Sunday, September 21, 2014

Embracing the Now


It was one of those days for me - I'd seen a couple of nice ideas on home improvement on some blogs and started to get fidgety and unsatisfied with my own home.

My home's always been a rather work-in-progress kind of place, and even though we've lived here for a long time, I've not had many moments where I would sink into the sofa and look around, and sigh and say "Yup, this is it, my home is perfect".  Because it's not.

The baby's starting to use the sofa as a canvas, bits of paint peeling from the walls from where they've been bumped by little ride-on cars and little doll prams, re-flattened pieces of furniture that have yet to be put on sale and are currently hiding in corners around the house. For the longest time, we've been talking about the possibility of getting ceiling fans for the bedrooms, but haven't done so. Why? Dude, if only I knew.

But what gets on my nerves the most is that the dining table's too far from the window so it doesn't get any sun, which means when Poppy does her school work there (we don't have a proper work table for her because there's no space for it, and she's too tall for the IKEA baby range to sit comfortably for too long), we've got to have the light on, and I really don't like having the light on in the middle of the day.

And so my husband, my wonderful husband, sees my grumpy face and starts throwing ideas around. Perhaps we could move a few items around and try to swap dining and living areas? What he was proposing wasn't impossible, but it involved quite a bit of work. Plus we had both I-don't-want-to-nap kids with us, who really wanted to help.


We did it anyway. A whole afternoon of measuring, moving furniture, vacuuming, cleaning, trying not to trip over little children helping.

And this is probably where you'd expect me to say that I'm totally happy with the new change. Well. Let's just say I'll need some time to get used to it. There's still lots to be done. Lots of tweaking. A few nights of waking and walking to the toilet without bumping into things. Stuff to throw, stuff to repack, stuff to buy. I'll need to, I don't know, put up some things and move more around to get used to the view from where I sit when I'm working on my computer.

But you know what? Amidst the horrid mood and the frowns and the irritation of everything thrown together, this happened:


And it hit home: I've been busying myself in an attempt to create a nicer home for everyone to feel happy and relaxed in, but I failed to realise that the little ones don't care if our pillowcases match, if the dining table is messy, if toys are thrown all around, or if the window grilles are a little (or a lot) dusty. They have all they need to be happy.

Maybe I will grow to like this new arrangement, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll have to make a few more trips to IKEA, spend a couple more hours on Amazon, check out a few more pseudo antique shops for the look of our home to feel more 'in place'. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But for now, I'll learn to live with it, and try to enjoy it, as my children do.

Ps Poppy got up to pee and said "Mama, I like the house like this; it's very nice". Of course, it was also an attempt to stay up a little longer.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Fun for Free Friday: Fort Canning Park

We love exploring, and believe that Singapore has many interesting spots to discover and enjoy if only one knew where to look. Some places are hard to get to, some are conveniently located, but all of the places you will see in this Fun for Free Friday series will have one thing in common - they are all completely free. Enjoy!

Note: Fort Canning Park also organises free guided tours, but it's open all year round for free for anyone who wants to visit; we simply went on a stroll on our own. National Parks Board also offers a free worksheet!

Bring: hats, sunnies and insect repellent!
Time required: about 2 hours

******

We set out one afternoon and headed with Fort Canning Park with a simple goal - to collect saga seeds. Ultimately we did achieve that goal, but oh, the many other things we saw at Fort Canning Park! Did you know that Raffles built his bungalow here? Neither did I.


There are a few entrance points, and we usually go by the Stamford Road/National Museum side. This time, we went via the River Valley Road entrance (opposite Clarke Quay, near the colourful old High Street Police Station or current MITA/MICA building). Note: If you're going on a saga seed hunt, we didn't see any along our walk, until the very end.


 




It's sometimes refreshing going by another route because we saw so many things that we didn't know existed. Like Picnic Terrace for instance. On a cool day, I'm sure this would be a lovely place for a picnic. Along the way, there was also a 9-pound canon! Apparently it was more decorative than defensive; it fired 3 times a day to announce the hour back in the day.





Our most amazing find of the day was hands down, the Fort Canning Lighthouse. That's right, a fully functional, though non operational, lighthouse! This one is a replica of the original that used to stand at Fort Canning Hill. In the 1950s, the growth of tall buildings around made it pointless to keep the lighthouse functional.

At the Maritime Corner, you can also read about the other lighthouses (yes, we have more!) around Singapore.






While it was interesting to know that there was an archeological dig and exhibition at Fort Canning Park, the display itself wasn't very exciting for a 6-year old. I suppose our 6-year old expected to see dinosaur bones and the likes. But for adults, they might be interested to know that the Archaeological Dig shows an actual archaeological excavation site, the only one in Singapore.



Spice Garden may be easily missed because to untrained eyes (like ours); the plants and spices may be mistaken as regular greenery, and there is lots of that around Fort Canning Park. But what is unmistakable is the scent - we smelt pandan, and lemongrass, but there's also nutmeg, and cloves, among others .





Just further down there is Singapore's first Christian cemetary. George Coleman, who designed the old Parliament House, as well as the Armenien Church, is buried there. Along the wall are many headstones, and the memorials of Coleman's widow, and infant son. Creepy? No. Peaceful? Yes.

I love how the roots of the trees made their way within the bricks!


We just kept walking and walking and walking and the kids were starting to get a little fidgety because there were still no saga seeds in sight. And finally, we got to Fort Canning Green, and lo and behold, little red seeds. They're right at the old graves, along the pavement leading to the road, and kind of scattered around the grass. You might have to dig just a little as not all the seeds are in plain sight, which makes it even more fun! We must have stayed there for about half an hour, just searching around.



The beautiful gothic gate. Or otherwise known as 'the entrance to the party' when there are parties at Fort Canning Green. The IHS carvings stand for Iota Heta Sigm, the first three letters of the Greek work for Jesus.






Just across the road is the National Museum of Singapore, or better known as 'pee stop' if you will. We took a little walk down toward Park Mall for dinner, and just outside, there is a dried up fountain decorated with dragons and an immense amount of saga seeds.




There's lots more to see at Fort Canning, like Fort Gate and Fort Wall, the sally port (a hidden door that leads in and out of forts), The Battle Box, but the sun was setting and we decided to call it a day. Plus, not everything is suitable for little children. But we'll be back! If you're interested to go on a colonial history walking trail, check this one out.

Till next week on Fun for Free Friday!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thankful for... Quiet Moments

Anyone who has gone out with me can tell you that I'm not lying when I say that I have energetic kids. Or to be more precise, really noisy kids.

But lately, I've realised that they do enjoy quiet moments too. My ears are screaming "yippee!".




Hooray for sisters who get along. Hooray for books. Hooray for quiet time!

******

On this quiet, peaceful note, I'd like to remind everyone that I've got a giveaway going on, for the rental of (possibly not quiet and peaceful) toys (Rent-That-Toy here!). Plus, check me out on Facebook for the latest updates on special treats and stuff. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Toy Rental: Maximum Fun, Minimum Fuss


Have you seen the prices of toys at departmental stores these days, my fellow parents? It's just crazy! I don't know about you but my kids tend to grow tired of certain toys very quickly, so making big toy purchases just doesn't make sense for us. Spending a couple of hundred dollars on something that will only be played with for a month, and then chucked aside for me to move and clean regularly isn't my idea of a good decision.

Which is why I welcome the concept of toy rental, like those offered by Rent That Toy!, with wide open arms. I simply love love love the idea of toy rental. Am I squeamish about it? Not in the least. I wouldn't think twice about renting a car or an apartment when I travel, so I fully welcome the concept of renting toys for a limited period. Are the toys cleaned? Actually they are sterilised, and washed (for fabrics) and checked to be in good condition before they are rented out. That's more than I ever do!

Here are some things you might want to consider renting:

1. Expensive toys
I'd probably have to give up all my special treats for an entire year to afford a toy like Step 2 custom kitchen. It's a great toy, but phew, that price tag! So of course, if they outgrow it, I would sell it, but then I'd have to find the 20,000 loose parts to go with it in order to be able to sell it at a better price. It's just too much hassle. No thanks, I'm renting instead!






Tip: when you rent something with many parts, take a photo of all the parts when you first receive the item so that when the time comes to return it, you will know exactly what to look for when you're flat on the floor and peering under the sofa.



2. Toys associated with a passing phase
At one point, my girls were fascinated with pirates, so we were happy to have the Little Tikes Play n Scoot pirate ship with us. Now the pirate phase seems to have fizzled off, and are we stuck with a toy that takes up prime real estate within our little apartment? Nope! Happy we rented instead!



3. Toys you're not quite sure about
Will my 2 year old enjoy that Dora telephone or that play scanner for a long time? Um, I'm not so sure. Renting a toy allows you to test a toy out for a month, during which you can access your kids' level of liking toward it, and then decide whether or not you'd like to buy a set for good. This is a wonderful way to check if pricey items will be worth buying. Turns out one month was just enough for us so phew, thankfully we rented instead!



4. Noisy toys
Parenthood has given me many wonderful things. A heightened sense of hearing is one of them. Something like the LeapFrog Learn-Around Playground is an amazing educational toy. Can you picture it? Mum seated cross legged on the ground, Toddler standing near her, Mum pressing a button and saying, "This is a red triangle" and smiles when Toddler repeats "Red triangle!". More smiles, more laughter, some cuddles. Perfect life yes. We have some of those moments. We also have days when we hear things like "RED TRIANGLE!!!" on repeat at 7 in the morning, which incidently, is too early for things like "RED TRIANGLE!" to be on repeat mode. My ears are thanking me for renting, and not buying because one month of red triangles was probably enough.



5. Bulky toys

You don't have to worry about permanent storage at home, nor finding buyers to take over your toys once your kids have outgrown them. Like this Fisher Price Dora the Explorer bike - the kids enjoyed it but after a month, I was happy to be able to walk around at home without worrying that my toes would get crushed. Yup, renting was a good idea! 




Something special for Gingerbreadmum readers!
Enjoy 10% off your orders when you enter the code GMUMROCKS upon checkout. Free delivery is applicable for all order $35 and above after all discounts have been applied. Go ahead! Rent and play!

And a giveaway!
One lucky winner will enjoy a $40 store credit when placing orders at the Rent That Toy! website! All you have to do is to leave a comment on this blog post telling me which toy you'd like to rent, plus leave your name and email address so I can contact you if you win. 

Store credit is valid for 4 weeks from time of notification. Contest is open to residents of Singapore only. Incomplete entries will be disqualified. Contest will run from now until Monday 22 September 2014

Don't forget to check out Gingerbreadmum and Rent That Toy on Facebook!

Disclaimer: I enjoyed a 3-month toy rental period purposes of review. I played with all the toys shown in the pics (and sometimes my kids did too), and both my husband and I shared the joy of crawling around the house and looking behind bookcases, under beds and in the washing machine, searching for all the parts of the toys/toy sets the night before.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Different and Loving it

The biggest lesson my parents taught me as a child was that I should always strive to be different. "You've got to be different to be seen and heard", they would say.

As a child I wanted nothing more than to be the opposite of different. Already overly tall and awkward for my age, all I wanted to do was to fit in, to be small and cute like the rest of my friends, to ride on the school bus, to own a dog, to be better at hopscotch, to wear US Masters shoes to school. That kind of thing. 

It was only when I became an adult that I truly appreciated the wisdom of those words. At the work place I was often one of the few who said "But why not this way?" when everyone else was furiously nodding and agreeing with the boss. Needless to say, I stood out, but not always for the right reasons. 

But being different is not just about going against the norm. It's not about being rebellious. It's about finding yourself and remaining true to it. 

Without even realizing, the choice to be different affected all my decisions, whether or not I wanted it to. Unconsciously it's even played a part in  big decisions like my choice of housing. 

To me, being different is a lifestyle. It's about choosing to wear a cheongsam to work over a regular dress or blouse and skirt. It's about being a big mustached policeman instead of dressing up to the nines. 

To me, being different is about embracing who you are and not just trying to fit in. So here I am, 36 years young, loving the skin I'm in, and celebrating being different. I believe that there's a direct relationship between being different and being compassionate and empathetic. Simply because someone who's not part of the masses understands that he's got to take extra steps to carve his own path and would therefore find it easier to understand others who are different, whatever "different" may mean. 

Being "different" has also helped in making me a more accepting person, something I hope to pass down to my children. Being accepting isn't about showing weakness. It's about realizing that different (there's that word again) act differently and there are sometimes no right or wrong answers. And that covers pretty much everything from kids not wanting to play with you at the playground to classmates not wanting to team up with you for project work or watching colleagues trying to impress the bosses in ways you do not agree with. One may not like what one sees but one may choose to accept things as they are, and I think that's a very important attribute to have, particularly for kids, as well as parents who, shall I say, choose not to be controlled by comments and feelings of people in general with regards to say, the education system. 

If I had to choose just one thing to teach my kids, this would be it. Not to strive to be the top student, not to be the most popular person, not to be all arounded, but to simply choose to be themselves and to love the people that they are. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thankfulness: Food

I learnt to cook only after I got married. It was fun 'playing house' then. But it was only after I had kids and stayed home to look after them that I really started cooking for real. I'm hopeless at meal planning but I make sure that there's always something to cook for every meal. It may not always be visually appealing, but at least our tummies get filled.

I won't deny it - it's exhausting having to prepare meals every single day. But I'm thankful for the opportunity to do it for my family. Thankful for them being generally easy people to feed. Thankful for having the chance to experiment (like when I challenged myself to plan 5 family meals for $50 - it was a success! See here!) when the mood calls for it, and for tried and tested dishes to fall back upon when the mood just disappears altogether.

Home-made satay!!! Recipe here

One of our regular dinner dishes: Fried miso udon with salmon, mushrooms, carrots and xiao bai cai

I now realise how lucky we are to live so close to a good market, and a reasonably well-stocked supermarket. If, due to my bad planning, there's a day when I find myself with nothing in the fridge or freezer to cook, I can either zip out to the supermarket for raw ingredients or buy our meals back from the shopping mall close by.

I'm grateful for the little Thermos flask we got on super sale; it's just the right size for me to bring Calla's meal out when we go on outings. I always bring her meals because I never know where we're going to land up and what kind of food, if any, is available. It makes me feel comforted knowing I have food for my baby.

Growing up, I often envied friends whose mums were housewives because it meant that my friends had mum's cooking everyday. To me, the amount of time and effort put into preparing a meal was the best way to show one's love. I'm grateful now for the opportunity to do the same for my kids.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Munch Along with the Very Hungry Caterpillar!

One of the first books my girls enjoyed even as babies was Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In fact, we used our first one so much that it had to be taped by masking tape over and over until it finally fell apart and got sent to the recycling bin. 

As little tots, they loved sitting on my lap and running their fingers over the little holes and flipping the thick cardboard pages. As toddlers, they learnt the names of the fruits in the book and were happy to point out apples and pears and pretend to munch on them. As a preschooler, this was the book that propelled Poppy's interest in the metamorphosis process.


Few books can boast about being so versatile in catering to so many age groups and cover so many topics, but this is one of them. We've had so many learning session that have spun off from this book: we've caught caterpillars (that grew into moths though!), we've made caterpillar and butterfly crafts, and we've had fruit salad picnics based on the foods featured in the book. 


Imagine our thrill when we chanced upon The Very Hungry Caterpillar game cards! Poppy plays it according to the rules but Calla is too young to appreciate the game so I use the cards to create a new game for her : I line the cards up and say out the words and she has to whack them with the fly swatter! 

It may be a simple game but for a 2 year old, there's quite a bit involved there: there's hand-eye coordination, and picture recognition at the same time. Also it's a whole lot of fun - the loud swat when the swatter comes in contact with the sofa, and the giggles that come after, play a big part in that.

I've also got a six year old who reads anything she can get her hands on, but is more reluctant when it comes to spelling, so I have to think of ways to gently coax her to spell. It's the cards to my rescue!



Got a little Very Hungry Caterpillar fan at home too? Good news! ACT 3 International is staging The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other Eric Carle delights! Better news! I have 2 pairs of tickets to give away! 

Here are the details:
Date - 27 September 2014
Time - 2pm show
Category - Cat 1 (worth $35 each)
Venue - Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, Singapore

If you're cool with the details, here's how you can take part:

1) Leave a comment on this blog post telling me why you'd like to win a pair of tickets to watch The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You MUST leave your email address as well or your entry will be disqualified.
2) Share this post with someone else who's got kids aged between 3 and 6
3) This giveaway is brought to you by Gingerbreadmum and ACT 3 International; here are our Facebook pages (The Gingerbreadmum Blog and ACT 3 International) : you know what to do!

This giveaway is open to residents of Singapore. Tickets will be mailed to winners. Giveaway runs from now till Monday 8 September 2014. Winners will be contacted via email and have 48 hours to respond or I will have to pick new winners.

Edited: Congratulations to Pearly and Shirley! I've sent you both emails; please acknowledge my mail within 48 hours!



Thankfulness: Peace

"We could use that as a fort, and it would keep our enemies out. The boys would be the enemies," she said.

"Or maybe not." I said. 

"What? No enemies? But how do we play the game then?"

"It's called peace, Poppy. When there are no enemies and everyone gets along and is happy and has nothing to worry about."

Today I am grateful for peace; both for living in a peaceful country, and for the peace at home we get at home when both kids are sharing and playing together peacefully. 



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thankfulness: Friends

It's nice to have friends who have known you since you were a kid. But it's also nice to get to know new friends. I'm so grateful that through blogging I've gotten to know and get close to some really awesome mum bloggers who share similar parenting views. It's so nice to find people who are on the same wavelength, and the plus side is that our kids get along well together as well.

I'd like to think that we're friends first, then fellow bloggers next, but never ever competitors.


Thank you for all our irregular regular dates, the super cool indie mum E from The BottomsUp Blog, I'm so glad Calla and Z like each other. Or well, at least that's what I think all the running away from each other thing is about.

Thank you for always being so sporting about joining us for impromptu outings, Summer from A Happy Mum. It's so lovely to hang out together, both of us as mums of two little girls, and so fun to see all the kids running around together.

Thank you for always sharing a laugh, Mother of Xander (and Yvie). When I sent out an SOS broadcast for a ride home from an event at which I was 'dressed in an outfit that left me no room to store a phone or any money to cab home', Liza came to my rescue and offered me a ride home, together with a chuckle. Even after I confessed I did manage to squeeze some money in my shoe after all. Thank you for your kindness!

Thank you for all your encouraging words, Mama J from Mum in the Making, you make me want to strive to work harder and do more on the homelearning front! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Thankfulness: The Rock



We've been together something like ten years, married twice to each other, and have seen each others' worst habits (or maybe not). We've fought over worthy causes, and about petty things. We've laughed together, we've loved together, we've celebrated our differences and shared common interests.

But in all the time we'd been together, I had never ever seen him in as much awe as I did the time I blew my top, courtesy of the good folks at PMS Pte Ltd. Let's just say I was probably like a recently caught caged animal. Or at least that's the image I got. Whatever it was, it wasn't pretty.

I will never forget how my husband came up to me (or maybe "carefully approached me" would be a better description) and said the words, "Be careful. You can never retract your words", and attempted to calm me down with a hug of just the right pressure. My husband who recognised that I wasn't myself, and together with me, blamed those damn hormones.

All these years he'd let me think I was the one running the show when actually he's always been the strong one between us.

My mum's always said I needed someone like that to balance my jumpy nature; she's so right. I'm so grateful for his quiet strength. The rock. My rock.

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