Mar 21 2015

Notes From Layla’s First Competition

Published by under School

Layla

Layla

Layla

Layla participated in her first competition yesterday; it’s the first of many as she journeys with her school’s gymnastics team. Being completely new to school sports and competitive events in general, this was an eye opener for me! Some of my thoughts and experiences:

* The cost of gym has been higher than we’d ever anticipated, for something that’s a school sport. I first raised my eyebrows at a gym ball that cost $40, but now I realise that by gym standards, that was a paltry sum. In any case, the ball went unused after a few weeks because the coach had new plans. Layla spent her entire year-end holiday last year on additional gym training sessions because she was considered a “late” joiner to the team, and those sessions were not subsidised by the school. Till today, she continues to train on an additional day per week. Then came the hoop, hoop case, and clubs, but we took it all in our stride. I wasn’t alone in balking at the costume expenses, which comes up to over $200 per girl, but this is part and parcel of being in a team that’s brand new. This is part of the reason that I’m taking more work projects this year, to help pay for all this.

* The coach is wonderfully passionate and you can tell she loves the girls and has a plan for them, but she’s also the creative sort, which means there are often new plans with little advance notice. In practical terms, that means we have to adjust our expense budgets and schedules with very little time to prepare for the change. Or it may mean that we run errands that are ultimately fruitless. I’m not a highly involved gym mom, so I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and dealing with things like training times being changed at the last minute, or a session being extended without warning. I really appreciate the efforts of the mothers who’ve taken it upon themselves to assist the coach and the team, helping us file registrations, disseminating messages from the coach and teachers in charge, running study groups, bringing snacks for the girls to enjoy after training, and basically doing everything they can to keep spirits high, which includes not sharing with the rest of the mothers the difficulties they’ve encountered. For instance, I only found out recently that getting the girls measured for costumes was a tedious process involving the coach and three mothers, who spent hours helping to measure the girls and double check the numbers.

* I learned a few things about sportsmanship and generosity in this period. A friend sent her two daughters to support Layla yesterday, and a few moms whose daughters weren’t competing bought tickets to attend to support her as well, and helped me with the two things I’m most clueless about–hair (it needs to be in a bun) and makeup! I’m a low-initiative, slow-to-action sort of person and I don’t offer help or support unless a need is blatantly staring me in the face, but these moms were so quick in their generosity and it’s something I’m trying to learn from.

* Layla is competing in a category where she’s among the youngest. The coach has her own plans and we trust her judgement, but some of us moms were concerned about sending our kids into competition where they were obviously disadvantaged–age aside, they’ve been practising their routine for a little over a month, compared to others who’ve been training all year. But the coach felt it necessary to give the girls exposure early on. It was a bit rattling to see the experienced gymnasts come on and perform their routines, but I thought the way this particular competition was set up was wonderful for the young girls–there was walled-off section for the girls to practise in while the competition was going on, and the coaches used it to the max, keeping the girls busy all the way until it was their turn! They hardly spent any time watching their competitors, and they weren’t told their scores until the end. Layla’s scores were on the lower end and it was as we’d anticipated, but she was so confident during the competition and handled the unexpected with great calm. For instance, her foot somehow got caught under one of the mats as she was sliding into a split, but she managed to free herself and complete the routine.

* There were certain things that I didn’t anticipate either, like Layla’s usually in a single ponytail for school and gym practice, and she had her hair in a bun for the first time yesterday, as per competition requirements. What we didn’t know, was that her bun would hinder her routine because her hoop got caught in it twice. So she either needs a flatter bun in future, which is hard with her thick hair, or she needs to practise with a bun on regular days too. Another thing was her shoes! Ballet shoes are pretty easy to clean, at least the tops are, if not the soles. I forgot that gym shoes aren’t made of the same waxy material; we did have a spare brand new pair, but the coach reminded us on the day before the competition that we were not to use new shoes–and Layla’s training shoes looked pretty beat up even after I tried using a wet wipe on them and I didn’t dare to chuck them in the machine for a quick rinse. Gymnastics coaches can be particular about grooming too, but it was too late to do anything about that so I just left it.

* And finally, for the competition itself–the best part for me was asking Layla how she found the experience and hearing her say it was mostly fun, and just a bit scary. As I mentioned before, the girls trained all the way leading up to their events, and after all their events were over, they compared grades, joked about getting “failing” scores, and proceeded to do their routines again, just for the fun of it! We watched a few more events and the coach told us we could leave early if we wanted to, so we went off with another teammate’s family to enjoy a well-deserved dinner together.

In all, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for Layla’s first competition, and I’m very proud of her and so glad to see her doing something where she’s in her element, and unafraid.

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Feb 27 2015

Review & Giveaway: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Published by under Reviews

I posted on FB last year that I’ve thought about making photobooks countless times but I’m always put off by the process. Having to download software is a drag, and sometimes the online interface is slow–perhaps it’s partly because I’m using an old laptop, along with a version of Firefox that hardly anyone uses anymore. I’ve signed up several times with photobook service providers only to find that I’ll lose steam after about 10 minutes. I’ve only successfully made one complete photobook, but I left it in storage instead of clicking on the “purchase” button because the shipping cost put me off.

So when Photolane invited me to try their no-fuss iPhone photobook app last month, I was happy to agree. Simple as it was, it took me a while to get used to the interface.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

The beginning bit was easy, and the Classic mode was exactly what I wanted.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Here, you’ll select the photos you want in your book, and the app will auto-arrange it for you. It’s not a function that I needed, as I want control over what picture goes where. I would’ve preferred to start with blank templates.

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

The page numbers indicate whether it’s a left or right page you’re looking at, and even though they’ve arranged the photos for you, you can always drag and drop something else in there or change the layout. You can also drag and drop to change the order of the pages. Once I figured out how to work everything, I was glued to my screen for about two hours. Here’s the result:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

Review: Create A Photobook On Your iPhone With Photolane

I’m pleasantly surprised and very pleased with the paper and print quality of my book! The look and feel is clean and tasteful, just the way I like it. But do note that these are photos taken with a digital camera and not a phone camera. (The photos are from Layla’s birthday celebration last year.) Also, initially I wasn’t sure how the rectangular borders around certain pictures would turn out–there wasn’t an option to remove them–but I like them now. Photolane definitely works for me as a relatively quick and easy way to make a photobook. There are only four styles to choose from right now and I hope they add more soon, along with more layout options, but if I made a new book I would probably choose the Classic mode again. (Update 3/3: I have already made a new Photolane book for my wedding pictures, and I did use Classic mode again! This time, I paid for my book.)

And now for the good news, if you’d like to try Photolane too: I’ve got TWO 8×8 photobooks to give away! (Each book has a satin matte hardcover and 32 layflat pages.) Please note that Photolane is an iPhone app so only iPhone users are eligible. Also, to be fair, one entry per family please.

Here’s what you’ll have to do:

1. Leave a comment, with a valid e-mail address and at least a first name (not initials or nicks), telling me what sort of photobook you’d like to make.
2. Confirm that you own an iPhone, or will pass the prize to someone else who does.
3. “Like” my FB page if you find that the links I’m sharing are useful to you.

That’s it! This contest will run till next Friday, which is 6 March 2015.

And finally, if you want to go ahead to make a Photolane photobook on your iPhone right away, the code “BTMUP” will entitle you to a US$8 discount. The code is also valid till next Friday (6 March 2015). It’s free to download the Photolane app. The price of each photobook is US$32, and shipping is a flat rate of US$8 regardless of where you’re based. Happy weekend!

Update: This contest is closed and the winners have been picked. There were 21 entries in all–one person left two comments. I asked Layla to give me two numbers and she chose 8 and 17; it’s her register number in class, along with her favourite friend’s register number. So, the winners are Tynny and Adeline. Congratulations, and I’ll be getting in touch with you soon!

22 responses so far

Feb 26 2015

Marriage, Love, Life

Published by under Life

Marriage, Love, Life

Last Saturday, I attended our cousin Serene’s wedding. Every wedding is unique, and in Serene’s case, she pushed boundaries by holding a civil wedding–in Alf’s staunchly Catholic family, that’s a big deal. She also chose to restrict the crowd size to about 100, which is small by Singapore standards. For the first time, the family got to appreciate an intimate outdoor solemnization, and many of them were swooning over the “Hollywood” effect. I heard at least two people say, “It’s just like the movies!” (Note: If you’re planning a traditional Catholic wedding in Singapore, you can pretty much forget about having a beach or park ceremony because the priests will not hold the ceremony anywhere but in a church, and even the chapel is an unacceptable alternative. I disagree, of course, but who am I to judge?)

Serene also surprised family members with her post-wedding plans; both she and her husband Lie have left their jobs and are taking time off to travel, beginning with a stop in India. The younger ones in the family have been trying to explain to the older ones why such a trip is life changing and essential, and best done now before they have kids, if ever.

Anyway, everything turned out beautifully at Serene’s wedding. Her husband Lie is Finnish-Chinese, so the crowd was colourful! The food didn’t disappoint, and Serene has a soft spot for me and Alf, so she gave us some of the best seats in the house, front and centre, although I wonder if she’ll regret it when she hears Z whining all the way through dinner and the speeches and performances in her recap videos!

What I liked most, as always, was witnessing the heart of the wedding, especially the speeches that the couple made for each other. Serene called Lie her “greatest love and greatest challenge,” which got me thinking about my own life and marriage.

It’s been 10 years since Alf and I pushed boundaries of our own with our wedding ceremony, by insisting on keeping things simple–a wedding lunch instead of dinner, no champagne pouring, and no spending on things we considered useless, like corsages, the decorative wedding cake, and the bouquet, all of which we borrowed from my wedding planner. Back then, Alf’s mom actually broke down when she found out we intended to hire one of those decorated London cabs for the wedding, and begged us to give her some “face.” We relented by letting her friends drive us, except she must’ve passed on the “simple” directive to them too, so Alf and I took off from the same destination (as we were already living together) and arrived at church one after the other in two beat-up cars driven by very nice people.

That seems like such a long time ago, and with the benefit of being older and emotionally lighter, I can say one thing with clarity: Alf and I should never have gotten married at that point in our lives, even though we’d been dating for seven years prior. Note that this is NOT the same as saying I regret our marriage, which I don’t. I may have felt that way once, but not anymore.

Back in ’05, I was really in a bad place. There was very little I liked about myself, and unfortunately for Alf, I liked him even less. He’s naturally upbeat, and he coped by telling himself that this is the reality of all relationships, that perfection could be found only in the movies and books. But, neither of us could deny that the reality was awful. We weren’t a newly married couple eager to experience the world as a unit, instead we were tearing into each other and trying not to drown in a daily influx of drama and tears, mostly mine.

I can see now that I got married mostly out of fear. Fear of not being able to afford a new rental home when my eviction notice arrived, fear that the alternative to “moving forward” was being “out there” again without a partner by my side, fear of having to live my life alone, and mostly, fear of making a tough decision and sticking to it. The only thing I did right was picking a good guy to make a mistake with–one with values and heart, and an ever-willingness to forget a bad day and start over.

Some of what followed has been blogged about, but I would say we spent five years learning how not to kill each other, and the next five learning to thrive and be better people ourselves. Of course, 10 years of marriage is nothing compared to couples who’ve spent many decades together, but I think we’ve earned the right to call ourselves a successful couple too.

We’ve got another wedding to attend in June; it’s going to be another multicultural party because our cousin Gary is marrying a Romanian girl, Diana, whom I’ve become very fond of. To me, Serene’s relationship represents adventure and leading life without fear, while Diana’s relationship is about lightness. She tells me about the easygoing rapport between her and Gary, and their motto is “We’ll see where the flow takes us.” No pressure, no expectations, but trusting that because both parties are in sync, they will always be where they’re supposed to be at any given time.

Perhaps it’s Diana’s influence but I’ve also been struck by that same feeling of late, i.e. the certainty that today and every day, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. In fact, I’ve been carrying that feeling in my heart for a while, and two recent incidents stood out for me as literal signs–one, Z fell while climbing on a familiar playground structure and I was in the right place at the right time to catch him, if not he would’ve fallen backwards from a height, head first. The second was while we were at the park and Z started acting up, and just as I was thinking of calling Alf to come get him, I turned around and saw Alf jogging towards us.

And like Serene, I’m learning every day to not let fear govern my life. I’m inspired by her strength to leave her comfort zone now, and to walk away from not one, but two toxic relationships that she gave her all for in the past. In the end, she found Lie at a point when she wasn’t looking anymore.

I’m committed to my husband and I’m guarding my heart and my actions against anything that could sully that commitment, but at the same time, I’ve been letting go. I realised recently that I’m no longer attached to the idea of the perfect outcome for our marriage–it would be wonderful if we could spend the rest of our lives together and die holding hands like that old Titanic couple, but for any number of reasons, that might not happen. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve narrowed the alternatives down to living my life alone, with kids, or starting afresh with a new partner. They’re just paths, all of which can be equally fulfilling. As long as I’m guided by my values and faith in a higher power, I’ll never be restless again because I’ll always have faith that I’m in the right place, in romance and in life.

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Feb 01 2015

The School Update: Primary 3, Month #1

Published by under School

Coping With Primary 3

It’s a new path that I’m navigating, where I’m figuring out how to tell my parenthood stories without embarrassing Layla or compromising her privacy, so bear with me while I’m making that transition.

Layla doesn’t read my blog and hasn’t asked to either. She likes being photographed and is happy to know it’s for the blog or Facebook, but I’m considering whether to stop posting photos of her altogether. On my personal Facebook account, I’ve used the friendship categories to separate general shares and updates from more personal posts. No pictures of the kids on my public Facebook page (other than the profile picture), although I do mention them. For the blog, I’ve always thought of it as something temporary to be deleted away someday, but I would want to have a new project in place by then.

We’re also in new territory when it comes to Layla’s development. It’s sad but I’ve witnessed Layla’s love for school slowly being chipped away–I had a little girl who used to count down to the end of the holidays in K2 because she was so eager to get back to school. P1 was still fun, P2 was OK. This year, school has been reduced to a necessary evil, made tolerable by friends, PE, and gym. Alf and I are toying with the idea of him taking up a teaching post in another country for a year; this again depends on the opportunities available for Layla here, and whether we feel an adventure abroad would benefit her more.

In the meantime, I wanted to write about what I’m doing differently as a parent for 2015. Here goes!

Being proactive to spot new opportunities for Layla. Before, I was the sort of parent who wouldn’t have asked my child to try out for any school team. I assumed that teachers and coaches would identify talent and inform us if needed. Now, I figure there’s no harm in asking or trying. Lately, I’ve read some discussions where parents are wondering why kids have to try out for school activities rather than being able to participate in whatever they’re interested in. I can’t speak for other schools or even other activities within Layla’s school as I’ve only seen what happens for the gymnastics school team. There, it seems most of the kids who’ve tried out have been accepted. I heard that a child who was turned away couldn’t jump with two feet off the ground at the same time, and I thought, well, fair enough. (There is a regular gym training programme that is open to everyone.) Layla was accepted at a time when she couldn’t do a full split, so they weren’t looking for perfection or experience. The other thing was that some parents whose kids were accepted into the team declined the opportunity eventually. I don’t blame them as it wasn’t too long ago that I would’ve done the same, especially if it was Layla’s first year in school. It was only towards the middle of last year that I realised she needed something more than free time, and due to our own failings as parents, we weren’t able to encourage her and make her feel as if she could do anything she wanted, if only she tried. My next best option was to get her involved in something that I felt she would be good at.

Realising that all-fun experiences don’t necessarily build character. In the school team setting, there’s no time for patting yourself on the back and being complacent. You master a skill and you’re praised a little, and you move on to learn something new, which you may struggle with again. Layla’s facing new challenges with every session, and she’s learning that with practice comes mastery. Now that the initial hurdle of gaining flexibility has been crossed–which took about four months–she loves training. The other moms have told me that my daughter smiles through the three-hour training sessions, and I’ve sat in myself and seen that it’s true. I have to be careful not to push this as a point for every parent I know, because their kids are not Layla. I can only say for sure that Layla needed this opportunity to grow. The great thing is that now, if she talks about not being “talented” enough in any area, I’ll remind her of how her balance and flexibility have improved so much in just a few months, and how she could put in the same time and effort for something else and see results too.

From being hands off, to being more involved. I’m the parent who’ll forget the principal’s name or not know who key figures in the school are, and not care either. But sometimes, knowing who to contact and bringing up an issue can change the learning experience for your child, as I found out last year. Some of the other gym moms have devoted time to watching the training sessions and getting to know the coaches and teachers in charge, as well as gathering the kids to study together before training, and even bringing treats for them to enjoy after. I appreciate that. Thoughtfulness doesn’t come naturally to me; for me, being “involved” means reorganising my life around Layla’s training schedule and saying “yes” to every new request from the coaches, whether it’s to add an extra training session or to buy new gear. I don’t look at hours spent on buses, being stuck in traffic, or having to wait around as dead time. It’s time to read a book, work, or talk to someone. Since I’m a freelancer and I have help from my mom-in-law, I can support Layla’s gym involvement without too much difficulty, but I can see how hard it could be for parents who work full time.

From expecting little, to expecting more. I re-read an article that I’d saved about raising smarter kids, and one of the tips was this: Believing your kid is capable makes a difference. In real life, I saw this played out recently on Humans Of New York. I think that I’ve misinterpreted Layla’s agreeableness as a lack of intelligence, and I should stop thinking that way. There haven’t been any tests so far, so my expectations for the moment are all do with with time rather than scores, and I find that when I say “This piece of work is easy, it can be done in 20 minutes,” set the timer, and leave the room, the work gets done before the buzzer goes off.

From demanding total independence, to providing support. We sometimes have just a little over an hour to work with before bedtime, where we have to fit in dinner, a shower, homework, and getting ready for the next day. My daughter’s been up since 5.20 in the morning and it shows by evening, so I will help her with the packing of her schoolbag, or tell her she doesn’t have to wash her plate or pick her clothes up off the floor. And I’ll plan the hour for her with the timer set for each task, so that if all goes well, she’ll get to enjoy a bit of reading in bed. Our original deal was for her to get her homework done after school, where there’s a long gap between school dismissal and training, but sometimes she meets a friend and they run off to play. I’ve decided it will be her choice to use the spare time for work or play, with the knowledge that pleasure first has its consequences.

9 responses so far

Jan 25 2015

Life In January

Published by under Life

Layla

It’s funny, but the love-and-parenting essay that most resonated with me last year was written by someone named Kayden Kross. If you know who she is, you probably wouldn’t admit it to me, but that’s OK. Her essay was about how she landed in her profession, and this got to me:

Growing up, I was constantly aware of my mother’s penny-pinching anxiety: the quiet calculations as she added up the cost of our school supplies, the flashes of anger each time we outgrew clothes.

She also gave an interview that I read, where she said this:

There are other things—like, I was lucky enough to get in, do porn, do it right, put money aside, and I have set up a nice future for this child. There’s not going to be some point where I have to choose between buying her a Christmas present and buying her lunch. You know? I always knew that I wanted one [child], and I always knew that when I had one it would be at a time when I could afford to, forever.

In the third quarter of last year, Alf and I sat down and talked, and he decided to return to school as a full-timer in 2015. He doesn’t teach, which is good because he still hates the local school environment. What he does is to fill in as a sub, and handle discipline and other matters that will free up teachers to do what’s important. It sounds like a dream deal, especially to other teachers, but I know he’s sacrificing his time and freedom–as well as his career as a real estate agent–for us, and I don’t want to downplay that.

As for me, I am the mom who sometimes chooses between lunch and a present, and I think I could do much better for my kids. For the first time since I’ve been home, I’ve set myself a financial target to help Alf clear his outstanding debts and for us to start saving aggressively, for travel, for education, for rainy days. A potential work-from-home arrangement with a regular paycheck didn’t pan out, but I’m already in the midst of new opportunities: Being part of a local rock music exhibition for SG50, and a new and unexpected regular assignment where I get to do for a fee what I’m already doing for fun–reading and sharing parenting-related articles. So far so good!

While I’m waiting to firm up other work arrangements, I’ve decided to put some things in place. Z and I take almost daily walks now, with him in the stroller because the walk is really for me to get some exercise in my day, minimal as it is. The timing still needs tweaking; I’d like to start the walk at 7am for that perfect morning chill, but I’ve been over-snoozing and we head out closer to 9 sometimes.

And because I discovered late last year through a health check that my cholesterol levels are borderline high, I’ve made some new food rules for myself this year. Breakfast is a must now, and it’s lucky I’ve developed a taste for plain oatmeal because it’s quick, cheap, easy, and also great for the heart. If I need a treat, it’s soya beancurd; I’ve found that it helps so much with digestion and acid reflux. I drain off most of the sugar syrup so I’m not worried about the sweetness factor.

The first half of January was also about adjusting to Layla’s P3 schedule, where gym training was bumped up to 12 hours a week, from 6 last year. I heard that national gymnasts train for over 20 hours a week, but 12 hours is already threatening to consume us. Time is scarce for Layla now–training ends at 6PM sometimes, we don’t live near the school, and there was a day last week where it rained and we got home at nearly 8PM (her bedtime). The timer has become our indispensable parenting tool; with so little time to waste, every minute is precious and I’ve had to step in and help Layla get organised by telling her she has 15 minutes to shower, 5 minutes to pack her schoolbag, that she shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes on this piece of work, and so on.

And yes, about Layla. Yesterday, she said to me, “I didn’t like it when you told Aunty S that about me.” It was something tiny and innocent, or so I thought. But I suppose in some way, it was the sign I’d been waiting for, the indication that her stories aren’t mine to broadcast anymore.

And so I won’t.

My blogging agent asked me a few days ago what I’ll be writing about this year. No plans yet! It’s a question I’ve been asking myself too. In the meantime, these life updates will have to do.

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Jan 07 2015

New Year Thoughts

Published by under Life

Love, 2015!

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? I hope not! We spent the last day of 2014 at our cousins’ home, where they fed us for almost 10 hours and we caught up on all the stories that we’d missed, because we don’t meet our cousins that often. There was so much laughter and it was the best way to end the year.

I don’t really have any deep feelings for 2014. Nothing horrible happened, and nothing mind-blowing either. The one thing that stood out for me was time with friends, and realising that there are a lot of people around us that care about us–not necessarily because we deserve it, but because we’re fortunate to have made connections with some of the nicest souls around.

If I had to pick some noteworthy moments off the blog, these would be it:

The post I feel most strongly about: A Lovely Weekend, And A Few Words On Love

Favourite photo post: Wormhole

Most personal post: World Cup memories

The most fun to write: Laylapalooza, Getting Everything We Wanted For A Year, The Blogging Process

Most sensible post: 9 Years, 16 Years aka my husband’s words of advice

Most popular, locally: Searching For A Good Ballet School

And finally, a few words on blog sponsors. I worked on fewer blog-related paid posts in 2014 as compared to 2013, but my agent set us up with respectable brands and I’m happy to have been involved in her projects. In the case of Drypers, I continued to buy the diapers after the project was over, and am still buying them now. It’s partly convenience–a nearby provision store stocks the brand. But I do think the diapers are of good quality. Z has had very few leaky diaper incidents, and I’ve tried one other brand of pull-ups where the diaper was impossible to rip apart during changing.

As for sponsorships in kind, it was our lucky year with sponsors for Layla’s party, our first staycation, and quality products that I’m using now like this pretty Rainshower Flower and my current daily use bag from Lassig. And unlike in previous years, in 2014 I had a chance to meet some of the blog’s sponsors in person, like the lovely designer mom Chantal, who’s behind the clothing line Chandamama. I’d also like to take this chance to mention Sharn, a mom who’s started a new snack box delivery service called The Snacksmith. She wrote me the warmest email and showed up at my door to bring me a box of imported snacks that were as healthy as snacks could be, and I’d like to say that I shared my stash, but unfortunately, no, I was pretty much responsible for emptying out the box within a week. You can find out more about The Snacksmith here.

Still on sponsorships: Compared to previous years, there were more opportunities for Layla to take classes or try something new (e.g. here and here), although I declined most of them–along with family-oriented invites–due to timing, distance, or lack of relevance to our needs. We don’t have much spare time and I’m clear on my priorities. During the school term, weekdays are out, Layla has a church class on most Saturday afternoons and we’d like to catch up with friends, and Sundays are reserved for my parents and brother. We’ve skipped out on many potentially fun events, but that’s OK by me.

I haven’t decided on a blog direction in 2015, but if the blog’s not updated, my FB page will be. Here’s to new dreams, plans, and adventures in the new year!

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Dec 26 2014

Merry, Merry

Published by under Life

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

How was your Christmas Day? We watched Paddington, yet another surprisingly good kids’ movie. It reminded me of Amelie with its vibrant colours and whimsy. And with our 10AM tickets, we almost had the whole cinema to ourselves. Later, we headed into town for teppanyaki and a sweet treat. It wasn’t horribly crowded; I guess all the festivities are done and over with on Christmas Eve. I’d thought of visiting this newly famous decorated patio (at Blk 3 Toa Payoh Lorong 7) and saying “hello” to the owner, but I guess we’ll be filing that under next year’s to-do list!

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Dec 25 2014

Three Goals For Christmas

Published by under Life

Christmas 2015

For two Christmases in a row, I’ve listened to sermons by a Korean-American pastor named Peter Chin. I discovered him quite by accident, over Facebook, and I’m not always diligent about listening to the sermons, but when I do, they’ve brought me much comfort and joy.

The latest Christmas sermon of his is adapted from one that he gave last year, which I wrote about here. He talks about how the Christmas story that church believers know is an “upside-down story,” where every single thing that happened wasn’t in accordance with the norms of the world. I’m glad I listened to the new sermon, because although I took notes last year, hearing everything again in a slightly different format helped remind me of certain important points, as well as provide new insights.

I’m not going to preach here; I’m not qualified. All I’d like to say is that I was moved by the call to reorient ourselves and our lives this Christmas, in these three ways:

#1 The Christmas story tells us that in order to be truly great, we have to humble ourselves by reaching for the bottom instead of the top. One way to do this is by valuing those that the world considers unworthy, because it was the world’s “riff raff” that Jesus ended up picking as his disciples. We can reverse the order of the world by giving attention, respect, and care to the people that nobody pays any attention to, and not just to the beautiful, successful, talented ones. (That is something I’m very guilty of!)

#2 Christmas is also about loving imperfect people, all of the time. This applies to the people in our lives, as well as the people in society that are so hard to love. (I confess, every single day I seem to get further from that goal of making my kids, particularly Layla, feel that they are loved unconditionally. I have also often fantasised about killing sex offenders, or at least breaking all the major bits and bones and stomping on their faces repeatedly with a clunky heel as a finishing move.)

#3 And finally, Christmas is a reminder to live by faith, and not by sight. I recently heard a phrase that I love, where someone said she “nursed doubt.” I nurse doubt about everything, about events, about people, and definitely about religion. It’s easy to tear down religion, and articles like this one do it very well:

Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? First, smart persons are good at defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something, say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his rational faculties.)

To completely trust in something that we can’t prove, see, or measure–I think that’s the hardest thing for anyone to do, especially in our times. It’s something that I’ll have to figure out on my own.

p.s. Merry Christmas, by the way.

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Dec 21 2014

Hello, Christmas!

Published by under Life

Happy Christmas 2014!

Happy Christmas 2014!

Happy Christmas 2014!

We hosted a pre-Christmas potluck lunch party today, where Alf cooked for company for the first time, and survived! He relied on his current favourite quick-and-easy dish, pesto pasta. (He makes the sauce by following the recipe here.)

I hadn’t invited many people. For one, we’re still apprehensive when it comes to feeding others with food made in our kitchen. We kept it to Grandma Agnes and two of her guests, my favourite ex-neighbour Gayathri, and some friends who live nearby. The final turnout was smaller than expected but cozy suits us too.

My preparations for this party were minimal. I picked up budget gifts from Daiso and The Paper Stone, and printed Ed Emberley Christmas drawing pages for the kids.

Happy Christmas 2014!

But the night before the party, I decided it’d be fun if I pretended to be Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne for an hour, by coming up with these clues for a mini treasure hunt:

Happy Christmas 2014!

The next clue was hidden in one of Layla’s Heelys.

Happy Christmas 2014!

This led to our book corner.

Happy Christmas 2014!

The final clue was stuck under our coffee table.

Happy Christmas 2014!

Because some of Layla’s friends hadn’t shown up due to confusion over our party’s timing, Layla ended up doing the hunt on her own, accompanied by one of my friends. They found the treasure–hidden in a bowl of pinecones–in less than 10 minutes! I’ll have to up the mystery factor next time.

Happy Christmas 2014!

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Dec 12 2014

Snowy Christmas At Universal Studios Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

We were fairly adventurous when Layla was little; we brought her everywhere with us and it wasn’t unusual to see us in some cafe or coffeeshop well after midnight. Layla would nap in our arms or the carrier and we’d give her a bath when we got home at crazy times like 2 in the morning. Somewhere along the way we turned boring and started to impose an early bedtime for Layla, and for Z as well. More than that, we’ve been leaving Z at home whenever we can and he’s hardly been anywhere except to parks and playgrounds.

Yesterday was an exception, because I received tickets for us to check out Universal Studio’s Christmas programme and I thought well, this is as good a time as any to start including Z in our special outings. We were out from 11 in the morning till almost 9, and we saw the weather flip from hot to wet. We were snowed on too, so it was a lot for Z to take in. I think he did well.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

All fresh and ready to go!

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

When it comes to character meet-and-greets, I’m too lazy to queue for a photo opportunity and none of us are particularly eager to pose with the characters. My trick is to stand nearby so I can snap a good picture when the coast is clear! Santa knew what I was up to and he was nice enough to give us a smile and a wave.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

At the Sesame Street Stage Show. The weather was still good at this point. Actually the weather people hadn’t predicted rain for the Sentosa area and I was hoping they were right, but it wasn’t to be. After watching this, we took Z for his first ever ride–the Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase–and he cried his heart out. Then we crossed over to the Far Far Away section for the Shrek 4-D Adventure and he spent it tucked under Layla’s arm with his eyes squeezed shut. It was raining heavily when we got out; we waited a while and bought ponchos, and that’s when the rain stopped.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

“Let It Snow.” This happens at the start of every hour in the Hollywood/New York section, from 12PM till closing time.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Coffee break. I told Alf and Layla to sneak away and check some rides off the list, and to avoid a meltdown, I had to use the “oh, they went to the bathroom” excuse whenever Z asked about them. Alf and Layla were supposed to conquer the Mummy but Layla changed her mind and they sat in a teacup instead. When they returned, we decided to try something easy, the Madagascar Crate Adventure. Layla’s got a great memory because she kept yelling at Alf to cover Z’s ears right at the end, and true enough, there was a loud hissing noise! Z owes her big time.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

“Sesame Street Saves Christmas.” This show runs four times daily, and it’s won an award that’s equivalent to the theme park Oscars.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

After an early dinner, Alf had to leave to settle some work matters. The kids and I stayed on to catch the Christmas light show and the toy soldiers’ “Changing Of The Guard” performance, which ends with a snowfall. We didn’t get to see the fireworks display as that only happens on weekends, but that worked out for us because it probably would’ve been too loud for Z.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Candy Cane giving Elf the side eye.

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Snowy Christmas Celebrations at Universal Studio Singapore

Stealing a few minutes for bubble fun before we called it a night. Theme parks are hard to say goodbye to!

We received complimentary tickets to Universal Studios Singapore; I was not compensated for this post. Universal Studio Singapore’s Snowy Christmas Celebration runs from now till January 4, 2015. Click here for programme details.

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