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August 2014

Going Out! Happy days Holidays! Milestones and growing up Parenting 101 The Kao Kids

Our many firsts at Berakit’s Bukau Lodge, Indonesia

August 29, 2014

Over the National Day weekend, we did the most un-patriotic thing. We left the country and scooted away to a place where no wi-fi was available and only human connections were allowed, and where sunshine, sand, sea and seafood were abundant.

And no, we didn’t go for a beach holiday at the finest of resort destinations. We went back to nature, back to the basics and back to simplicity – at a kelong in this place called Berakit, about 25 km away from Bintan Island in Indonesia.

I’ve always wanted to have the kids rough it out and experience what it’s like to remove ourselves from city-living, and this trip would be the first of the many to come. Before the kids came, the husband and I did a bit of backpacking and we were often amazed to see children backpacking with their parents, on foot, by train and at the youth hostels where we stayed. Those kids were older, of course, but they were tough and resilient. These are kids who will grow up knowing that it’s a big, big world out there and that the world so doesn’t revolve around them. Fatherkao and I have always wished as a couple to do this one thing with our kids this side of heaven, and that is “to suck out all the marrow of life” as Henry David Thoreau aptly puts, and get them to go out and explore the world.

So.

I’ve always wanted Ben, Becks and Nat to have a live-in-the-middle-of-the-sea-on-a-kelong kind of experience, which Fatherkao and I have had the pleasure of experiencing on several occasions before the kids came. It was an experience, I felt, that any person living should have in his or her memory bank, like a ‘been there, done that’ kind of thing to boast about someday when you are old.

Blast from the past: this was us in 2006

Blast from the past: this was us in 2006

With our friends, with whom we had such a great time with in this kelong in Sibu Island

With our friends, with whom we had such a great time with in this kelong in Sibu Island

And so to Bukau Lodge at Berakit we went, where we experienced many FIRSTS together as a family. Our friend and his wife built an extension-lodge to an existing fish-rearing kelong in Berakit some time back which was meant to accommodate family, friends and dive groups, so we followed them out to sea on their speedboat for a 3-day-2-night trip.

To the kelong we go

To the kelong we go!

Bukau Lodge

Bukau Lodge

We had such a blast, and I know for years to come, we will continue to talk about our first kelong trip with much, much fondness.

Here goes, our ten FIRSTS being at Bukau Lodge, Berakit, Indonesia:

1. First speedboat ride

To get to our destination, we hopped onto ‘Hannah and Hazel’, our friends’ boat christened after their daughters, two of the sweetest girls I’ve ever known. It was an incredibly long ride (about 4 hours there, and 4 hours back), and I was worried the kids would get seasick travelling so long on the boat. But at the speed we were going, motion sickness was nearly impossible. It just constantly felt like the operator operating a theme park’s ultimate roller coaster ride refusing to let you out and making the roller coaster go on repeat mode. For the unpredictable thrill factor, I say the sea’s better than a roller coaster anytime. And surprise, surprise, the kids actually fell asleep the moment the boat started moving off, in spite of the crashing waves.

These are tough kids, I tell you. Complaining not even one single time being on the speedboat, which can be quite scary at times!

These are tough kids, I tell you. Complaining not even one single time being on the speedboat, which can be quite scary at times!

What an experience being so close to the sea indeed. We even saw jumping fish, which was altogether breathtaking.

2. First balancing act

We're in a kelong, and there's water everywhere

We’re in a kelong, and there’s water everywhere

So it’s a kelong afterall. Which is actually a Malay word describing an offshore platform built predominantly on, yea, you guessed it, wood. The entire kelong is fashioned out of wooden planks and poles, and so at any point, walking around the place felt like you constantly have to remember to walk properly – and keep your balance – because you don’t want to have the giant tiger groupers chomp you up or be pinch material for the lobsters, depending on which pool of water you fall into. Plus, the sea is all around us, and as we’ve discovered (see #3), there’s no ground to touch if you’d ever fall in like you would in a pool.

This was the tiger grouper pool which was teeming with groupers 10 to 15 kg, I hear. They eat up all our discarded food waste, and can chomp down the hardest bones and toughest fruit. Like Becks' apple which accidentally fell in.

This was the tiger grouper pool which was teeming with groupers 10 to 15 kg, I hear. They eat up all our discarded food waste, and can chomp down the hardest bones and toughest fruit. Like Becks’ apple which accidentally fell in.

My kids can’t swim by the way, so you can imagine this mad mother constantly screaming and nagging her kids not to run, push or monkey around.

But it’s a whole new experience altogether – walking deliberately and carefully, every minute we were there. How’s that for really slowing down?

Gives a whole new meaning to 'balanced and barefoot'

Gives a whole new meaning to ‘balanced and barefoot’

3. First plunge into the deep blue sea

The kids have yet to learn to swim. They have been waddling, waddling, waddling, like little ducklings on floats in swimming pools. I have tried getting them used to being in water for close to a year now, so they are happy to be in chlorinated water or warm bath tubs if you throw them in.

But the sea. It was nothing they had expected. It was nothing I had expected.

The platform where we all took the plunge

The platform where we all took the plunge

The first day we were there we swam in front of the lodge with a group of adults and children (our couple friends’ extended family members, whom we had the pleasure of meeting – there were 14 of us adults in all, and 7 kids), and while it was an exciting thought to be jumping into the sea with so many people, we so didn’t prepare for the strong winds and currents that came, which meant that no matter how hard you swim, you would still be at the same place.

We had some drama that afternoon, with Ben’s float suddenly deflating (and thank God we found that out before he jumped in), Becks’ life jacket floating up which meant she was getting no buoyancy due to the strong currents, and Nat refusing to let go of my neck which meant he was strangling me while I treaded water furiously looking for something I could hold on to for dear life. All these happened while I was trying to swim to my daughter, forgetting completely about my  drifting eldest son and being gripped in the neck by my youngest. And Fatherkao wasn’t even in the sea yet as he needed to keep his camera. Thank God we went with one bunch of fun-loving people who were seaworthy and extremely strong swimmers, and all the uncles and aunties came to help with our kids. We didn’t swim long in that strong current, and ended up making friends with everyone instead over hot milo and snacks after that ordeal.

4. First swim-with-fish experience

So you would have thought we gave up the idea of swimming in the sea. I thought I would too, until my friend said she’d replicate an ‘Adventure Cove’ experience without the strong currents for us.

Here in this “pool”:

Fish "pond" protected from waves and currents

Fish “pond” protected from waves and currents

So we thought, Well, it’s netted, it’s going to protect us from strong currents, why not? and we jumped in. We didn’t manage to snorkel but we did put our head in with goggles and saw some fish swimming around and all.

Totally awesome, still.

Nat and Becks were too frightened after the open water experience, so we swam with other children and Ben instead!

Nat and Becks were too frightened after the open water experience, so we swam with other children and Ben instead!

It was only when we got up and looked down into this pool of seawater had we realised – holy smoke’ – we were swimming with friggin’ huge-ass mamas and a sea turtle. I so should have brought or borrowed a snorkel!

No ordinary fish pond

No ordinary fish pond

5. First poo-watch

Clean water for bathing from the tap, and a toilet bowl for small and big business!

Clean water for bathing from the tap, and a toilet bowl for small and big businesses!

There was no flush in the toilets. Why would you need one in a kelong?

Clearly, the showtimes for fish feeding was whenever anyone was done pooping. We didn’t manage to catch every show, but we did catch the one with Ben’s poop one morning because he had made a loud announcement that he needed to move his bowels.

I bet he now knows that the way to avoid a crowd waiting near the toilet is not to say anything. Hurhurhur.

6. First bat watch

I have never seen bats fly, and even more so seen so many bats fly from their roosting place and disperse. Apparently, the desolate, uninhabited island near the kelong was a roosting place for bat colonies, and we were told that at 7pm sharp, there would be bats in the sky. I was half expecting some cute little creatures flapping their wings but to my horror they were as huge-ass as the fish we swam with in the day and it was a full-moon night. Gives freaking out a whole new meaning (and bringing back memories of all the Gothic Literature I did in JC), but fortunately for us, we were assured that they never congregated at the kelong.

Would drive me batshitcrazy for sure, if they did.

We didn't manage to capture the bats at dusk but my husband took this awesome picture of the night view from the kelong. This is unfiltered and unedited. Gorgeousness.

We didn’t manage to capture the bats at dusk but my husband took this awesome picture of the night view from the kelong. This is unfiltered and unedited.
Gorgeousness.

7. First fish from the sea

I’m not a fan of fishing. Before this trip I had thought fishing was all sitting by the lake for hours feeding mosquitoes. Until our friend’s uncles showed us how much fish that can be caught just by throwing a line from the kelong. These men were reeling in pail after pail of fish whenever they cast their lines, and that thrilled the kids much.

And this was how much that could be fished on a morning the boat took the fishing enthusiasts out deep sea

And this was how much that could be fished on a morning the boat took the fishing enthusiasts out deep sea

It poured heavily on the second day we were there, and there was this peaceful, tranquil calm after the storm. Which meant only one thing for the fishermen in our midst: deep-sea fishing. We tagged along in the drizzle and watched as the fishing enthusiasts reeled in barracudas, sail fish, mackerels and groupers. Ben and Fatherkao tried their hand at fishing while I minded the other two, and they managed to reel in one I-dunno-what-fish which we ate for lunch the next day.

8. First rainbow of our lives

The kids have never seen a rainbow. They’ve heard me sing ‘The Rainbow Connection’ many times and are familiar with the story of God’s promise of a rainbow after the Great Flood, but that’s pretty much it.

And how He must have loved us all so, because while we were out deep sea fishing, this – this was what we witnessed right before our eyes.

This picture, taken with our friend's phone, will never ever do the view we had justice. The rainbow was beautifully arched, clear in all its colour, and set against the backdrop of a beautiful horizon

This picture, taken with a phone camera, will never ever do the view we had justice.
The rainbow was beautifully arched, clear in all its colours, and set against the backdrop of a beautiful horizon

We witnessed this for the first time as a family. How magnificently awesome is our God.

9. First FRESHEST seafood dining experience

How fresh can seafood get when all you have to do is goreng and steam what has just been caught! We’ve had the freshest of fish for those three days, and even had the tiger grouper the kelong was rearing for steamboat dinner. The kelong sells this special breed of  groupers to restaurants and a wide Chinese clientele, but offered us a special rate – so we even carted two 5-kg fresh groupers home on our last day!

Catching our dinner

Catching our dinner

Waiting for the fish to put in the steamboat!

Waiting for the fish to put in the steamboat!

So the kids had chicken wings and bbq-ed marshmellows while waiting

So the kids feasted on chicken wings and grilled marshmellows after the steamboat

The tides were low the following morning and our friend went picking crabs - which meant we had steamed crabs for breakfast!

The tides were low the following morning and our friend went picking crabs – which meant we had steamed crabs for breakfast!

10. First time on a private beach

Just 5 minutes away on a sampan lies this pristine private beach, which was the highlight of our kelong trip. The sand was soft and moist, totally perfect for some thorough exfoliating (free spa!), and the waters were oh-so crystal clear. We spent hours lazing there, sitting by the beach, watching the waves and soaking in the sun, sand, sea. The kids built sandcastles, picked corals and seashells, skipped pebbles and chased little fish.

We were there on Day 2 and Day 3, and we always wished we didn’t have to leave. And when we finally did, we were totally sunkissed.

Picture-perfect on a perfect beach

Picture-perfect on a perfect beach

How much fun took place while we were there? Enough for the kids to ask when we are going back again!

How much fun took place while we were there? Enough for the kids to ask when we are going back again!

So much to do with sand!

So much to do with sand!

~~~

Those three days we lived deep. No phones. No TV. No iPads.

We were at sea. We looked out to sea.

Where the horizon was, there was the sky. We looked out to sky.

The view from the lodge was always changing – when it rained, when night fell, when the winds blew, when the clouds moved – and it was always, always gorgeously awe-inspiring.

What a view in the morning

What a view in the morning

Those three days we relaxed and rested. No fuss. No anxiety. No heaviness. We returned home refreshed, and with so much gratitude in our hearts for being with wonderful people and having a wonderful God who created wonderful things.

I can't put a word to this, but we felt a huge sense of happiness being there.

Refreshed and ready for home: I can’t put a word to this, but we felt a comforting sense of happiness being there those 3 days

Bukau Lodge, we’ll be back.

~~~

P/S: If you’re curious how we bunked as a family, we stayed in a private room like this. But in the kelong, everything is pretty much communal and we left our door and windows wide open while we slept, with the wind in our face, literally. Shiok.

The room in Bukau Lodge

The rooms in Bukau Lodge

Going Out! The Kao Kids

Fun for free, at Terminal 3

August 24, 2014

We love Singapore

I get asked a lot why my family is always found at the airport. We hang out a lot at Terminal 3. At least once every two weeks.

It’s weird that we might be the only people and country in the world that shop, eat, play, colour, draw and run around in our airport terminals. I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of anyone from anywhere boasting of having so much to do at an airport. Isn’t it just a place – that’s usually located at a godforsaken distance, far away from civilisation – for taking off on a plane or welcoming someone home?

But because our little island called Singapore is only 716.1 km² in size, and because our home at Sengkang is only a 15-minute drive to the airport, this place is as accessible as the nearest 7-11 is to us, and I dare say, everyone in Singapore.

Behold, the FUN FOR FREE my kids get at Terminal 3, while I indulge in GST-free shopping. (Oh, didn’t you already know that? You can get jewellery, perfume, cosmetics, clothes, toys, shoes, personal toiletries, cakes and bread, chocolates and candies and even books at T3 without the 7% GST.)

Five fun things to do for free at Terminal 3:

1. Woodblock rubbing

Make your own woodblock prints with the paper and crayons provided at the woodblock rubbing station located just in front of the fountain at B2. Each print carries a design that is inspired by icons and symbols of Singapore.

Woodblock rubbing

My kids have done this countless times and they never get tired of rubbing the crayon on the wood blocks! If the station isn’t crowded, and they can get a space of their own, they can sit there for a long time – and I can slowly eat my dinner at Pasta Mania (next to it) for a long time, which is such a luxury on crazy week days.

2. Playground Fun

Playground

It’s not the most wow of playgrounds, but it is a good way to keep children occupied while you shop or have a cuppa at Starbucks which is just in front of it. On weekends it can get really crowded, but that’s also when the kids get to play tag around the playground with random kids and make some new friends. What I like about the playground is that it hardly attracts the big kids, and so unlike the neighbourhood playgrounds that the kids go to which sometimes requires them to handle the playground bullies, here you get to baby-watch and coo at toddling toddlers instead.

3. Singapore’s Tallest Slide

Photo Credit: Changi Airport

Photo Credit: Changi Airport

You don’t have to spend anymore to experience The Slide @ T3. You can get a preview of the speed at one-and-a-half storey tall at B2 with no minumum spending required. But if you wish to experience the full 12-metres, you can redeem one ride for every SGD10 spent on a single receipt.

How’s that for thrill for free?

4. Trolley Rides and Races

Ben and Becks on a trolley

My kids never get tired of trolley rides and they get their trolley fix at two places: the supermarket and here, at the airport. We don’t have baggage, obviously, since we’re there to shop, eat and play – and so we indulge them by letting them hop on and pushing them around. Sometimes, when the aisles are empty, we race!

Look who’s pushin‘!

Ben and Nat on a trolley

5. Look up, look out, enjoy the space!

We almost never head to town. In fact, I dislike being in town. It’s crowded and noisy and there are just too many people around. Because of the space you get in the airport, and particularly on Level 3 where its roof is designed to let in natural light, being there often leaves you refreshed and wanting to plan for the next holiday. I like to take my kids to Level 3 to get them to run around and look up at the sky from the roof. It’s kinda therapeutic.

Level 3

~~~

This post is written as part of The Gingerbread Mum’s ‘Fun for Free SG’ Series. For the month of August, 31 mom bloggers will take you to places you can check out with your kids for free!

1 Aug: Tiong Bahru Park by Gingerbreadmum
2 Aug: Queenstown Heritage Trail by Princess Dana Diaries
3 Aug: Jurong Regional Library by Finally Mama
4 Aug: Singapore Maritime Gallery by Peipei Haohao
5 Aug: Singapore Philatelic Museum by Kids R Simple
6 Aug: Sculptures of Singapore by Gingerbreadmum
7 Aug: Fire Station by The Js Arena
8 Aug: Esplanade + Merlion by Prayerfull Mum
9 Aug: Bukit Batok Nature Park by Meeningfully
10 Aug: Lower Pierce Reservoir Park by The Kam Family
11 Aug: I12 Katong – water playground by Universal Scribbles
12 Aug: IMM by Mad Psych Mum
13 Aug: Tampines 1 Water Playground by Amazingly Still
14 Aug: Sengkang Riverside Park by Itchy Finger Snap
15 Aug: East Coast Park by Toddly Mummy
16 Aug: Sembawang Shopping Centre Playground by Joey Craftworkz
17 Aug: Animal resort by Raising Faith
18 Aug: Botanic Gardens by Mum’s The Word
19 Aug: Police Heritage Centre by Mummy Ed
20 Aug: MacRitchie trail by Scrap Mum Loft
21 Aug: Road Safety Park by Miracule
22 Aug: Marina Barrage by J Babies
23 Aug: Gardens By The Bay, Children’s Garden by Finally Mama
24 Aug: Changi Airport T3 by Mother Kao
25 Aug: Pockets of Nature by Mum in the Making
26 Aug: Changi Airport T1 Growing with the Tans
27 Aug: Pasir Ris Park Ingspirations
28 Aug: Gardens by the Bay Supertree Grove by My Lil Bookworm
29 Aug: Vivocity Play Area by Amazingly Still
30 Aug: Punggol Promenade + Punggol Waterway by Chubby Anecdotes
31 Aug: Westgate Wonderland by Xavvylicious

Click this link here: The Gingerbread Mum’s ‘Fun for Free SG’ Series to stay updated!

~~~

Mum in the MakingNext on the blog train is Justina who writes at Mum in the MakingJus is a stay-home mum to three littles. She feels that you can never get enough of the great outdoors, and would be sharing some favourite pockets of nature that her family enjoys! Join her tomorrow over at Mum in the Making for some Fun for Free!

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Stealthy, steady success for a 40th birthday bash – Part 2

August 20, 2014

So the husband turned 40 earlier this August, and was given total VIP treatment by me, the kids and the good people at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport.

And because Changi Airport, particularly Terminal 3, is our family’s favouritest place in this country, it was especially special for us to be celebrating Fatherkao’s birthday there, staycating at one of the ‘World’s Top Ten Airport Hotels’.

From my stealth liaising a month before the birthday surprise to the day we checked out, my family was warmly hosted at Crowne Plaza. The Marketing Manager was fully attentive to the needs of our family of five as she arranged for us to check into the 36-square-metres Deluxe Twin Club Room with an extra rollaway bed so we could all sleep comfortably. And when she learned that the entire staycation would be a surprise birthday celebration for Fatherkao, she gamely offered to place a cake in the room so I didn’t have to run around the airport with kids in tow to hunt for one prior to checking in.

Crowne Plaza Deluxe Twin Room: Two little people are getting comfortable!

The Crowne Plaza Deluxe Twin Room: two little people are getting comfortable!

Checking out the room, and lazing on the rollaway bed

Checking out the room, and lazing on the rollaway bed

The glass panelled bathroom! And so we thought we'd be in full view of everyone when we shower, until we found blinds!

The glass panelled bathroom! And so we thought we’d be in full view of everyone when we shower, until we found the blinds!

I did nothing but turn up, check in, blow the balloons and light the candles with the kids to create some party atmosphere for the birthday boy.

This was special delivery, arranged by the Marketing Manager, who thought it'd be nice to have a cake at check in

This was special delivery, arranged by the Marketing Manager, who thought it’d be nice to have a cake at check in. The Lobby Lounge has one of the best cake selections, in my opinion. Because this cake was absolute heaven.

We were also given exclusive Club Lounge Access, and there, the kids got juice, the adults had coffee, and we all spent a lovely afternoon together after the cake-cutting, watching Fatherkao teach Ben how to play a game a chess.

Ready to lounge!

Ready to lounge!

First, some chess. Then, some juice!

First, some chess. Then, some juice!

The Club Lounge at Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport was such a respite. At the lounge, we could look out and see the bustling city traffic on one side and a calming rainforest pool view on the other. The best part of it was, we had the place largely to ourselves.

City view from the Club window

City view from the Club window

Pool view from the Club window

Pool view from the Club window

We checked out the pool after we were done with our lounging, and I must say, I haven’t seen so much open space for a while in concrete jungle Singapore.

A pool with a view

A pool with a view when you look out and up

I’ve never swam in a pool like this, amidst lush greenery and wooden sun decks. It was like being in an island resort while in a city. I loved the space I could look out to, and the planes I could look up at. The kids enjoyed exploring the pool in their floats, although the water was extremely cold and being in it made our teeth chatter so much we had to head to the bathtub in the room immediately after for a warm soak.

I think the kids had the most fun being in the bathtub in full view of us looking in from the room on our beds. Give these kids warm water any time. They haven’t learned to swim yet so they’d much prefer the safety of the tub.

Before dinner we headed to the Club Lounge again, which was on the same floor as our room and the pool – and oh how so convenient to just pop by whenever we wanted – to enjoy evening cocktails, mocktails and canapés. I loved that at 5.30pm when we were there, there was absolutely no one (the hotel folks say the tourists usually head out to town and weekends are quieter than weekdays). We had the entire lounge to ourselves, and were given such royal treatment, getting served drinks of our choice, snacks and then getting our photos taken.

Oh the spread of canapes! This was like dinner for me!

Oh the spread of canapés! This was like dinner for us already!

We sneaked out while the littlest was napping to have some snacks and drinks

We sneaked out while the littlest was napping to have some snacks and drinks

I had a mocktail, he had a Singapore Sling!

I had a mocktail, he had a Singapore Sling!

Can you tell? The birthday boy was one happy camper, and was savouring every minute of his 40th birthday.

Later in the evening, we were hosted by Azur, the award-winning restaurant at Level 2 in Crowne Plaza for Fatherkao’s birthday dinner, and had some of his closest buds join us for more celebration over food, wine and laughs. At the restaurant, we talked and laughed over a good buffet spread of Eastern and Western cuisines – something which we haven’t done so with our friends for a while.

And what an even more pleasant surprise to find that there was yet another surprise for the birthday boy with yet another birthday song and cake.

Everyone's really making sure the birthday boy realises he is 40!

Everyone’s really making sure somebody realises he is 40!

Fatherkao was more than happy to be eating cake again. Not before he tried to clean off the zero in the ‘40‘ which was piped on his plate.

So he cleaned off the zero, and wished he was 4 instead

So he cleaned off the zero, and wished he was 4 instead

Still in denial, this man.

After dinner, the men continued with more wine and talk, while their wives and kids lazed in the cosy hotel room. Nothing would have pleased my husband more than this: to be able to enjoy good wine with his buddies whom he has known for decades and to cheers to more good years ahead.

The best things in life: food, friends and family

The best things in life: food, friends and family

Someone once said, “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar but the best improve with age.” I certainly married someone that’s turning into fine wine at 40.

You’re not old, dear. You’re just mature. 

——-

Thank you, everyone that came to make Fatherkao’s day, and Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport, for your hospitality and impeccable service. You’ve made this birthday really special and have set the standard for all the other staycations to come, because Fatherkao says it’s the best one he’s had so far. We’ve done A LOT of staycations since 2004, and if he says so, you’re truly something!

——–

Disclosure: Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport sponsored our 2D1N staycation-and-birthday-celebration for Fatherkao, and hosted us at Azur for dinner. We had exclusive access to the Crowne Plaza Club, and had our breakfast there the next day as well. I did not receive any monetary compensation, and this post was a result of the wonderful experience we’ve had celebrating a milestone and being pampered silly. This may be the most unlikely place to consider having a staycation, but I tell you – the SPACE you get! Being away from the crowd and having such exclusivity is totally worth it, if you’re someone like me who is tired of too many malls, too many people and  too much noise.

This was our breakfast at the Club Lounge - we had the place all to ourselves on a beautiful Sunday morning

This was our breakfast at the Club Lounge – we had the place all to ourselves on a beautiful Sunday morning

Entrance to Crowne Plaza

The entrance to Crowne Plaza

More details:

Crowne Plaza is connected to Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 via a seamless, air-conditioned link bridge that gives you easy access to the shops and F&B outlets that operate round-the-clock.

A 2D1N stay in a deluxe room on a weekend starts from SGD263 and includes breakfast. The deluxe rooms feature an ergonomic workspace, comfortable beds, ensuite bathroom with separate rainshower and bathtub, and free WiFi connection.

Overnight parking is available at the airport for SGD20.

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Stealthy, steady success for a 40th birthday bash – Part 1

August 19, 2014

Fatherkao at the Club Lounge

I’ve known this man for 14 years, and ever since he became my husband 10 years ago, I have never kept a secret from him.

Not until I had to plan a birthday surprise for him this year.

Fatherkao was getting all pensive and in a totally reflective state about turning 40 (and the worst hit came when he received the letter for Eldershield, hurhurhur), and I’d thought that a birthday party was in order to turn turning 40 into an occasion to celebrate.

I started a secret whatsapp chat with all his buddies (who incidentally have also turned 40 a few years ago) and amidst jokes that they would all be getting him Salonpas Pain Relief Patches for his birthday present, they all agreed to come and spend the day with him because there was nothing he would appreciate more than good company and wine. I changed the passcode to my phone and operated completely by stealth to liaise with the wonderful folks at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport who were so extremely kind and generous to host us for a staycation and dinner. I packed everything for the stay, including his, only on that morning of the staycation day itself (while Fatherkao was out) and told him that I’ll be whisking him away for a holiday – and so he had to meet me and the kids at the airport.

Our plan that day was to check into the hotel room before meeting him, prep the room with balloons, and take him there to surprise him with cake.

I knew he knew the impossibility of me taking him away for a holiday by plane even though his birthday fell on a Saturday, and I was sure he even suspected that we were heading for a staycation, but I was glad he played along any way when I asked him to meet me at T3. He loves the airport, and since Terminal 3 has always been our favourite place to hang out as a family he had nary a grumble when I told him we’ve missed the plane and lunch at Pasta Mania would be his birthday treat instead.

And then when lunch was over, I told him we would be heading to the hotel lounge at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport for desserts (the first time I lied so blatantly in front of the kids who have already checked in with me way before lunch, blew up balloons and prepped the place). The kids and I were doing our best to keep the secret of a staycation in, although the excitement was already building up to such a level we could hardly contain it! Fatherkao kept asking the kids what was going to happen, and they were so game to play along by telling him it’s all a secret.

Until I gave the secret away. Unknowingly.

We walked past Bata at B2 on our way to Crowne Plaza and Becks asked when I was getting her the pair of princess shoes she’s been wanting to buy, and I said, “Tomorrow, k? Let’s buy it tomorrow.”

Fatherkao turned to me, and asked with a grin, “So… staycation, right? Cos’ tomorrow we’re coming back here to buy shoes.”

BUSTED.

Still, with the secret out, we managed to give him a really pleasant surprise by bringing him to the hotel room, getting him to walk in with his eyes closed, and having the loveliest raspberry and chocolate mousse cake ever together – oh, the decadence!

Despite my slip, it was still a big surprise for the big boy who blew out four big candles on his big four-o.

Surprise

Blowing out the candles

Cutting the cake

Decadent raspberry chocolate mousse cake

Fatherkao and the Kao kids

The secret’s out, you’re 40, happy birthday, my love!

———

More about our awesome birthday celebration and staycation at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Part 2 here, and why this staycation has set the standard for all the others to come.

(Self) Examination All this blog's PR Stuff The real supermom

Onwards to staying fit and fab, and running to live great

August 17, 2014
How much running took place yesterday? A lot to me - since my JC days!

How much running took place yesterday? A lot to me – since my JC days!

Ever since I joined the Great Eastern Women’s Run ‘Run To Live Great’ Programme as their influencer, I’ve been trying to convince myself that running can be fun, and most importantly, that I can run.

Anyone who knows me knows I never run and how much I dislike it. When I was 16, I walked the entire Cross Country route of my school’s annual Cross Country event at MacRitchie Reservoir as a sign of protest of how much I hated to be made to run every single year. I’m not going to the army, I’m not going to pursue anything athletic, why, oh why do you torture me like this, was what I always asked my PE teacher.

Now at 33, I suffer from constant fatigue and high cholesterol. If only I had made the decision to exercise regularly at an earlier age. Why, oh why, did I not have that maturity to understand that whatever I sow, I also reap.

Someone once told me, “If you want energy, sow it.”

Yesterday, I took time out to sow MORE energy into my life. I’ve already started to take small steps by jogging at least once a week for 15 to 20 minutes to get my heart rate up in preparation for the 5km I have to run in November, but yesterday was a major leap forward for the training.

At the Training Run organised by the GEWR’s ‘Run To Live Great’ Programme yesterday morning, I went through a session of understanding the different heart rate zones and experiencing what the various intensity levels of exercise feel like.

So I learned that exercise can be divided into three intensity zones: light, moderate and hard. Each of these intensity levels corresponds to various fitness improving mechanisms in our body.

When we alternate between intensity zones, we improve our fitness in the long run.

Greek to you? Actually, me too. But because I was put through the practical, I understood what all these zoning zones mean exactly.

Because this was what I did:

* Light intensity zone = slow run for 300 metres, then warm up with some stretches. Continue to jog at a comfortable pace for 1km

* Moderate intensity zone = Jumping Jacks, High Knee, Run-Like-Mad-On-the-Spot + run a little faster than the light intensity jog for 1.5km

* Hard intensity zone = 2 x 500m walk lunges, 1 x 500m walk-and-twist lunge, 3 x 500m shuttle run + 400m sprint + 2.5km jog

The kind of lunges we had to do, as demonstrated by our trainer, Adrian

The kind of lunges we had to do for 500 metres, 3 times, as demonstrated by our trainer, Adrian

* And then warm down with stretches using a weight from something we can easily find, like a 2-litre water bottle

Stretching and taking a selfie

Stretching and taking a selfie

Yep, these were all I did to understand exercise zones. Yes, the walk-to-protest-at-Cross-Country-unfit-me.

Which all equals to nothing but a super ZONED-OUT me.

Training in zones = zoned out

Training in zones = zoned out

It’s now officially agonising to walk and climb the stairs and carry my littlest because every single muscle on my calves and thighs and butt and feet are aching like crazy, that plus every other muscle I never knew existed.

But it has been fun training with a bunch of enthusiastic and lively women I ran and perspired buckets with yesterday morning, and I am beginning to think that running can be fun, if and only when it’s done with a group of people who has such a zest for life, like the ladies I met yesterday.

GEWR 2014 Polar Loop Training Run Photo Credit: GEWR 2014

GEWR 2014 Polar Loop Training Run
Photo Credit: GEWR 2014

I have been inspired much yesterday. Inspired to live great, not because I am forced to, but because I get to.  What a privilege!

—-

If you’re unfit like me but want to start a quest towards getting your fitness level up, you could try doing the workouts that I shared at the light intensity zone and the moderate intensity zone. You can also follow some of the moms here on the Fit and Fab Blog Train to get some exercise tips, motivation and advice.

—-

AJ and JLNext on the Blog Train is Jenn, who was an athlete in her schooling days.  Ever since her only son was born, she could hardly find time to exercise.  Her energy level declined and her health condition deteriorated fast, especially in these last two years. She decided that she should work on her health, so when Alicia from beanienus.blogspot.sg invited mom bloggers to join the Fit and Fab Blog Train, she was more than happy to participate and share with her readers her struggles.

Follow her blog to find out the steps she has taken to regain her fitness once again.

—-

Read also: how my quest to getting fit began here.

Enrichment Learning fun! The Kao Kids

Rise & Expo: Giveaways, a discount code and more

August 13, 2014

The Rise & Shine Expo is back this year, and it’s promising to be bigger and even better, with double the size of 6,800 square metres as compared to last year’s and plenty of shopping fun, enrichment trials and entertainment.

R&S_A3 Disney Poster 08JUL

Rise & Shine 2014 is happening next weekend from 22 August to 24 August 2014 at Suntec Convention Hall 401 – 404, and just like last year, this is one event that can proudly claim to be the only parenting event in Singapore dedicated to nurturing our children holistically. We still have fond memories of drawing and colouring fish in “Colour My Feeling” last year, the first record-breaking colouring contest in Singapore, and spending a couple of hours visiting booths and meeting mascots.

Ben and Becks a year ago, at the Rise & Shine 'Colour My Feeling' Colouring Contest

Ben and Becks a year ago, at the Rise & Shine ‘Colour My Feeling’ Colouring Contest

Where I also got to judge entries from a different age category

Where I also got to judge and pick the winning entries from a different age category

Once again this year, we can all expect a fun funfair and lots of booths offering exclusive discounts on enrichment classes, preschool programmes, toys, books, children apparel, organic food products, as well as an enriching event packed with parenting workshops and trial classes for craft and cooking, sports, the performing arts, as well as literacy and academics offered throughout the weekend. There are also stage programmes and fun activities lined up for the kids too throughout the fair, so it looks set to be a weekend that’ll be meaningfully fun!

As Rise & Shine’s partner blogger, I’ve been given the privilege to:

  • Host 2 trial passes for 2 classes of my choice

—  I chose sports trials at Ready Steady Go Kids, a multi-sport and exercise programme (with 3 trial time slots to choose from) and Krav Maga Self Defense System, a practical self-defence system developed in Israel (with 6 trial classes to choose from)

— Usual price for a trial class: SGD10 + $50 worth of goodie bag

— Usual price SGD15 for single, SGD 20 for couple

So…

If you wish to utilise the discount, enter MOTHERKAO in the Promotional Code when you register for the 2 programmes I’ve chosen. The same promo code applies to the parenting workshop.

Or…

Participate in the giveaways here on this blog using the Rafflecopter App! (Ends 18 August, 12am)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

It’s going to be an exciting weekend for the young and old, so see you at the Rise & Shine Expo this year!

All this blog's PR Stuff Ben Kao Fatherkao loves... Learning fun! Milestones and growing up Product Reviews

Imagining a LEGOverse

August 13, 2014

I have a LEGO-obsessed firstborn.

My five-year-old loves LEGO. He’s loved it since the days of playing with the Quadro and Duplo. He loves the smaller bricks even more now with the endless possibilities of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating.

Every morning when he wakes, he heads to his LEGO tub, pulls some bricks out along with a troop of minifigures and enters a realm of imagination that is nothing but fascinating. He makes up stories, invents characters and builds systems and machines. I have to say we’ve indeed indulged him with a little too much of a good thing by buying him close to a hundred minifig blind packs, which also means we get frequent entertainment featuring hilarious characters and story lines.

Like robots in Viking garb on surfboards and strange men in helmets wearing animal costumes. And rock stars on ice skates wearing wigs, riding dragons and flying planes.

Too funny for words, it often is.

Recently, Ben got to take home this from LEGO, which got him really excited. He’s not yet near ‘8-14’, as was the suggested age range, and figured he might need lots of help to make sense of the instructions and piecing the parts together, so he got his father (who loves LEGO too and was the one who started the Kao kids on it) to promise to be his help and guide during construction.

And to walk out of the office holding this - was awesome cool for the big LEGO fan!

And to walk out of the office holding this – was awesome cool for the big LEGO fan!

Despite being really thrilled, the boy waited very patiently for weeks for his busy father to carve time out to build the given set with him. Fatherkao promised to build the Eris Fire Eagle Flyer with him as part of their ‘Special Time’ together, and because he promised, Ben patiently waited.

So what did he do while waiting? He admired the box daily (which he proudly displayed on his desk and declared ‘Hands Off, It’s Mine’ to his siblings) and went on to create supporting storylines as part of his daily LEGO routine based on that one image he has from the box through imaginative play with his loose set of bricks and lots of role-playing with his siblings.

This boy actually knew nothing about The Legends of Chima, and the various warring animal tribes. He saw a wolf, a bear and an eagle from the picture on the box and went on make up stories of conflict and peace featuring the eternal, universal theme of good versus evil. It was quite entertaining to hear him weave stories around animals, with Wolf being the baddie on some days but the good guy on one or two occasions, and Eagle as the hero that would save others from their distress.

Last night, he finally pieced the Eris Fire Eagle Flyer with his father, following the instructions page by page, interlocking and stacking brick by brick.

Here’s looking at the construction from start to finish, from Ben’s eyes:

Yay, 'Special Time' at last!

Yay, ‘Special Time’ at last!

LEGO Building Time_6

Box’s opened, and packs are taken out and sorted first

Look at the instruction booklet and start with the building - part by part

Dada says look at the instruction booklet and let’s start building – part by part

Sort...Make space...

Ready? Sort…Make space…And go!

...And build!

I’m a Master Builder, everything’s awesome!

Click, click, click

Click, click, click!

Little hands need bigger hands for precision and sliding parts in...

I need bigger hands for precision and sliding parts in

Dada, I'll try to make as many parts on my own, says Ben

But I’ll try to make and fix as many smaller parts as I can

Is it night already: the boys needed better lighting for the finishing touches, so construction was shifted to the living room. Initially they were in the bedroom so the littlest hands could be kept away, and father and son could get time alone together

It’s night already? Better lighting is needed for the finishing touches, so we need to construct in the living room. (They were in the bedroom before this so the littlest hands could be kept away, and father and son could get time alone together.)

And let's hear it for the big boys with a collective WOW now

We’ve finished!

Built by big and little hands, my dad and I!

Built by big and little hands, my dad and I!

Post-construction, I was so glad my son didn’t declare he needed the parts glued together or displayed as a trophy. He was protective of it, yes he was, but that was because he was preparing to spend a whole lot of time “imagining everything” in Chima all by himself.

And so it began: the grunting, talking and ‘boy noises’ with that Eagle Flyer. He even roped his little brother in for the action.

Can you hear them? It’s Beeesh… Chebaaaabooom… Weeeee…. Oooooohhh…. Baaaaahh… in case you can’t figure it out.

Absorbed in LEGOverse

Absorbed in LEGOverse

I’m pretty sure I am not the only mom whose children have created an entire universe of LEGO play, making up stories, creating characters and building machines along the way. A lot of imagining goes into inventing that LEGOverse where nothing is stagnant, and even more dexterity and hand-eye coordination goes into bringing everything in that universe to life.

What I always knew was that a box of LEGO bricks would take my children into the realm of informal learning through play, and by that I’ve always only thought it to be developing their creativity and fine motor skills. What I didn’t realise (but eventually did after watching father and son build something together) was that beyond informal learning through play, a set of LEGO bricks could also promote role modelling and bonding, instill patience and encourage focus. It also taught my son to visualise and gave him a huge sense of achievement to be making something so massive from nothing.

And then invite him to play and imagine some more.

***

This post originally appeared here on https://sg.news.yahoo.com/imagining-a-legoverse-055034243.html.

Food, glorious food! Motherkao loves... Nat Kao

For the love of Korean food (II): jjajangmyeon

August 2, 2014

The other day I had to make jjajangmyeon.

Because?

Because this:

KWB_1

KWB_2

Gah, why so cool, Woo Bin-sshi. You had me at jjajangmyeon

I referred to the recipe from Maangchi and adapted it to suit the tastebuds of the kids. I bought the blackbean paste from the Cold Storage at Compass Point and a pack of buckwheat noodles conveniently placed next to the blackbean paste on the shelves.

Chunjang

Instead of pork belly, I used 假腰肉 (literally translated: fake waist meat), a part of the pig which the kids like to eat, and which is also cheaper than the loin fillet. Or sometimes just strips of shabu shabu pork. And instead of the zucchini, daikon and potatoes, I used carrots and some bunashimeji mushrooms, and of course lots of onions.

When they are all diced, here goes:

1. Stir fry pork with vegetable oil (I use Knife’s Shallot Oil) until golden brown, remove pork from pan and pour away excess oil

2. Stir fry vegetables beginning with hardest to the softest: so carrots, onions, mushrooms

3. Clear a space in the centre of the wok by pushing ingredients to the edges

4. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the centre of the wok and then the blackbean paste (I added whole pack the first time, and 3/4 the second when I made jjajangbap). Stir with wooden spoon for 1 minute. Mix everything in the wok and keep stirring.

5. Add 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoon of brown sugar (I found the paste really salty!) and simmer for 10 min

Jjajang in a wok

6. Open the lid, stir for a well mixed thick consistency and add a little sesame oil (I totally skipped the starch)

7. Serve with noodles or rice

Jjajangmyeon

Jjajangbap

My kids don’t like cucumbers, so I topped my dish with sesame seeds instead.

Gah, why so cute Nat Kao-sshi, you make me want to cook this everyday just to admire the moustache.

Jjajangmyeon moustache

 Read also For the Love of Korean Food (I): Simple Homecooked here