A Little DIY Fun For Babies

Theo is a very fortunate child. He is not short of toys. I’m really happy that he has plenty to play with. As he has so many toys, I find that he goes through them really quickly – like 30 seconds with a toy before moving on to another. Therefore I do try to create opportunities for him to sit down and “focus” on one activity.

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On Sunday, I put him in a cardboard box. To ensure that he doesn’t cut himself, I used masking tape to cover all the edges. I also placed a blanket in the box before putting him in. I then used a knife to cut three squares on a flap (of course this step was done before I put him in the box!). Theo had so much fun (thank you Amazon!!!). He enjoyed opening and closing the flaps, and pulling part of the blanket through the square holes.

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On Monday, I mixed flour, water and food dye to create “paint”. It’s not so much art and craft time, but rather just for him to feel the bag and see what happens when he uses his fingers to press on it etc.

I don’t expect him to sit still for 30 minutes to concentrate of the “task” but I think it’s fun for him to explore new materials. It’s also handy that the bag is taped to the table. I don’t have to bend over a million times to pick up a toy! Yay! Hopefully when he learns to stop putting everything in his mouth, we can then move on to crayons. 

Homemade Kaya (Coconut Jam)

It’s Chinese New Year but somehow it feels a little ordinary. Two years ago, I’ve experimented with homemade Bak Kwa and Pineapple Tarts. Last year I even steamed a fish for the very first time in my life. Due to my lack of planning, I didn’t organise anything special. Thankfully, there are 15 days of Chinese New Year to celebrate! Better get my act together!

The first thing I did was Homemade Kaya (Coconut Jam). It’s not exactly a Chinese New Year must-have, but it reminds me of home so I went ahead with it. It’s a popular spread in Singapore and Malaysia that’s made of coconut milk, eggs, sugar and pandan juice. Whenever I’m home, I’ll order Kaya Toast at a coffeeshop for breakfast with two half-boiled eggs. That’s good old breakfast for me.

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Thankfully, I discovered Grace from Nyonya Cooking last Saturday at Markt im Hof. Using her simple Kaya recipe as a guide, I made my own coconutty Kaya! Wondering why the Kaya isn’t brown? That’s because this is typical Nyonya Kaya.

So, to have a taste of home, I had Kaya Toast for dinner on Chinese New Year. Probably sounds pathetic to those who have had a feast back home. However, it’s amazing how the familiar taste of Kaya brings back fond memories.

Oh yes, I had to dig in first before Daniel does as he apparently LOVES Kaya!

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It’s the third time I’ve succumbed to whatever virus that’s spreading since we got back to Frankfurt in January. Being sick with a child isn’t fun at all because there’s just no rest time until Dan gets back from work. It’s definitely not fun when the child falls ill too thanks to his Mama!

Oh well, but we try to make the weekends filled with fun. After all, it’s the highly sought after family time together!

A friend recommended me to visit Markt im Hof which is at Wallstrasse 11 in Sachsenhausen. It’s a lot less crowded than the Bauernmarkt in town but very welcoming.

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The main reason for visiting Markt im Hof was to support Grace from Nyonya Cooking. She is actively trying to raise awareness of Malaysian food by making YouTube videos. On Saturday, she was selling chicken satays, teh tarik and Kaya toasts! Definitely comfort food for me.

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She’s such a lovely person to chat with – very warm, cheerful and sweet. And her food was yummilicious too! Hopefully she received lots of compliments from Saturday and will be motivated to sell more often in Frankfurt.

I also tried some deep-fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Minced Meat from another stall.

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Thumbs up too! Crispy on the outside and really juicy fillings. So many people were queuing for them. As it was my first visit, I wonder if the stall sellers are regulars there or if they change each week.

It only shows that I still have a lot to learn about Frankfurt!

5 Things To Know About Giving Birth In Germany

As if having your first child isn’t nerve-wrecking enough, giving birth in a foreign land without sufficient knowledge of the local language can only add on to the stress. Occasionally I receive a couple of emails from readers in Singapore who chance upon this blog asking me about what it’s like to have a baby in Germany. I thought it would be thus useful to summarise the main things we should know about giving birth here. Of course, if you have any more questions, do contact me and I’ll try my best to answer.

1. Gynaecologists don’t deliver babies
Once you see that positive sign on the stick, make an appointment with your gynaecologist. If you live in the city (I live in Frankfurt, thank goodness!), there are many who speak English. I know many people who are conversational in German but when it comes to medical issues, they’d still prefer to speak their native language.

Unlike in Singapore, your gynaecologist (Frauenartz) in Germany won’t be the one delivering your baby. He/she is responsible for the routine checks throughout your pregnancy, but no way is he/she be the one encouraging you to push when the time comes. Once labour starts, the OB/GYN and midwives at the hospital take over.

Usually, midwives (Hebamme)are the ones who deliver babies in hospitals. You can choose your midwife if you’d like to and she’ll work with you during your pregnancy till childbirth. When choosing a hospital, make sure your midwife is authorised to work there if you’d like her to be the one delivering the baby.

2. The Mutterpass is your best friend
You’ll be given a pregnancy health booklet at your gynaecologist clinic. It’s a book that has all the details of each tests and check up. Bring it everywhere you go! It was very helpful as I had to see my own gynaecologist and the ones at the hospital too.

It kind of ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding your wellbeing and the baby’s.

3. Book an after-birth midwife ASAP
This midwife is responsible for visiting you and your baby at your home for the first 8 weeks. German Health Insurance covers this service which I think I couldn’t have done without. I can’t praise this system enough – I had so much support from my midwife, and I needed it. You could ask for recommendations online (Facebook or Google) as to which midwives to choose. If you’re breastfeeding, you can have access to your midwife for the first year as long as you have a doctor’s note. From my experience, it’s not difficult at all to get either your gynaecologist or padeatrician to prescribe you more midwife visits.

Those who have summer babies tend to be a little more stressed out over unavailability of midwives. Many of us love going on summer vacations, so do midwives. I booked mine when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I thought I was early, but apparently not.

4. Al Natura
As much as possible, the Germans love to go all natural. Unless necessary, there’s a lot of encouragement to have a natural birth. Not to scare anyone, but so many other mums have mentioned how slow/reluctant midwives are to give an epidural.

When I visited the hospital (in case I needed an epidural), I freaked out. For legal reasons, the anaesthetist had to explain to me everything that could go wrong if I had an epidural before I signed the papers. What would they do if I refused to sign?!?! It gave me nightmares!

So yes, you’ll be given lots of herbal tea to help with milk production and perhaps be recommended to even try hypnobirthing! I’ve had quark and cheese slapped on my boobs to help with engorgement!

5. Hospital Stay
Unlike hospitals in Singapore, do NOT expect 5 Stars hotel service in hospitals here. You don’t actually fork out a single cent here for the birth, so just make do with it. Depending on where you go, the service and experience will vary. I had Theo at Uniklinik in Frankfurt and was pleased with the ward I stayed at. They tend to not have more than 2 women in a room, unless it’s a busy period then they might have 3 in a room.

For natural births, you can expect to stay for 3 days and 5 days for C-section deliveries. It’s of course more comfortable at home, but staying put in the hospital means the doctors can conduct the U1 and U2 health checks on your baby. You don’t have to then rush to book a paediatrician to get U2 done when you’re still feeling sore and exhausted.

Before you leave the hospital, make sure you’re given the baby’s health booklet – Kinder-Untersuchungsheft.

German Laws

When in Germany, do what the Germans do. Play by the rules and chances are you won’t get into trouble. However, that’s not to say that some rules don’t make you cringe.

1. The Peeing Law

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At the Gynaecologist clinic, Dan pointed out to me that there was a sign telling men to pee sitting down. I’ve now learnt that men who do that are known as “Sitzpinkler” – which basically refers to their unmasculine behaviour. Gawwwd… I only pick up words like Stinkefinger and Sitzpinkler! So useful, right?!

I pointed out that since it’s a women’s clinic, perhaps they didn’t want men spraying everywhere in the loo. I didn’t know that such signs are actually quite common in Germany. I’ve never asked my German male friends how they pee, but why would I? I assume they all do it the “regular” way.

So, what happened recently is that a tenant’s deposit was withheld by his landlord who claimed that the former ruined his marble flooring in the loo by peeing while standing. However, the judge ruled against the landlord thus emphasizing that urinating while standing up is still common practice.

2. Agent Fees

2.38% commission (of Cold Rent) is what renters pay to agents who barely do anything apart from being there when you’re viewing an apartment and signing the contract. No after service whatsoever. Most of the time it’s the existing tenants that answers your questions regarding the flat instead of the agents.

However, landlords will soon be the ones responsible for engaging these agents. Really? They can surely include that expense in your rent. It will be interesting to see what rental prices are like once this rule is enforced (supposedly in Spring).

3. Fine for not paying for public transportation

I haven’t noticed any lately, but there used to be inspectors dressed in plain clothes checking if commuters have purchased valid tickets. It’s quite freaky because you could jolly well be seated next to an inspector and you didn’t know till he stands up and asks for your ticket. If you look back into history (all the spying!!), you would think that Germany would be the last place to have “secret inspectors”!

Anyway, the fine will increase from €40 to €60. Try moaning about the hike – you’ll be told it’s worse in France! Wow! That makes me feel better now.

4. Radio & TV Fee
We have no access to watching TV or listening to the radio. However, the fact that we own a TV for games & DVDs and a computer, we have to pay €17,98 MONTHLY!!! But now, we can save €0,48 each month because the rates have gone down. Every little counts, yah?

The Start of My Barefoot Books Journey

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Apart from being a mum and wife, I wanted to do something of my own. However, I was sure that whatever I was going to do had to benefit Theo. I had to make sure that “work” doesn’t mean having to slog away so someone else earns most of the money AND I don’t get to see my son. He’s growing so fast that I can’t imagine being away from him for 8-10 hours each day and missing out on all the milestones he achieves. Hence, I started my own home-based business as a Barefoot Books Ambassador.

At Barefoot Books we share captivating stories that stimulate children’s imaginations, curiosity, creativity and that celebrate cultural diversity.

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I love how their books teach children that they are part of the global community. For instance, you don’t just learn to count from 1 to 10. In “We All Went On Safari”, you’ll learn to count in English and Swahili, discover African animals and learn about the Maasai people.

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The books also showcase beautiful illustrations that spark children’s imaginations. “Out Of The Blue” is an example of a wordless book which is sure to get those creative juices flowing!

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One of my favourites (yes, I have many favourites!) is the Singalong series.

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Singing and dancing along to the catchy tunes sure make learning a lot more fun for the children.

If you’re based in the UK, you can shop online at http://yolande-lim.barefootbooks.com/

If you’re in Germany hunting for quality English books for your child, please feel free to contact me to find out more.

If you’re interested in organizing a joint event with your business in Frankfurt (eg. Kids’ boutique), please use the contact form on this website.

Here’s my Facebook Page where you’ll find what we have in stock and any upcoming events/ promotion.

The Sisterhood of Motherhood

If you haven’t watched Similac’s advertisement on the Sisterhood of Motherhood, do watch the video above.

Those who have experienced motherhood knows how tiring it gets but nonetheless says it’s a rewarding and loving experience. That’s what most people think and say motherhood is anyway.

This short video (two and a half minutes long) really sums up what motherhood is like. It has its ugly side. It brings out the ugliness in us. We get all competitive and judgmental of other parents. We think we know their children better when we can’t even figure our own kids out. Just because Parent A isn’t doing what we are doing, we conclude that their parenting skills are incorrect or their children have issues.

Funny enough, this video which was posted on a Facebook page got a mum saying “Continuing to post it gives this company (Similac), which is otherwise taking money from mothers who would be better off in so many ways if they breastfed, FREE ADVERTISING “. Of course, such a comment annoyed another mum. Breastfeeding is scientifically proven to benefit babies and yes, mums should be encouraged to do so IF POSSIBLE. I went through hell the first couple of months with breastfeeding despite all the help I got from my midwife and I can tell you, my C-section wound was NOTHING compared to sore nipples. Don’t even start trying to tell me what possibly was wrong.

That’s precisely why I have a love-hate relationship with mummy groups. Everyone has their own agenda and thinks they know what is best for you. When I asked about which brand of nappy to buy before Theo was born, I was bombarded with comments such as “Why don’t you use reusable nappies? They are more environmentally friendly.” And that thread eventually was about where to buy the cutest reusable nappies in the UK. However, there are genuinely nice people out there who will answer your questions, so don’t be afraid to ask.

I make it a point not to give any parenting tips unless people ask what I’m doing to cope with an issue. It is then up to my friends to try if it works for them. Great if it does. But if it doesn’t, try something else or just let nature run its own course. My way of dealing with Theo is to follow his cues. It works best for the sanity of our family and that’s what matters most. But of course, this is seen as madness for others.

I also make it a point not to tell new parents-to-be what having a baby is like. Everyone was telling me how tired I would be, how tough it would be to do this and that before Theo arrived. I hated those comments for ruining the romanticised idea of motherhood I had. Of course they turned out to be true, but just allow excited parents some last moments of fantasy before the baby arrives, yeah?

We as mothers all want the same thing for our children – we want them to be healthy and happy. I think the video’s great in trying to get mothers to not judge each other. We all do things differently for personal reasons. Motherhood is a steep learning curve for everyone (be it your 5th child or 7th!). It’s not only learning about your child, but also learning to respect other mums’ choices. This is also something I need constant reminder of.

Improving One’s Quality of Life

Are you the sort of person who

1. Goes out immediately to get what you need the moment you’ve identified an issue?

OR

2. Think real hard about it, browse online to see which product is the best, make a cup of tea, browse again to find fault with the best product on the market then have another cup of tea?

I tend to be number 2. And I know it’s annoying because I can’t make up my mind about buying something at times. In my head I wonder “Really? Do I need it? Will it be money well spent? Seriously? Is it worth it?”

Therefore, in 2015, we decided that one of our family values is to improve our quality of life by making everyday life simpler and easier.

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One of the first things I bought in 2015 was a Slow Cooker. #Auntiealert

I’ve lost count of the number of headaches I suffered from having late dinners (as I waited till Dan came home before cooking). It was very stressful to rush through cooking and eating just so we can put Theo down to sleep at a reasonable time. As much as I love Bolognese, it got boring after having it a couple of times each week. Don’t even mention batch cooking because we have the tiniest freezer ever. Towards the end of last year, we were having kebabs and pizzas far too often for my liking.

After two weeks of using my new slow cooker, I can proudly say, “My life has improved!” No more stressful evenings wondering when to start cooking. Even when Dan gets home past 7pm, all we need to do is dish dinner up and dig in S-L-O-W-L-Y.

As food is usually ready by 5pm (I throw all ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning before 9am), it means Theo’s dinner is ready too. The boy eats whatever we eat, so no salt, no stock cubes. If I want the stew or soup to taste more flavoursome, I use more vegetables.

Ever since I started using the slow cooker, I have more time in the early evenings to give Theo a slow and relaxing bath, read to him, and play with him. He gets the attention he deserves without me having to chop vegetables or stand in the kitchen. It is brilliant!

Here are some of the benefits I’ve reaped from slow cooking:
1. Delicious and nutritious meals – flavours of meat and vegetables are retained. Meat is way much more tender than cooking on the stove.
2. Time saver – put all the ingredients in and let the slow cooker do the rest.
3. Easy to clean – food does not stick to the cooker and since everything is cooked in one pot, there’s only that to wash up.
4. So quick – it takes ages to cook but I don’t have to stand around in the kitchen or time the cooking. Dinner just needs to be dished when everyone’s home!

Should Boys Play with Kitchen Sets?

When we found out we were having a boy, I freaked out. I hate football culture (men getting drunk, cursing and swearing, players pretending to be in great pain etc), I know close to nothing about Chess, I can’t even differentiate between a Porsche and a Lamborghini, and I don’t think I can name more than 5 different types of dinosaurs (ok, 3 actually). Thank goodness Theodore has a Papa who’s slightly more knowledgable than me in those areas.

I’m convinced raising a boy requires a lot of energy. Or maybe it’s just Theo’s constant need for thrill and excitement. Or there’s a worm in his bum because he wriggles so much. Anyway, having a boy got me thinking – should boys play with toys which are stereotypically girls’ toys? In this case I’m referring to a kitchen set.

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I assume most people will not hesitate to agree that it is not a problem. After all, famous chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay (just to name a few) are men!

I’m saying a boy should own a kitchen play set. One day, boys grow up to be men and they’ll have to cook for themselves (or their families). If they’re going to own the real thing in the future, what’s wrong with starting them young with a kitchen set? A set like this helps children build motor skills, communicate, take turns by sharing and so on. They learn skills which both boys and girls need to have in life.

Similarly, girls should be given the opportunity to play with a toy tools set. Let’s be realistic – one day, they’ll leave home with a tight budget and end up buying cheap IKEA furniture for their first rented place.

The kitchen set is great! When I’m in the kitchen with Theo “supervising” me (bless this boy for not letting me out of his sight!), I do a pretty good commentary of whatever I’m doing. During playtime, I “remind” (since he probably doesn’t really remember me doing any of it) him of what Mama does in the kitchen using his kitchen play set. It has opened up a whole new world of conversations!

I definitely do not think that a kitchen set is too girly for Theo. Neither do I think it’s going to make him gay or less manly.

Do you let your child play with toys that stereotypically are associated with the opposite gender? Why?

Honey Waffles

The skies were grey, the wind was howling. I felt the strong gales push me from behind as we walked along the Main to town. Thankfully, it wasn’t cold. In fact, it was refreshing.

As we planned to have our main meal in the evening at home, we decided to only grab something small from the Farmers’ Market at Konstablewache.

On top of our regular Wurst in Brot, I also had Honey Waffle with Chocolate Sauce. It is not unusual to see a queue for it, hence I’ve NEVER had the opportunity to try it. As we were there past lunch time, the queue was a lot shorter and I’m so glad to finally lay my hands on freshly made warm waffles!

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It’s just waffles. Nothing exciting or different, is it? Well, I love what I had. It was made only after I’ve ordered it so it was hot. And it wasn’t a plain waffle WITH honey. The batter actually had honey in it!

Now, I have another reason to visit the Farmers’ Market on Saturday!

Learning to Embrace Messiness

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That was the last picture I took at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 before we took our flight back to Frankfurt on Monday. It was the end of our 8 weeks long holiday back in the UK with Dan’s side of the family.

Today, we resume our every day life back in Frankfurt. I found it hard to fall asleep last night because I didn’t want morning to come. I knew I would be upset to watch Dan leave the house for work in the morning. I confess that a tear or two was shed when we bid Dan goodbye at the front door. Theo did a semi-wave to his Papa! That cheered us up.

Surprisingly, Theo and I adapted really well. We knew that Theo won’t have much of a problem adapting. It was ME. The lucky boy received lots of fun Christmas toys and we had plenty of fun playing with them today.

I struggle internally when I see the mess in my living room. As much as possible, I don’t want to be always telling my son “So messy! Play neatly!” or “Stop playing! It’s a mess!” I would like him to be allowed to play in a free environment where he’s allowed to explore, be adventurous, encouraged to be creative and most importantly safe. I actually believe that I should allow Theo to “make a mess” (within reason) or I might be nurturing a child who’s too afraid of dirt, too afraid of making mistakes, too cautious. So whenever he plays, I’m screaming to myself in my head “Shut up, Yolande! Leave the mess alone!” So far so good!

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Albert Einstein and Roald Dahld are famous for having untidy desks. They didn’t do too badly in life, did they?

If I looked back into my childhood, the messy moments were one of the most memorable ones.

Play dough on my head.

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Getting muddy – well, really shouldn’t be doing it now for health and safety reasons!

Jumping in puddles.

Painting ceramic figurines.

Getting myself half-buried in sand on the beach.

Getting the green light to roll some pastry for Chinese New Year pineapple tarts.

Today, I reminded myself that it’s ok to be messy. In fact, Theo needs to be allowed to be messy (in our own place at least). Honestly, the mess bothers me A LOT but I know I’ll regret it BIG TIME if Theo’s childhood memories are of his Mama frantically packing toys away so that the apartment looks spotless and his Mama trying to make him eat as if he’s dining at the poshest restaurant in town.

Elternzeit (Parental Leave in Germany)

One of the greatest benefits parents get in Germany is its generous Parental Leave available equally to both mums and dads. If you’re in employment, you’re entitled to 12 months leave in the child’s first year and additional 2 months if both parents claim time off work jointly. During this time, the employer is legally obliged to keep your position so there’s job security for you and your new family.

During this period of time, the company doesn’t pay your salary. You’ll need to apply for Elterngeld (Parental Benefits) which pays 67% of your monthly salary and capped at €1800 per month. Those who are unemployed before the birth of the child gets the minimum €300 per month. For many, the maximum amount received is less than a monthly pay cheque. However, if your family can afford it (which means digging into your savings), I highly recommend dads (not only mums) to apply for Elternzeit.

Before Theo’s birth, Dan applied to his employer for Elternzeit 7 weeks prior our estimated due date. This is a legal requirement so that the employer gets sufficient notice. We wanted to spend Theo’s first month together since we don’t have family near us. We’re glad we did as we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth the hospital for appointments in the first month.

Dan also had another month off work from November to December. That was when Theo turned 6 months old. I wanted Dan to witness for himself the milestones that Theo achieved at that age. I’m so glad he had the time off because he was there when Theo sat up, ate solids properly, shook his toys (instead of just chewing), learnt to clap, threw his toy ball etc. It was just lovely to watch them have Papa and son time, and I can tell how Dan’s really happy to be able to watch Theo learn new skills instead of just hearing (exaggerated) updates from me.

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Combined with his annual leave, Dan spent 3 months as a stay-at-home-dad. He’s the best Papa to Theo ever! I’m not sure if a baby as young as Theo understands what is Papa time. However, having seen how much he has developed and changed in the past couple of months, I think we’re really fortunate to spend quality time with Theo.

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All good things come to an end. Dan will return to work this coming Wednesday. We’ll miss him for sure.

2014

2014 was a steep learning curve for us. Unlike taking our GCE or university exams where you can try to spot questions, theories we came across from books or the Internet did us not much good when it came to Theodore.

When he finally arrived in the early hours on 23rd May, reality hit us hard. He made us smile at the sight of him, and yet he broke our hearts. For the first time in my life I learned that I could love someone so dearly, so much so that his needs will come before anyone else’s, even mine.

Being a parent isn’t easy. We started off with a bumpy ride. However it all got better as the months flew by.

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Who would have thought that 7 months just flew by in a twinkle of an eye? The baby who was totally reliant on me and his Papa is now growing up to be a big, strong and independent boy. He throws tantrums (which drive me insane!), he’s cheeky (makes me laugh), he’s loving (he’ll give anyone a good French kiss if you allow him to!!!) and he’s just so gorgeous (BIASED!!!!).

Ever since he was born, a lot of our energy is spent on him. That’s to be expected, really. On good days, it’s exhausting. On bad days, it’s like torture! But as a Mama and Papa team, we deal with it. Of course, we get on each others’ nerves, get all sensitive and snappy. We aren’t always the perfect, happy, “oh parenthood is all rosy” family. We have bad days too, and that’s fine.

2014 really did push us hard. However exhausted we were, we had to fight it. We couldn’t just throw the towel in. At most I would hide in the toilet for a few minutes. True story!

I like living in Frankfurt. Just like any other city, some aspects of it can be annoying (stupid smokers, public transportation on strikes etc), but I honestly am happy living there. In 2014 my circle of friends expanded in Frankfurt and it has helped me feel a little more like home.

4 years abroad and I’ve learnt that some old friends will remain friends while others move on. With some friends, the distance will never be an issue. And with others, we just stop sharing. It used to bother me a lot when friendships are lost. But these days, it’s not the quantity that matters.

2014 has been baby-focused. Instead of saying I’ve neglected other aspects of life, I would rather say I’ve prioritised my family.

It has been a challenging, life changing, demanding but rewarding 2014.

A big big thank you to all of you who read this space! Thank you for being supportive and commenting positively. It’s amazing how a blog meant for family and friends has brought me new friends from different parts of the world. Thank you to those who have taken initiative to contact me to arrange for a meet up in Frankfurt. I hope I haven’t looked too strange! You all have helped given me a sense of belonging in a foreign city and when I was lonely.

I hope you’ll all enjoy the last bit of 2014. May 2015 be another rewarding, fun filled and happy year for you!

Skeletons at The Natural History Museum, Oxford

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It’s a reindeer. Very festive looking, isn’t it?

Christmas was a lot of fun. Hectic, tiring and loud (screaming baby!), but it was a good day. We took a walk to the Natural History Museum again to enjoy some fresh air. Being out of the house also helps me cope better with my internal struggle for chocolates, mince pies, crisps and biscuits.

This time, I had a closer look at the skeletons on display. Did you know that reindeers shed their antlers? And apparently, they grow back!

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Can you guess what these two (above picture) are?

They are one of my favourite animals – elephants. On the left is the African elephant and the one on the right is the Asian elephant.
Did you know that the tusks of a male African elephant can weigh up to 60kg, and only 9kg for a female? However, NOT all male Asian elephants have tusks.

Here’s a polar bear (I wish there was more description to it because it didn’t look as big as I thought it would be.)

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And here’s a giraffe! Skinny, long legs and neck!

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This isn’t quite what you would expect people to do over Christmas. But I enjoyed looking at these displays, and pointing them out to Theo. One of the great things in the UK is that most museums are free. It doesn’t matter that we spent only 30minutes in there before Theo started heating up because we can visit again another day. Such outings give me different things to talk to Theo about (let’s be honest, playing with babies’ toys, and re-reading their books can be a little mind-numbing after the 100th time).

Now, back to researching on what we can do during the day while Papa’s at work in Frankfurt. One week left …

Krispy Kreme, Oxford

“Hello! Here’s a box of doughnuts for you!” the lady exclaimed as she handed me a box filled with a dozen doughnuts.

“What’s the catch?” I asked.

“It’s for free because we’re opening a new outlet at Clarendon Centre,” she explained with a smile.

We came home with a dozen original glazed doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. It was my first time having them and they do taste fresh and scrumptious. They were smart to hand out the originals so people could taste the goodness of the doughnuts.

As we all fancied the doughnuts, we visited their new outlet in Oxford’s Clarendon Centre yesterday. We had a lot of difficulty choosing the ones we wanted because we were spoilt for choice. Being sleep deprived parents, we couldn’t work out the deals on offer. Probably seeing how lost we were, Shamail (the guy working at the outlet) said we could actually choose ANY 6 doughnuts for £8.95. Excellent! That made life a lot easier for us.

When we got home, we were so excited to share the doughnuts with everyone. When G opened the box and went “Woo!!!” in excitement, I shouted “NO!!! Those aren’t the doughnuts we selected!!!” We were given half a dozen of Chocolate Sprinkles doughnuts. Dan loves chocolate sprinkles but NOT when he had put in a lot of thought into selecting other flavours too.

I rang up the shop in Oxford to explain what happened. Shamail, whom I spoke to over the phone, was MORE than helpful. He realised that the boxes must have been mixed up and given to the customer before us. He gave us the option to pop by the shop at our convenience to re-order the doughnuts we ordered for free. Oh, and the box of chocolate sprinkles was ours to keep.

We went back the next day to pick up the doughnuts. I couldn’t have been more pleased with their customer service.

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I was expecting to do more explanation of what went wrong to the staff and wait around before a grumpy manager reluctantly agree to give us our original order. BUT NONE OF THAT HAPPENED!

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All we got were smiles from all the staff behind the counter, people who were truly apologetic. Even when I said I should have checked the box before leaving, the guy said it was still an error on their side to mix the boxes up. WOW!!??!!

The doughnuts are delicious. The people are great. Will I be back for more? All our waistlines are shouting “NO!!!!” but hey, it’s Christmas!

Christmas Music Fun

We spent a week in Salisbury with my sister-in-law and her family. She’s got an adorable almost 16 months old girl who has grown SO SO much since we last held her in our arms when she was only 6 weeks old.

It was an amazing week for us, especially Theodore. One of the things we did was to join his cousin (let’s call her KL) for Music Bugs. As Christmas is just round the corner, the kids sang and danced to Christmas songs.

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Music Bugs was Theo’s first music “class”. He was fast asleep for the first half as the other kids jumped and danced to the festive music, shaking their handheld bells enthusiastically. When he finally woke up, I quickly strapped a horse (as there weren’t enough reindeers to go round) round his wait and placed the reindeer headband on him. The boy had no idea what I was doing to him and that explains the “in a daze” look.

Barefoot Books, Oxford

Books make one of the greatest gifts. I grew up with many books as my parents sold storybooks to primary schools. Books served a special purpose to me as a child. They empowered me with knowledge (before the convenience of Google), and transported me to different countries in my very own imagination. Just like any other Singaporean child, I attended many extra classes (all sorts of tuition lessons, Sunday school, bible study etc). Therefore, reading was my leisure time (on top of imaginative play such as speaking to bolsters and pillows!).

I find myself always gearing towards buying books for Theo. Therefore, we brought him to visit the Barefoot Books Studio in Oxford. It’s located on the Banbury Road in Summertown, Oxford. I wasn’t quite expecting the studio to take up the entire building, so I must say I was pretty impressed! IMG_0741.JPG

It is obvious from the layout of the studio that the founders did put in a lot of thought into making the place attractive for kids and parents. The vibrant colours of the display shelves, neatly organised books, finger puppets that compliment the books and sensory tents had me screaming in my head, “THIS IS SO EXCITING!!!”

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Here’s Theo learning how to say “hello” in different languages (yaaaahhhh riiiighhhttt).

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We were at Barefoot Books for one of their daily FREE storytelling sessions. The sessions are at 11am and 4pm daily, each lasting 30 minutes. During the session, the very animated and engaging storyteller reads a handful of Barefoot Books titles (which I’ve fallen so in love with!) to the children. We read, sang and danced (or rather, jumped a little) during the session. Toddlers seemed to love it, and even babies as little as Theo found it amusing and would concentrate on the story (or just STARE at the storyteller).

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That’s the majestic looking chair that the storyteller sits on. I’ll have to find a mini version (or somewhat similar looking chair) for Theo when he’s a bit older to put it in his reading corner.

There’s also a cafe at the studio. I thought the prices of the mains were overpriced even though they tasted good.

IMG_0737.JPGOne thing to note – babies under 12 months can enjoy free tapas (baby style – fresh fruits and vegetables) when you order a full main meal. For the first time, Theo was put in a high chair! That meant Dan and I had our hands free!

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Look! Even the baby was happy to be free from his parents!

After lunch, we browsed the store. I love their Rhymes Series boardbooks with fabric illustrations by Clare Beaton. Here’s an example of her work from Garden Rhymes.

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Stunning illustration, isn’t it?

They also have books on different cultures (Indian, Jewish, Greek, Chinese etc), the atlas, dinosaurs and so on. Call me old-fashion, but I don’t think the iPad or the convenience of looking things up on the Internet can ever replace the thrill of discovering another world in a book. Yes, it only takes a few seconds to google for an answer. But flipping through books for answers was so rewarding as a child that I wouldn’t want Theo to miss out on that.

Zappi’s Bike Cafe, Oxford

Men in leather jackets, riding boots and tattoos are a frequent sight here! Of course not! I’m just kidding. Zappi’s has bikes, but more like bicycles.IMG_0700.JPG
I’m a self-confessed bad cyclist. I reckon I’m doing road users a service by not cycling. However, all the positive reviews on Trip Advisor made Zappi’s sound inviting and I thought it would be pretty interesting to check a bike-themed cafe out.
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Zappi’s is located above Bike Zone on St Michaels Street, Oxford. Many of their customers are students (well, laptops, papers, and discussions on some sort of academic essay) who need a good cup of coffee to perk themselves up and some toasties.

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I ordered a Machiato which by the way shouldn’t be confused with a Latte Machiato. I’ll admit that I made this silly mistake (ignorance on my part). It was so strong! The rich flavours of the beans definitely did “punch through” the milk (as mentioned on the cafe’s website). I’ve always liked dark roasted beans for my coffee and it was what I had at Zappi’s. Ahhh… I do miss our old coffee machine that would start grinding beans at 7am daily. Waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee made getting out of bed easier.

Many patrons sing praises of the toasties at Zappi’s. To be honest, toasties can easily be made at home very cheaply. It’s not rocket science but since we were out running errands, we thought we might as well get some lunch.

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That’s a very delicious home-made Zappi’s Club Toasties that has chicken, bacon, tomato and cheese. Yup, very basic ingredients in a sandwich but you have no idea how excited I got over it. I LOVE sandwiches. But my country of residence (Germany – Frankfurt, to be more specific) doesn’t quite do sandwiches that the Brits do! And this brings me to my next point.

British food IS NOT horrible! Simple food like cheese toasties is popular here. In fact, we just made cheese toasties at home the other day. Want a tip? Use VERY good cheese. In my opinion, vintage cheddar is the way to go.

What else can I say? There’s even a book called Toastie Heaven: 100 great reasons to dig out the sandwich toaster.

A quirky and chic cafe in the middle of town this is. If you’re in Oxford and fancy a wicked cup of coffee (not Starbucks or Costa!!!), you now know where to go.

Afternoon Tea at The Rose, Oxford

All I wanted to have for our 5th wedding anniversary was to have Afternoon Tea in Oxford. After spending hours which probably accumulated up to days researching on the best place to have Afternoon Tea, I decided on The Rose which is on High Street.

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The Rose is a very small restaurant (more like a tea room, really) which takes pride in using quality ingredients and preparing their food (such as scones and cakes) from scratch. Homemade scones and cakes sounded good to me hence my decision to dine there.

So, how did Afternoon Tea become such a British affair? From my perspective as a non-British, having Afternoon Tea is an indulgence, a luxury. I imagine well-dressed ladies meeting up with their friends in the afternoons at fanciful tea houses/ restaurants, sipping the finest grade of tea served in dainty cups and eating cakes, sandwiches and scones. Despite my stereotypical view of Afternoon Tea, I went out in T-shirt and jeans, and a Christmassy hoodie (already!!??).

I learnt a little about Afternoon Tea today. Apparently, the Duchess of Bedford, Anna, is said to have a pot of tea and some light snacks in the late afternoons. That helped deal with hunger as dinner was usually served only at 8pm. She would write to invite her friends to join her for tea and very soon, the upper class was enjoying pots of tea and sandwiches in the afternoons.

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What caught me by surprise is that the Afternoon Tea that the upper class had was considered “low” tea and what the middle and lower class had was “high” tea. Actually, the terms “low” and “high” refer to the height of the tables that tea was served on. I imagine the upper classes sitting on expensive sofas and armchairs with their teas served on a side table (or coffee table?). On the contrary, the middle and lower class workers who needed a more substantial meal had theirs served on the dining table.

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I ordered the Cream Tea Special which had finger sandwiches with salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, egg and cress, freshly made cake (I chose Coffee Cake with Mascarpone Cream), a scone with clotted cream and jam and Earl Grey.

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It was surprisingly filling. I enjoyed every bit of my Afternoon Tea. The scone and cake were definitely very fresh. I love that the mascarpone cream was served separately from the cake. But still, I finished the cream!!! No self-control whatsoever.

The other reason for choosing The Rose for Afternoon Tea is because they serve other main dishes at lunch time too. I knew Dan isn’t quite an Afternoon Tea sort of person (even though he would be more than happy to accommodate me), and I wanted him to be able to enjoy our anniversary meal too. The man was thrilled to see Rib Eye Steak on the menu.

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I know, it looks good!!! It tasted great too! Juicy and tender! Big, fat proper chips (not those frozen skinny fries!) were amazing too! Dan was very pleased with his meal. There’s always time for teddy cuddles and kisses!

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I enjoyed our anniversary meal very much. We had our brief annual family meeting there too. In those meetings, we look back on the past year and set new goals for the following marriage year. It’s crazy how much our lives have changed in 2014, how our priorities have shifted.

We’ve had 4 of such meetings since 2010 but it’s only on 28th November 2014 that it’s truly a FAMILY meeting.

A blog on my three greatest loves – family, food & travels

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