Tuesday, September 29, 2015

60 Small Impactful Changes Anyone Can Make Today

The first time I lived with my husband in Canada, I was so amazed at how his family bothered to sort their trash and how they brought their empty cans and bottles back to the supermarkets for recycling. Shoppers who did that would get a small discount on their purchases - what a great idea! I'd love to see that take place here!

The good thing is that many companies are now recognising that they can make changes to the way they work and make a big positive environmental impact (look at IKEA's sustainability report - you may weep with the amount of effort its putting in). But many companies exist to supply to consumer's demands - that's you and me - so that means that we too have a part to play.

Sometimes people are also turned off by the term 'environmentally-friendly" or "go green". Many, sad to say, are also inflicted with the "let someone else do it" syndrome. There are also misconceptions about being 'eco-friendly' - that it is expensive or inconvenient.

We can't run away from the fact that the state of this planet we live on is far worse than it was when we were born. And much of that is due to human activity. But we can all do something about it, in both big and small ways. In Singapore, we are far behind in many things when it comes to sustainability, but we are getting there not so slowly, and very surely. And with more people on board, the process can only be sped up!

Folks, I'm sharing all this because in the course of my work, I've been exposed to some of this in greater depth. For many of these things, I just didn't know better. But like a disturbing image that you cannot unsee once you have seen, there are some things that you just have to correct once you know you've been doing it wrong, or have the chance to make better. It's not something that's happening 'far away', but right here, in our everyday lives. 

So with that, here are 100 things that you can do almost immediately, to make this world (yours and mine, thank you very much) a better one for all to live in. All of these things are easily doable. Most of them will save you money. Many of them, you're probably doing anyway! None of them will get you called a hippie, nor involve you doing anything remotely silly or embarrassing.

Remember: Small changes can add up to big impacts!

At home in general
1. Turn switches off when not in use - lights, fans, aircon, TV, oven. That saves energy and money

2. Set the aircon temperature to comfortable level. If you're bundling yourself up in winter wear, that's a sign it's too cold.

3. Draw the curtains when your air on is on in the day. Your room will cool faster and your air con will not need to work as hard

4. Service your appliances regularly - it saves money in the long run. Our air con units get serviced twice a year and most times, they are set on 27 degrees, at one bar.

5. Unfinished water from water bottles can be used to water plants or added to the washing machine.

6. Recycle! Toilet rolls and envelopes our junk mail come in can all go into the recycling bag! So can milk cartons and juice cartons (rinse them before) as well as plastic containers that your ta-pao dinner comes in. We have a regular spot in the house where we put all our recyclables and when the bag is full, we bring it down to the recycling bin. Recycling bins are everywhere now! Singapore is aiming to reach the recycling target of 70% by 2030! Source. To be honest, I think we need all the help we can get!

7. Reuse! We try to give everything another use before we throw them out - Cereal boxes make great file organisers, milk and juice cartons work well as plant pots for smaller plants like kitchen herbs, honey jars make great paint brush holders

8. Buy energy saving bulbs. They may cost more but last much longer. 

9. Do the laundry in full batches

10. If you have babies or young children who like baths in their little plastic tubs, used bath water can be collected and poured in the washing machine

11. Sweep instead of using Magiclean wipes which get thrown away after each use.

In the kitchen
12. Use the water from rinsing vegetables to water plants

13. Label leftovers so that you don't throw out food. Leftover meats can be used in pastas, salads and used to garnish vegetable dishes

14. Plant your own vegetables! If you have a garden, fantastic! If not, you can still plant herbs at the window sill! Plant them straight from seeds, or buy grown plants from Cold Storage or the wet market.

15. Freeze meats in small portions and as flat as possible (instead of in lumps). They'll freeze faster and defrost faster

16. Cook rice in big portions. We always cook double portions so that we can keep half in the fridge for the next meal

17. Save your drink cans from the trash - we put them aside and bring them to the hawker centre. There are always folks there collecting them (they bring them to recycle and get a bit of money from there). If we happen not to meet any, we'll leave them next to a recycling bin, and most times, someone will pick them up.

18. Think about what you want from the fridge before you open the door - leaving the fridge door open for a longer period of time makes the fridge work harder to cool down again

19. Install a thimble in your tap - it regulates the flow of water. Don't have one? Get one for free from PUB here.

20. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels to wipe up spills

21. Start a compost bin - it's really easy, and your food scraps (vegetables only, no meats or bones) will be reused to nourish your plants! You can do it even with very little space - we live in a small 3-room apartment and we have a compost bin. How to create a compost bin for small apartments here or here. Tip: We prefer putting it in an open area rather than enclosed, simply because of our climate - being enclosed can cause smells and smells can bring pests. No plants? I bet your neighbours will appreciate some compost. I promise you: our plants flourish each time we add compost to the soil.

In the bathroom
22.  Take quick showers. I'm in and out in 3 minutes. I try to get my kids to speed-shower too. 750 million people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. It just doesn't seem right that we abuse shower times. Source.

23.  Turn the water off while you soap and shampoo instead of letting the water run. Bet you remember gasping when you learnt that our Prime Minister's childhood home didn't have a shower until 2003 (up till then, it was a scoop and an earthern jar). Source.

24. Brush your teeth using a mug and don't let the water run while you gurgle and rinse.

Out and about
25. It's a great city to be carless in! About 3 million people take the bus and train every day. Source. Affordable? Check. Clean? Check. Reliable? I'd say check (comparing to other countries), but you might disagree.

26. Bring your own water bottle so that you won't have to buy bottled water. Refill anywhere - Tap water is ok to drink in Singapore!

27. Bring your own container (tingkats, anyone?) when you 'tapao' food from eateries. Don't be shy to pack leftovers either.

28. Use reusable plates and cups on picnics. We like IKEA's affordable range of children's plastic plates, cups and cutlery. Designate a colour per person!

29. Skip coffee stirrers at coffee joints; use the spoon instead.

30. If you bring your lunch to work, use a reusable container instead of a disposable one

If you drive - More fuel saving tips here.
Vehicle owners - There are about 1 million cars in Singapore! Source
31. Don't leave your car idle while waiting - turn the engine off. You won't waste fuel and the air will be cleaner around

32. Service your car regularly - faulty items can affect fuel consumption!

33. Remove unnecessary items from your trunk so you won't have excess weight (which leads to higher fuel consumption)

34. Use your GPS instead of driving around saying "But I know the way!"

35. Hybrid cars aren't widely available in Singapore, but you can still rent one when you travel!

Purchase decisions
36. Bring your own bag when you go marketing. The plastic bags from the fishmonger, pork seller and chicken guy are probably going to be wet and never reused or recycled anyway.

37. Buy bigger packs of necessities to cut down on packaging wastage. For example, buy 1-litre packs of fruit juice instead of a set of 6 small packs. Buy a 5kg pack of rice instead of a 1kg one. Can't carry it all? Online shopping helps! Honestbee offers a reasonable rate!

38. Don't be afraid to buy second hand stuff. Hock Siong sells reasonably priced second hand furniture and you can get some steals from the Salvation Army thrift shop

39. Reduce! Reduce the number of things you buy - The less we buy, the less packaging we'll have to throw. 

40. Buy refills. Pens, detergents, shampoos, shower gels.

41. Buy local - it travels less to get to you. Less travel means less fumes and carbon emissions from the transport it could have had to take. We may not have many farms in Singapore, but you can get a decent range of vegetables from Singapore and Malaysia at NTUC Fairprice.

42. Buy rechargable stuff. Like batteries.

43. Buy used books - Bras Besar Complex has lots of second-hand book store, and the National Library Board holds a book fair annually (it just passed! I got 25 books at $2 each!)

Office / home office - for more ideas on how to make your office eco-friendly, see Project Eco-Office, an initiative by the Singapore Environment Council.

44. Use paper on both sides. We keep junk mail for the kids to scribble on

45.  Go paperless - switch to paperless bills. Opt for e-tickets or mobile tickets for shows and even plane tickets (that way you also won't have to worry about losing them). Read the news online.

46. Turn your computers completely off (not just put them on sleep mode) for the night and save energy. Office folks, are you guilty of this?

47. Set computers to sleep mode if inactive after half an hour

48. Before you print, think: Do you really need to print it? Is it just going to be filed away, never to be seen again? Need to share documents? Use Google Docs instead! And if you really do, print on both sides. When printing PowerPoint slides, opt for printing more slides on a page.

49. Use paper clips instead of staplers - paper clips are reusable and recyclable, stapler bullets/wires are not. And hey, there are also stapleless staplers!

Involving the kids
50. Start reading books about the environment, pollution, recycling, Earth Day and eco-consciousness to them to raise their awareness.

51. Use items from the recycling bag to create crafts. 

52. Make recycling a way of life and get them involved. It's really nice hearing your 3-year old tell you "That goes in the recycling bin!"

53. TV always appeals to kids - Watch "The Lorax"!

54. Donate old clothes or do a clothing swap with friends.
In fact, you can just about donate anything. Check out Pass It On - you can see what various underprivileged families need and donate your preloved things to them.

55. Use recycled paper instead of wrapping paper for presents.

56. Cancel junk mail

57. Make use of social media - "Follow" a well-known celebrity who's openly eco-conscious; who knows, you might feel motivated to do more! (Jennifer Aniston takes 2-minute showers and brushes her teeth in the shower!)

58. Borrow. If there's something that you need but will only use once or for a limited period of time, ask around if someone can lend it to you temporarily.

59. Quit annual planners and calenders - we have all these functions on our phones anyway

60. Tell someone about any one (or more) of these tips and get them to change to! The more, the merrier!


Disclaimer: References to IKEA are genuine and unsponsored, but slightly influenced by the period when Writer was employed at IKEA. Writer is a regular person with a regular job with regular kids and is married to Captain Planet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Boredom Busters for Travelling Kids

We travel a lot on public transport. While it's getting easier as our kids are growing older, still, long distances are tough on them. And - I won't deny it - for us as well. Because of them!

I don't always have 'props' readily available (and we don't like reading/drawing on moving vehicles), so we're getting quite good at our made-up games. In case you find yourself in such a situation, here are some games that we like, that don't require any props.

Note: Please do not even think of starting to sing 99 bottles of beer on the wall. Or teach the kids "The song that never ends". You might just get thrown off the bus.

1. "I'm thinking of a thing"
We take turns thinking about a 'thing', and the other one has to ask questions to find out what it is. To up the challenge, you can limit it to yes/no questions for older kids. Think of a person, a food item, a place, cartoon character.... the possibilities are endless. Great fun, even for adults. Tip: think of funny things. Like "Grandpa's beard".

2. I predict!
This is a fun bus game - predict who the next passenger to board/alight will look like. Will it be a man or a woman? Will he or she wear glasses? Be old or young?

3. The name game
We think of names of people that begin with all the letters of the alphabet. To jazz things up a little, don't always start at the letter A. You could make it harder by only focusing on boys' names or girls' names. But our rule for this is: only English names. Also works for animals. Or occupations.

4. Story continuation
The kids always ask me to tell them stories on the bus, but it's quite tiring for me. So sometimes we compromise - each person tells 2 or 3 lines of a made-up story, and the next one continues, and so forth.

5. Pick a colour 
Each player picks a colour, and count the things around that are of that colour. Also works with shapes, or if you're travelling on the bus, types of vehicles or particular licence plate numbers.

6. Describe a person
We think of an imaginary person. Then we take turns describing this person. Male or female? What's his/her name? Occupation? Age? Funny habits? Where does he/she live? What does he/she like?

7. I spy
This is a classic. Even the 3-year old loves this. But do remind the kids not to point (or laugh at!) at people!

8. Math alive
We played this a while back, my 7-year old and I, when she was starting on her Math journey. We'd think of combinations that add up to 10. So I'd say "3" and she'd have to calculate how many more she'd need to reach 10. Now we're doing multiplications. Possibilities are endless!

9. The letter game
Agree on a letter, and think of all the words that start with that letter. We are strict with this one - variations of the same words are not allowed! (e.g. If one says "lion", then the others are not allowed to say "lions" or "lioness") 

10. Rhyming games
This is great for slightly older kids (our 7-year old loves it but the 3-year old finds it tough). Think of a word and take turns suggesting other words that rhyme with it

11. "I'm going to the moon"
I think the inspiration for this came from a Charlie and Lola book. We start with one person saying "I'm going to the moon, and I'm bringing a _____ (object 1)". The next person says "I'm going to the moon, and I'm bringing a ______ (object 1) and ______ (adds object 2)". So it goes on until one person messes up and forgets.

12. Guess the song
We hum parts of songs and the others have to guess. Could be a TV show theme song (yes, we watch cartoons with our kids), or something really random like "that song that plays at the end of the Puss In Boots roller coaster ride at Universal Studios Singapore".

13. Old school games
Not the Old Maid kind. More like the kind that start off with 'set set set'. Remember? Like "jelly jelly lom jiam pas"? And 我家, 我家 chyet.

14. Making choices
We pose silly choice questions to the others like "Would you rather be Big Bird or Grover?", "Would you rather have purple hair or 3 arms?", "Would you rather sit on a pineapple or hug a durian?", "Would you rather be stuck in a drink broccoli juice or eat fried socks?". The sillier, the better!

15. Boosting our ego
We think of positive words about each designated family member. For example, "Mama is ... kind, friendly, funny, a good cook, patient". All of which is true, of course.

And the bonus game..... Cheers and chants
Technically this isn't a game, but it's been fun for us to do. Remember the cheers you used to learn in school? Train rides are a great time to impart them to your kids. Change some words to fit your family. For example: "North South East West, tell me tell me who's the best? Gooooooooo Poppy!"

I hope you enjoyed this post. Good luck with your travels!!

You might also like the following posts:
How to go out with kids without going crazy | Grocery shopping activity for kids |

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Play and Stay at Village Hotel Changi

Disclaimer: We were invited by Village Hotel Changi to review its Play and Stay package. All opinions are our own and completely honest. We appreciate that the hotel has asked for our feedback, both on the things we enjoyed, as well as those we thought could be improved upon.


As you know, we're putting our home up for sale and every weekend, we've been welcoming visitors. We always enjoy having people in our home and talking to them about our lovely estate, but truth be told, we missed having entire weekends to ourselves.

It was almost as if Village Hotel Changi could read our minds when they invited us to stay for the weekend and try out their Play and Stay promotion. We also reviewed the refurbished Village Hotel Katong last year and had a lovely time so we said yes right away.


We're a family of 4 and usually when we travel, we squeeze into one room. The kids are still small so this arrangement works well for us. Village Hotel Changi was kind enough to give us 2 adjoining rooms, and I'm afraid that now the kids may never want to go back to the days of sharing a room with their parents!

We loved how bright everything was. To us, brightness brings about a sense of freshness. We loved how the rooms were bright enough for those of us who chose to read instead of nap, yet the curtains were dark enough for those of us who chose to take a snooze.

The bright corridors that greeted us were definitely well received. Hotels tend to have such dark gloomy corridors, don't they? But perhaps the downside of this was that while sunlight was allowed in, so was the heat. To the extent that it felt stuffy and because I'm quite sensitive to stuffiness, my trips from room to lobby had to be done really quickly or I would have gotten lightheaded. 

The decent sized bathrooms were a plus! My kids proclaimed they loved the bathroom (and in particular, the bathtub) the most! I'm always put off by those anti slip rubber mats - do I want to look at the bottom of those, where the suction cups are? No I do not.

Fish feeding is a hit with most kids, and ours counted the koi pond on the 6th floor as their second most favourite thing about the hotel. My husband and I however felt that the sucker fish (and there were quite a few) were really not doing their job, judging by the excessive amount of algae in the pond!

We arrived at the hotel with slight runny noses and no swim suits. But that didn't stop us from checking out the hotel's pools. Creek Pool is on the ground floor and it seemed like the only way to access it is through the cafe. The hotel's Saltwater Cafe, where the complimentary breakfast is served, is lovely, but I don't think I want to be part of diners' morning live entertainment!

Up on the 8th floor is an infinity pool. I'm sure it must be a full sensory experience for any kid - splashing in the pool, watching the planes go by, hearing your mother screaming "Don't go near the edge!!!!".

We also enjoyed exploring the Changi area, something which we wouldn't have done typically because it's quite a distance away and we don't drive. Just across the road is the famous Changi Village and all its yums! Cheap and good food anyone?

The package also came with complimentary Hop On Hop Off City Tour which would have been fun for the kids, but while the tour was complimentary, hotel guests have to arrange for transport to the Singapore Flyer (where the tour pick up is) on their own. We didn't go for this, but for guests who are at the hotel for a short stopover might find this useful.

We only stayed for one night so despite being just a bumboat away from Pulau Ubin and the famed Chek Jawa, we decided to leave that for another time. Instead, we made use of the complimentary bicycle rentals and really enjoyed our first family cycling adventure! 

The only major thing that affected our stay was the fire alarm that went off right at the time we were putting the kids to bed. At first, I dismissed it. But when it went on intermittently for a while, I opened the door to listen out for announcements but nothing could be heard from the corridor. I could hear the muffled annoucement through the glass window though, coming from (I believe) the hotel lobby. So I pressed my ear to the window to try to make out what it was. It sounded like a regular "The fire alarm has sounded, please remain calm while we check it out" announcements but I couldn't fall asleep not knowing - to stay in pajamas or not, for starters?

I ended up trying to call the front desk but no one answered. So for the next 40 minutes or so, I tried calling every number listed on the hotel brochure, including the main line. Finally, I got through to the security extention and was told that it was indeed a technical error and that there was no fire. While I'm glad that everything was a-okay, I couldn't help but worry about the contingency plans if hotel guests needed to be contacted in times of emergency.

Nonetheless, we are grateful and thank you for your hospitality, Village Hotel Changi.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Van Gogh for Kids

For starters, I must clarify that I am no art expert. Not an artist in any way either. I'm not even good at painting. Just a mama who's been vaguely interested in Vincent Van Gogh's work, owns a Starry Night reprint, and wanting to share that interest with her little ones.

To begin with, my knowledge of Van Gogh was probably as much as every other average person - of Starry Starry Nights, Sunflowers and cut ears. But as I researched more and more about him, the more intruiged I got. So I put all this info into bite sized nuggets for my kids, into a Powerpoint presentation. Powerpoint presentations have taken over lapbooks in terms of popularity!

In the slides, we covered:
- Who was Vincent? : About his family (he was named after a stillborn brother! As well as his grandfather! So in the Van Gogh family, there were many Vincents!), how he was a self-taught artist who was to be a priest, who he was friends with, his close relations with his brother. How he only managed to sell 1 painting in his life, and that frustrated him so much!

- His style : How he often used colours that reflected his mood rather than the actual colours (So I asked them to guess how he was feeling when he painted each painting)

- Some of his famous paintings in detail : I suppose you could call this the 'art appreciation' part! We talked about Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles (I asked them to compare his painting to a picture of his actual bedroom and if they thought his painting depicted the actual room well), The Starry Night, Night Cafe, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Van Gogh's Chair, The Cafe Terrace at Night, and The Potato Eaters (for the last painting, we talked about how sometimes we do things that are not typically 'us', but just to fit in, as Van Gogh did, in an effort to sell his paintings)

- His competitors : Actually we only talked about Paul Gauguin, his roommate for a while, and we compared two very interesting paintings by Gauguin and Van Gogh - both artists painted a particular cafe at night and while Van Gogh depicted it as a sad, lonely place, Gauguin showed it to be a lively place that people went to socialise. So we talked about perceptions

- Overview of his paintings : And finally, we looked at about 10 more of his paintings and I asked them which they liked

Next, we painted. We all tried our own interpretations of Van Gogh's style. If it isn't clear, we we trying for The Starry Night :) I love how Poppy managed to capture the wind!

We had the video of "How to paint like Van Gogh" on repeat while we painted - This gave us an idea of how Van Gogh painted, but we kept it looping because Poppy liked the music. And indeed, why paint when not accompanied by soft soothing music! Why, indeed!

Seldom does my husband get involved in our homelearning efforts, but this time, he pitched in to share a snippet from an old Doctor Who episode, one that involved Van Gogh, depicting a scene where he was brought to a Paris art gallery displaying his work (Van Gogh Visits Museum video). It's a 4-minute long video, and I must say I think the casting for Van Gogh was brilliant!

If your kids are into Little Einsteins, The Christmas Wish episode features The Starry Night!

Finally we ended the day with books (all these lovely books can be found at the library!) - we particularly like the Katie series. It's pretty much the same formula (she goes with Grandma to the museum/gallery and when Grandma falls asleep, Katie gets into an adventure with the paintings) but it's a fun introduction to the paintings. And that wonderful feeling I got when my kids named Van Gogh's paintings!!! Oh my heart.

Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew
Katie and The Starry Night by James Mayhew
Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt
Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt
Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by Joan Holub
The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant
Vincent Van Gogh by Iain Zaczek

I hope you'll enjoy learning about Van Gogh as much as we did! Up next.... Picasso? Monet? Who knows! Happy weekend :)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Going, Going....

As a little girl, my late grandmother stayed 5 minutes away from where I currently live. We used to drive past this estate and I would peep into the homes, wondering who lived here in these beautiful units.

This home welcomed us as a newly married couple, excited at moving into our first real home after 2 years of living in a rental flat. It was here that we threw our heart and soul into decorating. Of course, it helped greatly that we were DINKs, and that I was then working at IKEA. Over the years, the look of our living room changed greatly. Gone are the mocha walls that we once thought would create a cozy feel. Here to stay are our white walls that brighten everything up (I share more on that here).

We love how our living room is the place where we can all congregate together, but yet is also a place where we can be ourselves individually. It's where our firstborn flops on the sofa before getting ready for the school bus. It's where I read at night. It's where our little one plays pick-up-sticks. It's where the kids play with their train tracks or Lego blocks. It's where my husband (sometimes not so willingly) massages my feet. It is our family room, and I share more about it here.

Over the years, the dining table has remained. Our lovely find from the AS-IS section at IKEA. It's large enough to accomodate my family when they visit for dinner (that's 10-12 of us seated at the table!), and cosy enough for our intimate home-cooked meals at home every evening. It's also where Max and I work on our laptops at night after the kids have gone to bed.

This is where we have coffee, spill juice, remind children to eat, drag chairs, let kids set and wipe the table, put dish after dish after dish of homecooked goodness, and create reading forts under the table. We eat here, play card games here, the kids paint and craft here, we read here, and there's always a chase-around-the-table competition going on in the evenings.

When we first moved in, we had no idea what to do with our spare bedroom. Today, it is our kids' room, and we've tried our best to make it welcoming for them. There are pictures of them around, and they are surrounded by things that they love. Thousands of forward rolls have been done here, as part of the gym classes our kids make us take part in.

This is where we read book after book and tell story after story each night before bedtime. It's where they shoo us out, giggling, and emerge ten minutes later, shoulders draped with blankets, and crowns on their heads. This is also where we drag mattresses to on weekends for 'camping'.

As a young couple, we decided to paint our bedroom a deep red. We wanted a dramatic bedroom. Romance! Romance! Dark flooring, dark walls... today I would have chosen a lighter colour. But who could complain about a four-poster bed and a walk-in wardrobe? Surely not I.

This is where both our kids as babies slept, in their cots, at the foot of our bed. Today the cot is gone and it is replaced by children with train tracks. Today it is a favourite hide-and-seek spot. Today, children play at being firemen by sliding down our bed posters. This is where, at one point, we tried to put a work table to work. It ended up being a nice little place to throw computer bags and other work stuff. So I suppose it served its purpose as a 'work table'.

The kitchen is probably my second favourite room in the house. It's where I cook meals that I know are nutritious for my family. It's where, in the mornings, I can put the radio on and prepare meals undisturbed. It's where we do the laundry, and hang bamboo pole after bamboo pole out into the sun. This is where the kids sometimes play with their sensory bins when I walk around them, keeping chopped carrots and potato peels out of their way.

This is the room where we work the hardest, yet it is also the room that serves to remind us of how lucky we are - How lucky we are to have laundry to do, because it means we have a home full of people. How lucky we are to have a full sink, because it means we have had nutritious meals to eat.

This house, it is the place where we've taken numerous photos starting with the ones of our kids as newborns at the front door. It's where we've loved, fought, laughed, cried. This is the only home that our children have known. Where we've hosted our kids' birthday parties. Where my former colleagues hid under the table to throw me a surprise pre-birth party with the dishes I'd been craving for.

This has been a lovely place to live and it's strange welcoming people into our home for viewing sessions. It's almost like we're betraying it. But, like hermit crabs, we have outgrown this shell, and it's time to move into a bigger one. We've had wonderful memories here, and look forward to creating many more in our new home.

If you know anyone who's interested to move into the lovely Tiong Bahru estate, our home is still up for sale, and more information can be found here.

All images have been taken with permission from our real estate agent.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Kind of Crazy

The plan was to spend the entire day at the Singapore Science Centre, going through the Human Body Experience again, and enjoying the Back to the Moon for Good show at the Omni-Theatre. And after all that, we'd end the day at the awesome water play area that the kids really love. What a fantastic plan it was!

Unfortunately, while half of the 5.5 million people in Singapore were camped out somewhere centrally trying to watch the Black Knights' aerial display, the other half shared the same fantastic idea as us.

Thankfully, we had the kids' swimsuits so we made the quick decision to jump into a cab and headed for Jurong Bird Park. There, thanks to our Feather Friends membership, we bypassed the crowds and headed straight into the Birdz of Play area. This is something we wouldn't typically do (head to the Bird Park just for this) but because we've pretty much utilised our membership, we were happy to go to the Bird Park without actually looking at any birds.

This worked out well - the kids had fun, the husband and I were able to smile and have a real conversation (mostly about 'haha what a bad start to the morning but look at us now all having fun') while keeping an eye out for the kids. It was good.

Until it started to drizzle. Slightly. So we let the kids continue to play.

And then the rain grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger. And so we had to shepard 2 very disappointed children into the shower area (which, as my 7-year old pointed out, was a very big shower cubicle - you can see we've been to our share of water play areas and their respective shower areas). And when we emerged, we were greeted with a white sheet of rain.

The start of the long weekend and there we were, stranded at the toilet of Jurong Bird Park.

But this isn't where the story ends. In fact, this is just where it begins. It begins with kindness like we'd never experienced. 2 Bird Park staff offered us umbrellas while they got drenched in the rain. The umbrellas got us to the cafe (which only sold ice cream) where we waited indefinitely for the rain to stop. But at least we were dry. And then these two guys said that they had arranged for a tram to bring anyone who wanted back to the entrance/exit - these tram rides are usually chargable at $5 per adult and $3 per child.

At the taxi queue, everyone (including our kids) was civilised and well behaved despite the pouring rain. Lunch was uneventful and the rain had stopped so at least our spirits were lifted knowing that we could walk home from the MRT station without getting wet. But it was not to be.

We got out from the station only to be greeted by.... you guessed it. Rain. And not a little drizzle either.

So it was back into a shopping mall we went. Which incidently was under heavy renovation. As in only 5 tenants remained. Thankfully one of them was a food court and the kids got a hot Milo and we all had fruit.

But it was at this exact moment, looking at my family laughing and sharing a simple snack together, being happy amidst the day's crazy happenings, that I felt so truly blessed. I knew then at that very moment that I could not choose any better people to spend my crazy days with.

We live a walkable distance from the train station, but because of the rain, we decided to take the bus. And at the bus stop, a stranger laid out a sheet of newspaper on the wet bus stop seats, and gestured to our little ones, asking them to sit. There I was, already feeling incredibly blessed, but this stranger's gesture touched me beyond belief.

The rain was still going on strong so my husband stayed with the kids under shelter while I ran home in the rain to get umbrellas for them. And while I was at it, I grabbed their rain coats and boots so that they could play in the rain.

Because as the saying goes, life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, but dancing in the rain, isn't it? And if anything today's happenings have taught me, it is to appreciate the little things that we have. Because the days can get crazy, but we all need people to enjoy the crazyness with.

Happy crazy long weekend to you :)

Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Go Out with Kids without Going Crazy

Disclaimer: This post was written to motivate parents to bring their kids out more. It is in no way meant to offend anyone nor be overly preachy on the benefits of spending time with children. 

For more ideas on fun things to do and fun places to go with kids in Singapore, check this out.


I often find myself completely exhausted at the end of every outing and all I want to do is flop on the sofa and fall asleep there. My kids however, are energetic throughout, from the time we set out, on all the modes of transport we take, at all the places we go, and finally, even when we're home, they've still got some energy reserved for their books and toys and perhaps even a little whining.

But that said, we do have fun when we're out, and even though it's getting easier, it can sometimes still get quite challenging, particularly because there are many occasions when we are out with the kids on our own, outnumbered 2 kids to 1 parent. I know of parents who have never brought their kids out on their own, and those who try to avoid it as much as possible because they think that it is too overwhelming for them.

So here are some pointers, tips if you may, that have helped us; I hope they will help you too:

1. Bags for everyone
If we're out for a big day, I try to make the kids carry a backpack each. In each of their backpacks, there is a bottle of water (their own), a hat, and some small toys or books (they choose). I have my own backpack too which holds my own water bottle, their snacks, and a change of clothes. Backpacks are my new favourite because the last thing I need when I'm chasing two kids is to have a sling bag sliding off my shoulders.

2. Hold hands
We always hold hands when we're out. We've used one of those "cute backpacks with a long tail" (i.e. child leash) only once for each girl - Poppy at age 2 when we visited the zoo for the first time and Calla at age 2 at Disneyland when Max didn't come with us. If you see the value in those backpacks, they are useful especially if you have more than two children to care for. Don't bother about what others say or think; the safety of your children is more important.

3. Travel light
The reason I like backpacks is that our hands are kept free. Plus, it's easy to just get up and go with a backpack stuck on you. We don't go out with a stroller and very seldom bring our kick scooters out on long distances. It's just tricky having to manage two kids and two scooters on trains and buses!

4. Fill up
Our bottles are filled to the brim when we leave the house, and we refill each time there is an opportunity. Coolers are great, but this is Singapore, so tap water is ok too. Keeping hydrated in this very sunny country is so important!

5. Take time to appreciate things
Many times, we rush to reach places and then rush to play and rush to eat then rush home for bed time. After a while, I thought that was a bit ridiculous! So now we sometimes stretch our time to check out things that catch our attention and just to appreciate the things around us (within reason!). It could be watching a squirrel jumping from tree to tree, picking rocks or simply checking out a temporary toy fair!

6. Wear something with pockets
I kid you not. Because they are so useful. My pockets always have tissue because you never know if there's something you have to very quickly wipe. Like a snotty nose before mucus becomes a yummy snack. But seriously, pockets serve as temporary bins well, until you can find a real one for that snot-containing tissue.

7. Plan your route beforehand
We do not drive so we rely heavily on public transport. Websites like gothere.sg and phone apps like MyTransport.SG, Iris NextBus and Bus@SG are helpful too - they provide estimated bus arrival times so you know how long you have to wait. Sometimes that's important because then you know if you have enough time to make a quick toilet visit or if you have half an hour to spare to browse around in a shop.

8. Entertainment
For long train rides (especially routes that are mostly underground), books and small toys come in handy. We like our Toobs animals - they are cute and hardy and the kids make up stories with them. Puzzle books are a favourite too. We play I Spy (I spy green shoes, black bag, brown hair, orange shoelace etc) and hand games (scissors/paper/stone, oh pay som, cherry cherry lom jiam pas) and sometimes I create little scavenger hunts for them and put them onto small clip boards so they can tick the items off - that's only when I know we're going to be on empty trains.

9. Use what's available
Do you remember 'driving' the sky train at the airport as a child? I do. And my kids? They love the Circle Line because they get to 'drive' the trains. I play along with them and ask them to 'not go too fast' or 'Quick! Brake! We're almost at the station!'. They've even worked out a system - one of them is in charge of the actual driving and the other is in charge of the other things like turning on the lights and opening/closing the train doors. Most times, they entertain the other train passengers too.

They also like when I tell them where we're going and how many stops it would take so they help me to look out for our stations.


10. Set boundaries
The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to set physical boundaries. If it's somewhere we've been before, I will start this conversation with the kids before we arrive, and remind them to "stay only on the soft ground (for playgrounds for instance)" or "no going out of this room (if we're at an event)". If it's a new place for us, I quickly survey the area and squat down and get their full attention before explaining the rule of the day. Then I ask them again "What's the rule for today?" and they are not allowed to go off to play until they can tell me the right answer.

11. We look out for each other
The kids are reminded often to look out for each other and to stick together. I tell them that there are two of them and one of me and I cannot possibly split myself into two different direction. I remind them to play together or at least close together, and they like to come say hi to me often if I'm not playing with them. If they run to me alone, I always ask "Where's your sister?" (even if I know the answer) which makes them look. I think that makes them mindful of their responsibility to keep an eye out for each other. Yes, they are only kids, but we feel they should always have each other's backs.

12. Put on your eagle eyes
I keep my eyes on them constantly. I'm not at the stage yet where they can play and I can sit on the bench and read a book. Perhaps one day!

13. Check opening hours
I like being spontaneous but when out with two young children, I have to limit that to a certain degree. So I always make sure I know what time the places we want to visit open to minimise disappointment. We learnt the hard way that the water play area at Children's Garden/Gardens by the Bay closes at 6pm, and that most stand-alone libraries open at 10am (those within shopping malls mostly open at 11am). I like spending time with my kids but walking around aimlessly with bored kids while waiting for something to open is not fun for any of us.

14. Find out more
Like I said, I like spontaneity but I also want to be prepared. So checking out a venue's website beforehands lets me know if I need to bring swim gear or jackets for the kids to fully enjoy the day. When there is the option for water play, our wet bag is absolutely necessary - it keeps all the wet stuff in and everything else dry. We have the Bummis wet bag and it's big enough for 3 towels and 3 sets of swim suits. While finding out about the venue, I also expand my search to include food options so that after play, I know I won't have to walk around searching for food (incidently, dragging two hungry and tired kids in search of food doesn't rank very high in my list of fun things to do).

15. Visit the toilet often
Everyone goes to the toilet just before leaving the house and it is also the first thing we do when we arrive at our destination, the last thing we do when we leave, and just before meal times. We also go whenever there is an opportunity at places where there are few restrooms (like Macritchie Reservoir for example).

16. Photo-taking
We like taking photos to remind ourselves of our trips - the photos get printed and go into our scrap books after a while - but I remind myself that it should not always be about photos. A few token pics are fine but the outing should be enjoyed through my eyes and not through my phone.

17. Being fair
Sometimes when we're out at certain places, there are things that each child wants to do that the other isn't interested in. In the case of Universal Studios Singapore or Kids Stop at Science Centre Singapore for instance. When that happens, I present the options to them - we can either take turns and do what each other likes, do something else together, or if we can't all play happily together, we'll have to leave. Usually they choose to take turns. Phew!

(By the way, I never say "If you can't behave yourself, we'll go home now!" Because I don't want them to associate home with being boring and negative! Instead I say "Shall we leave now since nobody is having fun?")

18. Bring food if necessary
I always make sure to check if the places we visit have food options and if not, either plan our trip such that it doesn't coincide with meal times, or bring our own munchies.

19. Choose food options wisely
Each food outlet has its pros and cons - at food courts, you get your food very quickly, which is good news for hungry children, plus prices are always reasonable. The down side is that everyone thinks the same way. So if you find yourself stuck in the lunch crowd, you might want to consider other options. We quite like Hans and Saizariya for reasonably priced food.

20. Choose your meal times wisely
We eat our meals early - lunch at 11.30am and dinner at 5.30pm. We also like to eat before play, just to get it out of the way. That also motivates the kids to eat quickly because I tell them that the faster they eat, the more they can play.

I hope these tips help to make it less overwhelming and scary to bring kids out on your own! Don't forget to have a good time yourself! Enjoy the venue and smile too! Because you deserve to have a good time too :)

If you have any more tips, feel free to leave them in comments below. I'm learning too!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How to Make Tie and Dye T-shirts

We are loving our home-made tie and dye t-shirts! The best part of it is that the kids were part of the process from beginning to end and are so proud of their own creations. Contrary to common belief, tie and dye t-shirts are not difficult to create, and you don't need hard-to-get materials, nor follow complicated steps. 

Here's how you can make your own:

1 pack fabric dye (2 if you intend to have 2 colours on your items. Bear in mind that it will double your time required)
Water (depending on dye; it will be stated on packaging)
Big container to contain water
Long sticks of old cooking utensils to mix dye and fabrics
Rubber bands

* We got our dye from Art Friend, Calla's t-shirt was from Cotton On and Poppy's and mine were from Art Friend

Time required: about 1 hour

Step 1: Using regular rubber bands, tie up white t-shirts. There are several ways to do this, and each will bring about a different result.

For (1), I chose a mid point and start swirling the t-shirt around it before finally wrapping rubber bands around it.

For (2), we simply bunched up little bits of the t-shirt and tied rubber bands around them about 1 inch from their ends.

For (3), we started off by pinching the centre of the t-shirt and putting a rubber band around it, 1 inch from the end, and then continued by wrapping bands around the t-shirt in intervals of about 1 to 2 inches. 

Step 2: Dye the t-shirts according to the instructions on the package. We used DYLON fabric dye in flamingo pink for ours. The pack allowed us to dye 2 kids t-shirts, 1 adult sized t-shirt and a bedsheet for a kid-sized bed. We added 1 cup of salt for a more intense colour.

Step 3: Rinse off the dye in first hot then cold water. Once the water runs clear, it is ready to be machine washed (to be safe, we washed all our newly dyed items together without mixing with other clothes).

Your new t-shirts are now ready for wear! Below on the left, is the result of method (3), and on the right, is the result of method (2). My t-shirt was done with method (1) but it didn't come out too well (it resembled a white t-shirt that had been stained unintentionally!) because I had wrapped it too tight, thus preventing the dye from seeping into the fabric.

Have fun!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Children are not an Inconvenience

The other morning I held a banana in one hand while persuading my 3-year old to simply walk - and not jump or run - down the stairs. The banana was half eaten, so I had to hold it up, much like in the style of an Olympic torch. The 3-year old was bent on pulling my arm out of its socket by jumping the bottom 3 steps of each flight. "That's dangerous! If you fall, I could fall on you and flatten you!"  She didn't stop jumping. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, she was laughing and saying "that was funny, Mama" and I was well, not smiling. 

This happens often for me and I bet many of you can identify with it as well. 

But when she got on the school bus and started to form little hearts with her fingers just for me, my heart melted and I was reminded by a phrase I chanced upon: 

Children are not an inconvenience.

It is easy to fall into the trap of categorizing them as such, and I believe that once we are able to recognize that they are learning and using us as examples, we would all be much happier.

For instance, every new mum makes comments about the heavy diaper bag. I willingly confess that I did the same too - the diapers, wipes, extra clothes, nursing wrap, toys, and the ever cumbersome baby carrier. And as they grew older, their water bottles, hats, bus cards, entertainment.

We tsk at them taking too long to eat. We grumble at them them to walk faster. We get frustrated when they don't listen and spray water all over the bathroom. We complain about always going to "child friendly" places and having to share our food. We get irritated when they ask questions as we're on our phones.

We do all this but if we stop to listen to our own words, what would we hear under them? Are we unknowingly telling our kids that they are inconveniencing our lives? 

That we would much prefer to have an evening sitting on the sofa with our feet up on the coffee table watching 80s re-runs? That we would enjoy meals so much more we didn't have to make childish conversations? That we would prefer to be walking and checking our phones than holding their hands? That a relaxing holiday for two in France would be so much more fun than a trip to Legoland? 

When we pick them up from the school bus, do we say "Hello! How did your day go? I missed you!" Or "come, hurry up, let's go!"? When will it stop, us racing around from one place to another? When will we take our time to enjoy just being with them?

Let us remember that they never asked to be our kids. They never asked for us to bring snacks or bottles out for them or to buy them new books or to bring them to places or on holidays. It is us who do these for them, out of love.

I am not saying that everything should be put on hold just for the kids, nor that they should always take first priority; we sure don't want them growing up with a false sense of entitlement and thinking that everyone should respect that the world revolves around them. It's about being with them and growing with them and just letting them be children.

They can't help finding sticks on the ground fascinating. They can't not like jumping in puddles even if they're wearing their new shoes. They can't help being children but we can make the choice in being supportive parents.

I'm making this step to change, to watch what I say and be mindful of my actions. Because I want my kids to know that they are loved and not to think that they are an inconvenience.

Lately I'm telling them things like "thank you for being my daughter". It surprised them both at first, especially the 7-year old. But now they're both saying "thank you for being my Mama" and it's just lovely to hear. Step by step, we're working toward enjoying our lives together and not simply just rushing from one place to another. 


Monday, July 6, 2015

Art Projects for Kids

Somehow, art had found our way into our activities during the June holidays, and I'm glad it did. I was never much of an Art student in school (I mean, I was a student who took Art as a subject, but I was never very good at it), so it was fun to create art pieces together with the kids. We did so much that each of them now have an art folder, which we take out to admire once in a while.

It can be messy, but if you happen to have a day off, I strongly urge you to try your hand at some art with your kids. They're fun, and the kids really enjoy them. And no, it's not all about paint, paintbrushes and paper! Here are some that we did recently.

Rubber Band Twang
This was possibly my kids' favourite. It also created really pretty works of art and everyone loved this.

How to do it: Place paper in tray (for younger kids, you may wish to tape paper to tray to reduce movement). Wrap rubber bands around tray at regular or irregular intervals. Put paint on rubber bands (we found that the easiest way for us was to squirt some paint onto cardboard (we used toilet rolls). Then pull rubber band upward and TWANG! There are sound effects too!

Confetti Bursts
Another crowd pleaser.  Possibly because it's really really messy. Cleaning up is easier than you think - just bring out the vacuum cleaner and you'll get clean floors in 2 minutes (the kids will even gladly help with cleaning up!). The 7-year old LOVED this but strangely, the 3-year old didn't want to have anything to do with it the popping. She was happy to gather up the fallen pieces though.

How to do it: Squirt out glue on paper (I let the kids squirt out whatever shapes they wanted on one sheet, and then I put their initials on another). Then put confetti (we used coloured tissues but coloured paper works just as well too) into brown paper bags or small plastic bags (the small transparent kind). Blow into bags to inflate them, then position yourself (standing!) over your paper, and pop the bags! Repeat as many times as necessary or until your mother freaks out.

Handy Sponging
I like ideas that involve hand tracing because it's nice to look back at these pieces to see how small their hands once were! The 7-year old was happy to do this but the 3-year old needed a little bit of coaxing to cover her hand cut out with paint (hers is on the left).

How to do it: Trace out child's hand and arm on scrap paper then cut out. Using sticky tape, stick cut out onto white paper. With a sponge, paint over the whole sheet of paper, including the cut out. Once completed, remove cut out and let dry.

Cotton Ball Tossing
This is a great stress reliever I think! I usually don't participate in my kids' art sessions but this was one when I was asking them "Can Mama have a go too?" I'm so glad that they said "Sure!!" Both the 3-year old and the 7-year old loved this.

How to do it: In separate containers (we used yoghurt cups - they're the perfect size), mix poster paints with water. Dip cotton balls into paints and throw! It's great aiming practice!

Note: We brought this activity out of the house and leaned our cardboard (where we taped our paper) onto a metal wall. Clean up was easy peasy.

Candle Resist Painting
For some reason, we have a load of candles at home and not enough romantic evenings to use them for. The 3-year old grew bored of this quickly because it was too unmessy for her. The 7-year old found it exciting to see secret messages.

How to do it: Write secret messages for your little ones in candle wax on paper and get them to paint over the paper with water colours. Watch their eyes light up when they see your secret message!

Puffy Paints
This was fun for both the kids. The 7-year old was more precise with her creation, and the 3-year old was well, more 3-year old-ish with hers. Which led me to assume that she didn't enjoy it. But she surprised me days later by asking to put another piece of art into the microwave to see it puff up!

How to do it: Prepare puffy paints by mixing food colouring (2-3 drops, the more drops, the more intense), with 1 tsp of corn flour with 1 tbsp of water. It should be a runny liquid. Dab with cotton buds and when done, microwave on high for about 15-20 seconds.

Note: This will crack up over time so if you intend to store this piece of art, I suggest putting a sheet of contact paper over it (contact paper is like a huge piece of sticky tape, and can be found at regular bookshops - it comes in a roll)

Rainbow Scratchies
Rainbow Scratchies are so much fun and so easy to make. They both loved making it (though not as much as getting their hands all black with paint), and it took a lot of distraction to keep them from touching the paper while the paint dried!

How to do it: Colour on white paper with crayons, pressing down hard and making sure there's no white space. It's ok to overlap. When that is done, use a sponge (because a paint bruch would take forever) to coat paper with a mixture of black poster paint + a bit of dishwashing liquid (like 1 pump). Set aside to dry. When dry, use a toothpick to scratch away paint to reveal a rainbow below!

Dinosaur Printing
We kind of stumbled upon this activity actually. We were reading about dinosaurs at dinner, and our dinosaurs were with us. And because we hadn't kept up our paints from an earlier session, we decided to put two and two together by mixing dinos and paints. Verdict: Both kids were excited to start but grew bored quick; they were however VERY happy to give their dinosaurs a full shower after though!

How to do it: Squirt paint on palette (ours is the lid from an ice cream container - works perfectly), put dinosaur feet into paint and print them on paper. Roaring optional.

Ice Painting
Truth be told, this one was over very quickly, and the kids enjoyed getting their fingers cold and then pressing them on their unsuspecting mother's stomach more.

How to do it: Freeze a sheet of ice (a baking tray is great for that). Using cotton buds, dab food colouring onto ice. You could possibly place a piece of paper over your completed art piece to save the work, but ours just ended up well, brown.

Squirty Art
This is a fun activity to teach young children about gravity as well. Both my kids enjoyed this but really wanted to squirt the pavement as well! Ultimately we did but washed it off right after - dilluted poster paints come over easily.

How to do it: Mix poster paints with water and add to squirt bottle. We only have two bottles so we only put a bit of colour each time, so that we could then change colours. Squirt away! Have fun playing with the different types of nozzles too! And good luck keeping your kids from spraying on their others' paper!

Note: As you can see, we have a big piece of cardboard behind our paper - this was an outdoor activity but we didn't want to get the walls all colourful either!

So there you are, 10 easy activities to try out with your kids! Have fun!


About our art folders: Sometimes we create a few pieces of the same thing, so we usually just pick one to put in the folder (they are taped with washi tape). I recycle the rest when they're not looking! Sometimes the 'artwork' doesn't turn out well, but we keep it anyway, just as a reminder. Poppy or I label them with dates and activity names. Our art folder is simply made up of pages of vanguard sheets and tied together with ribbon.

About our paper: For our pieces, we mostly used drawing block, which is easily available at bookshops. You can also use card stock but that's slightly pricier. Drawing block comes in a size similar to A3, which I will then cut into half for all our activities. This cuts down on wastage, and fits into our art folder perfectly.

About our paints: We use poster paints from IKEA and Crayola. We use Club House, Bake King and Star food colouring.

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