Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: Love in every language

My parents tagged along with us during our recent trip up to Penang to visit the in-laws. It has been a long time since we've travelled altogether, and our car was packed to the brim! Travellling together had its joys and good things, like the boys being able to hang out more with porpor, and my parents having time to catch up with the in-laws. But like with every family, there were times where patience can run low and personalities can clash. 

We got home today after 12 over hours of being on the road. Traffic was slow going back, since many were headed back to KL or JB after their Lunar New Year break. The house was in disarray, since we left it in a mess as we are still in the midst of decluttering. Just thinking of all the things we needed to do left me feeling rather overwhelmed: having to stock up on groceries, settling various shop matters, getting the boys back to their regular homeschooling routines, folding all the piles of laundry that I didn't have time to fold before leaving, preparing for co-ops and the week ahead. It got me thinking how blessed we were, since my parents would usually help to stock up on some groceries, and help with various chores when we go overseas, except this round they couldn't, since they were travelling with us. 

There are many a times I catch myself looking at family with a critical eye, being upset about so-and-so doing this or that. And then I am reminded about how the language of love can be spoken in so many ways, and how sometimes others just cannot speak in the love language that we expect them to. For one, love might be buying random gifts. For another, it might be the gift of helping hands, or eyes to watch over the kids. While we sometimes chafe because our expectations are not met, we know that we can definitely find love in the midst of us... if we would just pause to find the grace to accept it. 

So today, as I sit amidst piles of half-folded laundry, which might have been folded by my mum who just cannot stand a mess of a laundry pile had she been around in SG to do it... I am thankful. Thankful that we can haltingly offer up love in various ways, and accept love in various ways. Thankful that we have family that love us, and show us that love in different ways. Thankful that we were all made different and unique and special. What are you thankful for today?

Mum in the Making

Monday, February 23, 2015

Weekend Wanderings: Penang Hill

We decided to brave the crowds over the weekend and headed up Penang Hill with my parents. There are a few things that make Penang Hill irresistible: the (rather fun) train ride up, the much cooler weather, the nature. However, we learnt that it is not a good idea to head up the hill on a weekend or a holiday, since the crowds are simply crazy. We waited for nearly an hour to board the train, but thankfully the boys managed to keep themselves occupied: Junior J sketched lanterns that he saw, Lil J peered at the old train models on display, and Baby J munched on his snack.  (If you are headed up Penang Hill, always bring snacks for the kids, because you never know how long the queue is for the train. Also pack drinks, and stuff to keep the kids busy.)

We usually head to David Brown's for lunch (to get there, turn right upon exiting the train station, walk all the way down and then up a staircase on your right). They serve western food, and at Singapore prices, but we love the lawn where the kids can run about. The place is much quieter compared to the food court downstairs, so it's easy to get a table, even on weekends. (Head down to the hawker center for your dessert though, and try the cendol!)

The place is lovely for walking about. There's so much nature to soak in, and the cooler weather up there is a big plus point! 

We finally managed to take a somewhat decent family portrait when we were up there. (I just learnt that the best probably way to ensure the boys are looking at the camera would be to make them all roar like dinosaurs!)

It was a lovely lovely weekend. Here's wishing everyone a blessed Lunar New Year again!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Our Week: Penang

We packed our bags after those couple of days of crazy decluttering and headed up for Penang, so this week has been a "school holiday" for the boys. We've not done much, aside from resting at home, and meeting up with the hubby's relatives for Chinese New Year. The boys have experienced fire-crackers, and also witnessed a lion dance. They've eaten bak kwa, stuffed themselves with mandarin oranges, and collected lots of ang pows. Baby J has been fascinated with the dog and keeps yelling "Nicky!" and crawling over to pat him. 

We also managed to sneak in a trip to the Penang Botanic Gardens. It's been really hot these few days, but everyone had a nice time exploring. They peered at snails...

... picked cannonball flowers, and snapped away at what caught their eye (Junior J is quite obsessive about taking photos these days):

The boys had a good time running off all their energy. I've realized that, even with the heat, they do need plenty of time outdoors, otherwise they tend to get restless! Hopefully, we'll be able to get them out and about across the weekend too.  

Anyway, here's wishing everyone a Happy Lunar New Year... Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekend Wonderings: Project Simplify

We spent the weekend decluttering. I have mentioned before that both hubby and I have packrat tendencies, and our home was really bursting at the seams with stuff. All that stuff was getting to me: I couldn't find materials when I needed them for homeschool, we had a study that was unusable because there was waaay too many things stored in there, it was hard to clean when there were things covering various surfaces at home.

However, finding time to declutter was hard: there were the kids to take care of during the day, meals to cook, a house to clean, and my nights were spent catching up on housework and other matters. While I did try decluttering at night, those attempts hardly seemed to make a dent in our stuff. But recently I decided enough was enough. The hubby was on leave since the weekend, so we decided to do a massive decluttering exercise.

Recently I read about Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" (Aff link, the book is currently at 40% off! You can read a pretty good review and summary of the book here). I ended up purchasing a copy, and am in the midst of reading it. The book has been great. It explains clearly how (and why) to go about decluttering, and also includes tips on how to effectively organize and store what's left after you've gotten rid of all the extra stuff. One of the most helpful things from the book that stuck in my head was this idea:

"We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of."

Keeping this in mind really helped when deciding what to keep and what to give away or throw. Once you are clear about what you actually want to keep, giving away the rest was much easier.

Anyway, here are some tips from Marie Kondo which I found useful:

"In the majority of the households, items that fall into the same category are stored in two or more places scattered around the house... Gathering every item in one place is essential to this process because it gives you an accurate grasp of how much you have."

"In addition to the physical value of things, there are three additional factors that add value to our belongings: function, information and emotional attachment. When the element of rarity is added, the difficulty in choosing what to get rid of multiplies. People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (inforamtional value) and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). 

The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go much more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about. Clothes are the easiest because their rarity value is extremely low. The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, miscellaneous items (komono) and, lastly sentimental items and keepsakes."

So I took her advice and started decluttering our clothes and books. We switched it around by starting with our books, since I wanted to donate those off earlier to Dignity Mama Stalls. Hubby and I decluttered the books together. We are both book lovers, and we have tonnes of books (we have 6 Billy bookcases and 5 Expedit shelving units of various sizes). My parents very kindly took all three kids in the evening and we spent two hours or so just taking books off the shelves. In the end we cleared about 9 bags worth of books: many novels and Christian books (some even new ones which we never found the time to read), a whole pile of non-fiction reference books of various topics, and a couple of cookbooks. We did have quite an interesting time choosing what to keep and what to clear! Clearing the novels made sense: many of these were interesting, but chances are we probably would not have the chance to re-read them again, and if the kids wanted to read them next time, they could always borrow them from the library. However, we kept various classics, and stories that we've read over and over, like those by Tolkien, James Herriot and C.S. Lewis. After all that hassle of decluttering, I think we'd think twice before buying a novel in the future!

I moved on to the clothes on the next day. Decluttering clothes was definitely easier, and I cleared 4 large bags of clothes. The good stuff we'll be donating to the MINDS shop, and the old stuff I'll be cutting up to use as rags.

We still have a long way to go, but I think we're feeling much lighter as we continue this decluttering process! Are you decluttering your home too?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Our Week: Full

It seems like our schedules are rapidly filling up! We just added swim class on top of our two co-ops, so this week felt rather hectic. Swim class went pretty well. We hardly visit the pool since it's quite troublesome to drag the kids out to the public pool. As a result, they are not very confident in the water. The coach is really nice, and spent time playing games with them to get them comfortable. Guess we'll have to head to the pool more often from now onwards!

We've been spending more time outdoors, and these days the boys are at the playground in the mornings and evenings. This week, we had an impromptu playdate at the playground with some homeschooling friends, and the boys all had a good time. 

Running around aside, there was a fair bit of building going on at home. We tried building with crystal climbers this week (these we purchased from Lakeshore Learning during their Christmas sale). I think these would be so good on a light table! 

We had various crafty things going on at home too. Painting and gluing, as well as tag making during our craft coop. 

Lil J is finally starting to show some interest in the alphabet, so he's been playing with foam stickers. He's crazy about numbers and counting, but not so fond of the letters. So these stickers (as well as various songs) are helping him to learn!

The week ahead is going to be a busy one since I'm hoping to do lots of decluttering and spring cleaning. Here's to a blessed weekend!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crafty Creations: A tag for baby

I've been teaching scrapbooking techniques to some homeschooling kids for the past few weeks. Recently, I wanted to teach them how to up-cycle CDs into tags that they could personalize and hang on their room door. As I planned, I thought a sample tag would be good, but then I realized that all the tags I've made (you can see examples here, here, here, here and here) were gifts and I didn't have any of our own!

In the end, I decided to make one for baby J, since I've yet to scrap anything for him, plus the older two might end up joining the co-op session and can make their own tags if so. (It's really true, the scrap creations you make for each child progressively get lesser!)

So I covered the CD with scrap paper, stuck a contrasting strip of paper as the background for his name, and added Thickers. Then I dressed it up with a bird (cut out using the Big Shot), added bunting using bits of washi tape, and piled on some flowers and leaves and a butterfly. (I chose to add the bird, butterfly and flowers as these are some of the baby's favourite things currently.) And Taada! A tag just for the baby!

The kids had fun making their own tags, and will be making more cards and tags to sell at the upcoming craft fair. I'll write more about it next time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: It does get better

You know those days? Where you have littles and your day is filled with diaper blow-outs, tantrums and non-stop "mummy mummy"s? Where you need to do everything for them, from wiping poop and feeding and finding that lost pencil? Those days can be overwhelming. They can seem like they'll last forever. You go to bed, exhausted from their relentless neediness, and realize that tomorrow it will all happen again. And that cycle repeats itself, over and over. 

But you know what? Those days will pass. And you find that taking care of them gets somewhat easier. There will be different challenges, but on the whole you'll find that things get better. You aren't always on high alert mode all the time, which can be so exhausting. The kids learn to help out more, and listen more, and they become (hopefully) more sensible as they grow older.

Lil J has been rather challenging for the past few months, and I was sometimes at my wits end trying to deal with him. But recently, we've learnt a few things about him that have made parenting him a little easier. A softer side to him has also emerged. He's been insisting on feeding his little brother fruit, picking through those with seeds (like nona) to find parts that do not have seeds for him. He gives random kisses and hugs and tells you that he loves you, something that he didn't do previously. 

These days, things still do get crazy around here. The witching hour before dinner, where everyone is grumpy or start going nuts. The tantrums and having to watch a climbing, exploring toddler. But it does get better. It does. 

So if you're having one of those crazy weeks or months with your littles, know that it does get easier. Take it day by day, be consistent, keep giving hugs, and remember, it will get better!

Mum in the Making

Friday, February 6, 2015

Our Week: Exploring

The week has gone by in a blur because I've been rather busy preparing for a few sessions of a craft coop. And we've been also trying to declutter lots of things at home. Anyway, the boys have been spending more time outdoors in the evening, since the hubby had a rare few days where he got home before dinner. 

That aside, we've been still experimenting with light. They are still using their torches, and now have some lenses and prisms to play with. 

I'm still experimenting with more messy play for Lil J. We tried messing about with coloured water this week. 

We're also trying out different tools for craft. They got to play with sponges this week, and they're working on a under the sea scene currently. It's really nice seeing all their crafts going up on the walls. Their happy colours cheer me up!

Here's to a blessed weekend!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Junior J's 6th: Chocolate cheese cake (and the food)

We really racked our brains to think of what food to order for Junior J's party this year. We wanted something different from the stuff we've been ordering for parties (we've done sushi, DIY popiah, and Peranakan for previous celebrations), and something that Junior J liked to eat. In the end, we went with Poulet, since we loved their chicken, and Junior J especially loves the mash potato there! 

Poulet does not do delivery, so we ended up ordering the food the day before, and hubs picked it up just before the party. Their chicken is really yummy, and we also ordered ratatouille and mash potato, and made our own salad. We also served fruit and konnyaku (made by my mum) for dessert. 

The cake was quite a headache. Junior J wanted something with chocolate. We wanted to get something egg-free so that Lil J could also eat the cake, but egg-free cakes are quite rare. This round, I didn't want to spend too much money on the cake, so in the end, I opted to make my own. I was really nervous making it, since I am no baker. Half my bakes turn out disastrous, so much so that my boys would politely decline, and say they do not want to eat them! 

I found this recipe for a chocolate cheese cake that seemed doable, and we did a test run with a smaller cake. The boys loved it, so we decided to go with it.

However, Junior J was rather perplexed: why was the test cake rectangular? Aren't birthday cakes supposed to be round, like in all the pictures in books? (I had used a Pyrex baking dish for the test cake.) I also didn't have a springform pan, and wasn't too confident in getting the cake out of a regular baking tin intact. So I rushed down to Phoon Huat to try to get a springform pan, only to find out that they were sold out. So I ended up just using my square baking tin for the cake. My tin was too large, so the cake turned out really thin, and I was wondering if the candles we had bought (from Daiso, don't you just love these?) would hold up in a cake that was just an inch high! 

Thankfully, the candles did hold up. However, we found that you have to be really fast when lighting these, and you can't leave them burning for too long, since these are pretty small and melt really quickly. We ended up with wax on the cake, but it was easy to flick the bits of wax off.

Another thing I realized (on the day itself!) was that I didn't have any suitable plate or base for the cake to rest on. In the end, I used our cheese board, as it was the largest flat surface I could find in the kitchen. 

All the crazy scrambling seemed to pay off, since Junior J loved his cake (even though he had already been eating slices of our test cake for a few days before the party), and our guests said it was yummy. Now that this has worked out, I guess I might just have to make the cake for the boys' parties from now on!


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