You know what day it is? It’s Wednesday! (A Day In A Life Blog Train)

6 o’clock in the morning and I’m just in a middle of a dream, when my phone alarm reminds me that it’s time to get up for another school day.

The Barn Owl is already up and I can hear him clanking around making his sandwiches in the kitchen. I waddle down the corridor, stopping to open the door to the children’s room and turn on their room light.

The Morning Routine

The Morning Routine

In the kitchen, the Barn Owl has already put the kettle on the boil, so I tip some hot water out into two mugs, just enough to dissolve a packet of 3-in-1 Milo powder. I top the rest of the mugs up with cold fresh milk, give them a quick stir and deliver the drinks to the two zombies who are making moaning sounds in their bedroom.

I used to try to convince them to worry down some breakfast as well, but it seems that their little tummies aren’t awake at this ungodly hour of the morning and they would rather have a few more minutes sleeping instead of blinking uncomprehendingly at their bowls of soggy cereal.

Whilst the kids are getting themselves ready, I quickly get washed and dressed for the day, then I prepare their water bottles and school snacks before dumping a load of laundry in the washing machine.

Now, I get a few moments to have a quick breakfast and check my email. This is usually a glass of juice, taken in front of the computer.

The kids are now dressed and whilst J brushes his teeth, I do Little E’s hair. Today, Little E wants to wear a special hair bow that was given to her by one of the little boys in school to show him how much she likes it. When her hair is done, she flounces off to clean her teeth.

By now it is around 6:30am and everybody bundles into the car.

First, I drop J off at school just before 7am, and then the Barn Owl gets off at the nearby MRT station. It’s still too early for Little E to go to school, so I stop by the Aged Ps house for breakfast.

Little E takes her breakfast at school, so during this time, she sits next to me as I eat and either looks at a book or does some art-related activity. This week, she is working on a personal project – to weave a blanket for one of her stuffed animals.

I send Little E off to school at 8am, then head home to do some light housework – laundry, cleaning floors, general tidying and doing whatever washing up is leftover from the morning. I do miss the days before Little E started nursery school, but I cherish the time I have to myself. In any case with Baby #3 on the way, I have some extra tasks to complete which I can get done much quicker without the older kids around to distract me. Today, it’s time to get the infant carseats out of storage and get them cleaned up.

I try to finish all my chores by 10am, so that I have an hour to myself. I’ve been getting very tired lately and if I want to be in a good mood this afternoon, I have to make sure that I rest for a short while in the morning. I’m going to read an old book by the pool downstairs.

Little E's after-school personal project

Little E’s after-school personal project

At 11:30, I pick Little E up from school and head to the Aged P’s house. Little E changes out of her school clothes and washes her hands before sitting down for lunch.

After lunch, she does a little bit more of her weaving, then practices her penmanship – at the moment, I write out sight words for her and she copies them. I have to leave around 1pm to collect J from school, so I pick out a few books for her to read together with the Aged P.

When J and I get back to the Aged Ps house, Little E has successfully put the Aged P to sleep and is playing with Duplos on the floor. J washes his hands and sits down to lunch. He usually takes his time over lunch because he chats with Little E at the same time, so by the time he is done it is nearly 2:30pm and we need to rush home for violin lessons.

At home, Little E goes straight to her room for her afternoon nap, and J gets his violin out and runs through his music before the violin tutor comes. Whilst J is having his lesson, I start preparing the ingredients for dinner.

Once J is done with his violin lesson, he takes a short break and then sits down to complete any homework assigned by his schoolteachers. I try not to hover around him, but I’m nearby in case he needs help. When he’s done, it’s time to wake Little E up from her nap.

The two of them have a cup of milk (or Milo, depending on their mood) each, and then they play together until dinnertime. Before dinner, J has a shower and changes into PJs. I bathe Little E and whilst she is changing into her PJs, it’s my turn in the shower.

The Barn Owl usually gets home around 7pm, and we have dinner together at the dining table. If it’s a particularly hot day, we’ll eat dinner together in the study which is the smallest room in the house (and therefore is the most efficient when it comes to using the air conditioner).

If the kids have been behaving well that day, they get a special treat before bedtime – usually this is in the form of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series or My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic…or maybe even a couple of minutes playing puzzle games on the Barn Owl’s phone.

phone-games

Taking turns to solve puzzles on the Barn Owl’s phone before bed

The Barn Owl is usually in charge of the bedtime routine as I do the washing up before stretching out to rest on the study couch (although this week, he’s taken over doing the washing up as well, since my arms are now not long enough to reach across the bump into the sink – or so I claim).

He inspects the children’s teeth after brushing, makes sure they have water bottles topped up in their room, and then says prayers with them before bed. As usual, they come out of their room to give me a kiss and cuddle before going back to their beds to be tucked in.

Now it is around 8:30pm and this the time that the Barn Owl and I have together. Sometimes we play games on the Playstation 4 console, or watch shows together. I usually fall asleep on the couch after a while and the Barn Owl unwinds from work by shooting bad guys in various video games until half-past midnight and we both stagger to bed together.

You know what day it is? It’s Thursday. And it’ll soon be time to get up for another day.


Tomorrow, the ‘A Day in a Life’ blog train continues with Vera! family picVera is a don’t-stay-at-home Mum of two who loves exploring new places with her kids in tow, cooking up a storm and planning theme parties. During her downtime, she writes at Life is in the Small Things sharing little adventures, parenting misadventures and everything in between. 

Book Series that we love: Our (current) favourite Chapter Book series!

J, who is now 7 years old, has become rather a prolific reader and there are a few book series for young readers that have been responsible for encouraging him on his reading journey. Currently, my aim for J to get him to progress towards chapter books that not only increase his vocabulary and reading fluency, but also widen his imagination or scope of interests. Choosing books that appeal to little boys has been quite a challenge for me! I was brought up on a steady diet of Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables, both of which are wonderful book series but do nothing to engage J’s attention. I have since discovered that in order to encourage J to stay with a book for more than a few pages, the book had to contain some or all of the following aspects:

  1. Text as well as illustrations – a great black and white wall of text was just too intimidating for a young reader.
  2. Fictional subject matter that involves intelligent young male heroes, fast-paced action and a little bit of cheeky humour.
  3. Factual subject matter of the slightly yucky kind.

So, here are…

J’s current Top Three Favourite Chapter Book Series

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket lemony-snicket-unfortunate-events This is a series of 13 books, each with 13 chapters, following the melancholy adventures of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. The books trace the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as they pass through various foster homes before going on the run from the police, whilst being pursued by a self-proclaimed ‘distant relative’, Count Olaf, who is bent on acquiring the Baudelaire’s considerable inheritance. Along the way, they uncover the mystery surrounding their parents’ deaths and encounter all manner of exciting things like secret organisations, venomous snakes and delicious pasta. The author, Lemony Snicket, is as much a character in the books as well as their narrator and commentator – and his satirical humour is evident throughout the novels, often warning the reader that very few positive events take place in each book and even suggesting that the books be discarded in favour of more cheerful pursuits. The stories are accompanied by beautifully detailed black and white illustrations by Brett Helquist which are Victorian in style and add to the gothic nature of the books. The pictures often hold clues as to the true nature of people and events in the story that are not fully described in the text, and this adds an extra dimension to the books as the reader has a chance to play detective (which J thoroughly enjoyed).

Mummy Guide: These books are extremely well-written but the subject matter is a little bit on the morbid side, so if you have a particularly sensitive or anxious young reader then proceed with caution. Additionally, binge-reading these books is not recommended as you will feel miserable at the unfairness of it all. However, the underlying theme of maintaining a courageous and positive outlook in the face of adversity as well as the concept that moral decision-making is not always straight-forward are both great learning points!

2. Horrible Science by Nick Arnold  Horrible-science-books-fact-kids The Horrible Science books are basically little encyclopaedias covering a variety of science-related topics from physics, chemistry and biology, often in gruesome and disgusting detail. Every page is peppered with silly jokes and hilarious cartoons by Tony De Saulles which make each book a fun and engaging read – so it’s absolutely perfect for kids who are still entertained by toilet humour (which is all kids, really). J loves these books because they help to answer all his questions about the world and provide him with plenty of subject matter for creeping out his classmates.

Mummy Guide: These books are not afraid to be yucky and gross (because science is often messy) but there are no sexual themes or gratuitously written descriptions of gore.

3. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell cressida-cowell-train-dragon-books This is definitely our current TOP favourite chapter book series not only because the books are such an entertaining read and have dragons in them, but also because the main protagonist is one of the best role-models we have ever come across. (Did I forget to mention that there are dragons in these books?) At the moment, there are 11 books in the series, with the twelfth (and final) instalment due to be released in September of this year. The books are set in a fictional Viking world and record the experiences of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and his tribe of Hairy Hooligans. The books generally deal with various aspects of the Viking Instructional Programme which also involves the capture and training of both small hunting dragons as well as larger riding dragons. This inevitably leads to Hiccup, his puny hunting dragon, Toothless, and his asthmatic best friend, Fishlegs, getting into some awful (and life-threatening) misadventure. As the books are meant to be the memoirs of an elderly Hiccup looking back over his young life, they are full of funny annotations, notes about dragons and crudely drawn sketches of various characters.

Mummy Guide: The books do involve quite a bit of violence (eg. sword fighting, hunting animals, people getting eaten by dragons etc.) but there are no graphic or gory descriptions. There’s also plenty of ridiculous potty humour of the sort that tends to appeal to little boys (eg. burping, farting, characters going through Advanced Name Calling training). However, Hiccup is a very well-written hero and his journey traces the struggles of his character as he grows into a good leader. One of the main themes of the series involves him having to make tough choices between what is right and what is easy, and through his actions, we can see the power of forgiveness, humility, compassion and loyalty.

Update: MPH Bookstores Singapore has kindly offered to sponsor a copy of How to train your Dragon: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm by Cressida Cowell to TWO lucky Owls Well readers! Hooray!!

 To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Share this Facebook post (set to public) and tag a friend

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a chapter book or book series that you or your children have enjoyed. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 7 April 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

Quietly, quietly: A Round up of tributes to a great man

Out of respect for the passing of Singapore’s senior statesman, the late MM Lee Kuan Yew, there will be no book month-related post on Owls Well today. Instead, we bring to you a collection of what we feel are well-written and meaningful personal tributes, starting with:

  1. A Becky Lee’s review of MM Lee’s Memoirs
  2. This very balanced and thoughtful post by Lyn Lee of Lil Blue Bottle
  3. A very personal reflection on the impact MM Lee’s policies had on the average Singaporean by Angie of Life’s Tiny Miracles (and one by David of Life’s Tiny Miracles)
  4. An account of how Pamela of TanFamilyChronicles teaches her young children about why the nation is grieving for one man.
  5. These thoughts about the impact that Mr Lee has on one woman in different stages of her life by yAnn of Yannisms.
  6. This beautifully written note by Missus Tay from Missus Tay’s Journal
  7. A heartfelt thank you by Dot of A Pancake Princess
  8. More thoughts on the passing of a great man by V of Life is in the Small Things
  9. An inspired poem written during an early morning cycle through the city by Rachel of MalMal Our Inspiration
  10. An unexpected grief reaction by Ai of Sakura Hakura

And finally: 11068243_10152701206416437_6961712332075768712_n

Lee Kuan Yew’s Memoirs – A Review (or, How to Build a Country When All You’ve Got is a Bunch of Really Ornery Immigrants)

lee-kuan-yew-memoirsIt seems inconceivable that the World should lose not one, but two of its geniuses in the span of a week. Yet, here we are mourning the death of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and the last of the PAP’s first generation.

Mr Lee is not known for his literary genius. He was a visionary, strategic thinker and politician. Still, he did publish his memoirs in two thick volumes – The Singapore Story and From Third World to First, so in the spirit of the Owls Well book month, I have decided to write a little bit about them.

As I read both books in 2000, my memory of the books might be a little hazy, but I’m pretty confident that I may well be one of the very few people who have read them cover to cover.

The first book, A Singapore Story, covers Mr Lee’s childhood growing up in rural Singapore, his young adult years as a University student in London and his early political career.

Rather than a book about heavy politics, it’s more of a recollection of childhood and growing up, with a little bit of romance thrown in.

It’s hard to imagine Lee Kuan Yew as a young man picking mushrooms at a golf course and making omelettes with them while courting his wife-to-be, yet the memories are still there, pinned to the page like so many butterflies in a collection. It’s equally difficult to imagine him as a glue manufacturer and salesman, but apparently, Mr Lee supported himself during the Japanese occupation by making Stikfas glue (he even provides his readers with the recipe for it!). It’s not a poetic book by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s informative, giving a glance at the man who would later become Singapore’s driving force.

“The task of the leaders must be to provide or create for them a strong framework within which they can learn, work hard, be productive and be rewarded accordingly. And this is not easy to achieve.” – Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew only really gets to the meat of the politics of Asia with his second set of memoirs, From Third World to First, (or as I like to call it: “Country Building 101: What to do with a bunch of really ornery immigrants who don’t have much direction and would really like the British to come back, kkthx”).

The answer to this question is, of course, “Get Machiavellian” (e.g. Make serving in the army compulsory on pain of jail and also pain) and if that doesn’t work, “Make Stuff Up” (e.g. Ask Israeli army trainers to grow moustaches and call them codename them ‘Mexicans’ so that things stay totally top secret).

“I have never been over concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.” - Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore story: The Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs is simply seeing what his thought processes were in making his political decisions.  There is no denying that the man was a political genius, and some of the things that he actually got away with were, frankly, inventive and funny.  No matter how many of Lee Kuan Yew’s decisions boil down to getting Machiavellian or making stuff up, we cannot deny the results.  Singaporeans currently enjoy a high standard of living and a the highest trade to GDP ratio in the world.

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” – Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story

Lee Kuan Yew gave everything he had to Singapore and the story he tells about the building process is fascinating, not just because of what happened, but also because of what may still happen in the future.

Goodbye, Sir, and thank you.

Sir PTerry is Dead. Long Live the Discworld.

On the morning of Friday, 13th of March, the following messages appeared on Terry Pratchett’s twitter feed.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

All Good Things Must Come to an End

…and I cried, because this meant that Sir PTerry, author of over 70 books, including the famous Discworld series, was dead.  The literary world is all the poorer for his leaving this Earth so young.

Terry Pratchett’s books have a special place in the hearts of his readers and in the hearts of the Owls Well crew.  My personal favourites are Reaper Man and the books in the Tiffany Aching series.  Debs favours The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and Men at Arms.  The Boobook’s favourite books are Hogfather and Thief of Time.  Even the Barn Owl has his favourites, The Colour of Magic and The Bromeliad Trilogy.

It is difficult to put into words how much the Discworld series, and Terry Pratchett’s other work mean to me.  Even now, as I type these words, I cannot help but feel tears streaming down my face as I recall how very alive he was as an author.  His books always brimmed with energy.  In his work, we could see our own world through a fantasy lens, realising the beauty in it while still recognising the terrible and awful things that needed changing. FullSizeRender(8)Back in University, I was able to attend a talk that he held in a small meeting room just off Darling Harbour.

Though the room was packed, he still somehow managed to make his speech feel intimate and friendly.  He spoke about having open heart surgery, about cosplayers at Discworld conventions and even chatted to a few of the cosplayers at the talk.  After the talk, he sat down to sign everyone’s books and I remember asking him if he had any books about Chinese people.  He said he did and handed me a copy of Interesting Times, which he signed with a flourish.  A present from him to me, he said.  I still treasure that book.

Three days later, the announcement came that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and yet he kept writing.  Even after he could no longer read, he continued to write through dictation.  Even now, after his death, there are still a number of books that will be published posthumously. Even though Sir Pratchett has gone, his books and characters will live on.  And for that, we are grateful.

Book Series that we love (Emerging Readers): Timmy & Tammy

One of the ways that I have been teaching J and Little E to read is through the use of books that are specially written for emerging readers.

These are little picture books that use a controlled, repeated vocabulary, with one or two sentences on each page printed in a large and clear text. These easy-to-read books are great for helping kids to match spoken words with print and for building up confidence in reading. Although there are plenty of beginners books on the market, I find it rather difficult to find really good books that use natural language and contain engaging subject matter.

However, when Armour Publishing introduced me to the homegrown Timmy and Tammy ‘Let Me Read’ series written by Ruth Wan-Lau, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the books were not only beautifully illustrated (by Eliz Ong) and well-written but also appealed very strongly to Little E. At the moment, we keep the books at the Aged P’s house and they are her current go-to books. She is always bringing them to the Aged Ps to get them to read along with her!

Part of the charm of the series lies in the fact that the stories are all set in Singapore and revolve around Timmy & Tammy’s adventures to popular local attractions such as the Botanic Gardens, Changi Airport and the Fire Station. Little E gets a real thrill out of pointing out familiar landmarks featured in the books and talking about cultural experiences mentioned in the books that are uniquely Singaporean.

Super cute illustrations by Eliz Ong

Super cute illustrations by Eliz Ong

I am not at all surprised to find out that the Timmy & Tammy series was selected to be part of the SG50 Jubilee Baby 2015 welcome package! That means Baby #3 is going to receive a set later this year! Woohoo!

A Special Something for Owls Well Readers: The kindly folk over at Armour Publishing are generously sponsoring a set of 5 Timmy & Tammy books to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! Thank you, Armour Publishing!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Be a fan of Timmy & Tammy Facebook Page

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a book or book series for emergent readers that you or your children have enjoyed. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to people living in Singapore and ends on 24 March 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

P.S. You can purchase Timmy & Tammy books at S$34.50 (for a set of 5 books) or S$6.90 each from Popular Bookstores, Amazon Website or from Armour Publishing’s Website.

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been emailed – thanks for playing! 

Cheap as Free Online Novels for the Broke

I like reading, but reading can get pretty expensive.  Good books cost upwards of $30 out here in Sydney and eBooks readers can get quite pricey – not to mention all that headache with eBook compatibility and such.

There’s only one way to solve this conundrum… TO THE INTERNET!

Many web novels on the Internet are free, or at least extremely cheap.  I’m proud to say that over the many years that I’ve lived on the Internet, I’ve been able to amass a fairly impressive library of online novels and am happy to share them with you.

Thalia's Musings1. Thalia’s Musings by Amethyst Marie

I’ve got a real soft spot for Greek Mythology.  Some of the earliest media I consumed were about Greek Myths and I’ve even won prizes for memorising and retelling the stories of Grecian heroes when I was a little tyke in school.  So, I was drawn to Thalia’s Musings by Amethyst Marie, a well-written insider account of the various quarrels, love affairs and dramatic deaths of the Grecian pantheon, as seen through the eyes of the not-so-innocent bystander, Thalia, the Muse of Comedy.

Although the series loosely follows the stories of many Grecian myths, it diverges slightly from what is expected and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the raunchy behaviour of the Grecian gods (and goddesses too)!  All in all, a great read.  Amethyst Marie has written three books of the series so far and is currently writing the fourth.  I’m at the edge of my seat to find out what happens next!

The books are available free online, but if you’re willing to shell out a little money and support Amethyst, you can buy eBook versions of Thalia’s Musings in her shop.

Stefan Gagne2. Stefan Gagne’s Fiction Factory by Stefan Gagne

All right, I’ll admit that Stefan Gagne (aka Twoflower) is one of my favourite online novelists – I’ve even tagged him on the writing process blog tour!

Unlike other online authors, Stefan really makes good use of the capabilities of html, working with different fonts, colours, images and even little flash programs to flavour the stories that he tells.  His latest work, cyberpunk web novel series, Floating Point, is very topical; but I’m a little more fond of his earlier cyberpunk work – A Future We’d Like to See (FWLS).  FWLS is a little 90s era zeerusty, but it still contains an underlying layer of unbridled optimism that came with the early Internet before the Eternal September of 1993, before all the trolling and the nastiness and the doxxing and stuff.

Of his works, my favourites would have to be Unreal Estate, a sweet sci-fi romantic comedy deconstruction of harem anime of the 90s that spans across the multiverse; and Anachronauts, a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about fairies, aliens and working together for the common good.  Both of these novels are now available for purchase in book or eBook form on Stefan’s store.  As a bonus, Stefan has included an extra short-story in each book that is not available online.

Velveteen vs3. Velveteen vs. by Seanan McGuire

I’ve written about one of Seanan McGuire’s books before, so I was pleased to note that she also releases free short stories on her Livejournal.  Velveteen vs. is a realistically modern take on superheroes in a corporate world, exploring how the very nature of superheroes can be corrupted by the ever persistent bottom line.  The series follows the story of Velveteen, a retired superheroine on the run from her former employers and her attempts to eke out a living as a civilian.  It’s a compelling and emotional read, certainly worth the wait between chapters.

The Velveteen vs. stories are still ongoing, but Seanan has collated most of them into two books – Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots and Velveteen vs The Multiverse.  Both are available at most bookstores, though you may have to order them in.

4. Tapestry: a Tale of Empire by Wysteria Climbing

Asian fantasy novels are fairly common these days, but very few capture that Tale of Genji spirit quite like Tapestry does.  With its unique diary-style format, Tapestry follows the tale of Lady Uru, her husband Seichi, children Pen and Pang and house slave Heiye as they navigate the treacherous politics, pomp and ceremony of the Elite class in a fantasy empire.  Wysteria Climbing does an expert job of painting Lady Uru’s personality through her conservative attitudes, reserved language and clever use of wordplay and inflection.  Don’t let the 2008 dates on the Livejournal fool you, Wysteria is still very active on her blog and updates her story sporadically.  The series is currently on its second book.

While Tapestry doesn’t have a dead tree format just yet, but you can still support Wysteria on her Patreon.  Doing so will increase the speed of her updates.

While these series represent what I feel are the best web novels on the Internet, you can still find plenty more to sate your reading appetites at the Web Fiction Guide.  However, if your tastes are more classical, you might want to give Project Gutenberg a try.

As a bonus, I’ll leave you with two more stories that didn’t quite make the A-list, because they’re not quite books…

Blue Sky by Waffleguppies:  If you like the Portal game series, you might want to check this excellent piece of fanfiction out.  It will seriously give you a case of the feels.  (Don’t worry, they’ve started a support group for that).

Digger by Ursula Vernon:  This Hugo Award winning graphic novel follows the story of a very lost wombat and her adventures in a strange world full of cults, religions and talking hyenas.  It is beautifully illustrated and cleverly written.