Monday, December 30, 2013

Counting blessings 2013

Taking some time to reflect on this year before we usher in 2014. Here's a thankful post to count up the blessings in my life in 2013.

The many opportunities to potter in the kitchen, trying out new recipes in the kitchen and fine tuning existing ones. Cooking and baking are therapeutic to me and have helped lifted my spirits many a times during stressful and moody times. 

The good health of those who are closest and dearest to me. 

The smooth transition as we renovated and then moved into our new flat. We have settled in quickly,  and have fostered some friendly ties with the neighbors. The girls have even made several friends around the new estate since. 

The opportunities to make ourselves available to friends who need us in times of need, be it a listening ear or a helping hand. We have received a lot of help during our foundation years of married life and starting a family and are thankful of the opportunities to pay it forward.

The stream of support, help and advice that I constantly receive from friends (you all know who you are), church cell group and my family. 

The Helper who has indeed being a great help. In retrospect, I realized I was hormonal during my pregnancy days which made me not an easy person to live with and the Helper has bored it well. During the weeks that I lay bedridden while the Husband went to work, the Helper was the one who took care of the girls, made sure they are fed, bathed and entertained. I am especially thankful for her obedience and strong ability to follow instruction and yet exert her own initiatives as and when needed. 

My two little girls (and then now - plus a little boy) who mean the whole world to the Husband and I. While parenthood is trying at times; children have an amazing way of multiplying love. Let's just say that.. If a romantic love can fill one's cup till it overflows; having children can yield one multiple cups full of love. 

God's covering over me and baby through another complicated pregnancy. I recently read an article where research was done on pregnant women with hyperemesis gravidarum which stated that half of these pregnancies were terminated given how difficult the nine months can be for these women. While drugs can reduce my frequency of vomiting, it doesn't take away the overall feeling of sickness, nausea and the whole bunch of other symptoms and complications that come with managing HG. Hence, I am always especially thankful to emerge from another pregnancy relatively unscathed. 

To have a wonderful OBGYN, Dr. T, who took great care of me. He is always assuring and took measures to ensure that I was as comfortable as can be given my conditions. 

A safe delivery despite a much longer labour with some complications. In addition, while I was in much pain and was in a constant state of grogginess in the first few days post-delivery; I am thankful that I am truly well recovered since.

God's fulfillment of a 5-year-old promise to us in the form of a beautiful baby boy. 

The Husband, who is second to God as my strongest pillar of support. 

Wow.. Seeing how much I've typed out for this thankful post, I am overwhelmed. God has been good to me in 2013. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Recipes: Savoury Pork Stew

In view of Joash's arrival, I anticipate that we will be going through a season of buzz and perhaps even mayhem as we resettle ourselves with a new baby. Hence, I've been psyched to check out one-dish meals that will work on days that may get a little wee too harassing for us to make proper full meals.

I must have browsed through at least 50 different recipes (pastas, soups, stews) before I decide to try out this particular one - Savoury pork stew. You see, with two kids comes two varying sets of pickiness in their choice of food. Therefore, the odds of having a ONE dish meal that will suit both their palate as well as the adults' is stacked high against me. 

And the verdict? Anya hates it. Too herby? Arielle approved it during tasting but rejected it at dinner time. :( The adults, however, loved it. All of us polished off two helpings of it, together with hot crusty  oats loaf  from Cedele slathered with cold butter. Right, my stomach is churning in a good way just at the thought of it. 

All in all, this is one hearty meal that is especially welcoming on a cold, wet evening that makes you go "Mmmmmmm...." while rubbing your satisfied belly at the end of the meal. Plus, it's really easy to make! The recipe you see below is an adaptation of what I took off here. As you will see,I actually changed a few of the items and proportions in order to suit the taste of my family members. Also, note that I opted to caramelize the onions and boil it with the wet ingredients before putting them into the slow cooker as I felt that the dish would be more fragrant that way. Lastly, given the stuff that I put in, I already filled my normal family-size slow cooker to the brim, so do consider going easy on the ingredients if you are cooking for a smaller clan. 

Yields: 4

Olive oil
500g cubed pork stew meat (what is known as pork butt / shoulder in NTUC)
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Granulated / powdered garlic to taste (I'm sure fresh chopped garlic works well too)
1 tablespoon of corn starch
5 red potatoes, cut into mouthful chunks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into mouthful chunks 
1 pepper, roughly diced (the recipe actually called for 2 different color peppers while I only used one since the girls and the husband are not fans of it)
1 cup of frozen / canned corn kennels (I personally prefer frozen ones, specifically the super sweet Watties!)
2/3 can of Hunt's diced tomatoes (recipe asks for stewed but I used diced as I was afraid that stewed one will cause the dish to be too tart - the Husband dislike tomatoes in general)
2/3 can of cream of mushroom soup (I used Campbell)
1 1/2 cup of fresh milk
1 1/2 cup of chicken broth (we are not big on beef, hence opted for chicken broth instead)
1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning / herb (seasoning or herb; they mean the same thing)


1. Marinate pork with salt, pepper, garlic and cornstarch. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Place pork in skillet and cook until lightly browned but not done. Do not wash skillet. 

2. Transfer pork, potatoes, carrots, pepper into slow cooker pot. 

3. Add abit more oil into skillet in low-medium heat. Put in onions, fry till fragrant and slightly translucent. Add in Italian seasoning, fry abit. Add in canned tomatoes, cream of mushroom, milk and chicken broth. Turn up heat and ensure ingredients well-mixed. When boiled, transfer everything into sow cooker and stir to ensure its well mixed with the meat and vegetables. 

4. Cook on high heat for 2 hours then add in corn kernel (corn may be added in earlier with the other vegetables. I only add now because I prefer more crunch to them.). Cook on low heat for another 2 hours. Serve together with heated up bread and butter.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Getting 'Y' to stand upright out from Anya

I have a little problem.

A few months ago, I tried teaching Anya how to write her name. I thought, "hey, she is learning ABCs in school, she recognizes her own written name (and Arielle's, for that matter), we are always finding things to do in the afternoons anyway, why not?".

And so, we got down to it. Almost everyday for the next one week, whenever we doodled on paper or at the easel, I would invariably start writing her name, encourage her to follow me and then, I would guide her along. Getting her to write 'A' was a breeze. She was learning it in school, though not writing yet, I believe. And thankfully, 2 letters out of 4 in her name was 'A' so it's half the job done. Seemed easy peasy!

Next was 'N'. The tricky part about 'N' as we all know is that a learning child may be confused whether the centre joining stroke should go from top-left to bottom-right or bottom-rigt to top-left. It took her several tries over a span of a few days to get it right consistently. Eventually, she got it. 

Now, here comes the problematic alphabet - 'Y'. While I anticipated the possible mistake that one may have in learning to write 'N', it was not the case for 'Y'. Strangely enough, Anya recognizes a 'Y' as the way it rightfully should be and yet when when asked to write one out, hers will be upside down. 

I tried showing her the difference, tried doing YMCA dance for better visualization, tried holding her hand and writing it with her but she would still get it wrong on her own. I suppose she will get it right on her own in time to come, but then we are opened to try out any innovate ideas if it comes our way. :)

Monday, October 14, 2013

All for the sake of a good night's rest

What does one do in order to enjoy a good night's sleep around here (read: my little household)?

Here's what:
1. Minimize, or better yet, absolutely refrain from boisterous play with the girls, especially Arielle, by dinner time.  
2. Preferably cease all outdoor or social activities by 8-ish in the evening. 
3. Change into PJs and start the girls' bedtime routine at 9pm.
4. Steer clear of any possible situations that may result in meltdowns or fights. 
5. Talk in soft gentle tones if you must verbalized something, giggle lightly if you must laugh and perform bedtime routine in soft dim lighting and gentle soothing music. 
6. Try to stay out of sight while the girls try to fall asleep. However, Arielle is still having separation anxiety, so this part is especially tricky.  note to self: require much honing still.

Are the above achievable?
Honestly? We've been trying for 2-3 months now, and still have more nights waking up than none. We actually had a few weeks of success, managing to sleep through the night pretty much night after night. But then, we went on a Phuket trip where Arielle slept in our bed. Then the whole nightmare started all over again. 

And then there is the adhering to the specific points. 

Let's do a bit of analysis over point 2: Unless we stop having a social life, cut off ties with extended families and live like hermits, it is unlikely that we can cease all social activities by 8-ish every night. Are we being unrealistic or perfectionist? - some might ask. Unfortunately, the answer is no. You see, given our experience, Arielle tend to get sucked into that over-stimulated mode quite badly. Generally-speaking, a night of social outing say till 9-ish hence disrupting her sleep routine is likely to result in her waking her and crying inconsolably 2-5 times a night - for an average of the next 4 nights. As much as we love to spend more time devoting to cell group meetings, church activities, family and social gatherings, we cannot help but have to take into consideration the repercussions for the upcoming nights. 

Plus, of course, points such as refraining from boisterous play and avoid meltdowns and fights are no-guarantees given I have not 1 but 2 small children, and children being children: they play, they fight, and scream more often than not. 

Say we managed to satisfy all the above 6 points. Is the promise of good night's sleep guaranteed?
Presently? No. As mentioned briefly earlier on, since post-Phuket trip, Arielle had some serious regressions. She would wake up to cry - most of the times to sleep with us or have us within her sight while she falls back asleep in her own bed, occasionally for milk and random items that she grew attached to (a particular book, a stuff toy etc), because she is too hot / too cold / disrupted by noise / itch etc etc, and sometimes, for no apparent reason. 

Then why not just shelve this whole sleep-training for now?
Ulikely. Again, our experience with her tells us that we need to be firm and very consistent, and preserver. In the past, we tried giving in to her. Wanna come over to sleep in our bed? Okay. Want to drink milk, in a bottle what's more? Sure! Pat her bum and rub her back? Bring it on. 

BUT, eventually, we find ourselves coming to the same worst-case scenario where we give in to every of her requests and just when you thought sh is fully satisfied and nothing can stop he from having a good sleep; she ended up waking up and crying for no reason, inconsolably, and for hours. 

Moreover, we do note progresses and improvements in little ways. And we constantly claim these little victories and pray against regressions. 

So you see, we can and must only trudge on this uphill battle (although I hate to call it battle but it does seems that way) of sleeptraining our 'lil Miss. Mushroom Head and pray for His wisdom and grace to be upon us. 

If you are going through or had experience similar challenges with your little one(s), feel free to share and exchange pointers / encouragement here. We love to hear from you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Parent-Child Quality Time with Kinderhands' Book Box!

Hello all! Last month, I had the privilege of receiving a book box from Kinderhands to try out with Anya.

Eh.. what box are we talking about here? 
Well, Kinderhands is a new online establishment that promotes creativity, learning and play for children aged 3-7 through thematic craft projects that are sent to your doorsteps in a box. Each project box has 2-3 projects, all of the same theme, that are curated, prepped and packed nicely together by the folks of Kinderhands. On top of that, one may opt for a book box which is really the same as the project box, except that there will also be a storybook of the same theme. One has the flexibility of purchasing a one-time off box or a monthly subscription making crafting sessions a regular activity with your little ones!

Pretty cool idea, I thought!

Now, how did we fare with the box? 
The theme of the box that we received was 'Stars'. Execution-wise, it all went quite well lest for a couple of hiccups. 

We started off with the book, "How to catch a star" by Oliver Jeffers. The storyline was charming, the illustrations were beautiful and the ending was brilliant! Anya was so immersed in the book that as we went along the pages, she suddenly stood up and proceeded to stretch her arms and jumped as high as she could, asking "Mommy, is this high enough to catch a star?". It was a promising start to our own book box as Anya got so hyped up by the story and was looking forward to do the craft projects. 

The first project we did was named "Starry night on Canvas". Each project has been packed neatly with a large ziplock bag and comes with an instruction card. On the instruction card are (a) a checklist of materials that are already provided for; b) a checklist of items that I will need to gather myself (which are only a couple and are items that are easily found in our homes e.g. Old newspapers); (c) clear and easy-to-understand step-by-step pictorial instructions; & (d) additional remarks that parents / guardians will find useful in order to aid the child in completing the project. I read through the instruction card together with Anya, then with a fair bit of excitement in the air, we proceeded to get down and dirty onto the project. 

Anya was able to follow through the instructions very well for this project, managing through 80% of it on her own. I had to intervene for the last 20% which predominantly involved putting on the alphabetical stickers onto the canvas and then painting over it. As it turned out, the alphabet stickers could not stick very well and came off easily. Hence, painting over that part became extra delicate and certainly would not be well-executed by a 3.5 year-old. This, I have feed-backed to the nice folks of Kinderhands, and they promptly replied that they would source for  better stickers.  Other than that, I noted that all the other materials are all good quality, safe and non-toxic.

The second project, "My Star Board Game", was a bit trickier for Anya. I suppose it was because she has yet been exposed to any board games and hence, had a difficult time comprehending the end objective of this project. With that, came a certain lack of exuberance. For the board game to be functional, we are to mold our own dice and game pieces using the clay provided for. On top of that, the child was to decorate the board with her coloring, drawings etc. 

Upon realizing that the clay works similarly to her favourite homemade play dough, Anya requested to do that part of the project first. Unfortunately, her patience soon wore off as her 3.5 year-old hands are not as nimble yet to produce the same end product that she saw on the instruction card. Sensing that I was losing my audience quickly, I encouraged her to decorate the board itself. To my relief, she perked up significantly. Armed with her color pencils, crayons and the leftover star stickers from the last project, she happily got down to it while I work alongside her on the clay. 

Two days after we completed the board game project, I tried getting Anya in playing with me. Not very successful, admittedly. Once more, I attribute this to her age. Never mind, I'll try getting her interested again in a couple of months' time. 

How does the lil' missy feel about the book box?
Overall, she enjoys it. While the final project had its hits and misses; she could finish up the project with some help from me. No complaints there. :) And she definitely had loads of fun going through the book and doing the first project. Following through an engaging story, peeling and putting on stickers, painting, molding and coloring - these are all the activities that she especially likes at this age. The sense of achievement that she had was written all over her face when I placed the finished canvas on a chest of drawers as display. She was chuffed when her father seemed suitably impressed by her work of art. 

Lastly, how does Mommy feel about the book box?
For this mommy who aspires to do craft work or hands-on projects with my kiddos but not sure of how or where to begin most of the times; this is a worthwhile investment! 

In the past, I've tried sourcing for craftwork to do with Anya. When Anya was an only child, i had plenty of time to trawl through the Internet, finding that one suitable project. But when i find one that I like, there is always the issue of availability of materials. Some of the required materials are not necessarily available in our regular Popular bookstore nor heartland malls. Or if they do, there will inevitably be a matter of wastage where you find yourself only needing a fraction of an entire packet of whatever material that you paid for. All these challenges and that was I have two kiddos and soon, three. These days, I hardly even have time for myself. Much as I still adore spending quality time with my children doing craftwork and projects, the thought of requiring to spend hours finding a suitable project and then sourcing for the materials on my own already killed my enthusiasm. Therefore, this new concept is like a dream come true and packed into a box for me.

Plus the projects that were curated by the folks of Kinderhands all look exciting, fun, meaningful and educational. After completing our 'Stars' box, I showed Anya the other theme boxes available on Kinderhands' website. After oohing and aahing for a bit, she pointed at the Monsters box and asked, "Mommy, can I do this?". Yep, I think we just had our craft activities lined up for the coming month. 

Personally, I favour the idea of tying in a book to a few projects of the same theme together. I feel that with a storyline, it is more meaningful and memorable for the child this way and whatever that their little spongy brains absorbed has a much more lasting effect. I also liked that a lot of thought and effort were put in to prepare the instruction cards. As mentioned earlier on, I have done a handful of craft projects that I sourced on my own with Anya in the past. More often than not, both she and I met with frustrations while executing the projects mainly due to communication breakdowns in letting her comprehend what she needs to do. Here, from what I read to her and the step-by-step picture guide; she could understand fairly well what she was expected to do. Oh, plus bonus points added for training the child to be task-oriented and goal-oriented through competing the projects.

No doubt that there were some misses executing the second project. But as I mentioned earlier on, I believe Anya's lack of interest was due to her young age. After all, these boxes were curated with children aged 3-7 in mind - Anya, being 3.5 years old falls in the lower age group of their target audience.

All in all, I find that I really like the concept of the book box. I am a strong advocate that young children should learn through fun and to me, this is what all these creative boxes are all about. Learning in disguise as fun. Oh, and good old bonding time with Mom and Dad!