Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hello Baby J! (Baby #4's birth story)

We had a busy weekend. There was spring cleaning to be done for Chinese New Year, and the hubby was busy running about trying to settle various errands. The nesting instinct had hit me hard: I was folding a mountain of laundry, making stocks to freeze for the family, and I was trying to clear out the study cum guest room in anticipation of the MIL's arrival. Amidst it all were the contractions, which were coming at a rate of about 3 an hour. 

Then CNY eve rolled by, and we made the decision to stay home in the morning in case the contractions got stronger. They did increase in frequency, and by evening they were coming at 8 an hour. We texted my gynae, who told us to go to the hospital, so there was a flurry of rearrangements: my dad dashed off to the airport to pick up MIL with Lil J, and we went over to my mum's to eat an early reunion dinner with the other two boys. 

We had a quick dinner, and my mum chased us off to the hospital. Since the contractions were not painful, we decided to take a walk first before going in. We ended up having fried ice-cream, then we drove down to the hospital at around 7 pm. They did a check: I was only 3 cm dilated. However, my gynae was worried that the labour would suddenly progress quickly since this was our fourth child, so she told us it was best to just wait it out in the hospital. 

They ran a CTG to check that baby was ok, then I was free to walk about. So we did, in the hope that the walking would help hasten the labour. We walked up all the stairs we could find, we walked to the car park and cleaned out the car. Upon cleaning out the car, we remembered we had some overdue library books, so we sneaked out for a quick drive to return the books, with me still in the hospital gown! Upon returning, we did more stair-climbing, and then it was back to the labour ward.

10 pm and my gynae was back to check on us, only to find that the labour was still not progressing... so she gave us the choice if we wanted to augment the labour. We decided to go ahead, since we had been there for what felt like ages! She broke the water bag, and left with instructions to start the pitocin drip after four hours, if my contractions didn't intensify enough. 

The contractions started to become stronger and more frequent. For those four hours, I paced up and down, hoping that the labour would continue to progress. I tried blogging in between contractions (since I couldn't sleep!), pausing to grab or pound the table whenever the contractions came. Meanwhile, hubby, exhausted from all the running about, was sleeping. But at the end of the four hours, I was still only about 3-4 cm dilated, and the contractions were still not frequent enough. 

I woke the hubby to discuss with him whether we should get an epidural. Initially, I had hoped to do without, since I thought the labour would be quick. However, it seemed otherwise, and I was worried I couldn't deal with the pain. In the end, we decided to try without. (Anyway, it was hard to get an anaesthetist on CNY eve, and the hubby wasn't registered with the private hospitals, so he couldn't give me one!)

The pitocin went in at about 3 am, and the contractions started to intensify. Initially, it was bearable, since there was still a three minute interval between the contractions, and the hubby helped me along by trying to get me to do some deep breathing. Half an hour went past. The frequency and intensity of the contractions increased, and everything just went hazy from the pain. Suddenly, at some point in timed I could feel the baby coming down, and was gasping for the hubby to tell the nurse. They did a check, realized I was at 9 cm, and dashed to call my gynae. 

Along the way, I think I started to scream. The hubby helped to hold the gas mask over my face, while I was grabbing at the side railing of the bed, and trying not to wretch his arm off from the pain. The entonox made me feel like I was floating outside my body, and while I still felt all the pain, the dissociation seemed to help. At times, I could hear the screaming, and I was wondering "who is this crazy woman screaming?", only to vaguely realize, hey, that's me! 

So my gynae arrived while I was screaming away (thankfully the hubby had clamped the mask firmly over my mouth, or I think I would have screamed the whole place down!), and I heard her distant voice through the haze of it all, to stop screaming and start pushing. I think I did try to push (while screaming in between), and after a few half-hearted pushes, Baby J suddenly slid out, and started wailing. It was slightly after 4 am, so the whole process took about an hour. This little girl is our Chinese New Year present, and she was the second baby to arrive on CNY for the hospital. :)

It was quite the experience giving birth without an epidural, since I had opted for one during the births of all three boys (you can read Junior J's birth story here, and Lil J's here). While I experienced breakthrough pain during Junior J's delivery, I had a second epidural, so I was still numb when he came out. This time though, I could feel everything, from Baby J sliding out, the afterbirth, and the stitching. I'm just glad that the whole process was pretty quick, and going without the epidural meant that I got back on my feet faster after the delivery. 

Anyway, hello baby! We're so glad you're finally here!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cooking Casebook: How to cook everyday for family

We have home-cooked food for most of our meals these days, and I've gotten used to cooking everyday for the family. However, I must admit that I am not a good cook, and after we got married the hubby did more of the cooking than I did! All I was able to manage previously was spaghetti bolognese and porridge, and it was only when the kids came along, was I "forced" to learn how to cook.

Fast-forward to today. The hubby says that I've grown to be a much better cook, and I'm still cooking almost every day even while heavily pregnant. Cooking has become even more a necessity in our home these days, since we have two kids with food allergies (you can read our tips for managing allergies here), and one really fussy eater who takes ages to eat if he doesn't like what is on his plate. Most of us in the family are sensitive to the MSG (monosodium glutamate) that is usually added to food that is cooked outside of the home, and we find that MSG-laden meals tend to affect the quality of the kids' sleep. We also have one kid who very much prefers Western food, while another loves his rice and soup. So being able to cook and plan for meals that suits everyone (including a toddler that is occasionally teething!) makes more sense compared to catering our meals, or eating out frequently.

We've had well-meaning friends and family who have encouraged us to cater our meals during this period of time, since cooking at a hot stove while sporting a big belly isn't a walk in the park. We did try catering our meals when I was pregnant with Lil J, such that I only needed to cook small portions of food for Junior J when he was a toddler. However, given that we need to feed three kids now, doing our own cooking just makes more sense, and really helps us to save too!

I've had friends ask for tips, so I thought I'd share what helps us to manage everyday cooking:

:: Plan your meals: 
If you want to cook every day, you must spend some time a week (or every fortnight/month) meal planning. This planning is CRUCIAL if you want to cook everyday. The time spent planning meals actually saves you time, since it means you can grocery shop once a week, and more or less get all the ingredients you need at one shot, instead of having to make four or five trips to the market or supermarket. (But sometimes we do a quick trip to the market mid-week if I want to get veggies that don't stay fresh for long in the fridge.) Meal-planning also helps you to save money, since you only buy what you need. I usually do my meal plan at the start of the weekend when I have more time to sit down to think, and I email the list to the hubby since he does the supermarket run (but I'm hoping to make the switch to Google Sheets in time to come). Meal-planning will take longer when you first start with it, but it does get faster and easier as you go along. There are even apps to help you in your menu planning!

:: Think SETS when planning meals:
There are four aspects that I consider when doing my weekly plan:

  • Schedule: I refer to our family schedule of activities when planning meals. I slot in quick and easy recipes for busy days, and more complicated meals on weekends when I have more time to cook. Planning this way also means I know when I need to start meal preparation, such that I remember to start crockpot dinners after lunch, and start defrosting food at suitable times. Some working mums do their meal-prep on Sundays, and actually cook portions of their meals, then freeze them to use across the week.
  • Expiry dates: I try to check the fridge and larder for food that I need to use up. This way, you reduce wastage.
  • Themes: This is what some recommend, to have a theme going through the weeks (eg. pork on Mondays, chicken on Tuesdays, OR crockpot meals on Thursdays, and oven-baked on Fridays, etc). We don't exactly follow this, but I try to vary the meals and ingredients used across the week. Having a theme might help, since there is a predictable rhythm, and meal planning would get easier as you get used to this standard cycling of recipes.
  • Simple:  Keep the meals as simple as possible, especially when you are first starting out. No five course dinners please! The best recipes are those that take less than 30 minutes of preparation. I tend to favour one-pot meals (less washing up) and crockpot meals (dump and cook).

:: Bookmark and try new recipes when you can:
To avoid getting myself into a rut and cooking the same ten dishes all the time, I try (very hard) to attempt a new recipe every week if I can manage. I usually bookmark interesting recipes that I spot being shared on FB, or I search for recipes of meals that I feel like eating (which gives me motivation to cook that meal!). I usually note down recipes that the family likes, and recipes that are simple and quick. These I bookmark and sort according to type, so that I can pull them out easily during my meal-planning process (we'll be sharing some of our favs soon in another post!).

:: Cook double, and freeze the extras:
I usually cook our dinners from scratch, and then I freeze the extra portions of soups/pasta sauces/meats for our lunches. Our mornings tend to be busier, so I need lunch prep to be fast. Usually I would just heat up a frozen portion of pasta sauce or soup, and then cook noodles/rice/pasta for lunch. This way, we get home-cooked food for lunch, at double-quick time! I also freeze small single portions for the toddler, for the times we are headed out to eat. (Click here for our list of freezer-friendly beef recipes!)

:: Organize the freezer:
We used to just shove all our meats into the freezer drawer, and all the packets were lumpy and oddly shaped. These days, I try to spend a little time packing all the meat packs so that they are as flat and uniform as possible (works very well with minced meat!), and this means I can store more, and reduces the frequency of our market runs (we usually prefer to buy our meat from the wet market compared to the supermarket, for various reasons). I also sort our meats so that I can easily identify them (they tend to all look the same after you've frozen them). 

Cooked food is stored in freezer-ware and labelled before it is stored, and the date (of cooking) is included. I occasionally clear the freezer of older batches of frozen food, so having the dates written is helpful!

:: Use the slow-cooker or crockpot:
Our crockpot has been such a life-saver these days, since it can be left to cook without you having to be around, and we can head out in the evenings and still have dinner on the table after we get back. These days, I've been using it frequently to cook pasta sauces, meats and soups.

:: Outsource if needed, and get your groceries delivered:
We usually do a weekly grocery run. Sometimes though, we find it easier to get our produce delivered instead, such as if everyone is sick or it is hard to head out (like during that period with the haze). So far, we've ordered meats, vegetables and fruit from PurelyFresh, and we've been quite impressed with their service (though of course, shopping online would be a tad more expensive compared to shopping at the wet market). Some friends we know order their fruits from Lazyfruits and their fish from Song Fish. Others have tried shopping online at RedMart or Honest Bee (we've yet to try the former, and the latter seems to have issues with delivery when they run their promotions, so we never got to make our orders). Finally, many of our local supermarkets also provide online shopping, such as NTUC, Giant, Cold Storage and Sheng Siong, and you can get a list of other alternatives here

I must say that initially, I found it hard to cook everyday. However, it got easier with practice, and these days we get to eat a whole range of meals in the comfort of our home, from steaming hot pho to sizzling steaks. If you are just starting out, know that you would need time to get the hang of it, but it is possible, and you don't need a helper to be able to cook everyday. It is worth the effort since you know that your family is eating well, and you are actually saving money along the way! 

PS: To read more about our adventures in the kitchen, as well as some of the recipes that work for us, click here

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I keep blogging

Recently, a friend of mine decided to shut down her blog, and take herself off social media, deleting both her FB and Instagram accounts. It came as quite a shock, since her blog was a well-loved and popular one. This, plus some recent discussions with some other mummy bloggers about our purpose for blogging, has led me to think hard about the future of this blog. 

Why do we blog? For many parent bloggers, we start off wanting to chronicle the fleeting moments of our children's growing up years. Some start blogging because they want to write about a topic they are passionate about, like travelling or cooking. In most cases, the aspect of advertorials and sponsorships creep in. I think many of us parent bloggers start when our children are pretty young, and there is lots to write about with regards to activities, things to do, and places to visit. Then comes the question of privacy and security issues: What is ok to share online? Are we compromising on our children's safety by sharing about the things we do? Some mummy bloggers have shared that it is because of these issues, that they have decided to go the route of posting mainly advertorials and reviews on their blogs, and many parenting blogs these days are penned in the style of lifestyle blogs. 

So what about this blog? I have been thinking really hard about it.

I know this blog is here to stay, at least for awhile more, simply because I love to write. I've enjoyed the process of putting thoughts into words, and pen to paper, since I was really little. When I was in Secondary School, we were asked to write journal entries as homework, and that was one exercise I simply loved, along with writing compositions. (I recently found some of those journals when packing the house, along with stories that me and my friend wrote together, which had titles like "Hamsters in Singa-paw", and "Caverly Hills 90210". Those really made me smile!)

Perhaps it's because I am an introvert who finds it hard to express myself verbally, or maybe it's because I find myself being blessed by the writing of others. Whatever the case, I find that there is power in the written word: you can weave stories and change them as and when you pleased, you can create entire worlds by penning paragraphs down, you can encourage and uplift others from what you write. 

So it is this love of writing that keeps this blog going. I'll have to be mindful of what I share and post publicly, because I have to respect the privacy of my children, so as time progresses, you'll find that we'll be sharing less and less personal details about our kids. However, I still hope to be real and authentic in this space, so I plan to continue to blog about some of our struggles as parents. Parenting is tough, and staying home with the kids is exhausting, and these are the very real things that I want to write about. Many of you have written in to tell me about how you are encouraged by the posts here and on FB, and that encourages me so much. 

Also, I've realized that through this blog, we can be an alternative voice. I want to continue to encourage the value of free play instead of cramming our kids with activities and enrichment, and share with parents how you can let your children explore art and learning at home. We also hope to be able to give you a glimpse into our lives homeschooling in Singapore, which I hope encourages others that it is do-able, and dispel various myths about what homeschooling entails (like subject-filled timetables and lonely kids facing their books at home all day).

I've written about our stand about minimizing the commercial aspect of blogging before. While I see no harm in taking up sponsorships and review opportunities that are in line with our values and needs, I am still trying to be discerning and selective about what I say yes to. I admit that the fear of missing out still lurks in the corner of my heart, when I see some bloggers getting sponsorship after sponsorship, and running giveaways that boost their likes and following. However, I keep reminding myself that I need to "eliminate to concentrate", and I do not want to get side-tracked into doing more "commercial" writing for the wrong reasons. 

This blog has branched off, with the FB page as well as Instagram. Those are the two areas that I plan to keep on going too, since FB allows me to quickly share inspiration: from encouraging articles, to helpful tips and inspirational posts. I love browsing through photos and taking pictures, so IG for me is another way of writing our story, where we freeze our moments in little squares. However, I admit that keeping on track with all the conversations in the comments section for these three aspects (as well as email and PMs!) is one area that I struggle with, so please be patient as I try to get back to you when you drop me a note. 

With baby #4 almost here and our impending move, I foresee that the blog will be quieter this year. However, please stick around ok? I promise I'll keep writing, and I'll continue to be real in this space!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Homeschool: The first month

The first month of 2016 is almost done, and we're two weeks away to Baby #4's EDD! I admit I don't feel ready for her arrival, even though this is our fourth child. Perhaps it's because we have so much going on right now at home: homeschool, the new house, decluttering, and dealing with all those heart issues for our little boys. It has been quite a tough month, with everyone falling sick, but I know God has been gently leading us through. 

I did mention we might be moving in a few months time, but didn't really elaborate since everything was still in the works. We're excited to share that we've sold off our place, and we managed to find a house that suits all our needs. We had to apply for approval to purchase the place, as hubby is only a permanent resident here, and after three over weeks of nail-biting waiting, we've received news that our application is successful. Thank God! It means the next few months will be a rather hectic period of more decluttering, packing and settling renovations, but I am so thankful that we will have a larger space for the kids to grow into. Homeschooling in our current place has been a tad challenging, since the boys sometimes are bouncing off the walls, and need space to spread out. That aside, the move would really force me to tidy and declutter, which is something we really need to do!

Homeschooling has been going on at a slow but steady pace. Most are surprised when they find out that Junior J only gets about one to two hours of sit-down lessons a day, and that the younger two don't really get lessons at all! However, that's all I think I can manage each day, since there's also the household chores and cooking to be done, and Junior J isn't able to sit down for so long. We aim for short lessons, and we've been working on Chinese, Math and Science. Chinese has been the biggest challenge, so right now it has just been a lot of reading aloud to him, and trying to get him conversant in the language. For Math, we've been using some of the MOE curricula as well as Math U See. Science has been a matter of winging it for now, and I hope to have something more structured planned soon. The younger two love sitting in for Junior J's lessons, and have been listening to the Chinese stories too! Sometimes, they disrupt our lessons, but these days I try to keep them busy with some simple activities too. Junior J usually spends most of his free time either playing with his brothers, working on one of his own projects (these days it's drawing all sorts of things), or reading. I love how homeschool gives him time and room to explore his own interests!

Home lessons aside, we are still attending a Chinese co-op as well swim class, and Junior J is currently learning how to play the cello. It's been getting harder to bring the kids out, since baby #4 is getting lower and heavier, but I'm taking it week by week. 

Lil J has been the one that has been surprising me these days. He is quite the independent learner, and hasn't been keen on anything structured. I've kept an eye out for sensitive periods, and lately he's been showing an interest in writing alphabets. However, worksheets and activities don't work, since I tried printing alphabet writing worksheets for him, only to have him draw monsters on them and then run away! While he doesn't seem to be getting any structured lessons, I know he's actively learning each day. I've been giving him lots of half-used papers to draw on and plenty of art material, and he busies himself with writing, drawing, and cutting, all on his own accord. It generates a mess most days, and some would tsk tsk at how he's not doing any "proper" work at all... but thus far it has been working for him, so I am happy to leave him to it. I've learnt that learning really takes place all the time, and sometimes we just need to provide them with the resources, and nudge them along when we spot sensitive periods when they seem ready to pick up a certain skill. 

Baby J has been quite happy to potter about, and joins his brothers for some of the activities that we try. These days the kids have been enjoying the stories by Julia Donaldson (we have been listening to her stories and songs in the car), and Baby J has been quite fascinated with the Gruffalo. The folks over at Kidsfest sent over these DIY Gruffalo puppets, and the three of them had so much fun making them! Now Junior J is asking if we can make more puppets for the rest of the characters in the Gruffalo, and is hoping that they can use the puppets to put up a Gruffalo show. I love the idea, and I think we'll be doing that soon! 

I think one of the areas we've not explored much is the aspect of drama and theatre, and I've noticed the boys love play-acting and putting up "shows" these days. I'm hoping to include this aspect more, and this current season of Kidsfest couldn't be more timely. This year, Kidsfest would be bringing to life six different children's stories (the Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, Snow Child, I Believe in Unicorns, Aliens Love Underpants and Little Red Riding Hood), and we're looking forward to watching Snow Child with the older two soon. (You can read more about the shows over at this post.) I am hoping that I don't pop before that!

I'm sort of glad to see the end of January... but now, time to prepare for Baby #4's arrival! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

What do you line your nest with?

Children are burdens.

"They cost a lot to bring up. They leave you with almost no time to yourself, and you don't get much of a life, unless you are able to get help to watch them. Don't have more than one or two kids, since they'll suck you dry. How do you think you're going to cope with four and homeschool? Much better to just pack them off to school."

I have been struggling through the week. As I stumbled through each day, with sick me and sick kids who pick at their food, with juggling sorting out house buy/sell matters and having bankers over to sign this or that, with homeschooling distracted little boys and wrestling with chores, with power struggles of a strong-willed child... these little voices, ingrained in my head by well-intentioned friends and family, kept nagging at me.

I have been losing my temper a lot this week. There are so many messes, messes that no one bothers to pick up except me, the one who can't bend over because I am 36 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy hormones are raging, the children keep fighting over tiny things and refuse to give in. The nagging little voices continue in my head.

And yesterday, after another power struggle with a strong-willed child, I snapped. I wondered if those voices were right. Why do I even bother?

I texted a friend to pray for me. I paused to think about the past two weeks. Weeks that have been exhausting, because we've been settling house matters, while caring for sick kids that keep us up at night. Weeks that have seen more than their usual share of messes, because of kids throwing up. Weeks that have forced us to our knees to pray because so many things are beyond our control.

Then I happened to read about drudgery:

"But the messes and the crying children and the electricity problems are just the individual puzzle pieces... When I step back, I see that the cooking and the homework and the messes are part of the much more glorious picture of what God is doing in our family." 

And I was reminded about a post I read about mother ducks lining their nests with feathers, plucked from themselves. Not leftover feathers that have been shed, not scavenged materials from the ground. But feathers, pulled from their own bodies.

"But it’s those words that mesmerize me: “Mother ducks pick feathers from their chests, to line their nests.” 

I lay my hand on the page, on a duck breast puffed, mother plunging beak in deep, and I say it out loud: “How else did you think nests were lined?” 

 With leftovers. 

That’s what I thought. 

With feathers discarded, the molted, the not-so-necessary feathers. I thought mother ducks picked feathers up from what was laying about, scraps, lining nests with what simply could be mustered after the fact. 

But no. No, a mother duck plucks each feather out from the heart of her bosom. She lines the nest with bits of herself — the best of herself."

And I realized that I really needed to pray. To guard my heart against bitterness and resentment. To find joy in the journey, to enjoy the littleness and messiness of my children, to find meaning in staying home and caring for the kids. Some days are harder than others, and our work is never finished, but God's grace never runs dry.

This screwtape letter came at such an apt moment (I shared it on the FB page and I know many of you identified!):

"Along those lines, be sure the Mother starts to value productivity above everything else. Have her wake up early and work non-stop until bedtime. If the husband relaxes in the evening with an hour of computer gaming, be sure the wife notices the pile of unfolded laundry or unswept floors. Do not let her grab a book and relax alongside her husband. Diligence, often one of the Enemy’s virtues, when overdone can be used to our advantage as well. Convince her that as long as there is a shred of work to be done (and there always is), no one should be resting. Then, as she folds and sweeps and he sits, you can introduce the sweet bitterness of resentment. 

... Now, onto the children. Lovely little opportunities for us, the children, especially the little ones. We all know that children are a favorite tool of the Enemy. He calls them Blessings and Gifts and calls parents to lay down their lives for them, just as his Son did. Insane, I know. We must convince her that the obnoxious little people she has charge of are not really worth her sacrifice. When the Mother first dreamed of having children, she probably imagined large, innocent eyes and chubby, happy grins taking up the majority of her days. 

Do your best to shatter those expectations. Instead, draw attention to how much they take from her. Let them take and take and take… And need and need and need, until the Mother feels totally spent. Let them start crying at the same time for the most irrational of reasons. Let the noise bother her. Let their bad behavior surprise her. Do your best to make the day-to-day monotony of diaper changes, meals, and baths seem simultaneously overwhelming and beneath her. Let her think of all the better, more important things she could be doing with her life, if only she didn’t have the children."

Reading this whole letter helped to silence those little voices in my head. It helped me to focus beyond our current struggles and our present messes, and reminded me that motherhood is a sacrifice that is worth making.

So I'm back to doing the next thing, and trying to focus on the things that really matter. And praying that I can joyfully line our nest with more of me, because that is what mother ducks are made to do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Play: Building with Miclik

We love building toys, and most of the toys we have at home are those that you build with, such as Lego, building blocks, K'nex and Plus-plus. The boys enjoy constructing various things, and these are the toys that keep them occupied for a relatively long period of time, and satisfy their need to fiddle and tinker with stuff. It's always interesting to see how the kids use these to build all sorts of structures, from houses, to boats, to imaginary machines!

Recently, the folks over at Explorer Junior contacted us to see if we were keen to try out Miclik, another building toy. Thus far, most building toys we've used usually come with a variety of parts (think Lego and K'nex). However, Miclik only provides one kind of connector for building (similar to Plus-Plus), which means that children would have to be more creative in how they use the connectors during the construction process. 

Each box of Miclik comes with 48 connectors in four different colours. The plastic connectors were very well made, with no sharp seams that can cut little hands. 

Each box of connectors comes with a small instruction booklet, that has a few photos of things you could build, as well as some step-by-step instructions. However, there isn't much in the booklet, so it's really up to the kids to how they want to use these connectors!

While the connectors are the same, they hold a fair bit of construction potential. There are six holes at the back of each connector, so you can attach pieces and turn them at an angle. Because each connector can be bent in the middle, it means you can build 3D round structures, or parts that can fold. However, this also means that kids must figure out how to attach the connectors together such that they stay straight or bend, depending on what they want to build. 

The connectors are large enough to be safe for the younger ones, since they are too big to be swallowed. Toddlers might find the pieces tricky to affix together, but Baby J enjoyed building with them, since he figured out a way to just stack the pieces without having to click the connectors together! 

Initially, the boys were a little stuck when it came to playing with Miclik, and they only tried making swords following the pictures in the instruction booklet. Junior J could build his with ease, while Lil J found that his sword flopped as he didn't know how to alternate the pieces to ensure they did not bend. 

However, after some fiddling, they decided to make a birthday cake. After the "cake" was made, they encountered some difficulty with attaching candles, which was solved by Baby J who just slotted the pieces on top! So they got busy with slotting pieces to making wobbly candles... 

... and then Junior J decided he would make a "lighter", and proceeded to "light" the candles by transferring a yellow connector from his lighter to each candle. What followed was a lot of jostling to blow out the candles. :) It was really interesting, seeing how they worked together to figure everything out!

As a building toy, I think Miclik holds a fair bit of potential, but is more suitable for the older kids, as we found that the connectors sometimes don't hold very well and require some adjusting (especially when building structures that require the connectors to be bent). However, Miclik would also be a good toy in a family with mixed ages, since there are no small parts that can be a hazard to the little ones! 

Thank you, Explorer Junior, for letting us try out Miclik! It really came at a great time, since the boys have been stuck home sick, and these have been keeping them busy. 

For more information on Miclik, please hop over to the Explorer Junior website, and do like their FB page to be kept updated on promotions. 


Explorer Junior is kindly giving away one set of Miclik each to two readers of this blog! Please follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter in the giveaway. For more chances to win a set, you can also hop over to their FB page to take part in another contest here, with three sets to be won!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We were sponsored Miclik sets for purpose of the review. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Junior J's 7th

We celebrated Junior J turning seven over the weekend with a small party. We had decided to throw the party on an earlier date, so that his Godmother could attend, and I was also worried that baby might come along anytime soon! 

This turned out to be the simplest parties we've ever thrown for the kids. For those who have been following this blog for awhile, you know how we do parties: DIY decor, handmade party packs, simple games, and hearty fare. We like things simple, but the crafter in me cannot resist throwing in some decorations and DIY projects, but it's always done on a shoestring budget. I've shared about how we've learnt that parties are not just about celebrating someone turning a year older, but also about thanking our loved ones for being with us for this journey of witnessing our children growing up. 

This time round though, I was just too exhausted from the pregnancy and everything that was going on, so I had a chat with Junior J and told him that we would not be doing much in terms of decorations for his party. I felt terrible, since Junior J loves planning for parties, and has been my main helper for preparing for them, from making a bus for his brother's party to packing party packs. The boy was slightly disappointed, but sweetly told me it was ok. But he did ask if we could have party packs for his friends, to thank them for coming.

Of course I said yes to that! The boy had requested for an animal theme this round, and asked me to ask his friends' parents about their kids' favourite animals. We bought kraft shopping bags from Daiso, and he drew the animals on each paper bag, and filled each with some snacks as well as a set of oil pastels. He wasn't too sure about drawing some of the animals, so we googled for step-by-step instructions for some of them, which he followed. 

Aside from the party packs, he had one more request. Or rather, it came out as a question: "Will you decorate the blackboard wall for the party, Mama?"

And so I did.

I've been doing these blackboard birthday greetings for the past two years, ever since we painted the wall in our entryway with chalkboard paint. Little did I know how much the kids enjoyed this little gesture, of waking up and seeing birthday greetings scrawled across the wall for their party! I guess it's really these little things that matter. 

Unfortunately though, Lil J fell pretty sick the day before the party. The older two had been a little under the weather for the past few days, and Lil J suddenly worsened the night before, and was coughing and wheezing. Our hands were tied: we had ordered two large platters of sushi from Sakuraya, and we had already collected the birthday cake from Cedele. We couldn't postpone the party to the next weekend as the hubby couldn't make it, and I was worried about baby's arrival too. 

We texted our friends to inform them. One couple had a young baby, so we regretfully told them it would be safer to stay home for baby's sake. Another couple were a little worried, but did not want to disappoint the birthday boy, so they gamely said they would bring the kids. The other adults all said they would still come. We decided the best option was to ask the kids to wear masks, and our friends got their kids to agree to wear masks and make it a game so that no one would feel strange. Even Baby J asked to wear a mask, after he saw everyone wearing masks! 

My heart was so so full the day of the party. It was a smaller turn-out, but to see all our friends coming down to celebrate with Junior J, despite the possibility that they might catch a bug... that reminded me again about why we throw parties. It's about the people, and not how pretty the cake is. It's about meeting together to celebrate, and not about how nice the decorations are. (So for those who came, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't tell you how much it meant to this little boy!)

So we didn't have games. But the kids were kept busy learning how to fold and fly paper aeroplanes (thanks to Junior J's Godfather). And they happily played together, never mind that they had to wear masks. Junior J learnt that day to be a good host. He had to serve drinks and look out for his little guests, and also learnt how he sometimes had to give in, so that everyone could feel included during playtime. I was very proud of him that day. I was also very thankful for my parents, who helped to watch out for the younger kids so that we could chat with our friends. 

We had a simple spread of sushi, fishballs and nuggets, all requested by the birthday boy. The hubby, though having a splitting headache, went out before the party to collect everything, and I was thankful for a hands-on Papa like him. Junior J got the chocolate cake he wanted too (which he reminded me had to be eggless so that his brothers could share in it too), and I made a little Perler dinosaur topper to decorate the cake. This boy has always been making Perler bead creations for his brothers, but they are too young to make any for him, so I thought I'd do one just for him for a change!

There were no other decorations this time round. No streamers, not birthday bunting, and we didn't even hang up balloons, but let the kids run wild with them. But all in all, it was how birthday parties should be: about family and friends, gathering to feast and celebrate together. Happy birthday in advance, my dearest boy!

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016: The first week of homeschool

We started off 2016 feeling rather weary. I was doing a fair bit of solo-parenting, as the hubby was on call on the last day of 2015, and just before that had driven up to KL at attend a relative's funeral. We were quite stressed regarding house hunting and all, and I really wanted to ease slowly into the new year. 

So we spent the first day of the year quietly, spending it running around in the park, letting the kids do what they love best: exploring and enjoying nature. I love times like this, when we don't have an agenda, when we don't have to rush to some appointment, when all we have is the company of loved ones.

I had such mixed feelings on the first day of school. My Facebook feed was flooded with photos of my friends' children, all dressed in new uniforms, ready for a new phase of life in Primary One. Everyone was talking about time: how they had to wake up at crazy early hours, how time flew past so quickly that now their babies are all grown up and are going to school. I wondered if my kids were missing out, because of our choice to homeschool. Reading "first day of school" posts in the homeschool group helped somewhat, since everyone was doing such different things, from waking up late, to puzzles or caring for febrile kids. I was reminded that while our journeys look very different from families who do not homeschool, we parents are all the same: wanting the best for our kids, excited about the opportunities ahead, yet worried about how things will turn out. I had that same sense of pride, as I looked at my scruffy-haired six year old (he was the only kid without a new haircut in his Sunday School class!) as he struggled through breakfast. They do grow up so fast.

We let Junior J choose where he wanted to go for his first day of school, and he chose the S.E.A. Aquarium. The hubby was off that day, so we made a trip down. Everyone was rather tired and grumpy initially (there were no happy first day of school smiles that morning!), and we were exhausted from caring for a feverish Baby J, who had a fever the night before due to his MMRV. But the kids did enjoy the trip, and I was reminded about why we homeschool.

The first week of homeschool has past, and I'm making it a point to ease ourselves slowly into a workable routine. Nothing ambitious, just short lessons, since we have to factor in a newborn in a couple of weeks time, followed by a possible move in a few months time. For now, we are just focusing on reading more Chinese, working on Math, and teaching Lil J to read. I know it doesn't sound very exciting, but I'm heartened by the fact that we've managed to keep this up for the past few days, and Junior J has said that he will read to Lil J in Chinese when he has learnt how to. This, coming from the boy who hasn't been keen on the language!

I've been reminded, after a few challenging days with the kids, that all I need to do is the next thing. I keep telling myself that we can't have it all, and I just need to focus on what is important. Let's see how next week goes! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lessons from an Autumn Leaf butterfly

Some time ago, the boys and I went down to the park to meet some co-op mates for lunch. On our way there, Lil J spotted a caterpillar wandering on the bicycle path, and scooped it to safety. We went to the nearby restaurant where we were supposed to have lunch, and asked if they could spare us a plastic container, and we ended up placing Mr Caterpillar into the box. 

The caterpillar generated a fair bit of excitement, and one of the mummies mentioned that she spotted a whole lot more of them. Turned out she was right: there was a caterpillar infestation on a stand of bushes, and there were probably a hundred of these black, wriggly fellows crawling everywhere! Many had actually wandered off (I've read that caterpillars sometimes start wandering and leave their host plant just before pupation, as they don't usually pupate on their host plant.), and a fair number of them had been run over on the bike path next to the bush. We figured it would be ok to catch another fellow, since there were so many and they had eaten the bush almost bare, and another (very brave) mum helped us to catch it. There were so many, that quite a few of the leaves that we plucked off the bush actually had small caterpillars on them! (That lead to a fair bit of screaming, but those caterpillars got returned back, and we only chose the large ones, since that would mean a shorter time for pupation.)

The boys were really excited about their caterpillars, and named them Wriggly and Squirmy. One mum managed to identify the caterpillars as those of the Autumn Leaf butterfly (this page was really informative). Both caterpillars seemed to be doing pretty well the first few days. However, we forgot to place branches inside our container, and poor Wriggly decided to pupate on the floor of the container, and only managed to pupate half-way before stopping. We hurriedly transferred Squirmy to a larger tank, gave him some branches, and he seemed quite happy for a few days. 

However, we ran out of food. I read that caterpillars can be really fussy about food, only choosing fresh leaves, and they may starve themselves rather than eat other types of leaves. Those leaves we had brought back from the park had already wilted, and we were unsuccessful in our hunt for suitable plants to feed them (as listed here), even though the boys went searching every day. 

It was a really busy period for us, so we didn't manage to make it back to the same park until a few days later. We decided to bring back two more caterpillars with us, along with fresh leaves for Squirmy, only to find Squirmy dead from hunger when we got back. 

The boys were upset. However, with those lessons learnt, we were able to better take care of the two new caterpillars, which they named Creepy and Crawly. We had brought back a whole lot more leaves this round, and kept some of the leaves separately with their stems in water, to ensure there was always a fresh supply of food. 

Creepy pupated about a week ago, and the boys were really excited to see him hanging upside down in preparation for the process. However, he didn't seem to finish the pupation process, and there was a section above the chrysalis that remained as a caterpillar. We were disappointed, as we thought he was a goner! However, we left him as he is, since Crawly was still in the tank. 

We continued feeding Crawly fresh leaves, and he pupated a few days back. This time, we finally had a complete chrysalis. We left the tank alone after that, since pupation takes approximately a week. Imagine our surprise when yesterday morning, I spotted some movement and discovered that Creepy had emerged from his chrysalis!

Everyone was really, really excited. I had tried researching on what happens if caterpillars do not seem to finish their pupation process, and had come up with nothing, so I didn't have much hope that Creepy would make it. But there he was, a perfect Autumn leaf butterfly, gingerly fanning his wings while clinging onto the tank. 

After about half a day, Creepy started flying around in the tank, so we brought him down to release him. I was so worried he would knock Crawly down!

I think the process of metamorphosis is such an amazing one: how a rather ugly-looking squirmy creature wraps himself up, then proceeds to turn into enzymatic mush, which then re-organizes itself into a delicate creature with wings. Seeing it happen before our very eyes made us appreciate it even better. Being surprised with the transformation, which we thought would never happen in Creepy's case was the best part though. It reminded me of how God works in all things. Even though sometimes we think things are hopeless, when we think that change is impossible... with Him all things are possible. It gave me hope, to keep trusting in Him. It reminded me that while sometimes bringing up our children with their quirks, tempers and bad habits can be challenging, we should keep hoping in God to bring about change, though we cannot see how change can happen. 


On a more practical note, here are some tips if you'd like to keep some caterpillars to observe their life-cycle:

1. Try to identify the caterpillars, and collect those that are larger, and at a more advanced larval stage. Those caterpillars we collected were at their 5th and final instar larval stage, and usually pupate in a few days. This means you'll have to feed them for a shorter period of time, and the larger ones tend to be hardier. 

2. Caterpillars may be wandering away from their host plant just prior to pupation, but it would be good to collect caterpillars which are still feeding, so that you can identify their host plants. Ensure you have a fresh supply of leaves. Collect some leaves that are still attached to their stems and keep those on water. Crawly ate almost one leaf a day, and rejected any that were wilted. 

3. Have branches for them to crawl on, and ensure that the container has sufficient space for the butterfly to emerge and spread its wings. 

4. If you're using a regular food container, ensure the holes you poke in the container do not have sharp edges, which can scratch the caterpillar. The best is to cut a hole in the cover and use a gauze to cover the hole. 

5. These were the resources we enjoyed while learning about the life-cycle of butterflies:
- Autumn Leaf Butterfly (Youtube video of the different stages of the Autumn leaf butterfly)
- Autumn Leaf Butterfly Eclosure (Youtube video of the emerging of the butterfly from it's chrysalis)
- Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly (Youtube video of the stages of the Monarch butterfly)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hello 2016!

2016 is here! This month is looking to be rather hectic, since we are in the process of settling some buying/selling house matters. It's taken up a fair bit of time, with house-hunting, and people coming to view our place. While I don't like starting the new year in such a busy mode, I guess it can't be helped. However, I hope everything will be sorted out and settled soon, and I'll share more here when the time is right.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to focus on what we were trying to do last year: pruning. I guess that while my one little word for the year is "grow", pruning would still be a necessary process to allow growth to occur. January would be spent decluttering to prepare for CNY, the arrival of baby J, as well as a possible move in the middle of the year. That aside, I'm trying to also get our engines going for homeschool, so I desperately need the time to focus. As such, things might be a little quieter on the blog, and I admit I don't really have big plans for this space for the next few months, save to share more about how homeschooling and decluttering is going. Meanwhile, you'll probably be able to get more updates over on our FB page and IG account.

Anyway, here's to a blessed year ahead!


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