Sunday, September 27, 2009

Franklin – A Little Inspiration

My learning about current characters that children love started from bookstores. That was also how I found out about Franklin, the creation of Paulette Bourgeois.


We have become so much in love with this character. His stories are always so real, that it is so easy for us to make Tara learn some things about daily life just by reading her various stories of Franklin and his friends.


And one day when I needed an inspiration, Franklin came to my rescue.



A wish


It all started with a wish. That Tara grows up to be someone who pays attention to the less fortunate people given the fortunate life that she has. That one day Tara understands that for everything that she has, there is a little something that belongs to those who do not have anything.


So when she had her third birthday, we decided to celebrate that in an orphanage. We wanted her to see the less fortunate kids, and learn to share her joy with them. It was a joyful, also tearful, experience. We all enjoyed it.


Tara enjoyed it because she could play with smaller kids. We enjoyed it because we could share our happiness with those kids. Some of them never even knew their parents. One of them hugged me, and I almost fell down on my knees into tears when he looked at me and called me, “Ibu” (or mother), with such a sweet voice. And that day Cip and I knew that we would make it a habit to visit orphanage on her birthdays.


Then came 23 September 2009. Tara turned 5. The age that marked a difference. She was no longer the ‘below 5’, she is going to a different stage (and us, a different headache). I had been looking forward to this time. And I had been squeezing my brain to think of how to celebrate this day so it can be meaningful not only to us, but also to others.


We knew that we had to celebrate this big day by sharing again. So the first thing I did was to find an orphanage. My criterion was unfortunately very simple: it had to be close from home. Because I knew we would not have enough energy to go too far, since the date that we picked was close to Eid (27 September, just a week after Eid). We would just be back from our home coming trip, and a lot of other things to do after it, that I knew it would be asking too much of myself to plan something far from home.


And so I found one. After that, I wrecked my brain to think of how to make the celebration fun, for us and for those kids.


Thankfully, one of Franklin’s stories inspired me.



Franklin’s Birthday Party



We bought this one last year, with no special intention other than buying a new book for us to read to Tara as we have run out of options at home. But nonetheless, this book came to my rescue.


In this story, Franklin wanted to have his birthday at an amusement park because his friends suggested that he celebrated his birthday at a place with lots of games to play with. But of course a trip to the amusement park was too expensive for his parents to pay for, if he wanted to invite all of his friends. So his father had an idea that they built games at their backyard, complete with all the prizes to win at each game. And so they built mini-golf, fountain, and some other games at home. And on Franklin’s birthday, the backyard became an amusement park. This then became the best birthday party that Franklin has ever had, and he and his friends had a lot of fun.


I suddenly remembered this story when Tara, Cip and I were playing in Tara’s room at The Cocoon, our hideaway in BSD. That time we were playing with Tara’s play mat, pretending that it was a lake full with crocodiles, and we had to jump from one mat to the other so we would not fall into the lake. As I jumped from one mat to another, I thought, hey, why not creating games for Tara’s birthday.


So I told Cip and Tara, what if we did what Franklin did on his birthday. Why didn’t we create games for others to enjoy. They just loved the idea. And so, Cip and I began planning.



A day that has brought a smile to everyone


Then came the Big day.


We had five games: fishing, bowling, putting marbles in a glass, make your dot in the circle, and complete your puzzle. For every game, there is a prize – just some wafer or biscuit or chocolate, from the brands that kids know (and I thought, love, based on so many consumer focus group discussions that I had listened to!. There is a merit in being a marketing researcher!).


We hired an MC and a Barney clown. We asked some lovely friends to help out (ladies, we could not have done this without your kindest help!!).


We only invited some friends, just so we could meet up since Eid was just over, and also as a ‘test’ to see if this idea was really liked and could really make kids excited so we can repeat later. We asked those who could come to bring whatever they wanted to donate to the orphanage – be them books or clothes. We thought, why not make this a day that we really shared things. I did not want Tara to have her presents thinking that there are other kids who never even get anything on their birthdays.


Each kid was given five colourful coupons (they were just simply colourful post its – oh well, I just ran out of imagination!), that they could use at any game. And they just loved it!.


And it turned out to be a wonderful day for all of us.
















Get your candies from the pinnata!!!


and everyone had lots of fun...


We always thought of big things to make kids happy. And yet, an idea that was so simple, could actually bring so much fun and laughter. It was wonderful to see Tara laughed so much with her friends, and her friends – old and new, to have also laughed as much.


Cip and I are not sure how much the day has imprinted an image in Tara’s mind. But we both know that she can still remember that visit to the orphanage on her third birthday. So, we trust that her grey cells had been working hard to store the memories of the 27th September as yet another loving memory in her life. And hope, a loving memory that is associated with loving others, that one day she can extract and use in her daily life.


And I wish that everyone who was there could also keep that memory of sharing. At the end of the day, we all live for and with one another, no man is an island. Thank you for coming and sharing. May God give you a fortunate life for always.


My HUGE thanks to my lovely, beautiful hearted friends who helped preparing for this event – Sita, Erta, Dina…love you ladies!. Without friends like you, this world is an empty space!.


And I pray that God continues to grant us health, so we can continue thinking of how to make sharing fun, and to share fun to others. Everyone deserves a little help to smile.



(RIRI)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From 'The House of the Spirits' to 'Casa Allende'





It isn’t personal, everyone is responsible for his or her own feelings, and life isn’t fair.


Nico’s mantra of life. I just love it. It puts sense in this chaotic life. Though in his mother’s eyes, it is also one of the coldest look at life. But it can keep one’s sanity intact when trouble hits from back, front, up and down, in my opinion.


I took it from Isabel Allende’s novel, The Sum of Our Days. A memoir of her life that she wrote in the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Paula.




The first novel that got me curious



I first fell in love with Allende’s work when I read Allende's first novel, The House of the Spirits. I watched the movie, and I was so curious about the actual story that when I saw the book at a garage sale, I bought it. And that was when I got curious about the author.


The House of the Spirits had such a

vivid portrait of what life was like in Chile in the twentieth century. And what was fascinating to me was also how vivid the portrayal of the spirits in Esteban Trueba’s house. And of Ferula, Esteban’s sister, who at the end seemed to live on as another spirit in Trueba’s house. The author must have experienced these things herself. And as I later found out in Sum of Our Days, Isabel Allende truly was a believer in spirits.


And apparently the book did cause her to be opposed by her family. She used ‘grandparents, some uncles, and other bizarre characters in my large Chilean tribe as models, as well as political happenings of the time and anecdotes I’d listened to my grandfather tell for years, but I’d never imagined that some people would take it literally’.


For years some members of her family did not talk to her, or avoided her. But the movie remedied the situation, as great as ‘photographs of Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons have replaced those of my grandparents’.


And now having read 'The Sum of Our Days', I found it filled with lessons of life. From dealing with grief, to dealing with the unborn. From being in loneliness, to finding a circle of friends who you can really rely on. About surviving a marriage, or the un-married. About dealing with own frustrations and lost of ideas (she experienced a writer’s block for sometime). And there are many more lessons that I took without feeling that I was being ‘taught’, because the language in the novel was like a conversation between Allende and Paula. And what a beautiful conversation it was.



Her personal experiences that have made a mark


And I just love her tongue in cheek way of describing events in her life. My favourite was when she described the event where she was trusted to carry the Olympic flag in the Winter Games in Italy, in February 2006. It was here she met Sophia Loren, who she described as ‘from another era, very different from today’s models and actresses, who look like skeletons with false breasts. Her beauty is legendary, and apparently indestructible’.


It was also here she met Wangari Maathai, ‘who works with women in African villages and has planted more than thirty million trees, changing the soil and the weather in some regions’. Allende was very impressed with this woman, who she described as someone who ‘glows like a lamp, and I felt an irresistible urge to put my arms around her, something that occasionally happens in the presence of certain young men, but never with a lady like her’.


It was heartwarming to read someone of her current stature describing what she felt when she finally took the walk down the arena with the Olympic flag in her hand. ‘I trotted behind on tiptoe, holding my section above my head with my arm extended. I was dwarfed beneath the damned flag. Of course all cameras were focused on Sophia Loren, the eternal symbol of beauty and sexuality, and that worked in my favor because I appeared in all the press photographs, even though between Sophia’s legs’. And it was her four minutes of fame that she never wants to forget.


She has traveled a lot especially for book launches. But one of her most remembered journey, apparently was same like mine: a trip to India!. She took this trip with Tabra, her closest friend, and Willie her husband. At first she did not want to go there but her friend and husband convinced her that there was more to India than ‘devastated villages, starting children, and nine-year-old girls sold into early marriages, forced labour, or prostitution’. She also thought of Paula, who one day went to India and convinced her that India is the richest source of inspiration for a writer’.


She came back home from India, fascinated. She said that India was one of those experiences that mark you for life, memorable for many reasons’.


I could not help thinking and remembering my own trip to India two years ago. I only spent two days of traveling though was there for seven days, the five long days I was in a concentration camp…literally, I had to concentrate on some training while my mind was wandering somewhere else!. But up until today, those two days really left a mark on my mind. India is indeed fascinating, some kind of a psychedelic experience, that somehow lingers on my mind till today.


The Taj is just one of India's wonders that have been

imprinted on my mind...there are more...lots more



Her colourful family life


It is also touching to read how Allende has tried to ensure she has her ‘tribe’ around her. Being a Chilean who is used to a large family, she also wants to have it in the USA where she has migrated to. And it was no easy ride for her, neither for her family members.


Nico, her son, one day had to tell her that she was too much in their lives. She used to come into her son’s house uninvited, changed‘make myself scarce, and added that children must be separated from the mother or they will be infantile forever’ things in his home without approval, gave her grandchildren things that her son and wife have forbidden them to do or eat.


It was a blow for Allende. She ‘called Chile and talked with my parents. At first they didn’t understand very well what the problem was, since in Chilean families relations tend to be what I had imposed on Nico and Lori, but then they remembered that customs are different in the United States. Her father gave her an advice to ‘make myself scarce, and added that children must be separated from the mother or they will be infantile forever’. That opened her eyes, made her realized that her son and wife (who is an American), need their space.


That story made me reflected on my own family life. We live with my mother, and it must have been difficult to be her. Trying to restrain self not to intrude and yet, somehow sometimes has successfully done just that. We have had our disagreements. And I think now we are in good terms because of two things: we have made ourselves scarce from time to time by going to our Cocoon, or traveling. I guess, distance and scarcity can really make the heart grows fonder.


I am sure when Tara is married and has her own kids, I may do the same thing that Allende or my mother has done as a grandmother. Hopefully, I can still remember her father’s advise if we ever get into disagreement, as what I have experienced myself.



Her marriage life is not without problems. They almost got divorced. They consulted a therapist and worked hard on their marriage and they pulled through. She is often asked in interviews about her secrets to maintain her notable relationship with Willie. Rather than giving a formula, she told a story when she learned something from a composer and his wife who visited her family.


This couple renewed their commitments seven times during their long life together (they were in their sixties). The composer said, “In all, we have gone through seven marriages and no doubt there are more to come. It isn’t the same thing to be a couple when you are raising children, with no money and no time, as when you are in your mature years, established in your profession, and expecting your first grandchild”.


So I guess, just like running a company where we have the strategic meeting every year to review the year before and then to decide what the next target will be for the next year, the same goes with marriage. Well, not in such a ‘cold’ thing as determining a target. But, a review, re-establishment, re-adjustment, and, renewal, is going to be needed by both parties. I kind of like that idea. Rather than having myself busy only thinking of, “What should be my next business achievement?”, I should also be thinking of, “Where is this marriage going and what should we do more or less of to still make it work?”.


That may sound easy, but with our hectic life, somehow I think we forget about asking this kind of question about our personal life, till one day we realize it’s too late to ask questions. I am hoping I don’t have to be at such point. Thanks to Allende’s novel – I was reminded.



Inspirations to other writers


And to anyone wanting to be a writer, I think reading Allende’s book is going to be quite inspiring. It is just fascinating to read her rich personal experiences turned into a wonderful memoir of life. And it is also interesting, at least for me, to know that Allende has even published a trilogy for teens. She did this because her grandchildren often asked her to create stories for them using clues that they gave to her. And sometimes, her grandchildren asked her to tell them the same story that she has told them before – which of course she could no longer remember. So one day she decided to write a trilogy of fiction, with active participation of her grandchildren in giving her clues and inspiration.


What a wonderful way to bond as well, I think. And a very good reason to start writing so you have a memory of what it was with your loved ones.



A novel worth reading

So, all in all, my verdict for this memoir is EXCELLENT. Very easy reading though at some parts the topic is actually heavy. Very nice conversational language. And the best thing is, so much that you can possibly take as a lesson in life.


I like this a lot better than any Paulo Coelho novels which I somehow found too wishy woshy, and filled with languages that are too flowery. Allende uses words that are direct, and her sense of humour is remarkable. I guess this is perhaps the result of her years of training in Journalism before she turned into a novelist.


If you are looking for some inspiration in life, try reading this novel. And then maybe you can share with me what your favourite parts were.


(RIRI)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Backyardigans – a wealth of learning


Spoken:
Hi, I'm Pablo.
My name's Tyrone.
I'm Uniqua.
I'm Tasha.
And my name is Austin.
And we're ...

Sung:
Your backyard friends, the Backyardigans!
Together in the backyard again,
In the place where we belong,
Where we'll prob'ly sing a song,
And we'll maybe dance along.

We've got the whole wide world in our yard to explore.
We always find things we've never seen before.
That's why every day we're back for more
With your friends, the Backyardigans.



This cartoon series always open up with this very cute theme song that I just love so much.

We came across it when we searched for DVDs that Tara could watch when she was nearly 1 year old. Turned out, not only her, but I also fell in love with it. And I think this is a wonderful cartoon for kids to watch. There are many elements that kids can learn from it: love for friends, for adventure through imagination, about different types of music, different places and habit in those places.

Visually, it is very attractive. Start from the five pals: Uniqua, Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha, and Austin. Plump little animals, each with their own visual identity. Uniqua with her pink body and dots, Pablo – the blue penguin, Tyrone – the orange deer, Tasha – the yellow hippo, and Austin – I am never really sure what animal he is but I like his thick tail and cute little ears. They look so adorable with their plump body and smiling faces.

And when they use their imagination to do different activities in different places, these places are always great to see. They ‘go’ to Egypt, South Pole, North Pole, the thick forest of Kalimantan, Inca temple, Saudi Arabia…and lots of other places. They become Vikings, gold diggers, doctors, princes and princesses, knights, kings, queens, scientists…and lots of others.

What I also find very appealing is the way these friends behave differently. Uniqua is the smart one – she knows many things and can solve any problems in a calm way. She is smart but not a geek. Tasha is very girly – she tends to have the role of a princess or queen, she just loves to be the center of attention. Pablo – the oh so panicky one who walks around and around when he is panic and usually stops when his friends shout, “Pablo!”, and he will stop and say, “Yes?”. Tyrone is the absent minded one. Maybe others don’t see him as that but to me he has a sense of absent mindedness that is actually quite cute!. Austin the shy yet very practical person. He sometimes comes across as the MacGyver of the gang. He can always come up with practical solutions to things.

With different personality attached to each of these characters, the watching experience is so different. Compared to watching The Little Einsteins – each character in that show seems to be similar to one another. Everyone is a ‘do-gooder’. And many times so unappealingly too clever and smart that I lose the sense that they should actually portray little kids, with Einstein’s brain or not. The Backyardigans are different. Each has his or her own peculiarities, which make every story so alive.

And I just love the music and songs. It helps us to introduce different kinds of music to Tara. From jazz to rock’n roll, samba to bossanova, chacha to the drama musical type of music. Various types!. I have not come across one that has a similar music type to the other series. So it is a wonderful collection of not only cartoon, but also music.

Most of all, it helps Tara to grasp the value of imagination, and of friendship. I often wish that Tara could find such friends who take the group around the world with their imagination. I really don’t mind if they wreck the whole of our house’s backyard, as long as they can have fun and learn by having fun. They will learn much more anyway when they are having fun.

And Tara learns to expand her imagination by playing out each of the story that she has seen. She clutters our living room every time she does so, but what the heck. I would rather see her doing that, than busy with a portable PS and becoming a gadget freak who does not care for anything that happens around her.



In an environment where playing in the backyard seems to be replaced by playing in Timezone in the malls, The Backyardigans bring a whiff of fresh air. It constantly reminds me that no matter how small, a backyard is the closest outdoor environment a kid can explore. And one where they can make any kinds of mess without me worrying of stains on anything.

And I hope we get to see more of these kinds of series for children, and hopefully one day, made in Indonesia.

(RIRI)

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