Thank you, everyone, for making 2013 special for me!

2013 was the year I learnt about taking life one step at a time. I learnt that self-worth is more important than net worth. It’s not how much I have. It’s how much I enjoy that makes me happy.

2013 was the year I learnt that nothing in life is to be feared … it is only to be understood. I finally opened up about my life as a mother, daughter-in-law, daughter and wife. And it never felt so liberating!

2013 was the year I learnt that I cannot do everything on my own. There’s a greater force that guides me. I discovered the power of God’s love.

2013 was the year I discovered the meaning of reaching out to other women (and men) through my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! I gave two workshops on Writing From The Heart, with Women’s Initiative on Ageing Successfully (WINGS) and National Cancer Centre of Singapore (NCCS).

I loved 2013 ….. then, I received two emails which moved me to tears and made me more determined to inspire others to live their best life. I share both emails here, coz it made me want to hug my two friends for making 2013 so unbearably special for me! And yes, remembering the people and events I love and cherish through my photos ..

Dear Catherine,
I chance upon your book through a colleague who attended a talk about women’s menopause last month..I was immediately attracted to your book title…So I asked her to loan me your book …
It’s half read but i felt so connected …. it compelled me to write you an email…some excerpts of your book that touch me…my soul..probably I am going thru a midlife crisis ..
See I am turning 49 next yr..so close into the big 50…I am a divorcee with three kids living in Melbourne..
I felt intense loving bonding moments when I read about your CNY trip to spend with Pauli..the pelicans feed & walk in the park…simply magical…
I am motivated by your undying pursuit of your passion, your dream. so marvellous … I salute to your bravery…BRAVO!!
Its my hope to finish your book by 31 Dec 2013 to end the year and prepare to make more betterment in 2014..
Wishing you a magical new year!
Yes, things happen for a reason…
truly yours,

Hi Catherine,
Can’t let the year pass by without wishing you a grand new year ahead.
Been tardy again. Advent is behind us and so many things are still not done.
A number of books at the bedside vying for my attention. Store room needs a makeover.
Too laid back. Gotta find the zest of life again. Time fly off faster than a hurricane.
Gotta be more resolved to be more productive. Distractions, not busy schedule are the enemies
of good time management. Thus must instill a greater amount of discipline.
Will definitely spend some time each week, or perhaps every other day for some reflection, not just in the mind, but to put thoughts on paper, or on the computer. That’s my new year promise to myself. And you.
Thank you for the write trigger.
HAPPY NEW YEAR

Friends who taught me about the power of laughter and hope

Friends who taught me about the power of laughter and hope

Mrs Jetsun Pema, aka HH The Dalai Lama's sister, who taught me about unconditional love.

Mrs Jetsun Pema, aka HH The Dalai Lama’s sister, who taught me about unconditional love.

My N6 Cluster Advanced Young Author Scheme class .... where stories are best shared

My N6 Cluster Advanced Young Author Scheme class …. where stories are best shared

It was truly an Amazing Journey ... where giving taught my journeyers about life's blessings ...

It was truly an Amazing Journey … where giving taught my journeyers about life’s blessings …

Looking out from my room in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala .... overlooking the Himalayan plateau

Looking out from my room in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala …. overlooking the Himalayan plateau

Sitting among Men in White in Bangkok's celebration as UNESCO World Book Capital 2013

Sitting among Men in White in Bangkok’s celebration as UNESCO World Book Capital 2013

The Young Author Scheme in Manila .... yay! Finally going international!

The Young Author Scheme in Manila …. yay! Finally going international!

Happiness is doing simple things together! I love you, Paulina!

Happiness is doing simple things together! I love you, Paulina!

Cambodia taught me that every child has a dream. Every parent wants to fulfil this dream for them!

Cambodia taught me that every child has a dream. Every parent wants to fulfil this dream for them!

Coolest ride of my life. That's me, in the red-rimmed cap and sticking her head out whilst trying to keep her white hat on, is Paulina. Tis divine, flying over the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, and then partaking of a delicious champagne breakfast in a vineyard. Life begins at 50! And yes, this photo was inspiration for my book cover.

Coolest ride of my life. That’s me, in the red-rimmed cap and sticking her head out whilst trying to keep her white hat on, is Paulina. Tis divine, flying over the Barossa Valley in Adelaide, and then partaking of a delicious champagne breakfast in a vineyard. Life begins at 50! And yes, this photo was inspiration for my book cover.

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Red, the colour of love!

Red, the colour of love!

Angels or rascals?

Angels or rascals?

I've come this far, jumped this high .... I know I can do it!

I’ve come this far, jumped this high …. I know I can do it!

Writing From The Heart workshop for NCCS. It was a truly humbling experience for me. I learnt the power of living life in the present.

Writing From The Heart workshop for NCCS. It was a truly humbling experience for me. I learnt the power of living life in the present.

Beijing in January 2013. Minus 17 degrees but loved the warm family togetherness

Beijing in January 2013. Minus 17 degrees but loved the warm family togetherness

My Learning Family Programme Alumni (LFPA) family. I learnt that social responsibility must come from the heart, not just from pockets.

My Learning Family Programme Alumni (LFPA) family. I learnt that social responsibility must come from the heart, not just from pockets.

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Oh yes! My very first book review

Every so often, I key in my name into Google Search to see what comes up. Every so often I am surprised by the number of “Catherine Khoo”(s) that come up. Then lo and behold, I came across on Page 9 a review. Of my book! Every author wants the lowdown on her book and I am no different. And this came from a male reviewer. I liked what Mr Ivan Chew said about my book so here it is, the unadulterated version, word for word of what he wrote. 🙂 Thank you, Ivan, for your candid comments. And yes, if you are reading this, I am very keen to work with other women on their stories …. if they would give me a chance to ….

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother’s lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life

This one came in the mail for me to review. The book, targeted at young female readers, was easy to read. The tone and style was very personable.

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life
Cover from: catherinekhoo.wordpress.com. All Rights Reserved.

My take-away from the book:

Crap will happen to anyone and everyone, at some point. No one is immune. The difference is how we choose to carry on.

Taking risks doesn’t always mean we will come up tops. But it also doesn’t mean we will always fail.

Exercise compassion. Life is not just about ‘me’.

Not entirely the way the author described, but I think not too far from it.

The author shared selective episodes from her life, explaining how she realised that one should love and take risks in life.

Right off the start, I sensed this was a woman who did not conform to conventional thinking, even as a teenager. Her mother had forbidden her to go on dates, and that the young Catherine should only focus on her studies. But she dated the boy anyway, even initiating the courtship rather than wait for him to act. The consequence was that her studies were affected, and so did the boy’s.

Before you wonder what sort of message the author is imposing on young impressionable minds, the truth is that many of our friends (perhaps you and I) went through the same, in different degrees. There may be more ‘teen rebels’ among us than we care to acknowledge.

The key difference, I thought, was that a person like Catherine Khoo consistently applied her optimistic outlook towards life.

She wrote in another of her blog:

… I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though…I love this journey

Can we truly have a happy life just by living our dreams?

Cynics may say that there are those who have tried to do just that, and they end up being decrepit and miserable.

Perhaps in anticipation of that, the author peppers her anecdotes about seeing life optimistically.

Part of her credibility arose from her managing and growing her own business. I think it takes a feisty no-nonsense approach to do that, in addition to being a mother, a wife, and a daughter-in-law. If that’s not enough, try starting a writing scheme for teens.

I did not think the author suggests that one should one up-end our lives and gallivant halfway around the world. You get a sense that risk-taking has to be tempered with an underlying sense of responsibility first.

Still, I would not have done some of the things she did, no matter what you tell me. For example, her episode with the illegal taxi ride in a foreign country, where she almost became a victim of a robbery. If I learnt my wife/ mother/ sister did just that (accept rides from strangers), I would be very, very angry. It seemed reckless.

For the most part, I empathised with her stories. Like how she walked out on her husband one time, feeling that she was being unfairly put down by her spouse. As a husband myself, it made me reflect on my words and deeds towards my wife.

One thing I felt the book fell short was that flow of the chapters can appear to be disjointed at times — though this could be said to be the online-diary writing style. Also, I was left with the impression that there could have been a lot more interesting stuff to be told, but weren’t.

I would have wanted to read more was her trials and tribulations in starting and sustaining the Young Authors Club, for one. What went through her mind when she was asked to set up the club? Did she see a business opportunity first, or the social cause?

So, here are a few things that I would be interested in reading, perhaps in her next book:

  • Stories, as told by other woman, whom she met along the way.
  • Interesting stories of the children and teens whom she have met, through the club she set up.
  • The challenges in running a business, never mind being a businesswoman.
  • What was it really like when she “shattered the traditional Japanese male enclave when she became the only woman editor-in-chief of two Japan-based magazines published in Singapore, a position she held for seven years” (see this).

Overall, this would make a good book discussion for teens. Or among teens and parents (I guess the teens would have to be forced to attend such a session, lol).

In a practical and pragmatic society like Singapore, some parents will not agree with the premise behind her book’s title. The call to “love and live dangerously” was something that goes against conventional thinking when I was growing up, and in a way it’s still very much the covert values most of us go by.

This was Catherine Khoo’s fourth book. It is currently available at major bookstores here, like MPH, Kinokuniya, and Times Bookshop.

Her books are also available at the NLB libraries.

Catherine also blogs at www.catherinekhoo.sg/the-meaning-of-education.

Life is not about the number of breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away

Life is not about the number of breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away

Sometimes we have to look fear straight in the eye to understand the reality of death. I had a brush with it in a Beijing taxi one cold October night in 1997. I saw it in my mum-in-law’s eyes a few days before she died. Today I saw it in my brother-in-law’s eyes. I can’t describe it …. It’s like you know you are going some place else, first you are scared, then you realize that there’s nothing to be scared of …. And you close your eyes and sleep. And so you die peacefully.

As I sit in the chair in Tan Tock Seng Hospital ward 12C, this truth hit me so brutally hard that I had to sit and get this all down. I look at Ah Kwee, my sis-in-law’s husband, who is now on a machine and has just been injected with some kind of medicine to boost his heart pressure which has become critically low. The doctor has just informed his wife and children to make a decision on whether to give life support if he needs it. And that he might not be able to last through the night ….

Ah Kwee was a jovial, rotund guy. Now he is like a walking skeleton, with only a layer of skin and a tummy that is extremely huge as his system has ceased to be effective anymore. And as I see everyone crowd around him, and at a loss on what to do, a certain phrase hit me ….. Is life about the number of breaths you take? Or about the moments that take your breath away?

Ah Kwee laboured as a driver since young, and never took any breaks …. Now, well, now that he could sort of relax since his kids are like 36, 34 and 22, suddenly, it’s like the air has just run out of him and he is like a deflated balloon. My heart really goes out to my sis-in-law and their children ….

And as I sit here contemplating, it begs the question, how do you live your life? How do I live mine? It becomes all the more urgent that we have to live it now. It’s about the quality, not the quantity …. Not how much you have, but how to enjoy what you have. Don’t wait for the “if I have this much …” or “when I can retire ….”

Because contentment is about the now. It’s doing thing now. Feeling the peace now. So right now, I am going to do what I want to do. To do what I have to do.

Things just fall into place ….. My book about “living a life that transcends your own,” I really feel I know where I am heading to now.

And I pray for Ah Kwee to go to a place where he can rest, and be with God!

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What We Can Learn From A Child

Today SF and me attended the wake of a 7-year-old child. He was the nephew of a good friend of mine, Channy. Why did I go to pay my respects when I didn’t even know the child? I think it has to do with being a mother and wanting to be there for his loved ones. And I learnt something today that I don’t think I’ll ever learn from any book I’ve read.

Channy told me that his nephew was a sickly child when he was born. Had diabetes when he was 11 months and did not even attend school because of his week immune system. Yet he was a happy child. He’ll greet everyone, talk with everyone and it dawned on me that he just wanted to learn everything he could learn before he left the earth. For? Heaven, of course, because he believed, and I could sense it when I looked at his cherubic face as he slept peacefully …. that angels go to heaven! Channy told me that his nephew started packing his satchel with things he loved one fine day …. And when his father asked him where he was going …. he said, matter-of-factly, going to heaven!

I see lots of people every day going through the motion of living. I wonder, do they feel life? Do they wake up, greet each morning with enthusiasm and joy knowing they have another day to make a difference for someone, for themselves …. or do they just plod through the day, never feeling the warmth, the laughter,the joy, of living?

This 7-year-old taught me the one lesson I shall never forget ….that life is about living each day well. See, smell, feel, touch, enjoy, laugh, dance, sing … In short, live your life today! Rest in peace, little Jun Xuan 🙂

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Simple Pleasures, yet so Meaningful!

Happiness is doing simple things together!

Happiness is doing simple things together!

 

Please feed me ... I don't bite

Please feed me … I don’t bite

 

Look! Birds of a feather flock together!

Look! Birds of a feather flock together!

 

Of course, being the biggest, I get to eat first!

Of course, being the biggest, I get to eat first!

 

I'm not showing off ... but look at my long neck :-)

I’m not showing off … but look at my long neck 🙂

 

You like my company, right? Not the bread I have in my hands ....

You like my company, right? Not the bread I have in my hands ….

 

How do I describe happiness? Can you see it in my face? Thank you, Pauli, for the awesome moments .... Thank you for being you! There was so much I learnt about being a mother from you.

How do I describe happiness? Can you see it in my face? Thank you, Pauli, for the awesome moments …. Thank you for being you! There was so much I learnt about being a mother from you.

This morning, Pauli and me woke up at 7:30. We were out of the house by 7:45 and where did we go? So simple, yet it gave me so much joy ….. We went to the river Torrens to feed the ducks, okay, swans and pelicans, I think. Pauli bought a huge loaf of bread for $1, we took a simple breakfast of ham and cheese toast, she with cappuccino, me with latte, and we walked in the morning sun, no, strolled, in the warmth and carefree sunlight thro the wide streets lined with 18th and 19th century buildings …. Through the new casino, and lo, and behold, amazing greenery and a river where ducks and swans share with boys practicing in their 4-man canoe. Ooh! So glorious …. I spent one whole hour feeding the ducks, the swans and the white pelicans … And felt so much at peace with nature.

Then Pauli and me walked through the streets and I landed up in the Migration Museum. Spent another hour there. Why do people migrate? For a better life! I think everyone wants to stay in their country, but sometimes they just can’t. Then I visited the State Library. You know what I love? Big, open spaces, where I can sit and just write. That’s what I love about Adelaide …. Why I travel on my own, why I need quiet coz it frees the mind to think, to rejuvenate, to travel….. Dharamsala gives me this peace too. And I realize that when a person says he is tired, it’s more mental than physical, which is why a good night’s sleep is important to rest the mind. And meditation too!

Sometimes we are so caught up with the self-inflicted pressure of “not enough time” that we fail to notice the quality of our way of way. We rush, we have a thousand and one things to do, and then there’s more work to do after we finish what we’ve done. That’s the lifestyle in Singapore …. And I am really, really tired of it. I’ve been called ‘relaxed,’ “don’t care less” and just “plain lazy.” And do I care a damn? Writing about it …. Yes, it irks me that people who don’t know any better think this of me. Frankly, I feel so helpless watching SF moan and gripe and I want to tell him, hey, take a break, but he’s so caught up in whatever he does that he doesn’t see beyond it. And so, invisible chains of “i-can’t-stop-coz-what-else-can-I-do?” mentality grips him. I’m really sorry for him …. I think I would do something about this. I admire what Raymond did …. He walked away from all the pressure …. Yes, I think the reason why I came was to get away for a while, to collect my thoughts …. 2013 is a year I feel a big change coming …. And it has to start with me. What can I do for the people I love?

Things happen for a reason. There’s a reason I came into SF’s life. There’s a reason why I am living with my sisters-in-law who act like I’m invisible. “Thank God for the difficult people in my life, that’s exactly who I don’t want to be!” I’ll add on …. “I’ll show them love and compassion so they’ll learn life is not so difficult after all!”

And how do I show them love and compassion? More than what i’ve always shown them: forgiveness. How? For the first time in my life, i’m stumped. Gotta figure out this one.