Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: When we journey a little, without you

We have always travelled with the boys. We didn't have the option of leaving the kids with our parents during our year in Germany, since we were on our own. This was the year we travelled to different countries in Europe, and of course, the boys came along too. That aside, we never considered leaving the kids behind whenever we went on a trip. They always came along, despite all the additional baggage and diapers we had to lug along with us.

When we arrived at our home in Germany, tired and laden with lots and lots of baggage.

Going overseas with little ones really makes you change your perceptions and ideals of travel. A good day is one where you get to do a little sight-seeing, without having to step out of a museum because someone was throwing a tantrum. Most times, we aim to try local cuisine. However, you don't really get to savour the flavours, because you have one or two mouths to feed, or a baby to nurse or rock to sleep. I remember the time Junior J threw a massive tantrum after dinner at a cafe, and I had to literally drag him out while the other Parisans gaped at this (supposedly tiger) mum dealing with her badly behaved son. 

Shopping is tough, because you spend more time preventing little hands from breaking something, than really looking at stuff to buy. Some days, you blunder through a museum with a toddler, trying to take it all in, while pushing a pram and digging in your bag for something that some kid needs. You learn to nurse the baby anywhere: in the car, on a bench in the park, at a seat in the museum, while you try to avoid the eyes of both the security guard as well as the general in the painting in front of you. You collapse into your hotel bed at the end of the day, shoulders aching from carrying a baby the whole day, your mind exhausted from all the parenting you had to do while travelling. 

Yet, we still choose to travel with them. I guess it is because we like to journey as a family. And there are all these sweet, shared moments that are extra special simply because you are in a foreign land. I love seeing their delight in new experiences: the first time splashing at the beach after spending a long time being bundled up from the cold, spotting a real life okapi at the zoo, picking daisies and seeing garden after garden of tulips ablaze in every colour conceivable.  

And while mealtimes can be stressful affairs with hurriedly gulped lunches, there is also the fun in letting them try new dishes, and discovering their fondness for certain foods: Junior J for mussels (which he insists on only eating the female ones), Lil J for baguette, and both boys for fragrant ripe peaches (which they fight over). 

Happiness is also multiplied when shared: being able to see sculptures or paintings that we have only read of in books, sitting in a garden that has been painted onto canvases that grace the walls of museums, finding wild blackberries and trying them. 

So while I dread packing for trips, I love travelling with the kids. I can't imagine going overseas without them. I am so thankful for all the opportunities we've had to travel with them everywhere, from mission trips and exploring Europe, to visits back to Penang.

Recently, the hubby came home and told me he was supposed to attend a conference overseas. And he asked me to come along, but without the older boys (baby has to follow me, since he only latches direct and I am his walking milk source). 

My first instinct was to say no. While the hubby has travelled a few times alone for work, I have never been away from the kids except for the nights I was in hospital to give birth! How could I go without them? But we discussed, and talked to my parents, and I decided I would go along.  

So for the first time in my life as a mum, I will be travelling without the two older boys. I admit I am worried, especially with all the recent happenings, and I keep wondering if it is a good idea at all, since I probably would be spending most of the day in the apartment for baby J's naps. In the end, I talked to a good friend, who gently reminded me that our times are in God's hands, and there is nothing to fear.

So today, I am thankful. For the times we have explored the world as a family. For the times we could travel with the boys, tasting new foods, and being awed by God's wonderful creation. And I am thankful that when we take this trip without them, they would be in good hands, and we too would be in good hands, the loving hands of our Heavenly Father. 

Also, I am reminded that life is simple. We only need to focus on the time that is given to us, because everything else is beyond our control, and it makes no sense to worry about something we cannot do anything about:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"
- Matthew 6:25-27

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I,"said Gandalf," and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

So we journey on. And we keep praying. 

What are you thankful for today?

Mum in the Making

Monday, July 28, 2014

Weekend wanderings: The usual

We had one of those usual lovely ordinary weekends. The type that kicked off with the boys (and Mama) feeling really tired after a zoo trip. The kind of tiredness that keeps you asleep, even though your baby brother pounces on you. 

We had plenty of time for play. We met up with our cell group, and have a encouraging time of sharing and praying. We fellowshipped over lunch after church.

We fought meal-time battles with bento picks and prayers for patience.

We even got to do a little bit of home improvement and put up some pictures around the house, using all those removable velcro strips. You know, those type that require you to apply pressure on them for a really long time? Even the baby tried to help:

How was your weekend? I hope it was a lovely and blessed one too!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Chalk: Constellations

This week, we extended on the topic of outer space by looking at the stars. So we filled up our blackboard wall with constellations! Junior J initially insisted on adding only those with animal names, based on the "Zoo in the Sky" book we were reading (which is a great way to introduce constellations to kids). Then as we went along, we added other commonly known constellations like the Big and Little Dipper (we learnt that the Little Dipper was also known as the "Little Bear", while the Big Dipper was part of the Great Bear), as well as Orion. 

Aside from referring to "Zoo in the Sky", we also looked at "Find the Constellations" by H.A. Rey (if you think that sounds familiar, he's one of the authors of the original Curious George series). I really enjoyed reading the book: it manages to simplify the topic for children, yet covers throughly the main concepts of understanding the stars, from the stories behind their names, to discussing sky views and light years. If you only have time to read one book on the topic, this is the book. Do note: it is pretty wordy, but can be paraphrased for the younger children to understand, and kids would probably remember the constellations much better after looking at the drawings in the book. (Note: The links to the books are affiliate links, but at no extra cost to you!)

Constellations aside, it has been a pretty tiring week. Hubby has been working pretty late most nights. We had the mandatory visit from someone from the Residents' Committee, to find out why Junior J wasn't registered in a kindergarten yet. She came by at night when we had just finished dinner, and I wonder what she thought, since she tripped over books by the door (we were working on the blackboard and had left the books there), there were dinner dishes and piles of books on the dining table, books and toys scattered all over, and hubby was in the room trying to change a screaming baby into jammies. Thankfully though, the older two boys were busy at the table drawing and were kept out of mischief, and we quickly managed to finish filling in the forms to state that we were not intending to send Junior J to school. 

I guess I better start working harder at decluttering and organizing, since we'll be expecting a home visit next year when we apply for exemption from compulsory education. It does seem a little unreal sometimes, when I see everyone posting updates about Primary One registration and getting rather stressed or excited about it... and I realize that we will not be part of this exercise next year. That being said, it also gives me a sense of liberation!

PS: We will be updating our blackboard most weeks, so you can read all our blackboard related posts here

PPS: Thank you for all your support, and voting for us for the blog awards! I'd be honoured if you'd continue casting your votes for us, over at this site. :) Have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thinking aloud, and a thank you

I sat down just now, intending to write up a post on the books we read about the solar system. But there were so many thoughts churning around in my head I felt I just needed to think aloud over here:

:: Life at home has been pretty full. We've been managing our time a little better, and now we manage to squeeze in some English and Chinese reading each day. Lil J now asks to do Math when he sees his brother doing his lessons, so we've been practicing counting. The boys play pretty well together, and nowadays, the baby tries to join in the fun. Lil J isn't too happy with him drooling on the toy biscuits or grabbing his construction vehicles, but Junior J has been most happy to play with baby J. I love watching them hang around each other, and I am loving this noisy, messy reality which we call family.

:: The terrible twos have been quite a challenge. Gettting Lil J to nap these days usually takes time, and sometimes gets frustrating. But on days that he senses you are getting angry, he flashes his smile at you and tells you sweetly that he loves you. Also, the boys can also get up to all sorts of mischief, like finding my spray bottle and leaving large wet puddles of water everywhere, including on the piano. Home design these days has been less about aesthetics, and more about functionality. And about keeping everything that may be used to damage other things out of their reach. Like spray bottles, or permanent markers.

:: There are so many things I would like to do with the boys. And there are so many projects I would like to work on, and so many ideas I want to try out! These days I find that there seems to be more and more balls to juggle. I am reminded that I need to simplify, remember my priorities, and keep focused. So this season, we focus on getting our rhythm of learning going. And making our home and learning spaces work for us.

:: Getting into the finals of the Singapore Blog Awards has been such an eye-opener. Friends and family telling you they are voting and rooting for you. Learning that our little Thankful Tuesday linky helps to remind others to count their blessings. Having people write in to say they are encouraged, or wanting to know more about homeschooling.

For me, the past few weeks have already made me feel like a winner. For me, just knowing that these posts might make a tiny difference is all that matters when it comes to blogging.

So I really want to say thank you. For voting, for your encouragement, for just popping by to read or leave a line or two. All your kind words, your support, these matter and have blessed me so so much!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Grow where you're planted

Lately I have been dreaming a little. About how things might have been if I had the ability to pursue my dreams. Perhaps I'd be an interior designer. Or a writer of children's books. Or maybe I'd be scrapbooking for some company. Perhaps I'd be influential in people's lives.

Many see staying home to care for kids as the cessation of those dreams, which get replaced by the hum drum of everyday life, the never-ending cycle of dirty laundry and crying kids. I have been thinking hard about that, and I've realised that all these abilities that might have helped me to pursue my dreams... perhaps they were given for another reason, because God just knew what He was equipping me for. Perhaps our dreams can sometimes come true, in a way we least expect.

So now, instead of designing interiors for strangers, I get to decorate my own home, so that it fits the needs of my family. I do not publish books, but I get to hit "publish" almost every day, when I log in here to jot down my thoughts. While I don't get any time to scrap, we are still making many memories, which are captured in our hearts and minds.

While I am no longer teaching in a school, or inspiring others in any way... I am able to encourage others to rethink homeschooling, as ordinary me writes about our path less trodden. I am teaching little ones. We are enjoying our times learning and living.

So for the past few days, I've been rethinking what it is to live my dreams. Perhaps I've already been living them, just not in the way I've pictured them. And I am thankful for all that God has provided through these times. We are certainly blessed!

Mum in the Making

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Made: Toilet paper roll rockets

We've been learning more about outer space and the solar system, and we made ourselves some rockets! These are easy to make: 

1. Cut out circles in a toilet paper roll using a scissors. These don't need to be perfect circles! Get the kids to cover the outside with washi tape (ours were from 3M Scotch, as well as from Daiso), or they can also paint them. 

2. Print out photographs of the kids, cut them out and fit them inside the toilet roll, such that their faces can peek out of the windows. Secure the pictures using more washi tape.

3. Cut strips of crepe paper and glue/tape them down to the base of the rocket.

4. For the top of the rocket, cut out circles using construction paper, and cut out a "slice" from the circle. Bend the circle such that both straight edges meet, and stick the edges together using glue or tape. Stick the tops down to the rockets using more tape. 

And there you have it, your very own rocket to explore the universe! The boys especially love them because of the crepe paper streamers. Have fun if you try this!

PS: If you'd like to have a go at crafting with tape, you could try signing up for the family workshop organized by 3M Scotch, where the family can have fun together crafting with tapes:

 Scotch Make Amazing Workshop
Date: 2nd August, Saturday
Time: 2 sessions (1000-1200 or 1300-1500)
Cost: $20 per family (you will receive a starter kit of 3M products worth $40 to craft with)
Venue: Food for Thought @ National Museum

You can sign up here. Oh, and don't forget to join our giveaway for Scotch expressions tapes (and post-its)... the giveaway is ending soon!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Homeschool: Far from perfect

When we started homeschooling, I imagined neatly-lined bookshelves brimming with living books, organized timetables covering all topics, and happy children sitting at the table enthusiastic to learn. Who was I kidding?

These days, I consider it a good day if we manage to read one good book, and finish lessons with Junior J (we have finished learning phonics, and he now reads aloud from books, and learns a little Chinese in the afternoon. In the mornings, we do a little math using some Montessori manipulatives). I give myself a pat on the back if I manage to get dinner on the table on time, and the kids actually eat the meal without having to be scolded, chased or fed. What used to be a workable routine has more or less crumbled with baby J becoming more mobile and napping less, and we spend a fair bit of time checking the floor to see that there is no Lego that the boy can pick up and eat!

Things have become a lot more free flow from sheer necessity. If baby manages to nap for a longer period, we squeeze in some reading or craft. If he doesn't, the boys just play a lot more on their own. We sit, books scattered about us, as we try to learn something new, as baby crawls around us, exploring. We grab little moments to teach, we try to squeeze in a book here and there, during meals, before naptime.

I've learnt that going slow gets you there quicker than going nowhere. So we juggle, we adapt, while hoping that things will get a little more settled once baby is older. Meanwhile, I am learning to put aside my perfectionist nature, and close one eye to our jumbled routines. I'd love to have my bookshelves all sorted, my study packed, my learning corners set up, my activities all planned and prepared, my home all polished into a wonderful environment for learning. But I am only human, and we can only live in the present. So we do what we can, in the time we are given, while making tiny steps towards making homeschool a little better, a little more organized, a little more engaging and fun. And I believe we will get there, with God's help, in time to come.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chalk: The Solar System

Our blackboard wall used to feature a drawing of the two older boys by our artist friends (A side note, our friends recently illustrated some prints and I am loving them! You can see them here, and they are available for purchase). I loved the picture very much, but because it was drawn in chalk, it was getting smudged out by the boys. So recently, I sadly took a wet rag and gave the wall a clean, and decided to use the wall for our learning efforts. 

Since Junior J wanted to learn more about the solar system this week, I drew up the solar system on the wall one night. The boys were delighted, and spent some time examining the planets. 

Then as we continued with our readings, Junior J started adding things to the wall. He asked for chalk to draw in the red spot for Jupiter. I was busy one day with baby, and I asked him to add in the asteroid belt. He couldn't remember the location of the belt, so he went off to flip his books, and I came back to see a beautiful belt extending across the entire wall!

He added various moons, he wrote in the diameter of the planets. He added rings to Uranus. He learnt what "km" meant. Watching him work was wonderful: the focus and concentration, his attempts to write even though he still mixes up his small letters and capitals.

Junior J is a visual learner, just like me, so I think having a huge "canvas" to draw on works for him, and it helps him to "see" facts. Lil J is different though, and tends towards the auditory and kinesthetic side. So I'll have to find other ways to engage him (just today we pretended he was the sun and we orbited a globe around him to learn about night and day!).

I'm hoping we'll be able to continue using this board for our lessons, so stay tuned for more blackboard drawings in the future!


I've gotten quite a few questions about our blackboard wall, so I thought I'd just post answers to some FAQ here:

1. How did you do this wall?
We got our contractor to paint the wall using blackboard paint when we were renovating our home a year ago. The paint was from Art Friend (by Martha Stewart, which I think comes in other colours like grey and pink), and I think there is also a spray version. I've also seen adhesive sheets that can be stuck onto the wall, if you are not keen on paint. 

2. What about the mess? Is it easy to keep clean?
So far, the kids only get chalk when we head to the playground. I've tried letting them use chalk previously at home, but right now Lil J's idea of drawing with chalk is vigorously rubbing the chalk until everything crumbles, then sweeping the chalk dust everywhere! 

So only Junior J gets chalk to work on this wall, and sometimes Lil J gets to draw bits and bobs, but he's always under supervision. The dust generated is minimal, and Junior J has to wipe up the chalkdust on the floor after he's done with the wall. Cleaning the wall is easy: A wet rag does the trick pretty quickly. 

3. Why a blackboard? Why not a whiteboard, or just mahjong paper?
I like the fact that the wall gives us a whole lot more working surface compared to mahjong paper, so you can add more details. At the end of each week, we plan to photograph the finished work, and start on a new topic. This way we don't use up paper, and don't have to decide what to do with the finished work.

I prefer the look of chalk on blackboards compared to whiteboards, and I'm not too keen on using markers which tend to have fumes. Chalk is also easier to wash off clothing and furniture compared to markers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Today

Today, the baby is grumpy because he woke up at night and refused to go back to sleep for two hours.

Today, Lil J didn't want to eat his breakfast and kept leaving the table, and I nearly lost it.

Today, I am really tired, especially from all that lack of sleep. I am reminded about how it is possible to work and get our chores done, but it is being joyful and cheerful in our ministry of mundane that is difficult.

Today, my dad took the kids out, which gave me a breather to rest. I am so thankful for his help.

Today, this little baby smiled at me, flashing all four of his little teeth. 

Today, Lil J told me he loved me. Thrice.

Today, we did more math, and we made more progress. I am thankful we didn't push numbers to Junior J when he was younger and had difficulty understanding the concepts. Now he is interested and keen to learn, and is picking up things very quickly.

Today, the boys played and laughed, and baby joined in the noisy chorus with his shrieking. Today, we read books, both in English and Chinese.

Today, we give thanks for what each day brings. There are no perfect days, but we can give thanks for each day anyway!

"What day is it?" asked Pooh.
"It's today", squeaked Piglet.
"My favorite day", said Pooh. 
-A.A. Milne

May our todays be our favourite days. :)

Mum in the Making

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Made: This little lamp of mine

We've been doing up a little reading corner for the boys in our room. The area needed a little lamp to brighten up the corner, so we made this:

Making this was pretty simple, and you probably have the materials in your home. We made this out of a plastic milk carton (which a friend donated to us), LED fairy lights (that you might have in the storeroom with your christmas decorations), and some pretty tapes. 

Here's how to make your own lamp:

1. Decide on the shapes you would like to decorate your lamp. We chose stars, but anything goes, so long it is relatively easy to cut out. Larger shapes are easier to work with. Trace these shapes out on a piece of transparency. 

2. Taking a clean 2 litre plastic milk carton, cut the carton into half. You might need to trim the edges to ensure that the four sides are relatively even, so that the lamp can sit properly later.

3. Start sticking down pieces of tape to decorate the shapes you have drawn.
Key instructions to tell the kids:
- The pieces should overlap and there should not be any gaps.
- They can mix and match patterns, but to avoid very crazy patterns you could restrict them to two to three tapes per shape. We used two types of tapes per shape. 
- They need to tape over the outlines of the shapes drawn. 

4. It would start looking like a colourful crazy mess. Once the kids are done, cut out the shapes following the outline, while cutting inside the lines so that the lines would not show up in the final product.

5. Stick these shapes down onto the plastic carton, using white craft glue (PVA), which dries clear. 

6. After the glue has dried, invert your carton and stuff your fairy lights in. Flip the carton over, and you have your very own little lamp!

Junior J helped me with sticking the bits of tape onto the stars. We used Scotch Expressions Tapes by 3M, which includes various types of decorative tapes such as magic, washi and masking tape. We used their magic tapes, which are made of plastic, and can be torn by hand. Do note that if you are doing this craft with kids, they might need help to cut/tear the magic tapes, as the thinner plastic means that the tapes sometimes might split when you are peeling them. Also, it might be a better option to use washi tape, which is made of paper, since it is easier to tear these tapes. Washi tape is unlikely to split during the peeling process, and is residue-free (it does not leave a sticky residue when you peel it off a sheet of paper) and repositionable. 

I left the hubby to supervise the boys while I went to settle baby J, and came back to see this:

I laughed so hard to see these two boys with all the tape labels all over themselves! It was Lil J's idea, since he was bored while his brother was helping me, and conveniently helped himself to the tapes and peeled off all the labels! 

Labelled boys aside, we are loving our new lamp that cost virtually nothing!

I love the stained glass-like effect of the light shining through the tapes, and how the stars brighten up an otherwise plain little lamp. So if you happen to have some fairy lights collecting dust until Christmas, why not dig them out and try this project?

For more ideas for working with these decorative tapes, try popping by My Activity Room to get some inspiration from the projects posted there. In addition, 3M is organizing a workshop where you get to play with these tapes, and get more ideas on what you could do with them. If you're interested, here are the workshop details:

Scotch Make Amazing Workshop
Date: 2nd August, Saturday
Time: 2 sessions (1000-1200 or 1300-1500)
Cost: $20 per family (you will receive a starter kit of 3M products worth $40 to craft with)
Venue: Food for Thought @ National Museum

You can register for the workshop at this site, and here's a peek at what you'll get to do at the workshop:

A peek at the starter kit that you'll be receiving at the workshop!


Oh, and good news! 3M is sponsoring a gift pack of their products (inclusive of some of these Scotch Expressions tapes) worth over $60 to THREE readers of this blog! Just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter in the giveaway (please remember to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you win!):

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We received some Scotch Expressions tapes from 3M to craft our project. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.


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