I found this old picture of us, taken at a different season of our lives. I remember that day: We were at my sister-in-law’s home so she could shoot a few portraits for Alf to use on his namecards. (That’s his look when he’s in the middle of an allergy flare-up and trying his best not to sneeze.) That was when he’d just left his job as a teacher to enter the real estate industry, possibly one of the bravest things he’s done in his life, apart from marrying me. I was in my third trimester with Z, and Layla wore pinafores for fun, not for school. We’d committed to purchasing a new home together despite being in danger of collapsing from emotional exhaustion.
Someone asked me recently if I could describe a period of transformation in my life. I know things have changed for the better, in many ways, but I’m unable to say exactly when or how it happened. There were many little steps we took to get here; there’s always room for improvement and we’re not necessarily moving forward all the time.
But this week, it’s occurred to me several times that Alf and I are at peace, and it’s a wonderful feeling. As I write this, I’m snacking on garlic pasta that he whipped up for me in 10 minutes, just because I was hungry but too lazy to prep my own supper. (I’ll gladly wash.) We don’t spend the obligatory Friday nights together–he’s signed up for evening boxing lessons and goes on to play soccer after that, followed by supper with friends. He’s probably back by 4 in the morning–I relish having a night to myself too and it’s a chance for both of us to do our own thing and recharge.
On Sundays, I take both kids to visit my family and we spend the entire day with them, so Alf gets another free day to run errands, or do nothing.
We’ve failed spectacularly at trying to make date nights work, but giving each other space has brought us closer. On weekdays, we no longer argue about chores–he cooks, I clean, and I get Z to help me with hanging up the laundry. We can sit together and chat now, without the pressure of needing to fix something all the time. Sometimes I’ll land myself in a drama and he won’t be terribly interested in the details–instead of resenting him for not being sympathetic, I’ll reassess the situation and try to see it for how inconsequential it is.
I no longer snipe at my husband for never putting his plans into action. Being aware of each other’s moods, and, when necessary, retreating and allowing time for recovery, has reduced the need for harsh words and accusations. Lately, he’s been the one borrowing cookbooks and baking, or signing up for workshops, or keeping fit, or ordering Lego parts to build something for Z. And he doesn’t waste time on social media either. I need to catch up!
I saw this post on Facebook recently about The Calm vs The Chaos, and I thought to myself, no way. Now that I’ve experienced The Calm, I can never go back to anything less.
I haven’t been anywhere this week. Layla’s got one of those unpredictable fevers–it disappeared for a day, returned with a vengeance, and is lingering longer than expected. The doc suspects she was hit by two bugs. That’s unlucky for a girl who’s newly turned nine!
So instead, I’m sharing pictures from two weeks ago, when I was invited to a workshop by a professional gift wrapping artist, Jane Means. Jane is based in Singapore as well as the UK, and over there, she’s probably the Martha Stewart equivalent. She’s been hired to wrap celebrity gifts (she’s met David Beckham!) and she’s got other big name clients, some of whom she can’t talk about publicly.
If you follow gossip, you may have read that Martha Stewart can be intimidating. Jane, on the other hand, is warm and approachable; she’ll make you feel welcome from the start and you can ask her anything you want. For instance, someone asked her what was the hardest present she’d ever wrapped, and, if I remember correctly, she said it was a rocking horse!
During the workshop, we got down to basics and learned how to wrap a box neatly. We then used the same technique to make a paper gift bag. I’m a dabbler in most things, and I’m always in awe of people who’ve honed their craft to perfection and pay attention to every little detail. An example: When Jane was demonstrating how to tie a bow, she mentioned that in a perfect bow situation, your recipient should be able to pull the bow loose with a gentle tug of the ribbon.
We also learned how to make gift embellishments, and the funniest part for me was when we were supposed to cut a scallop from a music sheet to use for a layered flower. Everyone managed to do it fine, while I had four pieces in my hand! I discreetly threw them out and thankfully, managed to recover and still make my flower, just with fewer layers.
You can read more about Jane’s workshops here. It’s a fun way to spend a morning, especially if you sign up with a friend. Also, giftwrapping is a useful skill. I’ve had apologise for the state of some of the presents I’ve brought to parties–I’m a messy wrapper! Hopefully those days are over for me. I’ve already forgotten some of the steps, but I’ve kept a wrapped box from class as reference.
We held Layla’s 9th birthday party on a weekend where we unexpectedly lost a dear aunt to cancer, and watched the nation turn 50. Naturally we’ve been swimming in emotions for the last couple of days, but to some extent we were able to switch gears and celebrate or mourn accordingly, depending on where we were at. I asked Alf later if he would’ve preferred to postpone Layla’s party, but he said no, and he didn’t cancel his weekly soccer game either. I think that’s how both of us tend to deal with death and loss–we keep our sorrow buried in our hearts while focusing on life and the living. We do believe in God’s grace and new beginnings.
But let me get back to the purpose of this post, which is to recap Layla’s party. Compared to the fanfare of Layla’s rock ‘n’ roll 8 bash, her 9th was a much quieter affair.
Theme: Earlier in the year, I’d thought an India-themed party would be interesting and different, and later I considered merging it with a mystery theme and having the kids guess what Indian desserts were on the table. I even prepared mystery gifts as well (inspired by my friend’s Instagram photo). And I decided to recycle our treasure hunt clues from last Christmas, with Layla coordinating the hunt since she’d already solved it. But closer to the party, I ditched mystery and settled on art as the main theme. I’d enlisted a cousin’s help to give the kids an art lesson but she couldn’t make it in the end, so Plan B was to lay out our art materials for some drawing fun, along with instructional books for the kids if they needed a guide. That actually worked pretty well!
Decorations: So the party theme was fairly fluid, and I didn’t set a colour theme either. We had plenty of leftover supplies from our previous parties and I wanted to use what we already had. I made the pinwheels from Daiso patterned paper, magazine paper, and an old Archie comic, after attending a workshop conducted by gift wrapping specialist Jane Means. Among other things, Jane showed us how to make pinwheels as gift adornments and it was so painless–if you can fold a paper fan, twist wire around the middle, and stick the edges together, you can make this too. I got home and made a few more, just like that.
Cake: We were mindful to buy less and spend less for this year’s party because so many tragic events have happened in 2015 alone, and we wanted to set aside some cash to help others instead. Alf started to take an interest in baking several months ago, and he declared he’d make all of our birthday cakes this year. I was happy to let him have a shot at this, since we have a number of cake shops nearby to save us from oven disasters. He made several practice cakes but the night before the party, I was thinking that we’d have to run out and get an Awfully Chocolate cake after all, because Alf showed me an irregular-shaped, single-layered chocolate cake that was cooling on the rack.
I can’t serve this. And it’s too short!
Alf had a look on his face like he was about to throw in the towel, and the cake along with it, but to my surprise, he busied about starting on a new double-layered cake and making sure he got the shape right this time. I saved the old cake and cut it into bite-sized pieces for the dessert table, so his earlier efforts weren’t wasted. I’m glad he persevered, because there were good comments all around for the cake! Some even said it was just as good as Awfully Chocolate. (This was the cake recipe he used, and this was the icing recipe.) I certainly was satisfied–it was round, smooth, and moist. And not overly sweet. Perfect!
Snacks: The rest of the dessert table consisted mainly of supermarket snacks–grapes, raisins, and Fancy Gems. Ok I allowed myself one splurge; I contacted Sharn from The Snacksmith two days before the party, and she kindly agreed to let me place a last-minute snack box order. She even delivered the box herself as her usual couriers were on an early break for the SG50 weekend. I was so glad I made that choice because the fancy snacks were a huge hit with the kids and grown-ups! They had the coolest packaging I’ve ever seen on snacks, and the kids couldn’t wait to rip into each new packet. Everything tasted good–and interesting–but without being cloying or heavy.
Handmade Keepsakes: In keeping with tradition, Grandma Agnes sewed aprons for us this year. I almost couldn’t bear to give these away!
Art: I was surprised to find that a few of our guests had been earnestly following the instructions from our Ed Emberley drawing books! Others drew trains, or scenery, but most of them just doodled, and even destroyed their pictures, just for fun. I always store away items to remember each of Layla’s parties by, so I kept some drawings, including the one pictured.
Gifts: Every year, we tell our friends not to bring gifts. First, we’re happy enough that they’ve set aside time to spend with us, and we want to save them some time, effort, and money too. Second, Layla has everything she needs. We all do. But some friends will break the rule anyway, so Layla will usually still have presents to enjoy, and I think she doesn’t mind that one bit! For this year, we stuck with our “no presents” rule and put out a donation tin for guests to chip in for a cause in place of a present, if they wished. My friends are very generous; Layla still received presents! We also raised $150 for NTUC Income’s OrangeAid fund, so we were able to make a small difference and I’m glad for that. I found out about this fund because our friend Janson was behind the ad that made so many of us cry. This was what he said about working on the ad:
This is one campaign I wish I didn’t have to do. Unfortunately, these stories exist. And they are truly heartbreaking. Many are far worse off than this one we’ve just made. Please share this film to highlight the predicaments these kids face. Let’s donate generously to allow them to climb up the social ladder in our society. They are, after all, one of us.
Art Gallery: Because of Layla’s party, I finally completed a home project that I’d been putting off for years–setting up our family art gallery, complete with gallery text! Click here to see the pictures in our mini gallery, and here to read the text.
Odds & Ends: We spent less on catering this year; Alf cooked veggie pasta, and we also ordered from a Chinese eatery that’s only minutes away from our home. We’ve always been hesitant to do that because although the eatery has its fair share of fans, the online reviews have been mixed and the cooking standards are inconsistent. But we stuck with safe dishes and all was good! We’ll get our party food from them in future unless our guests have special dietary needs. As for tables and additional seating, I rented three tables and 20 chairs from our Residents’ Committee for only $18. My neighbourhood is the best!
That’s it for the recap of Layla’s 9th birthday celebration, and it’s not over yet because we’ll be doing a smaller-scale celebration for her on her actual birthday, which is this Saturday.
Post-party, I was really touched by my friend Shireen’s message to me. It’s exactly what we wanted our parties to be:
I love your parties. As C puts it, it’s full of surprises and so much creative fun!
Welcome to my veggie plot! Last month, I realised I could sign up for a space at our estate’s community garden and thought it’d be something new to try. My track record with plants is terrible, but at $5 for a lifetime membership, I figured I had nothing to lose.
I approached our Residents’ Committee rep to state my interest and she brought me to Mr H, the gardening leader, who assigned me my plot and gave me a lecture on responsibility. He even showed me examples of untended plots that he hoped I wouldn’t emulate, and the next morning, placed a gardening hoe in my hand for my first test: Loosening the soil. It was one of those ridiculously hot mornings and I had to drive the hoe into the ground repeatedly until the first six inches of soil was soft.
“Gardening is hard work,” said Mr H.
He stood in the shade and watched me, and once in a while he would walk over to correct my technique.
“You’re holding it wrong. That’s inefficient.”
I kept at it for over an hour, and ached for a week. I suppose that pleased Mr H somewhat, because he gave me instructions to meet him at home for a formal lesson.
This time, he said, “Gardening is relaxing.”
This was in his living room, where he was showing me how to bring my seeds to life in an eggshell carton. He decided I should plant cai xin and Chinese cabbage (xiao bai cai)–his rationale was that these were easy to grow and I’d be motivated once I’d enjoyed my first harvest. On Day 13, I transplanted the seedlings into my plot, and the picture above shows my cai xin, on Day 27.
My Chinese cabbages aren’t doing as well–you can tell by the blank spaces that many of my crops didn’t make it. Mr H isn’t impressed with my cai xin either; he said their stems are weak, and that I’d do better next time. I’m surprised anything grew at all, so this is already a big deal for me.
I have to water my crops every morning–Mr H feeds the plants in the evening. I’m proud to say that I haven’t missed a day and it’s become a part of my routine. Z’s stopped complaining about the heat and freaking out at butterflies or anything that moves, in fact he loves visiting the garden now because a chicken family has taken up residence there. I’ve grown quite attached to the garden myself; there’s always something new to look at.
Harvest Day is coming up! I’ve never cooked Chinese veggies before–I’ll probably bring them over to my mom’s so she can turn them into a decent meal. In the meantime, here are some gardening tips and links:
* From Mr H: Always keep your seeds refrigerated.
* And another Mr H tip: If you’re using a garden hose to water your plants and it’s a hot day, test the temperature of the water before you hose down your plants. Hot water can hurt them. Also, use a gentle spray.
* For beginners: These are some local veggies that are easy to grow.
For growing herbs, they say it’s not good for this weather or that weather, but in all honesty, you have to try it out yourself and you’d be surprised it can actually work… You learn these things through instinct. When you look at the herbs, you will see how are they doing or faring and based on that, you will have some sort of connection with them. You don’t always have ideal weather conditions, and the plants have their own coping mechanisms. They will find a way.
I’m no fan of Orchard Road–it’s too crowded and too expensive. “Town” for me is the area stretching from the art museum all the way to Bras Basah and the Central Library. And Middle Road too of course. That’s my territory; I feel comfortable there, I know all the buses and shortcuts, and I know where to get decent food, although some places, like the awesome Basil Alcove, have sadly shut down. (If nothing else, click on that link to see Alf celebrating Movember in January!) I blame the Basil crew for giving me GERD, but I would patronise them again in a heartbeat.
By the way, decent food is definitely not served at Han’s at the Central Library. That’s a great place for freelancers to hog tables and a perfect place to work at, but I swear I’ve tried almost everything on the menu to keep my seat and only found the regular ham ‘n’ cheese sandwich and chicken pie tolerable. The chicken pie totally loses out to the pie at Mary’s Kafe, which is practically across the street. The two pies shouldn’t even be in a contest together.
Mary’s Kafe is next to 8Q at the art museum, and I first read about it here. I’m not crazy about the mains yet (that said, I’ve only tried the stew and the shepherd’s pie), but I love the bites, including the pang susie. If Z’s around, we always have chocolate cake too. Mary runs the cafe with her sister Doris, who is extra friendly to kids and will let them draw on the chalkboard if it’s near closing time. We’ve been there often enough to know this.
* Still on life’s purpose: I haven’t started answering these questions yet, but I might. I think it’s just that time of the year, where people are prone to asking “What have I achieved/Where am I headed?”
* I’ve been feeling a bit unsettled these last couple of weeks. I don’t want to be that nice person who’s always trying little things that never amount to anything. But today, a friend messaged me because she wanted to make a surprise birthday present for Layla, and I was so touched. The signs are always coming in to remind us that we are blessed by the wonderful people around us, and sometimes, that knowledge is all that I need to stop wallowing and start loving life again. (Thank you Pauline!)
* And yes, this is a new weekly feature on the blog, with snapshots, thoughts, and links from my daily life. Some of my old posts are still accessible via the links on the right sidebar, while others are still searchable, if you know what you’re looking for. I’ve privatised a few posts–I’m moving away from blogging about Layla and her school progress to give her the privacy she deserves. Other posts have just been around long enough, so…
Hi all! I’m spring cleaning the blog again, trying to decide what stays and what goes, as well as how this space should be used going forward. I’m sorry if some of you have gotten multiple messages from me about old posts being republished–those were automatically sent from an e-mail subscription app, which I’ve since disabled.
Until I’ve got things sorted over here, I’ve got some links for you to check out! Here goes:
* Our cousin Jessie did us a favour recently by getting the four of us to pose for a family photo at a wedding we all attended. It’s a rare family shot and I treasure it! The official photographer for the wedding was our friend Steph, and I’ve heard she’s done a wonderful job. If this photo is any indicator, the couple will have many classic pictures to remember the day by. I also love this shot of the kids and their cousins goofing off with the bride.
* Moving away from weddings, I read this ST article on local singles seeking love, and I found it disturbing that only one person mentioned the word “connection.” Isn’t connection everything? I could never be that girl who tries to suss out if her date has a car, and what kind. I’d be more inclined to ask my date to leave his car at home, so we could find out if we had anything in common over a nice long walk! Oh well, things have changed a lot since I last did any dating. I keep in touch with the scene via my friend’s sister, who’s looking for love. She’s started a blog detailing her dating experiences, which is something I would totally do. Read it for its honesty and humour!
I'm Evelyn, and I run this blog. In 1999, I met my husband Alf in a classroom that neither of us belonged in, and grabbed his attention by nearly falling over a table. He didn't come to my rescue but we did exchange numbers eventually. We now have two kids, Layla and Z, and our lives are the better for it. That's the short version of our story. If you'd like to see our family pictures, click here and here!