The Good Life: Shelling Beans

Hey Debs! As stated before, I’ve had a fantastic bumper crop of beans this year!  Take a look at it!

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Check out dem beans!

Unless they’re picked at very early in the season for stirfrying, beans need to be shelled.  This takes some time and practise.  I had left the beans on the vine to dry so that I could get some good soup beans.

I’ve learned that unless you pull the strings out of the beans just right, the pod will fight you all the way and you end up with a pile of beans and a pile of tiny bits of ripped up pod as you massacre the pod just to get the beans out.  This may also result in the occasional massacre of the bean as well.  Do it right, however, and the pod will split perfectly into two halves, making it easy to get to the beans.

By the time I was done, I had two piles of beans.  Not all of the beans ripened at the same time, so I divided them as I shelled them.

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The beans divided

The most ripe beans went to the pile on the right, where they would be dried for next years seed.  The unripe flagolet beans and the others that didn’t finish developing a thick skin were put on the left.

The seed beans were spaced roughly apart and placed on a towel to dry for several days.

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From Right to Left: Australian Butter Beans, Rattlesnake Beans and Borlotti Beans

In a weeks’ time, they had shrunk and were ready for planting.

I only managed to save about ten of each bean, but that’s more than enough to plant out my field next year!

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Seed beans are about half the size of freshly picked beans.

As for the rest, well, I cooked the youngest flagolet beans into a delicious chilli using my friend’s freshly dug up sweet potatoes.  They were delicious!

I also saved some up for precooking and drying, but more on that later!

Permission to Grieve (Part 2)

Grief is a strange thing, because the idea of loss encompasses so many different things, including the loss of an abstract concept.

I know that an acute grief reaction can occur in women who are expecting to have a well baby, but instead have been told their child has a birth defect – the grief over the diagnosis is just as real as their grief over the well child that existed only in their imagination. In some cases, the pain can even feel as visceral and as violent as if the well child has been murdered.

I once met a lovely and vivacious girl from Australia at a friend’s wedding. The both of us didn’t know anyone else there other than the bride (who was of course busy making her rounds of all her guests), so we just ended up chatting to each other most of the evening. She told me about how she’d worked as a lawyer to please her family, saving up all her earnings in order to pay her way through achieving her dream of becoming a veterinarian. At the time, she was finishing up her final year of veterinary training in Australia. We traded stories about our clinical work. Towards the end of the evening, we got up and danced with the bride and groom, giggling and laughing like old friends. I had to leave the party early, but not before promising that I would drop her a line if I ever headed out to the land of Oz.

It was almost two years later that we were planning a trip to Australia, I remembered my promise and I contacted my good friend (the bride who’d invited us both to the wedding) to ask for her help in connecting the two of us via email.

My friend was completely flabbergasted that I didn’t know what had happened to that beautiful girl. She’d died a few months after the wedding, in a horrific car accident.

I couldn’t believe it. Dead? No way. But it was true. It happened when she was bringing her family back to the Perth airport, after they’d attended her graduation from veterinary school. Her family members all survived with a few injuries, but she was killed instantly.

In telling me the story, my poor dear friend had to relive the devastation and despair that she felt upon receiving the news of the death of her best friend and had been asked to give a eulogy at her funeral. The accident was so terrible and so tragic that it had even been reported in our local newspapers – I’d completely missed it because I’d been pregnant with Little E at the time and had turned into a hermit crab for nine months.

For the rest of that day, I felt utterly miserable but I didn’t quite think that I had a right to feel so upset. So I pushed the feelings away and just tried to carry on with the rest of my day. After the kids were in bed, the Barn Owl asked me why I seemed to be moping around the house, and I just burst into tears.

Debs G: There was a terrible accident and she died!

Barn Owl: That’s bad. Was she your friend from school?

Debs G: No. I didn’t know her at all.

Barn Owl: I don’t understand.

Debs G: I don’t either! I never knew her, and I’m sad about it! And now she is dead and my friend was very sad about it, and I wasn’t there for her! I’m sad about that too!

Finding out about the death of someone you know, even someone you’ve only known very briefly, is always a shock, and it’s important to remember that the right to grieve does not need to be earned. If you feel bereft because death has stolen someone from you, that in itself gives you the right to grieve.

Although I had only known this girl for the space of a few hours, she still left a lasting impression, and that is worth something to me. I’ll always regret not following up on our meeting sooner.

(Guest Post) Mothers Make It Work: Advice from a Part Time Working Mama

(Editor’s Note: Owls Well is proud to welcome Twinklystarz as our first guest contributor! A Becky C and I grew up with Twinklystarz and she has always been a very organised and hardworking person who seemed to have her life in order at all times. As of now, Twinklystarz is an expert tightrope walker, balancing work life in one hand and home life in the other. She has two boys – her hubby and 3 year old son – who bring her much joy. We are so excited that she agreed to write this post for us, so that we can have a peek into the world of a Part-Time Working Mama! – Debs G)

Hello Owls Well Readers,

I am a 3-year-old Mama.

Yes, it has taken me THAT amount of time to find some semblance of a work-life-kid equilibrium.

Quite often, that delicate balance is less than perfect, and Mommy Guilt gets to me almost every other day. That being said, I thank God every day for many bountiful blessings: the opportunities to spend one-on-one time with my 3-year-old during the work week, a job that keeps me sufficiently challenged – mostly mentally – and above all, The Village (more on this later) that supports me and keeps our little household of three happy, well-fed and thriving.

My Journey to becoming a Part-Time Working Mama
My mum was a Stay At Home Mama to my brother and I, so naturally, I intended to be the same.

Growing up, I liked having someone to come home to and I wanted to be that someone when it was my turn to have a family. I even planned my first career around this, accounting for some flexibility to stay at home but still earn an steady income.

But, Life (God, rather) threw several curveballs at me, around the time The Hubs and I were planning to get married. In the end, I left my supposedly-flexible job for an office job with fixed hours, and we bought our new home at a time when housing prices in Singapore were sky high.

When S was born, I stayed at home for a year. During this time, our finances were starting to become uncomfortably tight, especially since we were repaying our housing loan. I was also gradually turning into a recluse and I was getting very bored of being trapped at home with a non-communicative baby. I struggled significantly at this stage with mommy guilt, believing that I wasn’t making good use of the time God had given me, whilst also wishing that I had the financial luxury to stay at home for the long-term.

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The Hubs and I with S at one year old

On hindsight, if I persevered beyond the early toddler stage, it probably would have gotten quite interesting and challenging. Who knows?

When I first went back to the office, turning over care of S to my parents, I relished learning new material at work and was very happy being busy again in a nine-to-five setting.

However, I was overwhelmed with mommy guilt and my poor parents probably received anxiety-ridden Whatsapp messages every half hour! This mommy guilt never really faded even after a full year.

A little over half a year ago, The Hubs got a new job which came with a sizeable pay increase, so I took the opportunity to negotiate a part-time contract with my company.

And this is where I’ve been since then, working three-and-two-thirds days a week at the office, which leaves me a full day during the working week to spend with little S.

This precious mid-week day off has been great in giving S and I that special one-on-one time to get to know each other better, especially as my toddler transitions to the preschool stage (and is now a lot more communicative).

This journey to find the right work-life balance for me has been long in coming, and I hope you will find the following tips useful in finding your centre of gravity in this crazy mama life:

1) Know yourself

My year as a Stay At Home Mama taught me a lot about some qualities a mom should have in order to remain sane in the house. I decided to take on the role without much forethought, but realised that to make full use of the time at home with a little one, a substantial amount of planning is required.

As the little one grows and begins to explore, meaningful learning activities need to be thought out and planned in advance. Unfortunately, while I can organise big events like parties, I couldn’t seem get together small little details in a fixed daily schedule. Babies and toddlers do benefit from some routine and structure, and that doesn’t work for me – I like to go with the flow. It took me the whole year to admit to myself that unlike my mom, I wasn’t cut out for the Stay At Home Mama life.

2) Don’t sweat the small stuff at home

When you have to outsource your care-giving, you can’t sweat the small stuff – after all, The Village is doing the work of parenting on your behalf! I have learnt to gratefully let go of the controls, and trust the judgment of my son’s caregivers.

Learning to let go has helped me in many ways, especially when my son transitioned to preschool and I have to put my trust my son’s teachers daily. Communication is key to building trust between caregivers – my parents, The Hubs and I have a very active Whatsapp chat group where we decide together what to do with S on a day-to-day basis. Starting this chat group helped keep me calm and reassured when I first went back to work.

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S with his security blanket, heading off to preschool

3) Also, don’t sweat the small stuff at work

Unfortunately, the current mentality of Singaporean employers is that part-time work is a privilege, not a right. While this is a topic for another day, I’m very thankful (eternally grateful, to be exact) that the bosses at my workplace are supportive and understanding, even though The Village can support me working full-time.

In my case, this also means understanding work exigencies and being willing to step up on occasion, regardless of the extra hours. I often work from home on my off-days, or stay back later than expected when work is urgent. I think my bosses appreciate my commitment to the job and this has probably helped me to convince them to let me work part-time for a longer period.

4) Grandparents are Gold 

I am also immensely thankful for The Village.

Having a ‘childcare centre’ at the Grandparents’ place has facilitated my part-time work arrangements, especially when I need to swop my off days due to urgent work demands. My colleagues often remind me that others rarely have such flexibility luxury. So, it’s difficult to express the full depth of gratitude that I have for my parents who are sacrificing their golden retirement years in order to care for little S.

Our Village also includes the Grandparents Set 2 (my in-laws), who give us a lift home every weeknight and keep us well-fed and healthy with hot, delicious meals all through the weekend – sometimes even right to our doorstep.

The greatest blessing of all with Village Care is to see the joy on the grandparents’ faces when they spend an extended amount of time with their grandchildren.

5) Above all, wait for God’s timing

It can take a long time to find out what works best for you and your family. Many times, I wanted to take things into my own hands whenever I was at my emotional limit. Like decide not to return to work. At all. Ever. Or request to go part-time much earlier than I eventually did.

In the end, God always intervened at exactly the right time – for example, when my boss offered me a new role to part-time on a long-term basis just when I was worried my temporary part-time arrangement would not continue. God has also blessed me with unexpected promotions so that although I started working part-time, the overall income flow would remain steady. I learnt we could always trust God to provide, in His perfect timing.

Oh, one last thing:

Fathers are important partners in your motherhood journey. The Hubs is the rock of our family and keeps me steady with practical advice and wise words.

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The Hubs with S at the Singapore Art Museum

To The Hubs and all the dads out there, here’s wishing you a HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

by Twinklystarz

This post is part of the “Mothers Make it Work!” Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories, please click on the picture below.

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If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories, you can check out Candice’s thoughtfully written post over at MissusTay.com.

A part-time-working-mum to two preschoolers, Candice shares about parenting, activities with kids, marriage and travel in her journal at MissusTay.com.

Next week on the “Mothers Make It Work!” blog train, we’ll be heading over to A Pancake Princess to hear from Dorothea.

19179345_10158786845860585_1318408897_oDorothea is mum to two feisty and exuberant boys and spends most days playing in their pretend dinosaur world, dabbling in paints and bringing them on adventures. Of course, there’s also the never-ending breaking up of fights, meal time wars and messy rooms to deal with every day. She shares her parenting journey and faith lessons at A Pancake Princess.

Living Clay: A pottery workshop with Studio Asobi

Last weekend, we joined a clay workshop with Studio Asobi, a local pottery studio run by ceramic artists, Huiwen and Kenneth.

I had been wanting to attend one of their clay workshops for a very long time, ever since some of my friends showed me some cups and bowls that their kids had made under the couple’s tutelage last year. Each piece was entirely unique to the child who made it, and with the process of glazing and firing, had been turned into beautiful and useful works of art. To me, this meant that Huiwen and Kenneth were able to engage each student individually, and guide them in bringing their imagination to life.

This is why when my own extended family expressed an interest in attending a holiday workshop together, I was very quick to volunteer to recommend and organise a session with Studio Asobi!

We were a little late arriving that home studio in Hougang, but we were just in time to hear about how Huiwen – who had no artistic training – had taken a sabbatical from her corporate job to explore Japanese ceramics at a year-long stay-in programme in the old pottery town of Taijimi. After her return, she decided to pursue pottery-making full-time, and eventually, her husband Kenneth, gave up his career in architecture to devote his time to ceramic sculpture. Together, their works are seen all over the world, from local ceramic installations to Belgian pottery expos to Australian restaurants. They also use their art to benefit social causes that work with poor and needy, as well as pledging 20% of all their profits to support the Mercy Centre’s Trolley Ministry, which works with the homeless in Singapore.

Afterwards, Kenneth and Huiwen showed us the electric kilns in the house, and demonstrated how we start off shaping and moulding the clay using our hands. We were then each given equally sized clay balls, as well as some tools and sat down to start working.

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Beginning to shape each ball of clay

As each of us slowly worked our clay, Huiwen went round and checked our work, advising us on how to smooth out cracks and even out surfaces, showing us how to use the different tools available to make patterns and create textures.

We also had a chance to have a quick tutorial on the pottery wheel. Kenneth gave us a quick demonstration and some pointers on how to use the wheel, and then he guided each of us as we tried our hand at throwing a simple ceramic cup.

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Kenneth of Studio Asobi showing us how to use the pottery wheel

Both J and Little E seemed to really enjoy using the wheel, but it was much more difficult that Kenneth made it seem.

When it was my turn, I could feel the clay moving under my hands as if it were alive. Slowly, I shaped the clay into a little saucer.

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Debs G attempts to throw a ceramic cup on the pottery wheel

It all seemed to be going very well, until a sound from inside the house broke my concentration and I looked up for a split second, losing control of the clay and turning it back into a formless lump!

Oh well!

The Barn Owl was able to manage the clay quite well and with his delicate touch, was even able to get the walls of the little cup to be thin and even. It was amazing to watch him, as I could see on the Barn Owl’s face that a serene peacefulness settled on him whilst he was shaping the clay. It is unsurprising that working with pottery is can be very therapeutic!

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The Barn Owl reaching a meditative state and making a tiny dish

After giving the potters wheel a go, all of us went back to put the final touches on our little clay creations. Huiwen and Kenneth showed us how to add little decorations, handles or feet to the outside of our handiwork. We then etched a symbol or initial on the bottom of our pieces so that they could be easily identified.

Then it was time to decide on the glaze or glaze combination would look the best on our works – Huiwen would apply the glazes for us once the clay dried fully.

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With Huiwen of Studio Asobi

In the end, Little E made a mug, J fashioned a soup bowl, the Barn Owl moulded a bud vase and I made a dish. It is so amazing the number of different objects that we each made out of the same lumps of clay!

I can hardly wait to see how our little clay pots and cups will turn out in three week’s time!

For more information about Studio Asobi click here

For more information about family, group or corporate workshops with Studio Asobi click here

Permission to Grieve (Part 1)

When I was in my first year at University, I met an interesting girl.  Now, this girl was cool.  And I mean cool.  She had an interesting life.  She’d done all these things and seen all these things that I wished I had done and seen.  She was talented – a fantastic artist, singer and dancer.  And I wanted ever so much to be just like her.

We became friends.  And for that first year of University, life was a whirlwind of me trying to impress her with how cool I had become/was becoming.  I did and said a lot of things that I regret now, and did and said more things that I will never regret.

We used to do crazy stuff together – on the weekends, we’d go to Chatswood and busk outside the St George bank.  Not because we were poor or anything, but because it was fun.  And I had a LOT of fun when I was hanging out with her.  With her, I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally have done.

She taught me how to live.  She taught me that if I wanted to do something, that I should go out and do it instead of waiting and fretting until the opportunity passed.

But…

She wasn’t a good friend to me.  Things were said (I only regret some of them).  We had a huge fight (it was horrible) and after that, we stopped being friends.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t the nicest to her after the fight either – I was free to others with my reasons for the friend break-up, as it were, and added a lot to the drama surrounding her life.

So, I didn’t speak to her or see her again for almost 13 years.

Last week, I heard that she’d died.  A car accident.  It was very sudden.

I went to her Facebook memorial and there was a great outpouring of grief.  People left well wishes.  And it seemed that from the time we stopped being friends and the time she died, she’d become a completely different person.

A much better person.

Thing is, though, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole situation.  Her death made me feel my mortality, but that was really about it.  I didn’t have many good memories of our time together and what memories I did have were tainted by the messy end of our friendship.

Sometimes, however, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve, even if it’s over someone we didn’t know well, or whom we didn’t get along with.  They were still part of our lives.

Whether she’d changed or not, though, her death is still sad.  Still sudden and unexpected.  She had a lot of life in her and though she wasn’t my good friend, she had been a good friend to many others.

Her loss will be mourned and it is a tragic waste that she was taken so young.

So, I cried a little, and then I was ready to face the next day.

Upcycling for Kids: Tie-dyed Muslin Squares

During the course of the Queen of Konmari challenge, I’ve realised that I have accumulated a sizeable stack of muslin squares which I am no longer using since Thumper has outgrown them.

These muslin swaddles were one of my best baby gear investments and they have lasted through three kids and have been washed multiple times and are still in fantastic condition. They are too old to be given away (I mean, who wants used muslin nappy cloths, really), so I decided to see if we could give them a new lease of life as multipurpose kitchen cloths or dishtowels!

I decided to see if we could dye the muslin cotton squares, to make them prettier to look at. I roped the kids in to help me, and I think the final product turned out rather nice!

How to Make Tie-Dyed Muslin Squares

Materials:

  1. Plain cotton muslin squares, washed
  2. Fabric dyes (I got mine from Spotlight)
  3. Rubber bands
  4. Plastic forks
  5. Water
  6. Optional: Plastic ziplock bag

Instructions:

  1. Wet the entire cloth in plain water and wring all of the water out so that the cloth is damp but not sopping wet. This will make the dye soak through evenly later on.
  2. Spread out the cloth flat and place the fork in the centre of the fabric (or any random part of the cloth, depending on where you want the centre of the swirl to be)
  3. Twist the fork round so that the cloth wraps itself around the fork tightly.
  4. Secure the swirled up cloth tightly with several rubber bands. I used four rubber bands to divide up the cloth into 8 equal triangle shaped sections
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  5. Using the fabric dye, fill up one of the triangle sections on one side, then flip the cloth over and fill up the same section on the other side.
  6. You can choose contrasting colours for the other sections, use the same colour or leave them white. Try not to colour two adjacent sections the same colour – leave some white gaps or the swirls will not be so obvious.
  7. (Optional step) Place each cloth in a separate ziplock bag
  8. Put the cloths aside and leave them to ‘set’ overnight. I let them set for 24 hours.
  9. Remove the rubber bands from the cloth and rinse each cloth separately in cold water a few times, squeezing out the excess dye until the water runs more or less clear (or until you get bored. Whichever happens first).
  10. Wash cloths as per washing instructions in your washing machine with an extra rinse, making sure to separate them from the rest of your laundry for the first wash, in case the colour runs!
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  11. Ta-dahhh! Enjoy your new and beautiful cotton multipurpose cloths!

P.S. This turned out to be such a simple and fun craft, that I suggested it to the Aged P who was throwing a baby shower for one of her friends! The Aged P got together with the mom-to-be and her friends to make these gorgeous and unique tie-dyed muslin swaddles for the new baby in a variety of patterns and colour ways. I think tie-dye teeshirts would make a fun kid’s party activity too.

The Good Life: Make $$$ in Your Spare Time!

I am a huge sucker for seed catalogues.  So, when my favourite gardening company, The Diggers Club, restocked their selection of Autumn and Winter bulbs, I had to buy some.  Besides, The Boobook had recently purchased a special bulb planting tool for me.

I stocked up on Saffron Crocuses, nine bulbs in all.  Saffron is, after all, the most expensive ingredient on the planet.  At today’s prices, saffron costs about USD$1,500 per pound, about $250 more per pound than gold.  My accountant brain was mesmerised by the possibilities!

I was going to be RICH!

On my day off, I planted the crocuses using the tool that The Boobook had bought.  It was a relatively simple tool to use.  Simply shove it into the ground and twist it until it reaches the desired depth, then pull it out and empty the dirt over the side.  Unfortunately, the ground in my area is as hard as rocks, so shoving the tool into the ground was not the easiest thing to do.  The clay also gummed up the works, making it harder to empty than I had initially thought.

Still, I persevered, and in-between hanging up laundry and feeding the rabbits, I finally got all nine of the bulbs in the ground.

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Behold my glorious handiwork!

Having completed all my chores, I took a nice hot shower and then had a nap.

When I woke up, my arms had fallen off.

This was not conducive to productivity.

You see, arms are essential tools to doing a lot of things, like getting out of bed, for example.  Also, I couldn’t post about my exploits because typing requires hands, and armless people don’t have any hands.

The Boobook returned to find me wriggling around on the couch like a dying fish, arms flopping uselessly by my sides in a futile attempt to get up and cook dinner.  He sighed and then went to fetch the hot water bottle.

The heat on my sore muscles felt glorious.

Also, he sent out for pizza, which was really great.

A week later, the saffron crocus plants bloomed.  Each tiny flower had two little strands of saffron in it.

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Saffron crocus in full bloom.  Each flower is about the size of an Australian 50 cent coin.

Ah well, so much for my get rich quick scheme.  At least I can still cook some saffron rice to make myself feel better.