Nov 22 2014

Preparing For Christmas

Published by under Make

DIY Collage Christmas Tree

We bought a real Christmas tree last year and it was exciting for about five minutes. I had to vacuum pine needles daily and the tree quickly became something we had to get rid of; I think only Alf was sad to see it go. We’re keeping it very simple for Christmas this year so we’re back to fashioning an alternative tree, and we’re taking inspiration from Tree #25 on this list. I’d be the first to say that it’s more of a meaningful tree rather than a pretty one, but I think that’s in line with our priorities as we shape up for the new year ahead. The tree’s not finished yet, but that’s intentional. We’re throwing a small pre-Christmas get-together for past and present neighbours, where Alf will cook for company for the first time. I plan to get the kids at the party to help us complete our tree.

DIY Collage Christmas Tree

It wasn’t hard to fill the tree, in fact it became addictive quite quickly. Right now, it’s got anything that vaguely reminds me of the Christmas spirit–godliness, love, peace, creativity, generosity–and is suitably small. The Merry Christmas postcard is from a batch of homemade cards from last year; I used Norfolk pine needles for the wreath and Alf stamped the cards. There was one left over so he decided to write me a quick note with a privately funny-sexy sign off. If that card falls off while we have company, he might have some explaining to do!

The camel craft was made by Layla several years ago when I attended a free bible study course with a group called CBSI. I stayed with the group for about a year but eventually left as I felt a disconnect with my study group mates, many of whom were older women from privileged families. Some of the lectures were really good though; I remember paying attention and taking notes, just as I do now for the online sermons that I regularly listen to. CBSI also has a drop-off class for kids as a service to the moms attending the sessions; the teachers were terribly sweet to a very shy Layla back then, and the crafts she came home with were so pretty that I saved most of them.

DIY Collage Christmas Tree

Alf made the blue card for Layla, maybe two years ago. When she saw it again, all she said was, “There’s a mistake in the card. Daddy should’ve cancelled “A” as well.”

DIY Collage Christmas Tree

DIY Collage Christmas Tree

I found that red note in Alf’s collection and it brought back memories of a last-minute project when Alf suddenly decided he wanted to give his students a homemade graduation gift. We put it together in a day and the quote’s not my favourite, but we needed something safe that wouldn’t be misconstrued by the kids or by parents.

Well that’s a preview of our tree! If you’re doing a DIY tree as well, I’d love to hear about it.

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Nov 09 2014

Social Media Detoxing, Sort Of

Published by under Life

DeathtoStock_Creative Community3_blog

I’m still logging into Facebook but I don’t want my only entertainment to be a neverending stream of quick-read articles and 15-second updates, so I’m back to doing fun stuff that requires more concentration and time commitment, like addressing my movie backlog, for one. My freelance workload is light for now and Z is often asleep by 10pm–I should start making up for lost time! Here’s what I’ve seen in the last few weeks:

Gravity. Watching Gravity was like being trapped in a massive panic attack–I thought I was going to have one for sure! The ending was corny and I mixed up my space movies so I kept wondering when Matthew McConaughey (needed help to spell that) would show up. But I’ve been a Sandra Bullock fan since Demolition Man and I loved seeing how beautiful yet terrifying Space could be, all at once. I mean, if you already feel tiny here on Earth… A few cry-worthy moments too, especially if you’re a mom.

Boyhood. By the end of the movie, I’d almost forgotten about Ethan Hawke and was crushing on the guy who played his son–made me wish I was 17 again! But ok, I didn’t forget I was watching this as a responsible grown-up and a parent too and there is so much to relate to, from realising that I’ve become too practical to romance struggling artists, to watching my biggest fear being played out on the big screen, where a mom does the best she can for years and years and asks at the end of it, “What was this all for?” Oh, and I cried even more for this movie.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Pure entertainment with a 70s vibe. It’s a mostly young cast, except for Hugh Jackman who never seems to age, and this was the first time I got to watch Michael Fassbender in action after seeing friends gush about him on Facebook for years. His Magneto was the best kind of villain–capable of being heroic and terribly violent, and always keeping you guessing about which side he’s on.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I didn’t watch the first Hunger Games movie, so I’m on Team Peeta! This reminded me of that 80s Schwarzenegger film The Running Man; I used to love sci-fi action and I was hooked after five minutes even though I’ve never read the books either. Jennifer Lawrence seems to be popping up in every movie I watch. I don’t mind, of course.

Wolf Of Wall Street. A lot of crass, awful things were happening in this movie from the get-go, but it’s Leo and he’s funny so I did laugh! And honestly, if you gave me a chance to lead that life–as a man–for a couple of days, I can’t say for sure I’d turn it down. Not a fan of the real Jordan Belfort though.

Noah. Of all the movies I watched, I only hated this and forwarded over a lot of the movie. The beginning’s boring and Noah goes nuts once he’s safely in the ark. The only bit I enjoyed was watching thousands of people fighting to get on the ark–I’ve never thought about the biblical Noah story that way, like, didn’t anyone else want a ride? It’s plausible, no?

I’ve got a date with a girlfriend to watch Gone Girl this week, in the theatre! This is a big deal for me, because I last stepped in the theatre two years ago to watch Before Midnight with Alf. And this friend happens to be the first mother I connected with after a very lonely first year with Layla–she found me via my blog (I think) and she was such a great source of support back then. We reconnected recently and I was pleasantly surprised when she suggested this. I’m looking forward to our kid-less date!

p.s. Apart from movies, I’ve also been watching videos and documentaries and I’ll occasionally post the links on my Facebook page, like this video on studying smart. You can check out my page to see what else I’ve been up to.

[Image via Deathtothestockphoto.]

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Nov 05 2014

Looming For Club Rainbow: An Update

Published by under Life

Looming for Club Rainbow

Our Looming For Club Rainbow project is coming to a close, and we’ve raised $166 so far thanks to our generous family and friends! We still have a few items left to sell and they’re going at $5 a piece, including the guitar pictured above (made by Layla) and the charms in this album. If you’d like to buy anything, please leave a comment here or on the album by Friday. We’ll be transferring our donations to Club Rainbow at the end of the week, and I’ll post the receipt on my blog’s Facebook page.

Speaking of the Facebook page, I wasn’t sure if I’d be using it much, but it’s turning out to be a quick and easy way for me to share links that I’m interested in but don’t necessarily want to blog about. If you’re curious about what I’m reading, watching, or thinking about, you can follow me here. I’d also love to hear from you–please feel free to share articles or leave comments!

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Oct 29 2014

Exams Are Over

Published by under School

Celebrations!

Celebrations!

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.

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Oct 09 2014

Life At Home

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: Continue Reading »

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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

Inspiration

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!

Hooray!

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

Puzzle

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 »

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