Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dear husband to a stay-home mum...

Us SAHMs (and work at home mums too) can be a queer lot. I know. My husband sometimes says that. Some days, you come home to a tidy home and a happy wife and everything's balmy. Some days though, anything you say seems to set off an explosion at home, and the house is a wreck (of course, experience has taught you not to say anything about that though!).

After ten years of marriage and seven over years of learning how to raise kids, I thought I'd share some tips on how to care for and understand that lovely person who is your wife and mother to your children (and hey, many of these tips will apply to working mums too!).

For starters, try imagining if your day at work involved dealing with three clients. Yes, just three. Now, you have to provide meals for these folk, and they all have different preferences. The youngest client likes to eat around the clock, and demands milk feeds every three hours. It doesn't matter if you are sleeping. The client is always right. Then the other two have decidedly different taste buds. What is yummy to one is yucky to another. So your interesting and challenging job is to figure out how to cook for, and ensure that all the clients get fed, PLUS clean up any mess that ensues.

Now cooking portfolio aside, you also have KPIs on providing attentive service: you need to wash butts when they get dirty, and you need to answer endless questions about everything and anything,   You are not allowed to visit the toilet unsupervised, because a certain client needs to know how big your poo is and wether you are hiding in the toilet to eat something yummy that you don't want them to have. Your workplace is generally very noisy, and crying can be quite a common occurrence.

Besides having to be vigilant and ensuring your clients don't fight and will get along well, you also need to read many stories. Sometimes you have to read one story, many times. Again, the customer is always right, so don't try to get yourself off this duty. You need to mediate fights if they happen, and sometimes risk getting socked in the eye when you wade into the fray to separate your angry clients apart.

Speaking of angry, your clients tend to go a little berserk if they don't have a nap. So another important duty you have is to ensure they sleep. But for some strange reason, you'll find that getting them to sleep is akin to getting your clients to drink bitter medicine when they are sick: they declare they don't need it (though they obviously do) and will fight you tooth and nail about it.

Add all this to other duties, such as the laundry and folding clothes (if you don't have a full-time helper) and overseeing your clients to ensure they do their homework, and washing countless dishes and cleaning floors that get grimy after just one hour. And then take away any real adult interaction or conversations in person, and monetary renumeration, and any healthcare benefits and sick leave. This is more or less the "job" that a SAHM does, Which is why:

:: SAHMs tend to be very concerned about what time you are ending work. 
No, we don't intend to lie in wait at the door at 5 pm to shove the fighting kids over to you and go off to watch TV. But when we are in the midst of trying to cook dinner with a baby in a carrier and a toddler clinging on to one leg, we can't help sending you a message with that question. It gives us hope. It gives us a time when we can be a little less vigilant, because we are no longer the only adult in the house. We know you are tired from work. Trust me, we don't enjoy having to ask for help the minute you step into the house. But we really look forward to you coming home, all of us do. And of course, we also look forward to the time where we are able to go to the toilet without a chaperone, and perhaps cook dinner without sweating buckets while carrying a baby.

:: You may be the first adult we really talk to at the end of a long day. So what you say really matters.
According to research, our brains are wired to have a negativity bias, and we remember negative comments more than positive ones. In fact, for married couples, it takes five positive comments to offset one negative comment! A SAHM who spends her day with the kids, who are usually not generous with praise and tend to pepper their conversations with "no!", "don't want" or "don't like!" might feel defeated by the end of a hard day, and encouraging words will always be really welcome.

:: SAHMs may need to rant to you about their day. But we just need a listening ear, not a solution to our problems.
After a full day of wiping butts and breaking up fights and trying to put a baby back to sleep after a screaming toddler woke him up, we usually need to do a little ranting to you to let off steam, and listening to us is the best thing you could do. In most cases, some reassurance that we're doing ok, or even some praise for a yummy dinner would help. Please don't overanalyze and try to offer solutions, we just needed to talk!

:: SAHMs may need some time to do some mindless scrolling of their FB feed, or engage in some random chats on Watsapp. 
You see, many of us may not get alot of adult interaction in the day, and we spend most of our time talking to little people, who can be amazingly funny and cute... but they are still little people. Social media and our mobile phones becomes our base for connecting with other adults, never mind if it's not exactly real-life interaction. So please don't begrudge us that time.

:: For SAHMs who are introverts, we may be too exhausted and drained at night to chat with you. 
It's not personal. It's just that being around little people all the time can be really draining, and we may need some alone to recharge those batteries.

:: Mess bothers us. Because we are the ones who usually have to clean it up.
Which is why we we do cry over spilt milk (whoever coined that term obviously didn't have kids), and why we are so insistent on clean-up time. And why we get really upset with you when you rummage through your drawers and rumple all the neatly folded stacks of clothes. And why we love it when you help out with the chores!

:: We may struggle with self-worth issues, and really need your encouragement.
It's a lot harder to be a mum in this age of social media. Pinterest posts scream at us that we need to make pretty bentos to be a good mum. Instagram photos depict picture-perfect homes with happy children, while we struggle to get past each day without the kids fighting all the time. It's silly and we know it, but we do compare ourselves with those we encounter on social media. Please help us, by being generous with your encouragement. Remind us that what we have now is real life, and our real life is worth living fully, not grudgingly in the shadow of someone else's highlight reel. Oh, and please buy us happy food (even though you think we need to lose a few pounds of our pregnancy weight)!

:: We need a day off occasionally. 
It's probably difficult when the kids are younger, but a day off really works wonders for refreshing a SAHM's spirit. We know a day off for us is a day of "work" for you, but I think we do need that occasional break from the kids. Or if it's possible, rope in the grands to babysit, and then schedule a date night! I remember how much I looked forward to my Pilates sessions each week when I was expecting Baby J, it was just 3 hours away from home, but it helped so much.

:: You could pray for, and with her.
Because we always need God's grace, and we always could do with someone praying hard for us.

PS: I blog this from my viewpoint as a SAHM. SAHMs take a lot of flak: we get labelled as "tai tai" when our lives are anything but, and we get criticized about getting our degrees and higher education since it's apparently a waste of money. However, this is not to say the working mums have it any easier, and theirs is a different set of challenges (now for working mums, if you could write to your hubbies, what would you let him know?). I am thankful that over the years, the hubby has been a great pillar of support, and we are learning how to care for, and meet each other's needs better.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#Hippostrikesagain: Conversations with J3

We've been having a spate of food poisoning cases at home. I was down on two consecutive Mondays, and over the weekend the hubs and Junior J were hit. We suspect it was a certain dish that we ate for lunch on Sunday during our grocery runs, since I had the same dish as the affected two on separate occasions before the symptoms started. It has been really hard, since the hubs could barely walk, and Junior J couldn't eat at all and was in bed for more than two days. I am hoping things will take a turn for the better soon!

Meanwhile, life still has to go on with the other three littles (thankfully they ate other dishes and were not affected), and J3 has been constantly amusing us with the funny things he says. He's a really chatty fellow, and has decided that he is a hippo, and I thought his speeches were worth a blog post on its own! 

So ladies and gentlemen, presenting to you our family's very own self-declared hippo:

Diet: Constant forager of larders. Biscuit-ivore, subsists mainly on Meiji crackers and chocolate, and always demanding for snacks. He sometimes sneaks into the kitchen and helps himself to bread and other food.

Habitat: Semi-aquatic, usually found in the shower stall playing with water and soap. Extremely difficult to extract from his bath tub habitat.

Care instructions: Must handle with caution. May poop on floor (because "ippos poopoo on the ground"). Dangerous as "it can bite a coco-dile into two" (as demo-ed in the photo above). May be hard to dress as "ippos don't wear clothes".

Environmental status: Endangered, there is only one left. And we love him so!

While playing with his little sister:

J3: Baby J, this is a yalt-water cocodile (he still drops his "s"s, which I find really cute!). You are a yalt-water crocodile, and I am a hippo, so I am going to bite you into two! (Proceeds to demonstrate by pretending to eat her.)


Just the other day, after the nth number of fights with J2 which involved him biting his brother: 

Me: I know hippos can bite, but you cannot bite your brother. Good hippos don't do that. 

J3: Ok Mama. 

Me: So next time, what do you do if you get angry? (We keep telling them to walk away, or punch a pillow.) 

J3 (solemnly): I won't bite him, but I will punch him instead. 

This hippo tends to cry at every tiny reason and shouts a lot. So some days he loses his voice a little. The brothers sometimes call him a cry baby, which brings on more crying and protests that he is not.

J1: You sound hoarse today.

J3: I am not a horse!

J1: I mean your voice sounds hoarse.

J3 (starts crying, again): NO I AM NOT A HORSE I AM A HIPPO!!!


The hippo sometimes has an identity crisis and decides to be a different animal:

[J3 asks hubby to carry him. Then he starts flapping his arms.]

J3: I am a bumblebee! I am going to sting you! [Pokes hubby hard in the ribs.]

J3: DING! I stung you. Now I have to die. [Flops over and plays dead.]

On Saturday, when I was just too exhausted to cook dinner after a week of cooking, and we decided to call Papa to tabao Macs on his way home from work:

Me (on speaker with the kids clustered around): Hello dear, can you tabao macs please?

Hubs: Yup what does everyone want?

J1: I want a burger with pickles please.

J2: I also want a burger with pickles (he tends to follow koko).

J3: I wan... Fish an chips an chicken nuggets an wench (French) fries an burger an milo an...

Me: There's no fish and chips in Macs, do you want a fish burger? Or a cheese burger?

J3: I wan a burger with NO meat.

Me: So we will buy you a fish burger ok? This hippo can eat fish right?

J3: Yes I am a ippo not a fish, so you cannot put me in the burger and eat me.


Oh hippo, you've brought us so much joy and laughter you know? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Updates (plus a giveaway for tickets to Three Little Pigs)

The other day we decided to call in a friend's gardener to give us a quote for planting all the shrubs and trees in our little backyard. We initially had intended to plant them all ourselves, after purchasing a bunch of plants at a nursery, but we just couldn't find the time and energy. Most days, it is 10 pm by the time the kids are asleep, and that is a slightly crazy time to be doing some serious digging. The hubby remarked "it will be too dark and you won't be able to see all the centipedes crawling out!", in response to my suggestion that we try planting one tree each night. So we caved, and called the gardener.

He dropped by for an assessment visit, and it happened to be lunch time when I was alone with the kids. Upon entering the house, he felt the gaze of four pairs of little eyes on him, and exclaimed (in Chinese) "Wah! So many babies!". I guess I could understand his surprise, since on second glance the table seemed so crowded with kids. 

Anyway, that is how life feels like these days. So many babies. There's always someone crying or needing Mama for something. I feel like I'm juggling too many balls, and I worry that I may drop some. Like this blog. There are so many things I want to write about, but seriously, I'm about done for the day after cleaning up and doing the chores at night!

Add to that more issues with our reno (we just had our tiles sanded because of some defective tiles from the distributor) and more cleaning up after rectifications, and it's not surprising that a lot of our stuff is still in boxes, since it didn't make sense to unpack everything, only to have to pack them away for repairs to be done. I'm just telling myself to take it slowly for this.

Meanwhile, we're slowly setting up some of our new furniture, and getting in the swing of things. Homeschool has started again for J1, and I'm back to cooking everyday for the family. No matter the challenges, I am thankful that we have a new home to grow in, and that the kids are more or less settled in. 

Life with "so many babies" has its bright side too, and I am thankful for all the moments to remember. Like how J3 has now declared himself to be a hippo, and insists that everyone calls him that. His older brothers are rather amused (me not so, when he decides that hippos need to poop on the floor), and there is always something to cheer us up with that hippo toddler of ours. And of course, there's the baby, whom everyone dotes upon, and whose gummy smiles always brighten up our days. Mealtimes are messy and noisy affairs, but I can't help enjoying these moments of having the whole family sit down together to eat. That is, of course, before the kids stop eating and start getting distracted halfway through the meal. 

I guess we have lots to look forward to, as we slowly work on the house to suit our family's needs, and I am hoping that all the problems would be fixed soon. That aside, I am looking forward to getting the kids out of the house more. One of the things we're looking forward to would be attending "The Three Little Pigs" play next month. An adaptation of the original fairy tale, this promises to be funny and entertaining, and something I think the boys would totally enjoy! (More details and tickets can be purchased here, or take part in our giveaway just below!) 


"The Three Little Pigs" is showing from the 4th of August to the 16th of September:

     Showtimes: Mon - Fri, 10 am, and Sat 11 am and 2 pm
     Venue: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT
     Prices: From $25 excluding sistic fees, you can purchase tickets here.

The Singapore Repertory Theatre is kindly giving away a family set of 4 tickets to watch "The Three Little Pigs" (worth $141) to one blog reader! This is for the show on the 20th of August, Saturday, at 2 pm (Please ensure your availability before taking part in this giveaway). To enter, please follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter app below, and do like SRT's Facebook page to be kept updated! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Home 2.0: On contractors and interior designers

Having your home renovated usually means many things: a hole in your pocket, busy days running over to the place to check on the progress, debates with your loved ones about various choices. It can be headache-inducing, both from the plethora of choices of finishings, as well as the amount of rectifications or problems that crop up. For us, it was all of the above, and I am so glad that we are nearing the end of the renovation process (yes, we're still doing some rectifications now)!

Our homes have gone through the renovation process three times. The first was just before the hubby and I got married ten years back. We didn't have much money, and we had a wedding and a HDB home to pay for. We settled for one of those huge interior design companies after comparing a couple of quotes, and did the barest minimum due to budget constraints: overlaying of bathroom floors, a fresh coat of paint, new kitchen cabinetry (the original ones were falling apart) and some layout changes that involved us hacking a wall and putting up two partition walls. We were assigned this designer who was younger than us, and we learnt that whenever he said "no problem", we could be rest assured that there would be problems up ahead! We ended up with a black solid surface kitchen counter that was too high, such that they had to cut and lower the section with the hob or it was hard for us to cook. The materials used were not of good quality and didn't last. We learnt that getting the cheapest quote isn't exactly a good idea. (You can read more about the lessons we learnt from that renovation here.)

Our kitchen, after the first renovation.

Round two was after we had moved back from Germany, and found our kitchen hosting lots of roaches (thanks to a faulty rubbish chute cover). By then the kitchen cabinets from our previous reno were starting to fall apart, and we thought it was time for us to do a complete overhaul of the kitchen and toilets, especially since the kitchen and toilet tiles were starting to be worse for wear (these were the original tiles and were probably twenty over years old!). 

Our kitchen, after the second renovation.

We obtained a few quotes from companies that were recommended by friends for this second renovation. I've read that it's best to get a ID/contractor by word of mouth rather than through advertisements or fairs, since the money and manpower spent on advertising translates into greater cost for you. We ended up choosing an interior design firm that was one of the more costly ones, as those that gave us cheaper quotes didn't seem very sure about certain aspects that we needed, such as installing a dishwasher. We did most of the planning and sourcing on our own, from visiting tile companies to look for tiles, to planning our kitchen layout. Our ID basically functioned more as a contractor, and they co-ordinated the workflow and got the work done.

This time, we learnt that paying more does not guarantee you NO problems. There were issues with sliding door mechanisms, which kept getting spoilt, and there were certain times we had to step in and ask the workmen to rectify certain areas. Just before we moved out, we discovered that the kitchen sink was not sealed properly, and the seepage of water had caused the wooden support below to be affected, so we had to call the company to reseal the sink! Problems aside, this company did have better workmanship, and our IDs were experienced and did give useful advice to us during our planning process. (You can read more about this reno here, and tour our former kitchen here.)

Now, fast forward to our third renovation. We again short-listed some recommendations from friends, but also browsed through the reviews on the Blum website. While this page features companies that are Blum partners, we found that the reviews were useful, and not as overwhelming as the information being shared on the Renotalk forum. 

We had three companies on our final list: one that came highly recommended by a friend (you can read about her reno and see pretty photos of her home here), another from a church friend, and finally, one company from the Blum website. Our church friend's contact actually gave us the cheapest quote, but his quotation was really short (two pages with a couple of items listed, in contrast to the detailed itemized quotes that we were used to), and we were worried that many hidden costs may surface during the course of the renovation. That aside, our friend had only worked with this designer on commercial projects, and I wasn't sure about the quality of their work for residential projects. We decided not to go with him.

We were initially impressed with the company we had contacted via the Blum website, since they received many rave reviews, plus they offered a limited lifetime warranty for their work. However, their quote came up to be the highest, with many items being further split into two or three steps, each incurring additional cost. There was a compulsory design fee, of which we didn't want to pay, since we were intending to do the designing and sourcing ourselves. We also didn't feel very comfortable working with the designers that were assigned to us for various reasons, so we crossed this company off our little list.

We ended up going with our friend's recommendation. This designer was actually nice enough to follow us to a few houses that we were considering to give us advice on renovation works. He was experienced, having been in this trade for many years, and the company was actually set up by him and a partner. His quote was reasonable, and most importantly, we felt really comfortable working with him. He was really patient, was never fazed at our requests, and was always genial and accommodating. 

Like our previous renovations, we did most of the designing, planning and sourcing of materials, so our designer acted more as a contractor. However, he did give us a lot of useful advice and recommendations, and we were frequently sending him photos and asking him for his opinion. (And he was honest enough to tell us if he thought our idea wouldn't work!) We did have a few issues with co-ordination, since we sourced and used other companies for various aspects of the renovation (such as the wallpapering). However, in general he was pretty efficient in terms of work-flow, so our renovations were mostly completed in two months. I liked how our designer always took safety into consideration (he has three boys himself, so he understands our concerns!), and how his carpenter understood my plans for all our cabinetry and shelving, and followed them almost to a T. 

I've concluded that no renovation is perfect, and there are always rectifications to be made. It was the case for this reno, since we had a few problems with carpentry, tiling and plumbing, and there were some mistakes made along the way. However, our ID was pretty quick in sending men down to make rectifications, and most issues were resolved. That aside, his workmen were really helpful with regards to helping us put up or set up stuff, such as hanging up our wall hooks. We're still sorting out our kitchen floor tiles though (long story), but I'm glad that they make it a point to follow-up and not disappear like how some other contractors do!

We've had many requests to share our ID's contact, so I'll share it here so that I don't have to keep answering queries! He's Daniel Lim of Square Room Interior Design, and you can contact him at 90625163 (let him know you got his contact off this blog!).

Our new kitchen, before the counter-top went in.

I'm still busy unpacking and setting up stuff around the home, but I hope to blog more about the lessons we've learnt during this reno, as well as share tips and photos in time to come. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: We are sharing from our personal experience, and such experiences might vary due to differing expectations, project requirements and other factors. Please do compare quotes, and make your own informed decision when it comes to hiring an ID or contractor! Should you have any more queries about our renovation, you can drop me an email or comment. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

We have moved!

They say that moving house is one of the most stressful changes in life, and I must say I couldn't agree more! There's the having to pack up all our belongings in the middle of the night, since it was impossible to pack until the kids have gone to bed (and it's amazing how much stuff 4 little people can have). And having to face all the clutter and junk that we've put off clearing for years (of which there is ALOT). There's having to deal with cleaning the new place, and getting things ready over there, and sorting out all the reno issues. 

We've been living in our new home for two weeks, and we've barely unpacked since there's been so many other things to do. There's the reno rectifications, which I have to clean up after each visit by the workmen. There's the old place to pack and clean up, since we didn't manage to finish packing on moving day. My days are spent trying to get into the swing of things, cooking our meals, and just trying to keep the kids alive.

Being in a limbo aside, this whole move has been a time of us receiving so much grace and goodness. The actual move was really smooth, even though we more or less shifted 90% of our furniture over instead of buying everything new. We had a wonderful moving company who charged us really reasonable rates (I raved about them and shared their contact here). We had friends and churchmates helping to babysit and pack, as well as run various errands for us. One even helped us to clean our filthy fridge until it was spick and span (he even cleaned the top and scrubbed every single corner!), and that same friend came to help babysit the kids after the move, so that we could unpack. My parents were amazing and helped so much, so that we could pack as much as we could in the final stages just before the move.  The weather report for moving day looked gloomy, but the rains held until the last truck headed back to our old place to pick up the remaining items, so there were no delays.

Just like most folks, we faced some issues during our renovations, and there was a possibility that our kitchen faucet would not be installed when we moved in, since they had difficulty finding the correct fittings. But thankfully they managed to find the parts in time, and the faucet was up and running the day we moved in. We had friends who were praying hard for us, for the weather, and for things to be ready, and God really answers prayer.

We contacted our telco rather late about our change in address, so our internet connection was only up and running more than a week after we moved in. While it meant I couldn't do any blog-related work, I did enjoy the break. The kids had to go cold-turkey, but one good thing that has resulted from this is that they are now screen-free on weekdays (we used to let them watch stories or videos on Youtube when they drank their milk for tea or supper). 

Most of our homeschool materials are still lost within the mess of boxes, and we've yet to get back into a regular rhythm. But so far, going screen-free has meant I've had to work harder at engaging the kids, and it has resulted in us reading so many more books together. These days, we gather and read, and these times spent huddling over an open book have been wonderful. 

The kids have more or less adjusted pretty well to the move. We had expected the very sentimental Junior J to be rather affected by the move, but he's been really excited and happy in the new place, probably because he really needed room to breathe and be away from his brothers sometimes. Lil J intially kept asking to "go home", but we brought him back to our old home, and I think reality sunk in after he saw the bare rooms. He's now happily settled, with many things (like feeding the fish, and throwing his stuffed toys down the stairs) to keep him occupied. Small J adjusted really quickly, and has discovered all the places to get snacks in the kitchen (he is the foodie in our family).

I've been itching to write about so many things, but for now, it's time to focus more on unpacking and getting things into their right places. We didn't really have time to declutter throughly before moving, so right now I'm in a throw and giveaway mode. I guess moving was good, because it forced us to confront 10 years worth of built up clutter. I'll get down to writing more soon!

All in all, we're good. And God is good. And we give thanks.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Learn: Explorer Junior Innovators Camp

Junior J recently had a chance to attend an Innovators camp run by Explorer Junior. He had such a great time, I thought I'd pop by just to share a little about it!

The camp was run across three days. Junior J was really keen when I sounded him out about it, so we signed up. And according to him, he really enjoyed himself! They learnt how to programme a mouse to run a maze to get to the cheese, and had a chance to design, make and test their own prototype for cargo transport. 

They got to test drive robots. 

They even learnt how to use a programme to make their own 3D printout...

... which going by the photos, got the kids very excited.

This was what he designed, and he said it was a flower that he made just for me. :)

The kids were also taught the basic concepts of electricity using snap circuits, and designed their own collaborative city of the future.

One highlight for the kids was taking turns to fly a drone over their city!

They were also taught how to do up a simple webpage (Junior J loves Octonauts, so he filled his webpage with photos featuring the Octonauts).

I think the folks at Explorer Junior did a pretty good job planning the camp, and the kids got to dabble with various innovations, while learning how to build their own prototypes. Care was taken to simplify things for the kids, such as getting the kids to think through the commands for the mouse to run the maze, then pasting them in the correct order before they proceeded to programme the mouse. 

I loved how time was given to the kids to work on their own projects, as well as collaborate on a larger projects, and the instructors were great at engaging the kids. The only challenge I think was that the kids probably needed a good tea break in between, since everyone was talking about being hungry nearing the end of the session. But I guess they were also too busy having fun to really eat!

All in all, it was quite an eye-opener, and I think it was a great springboard for Junior J to learn more about these topics. The upcoming Environment and Architecture camps look equally interesting (I wish we could have attended those too!), and you can find more information here (as well as sign up for their programmes). If you are keen, do key in the coupon code "MAKINGMUM10" in the comments box when registering, to get 10% off all camp fees! 

Thank you Explorer Junior, for having us!

Disclaimer: Junior J was invited to join in the Innovators Camp, but this review was non-obligatory. However, I thought the camp was good enough to warrant a blog post! No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my (and Junior J's) own. Some photographs in this post were taken by the folks at Explorer Junior (I loved how they compiled all the photos and sent them to all parents whose kids participated in the camp!). 

Friday, June 3, 2016

May days, and hello June!

I know I have been talking about moving for ages, but somehow, my brain can't seem to wrap around the fact that we'll be moving soon. Like really soon. *gulp* 

We recently brought over our kitchen clock so that our contractor's guys could help drill a hook for it. The kitchen wall now looks bare without the clock, and I cannot help glancing at the space when I'm checking for the time. That empty hook keeps reminding me that our time here is running out. And time certainly has whizzed by, and we now have an almost 4 month old baby, and a home that is barely packed. I really cannot believe how we've stumbled our way into June. 

But June is here, and we bid goodbye to May. A May that was filled with renovation works and more renovation works. The kids have been paying excited trips to the new place, and had lots of fun playing hide and seek. (Check out my newly installed dishwasher below. It is rather temperamental, and has high water consumption rates. But it does give hugs and makes us laugh.)

They have had lots of fun feeding the fish in the pond too. (Small J helpfully poured an entire bottle of fish food into the pond the other day, and the older two had a field day trying to scoop up all the food with nets.)  I am so glad we'll be getting a whole lot more space for them to spread out, but I'm also dreading the extra cleaning!

One key highlight for the month was the older two taking part in the annual Homeschool Craft Fair. They worked hard, preparing their creations. They painstakingly wrote price tags and decorated their booth (that's them during our rehearsal before the actual fair). The crowd was overwhelming, and I was so proud of Junior J who stayed on to man his booth, only requesting for breaks so that he could shop and buy something for his brothers. Lil J couldn't bear with the crowd after 20 minutes, but he was delighted that everyone loved his monster magnets (Which Mama skeptically thought might not sell. Mama stands corrected.). 

Now that craft fair is done and dusted, the older two and I are busy making bead coasters for a collaborative fundraiser for Healthserve, which renders aid to migrant workers in our midst. Reading about how poorly some migrant workers are treated in Singapore really got me upset, and we are hoping to raise some funds to contribute towards Healthserve's work. Do lend us your support by purchasing a Father's Day gift set (where you would receive one of these rainbow coasters amongst other lovely handmade items), or by making a donation. You can read more details about our fundraiser here

Crafting aside, we've been trying to make more trips out as a family of six. I'm looking forward to more of these outings, once we are more settled after the move! Meanwhile, it's back to packing, packing and more packing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Toddle: Thoughtful shopping made easy

We've been decluttering a fair bit these days, in preparation for our move. One of the areas that I've tackled are the kids' toys, since I realized that they have accumulated a fair bit, and their mess was driving me nuts! 

Sorting through their stuff and reflecting on their play habits was enlightening. I was reminded that the less specific the function, the more mileage we could obtain from the toy. That you generally need to pay for quality, and that wooden toys really last longer than their plastic counterparts. The hassle of having to donate or sell the toys that I cleared from their toy pile was a painful reminder that I needed to be very intentional when it comes to shopping for the kids. I know that I tend to go a little crazy when it comes to shopping for toys, and I can't resist good offers, even though the quality of the toys may be circumspect. 

Enter Toddle, an online shop that aims to provide a thoughtful shopping experience when you have to purchase kid-related items online. Some time ago, I was invited by Silviana, one of the founders of Toddle, to try shopping at their web-store. I admit I was torn on wether to take up the invite. On one hand, I wanted to say no, because I had enough of dealing with kiddy stuff after all that decluttering. On the other hand, who could resist shopping for stuff for the kids? 

I decided to browse the shop before giving her a definitive reply. I liked what I saw: The site was a breeze to navigate both on desktop and mobile, and each product listing was informative and detailed. However, the turning point came when I looked through their selection of toys. Toddle claims to carefully curate their selection of merchandise, and pick items based on their criteria which they have termed as Toddle Tags.  Their criteria go by the abbreviation "S.H.I.N.E" (for smart, healthy, investment, necessity and eco-friendly). 

The thing is, any shop can claim that they curate their toys and state a list of criteria. It's just like how retailers can box up any plastic thing that blinks and goes beep at a press of a button, and claim it aids in teaching hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. But the true test in this case would be in the selection of toys they sell. A quick browse through their listings showed many of our favourite brands. I spotted Hape, a mid-range German brand which we loved because of it's affordability and their focus on sustainability, as well as Plan Toys, which uses organic rubberwood in their products. I also found many Melissa and Doug products, one of the brands that stocks the most affordable wooden toys. Toddle seems to take the business of curating products seriously, and there was not a single plastic thingamajig in sight. I really loved this idea of providing a thoughtful shopping experience, so I said yes. 

I really appreciated the efforts to equip buyers to make well-informed purchase decisions, from the detailed product descriptions, to providing more information on their blog and in their info guides. The folks at Toddle frequently share informative posts on their blog, which range from tips for choosing a car seat, to how to prevent mold from growing in baby's feeding gear. The site also provides info guides to help shoppers in their purchase process. I found that these were really well-written: each guide lists down the available options for the relevant type of product, tips on how to refine your selection, as well as features to consider. 

Toddle also prioritizes customer service, as can be seen from their 14-day return guarantee, as well as their fast delivery times. They aim to ship orders within 1-3 business days, and delivery is free for orders above $70. In our case, our item was delivered really quickly: we ordered our items on a Saturday evening, and the items were delivered on Monday afternoon!

Seeing how the whole shopping experience was so thoughtfully planned out made me curious about the folks behind Toddle. I had a chat with Silviana, who shared with me about how she and her partner Gabriel set up shop hoping to provide quality toys, to counter the problem of low-quality toys in the current market. Initially, the couple sourced their toys from China and other SEA countries, but found that the quality was still not up to scratch. Since then, they have spread their nets further, in order to bring in toys that meet their quality standards. Their goal for Toddle was to provide a wholesome shopping experience and value-added service, where useful information is provided on top of selling the physical products.

Silviana and Gabriel do not have kids yet, but what they lack in terms of parenting experience they make up by having a sense of objectivity, as well as innovativeness. Toddle boasts a buying team that is made up of a diverse group of people, all united by their love of innovative products for children. The shop frequently updates their range of products, and I noticed that they recently added great new selections such as Tegu blocks, Magnatiles and Cuboro. The couple are now working on partnering complementary businesses, medical professionals (such as lactation consultants and pediatricians) and educators to bring about new initiatives for Toddle. I love their drive and creativity, as well as their thoughtful approach to bringing up this "baby" of theirs. Indeed, as Silviana shares, their approach is embodied by their company name "Toddle", which is a verb - all good things start from the smallest of steps.

So what did we buy? We chose to go with a Hape Quadrilla marble run, since I figured the parts were simple enough for Small J to stack up, and the older two boys could use them to build complicated marble runs. I thought a marble run with wooden parts would be great, since it would last and the toy would have plenty of mileage, especially with four kids!

I loved watching them work together to build the marble run. The older two would help each other to balance the various parts while stacking the blocks. They tested the run again and again, and spent over an hour just taking turns to drop marbles into the run and watching as the marbles rolled along. 

It was great fun, and seeing them play reminded me about how good toys are those that can cater to a wide range of ages, and are open-ended enough to allow for creativity in play. This marble run is definitely something that will last, both physically (since it's made of wood), as well as in terms of engaging the kids (they can make a different run each time). 

Thank you Toddle, for reminding us to play hard, and play well! 


Toddle is offering a promotion for readers of this blog, where you can get 15% off purchases above $70! Just type in "JUSTINA15" at checkout. This code is valid until the 25th of June 2016, and cannot be used concurrently with other promo codes. (PS: This is a good time to grab those magnatiles!)

They are also giving away a "K's Kids Pull-Back Auto Vehicle Set" to one reader of this blog! To take part in this giveaway, please follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. For more information, please visit their website, and FB page (this is regularly updated with interesting links, so do like their page!).

1. If you can, do share about this giveaway with your friends (but this is not compulsory).

2. Do hop by to our Instagram account (@justtey) to join another giveaway to win a set of Plan Toys building blocks!

3. Please note that you have to like and comment on this FB post to enter, and all incomplete entries or entries using fake FB accounts (accounts set up purely to take part in giveaways) would be disqualified.

Disclaimer: We received shopping credits from Toddle for purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own. This giveaway is not sponsored, endorsed or associated with Facebook.


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