Thursday, November 25, 2010

Project N - de-cluttering accomplished!

I mentioned in a previous post that we have a LOT of stuff, some sentimental, some useful, some utterly outdated and irrelevant. It's not that we want to hang on to all this “treasure” rather, we don't have the time to consider whether an item should go or stay and, there isn’t a lot of pressure to sort everything out because, fortunately (or unfortunately), our present house is large enough for all the clutter to "disappear" neatly. I read this article on Apartment Therapy on de-cluttering, which basically said the same thing: the lack of time can lead to accumulating clutter:

"We live in a culture where we're supposed to be busy, working on this working on that, making progress, getting things done. But if this level of activity crosses over into a frenzy (always going out, never staying in, never having a moment of nothing in your day) there is no time to be thoughtful about what you keep around you or how you really want to live. And if you're in a state of busy-ness most of the time, you're not only more likely to hang on to things you don't love but you're more likely to keep buying things too!"

This is definitely the case for us. Richard and I are starved for time. Our family, work and social commitments are heavy and we want to meet all these commitments, be it a deadline at work, a walk in the park with Ryan, curling up on the couch with our pets, a game of mahjong with friends, or a family trip overseas. As a result of all this rushing about, we tend to buy indiscriminately and sometimes in bulk. We "buy first, think later". We simply don't have time to stop and consider whether the item is going to be loved/used or not.

So, I have clothes and bags which are brand new, with their tags still on and, yes, still in the shopping bags that they came home in. I have brand new shoes which I'd forgotten I had. I have CDs still in plastic wrap, because I don't have time to think about getting the disk changer out and deciding which CD stays in and which goes out.

We just don't have time to keep up with what we bring home.

Actually, ever since Ryan came along, we slowed down the buying, because now we don’t even have time to shop! On weekdays, by the time we get off work, fetch Ryan from his nanny and have dinner, the shops are already closing. If we still want to go out at night, we end up at the bookshop which stays open late. Weekends are shopping-free as they are devoted to Ryan and he isn't into shopping. Whatever trips we do make to the mall are short and focused - we zip in and we zip out.

We do still have our weaknesses and when we have the chance to buy things, old habits die hard and we still buy like there’s no tomorrow. We buy five to ten books and magazines at one go (when Ryan was starting his library, I would buy 30 at a time). We hardly have time to take them out of the shopping bag before we go and buy another lot.

Nevertheless, it is true that, overall, we now buy much less than we used to. So, hopefully, that will take care of the front end of the problem.

Next, we have the back end - the storage issue.

First the paper problem. we have stacks of old (paid) bills and other historical documents like bank statements. The correct thing to do, I suppose, is to keep perhaps 3 to 6 months' worth of statements and discard the oldest one when you get a new one. We just don't have the time for that level of organisation. We probably get more than twenty bills/statements every month and, after a long day at work, I'm certainly not in the mood for sorting and filing into individual files. What we do is leave it in a pile and when the pile gets too high, we do the filing at one go. Our sole aim is to file everything in so that things are neat and tidy, which already takes up a few hours each time (with two of us on the task!). We don't have time to discard the old statements, so our archive continues growing.

Come to think of it, that is how I ended up with a huge collection of clothes hangers. Each time my clothes came back from the laundromat on hangers, I would just hang them up in the wardrobe. When I put on the outfit, I would throw its hanger into a large box next to the wardrobe. The outfit goes to the laundromat and comes back with a new hanger and I hang it up again. I've been doing this for years. When I packed up my wardrobe last week and went through the hanger box, there were HUNDREDS of hangers in it. I was shocked!

I also found that we have about twenty caps which we accumulated from all the events we attended (actually, Richard had a period where he had long hair and wore a cap all the time, but that was a long time ago back in university). I also collected the pillows from all the bedrooms - I ended up with ten! Ten pillows! Every time we bought new ones, we kept the old ones because they were still good and we thought that our guests might need them - but I'm sure we didn't realise we had saved ten!

Well, we threw out all the old and irrelevant documents (it took us one entire night to sort through all the files) and we gave away all the extra hangers, pillows and caps, and more.

Then there was the other stuff I mentioned in my previous post - odd earrings and buttons, old red packets, stationery and stuff like beauty product samples, essentially stuff which I never had time to properly consider. Many of these items have become un-usable or irrelevant. I never intended to hang on to these things, my thinking was simply to keep them for a little while and deal with them later. Of course, "later" never happened, and I never had the time to sort everything out, until now.

I gave away what was still useful and I threw away the rest. I told myself that, if it was not "beautiful, useful or loved" it would have to go. I was never more happy to see a passed expiry date - it made my task so easy. Clothes and shoes that no longer fit or which we no longer wear were given away. All our bedsheets (about 10 sets) had to go, because they were queen-sized and wouldn't fit our new king-sized bed.

The last category of stuff was the most difficult - things that were still "beautiful, useful or loved" but just old. The stereo set in our bedroom works fine (and we do use it) but it is nearly 20 years old. My wok and some of my pots and pans are ten years old, although I still use them. Some of our electrical appliances are also old, although we still use them, like our rice cooker, our iron and our fans.

I gave them all away. In time, we will replace some of them with new versions.

All this de-cluttering meant there was less to pack which was good because, again, we didn't have a lot of time. We could only pack late at night when Ryan was fast asleep and some nights we were too tired from work/play so we didn't even bother. We tried to be as consistent as we could though, and I'm pleased to say that we now only have a few bits here and there left to pack and it looks like we'll be good to go on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Project N - our old furniture

As I mentioned, we've been making good progress with our packing, assisted in large part by the departure of our furniture.

I mentioned that we are not able to take most of our existing furniture with us and that we put up online advertisements to sell the furniture off, which was pretty slow-going, so I started giving the furniture away. I got the idea after looking in the SMH forum for people who needed things. There was a lady who was looking for a small shoe rack so I posted in her thread that I had one that I could give her and suddenly I started receiving emails from other people who were interested. It was too easy. I started advertising to give away the rest of our furniture and we got tons of responses, even for items which I never imagined anyone would want.

One couple came in their MPV to take away our TV console, a small cabinet, our large shoe cupboard, our extra dining table with 4 chairs, one bookcase, two wall-mounted mirrors, two light fittings, one small wardrobe, Ryan's chest of drawers, and some small items. They had to make five trips. They were a lovely couple with three children (including a pair of twins) and it was nice to meet them.

Other items we gave away - a smaller wooden shoe cabinet, an aquarium, a cat bed/house, two queen beds and some electrical items. I also gave away my huge wardrobe. I was a little worried that it would be hard to get rid of because, when I bought it, the shop told me that it was too large to fit in some homes.

Just a note that the people who responded to our advertisements didn't appear to be poor or needy. The couple who took more than half our house had their own MPV. The couple who took my huge wardrobe wanted it for their apartment which they were renting out. I responded to an advertisement by a lady looking for cotton wool, cloth diapers, nappy liners and a rubber changing mat. These are cheap items so when I met up with her to give her the items, I was a little surprised to see that she didn't look at all like she was in need of money. She even told me that she was planning to buy them from the store if she couldn't get any responses. So these are people who are just extremely prudent with their money.

We did donate some items to a welfare home: our rice cooker, airpot, two fans, pots and pans, extra tables, extra chairs, extra clothes hangers, extra pillows (we have ten!), old bedsheets, old clothes, stationery, bags, shoes, etc.

I also managed to sell off Ryan's jumperoo, one of his large ELC toys plus his brand new never-been-used steriliser.

What was also interesting was that, when the ladies changed their minds and decided not to take up the item they had expressed interest in, many lay the blame on their husbands - "Discussed with my husband and he doesn't want it" or "My husband said it is not child-friendly" or something like that.

I did receive some strange responses - one lady saw all my furniture advertisements and emailed me asking if I had any unwanted and unused baby items to give her. I replied that I could give her some new baby bottles and old toys and she told me that she would take the bottles. She said she couldn't accept any old baby clothes "because of hygiene reasons". I was a little stunned - did she think my baby wore dirty clothes? or did she think that I would give her urine-soaked cloth diapers? doesn't she wash her baby's clothes before use in any event? Come to think of it, I didn't even offer her any old clothes!

Another lady who wanted to buy our mattress asked me so many ridiculous questions that I started to get annoyed. She herself had advertised for a pre-loved queen-sized mattress and I responded to say that I had one, brand new, still-wrapped-in-plastic and would sell it to her for $60. She replied asking what size it was and whether it was brand new as she was only looking for a brand new mattress. So, this was weird - she had advertised for a queen-sized mattress, why would I be offering her some other size? She had also advertised for a pre-loved mattress, so how come she now wanted a brand new one? Anyway, didn't my email say it was brand new? She also asked me what the mattress brand was and she wanted photos. My goodness. Photos of a mattress still wrapped in plastic?

Well, I kept my cool and gave her the answers she wanted. I even asked her what parts of the mattress she wanted me to photograph, hoping that she'd see how nonsensical her request was and tell me oh, photos are not necessary after all. I was flabbergasted by her response - she wanted a photograph of the mattress tag showing the brand! Did she think I can't read? Of course, she also asked me to photograph the front, the back and the sides! She said that this mattress has a massage function plus a soft side and a hard side - but come on, can you really see whether all those features are working from a photograph?

Well, I tried to be nice and I responded to tell her that I would send her the photos but that I was surprised at her request because I surely wouldn't produce something different when she turns up at my house for collection. Her response? She asked me, "How long have you had this mattress?" Gosh, I really wanted to call off the deal at that point. So I wrote back and told her frankly that, this was getting a little annoying as I had already said that it is a Seahorse Diamond queen-sized mattress, still wrapped in plastic and, for $60, she would not be able to find a better deal and that we were initially going to donate it to a charity to save us the hassle. After a day or two, she wrote back to say that she really wanted the mattress. She apologised and explained that she wanted to find out if the mattress was dusty as she wanted to let her one-year old son sleep on it.

Now, here is what I don't understand. The mattress is still wrapped in plastic (actually two layers of plastic) - so how can it be dusty? And what makes her think that I don't keep my house clean and free of dust? Anyway, why didn't she just ask me if it was dusty instead of asking how long I have had it? The latter doesn't necessarily lead to the former. What difference does it make if her one-year old son is going to sleep on it? Does she mean that adults can sleep on dusty mattresses? Even if the mattress is not hospital-grade clean, surely she should clean the mattress regularly?


Ok, that was a bit of a rant. But I've got it out of my system now. :) I sent her the photos and she's coming to pick up the mattress on Saturday morning. Hopefully she won't ask me to sign a guarantee or to swear on my son's life. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

So, yes, back to the furniture. We've got one last item to deal with, which is a vintage wooden radio console with an attached LP player. Richard had it painstakingly restored but we haven't had a spin on it for years now so it's time to let it go. We made an inquiry at Lorgan's Retro Store to see if they'd take it and hopefully they will, otherwise it's going to be a tough issue.

So these past two weeks have been about posting advertisements, dealing with all the responses, answering all the queries, lining up the individual collection times, negotiating prices, meeting up with various characters, etc. The funny thing is, as I managed to give away/sell some items, I started looking for more items to give away/sell. It was addictive! Although it was hard to let go of some of the items due to sentimental reasons, overall I felt more happy than sad. I was wondering if it was because we were unburdening ourselves of stuff, but then I remembered that we have the same amount of new furniture in our new home - we're just replacing and renewing the old. So, then I realised that I was feeling happy because, by letting go of our old stuff, I was able to open myself to newer and better things. I was moving on.

So, back to packing!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I want to Be a Bumble Bee

With us being so busy, it was only appropriate that Ryan's costume for his end-of-term Playclub party would be a bumble bee!

Err, no, not the one from Transformers. The one that goes "Bzz". Yes, I know most bumble bees (and most animals with wings) are usually portrayed by the feminine gender, but there was really very little alternative. I was actually racking my brain trying to think of an animal costume that did not require head gear as Ryan is not fond of anything on his head. I finally decided that I would make a spider costume and when I discussed it with Richard, he said we could also try a bumble bee. To which I told him that I had considered it but it would only work if Ryan would wear the antennae, and I was doubtful he would. So off to Spotlight I went to see what I could use to make a costume. Lo and behold, there was this wonderful bumble bee headband. I prayed and prayed that Ryan would take to it... and he did! Of course, I had to give him lots and lots of praise and compliments - "Wow! You look so nice!"! He was very amused by it and kept shaking his head to make the antennae bounce up and down!

So, from there it was easy. We only had to make the wings and dress him in something yellow and black. We did buy some wings but they were actually butterfly/fairy wings so I wasn't really happy with them. Also they were pink and Richard was quite firm that we had to paint out the pink. As it turned out, the butterfly/fairy wings were too big so we had to make a fresh pair of wings out of a clothes hanger and a laundry bag. I sewed a "pocket" onto the back of a romper to slot in the hanger and secured it with some ribbon round the arms and this was the result.

How do you like it? We actually bought some fabric paint to paint yellow and black stripes on his clothes but I think it looks better like this. Not as great as the little octopus costume last term, but I'm happy that we managed to continue this "tradition" despite being so busy with the house and everything else.

Parents were asked to come in animal costume or in Christmas-inspired gear.
Richard and I turned up with reindeer headbands (bought from Daiso) 
This being the last class of the year, Ryan received his certificate and we also got to celebrate Christmas. Yes, it's more than a month away but who would give up a chance for some good Christmas cheer?

Ryan getting his certificate and a big present from Santarina
Next term, one of the Mandarin teachers will not be with Ryan's class as she is being rotated to the class next door (that's the lady in the Christmas hat next to Santarina in the photo above). We will miss her, she is really great with the children.

So, that was the end of Playclub for this term. Ten weeks pass so quickly when you're having fun!

Friday, November 19, 2010

So what did we do?

We've been oh so busy and I feel like there should be three of me to tackle everything that's been on my plate this last week. I shall do a proper in-depth update in the next few posts, for now let me just get the "what did we do all week?" stuff out of the way.

Well, last Saturday, we went over to Rahul's new condo for Richard's Junior College class almost-annual reunion. It was great fun for me too because I'm familiar with the gang - Richard and I are from the same Junior College and same graduating year plus I always tag along for the get-togethers. This was the first time that the gang was meeting Ryan though. We had lots of good fun and ended up staying later than we thought we would.

Ryan at S03G reunion

The next few days were spent getting our packing into high gear. We had a lot of furniture which we had decided not to bring with us to our new home so our first priority was to see if they could find good homes. There was some sentimental value attached to some of the pieces so we didn't want to simply throw them away. We put up some ads on the internet to sell the pieces (for ridiculously low sums) but they weren't moving quickly enough so I decided that I would just advertise on the SMH forum that we were giving the items away for free. I got responses literally minutes after I posted on the forum. It was so competitive, people were willing to "queue" for each item!

I also looked out for people who advertised that they were looking for stuff. For some I just gave them what they needed for free and for others, I sold the items to them for a small payment.

I will always remember this exercise because of all the different people I met - it was a real eye-opener, to say the least. Maybe I'll write a separate post on it another day.

Anyway, the next part was the packing. All the furniture leaving our home actually forced us to pack faster. Our TV console was taken from us - so all our electronic stuff had to be packed up. Our large shoerack is gone - so all our shoes are also packed up. My huge wardrobe is gone (!) - so my clothes are all in boxes now. Ryan's wardrobe has also been snapped up - so his clothes are packed up in a large suitcase. So lots of packing already done but we still have lots more to get through. I'll do a proper post on our packing once we are more or less done.

Wednesday was a public holiday and we spent the afternoon with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Richard and I used to enjoy going to the SSO but we have not been to a performance for a very long time, so this was a great opportunity to get re-acquainted. However, this was not the grown-up version - this was the annual Babies Prom! This is a basic introduction to the orchestra, tailored for the little ones. The conductor, known as "Uncle Peter", was basically the emcee at a huge children's party. Everything was fun, fun, fun! Some of the older children were even invited to conduct the orchestra (that was a real hoot!)

Ryan was still sleeping when the performance started and I was thinking that he might actually sleep through the whole thing but fortunately, once the orchestra started playing, he woke up. Having just woken up, he took some time to warm up but I suppose that the important thing was that he left with a big smile.
Ryan at SSO Babies Prom 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The hunt for Ryan's pre-school (Part 4)

If a dream kindergarten exists, I think we visited it today.

We dropped by our new unit today to check on the renovation. On our way home, Richard mentioned that, when he was driving through Mountbatten Road yesterday, he noticed a new pre-school there although he did not manage to get a good look. We decided to drive past again and see. It turned out to be "EtonHouse International Pre-School and Research Centre", otherwise called EtonHouse Mountbatten 718.

Although there are a number of EtonHouse branches in Singapore, Etonhouse has not been our first or even second choice as we've always felt that it was more of an "expat" school which meant that students would come and leave as their expat parents got posted in and out of Singapore. We were concerned that this would have a negative impact on Ryan's ability to form lasting friendships. Second reason was that it was not apparent to us what value the school or its curriculum offered compared to other schools and this is important because their fees are not cheap. The various EtonHouse branches charge different fees (the fees are stated on their website). For pre-nursery at the branch nearest to us at present (Etonhouse International Pre-School at 2 Orchard Boulevard), it costs S$7,000 plus GST per term (for full day programme). For nursery levels, it costs S$6,600 plus GST for the full day and S$5,500 plus GST for the half day. There are three terms a year. We would also have to pay a non-refundable registration fee of S$1,500 plus GST and place a deposit of one term's fees. Chiltern House and Nanyang Kindergarten are charging around S$1,000 per month. Therefore there had to be a lot of "extra" value for us to feel justified about spending a lot more money at EtonHouse. (Edit: these figures may no longer be accurate at the time you read this post, please check with the individual schools.)

Anyway, we drove to Mountbatten and, as luck would have it, the pre-school was having an open house. The banner outside stated that they would be operational in January 2011. So this branch is newly set up and, in fact, we could still smell the newly painted walls when we went inside.

Of all the EtonHouse branches, I think this is the largest. The school is mainly housed in two fairly large buildings. There is ample parking space within the compound (no parking charges apply!) and the outdoor compound is huge.

At the first main building, we were greeted by one of the teachers who would be our tour guide. We first went to check out the classrooms. The pre-nursery and nursery classrooms are on the ground floor, while the kindergarten classes are on the upper floor. The classrooms were absolutely beautiful. Of course, everything is new - all the furniture and all the materials are new, but that wasn't all.

There were distinct and dedicated areas for different activities. There were low tables for doing jigsaw puzzles or playing games. There were little dolls in their beds, teapots and cups for pretend tea parties, toy fruit, food and animals for more pretend play and for other learning activities. There were bookshelves with inviting books, materials for writing and drawing and creating. There was a mat with a large train set on the floor and there were low shelves with containers of blocks, cubes, shells, buttons, etc. There were children's artworks on the walls alongside replicas of famous art pieces. There were different types of tables for the children - some large tables for group interaction, some smaller tables for individual work, some tables had mirrors for tabletops, some could be lighted up from under the tabletop for the children to do tracing. There were easels set up for drawing. The classroom was spacious and bright. Everything was just so adorable! I wanted to stay there and slurp it all up.

Ryan was very comfortable in the classroom - he investigated the materials laid out and even picked some up. He went over to the train set on the mat and played with the trains and blocks. He even did some pretend play at one of the tables - pouring pretend tea from the teapot into the cups.

Apart from the classrooms, there was a separate library area outside the classrooms where the children could read while they waited for their parents to fetch them from school. This area was beautifully decorated with paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Ryan went "wow" when he saw them. There was also a Chinese cultural section with Chinese calligraphy on the wall and Chinese books on the shelves.

Of course, most other pre-schools have books and toys and other materials. The difference was the way everything was laid out here and how bright and spacious the classrooms were. I've seen classrooms in other pre-schools that are full of stuff but things get stashed to one side, the classrooms are usually small and there is usually just one or two main tables or areas for the children to work at.

Ok, to be honest, if that was all, I would still not have thought that this pre-school was that much better than some of the pre-schools I've visited to justify parting with double the money. But that was not all.

We went outside. There is a shaded play area for children to dress up in different costumes and fool around with musical instruments and other noise makers. There was this huge triangular structure that Ryan could walk through and he loved it because there were mirrors all over the inside of it and he was so intrigued at seeing so many Ryans.

In a small building between the two main buildings there is a small canteen where the older children can have lunch. All the buildings are connected by covered walkways.

The outdoor areas were not finished yet but according to our tour guide, there will be:
A sand play area (this is finished) for the children to dig and construct structures
A garden for the children to plant their own plants and vegetables (this is finished) to cook in their own kitchen
A tricycle park (and we saw all the little tricycles!)
A herb and sensory garden
A water play area where the children can splash about and do little water experiments
A playground area where the children can run about and bounce a ball around.
Climbing equipment for climbing and co-ordination challenges.

Can you imagine? At this point, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I cannot think of any pre-school in Singapore that has such a wide, and I would say complete, range of outdoor facilities. All this time we were thinking, oh this or that pre-school has a large compound and a large playground area, that's very good. Boy oh boy, what we saw today beats the rest hands down. It's not just providing some slides and monkey bars and plastic houses for the children to burn off energy. Here, the outdoor areas are well thought out and planned carefully so that the children continue learning when they are outdoors. Everything is available for the children to touch, to feel, to sense and to experience to the fullest.

And you know what? That was still not the end.

We walked over to the other large building. There were some more classrooms there, but the highlight was the "art gallery", which was a large classroom for art and crafts. In there, there were all sorts of painting and drawing equipment, all sorts of crafting material on the low tables and shelves and lots of display panels showing off the children's masterpieces. One entire wall of the classroom is a floor-to-ceiling glass window which looks out to green grass and beyond that, to Mountbatten Road. Easels are set up next to this glass window for the children to paint and draw. It was pure delight.

Ryan walked right up to one of the tables, pulled one of the pencils out (from a container on the table) and started drawing on the paper laid out on the table. There were also some soft foam cubes (probably for painting) on the table and he was quite interested in them so he sat down and got some out to play with.

This is the first time that we brought Ryan with us to visit a pre-school but I think I can safely say that he loved it.

We asked about the curriculum. The curriculum is bilingual - there will be an English speaking teacher and a Mandarin speaking teacher at all times, plus there is a dedicated Mandarin session everyday. The programme is child-led and heavily based on Reggio Emilia philosophies, although according to our tour guide, it does draw on other teaching methods, including Montessori. According to her, they "take the best from other methods" and integrate these into their curriculum.

Interestingly, our tour guide told us that she had been a Montessori teacher for 6 years prior to joining EtonHouse, so I managed to ask her a few questions to get her perspective on Montessori teaching and the method at EtonHouse. (We did visit Brighton Montessori a while back, I will post an entry about it soon.)

So, the big question - what are the fees? Well, the fees are not cheap. But I can see where all my fees are going, I can see what I'm paying for and I can see the value that I'm buying. If you could apply a hotel-type rating, I would say this is a six or even seven-star pre-school in terms of facilities and equipment.

So what do we think? Well, we can certainly imagine Ryan being very comfortable there, he would be eager to go to school everyday and reluctant to leave. We can picture him pedalling a tricycle during outdoor playtime and splashing about in the shallow pool. We can see him sprawled out on the floor reading a book in the library and musing over his art as the sun shines through the giant glass window in the art gallery. Whatever he feels like doing, he will be able to. There will be ready materials and there will be a conducive workspace.

The issues of concern for us are the fact that it is so new, the teachers and the "expat" factor. If we decide on this pre-school, we'll definitely wait one or two terms at the minimum and let it iron out any teething problems before enrolling Ryan. Time will also show whether the teachers are good or not and also whether the students are mostly from expat families or otherwise.

Of course, the fees are not cheap and, even if we can afford it, the question is whether we should. The other night, over mahjong, one of our friends was telling us how crazy it was that Nanyang Kindergarten was charging about S$1,000 per month. The response from one guy was, "Nobody is going to ask you what kindergarten you come from when you apply for a job." So true.

So do we buy Ryan the childhood that we all dream of or do we save the money for other things? What do you think?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Project N

Dinner at Por Kee

Last Friday (after our enjoyable outing to the zoo), we went to Suntec City to buy a fridge, a washing machine and a bed. The washing machine was quickly settled because the space we have for it is not very generous so we focused on the small top-loaders, and there weren't that many. The fridge took us much longer due to a miscommunication between Richard and me on the dimensions of the available space in the kitchen - his depth and width were my width and depth.

We bought a bed from Cellini and Richard asked for it to be king-sized. I was surprised because we have a brand-new queen-sized mattress at home (still wrapped in plastic!) which we had decided would come along with us. Well, it's all right, I'm not complaining!

Cellini was promoting their house-brand mattress which is hotel-grade (they apparently supply their mattresses to hotels), so we picked up the king-sized mattress from them too. We tried it out at their outlet, really quite comfy!

Last week we also bought new fittings for the master ensuite to replace the existing ones - a new tap/mixer, a new shower fitting (with rain shower!) and some towel rails/hooks. These will be installed by our contractor.

That's about it. Now we just wait for the renovation to be completed, lights and fixtures to be installed and furniture and electrical appliances to be delivered and we can move in. There are some minor items to buy, like storage shelves for the household shelter, curtains/blinds, wastebins, cleaning equipment, etc. but all that can be done later.

We've set the Big Move for the last weekend of November. This leaves us about two weeks to pack up which is not a lot of time because the only time we have is late at night when Ryan is asleep. So, a very busy couple of weeks ahead but it'll all be worth it in the end.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What a great weekend!

No time to muse, our exciting Friday and busy Saturday was topped off by a Sunday of non-stop action.

After some Saturday late night loitering at Borders and wrestling with The Very Hungry Caterpillar,

there was swimming class on Sunday morning as usual,

followed by baby Chace's full month "sip and greet". Good food, good company and of course, adorable little baby Chace. I still remember the night that we had dinner at Greenwood Avenue and Ophelia's water bag started leaking! Ophelia looked fantastic, I hope I look like her when I have two children!

Photo taken by Ophelia at Chace's full month party
After Shichida class, we went home for a bit before coming out again for an early dinner. We had Italian food and Brazilian Churrascaria at Donna Carmela at Greenwood Avenue.

Having pasta at Donna Carmela
Wonderful long weekend. When's the next one please?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An evening of puddles

Yesterday evening, I wanted to check out i Light Marina Bay, comprising 26 light artworks placed around Marina Bay, so we decided to have dinner at The Esplanade which was nearby. Unfortunately it started to rain quite heavily during dinner so we couldn't walk along the promenade where the light artworks were placed. So we walked around inside The Esplanade instead and checked out the artworks inside. We also managed to catch a short indoor orchestra performance.

Just before leaving, I wanted to take some photos outside so we popped out of the building. It was still drizzling and the ground was wet. Ryan was just delighted! The rest of the evening was fruitfully spent stomping and splashing in every puddle that we could find.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Deepavali dress-up

For today's Playclub class, we were asked to dress up in Indian traditional costume, which meant Ryan needed a kurta. It's also Daddies' Week and the daddies were asked to dress alike so Richard needed a kurta too. So it was off to Little India for a little bit of shopping and lunch.

It was the day after Deepavali so there were not many people walking around, although road traffic around that area is always congested. We found what we needed at, where else, Mustafa Centre, a mall so famous and popular that it has its own street signage.

While we were there, we also picked up a small umbrella for Ryan - perfect for the upcoming rainy season. Ryan loves the rain so it seems such a pity to keep him indoors when it rains. The next time it rains, we are going out to enjoy the puddles!

Lunch was a yummy affair at Manhill Restaurant after which we had to rush to Playclub. The traffic got the better of us and we were late, but better late than never. Ryan was a little sticky, probably because he was tired and needed his nap but he was well behaved and quietly observant.

For outdoor play, it was sand play but Ryan is not usually interested in sand play (and we were not keen on the time it would take to change him out of the kurta because outdoor play is only ten minutes) so we took him to the playground instead. His adrenaline kicked in and he had a glorious time riding on the cars, playing with the balls and going up and down the slides.

Friday, November 5, 2010

We went to the Zoo!

Friday was a public holiday in Singapore on account of Deepavali and we decided to make the most of it by starting the morning at the zoo.

On our previous attempt at a visit to the zoo (also on a public holiday), we drove there in the mid-morning only to discover that the car park was full and cars were parked all along the slip road leading to the zoo which, according to the signage was more than 1.5 km long! I know you have to be prepared for a long walk through the zoo, but this is 1.5 km before you even see the ticket counter! Anyway, even if we were up to it, there was just no space left for the car so we promptly made a U-turn and left.

This time I was determined to make it happen so at 7.30 am I woke up (Richard said that I leapt out of bed) and got us all packed up and ready to go. We reached the zoo about 8.20 am (just before the ticket counters opened at 8.30 am). We were certainly not the first ones there, the restaurants and cafeterias near the main entrance were already full of people. We had a good breakfast, some fuel for the exercise ahead and then into the zoo we went!

I suppose everyone takes a souvenir photo with this fella
It had just rained and the weather was cool and light. I didn't take a lot of photos of the animals but the animals were awake and lively and we had a good time checking them out. I do think however that there were too many monkeys. After we saw what must have been the 20th type of monkey, Ryan was just no longer impressed. Still there was plenty else that held his attention, including the magnificent white tigers.

Pygmy hippo. Too heavy to float. It just walks to and fro in the water.
An emu at the Australian outback compound
Watching the Splash Safari show.
By this time it was getting a little humid hence my sexy lil beast.

We managed to catch two shows - the Splash Safari show (showcasing an adorable sealion called Stan) and the Animal Friends Show (with mice, cats and dogs) and I think Ryan enjoyed both of them. After the two shows, it was time for waterplay at Rainforest Kidsworld! This is actually a big reason and pull factor for us to make a trip to the zoo - Ryan absolutely loves the water play here and it is the undisputed highlight of the outing. Sorry, I don't have pictures - I was enjoying myself in the water too! There are some photos of our previous outing here in June in this post if you want to see what it looks like.

We spent more than an hour at water play and after that, it was time for Ryan to take his nap so we took a slow and leisurely boat ride back to the main entrance.

Looking pensive on the boat
(actually a little tired and ready for his nap)
Ryan fell asleep halfway through the ride, exhausted and happy. It was a wonderful outing and a fantastic way to spend the morning.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Musing on Monday

For me, the hardest part about Project N is not packing up our stuff. The hardest part is leaving behind the stuff which we can't bring with us.

I keep everything. EVERYTHING. Old photographs, old journals, old greeting cards, every letter and every gift I have ever received, old school T-shirts, every soft toy. When I watch a play or a stage musical, I always buy a souvenir programme as a keepsake. Every year, when my university hostel put on its annual musical and sold commemorative T-shirts, I would buy two - one to wear and one to keep. 

You might say all that is fine and normal. After all, everyone keeps old photographs and autograph books and sentimental stuff like that.

But that's not all of my treasure.

I kept every credit card bill and bank statement that I have ever received. Every phone bill, even the bills for the phone numbers we no longer use. All our expired credit cards and old bank account books. Shopping bags. Red packets with zodiac animals that won't be relevant for another 12 years. Magazines that are nearly ten years old. Earrings which have lost their partner. Buttons which came from goodness knows which blouse. Cups (including the ugly ones). Stationery that I never use, including notepaper that is turning yellow with age. Empty boxes which are too pretty to throw away. Old spectacles, watches and wallets. Old mobile phones.

I know it's ok to keep some treasured items but I also realise that this sort of "collecting" can get out of hand. Most of the time, I just keep stuff until it becomes irretrievably irrelevant or useless, which may take years. Then when it comes time to trim the pile of irrelevant/useless stuff, it is too much, too intimidating and too pressurising. So we chicken out and we leave it. And it grows. Essentially, I have an ongoing battle between wanting to hang on to my stuff and wanting to get rid of it.

I had a morbid thought the other day. A friend's relative had passed away and I had this picture of my friend sorting through the relative's belongings, deciding what to do with all of it. And then I thought, what if someone had to sort through my stuff? Oh my. I certainly do not want to wish such a task upon my son. It would be a terrible burden.

I know, I know. I'm supposed to de-clutter, to simplify. I'm not supposed to let myself be bogged down by stuff. I need to clear the decks, make space for the new and get some good chi flowing, instead of allowing myself to grow old, stale and irrelevant. 

I recently read this article on Apartment Therapy, one of my favourite interior design blogs, and the author put the issue so well.

"...we all still harbor a little voice in our heads that wants us to hold on to stuff "because we might need it."

Don't believe it.

It's that ancient caveman survival voice, and it's not going to help you now. Now, we run the greater risk of suffocating our life under an accumulation of small and large possessions (and their attendant upkeep) that no longer serve us in our daily lives.
The secret to dealing with clutter and changing your life is to realize that 1) you don't need as much stuff (you are no longer a Caveman, after all), and 2) that by having less you are opening your life up, lightening it and creating an environment that will allow you to flourish and reach your greatest potential. It's not just about letting go, it's about realizing how much more life you can have.

One of my greatest sources of inspiration is Karen Kingston, who wrote Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui. She helped me see something as simple as collecting books (a great source of clutter) totally differently. While books are great resources and markers of experience, we all tend to hold on to more than we actually use. And many of us hold on tightly! In order to declutter them, we need to realize that books are collections of memories and OLD THOUGHTS, not new ones. As she says, "Holding onto old books doesn't allow you to create space for new ideas and ways of thinking to come into your life."

I would even take this further. Holding onto ANYTHING that doesn't have a working role in your home won't allow you to create new space for ANYTHING new to come into your life — things, jobs, people, opportunities, etc. Even as we bring new things in, we need to bring old things out. In this way, we ensure a vital life flow in our lives."

It reads like what I wrote last Monday, about how letting go of the old lets you be free to get hold of better things, about how change can be a good thing.

Every once in a while, I do look around and try to do some spring-cleaning, throw out stuff, give away stuff. Not a lot though and it doesn't make much difference to the clutter. It isn't that much of a problem in our present big house. I suppose clutter looks less like clutter where there's lots of space for it. Unfortunately, we are moving to a smaller place and we can't bring everything with us. So we are going to have to go through the painful process of pruning.

In truth, I am really looking forward to a massive garbage day. As I grow older, the "wanting to get rid of it" feeling is stronger. I am more inclined to let go of stuff now. I guess with more life experience, I now have a better idea of what's important to me and I can do without all the rest. I know that, however attached I am to my stuff, I will feel much better once I am rid of (some of) it. It's that nice light feeling you get after you have tidied up, cleaned up and thrown out the garbage. It will also give us a fresh start to the next exciting phase of our life.

Here's to de-cluttering!

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