Thursday, October 20, 2016

Life right now with 4 (Our Day In A Life)

What does your day look like? 

I remember asking this question way back in 2012, when we first started this Day in a Life series. It was so fun being able to take peeks into all these mummies' lives, that I ran this series as a blog train last year, and then again this year. Writing the posts forced me to take a good look at how we were spending our days. It was also great reading the posts, and reflecting back on how things have changed. In our 2012 post, we were based in Germany, and had only two kids. Then in 2015, we were back in SG, and there were three kids.

Now, we're looking at four kids, and so much has changed! I realize I had a whole lot more energy when it was just three, so I was bringing the boys out for co-ops and outings. But 2016 brought so many changes that I decided I would really go slow this year. Within the span of this year, we've welcomed Baby #4, renovated and moved into a new place, and also experienced our first official year of homeschooling (Junior J is supposed to be in Primary 1 this year). With the move came new challenges, since it was harder to keep an eye on all the boys, plus there were more hazards such as the staircases and the pond. I did what I usually do when I feel overwhelmed: eliminate to concentrate. As a result, our schedule and routines are a lot simpler this year, and here's how a typical day looks like:

My alarm rings, and I try to get out of bed. I have been clocking late nights for the past few months, due to some work and chores. Add to that a baby who nurses a few times each night, and it means I find it hard to be able to catch more than 6 hours of sleep. Too many things to do, too little time! I roll over to see this:

This little girl has been quite erratic about her sleep habits. Some mornings she wakes at 6 am to play, and I blearily hand her over to the hubby so that I can catch a few more winks. Then there are some other days where she's still asleep when I wake. Today is one of those good days. I wake her up, and change her out of her jammies. I carry her over to the boys' room, where I find all three boys are already awake and playing. Junior J is able to change himself, so I chase Small J and Lil J around to get them changed. If we're not running too late, we read a Bible story and say a short prayer.

I leave the baby to play with her brothers, and head downstairs to make breakfast. Small J follows me, saying he is "ungry" and that he wants "C-real". He shoves a bowl to me to fill, then opens the fridge. 

"I wan chocolate chip", he demands, and I pretend not to hear him. (He's always demanding for sweets and chocolates.) He continues to rummage the drawers.

I prepare breakfast, while trying to distract Small J from ransacking the fridge for chocolate. The older two love their oatmeal, while I usually have muesli and yoghurt. 

My dad is here! He's been a lifesaver, coming every weekday to help out with the kids. 

I bring breakfast out to the dining table, and find that the boys are already seated (for once!), and Junior J is reading to them funny extracts from an Ellie Belly book

We start on breakfast. Mealtimes tend to be quite a torture I must admit, since the older two take ages to eat. Lil J and Small J tends to run around after a few mouthfuls, and we've found that the best way to keep them seated is to read aloud while we have our meals. That means I have to gobble up my food in double-quick time so that I can read to them. Baby J joins us for all meals and sits in her high chair. I am hoping that this would help her to get used to sitting down at mealtimes. Anyway, if I am handlng the kids alone, I just don't have enough arms to carry her, feed myself and J3 at the same time!

Everyone brings their dirty dishes to the sink, and I get Junior J to practice his cello. I usually sit in to guide him or accompany him on the flute, while the younger three play. The first fight of the day starts between the middle two kids over some minor reason. I break up the fight, and manage to calm Lil J down.

After that, the boys either head for Junior J's swim class, or sometimes we have playdates. The three boys head to the nearby park or playground with my dad, on the mornings when we are free. It's a win-win situation: they get time to run and play, and plenty of sunshine, and I get some peace and quiet for about an hour. During that hour, I pat the baby to sleep, put her in the cot, and start preparing lunch. I cook the baby's porridge, and then prepare lunch for the rest. Usually I rely on frozen sauces or soups, and today we're having pasta with milk chicken. The chicken looks a tad dry, so I make some cheese sauce to add to the pasta. Half-way through cooking, Baby J wakes, and I drag her chair into the kitchen and pop her in.

Lunch prep is taking a little longer than expected because of my decision to make the sauce. The boys are back, and they show me their finds from the park. Baby J starts to cry. I feed her, and stir the sauce in between mouthfuls.

Baby J starts getting very restless, so I play a cello song for her on my mobile phone. The song helps, and Lil J also comes by to play with her.

Lunch is finally ready, and the boys and my dad start eating, while I finish feeding Baby J. I then scarf my lunch down and try to get the two younger boys to finish their food. Recently, I've been letting them listen to music or audiobooks during lunch to help them to stay seated. Today, we're listening to the Carnival of the Animals. When lunch is done, I cut and wash fruit, and everyone eats. I start the washing machine to run a load of laundry.

Once everyone is done eating, it is time for school. Most people are surprised (or horrified) to find that we don't spend more than an hour doing "school"! I've been keeping lessons short for a few reasons: the boys can't sit down for long periods of time, they lose concentration, and I have to settle chores, meals and baby's naps so I also cannot afford to spend a long time doing school. Only Junior J and Lil J do school, while the younger two would be busy playing nearby. I work with Junior J on his spelling, Chinese and Math. He then continues working on his Math independently and does some Chinese writing, while Lil J practises reading to me. I then cover Chinese, phonics and Math with Lil J.

The laundry is done and I can hear the machine beeping. Lil J and I head down and we hang up the clothes, while my dad watches the younger two. For some strange reason, Lil J loves helping me with the laundry, and I am more than glad to have an extra pair of hands. 

We leave the clothes to sun (and that's one of my favourite sights: clean clothes drying in the warm sun!). I leave Junior J to finish the rest of his work, while his younger brothers play nearby under my dad's watchful eye. I bring Baby J to my room for her afternoon nap. 

She goes to sleep fairly quickly in the carrier. However, these days she's been waking every time I try to put her down in the cot. I give up and leave her on the bed instead. During this period, I catch up on messages, and message the hubby the question that I ask everyday: "What time will you be home?" I get good news: he'll be home before dinner!

This little girl doesn't nap very long even in the afternoons. She wakes after about an hour. I carry her to join her brothers, and then Junior J and I spend some time learning how to draw. Sometimes the boys request to do art, so they get to paint and craft. Today, they are too busy playing "camping" so I let them be. They start fighting again over some toys. I wade into the fray, separate them and spend some time comforting Small J, and then talk to Lil J about sharing. 

I head down to the kitchen to start cooking dinner. Junior J comes along to help. We're cooking beef stroganoff, and he helps me to chop the mushrooms. He complains that he does not like the smell of the onions cooking in butter, so he goes off to read a book, after helping me to chop the ingredients. 

Baby J is tired again and is due for her third nap. (These days, I feel like I spend half my life cooking or feeding kids, and another half my life making the baby sleep. Oh well.) Dinner is halfway done, so I head to the room to pat her to sleep. While I am patting her, the hubby comes home. Hooray! It's one of the rare days when he is back before dinner. He's been working late quite often these days, so the boys are very happy to have their Papa home earlier. My dad heads for home.

Baby J goes down for a really short evening nap. While patting her, I mindlessly scroll through my social media to unwind. Before I know it, its time for baby to wake. I head down to find one kid reading, another trying to ride his bike in the front of the house, and another playing quietly, and the hubby is sleeping. I wake him up, pass him the baby, and finish cooking dinner. We have dinner together and the hubby and I catch up, and we do the read-the-book-and-nag-at-kids-to-eat routine again. The kids fight over who gets the most mustard in their stroganoff.

After dinner, the boys have a bath, while the hubby bathes the baby. I clear the dining table, keep the already dry laundry, and have a quick shower. Then I read to the kids again, while feeding the younger two boys their milk. The hubby busies himself with loading the dishwasher and cleaning up the mess in the kitchen.

The kids finished their dinner pretty quickly, so they have some time to play before it's bedtime. Small J joins Baby J in her cot, and declares he is a hippo in a cage. He plays with her, while Junior J is again having his nose buried in a book. Lil J disappears, and I find him in the art area working with Biggie beads. 

Then bedtime rolls around and the hubs settles the boys down for the night. He reads a Bible story, changes them and prays with them. I pat Baby J to sleep. Again, she keeps waking when I put her down in her cot, so she ends up on the bed while I work next to her. I've been helping a friend to start her business, so I sort out some admin, and reply my mails. I do a little reading up to see how I can teach Junior J to draw. Some nights I write on the blog, but these days time to blog has been rare. 

Baby J is now in a deep sleep, so I gingerly shift her into her cot and then tackle the chores. The clothes get folded, I tidy some parts of the house, and before I know it it's way past 2 and time to sleep!


As you can see, our schedule has been pared down to the bare minimum. These days, I find it so hard to plan interesting activities, and I feel I'm just surviving rather than thriving. There's so much I would love to do with regards to the boys learning, and I'm always hoping for more time! But I've come to realize that this season with babies is always one of the hardest, but things will get easier in time to come. Meanwhile, its all about doing the next thing, and enjoying our children while they are little. I am thankful that life has settled into this rhythm, and I hope to slowly add more to our days. Bit by bit, step by step! 


This post was written as part of the Day in a Life (DIAL) blog train that is being hosted by this blog. Please click on the button above to read more DIAL posts. It's been so interesting taking a peek into the lives of other mums! 

Tomorrow, we get to follow Mark and Sue as they go about their day. Sue blogs with her husband Mark on parenting, homeschooling and life at Parenting on Purpose. Her greatest joys are being Teacher-Mummy to her two sons and travelling the world with them. Mark and Sue run a training and consultancy company called The Social Factor. They also are owners of an online store, Sensational Play. Hop over to their blog tomorrow to read more!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Home 2.0: Our Art Studio

We do a lot of art and craft in our home. In our previous home, we did all our painting and crafting at the dining table (you can view our dining room tour here), and our art supplies were stashed in various places around the home. Our markers and colour pencils were stored in enamel cups that were held up by a magnetic Grundtal magnetic knife rack, while our paints and other materials were stored in a Raskog trolley:

However, I longed for a dedicated space where the kids had room to create, where we didn't need to rush through projects and ensure that we clean up the table before a meal. So after we shifted into our new home, we opted to transform the area between the bedrooms into an art studio, which was to double up as a games room. It was a bare, empty space, so we had free reign when it came to designing and planning! 


The most important piece of furniture in any art studio is the work surface. We needed a table that could fit all four kids, yet allow for enough elbow room. Having a table at a lower height would help in terms of allowing the younger kids to access the table easily, yet there was no ready-made table that fit our criteria in terms of both size and height.

We browsed the huge range of tabletops available at IKEA, and decided to use two Linnmon table tops in birch effect. The Linnmon range is available in a few colours and sizes, and we went with the one that measured 120 x 60 cm. This way, we could combine two table tops to form a square table measuring 120 x 120 cm, and each kid could sit at one side of the square table and not have to jostle for elbow room. The fibreboard top is hardwearing, and perfect for an art table, since stains can be easily wiped clean.

The tabletops were joined together with metal plates and wood screws (available at hardware shops). We used two Trofast frames as the base of the table, arranged perpendicular to the tabletops and attached again using metal plates and wood screws. These frames are narrower than the tabletops, so that allowed for leg room, while providing storage under the table.

Having storage under the table was extremely useful! We could either slot in Trofast storage boxes of varying sizes to contain various materials (eg. I use one bin to hold random recyclables that they can use for crafting, such as egg trays, bits of cardboard and toilet paper rolls)... 

... or we could just slot in bigger items into the space within the storage unit, such as their work trays and the trash bin. 

We use both Smula trays and Klack trays as work trays (the former are smaller so they are used for the younger kids). Both are large enough to hold a piece of drawing block paper, and using trays minimizes clean up, as we only need to wash the trays once in a while. These are also useful when it comes to messy work such as working with clay, as well as when the kids work with beads, since everything is contained within the tray. 

Once the table was set up, we encountered another challenge: appropriate seating. Using the Trofast frames meant that the table was taller than a regular child's table, so the regular child-sized chairs would not work for the younger kids. 

The Mammut children's chair (his is all colourful because he decorated it with washi tape!) was perfect for Junior J's height, but I had to find something taller for Lil J and Small J. However, most regular stools were too high, while the step-stools were too low. In the end I found a simple solution: we bought the tallest Trofast storage boxes available, and flipped them over to use them as stools! (PS: These come with HUGE stickers that are really hard to remove. We discovered that spraying some WD40 removed the sticky residue easily!)

An art studio needs plenty of storage space, so we reused our old Raskog trolley to store paper, paints and other art materials:

On a side note: I really love this trolley since it's so durable and versatile. We have three of these trolleys, and our beige Raskog trolley has been used as a mobile library in the boys' room previously... 

... and is currently being used as a bedside table and diaper caddy! (It now comes in red brown as well as black!)

Trolley aside, we needed a space to hang up their art aprons/bibs. I wanted easy to install hooks since we already had to drill up a few things and didn't want to have to drill more stuff, so we went with these cheerful, colourful Losjon hooks

The hooks were a breeze to fix up: all you have to do is peel off the adhesive backings, and stick them on! The hooks were positioned lower down, so that even the toddler could hang up his own bib. 

And to add interest, we wrapped twine around the Losjon hooks (this idea was from IKEA Hackers), and that also provided an alternative display area for small pieces of artwork by the kids. 

Speaking of display, we set up a gallery wall using Articulate Gallery frames, as well Fiskbo frames. These come in various sizes and colours, and I love how affordable they are! 

One of the issues I have with our current home is the awkward positioning of the electrical sockets. All the sockets are placed right smack in the middle of the wall, where they cannot be hidden behind low shelves. I tried blocking the sockets using a Skurar plant pot filled with twigs (where we could hang some of their crafty creations), but as you can see, it didn't work!

In the end, I framed up a piece of wrapping paper using a large Fiskbo frame, and propped it over the socket. This way, we could easily access the socket if we needed it, but meanwhile it wasn't glaring at us in the face!

And finally, those storage units are Besta frames (in white stained oak effect) and Hanviken doors (in either white for the bottom, or white stained oak effect for the top). We use them to store both art materials, as well as all our games (since we use the art table for playing games as well)! I love how we can mix and match all sorts of colours and patterns to come up with a storage solution that works. We also use Besta frames for our TV bench and media storage both in our old and current homes (you can see some photos here), since they are so versatile. 


You might have recently read about IKEA's Democratic Design process, which is to make design for everyone. There are five aspects to Democratic Design: 

1. Form: This deals with how innovative the design is, as well as aspects such as easy handling and ergonomics.

2. Quality: This is in terms of durability, child safety and resistance to wear and tear and humidity.

3. Function: This deals with the flexibility, adaptability and relevance of the product in daily life.

4. Low Price: Product affordability, as well as lowering the cost of maintenance and packaging.

5. Sustainability: The use of recyclable materials that are environmentally friendly, and products that reduce energy consumption. 

Good furniture design is really about a balance of all these five aspects, but what I particularly love about IKEA products is their functionality and adaptability. It is this aspect that has made putting this art studio together so much easier, and at a much lower cost than if we were to hire a carpenter to custom-build our furniture. The kids are really enjoying this space, since it works so well for us, and it's going to be a space filled with happy memories!

Disclaimer: This post is written in collaboration with IKEA. We were given a gift card to purchase some of the aforementioned items in this post, and no monetary compensation was received. All opinions are my own.


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