Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



Happy Birthday to my Sister from Another Mother

One of the main things I am hugely thankful for in the midst of this pandemic is technology — specifically our ability to afford it, understand it, and be in community with others who enjoy such privilege and access.

This afternoon, I got to catch up with Audrey — one of my sisters from another mother. Audrey’s family and mine are linked in many ways — primarily through church but also through proximity in terms of distance, life stage, and opportunity. My mother had tutored all three kids in that family, and they, in turn, had been my babysitters twice or three times a week at one stage, when my mother had to work late evenings tutoring other kids. I’d eaten their dinners, learned all their hiding places, played in their playground, watched their TV, read their books, practised on their piano (badly), and loved each of them as I still do.

Audrey is the friend who is closer than a sister, and easily one of the kindest people I know. Her Christian faith is deep with far-reaching roots so I find comfort in knowing she’s still here — running the long race, face tilted towards the Son. Her faith is child-like but hardly naive — the best kind of child-like there is — while I find myself constantly questioning and doubting and uneasy. I really treasure this woman, even though we can hardly find the time to chat between the children, the time difference, and our jobs.

Until today. It’s her birthday, and thanks in part to this pandemic, we managed to have a long and luxurious chat — she in her kitchen, me amongst the books. She’s one of those lifelong friends with whom I can easily oscillate between the superficial and the sacred, the shallows and the deep. So much shared history that there’s such an easy shorthand. So much silliness that we can dissolve into the kind of laughter that hurts.

As for that kitchen she was sitting in, it’s where I experienced that crazy unconditional love — her stripping and cleaning my stroller when Arddun (still not quite 2 years old then) had taken suddenly and violently ill while out at the zoo. That was a seriously gross endeavour and Audrey had been amazing. Honestly, I wouldn’t have taken it well if someone else’s kid had made such a mess and I helped clean it up. I can barely stand my own kids’ mess, much less someone else’s.

Happy Birthday, sis. You know I love ya and miss ya. xx

Arddun turns 5!

Our little girl turned 5 last Saturday.

That’s half a decade old. That is ridiculous.

I look at her, and she’s gorgeous and she makes my heart smile. But sometimes, there’s a particular kind of terror that grips my heart because she’s growing up so quickly. When it was just her and only her, we could note every little difference. We relished each new word learnt, each new concept grasped. But now that we are Four, there are days I feel I miss whole chunks, whole spaces of time where I can look at my firstborn and really see her. The missing of minute changes and whispers of growing. The realisation sometimes stops me in my tracks like a heart twinge.

Continue reading “Arddun turns 5!”

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. :-)

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.

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.

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.)

This is Arddun, aged 3

Arddun in Cinderella Dress, Extreme Close Up, grinning

This is our girl. This is Arddun. She’s now three years, one month and two days old. She has a thousand facial expressions, and hundreds of smiles.

Sometimes, she wakes up absolutely grouchy. Sometimes, she wakes up and talks about breakfast. Sometimes she wakes up and says random things like,

“Look, Mummy! I have a lot of hair!”

She still loves to sing. She lives for the end credits of Walt Disney flicks, because that’s when she gets to belt out the numbers and breaks out the moves. She loves Larry Boy (she calls him Happy Boy), and Bob the Tomato. She’s of the opinion that tomatoes are really yummy, even though she’s not eaten any since she was 7 months old.

She’s starts off Cinderella most days, transits into Elsa some days, and is always Jessie the Cowgirl in between, with her trusty steed, Bulls Eye.

She’s starting to recognise printed words like “The” and “On”. Thanks to the slew of birthdays in June and July, she can definitely recognise the print word “Birthday”, which is synonymous with other delicious words like “cake” and “presents”. She now recognises both capital and small letters of the English alphabet, as well as their sounds. She still loves counting, except she now sounds completely Aussie when reciting numbers 1 to 10 in Mandarin. She also looks completely self-conscious when she does. It’s like looking in the mirror.

I love that we now get dialogue, that she can now give voice to her thoughts. I love how we know her best friend in playschool is Emily W, and her best friend in Mother’s Group is Leila. I love how she cups my face in her still-tiny hands to plant a big kiss on my flat nose, before telling me gravely that she loves me too. I love how she gives herself a false name, and thinks it’s hilarious.

She walks into a crowded room, and it takes her – on average – about 45 minutes to warm up. She’s cautious before she’s carefree, looks before she leaps, and in that regard she ceases to be her mother’s daughter and becomes every bit her father.

She absolutely adores her father. They still make pancakes together on Saturday mornings when they can. The bedtime story still belongs to them, and Mummy is largely not allowed. He is Woody to her Jessie, horse (or elephant?) to her cowgirl, prince to her Cinderella. She doesn’t yet understand who God is, but Tony is her rock and her shelter. And because I never had that relationship with my father, it’s now one of my favourite things to watch.

She now feels pain and empathy when others hurt. I took a tumble yesterday and scraped my right knee, and here is my baby girl, grabbing a wet wipe and ever so gently dabbing my bloody wound while crooning, “Oh Mummy. Poor darling… you okay?”

(It had hurt like the dickens, in all honesty. But the moment was too precious to yelp and spoil it all.)

It’s hard to write about your own kid without either coming off flippant or overly mushy. I wish I’m being a lot more articulate, that my prose flows like poetry. But the spirit of this gorgeous human being is woven together by the mundane and the everyday, made altogether exquisite when I realise—with a jolt at the puffing out of candles—how quickly she has grown. It’s all happening now, in strides and sprints. Soon, she will have a sibling. Soon, she will be in school. How many more willing wriggles into my lap during worship for a shared prayer? How many more demands for kisses and cuddles?

The girl is growing up.

Arddun in Cinderella dress, full length shot
Her favourite outfit this winter: Cinderella dress.

Arddun looking afar, wearing Cinderella dress

Arddun looking at hands, Cinderella dress

Arddun looking straight into camera, wearing Cinderella dress

Arddun in Jessie costume looking at Jessie doll
Jessie is a new friend, never parted with for long

Arddun dressed as Jessie the Cowgirl
My cowgirl

Birthday cake for everyone!

Every year, our mother’s group makes a point to celebrate all of our firstborn’s birthdays in one biggish bash. This year’s was a little later than usual, but no less fun. Just two hours of 3yo heaven – flavoured milkshakes, party games, face-painting, rainbow birthday cake, presents… and of course, ice cream on a winter’s day.

Here’s some Arddun-centric highlights.

Smartie cake with birthday candle 3
Guess who are turning three…

Arddun getting face painted
No sudden moves…

Arddun with face painted with flower on cheek
Finished product: a simple purple flower.

Solving puzzles with Ivy
Puzzling it out with friend Ivy

Arddun eating a biscuit at the table
Plenty of food to go ’round

Blowing out the candle
Birthday song and blowing out the lone candle among 10 kiddies

Arddun contemplating the cake
Eyeing the smarties

Cross section of rainbow cake
That is one impressive rainbow cake. Truly blessed by multi-talented mommies who labour with love.

Tony scrubbing Arddun's face
Removing evidence of cake inhalation…

Arddun opening her present
A birthday’s not a birthday without presents

Family portrait
One of many attempts at a family portrait.

Arddun giggling while lying on the floor
Goodness! That was a lot of fun!

Our baby girl is 2!

It’s quite mind-boggling to us, her parents, that on this date 2 years ago, we welcomed our munchkin and she looked like this:

Arddun just born
Bright light! Bright light!

And her first mutual scrutiny of family ties with Tony looked like this:

Brand new Arddun with daddy
“I am your father” moment

And then last year, on her first birthday, she looked like this:

Arddun with the chickens
Duck and chickens

And then – whooshka! She turned 2, weighs a hefty 14.6kg, and stands about 90cm++. And she is more entertaining than ever.

Arddun and mummy with cheese
Taking the whole “say Cheese to the camera” thing a little too literally

Arddun and Tony ring a ringa rosies
What started out as a prayer for lunch soon turned in Ring-a-ring-a-roses.

Arddun in purple coat holding banana
Purple fashionista

Arddun at Big Kids table
Guest of Honour at the Big Kids table this evening

Waiting to blow out candles
Suddenly Shy during Happy Birthday song, after rehearsing about eleventeen times on the way over… (Also, sorry I chopped off her friends’ heads.) 

Arddun's second birthday cake
Happy Birthday, Irresistible You

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