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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Month

June 2015

{Monday Me} In the eyes of the beholder

I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogging mother recently dared to post a picture of herself that her son took. It wasn’t a flattering shot. She was lying in the sun in her bathing costume, one arm thrown over her face at an awkward angle, and a very white bare leg in all its post-pregnancy cellulite splendour stretched out front and centre.

Why did her son take that shot, right at that precise angle, in that unguarded moment? Was it to prank his mum? Embarrass her? Build some counter-ammo for that proverbial threat about silly stories making it to the 21st birthday speech?

No. He had taken it because he thought she looked beautiful. Out there, resting and relaxed in the sun.

I don’t know if Arddun had thought I looked beautiful when she took this one, but this is my unguarded-moment photo that I’m rather embarrassed about:

Velle changing Atticus's nappy in bedroom

EEEEEAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! Avert your eyes!!! Do you see it? DO YOU SEE IT? My muffin top! My post-pregnancy, too-much-chocolate-too-many-late-nights-too-tired-to-exercise muffin top. The secret body of a woman who doesn’t live in Hollywood (or Asia) and who grew and birthed a 9-pound bubba 7 months ago. My body hasn’t bounced back, and my preschooler outted my disgrace with her new camera.

Except all she saw was her mummy doing a diaper change. All she captured was my joy with the mundane. That look on my face was one of surprise and pleasure — I was thrilled that she was starting to get the hang of her camera, and touched that she wanted to take photos of me. In fact, she took lots of photos of me because she adores me. Just as I take lots of my children because I can’t take my eyes off them.

She sees my body, cellulite and all, every day. They both do. But they don’t see the stretch marks, the bags under the eyes, the freckles. They don’t look at my body and think that I’m fat. They don’t wish I have a sharper nose or a butt that looks great in jeans. They don’t think I’m ugly. I’m Mummy. I have pretty hair. I give good cuddles and tickly kisses. I sing silly songs. I am like no other.

In a sermon two Sundays ago, Paul had suggested that we do massive clean-ups of our house before guests come over, all because of pride. And I had disagreed out loud – mostly because I do massive clean-ups because I’m trying to spare our guests having to wade through our filth (imagined or real). But there is an element of pride – of course there is. We want to be seen as put-together. Civilised. In control of our environment.

And it’s the same with our bodies – we don’t want to seem slothful. Slovenly. Ill-disciplined.

Being Chinese puts me in a slightly more *unique* position than my non-Chinese friends in Australia because my body is always held to a higher standard in some ways. For whenever I meet an Asian woman – even a complete stranger – there’s more than half a chance that she will comment on my body. I’ve been told I looked fat and that I should get a corset a mere fortnight after giving birth, while my body was still swollen from shock and water retention. I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t let myself go (the inference being that I already have). For my birthday this year, I had bought myself a full-length navy blue dress peppered with sweet yellow-white flowers, with an empire waistline. I absolutely love it because it’s pretty and comfortable… but every other time I’ve worn it, some Chinese woman somewhere was bound to pat my tummy (for real) and ask if I was pregnant and if not, that I therefore needed to lose weight. Never mind that I was jiggling an infant in a pram while they were doing and saying so.

It’s almost enough to develop an eating disorder.

I’m almost used to it now. It’s definitely cultural, this kneejerk reaction to tell another woman why she isn’t trying hard enough. And it’s not just looks – it goes into childrearing, housekeeping, you name it. But the looks are where it starts, because it’s the first and most obvious thing when you meet another person. I don’t know why my culture perpetuates this cycle of women crushing other women with the weight of vanity and expectation, even with those we love. I know it’s very seldom done maliciously. I know it’s done unconsciously.

(Or perhaps it happens in all cultures, except Asians lack subtlety. Certainly true, if the nastiness of parenting forums are anything to go by.)

I don’t know. I suspect the Looks thing has a lot to do with vanity and that notion of Saving Face that is endemic to our culture. And my shame in showing others my flabby bits is part and parcel of all that. But I reckon if I see myself through the same lens that my children use, I’d be a lot happier with myself and my body. And in turn, I’d be teaching my son and daughter valuable lessons about looking right past the outsides so they can recognise true love and real beauty.

Here’s to breaking free.

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Point and Click

But before I begin, let’s start with this pretty picture:

No television on entertainment unit
“Where’s our TV, Mummy?”

And yes. As much as we started out as parents who wanted to keep our child away from the “evils” of television, we ended up losing our way. Repeatedly, and without regret. I don’t know who I was trying to kid – I love film and television. I think I watched, on average, a movie a week when I was Single in Singapore. And I grew up with the original Disney heroines, long before they thought to package them as Princesses. Watching Arddun’s eyes widen and sparkle as she is introduced to my animated companions of old is always a very special treat we both share.

But our 7-year-old Samsung seems to be of that special factory breed which has a glitchy capacitor, so it’s been taking longer and longer to wake up when we point and click. In one of the rarest times an extended warranty actually worked in our favour, the tech people came today to take our TV away and fix it for free. And so we find ourselves without the gogglebox for a whole week.

Thank goodness S5 GoT just finished.

Naturally, this called for an arsenal of other distractions. I had recently recharged our old point-and-shoot Olympus (8 megapixels, 10x optical zoom), only to find the lens or digital monitor damaged. So today, I splashed out a little on a cheapie – just to see how well Arddun takes to photography.

It’s only a 2mp with a very slow reaction time, so most shots end up blurred after pressing the button. But Arddun was pretty thrilled with it. “I take pictures like you!” she beamed at me, which more than made up for the $25 price tag!

And off she went, working out how to place her fingers so they didn’t block the lens and how to use the digital monitor to frame her shot. The first few times she took a picture of me only to find my head chopped off, she accused me of “not standing right”. So yes, practice needed on how to frame a shot, methinks.

Photo of me without head
“You’re not standing in the right spot, Mummy!”
Velle and Atticus on left of shot
“That’s better!”
Photo of drawers
“I take your drawers.”
Photo of ceiling
“Look, Mummy! The ceiling!”
Photo of toys
The Princess and the Hammock
Photo of Velle holding Atticus
I think I’ve had more photos taken of me in this half an hour than I’ve had in a looooong time.
Photo of Tony without his head
Daddy’s home.
Blurred photo of Arddun's dinner
“My dinner!”

Every time she managed to take a picture without her fingers in the shot, she just beamed. After just 20 photos, you could see a marked improvement. Can’t wait to see if this becomes a passion of sorts!

Arddun’s vintage birthday tea party

Question: How does one organise a children’s party at home in winter, while alone with two children?

Answer: Very, very slowly.

Arddun’s 4th birthday party has been and gone, but we are still stretching things out by opening a new present a day. June has turned into birthday MONTH, as far as I’m concerned. I started thinking about Arddun’s birthday party the week after Tony’s 40th party finished. And then it was all about incrementally putting it together.

It was like watching snails mate, it was that slow.

It had been very tempting to lump it all with professional party people, and indeed I had sourced a few quotes. But perhaps it’s been all my casual Pinteresting of late that’s imbued me with this false sense of, “Yeah! I can definitely do that!” What I failed to remember, of course, was how different my life is now. I no longer have long stretches of time in the day with which to plan and execute lavish parties. Even when I was working stupid hours in Corporate Land, I still had more time and headspace to event-manage 50-pax Chinese New Year house parties annually than I do now. For shizz.

Motherhood, in reality, only allows you to think and execute anything in 5-minute bursts. Try putting a strategic plan across that level of chronic interruption. It ain’t easy, even with the best household routine in place. Which is why I needed about a 20-day lead time to pull together a 2-hour party for 7 girls and their mothers.

I had decided on a Vintage Tea Party theme, because lunch was too daunting and I wanted something fun and feminine, but not attached to any Disney franchise (*cough* Frozen *cough*). Thanks to Alice in Wonderland, Arddun has a superficial understanding of what an afternoon tea with friends could look like, but doing it Vintage-style allowed me enough poetic license to go hodge-podge with décor and — more importantly — borrow party gear from friends.

Here’s a peek at the Vintage Tea Party-planning.

Arddun, putting together goodie bags for her friends. Loot includes chocolate chip teddy bears, colourful beads to make jewellery, temporary tattoos, and stationery.
Arddun, putting together goodie bags for her friends. Loot includes chocolate chip teddy bears, colourful beads to make jewellery, temporary tattoos, and stationery.

 

Party bags for friends
Special bags for special friends

 

Pouring milk while making cupcakes
Part of the day’s fun includes cupcake decorating. For that, we first need to make some nekkid cupcakes.

 

Arddun being silly with Atticus while baking
What fun is baking if you can’t make your baby brother wear a funny hat, hmm?

 

Montage of Arddun and Atticus
I must be near the oven, ‘cos my heart is melting. These kids!

 

Edible teacups
Made these in the middle of the night. Let’s just say that icing sugar ain’t no superglue.

 

Edible teacups close up
First saw these at my baby shower when Arddun was still in utero. Seems rather poetic that I’m making them now. Also featuring my mother’s colourful chicken plate.

 

Passing the parcel forfeit
Apparently, Passing the Parcel nowadays means each child wins a present every time the music stops and they tear open the package. True to the vintage theme, we went old-school with ours and each layer peeled meant a small “forfeit” with only a single prize at the end. Nothing too traumatic, and all in good fun. I hope.

 

Passing the parcel Hokey Pokey forfeit
The final “forfeit” before the prize.

 

Dress up corner
Dress-up corner with a chest of vintage clothes (half procured from Salvation Army shop), and jewellery box filled with gloves, lace, pearls and bling. I had no idea how vintage-inspired my bling collection was until I put this together! Borrowed mirror from Fam.

 

Tea party table
Pom-poms and netting put together by daddy. The idea is for the girls to sit at their tea party table and dabble with make-up after having a rummage through the dress-up box. Half expecting drag-queen results. Camera on the ready.

 

Table setting for tea party
Tea party spread shaping up! Gorgeous teacups and teapots borrowed from lovely sisters in Christ who were brave, slightly insane but generous enough to trust seven 4-year-olds with such precious crockery.

 

Teapot and teacups
Arddun and I went shopping a few weeks back and did some tea-tasting at T2. Finally settled on Fruitalicious – a lovely uncaffeinated fruit tea that is suitably pink, like Dorothy the Dinosaur’s.

 

Colourful meringues
Wasn’t insane enough to hand-make everything. These meringues were store-bought purely because they were pretty, and they turned out very yum.

 

Cucumber sandwiches
I’m under the strong impression that very English tea parties require cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, so I cheerfully obliged.

As for the party itself, it never quite turns out like how you envision it… but the end result was still deeply satisfying.

Emma dressing up
You mean, I get to try out all the clothes in this chest? You’re kidding!

 

Ivy in dapper hat
Not really into the girly dresses, but this hat is pretty dapper on me!

 

Charlotte in pearls and dress up
That’s LADY Charlotte to you, thankyouverymuch.

 

Emma dressing Tracey up
Look what I found you!

 

Zahra at make up table
Eyebrows always require deep concentration

 

Birthday girl putting on make-up
I think that’s how Mummy does it.

 

Leila putting on blue make up
That fine line between Make-up and Face-painting.

 

Ivy and passing the parcel
Passing the Parcel forfeit: make a silly face at the Birthday Girl. Ivy shows us how it’s done.

 

Arddun in corner collecting herself
Sometimes, all that attention can just get too much. Introverted birthday girl takes some time to collect herself.

 

Cupcake decorating
Cupcake decorating time!

 

Charlotte with finished cupcake
Almost too pretty to eat.

 

Birthday ice cream cake
The candle says it all. You are officially four!

 

Happy birthday song
A rousing Happy Birthday song

 

So much love put in to the day.
So much love put in to the day.

 

Birthday present line-up
Thanks for coming, everyone! We definitely feel very loved.

There were a few other moments I wished I could have captured. The moment when they all had their first sip of grown-up tea in grown-up china teacups, for instance. My hands were full with having to feed Atticus by then, but it was so precious to watch a tableful of little girls reverently holding their teacups in both hands and sipping solemnly.

Thankfully, there were other mums taking lots of photos too. Can’t wait to see their snapshots! :-)

In the end, I think Arddun enjoyed herself, on balance. And it turned out to be a lot of fun for me, too. Although the pics don’t include them, Tony and Atticus were also at the party, quietly enjoying the festivities in the background. I’m glad we ended up doing it this way, even if it had taken some effort. It’s probably the last birthday party we’ll have in this house before we move, and Arddun’s just old enough now to start keeping memories. I hope she remembers this home.

Not sure what we’ll end up doing next year, but my mind’s already churning. :-)

Monday Me

A wonderful Mommy photographer I just stumbled upon on Pinterest had put up a post to encourage mothers with cameras to get in front of them once in a while. I really needed that boost. For one thing, I’m never satisfied with how I photograph; I don’t have a symmetrical anything — even my eyebrows are different — so seeing a mirror image of what I look like in the mirror throws me all the time. And of course, I always think I’m looking fatter with each photo — and maybe I am. But that really shouldn’t matter, if the bottomline is about documenting my family life for my family. Because if I should get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want to leave my children and husband something a little more lasting than a hazy memory of a Chinese woman with a DSLR where her face ought to be. It’s not just about me… even if it’s all about photographing me. So yes, here’s another Good Blogging Intention that I will no doubt end up breaking, like my Thursday’s Three Thankfuls. I should start by not promising that this will be a weekly thing. But I’m going to try and get in front of my camera more often when photographing family moments. Here was my very deliberate start; after going trigger happy at Ivy’s party, I handed the very lovely and obliging Sara my camera, and asked her to take a photo of Arddun with her bestie Leila, and Leila’s mummy, Fam — one of the sweetest, most thoughtful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. :-)

Fam, Leila, Arddun and me at Ivy's 4th birthday party
Enjoying Ivy’s 4th birthday party. Arddun, struggling with the harsh idea that the Lollies After Lunch rule still applies at parties.

Arddun turns 4!

It’s hard for us to believe that we have known and loved Arddun for four years now. Three still feels like a toddler-ish number, but four — FOUR! — is definitely entering the Little Girl arena.

What is she like now? Bigger and better. Louder, yet gentler. In the last little while, she’s worked out what offends her personally, and so she’s started putting her distinctive stamp on things. Like her routine, the dinner menu, her wardrobe, and even the way we drive. (While waiting at lights, I am often told to “Just drive, Mummy. Just drive!”)

Emotions are likewise more intense and colourful. Her laughs can be huge and hearty. Fluffs are halarious. Burps are halarious. Ending any adjective with “poo” is both naughty and silly, and therefore rates very highly in her vernacular. And then the tears! Yes, there have been meltdowns over seemingly innocuous, inconsequential things. I’m learning to pick different battles from her. There has been the occasional arm-folding, and the one time she dared to roll her eyes. That had been interesting, because I suddenly heard my mother come out of my mouth. Malay words and everything.

She hasn’t tried that again since.

Oh but then she can be so gentle and funny and patient. I sometimes forget just how much I ask of both my children when they tag along to malls because I have to run through a long list of errands, and they do so without any complaint and with so much cheerfulness. I am so thankful that I can trust her to stay close to the car when I’m getting Atticus in and out, that she is willing to ferry the umpteenth item from house to vehicle and back. That she can still play by herself in her room quietly, that she’s willing to feed herself, bathe herself, and change into her clothes (with varying levels of actual success, but about 75% there.)

I love how she loves her brother, and totally delights in delighting him. She is soooo good at getting those baby belly-chuckles and he, in turn, is always looking around the room for her.

Lately, she’s been working out what letter of the alphabet words start with. It’s not unusual to hear her going, “W! Wuh… Wuh… Wednesday! Wednesday starts with W!” or something like it. Js and Gs get her a little mixed up, but she’s so receptive to correction, it puts me to shame. She’s also starting to sing nursery rhymes in Mandarin, thanks to a Chinese playgroup we’ve been going to for over a month. Her rendition of the Hokey Pokey in Mandarin cracks me up each time, but I love that she’s so unaffected, so natural and brave. These classes have become uniquely our thing because it’s about our shared racial heritage. It’s something I’m surprised I really enjoy and didn’t realise I crave.

I’ve been slowly preparing for her birthday party this Saturday, and I hope to dedicate an entire post to that later this week. But here’s a bunch of birthday snapshots. Some were taken at school on Tuesday when I ducked in after Arddun’s lunchtime to watch her blow out an imaginary flame on one of 24 cupcakes that yours truly baked for her classmates. (Uh huh!)

The others were taken today.

Cupcake-collage
Yes, I baked AND decorated 24 cupcakes for Arddun’s preschool classmates. This explains the icing art. It’s amateur hour, I know. But I’m feeling all Pinterest-mum superior now.
Arddun blowing out imaginary flame on cupcake at school
It’s a little lame, but basically they are not allowed any open flames in the classrooms. So Arddun was asked to imagine the candle was lit and to blow the flame out when the class was done singing. True story, and thank goodness my girl has an active imagination.
Arddun in Cinderella dress at breakfast
Good morning, Birthday Girl! Standard breakfast request nowadays is a honey and cheese sandwich with a mug of milk. Why should your birthday morning be any different.
Arddun pulling face while tasting yoghurt
Silly faces while taste-testing our homemade strawberry yoghurt. (It’s not that bad.)
Arddun holding her mother's childhood spoon
That orange spoon was mine, when I was her age. So precious to see her use it now.
View of backyard in rain
With steady rain for most of the day and Atticus also feeling under the weather, we stayed in. Here’s hoping her party on Saturday will find the sunshine.
Arddun peeking out from behind sofa bed
Cheeky girl decides to hide behind the sofa to surprise me on my way out the backdoor.
Arddun behind sofabed, looking towards back yard
I think I might be stuck.
IMG_4332
Contemplative. I wish I had been quick enough to take a sharper photo.  :-(
Arddun with birthday cookie
The cafe our family frequents sprang a birthday cookie and chocolate milkshake treat for our girl, and said it was on the house because they had practically watched her grow up over the years. Awww!
Arddun looking through Japanese kaleidoscope
Waited till after dinner, when Daddy was home, to finally open her presents. Looky what we have here!
Arddun tiptoeing in Cinderella dress.
I remember when she first wore her Cinderella dress and it reached below her ankles. That was a very short year ago.
Tony and Arddun looking at Cat in the Hat costume.
Examining her Cat in the Hat costume from Daddy Dearest. Except she is convinced the costume’s for HIM to get kitted out in.
Atticus, enjoying the evening's proceedings. Besides, crinkly paper is always so much fun at these shindigs
Atticus, enjoying the evening’s proceedings. Besides, crinkly paper is always so much fun at these shindigs

An interview with the Birthday Girl

How old are you today? I am 2! No… 3! No… 5! Hahahaha… I’m 4 today. *Big grin*

What’s your favourite TV show? Sofia the First.

What do you love doing in school? Singing and dancing

If you could choose a name for yourself, what would it be? Ivy

What’s your favourite colour? Pink!

What’s your favourite toy? Big Kitty.

What’s your favourite book? Wacky Wednesday (by Dr Seuss)

What’s your favourite movie? Alice in Wonderland and Cat in the Hat

What’s your favourite food? Breakfast.

What’s your favourite animal? Tigers. And lions.

Who is your best friend? Leila

What is your favourite song? 炒萝卜(a nursery rhyme we’ve learnt recently that involves tickling towards the end. How frying radishes can end in tickling is anyone’s guess, but that’s nursery rhymes for you.)

If only it were that simple

“Arddun, please put on your socks and boots. We’re going out soon.”

“I can’t! I’m dead. The dinosaur bit me.”

“The dinosaur bit you?”

“Yes.” [Lies down on couch slowly]. “The dinosaur bit me. I’m dead.”

“Oh dear. Alright, when you come back to life, can you please put on your socks and boots?”

“…”

“Arddun?”

“…”

“Arddun!”

(Sits up, indignant.) “I’m still sleeping!”

“Okay, but I want you to put on your socks and boots, please. I’ll give you two minutes. After that, you have to come back to life and put on your socks and boots. Understand?”

(Goes back to “sleep”)

“Say ‘Yes Mummy’ if you understand.”

“Yes, Mummy.”

Declutter Challenge Accepted

While flicking through Facebook the other day, I came across a blog that was inviting its readers to do a 30-day Declutter, by sending out a prompt a day.

It immediately appealed to me for various reasons — unlike FlyLady, this challenge is finite and focused, and there is a possible prize at the end. ($150 vouchers from Howard’s Storage World, anyone?) I’d tried doing FlyLady a few times, but ended up annoyed either by their emails or website — which are both ironically cluttered and disorganised. The more I wander through An Organised Life, however, the more I fall in love.

I feel like I’ve been continually decluttering, especially since 2013 when we were

  • packing to live in Singapore for half a year, and then
  • packing my mother’s house in Singapore, and then
  • unpacking when we got back from Singapore, and then
  • unpacking boxes that we had shipped from my mother’s house, and then
  • decluttering and packing boxes in anticipation of Atticus and an eventual house move.

Phew!

What I’ve been confronted with over and over in these last 2 years is my sentimentality. I had marvelled, while packing my mother’s house, at what she had opted to keep in her tiny flat. What most people would pass over as junk, I had immediately recognised as remnants and relics of my childhood and her life. And since her death, I have been finding it especially difficult to declutter because, like her, I simply can’t bear to let go of the silliest things.

Like 20-year-old eyeshadow and perfume. Like showercaps. Like bindis that no longer stick to anything.

Like shoes that hurt. Like blouses that have shrunk since I had Atticus (ahem!).

Like notebooks filled with everyday lists and scribbles. Like old contact lenses.

Like badly chipped jars. Like clothes that no longer fit either Arddun or Atticus. Like costume jewellery that’s broken beyond repair. Like lotion for stretch marks that don’t actually work because, hello? I’m a grown woman, not a bloomin’ rubberband.

And so I find I have to revisit my piles of clutter periodically, if only to summon the fortitude to let. it. go.

Since I came into this challenge late, I needed to catch up on 10 days’ worth of prompts. This, on top of my usual housework and that small matter of keeping Atticus alive and well. But thanks to the last 2 years of that constant cycle of gathering and dispensing, I managed to do the following today.

Box of shoes
Shoes! Mine and Arddun’s. A surprisingly small box, but then again my summer shoes are lost in storage somewhere.
Floor with old cosmetics strewn
Toiletries, a surprisingly difficult one for me to tackle. I had consolidated my travel-sized toiletries a few months ago, but the make-up drawers were hard work for me because they come with memories of choir days, and dates in my twenties, and shopping trips with girlfriends, and just that promise of a magical evening out dressed to the nines. Never mind that some of them are about 20 years old, and I don’t dare smear any on my face.
Cups and crockery on kitchen table
Coffee Cups & Crockery… very low yield, as I most of our crockery are hand-me-downs and therefore sentimental. In fact, I was rather reluctant to part with these except they’re quite badly chipped all over, and I never use these cups because they’re quite useless thermoses.
Candles and platter
Vases, candles and platters. I use all our vases because we only have three, so none to throw out. Heaps of candles but again, many are sentimental so these were all I was willing to give away.
Cookbooks on kitchen benchtop
Cookbooks! I’d already done a cull before, but then duly went out and fell in love with a few more volumes. These were the only ones that made the cut this time around.
Boxes of children's clothes
Children’s clothes. Two boxes worth, the bottom being Atticus’s and the top being Arddun’s. To be honest, I’d been accumulating Atticus’s for 4 months now, so it’s not like I threw everything together today although I did fill it up enough to close the box today. As for Arddun’s, I regularly go through her clothes because she grows so quickly, and now that we know we won’t be keeping most pieces for Atticus, it’s made decluttering a whole lot faster.

I haven’t tackled bags yet (Day 4), or knick-knacks and ornaments (Day 5), or toys (Day 6), mostly because there’s nothing to be done there. Most of my bags are in storage, as are the family’s knick-knacks and ornaments (mostly from my mother’s house). I had also just sorted through Arddun’s toys the week before, so I’m counting that as a done deal.

Sorry this is a boring one for you. It’s mostly a means for me to pat myself on the back. I’ve never enjoyed housework and Tony is amazingly consistent with the bits he does (all our laundry, some dishwashing, the garden, the garbage, the garage.) But when it comes to sorting and sifting, it seems to be my one constant project. And I, for one, am grateful Atticus napped for 4 hours today.

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