Monday, March 2, 2015

Name Recognition Activities

Got a child starting school soon? It might be useful for her to be able to spell (or recite) her name, and recognise it in print. I sing my kids' names to the tune of B-I-N-G-O and that's helped; thankfully they both have 5-lettered names! Here are some activities we've done to help our 2.5 year old better recognise her name:

My kids love pancakes. It's a weekend tradition. They're easy to make, and even the little ones can help with the mixing. We like this recipe and have been using it for years (in the same link I also share on how I made shapes; you can also use the same method to create letters). You can also make smiley faces to accompany your name pancakes! I guarantee they will disappear faster than you can cook them.

Personalised t-shirts are great because they are fun and easy to make (even for kids). If you're not comfortable having your kids' names shown in public, you don't have to let them wear their personalised t-shirts out. It's still fun for them to wear it at home. Here's how we made ours. By the way, it's so durable! Calla's t-shirt is almost 2 years old and the paint hasn't faded at all!

We have so much washi tape, we don't know what to do with it. So I taped up Calla's name on white card paper, then taped the paper on to a tray with sides. You can use a box lid too if you like. Because of the next step. I let my 2.5 year old dip marbles into paint, then roll the marbles around. You can also let your little one do finger painting if you like, which mind ended up being anyway! When paint is still wet, remove washi tape to reveal name. Let dry.

We've had these snap cubes for the longest time but have had no idea what to do with them. My kids play at building tall buildings but that's pretty much it. If you don't have snap cubes, this works with Lego blocks as well.

Bringing activities outdoors is always fun. My kids love sand so learning activities with sand make so much sense. For this, I wrote my little one's name in sand using my feet (you can also use a spade if you like, but a stick/branch is likely to be too thin) because it sand is very dense and very dry. It's not quite visible when viewed from ground level so asked her to climb to a higher spot to look at it. Oh, her face when she saw her name - priceless!

There are more and more parks in Singapore which have playgrounds with sand (yay!) but our favourite is Tiong Bahru playground. If the beach is more convenient for you, you can write on a smaller scale on the more compact sand :)

What I would really like to do is to grow my kids' names in grass! That'd be so cool, wouldn't it! If you manage to do it, please let me know, won't you?

Like to find out what other activities we do? They're all compiled here, both activities we do at home, and places we like to visit as a family. Have a good week!

Friday, February 27, 2015

How to Survive a Walk-Up Apartment with Kids


When we bought our apartment as newlyweds, the fact that we had to climb four storeys daily never presented itself as a problem. Now, with two young children, I know the exact number of steps I climb everyday.

The good thing about living in a walk-up apartment is that it's excellent exercise for your calves and you can save a bundle on gym membership. The downside? Well, climbing stairs several times a day isn't quite on my list of "most fun things to do". Also, we sometimes have to pay extra for delivery services (like IKEA charges $10 for every additional flight of stairs).

But this is our 8th year of living here, today we've got 2 kids aged 2.5 and 6.5 respectively, and we're still standing, yeah yeah yeah. So I suppose this deserves a blog post of sorts. So here we go. How to survive a walk-up apartment with kids, by me.

1. Ditch the stroller
We had a lightweight combi but lightweight still meant weight. And bringing the stroller up and down those stairs while balancing a baby and at the same time gingerly trying to avoid knocking over our neighbours' plants was pretty challenging (here's our step by step guide on how to bring the stroller out, stairs, baby and all!). 

I used the baby carrier (first the Baby Bjorn then the Ergo) a lot. For longer outings, I would put the baby in her carrier, and carry the stroller on my shoulder, walk down the stairs, open the stroller, put the baby in, leave the carrier in letter box, and head out, and repeat everything in reverse when we returned. 

2. Make the kids climb
I know it sounds obvious but sometimes, kids being kids, don't see the obvious, and have a different perception of common sense. Having to carry/half drag them up 100 steps is not only virtually impossible, but also terribly frustrating. With the little one, I make it a game and challenge her to look out for markers along the way - numbers, certain plants - we practice counting the number of steps, we race. Sometimes we leave something on the steps near home when we head out for an outing, and I use that to entice the little one to climb back up ("Want to see if that brown leaf is still there?").  

3. Make use of grocery delivery services
Our local NTUC supermarket offers two options: we can either shop online and opt for delivery, or make our purchases at the store, and get them delivered. There's a minimum spending required for that (and delivery is free), but it's easy to hit it if you have milk powder or diapers on your list. Which are heavy and bulky items anyway. Other items to include on your delivery list: the heavies like bags of rice or laundry detergent. Redmart allows you to do everything fully online and prices are reasonable too. 

4. Have a reminder list at the door
What's worse than realising you've forgotten something when you're out of the house? Realising it when you are at the ground floor after having gone down all those stairs. Do you climb back up again (with the kids) or do you forego what you've forgotten? Either way, your outing's already started off on a bad note.

We scribble little notes and paste them on the back of our front door to remind ourselves of important things we need to bring before heading out. That said, there were still occasions where we've had to backtrack. Like when we forgot to bring our passports while heading out for a family holiday :)

When the kids started their school years respectively, I also had notes to remind myself what time they would return because they'd be dismissed at different timings on different days - after I found myself waiting at the bus pick up location at the wrong time on more than one occasion. Other things worth reminding: special items that the kids need for school, or if they have to wear anything special on particular days.  

5. Let the kids be responsible for their own stuff
Now that they're older, the kids are in charge of their own things when we head out. They carry a little bag each - the small girl has her water bottle and a snack, and the big girl has her water bottle and whatever little trinklet she absolutely needs to carry. That way, I'm not stuck with each hand holding a kid, with bags slipping all over my arms as we descend those stairs!

There's not been any talk about any elevators sprouting up in our estate any time soon, and you know what? We've already gotten quite used to our stairs :) Happy climbing, everyone!

Hey, Four Eyes!

To someone with myopia, the world can be a very blurred place. Those of you with perfect eyesight, you probably have been told but I'll say it anyway: You are very very lucky. Oh to be able to get up in the middle of the night without fumbling for spectacles!


Here's a brief backgrounder about my hate-hate relationship with spectacles:

- I was first told I needed glasses when I was 10 years old. I jumped with joy. My mother shed a few tears.

- I was introduced to contact lenses at age 16 and have been dependant on them since.

- Wearing glasses out of the house gives me headaches. Followed by neckaches and shoulder aches. Sometimes they are so bad that I feel like throwing up.


Some people consider glasses an accessory, like earrings or necklaces. Not me. Glasses, to me, are a hindrance. Some people look cool with glasses. Not me. I simply look nerdy. And not in a cool way either. So it was contact lenses for me all day, even at home. Simply because my glasses were so physically uncomfortable and I felt so conscious with them on.

Each time I had to get a new pair of glasses, I had my eyes checked. Each time the opticians couldn't explain why I experienced all the aches, and hurried me through the eye examination so that they could serve the next customer. I disliked each visit immensely.

KJ Optometrists were very kind to offer me an eye examination, and further, a complimentary pair of glasses so I thought why not. Chances were, I'd leave with yet another pair of glasses that would cause me grief.

My relief from grief came in the form of Ms Li Leng, a Senior Optometrist from KJ Optometrists. Opticians, optometrists - is it a po-tay-to/po-tah-to thing? Same same but different? Well, yes and no.

Opticians can also conduct visual tests, the difference is that they interpret prescriptions that are prescribed by optometrists, and prepare suitable optical solutions according to those prescriptions. An optometrist is able to prescribe the suitable optical solution for specific optical problems, as well as diagnose any eye diseases and optical problems. There may be many optical shops in Singapore, but few have optometrists on hand. KJ Optometrists has 7 optometrists in their pool, who are also trained in treating young children. Good to know.

So this lady. She spent a good hour with me, giving me possibly the most comprehensive eye check up ever. She took the time to understand my history (but only eye related so don't worry, you won't have to tell her which school you attended, if you were a bad student, or which teacher you had a crush on), and patiently explained the possibilities for my problem.

On top of the usual "Can you read this off the chart?" and "Stare at the windmill" tests, I also had one really special one done - I had a picture of my eyeballs taken. See this pic below? Yup, those balls of light belong to me. I wish I could explain more to you other than to tell you that my eyes look healthy with good veins in them and all, but there was a lot of info to take in, plus I was still recovering from shock. Oh yes, the shock.

You see, my eyesight has been stable for a good 2 decades or so. I had no reason to doubt it because every optician (not optometrist. I almost guarantee that you will not forget the word from now) I saw did the regular tests and told me the same thing, that optical prescription (or 'degree' or 'lens power' in layman speak) was stable and all I needed was a new pair of glasses.

So when Li Leng told me, after all the stringent tests, that she was fitting me for a pair of glasses with a power of about 100 degrees weaker than what I've been wearing for 20 years, I was stunned. Turns out, in all these years, I had been wearing glasses fitted with an optical prescription that was too strong for me. How? I'm not quite sure.

What did she do that was different? The biggest difference was that she gave me (and my eyes) lots of opportunity to rest. I don't know about you but I get nervous before tests. Spelling tests, comprehension tests, pregnancy tests. You know. So I'm nervous before eye tests as well. Surely I can't be the only one who feels slightly embarrassed for not being able to read off the eye charts? Or feel nervous about "Oh dear, what if my power increases".

So she allowed me time to rest. Plus she was patient and explained everything to me. Like how she reassured me by saying that she was going to start off the eye exam with a very low power, one that would at first make everything very blurred, and this was to ensure she could get an accurate reading of my eyes. Her reassurance and confidence encouraged me to relax, and by relaxing, I was able to go through the tests without feeling hurried or stressed.

She also asked me to read off a printed document, and to hold it at a comfortable reading distance, and adjusted my optical prescription accordingly. In all my years of check ups with so many optical outlets, I had never done that. But then again, it seems like such a natural thing to do, isn't it?

So after all the tests, I knew I was in good hands. But still, there was the problem of the frames. I have to repeat that I do not like wearing glasses. Mostly because I don't like the way I look in them. So if knowing the correct degree meant that I would start buying the correct contact lenses, and I would have to walk out of the shop without finding a pair of frames that suited me, I could live with that. But hey hey would you look at that, I did manage to find a pair that fitted me, and would you believe it? I actually love my new glasses!

After I collected my new spectacles, I wore them straight out and? No headaches! And these days I am wearing my glasses out more and more. This is big, this is really big to me. Like life changingly big.

But wait, there's more. What of my contact lenses? Imagine how confused my eyes would be if I had different optical prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. Li Leng offered to exchange my existing and unopened lenses, and after I tried my new ones on, she even did a check to see if they fitted me well (to determine if my lenses allowed a natural formation of tears, to keep my eyes moist). Apparently all practitioners are supposed to do that, but somehow, I'd never had that test done. So this sealed the deal for me. Professionalism for the win! 

You know that I would only endorse what I truly believe in, and my friends, KJ Optometrists is like no other optical store I've ever visited. I am so grateful for Li Leng's professionalism and advice, and finally, for a pair of spectacles that I like and doesn't cause me grief. Thanks again, KJ Optometrists!

Specially for Gingerbreadmum readers!
Get 25% off all frames* when you quote GMUMROCKS at KJ Optometrists at Plaza Singapura from now till 31 March 2015.

*except for two brands - Tag Heuer and Oakley, which are price-controlled items


KJ Optometrists is located at 68 Orchard Road, Plaza Singapura #04-52 (new wing), Singapore 238839. Tel: 6333 0280. Opening hours: 11am to 9pm daily. 

Disclaimer: I received complimentary eye checks and a swanky new pair of spectacles from KJ Optometrists. All opinions are my own and completely honest. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Family Room

We laugh spontaneously
We disagree frequently
We love unconditionally
We argue sporadically
We hug fiercely
We fight occasionally
We yell regularly
We live messily

We are not perfect, but we are a family, and this is where we live.


This is the room we term as "The Family Room".

It's where everybody gathers at. Where there's a spot for everyone. Where there are things to entertain everyone. Where everyone can sit and relax, or stretch out horizontally for a nap. Where everyone can engage in quiet time or a noisy activity.

This is where we eat, talk, play, read, fight, watch TV, fold clothes, work, build, destroy, laugh, scream, jump, run, cry, throw tantrums, sulk. In no particular order.

This is where we can be noisy. This is where we can be quiet. This is where conversations flow. This is where we sit in silence. This is where we are comfortable alone. This is where we enjoy each other's company.

This is where we have our own space. This is where we fight for space. This is where we whisper "I love you". This is where we scream "She started it!". This is where we talk about our history. This is where our memories are created.

This is where we are a family. This is where we invite others into our lives. This is where we live. This is where we love.

We've been through many round of changes but I think we've finally got it. And judging by the amount of time everyone's spending in this room, I'd say we all love it. Thank you, IKEA for making our bright and happy family room a reality. We love it.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by IKEA, where there's something for everyone and every budget. Also where you'll learn more about your spouse, get lost a little, work some muscles and grimace at the taxi queue.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Wet Market Tips from the New Age Auntie

The wet market is one of my most frequented places. There, I've said it.

There's something about shopping at the wet market that supermarkets cannot replicate. Yes, there's the convenience of late night (sometimes even 24-hour) shopping, but supermarkets just feel rather impersonal to me. I understand though that there are a variety of reasons why some prefer to stay away from the market, and most if these reasons are fear driven. 

Prices at the wet markets are generally lower than what you get at the supermarkets. I'm told our wet market is one of the priciest, but still, in the big scheme of things, I still save by shopping there. Also, I think that the things are fresher at the wet market.

Other reasons include:
1.Whatever I spend goes directly to the stallholders, and I can do my part to cut down on packaging wastage.

2. I'm able to get more personalised orders. Like I can ask for my pork to be grounded twice for example, or choose the particular piece of meat that I want minced. Or to have my fish fillets sliced thinly. My fishmonger tells me which fish is good for kids because there are lesser bones, and when I buy bones for soup, the pork uncle always asks if we intend to eat the meat off the bone too.

3. There are also perks like getting complimentary garnishing (I've never had to buy spring onions, red chillis or coriander). Shall I mention discounts? I shall. Many times, they're happy to round down prices when you buy a few more things. Some stall holders are also cool to babysit your previous purchases while you go shopping for additional items.

4. I don't have to feel pressured into buying a whole bag of something when most of it will end up getting binned. At the market, you can buy a couple of sticks of celery (as opposed to a whole pack), or half a butternut squash, or just 5 eggs (that come in homemade cardboard boxes, thank you very much!).

5. The more familiar ones are OK with me giving a verbal IOU if the nearby ATM is out of order.

We are very blessed to have a good wet market nearby, and I go there very often. Over the years, I've picked up a tip of two, and hope that through them, more people will feel less intimidated about shopping at the wet markets.

1. Don't be afraid to ask
Don't know the names of vegetables? I totally understand. At the supermarket, everything is labelled, making it easy to identify the vegetables you need. At the wet market, everything green and leafy to me was a blur. In the beginning, I'd grab the first green leafy thing and head off to pay, afraid to hold up the queue. I still don't know half the vegetables but for the other half? I asked.

I asked just about anyone - stall holders and fellow shoppers alike. If you're looking to cook a particular vegetable, ask the stall holder if he has it. It would be helpful if you had the name in Chinese or dialect, but if not, a lot of them now speak English. If you really need that particular item but can't explain it, show a picture on your phone. I'm serious.

If something catches your fancy but you're not sure how to cook it, again, ask. Now I have no qualms asking the people next to me, "Oh, how do you intend to cook that?". Mostly, they're happy to share. And mostly, the answer is "with a bit of oil and garlic".

Don't know what meat to buy for chops? Ask. Want to know if your meat can be minced twice? Ask. Don't know if a fish should be steamed, fried, baked or grilled? Ask. Need your fish to be gutted and descaled? Yes it can be done. For free. Just ask.

And don't forget your manners, and to smile.

2. Make a list
It's easy to get lost at the market, particularly if it's one you're unfamiliar with. By having a list, you'll be able to look for the sections that you want and help keep to your budget. Because remember, they don't take NETS or credit cards (though if you're more familiar with them, you could probably ask to pay them at your next visit)

This also allows you to plan your route. I like doing meats first, then fish, then fruit and vegetables. I carry a grocery bag to a) cut down on plastic bags and 2) it's easier for me to carry one bag on my shoulder than 5 in my hand. So my meats go at the bottom, then fish on top. The vegetables come in a big bag that I hand carry.

My reason for going this? Firstly, I prefer stacking fish on top of meat than vice versa. Because fish is more delicate and um, expensive. And I end off with fruit and veg because that can all get quite heavy to lug around. Secondly, would you prefer having money handled by the fishmonger or the vegetable seller in your purse? Noting that the latter's hands are usually dry as opposed to the former's. 

3. Go at the right time
I know it's a challenging thing to do for working folks, but if it's going to be your first trip to the wet market, I recommend you make it less intimidating by going at a less crowded time, yes, like weekdays. I've gone as early as 6am (thank you, insominia) and as late as 12 noon. My favourite time is probably about 8am when the hardcore shoppers have done their shopping, and the market is less crowded, making shopping more pleasant.

Markets are generally closed on Mondays. Because abbatoirs are closed on Sundays (therefore there's no meat to sell on Mondays). If you're lucky, you'll find a few fruit or vegetable stalls, or the dried goods stall open but generally, it's quiet on Mondays. Most markets open from 6am to about 12 noon with many stalls packing up by 11.30.

4. Put your queuing mentality aside
I'm not saying shove your way around. There's still an unspoken rule about first come, first served (and please be gracious about it too), but don't expect to queue up in a straight line. Make eye contact and speak up to get stall holders' attention (a simple "Excuse me!" or "老板/老板娘!" or because it's Singapore, "Hello!" will suffice). Because if you wait till you're noticed, my friend, you're going to wait for a long time.

5. Wear footwear that you don't mind getting dirtied
Is the wet market floor the cleanest? Nope. So leave your Jimmy Choos at home and go in whatever you don't mind getting dirtied or can easily be washed. Until you're a pro, you might even want to opt against flip flops because the floor can get reeeeally slippery.

I hope this has helped somewhat. If you've got any specific questions, feel free to leave them in comments, and I'll be happy to help! Because I'm proud to be a New Age Auntie! :) Happy weekend, folks.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Home Sweet Home

Friends! I stand before you today as the self proclaimed IKEA champion! 6 trips in 10 days, y'all! And some of these trips with two kids as well! But all those trips (plus those to other stores, and the endless hours of research online and discussions with the significant other) have all been worth it. Because today folks, my living room looks like this:

Last month, it looked like this:

You know, to be fair to my former living room, it wasn't all that bad. But now that it belongs in the past tense, I'm able to pin point what exactly bothered me. The lights did not match. The bookcases were too dark. Our furniture lacked personality. In fact, the entire room lacked personality. And most of all, the walls were just too dark. They were so dark that no matter what we did - changed the sofa, hung up bright paintings - did nothing to brighten the room.

One of our biggest mistakes back then was that we didn't check out how much sunlight the living room got. The dining area hardly got any sunlight at all during the day, and it was made worse by our choice of wall colour. We opted for earth tones then because we wanted to create a cosy feel. Dark and gloomy was what we got instead.

The thought of re-painting the walls constantly crossed our minds, yet it was the thing we procrastinated most about. Because seriously, who has the time (and patience) to clear out everything to make space for painters? Not to mention who is able to find temporary accomodation for a couple of days till the horrid smell of paint goes away? But when Dulux asked if they could paint my living room for me and said that I wouldn't have to clear anything because their painters would do everything, I was sold. And truly, they did everything. You can read about the process at Asian Parents here.

This is what our living room looked like during the painting. I cannot believe I once thought I would be able to re-paint the living room myself! Oh, naive you are indeed, Adora!

In five hours they were done and we were left with a gorgeous white wall (we chose white but there must have been over 50 shades of white to choose from! I remember when white was simply, just white!) and clean floors. Because they even swept up after the painting was done! Smell? So little that my kids were even around when the painters were putting on the final coat of paint.

It felt like I had a new house!

Blank walls! Oh, the possibilities! I stared at this wall uncomfortably for a week, wondering how best to dress it up

I moved stuff around, experimenting with new layouts and configurations, then suddenly, something in me just clicked - this was the PERFECT time for a complete room makeover! We'd just gotten our walls painted white in an attempt to brighten up our room, and most of our dark furniture started to hurt our eyes because the contrast was so extreme. Plus, there were things that we'd been intending to change for a while, and this was the best opportunity to do so. And this was the time I learnt that furniture is nothing without fittings.

We were mindful of our budget, yet there were things that really needed to go. Most of the stuff stayed, but we did make some purchases (after many hours of browsing and window shopping!). Out went our black bookcases, and in came two very tall, very wide, and very gorgeous ones in a light birch colour from IKEA. You probably recognise them; every other home in Singapore has them. They're the famous Billy bookcases, one of IKEA's best selling items.

Against our new white walls, they blended in beautifully. We considered white but there was the risk our living room would end up looking like an insane asylum so we opted for birch instead. And that armchair! It's a preloved vintage chair that I bought at - you will not believe it - $35! I am so in love with it. And I love Hock Siong, where I bought it - gosh, when I visited, it felt like I had stumbled upon the set of Mad Men!

We also repurposed the old homelearning bookcase into the family games unit to promote more family time. Already, we're enjoying sprawling on the living room floor with the games. And those orange boxes below? The kids' toys - one houses blocks, another is a home for train tracks, one's for dress up and the other holds random bits and pieces. Oh so neat! I love it! No more runaway toy boxes! This is an old Expedit bookcase (now known as Kallax) from IKEA, another preloved item, from my mum!

I had a bit of trouble adjusting to this particular wall - it's the area that gets the least sunlight, so while all the other walls looked white, this one showed a slight hint of purple. But nothing a picture frame can't fix!

I knew that one of the factors that contributed toward our house looking so disorganised (apart from the fact that we have two very small and messy kids) is that our wall art was all over the place. This time, I was determined to (attempt to) coordinate. The problem was our budget - it wasn't very big. So buying 'real art' was out of the question. Else I would have loved to get a lovely painting of our neighbourhood. Instead I got two big basic white frames (these ones) and made these babies for the dining area.

We're not really the kind of family who would put up random pictures of scenery or abstract art, and much as I love doing art and crafts with the kids, this was something that I did on my own one night. I love the bright burst of colour! So simple yet so striking. Oh, the joys of a white wall! One thing that our living room lacked too, was plants. I'm known to have brown (as opposed to green) fingers, and have always tried to steer clear of plants. But I'm loving how these two are breathing a fresh breath of life into our home. And yes, they are not being ill-treated.

I've long toyed with the idea of a huge picture or painting on this wall, but everything was either too expensive or impersonal. So I made these instead with 3 simple and easy-to-find things: Stretched canvas, cloth, and super glue. The vintage chair sparked a love for vintage in me, so the fabric was chosen to match the chair (Spotlight!). The completed pieces didn't cost much so if and when we tire of them, we can simply make new ones with new fabrics. My initial plan was to get one big stretched canvas frame but Spotlight was having a special promo on a pack of two smaller ones, so I was easily swayed. Here's my DIY post on how you can make your own stretched canvas one-of-a-kind piece.

Max and I are the sort who like moving furniture around occasionally, and ultimately the sofa might go back to be against that wall, so we made sure the fabric panels were measured to fit the sofa. 

I love this area now but I'm thinking a coffee table (preferably a vintage one with those slim slanted legs) will pull everything together. But the rug! I never thought we were rug people but this one is simply gorgeous!

Cushions for the sofa! We have a white sofa from IKEA and it's got washable covers (how clever, right? Washable covers when you have young kids?), but it's also pretty badly stained with markers (thanks, Calla) and spills (thanks, everyone). Cushions not only help to mask some of these stains, but also make the room look more homey and cosy.

This pic shows the room without soft furnishing (cushions and rug). Compare it to the previous pic! Different eh?

Lighting. I mentioned that this room doesn't get a lot of light. Primarily because it's quite big. A good problem, I know. To save costs, we decided against putting downlights in a false ceiling when we moved in. But that also meant that we always had insufficient light at night. So we were very excited to change all the living room and dining room lights.

Out went our old entrance light which was a lovely deep red Vietnamese lamp that reminded us of our honeymoon (we honeymooned in Hanoi). The problem with it was that it was so dark that it didn't really to its job. Well, it was pretty, but also incredibly dark. So we opted for a paper lantern which really brightened things up (we chose this one from IKEA. There are many others at Daiso as well!). Our living room got a lovely red one which cast a wide distribution of light over our long dining table - in the past, only a portion of the dining table would be lit! The hardest light to choose was the one for the living room. This was the one that cost us many moments of debate at IKEA's lighting section. Finally, we got this one to match the armchair and I love love love how it fits in so beautifully. Max however, is a bit bothered by how it sways with the wind both from the window and the ceiling fan.

For additional light, this standing lamp is both a reading lamp and an uplifter - it gives us direct light for reading, and its uplifter is bright enough to light up the entire living room area, supporting the warm glow of the ceiling lamp. And the best part is? It was really affordable - yay!

So there you have it, our living room make over! I've mentioned before that I've yet to sit back on the sofa, breathe a sigh of contentment and say "Ahhhhh". Well my friends, now I can. Thank you, Dulux, for giving us this push. We all love our new living room. This is home, surely, where my senses tell me.

Disclaimer: Actually, this isn't a sponsored post. The one that I wrote for Asian Parents was, but I wrote this as a part 2 of sorts, because I wanted to share about the other things we did to create this look and feel. Plus, all purchases were made on our own account, so. 

Double disclaimer! : A few weeks after everything was bought, IKEA invited me to be part of their blogger programme, which included a sponsorship package. Just thought I would clear that up. And here's what I wrote for IKEA about our #1nightnolight challenge.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Bright Idea for a Good Cause

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by IKEA, who asked me to talk about a very special project. Of course I said yes. Because 1. It's IKEA and 2. It's a really special project. Glad we cleared that up.

In our home, we try our best to cut down on electrical usage, primarily because of cost. But I will admit that I cannot resist turning the light on in the living room just because .... it's so pretty. In the process of our recent living room makeover, we made better decisions concerning lighting and have been enjoying our new lights so much.

We have this uplighter and it does wonders to the living room. Basks it in a warm glow somehow. When I look at my living room like this, I feel like a real grown-up, like my own childhood dream of 'playing house' has come true, to have a home that I love.

I love my home and my husband and I are on a perpetual home improvement phase; we're always making small changes here and there. I cannot bear the thought of losing my home. Which is why when IKEA approached me to share about the "Brighter Lives for Refugees" project, which helps people who have lost their homes, I knew this was something I couldn't say 'no' to.

At this juncture, I have to point out that my opinions about IKEA are possibly biased - I played in the ball pit at IKEA Katong when I was 6 years old, I was a big fan of IKEA in my teens, I worked at IKEA in my 20s, and since then, my respect for the company that has taken upon itself to create a better everyday life for everyone, has grown. So yes, I believe in its values, and yes, I believe in the good it is doing. But no, it is not without reason. This is a company that honestly wants to help, and does everything it can to. You can read about IKEA's other efforts to help communities around the world here, and how sustainability is part of everything it does here.

IKEA has been partnering with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to bring light to otherwise lightless UNHCR refugee camps around the world including Ethiopia, Chad, Bangladesh and Jordan. Through this campaign, solar street lights, indoor solar lanterns and other renewable energy technologies have been provided to families in these camps.

In Singapore, the sun sets at about 7pm, and day breaks at about 7am. I cannot imagine going through 12 whole hours in complete darkness, yet it is a norm to millions of people around the world. There are about 10.5 million refugees globally, half of which are children. To them, even a simple activity like going to the toilet, reading, or returning home at night - everyday things that we take for granted - can be a dangerous task. Having light will play a big part in making their lives safer.    

We may be far away, but we can help too. For every LED light bulb sold during 1 Feb - 28 Mar 2015, IKEA donates €1 to help the UNHCR by funding its projects that help refugees in refugee camps across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. You can read more about the IKEA Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign here

While it isn't possible to simulate the exact conditions of a refugee camp, IKEA has requested that I try out a night without electrical light sources, just to have a feel of it. The tricky part was to involve the kids as well because well, they're a part of our lives and all. There were the usual things to do like get them cleaned up after dinner and ready for bed, with stories and all that.

Just to get everyone on the same page, this is what it's like in the bathroom with no lights on, "without kids" versus "with kids". 

And, just so you know, light switches are every kid's best friend. On and off, on and off, on and off... Our house is on a perpetual disco-light mode. So we had to remind them that light switches were off limits. More than usual. And then we armed them with these wind-up LED torches - no batteries!

As for the adults, we prepared ourselves for a different kind of night. I know what you're thinking. You're looking at today's date to see if you should congratulate us 40 weeks from today. I'm sorry to disappoint you but we simply went about our usual routines which included watching a movie in bed.

I'm one of those weird ones who get a headache from overpowering scents, particularly from air fresheners and candles. But I figured one scented candle in the bathroom couldn't hurt. Thankfully I was right.

Because kids are, you know, kids, they were really excited to see candles all over. We were careful to place them in high spots so that the kids were not able to reach them, but still, they couldn't resist blowing out a candle or two. After singing Happy Birthday of course. They had fun flashing their torches on the ceiling, and playing with their light sticks, but reading books proved to be quite a challenge.

When bedtime approached, they were accompanied by our old battery operated Christmas lights that I put in a plastic corner. No candles in their room for two reasons: 1. air conditioning and 2. it's fire, and they are kids - active, curious, I-want-to-touch-everything kids.

In the living room, however, when I knew they were sound asleep, I laid the candles on the coffee table, something I'd not done since they arrived. The kids, not the candles.

How difficult was the challenge? Well, we had to consciously remind ourselves about the switches. Usually we walk into a room and the first thing we do is flick the light switch on. It's second nature. So we had to be mindful of our actions. Truth be told, it was challenging but not entirely impossible. We still had the street lights outside that provided sufficient light that prevented us from bumping into tables. Washing dishes in relative darkness wasn't easy. But nothing a couple of torches couldn't fix.

It may have been a fun night for us, but the harsh fact still remains, that millions around the need light, and through IKEA, we can help make that happen. The next time you're shopping for lights at IKEA, look for LED light bulbs; for every LED light bulb that you buy, you can help someone have a brighter life.

And soon, IKEA will only sell LED lights - they last longer (up to 20 years!), consume up to 85% less energy compared to traditional lightbulb (thus saving us money on electrical bills!), they contain no mercury, light up immediately and can be recycled.

More good news? Yes please! Bring your used halogen or incandescent lightbulbs to IKEA Alexandra and IKEA Tampines from 6 to 8 Feb 2015 and receive free LED light bulbs. It's a 1-for-1 exchange, up to 3 lightbulbs per person, and limited to the first 1,000 bulbs per day. Now that is a bright idea!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bring Back That Lovin' Feeling

Before I had kids, I didn't know exactly what kind of mum I wanted to be. Slowly, as the kids grew, and so did I, I dug deeper and deeper into my own memory banks, and asked myself what my own parents would have done in each situation.

There were things that I agreed with ("You're in charge of your own homework, dude!") and things that I didn't (let's just say I am stricter than they are!), but one thing stood out: I wanted to be a fun parent, just like they were when I was a kid, and how they are fun grandparents now.

I wanted to bring them for picnics, for treasure hunts, on long walks, play at beaches, explore different playgrounds, teach them to skip pebbles on the water... all these fun things, which to be honest, are really challenging at times without a car.

But being a fun mum - it's something I strive very hard to do. Every single day I ask myself if there's somewhere we could go to explore. We don't always make it out of the house but the thought still comes to me every single day. And then work came along for me, and school for them, and slowly, ever so slowly, these fun times just somehow got snatched away from us.

Everywhere we went, we spent more time getting ready, and more time in transit than actually being at the venue. And when we're there, I'm looking at my watch half the time, worrying about being home in time for bed. In other words, I became the opposite of the fun mum I had set out to be.

But today, Small Girl and I had a morning out, just the two of us, and I rediscovered how much I enjoyed spending time out with her without any agenda. We went to the museum because she asked to, we took the train there and the bus back because she asked to, we moved at her pace, we shared a slice of green cake because she wanted to. We even played with vending machines, something which I almost always pull the kids away from, simply because we 'don't have the time to stop for this'.

Many a time, I'm guilty about not spending enough time with the firstborn, because she's the one who's had me 'taken away' from her. Small Girl doesn't know any other life but this, to have a sister to share her mother with. But Big Girl remembers a time when it was just me and her. And so I often try to make it up to her by going on special dates with her. I love these dates, I do, but I'm beginning to panic because there will come a time when I'll feel guilty about not spending enough time with the little one as well.

Oh, Motherhood!

It's hard to explain - we go out often, the three of us, but it's hard to really enjoy something in depth when one's attention is split. When we're out together, I'm always chasing after one or the other.

But the kids are growing, and I'm also learning along the way, so hopefully, one day soon, we will be able to go out and enjoy each others' company in a less hurried fashion. But in the mean time, Fun Mum is back in action! Well, her spirit is willing, at least.

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