Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jamie Lee Curtis is actually a great children's author

I don't normally seek out celebrity authors as I'm not really sure how good their books are, but I came across Jamie Lee Curtis's books as I was trawling ebay for new books to buy and subsequently read to my daughter. I usually buy book lots as its good value for money (sometimes you get 5-10 books in one go) and it becomes a starter set if you want to follow any reading series, like Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Karen Katz etc. When I saw Jamie's book lot, I went on Amazon to read the reviews and the books were averaging 4-5 stars. Here's an example from MotherLodeBeth of Sierras, California on 'Im Gonna Like Me'.
'...its not a sappy feel good self esteem book but more along the lines of we are all human and fall down, and feel we don't fit in at times, but it is in keeping trying that is what make life work. And its a book that will appeal to boys and girls, males and females. And lest you think it is only for wee ones, its also a good book for teens, college kids, those going thru lifes many passages. Or for someone who is going thru a rough period in their lives.
As a rule I avoid celebrity books like the plague, but Ms Curtis is a true talent.'

So I got the book lot which consisted of four books, namely: I'm Gonna Like Me, Where Do Balloons Go?, It's Hard To Be Five and Is There Really A Human Race?. It was a good deal too at about USD15 plus FREE SHIPPING as each book retails for USD17.99 or maybe USD10 or so if you buy a marked down book at amazon.com.

In any case, when I got the books I put them away for later as I was thinking my 2 year old daughter wouldn't be able to appreciate the concepts in the books yet. A week ago though, she found one of the books while picking out books from her book case and asked me to read. We didn't finish it the first time as she lost interest midway but second time's the charm and thereafter she would drag the book around begging everyone in the household to read it to her, sometimes two or three times in a row. She likes the rhyming bits of course and the words are simple and easy to understand and the illustrations are quite detailed and colorful. Meanwhile, I like that it's not just a book for kids but also something that adults can appreciate as well, which is nice if you're reading a book four times a day.

In fact, my daughter's reading habit has become a bit out of control these days and I've asked my husband, 'Is there such a thing as reading too much at this age?' I'm not an early riser but I find myself being woken up by the sound of my daughter's pleas of 'Mymi, read! Mymi read!' And that's already after my husband has done his turn and has hidden himself under the bedcovers after being asked to read a particular book for the nth time. These days we have to rotate the task among me, my husband and my daughter's nanny and even then I read 4-5 books to my daughter in the morning, in the afternoon, after dinner and before bedtime. Sometimes I just want to say, 'Please baby can't we just watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Little Einsteins quietly?' I thought kids liked TV and gadgets more these days anyway? But of course I couldn't say that if I wanted to sustain my child's love of reading so I toil away and read read read.

I blame you Jamie Lee Curtis. You and your strangely addictive book.

To other mothers out there, don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I See Spots

My friend Sam gave my daughter a See Spot book set by Eric Hill which included a book and a stuffed toy. It's a lift-the-flap book which is a good format for young children just starting to read/interact with books. We eventually bought other lift-the-flap books, mostly by Karen Katz, but eventually I started searching for other lift-the-flap books and realized Eric Hill had a whole series of Spot books where Spot the main dog character in the series, constantly explores his surroundings and has different adventures (e.g. Spot Goes to the Beach, Spot Goes to the Farm etc).

I started looking for Spot books on ebay US, which is where I got our Sandra Boynton, Karen Katz and Eric Carle book lots. However, though the book lots were relatively cheap, think 11 Spot books for 15USD + 5USD shipping within the US, the books in the book lot itself were hit or miss. Some books I liked, some books I didn't. If I went with individual books I liked, each book would cost about 5USD which is about the same price for a new book ordered from amazon.com. But then most of the books were only in good condition whereas I was hoping for very good or excellent/like new condition (i.e. note good, very good and like new are standard terms used to describe books sold on ebay).

So I checked the price of Spot books on opentrolley.com.sg which is an online bookstore in Singapore I used previously to buy additional Sandra Boynton books. They did have the Spot books and quite a good selection too, but then the books ranged from 11SGD to 13SGD. They give a 10% discount for minimum purchase of 50SGD but still that was a bit expensive.

As a last resort I went to the bricks and mortar bookstores to see if maybe they had the Spot books on discount. I found a specific section for the Spot books in prologue at Ion Orchard but sadly at 15SGD, the books were slightly more expensive than the ones at opentrolley. Dejected, I started browsing around for other titles and wandered over to the Chinese section and lo and behold, there stacked neatly on a table where several paperback copies of the Spot books.

Spot Goes to the Farm, Spot's First Walk, Spot Goes to the Circus,
Spot Goes to a Birthday Party, Spot Goes to the Beach and Spot Goes to the Park

If only they were in English. But in any case, I was curious to see how the books looked like inside so I opened one...

And they had both Chinese and English writing! Best of all, each book only costs 6.10SGD. Why so cheap? Because they're reprints of the original in partnership with a publishing house in China. In any case, sold! I chose 6 titles in all (the ones shown in the pic above).

It does pay to sometimes just explore and see what's out there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another one bites the dust

Another bookstore that is. First there was Borders which closed down sometime last year, then a branch of Harris in Great World and now Page One closes its doors in its only branch in Vivocity.

The digital revolution definitely hastened the demise of bricks and mortar bookstores here in Singapore, with people starting to buy e-books and apps these days instead of physical books and rent increases not helping the cause.

In any case, I only saw the ad for the closing sale recently but since the deal was so amazing - 70% off storewide, I was worried the best stuff would be gone. I still went though and brought back quite a decent haul.

Personal finance and investment books (SGD8.40 and SGD11.55)

Style books (SGD18 and SGD10)

Children's room design books (SGD16 and SGD5.40)

Parenting and baby books (SGD6, SGD7 and SGD8.85)

Garden design book (SGD12.80)

Switching to cloth diapers

Having a second baby suddenly makes you realize how expensive it is to have children. With the first, you usually spare no expense and you try to get the best of everything (i.e. the best hospital for when the baby is born, the best healthcare, new clothes, educational toys and DVDS, the works...). But with two kids and having them so close to each other (one is 2 years old and the other is 5 months old now), it feels like money just keeps flying out our pockets, and so we decided to see where we could save in terms of child-related expenses.

One financial drain we identified was DIAPERS, in particular, disposable diapers. We went through all the cost-saving techniques such as switching from premium to economy brands, buying on promotion, buying in bulk when on promotion, and sometimes having one premium and one economy brand and only using the premium brand for nighttime use. Regardless of what we did though, we were still spending 3-4 packs of diapers every month and spending about 50-60SGD (roughly P1650-1980). And that was when we only had one child.

So with baby number two, we explored using cloth diapers. We researched online and found recommendations from mommy bloggers about certain brands of diapers as well as the different types of diaper systems. One of the more helpful blogs for us was pinoybaby.com which incidentally has an online store selling cloth diapers (full disclosure: this is where we eventually ordered our cloth diapers).

After considering the different diapering systems, we eventually gravitated toward AIOs which as described by pinoybaby.com are 'All-in-one diapers, no more missing inserts; no more stuffing; no separate layers. The diaper looks almost exactly like a disposable in that everything is one piece'. Now the first few brands of AIOs we became aware of were imported brands such as Charlie Banana and the prices were quite prohibitive, think P1000 per cloth diaper. And considering that experts recommend you buy somewhere between 15-20 diapers (depending on how often your child poops) it made me wonder how on earth we could possibly save money if we were to buy these things. Fortunately, we found a cheaper alternative to these imported brands in a brand called next9 which is local and much much cheaper since they sell at P1000 for a pack of 3 diapers.

next9 cloth diapers

We eventually ordered 5 packs of diapers (3 diapers per pack) for a total of 15 diapers in four cheery colors (blue, orange, green and yellow). We also specifically chose one size fits all diapers so we didn't have to change and buy more cloth diapers as the baby grew. The various snaps on the diapers could be adjusted to fit the baby as it grew bigger.

Total cost = P5,000

At the end of February, we would have been using cloth diapers for 3 months and would have saved P4950 which is roughly the cost of the diapers. In effect, the diapers would have already paid for themselves and it would be pure savings from hereon out. Not bad at all. Sure we still use disposable at times but only once a day for night time use and for occasional out of home jaunts.

This is one of the best money saving tips we can give for families looking for ways to cut on household costs. It may seem a bit expensive when you compute the upfront costs, but it more than makes up for it in the long run.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to teach your daughter manners

We're currently in the midst of my daughter's 'Terrible Twos' phase. When she was younger, she went to Gymboree Play and Learn classes and we used to feel bad when she would get pushed or picked on. But now, she gives as good as she gets, sometimes a bit more. She would throw things, have tantrums, even take a swipe at her baby sister's head. Her dad is very good at disciplining her (i.e. raised voice, glaring eyes and the ultimatum, enforcing 'face the wall' punishments) but beyond punishing her for every mistake she did, we want her to learn how to behave well.

Just in time, I discovered this book series that teaches good manners and is written by popular children's author Karen Katz. We already own two of Karen Katz's lift-the-flap books,  'Where is Baby's Belly Button?' and 'Where is Baby's Christmas Present?', and my daughter loved those so I was sure she would love this series as well.


We got five books from the series, namely 'No Biting', 'I Can Share', 'Best Ever Big Sister', 'No Hitting' and 'Excuse Me'. I don't know if there are more books in the series but these five cover the basics of good manners. We started reading these to our daughter a few weeks ago and now we read the set twice a day, once before dinner and another before bedtime.

I love the easy-to-understand wording, the realistic examples used, the colorful illustrations and the lift-the-flap format which makes it more interactive for kids. It's especially rewarding to hear her use words she learned from these books. She still has a long way to go in terms of good manners but with the magic words she's learned so far, like 'sorry', 'tkoo' (thank you), 'peas' (please) and 'labu' (I love you), I know she'll get there in time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My 2 year old can paint that

As a mother constantly trying to think of ways to help her daughter learn and grow, I eventually thought of introducing my daughter to art activities. We started out with Crayola paint brushes that came in an easy grip roller ball format, but she was probably a bit too young at 1.5 years old to appreciate it. She kept painting herself instead of using paper so we put those paints away. She almost gave her nanny a heart attack one time when she painted her face, hands and knees red. Her nanny thought she injured herself .

Then she turned two and discovered coloring books and crayon. It worked well for awhile, she would just color and color zigzagging lines on the coloring book but eventually she got curious about the crayons and started biting them off, so goodbye crayons!

We decided to go back to paints again since she has a better grip now and I'm happy to report that we've stuck to the painting activity almost every day now. We bought her basic supplies such as an art smock to keep her clean while painting, a thick roll of plain paper from IKEA (instead of buying reams of A4 or short bond paper), a set of washable paints in little tubs plus a paint brush from Crayola and a paint palette.

The budding artist :)

She still gets dirty since she uses her fingers to paint sometimes but at least the paints are washable. The paints are slightly expensive, about SGD7 (or about P200+) for a 6-tub set so we've been trying to ration them out so we don't have to buy very often. We tried using the paint palette but it's difficult to estimate how much she's using. We also tried to cut down on the number of paint tubs available to about 3 at a time but then she loses interest if she has fewer colors to paint with. We also thought we found this great deal on paints when we saw a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse set of washable paints going for SGD1 but the paints weren't as washable as the Crayola ones and you had to screw back each tub cap after use. It was also hard, virtually impossible, to unscrew the tub caps if any paint got stuck on the cap. So we're back to the more user-friendly Crayola paints.

The only good thing about using those Mickey Mouse Clubhouse paints though is that they were so thick, she was able to use more of it to paint and she covered enough paper so we could frame it. It looked like an abstract painting.

Lexi's painting

It reminded me of this documentary about a little girl who painted abstract art which was so good it attracted the attention of a renowned art dealer who eventually sold the girl's paintings for thousands of dollars. The girl was only 4 years old. Now I'm not saying we have a little Jackson Pollock on our hands, but we might as well have art on the walls that have meaning for us. And if that art's going to come from my 2 year old, then so much the better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A day in the life of a wired parent

Check emails on Ipad while daughter hypnotized by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes on the Starhub Digital Video Recorder. Checking for confirmation of electronic passport renewal application. While doing that, also check the status online of children's long term visit pass applications.

Done with to do list for the day. Now to continue jobhunt. Open LinkedIn account on Ipad and browse through new connections. Email headhunters and send out some resumes as well.

Need a short break before lunch. Open zinio on Ipad and choose from among several magazine subscriptions to read. Current number of subscriptions: 19.

Order groceries online from coldstorage.com.sg. We live beside a market and near a 24-hour NTUC grocery but still order online for bulky items like rice, bottled water for the baby's formula, toilet paper etc.

Off to Orchard Road to do a bit of window shopping with the kids. Check bus arrival using SG NextBus on iphone. Bus 124 arriving in 10 mins. Time to start walking to bus stop. It's a slower walk when you have a 12 kg 'monkey' strapped to your hip.

Walking along Paragon. Take a quick photo of the kids using Instagram on iphone. Choose from the different filters. Do I want the picture to look vintagey? overexposed? or do I want the colors to pop out? I go with vintage and store the pic to show to their father later.

Taxi cab line at Paragon agonizingly long as usual. Use Taxi Booking on iphone. Cab confirmation arrives within a minute. The cab itself, in five minutes.

Do a bit of online banking. Check whether supplier has already paid my invoice for reporting services. Aside from funds transfer, we also pay rent and credit card bills online. Meanwhile, our utilities are enrolled in an automated payment processing system called GIRO so those bills get paid without us even thinking about them.

Check ebay and/or craigslist on iphone. Looking for a playmat / foam mat. Daughter already practicing for the Olympics. Need to avoid the inevitable 'ouchies'. Still kicking myself for being on the fence about the Skip Hop foam mat I saw last week on craigslist. Of course it sold immediately. Should've pounced on that.

Challenge husband to WordFeud on iphone. It's like knocking my head against the wall. I never win. But maybe this time I'll reach 300 points. Or maybe I can close the gap down to 50. He's ruining my stats. Why do I keep playing with him?

I switch my iphone for my Ipad and I watch the Suze Orman episode I downloaded from itunes earlier. It's 30 minutes of Suze smackdown. Suze berating couples for not handling their money well, getting into debt and spending like there's no tomorrow. What I like about this show is that it's not about money per se but about people's emotional issues reflected in their money woes.

I fall asleep as Suze ends her show with the words...people first then money then things, now you stay safe.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What to do with kids in Singapore

When we were in Manila I was at a loss about what child-friendly activities I could do with my 2 year old daughter that wouldn't cost too much. We mostly went to Gymboree in Greenbelt 5 where she could run, climb, jump and have fun without me worrying too much that she would hurt herself. However, at P260 per hour (member's rate), those Gymboree visits do add up after some time.

It's a good thing here in Singapore, there are a lot of child-friendly malls. Child-friendly meaning there are usually dedicated baby changing / nursing rooms and play areas or play courts that are free for children's use. One such child-friendly mall that I love going to is Vivocity. It has a large outdoor play court which has several features such as a waterspout area where kids can run and play with shooting jets of water as well as tunnels, slides, merry-go-round, and swings. You can also rent motorized cars for the little ones.

But mostly kids love the waterspout area. In fact, parents with kids who go to the area end up spontaneously buying swim gear from a shop conveniently located across the playcourt as kids tend to strip down and start running around getting wet when they see the water. Good thing we came prepared (rashguard. check. sunblock. check. towel. check.) though that didn't stop my little one from stripping down when she saw her new friends were running around in their underwear or in regular diapers. And yes, it's extremely difficult to try to put a rashguard back on a child when the child in question is not only naked and wet but squirming all over the place but hey, that just adds up to the fun.

 Water fun @ Vivocity!