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 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.

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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 »

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

Chandamama

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

Bands

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!

6 responses so far

Aug 27 2014

Review: Lässig Green Label Neckline Bag (Denim Blue)

Published by under Reviews

Lässig Green Label Neckline Bag (Denim Blue)

Lässig Green Label Neckline Bag (Denim Blue)

Lässig Green Label Neckline Bag (Denim Blue)

Lässig Green Label Neckline Bag (Denim Blue)

Alf and I have a running joke about our clothes–when something gets worn to death, we talk about sending it into retirement. We don’t shop much for ourselves, so it is true that whatever we own gets worked pretty hard, hard enough to deserve a permanent vacation! The same goes for my bags; my “it” bag for the last five years or so has been a classic black tote that was a present from Alf. The straps are wearing out and it wasn’t built to be a diaper bag but unfortunately I’ve been using it that way and stuffing it with more than it can handle.

I recently started looking out for a replacement everyday bag, and it was during this time that I received a news release about Lässig’s denim blue Green Label Neckline Bag, which is now available in Singapore. This is not your average bag–it’s won a Red Dot award for its unique shape, practical yet stylish design, and sustainability factor (it was partially made from recycled polyester). In fact the Neckline bag is on display at the Red Dot Museum, in an exhibition that runs till next year.

Coincidentally, it was about a year ago that I reviewed Lässig’s Vintage Metro Bag. I use the Metro bag when I’m taking the kids out to places like Marina Barrage, where I’ll have to pack a change of clothes plus towels for both kids, along with diapers for Z, wipes, snacks, drinks, and water play toys. As I’d mentioned in my review post, the Metro bag is great for activities that require more packing or for travel, but for a bag that I’m going to be carrying around daily–with or without kids–I’d prefer something lighter and slimmer that can be easily paired with most of my clothes. I liked the Neckline bag on sight and was curious enough to enquire about it. To my delight, Lässig agreed to send me a bag to review. Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 19 2014

Laylapalooza 2014

Published by under Party

We only have one big celebration a year, and that’s Layla’s birthday party. Right after her party last year, we tossed around some theme ideas for fun and I suggested a rock ‘n’ roll party. Layla can be girly and princessy, so I was surprised when she agreed! Although we had the theme set practically a year in advance, I didn’t start planning the party until early this year.

A party tradition of ours is having Layla’s Grandma Agnes make a party souvenir for each kid. Grandma Agnes had picked up knitting and was keen to put her new skill to use. She wanted to get an early start, so we agreed on beanies and I had to decide on a colour scheme. I had Emily The Strange and The White Stripes in mind at the time, and I decided to stick with red, white, and black as the main party colours. This was also in line with my friend Ann’s advice to tie in your colours with big events/festivals happening around the time of your party–you’ll find it easier to shop for decorations and serving ware, and there’s a good chance you can score bargains, which was the case for me since we’ve taken to holding Layla’s party on National Day.

I took my time thinking about the other party elements. We considered finding a venue with a small stage, or booking a place where kids could get some guitar or drumming lessons for an hour, but in the end we decided the rock ‘n’ roll spirit was what mattered, and a home party would give us more flexibility as well as greater comfort and convenience.

I knew I wanted a rock poster invite, and at first I thought of making up a band name for Layla, like Layla And The Lollipops–inspired by Juliette And The Licks–but Alf found that too cutesy. By chance, I happened to see that the US rock fest Lollapalooza, which I’ve always wanted to attend, was also being held in August, and that was it, Laylapalooza was born.

It was around April that local temporary tattoos company Gumtoo wrote to me offering to sponsor tattoos for our party, and I thought wow, what luck! Shortly after, I decided to talk to my friend Shirley about a design for Layla’s invite, and she surprised me by saying she would illustrate and design a card as a present to Layla! I was very touched, and to me, Layla was about to have the coolest party ever regardless of whatever else I planned.

Laylapalooza

We absolutely loved the invite the minute we saw it, and I got this printed as a poster for Layla’s room too. The “OK” on Layla’s jacket is a nod to one of our favourite rock singers, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Back when she was littler, Layla used to watch Karen O and say she wanted to have an “OK” studded leather jacket just like Karen O did in one of her videos. That jacket actually said “KO” (for Karen O) but we never corrected Layla, or bought her a jacket for that matter. Also, before Layla was born, Alf and I were in a just-for-fun covers band called The OKs!

With the invite out of the way, I had to think about the dessert table and maybe there was plenty of good karma in the air, because two awesome ladies Ginny and Wenny, who sell partyware and party kits at Lemony Days and Lemonykit, wrote to me offering to help with Layla’s party. We met twice over dinner, and I found out that Ginny was the marketing whiz while Wenny was the maker. I sent them some pictures of what I had in mind, they came over to our home one night to take measurements, and Wenny got to work.

We weren’t done with our lucky streak yet, because one day, while taking the kids to the PD, we stopped by Cotton On and saw they were having a rock star promo in July. We picked up some rock tees and I decided to be bold and ask the staff if they would be disposing of their rock-themed cardboard props once the promotion was over. They not only confirmed that they would be throwing out the props, but agreed to keep a set for me so I could use it for our party photobooth! Carting the props home was a challenge but our cabbie was good natured about it and we managed to squeeze everything into a regular cab.

So I didn’t have to work very hard for this party at all, aside from deciding what would go on the dessert table and making sure there was enough seating, food, and entertainment for everyone. Even on the morning of the party, it was Wenny and Ginny putting things together, and once they got the backdrop up, I thought, it couldn’t get any more perfect than this–I want to keep this on our wall forever!

Laylapalooza

Wenny had searched for and printed out posters according to the party colours and stuck them together for the backdrop, and fashioned Layla’s name out of Christmas lights for some glitter. Then, she went on to make paper pinwheels and garlands, which you’ll see in the pictures later.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

The girls also gave me square serving plates and striped straws, which they stock in their shop. Ginny managed to get hold of 10 old records, which I used on the dessert table by stacking them over bowls so they would act like stands. Again, by luck, I discovered I had $20 worth of Robinson’s vouchers and used them at Marks & Spencer’s to buy my favourite toffees to fill the jars.

Laylapalooza

The round serving plates are from ToTT, and the little records in the centre of the plates are coasters that were given to me by another friend when she heard about our rock theme. This year, I bought more M&Ms than I normally do, after discovering that Candylicious will repack their coloured M&Ms that are about a month from the expiry date, and sell them in 200g packs for $4. (The regular price is $6 for 100g.)

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Our regular baker Debbie was asked to create some rock ‘n’ roll cakes this year, and she did a super job.

Laylapalooza

Upon request, Debbie also tried making these font-transfer cakes for the first time. The font looks spray painted on, which is pretty cool. We had The Ramones in there too but the guests got to those first.

Laylapalooza

Layla went to Daiso with her classmates a few weeks back and she was determined to find something for the party–I would never have thought to look for potential decorations in the iron-on section! The “Rock You” iron on was exactly what we needed to personalise our cupcake stand.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

I figured not everyone would wear the knitted beanies right away, so I kept some rolled up in plastic jars.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

I love these tattoos, and I decided that if Layla forgot to remove her tattoo for school, I wasn’t going to remind her either!

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Testing the photobooth with the party’s headlining act–our awesome cousins James and Jessie, who’d agreed to spend their Saturday afternoon playing for us. Btw, I’d saved the tags from our Cotton On rock tees and used them for props too.

Laylapalooza

Getting ready to welcome our guests by handing out passes.

Laylapalooza

Glad to see grown-ups taking our dress code seriously!

Laylapalooza

Our little splurge for the party–I’d hired talented facepainter Diana, who I’d met online through the Singapore Mom Bloggers group.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

We’ve tried to have a no-presents policy for Layla’s parties ever since we started throwing them. For this year, we thought it’d be fun to have a mini concert in our home and ask friends to perform a song in place of bringing a gift, if they wished. Back in our old home, we had a PA system that was given to us as a wedding gift, but we’d since passed it on to our cousins. John and Jessie helped us track the PA system down again and brought it back to our home about a week before the party so we could hook up and test the mics. Alf has a working guitar amp and our cousins brought another, so we managed to have some decently loud music on the day.

Layla originally wanted to sing Maroon 5’s Payphone, but Alf thought a happier song would be better and they had plans to do a mashup of two songs. With Alf’s injury, we decided to keep things simple since our cousins would be the ones playing guitar. Layla’s final pick was Best Song Ever by One Direction. It was hilarious when I accidentally called the song “Best Day Ever” and everyone groaned and corrected me. Tough crowd!

I thought the kids would have short attention spans, and I decided that for those who wanted to perform, a verse and chorus would do. We could repeat the chorus if necessary. I had the kids jump and play percussion along with the singing, so everyone got involved like they would at a real gig. Also on the line-up were What Makes You Beautiful (One Direction) and Train’s Hey Soul Sister, as well as a special and unplanned rendition of Happy Birthday initiated by one of our favourite little boys, Ram.

Laylapalooza

If you’re wondering why Z isn’t dressed according to theme, I’d bought him a Ramones t-shirt but he’d refused to change into it. No pants for him too. Talk about rock ‘n’ roll.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

I’d prepared one craft activity for the kids: Showing them how to make noisemakers using ice cream sticks, toothpicks, a piece of paper, and rubber bands. The instructions I followed called it a “popsicle stick harmonica,” but the resulting sound was a cross between a honk and a bleat, depending on how you blew.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

And we had just one official party game: Pass the parcel, played to a hard rock soundtrack. I’d prepared little prizes like erasers, tattoos, and Rainbow Loom guitar charms that Layla worked hard to make. Kids would come up and draw a card from me, which would either contain an easy forfeit (jump, play air guitar, or sing) or a prize. Those who carried out forfeits walked away with prizes too.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

The rest of the time, our guests were free to chill out, eat cake, and draw on our kitchen wall with chalk–that’s always a crowd pleaser.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Dinner was from Catering Culture, the same Halal party caterer we’d used last year. This year, I’d wanted “rock fest” foods, i.e. finger foods that would be easy for everyone to eat. My mom-in-law also cooked a pot of vegetable fried rice, and my dear friend Gayathri brought chappatis, potatoes, and vadai for everyone.

Laylapalooza

After a quick dinner, the kids turned our corridor into a soccer pitch.

Laylapalooza

I had to usher them back in for the party finale: Smash a guitar, to the tune of Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl.

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

Laylapalooza

And before we called it a night, we rocked, rolled, and struck a pose.

Laylapalooza

This was by far the most fun party to plan, and I can’t believe the amount of help and love we received. The best part was looking at the photos my friend Nadia captured, and she’d even made us a surprise video because she knew we didn’t have time to record anything.

Thank you so, so much to everyone who helped make Laylapalooza happen, I couldn’t have done it without you!

Credits
Photography: Nadia of Itchyfingers Photography
Invite (design and illustration): Shirley of Designsnotdead
Dessert table backdrop, paper pinwheels, star+letter garlands, plates+straws: Lemony Days and LemonyKit
Cupcakes: Debbie of Sweetyendings
Rock tattoos and tattoo booth banner: Gumtoo
Facepainting: Diana of Chubby Fairy
Photobooth (cardboard speakers+”We Will Rock You” sign): Courtesy of Cotton On Kids
Dinner buffet: Catering Culture

15 responses so far

Aug 15 2014

8 Is Great

Published by under Learn (Kids),School

We’ve had a busy two weeks putting the finishing touches to Layla’s rock star party, and oh, Alf fractured his wrist in three places during a late-night soccer match! He’s adjusted quickly–he still tries to cook and he even carried tables and chairs and dumped the trash after Layla’s party. During this time, all he’s needed is some help in the morning to button his cuffs. In fact I could almost forget he’s injured if not for his cast. I can only say I’m impressed with how my husband’s handling this.

The video above shows Alf and Layla practising for her party performance. Alf had already broken his wrist by then so I had to take over guitar duties for the rehearsals, and boy am I rusty! We threw Layla’s party last weekend and a party post is coming up as soon as our photos arrive.

Today is Layla’s actual birthday, so I thought I’d update everyone about what our primary concerns are at this stage of her childhood. To be honest, until July, things hadn’t changed much from when I wrote this post. With Layla having quit ballet, she was spending more time at home but it wasn’t making her happier. Worse, on occasion she would chance upon a picture of a friend winning a prize, or a story about someone her age being able to do something well, e.g. playing the piano, and her face would blacken with insecurity and jealousy. Then she would lash out at us and demand to be consoled or praised. The whole time, I tried to find out if there was something she would like to try/learn, and she kept saying she felt she was good at running, so we decided she should sign up for athletics as a co-curricular activity when school reopened for Term 3.

The way it works is that the girls who were interested in athletics were supposed to submit a consent form to the teacher in charge before the end of Term 2 in May. Layla was aware of this after she tried to submit the form to her class teacher Ms. E, and Ms. E said she wasn’t the right person to give the form to. I didn’t check on her and we all forgot about it until we were into the holiday and Layla remarked it was strange how everyone else had already received their acceptance into athletics except her. Upon probing, we discovered she’d kept her form in her file all the while, claiming she didn’t know how to go to the general office to ask for the right teacher and submit her form!

As you can guess, I exploded over that. Her lack of initiative really annoyed me. Her attitude at home wasn’t something I was pleased about either. Everything was something to cry or moan about, and I increasingly saw her slumped on our easy chair doing nothing in particular, instead of amusing herself with all the things she used to love, like learning to draw from the instructional books I’d bought her or playing with her blocks and Lego sets.

I gave her a pep talk during this time, and I tried to steer her in either of two directions. I told her there were two kinds of people that are able to make positive change or significant contributions to this world, and the first group consists of people who are truly passionate about something and willing to work at it. That energy and commitment may seem selfish at first, but often something great is created that impacts others as well. I added that if you can’t be passionate about something, you can look around you for people in need and be as helpful as you can–helpers make our world a better place to live in.

It was also during this period that I attended a talk by two girls currently studying in Princeton University. They grew up here before migrating to Canada, so they have an understanding of what the local system is like. The talk was actually about how to improve your chances of entering an Ivy League university and understanding the financial requirements of studying in these universities. I’d attended it not because I harbour Ivy League dreams for my kids, but because I was curious about the financial aspect, and also wanted to find out what these high-achieving families did differently from us. Layla is incredibly sweet and likeable, and she should catch on quickly enough to survive primary school with no major problems (I hope), but she doesn’t have that certain sharpness that I associate with Ivy League/Oxford-bound types. Instead, what I sometimes worry about is that with my critical nature and our lack of funds, we won’t be able to spot Layla’s gifts, give her sufficient exposure, or nudge her in the right direction and before we know it, the window of development or opportunity will pass.

Back to the talk: I promised Vivienne, Janelle, and their mom that I wouldn’t give too much away if I were to mention it on the blog. You can find them at Ivy Match Consulting, and I’m not sure how often they’ll be in Singapore to hold workshops, but I’m sure they do online consultations as well. The girls and their mom were delightful to listen to; they spoke with confidence and shared their personal experiences without using a single cue card, and fielded questions without stumbling. They gave plenty of advice, but I’ll list tips that are most relevant to this post. One was to start keeping a resume for kids even from Layla’s age, just to get in the habit of tracking achievements and skills–some of this information may come in handy at a later stage when your child needs to craft a narrative about his/her passions when applying for schools and internships. I’ve started photographing Layla’s certificates and taking note of what classes she’s attended (even short workshops over the holidays), as well as her school involvements like winning a medal during sports day or being picked for the spelling bee in school.

Their advice was also to expose kids to at least one activity from each of these categories–arts/music, sports/games, and something academic. Once you notice that your child has a special interest, find opportunities to showcase and develop that interest. Talent shows and competitions, they said, are a good way for kids to network with like-minded and driven peers, and even if you’re at the bottom of the rung, you can be inspired by the winners and what they’ve accomplished. The girls cited a case of a science fair that they participated in, where the winner was a 15 year old who saved lives by discovering a new and much more affordable way to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

And finally, they stressed the importance of developing public speaking skills at every opportunity, even if it was simply getting your kids to deliver a toast or short presentation at a family dinner. This is an important skill no matter what your life’s dreams are.

Btw I’d like to state that I paid for and attended the talk after seeing a link on SGMotherhood’s instagram feed, so this is not a sponsored plug. There was tons more that was discussed during the talk and I have pages of notes in my organiser to show for it, but I’d like to get back to what we’re currently doing with Layla.

Thing is, Alf has been keen for Layla to get heavily involved in sports because it can build confidence and instil discipline, among other benefits. I think she is naturally athletic, but I also think it could be hard, if not impossible, for her to be talent spotted in a school scenario. She’s pleasant and eager to please but she can also blend into the background, and I don’t think she necessarily tries her best on occasions when teachers are watching. I’ve heard about her classmates being shortlisted for school teams and competitions but never her, and I’ve sometimes wondered why. I do think that certain occasions will crop up where I’ll have to intervene in order to get her the opportunities she needs, as opposed to leaving it in her hands or the teachers’ hands, and one example was her Chinese speech and drama performance that I wrote to her form teacher about. About a week after I’d sent the letter, Layla came back and told me she’d been given a small speaking role that required her to stand up front and use the mic; she was very pleased about it, and invited me to watch her at the play after all. (She’d initially told me not to bother going.) I did watch her, and although she was possibly still too soft, I could see from her face and her expression that she was doing all she could to be loud and animated, and I was proud of that effort, and bought her a little gift to reward her after.

With this in mind, I decided to stop being mad at her for not handing in her athletics form, and I emailed the teacher, took her to school and got everything sorted out for her during the holidays. Coincidentally, a mom I’d gotten to know during our ballet days (whose daughter is in Layla’s school) told me about a new rhythmic gymnastics team that was being set up in school. The circumstances are a bit strange; it’s not an official school activity yet, but the girls are already training twice a week and up to 2.5 hours each time. Rhythmic gymnastics shares some similarities with ballet and in my opinion, is less risky than artistic gymnastics because everything stays on the floor. I was eager to let Layla try this–up till last year, she’d been asking me when she could return to Prime Gym for lessons. She had to go for a tryout in school and the coach said she had a great frame for gymnastics but lacked flexibility. Still, the coach was agreeable for Layla to join them and she’s been training since July. For me, it’s a 1.5hr journey by bus (there and back) to pick her up in school twice a week, but I’ve decided it’s a tiny price to pay.

And here’s the deal: The training is tough, very tough. Layla and the rest of the kids literally cry during the sessions because they’re being stretched out to the max by the coaches, who’re Chinese nationals. Layla has told a lot of people since that she hates gym, but I’ve talked to her about sticking with this because I think she does need to get more flexible if she wants to pursue dance in any form, which she seems to be interested in. Flexibility was a problem for her in ballet as well, and the gym coach said it’s a hurdle she has to cross. Also, I feel that the other core training and conditioning exercises that they’re currently doing are good for Layla in the long run. Most of all, I want her to know what it’s like to work hard at something for a change, and I’m reluctant to give up on this unless we replace it with something that functions at the same level of intensity. Everything else she’s done before seems like fluff in comparison. I should also mention that because it’s conducted in school, we’re paying only half of what gym schools like FlyOnce are charging for for 4-hours-per-week training–Layla’s training for up to 5 hours each week, with the option of additional training on Saturdays (if she wishes, which of course she doesn’t for now) at a location that’s convenient for us.

It’s been over a month, and I have to say that I’m already seeing improvements in Layla’s home behaviour. Perhaps because she already cries during training, being home is a big relief for her and she’s cut down on her wailing. She’s also started using her time at home better by reading more, and of late, playing with Lego again. And perhaps most telling is the fact that she persevered and made this Rainbow Loom doll all by herself following a Youtube tutorial video, when previously, she would try and fail at simpler projects and be reduced to sobs.

Well, that’s my update! Things could change again, and fast, especially if she starts dreading gym to the extent of wanting to skip school and so on. We’ll take it a day at a time.

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