Oct 29 2014

Exams Are Over

Published by under School



Layla had her first taste of exams this week. Just three exams, for English, Chinese, and Maths, and it ends today.

It was also her first taste of daily revision and she wasn’t pleased about it at all, so I had to deal with low initiative, low motivation, low concentration, along with other teething problems, but at least this is just Primary 2, where nothing’s too difficult yet.

Leading up to the exams, Layla continued with her gym training–now 6-9 hours per week–and I was happy that training hadn’t stopped. She needed the physical activity to release her energy, and in a new development, she’s starting to enjoy her gym training sessions! I’ll write more about that soon.

So we didn’t put our lives on hold for exam prep–we had our playdates as usual, and continued to devote some daily time to art as mentioned here. I’ve come to see our home art activities not just as creative expression, but also as a way for Layla to relax after school.

I had to deal with some medical issues this month as well (more on that in another post), but thankfully, I had a support network for helping Layla with her studies. I tested her on her Chinese words initially but it became a daily affair of nagging and yelling–and squinting at Chinese characters because I haven’t gotten my scratched glasses replaced–until I suddenly remembered that I could get her tutor to take over!

And it was thanks to her tutor asking me to hunt down some Chinese test papers that I found this site. I hate going down the test paper route, but well, if it helps then so be it, and at least the papers here are free.

For Maths, Alf worked with Layla using the two assessment books that I’d purchased, which I’d written about here. Neither of us wanted her to slog away at her desk all day, so her maths sessions were basically two 15-minute sessions a day where she’d time herself to complete five problem sums each time.

For English, I tried to build her vocabulary by having her read above her level. I borrowed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland for her because I loved the writing and was hooked almost immediately. I experimented with creating a glossary because I knew there would be plenty of words Layla didn’t know, but I abandoned the project after having her go through it while reading a chapter and it didn’t seem effective–I was probably the one picking up new words instead! I also restarted another abandoned project, that of learning root words. I noticed (and was quite impressed) that she was able to guess at certain words by looking at them, e.g. circumnavigated=something to do with a circle. But she was pretty stressed at this point and getting her to learn the words was a tedious process, so I decided to hold this off till after the exams.

The most useful thing I did was probably going over Layla’s work and creating a list of tips for her:

* First letter of first word in a sentence: Is it capitalised?

* Is there a full stop or question mark at the end of every sentence? Did you use the correct punctuation mark?

* Cloze passage: Don’t just read the sentence where you need to fill in an answer. Read the sentence after it as well. Pay attention if the next sentence begins with a word like “however.”

* If you need to copy a long word onto another page, break it up into parts (e.g. three letters). Read the letters out loud as you check your spelling.

* Note when to use “them/they” or “it.”

* When combining sentences, if both sentences have the same word or phrase, make sure you use it only ONCE in your new sentence.

* Note when to use much/many, less/fewer.

* Look through your spelling mistakes.

* For “Why” questions, there is a “surface” answer (e.g. he cried because he fell and cut himself) and a “deeper” answer (e.g. he cried because he cut himself and it hurt). Always give the “deeper” answer too.

I also urged her to read her answers out loud (well, softly) when checking. It really helps a lot. And finally, I told her to trust her instincts. If it sounds weird and not like something we usually say, it’s probably not the right answer.

We’re almost at the end of Primary 2! As always, year ends are for making new goals, and it’s time for me to rethink this whole blogging thing again, and how much Layla should feature in it next year.

2 responses so far

Oct 09 2014

Home Life

Published by under Play

Z at home

Z at home

Z at home

I don’t think a three year old needs much more than his own imagination to have a good time, but I was at the library last weekend and bumped into a copy of The Artful Parent’s guide to creative living. I enjoyed the book so much that I’ve signed up for her newsletter, bookmarked her blog, and followed her on Facebook. As I’ve mentioned before, the bloggers that get me most excited are the ones that spur me on to make changes in my own life, and since then, I’ve done a few things so that Z and Layla can add some art to their daily lives for play and relaxation:

Art at home

During the long weekend, we tried a new way of painting (with cotton buds) and I’ve put up a display line for kiddie art again, in our dining area.

Art at home

Layla’s art materials were sitting pretty in boxes in her room, but I decided it was time to share them with Z. We spent a morning removing crayon wrappers and setting out other supplies like markers, which were previously off limits to Z. Till now, all he’s had access to was a little paint bucket of water and an old brush!

Art at home

Learning to embrace messes in the home again. Despite all the choices he’d been given, all Z really wanted to do was paint.

Art at home

Finding new uses for old food.

Cloud Dough

More sensory play: The recipe I read to make “cloud dough” called for baby oil to be mixed with flour. I didn’t have that, so I mixed plain flour with olive oil instead, and we got an interesting mixture that clumps together just as easily as it breaks apart.

The cloud dough was made for our first-ever art playdate with the neighbours earlier today. I had no expectations and the art portion of our date didn’t last very long, but I’d forgotten how therapeutic it was to muck around with goo for no purpose at all, other than fun.

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Oct 02 2014

Happy Children’s Day + A Giveaway

Chandamama Kids
Chandamama Kids
Chandamama Kids

Last month, I ran a feature on Chandamama Kids, a clothing line created by mom-of-two Chantal, who left her UN job to become a designer. You know I have a soft spot for anyone who makes a change to chase a dream!

Chantal is currently based in India but she’s no stranger to Singapore either–she’s lived here for several years and still makes regular trips back to manage her business here. During her most recent visit, Layla and I found time to stop by at her temporary store in Takashimaya to say hello.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s important to get back to basics and meet people face to face when you have the chance, and I’m so glad I got to chat with this creative mom in person and make a new friend.

Layla is pictured in the Amiya kaftan and golden sandals from Chandamama Kids, both lovely gifts from Chantal. And, in honour of Children’s Day, Chandamama Kids will be giving away ONE red Amiya kaftan worth SGD63 to a lucky winner! This is a versatile piece that can be worn on its own or paired with jeans or pants. It’s super comfy (100% cotton), features a hand printed design, and sizes run from 1Y to 14Y.

Here’s how you can enter the giveaway:

#1 Leave a comment on this post, stating your favourite item (or items) from Chandamama Kids.

#2 Like the Chandamama Kids Facebook page to get updates.

That’s it! This contest will run till 10 October 2014 and a winner will be picked at random and contacted by e-mail. Please ensure that you provide a working e-mail address when you fill out the comment form. Good luck!

Update (12/10): I’ve picked a winner using the Random.org number generator. Congratulations Thaai, we’ll be getting in touch with you soon.

19 responses so far

Sep 30 2014


Published by under Life

Made by Grandma Agnes

Made by Grandma Agnes

Back in June, I met a blogger that I’ve followed since Layla was two. Her name’s Rubyellen, she lives in LA, and she runs the Cakies blog, at mycakies.com. I chanced upon her on Apartment Therapy back when the kids’ section was still called Ohdeedoh, where she shared this room tour. When I followed the link to her site and discovered her daughters’ names were True and Brave, I knew I’d be sticking around to read more. Six years on and after landing on hundreds of other parenting blogs, I’m still returning to read her.

I’m not sure if this is a Singaporean trait but I’m actually terrified of meeting people that I’ve admired from afar–there’s the fear of being disappointed, of having nothing to say or not being interesting enough, or worse, coming across as a crazed fan or stalker type. But when Rubyellen issued an open invitation to meet her and her husband Ben while she was in Singapore conducting craft workshops, I thought to myself, here’s a rare chance to thank a blogger from abroad who’s helped me redefine my life at home and turn it into something far more joyful and creative, and it’d be such a waste if I didn’t take it.

So I did.

Confession: For the meet-up, I’d brought along a gift but I hid it in my bag in case the encounter didn’t go well! Also I figured that even if everyone was friendly, it’d be a quick chat and I’d be on my way after 20 minutes, and I made plans to meet my buddy Ron after.

Well, what happened on the actual day was that I lost track of time and had to cancel on Ron two hours later. (Sorry Ron!) As you can imagine, all was good that morning. Actually it was better than good. I took a chance when there was nothing to lose anyway, and I ended up having one of those magical mornings filled with happy conversations, and no, I didn’t leave with a present still in my bag! If there is a moral to the story, it’s probably this: Don’t settle for an online connection when you can meet someone face to face. We think we can read people based on their online behaviour–what they type in a burst of joy or anger, whether they’ve used smileys and exclamation marks to convey enthusiasm, the speed of their replies to our messages–but it’s really a tiny part of the package and we need to remember that. Real-life meetings don’t always work out, of course, but when they do, it’s totally worth it.

And that’s how I came to own a copy of Rubyellen’s first book, Let’s Sew Together. I do have a sewing machine at home–it’s a vintage Singer that was discarded at our void deck. A kind neighbour helped Alf to carry it up for me even though he was eying the machine for himself. I cleaned it up and we got a repairman over to get it in working order again. As the repairman left, he told me the machine had many good years left in it–unless I mistreated it. No chance of that happening since I haven’t used it much! The pedal works differently on a vintage machine and your feet will have to get into a steady back-and-forth rhythm, if not your stitches will keep slipping back instead of moving forward and eventually all you’ll have is a huge knot. I tried a few times, couldn’t find my groove, and I’ve shelved my sewing ambitions for the moment.

Fortunately, there is someone in the family who can sew. My mom-in-law borrowed my copy of Let’s Sew Together and showed up over the weekend with a surprise blanket for Z, inspired by some of the ideas in the book. The blanket’s covered with Z’s favourite things, namely, cars and balls. I love it so much and although I’m a chronic declutterer, it’s gifts like these that I’ll hang on to forever.

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Sep 26 2014

Looming For Club Rainbow

Published by under Life

Looming For Club Rainbow

We’ve never been involved in causes in a big way but we’ve always tried to help out wherever we can. Currently, Alf makes a small monthly donation to an old folks’ home, and I regularly respond to calls for item donations; of late I’ve parted with some possessions that have been precious for me, such as our Plan Toys dollhouse, and given them up to places where they might make themselves useful.

Recently I found out that some moms were planning to make Rainbow Loom crafts to sell so that they could raise funds for Club Rainbow, a local charity that supports over 600 chronically or terminally ill kids. You can read more about Club Rainbow here. I’m not a saint and not all causes resonate with me, but this one did because I’ve had to deal with one chronic ailment after another and I know a little bit about going through your life never feeling completely “well” and the accompanying fears and worries, not to mention the bills that come along with the territory. I also wanted to get Layla involved in this to show her that she was perfectly capable of making a difference–sometimes I’ll show her articles or tell her about the fundraising efforts that kids elsewhere have come up with, but she always has that look on her face like I’m just doing it to put her down. She’s been much more adventurous with the Rainbow Loom than I have, and I thought we could have some fun working on this together.

We’ve already made some items for sale, and you can view them here. Layla’s made several Elsa-inspired dolls–each doll has a name and a story–and peace sign charms, and I’ve made decorative retro flowers following the hook-only tutorial here. A few items have been sold, and I’m really thankful for the support and hope everyone else can join in!

We’ll be trying out more tutorials and releasing new items for sale every week, until the end of October when the charity drive ends. We can take orders and we’re open to requests, but no guarantees on those because not every attempt at following a tutorial is a success. Also, we’re only looming in Layla’s favourite colours–shades of pink and purple, along with white, black, and a mix of “skin-coloured” bands. We’re using original Rainbow Loom products; some were purchased and others were kindly sponsored by Rainbow Loom Singapore.

Because of the project, I’ve finally set up a Facebook page for the blog. Other than uploading new sale photos, I’m not sure what else I’ll be doing with the page. But two days ago, I spent an afternoon with a cousin’s girlfriend. Her name’s Diana; she’s from Romania but she’s now based here teaching reading and phonics to preschoolers. It was so refreshing to talk kid lit and trade links and information with someone who isn’t a parent, yet has a good understanding of kids! I’ve given her access to my page so she can share educational links as well. Anyway, as I said, no plans right now, but I’ll see what I can do with that space as we go along.

Once again, this is the link for our sale album. All proceeds from the sale will go to Club Rainbow and we’re sponsoring postage too.

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Sep 18 2014

Letters To The Teacher

Published by under School

Note from Ms E

Pictured is a note from Layla’s form teacher Ms E–I don’t remember ever getting sweet notes from any teacher!

Anyway, a parent had asked me some time ago about the responses to my school letters, so I thought I’d do a quick update.

For this year, I’d written in about a library list given to the girls that was outdated, and the teacher’s response was that it was only meant as a guide, and these were books available in the school library. I hope to see an improvement in next year’s list, because I wasn’t the only parent who wrote in about this.

I’d also shared my thoughts on a research project that I felt Layla wasn’t adequately prepped for, and for this I didn’t hear from the teacher. Finally, I’d given some feedback on the school’s Chinese speech and drama programme, which Layla didn’t seem to be benefiting from, and this was her second year in the programme. The action on that was prompt–she was immediately given a small speaking role. Layla’s soft spoken but I can tell she also likes the limelight so it’s quite an odd and tricky combination. Getting a speaking role completely changed her perception of the play and boosted her enthusiasm levels. On the day of the performance, she delivered her lines smoothly. She may still have been too soft, but I could tell she was putting in effort to be loud and lively, and I was proud of her for that. (You can read my earlier letters here.)

Since then, I’ve been good and I’ve only sent one more letter to Layla’s form teacher:

Hi Ms E,

Layla handed me her Term 2 revision paper to check and sign, and I noticed this question:

* Jamie ________ with delight when her team came in first in the competition.

Layla had picked “roared,” which was marked wrong, with “squealed” being the recommended answer.

At home, I’ve been trying to introduce the idea of avoiding cliches in writing–while “squealed” is more common, I would be happier to read “roared with delight,” as I consider it a more creative expression. It’s actually used as well, e.g. here (see para 5).

This was the teacher’s response:

I have checked with the English level advisor and we feel that the best answer is “squealed with delight.” Jamie is a girl, thus it would be appropriate that she would squeal with delight instead of roar. “Roared with delight” would be best for a crowd or a man.

I think it’s an arbitrary rule, and a quick check with parents on Facebook showed that hardly anyone these days feels girls should squeal rather than roar. Someone even pointed out that if we wanted to be gender specific, Jamie was more of a boys’ name! But I did appreciate the teacher’s quick response and her making the effort to check with the level advisor. Also, at least there was an explanation. Maybe another parent would’ve pressed on with this but it wasn’t a big deal to me and I told Layla that writing for school is going to be different from writing in the real world.

I did write another letter recently; this was addressed to Layla’s PE teacher, and it was about something important–the school’s compulsory swimming lessons:

Hi Mrs J,

My daughter Layla is in the “0 strokes” beginners’ programme, and she told me that last week, the instructor had pulled her into the pool because she was too scared to jump on her own. She didn’t feel ready either when the instructor pulled her in, and ended up swallowing some water in the process, which was quite a big deal for her.

Although Layla had a near-drowning incident when she was much younger, she had no water fear–she doesn’t even remember it. I’d sent her for swim lessons when she was about 5 but had to discontinue due to lack of time on my part. She was very eager to start swim lessons in school, because she wants to finally be able to attend her friends’ swim parties.

She said she dreads tomorrow’s lesson because she doesn’t want to be pulled in before she’s ready again. She’s not very vocal especially when she feels threatened, so I hope you can have a word with her and with the instructor as well. I think it’s a pity if she starts dreading the water because of the programme.

Layla’s PE teacher responded promptly to this mail, saying she would reassure Layla. She also asked if I wanted to be present for the next swim lesson, which I declined. It’d be hard for me to manage Z at the pool, and I wasn’t sure that my presence would make her any braver. However, it was the PE teacher’s next mail to me that really touched me, and made me feel once again that I’d chosen the right school for Layla–a school that cares:

Layla looked great today in the pool! She’s able to put her head completely in the water and blow bubbles confidently. She even did a few jumps into the pool!


Today, she was with another swimming coach and a smaller group.

Please help me to affirm her too!

Her PE teacher had even attached pictures with her mail. It was totally unexpected and I’m so grateful.

4 responses so far

Sep 16 2014

The School Update: Math Skills

Published by under Learn (Kids),School


I’ve been reluctant to start Layla on the assessment book trail, although I’ve always said it might be necessary when it comes to math, just to help her beat the clock during tests and exams. But still, Layla was doing well on her tests–she’s not the type to score full marks but she doesn’t lose many points either.

On her most recent test though, she got a lower score than she normally does. She didn’t get her paper back but she said it was the problem sums that threw her off, and I was wondering if there was another way to help her without buying assessment books. I’ve just bought two books today, but last week I had her try a few math puzzles to see if they’d help in her thinking process. One of the puzzles was this classic matchstick puzzle, where you have to remove 4 matches to leave only 5 squares of equal size behind.

I used to have a lot of fun with such puzzles, but one of the things I’m realising is that my daughter is quite different from how I used to be as a kid! I left Layla to solve this puzzle on her own because I’d practically given her the answers for two earlier puzzles. She tried to recreate the puzzle using her Geomag magnet set as well her Jenga blocks, but she couldn’t solve it. She’d even take breaks and come back to it with no success, so once again there were tears of frustration, especially after I promised her a little reward if she could find the solution without help. Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Sep 14 2014

Octoburst! 2014: A Festival For Kids

Something Very Far Away

Something Very Far Away

Something Very Far Away promotional image 1 Photo Credit Robert Day

Something Very Far Away

I received an invite last week to catch an upcoming play titled Something Very Far Away, which will run from 3-6 October as part of Octoburst! 2014 at the Esplanade. It’s a play featuring puppets and animation, and the story sounds a little like Up (the animated movie), where the protagonist suffers a tragic loss and deals with it by going on a journey. I read a few reviews for the play and they’ve all been great, like this one from The Scotsman:

The music is beautiful, the little stick-puppets fragile and lovely; and the tiny models and shadow-silhouettes are so simple, and yet so effective, that the whole show seems like an incitement to start making and storytelling. Don’t get sad, get creative, it seems to say; and then it shows us how.

I also watched the trailer on the Octoburst! page, and I already know I’m going to love it. This will be Layla’s treat during her Children’s Day holiday!

DAS Image 2 Photo Credit Dennis Ng

The other ticketed show that will run during Octoburst! is a ballet appreciation session by the Singapore Dance Theatre. It’s said to be suitable for kids aged 2 and up, and will feature excerpts from classical ballet pieces like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

Kids and parents can also attend workshops together to make a pinhole camera/monster or a pop-up card using the Japanese art of paper cutting (kirigami). Or, you can learn about kamishibai, a Japanese form of storytelling, and create your own story too. (Details here.)

And, like in previous years, there will be free performances. I really wish we still lived near the Esplanade, but well, Layla and I have an afternoon to spend there and we’ll make the best of it.

Photos via Esplanade and SISTIC.

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Sep 04 2014

Chandamama: Clothes Inspired By A Love Of India


Although I have a daughter, I haven’t looked at girls’ clothes in ages. Not because I’m not interested, but because my mom shops for all of Layla’s dresses on my behalf. She does it partly to help me out–so that I have one less expense to worry about–and partly because she loves buying little dresses.

I’m grateful for my mom’s efforts; she has great taste and Layla has a beautiful collection of clothes as a result. That said, they’re quite different from what I would’ve picked out for Layla. My mom favours party dresses, whereas I’m all about pretty fabrics but casual, comfortable styles that kids can run and jump around in and leave chocolate stains on without guilt.

Left to my own devices, I might’ve also made some odd choices for Layla based on my personal style. I used to have a lot of fun pairing things that didn’t necessarily match, like wearing a punjabi suit with jeans instead of traditional pants and completing the look with a pair of boots or running shoes. I haven’t done that in a long time, but a girlfriend is heading to India soon and she’s promised to bring home a few things for me, so fingers crossed, my wardrobe could get interesting again!

In the meantime, it’s Layla that will be getting something new from India. It appears her birthday luck hasn’t run out yet, because I recently received an e-mail from Chantal, a mom of two who designs a kids clothing line called Chandamama Kids. Chantal is Dutch but she’s lived all over the world, from New York to Singapore and now India. She discovered me via my rock party post, we traded a few stories, and she’ll be sponsoring an outfit for Layla. She’s here in Singapore to oversee her pop-up store at Takashimaya (Level 4), which runs from now till September 10.

I’m always interested in the way creative people work and live, so I couldn’t help asking Chantal a few questions and she was happy to answer them. Continue Reading »

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Aug 31 2014

Getting Everything We Wanted (For A Year)

Published by under Learn (Grown-Ups),Life


When I first met Alf way back in ’99, he caught my attention with his honesty, which included revealing that he loved self-help books and wasn’t ashamed of it. Some of you might remember that he’s guest starred on this blog with a post about his favourite self-help titles. Lately he’s been reading a book called The Attractor Factor, which is yet another book about getting what you want by putting your mind to it. He’s not crazy about the book but we had a chat this afternoon about music and our band days, and we recalled how we had one awesome year where we got everything we wanted, seemingly just by wanting it.

By the way, the quote (pictured above) about us all being in different bands isn’t exactly true–we were fairly new to the music world, but we were also smart enough to make ourselves seem more experienced than we were. In truth, some of us had been playing together since ’04 or ’05. At the time, Alf’s cousin Serene fronted the band as our singer and it was enough for us just to be part of a band. Serene and I got silly and wore our hair in pigtails because that was what some indie rocker girls were doing back then, and Alf and I would feel important and liberated dragging our guitars to jam studios every week to play our favourite songs. In reality it was a mismatch because we were all novice musicians save for Alf, and we all liked different music ranging from r&b to classic rock and indie. Also, I never wanted to perform but everyone else did. The others said to me, what’s the point of having a band if you don’t play for anyone? I couldn’t argue with that, so I went along with the plan and the first gig we played was at Boys Town during a fun fair, where the front row was taken up by our family members and the rest of the audience were randoms looking for shelter or a seat. But no matter, it was still a milestone moment.

For our first gig, we’d called ourselves The Exploding Hearts but on googling the name later, we discovered there was already a band with the same name, and worse, they’d all been killed in a car crash! I was a big Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan back then (the TV series, not the movie) and I had this Buffy book with an episode index, so we scanned it to get another name, Never Kill A Boy On The First Date. We played a few park gigs with that name, and it was such a mouthful that we eventually shortened it to The Daters. It was a trend at the time to go without a bassist and we managed without one in the beginning, but we later added a bassist to our line-up, my friend and ex-schoolmate Greg. We played a couple more gigs as a band of five. And we changed our name to The OKs–shorter, snappier, and cooler. Or so we hoped.

One goal for the band was to write our own songs, but back then I had no confidence in my creative vision. Alf on the other hand was so creative that he’d come up with 20 different versions of a single song, and we’d get tired of listening to his ideas by version three. Serene the singer wrote lyrics and I attempted to write lyrics, but neither of us could tie our words down to a tune and suggest how the instruments should be played, so there was plenty of to-ing and fro-ing and things did get tense. I’m sure we took turns to privately wonder what the trouble was all for. With Layla due in mid-06, we decided to take a break. There was a final gig we were supposed to play–my gynaecologist loves to tell people that one of his patients was still strapping on a guitar in trimester 3. It was at a park just across The Esplanade and we joked that we were practically gigging at The Esplanade, which meant we’d come a long way from that first funfair performance! It wasn’t to be though–it rained and the gig was cancelled. We hid out in a nearby cafe, had our iced drinks, and left our rock ‘n’ roll dreams to fizzle. Somehow this seemed like a fitting finale; our expectations were low at that point anyway.

In ’07, Alf and I felt cloistered in our roles as new parents and we were both dying to escape the home to do something different. We talked about starting up the band again but this time, our singer declined. By chance, our drummer Lennat found someone else wiling to give singing a shot, so we called our bassist Greg and met Shirley our new singer in a jam studio for the first time to play this song. After the session ended, we thought hey, this could work!

In ’08, our “new” band, now named Midnight Marvel, did everything we’d never done before and never expected to do. We recorded our first original song; we were featured on a charity compilation; we auditioned and made it to perform at the Baybeats festival at The Esplanade; we played pub, club, and studio gigs to warm up for the big show; and we did web, radio and print interviews and got press mentions. We shot a music video too, although that was pretty embarrassing and I’ve never watched it. The following year, one of our songs made it to a National Day list of local songs “that defined the nation” on Today. Not too shabby!

So, what was different about the band in ’08 that helped it to chalk up its tiny successes? Alf and I had a few ideas and I’d like to share them here, just for fun:

#1 We changed our mentality from “Why try?” to “Why not?” Shortly after that positive first session, we became a foursome again with Alf taking over on bass. At the time, our band was mangling cover songs due to lack of practice and still failing to cobble together an original song–there was a petty argument over what we could achieve together and whether we should work towards trying out for the country’s only indie rock fest (i.e. Baybeats), which required decent musicianship and 30 minutes worth of original tracks. Our bassist told us politely to get real, but I wasn’t in the mood for reality and invited him to leave. Strangely, that development energized the rest of us and gave us a new sense of urgency and self-belief that wasn’t based on anything concrete. Note: We’re still friends with our bassist and he showed us the meaning of graciousness by turning up for our subsequent gigs and giving us words of encouragement. A year later, when Alf and I exited the band too, we modelled our behaviour after his.

#2 Someone took the lead. Previously our songwriting process worked like this: Someone would hand out lyrics (except Alf, he was shy), and we’d take them home and add music using Garageband and mail the ideas to our bandmates. Everyone would then chime in with suggestions or say which idea they liked best, but we were never happy with the end product and made a gazillion changes until the original idea was unrecognisable. It was pointless and demoralising. Then one day, our singer Shirley came into the studio with an idea. She had words for a song, she showed me how to play it on guitar, and the others filled in the gaps on bass and drums. It was simple but memorable and it had punch, which had been lacking in our other attempts. It was short, so we decided to play it twice. There wasn’t an ending, so we made one up on the spot. We had a song, in a single session! Shirley became our official songwriter, and this was our first and probably most well-publicised track, titled “Spit It Out.”

#3 The timing was right. With an original song in hand, we realised that the deadline for the year’s Baybeats shortlist wasn’t over yet. We had a few days to work with, and it so happened that the studio we jammed in also provided recording services. We recorded our demo in one afternoon, spent another evening taking band pictures and putting together a bio, and finally submitted our track. (I should add that my mum-in-law was a great help, covering for us with Layla.) Alf and I were very much in sync then; we wanted to try as many new things as possible because we both felt we had nothing to lose–except time. Most bands start out with members in their teens or 20s, and we could’ve all passed for 20-somethings or even teenagers if we tried, but we couldn’t run away from the truth. Alf and I had already crossed 30 and our bandmates were getting there too. Maybe that was our version of the midlife crisis, but whatever it was, it propelled us as we survived the initial shortlist as well as our first-ever audition to score ourselves an opportunity to perform at The Esplanade.

#4 Relationships matter. Our drummer Lennat is the sort of person you’d want to high five even if you’d just met her; she’s all energy and enthusiasm especially if you share her interests. She also goes out of her way to seek inspiration and connect with her heroes without caring if they’re famous or not–she has some interesting mentors and friends as a result. I’d like to think we made it to Baybeats on merit alone but I suspect Lennat’s connections counted for something because she knew at least one of the judges. People have always been eager to support Lennat and lift her up the way she’s lifted them (she’s written about it here), so it’s not inconceivable that this played a part in our getting picked.

#5 Luck counts too. A good friend (who’s also a local music veteran) gave us a chance to be included on one of his music compilation projects, and it was on that album that a Today journalist noticed us. He liked us enough to mention us repeatedly, interview us, and recommend us as a “must watch” act at Baybeats. And in the following year, he featured us at the tail end of this list (look for no.36). All of which was totally unexpected… and lucky!

* Update: I don’t have recordings for our original songs except for one. Here’s “Spit It Out.” Turn it up!

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