12 hours. And only when I lifted my arm which engaged the muscle where the shot was administered. Daniel says his arm hurts where he had the needle. But I`m not convinced. I think it was ``suggested`` to him and is not really what he feels.

We`ll have to go through the whole thing again with Audrey, which will not be pleasant like with Daniel. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

H1N1 Influenza Vaccine

The flu season is upon us. This season we are blessed with the new strain of H1N1 flu, which has been making its appearance around the world. When the first cases of swine flu first appeared in Mexico in April this year, I was following the development with interest. Reports of non-elderly people falling ill and in some cases dying from the H1N1 flu worried me. Now, with my older child in kindergarten and my younger child still so young, the worry genes as a mother kick in.

The H1N1 influenza vaccine is now available to high priority group, such as young children. I am questioning whether to get my children immunized. The side effects of this vaccine is reported to be much like a regular flu shot, namely, soreness/redness around the site of the shot, nausea, fever, headache/muscle ache. The media has also been reporting the risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome brought on after receiving the vaccine. Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is an auto-immune system disorder in which part of the peripheral nervous system is attacked by its own system. A serious case may lead to paralysis. The risk of GBS has been most prominently highlighted.

After doing some research, it seems that most vaccines may trigger GBS. It seems that there are more cases of GBS associated with H1N1 flu vaccine than with regular flu vaccine. But is that such a cause for concern?

I am still undecided as get my children vaccinated or not. I'd welcome all your comments on this matter.

Related Articles:
H1N1 Outbreak at Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto)
H1N1 Outbreak at Another Toronto Hospital
Patients with Egg Allergy be Aware; Additional Info

It is interesting to note that the US and Canada opted for different approaches to distributing the H1N1 flu vaccine.

In the US, the H1N1 flu has been described as a national emergency and everyone has been urged to get vaccinated. The vaccine ordered by US health authorities is one without adjuvant, an immune-boosting agent to the receiver of the vaccine. The adjuvant also allow vaccine makers to use less antigen, the active ingredient in vaccines, meaning that they can produce significantly more vaccine – four to five times more – than would be possible without adjuvants. In the US, there is already a shortfall of the vaccine.

By contrast, in Canada, public health officials have been promoting to the public the importance of good personal hygene, in combination of getting vaccinated. The bulk of the vaccine ordered by Canada is an adjuvanted one. The vaccine (Arepanrix) is manufactured by GSK, in Dresden, Germany, as well as Quebec. Much debate has beem prompted relating to the adjuvanted vaccine in Canada. The adjuvant being added to the vaccine is called AS03. It's a natural combination of several substances, including vitamin E and squalene derived from shark liver. Although this particular adjuvant hasn't been used in a Canadian influenza vaccine before, it has been tested on about 45,000 individuals using a vaccine designed to fight the H5N1 avian influenza. Adjuvants have also been widely used in Europe, and have been included in some other Canadian vaccines. The delivery of the H1N1 vaccine to the Canadian public has only just started this week, and only people on the high priority list are getting the vaccine first.

I have thoroughly researched and debated the merits of getting the H1N1 flu vaccine and the risk of having the adjuvant trigger Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It is a terrifying to learn that two healthy children (age 10 and 13) who fell ill and died from H1N1 flu in the last two weeks. And now, with the proper research into the risk, I have made up my mind to get my two children vaccinated, next week. Having to wait in line for six and half hours to get the needle is more terrifying to me.

Detailed Analysis of the 3 H1N1 Flu Vaccines (both Adjuvanted and Not) Produced by GSK, Baxter, and Novartis

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Concept of Marriage

My son raised the concept of marriage last night, and we had a hard time containing our laughs while trying our best to explain the concept to him.

D: "When I am older, I will be married with Audrey."

Me: "You don't get married to your sister. You marry your wife."

D: "Mommy, can you be my wife?"

Me: "No. I am your mommy and will always be your mommy."

D: "Then who will be my wife?"

Me: "You will need to find a wife for yourself."

Does that seem like a daunting task? It must be, as a lot of men are still puzzled as to how to find a wife (or the right wife) for themselves.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice

I went to listen to Sarah Chana Radcliffe, author of "Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice" speak last night. The talk was held at a local high school auditorium and the place was packed.

I have read the book before and have picked up a few techniques to use on parenting Daniel. I must admit I have mixed success. Lately I find myself yelling at him more often or more severely than I would like to. So I thought going to talk would help me review the techniques and maybe pick up some new strategies. (My own book is currently making the rounds on loan to other parents.)

Mrs. Radcliffe has six children and is now a grandmother of four. She's also a registered psychologist. Her talk was engaging, relevant, and her delivery humorous. A lot of parents in the audience asked questions throughout the talk to clarify the techniques and the use of techniques. The talk gave me the renewed confidence and motivation to improve my own parenting skills.

The five strategies Mrs. Radcliffe covered were 80/20 Rule, Emotional Coaching, the CLeaR Method, the 2x Rule, and the Relationship Rule.

80/20 Rule
The idea is that we, as parents must strike a balance between good feelings and not-so-good feeling communications with our children. The happier our children feel when they're around us, the more they will want to please us. Mrs. Radcliffe gave examples of how to communicate when we need to make a correction in our children's behaviour. She also talked about the importance of using positive words in our communications. Instead of catching our children doing something wrong and having to reprimand them, we catch them doing the right things and praise them. That way, children will focus on doing the good things that earn praises.

Emotional Coaching
As Mrs. Radcliffe puts it, kids are generally predisposed in a certain way. My son Daniel is a fearful child. Monsters, giants, ghosts aside, he is most fearful of being rejected by us. This fear can erupt into intense emotional outbursts, which we sometimes mistake for him throwing a tantrum or being very naughty. This is one area where I need to work on more, to coach Daniel into identifying and expressing his emotions. Tonight I had to awake Daniel from his afternoon nap at dinner time. He was exhausted and it took me more than half an hour to calm him from crying and refusal to eat. But just as sudden as his sleepiness wore off, he snapped from his whines and came downstairs. At the dinner table he again refused to eat. But as soon as he sat down, he started eating without fuss.

CLeaR Method
CLeaR stands for Comment, Label, Reward. This is an example of catching the child doing something good or behaving the way we like. Comment on the desired action. Label the good behaviour. And Reward the child. This is designed to reinforce the good behaviour. A good example Mrs. Radcliffe gave was this: A child was very sloppy with his homework. Instead of picking on all the bad handwriting, the parent picked on one good letter. "Wow! This 'a' is right on the line! You are such a neat writer. You get a sticker for this really neat 'a'." The CLeaR Method here is used to correct a problem, and motivates the child to care about doing something well. The key is to focus on one thing at a time. It takes time to change some one's behavior.

2x Rule
The 2x Rule is a disciplinary tool. A parent sees an unacceptable behavior that warrants disciplinary actions. There are 2 types of disciplinary actions. One is a "Right Priced Ticket," akin to a $100 speeding ticket when we are catch speeding by the traffic police. The other is a "Jail-level" punishment, a consequence when we refuse or forget to pay our ticket fine. For example, a parent asks a child to stop hitting his sibling once. She asks again the second time, and lays out the consequence. In this case, five minutes at the punish corner. If the child refuses to go to the punish corner or leaves the punish corner before the time is up, the Jail-level will be imposed. It could be a removal of a privilege that means a lot to this child.

Relationship Rule
A simple rule to abide by: the parent expects the child to treat them with respect, the same way they treat the child with respect. It is a life long process to nurture the relationship with our children.

All of these techniques and concepts are excellent and need a lot of practice. I will need constant reminder to steer myself in the right parenting direction.

For more information on Sarah Chana Radcliffe and her books, check out

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From Organic to All Natural

We started eating organic food about 5 years ago. I believe that we should eat healthy and consume food as much in its natural state as possible. While some of the food we never compromise on, like milk, eggs, chicken and beef; some of the food we buy are organic 80% of the time, like fruits, vegetables, and other meat. We buy brown rice, and whole grain pasta and bread. We sometimes buy "organic" or "all natural" sauces, but in my view, that's a waste of money. Anything that's canned or jarred usually is packed with chemicals.

We have also switched to natural and biodegradable household products, like laundry, dish, and general cleaning detergent. We compost, recycle, and only generate 1 bag of garbage every 2 weeks, including all the soiled diapers.

It was interesting to learn about skincare products when I dropped in on a soap-making demonstration this summer. I was surprised to learn that only all natural ingredients were used in this company's products ( It makes perfect sense to use products made of natural ingredients on our skin.

Last week I heard about the latest study showing how harmful Alpha Hydroxy Acids is to our skin. AHAs strips the dermal layer of our skin, exposing it to harmful UV rays and make it easier for toxins to penetrate our skin. I didn't think any of the products that I use contain AHAs. But to be sure, I checked. It turned out that the cleanser that I use every day (Neutrogena Pore Refining Cleanser) contains glycolic acid - a form of AHAs.

I started checking the labels of all the products I was using. On the front of the bottles, it entices you with whatever benefit this product is supposed to bring you. On the back of the bottles, the ingredients contains long lists of chemical names. It turns out that the only all natural product that I use is the shampoo (, and it works surprisingly well.

So that got me thinking...I know all natural ingredients work well for our skin. It has even been shown on daytime talk shows how to mix skincare products at home using all natural ingredients. So I started looking it up and was amazed as to how easy it is to make a batch of cleanser, mask, or moisturizer.

Once I finish with all the skincare products that I have, I will try out some of these recipes, and share my experience.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mothers, Sons, and Girlfriends

My husband's cousin has been dating the same girl since entering medical school 4 years ago. His mother thinks his girlfriend too controlling of him. The cousin agrees that such control issue has rocked their relationship from time to time, but continued dating her.

The cousin has recently been accepted into the neuro surgery progrom at the university of his choice. He met a new girl, and promtly ended his relationship with his long-time girlfriend. The new girl is a nursing student. She is said to have superior social skills, whatever that means. His mother fears the new girlfriend's superior social skills may put her son in a disadvantage, again, whatever that means. More importantly, the new girl is not Chinese. Worse, she's Middle Eastern, which is low on a racist parent's preference ranking.

The obvious racism aside, this reminds me of the "no girl is good enough for my son" mentality that I have seen so many times before. It's worse if the son in question is to be a professional.

My husband's family's approval criteria for me relatively straight-forward. The criteria was if I was capable of fufulling my duty as a future daughter-in-law. In my case, it was my husband's grandmother who examined me and gave me the seal of approval. The centre of my palm was thick enough to indicate that sufficient fortune was present; my hip was wide enough to indicate that I could bear child.

Fast-forward 20-30 years from now. I imagine my own son introducing his girlfriend to me. Will I be liberal enough not to judge her too critically? After all, even though my son is far from perfect, he is, afterall, my only boy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


It seems like it was a long time ago we used to correspond with one another by writing letters. When I went to boarding school in England, writing was the only mode of correspondence available. Being away from home, receiving a letter really cheered me up. I wrote to many people so that I could increase my chance of receiving letters more often. I wrote to my parents and my sister about mundane school stuff. I wrote to my HK school friends about how different life was in my new school. I wrote to my cousin just about everything I could think of. I wrote to my father's old professor's wife. I even found two pen pals in Sri Lanka to write to. I was excited when people included photos and other little gifts in the letter to me.

I was overcame with nostalgia when I dug up a box in the basement full of old letters. These letters started from when I came to Toronto to attend boarding school, and ended in the middle of my university years when I started to correspond by email. Letters from home continued; as did letters from my HK school friends as well as English school friends; and from my cousin. There were letters from new friends I have made and later lost. Letters from somebody whom I cannot for the life of me remember (but apparantly I made a difference in her life at one point). And most interestingly, letters from old boyfriends. My first boyfriend was in his mid-twenties when we went out. But his letters were incredibly childlike. Then there was a letter from another boyfriend begging me to take him back. One boy sent me three letters he had written (14 pages - front and back) all at once and had to put on extra postage to send it. He wasn't even my boyfriend! I dumped all these over-sentimental boyfriends, and ended up marrying a non-letter-writer.

Nowadays I have given up writing letters. Instead I correspond by writing emails and blogs. So I put all these letters back in a box and store the box on a shelf in the basement once more.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best and Worst Road Trips

Picture an adolescent teenage girl with a boy's haircut on a road trip with her dad in England. Sounds like some kind of coming-of-age low budget indie movie? Think again. It was actually my best road trip.

I left Hong Kong to attend a boarding school in England when I was 15. My school was under renovation and was starting 2 weeks later than usual. After my family vacation in Europe was over, my dad and I said goodbye to my mother and my sister at the Frankfurt airport, and dad and I left for London to spend 2 weeks together.

We rented a Ford Fiesta. We joked that it was indeed a fiesta as the car hummed loudly and we had to shout at each other as we drove. We drove around and visited my dad's friends at various universities. We visited University of Bristol where the head of the zoology department introduced us to my new guardian; Sheffield to spend some time with dad's retired professor; and Bangor to stay with another friend. We went sightseeing at different places. I remember admiring the mysterious Stonehenge at Salisbury, the Roman baths, Abbey, and the Georgian stone crescent at Bath, and the scenic drive approaching Bangor, in Northern Wales.

I practiced speaking English with my dad. He exposed me to life in an English household when we stayed with his friends. I appreciated the time and effort my dad took to get me accustomed to life in England. We seldom argued and were comfortable in each other's company. It was sad when our road trip was over and I started life in my new school.

My worst road trip was also with my dad. This time we were on a family vacation somewhere in North America - I don't remember where we were going. My dad drove and I sat next to him to navigate and keep him awake. My mother and sister sat at the back. We were on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere and my dad was concerned with moving on. My sister needed to use the bathroom. My dad berated her and refused. Being women, the three of us united and yelled at my dad, forcing him to pull over at the next diner. What I remembered from this road trip was my dad's exceptional bad temper and the amount of fighting with him. I found out later that my dad was going through andropause and this bad temper lasted a couple of years. It was just magnified during this road trip.

It is amazing that I could have the best and worst road trip with the same person. I recognize that personal dynamics change. I should savour the best moments to remember.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Evolution of Vacationing

When I was small, a vacation for me was a weekend trip to a holiday camp in the New Territories (I grew in Hong Kong), where I was engaged in a variety of children's group activities, from ping pong to trampoline.

I was 11 when I first went on my first family vacation abroad. We went to various countries in Eastern and Western Europe, East and Southeast Asia, North America, and North Africa. There was culture, great food, and great hotel accomodation. It became an annual summer event even after I left Hong Kong to study in the UK (I was 15) and later, Canada.

When I started to make my own money, I started to go on vacation with friends and my boyfriend. It was a different mentality going on vacation on my own dime. On the one hand I felt free, on the other hand I was constrained by the costs. But it was adventurous, and not bound by any rigid schedule. I went on vacations with people who were compatable travelling companions and had a great time. Lots of sightseeing, shopping, walking, eating.

Then there was vacations with a baby. Daniel was six months old. We travelled across the continent to visit family and lugged with us tons of baby gear. Catching up with family was great, but I hardly had time to relax. During the trip, we rented a condo with an view of the Pacific Ocean and took off on our own for a few days. It was a blissful few days.

We vacationed with Daniel again before he turned 2. He could walk and talk. Which meant he could whine and throw tandrums, and he certainly did. We still had to bring lots of gear. And we soon found out how difficult it was to stay in a house that was not baby proofed and did not have any toys.

I managed to sneak in short vacations without my child. It was a guilty pleasure. I could finally dine at upscale restaurants and order drinks! But I did miss the little guy every day and carried a picture of him with me.

I decided to be brave and took my 3 year old boy and my 4 month old baby on vacation. On my third trip to bathroom on the airplane to change the kids' diaper it suddenly dawned on me what a disaster the whole trip was! On this vacation both kids fell ill.

I have conceded that my relaxing and fun-filled vacation days are over. For the forseeable years to come.

The Importance of Kindergarten

It's January already. Have you registered you child for Kindergarten yet? I find it yet another source of stress to have research, decide, and register my 3 year old for JK so early in the year.

My son is currently attending a private pre-school 2 mornings a week. He loves it there, and there's a Montessori component as well. What shall we do? Shall we continue paying extra to send him there? Or shall we enroll him in the public school?

I checked the Grades 3 and 6 students' test scores for all the schools in our area. 65 being the average score for English and Math in Ontario in Grade 3, our home school scored in the low 50s. Not good.

One school with a French immersion track scored consistently in the 80s. But we are not located in its school boundary. I know one parent who borrowed someone else's address in order to get her son into that school. Tough luck getting in for us.

I chatted with parents in our neighbourhood. Most of them send their kids to the Catholic school. I checked with the Catholic school board. A valid baptismal certificate is a registration requirement. My mom is a non-practising Catholic (she was baptised so that she could attend a prestigous Catholic school in Hong Kong) and my dad is a Baptist. I attended Anglican schools from pre-school to Grade 13 in 3 different continents. But I was never baptised. My husband is a devout atheist. So, Catholic school is out.

I finally picked another school with a French immersion program that scored decently (low 70s). And we are within its zone. I called the school and was told to go and pick up a registration package in person. So I drove there only to be told that there is only enough room for its home school students. My son had to attend our home school for kindergarten but could transfer there for Grade 1 when the French immersion track commenced.

Disappointed, I left. On my way home, I drove past our home school. I went in to ask for a registration package. The front office staff was friendly and helpful. Inside the school it looked bright and cheerful. I left our home school with a registration package thinking: it seemd like a nice enough school. And heck, it's only for kindergarten.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


My transition from a crackberry workaholic to a nurturing mother to a newborn more than took two weeks.

At first, as I commenced my maternity leave, and waited at home, I could not resist checking my blackberry every 15 minutes, and was still answering emails from the office as well as clients.

Given it was September 2008, the US financial crisis was just starting to unfold. I was glued to MSNBC, absorbing the magnitude of the financial failure from Lehman Brothers to AIG, and worrying about how it would impact our business.

Even after the baby was born, I still seemed to have endless energy. The baby seemed easy to take care of. Even though I only got 5 hours of sleep at night, I was still entertaining guests and playing with my 3 year old boy. At one point I was ransacking the bookshelf looking for interesting technical books to read. I started to read a book on negotiating skills but wisely put it down after reading 3 chapters.

Perhaps I was tired of all the doom and gloom talk on the news, or just plain tired from the lack of sleep, I stopped watching the news programs and started to concentrate being a mother to a newborn. My business mindset transitioned to a domestic one. I reckoned that I have no control over the economic condition, and cannot continue to worry about the flow of capial (or the lack of) in the credit market. When I return to the workforce from my maternity leave a year from now, who knows what kind of economic condition we will be in?

One thing I continue to watch closely, is America's transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.

Will the American society based on fear and manipulation transform to a society full of hope and ready to embrace change? How will the Obama administration overhaul the system based on lies and serving agendas different from the public's?

Restoring civil liberties, bringing the education system to first world standard, stopping corporate fraud, limiting executive compensation, recapitalizing the capital market, restoring order and confidence in the financial market, protecting the American homeland, combating terrorism, are daunting task for the next 4 (maybe 8) years.

There is no doubt that there will be more turmoil to come. And hopefully the new administration will handle each crisis apprpriately and plan for the future.

On this day of new president's inauguration, I wonder how long the transition from George W. Bush's America to Barrack Obama's America will take.