Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: 9 months




Dearest Baby J,
You turned nine months about two weeks back! I realize we've been so busy keeping up with you and your brothers, that I've hardly been able to chronicle your growth. However, know that while we have little written records of you growing up, we have been present with you each and every day. 

These days, you love to be in the thick of things and would always crawl to join your brothers as they are playing. You start yelling amidst all their shouting, and these days we've been having joyous noisy days with the three of you. Your brothers love to hang out with you, and your biggest koko likes to carry you around (much to your annoyance sometimes). He is extremely patient with you, and even lets you poke and pinch him, without any complaints. Your second koko sometimes helps to take care of you, and while he is particular about you not touching his toys, he always helps to get toys for you to play. It is wonderful seeing all three of you grow up together.

You have a sweet tooth, and love all manner of sweet fruits. You yell for melon. You like gnawing on teething biscuits. Sometimes I think I've given birth to a shark, because you keep sprouting teeth. Right now you're sprouting your 8th tooth!

Personality-wise, we can see that you will be the feisty one. Yet you are also the one who cries at everything, even at being thrown in the air! You are quite a smiley one, and really active and wriggly. You still have problems napping outside, so we're taking those trips out slowly. We are so thankful that God has given us you.

My dear little boy, we love you so much. Don't grow up so fast, ok?

Love, 
Your Papa and Mama.



Mum in the Making

Monday, September 15, 2014

Read: Extra Yarn (plus weaving mini mats, and a giveaway)




The boys and I have been reading "Extra Yarn" recently. It's a simple tale, of a little girl Annabelle who finds a box filled with yarn of every colour. She starts knitting, and knitting, and there is always some extra yarn left. She continues knitting, and slowly, the village is transformed by her box of yarn. Until one day, her box is stolen from her... and you'll have to read the book to find out what happens next!

It is a beautiful book with a heartwarming storyline, and it is no wonder that this book is a Caldecott Honor Book, and has been awarded the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. The illustrations are spare and simple, and you see the gentle transition of a monochrome palette to pastel colours as the story progresses. 




To accompany our reading of the book, we made cardboard looms and tried weaving with them (using this tutorial). Lil J found it too difficult and gave up, while Junior J caught on after awhile and was able to weave quite quickly. His interest waned after awhile though, so I helped him to finish his mat. Now his piece has become a mat for the dollhouse for his dinosaurs!



I found the tips given in the the tutorial useful: we wrapped the yarn with washi tape to allow for easier weaving. I find giving the kids shorter lengths of yarn to start off helps, as longer lengths may get tangled during the weaving process, and it can be frustrating having to untangle the yarn all the time. Using thicker yarn also allows for weaving to be completed at a faster rate.


We're going to put weaving aside for now since Junior J is struggling with it, but will take it up again next time, since there are so many possibilities with weaving: mats, baskets, containers, just to name a few.

~~~~~~~

And good news! We have a copy of "Extra Yarn" to give away to one reader, thansk to MPH! Just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter in the giveaway (please remember to leave your name and email address in the comments so we can contact you if you win!):
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The book is available at MPH, and you can view their current promotions here. (Parents, you might be interested to know that the Parkway Parade branch is now having 20% off selected award-winning children titles for the month of September!)

Disclaimer: We received a copy of the book for review purposes. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are our own. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Penang Laksa









The hubby grew up eating Penang laksa, and it is a dish very close to his heart. He used to bring me to try the laksa cooked by different hawkers when we visited Penang, and we had a particular favourite stall in Jelutong. Unfortunately though, the old aunty who used to cook the laksa no longer does so.

I've been wanting to cook this dish for a long time. However, cooking this from scratch using fresh fish is notoriously difficult, and I didn't have the guts (or time) to try, plus I admit I am a lazy cook. However, I recently decided we would just give it a go, but warned the hubby that I would need his help to peel the fish.

So one Sunday afternoon, we left the kids to their own devices and took turns to keep an eye on them, while preparing all the ingredients. It was certainly a lot harder than cleaning squid! We followed this recipe, which called for many steps to prepare the tamarind, the rempah, as well as to julienne the cucumber and pineapple. The hardest bit would have been peeling all the fish and deboning them, however the recipe assured us that it was well worth using fresh mackerel instead of canned sardines. And they were right, it did give the soup so much more flavour!

There were so many ingredients I was not familiar with, like galangal and torch ginger buds. But with the hubby helping alongside me, we managed to dish up a yummy laksa three hours later, which the kids loved (Junior J ate so much fish!). The hubby and I overate that night.

After all that effort, I told the hubby that we were never going to cook this again, and I was a lot more appreciative of that bowl of noodles I could buy for a few RM. However, the hubby looked at me with a gleam in his eye, and declared we would cook this when his parents visited. So its going to be round two sometime soon... so long he peels the fish the next round too!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Art Adventures: Hama beads


We have been taking time to sit and craft these few days, as part of our attempt to focus less on the academics. Junior J has been fidgeting and struggling with writing as well as Math for the past two weeks, so I've cut down on seat-work in those areas. We spend part of the afternoons working with our hands, and recently we've been creating with Hama beads.

The concept behind these beads is simple: you fit these tiny plastic beads (made with polyethylene if I am not mistaken) on a pegboard in any pattern you'd like, and then fuse the beads together by melting them with a hot iron, with a piece of paper in between the beads and the iron. You then have to peel the fused beads off the board, flip it, and repeat. Two of the popular brands of beads would be Hama and Perler (affiliate link). Ikea stocks Pyssla beads, which are similar, as well as the pegboards. The former two come in different sizes, with larger beads for younger kids, while Ikea's version only comes in the small size. You can also purchase the paper for ironing the beads, however, we've found that regular baking paper works as well. In terms of ideas and templates, Pinterest is great resource, and the Perler site also has lots of free templates you could use.


Our pegboards and beads were passed to us by a homeschooling mum, and thus far the kids were not too keen on working on them. I wasn't too, since the idea of them dropping beads and baby picking them and eating them was quite a nightmare! However, Junior J seemed interested the other day, and started filling up a star pegboard. Watching him work was interesting: he started off with the arms of the star and decided to fill them up with alternating colours, then filled two arms with lines of varying colours. He then got tired of trying to find specific colours, and randomly filled up the center. 


Lil J wanted to join in the fun as well, but needed some guidance. I ended up making a rainbow with him, and he helped to find the colours and we put them on the board together.


It has been quite a learning experience, and a reminder that these times spent crafting together can be lessons in themselves. We work on our creations side by side, and help each other to find beads of a certain colour. The boys pick up learning points along the way: Junior J observed that the star was made up of triangles and a hexagon, while the heart was made of two semi-circles and a square. He learnt to observe details and colours. Lil J revised his colours, and we also noted the colours of the rainbow. The picking and placing of beads is good fine-motor training and an exercise in patience. We've more or less contained the mess by keeping our work to the dining table, and each person gets a tray, which is useful to catch any falling beads. We use bowls to hold and sort the beads, and the boys have to pick up any beads they drop immediately. 


I showed Junior J various pictures of creations made using these beads, and he was really excited when he saw this one. He followed the picture, and made the watermelon slice using that as a guide, and now wants to do all the other foods too!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Play: Shopkeeping


The boys sometimes set up shop, and pretend they are selling things. Junior J draws and makes his own money, and stuffs them in the vintage cash register that we have. They weigh things out on a weighing scale, and bring all the dinos shopping for food (that's Spiny holding his allowance, and checking out the store's produce on the bottom right).

Recently, they hired a new cashier. He was really keen on the job (or perhaps, working with the cash register). But just 10 minutes into working, they found that this new hire was going to be a challenge: he didn't speak English, he refused to return shoppers any change, and he ate most of the money. 


Then the cashier moved on to sampling the shop's food, and left the cash register open, and empty. And started biting some of the dino customers. I think that was when the shop owners decided he wasn't suited for the job!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Mid-Autumn Festival (or, how far we've come)












We celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival today. We did the usual walk at night with the boys, with them carrying their handmade lanterns, the flickering tealights casting a warm glow in the dark. We spotted the full moon. This round, we ate mooncakes, which my mum always buys for us. For once, Lil J could join in, as I also made a milo & soy jelly version that didn't have egg in them (using this recipe from a fellow mummy blogger, WaiWai). 

Looking back, we have been celebrating this festival for the past few years. Some things have not changed: we've always made our own lanterns since the time we made them while staying abroad. There is always the night walk with lanterns. 

Then there are things that are different: Sometimes we celebrate with friends, sometimes it is just us as a family. Each year, the designs of our lanterns change. This year, we didn't have much time to work on ours so we just decorated them with washi tape and magic tape.

I realize these festivals and celebrations are a wonderful way of marking how far we've come as a family. They are markers in a busy year. They help to make meaningful memories as we celebrate with set traditions. They let us to look to the past, and learn more about our culture. Looking back at the past few years, I am thankful to see how we've grown. Lil J was still too young to finish decorating his lantern last year, but finished his this year. He swung his lantern so much then, and we spent alot of time carrying it for him. This year, he carried his own lantern with pride. Last year, the kids didn't get to eat mooncake, but this year, they did. I realize we have more or less learnt how to work around Lil J's food allergies, so that he doesn't feel left out when it came to treats like these.

So I am thankful for these little celebrations, and these little milestones. What are you thankful for this week?


Mum in the Making

Monday, September 8, 2014

Weekend Wonderings: Less is more


Last week was a full week. The weekend was packed and we attended the Homeschool Festival. We went for a terrarium workshop on Monday. We had our usual co-ops. The week felt really packed. There were lots of things to do. 

However, rather than it feeling fruitful, I just felt... rushed. I felt like we were just dashing from one activity to another, chasing the boys and always asking them to "hurryupandbequick!". I was running around, trying to cook lunches, chivvying the kids out, trying to juggle too many balls at once. I shouted at the kids alot. 

Our nature inquiry co-op group met at Bollywood Veggies that week (all photos in this post were taken during the session), and we opted to go for the tour, since we felt that some guidance would be good and perhaps the kids would learn more. As it turned out, us parents learnt more about certain plants. However the kids were kids, and most of the younger ones (and especially the boys) were happier just exploring the place without an agenda. They poked at centipedes. They rustled through piles of leaves. They ran around, roaring, and exploring.


Last week was a lesson to me, that while some families thrive on a full programme for the week, our's does not. We need lots of time at home. The boys are happy at home, playing all their make-believe scenes with blankets and pillows and random things from around the home. They hold town councils, roast marshmallows, pretend they are pirates. The baby crawls about, and tries his best to join in. 

For us, less is more. And for me, I am reminded that what works for us is less structure. While the ex-teacher in me is uncomfortable with a more flexible schedule, I realize it gives me more room to seize those teachable moments. I can take the time to discipline, to explain, to explore alongside with the kids, because I am not busy trying to teach some math concept that I need my kid to learn now, because it was what I wrote down in my schedule. I will be able to sit and observe my children, and build upon their questions and interests, instead of forcing them to sit down and do some planned activity. Not that we will abandon all lessons, but I realize I need to allow for plenty of room for free play. There are so many ideas and activities I want to try, there is this or that co-op I want the kids to join... but right now the answer may be less of these things.



This was a good read, and further reminded me that I really need to take the time to step back and really take a good look at my children: 

"Homeschooling showed me that children don’t fare well as passive recipients of education. They want to take part in meaningful activities relevant to their own lives. They develop greater skills by building on their gifts, not focusing on abilities they lack.

The more I stepped back, the more I saw how much my son accomplished when fueled by his own curiosity. This little boy played chess, took apart broken appliances, carefully observed nature, helped on our farm, checked out piles of books at the library each week, memorized the names of historic aircraft and the scientific principles explaining flight, filled notebooks with cartoons and designs—-learning every moment.

My son taught me that distractible, messy, disorganized children are perfectly suited to learn in their own way."

So this week, I am hoping to be more purposeful in going with their flow, and go easy on the academics. Less is more. Let's see how it goes. 


Linking up with:
A Juggling Mom Motiviational Monday

Friday, September 5, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Italian seafood soup


I fell in love with Italian seafood soup the first time I tasted it in a small Italian restaurant in Germany. For some strange reason, the Germans seem to love Italian food, and there are Italian eateries everywhere in Germany. Perhaps it is because you can only eat that much potatoes, bratwrust and meat each day.

Anyway, we were introduced to this lovely little restaurant by a friend, and it served the most wonderful seafood soup: hearty, and full of the flavours of the sea. It was especially good during the winter, to come in with freezing fingers and fill our tummy with some steaming hot soup and crusty bread. The soup is rich enough to hold its own, and can be a meal by itself with some bread on the side.

Back in Singapore, this soup has always been on my try-to-cook list. However, I never got down to cooking it, because most of the recipes I found flavoured their soup with prawns and shellfish, which Lil J was allergic to. I didn't fancy having to slave over the stove for a soup that required me to cook an additional meal for Lil J, not especially when I was already cooking a separate meal for baby J. So the seafood soup never made it to the table.

Then recently, I found this recipe, which used squid to flavour the soup. The recipe still called for shellfish and shrimp, however, the main ingredient used was squid. So I took the risk, omitted the former two, and just used more squid. I also substituted fish stock (of which I had in my freezer) to replace the clam broth.

What I didn't count on was all the cleaning I had to do to prepare the squid. We hardly eat seafood, since I am not a fan, and Lil J cannot eat many seafood-related dishes. So this was my first time having to deal with squid. We only managed to get the smaller squid at the supermarket, so I had about 15 of these slimy fellows to clean out:


So it was 1.5 hours to dinnertime and I was staring helplessly at these creatures, who seemed to be looking at me accusingly from the chopping board. I resorted to using Google, and learnt how to clean these squid through a video, as well as how to core the fennel bulb.

After struggling with all the slime, all 15 were finally cleaned, peeled and prepared, and into the pot they went (you never realize how many tentacles these fellows have, until you have to remove all their suckers!). The smells coming from our dutch oven were heavenly. The boys came running to ask me what was cooking.


Dinner was a little late that night, but man, the soup was good. Even without the shellfish and prawns. The boys loved it, and I loved that Lil J could drink the soup and we didn't need to worry about antihistamines or rashes. Hubby declared it a 10/10. (Btw, the soup can be frozen, however, it is best to add fresh fish when recooking the frozen portion.)

All in all, this is going to be something we'll be cooking again, however, the next time we're going to hunt for larger squid, and I think I'm going to teach Lil J how to clean these creatures so that he can help me with it. It'll be killing two birds with one stone: he gets to play with slime, and I get my squid cleaned. Hopefully!

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