Tuesday, December 24, 2013

That she may always believe in magic


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book of the Week 2: Up in the Tree


This week, Up in the Tree (Margaret Atwood, Author & Illustrator-- yes, she does kids books too!). Her first children's book and published in 1978, the illustrations on this are so arresting and vivid that even I couldn't stop looking at it. It's a slim volume-- it's really a poem, actually-- and we usually read it two or three times over in one seating before Sophie feels she's done.

It's a sweetly odd and whimsical poem, all about the joys of playing. Throw in a couple of badgers and an owl, and it's just the most delightful little book.

It's made all the more precious by the fact that Atwood did the illustrations herself as well as the letter-type. And everything's in blue and red because of cost issues-- since it was considered too risky to publish a children's book back then, Atwood published it herself and did it as economically as she could.

Available from:
Amazon


Book Depository


National libraries:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book of the Week 1: Rosie Revere, Engineer

I thought it would be a fun project to highlight a book every week that we're reading with Sophie that she really enjoys. We've read so many wonderful stories and have fallen in love with so many of them that I thought this might be a good way to share them with you. These aren't always award-winners or Great Children's Books, but just ones that we love reading and that ring close to our hearts.

First up, Rosie Revere, Engineer (Andrea Beaty, Author; David Roberts, Illustrator)


What if Rosie the Riveter had a great, great grand niece? Well, her name would be Rosie Revere, and she would want to be an engineer when she grows up! We only borrowed this book this morning and Sophie has read it three times already! It has a great storyline about a girl who loves building things-- whether it's a cheese dispenser-propelled helicopter or helium pants

Through the course of the story, Rosie learns-- with some help from her great, great, grand-aunt-- that initial failure is just the necessary first step to eventual success, engineer or not.

Sophie and us got to talk about what being an engineer means, the different ideas that go into building something, and even a little bit of history when we told her about how Rosie the Riveter and other women like her worked in plants near Ann Arbor to build planes when the men were at war. I think this really resonated with her :)

Available at:
Amazon

Book Depository

National Libraries

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A little year-end meditation

It's the first week of December and the year tumbles towards its end. I love this time of the year-- people just seem nicer, happier, more generous with each other and themselves. The fact that Christmas is round the corner helps :) The year-end always brings with it a deep sense of contemplation and I think about all the small and big things that have made up our year. The one big thing was the move to our new place, of course. We are loving our new home deeply and with great pride-- it may be small, but it's ours and we love being stewards of it. It doesn't matter how tired I am from work or how wretched I feel from the crazy weather we're getting right now, arriving home is just the salve I need to restore my aching soul.

Smaller things are important too-- I had resolved to be more forgiving of myself and others this year. And also more thankful for the little things in our lives. For the most part I think it's worked. Things can't be perfect especially when both of us are juggling full-time jobs, a rambunctious pre-kindergartener, and managing a house by ourselves. But as long as there is always love and laughter in our home, I don't care if the laundry waits a few more days, the dishes don't get done till the next morning, or if we put off cleaning the bathrooms for another week.

I love my job-- a lot, but I try not to bring it home. I give it my all when I'm at the office, but after 5.30, other things occupy me, like hanging out with Sophie and Jude-- reading to one, reading with the other. Most evenings, after Sophie goes to sleep, we sit in the living room with something nice on the stereo-- anything from Daughter on vinyl to Thelonious Monk on Michigan Radio-- and all is well. When Jude is busy, we don't do a lot of talking-- he works and I read-- but we're sitting together and there's a quiet communion nonetheless. And I feel grateful.

"To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Home
Home

Monday, October 14, 2013

Our new backyard

I love that we have a forest just within walking distance

I love that we have a forest just within walking distance _7448

"I want to run EVERYWHERE!!"

Believe it or not, this tropical gorgeousness is literally just a hop and a skip from our new place. And we love it. It was an awful weekend for me for the most part-- battling some random bug that rendered me bed-bound whenever Miss Sophie would allow and lethargic whenever I was awake. But then we decided to spend the evening exploring our new backyard and really, it was all the medication I needed to revive my ailing body.

Having grown up in Ann Arbor has made Sophie very much a child who loves wide open spaces, enjoys picking up sticks and leaves, and who can never resist a pretty rock/ stone/ pebble. And I think our evening jaunt gave her all that and more :) She was so much in her element among the lush greenery-- running, tumbling, picking, poking; basically, exploring all that was within her reach. For me, that beautiful fresh air really helped alleviate whatever crazy bug it was that hit me and did me a whole ton of good.

I'll write about the new apartment soon(ish)-- for now, we're really grateful for what's outside, literally in our backyard.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Post-move in Day #3

Home office unpacked for now
Home office almost unpacked

And we're moved in!

Things have mostly been unpacked (living room notwithstanding...) and regular routine resumes tomorrow as we all return to work and school. As much as we hate to move, the process has not been as painful as we had dreaded it would be. Many thanks to an uber reliable and professional moving company (Shalom Movers rocks!), family who lovingly babysat and prepared meals for us to bring home, and friends who visited and brought with them food and dessert so we didn't have to worry about cooking amidst unpacking. You guys rock! Most importantly, I can't imagine doing this move with anyone else but Jude-- I think I would have lost it at that third leaking storage bag or the umpteenth random box that just won't fit anywhere else in the new apartment.

Thank god for soul mates...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Renovation Diaries: Let there be light

It's 12 days to move-in and we're in the home stretch now-- the kitchen cabinets have been installed and the floors are done, the walls are being painted as we speak, and next up will be the toilet fixtures. The last big things to be installed after are the lights. They were also the last things we shopped for because Jude was away-- lighting is important to us and I wasn't about to make those decisions alone.

Our lights shopping technically began while Jude was away-- Restoration Hardware was having an incredible online lighting sale in July and we thought we'll get the lights delivered to our friends' where Jude was staying and he'll bring them home with him. He could only carry so much so we limited ourselves to just lights for the kitchen and dining. Our first purchase was this clear glass cloche pendant light. It uses gorgeous Edison-style filament bulbs and if one could fall in love with a bulb, I did when I saw this. The lamp isn't very large so we bought 3 for the dining nook.


And for the kitchen, this aged steel/aluminum piece. The kitchen ceilings will be painted a dark gray and we thought this would be a nice complement.


In the end though, because of the very careful (read: bulky) packaging, we had to ship these lights back via DHL. Between the dismal baggage allocation and the bulkiness of the boxes, there was just no way they could have made it on the plane with Jude.

We finished up the light shopping last week in Balestier Road with two hanging lamps for the living room. For our entryway/ front of the living room, this Tom Dixon-esque pendant (read: replica). I love how sculptural it looks and the fact that it kind of reminds of a brass cooking pot or some kind of water vessel :)


We also really like the blown-glass pendants from Niche Modern but the prices are waaaaaay out of our league (actually, the league of all mere mortals, if you ask me...).


Thankfully, we were able to find something very similar at Form + Light Concepts for a fraction of a fraction of the original price (think less than 10%!!)

The rest of the lights in the house (bedrooms and bathrooms) are just simple ceiling lights with acrylic covers. We'll get desk lamps and a bedside lamp for Sophie once we've moved in and have a better sense of where things go and what we need. We're probably going to eschew conventional bedside lamps in our bedroom mostly because it's a small space and we may not even be getting bedside tables large enough for lamps. Right now, we're thinking of stools for the bedside (just enough for our glasses and reading material) and clip-on reading lamps from a shallow shelf we'll have above the bed. Something like this:


The coming week will be a big one-- I'm just going to assume that everything will miraculously fall into place while we're not looking and that when we see the flat next, it will look more like home and less a construction site in transition...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Renovation diaries: WonderWalls

Since we have a small flat, we're trying to capitalize on all the space we have to maximize design potential. So what we don't have in floor area, we're compensating for in wall area using tiles and color. One of the things we had chosen quite early on the the renovation process were accent tiles for a small panel of the kitchen wall.

Untitled

It does look a little busy right now but the fridge will go in front of it so you'll only see the edges and top eventually. My mom thinks it's silly that we paid for an accent wall just to have it mostly covered but I think it'll be an interesting touch to the otherwise rather industrial feel of the kitchen.

Another tiling project was for the dining nook where we chose one wall to be tiled with lovely white subway tiles. I've seen one too many subway-tiled kitchens on Pinterest to let this opportunity slip by and thankfully, it turned out beautifully.

Subway tiles wall completed.

We chose to have it grouted in a medium gray so you can still see the definition between the tiles but not dark enough that it ends up looking like actual dirty tiles in the New York subway ;) We're also building a cabinet at the bottom and open shelving at the top for added work area and storage/display space. The eventual result will hopefully look a little something like this.

As for the rest of the kitchen walls untouched by cabinets, we're having them covered with cement screed, both in the interest of time and cost, but also because we kind of like the effect of cement walls for the kitchen. They'll be treated with a protective coating so we won't have to worry about the naturally porous cement absorbing cooking grease and smoke.

Apart from tiling, we've also been agonizing over paint colour. This has been particularly vexing because we were torn between using what's available in the contractor's catalog and having him mix existing colors to achieve what we want, which will not only cost more but also be potentially problematic whenever we want to do touch-ups. In the end, we went with what was available and I guess the colours are slowly growing on me. The living room is quite small and we have a fairly striking green couch so we're keeping the walls there white. We have a little hallway leading from the living room to the kitchen/ dining area and one wall there will be painted a medium gray to contrast with our pale wood vinyl flooring.


[we're not actually getting our paint from Benjamin Moore but the sample colour comes close to what we chose]

The rooms have dark wood vinyl so we've chosen more muted colors. And only one wall in each bedroom will be painted so the colours won't be so overwhelming. In our bedroom, it's going to be a pale shade of smoke that's close to this:



And for Sophie's room, this shade of pink:



We had asked her what colour she wants for her room and being the fairy/ princess obsessed 4-year-old she is now, it was either pink or purple. But she didn't really say which shade of pink or purple so I went with something that would induce as minimal a headache as possible (but would still be considered pink because I *know* Sophie would totally fight me on this). The pink we're trying to achieve is hopefully more ballet-slipper (which I can live with) than Strawberry Shortcake (which I can't...). I know, the line is so fine before the former tips irrevocably into the latter... And lighting is going to play such a big part too: cool-white vs. warm-white vs. daylight, etc. And so, as with so many things in this whole renovation process, we're crossing our fingers...

Speaking of lighting, that post will be up next...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A very orange birthday

Two days ago, Sophie turned four. I know. How did that happen? One minute she was a screaming, yelling peanut of a 5-pound-12-ouncer, and now she's a talking, walking, sassypants of a 4-year-old. Who isn't afraid to tell you exactly what kind of birthday party she wants, no less. "A Lorax party," she unceremoniously announced 3 weeks ago, and so it was to be (even though we were in the midst of Jude not being around, me having a busy season at work, and the on-going renovations of our flat).

In retrospect though, I did have fun thinking of all the different ways to incorporate the Lorax story into her party-- designing the invites were easy since there are tons of templates for Lorax party invitations online. As for treats, it's as if the story was designed with a kid's party in mind-- Humming Fish (goldfish crackers), Brown Barbaloots (teddy grahams and marshmallows-- a concession to the movie adaptation), Truffula fruits (grapes), and Truffula seeds (jellybeans). We also served some chicken nuggets and homemade popcorn as per the birthday girl's request.

Two things I was particularly excited about was the party favours and Sophie's birthday cake. Since we were already laying out treats for everyone (plus a piñata stuffed with candy), I didn't want to pack more goody bags; instead, we prepared little glass cups with four pinto beans on damp cotton balls for the kids to grow their own bean sprouts. It was Jude's idea actually and I thought it was brilliant. It's a novel favour that'll help the kids learn something about plant life and it's totally in sync with the theme of the Lorax story as well!

Pinto beans birthday favours (as Truffula seeds)
"The last of the Truffula seeds..." 

As for her birthday cake, it was the perfect place to bring in Sophie's favourite part of the story-- the Truffula trees. Sophie's still dairy-allergic so I was going to have to bake her vegan cupcakes anyway. So I ordered a regular chocolate cake for everyone else (from an old favourite, of course...) and made a batch of vegan chocolate cupcakes for Truffula trees. I frosted them with green sugar crystals (for "grickle grass"), stuck in striped straws, and topped each straw with a tuft of cotton candy. Voilà! Truffula trees!

Truffula tree cupcakes
Truffula forest

All in all, I think everyone had a good time, especially Miss Sophie-- she got balloons, glitter tattoos (four, to be exact...), hugs galore, a candy-filled piñata, all the treats she wanted to eat, and free-flow of undiluted Ribena :) We didn't get to throw her a proper birthday celebration last year because my grand-dad had just passed away-- and she really didn't know any better then-- so it was nice to finally do something with her surrounded by family, friends, and neighbours. Her parents were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the night but seeing that happy and satisfied glow on her face after was worth all the cupcake-baking, paper-cutting, and stencil-making that went into making her Lorax party a reality :)

[click for more photos]

1. Girl with balloons, 2. Teddy graham and marshmallow "Brown Barbaloots", 3. Gong Gong gets in on it too!, 4. Yiyi love!, 5. Jubee the Lorax/ Gnome ;), 6. Hovering around the snack table with Ely, 7. Happy birthday, sweet sweet love!, 8. The closest we got to a family shot, 9. With Debbie, the amazing glitter tattoo lady

Monday, July 29, 2013

Renovation diaries: Here we go...

We're about a third of the way through our six-week renovation journey and while I have a fairly concrete picture of how we want our apartment to look like at the end of that journey, all I can see right now is dirt and debris. How our vision is going to materialize is something that's still hard for me to fathom, what with gaping holes, dangling wires, and unfinished walls. But I'm looking on the bright side-- we still have a little over a month to go and there has been much progress since the first wall was hacked two weeks ago. The workers are also working over weekends to get things like tiling and plastering done (they're not allowed to do any work that involves excessive noise during non-work hours) so things are thankfully moving along fairly quickly.

I wouldn't say we're doing extensive work on the flat, but the changes aren't modest either, I suppose. It's not a big apartment and there were some oddly shaped corners. Which meant that our designer had to come up with some nifty ways to maximize storage and open the layout our a little. Here's the original floor plan:

Original floor plan for flat

As you can see, the master bedroom has that ridiculously angled back wall and the kitchen is kind of small. There also wasn't a designated dining area. And here, is the redesigned layout:

Redesigned floor plan

We're going to carve our a store room from that odd angle of the master bedroom and also sacrificing part of Sophie's room for a more open kitchen/dining area. A part of the wall to the study room has been hacked to let more light through the apartment in order to create the illusion of space. Most of the hacking has already been done-- especially in the kitchen and bathrooms which we're overhauling completely. The next week will be dedicated to tiling and reconstructing walls. So yes, progress...

Now that we're moving full steam ahead, all we can do is keep one eye on the work to make sure they don't cut corners, and the other on costs to make sure we stay within budget. We've heard horror stories of people renovation costs escalating exponentially through the renovation process and we're going to make sure that doesn't happen to us. We just have to make sure we're very disciplined and steadfast in our decisions. Crossing our fingers (and toes)...

See our progress here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Morning has broken

There are too many battles that could be fought with the 4-year-old early in the morning before school: getting up at all, brushing her teeth (and then which flavor toothpaste), tying up her hair or not, what to wear, what she wants to eat for breakfast, whether she gets a book with breakfast, which shoe to wear, gummy vitamins or not, etc. We basically have 40 minutes between her waking up and us having to leave the house (yes, I've got it down to the second) and so any delay, debate, or deliberation is just going to throw our schedule off (although I sometimes question why I even bother to try keep to a schedule with a 4-year-old...) And so I've learned to pick and choose my battles and have come to accept the ones I don't care about losing: brushing her teeth- non negotiable; what she chooses to wear to school- whatever.

And so this morning, our daughter walks out of the house with clean teeth and looking like Cyndi Lauper, circa 1985 (except without the crazy hair).

When Sophie dresses herself

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A very short engagement; a very long honeymoon

Last week, Jude and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We didn’t make a big deal out of it-- he picked Sophie up early from school, we went furniture shopping, and then we had dinner at a coffeeshop in Tiong Bahru. The Sydney trip was partly meant as a celebration in itself and our 13-course tasting menu at Momofuku seiōbo (for another post), had been our treat to ourselves. To be honest, I appreciated the ordinariness of how we spent our actual anniversary-- with Sophie, looking for things for the first home we own together, and filling our bellies with delicious food like we always enjoy doing, i.e. some of the many things I love about our life together.

We didn’t have a big wedding, in fact, it was modest by Singapore standards (then, and even more so now.) We got engaged in May 2003 over sushi-- at a restaurant that no longer exists in its original location-- and we would go on to set a record for shortest engagement and longest honeymoon among our friends, I believe. My grandfather wanted to make sure we got married on an auspicious date and between the approaching Ghost Month in July and the fact that we were leaving for grad school in August, that actually narrowed our wedding date to just one-- 27 June, a Friday. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to pull off a wedding in two months and even more worried that people wouldn’t attend a weekday wedding. But that-- together with many other anxieties-- became greatly unfounded, thanks in no small part to our family and friends.

From Day One, our wedding was a labor of love-- the wedding reception and dinner, our rings, all the flowers for the ceremony, my sisters’ bridesmaids dresses, my hair and make-up, the wedding invitations, and the wedding photography- almost every aspect of the wedding-- both tangible or not-- was taken on by someone we love and who loves us. And in many cases, our friends and family members volunteered their help and refused payment in any way, sometimes not even for raw material. We were awash with gratitude.

And on the day itself, everyone who mattered to us turned up. It didn’t matter that it was a Friday morning-- people took time off work and even travelled as far as Australia and Finland to help us celebrate our wedding. It was not a stressful affair at all-- I was marrying the man I love, surrounded by people whom we love and love us. There was a lot of smiling, some happy crying, and a lot of laughing. That day-- together with the day Sophie was born-- will always be one of the happiest days of my life.

People say a wedding doesn’t make a marriage but I think the spirit of our wedding did set the tone for our marriage-- there is always lots of laughter and love. Lots of love. Good music and great food. Family and friends are important. Always. And I think pulling off a wedding under budget and in eight weeks (plus seven years of being a grad student) also taught us that a good life can be had at low cost. We like “things” just as much as the next person-- as shopping for our new home attests-- but these things don’t have to be new. In fact, some of the best things you can own are pre-love-- inherited from family, gifted by friends.

Seven weeks after we got married, Jude and I set off for Ann Arbor for what would be a 9-year honeymoon. The rest, as they say, is history.

Our second favorite photo
Our hands

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We see whales. Like seriously...

I could go on about how much fun Sydney was and what a fantastic time we all had but honestly, the highlight for us-- particularly for Sophie-- was the fact that we indeed got to see migrating whales off the coast of Nelson Bay, just north of Sydney. When I had booked the whale-watching tour, part of me was worried that we wouldn't get to see anything. This is after all out in the wide open waters and animals may not always behave as we'd like them to.

But we were lucky and the weather and ocean gods were in our favour. We had gone with Imagine Cruises which seems to have a pretty good track record of whale sightings. We traveled in a catamaran, which is a little less stable than a bigger boat I suppose, but I actually think the smaller vessel was better because it allows you to feel closer to the waters. It was a gorgeous day for a boat ride-- clear skies, brisk breeze, and gentle enough waves-- which did get quite vigorous at times-- that allowed us to go quite far our from land. The vastness of the ocean was profound-- I was in awe. Even Sophie was bowled over by the waves that surrounded us-- "It's like we're on blue jello, Mama!" was the four-year-old assessment of ocean travel in New South Wales...

About 45 minutes into the tour, we finally spotted whale spray in the distance. There were two other tour boats out at sea and by sharing sighting information, the captains could triangulate the locations of different pods of whales. It was all quite exciting with everyone standing, pointing, gesticulating, and moving to the edges of the boat to get a better look. I reckon there were at least half to a dozen whales swimming around us and we got pretty good views of them breaching the surface to breathe and even a couple instances of them doing large flips. It was AWESOME.

Whale splash!

Keen followers of the blog know that Sophie adores whales-- she loves reading about them, listening to stories about them, and knows their anatomy better than any other animal's. And I think the whale tour was the best treat we could have given her-- better than any amusement park or toy store. We were just *there*-- under clear blue sky, atop deep aqua waters, surrounded by animals untouched by human contact. Sophie was transfixed... We all were.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Down under

This was us last night around 9pm.

We leave for Sydney tomorrow
We are very organized packers

Within 30 minutes, I threw everything into the luggage bags and toiletries into various pouches and I think we're now about 90% packed. We leave for Sydney tonight and we're both working all day today so basically, we've been putting things aside every night for the past week.

This is our first long vacation outside of the region since we moved back Jude has a conference and Sophie and I are tagging along for the ride. More importatly, we're taking the opportunity to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary :)

Miss Sophie is of course looking forward to this trip. It's been the motivating force behind everything we've asked her to do for the past week-- drink more water, clean up her room, brush her teeth, go to bed early, etc. She's completely obsessed about the wombats, whales, and dolphins we're going to see. It's whale migrating season down south so we booked ourselves a whale watching boat ride so hopefully, that will be fun.

For now, our immediate concern is everyone getting enough sleep and not being cranky on a red-eye flight. Wish us luck!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Renovation diaries: We buy furniture

For the past two months, most of our evenings and weekends have been spent searching for, looking at, and occasionally, acquiring furniture (and let's not go into the countless hours spent online as well). The apartment that the university provided us was thankfully fully furnished when we moved in last year. That means we're literally starting from scratch as we plan this move into our flat and we have to shop for virtually every single piece of furniture we need. The only large piece of furniture we brought with us from Ann Arbor is our dining table and benches which Jude had lovingly restored so at least that's one less thing to think about.

Thankfully, Jude and I have remarkably similar taste in furniture-- I'm not sure if it's a function of having been married almost ten years now and our aesthetic sensibilities just morphing into each others' or if we genuinely had independently similar tastes to begin with. Whatever the case may be, shopping for furniture has been fairly easy and fun since we almost always seem to fall in love with the same pieces. Although it doesn't help when you actually need one person to talk the other one out of buying something beautiful but wholly unnecessary or unaffordable...

We tend to gravitate towards mid-century modern pieces, which has been tricky here in Singapore because they often don't come cheap. So it's been a challenge finding pieces we like that are still within our budget. It's ironic because the Midwest (Michigan and Chicago particularly) is the haven for mid century modern furniture-- Herman Miller is based near Holland, MI and the Eameses and Saarinen had all been artists-in-residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit. We used to see mid century modern furniture all over the university-- in classrooms, casually strewn along hallways, even in property disposition. And now we're being asked to pay an arm and a leg for the very same things. If we had only known then...

The last thing we want is for our house to look like it walked off the set of Mad Men so we're trying to mix things up a little. There are pieces that are a little less Danish-Scandinavian and more industrial while others are more rustic and less designed. The first one we bought was a couch from John Erdos, which was having a 21% sale to commemorate their 21st anniversary.

Our first purchase for the "new" flat
Couch from John Erdos

I have to admit, part of the allure of this couch was the fact that it reminded us a lot of our couch in Ann Arbor that we had gotten from a garage sale (it used to belong to someone's grandmother), and so the motivation was as much aesthetic as it was nostalgic... We had wanted to get it in red (like our old couch), but in the end, we chose to go with the original moss green in case we find a more vibrant accent piece.

Which we didn't... Instead, Jude found this off gumtree- a lightly used secondhand (read: it was a bargain!) single armchair that had been bought from Urban Foundry (now renamed Foundry).

Armchair from the former Urban Foundry
Secondhand single arm chair from the former 
Urban Foundry

Jude and I have no problems with pre-loved furniture (or furniture that doesn't match for that matter)-- maybe it's from the years of furnishing our house with garage sales finds in Ann Arbor. Besides, the upholstery on this piece is completely removable and we've already thrown that in the wash and the chair now looks and feels as good as new. It complements the couch quite well and I can attest to it's fittingness as something you'd totally curl up in with a book on a lazy afternoon :) We love it!

Our next find was this Danish-inspired book cabinet for the living room we got from Noden Collective.

Book cabinet from Noden Collective

They are actually a lovely couple, Marko and Tawan, who sell vintage furniture out of their wonderfully appointed apartment in Tiong Bahru. We got along really well and before the evening was over, we felt like we had just bought something from friends instead of people who had been complete strangers just an hour ago. The cabinet is solid teak all round-- including the back support and bottoms of drawers-- which is rare for a piece that looks like this. Often, in vintage furniture, plywood is used in the secondary structures, which helps to cut cost but also compromises structural integrity and lastingness. We compared this to pieces we saw at Lorgan's (incidentally, Singapore's first vintage furniture store) and grabbed it when we found out what a steal it was.

To complete the living room, we're engaging the nice folks at Second Charm to design and construct two custom teak pieces for us. They've been a godsend in terms of vintage and vintage reproduction furniture. And reasonably priced to boot. They're helping us with a console to match the Noden cabinet (something that can hold the hi-fi, turntable, Jude's records and CDs, and other assorted bric bracs) and a sideboard for our small hallway. These pieces are still in the design phase so I'll post pictures when the drawings are ready.

And finally, we're on the cusp of getting this gorgeous gorgeous table from Grafunkt as our shared workspace in the study. Literally, we both saw it at the same time and it was love at first sight. Look at Jude admiring it longingly:

We're coveting this table for our shared work space in the new flat
Blu Dot table from Grafunkt

The picture does not do the construction or grain of the table any justice- it's simply put, a beautiful piece of furniture. And a table of this length and narrow width is hard to come by. We've only seen tables that are meant to be dining tables so they're rather wide while the width of this table works perfectly as a work table in our rather small study. Did I mention it's a gorgeous table?

You can probably guess by now that we're keeping the amount of built-in furniture at our new place low (even though it's the cheaper option). Part of it is due to time constraint but the bigger thing is that you can't bring built-in furniture with you when you move. And we want to invest in pieces that we can love and will last, and that we can pass on to Sophie if she wants them. We agonize painfully over each and every piece of furniture we're thinking to buy-- sometimes making multiple visits before making a decision-- because these are things we want to stick with us for a while, things we hope have a little more character than bland (albeit functional) built-ins.

And through this all, Sophie's been a real trouper- with the exception of last weekend when the grandparents and aunts helpfully babysat, we've schlepped her to all the furniture stores with us. By now, she knows which furniture not to touch or sit on (thanks to a too-close encounter with a vintage Noguchi table) and which ones are free game on which to make herself comfortable. See Exhibit A:

The girl knows a good thing when she sees one...
She made a beeline for the Barcelona day bed at Lorgan's

A book, iPhone, and/or iPad have been indispensable to keep her occupied and she'll always want to keep us in her line of vision as we walk around the place-- but apart from that, she's pretty content hanging out with us, making smartypants comments about the pieces we're looking at (she almost always disagrees with our choices), and chatting with whomever and whatever that will give her the time of day (whether it's a friendly salesperson or Tawan and Marko's cats...).

Honestly, while it's been an interesting and enlightening experience shopping for furniture-- all that new vocabulary, delving through craigslist and gumtree for unexpected finds, and learning about the provenance of vintage furniture-- I'll also be glad when we can tell ourselves we're done with the furniture bit. It'll be nice to have our evenings and weekends back again.

Next up, appliances!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

So, we went to Penang

... And frankly, it's all a blur. I think I lost most of my conscious powers of discernment somewhere between the Penang chye tow kway (fried carrot cake) and the curry mee. I think there was chendol in there somewhere and a wholly unnecessary but happily consumed high tea at the hotel. So yes, to put it mildly, we ate A LOT.

BEST.FOOD.EVER
"Goggle lady" char kway teow

Curry mee
Epic curry mee

I have to say though, food aside, it was quite the lovely trip. It's the first vacation we've taken as a family in a long time- husbands and children in tow, and it was wonderful. The kiddies held up to the heat and hawker food (thanks to surreptitiously hoarding of the hotel buffet breakfast), and bountiful fun was had together at the pool. Sophie loved that she was constantly surrounded by people who would hold her hand, hug her, carry her, kiss her, idolize her (yes, 19-month-old Julianne Foo- I'm talking about you...), and thrived on all the affection and attention. So much so that she asked to stay in Penang for "another 11 weeks"...

We have another trip coming up-- to a decidedly different landscape and climate-- but till then, the memory of lush greenery, delicious food, and family will linger warmly.

[click for album]
1. Dinner at Tsunami Village, 2. Hotel, 3. Chew clan jetties, 4. Chew clan jetties, 5. Penang mural, 6. Peranakan House, 7. Amazing Indian samosas by the road side, 8. We ate A LOT, 9. Sisters meet laksa

Monday, May 20, 2013

One of these things is not like the other

Untitled

This photo pretty much sums up our child in a single snapshot. Oh she'll play with her friends-- dress-up, hide-and-seek, catch, etc.-- but when given a choice, Sophie would much rather be in a corner with a book, either by herself or being read to.

The other thing that makes me proud is the fact that unlike her mother, she has pretty good sitting posture :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Renovation Diaries: Shelves

Between Jude and I, we have too many books, CDs, and LPs than is probably acceptable (see here and here for a fraction of what we've been carting around). Which is just fine by us but not so great when you're looking at another move looming in the horizon. We're moving into a significantly smaller place and storage is likely to be an issue. And so to maximise space, we're starting to look into shelving systems, particularly in the living room and study to accommodate all the media we possess.

This post gives you a sense of what we'd ideally like to do with a shelving system. It's meant to make full use of wall space that would otherwise have gone to waste and more importantly, be able to store objects of different shapes/ heights/ dimensions/ depth. If we had all the money in the world, this is what we'd get:


The Vitsœ 606 Universal Shelving System was designed in 1960 and has been in continual production ever since. It's modular which means you buy the pieces you need according to your needs and constraints, and for what it is, it's actually fairly portable, able to be transported with each move we might take in the future. We love the clean, unfussy lines, and the multitude of ways in which it can be configured. It's like the pure idea of storage and design stripped to its bare essence. Watch this video for a sense of why this is such an amazing solution to everyone's storage woes:


Unfortunately-- and surprisingly if you ask me-- Vitsœ does not have a distributor in Singapore and the closest in the region is Tokyo :( There are a few alternatives we can get locally-- here and here-- but to make them really suit our needs, some custom carpentry might be required.

And so-- literally-- it might be back to the drawing board for us...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Renovation Diaries: The Beginning

Inconceivably, it will soon be a full year since we've moved back to Singapore-- something I'll leave for another post-- and with that, we're getting ready to move out of our rented apartment here on the university campus to a more permanent place about a 20-minute drive away and slightly closer to the city. We actually bought the flat in 2006 and have been renting it out since then. It's a modest apartment and just perfect for the three of us right now-- between Jude and I, it'll be easy to manage.

Original floor plan for flat
Original floor plan 

The thing is though, since we bought it, nothing has actually been done to the flat in the way of renovation. Our parents have been wonderful managers and proxy landlords so they've handled things like repairs and installation of an airconditioning system; but if we're going to be living there for the ostensible future, the whole place needs a fairly major overhaul. Which is basically the thing that has consumed our every other waking moment over these past weeks. Apparently, renovating a house-- no matter how small-- is no mean feat.


1. Sin Ming Apartment: Kitchen 1, 2. Sin Ming Apartment: Living Room, 3. Sin Ming Apartment: Bedrooms, 4. Sin Min Apartment: Master Bedroom

We have a designer who's helping us out with rethinking the layout for the house which at this point seems to involve things like hacking and rebuilding walls, reconfiguring spaces, thinking about door placements, etc. Apart from that though, Jude and I are on our own in terms of how we want the interior to look. We have a fairly clear picture of how future home will look-- my Pinterest board will give you an inkling. Of course, how much this vintage midcentury-inspired vision will actually come to fruition remains to be seen. So watch this space- I'm going to try to keep a faithful record of our renovation journey. This is the first time we're creating a home from scratch (well second, if you consider our garage-sale furnished place in Ann Arbor, but that doesn't really count coz we pretty much had to accept the place as it came and we were essentially longterm tenants...) and making it as close to our ideal vision as possible. I think it'll be nice to have something to look back on to show each little step we're taking towards that goal.

Stay tuned :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Accessorizing

I know, it's been almost four months since I last wrote. A longer update is coming up- I promise.

In the meantime, here's a gem from the almost four-year old this morning:

"Mom, you need to accessorize." Which is priceless coming from a kid whose idea of fashion is matching blue and white polka dots with multi-colored stripes.



Sometimes, I feel like we're raising a teenager.

Friday, January 25, 2013

讲华语

One of the things we were most worried about when we moved back to Singapore was Sophie's (in)ability to pick up Chinese. Jude and I speak the language well enough I suppose but it doesn't come naturally to us, which means between just talking to Sophie in English and having to first translate whatever we want to say in Chinese in our heads before then saying it to her, we've always taken the easy way out. Also, people say your mother tongue is the language in which you dream and my dreams have never been in any other language but English (can you subtitle a dream? Freud? Christopher Nolan?).

But thankfully, Sophie's preschool has an excellent Chinese language programme (into which they're constantly researching and re-evaluating, which makes the education geek in me so happy). She also has great Chinese teachers who have been the paragon of patience when it comes to exposing Sophie to the language. They understand that she had almost zero exposure to the language before her third birthday and are taking things slow with her; but they also practice the principle that the only way to learn a language *is* to be saturated in it and so they speak to her almost exclusively in Chinese, necessitating that she learns to understand what they're saying to her.

Sophie's been a quick learner of the sounds of the language-- she can repeat phrases and even complete songs almost pitch perfectly. But for a long time, she had no idea what they mean. A month ago though, she started asking me what certain words in Chinese mean, words she hears often in school or that appear in stories that are read to her- 蝴蝶 (butterfly), 一起 (together), 朋友 (friend), for example and I was more than happy to translate them for her and then ask her again the next day to see if she remembers. Sometimes she does, often she doesn't, but the fact is that she's interested and that's more than we can ask for.

Then last week, her Chinese teacher tells me that they're starting to teach the kids how to recognize Chinese characters and sent home a little game for us to play with Sophie (her first homework assignment!!). She didn't yet have to be able to identify each word but the objective was just to familiarize her with them. Basically, we were supposed to place four Chinese characters on a grid and systematically take one away in turn, and see if Sophie can identify the one that's missing. The four words were:
口 (mouth)
人 (people)
小 (small)
大 (big)

Since Chinese characters are fundamentally pictograms, I told Sophie to look at the words and pretend that they're pictures-- the character for "mouth" looks like a mouth open wide, "people" is a person walking, "small" is like a small, skinny person standing straight, and "big" is a bigger person standing with his/her arms and legs stretched open. And it went BRILLIANTLY. I almost couldn't believe it. In 10 minutes, our child who until 6 months ago heard no word of Chinese (except on Ni-Hao Kai Lan on Nick Jr.) could not only pick out the right word when prompted, she could also produce the sound when I asked. I thought my heart would burst from sheer pride.



Jude and I take hope from this NYT article which we talk about all the time to our friends in similar situations, with children learning what is essentially for Sophie, a foreign language. It talks about how a foreign correspondent for the NYT basically transplanted his entire family from Brooklyn, NY to Moscow and enrolled his children in a Russian-only elementary school. The kids had to learn everything in Russian, a language they had never heard before. It was pure torture. But after five years in Moscow, the children not only spoke fluent, flawless Russian, but also developed a deep love and appreciation for the Russian life and culture. We can only hope the same for Sophie...

Monday, January 14, 2013

When I...

Sometime in June last year, Sophie and I had actually started planning a book project together. For some reason, we were talking a lot about our emotions then-- mostly to do with starting preschool and moving to Singapore-- and I asked if maybe she wanted to "write" a book on the emotions she felt. She got really excited and we took a series of photos as a start. But before we could do much more with it, the huge move loomed large and we had to put the project on hold.

Even when we arrived in Singapore, the last few months have been consumed by settling in, new jobs, new school, new schedule, the holidays, etc. And it wasn't until last week when we found any time to go back to the book project.

The "When I..." idea is mine but everything else (especially the purple) is all Sophie. Her experiences with these emotions are pretty typical of a three-year-old I guess: a combination of things that happen to her/us on a daily basis (fighting to read one more book before bedtime), things that are constantly on her mind (hating the idea of an injection at the doctor's), things that have recently become quite the preoccupation (visiting Ann Arbor), and things from favorite books (the part when the boat getting tossed about in the ocean in Oliver Jeffers' Lost and Found).

I used FlipSnack to make it into an online flip book but I'm looking into the different options of printing it as an actual book we can hold and read before bed. It was a fun experience for both Sophie and I and I'm already thinking of ideas for the sequel- a trilogy perhaps? :)

[click to read book]

Monday, January 07, 2013

Sophie snaps

For Christmas this year, instead of getting Sophie one big present-- mostly because we didn't want to clutter the house with another big toy-- we bought her several smaller ones instead-- a pile of books, furniture for her dollhouse, a pair of sparkly TOMS that she's worn practically everyday since, and a fully functioning digital camera. Honestly, it was the best $40 spent on a Christmas present. Sophie's gotten really used to us schelpping our camera everywhere and we use our phone camera in front of her all the time so she's pretty much grown up understanding the concept of capturing memories through photography. In fact, lately, she's been using our phones to randomly take pictures of things around her-- though not always in focus and we've gotten our fair share of photos of her fingers...

So the kid digital camera was something she really appreciated and we've taken it out with us everywhere since Christmas. It's as simple as they come-- turn on, aim, shoot, and scroll buttons to go through your pictures. The resolution isn't great but for $40, you're not expecting Ansel Adams quality photographs. And Sophie doesn't care so much how the photos look like but more the fact that she's the one who took them, with her very own camera.

Last weekend, when our friends Melanie and Jonas came into town for a visit, we took them to the Esplanade/ Marina Bay Sands area for a jaunt and took the opportunity for Sophie to go to town with her camera. We told her to look for things she found interesting and to take as many pictures as she wanted. Here are some shots that she took:

[click for more]