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!