Happy 5th birthday Byestelladotcom!

I know. I know. The stories have become fewer and much further apart. There’s a good reason for this: not only do I have a finger in every pie, it would appear in every piece of confectionary coming out of my local bakery. I kid you not.

Now that the house is 95% complete, I have thrice the cleaning. For awhile, to get on top of household chores (after a day spent doing HRH’s paperwork and catering to the kiddos) my after-dinner “entertainment” consisted of either washing bathrooms, cleaning floors, wiping the glass balustrade or dusting the several kilometres of skirting boards in the house.

It’s a great house to be sure and I’m proud to have come this far, but it’s the sort of house typically maintained by a barrage of maids instead of one frazzled mother. Would I do it again? Definitely. I enjoyed the creative process and learnt a lot from my builder, John Hardy, and his men.

Just a month ago I had a neighbour stop to congratulate me on adding value to our area and for choosing a builder who took care to keep noise to a minimum. In his words, “It went up like magic.”

I love that my eyes can feast on all that green while cooking.

You won’t believe this is the inner city!

Amanda now has friends come over weekly for study sessions and to complete assignments. I’m pleased to report that after the hell of grade 6 (teacher failed to see her need for acceleration and she sought to escape boredom by zoning out) she’s kicking ass in grade 7. Not only is she in the gifted and talented programme at the top semi-selective state school (number 2 State-wide after Boy’s Grammar) where a minimum of B is expected across ALL subjects, she scored 5As out of a possible 6 last term.

See how cheeky she is?

Ethan horsing around IKEA.

Amanda the clown.

Ethan wearing Amanda’s clown wig.

Ethan is a typical toddler; he’s wilful, stubborn and inquisitive. I somehow manage to get work done with his Gangnam Style blaring away. We’ve hauled him to the cinema for a late-night movie a couple of times. He usually winds up asleep on my lap even before the opening scenes and leaves thinking that the stream of advertisements beforehand is what we came to see!

I hope this post finds you well. I’ll see you again some time in July. Hopefully…

  • Hanging out with Erlin at GOMA.

    With Geetha at home.

    A wefie with Amanda.

So long 2016! Hello 2017!

OMG! Where does time go? We are at the end of 2016 and – I don’t know about you – but it feels like there’s still so much left to do.

About this time you are probably taking stock of the year: the highs, the lows, the saggy middle. I’ve been neck-deep into my house-building project since November 2015, and busy getting approvals and finance for a good 6 months before that so 2016 has been about seeing this project come to fruition.

Although challenging at times, largely due to my inexperience, the whole process has been extremely rewarding. Here are a few pics of the completed addition before we moved in.

1 of 3 kitchen bar stools.

This is the beating heart of my home. It’s where I spend the most time. I have plans to upgrade all the plugs in the kitchen into those flat recessed ones but for now, we’ll just leave them as they are.

Now the space is cluttered with furniture from the old wing, parked wherever we can find the odd spot (think walkways, on top of stairs) so that the old girl can be, let’s just say, “rejuvenated.” The old Queenslander, having gone up in November 2015, already sports a new bathroom, a new wet bar in what will eventually be the children’s wing of the house.

I imagine Amanda’s friends will soon be coming over to work on school projects and together they will be mugging for exams – ah, the typical psycho Asian tiger parent’s dream. She has already asked, “Can we have pizza if they come over to study?”

Me, “Definitely. Anything so long as you are studying.”

Notwithstanding the difficult year we’ve had trying to make Amanda to focus in school, she has been accepted into the Aspire Program for Brisbane State High School. It’s a program with a differentiated, targeted and extended curriculum for kids who are (cough, cough) “gifted and talented.” According to Amanda, this means we cannot keep calling her “dumb ass” like the loving Asian parents that HRH and I are. She googled Asian parent memes and reported that ALL of them sound exactly like me!

At Amanda’s graduation from primary school. With her new bestie.



Basement of State Library, Brisbane.


Ethan is now 3 years old. I’d like to upload a video of him naming the countries of the world, but unfortunately the file is too large for WordPress. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it, unless we are friends on Facebook, in which case you’ve probably already seen it.

He can name and find all 196 countries of the world and locate them on the globe HRH bought for his 3rd birthday. This is going to sound like a brag, but he taught himself to read at 2 years and 3 months. He can read planets, names of shapes, colours, vehicles, animals, baby animals, days of the week, months of the year and of course, countries of the world.

Ethan playing in the State Library, Brisbane.

I allowed him to dictate his own learning as I was too busy with the house project, doing HRH’s paperwork and tackling Amanda’s tendency to unplug mentally in class. Like I said, it’s been a difficult year. Arduous really.

Ethan doesn’t look like he talks but when he does, he says things like: what TYPE of fruit is that?

Frankly, I’ve never thought about categorising fruit but I suppose now that he’s asked, I will have to look into it. He’s already enrolled for kinder in 2018 but on the wait-list for 2017; they give priority to those born in the first half of 2013, whereas he’s a December 2013 baby.

Enough about me. How has your year been? Have you achieved everything you set out to do at the start? What are you resolutions for the new year?

Renovating a Queenslander!

Hello again!

Happy 2016! How was your Christmas? I took a blink-and-you-will-miss-it break from the business of renovating my resident wooden geriatric, my 90 y.o. Brisbane-City-Plan-protected Queenslander and joined HRH in country NSW where he locumed over Christmas.
Between drives around the countryside, we binged on Pringles and veg-ed out in front of the telly as all shops were closed, save for service stations. Which is just as well because breathing new life into a 90 y.o., stumps-all-gone, termites-chewed-on-your-walls Queenslander is certainly not a cheap affair!

With the guidance of my trusty French builder, John Hardy, recommended by a friend he’s done work for, it took me close to 9 months to get all the necessary surveys, plans and permits for building work to go ahead. I won’t bore you with the number of hurdles I’ve had to jump, or the tricks I’ve had to perform standing on my head but in getting to this stage I’ve had to engage a town planner, building designer, hydraulic engineer, structural engineer, building estimator, building certifier (who not only granted permits on behalf of the city council but also organised for my new home’s energy efficiency to be assessed), John the builder…There were consultations with HRH’s accountant, then our personal banker, the highly efficient Chris White of Commonwealth Bank, as I first put our apartment up for sale, the our Melbourne home. In the end we decided to sell neither. Instead I worked with our managing agents to upgrade our investment properties so as to make them solidly tenantable. They are all well located so it was only a question of doing the necessary works, fixing and refurbishing, to make them as competitive as similar properties in the area. I didn’t have to do much to our Melbourne home as 7 groups came to view the first Saturday it was listed for rent. By the following Monday morning I had a tenant who offered me 2 months rent (excluding the standard 1 month bond) upfront.

As for my old gal, her Cinderella-moment started on November 30 when after 4 more weeks of to-ing and fro-ing with the builder and the banker, we were given the green light to go ahead. Yes, finally! I slept like a baby that night. Well, a good baby, not my now 2-year-old son who still treats me like a 24/7 booby bar – not that I mind. I adore my children.

Even as John started demolishing my old bathroom and front stairs and cleared away what I had underneath the house, I had to liaise with Energex and Origin and APA to disconnect utilities. It took 2 months and 4 requests to Origin to get them to disconnect my electricity. I had to beg APA to disconnect gas in time for the old gal to go up. After 1 neighbour backed out of lending power for the house raise (despite being offered compensation), John approached my other neighbour who thankfully agreed. To see me would have been to belie my mental state which was alternating between excitement (yay! It’s finally happening!) and anxiety (oh no! Please don’t throw a spanner in the works).

Since she is a cottage we have elected to build back instead of under. If she had been a grand Queenslander with wraparound verandahs, building down would have been the preferred course of action as the bigger footprint would have justified the cost of working with an old building and factoring additional cost to get the project through council. At the end of this, we essentially have a house that is 3/4 new (excluding car parking as that will bring the proportion up further) that is built to exceed an energy rating of 6 stars (most built of similar material have a rating of 8 stars) fire and sound-proof (due to the natural qualities of the material and windows chosen), designed and engineered to withstand flood waters and local wind speeds, every footing, beam and pole engineered to ensure safety of her occupants.

We are only halfway through phase 1 of a 3 phase project. Here is a visual timeline of the renovation so far.

My belongings covered in plastic to protect them from construction dust.

My belongings covered in plastic to protect them from construction dust.

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Goodbye Perth!

Dear gentle people of the world,

We’ve been privileged to call Perth home for the past 2 years. However the time has come for HRH, Amanda, Ethan and I to return to Brisbane. It is with a somewhat heavy heart that we bid this place farewell for it is here in Perth that my family of 3 became an awesome foursome, here in Perth that HRH found his (further) calling in breast cancer surgery (more on that in a bit) and here in Perth that Amanda realised all of my dreams (and some of hers) by transforming from a middling student of no-particular-note (she will agree) to a “maths whiz” (the words of her class teacher, supported by her classmates), a real achievement since even her father had written her off as “not a genius” – even if he does adore her to excess. Like most mothers who sang, patted and sent ABCs via mental visualisation (Shichida method) to their offspring in the womb, of course I was mortified by the repeat suggestion from teachers (prep to Year 3) that Amanda was “more creative than academic.”

Helloooo! I’m a Tiger Mama. For me that is like saying, “Er well, here’s your 4th place ribbon” which I can totally accept for things like Sport and Art. It’d be different if they said, “She’s creative AND academic.” Ha. That I can accept.

When we first moved to Perth, I was especially worried about Amanda’s academic performance because we had chosen to put her in Nedlands Primary, reputed to be Western Australia’s number 2 Primary School. We came from a good public school whose ranking I’m not completely certain of except I know is not in the top 20. This, going by a ranking I saw when searching for a new home in the 4101 this year. Once in Perth, we tried to enrol Amanda in school number 1, Rosalie Primary but were unsuccessful in securing a shoebox townhouse in the area. Quickly Amanda realised that she would have to work at a much higher level than what she was used to.

I won’t lie – she was very unhappy for the first 6 months here. Every day she used to ask to go back to Brisbane where she and I both had friends, play dates and birthday parties. This transition was hard on the both of us: Amanda who hitherto had been wildly popular among her peers, found kids at school nice but not especially welcoming. People wanted to know how long we were going to stay before they were prepared to “invest” in friendship with us. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to hide the fact that we were only in Perth for a while.

I didn’t expect to make any friends or the sort of friendships one would be sad to leave behind but I have: I have friends whose company I will miss, who I am sure will miss my company. For me, this has to be the toughest aspect of relocating constantly – people accept you into their hearts and lives only to have to let you go.

When reports cite surgeons as being top earners, none factor in the physical, social and mental cost of training for surgeons and their immediate family members. People compare it to undertaking professional exams like CA or CPA or CFA or even 2 year long postgraduate studies like MBA, but this is a way longer (try a DECADE) and much tougher on everyone concerned – the many moves, the long hours, the weeks that morph into months of neglect… For the record, we haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year in Malaysia with our kith and kin for the last 12 years because Chinese New Years typically coincides with the start of the new medical working year. It also coincides with the start of the new school year and being a parent, the last thing you want is for your child to miss out on that first week of fitting into a new grade. On top of which, we are usually moving from one place to another (like in the coming year) or have just moved (meaning: I have to unpack and sort a whole range of stuff relating to the move) during that time. Yes, you read it right: 12 years without celebrating Chinese New Year. For those of you who don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, that’s like going without Christmas for 12 years.

Which is why I am looking forward to moving back to Brisbane. I regret having to leave my friends in Perth behind but I am pleased that this “surgical training journey” is at an end. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying it out loud but we’ve bought an old Queenslander to give our children an authentic “hippie upbringing” (in the words of HRH), the address numerically translating to “completion.” The end. No more moves, thank you very much.

Thanks to excellent mentors at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, HRH is now a qualified breast oncoplastic surgeon. In simple English, it means he removes diseased breasts and rebuilds them. He also removes breasts for women with the breast cancer gene and rebuilds them. It’s a procedure that’s since been associated with Angelina Jolie, who bravely spoke about her medical decision to have her breasts removed. Apart from enlarging, reducing, removing and rebuilding breasts, HRH can also remove appendixes, resection bowels, remove gall bladders, remove skin cancers… I’m the only one who wields a knife at home, in case you’re wondering.

Ethan has by far been our best souvenir of our stay in Perth. He is probably too young to remember his time here so we hope to bring him back to show him where he took his first steps when he’s older. I’ve invited many of my Perth mates over to Brisvegas to check out my hippie commune and promised them I will come back for a visit.

Here are some pics from our 2 years in Perth. Be sure to check out my posts from my visit to Margaret River and Yanchep National Park. When I have time I will blog about our trip to Albany, where we walked amongst the treetops, and Rottnest Island.

A picture of Amanda's first concert at Nedlands Primary.

A picture of Amanda’s first concert at Nedlands Primary.

A picture of Amanda with her teacher's bear.

A picture of Amanda with her teacher’s bear.

A picture of Amanda checking out a racing car at UWA's open day.

A picture of Amanda checking out a racing car at UWA’s open day.

A picture of Amanda at school assembly.

A picture of Amanda at school assembly.

Until we meet again in 2015, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! God bless!






Back to Brisvegas!

It’s still some months away but it’s pretty much confirmed we’ll be moving back to Brisbane aka Brisvegas aka Home of Happy Hippies. The last one is my personal take on the place. Yay! Perth has been a great ride but we’re longing to put down roots and Brisbane is where HRH’s work is and where the next chapter of our lives await us.

It goes without saying I feel a mixture of emotions: it’s never easy leaving a place one calls home, knows the locals on a first name basis and has made loads of new friends. But move we must and move we shall, back east to Brisbane, this time by plane. If you want to relive my yet unedited (I don’t have the time with the baby) 9-day trip across Australia’s backyard moving from Brisbane to Perth click here.

To coordinate our move back to Brisvegas I have mental lists and paper lists and lists I’ve misplaced somewhere around the house for all the things that need doing. And for that question everyone seems to be asking: are you going back to West End?

Yes, by the grace of God we will. Amen. We will be moving back to live in the 4101. It’s home. I told HRH that for me Brisbane = West End. It’s the only equation I know even though nothing else about the future adds up at this moment. We travel to other parts of Brisbane for food all the time – it’s our family’s “collective hobby” – but 4101 is where it’s at for me. 4101 is home. I’m a WALKER who delights in all the wonders of the area that I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. Even and especially with a baby, I’d still move back to live in an 85m2 apartment. Why? There are a number of reasons but chief of which is Amanda’s education.

In 2 years time Amanda will be off to high school. Living in our area we have the option of sending her to Brisbane State High, the best PUBLIC high school in Brisbane, possibly the best high school, sharing the podium with Grammar, which costs $30k pa. From the value-for-money-education angle, there’s no arguing it makes sense but of course since my mind almost never shuts off, what with the baby waking me 10 times a night (sometimes literally), I’ve had some reservations about this, namely: what if my child is NOT Brisbane State High material? I’m just throwing it out there. She has the highest LEXILE score for her grade (almost double the average grade 4 student) and is doing long division of many numbers and long multiplication of many numbers and will be at least 1 year ahead of the NATIONAL school syllabus by the time we go back to Brisbane (thanks to our wonderful Kumon instructor Ms Amy Lee-Smith of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre which we have been attending since December of 2013) BUT is she good enough to tango with Brisbane’s best? Can she foxtrot and samba her way to a decent OP there?

I laid it straight to her. “Amanda, Brisbane State High is a very big school.”

I showed her the latest edition of Kumon magazine with a grade 4 boy doing the level of math she should be at in 2 to 3 months time. That article got me worried.

HRH chimed in, “It takes students zoned to the area and those who get in on merit. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded. “It’s a big school.”

How big? 4000 students at last count with more on the way. In Malaysia that would be a regular size secondary school but in Oz, 4000 is a humongous number.

HRH said, “Those that get in on merit will be really very, very good.”

It was my turn to butt in, “So do you want to be one of those kids who are in the school just because your parents can afford a house in the zone or do you want to be one of those who deserve to be there?”

Right here is my mountain of a concern: Brisbane, unlike Melbourne that has Macrobertson and Melbourne High, doesn’t have a purely selective school that admits kids into high school from grade 9 onwards based on an entry exam. While I understand the desire for parents to want to send their kids to a local school the BSHS model means that there will be very scholastically capable children and those that will flounder and possibly drown under the weight of such competition. Which will my child be?

They say a mother knows best but this mother is at a loss as to how to proceed. Some friends with kids have said I should put her name down for a private school, just in case she needs that extra attention a public school can’t give her. I am considering that but am I already too late when others have registered before their kids can walk?

Regardless, living within the 4101 will give us the option of sending her there. Perhaps tonnes of others think like me because in my absence I’ve acquired only a thousand new neighbours, in the form of new apartment blocks all around mine. With the new addition to our family, I want to get into a house or something from which my now-crawling baby won’t decide to try his “superman” skills while I am in the toilet. Alas, that will require some serious financial re-jigging which even the thought of gives me migraines.

So in the interest of my sanity the 4 of us (2 adults, 1 child and 1 baby) will move back into our 85 m2 (that includes the balconies) for now. At first the impossibility of “squeezing in comfortably” (an oxymoron in my book) depressed me but then my friend L said, “Remember how you were going on and on about taking Amanda to Museums, art galleries etc? You can make it work! I know you can!”

You’d have to agree good friends make the best cheerleaders. All right. We’ll give it our best shot. I’ve been binging on posts from apartment therapy and www.dwell.com to see just how I might achieve the impossible – taking a leaf or ten out of the books of New Yorkers who have done just that since the advent of skyscrapers. Yes. I will do it. I will “squeeze comfortably” into my tiny pad and make it work. Wish me luck.

Who’s a “little guy”? May the REAL little guy please stand up.

Where I come from, a “little guy” is – aside from being the owner of a diminutive physique – a person seriously short on moolah. What’s that? Cash. Money. Devil’s notes. Call it what you will but if you are putting up in a wooden shack with another 10 to 20 of your nearest and dearest, tapping electricity off lines that run the front of your charming “neighbourhood” and getting water out of a well or the nearest stream, then you are officially a “little guy.” The odd non-governmental-agency (NGO) might give you a hamper or a small hand out from time to time, but mostly you’re on your own in this big, bad, world. This my dear reader, is what poverty looks like up close. Stinking, limiting, potentially soul-destroying poverty. Such people are amply deserving of whatever help the taxpayer can and will give them. Where I come from, that amounts to almost nothing.

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it? Raw sewage goes from those shanty huts straight into the river.

So when a friend of mine argued, a day after the Aussie Federal Election 2013 that he, being a Labour supporter, was standing up for the “little guy”, I was totally mystified. After all, where in Australia do we have such infernal visions of materialistic deprivation? Do our supposed “little guys” live in slums or bathe in rivers strewn with faeces and garbage?

Let me make a few things clear: I’m NOT saying poverty doesn’t exist in Australia or that genuine poverty is not a cause for concern. It is. But is the “little guy” in Australia a REAL little guy or simply a guy who wants to eat off my table for FREE? In other words, a freeloader?

In response to the Coalition taking office, I told my friend, quite frankly, “I don’t get Family Tax Benefit (FTB) parts A and B, maternity payments or the school kids bonus. I plan to send both my children to private schools so GONSKI (the school reform proposed under Labour) holds no appeal either. So what difference does a change of government mean to me? Under Abbott, I will continue to get my Medibank rebate and HRH can get Fringe Benefits if he decides to buy a Lexus with his hard earned post 45% tax money.”

Note, it’s my money. And yes, I’ve already paid tax on every single dollar.

My friend said, “You’re right Estella. Screw the disadvantaged, screw the kids with poor parents and screw everyone who is poor because they choose to be poor so they can get $424.80 from centre-link every fortnight.”

Let’s examine that sentence, shall we? $424.80 a fortnight amounts to $11044.80 per annum. That’s just for FTB parts A and B. This excludes the yet un-axed school kids bonus or the rent assistance or the discounts on public transport, electricity and medicine that the   supposed-poor (I say supposed because I dispute that everyone is genuinely poor. More on that later).

I said, “Whatcha talking about? Have you forgotten that HRH and I are from regular, middle-income backgrounds? Tell me how many of the poor folks you know have moved as many times as we have or made half the sacrifices to improve their lot? We could have just sat back to suckle off the teats of society but we didn’t. Why punish people who want to get ahead by making them responsible for freeloaders who don’t?

Yes, that’s right. HRH and I  are from very ordinary families. There’s nothing remotely special about us, except that our parents valued education and made the necessary sacrifices to put us through school. HRH’s father – who yes, is a gambler – sold off ALL his worldly possessions to fund HRH’s medical degree in Australia. How many of you who supposedly (there’s that word again) love your children, want to do that?

I added, “No one is “entitled” to welfare. Society needs to rid itself of that mentality if it is to survive the 21st century.”

Whether you accept it or not, this is a very competitive century. For Australia to thrive and prosper in an increasingly borderless world, the country has to have a more skilled, more driven, workforce. We can’t afford to drag along people who don’t want to pull their own weight.

My friend’s reply was, “I do my bit to contribute to those teats. No complaints but let me tell you this no one with their right mind chooses to be on welfare. The fact is those who are on welfare are society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The word freeloader is right wing nonsense.”

No one chooses, eh? Let’s dissect that for a minute. While I wholly support the provision of welfare to the needy, the question I have is, who exactly are they? Society provides a safety net for single mothers. That is very good, but how long should this net extend for?

I’ve met this gay (I love gays by the way, so this has nothing to do with that) single mother (many of my friends are single mothers) who has an 8 going on 9 year old boy, who she refuses to vaccinate or send to school. Aside from being the recipient of welfare, she’s currently doing a tax-payer funded law degree, which she plans to complete when her boy turns 16, just so that she can spend more time with him. Okay, I’ll put it to you: wouldn’t you say this person has CHOSEN to be on welfare? 

At this point, our mutual friend, on whose wall we were sparring, asked us to take our debate inside, as in to a private message.

My friend then said, “Well someone needs to stand up for the little guys.”

So back to the topic of “little guys.” Who exactly are they in Australia?

I said, “Little guys my ass la friend. So many who get FTB have their own homes, complete with plasma tvs and at least 1 car (this is called “middle class welfare” or the government trying to buy your votes). My car is 8 years old and only a regular Toyota. My kid wears hand me downs for the most part and the occasional new shirt. When she was a baby, all her toys were gifts. Is this how the rich really live? People sleep better when they believe Labour propaganda that the so-called rich are out to screw them.

At this, my friend, who runs his own business, and whose household gets the maximum FTB, even though they all live in a brand-spanking new home, complete with plasma TV and new car, said, “Oh, all those messages were not from me. They were from my brother.”

Sure. So do you see what I’m talking about? Who exactly is a “little guy” when no one is living from hand to mouth in slum-like conditions?

For the purpose of this post, let me clarify a few more things: it doesn’t matter whether you are on welfare or not. My question is, WHEN do you want to get off it? Do you believe that you should be supported in perpetuity?

What appalled me were the names Labour supporters had for those who support the in-coming Coalition government. Among them: stupid, cunts, shit heads…the rest do not bear repeating. Where I come from, stupid is what a teacher calls a 6 year old who cannot read. It’s what you call your fellow citizen who expects you to haul his ass to wherever you’re going.

If one truly believes in this great good called democracy that the West is so intent on spreading to every corner of the world, then one should also believe that last Saturday’s federal election outcome is the voice of society, as a whole, fed-up with being legally robbed blind and vilified, being heard. Under Labour, you’d think that the enemy is someone born into wealth, who sits on his ass, who refuses to share the bounty of God’s great earth. Under the Coalition, you will see that the enemy is one who propagates these lies.

The beauty of living in Australia is that everyone who puts in the time and effort to improve themselves can get ahead. It’s all about the choices and sacrifices one is willing to make. To this end, I’ll tell you what I have to say to the left-wing statements I hear most often:

But only the rich can afford to give their children a good education.

Nonsense. A good education is available to all who send their children to school. Teachers can’t possibly teach your child if you don’t send him or her to school. If you think the rich have better public schools, move to their area. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that, except for an attachment to the 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, rumpus and parent’s retreat you have going in the Nappy Valley.

But it isn’t the same as a private education.

Hey, I don’t expect a stretch limo to pick me up for bus fare so why do you expect something for nothing? If you want to give your child a private education, save for it.

But I’m raising a future tax payer.

So am I. Mine doesn’t cost current tax payers anything to keep.

But you are rich.

You obviously haven’t read my posts carefully enough. I shop at Salvos and Lifeline stores. I frequent farmer’s markets. I don’t own X box or Playstation. I only recently bought a small TV, just so I could watch the outcome of the Australian Federal Election. It’s all about how you spend, not how much you earn.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: imagine for a moment that you are a farmer who puts in 80 or more hours a week doing back-breaking toil. With your proceeds, you decide to buy some land to raise cows and sheep. From that, you have money to install a grey water system to water your garden, a couple of tractors, hire a couple of farm hands to help you out around the farm, buy even more land to grow more crops. You prosper as a result of taking risk, foresight and hard work.  Do you think it is FAIR then if I just come over to your property weekly to help myself to your fruits or sheep or cows? Swap the word farmer with doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant etc…Do you see the picture?


Older and better: growing into my own skin.

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. How many candles did I blow out, you ask. Okay, I’ll give you a number. I might as well since many who know me personally read this blog and they already know. It seems only fair. Well, madam here turned 35. Now, you may let your jaw drop to the floor. It’s all right. I won’t be upset, I promise. Really, it’s fine.

I marked this birthday Gandhi-esque style – not chomping on lentils, but simply, without much fanfare; like most weekdays, I sent HRH off to work at 7.30 in the morning, then because I have Amanda with me for the next 2 weeks, had a lie in with her until midday. Then I took a nice long hot shower, dug out something new to wear, had Amanda change for the day and the both of us traipsed across the road for wanton noodle soup.

Perhaps dismayed by my ho-hum mode of celebration, Amanda kept asking, “Won’t you be getting a birthday cake? Don’t you want balloons and candles?

To please her, I said we’d get the cake from the French Patisserie on our side of the road, but no balloons or candles. “I’m no longer a child, Amanda,” I explained. “So I have no need for such things.”

“How about a present. I like presents on my birthday.”

Ah, to be a child again. When I was her age, I happily collected pieces of rubber from the caps of Coca Cola bottles. Then I went on to happily collect boyfriends, handbags, shoes, jewellery… all manner of rubbish really. Nowadays I’m in the business of consolidating and curating my belongings. 1 Husband, check. 1 Child, check.

I got rid of 15 pairs of shoes – quality ones too – to move from Brisbane to Perth this January. I decided they had served their purpose and were no longer necessary. I also gave away 1/4 of the contents of my wardrobe and brought less than 1/2 of what remained with me. And now having only worn 1/2 of the remaining 1/2 (you do the math) these past few months, I realise how much excess baggage I’d been hauling from house to house.

I did the same with my many relationships as well. Like my shoes and clothes, I took a good look at them and sorted the lot into 3 baskets: keep forever, keep for now, discard. I wasn’t despondent about the culling, merely cognisant that in quite a few cases, I’d reached the end of the line. There’s nothing you or I can do when that happens, except accept the facts as they are and move on.

Then again, I’m of the thinking that for every window that closes, a door must open somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding where that damn door is. I’m realistic about people and life, but also optimistic about the inherent potential of both.

Age also makes you see things differently; what was once so important, in countless instances, no longer is. Take for example my body. When I was in my late teens, I was preoccupied with having slender thighs. When I pinched them, all I saw was excess fat, skin and cellulite. Not exactly a pretty picture. But now, at age 35, I see them as these 2 marvellously fleshy pillars that take me from A to B, carry me through all sorts of wild adventures – dancing, chasing after Amanda down the road, childbirth. That they are wider than the width of a chopstick bothers me not.

I also don’t care if the young un’s call me Aunty. In fact, I insist they call me Aunty. How dare these cheeky buggers call me “Jie Jie” (big sister). Such insolence! I know it isn’t the norm for children here to address those older than themselves with honorific titles, but I get riled up all the same when Amanda’s friends call me by my name.

“It’s Aunty Estella,” I often correct them, sounding like butter won’t melt in my mouth.

Amanda’s bestie’s sister in Brisbane even does a wonderful impersonation of me, coming across all crusty and stern. It’s so true-to-life it had her mother worried I’d somehow moved into their house – she of the school of gentle parenting.

Anyway, the evening of my birthday, a dear old friend messaged me. She said, “Hope you can have a simple celebration as I don’t think you (need) anything in life…

And of course she was right. I had a simple celebration for the precise reason that I lack nothing. Even though not particularly religious, I replied, “I thank God I have family and friends, reasonable health and wealth and the mental acuity to recognise this.”

Many people have a lot more but have to be twice my age before they see this. I think the greatest gift I’ve received this birthday is not something that came gift-wraped, but hard-won wisdom to appreciate what I already do have. For that I am amply grateful.


Freezing in Perth (aka my first winter in Perth).

It’s officially winter down under and for the life of me, I can’t explain why I thought Perth would be as warm as, if not warmer than, Brisbane this time of the year. Sure, we do crank up the heater once in a way in ol’ Brisvegas during winter, but Brisvegas has nothing on Perth when it comes to mercury plummeting.

On paper, the temperature difference between one coast and another is a minuscule couple of degrees. In reality, it’s the difference between wearing a light jumper in the day (Brisbane) and full winter gear (Perth). So if you are headed this way, consider it a friendly piece of advice from your not-so-local weather bureau to pack as if going to Melbourne – the cold is usually more of the dry variety here, as opposed to Melbourne’s wet, but after a characteristic seasonal downpour, you might think it is one and the same.

I certainly did this past week, taking refuge under the covers the whole of the long WA weekend with the heater turned on high enough for Amanda to have a nose bleed and myself, a very dry throat. On the upside, this presented me with the perfect opportunity to teach Amanda a new word: hibernation.

Doesn’t that only apply to animals?” she asked, rather miffed we were going to spend 3 seemingly good days (by her standards anyway) in bed.

“Yes, but it should also apply to humans. After all, we would save a lot of food and water if we all just plugged up our bums, the way bears do, before nodding off to a 3-month-long sleep.”

Amanda was not convince of these benefits of hibernation so HRH promised to take her to K-mart in exchange for 2 days of holing up with us in the heated bedroom.

“K-mart!” she squealed, her eyes brightening.

I swear K-mart should pay me for all the free promotion Amanda gives them. She told the owner of our regular Chinese restaurant, Lisa, about the promised trip, when we ventured out of our burrow for dinner (alas, human hibernation has to be punctuated by meal and toilet times), and the way she said it, it was as if we were taking her to Disneyland! But at least that ensured her co-operation as we spent yet another day buried under our IKEA-bought, mid-weight, King size doona.

“Do you know you slept 20 out of 24 hours yesterday?” asked HRH when I opened my eyes yesterday morning.

I’m practising to be a bear,” I said to him.

Last week I was practising to be a cat (read: took fewer baths). Now, having experienced the difficulty of sleeping on an empty stomach for extended periods of time, I have new respect for hibernating animals. Rather than view them as lethargic, defeatist, elements in nature, I’ve come to see that getting oneself to doze off to a fiercely growling stomach takes incredible will power and forbearance. As for why I would have to endure the discomfort of an empty stomach, let me just  remind you that mine refuses (and has refused for weeks on end) any food offered to it after 6 pm, thereby leaving me no choice but to fast until 7 am the next morning.

To console myself, I’ve marked all 2 months and 26 days until the end of winter; in the way that only humans seem capable of, I’ve also deluded myself into thinking it’s not that long a spell  and it could be worse if I was living in Siberia. Oh, and if there is one thing to be cheery about deep in the throes of winter, it’s Heston Blumenthal’s slated visit to Margaret River for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, to be held between 22nd and 24th November, mid-spring. Be sure to mark that down in your diary, gourmet enthusiasts. You want to be booking accommodation NOW if you hope to score anywhere for less than $450 a night.

In the meantime, to keeping my frozen bottom warm, I’ve dug out the possum-wool poncho I bought a year ago in New Zealand, especially for dismally cold days like these. I’ve stocked up on the essentials – instant sachets of warm drinks, cream biscuits, what I’ve been told are “toxic” instant noodles – to stop myself from traipsing out more than necessary in the cold and paid up my utility bills – to make sure no one turns off the heat, even if I have to once in a while with Amanda’s bloody nose and me croaking up balls of greenish phlegm. If you feel for me (as you must since I am famished and cold), do send food parcels, knitted jumpers and sunshine my way. PM me for a send-to address. My frozen bottom and I humbly thank you.


By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today!

Dear readers,

I’m pleased and proud to announce By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today. Thank you for your generous support and many useful suggestions thus far. Like many a new parent, I’ve been trying to make this child of mine fit some lofty vision of parenting. To my chagrin, I’ve found it’s no different to parenting a real, flesh-and-blood child, in that the idealised vision swiftly gives way to the needs and practicalities of day-to-day life.

The child, once thought to be a passive participant in the parenting exercise, is no less assertive than a hungry baby left alone in a cot. It demands of you a great deal more fortitude, patience and energy than you bargained for, testing your resolve at every step not to abandon it in favour of a good night’s sleep and some precious “me-time.”

And so it has been with this blog.

Because By Estella Dot Com remains very much a 1 person venture (ie. me), I’ve often found myself holding a squalling infant, technically and editorially. What started out as a bare-bones affair of text and the odd picture, has slowly morphed into a semi-polished site. Excuse the continued use of parenting metaphors, but we’ve gone from nappies to diaper pants, sole milk feeds to first solid foods, not much physical movement to crawling. Much can still be done to improve the look and feel of By Estella Dot Com, but as I have yet to master programming, this will take awhile.

I may mention a business or product from time-to-time but please know, I receive NO remuneration for doing so. Friends and family may lobby me to give them free press but I only do so if the post I’m writing calls for it. Most are only too happy for me to leave them alone or portray them in a sufficiently benign light, given my propensity to reflect on the past.

About that, I suppose my tendency to look back is borne of a deep need to always take stock of where I’m going because from experience, there is no greater predictor of where I’m going than where I’ve already been. I’m a glass half-full kinda gal, so even with all this looking over the shoulder, I still say my best days are yet to come, even if things are already pretty good right now.

Looking forward, I hope to bring you more stories with heart and perspective on matters relevant to modern, transglobal, multi-cultural living. I anticipate more spirited dialogues with many of By Estella Dot Com’s regular readers, who often hold views very different to mine. I welcome comments from others who’ve so far only sent me private messages or stayed silent, even as I maintain the right to moderate such comments. As civilised human beings, we can all say our piece in a peaceful fashion, regardless of the number of raw nerves touched.

With that, I thank you once again for reading my blog. Feel free to share posts with your nearest and dearest or simply folks you think might be interested in my various ramblings and postulations. Ours has been a fascinating discourse between author and reader I’m very much keen to continue.


In support of National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

I’m well aware I’m in the minority of parents who welcome today’s NAPLAN test. The majority of parents tremble at the prospect; some have openly denounced NAPLAN as nothing more than an exercise aimed at rating teacher’s performances to justify school funding and wage increases. Some say it unduly exposes children in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to stress – that life skills cannot be reliably measured using a series of standardised tests.

To them I say: would you rather your child’s first test be in Year 12? Or are you expecting them to be admitted into the University or Tafe of their choice based on a bunch of “feel-good” qualities that only you, as their parent, know of?

Some assert periodic assessment by the class teacher is enough to determine a child’s grasp of the “need-to-knows.” Bah! How do you know it is? I have a lovely tale for you.

There are 3 Year 3 classes in Amanda’s school. Since I get around quite a bit, I know parents whose kids are in the classes adjacent to Amanda’s. Those in the class next to mine have voiced their anxiety over their children not knowing how to tell the time, or gauge probability or even simple things like their 3 times table. One particularly concerned parent even went so far as to request a meeting with the class teacher, who assured her everything is fine. “The kids are only in Year 3,” she said.

“She might say that, but my kid doesn’t even know Year 2 work,” said the parent to me.

And when your kid gets to Year 4, she won’t know Year 2 or 3 work either,” I said.

Those parents have every reason to fear NAPLAN and every reason to want to blame the system, citing GONSKI’s findings as reason for their child’s underperformance. If you ask me, by doing so, they take on the “poor me” victim mentality and abnegate their sacred duties as parents. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, those in Amanda’s class are not just ready for NAPLAN, they’re actually looking forward to it. As I told Amanda when we started preparing back in January, “You will silently thank me when you see the NAPLAN test. Unlike the others, you will have no fear. You will cruise through it without breaking a sweat.”

Did Amanda willingly prepare for NAPLAN with me?

At first I had to threaten her, withhold privileges and offer up rewards in exchange for compliance but the day she aced a practise maths test, as the only one in her class (and I suspect all 3 classes) to get a perfect score, she came to me and said, “Thank you mama. You were right. I have nothing to fear now.”

Oh, and in case you think tests like NAPLAN only produce book-smart children, think again. Preparing for NAPLAN has taught Amanda discipline, perseverance, the need to read and understand a question before tackling it, it has primed her to think critically, to see how what she knows can be extrapolated to fit different scenarios.

Unlike in Asia, where it is all about memorising tables or facts, the Australia education system puts emphasis on knowledge application. Take maths for instance. Due to Mrs B and Mrs D’s stellar teaching of the current curriculum, Amanda can not only tell time but tell me how many hours and minutes there are until a particular time. She can convert hours into minutes and back into hours, if need be. Or divide a bag of 64 cookies among 4 people with ease. She can tell me how much change I should get from $10 if items purchased are $1.50 and $2.70. Or the probability that the items I’ve bought are one kind or another. She knows that ½ can be expressed as 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 8/16 and an infinite number of fractions, and that they all mean exactly the same thing.

When it comes to English, she can easily write 2 to 3 pages in support of a particular argument, with a decent introduction, ending and 3 points in between. She can spot misspelled words, faulty grammar, provide correct punctuation. She comprehends syntax and semantics. What more can I, as the parent of an 8 year old, Year 3 student, ask for?

Since you don’t know my child, you may ask me, “How does all this help foster creativity? Independent thinking?”

I will answer you, “Look at that wonderful house you live in. Would you still be happy to live in it if it wasn’t built to safety standards? What are safety standards but a bunch of numbers calculated based on size of dwelling and strength of materials used? Yet, those numbers are necessary, aren’t they? Regardless of how wonderful the building looks, how eco-friendly the design is, how well it blends in with the environment, you wouldn’t want to live there for a second if you couldn’t be sure that the thing will hold its form without collapsing on you.”

“Same goes for the bridge you drove across this morning on your way to work. Or the medicines you took with your morning coffee. You want quantifiable facts in support of what you consume, because “feel-good” based on nothing solid is simply a con.”

The same, dear readers, goes for education. You want to be dead certain your child is on track for his or her Year; not just based on your personal bias because that’s playing a very dangerous game with your child’s future. He or she will not thank you when failing to get into the course or university of their choice. Of course, if you’ve been playing the anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-convention game so far, you can continue to do so by blaming the system, the establishment, convention and everyone around you.

However, since the dye has yet to be cast, I urge you to cast your view towards wider society where progress is made by mastering and building on the basics. Even if your child were to be as creative a person as Lady Gaga, for whom neither maths nor English is necessary, aren’t you the least bit concerned that he or she might be taken for a ride by his or her accountant or manager? Think about your various criticism’s of NAPLAN and broaden your perspective to take in ALL of your child’s future. You’ll realise that if you embrace orthodox schooling, embrace regular attendance, embrace standardised testing, and help your child prepare for these challenges, you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, in the form of a well-educated, well-rounded child.